Comparing Apples to Amazons

Comparing Apples to Amazons

So a few milestones for Amazon over the last week and a bit, then. First it announced that Kindle book sales were up three fold for the first three months of 2010 over 2009, and Kindle books now exceed hardcover sales. Now it says that Stieg Larsson has become the first member of its Kindle Million Club, selling over a million e-books through the Kindle Store. Then there was a rather small kafuffle when it joined forces with a fellow called the Jackal.

And today, weeks after slashing the price of the Kindle 2 to $189 (£121), Amazon has sold out of the device (does this mean the Kindle 3, or the oft rumoured touch screen version is on the way? Discuss). I suppose if you bought the Kindle 2  at its original price of $359, you would feel like a right wally.

The sales figures are triumphs for Amazon, but not necessarily for the Kindle per se. More for Amazon's shift in thinking. As little as a year and a half ago, the Kindle was a proprietary device, on a proprietary format; if you bought a Kindle you were Amazon's forever (cue evil laughter from Jeff Bezos). Now, of course, the Kindle store is accesible through the iPad, iPhone, Android phones and Blackberry. Sphinx-like Amazon did not say how many of its Kindle books are selling through its own device, and how many were through other manufacturers. It would be useful to know. My gut feeling is that the Kindle store's success may be as much a triumph of the iPad.

It seems Amazon is playing a much more clever and longer game than Apple. Or at least it has the flexibility to change a deeply ingrained policy when the market warrants it. It would be a far more wrenching decision for Apple to allow the iBookstore to go on to, say, the Android Market store. In fact, you can't really see it happening, can you? 

Yet, with Google Editions due soon (although Google seems to have been telling us that for ages) and a welter of tablets on the way that offer touchscreens and sharp graphics, there will come a time, fairly shortly, that the e-book experience will no longer be necessarily about the device but more about the software and the reading experience. Indeed, some have posited (Joe Wikert way back in November), that Amazon may be gearing up to get out of the device game altogether. 

It is hard to recall now with Apple in its pomp, but do you remember the 1990s when it lost its way, was losing money hand over fist because it built proprietary computer systems that couldn't 'talk' to Microsoft computers? History could repeat itself. Apple's insularity is, in a way, a great strength and one of the reasons why it makes the sexiest, best looking devices. But this leads to stubbornness and inflexibility, which may not be its best way forward.