Amazon's Kindle Stirs Up E-book (and Printing and Imaging) Excitement
As readers of the year-end issue of The Hard Copy Observer [where this column appears in print form] can no doubt attest, 2007 has been a very big year for the printing and imaging business. The promises of newcomers like Zink and Memjet and new product categories as represented by HP's Edgeline have been exciting to cover. Innovation outside the purely technical, including the formidable challenge to the razor-and-blades business model mounted by players like Kodak and Xerox, have made 2007 a year to remember. Nonetheless, the pinnacle of tech-industry buzz seems to still be reserved for products and services tangential to printing (at best), with Amazon's Kindle, introduced on November 19, as the latest example.
Earlier this year I was quoted in a Printer Pundit interview on the DataBazaar blog as describing our industry as "quietly going about our business", a comment that was stated frankly but also with a spirit of pride. Yes, we do great things in this business and have hundreds of millions, if not billions, of satisfied customers, but we are the strong, silent types, right? But truth be told, this stealth approach can sting a little in vain moments—after all, among all the 2007 announcements mentioned in my opening paragraph, only Kindle graced the cover of Newsweek magazine.
So, in an unapologetic attention-getting move, I am claiming the Kindle as one of our industry's own. Electronic book readers are not new after all, and many of our business's leading companies have covered, discussed, and even invested in these devices. Since at least 2000, the Observer has covered various E-book readers and related products (e.g. see Observer 3/00). As one of the principal ways we use printed paper in our society, books are of great interest to the printer-oriented world, and in Kindle's case, as noted in its voluminous press coverage in both the traditional and "new" media, the content solution offered by Amazon goes beyond books to include a selection of newspapers, magazines, and blogs. Even considering e-books primarily as a threat that have the potential to someday supplant the need for the physically printed page, these devices are undeniably an important developing area in the broader "information collection, dissemination, and consumption" industry, and serve as a caution to avoid falling victim to marketing myopia and think about ourselves as "just being in the printer industry."
And, in keeping with my ongoing theme of marketing successes and failures, I would like to point to what I believe Amazon has done right on the "product" side. For all the attention it has garnered, much of the Kindle commentary has been rather negative, starting with its retro (to be kind) industrial design. On the positive side, Amazon has put together an innovative solution. We learned from the iPod/iTunes example earlier this decade that cracking an industry, the portable digital music industry in Apple’s case, was not just about the gadget. As the E-book is about so much more than the reader itself, there are definitely some parallels.
The Kindle solution could not do better than Amazon's e-commerce infrastructure for its online bookstore, and the Whispernet connectivity seems to solve the Wi-Fi hot-spot problem I have encountered with my iPhone (and its AT&T Edge network backup that has been roundly criticized as inadequate). The resulting stand-alone nature of the Kindle (no PC required) is a big plus in terms of usability and convenience compared to 2006’s Sony Reader. Closer to our printing world, Amazon had the foresight to include the handling of user-generated documents like PDFs and Word files along with books, newspapers, magazines, and blogs, which are added to the Kindle's memory via e-mail. (Conversely, the Kindle's inability to print snippets of books and other files is one of the knocks on it that reviewers have highlighted.)
By staying away from engineering a multi-purpose laptop-PC wannabe, Amazon seems to have nailed the design for a dedicated reading appliance that includes a monochrome, e-ink-based display and limited graphics but weighs in at well below one pound (10.3 ounces, to be exact). Of course, behavioral patterns will have a huge impact on market success in the end, and the battle still rages between dedicated (and thus multiple) specialized devices and convenient (but compromised) all-in-one machines.
To complete the marketing analysis, the Kindle has a fairly reasonable pricing scheme, including an acceptable price for the machine and aggressive prices for best sellers (though customers may soon tire of the nickel-and-dime scheme of paying for blogs and e-mail). The Kindle also benefits from the ultimate "place", i.e. distribution channel, as Amazon is one the one of the world’s most heavily trafficked and most popular e-commerce sites. So with the great promotion (including the PR blitz) still ongoing and attention to product, make that solution, details, I predict success for Amazon’s Kindle, and welcome it to our larger printing and imaging family!