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Why Not Paper + Electrons

Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on November 19, 2007

Reader doog has an interesting comment on my colleague Rob Hof’s post on’s Kindle e-book reader: “Wake me up when the hardware costs no more than the price of, say, an iPod Shuffle, I can get titles at a nominal cost, and I can somehow get e-copies of titles I already own on paper at a very nominal cost.” (You can read my review of Kindle here.)

A price drop to the iPod Shuffle level isn’t in the near-term outlook, though getting into the 8 GB Nano range might be if volume can drive the cost down. And paper and printing represent a surprisingly small part of the cost of a book, though inventory and returns are significant cost factors that e-books don’t incur. But it’s the idea of buy a paper book, get an e-book that caught my attention.

Here’s how it might work. When you buy a book from Amazon, you can get the e-book version for maybe a buck or two extra. Since the Kindle is tied to a specific Amazon account a Kindle owner’s purchase of a paper version could automatically generate a credit for the download. Implementing this would require negotiating additional rights with publishers and perhaps authors, which is why the electronic copy can’t be free. But it probably could be quite inexpensive.

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Reader Comments

Mike Reardon

November 20, 2007 07:42 PM

From iPod marketing history: for Duke University, Princeton and Stanford, the perfect gift to give their incoming freshmen class this years is a Kindle. Pre-loaded with class schedules maps to parking areas and with required subject reading marked on their Amazon account pages.

Steve Wildstrom

November 21, 2007 08:12 AM

@Mike Reardon--That is a very interesting use. I think much of the commentary on Kindle shows a stunning lack of imagination. It fails to recognize that the hardware is just a platform for delivering a very interestign set of services that Amazon, it partners, and customers are developing.

Brandon W

November 21, 2007 09:59 AM

I would say that's a "stunning" level of faith that people *want* services shoved at them while they try to read a book. Particularly after dropping $400 to read a book they could have bought for $7. Books, for the most part, are not like music and don't play to the iPod model. I don't read books 50 times over. I don't need to carry 100 books around with me. If I'm reading a book, I just need the one book, and I'll likely never read it again when I'm done.

When an eBook reader costs $50 there will be some viable niche markets for it. Until then, it's a waste of money and a product no one's asking for. It will never be a mass market product.


December 2, 2007 07:32 PM

The Kindle has some very interesting advantages over conventional printed books. For education -- college students in particular -- you could carry around with you all the books you would ever think you need. Another thing, remember the first time you committed to highlighting a text book that was so expensive and beautiful you hated to mark it up. With the Kindle that isn't a problem. You could buy a hardcopy for your home library and a e-version which you can mark up with the Kindle (does it let you do that? it should).

Another interesting idea with the Kindle -- very helpful to anyone studying anything -- is the ability to highlight sections of a book and link them to other sections highlighted in other books on the Kindle. This way you can link "ideas" and facts together. These "linked lists" could really help you study for tests or just general knowledge.

Reading a Kindle in bed is nice because you don't have to hold the book with two hands to keep the book open. You can set it up against your kneess and just read....

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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