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Will the iPhone Kill the Kindle?

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A recent Business Week article entitled, “Move Over Kindle; E-Books Hit Cell Phones,” outlines trends that could drive the dedicated eBook reader into oblivion. Even advocates of the Kindle are reeling from the possibility.

The argument goes that since applications like ScrollMotion or Stanza for the iPhone make it possible for users to download books and magazines directly on their iPhones for a fraction of the cost of similar materials available via Amazon.com through its Kindle reader, users will drop or never purchase a Kindle.

The argument seems airtight. The open development platform of the iPhone, the ubiquity of iTunes, the price advantages currently seen with iBooks, and the fantastic number of iPhones purchased in the past year seem to create a perfect storm for the Kindle, foreboding its doom.

However, as someone who is reading “Predictably Irrational,” I don’t think it’s going to work out this way. It’s just too rational. Here are my irrational reasons for not dropping the Kindle in favor of a one-stop solution via the iPhone:

  • I’m already leary of how dependent I am on my iPhone. To have it become a major reading tool starts to make me a little crazy. I like having some activities compartmentalized — I don’t run my computer through my TV, for instance. One is for getting work done, one is for entertainment and diversion. My iPhone is a communication device. It’s not a reading device. Sorry, I can’t get over that conceptual block.
  • Reading, even snacking and speed-dating information, is best done in an immersive environment. I’ve tried reading using Stanza. It doesn’t immerse me. Once, the phone rang in my hand while I was reading, making me nearly leap out of my skin. Not immersive. There are too many applications on my iPhone vying for my attention. I need a dedicated device for reading.
  • I dislike kludgy solutions, and reading on an iPhone feels kludgy. There is something of a force-fit in putting reading on the iPhone, just as there is with putting radio (via Pandora) on it. It works OK, but not well enough to for me to make a habit of it.
  • It’s too small. The screen on the iPhone is spectacular, but too small for reading, no matter how I turn it. The line lengths are too short in portrait mode, there are too few lines (and too many page turns) in landscape mode.

However, the problem is, I might change my tune in a few weeks or months, or even use the iPhone occasionally to read. I just don’t know. And that creates a conundrum for publishers. How do you reach users who themselves represent multiple devices?

These skirmishes over preferred platforms or devices only mean that publishers have to be fleet and adaptable. A year ago, a blog posting like this wouldn’t have been possible — the Kindle had just been released, and the iPhone 3G was months away. Now, with both devices having been adopted at amazing rates, publishers have to build infrastructure to support user preferences that span multiple devices — because their users are increasingly like to have multiple connected reading devices.

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About Kent Anderson

I am the CEO/Publisher of the STRIATUS/JBJS, Inc., the home of the Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, JBJS Case Connector, JBJS Reviews, JBJS Essential Surgical Techniques, the JBJS Recertification Course, PRE-val, and SocialCite. Prior to this, I was an executive at the New England Journal of Medicine. I also was Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Discussion

12 thoughts on “Will the iPhone Kill the Kindle?

  1. however i don’t have any of them but i think you should add their differences in screen technology. E-ink is absolutely better for reading . another thing is the energy consumption and the period that they need to be recharged

    Posted by obscure atheist | Jan 7, 2009, 11:04 am
  2. The simple and obvious solution is an open file format that can be used on a variety of devices. Something readable in an iPhone app and readable on a Blackberry, and on a laptop and on a Kindle. Problem solved. The issue is going to be proprietary devices like the Kindle–will Amazon open it up to other file formats beyond the ones they sell and control, and DRM, will publishers release material without any restrictions?

    As Steve Jobs famously said, not enough people regularly read books to generate enough sales from a standalone book reader to get the price of manufacturing down to a reasonable level. The Kindle will always be a niche product because it will always be expensive compared to something like a phone, which are often given away for free. Kindle sales bear this out, 250,000 according to the NY Times compared to something like the iPhone’s 10,000,000 or the RAZR’s 50,000,000.

    Posted by David Crotty | Jan 7, 2009, 12:00 pm
  3. Just last week I was talking with an executive at an STM publisher. She happened to mention how much she was enjoying her Kindle–best thing since sliced bread, she said. I asked her two questions:

    (1) Have you ever read, or would you ever want to read, scholarly articles (particularly ones with figures, tables, and equations) on your Kindle?

