I've been one of Kindle's biggest critics. When Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) rolled out its electronic reader last week, I described it as a $399 paperweight.
Who would pay up for a juice-sapping device that's too chunky to pocket and too tempting to steal to leave out in the open? I let my cynicism rip even deeper, suggesting that the company was trying to orchestrate demand in an attempt to turn its Kindle into the next Wii or Tickle Me Elmo.
Then I saw the light.
No, it wasn't CEO Jeff Bezos waving a flashlight in my face with waterboarding threats -- it was an email with a link from Amazon to established publishers, inquiring about turning their existing paper tomes into Kindle-ready electronic books.
Published in 12 hours or less
Amazon's Digital Text Platform is in beta, but it's an open beta. Anyone can sign up. Anyone can be published. In fact, the only requirements to get an item listed on Kindle are a title, an author's name, and of course, content.
I wrote a cheesy coming-of-age novel called The Last Perfect Father's Day during my undergraduate days. It's not my best work. It might be my worst. I've let two people read it. OK, I've suckered two people into reading it. I had it lying around on my hard drive in MS Word, so I figured I'd serve it to Amazon's service as a guinea pig.
In seconds, Amazon chewed it up and spit it back out in Kindle's HTML-coded format. All that was left was to price the puppy, from $0.25 to $200. I chose the low end of that scale and clicked the Publish button.
Several hours later, it was up on the site, complete with an Amazon-assigned ASIN code. That was too easy.
Over the holiday weekend, I decided to peck out a Kindle-specific non-financial read. "Why the Kindle Will Fail" is short (2,300 words, unlike the 70,000-word novel) and starts as an incendiary piece before coming around, as I have since last week, to embrace Kindle's potential.
"How does it feel to be cradling a dinosaur?" it begins. This time, Amazon wouldn't let me price it at a quarter. The minimum listing price went up to $0.99 (perhaps in fear of processing way too many $0.25 micropayments).
What's in it for Amazon? Plenty. The company collects 65% of the list price. In a time when Amazon is working off reasonably thin margins as it subsidizes shipping costs on many orders, the bandwidth to deliver a digital text file costs far less than packaging and delivery for physical shipments. Inventory is never a problem, either.
All roads lead to Amazon
Self-publishing is a pretty powerful tool. Websites like CafePress, Lulu, and Zazzle thrive on content creators' craving for digital resources to market their wares. Amazon has more clout than all of those companies combined.
I may have been one of the first to stumble on Amazon's open-door policy, but you can rest assured that the cottage-industry mind-set will creep in. What's to stop you from uploading your college thesis? How about your grandmother's recipes? Drat! Someone will beat you in launching a Kindle-based stock-picking newsletter.
Quality control will be a problem, but Amazon has never stopped self-published writers from selling their books through Amazon.com itself. And now it's made that process even easier.
In the near term, there'll be a glut of product and not enough early adopters with $399 Kindles. Then things will get viral. Won't these freshly published writers and newsletter writers publicize their Kindled works? Before long, I'll bet you'll see enough Kindle-exclusive content to cave in and buy one. By then, it will probably be marked down to a more reasonable mainstream price.
Don't dismiss the power of word of mouth. What do you think made PayPal, Photobucket, and YouTube so niche-defining they were acquired by the titans they threatened -- eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY ) , News Corp. (NYSE: NWS ) , and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) , respectively?
The answer is viral. PayPal offered $5 bounties for new signups, so eBay sellers began nudging buyers to pay through PayPal, instead of eBay's own Billpoint platform. Photobucket and YouTube encouraged users to embed their snapshots and video clips everywhere, ultimately exposing even more viewers to their sites.
Kindle's open publishing platform has that kind of potential. Amazon has added 3,000 publications to the 88,000 it launched with last week. I'm guessing that number will explode as word spreads of the entrepreneurship opportunities it offers.
A decade ago, Amazon was considered little more than a virtual version of Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS ) or Borders (NYSE: BGP ) . Now that it's arming writers with the tools to put their work on those virtual shelves, it's about more than just stocking a virtual superstore with best-sellers.
If I can get my cheesy coming-of-age novel on Amazon.com, just imagine what a person with talent -- like you -- can accomplish? Kindle owners aren't cradling dinosaurs. They're cradling tigers.
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