Four Ways Amazon Could Make Kindle 2.0 a Best Seller

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creative marketing possibilities opened up by digital distribution. Commendably, Amazon gives Kindle users a try-before-you-buy option: the first chapters of most Kindle editions can be downloaded free. But here are some more radical ideas, any one of which would get me more interested in the Kindle platform:

Book subscriptions. The book-of-the-month club model was successful in the print publishing world for decades. Audible.com has stayed in business for 10 years now, charging $22.95 for a monthly subscription that gets you two audio book downloads per month. If I were Amazon, I’d charge $19.95 per month for three book downloads per month.

All-you-can-eat books for a flat fee. Charge, say, $100 for a “Kindle Prime” membership, analogous to Amazon’s free shipping option. Then let people download all the books they want. Some people would download hundreds of books, but my bet is that a lot more would download just a few, balancing it all out.

Send customers full book downloads on spec. If Kindle owners like a book, they can pay for it and keep it. If they don’t, it expires and disappears from their device’s memory.

Let customers name their own price. Magnatune, an independent digital music publisher, is trying this model, and they say that when you give people an empty box and let people fill in their own price, they often pay more than the minimum requested, to support their favorite artists.

Bundle e-books with print books. When a customer buying a print book is checking out at Amazon.com, ask them if they’d also like the Kindle edition for an extra dollar or two. And ask Kindle owners if, for a little more, they’d like to receive the print versions of the e-books they’re buying. Pretty soon, even non-Kindle owners might have enough e-books waiting in their online libraries that they’d give in and buy a Kindle. And Kindle owners would appreciate having both print and electronic copies of their books on hand, allowing them to switch back and forth depending on their situation.

Don’t forget that there is essentially zero marginal cost to selling an e-book: it’s just bits, so there’s nothing to print, store, or ship. From a publisher’s perspective, every e-book sold is like pure profit on top of their print sales. So what’s the harm in experimenting?

Kindle 1.03. Find a bricks-and-mortal retail partner. Anyone can walk into an Apple Store or an AT&T retail location and get some hands-on time with an iPhone. But one of the Kindle’s huge handicaps is that you can’t play with it. Amazon doesn’t have any physical stores. And there aren’t enough Kindle owners yet so that the devices are a common sight. (I have spotted exactly one Kindle in the wild—and that was at the Seattle-Tacoma airport, in Amazon’s home city.) So the only way you can see the device is in the pictures on Amazon’s site.

Amazon has made a half-hearted attempt to remedy this situation, by creating a customer forum called “See a Kindle in Your City.” It’s supposed to be a place where prospective owners who want to try the device can connect with current owners who don’t mind showing theirs off. But the forum is long on Kindle-seekers and short on showoffs. The forum’s tone is forlorn: “Kindle in Milwaukee, WI?” “Is there a Kindle in St. Augustine, FL?” “Any Kindle in or near Boulder, CO?”

It may be a heretical thing to suggest to an e-retailer—particularly one that started out selling books—but Amazon needs to connect with a real-world bookstore chain and shell out for a few endcaps where readers can touch a Kindle. When Sony brought out its PRS-500 reader in 2006, it was smart enough to contract with Borders to put display units into bookstores. I bet Barnes & Noble would take Bezos’s call. Failing that, how about Best Buy, Circuit City, or even Wal-Mart or Target?

4. Make the Kindle into the world’s first mass-market talking book. I’m not talking about bundling conventional audio books with e-books (although that could be a cool idea). I’m talking about building text-to-speech capabilities into the Kindle. The technology is getting pretty good these days; there’s a “Listen to story” link on every story page at Xconomy that plays a speech-synthesized version of the text, courtesy of an Israeli company called Odiogo, and I’ve talked with Xconomy visitors who were surprised to learn that the Odiogo voice isn’t a real human. If a Kindle could talk, owners could consume books, magazine articles, and newspaper articles even if they were cooking, driving, or exercising. Maybe I’m crazy, but I think this could be the Kindle’s killer app.

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If Amazon really plans to bring out Kindle 2.0 this fall, as the Business Week report predicted, it’s probably too late to add features like the ones I’m suggesting here. But maybe they’ve already thought of some of these ideas—or better ones. Truth be told, the company could go a long way toward winning me over just by making the Kindle a little more elegant, a little less expensive, and a little more connected to the real world of reading. I’m ready to forgive Amazon for a rough beginning—and move on to the next chapter.

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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