Amazon’s success story is one to learn a lot from. It’s excellence in digital products is second to none. They’ve achieved a considerable amount of success with consumer electronic goods as well. Save for some disastrous failures with products like the Fire Phone, Fire Tablet etc.,
Their greatest success stories in consumer electronics revolve around 2 products. A smart speaker, the Amazon Echo, and an e-reader, the Amazon Kindle. While Echo does have some competition from the Google Home range, the Kindle virtually has a monopoly in the e-reader market.
Today’s issue is going to revolve around the Kindle.
It is the E-ink display. Let’s understand what an E-ink display is. An article from LifeWire puts it succinctly:
With e-ink technology, tiny microcapsules are suspended in a liquid that is encased within a film layer. The microcapsules, which are roughly the width of human hair, contain both positively charged white particles and negatively charged black particles.
Applying a negative electrical field causes the white particles to rise to the surface. Conversely, applying a positive electrical field causes the black particles to rise to the surface. By applying different fields at different parts of a screen, e-ink produces a monochromatic text display.
E-ink displays are especially popular because of their resemblance to printed paper. In addition to being easier on the eyes than other display types, e-ink consumes less power, especially when compared to backlit liquid crystal display (LCD) screens.
Now, let’s talk about the e-ink display in the context of the Amazon Kindle:
- The e-ink display doesn’t keep refreshing the screen like the typical LED and LCD screens, therefore, once it presents itself on the screen, it’s static. (Hence, it can’t play videos)
- But, zero-refreshing has a great advantage — a very low battery requirement. Thus, its charge can last for weeks if used properly.
- An E-ink display, since it’s made possible by physical particles, looks and feels like a physical surface too. Therefore, giving it a textured finish similar to paper.
- Since it doesn’t emit light on its own, the screen doesn’t strain the eyes like an electronic display
- In a well-lit environment, it can be used without any backlight that the Kindle has. (Also, saves up on the battery)
A short history of the e-ink display, quoting from LifeWire: Initial research on e-ink started at MIT’s Media Lab, where the first such patent was filed in 1996. The rights to the technology are currently owned by the Massachusetts-based E Ink Corporation, which was acquired by Taiwanese company Prime View International in 2009.
So, Amazon didn’t create it and the technology was available for everyone to use. Then, the obvious question is, why aren’t there any competing products?
There were and are. One of the great competitors during the initial days of Kindle was the Nook tablet by the noted bookseller, Barnes and Noble. But, that didn’t last quite long. Today, a few alternatives in the market are, Koob, a tablet from Sony, BOOX, but most don’t even know these products. The Amazon Kindle has a monopoly in this market. Let’s explore why.
Source: CNet | Jeff Bezos with an early vision of the Kindle
Amazon did the same thing that all software/hardware/consumer-electronic companies do, create an ecosystem. It might sound funny to use the word ecosystem for this niche of a product, but that’s precisely what they did. Let’s break down how Amazon did this.
Amazon’s unfair advantage Amazon is the world’s largest e-commerce platform. And, that also makes it the world’s largest bookstore. Amazon had ties with everybody in the book publishing business. Authors, reviewers, publishing houses, and even small retailers are all a part of the Amazon world in one way or another. This gave them an incredible view and understanding of the whole books market. Something which no other company had.
Creating an industry The problem that it faced at Kindle’s launch was, all the books were still printed on paper. This needed to change. For Kindle to succeed, it needed to create the digital book (or Ebook) industry.
Ebooks were easy to create. All books had a digital version anyway, and it simply had to be repurposed. So, that problem was solved. Porting books into the Kindle platform was simple as well.
However, publishing houses were still unsure of giving so much power to Amazon. But, Amazon took it anyway by launching its own publishing house for creating ebooks called Amazon Publishing. So, at this point, all the publishers had to agree and succumb to Amazon’s new Ebook industry or perish.
A Kindle can hold thousands of books and a person who owns a Kindle would rarely buy a paper book again unless it’s for the experience. So, with a lot of people moving to Kindle for its form factor, publishers didn’t really have a choice.
Building the ecosystem Kindle didn’t stop with just the physical e-reader but also had apps for all the common mobile operating systems. So, Amazon was making Ebooks accessible to all. An avid reader would purchase a Kindle physical e-reader. And, people who didn’t buy the Kindle e-reader could always download books on their phones through the app. Amazon was involved in the Ebook market in every way.
The Marketplace Ebooks cost nothing to make. There was neither a physical supply chain involved, nor a distribution network that was necessary to make it accessible to people. This reduced costs by a very large percentage. This was an added incentive for people to switch to ebooks and e-readers because they could read a lot more books at a cheaper cost. Not to mention that people didn’t need to carry books around anymore and this saved up on space.
Thus, the Kindle ebook store, and Amazon-owned website Goodreads (which is the IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes of the books world) created a great marketplace.
A destructive strategy Amazon’s strategy is widely known, they kill the market with incredibly lower prices than their competitors (Amazon Basics products are a great example of this). This is what it did with this market as well. In the beginning stages, the whole Kindle exercise was done at a loss but Amazon’s cash reserves could take it. Something that other companies simply couldn’t. Thus, Amazon prevailed in the space it created, and all others perished over time.
All these factors created the Kindle ecosystem, and ultimately made Amazon the undoubted king of the E-reader market.
But, besides all these there’s some inherent design advantages of a Kindle. Some of the below factors apply to all e-ink display enabled E-readers as well.
The e-ink display coupled with Amazon’s software and the Marketplace (Kindle Store) gives the Kindle some great advantages.
No more waiting for books Whether someone was buying a book at a store or getting it delivered through some e-commerce there’s a lot of time and effort involved. Now, getting a book is as simple as clicking a download button. This increased instant gratification multi-fold.
Highlighting and searching Many people love to highlight their favourite lines and this made it very easy for people to do that. Throw in the search function and it’s now almost a database of all your highlights across various books.
Carry your library While collecting books is a passion and hobby for many, there’s a storage space factor involved too. Well, with the Kindle, thousands of books are barely a few centimeters thick. Oh! And, all them fit inside your hand.
Internet advantage All Kindles connect to the internet, therefore they can download books from the Amazon servers directly, not necessary to plug it anywhere to transfer data like a pendrive.
Vocabulary We all come across words in books we’re either totally unfamiliar with or are doubtful of their meanings, well, just hold and press, you get definitions, wikipedia search results and more. Previously, we either had to have a dictionary nearby or move to a phone or laptop to find out.
ZERO distractions The Kindle does only one thing. It displays books. No notifications from communication apps or otherwise exist, thus, virtually removing any way for you to do anything else on the device but read.
No OS dependence Unlike almost all digital products, this has no dire software update dependencies, save for a few firmware updates every now and then. No bugs or hacking either. Thus, this is an electronic device that’s timeless as long as it works.
Amazon Kindle is a truly great electronic device creation. A one-of-its-kind product.
Do you own one? How is your experience with it?