A Wall of Books Part 05: Amazon Kindle

Three years ago, we set out to design and build an entirely new class of device—a convenient, portable reading device with the ability to wirelessly download books, blogs, magazines, and newspapers. The result is Amazon Kindle.


Amazon.com just announced their new e-Book reader, the Kindle.

It's an intriguing product, that has me torn. The "War on Paper" side of me thinks it's about time we saw a compelling e-Book solution. The "Book Whore" side of me can't imagine giving up my precious tomes.

The Kindle website had plenty of detail and comments from authors extolling the virtues of the Kindle. It's and impressive site.

The prouduct does some interesting thing. It uses digital paper which has a completely different look than a laptop or PDA screen. I've seen these displays on the Sony e-Book reader and it is impressive technology. It's designed to be as clear as paper even in full sun.

The Kindle also includes built-in Sprint EVDO that you don't pay for. It's used to buy e-Books from Amazon, or to download subscriptions to newspapers, magazines, or blogs. There is not monthly or one time charge for the online service. Presumably, Sprint get a piece of the sale when you buy something from Amazon, or subscribe to a magazine or blog through the Kindle. The benefit here, though, is that you can get a new book in a couple minutes anytime you happen to be on the Sprint network.

You can also annotate content on your Kindle, and apparently access those annotations on your PC. I like the idea of this feature a lot. When I read books and review them for this blog, I mark passages while I read, then I have to transcribe them into a word processor, then trim them down, and finally incorporate them into my content. The Kindle could make this easier.

But I like holding my books. And I like seeing them on the shelf. And I like the look of the covers and the feel in my hands. At the same time, if I could have a simple, light weight, and small device in my bag, that would simplify things, too.

So I'm torn on the question of using it for books.

Magazines, however, have a much stronger appeal. When I finish reading a magazine, I throw it out. I already read several magazines on my Tablet PC, so switching to the Kindle would be easy.

The problem with magazines, though, is that the Kindle doesn't do color. The smaller screen is great for text, but graphics intensive magazines like Wired wouldn't translate well onto the Kindle screen. For more text focused magazines, like the Atlantic Monthly, it would be a great choice.

It also supports newspaper subscriptions. If I regularly read a news paper front to back, this would be a great option. It will also automatically download subscriptions as soon as the issues come out. If I had a subway or train commute, this would be a great feature.

The biggest problem, though, may be the price point. It's $400. That's a bit much for my taste right now, especially since I would have to buy content for it, too, and it still wouldn't stop me from buying books.

I would be interested if Amazon combined this with a book purchase. For example, if when you purchased the paper based book you had the option of buy the electronic version as well, for just a dollar or two more. Then it's more compelling.

For now, though, I would find it most useful for my transitory reading. And I don't do enough of that to justify the cost.

Beyond my use, though, I do see tremendous potential for success.

The college text book market has struggled with electronic content for years. They don't want to offer all their books in electronic format because students could put it on multiple PCs. So they continue to charge outlandish prices for text books student might only need for a few months.

A product like the Kindle makes electronic text books simpler to implement. Instead of selling a CD student might copy onto multiple PCs, or offering a file on line that might be copied several times, students can purchase the book through Amazon and it will be available only to their Kindle. It would still be backed up on Amazon's servers, but this might be the way to address text book companies' concerns about piracy. If you can't get the book out of that Kindle, it's easier to make sure each student buys their own.

School text books will ultimately drive the adoption of e-Book technology. The launch of the Kindle may not be the event that does it, though. I've been predicting a lawsuit for a while though, that may boost the e-Book industry.

Kids in grade school and high school are carrying heavy loads. It's not uncommon for kids to have 20-40 pound of books on their backs. That may not be a big deal to an adult, but some of these kids may only weigh 50-100 pounds. Those text books represent a significant percentage of a kid's body weight. Someone will get injured and sue the schools and text book makers. Similar suits will pop up, possibly reaching class action status.

And the e-Book, in whatever flavor it's in at that point, will be the solution.

I applaud Amazon for the Kindle. It's a great step forward. I'm just not sure it's the step I want to take yet.

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