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Kindle vs iPad For The Future Of Publishing

A lightly edited correspondence with Aaron Shepard:

Aaron wrote:

Morris, here’s the Wall Street Journal on sales of the iPad’s biggest competitor so far:

Morris replied:

I  didn’t even know the Samsung was out yet. Seems to me (a recent) WSJ article on the serious contenders has them coming out in the summer and running a version of Android that is still pre-release.

I don’t think the tablet market will be any more brand dependent than the phone or laptop market. I know one guy (college professor) with an iPad, the college bought it for him. I know one guy with an iPhone (a cousin) and nobody with an iMac, unless you happen to have one. I’m sure Apple will end up with the market share they deserve for being an innovator in tablets, but I don’t see them having anything like the long term effect on the book market that Kindle and its successors will likely have.

Aaron replied:

It’s not pre-release, but it’s a version that Google has said is not suited to the larger screen size of tablets.

This is a bit different, because Apple has basically defined the category. It will be more like the iPod. How many people do you know who have any other brand of digital music player, or any other brand of tablet?

Are you kidding? Have you compared the latest sales figures? The iPad is outselling the Kindle 3 to 1, even with the price difference, and it’s still in its first generation. Anyway, just look at the discussions of publisher involvement with ebooks. How many articles do you see about publisher innovation for the Kindle? Nada. Everyone’s focused now on the iPad. The only thrilling statements about the Kindle are coming from Amazon press releases. The Kindle has about as much of a future as black-and-white television.

Just out of curiosity, and as a point of comparison, how many people do you know with HDTV?

Morris replied:

Every single one of my nieces and nephews own an unbranded MP3 player, don’t ask me what they listen to. I have one friend with an iPod, she listens to library books. Maybe other people I know have them and I’m just not aware of it. Personally, I tend to cut anybody who walks around with earphones.

I don’t know anybody with any other brand of tablet, but I suspect I will when cheaper ones appear that run Windows like things. My friend with the iPod swears she will never buy anything else Apple, because she hates the way it only works just so. Tablets are too multifunctional to be lifetime items. The friend I have with one uses it for e-mail and video, that’s it. When it’s dead, he’ll look for something else that does e-mail and video, and price will determine.

I think the number they gave out (iPad sales) is 20 million. (This was wrong, number may be 10 million). Damned if I can figure out who bought them. Probably a lot of Yuppies with too much money, social signalers:-)

You get excited about claims of publisher innovation? They’ve had the web to work with for fifteen years and they haven’t done squat. They’re just clueless.  <snip – named names>  They’re all out to lunch.

100% of the people I know who own one (iPad) say it sucks for reading. Amazon will continue to produce new generations, but as I’ve pointed out to you and whoever else is listening time and time again, it’s their store that counts. Apple has yet to do a successful bookstore.

Remember that I don’t watch TV so I don’t pay attention, but I would estimate that everybody who’s replaced a TV in the last five years has HDTV. Many of them replaced to get an LCD, not for higher resolution. The one friend I know it mattered for watches a lot of hockey, you can actually see the puck. But I certainly have friends who are still watching picture tubes, don’t have cable, etc.

I don’t see what the one discussion has to do with the other. By your argument, I’d think everybody would have to own an iPhone. Except their growth of market share has been falling steadily while Android phones accelerate. You know I’m not a mobile phone user either, but from what I understand from the WSJ, the reason Android is winning is a combination or price and choice of form factors.

Aaron replied:

Well, when you do figure that out (who’s buying iPads), you’ll be looking at the future of publishing.

From my brief experience, I say the opposite. The iPad is a pleasure to read on. The Kindle sucks. I just refuse to read on it, the experience is so primitive. The only advantage the Kindle has is in bright sunlight — and rumor has it that Apple’s about to address that.

Apple’s iBookstore is less than a year old. Where was Amazon’s store after a single year? If you want to know where Apple’s book sales are headed, look at their music sales.

Morris, what you don’t understand about Apple is that they don’t roll out full-blown products. They start with just enough to get something rolling, then they build on it. The iBookstore you see now is only a kernel. They’ve barely begun.

The reason Android seems to be winning is that it’s a platform, not a product. It’s being adopted by a host of companies. If you want a fair comparison, look at the largest number of Android phones being sold by any one company, then compare that to iPhone sales. Anyway, it’s not a good comparison, because Apple came late to the field. The iPad is a different game entirely.

I think Android has sewn the seeds of its own destruction. By trying to be more open than Apple, they’ve destroyed their chance to match the quality of the experience. They’ve also opened themselves up to the world of viruses. Android is going to be the Windows of the mobile world — the OS that everyone wishes they hadn’t bought.

Morris replied:

I think you’re just an Apple homer. I don’t see iPad as the future of reading, but I guess we’ll know within a year based on their penetration, intention to dump Kindle, etc. I think you underestimate the dislike many people have for Apple’s closed platforms and high-handedness.

