Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said the e-book threshold arrived sooner than expected. “Customers are now choosing Kindle books more often than print books,” he said. “We had high hopes that this would happen eventually, but we never imagined it would happen this quickly.” Amazon has sold printed books for 15 years and Kindle books for less than four.
I’ve been a believer in the future of ebooks for a long time, beginning back in the 1990s when I first bought a Rocket ebook reader for my book-hungry youngest daughter. I used an early t-mobile PDA, then a kindle, lately my iPhone and iPad.
For those of us with the means to have easy access to technology, the ebook just makes so much sense, on so many levels, that since I first got one I’ve thought this was inevitable.
Funny, Jeff Bezos saying they didn’t think it would happen this quickly. When I first saw that first ebook reader I guessed wrong; I thought it would happen way more quickly than it actually has. On the other hand, by the time the Kindle came out, I was starting to think it would never happen.
Apple vs. Kindle vs. publishers, oh my. Do you know the background? It’s all over the web. And I posted here this week about how Apple and Amazon.com and Macmillan are wrapped up in an ebook battle. And it gets better. As I write this, Wednesday evening, the news is that Amazon gave in and put Macmillan back into the mix, but at higher prices. But I just checked the site and my favorite Macmillan book, Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded, is listed there as available through third parties only. So go figure.
I’m fascinated with all of this. Really, business strategy in action. Consider these questions, and ask yourself: if you were Steve Jobs, or Jeff Bezos, what would you do?
Does Apple Computer block the Kindle app on its new iPad? The iPad runs iPhone apps, and the Kindle iPhone app works great. But does that mean iPad users can buy Kindle books for their iPad for $9.95, while Apple’s iPad iBooks cost $14.99?
Apple can block the Kindle app, of course. But what will users say about that? Apple users tend to take Apple as some public resource. They’re incensed when Apple acts in its own business interest instead of the public good. Would cutting off the competition be worth the dark side mask?
Is Amazon.com seriously going to cut off its nose to spite its face? They took all Macmillan books off of Amazon.com because of a pricing and revenue share argument related to the iPad. But doesn’t that hurt the Amazon.com business proposition? Don’t we all go there to find the world’s largest inventory? And now they say they’re giving in, putting Macmillan back, and at the higher prices it demanded. What does that do for the Kindle pricing ceiling at $9.99? What happens to the $5 differential on iPad between a Kindle book and an iPad book?
Do publishers gain by fighting either format, or either channel? Now Macmillan books are playing second fiddle at Amazon.com. It’s hard to tell from here, but it’s been presented as Macmillan squaring off against Amazon.com for a larger share of the revenue. That’s a bold move. Would you do it? How would you feel if you were a Macmillan author?
What about Sony, or Barnes and Noble? These other ebook readers that were seriously planning to compete… are they just blown away? What can they do?
Does this mean ebooks are finally for real? I’ve liked ebooks for more than 10 years now, read them on an early Rocket ebook reader, on a PDA, on a Kindle, and on my iPhone, as well as on a number of laptops. Are they finally going to get to critical mass? That would be nice.
Do smart buyers wait for all of this to sort out? Remember the Sony Betamax format vs. VHS? You don’t want to invest on the losing side here, right? I finally bought Blue-ray HD after HD DVD lost the battle.
I’m enjoying the spectacle. I’ve got the Kindle, I’ve got the iPhone with the Kindle app on it, and I’ll probably buy an Apple iPad for its entertainment value, form factor, and long batterly life. For ebooks the iPhone Kindle app is still my favorite, so I’ll probably use the Kindle app on the iPad too, when I get it — if Apple doesn’t block it, that is. I don’t see how the bells and whistles of the new iBook reader can be worth the extra $5. But, since it’s not shipping for a few months anyhow, I’m going to wait and watch.
And I’m especially watching the strategy play out. Several of these big players can make bold decisions that will cut off competition and annoy the hell out of buyers. Is that the way it’s going to go?
(Important: late-breaking news. Since this was posted earlier today, Amazon has reversed its position on this. Macmillan is back, but with its own pricing on the Kindle. This is important. Here’s a link.)
eBook wars, you say? On one hand, it’s about time. On the other, wow, this is strategy in action. And interesting spectacle too. That’s why in athletics the championship games are more interesting: two big winners squaring off.
Mashable led over the weekend with Apple vs. Amazon: The Great Ebook War Has Already Begun, a post by Ben Parr, whose work I like a lot. Posted Saturday, it’s about Amazon and Macmillan. It’s hard to tell who’s making the move on whom here, but the announcement was that Amazon.com was removing Macmillan books from its web store:
According to the New York Times, the reason the books were pulled was the iPad. Macmillan told Amazon that it wanted to change its pricing and compensation agreement, upping the price of some books from $9.99 to $15 and splitting sales 70/30, the same model Apple uses for the iPhone app store and its upcoming iBooks store. Amazon’s apparent response was to flex its muscle and pull countless Macmillan books off the virtual shelves.
Last Friday I posted how the competition is win-win for all sides. We get a choice: Kindle books, just text, for one price, or Apple iBook books (pizazz) for a higher price. You get to decide. Ah, the magic of commerce.
But with Amazon.com and Macmillan biting off each other’s noses, it’s not so clear. Ben Parr wrote:
That’s why Amazon decided to use its biggest weapon, Amazon.com itself, against Macmillan to send a message to every publisher: If you don’t play by its rules, then you can’t be in its store. While a publisher can likely survive without the Kindle, the same cannot be said for Amazon.com. Publishers simply cannot afford to leave the world’s largest online retailer.
Who wins? In this case, the losers are Amazon.com and Macmillan, and all Macmillan authors, and anybody who wants to buy their books. Amazon? Don’t we all go there because we can find all the books imaginable there? And now we don’t? Although you can still buy Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded on Amazon.com, you can’t do it directly. They list it as available from third-party sellers, even though it’s one of the most important books of the last year. And here’s some irony: Priceless, William Poundstone’s analysis of free and fair value and all, is another victim.
Remember the old days, when things like this were about giving customers what they want?