Amazon Kindle or Bezos’ Windmill?

Amazon is highlighting the fact that Kindles are available for immediate shipment following long delays following unprecedented early demand. That Amazon is devoting the choicest real estate on their site to the Kindle, as well as publishing their shareholder letter, underscore the commitment that Amazon is making to this device.

I’ve been watching the Kindle with a high degree of curiosity, fully aware that no electronic book reader has ever gone mass market despite some impressive technology achievements. It has not been lost on me that the reason why the Kindle is different is that Amazon is not a consumer electronics company, they are a retailer that has an enormous amount of clout in the content side of publishing and that is exactly what is required to drive success in electronic books.

It’s clear that Bezos sees a day when any and all content can be delivered to a Kindle and not only won’t Amazon have to store inventory, they also won’t have to ship anything but the Kindle itself to support their book business. In that light, the Kindle totally fits and is an impressive disruptive strategy to boot. Having said that, we have 550 years of mechanical printing to overcome and in terms of simplicity and cost, it’s hard to beat a hardcopy book.

I’m still skeptical that in the next 10 years we will be able to displace print but in many categories not only will this be success but it could be transformative as well. Can you imagine the capabilities that would be made available in classrooms if textbooks were available electronically for the Kindle and then integrated with social network capabilities? Take magazines and other periodicals as another example of a category that could be transformed with electronic delivery.

Still, even though I’ve had one on backorder for my wife, I think I’ll hold out for a little while.


9 thoughts on Amazon Kindle or Bezos’ Windmill?

  1. Jeff, with all due respect, when was the last time you were in a classroom as a student? I can see using an e-book reader for novels or anything else you read in a cover-to-cover style, but when using a textbook you’re doing a lot more jumping around from chapter to chapter, section to section. It’s far more non-linear.

    For example, say you’re working through a problem set. You’re going to be going from #1 in the problem set to that example three pages back and then maybe over to the index to find the exact page for the formula you’re looking for, and then back to the problem. And then through a similar series of jumps for the next problem, and the next, and the next.

    I have real trouble seeing how an e-book reader is going to help me do that better / faster / more efficiently than a paper textbook.

  2. I think the Kindle is Amazon’s attack on bricks and mortar retailers like Borders. The only reason I ever go to Borders is when I need a book right away and cannot wait 2 days for shipping. Kindle would change the game so that getting a book from Amazon was instant, and thus faster than driving to the store.

  3. @lux, you raise a fair point… and it has been a while since I have been in a classroom. Having said that, Kindle and the Sony Reader are first generation products and from here I see the opportunity to add note taking and bookmarking, perhaps even audio notes, along with better searching and a synonym capability. Basically if they get the hardware right, they should be able to make the software do a lot of things that would be additive to the classroom experience.

  4. I agree with lux but would add highlighting, commenting in the margins, and bookmarking as advantages text books have over e-books. Same with technical manuals.

    Me, I can’t get over the $399 price tag, esp. with the great library system we have here.

  5. jeff – completely agree with you that the kindle is a first pass at this. technology won’t be a barrier ultimately to a great educational experience – even though textbook usage is non-linear, nothing’s to say that an electronic device couldn’t capture the same spirit (e.g., multiple pages viewed on one screen, etc)

  6. Brian Hart:

    I have a Kindle. It *does* highlight, bookmark, and comment in the margins.


    So far, using text search on my Kindle has worked admirably. It would probably work for working through a problem set as you describe, though I haven’t actually done it.

    The table of contents for an ebook is accessible with one menu click and works fine for jumping from chapter to chapter. Set up properly, it should work great for section jumping too. The Kindle actually does “non-linear” quite well if the document is formatted for it. If not, I fall back on text search.

    It’s also quite a bit lighter than even one college textbook, let alone a term’s worth.

  7. You’re right, Cat. My mistake. I was looking at the bullet points on the Amazon product page and should’ve scrolled down to the details.

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