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Jeff Bezos on The State of Kindle

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As someone who likes books, especially the old fashioned kind (you know, the ones printed on paper), I was predisposed to disliking (and dismissing) Kindle, the e-reader developed by Amazon. So when Amazon sent me a review unit of the new Kindle 2.0, they were taking a big risk, since I have been vocal about my skepticism in the past. Surprisingly, instead of hating the device, I suddenly understood the disruptive nature of Kindle and its impact on the printed word.

When I received the device, I downloaded a few books, signed up for a couple of magazines and The Wall Street Journal. Call it luck, but I fell sick right in the middle of the review period, and I actually had enough time to read through all the stuff I had downloaded.

The reading experience, while different from the organic nature of the printed word, was  enjoyable. I could clip, make notes, rewind and search through books. It felt more immersive, more interactive. That’s when I started thinking about the new fourth screen I have written about in the past.

Indeed, if you take all the emerging technology trends — multi-touch, wireless connectivity, cheap silicon, better batteries, location-based services and a move toward open-source operating environments — and marry them to the explosion of digital information taking place, what you have is the opportunity for yet another screen in our increasingly digital lives. And suddenly Amazon’s Kindle stops being just another e-book reader.

As luck would have it, I stumbled upon this interview with Jeff Bezos by Charlie Rose. Despite (sometimes rude) interruptions by Rose, Bezos very eloquently articulated his vision for the Kindle and the future it represents. (Watch the video below)

Bezos’ blue sky vision is that all books can be available on demand anywhere, anytime, in any language. He also said he believes the Kindle may help give rise to new kinds of publishing models that involve subscriptions for novels, or new kinds of books that will have multimedia integrated into them. Today, you can’t do video with e-ink, but Bezos explains that he has seen in the labs color technologies with faster refresh that will be able to handle video. “We can do text books with videos and real-time data,” he says.

Bezos went on to say that these changes are good for the publishing industry, and it has to excite the authors and the publishers. Not to mention the economics of the electronic books are so much cheaper than the print. “There will be new kinds of books invented for Kindle,” Bezos said in the interview. “Books will have more real-time and current details…Kindle dramatically shrinks publishing cycles.”

According to Citibank, Amazon sold about 500,000 Kindles in 2008 and they expect about a million Kindles will be sold in 2009. The company will generate about $1.2 billion in Kindle-related revenues by 2010, Citibank Research estimates. (Related post: Why Amazon is bucking the trend)

Bezos clearly has bigger plans for Kindle. In the interview, aired in late February, Bezos talked about Kindle and how Kindle books would show up on the cell phones. You can read books on your phone while standing in the grocery line, and the book will sync to the cloud (and your Kindle device) using the amazing WhisperSync technology. Just as you have a standalone digital camera and a camera on your cell phone, Bezos says you’ll have a Kindle and Kindle books on the cellphone. A few days after the interview aired, Amazon introduced the Kindle app for iPhone/iPod touch. (Related post: Standalone Kindle won’t last long.)

There are about 18 million iPhones and about 7 million iPod touch users, which is a pretty large market into which Amazon can now sell its more than 245,000 (and growing) Kindle books. I think with 25 million additional readers, Amazon can persuade more publishers to sign up for its Kindle program. What Amazon is essentially saying by offering the app is that it is more interested in selling Kindle books than hardware (a strategy quite different from Apple, which was always about selling the iPods first and music later.)

According to Ezra Gottheil, analyst with Technology Business Research of Hampton, N.H., the iPod/iPhone Kindle application “affects more than Apple and Amazon…it signals a change in the publishing industry, just as the iPod changed the music industry.”

TBR believes Amazon is developing readers for PCs, including netbooks, and for other portable devices with large enough screens. Amazon’s key development objective is providing strong enough digital rights management (DRM) to make it difficult for purchasers to share books with other people. Without strong DRM, publishers will not publish on the Kindle system. With strong DRM, Kindle’s expanded market will attract more publishers, and the available library will grow, which will, in turn, further expand the market.

