6a00d83452242969e200e55005dca58834-150wi.jpgThe worst-kept secret in recent tech history, Apple’s iPad, was unveiled last week. Some folks were wowed by the announcement while others were left asking, “is that all there is?” I was somewhere in between.

A buddy called me that day and said he bet Jeff Bezos was…, well, requiring an undergarment change. I told him I doubted it. Not because the iPad won’t have a significant impact on the Kindle…it will…but because Wednesday’s announcement was the confirmation of something Amazon, like the rest of us, already knew about.

I’ll get to the Kindle effect in a moment, but first let me say why I think every publisher on the planet should warm up to the iPad. One word: Pricing. Not device pricing but content pricing. Ever since the Kindle arrived in late 2007 Amazon has led us on this downward path to lower and lower prices. On the one hand, I don’t blame them for this. After all, we, the publishers, are the ones trying to build a significant business around quickie print-to-e conversions.Amazon has been more than an accomplice in this regard though as they’ve developed a device that discourages and effectively prevents publishers from enriching their content offerings. Two plus years into the life of the Kindle and they’re just now announcing plans to open the platform to third-party developers?! Are you kidding me? Did they not notice that the App Store is one of the keys to the iPhone’s success?

Compare the functionality of the Kindle to what the iPad will offer. Look at the rich content opportunities the iPad presents. Your newspaper won’t just be a lousy text feed with a few grayscale images; it will be full color with video and audio built in. Your travel guide won’t just be some static black-and-white rendering of the full color print edition; the iPad will bring it to life with the type of imagery you’d expect and probably some you didn’t even anticipate. And how about your how-to guides? No longer will they be quick conversions from print format. They too will have all sorts of other types of video and audio content to make the job easier.

All this means we won’t have to lower the price because customers feel they’re getting print content with no added value. In fact, the current model also typically loses the option to resell or pass along to a friend. All that, along with the fact that customers realize there’s no cost of goods or returns exposure for the publisher, is why Amazon has us all contemplating a future of $9.99 ebooks.

That model will still exist but Apple offers a different one. The Apple model only differs if publishers are willing to make the investment in new forms of content, not just the written word. If you’re not willing to experiment with video or audio, for example, upside from the Apple platform will be limited for you. Just remember that other publishers, as well as a whole bunch of start-ups, will be experimenting in this space, so watch out!

Btw, I don’t mean to suggest that the iPad is guaranteed to become a runaway hit. It’s not the device I’m enamored with as much as the capabilities the device represents. Others will undoubtedly mimic it and offer similar functionality at a lower price. And while some consumers will stick with the Kindle platform, the way forward is one with full color, video capability and a connectivity option that’s built for more than just downloading books. (Seriously, have you ever tried doing any sort of web browsing on a Kindle?)

Here’s something else to keep in mind with the iPad: It’s not just an ereader. Whereas the Kindle is a one-trick pony, the iPad enters the game with more than 140,000 other uses. OK, I’ve only got a couple dozen of those apps on my iPhone, but that’s roughly a couple of dozen more things than I can do on my Kindle!

None of this is a surprise to Amazon though. Why do you think they created the Kindle iPhone app last year? I’m sure that tool will let you read your Kindle books on the iPad, so at least we won’t feel like total idiots for supporting the closed Kindle platform.

As much as I originally wanted the Kindle to succeed I’m extremely disappointed with Amazon’s lack of innovation. They’re still well-positioned to be an econtent player, if not the leader, but I don’t see them being dominant on the device front now.

I’ve got a tip for Mr. Bezos & Co. if they plan to remain committed to the eInk approach: Go for the low-end of the market and offer a sub-$100 dumb device that tethers to your smartphone for connectivity. Dump the Whispernet service and the hardware required to support it. Everyone has a cell phone, so leverage their existing service instead. A sub-$50 option would be even better. Do you think they could sell a few $49 MiniKindle’s with this configuration? I do, and they’d still be able to sell all the content they want.

FWIW, I’m currently planning to get an iPad when they’re available. I’ll probably go with the mid-range 32-Gig model with wifi only. I spend most of my time in one hot spot or another, so I don’t see any reason to pay for the hardware or monthly fee on a 3G plan.

As for my Kindle, well, that’s about to become a hand-me-down. My wife said she’d like to try it out. I doubt she’ll have any interest in taking over my Kindleville blog though. Kindleville has been largely ignored the past several months, so if you know anyone who plans to stick with Amazon’s platform, ask them if they’re interested in becoming the Kindleville custodian!

Editor’s Note: The above is reprinted, with permission, from Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 Blog. PB


  1. Joe, your article presents nothing new to breach the divide between those whose hearts beat only for multipurpose devices and those whose hearts beat for a dedicated reading device.

    The iPad is neither revolutionary nor truly usable for a reader. Yes, when I get bored with a novelist’s plodding narrative the iPad will let me close the book (but not bookmark my place) and open a browser to surf the Internet. But it won’t let me both read and surf simultaneously. Multitasking isn’t an option.