    (2) If circumstances (whatever they may be) required you to choose between your Kindle and your iPhone, which would you choose, and why?

    The answers were “no,” “iPhone,” and “because it can do everything.” That more or less sums up why I think the Kindle is doomed to fail. I would be surprised if it still exists in two years’ time.

    Kevin Cohn
    Director of Product Management
    Atypon

    Posted by Kevin Cohn | Jan 7, 2009, 2:33 pm
  4. i have the ipod touch. on purpose. so it won’t be my phone. because i don’t even want my phone to be part of my portable entertainment environment. phone=work. and if i get mad at my cell provider & cancel my service, do i want a ‘dead phone’ feature to my device? nope. stanza=not immersive=entirely true. i do have some books loaded onto my ipod touch, for non-immersive reading. when i have an unexpected wait. not for planned reading. yep, too small. no e-ink technology. backlit screen doesn’t know i’m looking at it, so it goes dim every once in a while. having to change a setting every time i want to read something=pain in the butt. not acceptable for real use. ‘real’ reading needs to be separate in my life anyway. so it’ll be print until the kindle does everything i want it to. (be in color. give me right of first sale. make content cheaper. allow more formats. and – e-books should be, or at least become, *way* cheaper than print.)

    Posted by thorn | Jan 7, 2009, 3:51 pm
  5. “thorn” above hits on one of the biggest hurdles facing e-books, the notion that they should be “way cheaper than print”. For us, paper, print and binding costs are around 10-20% of the cost of producing a new book. But for the average reader, a 10% discount for buying an electronic version rather than a paper version just isn’t going to cut it. The misperception of how much of a book’s cost goes into the physical object is going to be tough to overcome.

    Posted by David Crotty | Jan 8, 2009, 11:16 am
  6. if producing the object is 10-20% of the cost.. hm. scary. in fact, that is pretty serious value-added, since it makes the thing last — for my purposes — forever. but many other costs can be saved by going electronic. know the dimensions of my copy of ‘atlas shrugged’? and how much it weighs? that was kept in more than one warehouse, touched by a whole bunch of people (receiving, picking & shipping), and shipped to across the country to my local distributor.

    i would suggest that part of the perception that “electronic formats should be more economical than print” may come from the (presently, at least) impermanent nature of electronic versions of texts. that is, if the format changes, or i change electronic readers, & have to re-buy the text because the format is incompatible, i think i need it to cost about the same as an airport paperback. one of those awful, perfect-bound ones, w/ no die-cut wraps. however, this desire or lack thereof may well depend on the age of the individual consumer. (i lived the great migration from vinyl to cd. ouch.) i would also suggest that a significantly lower price-point than print has lain at the heart of the consumer’s electronic-text dream since the earliest days of that dream. (clearly, i’m speaking for myself, here; just imagining that i’m not alone in this.)

    and of course, so far we’re just talking about electronic books. probably not fair to muddy the water by bringing into the discussion the weird lack of even a semblance of harmony among price structures for books — electronic vs. print vs. *audio* (h0ly cr@p for the spendiness! yes they’re a gazillion hours of a paid actor reading; but bookmarking’s a pain and annotating is impossible!), as compared with a dvd or itunes download of a huge-budget feature-length motion picture (lots of actors; lots of hours — plus explosions!). copyright laws are all over the map, as are union rules for those involved in the various forms and stages of production; whereas the consumer sees the transaction as simply one of equivalences: of what is being received for the expenditure.

    obviously, it’s messy. but the print vs. electronic price-point discussion will become entirely moot, should print die out completely. and if that happens, we may *still* have the hanging question, “will the iphone kill the kindle?” (i did it!! i returned to the main point!)

    Posted by thorn | Jan 8, 2009, 5:26 pm
  7. Your reasons against reading on the iPhone aren’t irrational. The iPhone screen IS too small. The interface IS kludgy for reading. It WILL infuriate you when SMS and emails arrive while you’re reading.

    Further to that, battery life isn’t up to snuff; having the screen on for too long kills battery life on an iPhone, and when reading, you need the screen on for long periods.

    The contrast is also insufficient, and the screen has too much glare.

    As good as the iPhone is, it’s awful as a reading device. Could you imagine reading a long novel (1000+ conventional pages) on that thing? I couldn’t.

    I’m sticking with paper for now.

    Posted by Captain Reality | May 2, 2009, 8:20 am

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