One of the first marketing classes I had in college discussed the concept of razors and razor blades. Sell the razors cheap and then sell men blades over and over. The profit would be in the blades, not the razors. In our tech world, we have our own version of this. It is called printers and printer cartridges. The printer companies sell their printers at a very low price, perhaps even under cost, knowing full well that they will sell users expensive ink cartridges over and over. The profit is never in the printer. It all comes from the ink cartridges and companies like HP and Epson make billions of dollars a year from their ink business.
With this in mind, if I were Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, I would really go to school on this concept and see if it could be applied to tablets. This model would never work for the PC vendors at this stage of the PC game. Although their PC’s are getting cheaper, they are not tied to an eco-system of software and services in which they could derive additional revenue tied to the PC and earn recurring revenue this way.
But I believe that the tablet is the first PC like device where this could be possible. So, Jeff, if you are listening, here is my suggestion to you. Sell your tablet at a price that is really cheap. Perhaps you sell it for 20-25% below cost. I know this sounds crazy and radical, but you actually have the recurring revenue ecosystem to potentially pull this off. It would take some serious guts to do this but if any one could do it, Amazon could.
In this model, think of the tablet as the razor. And in Amazon’s specific case, their Android Store, UnBox movie service and music service would be part of the “blades” they sell to users over and over again. And add to that the profit they could get through their Kindle bookstore as well as items you might buy from the Amazon store. And then add any Amazon cloud service revenue tied to the device that could also be part of an amortized profit pool over perhaps a two-year accounting period.
With info I have on components from my contacts in Taiwan, I was able to do some back of the envelope calculations to see how this could work. Bill of material costs along with manufacturing costs, shipping and tariffs most likely would put the device cost around $300 depending on its specs. For sake of argument, let’s use this as the baseline. But let’s say Amazon discounts this by $51,00 and sells it for $249.
Now, they do some research and determine that over a two year period, a person who has that tablet would buy or rent 15 movies, stream or download 50 songs, could buy 18 books and might pays $5.00 a month for cloud storage from Amazon. And, they purchase let’s say five items through the tablet’s Amazon store that can be counted against a 2 year amortized profit curve. And lets throw in some advertising in this mix as well. Although the prices of the books, video, music, etc would vary, by my guestimates, they would make back the lost “cost” of that $51.00 within six months and realize a profit of anywhere from 20-35% on the tablet over the last 18 months of the devices accounting period.
Amazon already has the trust of over 200 million users as well as their credit cards. And their “one click” buying model would make it quite easy for an Amazon tablet user to buy often through both the Android store and the Amazon store in general. Of course there are a lot of variables in this model, but you get the idea. The tablet is the razor and all of these apps and services are the blades.
Now imagine how this could affect the other Android vendors making tablets. Amazon would provide a product that if sold under cost with the goal of making up the rest of the cost and profit from apps, services and even advertising, it could give all of the other Android vendors a serious run for their money. And, given their deep eco system, other Android vendors would find it very difficult to compete with them. This could make Amazon, measured by units shipped, the king of Android tablets very quickly. In fact, I would go as far as say that they could “own” the Android tablet market.
For Apple, this would be a competitive threat but they have a pretty big lead and their own rich echo system of apps and services that could continue to keep them a market leader in tablets. And given their history of riding down prices of the iPod once it gets to scale, you can imagine that Apple will also be more aggressive with the iPads pricing over time and, as they are today, use their apps, services and the upcoming iCloud to deliver high margins for a long time.
But as radical as this idea might sound, it could make a lot of sense for Amazon to go to market with their tablet with this business model. As I stated earlier, it would take guts, but the impact on the market for tablets could be significant if they did this right and the consumers bought into their version of the old razor/razor blade school of marketing.