Thursday, 29 September 2011

Who's Afraid Of The Kindle Fire?

Book burningImage via WikipediaIt hardly seems worth adding to the squillions of words being written about Amazon's Kindle Fire announcement last night. Engadget's real-time updates were fascinating enough, but this morning pretty much every gadget blog and site is looking at 'what you should know about the Kindle Fire' and analysing what this new thing means to us all. The papers (the serious ones, I mean) are all busily providing their much-vaunted 'context and analysis'.

It's all a  bit of a kerfuffle.

Personally, I've been flirting with the idea of a tablet since last year, when I decided to go Kindle. At the time of its release, Amazon's e-reader certainly had its detractors - all of them making like the wide-mouthed frog right now. The Kindle has not only been a brilliant success, it has transformed the publishing and writing world and continues to do so, injecting a great deal of fear and loathing into an industry that has been shaken out of its cosy leather armchairs. At the new $79 price point, it will only continue to do so. The Kindle touch, at $99, adds a touch screen, although it's not a 'full' touch screen, you tap it to move a page rather than swipe it. Which is a shame, as every person I have ever handled my Kindle to has first tried to swipe it to turn the page.

But it's the Kindle Fire that's really got people, well, fired up. The Fire is undoubtedly the one tablet device that is going to challenge Apple's dominance of the tablet market. Not because it's a really cool physical product (although it is), but because it's linked to the world's largest content repository. Amazon not only has millions of books, films and pieces of music to sell us, it has our credit card numbers (and our trust), our addresses and frequently the addresses of our friends and family too. With Whispernet, it is already delivering instantaneously accessible content to millions of people around the world. The Kindle Fire is the device that can access that content, as well as the services Amazon is building around it.

Sure, you can get stuff on Kindle for the iPad, but it's not the same. The Kindle Fire is integrated into Amazon. We're couch potatoes - we'll go for the easy stuff every time. For everyone who doesn't have an iPad right now, the Kindle Fire is a no-brainer at $199.

So where does that leave our, now age-old, argument about wanting to curl up with a good book rather than a slab of electronics? Well, Kindles just became a load cheaper and more accessible. And, at the high end, they got a whole load sexier. That means new consumers, new readers who can choose to download our work as e-books. We've already seen that American 'core readers', those who buy more than twelve books a year, have in the main migrated to e-readers. Now there are pretty compelling reasons for the mass market to follow in their footsteps. It's increasingly the case that in order to reach a wide readership, a writer needs to have an e-book.

It's not very good news for traditionally minded publishers. And it further cements Amazon's unbearably tight grip on the publishing industry. Amazon pretty much dominates the business of distributing books now, between the physical book sales and the e-book market. It is set to expand that dominance exponentially.

Sadly, those of us not born in the land of the free and home of the brave will have to wait a while for our new toys to arrive. Available on November 15th in the USA, the Kindle Fire cannot be shipped anywhere else in the world. And, of course, here in the Middle East we cannot sign up to download Amazon content. Yes, of course there are ways around that - but you're missing the mass market when you're making people jump through hoops like that.

Which is frustrating. As the world migrates to e-readers, the Middle East is left behind in the Paper Age simply because the biggest, most dominant players in the content reader device and distribution businesses, Apple and Amazon, do not give a hoot about the Arab world. And likely never will. Tragically, every move as brilliant and innovative as the Kindle Fire in this industry just widens the gap.

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Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Good read. However, Apple or Amazon cannot be blamed for not serving local content. Instead it's the lack of cooperation from companies that own rights to that content in the Middle East.

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