I think this is one more reason why Apple is going to respond with a tablet of its own — soon.

14 Responses to “Jeff Bezos on The State of Kindle”

  1. I didn’t know who to address this to, so perhaps you could advise or forward to appropriate people. I was just wondering if and when the Kindle reader would be available for sale in Canada through a retail outlet. At present it can only be ordered direct from Amazon in USA. It would be nice to be able to physically look at this item and be able to speak to sales persons about the usage, etc. At present it appears Sony has the vast majority of the Canadian ebook market and consumer reports suggest kindle is a superior product. Also ordering from the USA would result in duties and tariffs being charged by customs.

  2. Jay Gordon

    The abundance of new books on Kindle that cost way more than the original $9.99 for bestsellers is definitely an issue. I have 200+ books on my Kindle II, and I’m simply not buying anything that costs more. As for selection, they have something like 1/4 million publications. Many of them are inexpensive, and a lot of classics are free.

    And, yes, while price is definitely an issue when choosing to read on a Kindle, the major attraction for many of us is the convenience. I carry a comprehensive library with me everywhere. If I’m waiting in a line, I can choose from a range of topics to read. Likewise, if I’m on public transportation, a long flight, whatever — nearly everything that interests me is at my fingertips.

    I live in California, but I’m now in Istanbul for a month. Years ago, most of my carry-on baggage consisted of books, a CD player and a collection of CDs. (Before that, it was tapes.) A big chunk of my checked luggage was also reading material. Now, with my Kindle II and an iPod classic, I have all the entertainment I could ever want in packages that even fit in a jacket or small satchel. Yeah!

    Meanwhile, I’m still a better customer of bookstores than most of the people I know who complain that electronic readers will be the death of publishing.

  3. Barbara Blanton

    Kindle has been a great device for readers of all stripes. Having said that, Amazon and or the publishers have been messing with the prices of the books so much they have precipitated a 9 99boycott group that gives books that are prices between $11.99 and $17.00 a cold shoulder until the price is dropped. Last year, all prices on the majority of the books were $9.99 for the Kindle version. It seemed a fair price since with DRM you can’t share them with a friend or family member, give them to a library or sell them. These days, many are put on the Amazon market at just $2-3 dollars less that the discount hardcover price. Many readers see this 50% price increase with no notice as a rip off and refuse to buy them. So they label them as a 9 99 boycott book and wait for the price to come down as it often does. Or they go to the library or buy them deeply discounted somewhere else and never buy the Kindle book.

    So, the pricing is still an issue. What is a book through the air worth that only works in one expensive device for one person forever? Ad a severe recession to that and then talk to the publishers and ask what they are trying to accomplish? With technology, I can read more books and have more variety, trying genres I may never have tapped before. With pricing going up for no earthly good reason but greed since there are few expenses after the book is digitalized, magic has gone out of the Kindle for many and so have many of my usual hundreds of purchases a year.

  4. Jessica L

    Kindle scares me – I don’t know how I feel about a digital reader. I’ll be honest, I prefer the real thing over a screen any time. If the issue is that you want to save money on books, then use the library or one of the new book rental services like BookSwim that’s like a Netflix for books. That way you spend peanuts on lots of books and it’s just as easy as getting it uploaded to some device. Give me paper, darnit!

  5. One of the first comments (@Chetan Sharma) picked up on a point I think is understated: the state of the (print) publishing industry. The Web and the computer display been arguably more disruptive to their business model than the Napster, the iPod and the iTunes Music Store were for the music industry. Malik, your observation about the need for strong DRM certainly seems true on the surface…so far, I’ve seen two approaches, each extreme: On one hand there’s Google which got themselves sued by the author’s guild, and then there’s Amazon which is essentially kowtowing to the “need” for DRM.

