Jeff Bezos discusses Kindle, e-books, and future of reading
July 29, 2012 | 8:35 pm
On Kindle Nation Daily, Len Edgerly posts the transcript of an 18-minute interview he had with Jeff Bezos in which they discussed the Kindle, Kindle Fire, the future of e-books, and other interesting topics.
Bezos discusses being amazed at how fast the Kindle has grown—Amazon ran out of stock very quickly during both of its first two holiday seasons. He also talks about the effect it’s had on his and its users’ reading habits—he reads a lot more these days. He finds he uses his Kindle Fire for reading newspapers and periodicals, and his e-ink Kindle for reading longer-form works because it’s easier on the eyes and lighter to hold.
When he looks into the future of reading, Bezos sees a world pretty much like how we read today:
JB: I think one thing that you can count on is that human nature doesn’t change. The human brain doesn’t change. And so one thing that seems to be very, very fundamental is that we like narrative. We like stories. So I don’t think that any amount of eBook technology is going to change the fact that we humans like narrative. And so I think that linear narrative, where somebody has really put a lot of work into guiding us along in a great story—a great storyteller, that’s what they do. I think that’s going to stay the same.
He doesn’t see all-text stories being supplanted by multimedia, either, because the all-text story is its own unique art form and multimedia is often just a distraction.
One interesting note is that Amazon has found people who get the 3G version of the Kindle increase their reading even more than those who get the wi-fi only version—probably because the 3G makes it that much easier and more frictionless to buy e-books wherever they are. Bezos compares it to one-click shopping as an example of an incremental improvement that drives a huge amount of additional sales.
He also discusses location numbers vs. page numbers, “under a minute” download speeds, purpose-built vs. general purpose reading devices, and how the Kindle fits into all that.
And really, until Kindle, nothing in the digital era really made it easier to read long-form. People didn’t want to read long-form on their laptop. We tried that actually. We offered eBooks to people to buy as PDFs and other ways. You needed an electron microscope to find sales. Nobody wanted that.
Bezos takes it as “an article of faith” that “if people read more, that is a better world.” He says that Amazon was built by “missionaries” rather than “mercenaries”, trying to change the world because they believe in what they’re doing instead of for the money. And he also explains how he is able to face the constant firestorm of criticism from the rest of the publishing industry:
JB: What I hold onto and what I tell our folks here at Amazon is, if you’re going to invent, if you’re going to do anything at all in a new way there are going to be people who sincerely misunderstand, and there are going to be also self-interested critics who have a reason to misunderstand. You’ll get both types.
But if you can’t weather that misunderstanding for long periods of time, then you just have to hang up your hat as an inventor. It’s part and parcel with invention. Invention is by its very nature disruptive. And if you want to be understood, if it’s so important for you to be understood at all times, then don’t do anything new.
I’d have to say that “not doing anything new” is not one of Bezos’s problems. In just a few short years, he has changed the whole world of e-reading. You can argue that if he hadn’t done it, sooner or later someone else would have—but the fact is, he’s the one who did. And whether you like what Amazon is doing with its pricing and sales tactics or hate it, you can’t deny it’s brought the change.