Kindle eBook reader

eBook readers or at least the concept has been around for quite some time. Already back in the early 90s some early adopters started to read novels on their Newton Messagepads.

Since then things have come a long way with many early players like the Rocket Reader left behind in oblivion. 2010 marks the boom year of the eBook reader. Over a dozen of reader devices are already in the market and dozens of new devices had been announced during CES and MWC in the past months.

The poster child of the new eBook revolution is Amazons Kindle with an estimated 1 million devices sold so far.

Lets look a bit at what makes the device interesting:

Smart & Simplex Delivery
The way books/magazines/newspapers are delivered is smart and “simplex” by utilizing the mobile networks for delivery. From the users side there is no need to sign up for a data plan from a mobile carrier. Amazon is taking care of that for free, even on a global scale. (there are some global roaming charges). Buying books becomes a seamless experience for users no matter where they are.

Publishing Ecosystem
Even the agreements Amazon struck with the big publishing houses is a topic of hot debates, the Kindle offers a special production and distribution tools for independent authors to bring their works to the Kindle platform including a (rather) fair revenue-share business model. The author keeps 70% of the revenues while Amazon is taking care of the listing, distribution and procurement. An interesting approach to attract a new market of independent writers. As a next step Amazon also launched an application development ecosystem similar to Apples App Store.

One System, Many Access Devices
The Kindle reader application is available for smartphones (iPhones) as well as for PCs (Mac & PC). This allows users to continue reading across several devices and in different usage scenarios, be it stationary or mobile. The Amazon server takes care of the synching between the devices including bookmarks and current reading position.

While the Kindle can be seen in a way as a revolutionary reading device there is still room for improvement to make the concept of eBook readers more meaningful for users:

Price Versus Functions
Of course there are early adopters, technology fans as well as niche users who would definitely buy the device at its current price but this is not a mass market. From a normal users perspective it does not make sense to pay around 250 dollar for a device which just serves as a replacement for something a user already has: a device for reading books. (Not to mention the 480 dollars they would need to pay for the Kindle DX). Cost is an issue for most readers out there today. They range from 250 dollars up to 2,000 dollars.

How to overcome the price issue?

The straight forward approach: subsidize
One way would be to subsidize devices through subscription models to drive down the upfront cost of the device for users. Similar to mobile phones in the past the device could be free combined with a 12-24 month content subscription package.

The more sustainable approach: “killer content”
A more sustainable but also more ambitious approach would be to offer content to users that is appealing enough to make them purchase the device at the given price. Through exclusive deals with authors to publish their work either first or only on the specific platform or to offer hard to find or out of print book available nowhere else.  Special editions with exclusive extra content or attractive content bundle offers could also be a way to increase the perceived “need” for such an eBook reader.

But to make these devices really appealing there is more to consider. Here are just some thoughts:

Beyond Books
Create new usage scenarios for the device that would go beyond books/newspapers/magazines. In that case users would not purely buy the device as an eBook reader but also for other purposed which would help to justify the purchase costs from the consumers side. The Kindle application store is trying to drive the device towards these new usage scenarios. This would of course only work if the offered benefits are tangible enough in the minds of consumers. Adding for example access to Wikipedia (like the Kindle does) suddenly turns an eBook reader into a portable dictionary. Some extra usage scenarios could be: map services, location based information services, TV guides, Social Network access, personal blog service, shopping guides.

The power of Social
One part which most eBook readers lack are social tools. But this is the most powerful part actually! Even the Kindle has a built-in keyboard, there is not much use to it apart from searching or taking notes. Still users are seen as pure consumers of content. ebook readers have to become social devices. Users need to be able to comment on books they are reading or have been rea    ding, write letters to the editors of newspapers or magazines they subscribed to on their device or join community forums to talk about different reading related topics online. The (connected) technology is all there in the hands of the user embedded into one single device. Readers should be able to share their reading experiences with other users, write about it on their personal blog, Twitt about it, have their favorite book on their social network profile. As a next step readers could also become producers. They could write down their own personal stories, poems, experiences on the device and contribute this content back into the content distribution ecosystem. Their contributions could be downloaded by others for free or for a small fee and this revenue could be shared between the distributor and the creator: A new way of user generated content monetization.

Conclusion
eBook readers (like the Kindle) can be one of the drivers of a new device revolution (like the iPad) if the right ingredients are used to make the user experience “meaningful” enough to start using it. Content needs to be compelling. Access to content should be made easy by utilizing intelligent network solutions. Furthermore they need to have an intuitive, simple user interface all at a price level that is affordable for the average user. But just books might not be enough. The device needs to offer real added value services and also it needs services that make use of the mobile platform and the technology of the device. The device should be part of a bigger, connected structure. Most of all they also should embrace social and communication elements allowing a new shared experience to users. Of course there also needs to be an attractive ecosystem behind the device, to attract content developers. Otherwise these devices will face the fate of many high-tech novelties: they might end up in a niche and worst case die in there.

And in the end we should not forget one fundamental paradigm: The average user does not care so much about the device itself but about what the device enables him to do. The simplex, the better!

Picture source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bike/ / CC BY 2.0

This entry was posted on Thursday, February 18th, 2010 at 2:24 am

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