Today, I am going to revolutionize my industry.

Imagine what it must be like to be a prominent figure in the publishing industry, a person in a position of power, to be the guy or gal who could wake up and say:

"Today, I am going to revolutionize my industry."

That person exists. It could be John Makinson. It could be Markus Dohle. Or Brian Murray.

J.K. Rowling is doing it, but she’s limiting her revolution to the Harry Potter industry.

At any rate, it doesn’t really matter who it is: People exist who are in a position to shake things up and turn the publishing industry on its head at a pivotal moment in time.

That, to me, is the dream.

It’s one thing to ride the resurgent wave of the mobile industry in the years after the introduction of the iPhone, or the computer industry after the iPad, but imagine what it must have been like to be Steve Jobs (or to have worked for him) once it had been decided that Apple was going to disrupt the mobile and computer industries? 

No, seriously: If you’re reading this and you’re the head of a publishing house, please imagine what it would be like to make the decision to fundamentally alter the direction of your industry.

The foundation has been laid: The Kindle Fire, the iPad, the Nook Color — all of these devices are platforms for this revolution. Any one of the people I’ve listed above could approach Apple, or Amazon, and lay out a grand plan to win the day. 

What happens if Brian Murray approaches Jeff Bezos, or Tim Cook (or both) and says:

Hey, Jeff. We’re nervous as hell about this, but if we don’t move, someone else will, and we’ve got some big ideas. We’d rather be bold and first than timid and last. The writing is on the wall regarding ebooks and we want to lead the charge. I know HarperCollins has been a bit behind the times and, yes, even downright stodgy when it comes to our embrace of digital content. That ends today.

Here’s what’s on the table: We’d like to bite the bullet and sell all our content DRM-free.

Go ahead and put a digital signature on it, but that’s all we’ll require. 

Next, we want to work more closely with Amazon. We want you to build a social platform for our books and put it on every Kindle you sell. You’ve got the user data, we’ve got the books. Charge a monthly subscription and give us a 50% cut. Any user who joins that service can then share their books with other users of the service, as often as they like, with the idea that you’ll manage the transactions.

Amazon has a record of who buys what, which means we can even authenticate purchases and ensure that people aren’t lending the same book out to more than one person at a time. We can iron out the details later, but that’s the gist of it.

Give your customers a platform to talk about our books. Our goal, then, is to create an army of consumer marketers for our content.

Here’s where it gets interesting, Jeff. If a user wants to use this service to sell their copy of a book to someone else on the service — make that possible. They’ll get a small cut, you’ll get your small cut, and we’ll get our usual bigger cut. Go ahead and make the user’s cut a credit for the Kindle store, though. That way, they come back and buy more books. You’ve got some smart people at Amazon and I’m confident you can work out a way to transfer ownership to the new user. Above all else, make this easy and fun to use.

Then, if Jeff Bezos won’t play ball, or if he won’t agree to negotiate the price of ebooks in a direction more favorable to HarperCollins, Tim Cook gets the same pitch.

This isn’t beyond the realm of possibility. Both Amazon and Apple could make this happen, given the opportunity. An independent developer with sufficient funds could make it happen, for that matter.

If Amazon launches this tomorrow, HarperCollins benefits tomorrow by being first to market and first to a sensible solution for monetizing the redistribution of their content amongst customers.

At some point, seeing the error of their hesitant ways, other publishers would negotiate their way into the platform. Eventually, Apple decides they’ve got to create something similar for iOS and Barnes & Noble follows suit. 

Sadly, the fact that something is possible doesn’t mean it’s likely. This can’t happen unless Brian Murray (or whoever) wakes up with a desire to flip the script.

I have to wonder, though: In a post-PC, post-paper world, if no one seems to be waking up with that grand vision — why are these people still leaders in their industry in the first place?


Kindle Cloud Reader: First impressions

We woke up this morning to a little birdie tweeting news that Amazon had released a web-based “cloud” app for reading Kindle books: Kindle Cloud Reader.

First things first: For those planning on using this with an iPad via Mobile Safari, make sure to click on the “Add to Home Screen” bookmark button to install a one-click Cloud Reader web app. You can, of course, use Mobile Safari instead — but you’ll be stuck with a visible toolbar if you do.

