The publishing world continues to be as shaken as the Pope on his recent trip to England. The difference between that situation and the publishing world is that in the United Kingdom, citizens are avoiding the pews, and they don’t look likely to return to their former numbers in our lifetimes.
With publishing, illicit sex is kept to a minimum in the workplace, and it’s among consenting adults. Unlike the Pope’s dwindling minions, people are fighting for a front row seat in the publishing industry. Everyone smells the opportunity to reach a wider and enthused reading audience at a cost lower than ever. The technology and rapid delivery of eBooks makes for a feast of both new readers, i.e., paying customers, and neglected authors who can be in or back in the hands of those readers.
Stephen Fry and his publishers have announced the simultaneous release of The Fry Chronicles as a dead tree edition, an eBook, and a touch app for iOS. Promising non-linear reading possibilities with this title, writing is now being executed with nontraditional reading in mind. It’s an exciting time for authors if you’re innovative and intelligent, and downright frightening if you entertain this is the way narrative might be moving for good. This is going to be better than the dot com boom of the 1990s, kids. Grab a dart, close your eyes and throw.
In the world of hardware, Amazon.com continues to snipe at the groundshaking advance of the Apple iPad. It seems Team Bezos in Washington have hired some marketers and consultants who get it, unlike what was happening a few months ago. In classic corporate sleight of hand, Amazon is at last trying to rely on the few strengths their one-trick eReader pony, the Kindle, has over the iPad: longer battery life and… well, longer battery life. The old advertising con of pointing out what really works for you while ignoring what you don’t have is nothing new, and I applaud their new marketing campaign. What we finally see is Amazon not only realizing but admitting their Kindle is in a different class than the iPad, which can do many things very well. As proof, herewith the following quote from the Great and Powerful Bezos himself: “The evidence is very clear Kindle is a companion to tablet computers.” Amen. Clouds have parted over Seattle, Washington. Perhaps now consumers will understand these devices are in completely different classes.
With the obvious finally out in the open, like a drunk admitting there’s a drinking problem, perhaps we will now see accurate marketing of the Kindle and the iPad as different devices in completely different leagues. The difference primarily lies in the fact that, for a few hundred dollars more, with the iPad, you get a fully functional computer with a gorgeous color display, touchscreen interface, and fully capable of doing everything the Kindle does, plus a whole lot more. As Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn recently pointed out, the iPad is cutting into 50% of the laptop market. Although Best Buy issued a retraction of this quote in order to stem the stampede away from the Windows clone aisle, the smart money knows the quote was both accurate and true, and Dunn had let something slip he shouldn’t have. This cannot be ignored, and Apple’s stock has jumped accordingly to an all-time high. You can bet distilleries around the country are filling orders and shipping cases of booze to the Dell corporate offices in Round Rock, Texas. Outside Michael Dell’s office, it probably looks like a scene from the film Downfall: some officers faithfully standing at the ready, awaiting the next set of misguided orders, and others with whores on their laps while they drain bottles of schnapps and making sure their Lugers have that one last bullet in the chamber.
Samsung has responded to the Apple steamroller by cranking out their own iPad clone ripoff, but they just don’t get it, as with all corporate attempts to follow in Apple’s footsteps. You can make it look like an iPad, you can have a touchscreen like an iPad, and you can offer software which does some of the same things, but you can’t build the OS experience which makes Apple products so intuitive. You especially can’t do the latter in the short five month period the iPad has been available. Good luck with that, Samsung.
Conversely, as pointed out previously in The Egatz Epitaph, Apple has remained woefully anemic in promoting the iPad as an eReader. In fact, it defies Apple’s usual practice of hyper attention to detail to make new owners have to download the iBooks app after purchase of the hardware. Their iBookstore currently has approximately 130,000 titles, versus 700,000 for Amazon’s Kindle, and about 1,000,000 available for the kludgey Barnes & Noble Nook. Recent reviews, such as the one on 15 September in The Wall Street Journal, all point to the fact iBooks is a hell of an app. Engineers and interface designers spared no expense or detail in trying to recreate the real book experience for their eReader. Pages curve when you turn them, and there is even the faint hint of type on the other side of the page showing. Is it even possible those who designed the Kindle and the Nook even thought of that? Of course not.
Unlike their one-trick pony competition, Apple’s iBooks app has their purchasing experience built into the app. It’s astounding that if all your device can do is either display books for reading or sell you books, you still need to bounce out of the reading application and into a Web browser to buy your next title. Where did you guys go to interface design school, and, more importantly, why didn’t you hire me as a consultant—or someone more intelligent than myself—to figure this out for you?
With Amazon distancing the Kindle from the iPad, they’ve made a positive step toward realigning consumer expectation. There is nothing dishonorable about having a product a few rungs down on the food chain, particularly if it does what it does very well. What is ridiculous—and will result in inevitable consumer backlash—is trying to play in the same sandbox with a motocross bike when your competition is driving an M1 Abrams tank. Market your eReader as an eReader, Amazon. People know it’s not an iPad.
Bezos and team should set their sights on eliminating the Nook, Borders’ Kobo, Spring Design’s Alex, Sony’s Reader and every other single-use eReader currently out there. Amazon can be the Kleenex of that market. Everyone needs a reliable tissue. I, and plenty of others would prefer to use something more substantial. Like a towel. With an Apple logo on it.
The inevitable struggle for eReader market dominance will not be a holy war such as the one Mac users suffered through in the 1990s. The difference between iPad versus Kindle and Macintosh versus Windows is the Mac and Windows largely did the same thing. Also, Windows was and remains in a perpetual game of catch-up to the Mac in terms of technology, quality, and experience. Although the Kindle beat Apple to market, Apple’s answer is simply better in every way except available titles, and that race isn’t over.
As stated earlier, the Kindle can do one thing, and the iPad can do almost everything. In fact, it’s an incredible eReader. The best one out there, in fact. Anyone know which one the Pope prefers?