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