Caution: Your Kindle May Break

Kindle2-crackedAs of this holiday season, there are a LOT more Kindles out there. Amazon claims that the Kindle was the best selling item in their store. Ever. Some experts put Barnes & Nobles Nook sales at over 500,000 units in 2010.

And guess what? Some of them are going to break.

Yup, it’s a statistical certainty. Even if only 1% of all Kindles break, there’s a lot more of them out there to be broken.

If you check out some of the articles out there, people are already suing Amazon for the Kindle design. As a consumer, you should have a reasonable expectation that an expensive piece of technology has been tested and improved, right?

Well, not so fast. We’re talking about a product that’s been in the wild for under two years. That’s plenty of time to get market feedback, but not really enough to make significant hardware changes to improve the product.

And that’s the trouble with being an early adopter of new technology. YOU are the beta tester.

It’s cool to have a new toy. People want to see it and you get to be a geek superstar. But that comes at a price. Even early iPods broke or had lousy battery life.

Consider Toyota. Toyota worked hard to build their image of reliability, but they did it over many, many years. It didn’t happen in the first year of production.

Don’t be surprised that your basic laptop is more reliable than, say, your Kindle or Nook. Engineers have had years to make these devices more durable. And just because it fits in your backpack doesn’t mean that it will survive the abuse. The outer bezel on the Kindle is nearly flush with the screen, so that 7-inch e-ink display is pretty vulnerable to cracking. (There’s even a discussion on the cracked Kindle display on Amazon.)

Personally, I keep my Kindle in a thick, zip-lock pouch. It’s not  a traditional ebook pouch. I bought mine at an Army Navy supply store. It protects the Kindle from water. Plus it’s so ugly that nobody even looks twice at it.

So, if you got a Kindle or Nook ereader for this holiday season, congratulations. You got a cool, cutting-edge device that will give you many hours of pleasure.

Until it breaks.

LINKS, NOT NECESSARILY ENDORSEMENTS:

5 Tipping Points for eReader Technology

I’m an early adopter. If you create a new website, I will visit it. Develop a new gadget, I will buy it. That’s what early adopters do. We go in early, check things out, invite you to join us, and then complain that it was better before you got here.

Anyway. I’ve been talking about ebook readers a lot recently, both here online and at work. People are really starting to get excited about ebook readers, especially around the holiday season.

Some people (including myself) are predicting that 2010 will be a big year for ereaders. It may not be the obvious tipping point where ereaders go mainstream, but the tipping will begin to, well, get tipsy.

Here’s what needs to happen before we see ebooks and ereaders become as mainstream as, say, iPods and TiVos. (That is, as mainstream as they will become relative to the people willing to voluntarily buy new and interesting technology.)

1. A profit model. Publishers are dipping their toes in the water, but it’s really hard for book publishers to rally behind a bestseller priced at $9.99 when they are used to selling them for $24.99. Sure, you can tell publishers that they are cutting out printing and distribution costs, but that’s a cost that they’ve already internalized as part of being in publishing. A real profit model will need to be fair not only to publishers and authors, but also to retailers. Right now the retailer (like Amazon) has inordinate power, but that will likely shift. Publishing is a business. Writing, for many authors, is a career. We need professionals to create consistently professional product. And for that, they need to make money. It’s great to buy books for $0.99, but it just doesn’t make economic sense to sell a book for that price. People have become accustomed to getting everything for free on the Internet, but books are going to have to find a way to be profitable in this “free world.”

2. Color screens. This, of all the complaints about ereader, is the one I hear the most. When people check out my Kindle, they are immediately impressed with the eInk technology. It’s a reflective medium, so it’s easier to read then people would expect. But they fall back on, “I’ll get one when they come out in color.” The reality is that people read in black and white, not color. But color capabilities will be a major tipping point for a lot of people. Even though they’ll actually be reading the actual words in black and white, people want color.

3. An Apple solution. Apple knows user experience. If they make something, we trust that even the first version will have a quality user experience. Many of us are willing to pay a premium for that. So the day that Steve Jobs tell us “one more thing” and presents an ereader solution, lots of people will rush out and buy one. Amazon has done such a great job with the Kindle that it actually looks like a product that Apple would create. That, no doubt, has been one of the reasons for the Kindle’s early success. So if and when Apple gets into this space, we’ll see more people take ereaders seriously as must-have devices.

4. Universal micropayments. Right now, payments are still being strangled by credit card fees. If you join PayPal, you get slightly lower fees, but it’s still a pretty expensive system. Closed ecosystems like Amazon and the iTunes store are enabling publishers and retailers to produce content and set very low point-of-purchase prices. But people want to compare prices and shop at their favorite stores. Universal micropayment solutions, like ewallets (remember those), will lower barriers to products that Amazon and iTunes can’t or won’t carry. This is an industry-wide challenge. But whoever solves it, will likely become very, very rich.

5. Brick and mortar retail. I like shopping online as much as the next guy. But not everyone wants to submit their credit cards over the tubes. Barnes & Nobles and Borders are already spinning plans to create physical transactions for virtual books. At Radio Shack, I saw them selling casual games on USB keys. That’s the kind of product someone wants to have in their hands, especially if they are buying a gift product. iTunes is nice for something that you buy and download yourself, but giving someone a gift in person is more satisfying if you can hand them something. The Barnes & Nobles near my house set up a beautiful kiosk to demonstrate the soon-to-be-available Nook. Since you can’t actually touch one until you buy it, the Kindle is a leap of faith, and so are the books that you put on it.

Are there other barriers to ebooks and ebook readers? Sure. Price, habit, and skepticism are among the top contenders. Heck, even having too many devices is an obvious barrier.

The move from printed books to electronic books is inevitable. It’s the tipping point that fascinates me.

Tumor on Kindle – Comics as eBooks

tumorcover1As ebooks grow in popularity, we’re starting to see more ebook exclusive releases. What’s impressive is the recent announcement by Amazon and Archaia, a comic book publisher based here in New Jersey, (disclosure: I know the people at Archaia personally) to release a comic book on the Kindle before the print release.

The Kindle 2 handles images pretty well, but it’s still black and white and, well, pretty small. So most people who create comic books (including me) are trying to understand how to best format their existing comics for ebook readers.

What makes the Archaia deal so interesting is that their comic book will be formatted specifically for the Kindle a full six months before it is released in print. That gives the publisher plenty of time to decide how to package the print edition.

According to Publisher’s Weekly, the first issue of the comic book “Tumor” will be free and then the next seven issues will be 99 cents, bringing the total to $7.92 for the whole series. The print edition will sell for $14.95.

When you consider that many new comic books retail each week for $3.99, you have to wonder what’s going to happen to that core business. And when high-quality color ebook devices become available, will many people still be willing to pay $3.99 for a print comic when a 99 cent version is available?

Now that comics are going to the Kindle, get ready for even more interesting changes in the comic book publishing industry.