|Thu Dec 5 2013 23:35:56|
Forget Drones, Amazon 3D Printer May Be Bigger Opportunity
By: Ina Steiner
Amazon is working on drones that deliver packages to your doorstep, but there's another technology that could be more impactful and closer to market than octocopters: Amazon 3D printers.
Just as Amazon anticipated the disruptive effect ebooks and streaming videos would have on its media business and developed a tablet ebook reader, Amazon is anticipating the effect of 3D printers on its ecommerce business, and could put 3D printers in the hands of consumers as speedily as it did with the Kindle.
Expensive 3D printers already exist - they are devices that allow owners to manufacture items out of raw material such as plastic or metal. The owner uses software to create a wireframe (design), and the printer uses raw material to then "print" the item.
Imagine needing a small replacement part for your coffee maker, or a customized case for your iphone? Just search Amazon's library of designs for what you want, pay for it, and quickly "print" out the product on your printer at home. (Look, ma, no shipping!)
While Amazon has sold 3D printers for years, this year it created a portal for all things 3D printer related, so it clearly recognizes the demand for such devices. Coming out with its own line of affordable, easy-to-use printers could give Amazon a huge advantage over competitors.
Jeff Bezos has acknowledged that Amazon sells some Kindles at break even - they make money on the content owners purchase to read on the devices. Amazon could apply the same "give away the razor, make money on the blade" strategy to 3D printers.
Owners of 3D printers could create their own designs, or they could customize existing designs available on the Amazon platform. Shoppers could retain a library of wireframes - their own and those they've purchased - just as they do with content. By making the designs proprietary, Amazon could try to lock in the market.
It could create an ecosystem where 3D designers (authors) create wireframes and sell them through its platform. Consumers could become designers - make something you think is popular, and earn a royalty anytime someone uses your design to print a product for themselves.
We've previously written about the Shapeway marketplace where 3-D designers sell their finished products, and they're becoming more popular. In addition to marketplaces like Shapeway and Thingiverse, you can find 3D-printed products for sale on Etsy. In fact, Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson mentioned 3D printers in a blog post this fall when the marketplace changed its policy about what it considered handmade:
"When we consider the truly dazzling array of methods sellers use to make their handmade items - everything from raising the bees that provide the wax base for hand-dipped candles to 3-D printing jewelry - we realized that handmade on Etsy could never be defined as a single method or process."
Amazon is not one to bury its head in the sand - it seems to embrace disruption by following its mission: providing what the customer wants. And it seems customers want to design, make, sell and buy 3D printed products.
When I asked last month about the company's plans for 3D printers, Amazon spokesperson Erik Fairleigh told me he could not comment "on forward looking plans that are not announced."
How will 3D printers impact retail and ecommerce? Have you experimented with 3D printing? And who has the best shot at dominating the 3D printing space?