Space Ramblings

The Kindle Problem: Making Books and Magazines Go Digital

I think most reasonable people agree that the 400 dollar Kindle is a disaster. A good deal of the problem came from Amazon’s attempt to model the iPod as a sales program. But where the iPod was an easy and convenient and affordable device that made music listening possible and that used the sales of music as a loss leader, the Kindle is an expensive device that only makes reading books and magazines possible. It might have some specialized value in academia and for people who need to spend a lot of time reading on the go, but don’t want to lug tons of books around. And at 400 bucks a pop, it’s a limited market at best.

Kindle is supposed to help boost magazine subscriptions by giving the dying print magazine a way to perpetuate itself through electronic subscriptions without having to give away content free on the web, but let’s face reality, electronic magazines are mostly color and snazzy graphics and photos these days, none of which the Kindle can really handle. And few magazines like Newsweek are worth reading in plain text. Stripped naked in plain text, they stand revealed as vain and shallow. And while Kindle might help the dubious eBook market move forward, because let’s face reality, reading eBooks online is almost as much fun as staring at a flickering wall for 4 hours, the device itself is too problematic for that.

Amazon’s mistake was building a device to sell content in the first place, reversing Apple’s model of using content to sell a device. The problem of the Kindle is that no one really has a use for it. If Amazon is really dedicated to moving content, i.e. books and magazines sold electronically, it would have been better off working with existing companies to develop products and create partnerships, effectively transforming itself into a meta-iTunes. And if it had decided to build a device, that device needed to do a lot more than just display the fine print.

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