Ten years ago, on November 19th, 2007, Amazon introduced Kindle to the world, for US$399. It sold out in five and a half hours, even though there were just 88,000 books available for download. The device remained out of stock for five months until late April 2008. Today, the store has over 7 million e-books available in the United States.
However, that’s hardly Kindle’s greatest success: that honor goes to the fact it released the creativity of millions of writers, allowing them to publish their manuscripts directly on Amazon’s store without having to wait for a publisher’s approval.
Standing On The Shoulders Of Sony
The Kindle’s development started in 2004 when Jeff Bezos tasked his employees to build the world’s best e-reader before Amazon’s competitors could. He had good reason to be wary, as Sony had already released Librie and the long-forgotten Rocket eBook was starting to gain traction with a lightweight and portable device that used an innovative “electronic ink” display to take the pain out of reading books on a screen.
More importantly, it was affordable and subsequent iterations got progressively cheaper, culminating with the ad-supported Kindle 5 in 2012, which sold for just US$70.
Putting extra pressure on print books was the fact that, before Kindle, one might have to wait weeks for a new hardback to be delivered to them. The Kindle reduced that wait to seconds. At last, innovation had come to the book business.
The Indie Revolution
I always wonder if Amazon knew that the Kindle would spark a self-publishing revolution that would change how the books are created, distributed, and sold. For the first time, Kindle Direct Publishing allowed writers to skip publishers and sell their works straight to consumers. E-books could be sold for as low as 99 cents, with Amazon keeping just a small cut rather than the lion’s share, as publishers generally do.
Low prices and the fact that Kindle was able to protect the copyright of the author may be why, unlike TV, games, or movies, the book industry has sailed through the age of piracy with comparative ease. Amazon established, fairly quickly, that customers were willing to pay to legally enjoy a new work of fiction.
Many well-known writers were happy to exchange restrictive contracts for the Indie’s freedom, while many more – not having to go through a publisher gatekeeper – got themselves discovered. A lucky few even became overnight self-publishing sensations. Authors also experimented with new storytelling formats and business models, including shorter works and serialized chapters released at regular intervals, with various payment options.
So, let’s raise a toast to Kindle and wish it many happy returns!