Platforms Win, Products Lose

Steve Yegge of Google posted something on Google+ that was meant to be read only internally by other people at Google. He forgot to set a flag, it went public, he made it private too late, and now it’s all over the Internet.

There’s a copy of it here.

This is the most telling quote for me:

… Bezos realized long before the vast majority of Amazonians that Amazon needs to be a platform.

You wouldn’t really think that an online bookstore needs to be an extensible, programmable platform. Would you?

And that’s why only Amazon will win with eBooks.

Everyone else thinks an eBook is a product.

Sony, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, even Apple, and everyone else.

An eBook is a platform — or should be.

And that’s what Bezos now understands too.

He’s been slowly moving towards that with Cloud-based syncing of bookmarks, Notes, and sharing quotes.

But the X-ray feature makes it so obvious that everyone should now see it:


Amazon invented X-Ray, a new feature that lets customers explore the “bones of the book.” With a single tap, readers can see all the passages across a book that mention ideas, fictional characters, historical figures, places or topics that interest them, as well as more detailed descriptions from Wikipedia and Shelfari, Amazon’s community-powered encyclopedia for book lovers.

Amazon built X-Ray using its expertise in language processing and machine learning, access to significant storage and computing resources with Amazon S3 and EC2, and a deep library of book and character information. The vision is to have every important phrase in every book.

Although I ripped into X-ray as Amazon’s ploy for future free ad-based eBooks, the fundamentals of it are otherwise part of what I was thinking about back in 2009, when I wrote about Smart Digital Books:

Dumb eBooks Must Die, Smart eBooks Must Live

I don’t yet know what Amazon is doing to create X-ray. I also don’t know yet if publishers have to do anything special for their books to be properly “x-rayed.” But Amazon has clearly gone beyond thinking of an eBook as a one-off product.

In the seminal Newsweek article, The Future of Reading, even then Bezos touted the Kindle as a service and not a device, but nowhere did he state his ambition was to “reinvent the book.”

However, when he announced the latest Kindles and Kindle Fire, he openly stated that he started out to reinvent the book.

Four years ago we set out to reinvent the book.

I don’t know if that’s hindsight revisionism or it it was his intent from the beginning. Had he stated it back then, would it have freaked out every book publisher? Would it have been a sufficient warning for them to band together for their own mutual interests — and for the interests of books too?

We’ll never know.

But what we do know now is that Amazon is not thinking like anyone else in the eBook business.

eBooks aren’t a product to them, they’re a platform.

This is why everyone else should just pack up and go home. No one else has thought of the book like this and no one else has the technical firepower to challenge Amazon — nor their marketshare in eBooks.

And you out there, with your startup, stop thinking of it as a product. In the digital world, everything should be thought of in terms of platforms, with connections outside of itself. Go read Steve Yegge’s long post. It will open your eyes.


Filed under Amazon Kindle

11 responses to “Platforms Win, Products Lose

  1. Beefreaver

    You are correct. When you buy an ebook from amazon, you are not purchasing an ebook that is yours. They can take it back, restrict my access to it, change it any time they want.

    That’s why I don’t buy ebooks from Amazon.

    You remind me of David Pogue sometimes…

    • mikecane

      And when you buy an eBook from Apple, which is in the “universal” ePub format, you can read it only on iOS devices — not on a Sony Reader nor Kobo eReader. And when you buy an eBook from Barnes & Noble that’s in the “universal” ePub format, you cannot read it on any device that has not licensed its mutant version of the “standard” Adobe DRM. So your point is exactly what again?

      • Tid

        Wrong. It is possible to distribute the exact same EPUB in all of the channels that you mentioned (Apple, B&N, Kobo), and it will work on all EPUB-compliant devices just fine, assuming the publisher opts to use no DRM. The exception is the Sony Reader store, which doesn’t offer a non-DRM option. Still, if the publisher opts for non-DRM in the iBookstore, you can buy an EPUB from there and read it on a Sony Reader device.

      • mikecane

        And how many opt for no DRM? Keep trying. And failing.

      • Moriah Jovan


        You can’t offload an ePub file from iPad and “fix” it to run on any other device. That’s the point. You’re totally tied to THAT device.

  2. Tid

    Right, most do opt for DRM, but that doesn’t change the fact that your comment was technically wrong and needed qualification. But I know it’s more fun to speak in absolutes (and to use lots of CAPS and italics) than it is to be accurate.

    • mikecane

      >>>and to use lots of CAPS and italics

      Seriously, just how fucking out of your mind are you? Show me where I did that. I should have used lower case for DRM?

  3. Geoff

    In the short term, people, adjust your color scheme to your liking in MS Word, open up an HTML book, and enjoy. Make notes in the margin and highlight all you want, then save as HTML again. Read on your laptop. There is no good e-reader today, they are all Betamax.

    Ergo, eff all you potential slave-owners (Amazon, Sony, B&N, et al). Eff you all.

    • mikecane

      That is such a stupid suggestion. Having to buy MS Word to read? When FBReader is free and can do ePub from Gutenberg and others?

      • Geoff

        I wasn’t aware FBReader could incorporate notes into ePub. If so, thanks for the tip–you’re the e-reading expert, not me. So if I’m ignorant of other solutions, call me ignorant. Gutenberg already has HTML files and I already have Word (you’ll be shocked to discover many other people in the Western world do also). So it’s a sunk cost.

        I can see where you could offer a fair critique of my plan as unnecessarily expensive to folks w/o Word, or ignorant of a free option that allows note preservation. However, you using the word “stupid” makes you as reactionary as many of the posters here that piss you off with their…reactions. In short, stupid seems a little over the top. I want the capability to make notes and never lose my work by virtue of having to change formats. I’d gladly pay $400 for an eReader that doesn’t hurt my eyes, and that gave me the capability of moving to another system some day with no loss of my work. If I could rip a book version of an MP3, put it on a Zune, then on an iPod when I want one of those, then on a Motorola Droid phone when I want to buy one of those…well, that’s the dream that nobody can have right now.

      • mikecane

        Now I see your point. I retract the stupid.

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