Such was the off-hand comment made on October 23, 2001 by Slashdot’s head honcho, CmdrTaco. He was, of course, referring to Apple’s latest product: the original 5GB iPod.
And we all know how that turned out, don’t we?
Yet that same comment echoed through my mind again and again as I read blogs and posts and reviews far and wide regarding the Kindle, Amazon’s new e-ink based electronic book reader. And nearly all of them critical of a device and service that hardly any have seen or held or touched, and even fewer have actually used.
But is iPod history repeating itself?
And are we—so to speak—judging a book solely by it’s cover?
I think the Slashdot quote is relevant because, as with the Kindle, many of the comments focused on the shortcomings of the device.
And totally ignored the power of the ecosystem that Apple managed to put together.
Or as is often said, the power of the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.
Apple put together a sleek little unit that tied directly into a modern internet-based store.
Buying was simple and easy, with a huge selection of titles that could be purchased on a per-track basis, all for what was at the time a groundbreaking price.
Delivery was equally simple, and in most cases your music was automatically transfered from Apple to your computer to your iPod, no questions asked.
Similarly, the Kindle ties directly into Amazon’s immense online presence, with a large initial selection of titles. In a move that rivals Apple’s early negotiating skills with the music industry, Amazon has managed to get a significant number of publishers onboard. At launch, over 88,000 books are available, with 102 of the current 112 books on the New York Times bestseller list.
That’s 91% folks. Not bad at all.
Pricing for titles is equally impressive, with the latest $20-$30 hardbacks listed at just $9.95 when purchased in the Kindle’s .AZW format, and others are even cheaper.
As I said in Amazon Introduces Kindle; Apple Introduces Nothing, the higher prices other vendors have offered to date have been widely criticized by consumers as unfair. With ebooks the publisher doesn’t need to print or distribute dead trees, nor does a store need to stock them.
So why were vendors charging the same prices for their electronic editions as they were for their print versions?
Amazon may have just hit the magic price point for content.
Delivery is also simplicity itself. Using the built-in internet connectivity the store can be browsed and titles purchased and downloaded without a computer, directly to the device itself. Books can even be deleted from the Kindle and then downloaded again as needed from your online library, a move that Apple would do well to emulate with iTunes.
Other advantages abound, such the ability to have your daily newspaper delivered directly to your Kindle, no matter where it might be.
Or the fact that all ebook titles are tied straight into Amazon’s search engine and user-based recommendation system. Or that Amazon offers the ability for budding authors to publish their own content to the Kindle, immediately.
Also significant is that, with ebooks, a given title need never, ever go out of print. A long tail possibility of which Chris Anderson himself would be proud.
And yes, in my earlier article I too discussed some of things that might prevent the Kindle from igniting the marketplace. And I’ll talk about some more of them in the future.
But I think we might do well not to make too many early predictions of doom and gloom. Nor focus too hard on what Amazon got wrong.
Because Amazon managed, as did Apple, to get an amazing number of things right.
And frankly, because no one wants to be remembered for, “No Wireless. Less Space Than A Nomad. Lame.”