Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Kindle: Amazon Innovating How You Read Books While Marketing It Old Skool

Amazon has not rested on their laurels. They are a survivor of the Dotbomb era, and have had both successes and failures. Their online retailing is top notch while their A9 search engine was a bust. Ventures like their S3 storage service drive Wall Street bonkers because they just want them to increase the bottom line with sales on their core offering. This is what innovation is all about. Exploring and taking chances. That is how they started and Jeff Bezos continues to lead them down this path.

The Amazon Kindle is their latest foray on their innovation journey. It took the iPod three years to be deemed a wildly successful innovation. The Kindle was just released, so it will take time and real data from customers to evolve to that level of eminence on the S-curve of customer adoption.

I’m not here to review the Kindle, although seeing the images did rekindle memories of Apple’s HyperCard from the eighties. I wanted to share something that came to mind as I was reading the Amazon Kindle marketing pitch. I was reminded of how the NBA touted their basketball redesign. Instead of having stories from players, they had testimonials mainly from retired Hall of Famers. People you respect. They crafted stories of rigorous evaluation and on-court testing. Unfortunately, it all came crashing down in the middle of the 2006-07 season. David Stern had to fall on his sword and go back to the old ball after players revolted and complaints couldn’t be ignored.

Instead of showing people using the Kindle, Amazon has famous people and actors touting how great it is. Here are some quotes from the videos on the Kindle home page:

“The Kindle doesn’t take you to [technology] boot camp. It assumes you already know how to read.” – Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket)

“I think it’s much more attractive to walk around with an instrument in your hand and read wherever and whenever, and how much you’d like. I think it’s huge.” – Toni Morrison

“A lot of thought has gone into this, obviously. A lot of it is very practical, which is delightful. Sometimes there is a gap between technology engineers and the real world.” – James Patterson

“It’s so simple you can be a moron and it works. It’s invisible. It takes no intelligence at all. Anybody who can read a book can function with this thing.” – Michael Lewis

“If you’re obsessed with blogs that are constantly updating, not once a week, but once an hour or twice an hour, this is a no-brainer. This is an absolute necessity.” – Guy Kawasaki

“Within a few pages you forget that you are reading on a Kindle, and that was our top design requirement.” – Jeff Bezos

Concepts are so much easier to sell than actual products. Have James Patterson and Toni Morrison spent $400 and treated this like an actual customer would? I would love to have observed Guy Kawasaki going to an actual blog (and pay for it…yes, blogs aren’t free on the Kindle) and discuss his experience rather than his conceptual opinion of an experience.

This led me to a trip to YouTube to see if any actual users posted their experiences. There weren’t many, but it was dramatically different to watch people discuss how they used the device versus the Kindle concept. One thing that was interesting was to watch people consistently hit buttons they didn’t intend to hit and how difficult it was to get back to where they were. The actors in the marketing video never seemed to have that issue. Here are some of the YouTube stories:

It is much more compelling to watch a real guy fumble to find his page on the Kindle than to listen to a Nobel Laureate wax lyrical about the abstraction of an electronic reading device.

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