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What if Amazon Got it Wrong?

Tablet When Jeff Bezos introduced the original Kindle almost 2 years ago he talked about how long-form reading was on the decline.  He also noted how the Kindle would reverse that trend because it will now be more convenient to take all your books with you and read them wherever you are.

Bezos used the phrase "info-snacking" and how the web encouraged all of us to read shorter bits of content, not long-form works.  His core assumption was that lots of people would love to read more books and that they just need a new delivery platform to quench their thirst.

What if Amazon's assumption was wrong?  What if short-form content that's all over the web is really the preferred format? It's still very enjoyable to read a Harry Potter book or something in the Twilight series, but what if most people looking for business advice or how-to info prefer to get in and get out as quickly as possible?  What if, outside of novels, the added value here is convenience and time-savings?

If the Kindle is the answer to long-form content could the Apple Mediapad/Tablet/iPad be the answer to short-form content?  Sure, you could read a book on an "iPad" if you want to, but what if the rumored device focused primarily on delivering an "insanely great" experience for short-form content instead?

While Amazon waits for eInk's full-color display technology Apple simply features a good old backlit one.  Again, not ideal for reading a hundred pages of a book in one sitting but perfect for magazines, blogs and other short-form content.

I've been a Kindle owner for well over a year now and I'm doing even more short-form reading than ever.  I'm also using workarounds and hacks to do some of that on the Kindle, so I'd welcome a device like the iPad that's better suited for it thanks to full color, wifi, a real browser (not an experimental one), etc.  How about you?


John Wilker

We still need to talk about 360Whisperings! :) We definitely think the short form (in our case technical) is a big deal, and under served need. Though the Kindle and E-readers I think can still be the tool of choice for that format. We've been seeing steady sales in the stuff we've already got up online, and are working on more.


Joe, I think Bezos's comments were a combination of wishful thinking, from someone who loves books and wants others to share that love, and canny positioning, heading off criticism from traditional publishers by presenting Kindle as a product that would save, not destroy that industry's long-standing business model, of making money by putting out content in packages hundreds of pages long.

Joe Wikert

Andy, that's a great point. But it's also true that the Kindle (all versions) has been built mostly with long-form content in mind. It's simply not a great user experience with short-form. The browser is awful, the display (on v1 and v2) is too small for some formats and it leaves you with something less than a rich, full e-content experience.

That's where an overgrown version of the iPhone could be very interesting. Heck, just yesterday I dumped my NY Times Kindle subscription in favor of the iPhone version. If I prefer to read *that* on the smaller iPhone screen (vs. the Kindle), imagine how much more attractive it will be on an iPad.

Chuck Toporek

I think Amazon was wrong. I think they gambled with the Kindle and are about to be shown -- by Apple -- what a real ebook reader should be. Not that the Mac Tablet/iPad will be solely for reading books (it won't), but it will surely give readers a better experience than the Kindle.

The one thing that's kept me from buying a Kindle is the grayscale display. I read a lot more than just computer books and fiction, where color usually isn't an issue. What about cookbooks or books on photography and design? I really expected Amazon to release a full-color Kindle with version 2, and was very disappointed when they didn't. If Apple comes out with a Mac Tablet/iPad, and it proves to be as good as the iPhone for reading books (which isn't saying much), then that will be my ebook reader, not a Kindle (ever). There are a number of great e-readers on the iPhone already (Eucalyptus, Stanza, CourseSmart, etc.), and they will only get better as UIKit evolves.

A Mac Tablet/iPad would surely also integrate video via QuickTime, and hopefully text input with Ink (something that's been in Mac OS X since Jaguar). From a publishing perspective, you could tie in the book's content, integrate screencast videos, and employ multitouch in a number of ways to enhance the user experience.

Nathan Bransford

I'm actually reading more and more books on my iPhone Kindle app these days. Turns out I like instantaneous page turns on a backlit screen more than I like e-ink and blinking page turns. Even for long books! Who knew. And you make a great point about short content. The point extends even further for videos.

I will be the first in line for a tablet.

Francis Hamit

Dear Joe:

I still read a lot of traditional print books, but in short bursts, because I want to think about what I've read. I'm a big fan of clear, precise writing, without stylistic ruffles and flourishes, espcially for non-fiction. I still don't have an e-reader of any kind, although sales of my e-books seem most popular on Sony for some reason and I may have to take a look.

