On the Amazon kindle and ebooks in general

20Nov07

First, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, read this: Amazon.com: Kindle: Amazon’s New Wireless Reading Device: Kindle Store. Kindle is basically Amazon’s new lightweight ebook reader. It looks like its built on pretty solid technology, and it has cool features — wirelessly download books inexpensively, read blogs, play music, etc.

The internetarati are up in arms already, especially the anti-DRM crowd, with whom I sympathize. Mark Pilgrim compares it to devices in 1984, John Gruber defends the iPod as a an acceptable form of lock-in but decries the Kindle as too risky. They’re both right, but they’re probably over reacting.

True, you can’t share books. True, you can’t back your books up. True, you can’t import books from other sources. And True, if Amazon cancels the Kindle, you’re screwed.

I don’t know if this means that it won’t become the “iPod for books,” but I also don’t know if their is even a demand for such a device. And nobody’s making the argument that I want to hear: reading on an electronic devices sucks. It’s hard on the eyes, you can’t fold your Kindle or laptop or what have you in half, you can’t dog ear the pages, etc.

Although, as Pilgrim points out, at the very least, its nice to be able to search through books. Actually, I think he’s dead on here. In fact, I have physical and PDF versions of most of my favorite textbooks (and yes, the PDF files are ill-gotten), and it’s a system that I really like. A hard-copy book that I can use for serious studying, and a PDF file that I can search through when I need to find something quickly, print a few pages from when I don’t want to lug around the whole book, etc. In fact, the usefulness of this hybrid approach is a good argument for Gruber’s idea: let us buy the book and give us the Kindle copy. It would also be nice if the books were in a protected version of some other format — e.g. password protected PDF.

But that’s just wishful thinking. People will probably buy this thing and use it. It may grow popular, but who knows. I wouldn’t want to own any important books in the Kindle format. But, then again, companies are starting to realize that, at the very least, there is a small but very vociferous market segment that will pay for files that are unencumbered by DRM. And that’s an opportunity for competition.

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