Mr. Beck doesn't work for Amazon, nor does he receive anything -- not so much as a free e-book or Amazon credit -- for his effort. He's part of an army of Kindle enthusiasts who volunteer to demonstrate the device to prospective owners as part of Amazon's See a Kindle in Your City marketing program. Think of it as real-world social networking. Or taking online consumer product reviews -- a concept Amazon championed early -- to the in-person level.
"We got feedback from Kindle owners who love their Kindle, but some were saying they have trouble reading their Kindle in public because people ask what is it and can I use it," said Drew Herdener, senior PR manager at Amazon. Meanwhile, he said, prospective Kindle owners were asking how they could see the product. Why not connect the two?
Hundred of show-and-tell requests
On an Amazon message board, hundreds of threads have cropped up with Kindle show-and-tell requests and offers. While posts about some smaller locales -- Abilene, Texas, or Germantown, Md. -- have yet to garner responses, other cities, such as Chicago and New York, have played host to several meetings.
Mr. Beck was doing it because the product excited him; he wanted to share it and he had a strong affinity for Amazon. Cindy Longo, who has shown off her Kindle to about 15 people in the Chicago area, even setting up a specific e-mail address to handle requests, said in an e-mail interview that her motivation was selfish. "I love my Kindle, and if demand remains strong, authors/publishers will be motivated to make their books available in Kindle format." She recalled meeting with people who have vision issues the "most satisfying."
In Portland, Ore., Josh Bancroft supposes his demos, both impromptu and planned via the Amazon message board, have led to seven or eight Kindle purchases. For him, the thrill is playing the expert. "I love gadgets, and it pushes the happy buttons in my brain when people ask me questions about something I have knowledge of," he said.
It's hard to determine how many of the $359 Kindles Amazon has sold, as it hasn't released sales data. Citigroup analyst Mark Mahaney estimated in August that Amazon could sell up to 378,000 Kindles in 2008, double his previous forecast for the product, and said Kindle and its related products would account for $1 billion in revenue by 2010. But another analyst for Seattle-based McAdams Wright Ragen insinuated those numbers might be high, as Amazon told him that while the product is selling well, analysts with the high-end estimates had not run them by Amazon.
And even though the product has inspired rabid fandom, some on the See a Kindle in Your City boards have questioned why people turn themselves into marketing pawns for nothing in exchange.
"Amazon is pretty bold to make this suggestion without any incentives," posted Thomas Petrillo. "In fact, Amazon is pretty stingy." Another pointed out the potential danger of making meeting arrangements -- many whose specific time and place can be seen on the forum -- with complete strangers. Some suggested a safer alternative might be partnerships with bookstores or libraries to allow people to demonstrate the products.
Amazon's Mr. Herdener said the company is not worried about liability because "it's completely opt-in by customers."
Joe Rosenbaum, co-group leader of advertising, technology and media practice at Reed Smith, said that from a legal angle, he doesn't think the company is required to post some sort of liability disclosure, but it might do well to suggest some safety tips and best practices. "It avoids a problem that you don't need to have," he said.