Today, Amazon announced the Amazon Cloud Drive. I think it is the first salvo in a series of steps that will lead Amazon to compete directly for the primary computing platform for individuals, as an online platform, as a device operating system, and as a maker of branded tablets.
Much of the attention is going to the Amazon Cloud Player, announced at the same time, which enables customers to stream music stored in Cloud Drive – Forrester’s Mark Mulligan blogged about that for Consumer Product Strategists (Amazon Beats Apple and Google to the Locker Room). But the general purpose design of Cloud Drive, combined with the long-term opportunities for personal cloud services, lead to a really interesting set of possibilities and insights into Amazon’s long-term strategy for Vendor Strategists trying to sort out the technologies and players of next-generation personal computing platforms.
The most important outcome of this week’s emerging tussle between Apple and Google is that we are about to have an intense and financially difficult conversation about what a fair price is for delivering customers to developers, publishers, and producers. Economically, this is one of the most critical issues that has to be resolved for the future of electronic content. Very soon, a majority of consumer experiences (that which we used to refer to as the media) will be digital. But not until the people who will develop those experiences have unambiguous, market-clearing rules for how they can expect to profit from those experiences.
The question comes down to this: Is 30% a fair price for Apple to charge? I must be clear about my intentions here. I do not employ the word “fair” the way my children often do. I am not whining about Apple’s right to charge whatever it wants. Apple may do whatever is best for shareholders in the short- and long-run. I argued yesterday that Apple’s recent decision does not serve its shareholders in the long run. Google announced One Pass yesterday – hastily, I might add – in order to signal to Apple and its shareholders that monopoly power rarely lasts forever. But none of that questions the ultimate morality of Apple’s decision or its rights.
I use the word “fair” to refer to a state of economic efficiency. A fair price is one that maximizes not just individual revenue, but total revenue across all players. Such revenue maximization cannot be achieved without simultaneously satisfying the largest possible number of consumers with the greatest possible amount of innovation.
Today The New York Times is reporting that Apple is changing its policy for allowing apps to deliver content that was paid for somewhere other than in the app where Apple would get a cut. This came to light when Sony was forced to explain why its iPhone and iPad apps were not being released as promised. This is important to illustrate clearly because this is not just about Sony. In fact, it is expected that Apple will apply this same policy to existing apps over the coming months. The most obvious target is Amazon.com's Kindle store, but we have no reason to believe it will stop with eBook retailers; instead, this policy should also affect magazines, newspapers, even videos and games.
This represents a shift for Apple. Going back to the iPod days, Apple only sold music because it helped sell iPods. When Apple added the iPhone app store, it allowed Amazon to add a Kindle app because it would only make iPhones more valuable to potential buyers. The same held true for the iPad. But now that the company has built such a powerful ecosystem of devices, content, and consumers, it appears Apple is eager to ensure it can collect any and all tolls along its proprietary highways. I note this with some irony because it was just three weeks ago that I praised Apple's surprising openness in a report explaining the iPad's rapid growth:
There are rare moments in technology when everything changes. When the entire framework defining how we interact with machines (and consequently, each other) shifts perceptibly. That happened when the TV was invented, it happened when the computer mouse was made available commercially. These kinds of changes forever alter our economics, our social life, and our individual experiences.
It's now about to happen again. Only this time, the shift that is coming is on such a large scale that not only will it change things dramatically, it will usher in a new era in human economics (and therefore, everything else).
We call the new era the Era of Experience. I'm working furiously to complete a report detailing all the specifics so you'll understand what this era entails and, importantly, what you can do to anticipate this era rather than follow it.
In fact, at our Customer Experience Forum in New York City during the last two days in June, I gave an exclusive preview to the 600+ attendees of what the Era of Experience was. In my speech, I gave a live demo of the PrimeSense technology that the people at Xbox built on to create the Kinect for Xbox 360 platform. This platform incorporates a full-body gesture control interface, voice control, and face recognition. It's as if all the science fiction we've been reading for decades was really just a how-to manual for Kinect. Oh, and this future-defining platform costs all of $149.99 at Amazon.
Amazon today launched a localized site for Italy, its first new international offering since acquiring Joyo back in 2004 (Amazon’s UK and Germany sites were launched in 1998, France and Japan in 2000 -- the Canada site came in 2002. Full timeline available here). According to today's press release, the new offering has more categories than any new Amazon Web site has ever launched with -- not surprising given the six years that have elapsed since the last international launch.
As part of its new offering, Amazon is pushing its selection of “hard-to-find Italian language items” to cater to local consumer needs -- indeed, Amazon has tended to excel in its localized offerings, ranging from its varied payment methods by country to its semi-localized categories (note the “Auto and Motorcycle” category on the German Web site or the “DIY” link on the UK one).
