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Why Amazon's Kindle Will Eventually Win the e-Book Wars

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To paraphrase Yoda: Begun, the e-book wars have.

Barnes & Noble (s bks) started the week off by cutting prices on its Nook e-book reader to $199 from $259, while also introducing a new, $149 Wi-Fi model. Not to be left behind, Amazon, which helped jump-start the e-book reader craze, decided to cut the price on its entry-level Kindle model to $189 from $259. The punch and counterpunch has prompted more than one watcher of the space to declare that an e-book price war is about to break out.

Others are musing about Amazon’s fate. All this hand-wringing is old hat for our community, because Kindle hardware or not, Amazon (s amzn) is expected to make a billion dollars from its digital book-related business this year. From where I stand, Amazon has nothing to worry about, as long as it pays attention to a few details. (And no, that doesn’t mean sharing a bigger cut of revenues with publishers.) Regardless, there are three technological reasons why the online retail giant can and will win the e-book war.

1. Buy once, read anywhere

The day I first laid hands on Apple’s (s aapl) iPad I banished my Amazon Kindle to the back of the proverbial drawer. And yet, I have been spending, on average, about $10 every 3-5 days on Amazon’s site buying a book to read using the Kindle application on the iPad. In fact, the reading experience on the iPad is so superior to that of the Kindle I often find myself staying up later than usual reading a book.

In comparison, I’ve bought three books from the iBooks store and quite frankly, see no reason to go back. It has fewer options, but more importantly, I can only read those books on the iPad. The books I buy in a Kindle store will work on an Android device, as well as on an iPad, iPhone or Mac. Oh, also on my Kindle by the way, which I can take out of my drawer at any time.

This is a big advantage for Amazon, for as more people start living multidevice lifestyles, such cross-platform availability of content will increasingly become a big deal. Unlike Amazon’s Kindle store, iBooks is going to be limited to the iPad/iPhone platform — which is not good enough for me. I like the flexibility of the Kindle app, even if it offers books to me in somewhat of a less attractive format. In other words, Amazon should be thinking about Kindle as a platform that leverages other people’s hardware.

2. We go way back

Most people already associate Amazon with buying books online. Meanwhile Barnes & Noble, while a great brick-and-mortar brand, hasn’t been able to translate its offline presence into a digital one. As a customer, Amazon has all my billing information and has built a profile of books and digital goods that I like. Could Amazon’s recommendation system be better? Absolutely. But in comparison to Barnes & Noble and other booksellers, it’s good enough.

I do wish Amazon would take some time to improve the customer experience. For example, I recently bought the printed collected works of John Cheever’s short stories — after already buying it on my Kindle. It would have been great if the service had reminded me that I d already bought a digital copy and then asked if I was sure about buying an analog version. There have been other times when I’ve reordered a book I originally purchased, say, 10 years ago — it would be nice for Amazon to ask me: Do you still want it? Or, did you lose it and want a new copy? You get the drift.

What I’m suggesting is nothing radical. Mining data and deriving intelligence from it is a fast-growing field and Amazon has 15 years’ worth that can be used to its advantage.

3. It’s always about the software

When I see companies such as Barnes & Noble try and diversify by building technology products, I laugh; they just don’t have the DNA. Barnes & Noble is a retailer first and everything else later. It’s even funnier to watch the company think it can wage wars with hardware. If that was indeed the case, Samsung, Nokia (s nok) and others wouldn’t be running scared of Google (s goog) and Apple.

The reason the mobile industry is all topsy-turvy is because Apple and Google have made the hardware industry about the software. Sure, the latest features matter, but what matters more is the ability to create and release software at a rapid clip, thus improving the platforms on an ongoing basis. Traditional handset makers are on a product release cycle that’s at odds with such agile development.

Barnes & Noble — and any other competing e-reader makers — are going to find themselves in the same place as well. I think this is Amazon’s third technological advantage: It is, at heart, a software company that sells books and other things. Given the rapid speed with which it has been innovating with its cloud computing offerings, it’s clearly also a disciple of agile development methodologies.

Amazon should indeed be spending all its energies on furthering its app experience to make it the best book-buying and reading application on any platform. That, in my opinion, would be money well spent. The user experience is why Apple is able to command a premium for its products. Amazon can do the same.

So what about Kindle — the device?

If Amazon wants to keep the device around, it will have to transform it from a mere e-book reader to a content consumption device that matches the iPad in its capabilities. Otherwise, like the Nook, it’s already dated.

165 Responses to “Why Amazon's Kindle Will Eventually Win the e-Book Wars”

  1. I have to disagree with your final point. The kindle has a couple points of advantage over the iPad, the main ones being that it consumes MUCH less power, and that it doesn’t have the screen glow that strains my eyes. I stare at a screen for work – I don’t want that while I’m reading.