I still remember your telling me years ago about people in Japan reading on their phones. While that turned out to be a sort of a niche thing in the Western world, which was my guess, I think there’s something to the small format, portability and much lower cost of dedicated eBook readers. I already broke one of my Kindles, though I still use it every day, and I won’t hesitate to buy another if the dead screen area grows.

By Christmas, I expect their WiFi version to be $99. While you and I are making enough money that we don’t need to care about such things, most people who read books do. iPads are toys for technophiles, Kindles are for readers. Don’t sell readers short when it comes to books.

If Amazon needs to come out with a color book reader running Android to protect their market share, they will, and they will subsidize it heavily, something I don’t think Apple does.

Aaron replied:

You sound like me when the Mac came out. I was convinced it was just a toy. But the Mac isn’t a toy, and neither is the iPad. The range of useful apps on it is making it an extremely useful tool in all kinds of fields. My main fear in buying it is that it’s going to open up so much potential capability. I dread having to keep up with it.

The iPad is NOT going to technophiles. Just the opposite. It’s going to people who want computing to be simpler. It’s what computers would have been if they hadn’t originally been designed by and for engineers.

You want to know who’s buying the iPad? Trendsetters.

That would be a good idea. Even the Android-based Nook has outclassed them, at this point.

That’s it, I thought I’d give Aaron the last word. I had a conversation about who’s buying iPads with Jon Reed before writing this, figuring he’s more plugged into the world than I am. He estimated that at a recent IT conference he attended (or heard about, I already forgot), 50% of the attendees had iPads. The selling point in the business travel community would be battery life and cloud access to check e-mail and thin-client browser apps.

I wonder what percentage of iPads have been sold in foreign countries, as opposed to Kindles. I couldn’t find a number quickly.

14 comments to Kindle vs iPad For The Future Of Publishing

  • Ray Saunders

    As a reader, I have yet to see a device that would work for me. I read quickly and often rescan a page or flip back a page for a second or two. The screens don’t contain enough text and scrolling disrupts the process. A smaller font size is not the answer, as my eyesight isn’t what it used to be, even with reading glasses. I find it much easier to read a real book than to read Sony/Kindle/IPad devices I’ve tested.

    As someone about to publish three non-fictions and perhaps some fiction, I accept Kindle et al as valid media and will make the work available electronically.

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jose Afonso Furtado, jean-philippe pastor. jean-philippe pastor said: RT @jafurtado: Kindle vs iPad For The Future Of Publishing,by Morris Rosenthal A lightly edited correspondence wit … [...]

  • This will be an interesting situation to see which device wins, much like VHS versus Beta when VCRs first became available. The best format does not always win.

    Part of the equation, I believe, is the competitive nature of the two biggest competitors in the market, Apple and Amazon. Both are highly competitive. Which is willing to do the most to win the war of the e-reader?

    Somewhere in this mix, Barnes & Noble is fighting for its survival and the Nook needs to be factored in.

    Bezos has shown a willingness, as I read it, to lose money to gain a dominant market share and then earn a profit. Are the other e-book competitors willing to do the same?

    I also have to wonder about the issue of “core business.” Amazon, at its core, is a book seller. Has the addition of other merchandise watered down its core business? The Kindle and the Kindle bookstore are extensions of what should be Amazon’s core business – selling books via the internet.

    How much of Apple’s business is selling books? Information is certainly a major component of Apple’s business, but at its heart, is Apple in the business of selling books/information or is the core of its business selling technology?

    If Apple places too many of its eggs in the “book basket,” will it allow another competitor to creep up on it in the hardware/technology side of the business?

    I shall watch with great interest as the outcome will impact my bottom line as a self-publishing author.

  • Ray,

    The Kindle grew on me. I thought I was going to hate it, both for the reasons you mention and because I love books. But I’m a convert to the incredible selection of free classics and the ease of reading with one hand. I usually start reading with a smaller font, and later at night, I enlarge it and simply flip pages faster. It’s become transparent to me.


  • Kevin,

    If the iPad cost the same as the Kindle and included free 3G in the price, I wouldn’t give the Kindle much chance, even though for reading B&W books it’s the better device (more portable, read with one hand, much longer battery life). But with the large price difference, I really don’t know who would buy an iPad to read books unless they just have money to blow.

    Aaron styles iPad buyers as trend setters. To me, trend setters has a negative connotation, as in, people who chase after the latest style and abandon it for the next thing that gets the nod for being cool. I see iPad in that way, a cool device in search of a market purpose.


  • Bina

    The few people I know who have a Kindle have being trying to persuade me to get one. They go into raptures about what it has done for them. The people I’ve come across with iPad’s generally leave them somewhere and are seen often getting frantic about putting it somewhere safe so that it isn’t stolen rather than using it. That’s no contest is it?

  • It will be interesting to see where this goes, especially now that Apple has not allowed the Sony eReader App. While I do not own an eReader per se, I do use the Kindle app on my BlackBerry and PC. I personally like the Kindle because of the built in scalebility of the reader across devices (I literally can be reading a book on my BlackBerry and then pick up where I left off on my PC thanks to whisperSync).

