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Summary:

Everyone seems prepared to declare the Kindle e-reader dead now that Apple has released the iPad, but Amazon can still put up a fight. Here are five simple ways that the Kindle can compete with the Apple tablet.

Now that Apple has unveiled its iPad, plenty of people seem ready to buy the Kindle a coffin and tell the band to start playing the Funeral March. Heck, after seeing Apple’s sleek touch tablet, even Om came to the conclusion that it would kill the Kindle.

One of the few tech bloggers defending the Amazon e-reader (apart from those who write for Kindle-related web sites, of course) is Brad Stone at the New York Times, who has a list of “Three Reasons Why the iPad WON’T Kill the Amazon Kindle.” Undeterred by his colleague’s arguments, NYT tech blogger Nick Bilton followed up with a response detailing three reasons why the iPad will kill the Kindle. (Ben Elowitz of WetPaint, meanwhile, has come up with 10 reasons.)

It’s fun to talk about how new products will kill other products (which rarely happens, of course), but a more interesting discussion would be about how Amazon could fight back against the iPad. One way it can do that is by strengthening its relationship with authors and publishers, which it has already tried to do by raising its royalty rates substantially (in return for lower book prices, which it no doubt hopes will increase demand). Publishers may be tempted by a relationship with Apple as well, but Amazon has been around longer and has some solid deals on which it can build. Plus it’s just focused on books, whereas Apple’s attention extends to a host of other media, including music, print, movies, etc.

Here are four other ways I think Amazon could fight back:

  • Open Up: One surprising announcement from Apple was that it will support the epub format, the same open-source standard that Google uses for Google Books. Amazon still uses its own proprietary format, which is likely to be a disincentive for some users, particularly if they also want an iPad. Amazon should open up or at least make translation easy. Building an app ecosystem is a good idea, too.
  • Brighten Up: One most obvious difference between the two devices is that the iPad sports bright color, while the Kindle is dim and gray. Colorlessness may be easier on the eyes (although it sucks if you want to read in bed without the light on) but it detracts from any book that has pictures, theoretically a large market. Amazon needs to upgrade the screen, possibly by using the PixelQi screen.
  • Get Social: As Nick Bilton mentions in his post, one of the big drawbacks of the Kindle is that it’s a single-use device. That might impress purists, who don’t want to be distracted while they read a book, but it makes the Kindle fundamentally unsocial. Even smart readers like to share links, send snippets to friends, maybe write a blog post or Twitter message about a great book. Why make them pick up another device?
  • Get Cheaper: One of the things that iPad fans continue to mention is that the Kindle DX is only $10 more expensive than the iPad (although that compares it to the cheapest one without 3G wireless), but has none of the added features such as games, apps, movies, etc. Amazon needs to defuse this criticism by dropping the price of the KindleDX (which will likely make it even more appealing to buyers who don’t want all the bells and whistles of the iPad). Why not make the KindleDX $289 instead of $489?

Jeff Bezos didn’t get to be where he is by backing down from a challenge, so I imagine he’s looking forward to doing battle with Apple on the e-reader front (Om collected some entrepreneurship tips from Bezos in this post, and also did an interview with him after he spoke at the D6 conference). If you have any thoughts as to how Amazon could compete effectively with the iPad, feel free to share them in the comments.

Related posts from GigaOm Pro (subscription required): The Evolution of the E-Book Market and
Irrational Exuberance Over E-Books.

Thumbnail photo courtesy of Flickr user aaronisnotcool

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  1. Well all of those ideas are definitely worth a shot, but I think there main thing will have to be Marketing! It’s about to get very difficult for Kindle.

  2. The iPad is a FANTASTIC news for Amazon.

    They already have an app which is great for reading. Their business is selling books, isn’t it? iPad = A new device for reading Amazon ebooks that will sell massively.

    Long life Amazon.

    1. After reading this post I could assume it is rather selling Kindle. Definitely they should focus on selling books instead of Kindles…much more money there.

  3. Adobe has told me that in spite of Apple’s using ePUB they are still using a proprietary DRM. iBook content is not usable on any other gadget than Apple’s. The DRM is the bottleneck, and Apple is not playing with Adobe’s consortium to have cross-device DRM.

    1. Thanks, James — I guess Apple needs to open up a bit more too. But then, that’s no surprise, I suppose :-)

  4. I should also point out that Kindle, Nook and Kobo content can be used on the iPad via iPhone apps already available.

    1. Also a good point. Thanks, James.

  5. donnacha | WordSkill Thursday, January 28, 2010

    Amazon has already blown the opportunity to sell directly to the rest of the world. Only recently has the massive market in the UK (one of the most important markets for both tech and books) been able to have a Kindle shipped from the US, but the process is more messy than it would be if we could simply order them directly from Amazon.co.uk.

    I would have bought one for myself and one for my father but I didn’t want the complication of dealing with import duties or the stress and expense of transatlantic returns if anything went wrong.

    Now Apple have confirmed that they will be launching in the UK in March, at the same time as the US, so, it’s too late for Amazon, they have blown what could have been a good head-start here. It is crazy when you consider what a huge native presence they have here.

  6. It seems like Amazon built the Kindle to get a jumpstart in the e-book market rather than in the e-reader market.

    So I bet they are more concerned about being the ebook store of the future than anything.

    However the Kindle has some benefits. LIghter weight, thinner form factor, seamless cellular ordering experience outta box, easier on the eyes screen, cheaper book prices, …

    They need to tout these things. And they need to make the Kindle a better document reader. Improve the pdf support, etc. And advertise the thing as the best book and document reader out there.

    Maybe link that to the fact all of us carry phones and all of us will probably carry app phones in the future.

    Lower prices of course are a given. I don’t think they can wave a wand and make the DX $200 less, but anything they can do helps.

    I think they need to make the thing a tad sexier. IF they can get rid of the physical keyboard it would go a longs way toward that.

    Not sure about the social thing. Use a Kindle app on the iPHone and other app phones for that.

  7. 4+ years back, I wrote to the makers of Pepper Pad to add portrait mode to make it more like a Reader. They probably were too fragile to take risks.

  8. Its about channeling content, not limited to books. Music, Games, Video, Books, Magazines (subscriptions). Kindle can’t do all of that, so they are not the gate keeper. Google pays pennies on the dollars, so they will not be the gatekeepers for very long. If iPad gets sufficient usage, we will see pay walls coming all over the web and Apple becoming the gatekeeper to all of that content. If the competitors (MS etc) copy Apple and create a closed system for their devices, that will be an Apple victory. Now Apple has to compete with Free, but if others come up with closed systems, then they will win based on momentum and user experience.

  9. I certainly would buy a Kindle DX over an iPad at $289 if it handled PDF properly. The iPad doesn’t go far enough to justify the jump for me. If it had been a proper computing device and not just a display device I would have been sorely tempter…

  10. kindle should open up in terms of focusing on distribution of ebooks and not just the device.

    the opportunity is lot larger when u get away from the low margin hardware space.

    by powering devices that are already out there and the ones that are cming in teh future and by becoming the eReading application and backend for eBook content on these devices (netbooks, tablets, *pads) amazon’s reach can increase to a great extent.

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