Friday, October 30, 2009

Kindle goes International - a revolutionary step!!

Amazon is definitely an amazing company. When they launched the Kindle a couple of years back, the reaction from the publishing industry was rather muted. Well, the Sony ebook reader was already available and there were not many users. The industry was rather skeptical about Amazon's move - can a internet retailer develop and sell and consumer electronic product? Who will buy ebooks? After spending hours in front of a computer screen would professionals want to spend even their leisure time with another electronic screen? However, Amazon proved everybody wrong - not only did they keep improving the Kindle, but they built up their ebook collection quickly and steadily (now at over 350,000 titles) and continued to put pressure on the publishers to reduce the prices of the ebook versions. It became clear that the users loved the Kindle - especially the cellular wireless feature that allowed them to download the books from anywhere in the U.S, without a computer or an internet connection. I wonder how a consumer product giant like Sony could have missed out this feature!!

The Industry finally took notice - Barnes & Nobles announced the launch of the ebook reader (called Nook) with all Kindle features and more (part color LCD screen below the e-ink screen, book lending feature etc), Sony announced their next version with wireless, Plastic Logic and many others are now coming with their own products....

But that is when Amazon launched the bombshell - an international version of the Kindle which will work in 100 countries!! The rest of the pack now sits around with egg in their faces.......

Why is this move by Amazon revolutionary? Amazon had been concentrating only in the U.S as far as the Kindle is concerned. People knew they would eventually move into other markets - but that would typically be one country at a time - right? - you would think they would need country wise telecom connectivity & approvals, local marketing, support, regional rights for the content and so on. Well, I am not sure how they are handling all this - but they definitely managed to upstage everybody with this clever move of a simultaneous launch in 100 countries. And just like they did in the U.S in sticking to a online sales model (Kindle is not available through any retail stores in the U.S), they are doing the same internationally. You can order online at the Amazon web site from any of the 100 countries and they will ship it to you from the U.S. They will handle the customs duty and provide you with an estimate total cost upfront.

Is the product worth it? Absolutely!! In India the landed cost will come to about $400, and the price of ebook will be perceived as high - since paperback publications in India are available at normally 20% of the international price. But still if you normally read business books and other international publications (which you can get only at U.S prices), the Kindle will not only provide you immediate access to these content but also reduce your costs by about 50%. And think about the access now to the thousands of books that are normally out of print!

I am sure in the next couple of years, Amazon will sell many times more the International version of the Kindle than they have sold the U.S version. Though U.S remains the biggest single market in the world, we will now be able to see the effects of globalization and this will become a classic case study of how innovative U.S companies can leverage the global market without wasting time on building local outlets across the world - even for consumer products.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

MBA Grand Challenge 2009

I am the moderator in a competition for MBA students in Kerala, India which is being telecast in Kairali TV, from Oct 24th onwards. The program is aired every Saturday from 3 to 3.30 PM (IST).

From over 40 MBA institutions in Kerala, 12 teams were selected to compete through a screening test. Each team had to make a presentation on the subject "Will India become an economic powerhouse in the next 20 years? What are we doing right? What is going wrong? ". The presentations were followed by Q&A - each team was given about 30 minutes. Our original target was to select 18 teams but many did not come up to the mark.

Now the 12 teams will compete, with 3 teams in each contest, which would based on a book. The three teams would make presentations and there would be some Q&A sessions (more in the format of a group discussion) and a quiz. There will be a different book for each contest. The winners will move on to the next round.

For more details please visit

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Case for God - Karen Armstrong

An uninspiring case

'God' seems to be a good currency these days for the publishing industry, considering the number of books that have been coming out recently, for and against God. I guess Richard Dawkins stirred the pot with the 'God Delusion' and it seems to have provoked a large number of people. 'The Case for God' by Karen Armstrong is the latest in this saga.

Karen Armstrong is an excellent religious historian. She also writes very well. However 'The Case for God' does not make a good case. Most of the content is a rehash from her earlier books and a lot of historical details are not enough to make a good case. The books attempts to track the evolution of religion from the paleolithic age to the present, though depending more on the Western world than the Eastern. Through that, the author tries to make the case that religion is a practical discipline which can be understood only though rigorous practice like how we acquire any other skill (example of the way a musician learns an instrument). However the author fails to realize that this is exactly what Dawkins was pointing to the harm being done by religions across the world. By indoctrinating young minds from childhood, religious rituals create imprints of awe and fear that are very difficult to erase later. That these are false imprints is obvious by the fact that we do not feel the same awe or fear for other religions which seem to inspire millions of other people.

How much we all might argue for or against God, it cannot be denied that any human civilization has craved for spiritual relief and sought answers to the questions of existence. While it has created plenty of strife and suffering (as any effort by humans seem to do), religions have provided peace and solace to billions of people through the centuries. It has also inspired many, to do good things and fight against seemingly impossible odds. So, was religion and God a basic necessity for human evolution and survival? If so, is it still needed in the future? These are questions that I feel 'The Case for God' should have answered.

The book is still a good read - especially the Introduction, the two chapters on Science & Religion and the last chapter on the 'Death of God?' These chapters can be read independently too - if you don't want to spend time reading the full book.