Wednesday, October 7, 2009 0 comments ++[ CLICK TO COMMENT ]++

Amazon & its Kindle

(This post has nothing to do with investing... unless you fancy buying a company trading at a P/E of 61...although its FCF is pretty good so the P/E appears far worse than it is i.e. it re-invests most of its FCF but if it hits a low growth phase, it will pay that out to shareholders.)

source: "A New Page", The New Yorker, August 3, 2009.

Amazon wasn't the first one to introduce an e-book reader—that title goes to Sony—but it may just end up being remembered as the first one. After all, history has a cruel way of immortalizing the winners and not the inventors.

I have always been dissapointed with the lack of progress in replacing paper—documents, newspapers, books, and all. So I was pleased when Amazon somehow ended up popularizing the (original) Kindle. It wasn't available in Canada, and even if it were I couldn't afford it. However, I have been keeping an eye on it. Today, Amazon expanded its Kindle offering to more than 100 countries.

CEO and founder, Jeff Bezos, who is as much of a visionary as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, is even suggesting that Kindle could be a big future growth driver for Amazon. Certainly the speculators cum investors who call themselves Amazon shareholders are betting on it. Some consider Amazon to be a retailer but it is really an engineering company. Therefore, chances are high that Amazon may actually turn a sizeable profit on the Kindle.

So the Kindle will finally be available in Canada. I am hoping to get one but it won't be any time soon. Unfortunately, it is still a bit too expensive for my taste.

Furthermore, the Kindle and its competitors, such as Sony's e-reader, are mostly purchased by book readers. I, on the other hand would really like to see is some electronic paper device that is full-size paper (8.5" x 11".) I read a lot of printed stuff, particularly because I take public transporation to work—there are some benefits to commuting on public buses and trains :)—and would prefer a larger format. Right now, these devices, even the bigger model, is not quite like a full-page paper. There is one in development by another company that is paper-size but they are targetting the business market (i.e. will be really expensive.) I also would like these devices to read PDFs since some of the stuff I read is in PDF.

It remains to be seen how this market evolves. The technology used by Kindle, Sony E-reader, and so forth, are limited to a few shades of grey and cannot handle multimedia, let along detailed graphs/pictures/etc. Apple, among others, are rumoured to be developing a tablet device that can handle colour. Apple's device is thought to use conventional LCD technology. I'm curious to see which one ends up winning in the end. Although the Kindle technology is colourless, it is apparently better on the eyes.

For those who want to check out the experiences of a fiction reader, and want an excursionary read, check out the essay, A New Page by Nicholson Baker in The New Yorker. Here is an excerpt:

Amazon’s page showed a woman in sunglasses sitting on a beach with a Kindle over her knee. Below that were video testimonials from big-name writers like Michael Lewis and Toni Morrison, recycled from the launch of the original Kindle, in the fall of 2007. James Patterson, the force behind a stream of No. 1 Times best-sellers, said that he enjoyed reading outdoors, where he had, he confided, a “wonderful back yard, nice pool, and all that.” Patterson was pleased to discover, while Kindling poolside, that the wind didn’t make the book’s pages flutter. “There’s just the one page,” he explained. Neil Gaiman had moved from skeptic to “absolute believer.”

Well, well! I began to have the mildly euphoric feeling that you get ten minutes into an infomercial. Sure, the Kindle is expensive, but the expense is a way of buying into the total commitment. This could forever change the way I read. I’ve never been a fast reader. I’m fickle; I don’t finish books I start; I put a book aside for five, ten years and then take it up again. Maybe, I thought, if I ordered this wireless Kindle 2 I would be pulled into a world of compulsive, demonic book consumption, like Pippin staring at the stone of Orthanc. Maybe I would gorge myself on Rebecca West, or Jack Vance, or Dawn Powell. Maybe the Kindle was the Bowflex of bookishness: something expensive that, when you commit to it, forces you to do more of whatever it is you think you should be doing more of.

True, the name of the product wasn’t so great. Kindle? It was cute and sinister at the same time—worse than Edsel, or Probe, or Microsoft’s Bob. But one forgives a bad name. One even comes to be fond of a bad name, if the product itself is delightful.


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