Hooking bookworms in the digital space isn't easy, but that won't stop Amazon.com
Yes, this is the same Google that's shutting down its online video store. Yes, it's the same Amazon that's made its mark selling real books. Meanwhile, the Sony
Maybe it will make a difference that Amazon and Google are dipping their toes into the market in entirely different ways. Amazon is hoping to launch a standalone hardware-software ecosystem with its Kindle program, while Google just wants to sell you online books.
Blowing out the Kindle
Amazon's Kindle isn't a surprise. We've been talking about it since last year, when Amazon handed over a prototype to the FCC for approval. We even know how Amazon plans to outdo the Reader, courtesy of a built-in wireless modem that will allow book fans to refresh their Kindles with new content on the go.
With pricing likely to be in the $400 to $500 range, Kindle is clearly not going to fly as a reader alone. Even devout bookworms would rather spend that money on 80 or so paperbacks. It's also an aesthetic killjoy. The prototype's space-hogging keyboard and throwback design makes those brown Zunes look like chick magnets.
However, if that same keyboard functionality and Evolution-Data Optimized connectivity mean that the Kindle can double as a watered-down Web surfer or a next-generation way to get your morning paper, this may work. In the end, it's all about getting this ugly Trojan horse into enough homes to feed traffic into Amazon's high-margin e-bookstore.
These are intriguing times for such innovations. Apple's
On the other hand, Amazon is probably too proud to do that. Even as cheaper e-book readers such as the Sony Reader and Franklin's
The Google way
Google isn't dreaming as big. It's not a hardware maker, Gphone rumors notwithstanding. It has spent the past few years indexing books, and the plan appears to be to sell complete books in digital form.
As is the case with Amazon, that's the kind of blueprint that sounds great in the vacuum of a boardroom. Yet a transactional venture would be a big boost to the fledgling Google Checkout platform, and with Big G still scoring 99% of its revenue from online advertising, a little diversity couldn't hurt.
But as soon as you say that, reality comes swerving around the corner, and a foolproof plan becomes a deer staring at a pair of widening headlights. See, if promoting Google Checkout and diversifying revenue were priorities, the company would have never booted commercial videos from its Google Video website. If Google couldn't get its users to pay up for digital video the way Apple and Amazon are doing, why would it fare any better in peddling words?
Amazon's Kindle and Google's e-book are completely different ventures, but they are both starting to read the same way. I know I've read this book before. I won't spoil it for you, but you're not going to like how it ends.
Heck, let me save you the trouble and play the spoiler. Turn the page. See the empty page?
That's how it ends.
Stories that may have happier endings:
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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz can't fathom reading an entire book on his screen, though short stories and news may warm him up to the Kindle. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. The Fool has a disclosure policy.