I need to do a case study on Kindle Fire its very short just 2 pages.
(PLEASE SEE PDF ATTACHED)
REVISED APRIL 25, 2014 MOHANBIR SAWHNEY, JOSEPH R. OWENS, AND PALLAVI GOODMAN 5-413-751 Kindle Fire:
Amazon?s Heated Battle for the Tablet Market
In January 2012, as Jeff Bezos reflected on the early sales success of Amazon?s Kindle Fire
device, he was oddly troubled. In a little over three months, Amazon had sold nearly 5 million
Kindle Fires and had captured half of the non-Apple tablet market share. Worldwide sales of ebooks since the introduction of the Kindle product line had grown from less than 1 percent of all
books sold to 15 percent in 2012. But Bezos was not ready to call it a success yet.
As he anticipated Apple?s imminent announcement of the third-generation iPad and its entry
into the textbook market, Bezos knew he would have to refine his strategy for the Kindle Fire. In
addition to Apple, new entrants such as Samsung, Motorola, and Google were beginning to enter
the tablet market. Furthermore, Amazon?s long-time competitor in the E Ink1?based e-readers,
Barnes & Noble, was now selling a device nearly identical to the Kindle Fire called the Nook.
Bezos had told investors that the Kindle Fire was the key to Amazon?s future in the hardware
space. The markets seemed to agree. Amazon stock had dropped $40 since the launch of the
Kindle Fire. Analysts were concerned about the Kindle product line?s economics because
Amazon was selling the hardware at cost, betting that content and commerce revenues would
make up for the hardware price subsidy.
Bezos was wrestling with several issues with the Kindle Fire strategy. How should Amazon
modify the positioning of the device in response to the new entrants in the tablet market since its
launch? What was the most promising target market for the Kindle Fire, and how should it be
positioned against competing products? How could Amazon turn the sales success of the Kindle
Fire into business success? Would revenues and profits from commerce and content justify
selling the hardware at cost? What were the likely responses of the competition? History of Amazon
In 1999 Amazon accomplished its founding mission of becoming the world?s largest online
bookstore. Two years later it turned its first profit. By 2011, just fifteen years after the company 1
E Ink was a specific proprietary type of electronic paper manufactured by E Ink Corporation and commonly used in mobile devices
such as e-readers. ©2014 by the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. This case was developed with support from the June 2010
graduates of the Executive MBA Program (EMP-78). This case was prepared by Professor Mohanbir Sawhney and Joseph R. Owens,
PhD, and Pallavi Goodman. Cases are developed solely as the basis for class discussion. Some facts in the case have been altered for
classroom discussion purposes. Cases are not intended to serve as endorsements, sources of primary data, or illustrations of effective
or ineffective management. To order copies or request permission to reproduce materials, call 847.491.5400 or e-mail
[email protected] No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, used in a spreadsheet, or
transmitted in any form or by any means?electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise?without the permission of
Kellogg Case Publishing. Downloaded by Jessica Steiner on 10/20/2015. Nova Southeastern University, Dr. Russell Abratt, Fall 2015 AMAZON?S KINDLE FIRE 5-413-751 started out of Jeff Bezos?s 400-square-foot garage, Amazon had 25 million square feet of
warehouse space, reported $50 billion in revenues, and controlled 10 percent of the North
American e-commerce market (Exhibit 1 and Exhibit 2). Competitors struggled to transition
from brick-and-mortar?based businesses, but Amazon had repeatedly been at the forefront in the
e-commerce market. From its pioneering use of user-based reviews for product comparisons to its
development of 1-Click® ordering on its website, Amazon had continued to innovate. The
company?s marketplace for third-party vendors, introduced in 1999, helped grow its selection
Bezos?s 2010 annual letter to shareholders touted that ?invention is in [Amazon?s] DNA? and
that the long-term interests of its shareholders were perfectly aligned with the needs and wants of
its customers. This focus on the long-term, however, with repeated innovation and thrusts into
new markets, had created tension with the short-term interests of investors. The $45 fall in stock
value between Q3 2011 and mid-Q1 2012 illustrated this tension between Amazon?s visionary
investments and public market investors (Exhibit 3). Investors were doubtful of the margins
Amazon would attain on the new streams of revenue that it was betting would flow through its
When Amazon began offering its spare server computing power and storage space as a
service in 2006, the cloud-based information technology services field was still nascent. Under
the rapidly expanding Amazon Web Services (AWS) division, Amazon rolled out its Elastic
Compute Cloud (EC2) platform and the Simple Storage Service (S3). AWS was expected to
make up just 3 percent of Amazon?s revenues by 2012, but AWS revenues were expected to
almost triple in the following three years. Amazon called its ?service-oriented architecture? the
?fundamental building abstraction? for all Amazon technologies.2
This focus on internal technology development had led to significant benefits for customers.
