As I’ve argued before, I think the Kindle’s success will be in providing a format and momentum for distributing books electronically — not in selling Amazon’s actual hardware devices, which I’d wager will never gain iPod-like market penetration. (I think it’ll lose out to multifunction devices like the mythical Apple tablet and to cell phones like the iPhone and Palm Pre.)
Now it appears Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is betting on something similar, promising a conference audience that he was happy to give his hardware people “competition” by putting Kindle-format books on “other mobile devices and other computing devices” at the same price as on the Kindle itself. As Gizmodo puts it, “either Bezos has something mysterious up his sleeve, or he’s come to terms with the fact that the Kindle — and indeed every dedicated e-reader — is essentially a stopgap device, awkwardly carrying out its single, simple task until something more versatile comes along.”
On the format front, Amazon is facing renewed competition, as it should when it’s taking a ridiculous 70 percent of revenue. But I have a lot more faith in the Kindle format beating out rivals than the kludgy Kindle device doing the same. Meanwhile, for newspapers counting on the Kindle as an economic savior, get ready for the same sort of platform-agnostic commoditization that drives content prices to zero.