Kindle: They Didn’t Start The Fire

September 10th, 2007 · 14 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

Yeah, well, you try to resist a bad pun first thing in the morning. So Amazon, as threatened, has released its e-reader, the Kindle (the naming of products remains one of those mysteries that will never be solved). It uses e-ink, has wireless connectivity, generous battery life, and kills germs.

Why am I not excited? Let us count the ways.

Okay, let’s start with a quote:

“This is not your grandfather’s e-book,” said one publishing executive who did not want to be named because Amazon makes its partners sign nondisclosure agreements. “If these guys can’t make it work, I see no hope.”

No, dude, if these guys can’t make it work, it’s because they simply don’t get it. Around the BS/ML Headquarters, we call this “focusing on the wrong problem”. It’s not that the readers don’t want to read electronic text, it’s just that, well, readers are people too. You need to think of the human. If the purpose is to sell books — and I believe it is — then an e-reading device should focus on ease-of-use, accessibility, portability, and style. Not necessarily in that order.

Side note: The fact that Amazon’s NDA prohibits its “partners” from talking up the product — and using their real names to give it that little extra bit of authenticity — then the product is simply not ready for prime time. Presumably this executive has seen, touched, and read the Kindle. Give us real feedback.

While I like to think that the prototype of the Kindle I’ve seen is just someone’s idea of a clever joke, I suspect that nobody is that funny (sample is here). I sincerely hope that is not the real thing — the image shown has been floating around the web for a while. It’s ugly. The one lesson I believe that we can all take away from the Apple product line is that looks matter. This thing looks like Tandy’s bad dream. Please let it be a joke.

Last week, we learned that the new Apple “i” products were born wireless enabled. Personally, I believe this is the start of a wireless sea change. The Kindle is wireless enabled, too. While the wireless capacity is indeed welcome, let us be clear. EVDO, the wireless used by the Kindle, is not wifi — the sort used by your home network and friendly neighborhood coffee shop — it’s a different type of wireless.

It is true that EVDO is 3G wireless. That’s a good thing. Now go ahead, ask yourself why, oh, the iPhone isn’t EVDO. I’ll wait. Okay, done. Lots to do today. EVDO is (currently) only available from Verizon and Sprint. iPhone users, locked into the ATT network, don’t get this cutting edge technology via their service provider. This means, for those paying attention, that you don’t get it either…unless you’re on one of the networks currently providing said technology.

That being said, if you have it, EVDO works anywhere your cell phone does. Amazon would better serve its customers by making both EVDO and wifi inherent.

I’m going to be a heretic here. I’m not even sure that wireless is a desirable feature. I mean, it’s not like this device can do anything more than download books, maybe do some rudimentary web browsing, same as my cell phone. Am I really thinking that it’s worth the money to download on the fly? Nope.

Oh yeah, don’t forget the proprietary format. A quick tour of the BS archives will reveal a theme: proprietary is the kiss of death. I’ve noted once or twice that the publishing industry is going out of its way to repeat the mistakes of the music industry. One major mistake was to create confusing, competing, exclusive, non-standard formats. So, on one hand, we have an industry desperately trying to set its own standards (because, sigh, they refuse to let go of the DRM mentality). It’s slow-going but progress is happening.

And on the other side, we have Amazon locking its new device into the Mobipocket standard (Amazon owning Mobipocket). You will recall that the Sony device had the same problem. You can see the difficulty for families that purchase different hardware types. You can also see the problems for consumers who want to use their e-reader not only for books they already own, but for books they might purchase in the future.

Standards, my darlings, should not change from vendor to vendor. From device to device. From device to device. Why is it so hard to understand that making things easy on consumers is a good thing? Can you imagine if the entire world starting creating web pages with different versions of HTML? Oh yes you can. It was a mess then, and it’s a mess now.

I think enough studies and polls have been done to guarantee one truth. Women buy more books than men. Women readBS day-in-day-out bag is, conservatively, capacious. It has to be. My biggest fear (other than being devoured by a great white shark) is that I will be stuck on the freeway due to an earthquake. My purse isn’t just a place to keep my wallet; it’s a survival kit.

Cell phone, novel, Moleskine in cute leather cover with a wrap-around cord, digital voice recorder, extra holder for all those cards I don’t need (except Costco) but don’t fit in my wallet mostly because I mistakenly believe I have a streamlined wallet, random spare change, specific spare change, minty lip balm (plus backup), iPod headphones (iPod being kept in a separate bag, sort of like how the President and Vice-President don’t fly on the same plane), weird little bag-like things (some of which I think have been transferred from bag to bag for over two decades), index cards, space pen (never leave home without it!), bottles of water, mints from various restaurants, business card holder, pens stolen from hotels, stuff the husband can’t carry because he refuses to accept the practicality of the man purse, the kitchen sink.