Through the widely popular Amazon Prime express shipping subscription service, the company
had built a customer base that was motivated to always shop at Amazon.com first before they
went elsewhere. This service, which for an annual fee of $79 provided two-day express shipping
on most items sold directly by Amazon, was made possible by the company?s logistics
innovations. Through its marketplace partners, Amazon had outsourced its long-tail3 offerings
while lowering its overhead. Without the technical advancements that made the logistical
infrastructure run smoothly, customers would not have embraced these partners as a seamless
extension of the Amazon brand. Additionally, the advanced algorithms driving the popular
product recommendations that were integrated into every product page relied on sophisticated
management of the underlying data infrastructure.
Amazon, since its founding, had a strong history of investing in emerging opportunities years
ahead of revenues or profitability. It took the company six years to become profitable primarily
because of its commitment to innovation. It was this commitment to innovation that drove Bezos
to found the Lab126 hardware development group, which developed, in extreme secrecy, the
future of e-commerce: the first successful e-reader, the Kindle. 2 Amazon.com, 2010 Letter to Shareholders.
Long tail, a term popularized by Chris Anderson in The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More (New York:
Hyperion, 2006), describes the retail strategy of selling a large number of unique items in relatively small quantities while selling
fewer popular items in large quantities. Underpinning this strategy is the belief that the sum of many small markets is worth as much,
if not more, than a few large markets.
3 2 KELLOGG SCHOOL OF MANAGEMENT
Downloaded by Jessica Steiner on 10/20/2015. Nova Southeastern University, Dr. Russell Abratt, Fall 2015 5-413-751 AMAZON?S KINDLE FIRE The Emergence of E-Readers
Although the attractive prospect of reading long-form texts digitally had led to many ereaders coming to market over the years, e-books had remained a niche curiosity. The original
?killer app,? the paper book, remained largely unchallenged until the advent of E Ink technology
in 1997, which made reading possible in any light condition and with minimal power usage. The
new crop of e-readers was born.
In 2007 the market leader was the Sony Reader. It could hold a library of up to one hundred
books and was sold for $299?$399, depending on the accessory bundle. More than 10,000 titles
were available for purchase at 75 to 85 percent of the retail price of a physical book. However,
the Sony Reader was clunky to use and difficult to load content onto. Even the simple act of
page-turning was slow and difficult to manage one-handed.
For more than a decade, various competitors offered iterations on this basic business model,
and had sold a combined 400,000 units by the end of 2007. The Iliad by iRex, larger than the
Sony Reader, was sold for $799 and could adequately display full-sized PDF files but had similar
drawbacks in content acquisition for customers. Many early adopters also used the tiny screens of
a variety of personal digital assistant devices such as the Palm III and V, as well as earlygeneration iPhones, to read e-books. Critics cited the slow and clunky operation and general poor
usability of early e-readers as book replacements as well as the inadequate e-book distribution
and promotion model as reasons that the e-book had yet to jump the chasm on the innovation
curve. The Amazon Kindle
In a highly successful product launch, Amazon introduced its own e-reader, the Kindle, in
November 2007. The Kindle featured a QWERTY keyboard, an onboard dictionary, and access to
Wikipedia. It had memory sufficient for two hundred titles, which was expandable via an SD
card. Its grayscale, passively lit screen sipped battery and thus could last for more than a week.
The stark white, 10.3-ounce device with a 6-inch E Ink screen was, at first glance, similar to
competitors? offerings. Under the hood, though, lay Whispernet, an EVDO cellular antenna with
prepaid Sprint service that enabled wireless content delivery. At several points during the
Kindle?s development, Bezos sent engineers back to the drawing board to make Whispernet work
seamlessly. Bezos knew the key differentiator for the Kindle would be the capability for
customers to discover, purchase, and sync content quickly and easily wherever they happened to
The first-generation Kindle was priced competitively at $399. In addition to the more than
100,000 e-books offered by Amazon, customers could purchase subscriptions to nineteen
newspapers (for $5 to $14 per month), sixteen magazines (for $1.25 to $3.49 per month), and
hundreds of blogs (for $0.99 per month) that would self-update wirelessly. Customers were also
provided with an e-mail address specific to their device that could be used to load and convert
DOC and PDF file formats for viewing on the Kindle. This service cost 15 cents per megabyte.
