theunderstatement by MICHAEL DEGUSTA

Four years ago Amazon introduced the original Kindle. Two years ago, there were just two models: the Kindle 2 and the large screen Kindle DX. After this week’s announcements, Amazon is now selling 14 different models under the Kindle brand.

The current Kindle lineup varies on no fewer than 11 different features by my count, with 2 to 5 possible variants for each of the 11 features. Many options are tied to others and can’t be chosen independently. Adding to the complexity, there’s not even a specific price for a particular feature. Depending on the model, getting rid of the “special offers” advertising can add $30, $40, or $50 to the price, while adding 3G can cost either $40 or $50. Even with these price variations, 13 of the 14 SKUs are crammed into a price range of just $120, from $79 to $199.

Here’s the Kindle product tree, rendered as concisely as humanly possible. Click through if you want to see the chart full size - I couldn’t get it any smaller, despite omitting the width/height/depth differences between the various models:

And the inevitable comparison…

Technically Apple has 18 different iPad models while Amazon has “only” 14 different Kindles. However, Amazon has taken (or perhaps just ended up with) a vastly more complicated approach to segmenting and differentiating the Kindle models.

Here’s the iPad product tree:

What’s Amazon Up To?

Everyone expected the Fire tablet but I don’t think many expected Amazon to introduce two new model lines (the basic Kindle and the Kindle Touch) and keep the existing “Kindle Keyboard” models, in addition to the DX.

One possibility is that they’re just running off old inventory, but that’s definitely not how Amazon’s positioning the older models. If they really wanted a simpler lineup, the old models would clearly be labeled closeout, not included on the top of each Kindle page and in all of their comparison charts, et cetera.

A second possibility is that Amazon couldn’t internally reach consensus about the product line, but that doesn’t match up with Amazon’s history nor Jeff Bezos’s demonstrated personal leadership style. Amazon isn’t Microsoft or Google.

So the most likely possibility is that Bezos and Amazon somewhat bizarrely believe this lineup is a rational one. It’s a range of options they apparently think will each find a substantive enough user base to justify the extra product line complexity and production/support hassles.

Why Amazon ended up with so many models in such a relatively narrow space is unclear, but right now the message from Amazon seems pretty clear to me: “we stopped making any choices, so you’re gonna have to start making a lot of them.”

Notes:
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