    To follow up on the power thing – I go camping, and I travel at times, and having a device that can maintain a charge for days or weeks while storing a library’s worth of reading material is a huge plus.

    If I get an iPad or something like it it is more likely to be replacing my laptop than my kindle, and I won’t be reading books on it.

  2. Delian Ann

    An Apple Fan writing an article of Apple product vs something else and Apple wins. Let me guess you have a Apple laptop, phone and now and tablet. Any you prefer the Apple tablet over others (SURPRISE!!!). You are so so so so bias that is spill over to other articles. I think I got some of that bias on my clothes, I hope it comes out on my next wash. There is a large percentage of people that HATE Apple. I have friends that will not touch my iPhone if their life depended on it so these people will never, ever see the iPad as a possible solution for e-reading (and yes there are millions of these people) and since no one else sells an iPad clone these people will never ever buy an iPad. There are enough of these people to sustain a couple of other devices (even if the IPad was the superior product). Now other reasons that this article is extremely biased:
    1. BATTERY LIFE. Dedicaded e-readers have much much longer battery life. 7-14 DAYS vs 10 hours (or ~1/2 a day) that is way over 10x the battery life.
    2. People that like to read will read ANYWHERE, but I imagine your Apple biased self do not see anyone reading outside. You know because is so rare to see someone reading at a bench stop waiting for the bus, or in the park, or at the beach, or even in an outside tables in restaurant and coffee shops. And e-ink rules (tha iPad is worthless outside).
    3. Price. Oh yes you Apple biased brain forgets that, since Apple brain washed people do not seemed to care about money. You know for the price of the iPad I can buy the most expensive Kindle for $380 and $20 e-books cheaper than the iPad. But I actually prefer the regular one (it is lighter and easier to carry) which means I can get one for each member of my family (spouse and child) and STILL buy books cheaper than 1 iPad.
    4. CONNECTIVITY. I know that in the Apple biased world they have wifi everywhere in the universe. But the new Kindle (for $189) can download books everywhere there is 3G (the iPad is optional which you have to decided before you buy the iPad and there is a re-occuring charge to have it).
    5. PORTABILITY. Oh yes, it is lighter, you can use the same cable to charge the Kindle that hundreds of different phones, digital cameras, and USB devices have). Because the Kindle uses a UNIVERSAL STANDARD cable as oppose ti the highly proprietary Apple cable (which Apple biased people own). Even the books can move from device to device 1000x easier than the one in the iPad (unless purchased through Amazon).

    As most Apple biased people. You already made your mind the second you heard the rumors of the Apple tablet device and wrote the article once you had the device in your hands.

    This article would of been OK have it ended. With the words:
    * Article sponsored by Apple
    * Article sponsored by Apple Fans
    * Biased article
    * An Apple fan thoughts on Apple vs Kindle

    or something similar.

    • Sound Guy

      How can you say that the author is so biased in favor of Apple when the title of his article is “Why Amazon’s Kindle Will Eventually Win the e-Book Wars.” Did you even bother to read the article? the author makes some excellent points and I hope at Amazon is listening. While I join with other Kindle owners that don’t want Amazon to radically change and produce iPad clones; faster performance, touchscreen interface and some kind of controlled backlighting would dramatically improve the Kindle experience. Trying to follow a group or class discussion on a Kindle is extremely difficult (as the discussion generally moves faster than the ability to navigate through a Kindle) as is trying to move the 5 way controller to look up a word or footnote.
      Right now I am in dimly lit Clifton’s cafeteria in downtown LA and I have to use my iPad because it is to dark to use my iPad. Amazon biased people like Delian Ann rightly point to iPad’s deficiencies in bright sunlight. But while it is difficult to read an iPad in bright sunlight I have always been able to read everything I needed to simply by adjusting the screen I don’t need anything else. Whereas on moonless nights when I need to read a bus or train schedule, I have to find streetlight often populated with ne’er do wells if I am to get the information that I want. To prevent others from falsely claiming bias on my part I will disclose that I own a Kindle DX, iPad 3G 64 GB, and an HTC Droid Incredible. I have happily bought and read Kindle books on all three devices and often carry all three on outings to Comic-Con in San Diego, business trips and excursions to LA, Santa Barbara. The Kindle is a great device and E-Ink should not be something Amazon should give up on just to be like the iPad. But Amazon could learn a lot by introducing things like a touchscreen, backlight, and faster processors.

      Sent from my iPad

  3. I don’t want Kindle to become like the Ipad. Sorry, but I love to read books. I love to browse the internet on my computer. But I want the two to be separate, not in one tool. While its nice to have Wikipedia on my Kindle and I must admit it is one reason I like it better than a regular old book, I don’t want the distraction of email, Facebook, and all those other things that are fine on my computer, but should not go to bed with me when I want to read a good book. I also don’t want a touch pad. I like the keypad!

