Jeff Bezos: the king of content

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Jeff Bezos wants Earth’s biggest online retailer to become the world’s mightiest content publisher and distributor.  In a recent interview with Steven Levy of Wired, Bezos shared how Amazon is creating a web content powerhouse through an a three-pronged, interlocking approach that encompasses the Kindle, Amazon Web Services, and publishing platforms for authors and movie makers. Bezos isn’t just CEO of Amazon or CEO of the Internet, as Wired calls him. In 2012, Bezos may very well become the king of content.

The pillars Amazon’s content play, as related to Steven Levy, are as follows:

The Kindle

The Wired interview clarifies once and for all how the Kindle differs from the Apple iPad: the iPad is an elegant piece of hardware you use to download and store content. The Kindle and Kindle Fire are simply devices get you content that you stream.

The iPad sells itself through its operating system and features like Siri. By contrast, “What we really built is a fully integrated media service,” Bezos tells Levy. “Hardware is a crucial ingredient in the service, but it’s only a piece of it.”

And by “fully integrated media service,” Bezos means access to streaming content: the basic Kindle for reading and the Kindle Fire for rich media like movies. If you sign up for Amazon’s shipping service (Amazon Prime), you can get access to 12,000 movies and TV shows on the Fire at no additional cost.

The Kindle uses a faster browser known as Silk and access to Amazon’s own cloud server to make experiencing content nimble, fast, and hassle-free. Kindle users can store up to 20 GB of music free on Amazon’s servers — or an unlimited amount of music if you buy it from Amazon. (For more information on Amazon’s cloud computing storage services compared to those offered by major competitors, check out this article.)

Amazon has made its intentions clear: streaming, not downloading, is the future of content — not just music, but all content.

Here’s how Levy puts it: “the Fire is an emblem of a post-web world, in which our devices are simply a means for us to directly connect with the goodies in someone’s data center.”

Direct Publishing

The iPad has one feature the Kindle lacks: a rabid brand loyalty among its fans. I don’t believe Bezos seeks to compete by creating any loyalty to a device, though; instead, he wants to make the Kindle and Kindle Fire succeed by creating a content pipeline.

Enter the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing program, which has writers, publishers, and agents talking. And for good reason – the self-publishing platform has helped both known and unknown authors find audiences. Essentially Kindle Direct Publishing promises readers a low-risk way to explore authors, with Kindle Singles (small morsels of a writer’s work) priced for as low as 99 cents.

Authors who choose the platform benefit from Amazon’s brand name and royalty sharing program. As The Wall Street Journal noted, the platform has helped a small handful of authors sell more than a million copies of their books — authors who found no success through traditional brick-and-mortar publishers.

To be sure, self-publishing is usually viewed as a desperation play — but Bezos hopes to change that perception through the legitimacy of the Amazon brand name. And he has some harsh words for traditional publishers:

As a company, we are culturally pioneers, and we like to disrupt our own business. Other companies have different cultures and sometimes don’t like to do that. Our job is to bring those industries along. The music industry should be a great cautionary tale: Don’t let that happen to you. Get ahead of it. I think with books, we have gotten ahead of it, as have some very forward-thinking publishers. But some of them are really leaning backward, and that’s going to hurt their business. They’ll find that other publishers are going to do very well in that vacuum.

Comparing publishing to music is no exaggeration. Just ask Clark Kokich, chairman of Razorfish, who recently published a watershed book about marketing, Do or Die, exclusively on the iPad after a frustrating experience with a book publisher. As he told me in an interview:

Publishers need to do the same thing as every brand.  They need to stop fighting change and start embracing change.  Instead of asking the question, “How can we make money in this new environment?” they should be asking, “How can we use all of this new technology to thrill readers?”

It’s do or die time indeed — and it’s not too hard to figure out what’s going to happen to publishers who fail to heed the words of Jeff Bezos and the model Clark Kokich has embraced.

