Sunday, November 15, 2009

Marketing the Kindle

I am a big fan of Amazon’s Kindle. And I definitely believe that the future of ePublishing is a bright and interesting one. Lately I am trying to conceptualize the first relevant Kindle marketing application for some of our clients but this initiative will be addressed in another post. This post describes an interesting encounter I had this week.

On a flight back from New York on Tuesday this week I was sitting next to a well dressed business person. We started talking; he was clearly an articulate and smart professional, working for a large consulting company. We discussed all the benefits of traveling with a Kindle, the version differences between the Kindle 1.0 and 2.0, and more Kindle related small talk. After a while we both took out our Kindles and started reading. Normally I like to know what people are reading, it might trigger a question and a renewed conversation. And it always adds to the character of a person that you are sitting next to.

But it is impossible to do this character-book association game with the Kindle, so I just asked politely what he was reading. He replied that he was immersed in Laurence Lessig’s last book (Lessig is one of the smartest open source thinker around), since he was interested in the limitation and disadvantages of copyright legislation. I expressed my admiration for Lessig and we continued reading both our Kindles. After a while he got up to go to the bathroom but he left his Kindle on his tray, facing my seat. Just looking at the open page on his Kindle, and reading a few sentences, it was easy to decipher that this was not one of Lessig’s book but a book about adolescent vampires and their challenging love lives (most likely one of the Twilight series). When he returned to his seat I was polite enough not to start a conversation about the challenges of blood thirsty vampires in sun trenched places like Arizona.

This episode triggered a brief research project over the last days. I was looking for differences in genre and “sophistication” of physically versus electronically sold books at Amazon. My hypothesis is that people feel freer to buy more books that don’t have any social currency value when they can buy a book electronically versus buying it in its physical form. The Kindle killed the signaling effect of intellectually challenging books, so quite a few people might think that they don’t have to pretend anymore. Unfortunately I was not able to get quantitative data validating or refuting my hypothesis but a brief survey in a circle of friends and colleagues confirmed my thinking. It is less about reading fewer intellectually challenging books but more about buying and enjoying books that have less perceived social value.

I will not claim that the Kindle is a culture destroying device, it rather spurred me to a new marketing idea that Amazon could use: “Kindle – Only you know what you are reading”. It could give a big boost for trashy novels of all genres.


Blogger webjanet said...

Hilarious, Michael! Makes me think I actually DO need a Kindle, if only to pretend I'm reading something more intellectual than the latest Diana Gabaldon novel. Of course I would also argue that Kindle needs a fake 'screensaver' page I can activate when I set it down, so when the guy next to me on the plane looks over he won't see what I'm actually reading. Hmm. I might have to look into that...

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