Tag Archives: Amazon

Netflix and Amazon customers are zooming past an inflection point

An inflection point is a term from calculus. It’s a place where a charted curve changes direction. Inflection points make interesting charts. They can also be harrowing for passengers zooming along the curve, hanging on for dear life. Just ask today’s struggling newspapers, publishing houses and record labels. Many would tell you that passing an inflection point is as fun as passing a kidney stone, only it takes longer. But the worst of a harrowing ride may be close to over.

At least for two industries, we may finally be rounding the midway point between mostly analog and mostly digital.

Let’s start with Netflix. I was struck earlier this year to learn that a majority of all Netflix subscribers have streamed at least some content online within the month. This is huge.

True, the delivery of DVDs to customers’ mailboxes is already partly digital. The first “D” in DVD is “Digital.” But reliance on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver those digital packages is fraught with expense and inefficiency; Expensive, because —  to quote Jeff Jarvis — atoms are a drag. And inefficient, because you need a physical warehouse of disks. Only a finite number  of people can watch the same film on the same day.

Then, earlier this week, I read that Amazon is now selling more e-books than hardcovers. The speed of this shift to reading on Kindles, iPads and other e-readers is a surprise even to those who should know better. Amazon says they now sell 180 e-books for every 100 hardcover books. A few months ago it was only 143 for every 100!

This is even more astonishing when you take into account that, according this New York Times article, “Amazon has 630,000 Kindle books, a small fraction of the millions of books sold on the site.”

Change is painful. But the worst pain is cyclical.

Sometimes it feels like the world is racing to a terrible future — similar to the ancient world maps where waters on the outer fringes had sober warnings of sea monsters. But at least from a cultural / technological perspective, call me an optimist. (I don’t speak here of the world’s geopolitical or ecological fate, and don’t get me started!)

I believe the voyage around this and similar inflection points is taking us to a pretty cool place. We just need to hold on tight and be prepared when we hit land. The other side of this curve will be as brimming with opportunity as it is different from the world we know now.

Watching Bezos: The future of books can be traced in acquisitions

Yesterday fellow blogger Ron Shevlin published an open letter to Jeff Bezos, proposing that Amazon should start giving away Kindles. He proposed that giving away their ebook device would be offset by the incremental ebooks they’d then sell, in a similar way to giving away razors as a way to sell high-margin blades.

I’m of the opinion that, unlink razors, ebooks are too much of a niche product to take off in any scalable way. It was author and blogger Nick Hornby who helped me see the light, when he pointed out that an ebook is a high-tech solution solving problems for a largely low-tech market segment.

Social Networks for Book Lovers

Instead, I think the future of publishing — regardless of whether the ink is real or virtual — will be better advanced through social networks designed for those passionate about books. Notably, I’ve been tracking Goodreads, and the 18-month-old Shelfari.

Jeff Bezos has been watching as well. Today we learn that Amazon just acquired Shelfari, three weeks after acquiring another competitor in the space, AbeBooks.

It’s a shrewd move for Amazon to shift more marketing dollars toward online social networks. If only for this reason: As true book lovers become more of a rarity, the urge for them to congregate will grow.

Long before the day when book lovers warm to a digital book, they will welcome a digital way to connect with other readers.

Nick Hornby on why no one is flocking to buy ebooks

A few weeks ago I faced the daunting task of buying a friend a book for his birthday. The challenge: By his own confession, this friend is not a book fan. Most years he’s one of the third of American adults who never picks up a book. But this year he wanted to start reading again.

So imagine how thrilled I was when in a flash of inspiration I realized I could convert my friend — a 36-year-old mechanic — into a rabid reader. I could hook him on one author’s books as surely as I could if he were an eighth grader and had never picked up Rowling’s Harry Potter series. The book I was thinking of was High Fidelity by Nick Horny. Although it’s not my favorite of this author’s (that’s reserved for How To Be Good), it is perfect for any man who has ever loved and lost and realized he’s done it in a most boneheaded fashion. And who is willing to laugh about it. Hard and often.

Hornby wins readers over by being brutally honest and extremely bright. Maybe it’s just me, but he strikes me as someone I could picture having a pint with down at the pub. (Yes, he’s British, but the film based on High Fidelity shifted in setting from a London record store to one set in Chicago, and stars John Cusack and a then-unknown Jack Black — it travels across the pond surprisingly well).

I reveal all his because Nick Hornby has a blog, and in it he recently listed all the reasons why book publishers should neither look at e-books as a threat or a salvation. In his view, the latests ebook reading devices, Amazon’s Kindle and the iRex Illiad, are non-starters. Here’s a demo video of the latter product:

Here is an excerpt of Hornby’s explanation of why ebooks won’t fly off their virtual shelves any time soon:

  1. Book readers like books, whereas music fans never had much affection for CDs. Vinyl yes, CDs no … For readers, a wall lined with books is as attractive as any art we could afford to put up there.
  2. E-book readers have a couple of disadvantages, when compared to mp3 players: When we bought our iPods, we already owned the music to put on it; none of us own e-books … [And] so far, Apple is uninterested in designing an e-book reader, which means that they don’t look very cool.
  3. We don’t buy many books – seven per person per year, a couple of which, we must assume, are presents for other people … The advantages of the Iliad and the Kindle –- that you can take vast numbers of books away with you – are of no interest to the average book-buyer.
  4. Book-lovers are always late adaptors [sic], and generally suspicious of new technology.
  5. The new capabilities of the iPod will make it harder to sell books anyway. How much reading has been done historically, simply because there is no television available on a bus or a train or a sun-lounger? But that’s no longer true.

Sadly, I think Hornby is again spot-on. Except for one category, I don’t see ebooks immediately selling in any sort of numbers. That exception is business books, which can be far more useful as searchable reference sources than as comforting fireside yarns — or in Hornby’s case, exhilaratingly and often hilarious ones.