Will Amazon.com's Kindle Spark the Future of Reading?
Posted by: Rob Hof on November 19, 2007
I’m as interested as the next gadget watcher to see if Amazon can fulfill the sweeping promise Newsweek outlines for its Kindle e-book reader, coming out Monday. (BusinessWeek wrote about it a couple months ago. TechCrunch and Engadget liveblogged the New York event.) But like Rex Hammock, who articulates his uncertainties better than I did in a post that a computer crash just wiped out, I’m going to have to reserve judgment until I try it out myself. And at $399, I’m not sure how soon that’s going to be. Meanwhile, as Rex notes, Google and Apple could easily play here if they’re so inclined. Stretch out an iPhone Touch and you’ve got a very nice-looking e-book reader. (However, my colleague Steve Wildstrom, whose review is posted now, notes that E-Ink screens are much better for this purpose because they’re more readable and use far less power than conventional screens—because who wants their book to run out of power in the middle of a chapter?)
I like the idea of something relatively light device (relative to a laptop, say) that is eminently readable and can hold many books at once. Plus, the idea of an Internet-connected reader has interesting possibilities, such as the always-on, interactive book. I still wonder if a 10.5-ounce reader is light enough for how most people like to read books. I’m doubtful that I’m going to hold that sucker up over my head lying in bed, though a hardback, at least, is probably comparable in weight and more awkward to hold open. Plus, oddly enough, books’ disposability can be an advantage, for example, on a trip, when a book suddenly can become weightless when left in an airport lounge.
I’ve gotta think Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has much more in mind than an e-book reader. I’m all the more certain of this given the quote attributed to him in Newsweek, in which he calls the Kindle “the most important thing we’ve done.” I’ve known Jeff for years, and he never says anything lightly, and certainly never so over-the-top.
There’s a clue in his assertion that the Kindle is more of a service than a product. I can see it hosting subscriptions of many kinds—not just books but music and video eventually—which would be a considerable boost to its retail business model. (Analyst Scott Devitt of Stifel Nicolaus comes to the same conclusion in a report Monday morning.) Bezos’ ultimate vision of a device on which you could get any book—especially out-of-print books—on the device in less than a minute is also more compelling than you might imagine, as Cynthia Brumfield at IP Democracy explains, though it appears that you won’t have nearly that broad access to Amazon’s book offerings at the outset.
You can also imagine communities of interest—otherwise known as social networks—developing around such an interactive service, and there are 15 billion reasons why that’s a worthwhile direction for Amazon to consider.
So the Kindle bears close watching, and perhaps only incidentally because you can read a book on it.