The late Steve Jobs has been widely celebrated in recent weeks for his uncanny ability to anticipate what the masses want. Most mortals have no such forecasting skills, but that doesn't prevent some from making all sorts of predictions. Usually, these lie safely buried in the past, but occasionally they get resurrected to pound home a point.
That is what Jeff Bezos did when he introduced Amazon's new tablet, the Kindle Fire, in late September. The Fire, which is ready to make its way to consumers early next week, grew out of the original Kindle, a dedicated e-reader the sales of which Amazon declines to reveal. They have, however, been sufficiently voluminous to change how many of us read. Amazon, the country's biggest bookseller, now sells more books digitally than in paper.
With the generosity of a winner, Bezos told the crowd that "when you decide you're going to reinvent something that has been around for five centuries, you are rightly going to receive some skepticism." Then on the screen behind him, he displayed some unattributed quotations from skeptics of the first Kindle. For good measure, he read them aloud as well.
With the Fire about to become available, the only debate now is how many millions will be sold. So this seems a good moment to see exactly who had predicted the Kindle would die in the cradle four years ago. It took only moments to find the original sources of the comments.
"The Kindle is here, though it may as well be kindling," wrote Rick Aristotle Munarriz at the Motley Fool.
"The Kindle is going to fail," wrote Joshua Benton at Neiman Journalism Lab. "It is not 'the iPod of books.' It never will be."
"First, let me say I very much like Amazon," wrote product marketing consultant Jeremy Toeman. "But no matter how much I may like them, that doesn't change my belief that their new electronic book reader will fail, and fail terribly."
Toeman says now that Amazon succeeded because "it created an end-to-end experience." In other words, Amazon made it easy to consume, and so people did.
"I see them all the time with their Kindles on the bus," he said in an interview. "For a lot of people who are more and more immersed into technology, the Kindle became a way back into reading books."
Munarriz, who said he had not known that his words had been dredged up by Bezos, took his lack of prescience in good humor.
"We all make these incredible choices we come to regret," he said. "I wore parachute pants in the 1980s."
"If the Kindle had stayed at its original price at $399, it would have failed," he continued. "I remember waiting until it was $359, and I said, it won't get any cheaper, it's at rock bottom. Now, it's just $79 away from zero. I wasn't counting on an 80 percent price cut, with Amazon going crazy and sacrificing margins for a digital land grab. But I've learned my lesson. I have my Kindle Fire on pre-order."