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© November 2007 Anthony Lawrence

Amazon Kindle et al.

I have to admit I am tempted by Amazon's Kindle. If it were half the price, I would definitely have bought one, and it looks like a lot of people decided to in spite of the price: Amazon's web page today says "Due to heavy customer demand, Kindle is temporarily sold out."

I guess I'm not surprised - from everything I've read, this is a well designed product. For one thing, it is Linux powered, which all by itself makes it obviously better than Sony's Microsoft polluted Reader.

There are two other things that make me hesitant. One is that I do not like reading PDF's; not that Kindle reads PDF's; it doesn't, at least not yet, but my point is that I don't like reading books with my computer. It's quite possible that I might not have the same objection with a Kindle because of the ease of use features I've read about; for example Gizmodo says you can read in bed, holding this with one hand and flipping pages with your thumb. It's lightweight: 10.3 ounces. Most paperpacks I randomly pulled off my bookshelf run 11 ounces or more.

The big thing I dislike is the value for the money in purchased books. In my family, we share books, passing and shipping them around from person to person. If I download a book to Kindle, I will have paid almost as much as I would for the real book (sometimes more, oddly enough), but I can't share it at all. If Amazon expects me to buy electronic books from them, I'm going to have to want it very, very badly - or they need to cut the price considerably. For example, I can buy The Omnivore's Dilemma (just happens to be a book I read this week) for Kindle at $6.39. It's "$9.60 & eligible for FREE shipping" at its "normal" Amazon page. Frankly, that's just not enough savings to compensate for not being able to pass the book on to someone else.

At first I thought Kindle's full keyboard was a negative point, but now that I've read more about it and realize that you can use this to annotate, it makes a lot of sense. I was also concerned about the screen, but every review I've read has been positive about that.

By the way, there are some privacy concerns: obviously Amazon knows everything you buy from them, but Kindle's Terms of Service seem to go a bit farther:

The Device Software will provide Amazon with data about your Device
and its interaction with the Service (such as available memory,
up-time, log files and signal strength) and information related to
the content on your Device and your use of it (such as automatic
bookmarking of the last page read and content deletions from the
Device). Annotations, bookmarks, notes, highlights, or similar
markings you make in your Device are backed up through the Service.
Information we receive is subject to the Amazon.com Privacy Notice.

Does that mean Amazon will know about ANYTHING you put on your Kindle??

As noted above, right now Kindle does have limitations in what it can read. That includes (according to them) "Word documents and pictures (.JPG, .GIF, .BMP, .PNG) ", but not PDF's. About that, they say:

PDF document conversion is experimental. The experimental category
represents the features we are working on to enhance the Kindle
experience even further. Due to PDF's fixed layout format, some
complex PDF files might not format correctly on your Kindle. Each
Kindle has a unique e-mail address, allowing you and your contacts
to send PDF attachments for conversion into a Kindle compatible
format. For more information on personal document conversion, visit
our help pages:
Reading Personal Documents on Kindle 1st Generation

Kindle also offers magazine and newspaper subscriptions, though not very many, and again, too darn expensive. I don't know who the stupid greedy fool is here, Amazon or the other publishers, but somebody is being incredibly short sighted. Take a clue from Apple's iTunes: digital content needs to be cheap, cheap cheap. Sheesh, guys, what's your COGS (cost of goods sold) with electronic delivery? Something vanishingly close to zero, and the consumer price should reflect that. Keep the prices low, and lots and lots of people will do this, but trying to charge $3.49 a month for "Salon" or $9.99 a month for the Wall Street Journal is just ridiculous: it's only $99.00 for a full year of WSJ delivered to my house!.

Kindle also offers RSS subscriptions, but nobody thinks that makes any sense. Are you really going to pay money for an RSS feed you can get free on your real computer? Not likely. Apparently there are problems on the content side too. As a Gizmodo writer explains at Why Giz Isn't on Kindle's RSS Feeder:

One main point is that if Amazon was sued for something we wrote,
even by some nut job figuring Amazon would settle quickly, we'd
have to take the blame.

Kindle still tempts me just the same. Built in dictionary, USB connection to your computer, wireless access for ordering and downloading books, long, long battery life (days!), adjustable text size - this sounds like something Apple should have done (and who knows, maybe they will).

Sony is currently offering 100 free ebooks with its Sony Reader, but you have to get all 100 before the end of February 2008, so it's not that great a deal.. but if Amazon did something similar, well, I might just be convinced..

I think Amazon is forgetting the Gillette principle. Like razors, it's the blade where they should make their money, but also like razors, the thing being sold has a short life span - sure, I may go back and read some things again, but most books get read exactly once. That means that both the device and the refillable content have to be reasonably priced, and right now, they are not.

I wonder if Apple will jump into this market? I bet they'd understand how to get this pumping cash..

Oh well. This is the kind of device that absolutely will break the $100.00 price point, and probably soon. Somebody is going to be smart enough to see that its razors and blades all over again and make this market take off.

Until then, I'll stick with my normal books. True, I am constantly running out of shelf space, and when I travel I have to decide what small handful of books I will take with me - gosh it would be nice to have hundreds to choose from, wouldn't it? But the price has to come down.

Are you listening, Amazon? The price has to come down, both on the reader and on the books. Maybe the reader is already subsidized by hoped for book sales, but Sony's offer of 100 free books with purchase is the kind of thing you need to do.

Oh, and more titles. Start whipping those authors and explain reality to them: high volume and low costs justifies low prices. Or maybe it's your own management that needs whipping: somebody sure as heck doesn't get it.

But then again, you are sold out, aren't you? Hard to argue with that..

Tony Lawrence 2007-11-27 Rating: 2.5

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-> Amazon Kindle et al.


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Fri Nov 30 10:50:12 2007: 3281   anonymous


I too would of been interested in the Kindle if were not for the issues you raised above. As with all things you will pay as much as its worth to you. In your case perhaps it falls short. It does in mine as well.

However after seeing the t&c's you pointed out I have gone completely off the idea. Sticking with paper books and ebooks (not an old man) ;)

Mon Aug 25 13:29:33 2008: 4511   TonyLawrence

Looks like the price is starting to come down (list price hasn't changed yet but there are big discount offers), yet most of my objections still stand. This could be wildly successful if people were not so stupidly greedy.

Wed Jul 8 19:49:30 2009: 6624   TonyLawrence

I see they've dropped it to $299.00

Still too much, but it's getting closer...


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