I bought my first kindle the day they launched way back on March 3, 2009 (thank you Amazon for remembering every order I have ever done with you). At the time I was in a mode of buying every new gadget that came out. I wanted to stay well ahead of the Jones. The vast majority of gadgets I have bought over the years (like 99 percent) are no longer in my life. The kindle is. That got me thinking: why?
First lets back up for some context:
I have been re-reading Lila by robert Persig on the metaphysics if quality.
” the increase in versatility is directed toward Dynamic Quality. the increase in power to control hostile forces is directed toward static quality. Without Dynamic Quality the organism cannot grow. Without static quality the organism cannot last. Both are needed.”
Have also been remembering much of his ramblings in Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance after spending quite a bit of time wrenching in the garage lately. I have been thinking about what are Quality products/experience/people quite alot lately.
E-book readers generally and the Kindle specifically is basically an overall higher quality experience of reading than anything else. For me it is 10x higher quality. In venture capital, when Unicorn hunting, you always look for the product that is 10x better than the previous product or it’s competitor. That is because to cause a seismic shift you have to be an ORDER OF MAGNITUDE better. 20% better doesn’t disrupt whole industries. 10X does.
So ok, Martin, how specifically is the Kindle 10X better than paper books for you?
1. I read 5x more than before. Amazon says I have 396 books on my Kindle. I read 2-4 books at a time, switching with my mood. Not possible with old books (and not possible to store all the old ones!)
2. Cross platform ease of access (Kindle on every device) means my books are available in many more places than old books. I can read any of my 396 books anywhere, anytime. One of the great maxims of my investment philosophy is “Americans are lazy”. Do anything that enables me to be lazy (like forget my books on a trip) and you have a winning product.
3. The paper white screen. It is better than reading a paper page. It has its own back light. The font can change. There is no eye strain. You can read it in the sun. Far superior to the Ipad or a computer LED screen.
4. Long battery life. I basically never charge the Kindle, nor do I obsess about it running out of power. My books are always there (again see lazy). The Kindle is a hassle free, low maintenance device and platform. Oh, and I have never seen it blue screen.
5. Portability, always large selection and variety. In the age of dead tree books, on a trip I had to pre plan which books i wanted to read because they added weight and took up physical space. What if my mood changed? or i found out the book sucked? Now all options are available, and the integrated store means ALL options are ALWAYS available.
6. The highlight feature. I read a quote from Joseph Campbell recently when responding to someone who asked him what he did for a living (at that time he was unemployed in Woodstock NY). He replied “I underline books”. I am also a book underliner. But how do you access those nuggets, the book essence after you close the thing and put it on the shelf? All those ah’ha moments are lost, locked away. No longer with Kindle. Your notes are available in the cloud anywhere, anytime. Need to find that cool quotation from that book for to send your friend? No problem. Books and your insights from them have become interactive and available apart from the physical form of the book. Now that book knowledge can be hyper linked all around the world. I wonder if anyone has done any studies on the potential increase in overall usefulness of knowledge now that it can be dispersed so readily in hyperlink quotes rather than requiring each person to read each whole publication? How much has our collective IQ gone up?
All the great things said, the Kindle ecosystem still has some growing pains to work out:
Mostly Industry Obstructionism. The industry preventing a superior user experience to preserve a legacy business model. Like uber changing taxi and amazon/Apple TV replacing Comcast. The old guard doesn’t want to die and uses all tools at their disposal to elongate their life. The incumbents are fighting masterfully to preserve the old low quality user experience because of their bottom line.
What is on my Kindle Wish list?
Some way to involve. To local book shop. I like the personal touch and personal recommendations. I just wish I could buy kindle from them even at a premium to pay them for the service they provide. Book recommendation bots are ok, but I like talking to people and wish I could support them if I decide to buy the product they recommend in a different format.
This all brings me back to the thoughts around Quality. It is clear that one man’s Quality may be another mans Hell. Kindle definitely exposes this Quality paradox.
While the platform delivers a 10x higher quality experience to the reader (and author in terms of greater access and readership). it significantly disrupts the value chain and delivers a lower quality experience for many middle men (and potentially marginal authors).
Lets drill a bit deeper into exactly how the Kindle ecosystem lowers quality for middle men in the book business
1. Less middle men are needed overall. Authors can go direct to devices with computer delivery and recommendations. 2. No trucks and printer a and all that physical stuff in the middle
3. The value of the bookstore clerk is diminished. Not in actual value to the reader but in their proprietary database of reading knowledge and relationships has been surpassed by the central shared pattern recognition database and algorithms A primary benefit of the book store clerk was as a guide. What should I read next? I like this author what do you suggest? I have a daughter of this age, what do you suggest? All those questions can better be answered by a central database than a proprietary closed node on the network.
4. The store is not needed as a delivery mechanism either. So now what is the store? What can the store do that the computer can’t? The best have reinvented themselves as stop on book tours. Event spaces. Etc.
5. Book Venture capitalists (publishers) are lost. Publishers used to be taste makers. Venture capitalists. Because they understood the distribution system and how to get a return on their investments. They no longer do. While the new platform does have a way to do venture capital as publisher it is not clear and not all under the control of the publisher anymore. The one who controls the platform (apple, Amazon, etc) now is at the table eating. Less money for the VC, less people willing to cultivate authors, invest in authors, promote authors, etc.
My advice to the legacy Book Publishers and their supply chain?
Resistance is futile.
The transition to a superior publishing system for both authors and readers is being held back by legacy publishers. This is a delay. But in the end it is unsustainable as due to the tendency toward quality. The Kindle is a higher quality consumer reader experience by 10X. You can’t put that off forever.
Summary of what i have learned from the kindle. Focus on making the consumer experience of higher quality than the competition and all else will follow (even if slowly)
ps: just out today: Amazon opens physical book store. So now I can see a book, get a recommendation from a person and buy the kindle version without feeling bad. Now that is what a book store is supposed to be!