That’s just the visible layer.

The Kindle, is depicted today, cannot and will not fit into my current bag. A change of clothes could fit, sure, provided I don’t plan to switch shoes, but that simply will not fit. It might fit in my laptop bag (or, as I like to think of it, the overflow purse), but here’s the deal: the laptop bag does not run errands with me. It transports my laptop from destination to destination. I don’t take my laptop bag to the beach.

And if the target market is men, save us from focus groups. How, pray tell, are men supposed to transport this wondrous device? Let us not be confused. The Kindle will not fit in the pockets of standard cargo shorts. Like cell phones, iPods, wallets (sigh), and even tourist guides, the Kindle will be, yes, handed off to the wife to fit into her purse.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Now, I don’t believe that the world is clamoring for a dedicated e-reading device, especially one in the $400 – $500 price range. Sure, people paid that for an iPhone, but the iPhone was multi-functional (and, let’s face it, cool). The public wants a device that does it all and more. This reader doesn’t seem particularly geared toward doing it all, much less more. Has nobody out there heard of the move toward simplicity?

I think the world is clamoring for a device that does so much more, so much better, and so much cheaper than what we have now. If I had to go with an e-reader at this point in my life, I’d go iLiad or Sony Reader, clunky and overpriced as they are. The Kindle doesn’t move the ball forward all that much. Think about the consumer, not the fantasy.

I do believe that an e-reader is a great thing and has the potential to fulfill many serious market needs. Some examples:

  • College, high school, junior high, middle school, and elementary students who are forced to carry extremely heavy tomes, sometimes because the powers-that-be have such a bizarre fear of drugs that lockers are considered the root of all evil. Destroying spinal columns is a small cost to pay to keep our youth drug free. Putting textbooks on e-readers will lower costs and save backs. Both, I believe, things we can support.

    If the companies targeting the e-reader market were to, oh, I dunno, sit down and think, they’d quickly realize that the perfect market is education. Oh sure, you’d get a hue and cry from the outrageously profitable textbook lobby, but think about it: schools need to cut costs, what with taxpayers wanting to pay lower taxes. You can get the healthcare lobby on board (the spine is a terrible thing to waste). Next time they demote a major celestial body (ah, Pluto, you’ll always be a planet to me), the cost of updating the district’s texts will be far less (if handled smartly).

    I will not get into the hardware protection issue associated with handing over these devices to kids. Have you priced textbooks lately>?

  • Vacationers. Should be ’nuff said, but it’s never ’nuff said. Did you know that all those extra books you take on vacation add weight to your luggage? Yeah, well, it’s true, and sometimes you have to pay extra if you exceed the weight limitations that people who travel with a lot of books (like me) believe are completely arbitrary. Like one measly little novel will cause the plane to fall out of the sky.

    If one could merely load up the collected works of English-writing authors on an e-reader, the fear of Being Stuck Without A Book will forever disappear. Sure, it will put a lot of mental health professionals out of business, but I can only focus on one problem at a time.

    This gets back to the portability issue. With the chances of losing luggage far greater than ever before, more people are cramming things into their carry-on items. Remember, you are only allowed two personal items (sounds kind of dirty when you put it that way). Remember, many travelers are filled to the brim with personal items already. An effective e-reader needs to fit comfortably into the carry-on…with all the other stuff.

  • Traveling salesmen. I cannot imagine that these have been replaced by the Internet. If I’m right, they need to read.
  • Busy mothers. Today’s mother is overworked and understaffed. In addition to jobs, they must also engage in all kinds of crazy extracurricular activities unknown a generation ago. Soccer practice, chauffeuring, piano, French horn, ballet, acting lessons, you name it. An e-reader with a long-lived battery and great resolution will allow today’s busy mother to read whenever and wherever the mood strikes.

    Except while chauffeuring. While being chauffeured, yes.

    I know women who download and read books on their, wait for it, PalmPilots. They choose this device because, while not optimal, it meets specific needs. See above (portability, flexibility). Man, publishing industry, are you really not getting the message here? Customers want to read, hack together okay but not great device, and make do with squinting and tiny-esque text.

    Now ask yourself, what sort of user-friendly features does the PalmPilot have? Also ask yourself, what sort of format are the books being sold in the current small-but-robust ebook market? Remember, this market is happening despite the major publishers, not because of them.

[tags]e-ink, e ink, amazon, kindle, electronic publishing, ebooks, e-books, sony, ereader, iliad, publishing[/tags]

File Under: The Future of Publishing

14 responses so far ↓

  • Gigi Reynard // Sep 10, 2007 at 10:24 am

    Great post — I am also less than excited.

    Even if the e-ink device has wonderful resolution which means you can ready anywhere, even in bright sunlight, it will never be worth the 400-900 price point that manufacturers are charging right now.

