Time seems to have run away with me over the last couple of weeks, and there’s been a far larger gap in blog posts than I would have liked. Anyway, perhaps the most significant publishing news of the last fortnight has been the announcement of Amazon’s ‘Kindle Fire’ (oh, I genuinely just this minute got the joke!). Techradar do the most comprehensive strip-down of the device you’d possibly need on their website. The comment-consensus seems to be that Amazon are the first company who could seriously challenge Apple in the tablet arena, managing to compete on price and, more importantly, on the holistic experience that has made Apple’s closed world so seductive and successful.
Of more interest, I think, is the way the probable success of the Kindle Fire is going to underline a trend of which we are currently only half-aware. Amazon are of course the biggest book retailer on the planet, but with the KF they are moving beyond the simple provision of ebooks into the world of apps, browsers, social networking and streamed entertainment. Books and literature will still make up a huge percentage of Amazon’s profits, but they will join music (through the Amazon MP3 store), film (through LoveFilm, which is owned by Amazon) and probably gaming as part of the deliverable product of the device. In this sense, it helps (or hurts) to think of books, music and film not so much as commodities, but as “content” – all part of the same thing, geared towards a particular delivery system.
It’s the paradox of capitalism that an untrammelled free market very quickly tends towards monopoly. As companies get bigger, they subsume their rivals and put them out of business. In the supermarket world, we now speak of the ‘Big Four’ – Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons. In the digital “content” world, we can speak of a similar division – Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook. There is cross-referencing between them; you can get Facebook apps for iPhone and Android; you can get a Kindle app for Apple devices, BlackBerries, Android phones and tablets, and so on. But very soon I suspect that the borders are going to be drawn, the checkpoints put in place, and the armed guards will start patrolling the frontiers. You will decide to be an Amazonian, a Facebookist, an Apple-ite, a Googler, and all your content needs will be catered for within that system. It makes Waterstone’s decision to patent and sell their own-brand e-reader look suddenly a little redundant.
Final thought, or final prediction – I confidently state here and now, that in the next two or three years Tesco will develop their own-brand tablet computer. It will be called a “Tesco Ker-Ching!”, and you’ll be able to pick one up free with the weekly shop, as long as you don’t mind selling yourself into indentured service for a ten-year contract.