He is so right:
You know how you know all about Android and webOS and such because you read awesome tech sites like this one? Well, most people don’t. Most people watch TV and read magazines and see billboards and that’s how they get their info on which new smartphone to buy. And for every ad for any individual Android device that they see, they see at least two for “Droid.” Droid, Droid Incredible, Droid X, it doesn’t matter: It’s all Droid. Droid is catchy, Droid is easy to remember, Droid Does, blah blah blah.
Yes. And this is no less true for people who just want to read books.
They saw this:
Amazon’s own existing customers had Kindle blasted into their faces every time they signed in.
And those in the great mass of people saw TV news reports on the day the Kindle was announced, Bezos on various TV shows, TV ads, and then the Atomic Bomb of marketing: Oprah! The Kindle was her New Favorite Thing.
Despite the fact the Sony Reader was first, could do ePub, could accept books from stores other than just Sony’s, could do library loans, and was in fact a better product, the Kindle won.
And the seeds of Amazon’s future dominance were planted when at Sony’s California HQ, no one would listen when people said the Sony Reader should include wireless from the start. (Note to future writers: Any forthcoming books about Sony had better include a chapter about this still-buried scandal.)
What worked against Sony from the beginning were the millions of people who had already experienced cable syncing with PDAs. Despite how good Palm made that, as time went on, the process began to fall apart, with Calendar and Contact entries being duplicated, the time it took to sync, and the hassle of trying to add applications. The well for cable syncing had been poisoned (some of that poisoning was by Sony itself, with its CLIE line of PalmOS PDAs — Sony shot itself in both feet!). And then add on top of all of that pain, the torment of requiring Adobe Digital Editions for DRM! It turned something simple — reading — into a process requiring a minimum set of technical skills. That would be like requiring people to pass a test about the Dewey Decimal System before they could use a public library!
Had the Kindle not included 3G wireless, had it depended on cable syncing like the Sony, would it have still won?
Based on all of the marketing and Amazon already being known as the biggest bookseller with a reputation for satisfying its customers — probably. It just would have taken a bit longer.
Another advantage the Kindle had was Amazon crunching eBook prices down to a $9.99 level — echoing Apple’s 99-cent iPod music downloads. That was a second marketing blow to Sony and all other future competitors. Bezos was absolutely a genius in doing that.
I was reminded of the power of clever, inescapable marketing twice this week:
Marketing cannot sustain a rotten product. Marketing cannot trick people into buying a rotten product. Marketing cannot make cool a product that is seen as uncool (hello, Sony Reader). But marketing can frame issues in ways that make alternatives too blurry to see (hello again, Sony Reader).
And marketing can make the difference between an OK product selling OK and selling in gonzo numbers.
The Kindle was an OK product — that is, it could read books and make buying them easy, but the hardware design was from Bizzaro World, with buttons that could be easily hit accidentally. But people put up with that OKness for the ease of buying, the lowered expense of buying, and the ability to read with less clutter and less weight.
Both Amazon and Apple have now shown how to win. Both companies have used very explicit methods to create new markets, make it very hard for new entrants, and crush their competitors (who are often also their media suppliers!).
All of this has grave implications for the future of many companies. But that’s a subject for another post.
Right now, if you want to jump into eBooks with an eInk device, just buy a damned Kindle and be done with it.