Why The Kindle Fire Worries Me

The Kindle Fire is a beautiful device (and by that I mean it looks pretty nice from a distance). What’s more, it’s at the right price and has a library of content to beat the best on offer. Yet I find it worrying, exceptionally worrying.

Worrying because it marks a shift away from a singular focus on digital books and towards other media forms. Digital books (and their publishers, traditional and self) have benefitted from Amazon’s desire to move their consumers towards digital consumption and purchasing. Benefitted enormously.

Amazon’s strategy though, as the launch of Fire makes clear, is about ALL media forms not just books. As the company builds digital sales of those media (a MUCH bigger market than books), digital books will become less important overall. At some point it may just be the case that they will cease development of a dedicated ereader, just as Apple is close to ceasing the development of a dedicated music player (or at least has relegated the music only devices to the bottom rung of its offering).

More importantly, Amazon is popularising mobile, digital media consumption and at relatively cheap prices. This long-term strategy is all the time building the competition plain text ebooks face.

There is only so much audience attention to go around and as mobile gaming, tv and film watching and web browsing become possible for everyone, it is just possible that digital books will lose out*. Of course maybe the audience that moves digital will be big enough for this to not be an issue, but even so book publishers and authors will need to compete with movies, games and music much more directly and immediately than they have in the past.

The possibility then that the Kindle Fire presents is one where the dedicated device that has done so much to build the digital book market is, however distantly, headed for a quiet retirement and the publishers who think they have it all so sorted now are going to faced a changed game yet again.

But maybe these are just wasted fears! I certainly hope so.
Eoin

~~
* I’m a pessimist on this score and think that possible is a definite.

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35 comments

  1. Bah! The Kindle Fire is no more threatening to reading than television has been.

    Oh. Wait.

    Yeah, I posted about the threat of this before. Can’t find link. Search sucks these days too.

  2. Eoin,

    I think you have nothing to worry about.

    The Kindle Fire is not aimed at heavy readers. It’s job is to help people consume all types of digital media: film, tv, games, music, and books, probably in that order. The promo spots seem to have it tilted that way anyway.

    This device, IMO, has two jobs. First, it wants to lock customers into the Amazon ecosystem and become the main place they consume digital products, as well as hook them into physical purchases through a Prime subscription. Second, it has to take down the Nook Color.

    The Nook Color was a surprise success. But despite the fact it outsold the other Barnes & Noble e-readers, they said that the owners of the e-ink readers spent way more on books.

    Heavy readers will stick to e-ink. And if they own a tablet, they will probably own an e-reader as well.

    Looking at the book business globally, some estimations have it at maybe $90bn. I think it’s second only to television. Movies and games are worth less. People like books. They offer something different, even in this digital age.

    All of these developments only make it easier, cheaper, and more convenient to consume books. They are not going to make reading less popular.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if twice as many people buy the basic $79 Kindle.

    Dave

    1. The key point is that while reading books will be cheaper, easier and more convenient the same is true for movies, gaming, music and ALL other media forms. Yet the time available for consumers to do these things will not increase. Just as reading in a physical world suffers competition from TV, radio and other media, it will suffer from them in a digital environment.
      Eoin

      1. I’m tempted to say: what’s changed.

        I always joke with other writers that we aren’t in competition with each other, our real competition is The Simpsons.

        It has always been this way.

        In fact, consuming other forms of media was always easier. Want a new tv show? Change channel.

        At least now we can compete.

    2. The problem I see is that the upcoming generation has less patience/tolerance for the written word than previous generations. Younger readers are not only reading less but reading only within narrower limits. Twit has helped create a low tolerance for long-form reading and devices like the iPad and the Fire, which provide a means to divert one’s attention from long-form reading, help exacerbate the low tolerance level seen in upcoming generations.

  3. @David
    That’s true to some extent except that the competition is even more direct now.
    Want another piece of entertainment change apps …
    From books to film, to games, to music everything against everything. I hold little hope that reading will beat the others in the long term!

    Eoin

  4. It’s not just Kindle Fire, I’m afraid. Historically, consumer experience expectations are changed by the capabilities of every successful new platform. Just in the last decade we learned to require that media be participatory (the read/write web), then social, and mobile, now tactile, manipulable, high res, geo-located…

    I’d say pure text-based fiction and non-fiction may be safest. They deliver deep experience through the immersive abstraction inherent in the word. It’s all other forms—illustrated, media-rich books of every stripe—that will bear the burden of comparison to native apps and moving media. These are the books that may easily find themselves in a new uncanny valley, if they fail to broaden their design palettes.

  5. It worries me too. I have four kids. Two can read and the younger two are learning. We have all the media consumption gadgets going. BUT I do not let them use my toys. Ever. Until they can read big beautiful books without pictures, I want them to get lost in literature and love to read before they start playing on the iPad. I find that they get more than they need with watching (limited) bursts of television and the use of PC’s and whiteboard technology at school. If you do not sit with them and teach them how to read, then how to interpret the stories, and let the words engage them and their imagination, then they will, naturally, opt for the easier one with flashy images and sound. I love technology but I am worried too.