    But I wonder if there is an opportunity some someone (Apple?) to take the “middle path” and lead the publishing industry by the leash to a new and sustainable business model, as Apple did with the music industry. In my humble opinion Steve Jobs will be known for setting digital music free of DRM as much as he will be as an industrialist. Jeff Bezos is definitely a visionary and could put Amazon in the same commanding position relative to the book and newspaper publishers. God knows they are dropping like flies right now and need to embrace the digital model.

    Then again, Apple hasn’t had the same luck with the movie and television industry, and while I’d love to see a touchscreen 3G tablet with flash memory storage, Amazon definitely has a leg up when it comes to selling books. Having said that, I think iTunes is proven itself to be a powerful way to deliver content. How about an Amazon application for Mac/Win/Linux? Or is it more likely that iTunes will become a browser-based application? I’d prefer the former to the latter b/c it’s simply a richer experience. But what do I know about computers or anything else?

  6. Jesse Kopelman

    I think what people critical of Rose’s tech interviews are missing is that he is trying to keep his not tech-savvy at all audience involved. You and I don’t need him dumbing down the interview, but 90% of the people watching do. Yes, it makes these interviews pretty worthless for learning about substantive things, especially if you are already familiar with the guest and/or the topics under discussion, but why are you expecting a worthwhile discussion of next generation issues on last generation’s communication medium (TV)? To me the thing that these Rose interviews are good for is giving me some sort of feel to people who are otherwise just names to me. If you are not a journalist or someone going to trade/developer shows, how are you going to find out what Jeff Bezos or Marc Andreesen look and sound like in a human interaction setting. Charlie Rose is just a talk show, not some sort of academic colloquy.

  7. If you love the convenience of mobile ebooks, you should check out It has tons of free public domain and user submitted ebooks (such as fan fictions). It works on iPhone, BlackBerries and all Java phones.

  8. terry_freeman

    I have a kindle 2, and I am not disappointed, but I do have a few requests which are important to me.

    First, give up on the obsession with DRM. Like most people, I wish to share information between my kindle, my laptops, and my desktop computer. Someday I’d like to read my books on my widescreen TV. Don’t try to mess with the desire of information to be free; protected content is going to be as unpopular as the early efforts at protected software. Let us find other ways to reward authors.

    Second, support of graphics-heavy pdfs is terrible. I shouldn’t have to convert my pdfs to a closed-silo format. The Kindle should directly support PDFs – it’s not like there aren’t a zillion FOSS pdf readers.

    Not being able to plug in a memory stick is probably a step backwards for the Kindle 2.

    Lastly, the UI probably needs some work. Check out the eaglemode ZUI for some interesting ideas – and go one step further, with pdf conversion that doesn’t take forever.

  9. I like the idea of Kindle — but in the past few months, probably 90 percent of the books I’ve either ordered or put on my “wish list” at Amazon aren’t available yet as Kindle books (and I’m not talking about scientific books nor graphic novels). Also: I’m hopeful Amazon produces a version at a lower cost that doesn’t have the wireless connection … wireless is nice, but I suspect it’s a large part of the $359. Otherwise, I think Kindle will give a whole new life to books and reading and new formats of reading.

  10. In our Mobile Advertising Book, we had argued that the world of “Alternate Devices” will have a big impact on the mobile ecosystem and advertising. Kindle and PNDs are proving that point. Amazon also did a better job with its distribution strategy and quickly got an iPhone app in place, the more devices carry Kindle app, the stronger their grip on the eReader market. Once Kindle has a good user base, Amazon can tinker around with many business and revenue models. Publishing industry more and more looks like the Music industry, trapped in a time-warp.

  11. Parkite

    Love the Kindle2! I don’t understand what the big deal with Charlie Rose is. Every interview of a tech personality (Bezos, Andreesen) i’ve seen him do has been disappointing. He tries to prove his knowledge of tech rather than letting his guests do so.