    Even if the price point comes down there is still the problem of the screen. It is SO fragile it makes it impractical to carry around.

    Unless someone can come up with a simple, sturdy device that is the same size as a very THIN paperback at around $100 price point, a dedicate reader seems to be a really bad idea.

    Gigi Reynard
    eBooks About Everything
    Think it! Click It! Read It!

  • Clive Warner // Sep 10, 2007 at 12:18 pm

    Ah yes … what I want to know is, does it burst into flames at 451 deg. F., or merely melt like the calculator I left in the back seat of my car last week? Calling it the “kindle” is tempting fate … one is mindful of the recent Playstation 3’s attempts at spontaneous combustion.

  • Don Linn // Sep 10, 2007 at 12:58 pm

    I had a Coleco game console that looked just like that in 1978.

  • David Thayer // Sep 10, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    This is the most exciting product since the pocket protector ( the enhanced model with extra laminated stuff.) I, too, wonder how to carry such a device and wonder if I would be able to wonder “where is my kindle?”
    “Who stole my kindle?”
    “Officer, someone has my kindle.”

  • Eoin Purcell // Sep 10, 2007 at 1:56 pm

    Kassia,

    What a nice survey of just how doomed this product is!
    I almost feel sorry for Amazon, but they arr bringing it on themselves.

    Eoin

  • The Future, As I See It | Medialoper // Sep 11, 2007 at 7:24 am

    […] line — partially because it sets the new gold standard for all new portable media devices (take note, Amazon) — is video content. Okay, text-based and audio as well, but I believe online video […]

  • Kirk // Sep 11, 2007 at 9:07 am

    I think the Kindle may actually be larger than a Prism DuroSport. I didn’t think that was possible.

  • Susan Gable // Sep 11, 2007 at 9:37 am

    #1 – Yes, it’s UGLY. As in, no one will buy it simply because it is hideous!

    #2 – Purse as survival kit. I feel the same way. I need STUFF. Because one never knows what might happen.

    #3 – Palms and devices that do it all. Again, you are RIGHT! (is your head swelling yet?) I want one thing that does it all. My Treo does a heck of a lot, and I don’t even have email and internet. (When I win the lottery, I’m getting that stuff turned on! lol.) The screen is SMALL for reading, but still, in a pinch, there’s a book right there. I can put more books in there. I can add memory so I can have MORE books in there. Plus it’s a phone, and it can even do music.

    Yes, yes, one device that does it all! Someone please invent it. Let the phone work on any and all phone systems and stop with the make-a-deal-with-this-guy-and-exclude-that-guy. What are we, still stuck in the Beta vs. VHS thing? (Oh, wait, we are. sigh. How would you like your HDTV dvds?) Make all books available on it, not an exclusive format. Wake up and smell the Starbucks, people!

    Too bad enough of those people don’t read your blog, Kas. Really, it should be required reading. They might actually learn a thing or two.

    And Kindle?? WTF? Do we BURN the thing, or what?

  • Steven Bissell // Mar 17, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    No comments since September when Kindle was introduced? Is that because none of these predictions turn out to be close? Just a thought.

  • Kassia Krozser // Mar 17, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    I’m guessing that there aren’t comments here because there are comments on other posts (all over the Internet, though I’m sure I could find something I’ve written of more recent vintage if I searched).

    Jeff Bezos (personally!) assured me that the Kindle shipments are accelerating (meaning a shorter lag in backorders), but for the reasons I’ve personally stated, it’s still not the device more me. I am bothered by the fact that the books I purchase are tied to a single device. That’s actually less flexibility than your average paperback novel. I still find the machine to be too big for my purse (and I carry a large purse!) and, well, it’s still pretty !@#$ ugly.

    Would I love to own one? Absolutely. I also own a Rocket eBook (which, given the decline of the serial port, is not really usable). But is the device I need, desire? Absolutely not. I doesn’t offer the multi-functional flexibility that I’m really seeking.

    While I might invest in a Kindle — I read a lot and carry far too many books on vacation — I am also holding out hope for a really cool e-reader for my iPhone. I don’t need more stuff in my life…I need more efficient devices.

  • Steven Bissell // Mar 23, 2008 at 10:38 am

    I have read 3-4 books a week since I was 12 and I am now almost 65. I travel about 8 or 9 months of the year, mostly in Central and South America. Except for Argentina, bookstores with a wide selection of English Language books are rare or non-existent. I have often had to go on a 2 or 3 month trip with as many as 25 or 30 paper back books in my luggage. I now do that with my Kindle.

    If I want to buy a book outside the WhisperNet coverage I can do so via the Internet, download to my laptop, then to the Kindle via a USB cable; no problem at all.

    I don’t know how big your purse is, but my Kindle fits into my shoulder bag along with a bunch of other stuff.

