Saturday, January 02, 2010

Kindle In Interesting Times

Long time back, I had a very interesting conversation with a journalist about e-paper. Now, that was seven years back. It was the time when news portals were mushrooming. Internet and PC penetration, still at miniscule figures, was the buzz.

Sankarnarayanan, then with Express Computers, said, "While e-content is available, the consumers are not comfortable with the medium to read. Unless the medium is similar to newspaper or a book, the adoption of e-content will not be easy.”

True, I thought. And impossible! How can computer or even laptop be as comfortable as the thin and foldable paper?

I read newspaper and books on paper format. I didn’t want to read them on eye-irritating and neck-pain-inducing computer monitor. I can’t hold the computer, closely; can’t fold them; throw it away when done. Also, PC at that point of time was more for checking emails and chatting.

You must be thinking that I am a laggard. I was, then. The 'legacy' behavior of touch-feel-read of paper was all pervasive.

Over the years, the continuous innovation leading to thinner laptops coupled with the slow-yet-steady change in consumer behavior was certainly ensuring that more and more people consumed e-content. Mobile phones have further accentuated the process. Of course, one cannot deny that improvement in the quality and exclusivity of e-content also helped the cause.

So recently a blog by John Battelle on why he wouldn't like to use Kindle caught my attention. Consciously or otherwise, he has best articulated feedback to Amazon. For non-starters, Kindle is a gadget manufactured and marketed by Amazon. Kindle allows one to read e-books; I understand it has ecommerce capabilities.

Battelle has actually articulated the same points which Sankar had raised then, but in detail.

Fast Second by Constantinos Markides and Paul A. Geroski classifies technology innovations based on their ability to destroy the competencies and complementary assets of established players in the traditional publishing industry and its effect on consumer habits and behaviors. If I were to plot Kindle (substituting for e-content medium devices) on the quadrant, I will plot it in Radical Innovation square.

But on the other hand it may not be entirely true. Consumer habits and behavior has already changed a lot as far as reading e-content on such devices is concerned. The usage of PC and other medium to consume other e-content is quite prevalent.

Kindle, after all, may not be entirely radical.

If we analyze the adoption of e-content reading medium technology based on Geoff Moore's Crossing the Chasm, I can, with some confidence, say that Kindle is certainly in the Visionary market. But certainly, it hasn't crossed the chasm into the Main Market. Battelle, who probably can be classified as Visionary or Early Adopter, uses it but is not entirely satisfied. That is the character of a Visionary.

For Kindle to cross the chasm and reach the main market would mean that e-content would have displaced the traditional print content - newspapers, books, magazines, research reports. For that to happen, the penetration of internet and computing devices (even PDA/large screen mobiles) has to increase. This will catalyze the change in consumer behavior. The book – Crossing the Chasm – has enough strategies already spelt out for Amazon to kick Kindle hard enough that it doesn't have to peep below in the biggest crack in the Technology Adoption Lifecycle. With our lives being taken over by technology, Kindle would be in the eye of the Tornado.

While, I will not attempt to chalk out the strategies for Kindle, it would be important to note that for success, Kindle will have to become more affordable, get standardized and find partners for growth. But most importantly, it has to get close the consumer’s current behavior of reading. From this perspective, Battelle's blog on Kindle is significant.

Out of the couple of very useful insights, I liked the one on show off value. Battelle has highlighted that we like to show-off what we read in public which is very true. Kindle right now doesn't offer that capability. But I am sure technology will advance, if it already hasn't. In future, we might be able showcase the cover of the book on the other side while reading the content on one side of Kindle. For example, if I am reading Da Vinci Code, the other side should/could show a movie trailer of the same movie. Opportunities are infinite. Am sure e-content reading medium will see incremental innovations in the future.

Having said so much about Kindle, it would be interesting to watch Kindle’s growth and how the PC/laptop and mobile phone companies react. For all you know, Kindle can easily morph into one these devices.

Amazon's 'forward' integration, watch out!

Oh wait, somebody is already moving in the direction – Apple.

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