Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Observations: Kindle meets iPhone -- what about printing?

Observations: Kindle meets iPhone, What About Printing?

We’ve seen a great deal of Kindle e-book excitement, starting the week after Ground Hog’s day (February 9th) and Amazon’s announcement of the long-anticipated Kindle Two. That activity led to a massive PR campaign featuring Amazon (NASDAQ AMZN) Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, who seemingly appeared everywhere, including the CNBC financial news channel (where his legendary laugh had to help at least a little bit during these harrowing times) to Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.

Bezos proffers the idea that Kindle’s “purpose-driven” design (something I believe we formerly referred to as “an appliance” and a “dedicated device”) will win out over e-book reading done on more general-purpose machines such as a laptop, netbook, or smart phone. And I believe he has a point. When I reported on the first Kindle in this column, just over a year ago (see "Amazon's Kindle Stirs Up E-book (and Printing and Imaging) Excitement"), I praised Amazon’s discipline in developing a machine that was specially designed for one sole purpose—as an e-book reader. With Kindle Two, that discipline continues, with the usual better/faster/smaller improvements we have come to expect in technology (note that I did not include cheaper).

However, despite Amazon’s commitment to the purpose-driven machine, it also just announced a “free” Apple (NASDAQ AAPL) iPhone reader that became available on March 4. (“Free” is relative, of course, as Amazon’s motive is the sale of electronic books.) While this action may seem like a concession or at least a compromise by Bezos and his company, it is interesting that some analysts see the iPhone reader as Apple giving in to accept the Kindle reader as an iPhone application.

Of course Apple, through its iTunes distribution hub, has go/no-go control over what iPhone applications become available. And by granting Amazon distribution through iTunes, Apple gives access to those millions of iPhone customers who suddenly become a new market for Amazon’s online bookstore of 240,000 (and growing) titles.

At the time of the December 2007 Kindle launch, I made the case that e-books were part of the larger printing and imaging world, and any excitement around a new e-book reader was, by definition, excitement coming the way of our industry generally and should be embraced. This time around I am not so sure.

The confluence of Kindle and iPhone has certainly set off some debate over which is the superior platform from the perspective of user experience and market potential. However, the voice of those arguing about the need to print e-book content (at least snippets), from either side, seems to be much quieter than previously or is at least muted by the other stories and interest surrounding the new products.

One of those stories has been a threat over lawsuits regarding the new Kindle’s audio capability, which led to Amazon’s recent retreat in this area. The gist of the argument is that spoken word books, even with the spoken words generated on-the-fly by the computer processor in the Kindle, were not covered by the copyright license owners of the printed word (i.e. Kindle owners who purchase $9.99 digital titles from Amazon), and that the audio stream was in violation of the copyright of the audiobook rights, which were not covered by the $9.99 license.

And while we had a flurry of interest around Apple iPhone printing applications at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009, led by HP’s (NYSE HPQ) entry (see "iPhone Printing boom"), the applications by HP and others were almost exclusively focused on photo printing, with little attention (or apparently demand) for textual printing.

Some interest in printing makes it through the ether, as users seek help in printing from Kindles and related devices, and there is always a chance that a growing base of users will find direct printing is a latent need to be addressed by aspiring printing-and-imaging-industry types. But even then there are digital rights issue that some would say are at the heart of the non-enablement of printing by Amazon and others (parallel to the audiobook issue noted above, but this time with Amazon on the other side).

For example, from a comment on the Web site, responding to a short post offering a user tip that printing from the Kindle is possible by routing selected content through the Kindle’s “My Clippings” feature:
You can copy parts of a physical book with a photocopier. You can also photocopy Kindle pages (really, you can!). You can’t, however, copy the whole thing in either case. Printing direct from Kindle would make it too easy to make physical copies of books, and that lies well outside Fair Use.

So, some interest in printing from the Kindle remains, and workarounds will come to the fore, but linking the growth of e-books and a corresponding growth in printing may be one of those areas where a few optimists proclaim the opportunity, but most users just read more electronically.


Jim Lyons said...

This link didn't make it into the final column but is worth a look.

Jim Lyons said...

More creative thinking -- Ad Age column by Steve Rubel -- "Why the Print Industry Should Subsidize the Kindle"

Jim Lyons said...

More on iPhone Kindle reader, and alternatives