    Yes, the iPad will let me read my daily paper in full color rather than in shades of gray, but with the exception of USA Today, how many daily newspapers really make use of color outside ads? Do I really care as a reader that the article headline can now be in fuscia rather than black or that the Absolut Vodka ad is not in color? Also note that the iPad doesn’t handle Flash. Want to see if that matters? Before buying the iPad open up The New Yorker magazine site — most of it will be blank. So how will publishers add video content to their books? If I were a publisher, I’d wait to see if iPad really does bring in book buyers before I started the expensive process of creating non-Flash animation when 70% of the world uses Flash for that purpose.

    Apple has made a stuttering start but definitely has not created anything more than the Kia of tablets. There is a long way for it to go before it even rises to the Chevy class, at least for book reading.

  2. Do let us know how you like your iPad when you get it.

    Above all, please report after a few months on how much you read on your iPad, vs. everything else you use it for. I’m sure I’m not the only one interested in even anecdotal information on patterns of use for this form of device.

  3. Joe’s post is yet another publishing industry insider celebrating the demise of the $9.99 price point for ebooks and with much of the usual dubious logic. What’s missed is any appreciation for pricing theory, consumer behavior and the growth of new markets. The $9.99 price point is psychologically important far in excess of the fact that it is 23% lower than Steve Jobs new $12.99 level. I am quite certain ebook sales will drop far, far more than 23% when Amazon raises prices of Macmillan books to $12.99 and $14.99. And why are publsihers seemingly ignoring this effect? Because that’s exactly what they want — to slow the growth of the ebook market as much as they possibly can for as long as they possibly can.

    You don’t have to take my word for it. Publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin admitted it flat-out in the comments to his post of this controversy yesterday: “If you are for the widest dissemination of digital
    information, you are for the faster demise of retail bookstores. You can’t have it both ways. Publishers have sided with the bookstores; they actually have an interest in slowing down the shift to digital if they can. That’s economic reality and, the love of books and bookstores, human nature.”

    (See http://www.idealog.com/blog/the-wild-weekend-of-amazon-and-macmillan)

    It’s also what Macmillan CEO John Sargent said in a less public setting than his “open” letter when he was at an NYU forum last September. I blogged his comments over the weekend here http://gravitationalpull.net/wp/?p=1243

    Ultimately, a shift to ebooks will likely doom the big publishers to the scrap of history along with the 19th century powerhouse industries like ice exporting and whale oil production. When we won’t need vast amounts of capital to support a huge infrastructure to physically print and distribute and publicize major works, they’ll be history.

  4. @Rich:

    1. what’s your source for iBooks not allowing bookmarking? Every iPhone ereading app I’m aware of allows that.

    2. if you think that switching between an ebook and a web browser is multitasking, think again. The experience of switching back & forth between those two is exactly the same on a computer or on an iPhone, except for the speed of the change. From what I’ve read, the Pad will be much faster than the iPhone. The inability of the Pad to do real multitasking involves things you can do at the same time, like listen to Pandora while you are reading. It doesn’t involve things you can’t do at the same time, like reading a book & surfing.

    3. I can’t really comment on how newspapers will work on the Pad, since I don’t read them even on my iPhone, but it doesn’t take much thinking to see some opportunities. Linking articles to video is obvious. But here’s another thing to think about: what if the Pad’s version of a newspaper involved interaction between the news item and an audio file? What if you could select the story you wanted, and hear the story read to you through your earphones or car radio, or for that matter, the Pad’s speaker if it has one?

  5. I think the iPad will be great with newspapers, as far as imbedded videos, etc are concerned- probably from their on-line website. Magazines less so, though those with lots of graphics will do well.

    I do NOT believe that books will read well on the iPad as concentrated reading of books on this backlit screen will be less comfortable than the e-ink screens.

    My guess is that very little book reading will be done with the iPad. (“You have a cool iPad and you use it to read books? Are you nuts?”) In fact, I am predicting that if you surveyed iPad owners a year from now you would find that less than 10% of their time using the iPad was spent reading books.

    So, I do not see much purchasing of books from the iBook store for the iPad. What you may very well see, especially if the Kindle App is available on the iPad (not a guarantee at this point), is books purchased from the kindle store, read on a kindle and also an ipad, which can be synched. That would work.

    Don’t give up your kindle yet, if you read a lot of books, Joe.

  6. @Harmon — Yes, the iPhone apps, created by third-party developers, do allow bookmarking but would you be able to bookmark your book without that TP app? The Apple OS used for the iPad and which enables the book reading demonstrated by Jobs has been reported to lack bookmarking. If I were to buy an iPad for book reading, I would want to be able to read and bookmark without having to rely on a TP application.

    I can both read a book and surf the web simultanwoudly on my PC, so I’m not sure what you are getting at. I can have multiple windows open and multitask on my PC. The iPad is a laptop replacement and so should permit multitasking.

