How Amazon Could Turbo-Charge Kindle Sales

It’s been about a year since my last post on the Kindle, and sadly, nothing has really changed.  I still see the device as popular among my more venture-savvy friends and colleagues, particularly if they travel frequently.  Overall, however, I find the prospect fairly uncompelling.

To restate my comments from a year ago:

I think the problem is that I’m emotionally attached to my library. I surround myself with my books. They remind me of what I’ve read, and even in some cases, who I was when I read them.

Unfortunately, while I’d love to flip through some of them more frequently, the physical form gets in the way. I know I would love to have all my books in electronic form, the same way that I have my CD library now on my iPod, or my DVD library on my AppleTV/Mac Mini.

I still feel like Amazon is not really pushing to convert book readers to digital.  However, there is a program I could get behind:

Let me send you my books. Yes, my physical books. When I send you them, give me download access to the e-book form, for my Kindle. Let me trade you my paper for electrons, in high quality form.

This is the same strategy that retailers like EB Games has been able to use to bring life back into video game retailing.  Set up a volume program to receive used books, and either resell them or donate them to recoup fractional costs.  Effectively subsidize the transition from paper to digital for readers who have large collections.  In fact, they could likely turn it into a phenomenal charity program, providing millions of books to needy libraries and schools around the country.

Once they have a majority of their works in digital form, the advantage of the Kindle takes over.  Incremental sales will be purely digital, and you’ll lock those readers into your format.

Sure, Amazon would need to negotiate some sort of “bulk rate” with publishers to effectively re-license the books to readers.  But if publishers are smart, they’ll realize that the likelihood of selling someone a digital copy of something they already own in print is close to zero.  In fact, the net dollars from such a program could actually even help justify better economics on the cost of the Kindle itself.

One of the things that has always impressed me about Amazon is their willingness to look past short-term financials toward long term strategic advantage and user needs.  I think that’s why I still believe that Amazon could be the type of company to make this type of program a reality.   If they don’t do it, however, I wonder if Google just might.

Let’s see if I have to write this post again in 2010.

5 thoughts on “How Amazon Could Turbo-Charge Kindle Sales

  1. do you really think publishers are eager to help the kindle become the dominant distribution medium for books? i’ll bet most big publishers are hoping the kindle fails because they know that bezos and co will have killer bargaining power and squeeze their margins like crazy. it’s an interesting idea, but as you say, without publisher cooperation, the financials are tough. and i don’t see publisher cooperation

    • Surya! 🙂

      It’s a good point. Like everything, I think it comes down to fear & greed. The deal works if publishers fear that the book market is effectively crashing/declining, and they see sufficient profit and broadening of the market through digital distribution. This is basically what happened to the music industry post-Napster.

      Theoretically, the publishers could ensure continued bargaining power by licensing several competing platforms at once – maybe Amazon, Sony, Google & Apple?

      On the fear side, there is also a risk that the publishers that do support the device will get an unfair advantage over them in sales, as digital devices grow.

      Actually, even at a loss, Amazon could run it as a promotion experimentally, to see what the actual adoption/response is, before committing to the full deal. They’ve followed that pattern in the past as well.

  2. fair points. i guess i’m skeptical because in the long term i see book publishers + record labels either going away or changing drastically. seriously, most of their value over the past decades has come from controlling distribution. with distribution becoming cheap and ubiquitous across the long tail (i hate to use that buzz word), that matters less. so we’re left with the marketing (packaging, market research, promotion), editing, and overall creative direction as the other elements of the value mix. i suspect those can be really well served by a freelance model (and will be). anyway, i guess this is tangential to your main point which is definitely a powerful marketing idea– if i become the kindle marketing director and use it, i’ll send you a free kindle).

  3. Sounds like a great deal to “kindle” the kindle. Sadly im sure it would be fraught with legal challenges. Anything that “should” be done in this world that involves big corporations, usually doesn’t get done. Now if only we could pass on this idea to the bigwigs at amazon and convince them that its their idea….

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