The big news today is that Amazon released the new version of the Kindle, its electronic reader. I’ve been a big critic of e-books for years but it’s clear that Amazon is changing the game for e-books, perhaps in the same way that Apple changed the game for digital music. And that means authors–and the publishing industry–can no longer afford to ignore the Kindle.
This would mark a huge shift in attitude and practice. I remember back in 2000, after I wrote my first cover story for BusinessWeek on Napster, Random House editor Jonathan Karp made me an offer to do an electronic book about Napster. I passed on the opportunity primarily because my goal was to write a real book, i.e. a book that you could hold in your hands and show off on a bookshelf. I also passed because the money was not huge and it wasn’t clear to me that people even wanted to read books in a digital version.
Now, the tables have turned big-time. Amazon won’t say how many Kindles it has sold but estimates put the number around 500,000. Also consider that Amazon underestimated the demand for the Kindle because it quickly sold out and has been out of stock pretty much since last November. If the 500,000 number is true, that would mean Kindle outsold the first iPod in unit numbers by 32%, according to Citigroup analyst Mark Mahaney. In addition, Mahaney now estimates that Amazon will sell 1 million more Kindles this year, and another 3.5 million in 2010.
Add it all up and we could have 4 million Kindles in the market pretty soon, and that, thanks to Amazon’s huge and loyal customer base, Mahanney says “it’s not too hard to see 10 million Kindles sold one day.” Can you say PLATFORM???!!!
The stigma about e-books is going away. People are starting to read them as the technology improves. And now readers are, gasp, starting to actually request electronic versions of a book! A few weeks ago, I had lunch with a very smart venture capitalist. I asked him if he had read my book, Creative Capital. He said he wanted to buy it, and then he asked, “Is it on the Kindle?”
“No,” I said sadly. “I am looking into it now.”
This is true. I am in talks with my publisher Harvard Business School Press to create a Kindle version of my book. The main challenge is over the rights issue. Depending on what rights you have negotiated, authors and publishers may need to renegotiate permissions to receive rights to publish certain photos and text for the digital world.
So here’s the deal. Thanks to Amazon and the Kindle, e-books have gone from the “can afford to ignore” category to the “I am looking into it” category, and now are entering “I have to have it” bucket.
I think this should be good for readers and the publishing industry as a whole because it represents another outlet and market. But the transition may be a little bumpy as business models could be disrupted, and publishers become concerned that they are getting dis-intermediated out of their core business by technology companies.
But hey, it was inevitable that a technology that is thousands of years old would eventually give way to new forms of reading. And now that future has finally arrived.