Amazon's Kindle has taken off because its users love reading, not because they're early adopters, says Russ Grandinetti.
Just as Apple owned the digital music revolution thanks to their iPod and its tight integration with the iTunes Store, so Amazon has put itself in control of digital books with the Kindle.
The online bookseller tracks the six months before a customer buys a Kindle and the six months after and the result is clear: Kindle owners buy more than three times as many books.
Of course, Amazon doesn’t know whether these people were simply buying their books elsewhere in the 12 months before buying a Kindle but that doesn’t matter. Once they own the Kindle, they’ll buy their ebooks from Amazon.
Amazon is now on the third version of the Kindle and each one has refined and streamlined the design of the gadget. The Kindle Store uses digital rights management (DRM) software to control what you’re allowed to do with an ebook but Amazon has been so liberal in developing Kindle apps for all kinds of devices that its customers will seldom feel restricted.
In any case, the typical Kindle owner is not overly concerned with the design of the device or restrictions on ebooks. “I can understand why people talk about the Kindle as a gadget,” says Russ Grandinetti, Amazon’s vice president of Kindle Content. But, he adds: “The reason people choose the device is that they love reading.”
Kindle buyers are not primarily gadget buffs, says Grandinetti, they just want to “spend more minutes of the day connecting with the words that authors put down”.
Although the users might not be early adopters, it’s still early days for ebooks. Though the format has been around for more than a decade it took the arrival of the Kindle to really push it into the mainstream and, even then, Britons had to wait until October 2009 - almost two years after it launched in the US - before they could get their hands on one.
Elements of the service still need to be improved. For example, it’s not yet possible in the UK and Ireland to buy an ebook for someone else. Grandinetti says that territorial rights and knowing where to send the book make that problem more complicated than it might seem but, he says, that will be fixed before the end of this year.
“We’re still in the very early innings of thinking about and building new features that digital books allow,” Grandinetti says. “The list of features we’d like to build is longer than the list of things we can build.”
He’s cagey about what features might be coming next though I’m left feeling mildly optimistic that the feature I’d most like - a message from Amazon when a book on my wishlist becomes available as an ebook - might not be too far away.
Availability of books is still a problem. There are many books on my wishlist that I would like to read as ebooks but they just aren’t available yet.
Grandinetti says: “As the business grows it makes it more possible for publishers to invest in digitising books. I’d expect a very healthy growth rate in availability of books.”
Amazon is keen to increase the range of titles available. Kindle’s mission, says Grandinetti, is “to make every book ever printed available digitally in 60 seconds to any customer anywhere in the world.”
It’s a noble aim but one that is also smart business; as noted earlier, Kindle owners buy more books from Amazon so clearly Amazon will benefit from having more books to sell.
To that end Amazon has a link on the page for books that are not available on the Kindle. It says: “Tell the Publisher! I’d like to read this book on Kindle.” They mean it too. Grandinetti says: “We let publishers know, book by book, what books are being requested.”
He’s keen to emphasise Amazon’s determination to help publishers. The bookseller’s disagreements over pricing have received a lot of attention but Grandinetti plays those down. “We tend to have more agreements than disagreements with publishers,” he says.
It’s a diplomatic response, but a believable one. Grandinetti says that Amazon feels “very missionary” about helping books compete with other kinds of digital entertainment.
Increasingly, that also means dealing with the rise of the tablet computer. Apple has pushed enhanced books - titles with added video, interactive graphics and other elements that are beyond the capacity of the Kindle.
Grandinetti is confident that the Kindle can survive, perhaps aided by the Kindle apps on tablet computers. He says: “People combine their use of an e-Ink device with an app on a tablet or smartphone.”
For the time being at least, Amazon’s dominance of digital books is indisputable.
Telegraph Media Group Limited