Thursday, November 22, 2007

Re-kindling the text iPod

Last Tuesday I was invited to the Dutch weekly radio programme Tros Online (see the announcement in the Dutch language and listen to the 10 minutes session of November 20, 2007). The presenters wanted a discussion about the Kindle e-book reader, which was presented by Amazon on Monday. There had been long a buzz about the Kindle (kindle = to start a fire); even a prototype was out in 2006 (see photographs). It has not changed since. Before the summer holiday of 2007 there was even a rumour that iRex Technologies, the manufacturer of the iLiad, was in talks with Amazon. But now it is official: Amazon will sell the e-book reader Kindle. Even Jeff Bezos, the CEO of, is unabashed about it, as can be seen in a television interview.

I looked at all the movies about it, even the drop test. And I read all the specs. And the first impression is: it looks awful. Yak. It is white and not sexy like the Apple iPod and iPhone. Technically it is a real 3.0 generation e-book, superseding the Sony EB and Rocket e-Book. It has digital paper and it has wireless connectivity (buying a book takes less than 60 seconds). There are a lot technical details, which can be compared with for example the iLiad. On the screen, for example, there seems to be a difference in the grey tones scale. Kindle is supposed to have 4 grey scales, where the iLiad has 16 grey scales; the grey scales affect the sharpness of the letters and especially the illustrations. On the connectivity takes a step ahead of the iLiad; from wifi to a fast network. is also setting a standard, be it a proprietary standard. Of the text formats it has selected Mobipocket. This is of course fine for It can now store books in one format. But it is a negation of all the efforts which have been put into the Open eBook Forum.

Looking at the business proposal I am impressed. offers books, newspapers and even blogs. has 88.000 copyrighted books available at ten US dollars each. It has made deals with major US newspapers as well as magazines and offers editions at two US dollars. And it has 300+ blogs on offer, even at a price. Gosh, is attempting to professionalise blogs, forcing a caesura between paid and unpaid bloggers?

The price is another testing point. Kindle will be sold for 400 US dollars (251 euro) , 50 US dollars more expensive than the Sony 3.0 generation e-reader. It is less expensive that the iLiad, which costs a hefty 650 euro (899 US dollar at the present exchange rate). It actually turns around the iPod introductory price by Apple. Did Amazon mirror the introduction to iPod. The introduction of Kindle is definitely modelled after the iPod business model by Apple: a very portable device (iPod), an assortment (iTunes) and acceptable prices for a legal download. has all these characteristics also: the e-book reader is light (320 grams), but not as sexy as the Apple iPod; 88.000 copyrighted titles which is less than the iTune library at launch and the price of a book is under ten US dollars for a legal download (with even a virtual back-up).

I written before that e-book industry needs a champion, just like the music industry. Apple fulfilled that role and developed the format for music. I have indicated before that Sony would not be a proper industry champion because it uses a closed publishing system. Philips, stimulating digital paper, could not have been an industry champion, as it is in hardware and not content. looks like a proper industry champion as it has been in the internet bookshop business for years now. It is a great player in the States and makes efforts in China. But in Europe, except for the UK, and Ireland, the presence is not ubiquitous. In fact, if would get together with Nokia, it could make a handsome and forceful business couple.

And the verdict (famous last words): Kindle is a brave step, but its impact will be less than the iPod introduction. It will stay a US service, not a global one and certainly not a European one. There is still enough room for competitors, provided that they refine the business model and the device.

Blog Posting Number: 930

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