Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Slate, now 20 years old, reflects on the value of taking the long view and not chasing digital media trends
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Feb. 11, 2009, 11 a.m.

Why the Kindle will fail

I tend to try to moderate my opinions here a bit more than I do in person. Like everyone, I have gut instincts that lead me to certain conclusions — but I try to keep what I put up here to more concrete ideas. But I feel I need to share a hunch I’ve had for a year or so — and one that seems to be increasingly at odds with the conventional wisdom — if only because I feel I should be held accountable if I’m wrong:

The Kindle is going to fail.

It is not “the iPod of books.” It will never be.

To support this hunch, I offer two data points:

— I’m a nerdy guy. And I’m a writer. I work at Harvard, which is filled with nerdy people who are writers. I write about the intersection of writing and technology for a living. I’m a classic “early adopter” for tech. I buy a lot of books; my girlfriend is editorial director at a book publisher; I have lots of friends who’ve written books; and I’ve got a variety of fiction and non-fiction book projects of my own, in varying states of completion and disarray.

I say all this to illustrate that I am the exact target audience for the Kindle — precisely the mix of book reader and tech lover who should want one. And yet, 15 months after the Kindle, I have not seen one single Kindle in the flesh.

Not one.

— I’m spending a couple days at the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing conference in New York City. It’s a conference for people in the publishing industry who are interested in books’ digital future — lots of sessions on ebook publishing models, online reading habits, XML best practices for long-form content, and so on. (I’ll write a lot more about the highlights here over the next couple days.) If there is anyone who is more of a perfect target for the Kindle than me, that person is here.

And yet yesterday, during a panel on ebooks, the moderator asked the audience of hundreds of tech-savvy (or at least tech-interested) publishing professionals how many of them had a Kindle. I’d say maybe 1 in 8 raised their hands. Then he asked how many had an iPhone — about 1 in 2. (Later on in the day, someone asked how many were on Twitter — maybe 1 in 3.)

If Amazon can’t win in this room — people willing to spend two or three days sitting through sessions on XML and such, people who love books and who want to navigate through the coming digital thicket of their business — then the Kindle ain’t going nowhere.

As I wrote the other day, the distribution model behind the Kindle is much more likely to be a success. But I think Amazon’s battle to expand people’s three discrete screens — cell phone, computer, TV — into four is headed nowhere.

POSTED     Feb. 11, 2009, 11 a.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Slate, now 20 years old, reflects on the value of taking the long view and not chasing digital media trends
“One of the things you’ve seen across the marketplace for the last five years is a lot of companies are chasing the same kind of traffic from the same social distribution mechanisms…It’s not a recipe for producing a distinctive media brand.”
How the new director of Philly’s Institute for Journalism in New Media is approaching his job
Longtime media consultant Jim Friedlich discusses his vision for a sustainable metro newspaper.
A new audio startup focuses on tailoring a playlist of short form stories that fit into a listener’s day
60dB, named for the volume at which a human speaks and founded by a former Planet Money reporter and two others with backgrounds at Netflix, is being teased as a “service for high-quality, short-form stories.”