Prior to the Kindle?s release, Amazon sent its representatives to knock on doors and cajole
the major book publishers to digitize their offerings for its new e-reader. By bringing the
publishers onboard, Amazon hoped to simplify the digital rights management (DRM) issues that KELLOGG SCHOOL OF MANAGEMENT
Downloaded by Jessica Steiner on 10/20/2015. Nova Southeastern University, Dr. Russell Abratt, Fall 2015 3 AMAZON?S KINDLE FIRE 5-413-751 were slowing the move toward electronic distribution of books. The company succeeded in
convincing all of the ?Big Six? publishers to rapidly accelerate their e-book development and to
offer their content through the Amazon e-bookstore. Amazon subsequently shocked these
publishers by subsidizing the price of new titles, many of which were offered at $9.99. This
aggressive content pricing model, co-announced with the product launch, helped the firstgeneration Kindle sell out in the first three hours.
When Amazon started the development of its first-generation Kindle in 2006, the entire ebook market was only $3 million and less than 1 percent of all book sales in the United States.
But both e-book reader device sales and revenues for e-book readers were projected to grow
substantially in the ensuing years (Exhibit 4). Five years later, Amazon?s revenues from e-books
were estimated to have topped $1 billion. Amazon had likely (it does not publicly release these
metrics) sold a cumulative 30 million Kindle units.
As the Kindle product line evolved, Amazon continued to enhance the user experience,
mostly by improving navigational features such as page-turn speed, battery life, and screen
resolution, and by reducing the device?s weight and width (Exhibit 5). To expand the use cases
for the Kindle product line, Amazon developed a larger version of the device. The $549 Kindle
DX featured a 10-inch screen, making it the ideal e-reader for displaying figures and tables from
textbooks or business documents.
As the e-reader market matured, price pressure on the devices slowly grew. Prior competitors
such as Sony, iRex, and Hanlin released updated, cheaper devices, but importantly Barnes &
Noble (B&N) jumped into the field as well (Exhibit 6). Each generation of the Kindle had
focused on improving the user experience, lowering the cost, and growing the general adoption of
Amazon e-books and other Amazon content. However, the newer entrants forced Amazon to
begin to discount its devices considerably (Exhibit 7).
Amazon used its installed base4 of Kindle owners to push higher volumes of e-books, which
had significantly lower distribution costs compared to physical books. The company?s profit per
title fell from $13 for a new-release hardcover to a mere $3, but the increase in volume
compensated for this loss. Given that the gross margin on each Kindle device was barely 5
percent and that the margin for each e-book was 20 to 30 percent, the Kindle devices were
arguably a tool for getting the Amazon ecosystem of content into the hands of the customer.
With each e-book purchased from Amazon, customers were further committing themselves to
the Amazon ecosystem, a completely unheard-of benefit in the traditional print space, where
customers had complete independence in choosing a retailer. Bezos shrewdly knew that this
lucrative customer base needed to be locked in before a competitor, such as B&N, could do the
Installed base refers to the total number of operating systems or products actually in use (i.e., that customers have installed), as
opposed to market share, which only measures units sold. Analysts view the installed base as a more reliable measure of a platform?s
popularity. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Installed_base (accessed January 16, 2014). 4 KELLOGG SCHOOL OF MANAGEMENT
Downloaded by Jessica Steiner on 10/20/2015. Nova Southeastern University, Dr. Russell Abratt, Fall 2015 5-413-751 AMAZON?S KINDLE FIRE E-Book Ecosystems
The advent of e-books meant that the traditional methods of book publishing and selling had
to adapt to the digital platform. Book distributors began to develop entire ecosystems around the
content, publication, and delivery of e-books. E-booksellers had to forge relationships with major
publishers to make e-books available and added to their online portfolios. They developed
proprietary platforms to adapt to this digital transition, which meant that competing platforms and
ecosystems were controlled by the major players?primarily Amazon, followed by Apple and to a
lesser extent, Google eBookstore and Barnes & Noble. However, the existence of competing ebook formats meant that digital books did not gain broad popularity until Amazon launched the
Kindle e-reader. E-books could be purchased on the Amazon website or directly through the
Kindle device via a 3G or Wi-Fi connection for e-book delivery. Amazon?s proprietary system
was developed initially for its Kindle devices but was later adapted to the world of applications
(apps) to encourage a cross-platform reading experience. Not only could books be read on the
Kindle but e-books purchased on Amazon could now be read on different platforms, for instance,
on iPads and iPhones, personal computers, and Android devices. (By contrast, books purchased
from Apple could only be read on Apple devices.) To protect its ecosystem, however, Amazon
made it difficult for books purchased outside of Amazon to be accessed on the Kindle device or
through Kindle apps.