    I think some of the folks here are correct. Many people in the media do not know the average Kindle user. We are readers, above all things. We are not necessarily into the latest tech gadgets. The ebooks are great because we can access our books easily, buy new ones at the push of a button, and store hundreds of books in one handy package.

    I don’t have an iPhone or even a Smartphone. I don’t want one. The Ipad is nice, but honestly, with my home computer and my netbook, the Ipad is a niche product that I really don’t need. Cool, but not practical for me. I don’t want a flashy back lit screen that hurts my eyes after hours of reading. I like the fact that my Kindle battery lasts for days and days and days, unlike my netbook.

    If Amazon decides to make an Ipad-like Kindle, I won’t buy it just because its cool. And those who love the Ipad will buy…an Ipad! So it would be silly for them to try to compete. Readers like ebooks. Ipad lovers like the Ipad.

  4. The kindle is still hamstrung by DRM and stupid region controls. I can buy a CD from the US and ship it to my door, I can buy a book from the US and ship it to my door, but I’m not allowed to download the same content from the same store as a digital file??? This will only drive up piracy. When I can get the latest books easier over Usenet than I can legitimately from a store where I want to spend my money, there is something very wrong with the distribution model.

    • Andrew

      Whilst I superficially agreed with your point, I surprised myself when I thought some more about it.

      Whether you are buying a CD, Book, Application, MP3 or eBook, you are buying the right to access that content in the medium sold or permitted for re-use (e.g. in the UK we relaxed the law around the ripping of CDs to digital files for personal use). The rights holders have differing means of distribution, taxation regimes, expectations of profitability, channel agreements and so on consequently setting different price points depending on the country of sale. Whilst the Internet has brought transparency in the resulting pricing variances, the variability is inevitable and not exactly unreasonable.

      Given that, I don’t really see why DRM is so bad especially given the ease with which digital files can be duplicated. I’d sooner have the DRM required by the licence holders and a Kindle than an anti-DRM Amazon and no Kindle.

      In any case, witness the success of the iPod and iTunes ecosystem which also has robust DRM. That tells me that the issue is not the DRM but the implementation. In the case of both the iTunes and Kindle, the ability to reuse content that we have purchased across a number of different end devices seems rightly fair and well implemented. It’s that simplicity of implementation with palatable pricing that made iTunes such a success seeing piracy relegated as a concern for the record labels who then consented to the sale of DRM free tracks.

      So, back to your point about being able to buy a book and ship it to the UK. Why not change your Amazon account to a US address and buy your content at US prices? Either pay the excess wireless fee for over the air download outside the US or save the dosh, download and load up over USB? You might find though that that gets to be your preferred route and you’ll need a second, local Amazon account. A small price to pay methinks.

  5. I assume within a year or two, Kindle will be free with an annual subscription of newspapers and some commitment to buy books ? can IPad match that ?

  6. Right now it’s all about rendering and consuming text. But the real battle will be for social interaction. This video by Kevin Rose (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odQfE48wM_M) is a taste of where things are going, and companies like BookGlutton (http://www.bookglutton.com), which keeps books in the cloud and has built community into the reading experience from the ground up with chat, virtual book groups, and annotations, will be the real competition in the coming years. Then it will no longer be about rendering, it will be about consuming and discussing books the same way we consume other media: socially, online. Just as it’s hard for a brick-and-mortar store to translate its offline presence into a digital one to deliver software, it’s not in a standard retailer’s capabilities to switch from one-way audience communication to a community focus.

  7. captdd

    I like using a Original kindle because it has the SD card slot and it’s battery seems to last forever, which I find a big help! Using a eReader tablet is fun and easy on the eyes, that is why folks are buying and “really” enjoying using them, even when they have computers, laptops, PDA’s and cell phones.

    Also consider, If i’m traveling to some places, I’d much rather take a kindle because it would attract much less attention than a new Apple iPad would…

    BTW: You own more than one pair of shoes, why not choose to read on more than one “reading device”?

  8. I think Om needs to brush up on some of his information on the “nook”. Buy once read anywhere also goes for the “nook”. B&N has an e-reader download that will alow you to read their ebooks on the iPad, iPod, Blackberry phones, and coming soon android devices. The “nook” reads the epub format which allows you to borrow ebooks from the public library system. The Kindle doesn’t read the epub format. B&N is new to the technology market, but it does have an operating relationship with Google and uses the Android operating system.

  9. I cannot for the world of me understand why the iPad needs to be exclusive to AT&T. Some days my iPhone is a Phone, on others it is a paperweight. I am settling for a Kindle, till Apple can get rid of that noose around their neck.

