Apple Preparing For Great eBook Experience, Amazon Preparing For… What, Exactly?

I like Amazon, and though I don’t own a Kindle I use the Kindle iPhone app often. I also love the Stanza eReader. You’d think the Amazon name, the Kindle app, and Amazon’s acquisition of Stanza would allow them to be impressive competitors to Apple in the software eBook arena, but instead I see Amazon about to get steamrolled…

Consider Apple’s move to place Project Gutenberg titles in the iBookstore. I’m surprised this didn’t get more play in the tech press. I wasn’t surprised Apple would allow “side-loaded” free ePub content to the iPad, but to place tens of thousands of such titles in the store itself for easy browsing and downloading is huge, and something Kindle doesn’t offer. 

Amazon has been sluggish. They’ve done nothing to incorporate Stanza’s free content into Kindle. Add to that the weak Kindle Mac beta just released (I expected at least parity with the iPhone version) and you see a company confused.

Look what Amazon has done since the iPad was announced: 

  • Announced a 70-30 distribution deal (“just like Apple”), but to get that split the terms are harsh.
  • Announced an SDK for the hardware Kindle. Really? This is a black and white eReader, they won’t turn it into a more general purpose computing device. It’d take more than a color screen and SDK for that.
  • Threatened publishers who talked with, or considered going to, Apple. Great way to embrace your suppliers, guys. 

Just as revealing is what Amazon did not do when the iPad was announced:

  • Announce a Kindle iPad app and how awesome it will be. Embrace Apple’s game-changing hardware, but note that Apple has zero presence in the eBook market, and that you’re the leader.
  • Enhance significantly the book buying experience on the Kindle app. It’s a big weakness compared to Apple’s iBooks, and there’s no reason they can’t make it significantly better. 
  • Stop acting like the iPad doesn’t matter. It’s a Kindle hardware killer for sure, and makes them look clueless when they don’t acknowledge what it can also do to their software. 

Here’s what Amazon should do for the Kindle app on Apple’s devices:

  • Do not shell out to Safari to buy a book; access the web from within the app so the user perception is one of doing it all in one place. 
  • Do not utilize a standard mobile Amazon site; clean up the interface for Apple devices to make it look “native”.
  • Tie free Stanza content into the browse/purchase process. 
Frankly, the above should have been done even without the iPad, but Amazon rested on its laurels. It’s part of the reason iBooks looks so good by comparison. If Amazon does these (and does them well) theres no reason to think a user would prefer Apple’s product over their own. Indeed, with Amazon’s lead in the ebook business and potentially lower prices on new titles, they’d have an advantage. Instead, we get a crappy Mac beta reader. Huh? Mobile devices, not desktops, are where an eReader shines. Write for the old systems if there’s spare time, right now they should be way to busy getting on next-generation devices. 

Sadly, now that Amazon has finally announced Kindle for iPad, they’ve blown it: 

  • It’s not available on Day 1. Huge mistake. Did they not know the iPad was coming? Oh, that’s right, they were busy making SDKs, threatening suppliers, and writing for desktops. On Day 1 people will download Apple’s solution because theirs is not available. This is another example of acting like the iPad doesn’t matter. 
  • It downplays the iPad by claiming the app is actually for tablet PCs (“including the iPad”). As if the HP Slate is going to sell well enough to justify this effort. 
  • It’s “lowest common denominator” software instead of a custom iPad buying experience. 

Amazon no doubt subscribes to the “write it one way and run it on all tablet devices” theory, but that’s a ridiculous strategy for this device. The iPad will likely outsell all other tablets in the first quarter alone. It deserves its own buying experience. Apple’s iBooks will offer that, and make the Kindle look clunky by comparison. 

Since the iPad was announced, I’ve never seen a company with a more floundering approach to competing, and a more deer-in-the-headlights look. If iPad puts a huge dent in Kindle hardware sales (it will), and iBooks grabs significant eBook market share (it will), it’s in large part because of the way Amazon has acted these last few months. Amazon has the tools to compete on the software/content front, but is fumbling it away. 

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3 thoughts on “Apple Preparing For Great eBook Experience, Amazon Preparing For… What, Exactly?

  1. James, “The problem is that they are going to lose this battle with Apple and they probably already know it.”In many ways that’s the point of my post. Amazon should have brought a swagger to this contest, but instead appears to have just slumped down and said to Apple “Please don’t hurt me”. Amazon absolutely had tools to compete, but haven’t attempted to use any of them well while wasting time on such important activities as denial and desktop apps. There’s NO REASON Amazon has to lose this battle, but it appears they’re not even planning to get in the fight. If they’re not even trying it’ll be over in a heartbeat.

  2. James, You misunderstood. Amazon can still use their own web site and avoid Apple’s 30%. But they do NOT need to shell out to Safari to access that web site. Lots of apps access the web in-app. Kindle should do the same. Further, that web site should be customized more for Apple’s devices, because Amazon will ultimately sell more books on that platform than others, and they’re competing with iBooks which will obviously offer a “native” look.

  3. Amazon is never going to use the Kindle app on the iPhone to let users purchase books because they would have to give Apple 30% of the sale if they used the in-app purchase approach. There is no way the economics of that works out for Amazon.I wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon pulls the Kindle app from the iPhone altogether. The problem is that they are going to lose this battle with Apple and they probably already know it.

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