The Golden Age of Kindle 2.0 and Beyond — Part 1

Click here to read The Golden Age of Kindle 2.0 and Beyond — Part 2

(I’m in the process of completing this new chapter of The Complete User’s Guide to the Amazing Amazon Kindle, and it only makes sense to blog some of the content here over the next few days. This chapter will focus on about a dozen possibilities for Kindle 2.0 and beyond – some may be exciting to some, and others to others. Feel free to weigh in with your own ideas in comment form).

Not long ago (as I type away in July 2008) a reputable tech website posted some intriguing information stating that an unidentified “insider” had leaked information to the effect that two new versions of the Kindle would be released in late 2008 and early 2009. The first release would involve software enhancements to the original hardware – thus ensuring, presumably, that existing Kindle owners would be able to get these enhancements without having to spend more than the $359 to $399 they have already laid out. The second release, in 2009, would involve a larger (but not necessarily heavier) device with a larger, perhaps flexible screen. I have no reason to doubt the story. It has been widely quoted and referenced as authoritative elsewhere on the web, despite some internal contradictions regarding timetable, it strangely worded notion that the new models would “hit stores,” and its lack of attribution. It certainly makes sense that Amazon would lead with next-generation software, so that the leak of the story doesn’t bring sales of the existing device to a standstill.

We’ve all got tons of great ideas about the improvements that we absolutely must have as Amazon releases the Kindle 2.0, 3.0 and beyond. Many of the ideas that have been suggested in various blogs and communities as well as in messages sent directly to Amazon at, and I expect to see a good portion of them realized in future Kindle generations.

I’ve already participated in this process as an individual Kindle owner, and I will continue to do so. Here, rather than add my voice to those of thousands of other Kindle owners who have weighed in with good suggestions for fixes to the obvious design flaws such as those pesky next-page bars, I’m going to take a different approach and try to suggest some enhancements of a more radical nature, changes that could create some serious viral energy to expand the reach and the function of the Kindle. Then I will suggest a roughly equal number of changes that would build upon the Kindle’s concept and on Amazon’s commitment to electronic reading generally by opening a big tent around the Kindle and its content and inviting programmers, publishers and, perhaps, even competitors inside.

You can blame me for these, but please, give me no credit for them. While it is true that some of these ideas occurred to me before I read about them somewhere else, others were generated by some of the truly creative and thoughtful people on other Kindle websites and communities, and still others were shared with me via email by readers of the beta versions of this book. Many are mash-ups, if you will, of all three of these fountains of Kindle ideas, and this is as it should be. I will certainly try to give credit where I am aware that it should be given, but I am also bound to miss out here and there.

Kindle Reading Subscriptions

Amazon launched the Kindle with a fairly rigid pricing scheme: customers would pay a relatively high price for the device, with two important promises as counterweights to that price:

· they would be able to buy individual e-books at a significant discounted compared with the price for print-on-paper versions; and

· they would receive other value for free or very close to free, including access through their Kindles to a wide and growing array of public domain content, to the Kindle’s wireless web browser, and to other material that they could select, aggregate or send to their Kindles.

But this is not the only pricing model. Another perfectly reasonable approach – one that is working well for Netflix and for Amazon subsidiary — would be for Amazon to allow Kindle customers to purchase subscriptions to a certain amount of content each month, either in dollars or points or some other form of currency. Naturally, Amazon could provide a range of different price and service options, and would have to work out how this approach would affect its royalty payments to publishers. But the dollars that would be available to Amazon through a reliable monthly revenue stream of this nature would be more valuable than the dollars paid up front for the Kindle, so it is reasonable to expect that Amazon would consider reducing the up-front Kindle cost for customers who would commit to a subscription plan, just as Amazon and its partners offer discounts and rebates to their customers who commit to an extended cellular phone service plan. It might also be reasonable to expect that the subscription plan might be accompanied by discounts off the usual Kindle prices for electronic content.

Customer Experience: Buy your Kindle for $329 and sign up for the Kindle Readers’ Plan for $29.95 a month to receive at least two full-length books plus one newspaper, one magazine, and one blog of your choice from the Kindle store.

Likelihood of Adoption (on a scale of 1 to 10): 7. One benefit of such a plan, for Kindle owners, is that it might help them budget their reading dollar. Is that a positive or a negative from Amazon’s point of view?

Kindle Buffet

The idea of an all-you-can-eat Kindle Buffet is, of course, nothing more nor less than Kindle Reading Subscriptions on steroids. The basic notion is that a customer, in the course of buying his Kindle, could pay an annual or monthly fee for the right to download anything in the Kindle store anytime. Technology publisher O’Reilly Media has pioneered this approach successfully with its Safari Books Online service, which offers subscribers an impressive selection of books at a choice of two price points: an unlimited feast for $42.99 a month or a revolving 10-book bookshelf for $22.99.

Although the concept is appealing on its face, a real all-you-can-eat buffet involves considerable risk for Amazon and the potential for sticker shock for Kindle owners. Assuming no change in its payment arrangements with publishers, Amazon would probably have to require a monthly payment of $50 or more, or an annual payment of $500 or more, to support the gamble of the unlimited option. While some professional technology readers might spring for that kind of expense, it is not a mass consumer price-point.

The 10-book bookshelf makes much more sense, as it would reduce the chances of a buyer taking advantage of the system and saddling Amazon with publisher royalties for books he might never read. Still and all, one has to wonder what price point could make it all work for Amazon and for readers.

Customer Experience: Lay down $40 a month or $400 a year and never pay for an individual e-book again. It sounds great, but are your eyes bigger than your reading capacity, to mangle a phrase? The problem is that the price Amazon might have to charge to protect the buffet concept from abuse would probably be so high that only the most voracious readers could make it work for themselves financially. When Netflix sends me a DVD I know it is only going to take me two hours to watch it; books take me longer.

Likelihood of Adoption (on a scale of 1 to 10): 4. There’s one way Amazon could make this one work, and of course it would have tremendous instant appeal. Offer the Kindle for $99 to customers who sign up for a two-year Kindle Buffet contract. If Amazon’s master plan is to get as many Kindles out there as possible and then make money on their reading, this is the way to go. Of course, how could that not be the master plan for the company whose original mantra was “Get Big Fast?” Okay, it probably won’t happen overnight, but let’s change that 4 to a 7.

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