  10. Great post here,
    I can see where such E-books,and reading devices could have their place in today’s mobile society. For myself, I just really have little use for anything like that. Nothing like kicking back and thumbing good ole ink scented pages,and real book-markers. Still, this is a great post. Brought to mind all the record companies, who drug their feet instead of jumping aboard the E-train, as it Amtack-ed by them,fast enough to spin their regretful heads,as all the recording artist started producing their own music under their own labels.
    Keep the good work coming.

  11. I have been trying to tell B&N this for years – no response – no reply at all… One of the major executives lives ten miles from me. We have mutual friends. Not even a reply to an email.

    I wrote in my blog 18 months ago that there was going to be a tablet from Apple that would kill the rest of them and that Amazon’s future was in the sale of content. I bought a Kindle when it first came out. My colleagues all laughed at me saying it was worthless. My stduents think I have a direct line somewhere. It is kind of funny to watch them after what I said in my lecture is released by CNN or Time. They look at me like RCA’s old mascot.

    B&N’s Nook just isn’t the right product. Apple makes the physical and Amazon distributes the virtual. Now if B&N could just realize that and focus on content not devices then they would have an edge at least. The college market is where they are strong and need to work on developing, but oh well….

  12. I believe that iBook is a great idea to attract the consumer for getting iPhone,iPad or iPod touch , and its a smart movement from apple.
    I only have an iPhone, and because of the App store , not only the iBook or the kindle app, I can get the book that i want and read it ,
    the only difference between the iPod and the iPad for is the size..
    many people who bought the iPad were interested in the experience of playing and watching movies in a larger screen .
    and at the end it depend on the customer preference.

  13. I know where the future of publishing is heading- digital. but I just cannot help it- I love bookstores and libraries. I love cracking the binding of the new book you just picked up on a lazy Saturday afternoon and now will spend the rest of the weekend reading curled up on your sofa… sitting there with a small electronic devise just does not do it for me… yet.

  14. Mark Bench

    I am no Apple/iPad fanatic, just a technology saavy person who has just bought an iPad. Just talking about eBooks on the iPad the highlight feature and dictionary have convinced me the trend has been set. All other eBooks are going to play catch up at this time. It is a little heavier, but I learning to adapt, as many will. The synergy of iPad/iPod/iPhone/MacBook is going to be huge. One iPad in our home of five is not enough.

  15. Jay M. Portnoy

    Yes, Kindle is the future of books. I love my e-books but can’t hang on to Kindles. I have broken 3 kindles so far and refuse to pay for 4th one. Amazon charges to replace a Kindle if it is damaged by trauma. They are easily broken if pressure is applied to them or they drop on the floor. My iPhone, on the other hand, is a very convenient way to read the books I have and I have never broken it. I always have it and don’t have to carry a separate device so I read from it exclusively. No more Kindles for me.

  16. The one thing I wish the Kindle store had:
    Bundles of Physical and Kindle books.
    If I could buy a paper book, and the ebook in one go, with a discount like they have when you get other bundles of paper books. I could then just download the ebook, read it and delete it, knowing a permanent, DRM free, and readable everywhere copy of the same book is slowly sailing over the seas to me and will arrive in a few weeks to be stored in my library.

  17. G Burk

    You aren’t staying up reading longer because the iPad provides a superior reading experience, you are staying up reading longer because the iPad is backlit, which, according to recent studies, impacts your ability to SLEEP.

    • My guess is that any artificial light source impacts our ability to sleep by messing with our circadian rhythms, and all that, but few of us are ready to live in the dark after sunset.

      Re: comments about the backlit iPad, I remember when I was a kid, you could buy these special “T.V.” lamps to put near your television set because everyone knew that watching TV in a dark room without one would make you go blind!

  18. Please research all products before providing a compare contrast- otherwise it makes you look like youre lazy or a shill.

    Nook and its supporting infrastructure are at the very least as capable as Kindle’s. Does the Kindle even offer a lending option? I’m admitting I dont know, as I do not own one.

    Anyway, that’s that. People just publish whatever they want anymore.

  19. A well-written article, but poorly researched. Nook and its supporting infrastructure are just as capable as the Kindle. Does the Kindle even have a LendMe option? That’s pretty awesome.

  20. I think you underestimate the importance of the file formats and book availability. Kindle is adamant about sticking with Amazon’s proprietary file format, which, as I understand, won’t work on any other device. The Nook uses the more generic epub file format, compatible with a wide range of devices. More importantly, epub format books are available from a number of online publishers – not just Barnes & Noble.

    This takes me back to the Beta vs. VHS debate in the eighties. Although Beta was technically superior, VHS won simply because more movies were published on VHS. I suggest that availability of compatible content will be the deciding factor in this race, and that by picking the epub format, B & N is a step ahead of Amazon or Apple.

  21. andrewzender

    I love my iPod, but I love vinyl records more. I don’t own (or plan to own) an iPad or a Kindle, and love the age-old idea of “curling up with a good book.” Curling up with a Kindle just doesn’t sound right. Call me old-fashioned.