    You say you don’t want more stuff, then you say that having the Kindle books tied to one device is a drawback. Isn’t that contradictory? I have a small PDA, an iPod with a portable speaker/player, and my Kindle. I can travel for months outside the USA with my music, my books,

    As to appearance? Why would that matter? Do you buy books based on how they look? The comment makes no sense. I’ve tried readers the size of an iPhone and they are lousy.

    I fail to understand the dislike some people are expressing about a device they have never used. If you buy one and don’t like it, then you have a right to complain. But complaining about the concept? Seems strange to me; but that’s why they call it horse racing I suppose.

    Steven

  • Kassia Krozser // Mar 23, 2008 at 11:36 am

    Let’s start at the beginning (usually I start in the middle (g):

    1. I agree that the Kindle is a great leap forward for travelers and voracious readers. I’ve been an ebook advocate for well over a decade. There is so much potential in this market. As one who has had to deal with overweight luggage due to the fact that I have to travel with books to spare (you never know what’s going to happen and if you’re caught without reading material…).

    2. Why not built-in wifi? I worry that the arrangement with the EVDO providers will evaporate. Things happen. Wireless, at the very least, offers a backup solution. Cables might seem like an easy thing if you can’t connect to the network any other way, but why not wireless? To me, that makes no sense at all. It’s like they stopped short of the finish line.

    3. My purse is huge — and I carry a lot of stuff in it (including, sigh, my husband’s things when he runs out of pocket space). I also carry a full laptop bag. Adding one more device, something I have to manage in addition to my phone and my laptop and everything else, really doesn’t help me. My goal is to carry less; this is why I am more excited about the prospect of a ereader on the iPhone. Phone, music, reading — one device. One device with wireless access.

    4. Appearance matters. Sorry, it does. It really does. Yes, I buy books based on the cover — and have found some great ones (and have found some great books despite covers that turn me off). Aesthetics really do influence people, and I’m not ashamed that I am one of them. In fact, the iPhone wasn’t so much a revolutionary device as it is good looking, highly function, and, yes, readable (I read all the time on mine). All of these things combine to make a very attractive package.

    5. Please note that this article was written *months* before the Kindle was released and my feelings haven’t changed. It’s a great device and a major leap forward in ereader technology as far as consumer awareness is concerned. But it’s not *that* revolutionary. To my mind, the best thing it has going for it is the tight integration with the Amazon store.

    Of course, that is also the biggest drawback. Kindle books are tied to the Kindle reader. I skipped over this point earlier, but, not a contradiction at all. I want to be able to access books that I have legally purchased (and I always buy my books) in the manner that best suits my needs based on time and place. For example, right now I am working on my laptop — if I want to read an ebook, does it really make sense to go fetch another device and then juggle the two? I’m multi-tasking right now, and the thought of multi-tasking multiple devices while stretched out on the couch doesn’t appeal. Why can’t I buy the book and read it on my laptop OR the Kindle OR my phone? I’m the customer, and, frankly, the biggest competition ebooks have is not the technology hurdle, it’s consumer perception that an electronic book is less usable than a paper book.

    Think about it — proprietary formats and DRM that assumes all people are pirates (not a great business model, by the way; this is why the music industry is in such dire straits — they fought consumers to the point where people who were happy to pay for products turned into pirates because the industry wouldn’t face reality) actually turn customers off from a product. The harder you (not you personally) make reading, the less likely people are to enjoy books.

  • Chris Janssens // Apr 17, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    Kassia, I have to come back to this very negative and defensive post because, well frankly most of it is unfounded. Do you even own one?

    by the way, you say at the beginning that it is a “great leap forward” and near the end you say it is “not that revolutionary” I can follow your rage increase all the way down the article.

    Well anyways, me and Mr. Bissnell own one each and all I have to say is I agree entirely, everyone that can afford one, should buy one.

  • Kassia Krozser // Apr 17, 2008 at 9:15 pm

    Chris — You are certainly entitled to your opinion, but I’m not sure (still) where I am wrong. I don’t feel defensive, I feel like the Kindle, while a device I’d be happy to own, doesn’t really offer me much more than my Rocket eBook did. Except maybe more advanced technology by using eInk and some limited Internet connectivity (that’s the great leap forward) . However, a dedicated reading device simply isn’t that revolutionary — the road to ebook dominance is littered with them, and the Sony eReader is gaining market share as I type.

    Love your device and be happy that you’re one of the lucky ones to have one; demand apparently exceeds supply. I hope you read more than ever with it. Me? I don’t want to have my books tied to a single vendor, single device. I don’t really need a device that does only one thing.

    And please, it’s not rage. I’m very supportive of the technology. But I’ve also been there, done that, and believe that an electronic reader isn’t a “must have” for the modern consumer; thus, the Kindle and other devices have to offer more than the paper books they’re replacing.