By November 21, 2007

No Wireless. Less Space Than A Nomad. Lame.

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.”


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  1. John Muir says:

    An amazing number of things right? No.
    The original iPod came out two years before the iTunes Music Store, was Mac only, and really was just the simple proposition of a digital music player designed with human beings in mind. Creative had an early lead in the game but their interfaces were terrible and couldn’t get any further than the hardcore tech crowd. Diamond eventually wound up as a dead footnote in history, valiantly winning the court ruling that MP3 players were even legal, then failing to make any remotely appealing players such that Apple stepped in and took all the loot.
    The iPod was a moderate success on its initial launch, but only became the giant it is today through many cycles of evolution in the hardware and software, as well as content being opened all the time. It certainly was not the promise of buying music online for it that pulled in the buyers in 2001 until 2003. Judging by the overall figures on iTunes songs sold versus iPods bought, it still really isn’t. Ripping your own CD’s is what the iPod always was and mostly still is all about.
    So … to the Kindle.
    1. Near universally loathed design. It looks bad, it appears to read bad, you have buttons you don’t want to accidentally press over most of its surface and there are visual distractions all around your text. Why? Couldn’t they have tried a little harder? Seems much more Zune than iPod to me.
    2. No using your own content. Want to read a book you’ve owned for years? No luck. Pundits forever suggest the iPod and iTunes form a “monopoly” since you can buy music from Apple for your Apple hardware … but with Amazon this is in fact MANDATORY. No “ripping”, no free digital copies of all or any of your previous Amazon purchases, not even free access to the internet. Hello? How does this compare to an iPod touch? Very, very, very badly.
    3. The iPod is now entrenched in a way the embryonic music players of 2001 never were. The iPhone is heading that way much faster in its own right. How do these relate to the Kindle? The iPod touch and iPhone are its direct competitors. The iTunes Store merely needs to start selling e-books and Apple only need to allow .PDF synching. I don’t think they necessarily will any time soon, instead taking a wait and see strategy and an eye on the Kindle’s sales. But if anyone’s capable and in a near perfect position to launch the e-book reader to beat them all, it is Apple. They just need to decide that it’s a market worth trying. I doubt they do quite yet.
    4. Amazon has a single strength. CONTENT. Yet it’s treating this content in the same asinine way as the record labels do theirs. Amazon has taken the plunge and launched the Kindle: so why no free content and loyalty for customers previous printed purchases? It seems as though they can’t quite decide whether the Kindle is indeed a big thing worthy of a risk or not. Amazon has huge muscle with publishers, and pretty deep pockets. so why marginalise the device by strangling its essential content when the options to really appeal to consumers are obvious?
    I’m not actually one of the crowd who thinks that printed books are naturally perfect and therefore all e-readers are destined to fail. But the Kindle is no iPod. Worse than that: it really needs to be an iPhone.