Against the shiny, glowing iPad, the latest iteration of the Amazon Kindle is not much to look at. But the price, look at the price. $140 for the basic model. The device is now within spitting distance of where it needs to become a near-disposable piece of electronics hardware, much like a digital watch or a pocket calculator.
Criticisms of the Kindle tend to revolve around the idea that it’s no iPad. But Amazon doesn’t need it to be an iPad. The Kindle app runs happily enough on iOS, so why compete head-on. The Kindle is all about increasing the number of people who can buy ebooks from Amazon’s store. At $140 or so, the Kindle is still a bit on the high side.
But the Kindle is now only a couple of years away from the price point where people can view it as an impulse purchase. Almost five years ago, I reckoned $50 was the point ebook readers need to reach for them to displace conventional books – at least those that people don’t really want to show off on shelves. But anything south of $100 is getting close to good enough.
It’s at that point you can stick them in airport shops. You can offer three preloaded bonkbusters and expect holidaymakers to pick one up, knowing that it will last all holiday and be a lot lighter than packing a bunch of thick paperbacks.
Once below a shop price of $100, the opportunities grow for personalising Kindles or lookalikes – for that kind of price, the bill of materials is so low and the volume economics large enough for manufacturers to consider doing special, branded editions. And Amazon can consider licensing the design to other manufacturers to do designer versions that will sell for more than the base device but which don’t carry much extra manufacturing cost.
I honestly can’t see publishers getting into that, other than an operation such as Penguin, which can use its old orange and white styling to good effect on the case of a Kindlealike. But, as with netbooks, it’s not a big leap of imagination to see some design houses deciding to take the core unit and wrap their own styled case around it.