Wednesday, May 6, 2009


In a world loaded with simplistic, superficial, jump-to-conclusions digital judgment calls, Amazon’s Kindle is an over sized target. As a game-changing device, Kindle is as formidable as Apple’s iPhone.

The electronic reader has been bound in skepticism and oh-hum dismissals since it was launched in a haze just 18 months ago. Its popularity has steady grown to nearly one million users downloading bestsellers for about $10 and classics for $1.99, to newspaper and other subscriptions for up to $14.99. It has been embraced by Project Gutenberg (an archive of electronic titles), Stephen King novellas, book swaps, book and newspaper publishers, and bloggers.

In its latest big-screen iteration, Kindle is viewed as a cheaper, more convenient wired and non-wired salvation for all things written—bigger than smart phone screens and less laborious than most laptop PCs. And it makes a whole lot more sense than the Expresso Book Machine unveiled at the recent London Book Fair by former Random House publisher Jason Epstein. The contraption is an instant book printing machine, described as "an ATM for books" by Andrew Keen.

With Kindle editions having grown to 35% of all book sales (some 275,000 of e-books) and expected to sell 1 million units just this year, there is no limit to its adoption.

The academic world's embrace of Kindle as a necessary tool is a huge endorsement of its usefulness and potential. Princeton, Pace, Case Western, Reed, Arizona State and University of Virginia are among the universities allowing students to use Kindles instead of conventional textbooks this fall.

Once an earth-shaking gadget becomes a critical mass tool, it’s all about applications. Such has been the case for Apple’s iPhone, whose most popular application, the Stanza reading interface and its Lexcyle corporate parent, were recently acquired by—who else?—Amazon.

Amazon Creator Chairman Jeff Bezos not only has single-handedly changed the world of publishing and reading with the Kindle device and Amazon sales and distribution, but the e-retailing, e-commerce process as well. In fact, the full impact and full scope of innovation has yet to be embraced.

E-books will be continuously updated by the author, integrated with reader discussion, and framed by social community. Book promotion becomes a viral process, extending to online video author interviews and real-time exchanges. While it strengthens some ties, it challenges others such as protecting the integrity of a written work and battling piracy.

When he unveiled a larger screen Kindle DX just south of $500 Wednesday, Bezos said the latest generation device would better accommodate serious readers of newspapers, business documents and tedious scholastic works. It eventually could make campus book stores, highlighter markers, textbook publishing houses, bathroom reading materials and Microsoft software obsolete. (Yes, you can even dog-ear the Kindle pages.)

More importantly is the next wave of mobile interactivity Kindle can propagate: new forms of e-marketing, e-commerce, socialization and monetization. Like iPhone, Kindle will nurture an ecosystem of functionality and value. The sky’s the limit on where it goes from here as a $1.2 billion business that is just short of 5% of Amazon’s 2009 revenues, according to Citibank analyst Marc Mahaney.

Kindle’s success could come at Amazon’s expense, Mahaney points out as half of its revenues are generated by the books, videos and music being digitized. “If Amazon can’t successfully jump the chasm from Internet-ordered /mailman-delivered media products, to Internet-ordered/digitally-delivered media products, its financial fundamentals and stock price will be significantly challenged,” Mahaney observes.

No worries. It is more than likely, in the classic Bezos style, Kindle and Amazon will continue to innovate themselves one better.