Amazon Kindle, the e-book reader that actually makes it?

So Newsweek (thanks scott) just broke the news on Amazon’s new e-book reader, the Kindle. This project has been slow to the table and there’s been lots of speculation on the topic before now but Bezos wanted to take his time and get it right. I, for one, am really hoping that he’s gotten it right because it is something I’ve wanted forever now.

Some folks think it’s a solution in search of a problem – this techdirt piece is a good example of that. Basically the argument is that books are already so fantastically awesome, small, light, cheap and really high resolution why would we need something different? It argues that the ability to have a ton of books at your fingertips isn’t compelling since why would you read a ton of books at once? It isn’t just books, it’s magazines as well and people do read a lot of magazines. Many people actually do read several books at once – when I go to read the various sci-fi blogs around they often show “what I’m reading now” and there’s two or four books listed underneath.

The other thing that is compelling is that it is instant. There’s all sorts of times when I’m done reading and I want to move on to something else. Now? I’ve gotta go to Amazon (now that I’ve got Prime, I’m not sure there’s any better way to buy books! :) and wait my two or three days. With a kindle, boom, one minute later it’s there. If I hear of something? I’m reading the first chapter for free. Need a new magazine? Done. No computer necessary, so if I’m travelling around I can have several options to read (not just one and hope that that’s the one I’m in the mood to read) and if I finish them early (as I often do) I don’t have to see what else happens to be lieing around, I can get anything else to read.

And virtual products are gaining traction in the world. Sure there’s lots of people who like to have their books all shelved up in their homes (I know that I am one of them). But increasingly, people are putting their lives online. Delicious Library helps you categorize all your stuff and put them on your computer. Look at Facebook and how they sell virtual gifts for people to add to their Facebook accounts. You can easily imagine a new widget for people’s blogs and social networking sites that pulls their Amazon E-Library and puts up a virtual bookshelf (movie rack coming soon!) for the world to see – even more prominently than the hardest dark wood shelving in their home.

The Newsweek piece loves this product. While I’ve worked with some of my clients to get their content on to the Kindle over the past couple years, sadly I’ve never even seen one. *weeps* But they have and they’re gushing. They compare it positively over Sony Reader primarily because it’s EVDO connection (kinda broadband over the cell phone network – does that mean Sprint? Or Verizon perhaps…) changes the game. It gives you instant access to Amazon and it’s whole E-library and untethers it completely from the computer.

It’s interesting in that it also has search capabilities over the books (something I’ve often wished for when I wanted to go back and find a particular passage) and it also lets you annotate pages. Interesting! I hate marking up paper books, but I suspect that since this is all electronic anyway I might start highlighting and noting interesting things as I go along.

I think that if Amazon got it right, this could be the beginning of something real. It’s impediments are it’s proprietary formatting. I suspect that Amazon is the firm gatekeeper of the keys to this thing, so if you want to get your content on you have to go through Amazon. Will they let people provide free content? iTunes is fantastic because you can put whatever songs you like in your library. If you already owned the CD you could rip it and add it in. If I’ve already bought a book, will I have to buy the digital copy as well? I suspect so, not a terrible problem, but if there was a deal that any book I bought in Amazon I’d also get it on the Kindle that’d be quite compelling, I think.

Pricing seems quite variable. Some books are cheap $1.99 others rival the $20 price tag of a new hardcover. If this takes off as a viable means of selling books – the price will have to come down and people will switch over. It seems to me that booksellers should love this because it saves them their printing and distribution costs – a cost and logistical savings they could pass on to their readers. And, unlike, the magazine industry which fears and loathes the internet cannibalization of their print product, books don’t have any advertisers monitoring their circulation numbers to determine how much an ad would be worth – so as far as I know there aren’t any real cannibalization concerns. Although, the Newsweek piece does talk a bit about how some folks are looking into an ad supported model something I figured was coming sometime – but fortunately not on the Kindle thus far.

The Newsweek page does get a little breathless in how revolutionary the Kindle is culminating in quotes that don’t make any sense:

“Book clubs could meet inside of a book,” says Bob Stein

Uh. ‘K. And then making gigantic leaps of logic:

“What happens to the idea of a writer going off to a quiet place, ingesting information and synthesizing that into 300 pages of content that’s uniquely his?” His implication is that that intricate process may go the way of the leather bookmark, as the notion of author as authoritarian figure gives way to a Web 2.0 wisdom-of-the-crowds process. “The idea of authorship will change and become more of a process than a product,” says Ben Vershbow, associate director of the institute.

Dude. Authors are authors. They’ll write their own books. Just because people can read something on an electronic device doesn’t mean they’ll be able to digg up the sentences they like best. Maybe some books will work like that, but that will never be the primary way books are written. Art by committee? Right. Nevertheless, some things may benefit from this – travel books could get errata in much more quickly and reliably than they could have in the past. Things like that could definitely be impacted in the future.

So who knows. I’m feeling optimistic about this device. I’m hoping that they got it right because it could be the solution to the problems I’ve had. Is this the thing you’ve been waiting for? Or will books and magazines never ever be replaced by something digital?

UPDATE: I was thinking some more about this and wondering how much affect this will have on the self-publishers. If it is possible to get your content onto this platform it would be great to see a lot of more amateur content springing up – the way blogs have helped people get their short form writing in front of everyone, maybe this will help people get their novels and books in front of more people, long tail style.

UPDATE 2: Can I just say, I’m super excited for this. If there’s a company that could make this work at this point, it is Amazon. The more I think of the possibilities the more I’m psyched – but it’s also very possible that it’s still too early for something like this to hit the scenes and the tech just can’t support it yet. Or maybe the DRM kills it. Sigh. I wish Amazon was taking a more DRM free route to this – even if they only sold DRM-laden books if they also supported an open format so anyone could get their books on the device. Look at how Apple took a non-industry and made it into a powerhouse. Books and magazines (and comics, as Ben points out in the comments) are just waiting for this to happen – but it needs the content and the easiest way to get that content is to let everyone do it themselves. Apple still makes a boatload and owns the industry even though anyone can make their own MP3’s. C’mon!

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