Noah J Nelson on Thursday, Sep. 6th
Amazon likes to play long ball. They’ve been slowly but surely building up their digital ecosystem over the years, and now have pretty much the most mature environment for content delivery out there aside from Apple. For all intents and purposes they invented the e-book trade when they launched the Kindle, and they’ve used that status for good and ill in the publishing market in the time since.
Disruption is Amazon’s modus operandi. Founder Jeff Bezos wanted to establish an online retail juggernaut and picked the book trade as his leverage point, seeing the inefficiencies of that market as a good place to make a beachhead.
Today they lured a posse of tech bloggers into an airplane hanger to show off their latest toys: the 2012 line of Kindles:
Kindle Fire HD 8.9- dual wi-fi antennas, 1920X1200 display, a beefed up processor, webcam for Skype, and built in stereo speakers in an 8.9 inch form factor. Starting at $299.
Kindle Fire HD – like the other Fire, but smaller (7-inches) and needing only a 1280X800 screen to hit the pixel density of it’s bigger sibling. Shave a hundred dollars off the 8.9′s starting price: $199.
Kindle Fire – a modest boost to the original model from last year, with a price cut: $159.
Kindle Paperwhite- like Barnes & Nobles popular Kindle alternative the Nook, this touch based e-ink reader features a better screen with backlighting. Starts at $119.
Kindle- nothing fancy, just an e-ink screens and some buttons. Now coming in at a very (relatively) inexpensive $69.
The hardware are solid iterations on the line, but that’s not where Bezos and co are innovating and disrupting. They’re marrying audiobooks and Kindle reading with “Whispersynch for voice” and “Immersion Reading”. Audible provides the audiobooks, and if you want to have someone “read along” you can run the audiobook alongside your reading for… you know what? What is this? Who, other than lazy parents really wants this?
Can someone explain to me how this is at all good, let alone great? If I wanted to listen to an audiobook I’d listen to an audiobook. I can do the character voices in my own head thankyouverymuch.
Okay… back on track.
The Kindle Fire OS has been updated with parental control options (dubbed “FreeTime”) and a neat little leveraging of Amazon’s IMDB property in the form of X-Ray for video watching. This is similar to the kind of “dual screen” experience Microsoft was demonstrating at E3 this year with their Smart Glass. Instead of wonder “whose that actress” you’ll be able to pull up IMDB while watching a movie and learn who’s who in a scene. It’s neat. It’s not killer app neat, it’s “settle the argument with your S.O.” neat.
Assuming you’re watching a Kindle Fire video with someone. Which you are probably doing in bed. You are sad. Not as sad as the person who argues with themselves about who an actor is while watching a video alone in bed, but still… sad.
None of this is as interesting as Kindle Serials.
As laid out in the press conference, Amazon saw a space in the publishing market a few years back for short form, low cost content. Something between a magazine article and a full book. There are, of course, all kinds of terms in the publishing world to describe this kind of material. Short stories, novellas, novelettes, chapbooks, etc. What there wasn’t was much of a market for them.
Amazon has built that market with Kindle Singles, low-price short form content. It’s been a boon to some self-published authors, both as an income stream and as a way of developing an audience. (We won’t get into the fees that Amazon tacks on to author’s sales right now, save it for another time.)
Kindle Serials are an evolution of that. A return to the way that Charles Dickens published: chapter by chapter. It allows for more give and take between author and audience, and can establish a steady stream of revenue for authors. Episodes will be priced at $1.99. The language around the event says “buy once, and receive all editions”. It’s a little unclear from the reportage that’s extant, but I’m pretty clear that doesn’t mean that you pay $1.99 for the entire serialized story. More likely: a larger “season pass” price or the option to buy chapter by chapter, as one would a TV series or an album.
Amazon seems to be operating on the Gillette model. Give them the razor for next to nothing. Sell them the blades.
— Matt Novak (@paleofuture) September 6, 2012
Which brings us back to Matt Novak’s (who was covering the event for BuzzFeed’s FWD) tweet above: Amazon prices these devices super-low when compared to the rest of the tablet market. Their moneymaking instincts are focused on getting their customers to purchase all kinds of content through their marketplace, and its in these realms that they are resurrecting old business models that died out with the advent of mass market culture and broadcasting.
It will be up to publishers- independent and otherwise- to take up the gauntlet of serialized fiction and run with it. There are universes of possibility out there now that Amazon has reinvigorated these models. Whether or not a market for serials will emerge depends on creators and publishers having as much of a stomach for disruption as Mr. Bezos.
h/t to The Verge for their excellent liveblogging of the event.
UPDATED at 2:17 PDT. Because we missed the standard Kindle Fire model.