In October 2009 John Walkenbach noticed that the price of the Kindle was falling at a consistent rate, lowering almost on a schedule. By June 2010, the rate was so unwavering that he could easily forecast the date at which the Kindle would be free: November 2011.
Since then I’ve mentioned this forecast to all kinds of folks. In August, 2010 I had the chance to point it out to Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. He merely smiled and said, “Oh, you noticed that!” And then smiled again.
When I brought it to the attention of publishing veterans they would often laugh nervously. How outrageous! they would say. It must cost something to make? The trick was figuring out how Amazon could bundle the free Kindle and still make money. My thought was the cell phone model: a free Kindle if you buy X number of e-books.
But last week Michael Arrington at TechCruch reported on a rumor which hints at a more clever plan: a free Kindle for every Prime customer of Amazon. Prime customers pay $79 per year for free 2-day shipping, and as of last week, free unlimited streaming movies (a la Netflix). Arrington writes:
In January Amazon offered select customers a free Kindle of sorts – they had to pay for it, but if they didn’t like it they could get a full refund and keep the device. It turns out that was just a test run for a much more ambitious program. A reliable source tells us Amazon wants to give a free Kindle to every Amazon Prime subscriber.
I don’t know if this is Amazon’s plan, but it should be. It brilliantly feeds into Bezo’s long-term strategy of nurturing extreme customer satisfaction. What could be more satisfying that a free Kindle, free movies, and free 2-day shipping for $80 a year? If the past is any indication of future events, expect an as-if-free Kindle this fall in time for the holidays. Brilliant indeed!
UPDATE: I misread the TechCrunch dateline. Arrington’s speculation was from February 2010, a year ago, not last week. Still valid, though.
Also, in the comments Phil Gyford quotes an article from the London Review of Books which makes another interesting free kindle speculation:
“Taking the lower figure, that means that New York Times, if it stopped printing a physical edition of the paper, could afford to give every subscriber a free Kindle. Not the bog-standard Kindle, but the one with free global data access. And not just one Kindle, but four Kindles. And not just once, but every year. And that’s using the low estimate for the costs of printing.”
The chart above sure tells a story. Handing out a free Kindle would be a really bold and brilliant move by Amazon. It would ensure Amazon’s stronghold on the ebooks market and also ease its entry into the movie streaming market, which is currently dominated by Netflix.