Kindle 2

So Amazon has released the new Kindle. A brand new opportunity for you/me, the cash-strapped consumer, to spend a lot of money, and then spend a lot more.

Let me say here that I am a huge fan of Amazon. I buy so much stuff per annum from Amazon that I signed up for Amazon Prime. And the kinds of stuff I buy from Amazon run the gamut from tools to electronics to clothing to jewelry to books to fragrances, and more.

So why am I not impressed with the Kindle? Part of it has to do with the whole concept of electronic books, and for more on that you can see my previous post on the matter. But a lot of it has to do with cost. $9.99 for an electronic book is just way too much, it seems to me, if you first have to pay $359.00 just to buy the reader. And part of it, too, is a lack of functionality. But wait, you say, it can do so very many things, even read to you. Well, I have a problem with that, too. (See Roy Blount’s Op Ed in the Times; his reasoning is way better than mine.)

Here among other things are some things you can’t do with a Kindle:

  • Press flowers
  • Use as a coaster (you could but what a waste of money)
  • Whap or throw at bugs (again, you could, but that would make a very expensive flyswatter)
  • Tear out a page to dispose of your gum
  • Prop up a wobbly chair or table
  • Show off your erudition with stately shelves packed with fascinating tomes
  • Hold it over your head in the rain (again, you could, but there goes your Kindle)

That silliness aside, it seems to me that with the current business model, and the current product, it will be hard for this thing to be more than a niche product. The thing it does is huge, and having played with the first edition, it seems to do it very well. And I think they’ve done some very cool things. But here’s the but. It only does one thing. Which I’ve already said. Compare that to my iPhone, which does way more. And I spend a whole lot more time using my iPhone for other things than phoning. Matter of fact, my son, who loves to play with it, recently asked me, But where’s the phone part, dad? And so I’m if not explicitly then implicitly comparing the Kindle to the iPhone.

And that’s just as well, because there have been lots of comparisons to the iPod, as in, the Kindle will be the iPod of books. The Kindle Store will be the book equivalent to Apple’s iTunes Music Store.

I think not.

The thing to me that it seems that most people are missing here is that Apple started their music store to sell iPods, not music. Amazon was already selling books, and now it’s selling electronic books and electronic book reader.

It seems to me, however, and I’m admittedly no economist, that until they change their business model, they’re never going to have the kind of market penetration that the iPod does. Unless of course they only intend to sell to moneyed professionals and publishing industry types.

So what is the proper business model? Well, if I could spend that $359.00 and also get “free” downloads of 35 books, I might just go for it. Or if I could get it for $100.00, I’d probably do that, too. But it also seems to me that if someone—Apple? Google? Amazon?—comes up with a truly useful netbook, which in my mind would pretty much look like a larger form factor iPhone, doing all the things that an iPhone does, but larger, with maybe an option for an external keyboard, then the Kindle is history.


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About Steve, i.e., him

Stephen Stark is an award-winning novelist and bestselling ghostwriter. His fiction and nonfiction has appeared in numerous publications, including The New Yorker, the Washington Post, and the New York Times, Poets & Writers and in many other journals. He has been a fellow and taught at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, and won an NEA Literature Fellowship in fiction. His novel, Second Son, was a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 1992, and a New and Noteworthy Paperback of 1994.

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