image In Why Amazon Doesn’t Need Kindle 2.0, has a Forbes writer unwittingly provided ammo for those of us worried about Amazon’s excessive clout in the e-book world?


Andrew Greenberg writes that E Ink, whose tech Amazon uses, isn’t planning major changes for around a year. And he believes that Amazon can get away without huge innovations.

400,000, not a mere 50,000

Greenberg passes on an estimate, from Forrester Research, that 400,000 Kindles have been sold. That’s supposedly about 30 percent more than the number for Sony Readers despite a new Sony model, the PRS-700 (my question: has the 700 been in distribution that long?).

I suspect the 400,000 figure is correct. Hard to say. The issue isn’t just the demand for Kindles but also the supply, and either could account for the long backorder time for shoppers. Still, propelled in part by the Oprah effect, you can’t deny that Amazon has achieved a certain amount of momentum. Forrester’s  optimistic figures are quite a change from the past, when an analyst there predicted Kindle sales of perhaps 50,000 in the first year.

The smugness issue

But can Amazon really be as smug as Greenberg says it could? I can see both sides. On one hand, Amazon controls not only the Kindle format but also Mobipocket, and yes, it would appear to be E Ink’s major customer. Imagine, furthermore, all the tens of thousands of books in both formats.

On the other hand, Greenberg’s piece ignores the existence of competing e-paper technology from Plastic Logic, nor does it bother to address Sony’s plans to enable customers to download books wirelessly from a number of independent bookstores. In another post today, I’ll point to a video of Plastic Logic’s imrpessive gadgetry in action.

What’s more, keep in mind the efforts of Lexcycle (Stanza’s developers) and eReader to make e-book buying Kindle-simple on the iPhone and other devices. They’re not there yet, but they are trying hard.

How publishers could encourage technical innovation

You know who could really make the difference in encouraging e-book tech to move forward rather than just just fall back into a smug, Amazon-dominated approach? Publishers. I’d urge them not just to keep expanding the range of titles for Amazon but also go out of their way to accommodate Sony, Lexcycle, eReader and other competitors

Along the way, publisher should also watch out for Apple’s possible efforts to muscle aside third-party software houses and try to herd publishers into an iTunes-style arrangement—without other attractive retail choices being available. In the long term, Amazon isn’t the only possible monopoly. So beware.

Monopolies are the last thing the e-book world needs. With the clout that publishers can exercise, however, through their control of content, the industry has a chance to avoid the not-so-delightful scenario in the Greenberg article.