OK, I just got it. The Kindle does have a market. Bezos is correct of course that the reason books persist in the digital world is their ergonomic appeal. With the Kindle he’s working to maintain that book advantage while adding the digital improvements modern technology can offer – that is a library of Alexandria at your fingertips.
Yet the obvious challenge here is what I’ve noted before – laptop users won’t switch to a device that offers ergonomic improvements but less functionality and more cost, and non-tech people won’t adopt tech approaches this quickly. So, who does that leave in the Kindle market? Jeff Bezos is one person, and I think he’ll buy one. I’d probably buy one if I had money to burn on a redundant but somewhat better device for my reading.
So the Kindle market will be heavy duty book readers who *also* like technology *and* have a fairly high threshold of disposable income. This is not a trivial number of people, though it’s probably only in the neighborhood of about 1-2% of the US population. Let’s assume that the number of people who are heavy readers and would like a Kindle and can afford a Kindle are 2% of the US population. That’s a potential market of 6 million people, which does not seem all that problematic. If they can penetrate 10% of this market and sell 600,000 devices along with the many books people will buy at 9.99 maybe it won’t lose money, and perhaps even could evolve into a device with broader appeal.
But I wouldn’t bet on this.
Amazon’s Kindle just does not make sense to a lot of folks blogging about it. Including me. Today the device was introduced by Jeff Bezos of Amazon via a presentation that appears to suggest he thinks this is the new evolution of reading. Cuniform, then books, now the Kindle. Actually, I sort of “get it” when you reasonably suggest that in a digital world the book is a cumbersome technology, containing only a single work in a relatively heavy casing. The Kindle is thus a virtual library of Alexandria in 10 oz plastic box. That’s pretty cool, right? Right, if we did not have alternative technologies that offered even more. As I see this the Kindle is a superior reading device to a laptop or iPhone because of better ergonomics. However, given the cost and limitations (you can’t call with a Kindle), I agree with Forbes that this device may be obsolete before it even hits store shelves.
Who will buy this expensive, highly specialized gadget and then pay fees to read things they could read for free on a computer? Forbes has a more balanced story than Newsweek’s favorably hyped “Future of Reading” silliness that I think was more a product of some exclusive they got from Jeff Bezos than a reasonable analysis of what the Kindle offers readers.
But enough negativity. I want to thank Jeff Bezos for spending so much money helping to design a product that will at the very least help to create the next generation of devices. As a heavy user of heavy laptops I know we have a long way to go here. We need a world where your phone/pda/mp3/browser also functions as a book reader. I think that will come from the phone side of things rather that a separate “reader gadget” Kindle approach, but who knows? Maybe this is the breakthrough device to get the luddites computing? Is their interest kindled with this innovation? Wait….nope….they don’t even know it exists.