When Amazon started selling $9.99 e-books in 2007, the major book publishers were not
happy to see the erosion of the agency-based pricing model they had enjoyed for more than a
century. When approached by B&N in 2008 and Apple in 2009 to develop e-books for their new
tablets, book publishers were eager to reassert their favored agency-based pricing model. B&N
and Apple, as new entrants into the e-book market, were willing to cede pricing control back to
the publishers in order to rapidly gain access to large content libraries for their devices. This
move later forced Amazon to follow suit for e-book pricing in late 2009, though these actions
launched several anti-trust, price-fixing lawsuits against the publishers and Apple. Consumer
expectation of e-book pricing had shifted, however. For most popular titles, e-book prices
remained at $9.99 ($13.99 for new releases), a far cry from the old $26 price of a hardcover book.
An area of contention among e-booksellers was competition for content sales through apps on
smartphones, third-party e-readers, and computers. Amazon, Sony, Google, and B&N sold ebooks through their own branded apps on all the major platforms (Exhibit 8). These apps reduced
the switching costs for customers by making the DRM-protected content they purchased from a
given retailer available on all their mobile devices and computers.
In July 2011 Apple announced that it would remove all applications from its App Store that
did not use Apple?s ?in-app purchase? platform. Critically, this platform directed a 30 percent cut
of all sales to Apple. Apple?s change in policy set the stage for its announcement of its crossplatform iBooks App bundled with the iOS 5 release in October 2011. Apple?s counter-stroke
was an attempt to lock out sales by competitors on its devices and to simultaneously offer its own
partners? content in their place. Barnes & Noble E-Readers
In October 2009 B&N launched its Nook product line. The Nook, an E Ink e-reader similar to
the Kindle, was B&N?s attempt to capitalize on Amazon?s success in e-books. The Nook featured KELLOGG SCHOOL OF MANAGEMENT
Downloaded by Jessica Steiner on 10/20/2015. Nova Southeastern University, Dr. Russell Abratt, Fall 2015 5 AMAZON?S KINDLE FIRE 5-413-751 a 6-inch E Ink screen, a seven-day battery life, Google?s Android operating system, native PDF
support, and wireless access to the B&N e-bookstore through prepaid AT&T cellular service.
B&N tried to undercut the Amazon Kindle 2 (then priced at $359) by pricing the Nook at
$259. A price war ensued. Second-generation Kindles fell from $359 in early 2009 to $259 after
the Nook?s launch. As the two largest U.S. booksellers vied for the leading position, e-reader
prices fell to less than $200 in 2010 and then to less than $100 in 2011 (for the simplest low-end
devices from each product line). During this three-year period, sales of e-readers grew from less
than 1 million units per year to more than 8 million in the United States. Both B&N and Amazon
were focused on getting their customers to build their digital libraries as quickly as possible.
In contrast to Sony and other early Kindle competitors, B&N copied Amazon?s entire ereader/e-book business model. B&N saw the writing on the wall and knew that its traditional
book retailer business model was in major decline. It secured e-book deals with its publisher
business partners, outsourced the development of the Nook?s hardware and firmware, and began a
major push to drive Nook sales to the forefront of its physical as well as online stores. Employee
retention and compensation metrics were amended to focus on Nook sales per shift, and company
profits were divided into two categories: digital (profitable and growing for 2011) and traditional
(unprofitable for 2011).
