I started writing this as a comment to a post on Greg Smith’s blog, and it got kind of long, so it became its own post here. Disclaimer: I don’t own and haven’t touched an Amazon Kindle connected ebook reader, but I want one badly, and I’m going to buy one as soon as I save up my pennies. Oh, and that’s an affiliate link, so if you want to help me get closer to buying one of my own, buy a Kindle (or some books, or anything from Amazon) after clicking that link! 😉
There have been lots of blog posts written complaining about how Amazon will nickel and dime you to death after you buy a Kindle. You have to pay for books. You have to pay for blogs. You have to pay for newspapers. One thing that people often miss is that you don’t HAVE to use the for pay subscription services. They’re a convenience, and (I agree with Greg in his post) mostly a rip off. Let’s look at those nickels and dimes more closely.
It doesn’t go widely advertised (I think they’d sell a lot more if they promoted this feature), but there’s a web browser built into the device, so you can use it to read websites or RSS feeds directly (Google Reader Mobile is PERFECT for this. I use the iPhone version dozens of times a day). You don’t have to pay to read blogs and newspapers (in fact, I’ll go so far as to say you’re rich and/or foolish if you do). You can look things up in Wikipedia (which makes the Kindle a magical physical manifestation of Wikipedia as a book). You can use it for whatever else you want to do on the web (tip: use Google’s Mobile products to pre-format web pages for the smaller screen). And all at no charge. You’d pay $20/month for unlimited (and slower) data access on an iPhone. $40/month on most PDA phones. And $60/month for a cellular modem card and unlimited data for your laptop. In that perspective, Kindle becomes a LOT more valuable.
“But,” they say, “you have to pay for books.” Of course you do. Unless you use the library exclusively, or know of some magical goose that lays books, you’re already paying for books. At least on the Kindle, they’re cheap. About $10 for a bestseller. Older or public domain books are cheaper – only a buck or two (see below for how to read public domain books, or any other text you already have for free on the Kindle). Amazon has said that they’ll keep Kindle editions of books cheaper, because you can’t share them (more on this in a second), and you can’t resell them.
“But,” they say, “Amazon charges you $0.10 to convert a public domain book, PDF, Word Doc, or anything else into the Kindle format.” Not exactly. They offer the ability to email a PDF or other document (or image) you already own to a special email address that will convert it to Kindle’s format, and send it to your Kindle wirelessly. BUT they also offer a FREE service that does the conversion and just returns the converted file to you via email. Then you can stick the file on your Kindle via USB or the SD card. You don’t have to pay to put content on a Kindle. You only pay if you want the convenience of automatic delivery. And come on – it’s only $0.10.
“But,” they say, “you can’t share books with anyone! It’s draconian DRM!” Again, not true. Amazon says you can share books with up to 5 other Kindle accounts. Yeah, it’s DRM, but it imposes the exact same sharing restrictions as Apple’s iTunes Music Store (you can “authorize” up to 5 computers to play songs purchased from your account). Does DRM suck? Yes. Do we want to get rid of it? Yes. Is it more or less evil than iTunes, probably the most used DRM system in the world? It’s the same. Is there hope for the future? Of course there is. iTunes never would have gotten music companies to agree to sell their music without DRM. Now, a few years into it, some of them are starting to relax a little, and offer DRM-free versions of their songs. And Amazon itself just launched the DRM-free Amazon MP3 Store (which I use to buy my music, when it’s available there). Call me a naive optimist, but I have good reason to believe that ebook DRM is going to relax in the future. But we have to start somewhere, just like music.
Besides the web browser, another feature that gets overlooked a lot (both by Amazon and the press) is the fact that the Kindle can play MP3s and Audible audiobooks. Load up an SD card with podcasts, music, and audiobooks, and you’re off. A 4GB SD card will cost you maybe 20 bucks. The MP3s only play in “shuffle” mode (a shame, and something I hope they fix via software updates), but that’s how I listen to music anyway, and I could live with it for podcasts. What would be REALLY cool is the ability to subscribe to and automatically download podcasts via the included Whispernet EVDO service. That would be one step closer to the self-contained podcatcher that Dave Winer and many others dream of. It’s not going to replace your iPod, sure, but it’s a nice feature you get that they could have easily left out.
So, instead of worrying about being nickel and dimed to death by Amazon, and declaring Kindle dead on arrival, think of it this way. For $399, you get a device with a state of the art eInk screen, that fits in your pocket, which you can load to the gills with just about any content (including reasonably priced DRM’ed-but-shareable ebooks) with a minimum of effort (certainly as easy or easier than other comparable devices), that comes with a lifetime of free high speed EVDO cellular wireless, which you can use to read anything on the web, your RSS feeds, etc. And it’s an MP3 player. And it’s only going to get better, via software updates.
It’s kind of like a crude, 21st century version of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy travel guide when you look at it that way. And that’s exactly why I want one so badly.