Amazon’s choice of European markets mirrors many US online retailers’ expansion into Europe. Of the top 50 online retailers in the US, some 19 operate dedicated transactional Web sites for the UK, 14 operate sites for Germany, 12 for France and 14 in Italy. Less than 10 operate eCommerce sites localized for Spain. See the graphic from our recently published Establishing A Global Online Retail Footprint below.
Time to get my hands a bit dirty. Last week I posted an eBook forecast with a brief explanation of why the book business may complete its digital revolution more quickly than other media businesses have. Turns out this assertion was more difficult to hear than I anticipated and I got some very insistent (and worth reading) comments. The discussion that ensued both on the blog and outside of it was very complex, this is not a simple matter. However, there are parts of it that are very simple that I have to clarify, even though it means rolling up my sleeves a bit. Allow me to draw into this discussion John Thompson of Cambridge University who gave a very worthwhile interview to the Brooklyn Rail this month to discuss his recently published analysis of the book industry, Merchants of Culture. I will refer to just one of his specific comments:
"There are many people who just love books and they love the ideas that are expressed in books; they love the stories that are told through books and all of it. They’re very attached to it.... They cherish the book. And they believe that this is an artifact that they want in their lives. And some of the technological commentators in this industry just completely miss this point."
Consider it an inauguration of sorts, a celebration of the eBook industry becoming a member of the major media club just as digital music and online video have before them. When you influence a billion dollars, people have to take you seriously. In the book business, it means that traditional publishers can no longer live in deny-and-delay mode; meanwhile, digital publishers get invited to better parties and people in other media businesses like TV and magazines look over and wonder if they could cut a slice of this new pie just for them.
To honor the occasion, we have just published our five-year forecast for eBooks in the US for Forrester clients. The punchline is this: 2010 will end with $966 million in eBooks sold to consumers. By 2015, the industry will have nearly tripled to almost $3 billion, a point at which the industry will be forever altered.
Right now, the number to track – and the one that determines how many eBooks will sell – is the percent of a consumer’s books that are bought and consumed digitally. To get at this number, we have to understand how people get books today. Did you know that the two most common ways people get books today is borrowing them from a friend or getting them from the library? Evidently content – at least in the book business – is already quite free, even without the help of digital.
Today, amid the kind of rumor and speculation that is more typical of a Silicon Valley announcement, Barnes & Noble unveiled its NOOKcolor, a second NOOK to complement the barely one-year-old original. The NOOKcolor brings a 7" color LCD touch tablet device to the reading market, filling a gap between today's grayscale eReaders that use eInk technology and tablet PCs like the iPad.
This move puts B&N ahead of both Amazon and Sony -- the longtime holders of the number 1 and number 2 slots in the eReader business. Not ahead in terms of device sales, because this new NOOK, priced at $249, will be likely to drive a few hundred thousand units before year-end. But ahead in terms of vision. Because one day, all eReaders will be tablets, just as all tablets are already eReaders.
There are three good reasons why tablet readers are the right thing for the industry to move toward:
Multitouch interfaces have become the new standard. Once consumers experience multitouch, they don't really ever go back to thinking a mouse or button interface makes much sense. Doesn't mean they never touch another button, it just means they prefer to interact in a more natural and intuitive way. That's why Sony recently upgraded its reader line to include touch on even its cheapest model, the Pocket Edition.
This is a phenomenal week to be covering the publishing industry. Tuesday, Apple released its quarterly earnings. Big surprise, another record-breaking quarter for the folks in Cupertino. A few billion here, a few billion there, blah, blah. How amazing is it that we're not really surprised by such overperformance in an otherwise still-troubling economic environment? Of great interest to me, the eReader guy, was the final iPad tally for the quarter ending June 26th: 3.27 million units worldwide. Still no good guidance on what the US split is, but no matter how you slice it, iPads are hot. (And, no, I still have not bought one, still holding out for iPad 2.0).
And if you follow the implications of that success, as many in the media have, Amazon should just concede the eReader business, pack up its cream-colored Kindle and go home, right?
Wrong. And to prove it, Amazon made a point of announcing some news of its own, the day before Apple's results were public. Amazon flaunted its own success in selling both Kindle devices and eBooks. That's right, despite that iPad upstart, the Kindle is still flying off the shelves, selling more units each month than the month before it all through Q2, when the iPad challenger was supposedly pummeling it. And it's dominating the eBook business as well, selling as much as eight in ten of the eBooks of major bestsellers, seeing its eBook sales rate triple over last year. Oh, and Amazon indicated it sells 1.8 eBooks for every hardback book it sells. That's right, even though it discounts hardbacks to paperback prices for many bestsellers.