I couldn’t let David have all the fun on "Kindleread" today.

Wired’s tech blog has an interesting entry about how Amazon markets the Kindle. At first glance, it would look difficult to sell a rather ugly-looking device, whose very purpose is to be stared at for hours on end, without the chance for potential users to examine it in person.

But Amazon has harnessed the natural tendency of owners smitten with their gadgets to want to show them off to all and sundry. Rather than place the reader in retail stores, or even advertise it widely, they have created a "See a Kindle in Your City" message board to pair up curious potential buyers with Kindle-owners local to their area. Based on the example of Sony before them, this may be a very sound strategy.

"Kindle is actually a tough product to sell at retail," says Michael Gartenberg, vice president of mobile strategy at Jupitermedia. Sony’s e-book reader, a similar product, may have set the tone. It was released earlier than the Kindle in September 2006 and uses the same E Ink technology for its screen—and doesn’t seem to have sold particularly well as a retail product at either Sony’s own stores or at Borders, although Sony, like Amazon, has not released any kind of sales figures for its device. "It’s going to take a fair amount of evangelizing to explain the product, and the best people to evangelize are the users of the products," says Gartenberg of the Kindle.

Not every Kindle owner is particularly pleased about the idea, however. Some point out that it could be an invitation to theft. Others complain that Amazon is offering no referral bonus or other reward for getting someone else to buy a Kindle, except the egoboo of showing off your gadget and the pleasure of meeting other folks interested in e-reading. Still, for many Kindle owners, that will be enough.

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  1. On the top of the front page of the largest online retailer on the planet there has been, since November 2007, an ad for the Kindle. That would seem to negate the idea that they are relying exclusively on word-of-mouth.

    Amazon created a separate “See a Kindle in Your City” section in response to many existing threads in the Kindle discussion forum. They consolidated the threads to make it easier for folks to meetup.

    Mobs, Meetups, product evangelism facilitated via the internet. Wow, what will people think of next. It’s all so…Rheingoldian.

    Is some of this activity motivated by ego – showing off a new gadget? Probably. My guess is though that the vast majority of people doing this are just genuinely friendly book people – you know the kind of folks that join local book club/discussion groups.

    Does it help Amazon? Absolutely, and they should take advantage this. Does it help potential customers? Absolutely, and potential customers should take advantage of this. Does it help existing customers? Absolutely, the quicker a gazillion Kindles are sold the better for prodding more publishers to release their products digitally.

    Word-of-mouth advertising has long been a tried and true way of helping the mass market find and support products deemed worthy of owning without all the misleading corporate hype or lies.

    However, when that world dominating evil mastermind Jeff Bezos helps his customers help themselves well…somehow it just seems so dirty (at least to many here on the TeleRead blog). I’m sure David will play the anti-trust implications card in all this shortly:)

    As far as the Kindle being “a rather ugly-looking device” – I guess many folks won’t be happy until is indistinguishable from all the other shiny look-alike items in the market.

  2. “how Amazon markets the Kindle.”

    Personally I think Amazon markets poorly the price of some e-books.

    For example the new “Crowdsourcing” book form Jeff Howe.

    17.99 $: kill a tree version
    21.56 $: kindle electronic version

    I saw this on a french journalist blog who is not really happy about it:

    I’m also a “fan” of Amazon but I hope they won’t hurt the emerging e-books market with this new prices politics (ebooks for the riches vs ebooks for the mass?)

  3. Hmmm. Exclusively word of mouth? Who are they kidding?

    -Bezos holding kindle on cover of newsweek (or was it Time?)
    -Top of Amazon’s home page for 8 months, in view of 40 million pairs of eyeballs. That’s probably $50 million worth of advertising right there.
    -Direct emails to millions of people.

    Don’t get me wrong, the huge push by amazon has done amazing things for the entire ebook industry. Our sales skyrocketed after kindle was launched. I say, “Go Amazon!” (Yeah, I do wish they had not locked down the drm content to their own store, but I think they will eventually correct that.) But this claim of “exclusively word of mouth” doesn’t even pass a rudimentary sniff test, it takes about 3 seconds of research to prove it wrong.

    -Steve P.

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