So Amazon has jumped into the e-book business with Kindle. Color me un-fucking-impressed.

Welcome to 1990 but with e-paper. All of the cool tech in this device (free wireless connectivity) seems more aimed at vendor lock-in rather than customer convenience or value. So let me get your value proposition strait:

  1. $400 ugly grayscale device with vendor only wireless.
  2. $9.99 books that cannot be resold, printed, shared, synced to a computer or read on any other device.
  3. Can be used as an RSS reader, with Amazon as gate-keeper.


Amazon has somehow managed to take all the worst DRMish aspects of electronic distribution and none of the good stuff. Hell, they don’t even carry over the good stuff from print distribution.

Example: Omnivore’s Dilemma (kindle) – $6.39 Omnivore’s Dilemma (new from amazon) – $9.60 Omnivore’s Dilemma (used from amazon) – $6.99

On the kindle version, I save $3.32 or $.60 and shipping. I also get it instantly. If I’m in an airport in desperate need of something to read on the plane, I’ll save a bundle over buying it from the news stand. Awesome. But it will probably take 50 or so price differentials of this sort to recoup the cost of the reader. I also don’t have to have a bookshelf full of books.

On both of the print versions I can: Buy and sell the book at my discretion from who ever has the best price. No vendor lock in. I can buy at the airport, or at the Borders on the way to save money. I can sell the book or trade it in for another at a used book store. I can also give the book to a friend to read or keep. I can also store the books almost indefinitely in the right conditions. So if I want to come back 20 years from now to read it again, I can. Who knows if Amazon will still support the Kindle in 3 years, let alone 20. What happens when Amazon abandons the product? Will they give you print copies? Digital copies? Will you get nothing at all? Wanna take bets?

I know we’re still in the middle of the copyfight, and I know we’re all still trying to figure out how to get paid for our creative output in a digital world, but seriously. Kelli and I were cleaning out our book shelves yesterday and got to talking. There are only a handful that we want to keep for re-reading. We keep them for reference or lending. So here’s the deal:

  1. When you sell me a book, include a PDF and plain text version. HTML if you’re feeling generous.

  2. If you’re really feeling trusting, just put them up on your website. But I’ll probably still want the paper (and will pay for it), at least for the first time I read it. I could be convinced to read it on an e-reader if it was good, cheap and took plain text.

  3. If I don’t want to pay you for your book, but want to read it, I’ll get it from the library or borrow it from a friend. Seriously. There are already plenty of ways for me to read your stuff for free. It’s the reality of the market place, you should embrace it, not pretend it’s not there.

  4. If I really like your book, I’ll pay you for it. Perhaps used, perhaps new. It just depends.

  5. If I like a book you’ve written that I’ve read for free, chances are I’ll buy your next hardback (hopefully with PDF and text as well).

  6. Would I share that PDF or plain text with my friends? Probably, but see #3. They can get it for free or cheap anyway. Pretending that you’ve lost a sale because someone read your book for free is a huge stretch of logic.

  7. Once I’ve read your book, the chances that I’ll re-read it more than once are very low. I will however want to reference it. That’s where the PDF and text come in. I want to be able to store and search books within something like Delicious Monster. I want to copy and past a paragraph into an e-mail or post it on my blog without re-typing it.

In total, I’m not really sure who this product is aimed at. Tech geeks like me are unlikely to accept it due to the reasons stated above, and normal readers are unlikely to want it due to the ominous price tag, and sheer weirdness of its use compared to a normal book (did you see the lame black/white inversion that they use for a page flip? Ick.) It seems to have all of the failings of previous e-book readers, and no outstanding benefits. Sure it has a wireless store. But I think we’ve established that people are fine buying e-products on a computer and syncing.

This whole thing seems like a big non-starter.

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