Amazon claims that the “Kindle”, their new wireless reading device is revolutionary, because it “reads like real paper”, and I have to admit having kindle-envy from the moment I watched the video demonstration. Years from now, we will likely note the Kindle’s release as a landmark day in reading history, and will consistently place it near the top of those “most innovative gadgets of all time” lists.
I, however, despite my famous quote “Now that I think about it, I’m quite looking forward to interactive paper”, will not be one of the early converts to the Kindle… for one major reason: Money! Not only is the device $400, but you have to buy the books at retail price. Only suckers pay retail for books.
I get free and cheap books through several methods:
My Library! – I can search the county catalog online and have any book delivered to my local branch (for FREE), within 72 hours. Sure, I pay my fair share of late fees, but the money saved on books (especially ones that I borrow and DON’T like) makes it worthwhile.
Book Swapping Sites – I use PaperbackSwap, though there are a number of them out there. What I like about PBS is that there is no fee for a transaction (users pay their own shipping), and that I can gain credits by simply sending out books to any user — there is no need to find a user who wants the exact book that I have and has the exact book that I want.
Half.com/Amazon Marketplace/eBay – Unless you are looking for a niche product or something that has *just* been released, it can usually be had for less than half price on one of these sites.
So, unless there is some social reason why you need to read a book the week it comes out (i.e. Harry Potter), or it is a rare, non-mainstream title, there really is no reason to pay retail for a book.
Which brings me to the Kindle. If I pay $400 for one of these bad boys, will I also have to shell out more for everything I read? When I am done with a book, will I be able to resell the “used” version via Amazon marketplace? Will I be able to import free eBooks from other sites on the web like Project Gutenberg? Will I be able to trade Kindle “books” with other Kindle users?
One might argue that the Kindle price of books is far lower than hardcover new releases, so people who do buy a lot of those might benefit from Kindle. Sure, that is true, but at $5 savings per book (using Amazon prices), you will need to buy 80 books to break even, and this isn’t counting your ability to resell, trade and share real books that you purchase.
I realize this is just one way to look at the Kindle. There are many advantages. Firstly, the Kindle is really cool. Books aren’t. That’s worth something, right? It is also smaller and more convenient than many books. It has additional uses like the ability to preview books, get news and blog feeds, use wikipedia, etc. Features like word lookup, page and quote annotations, etc, may end up making the Kindle experience “better” than reading a book.
I’ll admit it: I want one! My only point is that they will need to address the social sharing and reuse values that regular books bring to the table if they ever want to replace them. (Or, just stop selling books. ;o)