With the launch of the Fire Tablet Reader's Edition this morning, Amazon is going where many publishers have previously dared to tread.
The retailer is bundling a Fire HD 8 tablet with case and a one year sub to Kindle Unlimited for $249. That's a great deal, but it's not the first such bundle to hit the market. There was a time (2011 to 2013) where many news publishers were announcing bundle offers where readers could sign up for a subscription and get a discounted tablet.
The Financial Times offered a Nexus 7, and so did The Times (of London). Philadelphia's daily papers (PMN) were the first to announce a bundle program, which they based on an Archos Arnova Android tablet licensed through a TigerDirect subsidiary.
There were a dozen or more bundle programs at the time (and they're still being launched), and even B&N got into the market in early 2012 by offering a free Nook Touch or discounted Nook Color with a digital subscription to People or NYTimes.
Few of the programs lasted very long, and an even smaller number caught any real press attention or gathered reviews before they vanished. That might not be a good sign for Amazon, but it also means we're left with few answers when we ask whether Amazon's new bundle will be a success.
From what little I've gathered (and I am hoping readers can expand on), the programs failed for any number of reasons ranging from mismanaged operations to unattractive apps and disappointing hardware.
Barnes & Noble, for example, struggled with handling the bundle offers as gifts and in delivering the content in a timely fashion, but their program ultimately failed when the Nook imploded in late 2012 and early 2013.
The Philly tablet program, on the other hand, failed to reach 5,000 subscribers in its first year, possibly due to the general ineptitude of the customer service dept and faulty computer systems. ZDNet reported at the time that one of their staffers tried to order a bundle, only to have it vanish.
Ordering for the tablet was by phone only, with all the potential for problems that brings. In my case the tablet was ordered at 9 AM on the first day of the tablet release. Four days later we get a phone call saying that our credit card didn't work. Reading back the same credit card number got an order placed that day; it was a debit card and there was no reason it shouldn't have worked the first time, unless, perhaps, the order taker entered the number wrong.
The piece goes on to recount the many problems that blogger went through, including how the newspaper (PMN), Archos (the hardware partner), and TigerDirect (the distribution partner) passed the buck whenever a subscriber needed help. Tech support requests were bounced between Archos and PMN, complaints about misplaced orders or defective tablets were passed back and forth between TigerDirect and PMN (and then ignored).
And don't even get me started on the description of the cancellation process, which doesn't sound arcane so much as intentionally designed to foil any attempts to return a tablet.
All in all, the Philly tablet program was a fiasco of epic proportions, but at least it was better conceived than the bundle program the Chicago Tribune launched in 2013. Talking New Media reported that this program was based on a no-name generic Android tablet which (even if it didn't die quickly) could not be used for its intended purpose:
So what are readers to do with these tablets? They presumably can read the Tribune eBooks, that is a nice benefit. But otherwise they are stuck using the browser to access the Trib’s website and its online digital edition. You see the Trib doesn’t have a native tablet edition inside the Google Play store. Its two apps tied to the paper, Chicago Breaking News and RedEye Chicago, are designed for Android smartphones.
Yes, the Chicago Tribune launched a tablet bundle program when it didn't even have a tablet app to include in the bundle. That requires a unique type of chutzpah that i don't think I've seen before or since.
So will Amazon's new bundle suffer the same fate as the earlier efforts?
In a word: Nah.
Amazon has at least two advantages over the earlier bundle programs. The first is that Amazon is handling everything in-house, and the second is that Amazon pulled the bundle together from existing products and services.
Where the news publishers were fumbling with the idea of customer service, tech support, or digital delivery, Amazon has been doing all that for years. Amazon waited until they had all the pieces in place before launching this bundle. They already have a tablet, they know how to support it, and they know how to sell and deliver digital content.
In short, the worst that could happen to this bundle offer is that no one wants it, in which case Amazon will simply stop ordering cases and quietly stop taking orders.
So tell me, have you had any experience with a tablet bundle? What about Amazon's previous bundle effort?
Remember, last holiday season Amazon offered a 6-month sub to Kindle Unlimited as part of a bundle with the Kindle, Fire HD 6, Kindle Paperwhite, or the Fire HD 7.
How well did that work?