Monday, June 09, 2008

Expensive eye-strain

I read today that Amazon is marketing a new ebook reader called the ‘Kindle’.

At first it doesn’t sound half bad. It comes with free ‘anywhere’ wireless access to the Amazon ebook store, as well as free wireless access to Wikipedia, and various newspapers and blogs.

The downside? A whopping $350 price tag. On top of that, the actual books cost ten dollars a pop.

The sad truth is that ebook readers, as a concept, just don’t work very well. Technology is supposed to make things better and easier, right? Well, ebook readers are just technology for technology’s sake…and they have massive drawbacks over their paper counterparts.

Here’s the thing:

I can go and buy a paperback for about six dollars. For that six dollars I get a book that I can take anywhere…and I don’t have to worry about batteries, eye-strain from reading off a screen and can stuff that paperback into a backpack or pocket and not have to worry about breaking it.

My point is this: Why am I going to pay $350 (plus ten dollars for the actual book) to read that same story?

Sure I can carry a my whole book collection with me at all times…but considering that even a short novella equals at least a couple of hours of reading time, I just don’t need to carry more than one book with me. Also, I might be able to carry a whole library in my ebook reader, but the batteries are probably going to die halfway through one book, never mind ten.

Basically, an ebook reader is a device that costs more than a real book, is far less comfortable to read and about a million times more fragile. Not to mention that there’s no agreed upon standard for ebooks…meaning you could spend all that money on the reader, pay even more for the book…only to find it won’t actually work anyway.

As for the ‘Kindle’ from Amazon, the free wireless access to Wikipedia is great, but it’s not $350 great. For an extra 50 bucks I can get a cheap laptop that does everything the Kindle does and more. I might not be able to access wikipedia from anywhere…but I can honestly say I’ve never found myself in a situation where I’ve needed access to wikipedia that badly.

Ok, Amazon, the truth is that ebook readers are a pointless technology. Until you can make an ebook reader that is as cheap and rugged as a paperback, with real ‘digital paper’ technology that has zero eye-strain…they’re always going to fail.

As of right now there’s only one business model that I can actually see working. If you want to make ebook readers popular, here’s what you do:

Give them away for free with a subscription to a ‘netflix’ type of service. I sign up, pay you around 15 bucks a month and get unlimited book ‘rentals’ that I can download to my ebook reader from anywhere.

This has more chance of working because you’re not marketing the reader in its own right, it’s just a delivery system. I’d be willing to put up with the eye-strain, and worrying about my book running out of batteries just as I get to the good bit, because that’s the trade off for being able to access and read new books from anywhere.

I sign up for that service, pay my 15 bucks a month and can read the latest best-sellers whenever I want.

Long story short, I’ll put up with the shortcomings of an ebook reader because it’s like having a local library with me at all times. On the other hand, I’m just not willing to spend nearly four hundred bucks for the privilege of spending another ten bucks on content and having to read off a screen.


tomas said...

You should really investigate a bit more before writing this. Here are few things why you should get an ebook reader:
1) Because of e-ink technology it doesn't strain your eyes;
2) Because of the same technology you can read thousands of pages (sony portable reader - 7500 pages, not sure about kindle) with just one full charge.
3) You can get electronic versions of books for free (you can download pdfs from various bittorrent trackers) also members share ebooks they buy.
4) You can read long articles which only come in electronic form (blogs,, and so on) without straining your eyes;
5) Most of the other ebook devices (compared to kindle) support many more ebook formats without drm crap.

Take a look:

delmer said...

I do most of my reading off a Palm TX (which I bought for other things, not to use as a e-book reader).

I started using it at the gym as I could set the pages to scroll while I was on the exercycle. Trying to read a magazine while pedaling was hard to pull off as the fan in the cardio room kept blowing the pages.

Prior to using it during exercise I thought e-books were a bad idea and that they'd die a quick death.

I buy my books from and typically spend about $6.00.

What I don't like about it is that I can't share the books or give them away when I'm done.

The upside is that, as I always have my PDA with me, I can read anywhere and the PDA holds my place.

I'm not defending e-book readers. I think the Amazon thing is overpriced and bulky. I'd never buy one in it's current format or price. I don't know that I've ever seen a dedicated e-book reader that I like.