Soon, Amazon, Apple and Google will not be e-book competitors

Observing a market in development, such as the e-book business today, teaches the thoughtful analyst one thing above all else: No company is making investments that lead to failure. They only fail by mistake, by placing too large a bet on one direction the market might take. Amazon is no more at war with Google than it is with Apple. Yes, they are competing for dominance. But neither company would kill itself over this one vertical within either of their much broader businesses.

Amazon can drop the Kindle hardware to sell more books on an Apple device or through Google Books. Google could embrace the Kindle format, as well as the Mobipocket format that Amazon owns. Apple could provide hardware to serve up both Amazon and Kindle books. Microsoft, as the odd-man out and dominant operating system player is least like to control the high ground in any of these markets, because it holds the largest share of revenue generated by consumers today.

None of them will destroy the rest of their business to control the book publishing market, which is worth only $46 billion annually according to the most optimistic estimates. Mobile phone hardware, search engine marketing and advertising and PC operating systems are all larger markets than books, though one could argue that publishing has the greatest potential to drive revenue if managed perfectly. It is easier for any of these companies, however, to sell hardware, advertising and operating systems and development tools than to undertake the challenges of publishing.

Instead, these companies are jockeying for leadership, which will allow them to dictate their share of the resulting market for e-books, e-magazines and e-anything that generates revenue. Eventually, and I believe it will not be long, Amazon will yield to Google, making its book available on Kindle, or by licensing its formats to Google to sell independently of Amazon (but sharing revenue when the Google-scanned books are sold in Amazon’s Kindle Store). Apple will sell hardware, driving sales of e-books through any channel that provides books that run on its hardware. Likewise, Microsoft, which know it has lost the high ground in electronic publishing, will cede publishing revenues in exchange for support of its OS by the widest range of e-readers.

Only Google and Amazon are so decidedly at odds that they cannot work together. One of Microsoft’s most profitable divisions has long been and remain its Mac software unit. Everyone else in the e-books market has only their long-term survival at the center of their calculations, and none of them depend on dominating publishing.

Surprisingly, I agree with Steve Ballmer

Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, was speaking to the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival yesterday, when he said:

“There won’t be newspapers, magazines and TV programs. There won’t be personal, social communications offline and separate. In 10 years it will all be online. Static content won’t cut it in the future.”

That’s true, but what is missing from this analysis, albeit it is pruned to a sound bite of a thought, is that interaction will augment those “traditional” media rather than replace them. A book will be a discussion, but it will also be typical for a book to be sold in paper form, with new ways to enter the conversation promoted therein. E-books will be discussions and static texts, blending the authorial statement with the discourse about those ideas.

Media evolution isn’t a zero-sum game. Media flows together, with some channels rising to prominence while others take on new roles.

Plastic Logic debuts new site

logo_plastic_logicPlastic Logic, developer of an upcoming line of e-book reader devices that could give Kindle a run for the money, debuted a new Web site this week. The video content has been available online for a while, but the product pages are more complete and informative than before. A “content store” will launch with the device, according to the site. The site specifically mentions ePub, PDF, Zinio, and Microsoft Office document formats.

The company’s “two-phased entry into the market” starts in Fall with partnered trials, after which they “expect to accelerate the momentum of our sales in 2010.” Partnering for trials, such as offering a device with a newspaper service, is a dicey way to launch, because it requires the partner to succeed, and a device’s success lies beyond the partner’s ability to sell through its channel.

A word of advice to PL’s marketers: Don’t talk to customers like they are a military target. And don’t expect anything other than setbacks, because this wording sets the launch up as a series of barriers that, if not conquered decisively, will be reported and perceived as setbacks. Readers and most publishers don’t deal with “content,” either. They buy or sell books, magazines and news.

At this point in the pre-launch marketing, when building excitement among readers who are also considering their first Kindle, Sony or other e-reader, Plastic Logic needs to present a very different face than it is, engaging with readers and discussing their expectations. Since Plastic Logic’s device is apparently engineered with user’s workflow (again, the wrong sort of military way of talking about “reading”), it should be positioned to address those thinking about an e-book device purchase today.