John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Sounds More Like 'the Zune of Reading' to Me

ob-au271_kindle_20071119100117.jpgIf Jeff Bezos truly hopes to create “the iPod of reading,” observers say he’s going to have to do a hell of a lot better than Amazon’s new Kindle e-book reader. Because though Kindle, with its paperback-sized form factor and an electronic display that reportedly looks and reads like real paper, might project an aura of bookishness, it doesn’t project much of a value proposition.

Amazon has priced Kindle at $399. It’s offering digitally rendered books for download over the device’s wireless Whispernet service for an average price of $9.99 a book. And it’s peddling subscriptions to newspapers like the New York Times for up to $14.99 per month and blogs such as the Onion at 99 cents per month. This, despite the presumably vast disparity between the manufacturing costs of dead-tree publications and digital ones. Apparently to Amazon, economies of digital distribution don’t translate into lower prices for the consumer, but greater revenues for the company.

“This is the most important thing we’ve ever done,” Bezos told Newsweek. “It’s so ambitious to take something as highly evolved as the book and improve on it. And maybe even change the way people read.” Change the way people read? Seems doubtful–at this point at least. Especially when Apple could easily develop an e-book reader for the iPhone or the multitouch tablet it’s allegedly prepping for market, launch it in concert with an iTunes bookstore or a partnership with Google Book Search and, ba-da-bing, turn the Kindle into the Zune of e-book readers.

“Google’s Book Search project has already pumped much of the world’s printed matter into Google’s servers,” writes Forbes’ Brian Caulfield. “Downloads of classic titles, such as ‘Bleak House,’ can already be had for free. Mix Apple’s iTunes content distribution smarts with Google’s vast storehouse of content, and you’ll have an instant competitor to Kindle–one with a touch interface and the ability to play movies and music, too.”

Course, if the primary market Amazon’s gunning for here doesn’t quite pan out, there may be another worth targeting: the textbook market. Says Good Morning Silicon Valley’s John Murrell: “No more crushing backpack-load of tomes, no frustrating trips to the bookstore trying to find what you need in stock, and, for the publishers, no need to hold off updating until there’s enough to make a new edition. If the textbook industry could get together on an open standard format, if schools and/or the industry subsidized the hardware, if the electronic bookstore would allow for sale or rental, if the device allowed for things like automatic handling of citations and bibliography … well, that’s a lot of ifs, but I think there’s something there.”

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work