    1. I think in the future you won’t be able to stop children being technologically savvy before they’re able to fully appreciate a book. And it is somewhat sad, when I think of the hours I used to spend as a kid laying on my bed with a book, totally absorbed by words on the printed page.

      Tony

  6. I’m a pessimist too!

    However, I look at myself and the way I “consume” media and become less of a pessimist. If I want to read a book, I totally ignore all other media in search of a book to read. If I want to watch a video, again, I ignore all other forms of media and go right to the place I want and pick out a video. Or browse; or whatever. If I want Mexican food, that automatically eliminates a lot of restaurants in my search criteria; when my tastes change tomorrow, they are back in the equation again, or at least another subset of them.

    These other electronic media are not crowding out my love of reading and books. Articles like these about Amazon seem to think that we’ll like books less, or they are taking away our desire for books. No; making more media available to me does not restrict my freedom to choose. How can it?

    1. I don’t think it takes away our freedom and for some it won’t decrease the amount of reading folks do.
      I’d argue though that heavy readers will read anyway. more casual readers, the mass market of you will, are likely to be swayed by access to other media. Faced with the choice of tv, games or something else on a mobile device where in the past they only had the choice of reading or maybe music, they’ll happily shift because their original choice was reading or boredom, and reading was the least worst option.
      It’s not saying the decision not to read is a bad one, just that the reality is reading is not and will not be the first choice of many consumers and they will, when given the chance, do something else!

  7. Eoin, two thoughts as to why you shouldn’t be too worried. First: Amazon began as a bookstore, and while over the years it has become a large and diverse retailer of everything under the sun, it hasn’t decreased its commitment to bookselling. Second, while the Kindle Fire may target other forms of digital media, look at the rest of the Kindle product line announced last week: multiple print-only versions, with upgrades and lower prices. That tells me Amazon is diversifying with the Fire but also doubling down on the dedicated ereader concept.

    Tim

    1. Tim,

      I think that’s those are the two best answers and I think the first is the strongest by far. Though I wonder how true it will remain as most bookselling becomes digital and whether even a committed Amazon can counter the trends unleashed by digital delivery of content.

      As for the second, I note it and hope they remain committed to eink and text only ebook readers!

      Eoin

  8. With 200,000 books and e-books being released in a year, I doubt we have much to worry about regarding people losing their imagination through video, or whether there will be enough material for us to read!

  9. Maybe I fell asleep and missed something …. ?

    “The possibility then that the Kindle Fire presents is one where the dedicated device that has done so much to build the digital book market is, however distantly, headed for a quiet retirement”

    Didn’t Amazon just make a big splash about a base Kindle with ads for only 79 dollars ?

    Didn’t Amazon just make a big splash about a Kindle Touch for a few dollars more ?

    What has the launch of the Fire got to do with this ? I really and honestly don’t get it.

    You know it’s only short while ago that we were told that music videos would kill radio. We were told that television would kill radio. Yeah … radio is really dead !! LOL

    What is true in the above discussion is that there is more competition for people’s leisure time. However that doesn’t explain why radio is booming… and the truth is that reading is also booming and with the new coolness of eReaders I am totally confident that reading will boom even more.

    My two nephews and one niece now have Nooks. I bought them two and their dad bought one more. They are 9yo 13yo and 15yo. It is fantastic to see them dump paper books and dive into reading on eReaders as if they were born with them. I gave my old iPad to my best friend’s daughter, aged 2 years and one month, in July. She plays with it almost every day and is learning to read so fast it is scary ! The stories and games she has are so much more engaging that those boring paper books.

    What a future !!

    1. I’m not saying that other media forms will kill anything, I’m not even saying that amazon will stop selling eink devices anytime soon.

      What I’m saying is that in Amazon terms, as digital sales of other media forms grow, Text will become less important for them. That worries me because they have been so important in building an ecosphere for books in a digital world.

      Your anecdote even confirms my thinking. The devices are winning fans and users, but the content is neither exclusively text or book based, rather it is apps, games and other forms.

      That might be good or bad, but the reality is that publishers are not really ready for this radical a change and reading is a likely loser in the competition.

      That’s all!
      Eoin

      1. Reading is only a likely loser when people haven’t begun reading yet. And that is exactly where the danger lies. It takes so much more effort to learn how to read then to watch a film. Kids and adults who love reading will always do, it’s future generations we’re talking about here, I think.

  10. Very interesting post, but I quite disagree with it! Call me an optimist! The latest NEA survey shows that MORE people in America read now than ever before. Something like 9 million people more in 2008, and that’s before the digital explosion!

    I think it’s important to realize that there’s more space for books than ever before, not less. And the e-book revolution just adds to a trend towards MORE readers! So expect more e-books, not less, regardless of what digital support they are read on.

  11. Meanwhile, back on the high street, I hear bookshop sales are way down on this time last year. Too early to call it a trend – and the big-hitting Irish books are only getting to the stores in the next two weeks – but it could be ominous

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