Monday 4/27, Lexcycle announced its acquisition by Amazon. Lexcycle is the maker of Stanza which, along with the Amazon Kindle app, comprise the two leading ebook reader apps on the market. Like the Kindle app, the Stanza app is free. By the end of 2008, Stanza had been downloaded a million times and was awarded Best Free App of 2008.
The Kindle app was a remarkable move by Amazon, opening the ebook experience to users who don’t have a Kindle device, and expanding their ebook storefront at amazon.com to iPhone and iPod Touch users. To sweeten the pot, the geekerati that have both kinds of devices will find that the last place they read on one device is synched with the other device.
The Stanza acquisition opens the market even more, as Stanza supports purchases from storefronts other than Amazon. For example, libaries can loan ebooks rendered with Adobe PDF or EPUB formats using Adobe Content Server digital rights management.
It’s not clear whether Amazon’s move is a preemptory, elbow-swinging defense of their market space, or whether they really see potential for combining the two complementary business models.
From Lexcycle’s site:
We are not planning any changes in the Stanza application or user experience as a result of the acquisition. Customers will still be able to browse, buy, and read ebooks from our many content partners. We look forward to offering future products and services that we hope will resonate with our passionate readers.
We are excited to join forces with a company that has innovated on behalf of readers for over a decade and is a pioneer in ebooks. Like Amazon, we believe there is a lot of innovation ahead for ebooks and we could not think of a better company to join during this exciting time.
Browsing the Lexcyle user forums, there is a mix of optimism and pessimism about the consolidation. For example, one anonymous poster wrote:
So I’m wondering where the purchase of LEXCYCLE by Amazon is going to lead Stanza. I mean lets be perfectly honest here, there’s very little to gain by Amazon from leaving Stanza alone. So, I see this going one of two ways:
1.) Is Amazon going to roll the Stanza application (desktop & iPhone) into their existing Kindle infrastructure… ie. take the desktop app, the ePub technology and toss the rest away or
2.) Is Stanza going to gain the ability to read the .azw format and purchase books OTA from Amazon?
What does seem plain is that, with this move, the other players in this space, like the Sony eBook Reader, are now at an enormous disadvantage. Expect that a number of these also-rans will dry up and blow away before 2009 elapses.
What may also be in play is Amazon actually anticipating its eventual capitulation of the device to Apple and the horde of me-too’s. Steve Jobs famously dismissed Bezos’s Kindle as an unusable piece of junk and expressed the further thought that people don’t read books anymore. But if the rumors of a “media pad” with a 9.5″ touchscreen from Apple do turn out to be more than rumors, then this device would easily out-Kindle the Kindle. Apple doesn’t have to market such a device as an eBook reader. It would just be one of the many things the new device can do, thanks to the App Store. When other manufacturers start to mimic the new device, the Kindle’s fate (the device, not the app, not the business model) would be sealed.