  7. @Richard,

    Whatever you do, don’t ask anyone who reads ebooks on an iPhone or iPod Touch about their experience. It works just fine.

    While reading eInk may be better than using a backlit screen, that doesn’t say that there is any significant problem with the latter.

    Else my, and my wife’s (and any number of others I’ve spoken to about it) daily reading experience wouldn’t have been a trouble-free as we’ve found it to be over the past year or two.

  8. @Aaron Pressman: re. ‘consumer psychology’ — Darn right.

    *Some*body managed to make USD 9.99 for a DRM-infected book sound economical to anyone who might have been a little bit distracted during the Macmillan kerfuffle.

  9. @Rich

    I have to say that I find it hard to believe that iBook will not enable bookmarking. That’s just fundamental. I don’t think it’s always essential, but it is pretty useful, especially in nonfiction books. (I don’t know what you mean by “TP app.”)

    On multitasking – what I’m getting at is this: You cannot really be multitasking between two programs which you are accessing with the same sense – sight, or sound. You can’t multitask with two reading programs any more than you can multitask between two programs you have to listen to. What you are really doing is switching between the two, back & forth. The only difference between the iPhone OS which the Pad will use and the Mac OS on your computer is that with the Mac, you have two windows open at once, whereas with the app, you have to open & reopen apps. But if the apps are fast enough, and always return you to the same place, there’s no functional difference between the two OS. It’s not fast enough on the iPhone, but it appears that it might be on the Pad. (However, the one advantage the Mac OS has over the iPhone OS is highlight & drag. It might also be a legitimate complaint that you can’t have two documents open at once in the same app – but it’s not clear to me that this will be the case in, say, iWork.)

  10. @ Rich

    Oh, btw, I don’t think that the Pad is exactly a laptop replacement. It does duplicate some laptop functions at a simple level, but for any intensive work, you are much better off with a laptop or desktop. What the Pad does in relation to the laptop/desktop is serve to make things created on a laptop more portable.

    For some people – my wife, for instance – the Pad could replace the laptop, but that’s only because she doesn’t really need all the power a laptop provides. She does email, facebook, web surfing. She doesn’t do any music, & very little by way of photo – mainly just uploading to email to someone.

    For others – like me at work – I need the laptop, but I can take laptop products on the road with me on a Pad. I don’t do laptop level work on the road.

    The Pad is a very interesting device, not from the technological point of view, but from the market positioning point of view. It is not going to replace ebook readers, but it will replace some ebook reading devices, or at least compete with them. It won’t replace laptops, but it will replace laptops for users who really don’t need laptops. It won’t replace televisions, but it will provide mobile movies at a decent size. It won’t replace dedicated game devices, but it will lop off a segment of the game device market. Further, I think we are going to see specialized uses in, say, medicine, and inventory control, & things like that.

    I think what has happened is that Apple has identified a kind of hole in the market for an internet appliance, but the hole is actually an amalgamation of pieces of several markets, mostly low end pieces.

  11. @ Richard

    I tend to agree with you about newspapers & magazines. I think we won’t see a perfect mapping of those things to the Pad, though.

    I disagree with you on reading books. Eyestrain/headache issues on LCD screens are, for most people, the result of not properly adjusting the screens. Ebook apps already deal with that, by providing adjustable fonts and backgrounds. A good analog for that experience is using Readability on web pages. Try it & you will see what I mean. http://lab.arc90.com/experiments/readability/

    I do agree that not a lot of time will be spent reading ebooks on the Pad, but that won’t be true if you compare apples (so to speak) and apples. It’s not a question what people do on the Pads – it’s a question of whether people who read ebooks do so on the Pad or on dedicated readers. The Pad is a high end reader, in terms of cost. I predict that the Pad will have half the market for high end ebook readers within a year, in comparison with high end dedicated readers. The Pad won’t kill the Kindle, but it will kill the Kindle DX if Amazon tries to stay at the present DX price point. Same with the Sony 700.

    The iBook store, however, is a different matter. I tend to agree with you that the various reading apps, particularly the Kindle app, will provide stiff competition. But I think that in a couple of years, we’ll find the iBook store to be the first or more likely second leading seller of ebooks on the Pad, mainly because I think that the Pad is going to eliminate price competition in the ebook world. What will be left will be ease of use and customer service, where Amazon currently has a huge lead. But over time, the iBook store will overtake the Amazon app in that department.

  12. @harmon: Unfortunately, for apps that rely upon an on-line connection, you really can’t just “return to the same place”. If I’m using my iPod Touch’s IRC client and want to Twitter something, unless I’ve jailbroken and can keep it running in the background I’m going to lose my connection (and hence, anything anyone subsequently says until I reconnect) as soon as I exit the program to Twitter.

    (Likewise, I wouldn’t be able to listen to Pandora while surfing the web and such.)

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