Some of the launch energy of the iPad has ricocheted off Apple and hit Amazon.
Turns out that the iPad is another powerful channel for Amazon although in this case it’s just the Kindle reader software running on the Apple hardware. There are still many who say the Kindle is a better, lighter form-factor for books while iPad fans cite the joy of being able to do music, video and applications in addition to reading.
Either way Amazon comes out a winner. Apple is working hard to expand their titles but Amazon is far ahead in terms of selection. Apple gets to win too because all those applications make the iPad an another easy-to-buy product.
Books are still evolving into the online world. Not being able to share, lend, or resell online books come to mind right away. Of course being online brings important advantages like immediacy, portability and the ability to synthesize information from different books easily.
Many cite this as just another transition like the one we went through with online music. Most people really miss their compact discs or vinyl records. But of course in that transition we were able to import all our old content into the new system so there was little loss. Making incremental purchases of content in a purely digital form seemed okay at that point.
But owning a book today won’t get you a break (in most cases) on the digital edition. Some publishers like O’Reilly, have offered much more innovative approaches like the “bookshelf” concept, where you can pay a flat monthly fee for access to a set of books that you can configure and update as your needs and interests change. It’s very well suited to the non-fiction and technical realm in which they operate. There are newer innovations there too like “rough cuts” which allow access to material in pre-published form and “living editions” which get constantly updated to stay current with changes in subject matter.
There is something special about a book. In a year or two such a statement may seem very quaint. Maybe it’s me. My parents were both librarians and about the only physical possession I miss when moving or traveling are my books. I can’t imagine not owning a physical copy of the OED. It’s too much fun to take out a volume to look up a word. Having said that I realize this probably puts me in the same category as the people out there still cherishing their vinyl record collections and tube amplifiers that generate “real, true, rich” sound.
It’s been easy to resist the Kindle as being an impractical device since it’s limited to doing only one thing. The Apple iPad destroys those arguments since it can do many things like video, music, email, games and runs the Kindle reader software just fine.
In conclusion I think the Kindle paved the way for the iPad but now the iPad will accelerate the adoption of digital books in a major way. Before the iPad I would say “I don’t want to read a 1000 page book on World War I history on my laptop so I’ll order the book.” But now the iPad offers enough of a “laid back book-like” experience to change that decision to a click on the “Kindle edition.”
Good for Amazon, Good for Apple. Good for innovative publishers like O’Reilly.
[Disclosure: At the time of this writing the author owns shares of both Apple and Amazon. The R2 Model Portfolio holds a position in Apple.]