Monday, November 19, 2007

Amazon's Kindle

Amazon announced a new e-book called the Kindle. E-book readers are nothing new. The idea is simple enough - build a small, light device that can display text and use it to store and read books. Science Fiction author Ben Bova wrote a humorous novel called "cyberbooks" around the idea in 1989.

So far the concept has fallen flat for a few reasons.

1) The reader is not good enough.
2) The e-books have DRM tying them to the reader.
3) Cost.

The technology on the readers has advanced. The current ones including Kindle are supposed to be very readable in good light, even sunlight. They are not backlit, though, so they cannot be read in poor lighting conditions.

The DRM continues to be an issue. Kindle promises that you will always be able to retrieve your book from them. Don't count on it. A couple of video download sites reneged or had technical problems on files that were only a year or two old. Further, they might well change the format forcing you to upgrade your reader. Microsoft does that every time they release a new version of Office.

But the real issue is cost. These things are expensive. The Kindle is $400. For that you get the ability to buy books, newspapers, and blogs over wireless (not Wi-Fi). The nearest competitor requires that you sync with a PC but still costs around $300.Keep in mind that you can buy a usable laptop PC for $400. For that much money you can buy a One Laptop Per Child PC for yourself and donate one to a 3rd world child. And you get a color display. Or you could buy an iPod Touch with money left over.

Then there is the cost of the book itself. The paperback I'm currently reading cost $7. If I bought it through Amazon for the Kindle it would cost $10. Presumably I'm supposed to compare the price to a hardback which would cost more. On the other hand, with a hardback I have a real, solid book. I can read it again or lend it to someone else. I'll bet that you can't lend an e-book.

The paperback is a better comparison, anyway. Most novels sold are paperbacks. They are cheaper to produce, ship, and store. They can be carried with you and they don't cost so much that you mind giving getting rid of them when you finish reading them.

E-books are even cheaper and easier to produce and ship. There are no overruns and no reason to do second printings. The publisher produces as many as there is demand.

So why don't they cost less?

The short answer is greed. The long answer is that publishers don't want to come up with a new business model. They prefer running the one they have now into the ground.

The music industry is being forced to change its business model because it is so easy to rip a CD into an MP3 file. If books could be scanned as easily we would already be seeing real choices.

1 comment:

Fran said...

I was keen on the Kindle because I thought that it, combined with Marvel's new DCU, would provide heaps of comic reading on-the-go. But the Kindle's only B&W, and doesn't do pics. What's the best device for wireless digital comic book enjoyment?