Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Why I Like Amazon's Kindle

Heres a very different take on what I wrote about last time.


I've had a Kindle since June. Critics complain that it's not "Apple-like" enough. But Steve Jobs has famously said that readers don't want ebooks in the first place, so I suppose if the Kindle were truly Apple-like it would never have got off the drawing board (where Steve's hockey-puck mouse should have stayed; Apple's design sense is not unerring, you know).

The Kindle is the closest thing so far to the Holy Grail of e-publishing: a device that is portable, readable, simple to operate, and melts into the background. It's what you do with the Kindle that is important, and not the Kindle itself. At some point, you don't notice the Kindle, but you realize you can't live or work without it.

Well, I'm not there yet. But I'm liking my Kindle more and more. And it's not because the Kindle is a superior reading device. I like instead how easy it is to buy a book, no matter where you are. Two months ago we were driving through rural Oregon, listening to some political talk show. A book was mentioned. I turned on Kindle's wireless and was able to find and download a sample chapter of that book within 2 minutes. We were traveling 80 mph and probably a good 50 miles from the nearest bookstore. That Bezos et al. were able to graft the 1-click experience of instant gratification onto a whole new piece of hardware and get it right on the very first try is simply amazing.

Something else I like: I have to read a lot of manuscripts. They're heavy, and expensive to print out. I used to carry them in a bag on overnight or longer trips, and they always made me wonder why I didn't become a styrofoam cup salesman. With Kindle, I can send text documents to myself at my own Kindle address, and Amazon converts them back into Kindle-readable format and sends them direct to my Kindle. So I can carry dozens of mss without adding weight to my luggage.

And what's not to like about the savings in downed trees and fuel charges? As a publisher, I've seen the cost of shipping books to stores go through the roof, while at the same time consumers still resist paying more than $20 for a paperback. With a Kindle, there's no fuel, and no printing or storage charges for that matter. Skinflint readers can buy most Kindle books for less than $10.

Now that bookstores are demanding free freight from publishers, along with their unlimited returns privileges, anything we can do to go direct to readers is going to be better for us and better for our customers. Bookstores thus "disintermediated" will have to make do with selling journals, calendars, bargain books, and chai I suppose, or will have to do what they should have done years ago: accept that the publishing world is changing and that digital publishing in the form of Print on Demand and ebooks is going to be a big part of the mix in the years to come. (Why bookstores continually miss out on obvious trends is a mystery to me. I'll write more about this later.)

Kindle 2.0 no doubt will have a slicker design, less clunky navigation tools, a lower price, better response time, a workable internet browser. But for a first try, I rate it a great success. I like the world that it represents. It expands the reach and influence of publishers and writers at just the time when it is getting harder to find readers and much more costly economically and environmentally to get the content they want into their hands. Who needs hands when you've got screens?


Yes, we mourn the loss of the bound book. But I wonder if that's not just blind attachment to tradition. In 2-3 generations, who will care, and what is it exactly that will really be lost? I'd be curious to know what you all think about that.


Scott Carle said...

I have had my kindle for about 3 months now and really like it. It is easy to read on and the download ability is the killer app on it. However I have a family and friends that use my paper collection of books like a library. The kindle kills that dead. You can no longer realistically share a book you liked. my next negative is that it is increadably hard and unfriendly to browse your collection. I find that visually looking at the books on the shelves, running my finger along the spines and just the pure physical recognition of a book I have read before is a part of the experience. I think that some of this could be addressed in a better, bigger, color interface to your digital library but for now this is a downside that has started to become apparent after three months of use. You will still find my kindle in my briefcase anytime im away from the house though.

Stone Bridge Press said...

I agree. But what if you could buy a chip that fit in the memory slot of the Kindle. on the chip would be a book or books, in Kindle format. The chip would be sold with a cardboard sleeve, including cover illustration, blurbage, etc. These books could even be sold at retail. They could be created with a 1/4" spine, enough to get some lettering on so you could line them up on your shelf. Of course this creates waste and the whole retail/freight hassle. But this product would be loanable.Another solution would be to design a small applet that would go to Amazon, grab the cover and an ad copy, and then let you print out the "book cover" at home. So at least you could view your "library."

RedZeppelin said...

Great post. It's nice to see the Kindle from a publisher's perspective.

I've had my Kindle for a few months now and I love it a lot more than I thought I would.

Frankly, I think the fate of the Kindle rests a lot with publishers. You make a great point about eBooks having no shipping or material costs, which must be a tremendous savings for publishers. If the eBook format is to thrive, eventually that savings has to be passed down to readers. An eBook should never cost more than a hardcover or paperback, yet I've seen that many times on Amazon. It just doesn't make sense.

Getting more titles out there in eBook format and making an eBook option the default, not an exception, will also help.

Helen McCarthy said...

I agree that there are huge benefits in terms of handling text with the Kindle, and it makes a great adjunct to the book. But it's not an alternative for those of us in love with what I can only describe as the sensuality of the physical book.

A fantastic set of illustrations might transfer to Kindle, but not a beautiful or funny or funky binding. Kindle doesn't have the weight and solidity of a volume in your hand or on your lap, the particular way it dents the pillow as you lie in bed reading. Kindle doesn't have the smells of a book, the wonderful range of odours as subtle as any pheronomone mix, ranging from the crisp, coke-addictive sniff of a new, previously unopened book fresh out of the box to the slightly musty, faint and mysterious scent trail of a bookshop find in the cellar of a secondhand store.

I think that for me Kindle will always be the fast snack grabbed on the road or at the desk, book as need, if you will. A physical book is the feast of carefully chosen and lovingly prepared ingredients served in a beautiful setting - book as sensual experience.

I hope I can have both for a long while to come.

Scott Carle said...

I've thought about this some more since I last posted. I've been paying special attention to my purchasing habits with books vs e-books and find that I will order the physical book most of the time based on price. If I can't save at least 30 to 40% on the purchase I don't bother with the kindle edition. Unless it is a convenience factor where I want to read it now, and even there price plays a large part in the decision.

I own a business so I understand the need to make a profit with your pricing. However In watching the pricing of digital edition books I think we are seeing a trend to the same pricing as physical books. This is a major slap in the face given how the publishing world has told us that rising costs over the last decade have been attributable to rising transportation costs, material costs, labor costs from printing the books etc.. We now have digital books that have no transportation costs, no cost per copy other than the original formating cost, no extra labor costs in the printing process. What this all tells me is that someone somewhere is making more margin at the consumers cost. Charge us a fair rate but don't just gouge us because you can.

As to digital retailers such as amazon; they need to take a break in percentage also.. No one has to receive inventory or once on the shelves pack up that digital book to send it to a kindle, there is no shipping other than the sprint bill. And we would hope that the cost per book with whispernet is just a few cents per book if that.