Direct Movie Making

Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing is getting the headlines — but Amazon Studios is an equally intriguing approach for helping movie makers find an audience, too. In Bezo’s words, Amazon Studios is “a completely new way of making movies.” Through Amazon Studios, aspiring movie makers and script writers may upload their projects to be evaluated by movie fans, considered for serious award money, and possibly be considered by Warner Brothers. Amazon Studios has already launched three projects.

Amazon Studios is not without its share of controversy. Hitflix argues that Amazon Studios shackles screen writers with onerous terms and conditions. Basically if you work with Amazon Studios, you relinquish ownership of your work. On the other hand, the Consumerist basically asks, So what? Writes Phil Villarreal: “Even given the potential pitfalls, it seems to me that submitting a script to Amazon Studios is better than letting it sit on your hard drive forever. This is coming from a guy who has two screenplays collecting digital dust.”

It’s interesting to note an important difference between Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing and Amazon Studios: although both entities are geared toward emerging artists, Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing is more of a threat to traditional book publishers whereas Amazon Studios acts more as a partner to movie studios. As Wired notes, Amazon Studios has a first-look deal with Warner Brothers. The movie making industry, unlike music and book publishing, ain’t quite dead.

But it’s not too difficult to see what Amazon is doing with its community of writers and movie makers: finding them a home on Amazon. Few filmmakers are going to find success with Warner Brothers — more than likely, they’ll find Amazon distributing their product to Kindle Fire owners. As ReadWriteWeb noted about Amazon Studios, “the end product Amazon is funding will end up as inventory on its virtual shelves.”

Just one question: how come Amazon hasn’t offered something like Amazon Studios or Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing for musicians?

Amazon Web Services

If the Kindle is the portal to Amazon’s content, then Amazon Web Services is the infrastructure keeping all that content afloat — and also Amazon’s way of keeping its hands in the content provided by others.

Amazon’s investment into Amazon Web Services is another indication that Amazon is banking on streaming as the dominant method for consuming content. Through Amazon Web Services, Amazon provides the massive cloud-based support that you need to purchase, store, and stream content from Amazon anytime, anyplace, and anywhere. Think of it this way: Amazon has improved its odds for distributing content successfully by creating and owning its own infrastructure.

But Amazon is also hedging its bets in a way with Amazon Cloud Services. Did you know that through its cloud-based platform, Amazon hosts websites for companies ranging from Netflix to NASA? As Wired points out, Netflix, even with its recent stumbles, accounts for 25 percent of Internet traffic in the United States.

It’s as if Bezos is saying, “If you go to Netflix to stream content, be my guest — I’ll still get a piece of the action.”

But more importantly, Amazon is creating its own content layer across the web, just as Google is doing with social media. And here again, Bezos places his faith in the agility and speed of content streaming:

Our cloud services are really fast. What takes 100 milliseconds on Wi-Fi takes less than 5 milliseconds on Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud. So by moving some of the computation onto that cloud, we can accelerate a lot of what makes mobile web browsing slow.

Move quickly. Find what you want. Stream instantly — preferably on Amazon, but if not, Amazon will find a way to help you do so on someone else’s site.

The King of Content

What fascinates me most about Amazon’s interlocking web of content is Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. One reason is personal: I live in house full of writers and have experienced the fractured nature of the brick-and-mortar publishing world first-hand. But Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing also intrigues me because of its potentially disruptive nature. In fact, I think Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing will be as disruptive to book publishing as Napster and Apple have been to music.

Within the next year, here’s what I believe will happen:

  • We’ll see a lot of bad writing flood Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing.
  • Amazon will appreciate the benefit of employing a more juried system to book publishing. Amazon will hire an editor — or pay well respected writer — to curate and recommend select works published on Kindle Direct Publishing. Amazon will sell the curated work at a higher price.
  • Bezos will increase the odds of his own success by rewarding a high-end, popular writer to publish his or her work on the Kindle Direct Publishing Platform. The action doing away with the stigma of self-publishing.

And Jeff Bezos will emerge as the king of content.

Just don’t forget emerging musicians, Jeff — they produce a lot of content, too.

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