    That being said, I talked to a friend Sunday who has both the Kindle e-book Reader as well as the iPad and he personally likes the Kindle much more than the iPad as an eBook reader (using the Kindle app on the iPad), since it is lighter, has a longer battery life and is easier on the eyes (e-Ink vs. LCD).

  • Morris,

    I believe you and Aaron are really comparing apples and peanuts, as you seem to be arguing about two different things here. The Kindle is a dedicated eReader, period. 100% of its users read books on it nearly 100% of the time. Meanwhile, several recent surveys show that at best 70% of iPad users have ever read a book on it at all, and as you point out, you’d have to be pretty thick to buy an iPad only to read ebooks. Consequently, while Aaron is correct that Apple is selling more units than Amazon, the equation is far from equal.

    More important, however, is that while most books are predominantly text dominated creations, albeit with some illustations, there is a new market opening up for a whole new breed of ebook, for which the Kindle’s capabilities are (at present) inadequate to handle. What Aaron is arguing is “the future of publishing” is a product which incorporates audiovisual components and direct interactivity, something the iPad is fully able to support right now.

    Since words are an author’s primary medium, there will always be purely text based ebooks, for which dedicated readers like the Kindle are quite sufficient, and indeed, superior in many ways (I love mine just as it is). And therefore, there will always be a market for such devices. However, there will also be a market for “high tech” multimedia ebooks with advanced features which will likely continue to develop and evolve for many years to come. But these are two completely different beasts, which in the end will have very little to do with one another.

  • Scot,

    I agree with most of your analysis, but I think you missed the point of our little e-mail debate. I believe that with the Amazon store and their head start in eReaders, Amazon represents the future, or at least, the near-future of publishing. Aaron sees the Kindle as a bad solution, refuses to read on it, and is enthusiastic about the ability of publishers to create beautiful books for iPad. He believes that the iPad and the iBookstore are the near-future of publishing.

    Both of us are aware of the differences between the devices, the target market, etc. My belief is that those differences will stand up and make Amazon the must-have platform for publishers in the next couple years. Aaron believes that Apple will replace Amazon in that role.

    It’s not that important for large publishers who can bet equally on both platforms, but for small publishers, the choice is between giving up a percentage for reintermediation, something I’m strongly against, learning yet another platform, or simply choosing to ignore one or more platforms. I’ve gone the latter course, publishing on Kindle and not bothering with the rest until they show me it’s necessary.

    But unlike most small publishers, I have my own legitimate platform in this website, and sell around $2K/month of eBooks direct to customers as PDF files. The argument is much more relevant for small fiction publishers and self publishers with limited resources trying to make a big push. Don’t forget that the lead lining in these clouds for all publishers is that by spreading your trade between platforms (Amazon, iBookstore, Nook, Sony), you lower your visibility across the boards. For the time being, I believe it’s far and away best to the the big fish in the big river, and that river is Amazon.


  • Bina,

    It’s funny you should mention the worry factor. My first fifteen years in business, I always bought just what I needed and didn’t worry about creature comforts. But around five years ago, I shelled out $1400 for a light business laptop, when a $500 laptop would have handled my work with ease. I spent the extra money for the easy portability.

    Of course, I hated walking around with $1400. Never got comfortable leaving it on a table in a cafe to go to the counter or the bathroom, or worrying somebody would walk into the table and spill my beer or coffee all over it. After a year or so, I just started leaving it home whenever possible. Now when I travel, I bring my 3G Kindle for e-mail and I don’t worry about it.


  • Ben Long

    Hi Morris, yet another great article here! I am still a bit foggy on the Kindle vs. iBook revenue split. I do know that the app store is a 70/30 split, but I have no idea about the Kindle. I am looking to expand the reach of my 40 dollar, niche non-fiction guide. It’s currently a PDF sold via ejunkie

  • Ben,

    Kindle split is very straightfoward, in a curvy sort of a way. They (Amazon) want Kindle books to be priced between $2.99 and $9.99. So in that price range, they pay a 70% royalty. Above or below that range, ($0.99 to $2.98, or above $10.00), they pay a 35% royalty. There’s a good reason to price some books, especially new fiction and mass appeal titles at $0.99, because you sell so many more you can make up for earning a sixth as much while building a brand. There’ not much reason to price higher than $9.95 unless it’s a professional book that you can charge $30 or more for.


  • Ben Long

    Hmm good to know – My biggest concern is a technical one – My ebook has outgoing hyperlinks that point to a page with mp3 interviews. These mp3s are actually played with a simple, embedded flash player. I may need to replace the player with a HTML 5 player. This may also help with coverting the book to the ePub format for iBooks. As far as the 35% rev share goes, it may be worth it seeing as how they have such a widespread reach.

  • […] years ago I posted an edited correspondence with Aaron Shepard about whether the future of eBooks was on Kindle or iPad. So far I’m right that it’s […]

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