(Seems like something Amazon should make more clear.)

Cloud Reader also works with Chrome and Safari for Mac OS X, but let’s be real: This is about the iPad.

The first thing we noticed is that it’s not very stable — we’ve experienced crashes both in Mobile Safari and the Cloud Reader web app. (We’re using iOS Beta 5, so we suspect the crashing is beta related, more than anything else. We’ll have to wait and see if those running iOS proper have the same issues.) Scrolling and page turning and initial loads are definitely slower than in the native app, as well.

Not surprising, really: Welcome to the Cloud.

"Cloud" in Cloud Reader means that your books aren’t actually stored locally on your device. They’re loaded from Amazon’s servers, on the fly, as you read them. It is possible to download books for offline reading, but this is a book-by-book operation, and must be done in advance, or you’re out of luck.

Given all that, why use Cloud Reader instead of Amazon’s native app? 

There’s an integrated Kindle store, and it’s way better than using Mobile Safari to browse the Kindle store on an iPad, because it’s “optimized” for tablets.

That’s it, really. 

You can probably see where this is going: Apple recently put the kibosh on linking away to an app store for purchases, so Amazon hits back by releasing a web app that lives outside Apple’s App Store rules. (Feel free to insert the word “draconian” into that last sentence, if it’ll make you feel better.)

Pundits see this as Amazon’s salvo against Apple, but Apple has always supported (and even encouraged) web app development as an alternative to the “closed” nature of developing for the curated App Store. Native Apps are subject to Apple’s rules, web apps are not. This is no surprise attack. And, ultimately, it means that Kindle reading has a guaranteed home on the iPad. Burn! Apple must be so angry!

The upshot, though, is that Kindlers now have a decent buying experience on the iPad and Amazon now has a viable alternative to developing native iOS apps if’n ever they decide playing by Apple’s rules is more trouble than it’s worth.

Don’t hold your breath.


So long Kindle Store button; we hardly used you.

The sudden removal of the “Kindle Store” button in Amazon’s iOS Kindle app is getting a surprising amount of coverage, given that Apple issued the infamous “our way or the highway” ultimatum months ago. Still, the reminder that such a button once existed prompted us to ask the following question on Twitter:

iOS Kindle users: How often do (did) you actually click the “buy” link to get to the Kindle store, anyway?

We’re certainly not going to argue that the response is scientific, or even statistically telling, but it does support our general hunch — and our own usage patterns — which is that not many people were actually making use of the button even when it was available:


Never. Normal for me: find a book on amazon.com, send sample to my Kindle 2, then (maybe) buy book from there. Add to iOS later.


I’ve never used it.


Never. I’ve also never bought a book from my Kindle. Browsing on my Mac is just a way better experience.


Maybe 20 times total in 2 years of using the app.


It never worked for me.



We did have one dissenting response:



In fairness, app store reviews for the new “buttonless” version of the iOS Kindle app are overwhelmingly negative, many falling in at one star. Given the publicity, though, that’s to be expected. App Store reviewers are a harsh mistress.

Amazon undoubtedly has click-through reports which would validate the presence of the now defunct button, assuming it was ever seeing a lot of use. Amazon didn’t put up much of a fight, though. Perhaps our hunch is correct and they can’t be bothered to defend a feature that no one was using?

SplatF’s Dan Frommer (formerly of Silicon Alley Insider) weighed in on the change:

This is a worse customer experience. Amazon’s service — and Apple’s devices — are now slightly harder and clumsier to use. And it’s Apple’s fault.

Anil Dash echoes that sentiment on Twitter:

Now that my Kindle and Kobo apps have lost their “buy” buttons, my reading experience is so much better! Thanks, Apple!

Is the experience now worse, though? 

If anything, it seems inelegant to expect a user to launch the Kindle app in order to push a button which then launches Mobile Safari. Why not just launch Mobile Safari in the first place? Better yet, why not create a home screen bookmark that links directly to the Kindle Store? (Amazon even made an iOS friendly icon for this purpose.)

Kindle Store in Mobile Safari > Add to Home Screen > There is no step 3.

You’re welcome.