Blog Post

The Standalone Kindle Won't Stand Alone for Long

amazon-kindle-21Amazon (s AMZN) unleashed its second-generation Kindle device as expected today, and it doesn’t fail to please in the looks and specs department. There’s seven times more memory, advanced eInk capabilities for 16-color grayscale and faster page refreshing, plus an updated design that addresses some of the original Kindle’s shortcomings. The device even reads text aloud. You can now pre-order the $359 device, which starts shipping on Feb. 24.

While I have no doubt the new device will attract some who passed on the first one, I still have to wonder if there’s room for a standalone device whose main strength is tied to a single wireless carrier. Based on sales numbers for eBook software on handsets, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that there are more phones that can handle eBooks than there are Kindle devices. Of course, without actual sales numbers from Amazon, that’s educated conjecture on my part. However, reports from last October pointed to 395,000 downloads for Stanza, which is just one of several eBook applications for phones. (The Telegraph cites estimates that Amazon sold 500,000 Kindle devices in 2008.)

Sales numbers aside, do consumers really want to carry another device for reading when they can read on a device they’re already carrying, such as phone or notebook? I’ll grant that the reading experience on a Kindle is better than on a handset, but it’s impossible to read a book when you’re not at home and your Kindle is. More often than not, consumers have a multi-purpose handset or computer with them.

Then there’s that “main strength” I alluded to earlier. With the Kindle 2, Amazon has stuck with Sprint’s EVDO service, known as Whispernet. If you don’t have Sprint 3G coverage in your area, you won’t be buying books without wires. For that very reason, I’m surprised the Kindle 2 didn’t incorporate Wi-Fi. In contrast, most phones have Wi-Fi access, as well as 2G/3G, so buying books online is a breeze. This also means that the Kindle is a U.S.-only device for now, which further limits the overall appeal.

The real money for Amazon is in the sales content, and that’s the truly desirable feature here. They know it, too, because they announced at this morning’s launch event that 10 percent of all book sales are now eBook titles. The standalone Kindle is obviously the main driver boosting that number, but I don’t believe it will continue to be the sole driver. Neither does Amazon, based on this excerpt from today’s Kindle press release (emphasis mine):

Amazon’s new “Whispersync” technology automatically syncs Kindle 2 and the original Kindle, which makes transitioning to the new Kindle 2 or using both devices easy for customers. Kindle 2 will also sync with a range of mobile devices in the future.”

Unless Amazon plans to offer several reading devices, which I doubt, it seems to know that its content must be on the hundreds of millions of non-Kindles out there in the future.

24 Responses to “The Standalone Kindle Won't Stand Alone for Long”

  1. Phil Fusco

    I understand your skepticism, but I do not share it.

    It’s an irony – hey, you can’t be as productive (of words) as you appear to be without some of them coming back to bite you.

    You, of course, closed by concluding that Amazon must know that the REAL money is in the content they’re bear-hugging…. and you scoffed at the possibility that they’d have more than one reader.

    Well, I submit that not only were you wrong, but every time people fail to complete analogies that grow out of Apple : Amazon :: ipod : Kindle , they should put 2 bits in the “how dumb was that” jar.

    Why the nano? Weren’t they cannibalizing their sales? … This is one of the MANY, many reasons why Mr. Jobs makes the big bucks. His instincts – I’m sure his staff, market research, etc. help, too – are rock solid…. Anyhow, with Amazon expected to introduce a textbook reader tomorrow (May 6), bigger in size and MAYBE more viable for newspapers, … methinks YOU should be thinking – WHAT’S NEXT?

    I don’t think they will lack challenges and rewards if they relieve 10 year olds of 20-pound backpacks and college students of 2x per year $500 expenses – granted, the latter will still pony up some fraction of that for their e-books – but it’s easy to see that magazines are in the cross-hairs.

    Can anyone believe that Amazon can’t/won’t find a way to incorporate color (vs. the current black white only)? … Yes, there’s a secular decline in newspaper reading (along with every other content category except texts and tweets, it seems), but some of us HAVE to read and many of us WANT to read, and if there’s one model even less viable than newspapers, it’s bloggers who give away their talent year in and year out…. Although thanks for doing so, because it sure gave me something to react to!

  2. I have a netbook and an older 3-pound Viao. They’re fine if you want to read at a desk. Try reading a whole book at a desk. Try holding a netbook as you read a book in bed. There’s no way to get comfortable. Your arms get numb or your neck starts to hurt. Depending on what you’re reading, you might have the distraction of relocating and hitting the next page icon every few minutes. And then battery’s running down on you, so you have to plug yourself into an outlet. My netbook also heats up right where I can most conveniently hold it in bed.

    I’m not an early adopter. I got my first iPod about two years ago. But I immediately wanted a Kindle when I heard about it. Kindle has all the features I want — long battery life, ease of use, no need to hook up to a computer, the ability to carry many books with me, lightweight, and new books at half the price of hardbacks. These are features that avid readers will focus on.

