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Fiction by Paolo Bacigalupi

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Posted on Nov 19, 2007 in Blog, Writing | 7 comments

Amazon Kindle

I just watched the promo video stuff for Amazon’s Kindle, and I was struck by a couple of things. Kindle is obviously aimed at becoming something like the iPod of the reading experience, so it seems fair to compare the two. Quick reactions:

1) I’m really interested in Amazon’s model of connecting the Kindle to Amazon’s store over a cell network, without a computer intermediary. It seems like an generational leap from the iTunes store, and it appeals to me. Kindle is a book and a store, in one device, which means it removes some barriers to buying. If I’ve been thinking about picking up Jeff Vandermeer’s latest, but was never really getting around to it, then the next time I’m bored and sitting around waiting for my car to get its oil changed, something like Kindle would certainly help me grab some new reading material. That’s pretty appealing, really. And the ubiquity of the networks that they’ve chosen means that impulse buying for books could be around the corner. iPods should do this, it would be great to be able to grab a song whenever you ran across it, thought of it, or heard it.

2) Sticker shock. $399 is painful. I want Kindle to play mp3′s (correx- according to enGadget it does) and do my laundry for $399. And $9.99 for a book seems steep, too ($5.59 for Naomi Novik’s new paperback Tremeraire novel which has a cover price of $7.99) . The reality is that there are other digital products out there in the world, and for better or worse, the expected price points for digital media have already been set by things like iTunes, so when I spend 99 cents for a song, I’m thinking a digital book, with no covers, no manufacturing cost, and no distribution cost, is probably a lot happier selling for something like 3.99. That gets you into the almost impulse buy range. iTunes was genius because they priced themselves in the “what the heck, I’ll give a try” range.

3) Design = Clunky. Again, Apple sets expectations. iPods are fun to have, fondle, show, touch, rub, etc. They are lifestyle devices, and people use them not just as tools, but also as badges of their hipness and identity. The Kindle looks… serviceable. Even M$FT’s Zune looks more fun to hold. And returning to the $399 price, if you’re going to ask people to pony up the cash, it makes sense to make the device attractive enough that they can feel excited about owning it. People have been building irrational relationships with Apple for years; even though its devices are often more expensive, the experience of the object itself is so pleasurable that it overrides price considerations. Amazon should take a page from Apple on that front and hire some top-notch designers to turn Kindle into not just a reader but a fetish object.

Now I just want to hear if anyone actually ponies up for the thing and what they think of it in the flesh.

7 Comments

  1. Speaking of design, from what I have read by some publishers of ebooks only, they do still have covers – well, artwork to look at that functions the same way, so still an important factor.

    Is it $10 for mass market paperback type books, or for the annoyingly overpriced trade paperback type publications, speaking of expensive?

    Baen does $4-$6 for the former, more expensive when newer I think, so you are right on the $3.99 thing I think.

  2. On ubiquity – the Sprint things looks like another example of a US only product.

  3. Ian, if you download the .pdb as well and use DocReader might come out more nicely than your standard pdf text extract?

  4. Does DocReader run on standard Java MIDP phones? Being from a third-world country, it’s incredibly important to me that I don’t have to pay for more hardware to read the magazine I already shelled out hard-earned low-exchange-rate Malaysian Ringgit converted to US$ for!

    That’s why I worked with a student to make this free Java midlet program that will run on any standard modern cell phone.

  5. P.S. This text file reader was last year’s project. This year’s project is to enhance it to be able to deal with PDF files directly without having to first extract the text — and also to be able to display the pictures.

  6. I’ve had a fascination with these reading devices not out of any dislike for regular books — I agree that they have an immortal aesthetic ultimately — but because of how appallingly wasteful the whole publishing industry is in terms of natural resources. The shipping of the books, the destruction of the unpurchased books (stripping), the shipping back of hardbacks — all of it. It seriously gives me the heebie jeebies. So I’ve been interested in the Sony Reader for some time, and, comparing the two, I do think that the Kindle is a substantial improvement over the former, though interestingly the first generation Sony Reader looked a LOT like the Kindle, in terms of clunkiness and size with the keyboard (which is what most people seem to be complaining about). The addition of free Sprint wifi takes this onto an entirely new level. I do think that they’re ahead of the curve in terms of the totalitarian way that cell providers currently nickel and dime you on data connection (and don’t get me started on SMS), which is significant.

    I don’t know. I feel like I should stop buying paper books (with the possible exception of small press collector editions) and be an early adopter of one of these systems. $399 is a kick in the pants, but it is the price of new technology and represents enough of a step forward that I was very tempted with the Sony Reader — and within a year of release that device came down to $140 with a $100 download credit on Sony Classics. I would predict something similar happening with the Kindle within a year or two, which is the only thing holding me back right now. That, and for the same price you can buy two OLPC laptops, one for an African kid and one for someone in the States.