Will the iPad kill the Kindle?

Amazon's Jeff Bezos on the Kindle

There was some controversy when Amazon’s Jeff Bezos announced a new book-reading Kindle application for the iPad. “Is Amazon Killing the Kindle?” asked The Motley Fool, noting that Amazon offered extra video and audio features in their Kindle applications for both the iPad and iPhone.

It’s possible to embed multimedia clips directly into the ebooks, so they can then be played back in the Kindle applications for these devices – though not, ironically, on a Kindle. The Motley Fool noted that Amazon was making an effort to support Kindle applications not only on Apple’s mobile devices, but also on Google’s Android platform and Droid phones. (And there’s also a Kindle app available for the Blackberry.) “But will that support come at the expense of the Kindle itself?” Noting that Amazon is now “putting out a better product for the non-Kindle owning crowd,” they wondered if Amazon was refocusing its energy on the sale of ebooks — rather than on their own ebook-reading device!

For an answer, let’s go to Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos. Interviewed by Fortune magazine, he was first asked point-blank about the iPad, and, basically, whether Amazon felt doomed by Apple’s entry into the marketplace for tablet-sized reading devices. Was the threat of competition what pushed Amazon into dramatically lowering the Kindle’s price last month?

“No. The iPad… It’s really a different product category. The Kindle is for readers.”

But the interview also offers an interesting statistic — last year, 80% of all ebook sales came through Amazon’s store. (Bezos jokes that “It’s hard even for us to remember internally that we only launched Kindle a little over 30 months ago.”) So it still stands to reason that Amazon is just as interested in protecting their book-selling business as they are in their secondary business of selling Kindles. That’s the secret subtext when Bezos answers a question about whether Amazon can hang onto its share of the ebook market.

“We want people to be able to read their books anywhere they want to read them. That’s the PC, that’s the Macintosh. It’s the iPad, it’s the iPhone. It’s the Kindle. So you have this whole multitude of devices and whatever’s most convenient for you at the moment.

“We think of it as a mission. I strongly believe that missionaries make better products. They care more. For a missionary, it’s not just about the business. There has to be a business, and the business has to make sense, but that’s not why you do it. You do it because you have something meaningful that motivates you.”

It’s a fascinating interview, because you get the idea that Bezos really, really loves books. At the same time, he also admits that “I think the definition of a book is changing.” He defines that change specifically in areas where the Kindle is strong, saying that the book is now “getting more convenient. Now you can get a book in less than 60 seconds.” But in the end, he still never answers the big question of whether Amazon sees its future in the sale of Kindles — or in the sale of ebooks, to all devices.

Fortunately, there’s one more piece of data. You may have seen Amazon’s new television ad, where they emphasize that you can read your Kindle at the beach, in direct sunlight. (Which would obviously be nearly impossible with the back-lit screen of an iPad.) If Amazon were surrendering to the iPad, then they wouldn’t be wasting their money on an expensive TV ad campaign. To me, this strongly suggests that Amazon is still serious about staying in the market for tablet-shaped devices.

But ironically, back in January — before the iPad had even been released — I’d already written an article asking Could Apple’s iPad Kill the Kindle? Maybe it’s ultimately just a perpetually trendy question — and an indicator that Kindle users feel overly protective of their beloved device!

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