The Kindle and “barriers to entry”

Will Sullivan threw me off yesterday when he wrote on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits about how the Kindle “removes the print barriers for entry.” He used “barrier to entry” in a different way than I understood it: That which prevents competitors from entering a market.

Using the term differently doesn’t necessarily harm Sullivan’s argument (although it does make it more ambiguous, because now I don’t know quite what he means), but it reminded me of last week’s On The Media, which I had just been listening to. The publisher of the Dallas Morning News was on, discussing why he hadn’t yet signed up his paper for Kindle distribution.

Answer: Amazon gave them a raw deal, or at least one he didn’t find too pleasing, and I could see why. He said the contract would have allowed Amazon to license Morning News content wherever and whenever they chose, without leaving Dallas the option to intervene. As I’ve said, I’m no expert at business models, but it strikes me as fair for Jim Moroney to be concerned.

This isn’t to say that the Morning News faces a barrier to entry to Kindle distribution. It’s still an option to them. But the more popular Kindle becomes, the more people may have to rely on Kindle distribution to find paying customers — and the more clout Amazon has in weilding its terms. Even then, though, I’m not sure it would be considered a formal “barrier to entry,” but it sure would make things more difficult.

::: Update – May 12 :::

Sullivan notes Henry Blodget’s comments about the increase in Kindle sales, especially after the latest version was released. It’s important here to remember cognitive dissonance, I think. That theory says, in part, that we do a very good job at convincing ourselves that we made the right decision, and will continue to act in ways that justify our decisions. The relevance here is that Kindle owners may not actually enjoy reading on Kindles but instead have to tell themselves they really do. (I’ve heard similar anecdotes of enjoyment to what Sullivan has heard — but then again, is it believable?)

Also: Sullivan says the increase of Kindle says as a percentage of book sales demonstrates that “Kindle users are voracious readers.” Not so. There’s nothing to suggest the percentage of book sales demonstrates a “voracious” bunch, so how could there be anything in the percentage of Kindle readers that suggests it? For all we know, it could be 35 percent of 100 books (Danielle Steele books at that).

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