Amazon's Kindle - finally the eBook revolution?

Current Reading  MaterialsAmazon released their digital book reader today, Kindle. It's an ebook reader built using the same eInk technology found in Sony's eReader - and also sports SD memory slot, EV-DO data access, and a keyboard.

I, like many others, have wanted the ubiquitousness of digital books in the same way that the iPod 'revolutionized' the music industry and made it easy and common to carry your entire audio collection in your pocket. Digital books aren't new, I've read entire series of books on my old iPaq using Microsoft's Digital Library and really enjoyed the experience.

It seems rather humorous that Amazon named a "book replacement" after something you burn. Are they implying a Fahrenheit 451 future? To its credit, Amazon used Neal Stephenson's "Diamond Age" in the initial screenshots of Kindle - implying a utopic vision of digital literature access.

Another funny comment was the beginning of Amazon press release:

"Why are books the last bastion of analog?" Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos asked an audience at New York's W Hotel in Union Square as he unveiled Amazon Kindle, the online-retail giant's new electronic book reader.

Probably because so far, book publishers have felt justified charging full, hardback pricing for what is an entirely ephemeral medium. Why should anyone want to pay $20 for a digital book? Apple was one of the first to identify, and more importantly strong-arm the labels, into the pricing sweet-point of $0.99 for a song. Cheap enough for consumers to find it a better value than scouring music sharing applications and services.

Books are priced at $9.99, still more expensive than a mass-market book, but perhaps an expected pricing, commensurate with the price of an audio Album. Newspapers are about $9.99 / month, and magazines a reasonable $1.99 / month. However the licensing isn't clear (can I resell my digital books when I've finished them?) iTunes tracks aren't, so I would assume books aren't either.

The demo video says Kindle has access to "hundreds of blogs". Aren't there actually millions of blogs? Assumedly they are only providing access to a select number of blogs with quality content. Also surprising is that you have to pay a monthly fee of approximately $1.99 each (some more, some less) to access these blogs. Are they sharing that revenue back to the blog owners?

It does have built-in access to Wikipedia. But will I be able to add access to my own portals, perhaps via an API? You can send PRC, Mobi, Word or Text documents, but what about PDF's? Also, there is a small fee, 10¢, for "converting" these documents.

A couple of really additional good looking things about the Kindle. The screen refresh looks quicker than the first generation Sony eReader. The wireless EV-DO access if free, assumedly covered as a percentage of your purchases, but you don't have to directly pay for it.

Overall, Amazon's Kindle does look rather compelling. Wireless access is especially powerful for accessing online information and easily downloading information from wherever you are. Perhaps a death-toll to Airport book stores? The price of books is probably reasonable and cheaper than the physical version.

Surprisingly, Amazon didn't play up the environmental benefits of buying digital books instead of large amounts of paper and glossy magazines or newspapers. This could have a huge impact on consumer paper usage and waste and should probably get some more attention. Of course, it does mean "yet another device" to add to your bag.

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About the Author

Andrew Turner is an advocate of open standards and open data. He is actively involved in many organizations developing and supporting open standards, including OpenStreetMap, Open Geospatial Consortium, Open Web Foundation, OSGeo, and the World Wide Web Consortium. He co-founded CrisisCommons, a community of volunteers that, in coordination with government agencies and disaster response groups, build technology tools to help people in need during and after a crisis such as an earthquake, tsunami, tornado, hurricane, flood, or wildfire.