What should publishers do about Amazon’s Kindle Fire?

Publishers are desperate for new sources of revenue, so every time some new gadget comes along they think, “Can this save us?”

The answer is usually no.

I have a Nook Color, which is a pretty cool little tablet. It’s not much good for “productivity” stuff. I wouldn’t want to compose a document on the thing. But it’s a great option when you want to check your email while you’re watching TV, or if you want to listen to Pandora, or, of course, read a book.

Amazon’s new Kindle Fire seems comparable. It might have a few advantages. We’ll have to see.

But the immediate question the launch of the Kindle Fire raises for publishers is “how should I change my strategy now that this game-changing new product is on the streets.”

Not at all!

Do not feed the beast! Amazon (and Apple, for that matter) is not your friend.

Here’s a quick list of the publisher-unfriendly features of the Kindle Fire. (That is, if you try to serve your content through Amazon.)

  • You have to convert your publication to their proprietary format, which adds to your production costs.
  • They take 30%.
  • They don’t give you all the customer data.
  • They restrict what kinds of offers you can make (e.g., length of free trials, how you bill for subscriptions, etc.).
  • They won’t integrate with your back-end system, which means that you can’t synch up a customer’s subscription very easily. (For example, if your print subscriber has a Jan. to Dec. subscription, there’s no way to bundle that with Kindle delivery because the Kindle is operating off an entirely different account.)

Amazon knows e-commerce as well as anybody, and they may have the tech geniuses to make the best version of the Android OS on the planet. Only time will tell.

I have great respect for a lot of what Amazon does, but they have not spent the time to learn how publishing works and what publishers need, and they’re not interested because they don’t want to accommodate your business, they want to take it. You absolutely should not play their game.

Instead, you should adopt a mobile web strategy. Make your content available through the browser. That’s the common denominator on all these devices, and while nobody seems interested in following the alleged “standards” for ePubs, everybody (pretty much) follows standards for html.

In other words, converting your content into html for delivery on desktop and mobile browsers will be a whole lot easier than trying to convert it into everybody’s proprietary format.

Control subscriber access with hooks into your own subscriber data. And if you want subscribers to be able to read offline, create an HTML 5 app. They can download that from your website (don’t mess with the Apple store), and you still retain control of your customers!

The bottom line is that Kindle Fire is probably going to be a cool new device and a good option for your subscribers, but that doesn’t mean you have to play Amazon’s games. Control the content and the relationship with the customer yourself. Don’t give in the the evil empire. (Either one of them.)

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