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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

  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.

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  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.

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    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.

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  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.

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

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

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    1. Also a good point. Thanks, James.

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  5. 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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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…

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  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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  11. This is a great challenge, Mathew. The directions you note above are great starts. But the choice Amazon is facing is difficult: should they make a general purpose device (bright screen, movies, browsing, social), or a dedicated e-Reader?

    Amazon is not in the hardware business — or the consumer experience business. They are a great retailer. (As a co-founder of the leading online luxury retailer Blue Nile, I have a sense for what great retailing is all about.)

    If Amazon tries to make a broad multipurpose device and compete against Apple and other experts, they will fail.

    Ultimately, Amazon is in the book retailing business — not hardware manufacturing. Really, the Kindle exists just so that Amazon can keep selling books in a digital age.

    Their best future is not as a device manufacturer – but as a retailer. They should be looking at how to have such a great shopping and delivery experience that no matter how a consumer wants to read (on iPad, PC, laptop, paper, or stone tablet) they can deliver it. That is where they will be most successful.

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    1. That’s a good point, Ben. If Apple set up iTunes primarily to help sell iPods, I guess Amazon has done the opposite — selling e-readers to help sell e-books. Maybe it should just be platform-agnostic and let others take the hardware risk.

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  12. [...] Mathew Ingram at GigaOm offers some advice to Steve. It is interesting reading. Here is the link. [...]

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  13. Kindle can no way fight Ipad.

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  14. The first point is the most significant one. Amazon and other companies underestimate the potential of translation. Most of the world does not read books or ebooks in English.

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  15. the kindle is doomed in my opinion.. sorry amazon!

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  16. One thing I don’t see many people mentioning.

    Let’s say I want to buy a DX. I can’t go to a store, get my hands on it and try it out. I have to go to Amazon’s site and say, hey, anyone want to show me their DX? Or find a friend who has one.

    I can, when it’s out, hop on over to an Apple store and try an iPad out.

    If the DX were priced at say, $75 (yeah, right), I’d buy a DX and an iPad.

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  17. It’s not about devices it’s about the business model. Apple is going for distribution of media (all digital media), for scalability reasons.

    HW/SW always hits a plateau, but combined with media distribution it makes nicely scalable and sustainable business. As soon as Microsoft wakes up, they will try the same. MS might even make HW a loss leader to get into the distribution.

    Amazon is still just a retailer. I would like to see Google’s response if they realize they get cut out as the middle man for distribution.

    So the main question is will search be the distribution center or Apple’s business model of combined HW/SW and media. It’s not black and white, since fast/new news is not covered by Apple’s model for example. To fast of a consumption, but still nice to consume on the devices, only Apple doesn’t make much money from it (comparatively, maybe just ads). Hence the absence of major Newspapers at the iPad event, NYT sees itself more of analytical newspaper (slower, fits model).

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  18. Let me start by saying that I haven’t read all the feedback – so if I am resuggesting, please forgive me. My solution for Amazon is simple – and based on my long-standing relationship with Audible.com. Amazon should consider a base and premium service (subscription) for at least two if not three years to puchase at least one book and one periodical per month – and give the Kindle away as part of this subscription. It might consider working a deal to provide the audible.com version of at least the book. Amazon should also, like audible.com, give these users a discount on purchases for additional books or periodicals. I am torn and waited for the iPAD annoucement before investing in a Kindle – I was prepared to let the Kindle be my Christmas gift this year, but decided to wait. After seeing the iPAD, I am probably going to go that route – but a deal like this from Amazon might make me reconsider.

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  19. The iPad can do a lot more than the Kindle. Maybe the only thing the Kindle is better is “better for the eyes”. eInk could be easier on the eye than an LCD screen. The Kindle and any eInk reader suck when they open a pdf which has images (diagram, chart, photo,.. etc) with text in it. Pixelation is bad and the images are grey scale. If color is important and the text is describing a color chart, there’s no way to know what is blue, red, brown in an eink device. The iPad shines. Beside being a very good ereader, the iPad can do a lot more: play videos and have access to tens of thousands of interactive apps. The Kindle needs to slash its prices if it wants to sell a lot more units.

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    1. Interesting. So far i’ve only ever read how awesome the eInk display is for reading. I always found it odd that the same people that claim eyestrain from reading text on LCDs are probably looking at their monitors – most likely reading stuff – all day. yet i don’t hear anybody screaming for that 24″ eInk screen. I’ve never seen a kindle in real life, but always took it for granted that its display is the best thing ever – at least for reading. Now i’m learning that it has trouble with something like displaying pdfs?

      the other argument is of course always the ‘weeks’ of battery life. is that really that important? do kindle owners carry stacks of phone and laptop batteries too? is it that big a deal to plug it in once a day?

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  20. I think lowering the price and adding color are the two things the kindle needs to do.

    I know a lot of people that would like to read things on the kindle that happen to be in color so that will be a big win.

    and of course a lower price means more people can afford to buy it.

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  21. You seem to imply that a company cutting the cost of one of its products nearly in half is easily done. You suggest they cut the price by 40%, but do you really believe this is practical? I have no idea how much it cost to produce a Kindle or what it’s profit margin is, but do you really think they could cut the price by 40% and still be profitable?

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    1. At least the margins on the Kindle DX must be enormous! I keep reading for years how apple ‘gouges its customers’ and how everything they make is ‘too expensive’.

      Since the Kindle DX is only 20 bucks less than a full colour iPad with an expensive touchscreen i’m sure we can shave off a big chunk, right?

      Are eInk screens that much more expensive to produce?

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  22. A netbook with, Kindle for PC, can do a lot more than the iPad. Maybe the only thing the iPad is better than most netbooks is touch, but more and more multitouch convertible netbooks are coming out. The multitasking netbook can have all open- pdf’s, browsers that run Flash, text documents, etc., all at the same time, while costing less than a basic iPad. Apple needs to make the next iPad, the MaxiPad, much better if it hopes to even match the capability of netbooks, to sell a lot more units.

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    1. So by that logic the Kindle with NO flash, poor pdf support, no camera, no video output, no movie playback, no apps and as a one-trick-pony with no need to multitask is doomed?

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  23. [...] zB schon beschrieben, was der Kindle alles bringen muß, um sich gegen das iPad durchzusetzen: Open Up, Brighten Up, Get Social, Get cheaper. Da scheint letzteres doch am Erfolge des ersteren sägen zu [...]

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