B&N provided one truly unique feature for all Nooks: customers had free Wi-Fi access to
read the entire B&N library of e-books in its stores?a popular pastime given the Starbucks
coffee shops located in each store. Subsequent versions of the Nook added touch support, more
memory, a Wi-Fi?based Internet browser, and a ?book-lending? capability compatible with other
Nook devices. With the launch of the Nook Color (November 2010) and the follow-on Nook
Tablet (November 2011), B&N sought to differentiate as the bargain color e-reader. These
devices featured access to third-party apps in the B&N Marketplace and support for multimedia
content. Apple Introduces the iPad
Apple ported its iPhone operating system (iOS) to the tablet form factor5 in April 2010 with
the iPad. Its beautiful 11-inch touchscreen immediately drew in customers. The iPad was
basically a larger version of the popular third-generation iPod Touch, except Apple had
painstakingly removed the time lag between a touch and an onscreen response. The responsive,
pointer-less operating system allowed for numerous use cases that far exceeded those offered on
the tiny screen of an iPod or iPhone and put the Apple experience comfortably in the lap of the
The iPad immediately became one of the most sought-after devices of 2010. The $499 base
model had 16GB of storage, which could be doubled for $100. An optional cellular antenna could
be purchased for $139 with an a la carte monthly data service plan from AT&T Wireless. Most
Apple stores sold out of all models the first day. Apple sold roughly 1 million units the first week,
and users continued to wait in lines for new shipments for weeks after its launch. The iPad broke
open the long-underserved tablet market, with 15 million sold by 2010 year-end. Critics were apt 5
In computing, ?form factor? refers to the specifications of the motherboard (e.g., the dimensions, they type of power supply, the
location of mounting holes, etc.). 6 KELLOGG SCHOOL OF MANAGEMENT
Downloaded by Jessica Steiner on 10/20/2015. Nova Southeastern University, Dr. Russell Abratt, Fall 2015 5-413-751 AMAZON?S KINDLE FIRE to list a litany of features?such as a camera, USB port, and more?that the iPad ?lacked,? but it
became clear from the sales numbers alone that Apple had found the sweet spot for what
consumers wanted in a device that sat squarely between smartphone and laptop.
In March 2011 Apple released the iPad 2, which upped the ante on its competitors. The iPad
2 had twice the processor speed (dual-core A5) of the original iPad. It was 15 percent lighter and
33 percent thinner and featured high-resolution front- and back-facing cameras to facilitate
Apple?s new videoconferencing app, FaceTime. Apple had succeeded in creating a thriving tablet
market, selling a total of 55 million iPads since the initial launch.
Tim Cook, Apple?s new CEO, became known for his fondness for pushing the idea that
Apple?s slew of ?iDevices? were ushering in the ?post-PC era? that the late Steve Jobs had
envisioned. Bezos likely knew, as March 2012 approached, that Apple would soon update the
iPad product line and further raise the bar on the premium tablet space. What likely most
concerned him, though, was whether Apple would release an ?iPad mini? device at a lower price
point to compete with the Kindle Fire. An iPad for less than $300 would definitely change the
market environment for e-readers. Google Android Tablets
The Open Handset Alliance was founded in 2006 to support the development of a unified
mobile operating system experience for smartphones. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs)
Samsung, Motorola, LG, QUALCOMM, Broadcom, and HTC partnered with carriers T-Mobile
and Sprint Nextel under Google?s leadership to develop the Android OS. These OEMs brought a
slew of slick, touchscreen-based smartphones to market.
Apple?s success with porting the iPhone user experience (the iOS) to the tablet form factor
attracted the Android OEMs. Android tablets such as Samsung?s line of Galaxy tablets and
Motorola?s Xoom tablets came in several screen sizes (7-inch to 11-inch), packed sophisticated
chipsets and graphics, came with high-resolution cameras, and had integrated Wi-Fi and even
cellular antennae in some models. These tablets were sold through wireless carriers as well as via
traditional electronics outlets at prices ranging from $499 to $799 depending on the feature set.
At the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2011, no less than twenty-one different tablets
were introduced. This deluge, along with the release of the iPad 2, led to 2011 being dubbed the
?year of the tablet.?6 Android tablet OEMs faced rapid commoditization of their devices, and
competition for enhanced hardware specifications quickly led to shortened product life cycles,
decreased profitability, and lower-than-predicted sales. Apple?s sale of 15 million (67 percent
market share) iPads in Q4 2011 alone suggests that 2011 turned out to be the year of the iPad
(Exhibit 9). 6 Nicholas Deleon, ?Deloitte: 2011 Will Be the Year of the Tablet (Say Goodbye to Your...
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