    With a Kindle, I’ll be able to read a 500-page book one-handed as I’m on a treadmill. With the purchase of a quality waterproof bag, I can read it in the bathtub if I want. I’ll be able to read while brushing my teeth or nuking a meal. Try that with a netbook.

    The rest of you can tap away on your iPhones and such. I don’t want what I’m reading to buzz, ring or vibrate. And I don’t want the screen to be the size of a Post-It. I don’t plan to give up my roomful of books. But I expect to get plenty of use from my Kindle 2.

  3. Subash Mandanapu

    There is some opportunity for amazon to introduce appstore like functionality, where normal content producers who can creates small e-books and sell it through kindle. This will enable small content providers to deals with big store fronts like amazon.

  4. Obviously anecdotal evidence isn’t really evidence at all, but I will just take a moment to point out why I am planning on picking up a Kindle 2 once I scrounge up the cash:

    1: It is sexy
    2: I read a LOT, and I always have a book in my car or in my back pack anyways. Taking the Kindle with me will be no issue.
    3: I have a Sprint phone and have 3g everywhere I go, so wireless access won’t be an issue. Being able to download books as soon as they come out and not needing to go out to the store will be huge.

    I have tried reading books on my iPod Touch and HTC 6800 phone, and it just stinks. I can barely read the words, am constantly scrolling, and it hurts battery life.

  5. Clearly Amazon will expand into other devices — but the market is currently disagreeing with you — both the old and new models have been sold out for some time. Sprint EVDO coverage may not be universal, but this Kindle/Amazon infrastructure (like iPod/iTunes was to music) is a major market driver for e-Books.

    I think you are overstating the benefits of a “one device to rule them all” approach. Just because you can read a book on your iPhone, Netbook, or Blackberry – it doesn’t mean that you would want to often.

  6. I don’t understand this “either or” controversy. There are many market segments and no single device will ever fit them all. For example, elder people will more likely move to a kindle than youngest because single purpose devices tend to be simpler to use. Also, any person has (or should have) multiple contexts like working, traveling for business, relaxing at home, being on vacations. It is not the same to do a casual reading while you are waiting in the airport for a delayed flight than when you are on vacations in a beach (will you consider here a phone? No way) .

    In any case I think that a real killer device would be a phone with a foldable or rollable screen and a Kindle like reading experience.

  7. Well, “reading” is not done on the go. It is mostly done at leisure, while commuting in public transport/car pools, at night and so on. And for that, Kindle is just great.

  8. >>”Then there’s that “main strength” I alluded to earlier. With the Kindle 2, Amazon has stuck with Sprint’s EVDO service, known as Whispernet. If you don’t have Sprint 3G coverage in your area, you won’t be buying books without wires. For that very reason, I’m surprised the Kindle 2 didn’t incorporate Wi-Fi. In contrast, most phones have Wi-Fi access, as well as 2G/3G, so buying books online is a breeze. This also means that the Kindle is a U.S.-only device for now, which further limits the overall appeal.”

    For use within the US, if you’re not going to have both I think it makes more sense to have Whispernet as it is available nearly everywhere and Wi-Fi is not nearly as available. For less advanced users, there’s also no connection setup or changing hotspots, which is a major boost in usability.

    Use outside the US won’t be as big of a concern until they can work out distribution rights anyways, so it wouldn’t matter if they had Wi-Fi or not in that case. From their FAQ:

    “At this time, we are unable to offer the Amazon Kindle and associated digital content from the Kindle Store to our international customers due to import/export laws and other restrictions.”

  9. Om is correct. There will be no room for a stand-alone book reading device. In short order netbooks/mini-notebooks will become even smaller and lighter, pocketable even, after folding 4 ways. They will have hybrid traditional backlit color displays + e-ink technology, or maybe just newer OLED displays. In fact there will soon come a time when there will be no room for any stand-alone single purpose electronic device. We will have an all-in-one pocket sized fold-out expandable computing/communication/media device.

  10. Albert Lee

    Being a current Kindle owner, I’m not sure I agree that there’s no room for a standalone device for ebooks. I’m not sure if I represent most people, but I do most of my reading at home or on vacation. In either case, the Kindle device is plenty convenient enough. Almost any title I want to read is available, the device is pretty light and easy to stuff in a backpack or briefcase, and the reading experience is really good (doesn’t strain my eyes, feels like i’m holding a real book). In contrast, reading on my notebook is terrible (think about how hot that thing gets when you’re trying to read in bed), and reading on my iphone is not too bad, but difficult to maintain for a long time (eye strain, battery drain, screen size, etc…). Ultimately, these devices are designed for different purposes and there are very specific things you need to have a comfortable book reading experience. I’m assuming a lot will change in the next several years, but I imagine that the market for these devices has a decent amount of time to grow and mature… For ebooks in general, not having tons of paper books cluttering my house is value enough. ;)