Why Kindle will fail as a device, succeed as a format.

Published on Wednesday, November 21, 2007 By Brad Wardell In Books

I just got back from the future in my time machine. Lots of cool stuff and not so cool stuff too.

But one of the things that surprised me was how eBooks ended up succeeding in ways one didn't expect and failed utterly in the areas it was expected to do well in.

It all started with the Kindle.  The Kindle was the first mainstream (seriously mainstream) attempt to get eBooks going.  With Amazon getting behind it (just like the did the Segway incidentally) the Kindle became pretty successful in its time.  But in the end, it failed as a product once people concluded a few things about books:

  1. People like books (physically).
  2. The people who buy lots of books like to have them around.
  3. People like the share books.
  4. If you damage a book, you might be out a few bucks, damage Kindle and you're out $400.
  5. Books don't have idiotic DRM issues.
  6. Books are easy to hold and read (Kindle doesn't have enough text on screen).
  7. Books can be sized and have print designed for that book (Kindle is a one sized fits all solution).

I buy about 4 to 6 books per month. I spend a lot of time reading. I'm also a techie. I'm the ideal customer for the Kindle.  Besides the fact that the thing is ugly, overpriced, and can't even handle PDF's directly, it does have an important niche use: The ability to read many different things while traveling.

And ultimately, that's where eBooks will end up taking off.  In the future, people buy physical books still but they also get a license to the Kindle version (good for Kindle, its format becomes the standard -- Amazon gets rich off of licensing the format even as its device fails). 

So when you go on a trip, your iPhone G5 will have your Kindle books on it too that you can read while the physical book remains at home.  Which is nice since I don't have to drag with me 2 or 3 hard cover books (that's the problem with non-fiction books, they tend to be big hard covers).

But Kindle, as a device will fail. But once Amazon figures out how to sell Kindle content with the actual book for tiny extra fee, it will succeed as a format.