Monday, November 19, 2007

PR Gaming that Still Works: The eBook Fifteen Years Ago

Fifteen years before Steven Levy had his exclusive with Jeff Bezos and gushed over Amazon's Kindle for Newsweek, Phillip Elmer-Dewitt in Time bowed to some nifty demos and exclusive PR access to a pair of CEOs, resulting in some unskeptical puffery on Voyager Expanded Book series for the Apple PowerBook in 1992:
... makes the experience of reading a book on a screen amazingly close to reading it on paper. "It's the first thing I've seen that I could curl up in bed with," says Nora Rawlinson, editor in chief of the trade magazine Publishers Weekly.

... displays the text on clean white pages that replicate the design of the hardback rather than using the scrolling strings of text so familiar to computer users. A touch of a button turns the page or allows the reader to flip back and forth. Users can dog-ear the corner of a page to mark their place, or attach an electronic paper clip for easy reference. Passages can be underscored or marked on the side, and there are generous margins for putting down notes.

The computer also brings benefits not offered by ordinary books: a backlit screen that permits reading in a darkened bedroom without disturbing a spouse, the option of enlarging the type to reduce eyestrain, the ability to copy passages onto a "notebook" page, and a search feature that displays occurrences of any chosen word, name or phrase. This last option could prove handy for, say, recalling the identity of an obscure Dostoyevsky character who suddenly reappears after 100 pages.
Here come those same features and bennies again in Kindle (plus some substantial new ones thanks to the networking and Amazon's back end).

BTW, Brian Caulfield in Forbes, and Seth Weintraub in 9to5Mac both compare Kindle unfavorably to iPhone as a platform for eBooks. The sharpest comparison —with the zingiest headline— is from John Paczkowski at Digital Daily.

Today, there's another company called Voyager. This one's in Japan. Guess what they're selling? Ebooks for iPhone and iPod.

Mickeleh's Take: I was at Apple when Expanded Books was launched for PowerBook. Neat idea. Good feature set. But you had to work hard at really liking the experience. PR can get you only so far. It's really up to the customer experience to deliver. Wait patiently for customers to report on the experience of Kindle.

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Anonymous said...

While “the iPod of …” has become a cliché to describe any product with a semblance of distilled design sensibilities emanating from Cupertino, there is one fundamental strategic reason why Kindle won’t be like the iPod: content. The iPod had it, Kindle doesn't. Read why here:

"Why is the new Kindle eBook reader from Amazon and not Apple?"

Bernard (ben) Tremblay said...

In the late 90s there was an MPOG called "Realm". It wasn't just fun, it was excellent. I'm the sort of gamer who goes full-tilt for maybe a few days, on a good product, but then? That's that. But Realm had a feel that bred real collaboration and real interaction. (And I was on the virtual communities of the day ... as a VRML programmer I recognized the values, but *shrug* no, thanks.)

That game disappeared. The story, as told by various members of the programming crew, is on the web. Or, at least, it was last I checked.

And then there was PowWow ... more than a chat client ... a variety of communties of all sorts, a good 1-on-1 function, the whole wrapped up with a text-to-speech engine everyone called Hal.

Where did it go? The software was salvaged and re-launched, but whatever pulled the company down dissipated the momentum.

What makes good products fail? I have to be honest: I'm angling to make a point, and the point is simply that "good product" evidences production ... so, really, where's the weak link?

I must admit, I have a real aversion to things "marketing", and not just because I was "on the bus" in '68. (Fact is I made a good deal of money in real-estate speculation in the 70s ... that still makes my skin creep.)

So, good-hearted fellow that I am *evuhl-seductive grin* I'll proclaim simply: I don't get it.

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