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How Jeff Bezos saved the Kindle from failing

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When the Kindle was released in 2007, electronic books had been on the market for fifteen years but had never been big sellers. Earlier versions of electronic readers were not easy to use, and there were not many electronic books available for sale.

If Amazon’s Kindle was going to be a success, Bezos had to offer a device that seemed more convenient than an actual book, a tall order when people were used to reading in a more traditional format.

He asked himself why he loved books and the smell of glue and ink. The answer was that those smells were linked “with all those worlds I have been transported to,” he stated in a Newsweek interview.

“What we love is the words and ideas.” The breakthrough for electronic readers came in 2006 with the development of electronic ink (e-ink). E-ink was designed to cause far less eyestrain than the LCD display on machines such as a laptop, tablet, or cell phone.

In an interview on The Charlie Rose Show, Bezos said that reading on those devices was like “reading with a flashlight flashing in your eyes.”

The company does offer free Kindle applications for these devices so that customers who own PCs, iPads, Blackberries, Android phones, and the like can still buy e-books through Amazon.

The Kindle DX has a larger screen than the Kindle that was introduced in 2007, making the viewing of charts, textbooks, and e-books without having to be connected to a computer.

In less than 60 seconds, customers could have not just books but also blogs, newspapers, and magazines available at their fingertips.

The long battery life of the Kindle added to its appeal, as did the ability to change the font size, creating a large-print book using a button at the bottom of the keyboard. Amazon already had a large and loyal customer base from which to draw as long as the Kindle delivered on its promises.

A shaky start

The Kindle’s release wasn’t without problems. The e-reader sold out in five and a half hours, and some customers had to wait as long as six weeks for their Kindle.

Bezos was forced to put an apology letter on Amazon’s Web site that stated, in part, “We hope to be able to announce to you within the next few weeks that we’re back in stock and that when you order a Kindle, we’ll ship it to you that very same day.”

Amazon prided itself on its excellent customer service, so this was an embarrassment to the company at a crucial time.

There were a few analysts, however, who believed that Bezos orchestrated the shortage to make it seem as if the Kindle was in higher demand than it actually was.

Reviews of the first-generation Kindle were positive overall, although some critics felt that its original asking price of $399 was too high.

Prices for most e-books were set at $9.99, which Bezos thought was fair considering that readers couldn’t lend out the books, give them as gifts, or resell them. Some publishers, including Macmillan, thought the price of e-books was too low.

In 2010, Amazon temporarily pulled all Macmillan ebooks from its Web site before agreeing to charge $14.99, a price Amazon called “needlessly high” in a statement.

On September 28, 2011, Bezos introduced four new Kindles, including the Kindle Fire. According to analysts, customers pre-ordered an estimated ninety-five books as the reason why Amazon had no choice but to give in to its demands.

It is clear from Amazon’s statement, however, that Bezos was unhappy with the outcome of this conflict. At present, most new releases in Amazon’s Kindle store are offered at a price of $12.99 or less.

Despite the high price of the first Kindle, within six months more than 6 percent of Amazon’s book sales were Kindle downloads, and before a year was up that number was at 10 percent.

The trend continued upward. By early 2011, Amazon customers were choosing electronic books more often than print books, hardcover or paperback.

“We had high hopes that this would happen eventually, but we never imagined it would happen this quickly,” Bezos said in a press release. “[W]e’ve been selling print books for fifteen years and Kindle books for less than four years.” The first million-seller e-book for the Kindle was Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

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