When it comes to e-books myself, however, I read them on this 22 inch computer screen at 125%. I have some vision problems. The only difficulty is when the page is in two columns and I have to mouse back and forth to read the text in the order presented. A lot of government reports use that format and I'm doing research again.

Speaking of two columns, it would be very handy to have an app that would allow you to compare texts side by side. You couldn't do that with a reader of course, but on a big screen being able to compare correspondence of two different players in an event side by side might aid insights into past events.

Here's my thought on the Kindle's ability to carry a lot of texts. On the average business trip, how many will you have time to read? I read fairly fast, and it still takes me a day or two to read just one book. If Bezos really wants to make the Kindle more than a novelty he needs to sell a milspec version, preloaded with all the regulations and military manuals. That would be very useful. It would save the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars for printing and distributing the paper versions, which get updated regularly. This was why HTML was first developed. (I was at the conference where it was introduced.)


I think that if we're talking about "reading as snacking", then a dedicated device is not the way to go. I too am reading more " in the cracks" as I wait in line somewhere or out while my wife is shopping, but that's just because I have an iPhone with various readers installed.

I wouldn't go to the mall with my wife and tote around a larger dedicated device just in case I had the chance to read a little bit. Full color web browser or not.


I am one of those who prefers long form reading to short form and wonder if, in this day and age of short attention span that I have the opposite—a long attention span. Gradually I have dropped magazine subscriptions because they were starting to pile up. As one who avoids tv news like the plague, though, I am forced into some short form reading in the form of Kindle subscriptions to the Chicago Tribune, the NY Times Latest News, Slate, Teleread, and Gizmodo. Yes, I realize all of the above can be read on the computer's backlit screen but it's not comfortable for any period of time.

Someone asked what about cookbooks and books on photography and design. I buy all of those as print books and do not expect them to turn up in full color on my Kindle. However, I am greatly interested in the Apple tablet but not as a device to read full-length books on and I read a LOT of full length books, 3 or 4 a week. Anyone who reads that much on a Kindle knows that you do not notice the page turns and that you can also read faster on the Kindle. Truly, you can. I'm reading more than I ever was before I had one which has been since January 2008.

If your reading is all short form, no, the Kindle is not for you. It's for those of us that like a good long book.

Jeff Barry

You make a great point about short-form content. I think publishers are getting sidetracked (largely thanks to Amazon) by focusing so much on long-form content as e-books. The key should be on value-added packaging of short-form content with multimedia aspects, particularly in non-fiction. I've long thought that not every book needs to be 300 pages. But authors need a lot more help in creating enticing short-form content that employs graphics and video. We're still learning how "to write and read" short-form/multimedia content.

Looking forward to seeing what Apple releases, though I plan to continue most of my long-form reading in print. My short-form needs require a color screen and multimedia, not 16 shades of gray. But I suspect I will end up using a low-cost netbook if the apple pad is too pricey.


Amazon's base assumption on short-form vs. long-form content may indeed have been wrong, but the Apple "iPad" will hardly be an answer to lots of people looking for short-form content. Why? Because the economics make no sense if they are aiming for huge sales numbers in the consumer space.

I keep reading that Apple is targeting the $700 - $900 range for this new device. Plus data. I've heard they are looking at Verizon, whose cheapest data plan will set you back $40 / month. My guess is they will knock a couple hundred off the upfront price in exchange for a 2-year contract.

So let's say the device is $500 + $40x24 months = $1460 2 year TCO. Now someone look at me with a straight face and say they are targeting the mass market with this device. The mass market won't buy this for the same reason so many people stick with the iPod Touch - because the economics make no sense for casual users. Also there's the whole issue of the relationship between the carriers and Apple - why can't I get an iPod Touch with 3G? Because then AT&T wouldn't be guaranteed $90/month forever!

Bezos, on the other hand, has a great answer when people complain about the steep price of the Kindle - he can just say the difference is simple - we don't hide any costs or force you into a long term committment. We charge you the price of the device and the service upfront. No funny business.

Joe Wikert

Hi Brian. I totally agree that pricing is going to be an important element of Apple's success, at least beyond the early adopter crowd. I'm not sure I follow your point about the Touch vs. iPhone though. I'm pretty sure Apple consistently sells more iPhones than Touch's. This article confirmed that point earlier this year and I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that the trend continues: http://bit.ly/2B100F. If so, more people, myself included(!), have been willing to pay a lot more to own an iPhone than a Touch, making the former the bigger mass market success.

Regardless though, your point is valid and Apple could very easily price themselves out of the market if they go too high.

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