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Saturday
Nov242007

Can the Kindle pay for itself?

plasticbooks.jpgHere are the last three books I've purchased and their relative costs in paper and as Kindle-readable e-books:

  • Stephen Hunter's The 47th Samurai. Hardcover $17.16; Kindle edition: $9.99 Cost savings: $7.17
  • Laurence Bergreen's Marco Polo. Hardcover $19.11; Kindle edition: $9.99  Cost savings: $9.12
  • Michael Pollen's The Omnivore's Dilemma. Paperback $9.60; Kindle edition: $6.39 Cost savings $3.21.

So, let's add this up...  Carry the two, add the five... $19.50 less for the Kindle book versions. Let's tack on another conservative $4.50 for postage for these three purchases. I'll have saved $24 on my three purchases or an average of $8 per book. That means my Kindle should pay for itself after purchasing about 50 books.

A few observations:

  • I could not find 2 of the last five books I bought in Kindle format (Don Norman's The Design of Future Things and The Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World.) This limits the economic viability of the device. Will availability increase?
  • If I am willing to wait for the book to appear in paperback, the costs of the two products are more similar.
  • I can't re-gift, donate, or display my erudition and fine taste via my physical bookcases.
  • (On the other hand, I could read trash on the Kindle, free from worry that others may think less of me because of my reading tastes.)

It would probably take me at least two years before I broke even economically on the Kindle. A pretty long pay-back time even for a regular book buyer like me. There are "value-added" benefits that should be factored in: lower carbon footprint for the e-book format than the paper book format; convenience of ready access to both my collection and new materials; the search/annotation feature of the e-book.

What if one did the math, however, with textbooks? Say we could buy (or lease for five years) a textbook for a fourth of its $80 cost? The typical five $80 textbooks at a $60 savings would be $300. Hand that 7th grader an e-book reader with all texts, novels, supplementary materials that have been updated, leveled for reading ability, customized for the curriculum, supported by a built-in dictionary/encylopedia/atlas. Cut out the printing costs of worksheets, lessen clerical costs of tracking, inventory physical texts, eliminate school lockers, etc. Do I smell a sea-change?

Maybe a blend of the OLPC or ASUS eee and the Kindle - readability, interactivity, portability, productivity and affordability. Can't we have it all? Tomorrow wouldn't be too soon. 


Friday
Nov232007

Emotional reactions to the Kindle

I was somewhat surprised by the rather negative and emotional reactions many in the blogger community had to Amazon's e-book reader. You'da thunk somebody was suggesting that lovable old grandmothers were being replaced by Satan, or something.

The Valleywag blog does this little comparison

kindlechart.jpg

I suspect that had the the author of the chart above been writing in 1907 instead of 2007, it may have looked something like this:

horsevsauto.jpg

Other folks have been fussing that the device is a single-function machine; that it uses a proprietary format (and one would have to actually pay for creative content); and that it can't re-gifted at Christmas to the brother-in-law, etc.

I suspect many people will be unable (or unwilling) to make the switch from cellulose to silicon readers. I suspect both better technology and better content distribution/remuneration schemes are just around the corner.

But what many of us fogies are forgetting is that IT IS NOT ABOUT US. I find it ironic that the Kindle release and the knee-jerk reactions to it were made the same week as the latest report by the National Endowment for the Arts that decries the decline in reading by teens:

1. Young adults are reading fewer books in general.

• Nearly half of all Americans ages 18 to 24 read no books for pleasure.
•The percentage of 18- to 44-year-olds who read a book fell 7 points from 1992 to 2002.

Could it be that kids read, they just don't like reading on paper? Be a shame if our own preferences, predjudices and quibbles related to book format discourage reading by the next generation.

Sunday
Nov182007

An e-book reader to light my fire?

Amazon is supposed to launch an e-book reader named Kindle tomorrow. According to Steven Levy's article The Future of Reading in Newsweek, the Kindle will use e-paper, allow full text searching, hold about 200 books, and have wireless connectivity. Levy's full article is worth reading for it also talks about the potential changing role of writers. The counter-point view of the Kindle at Information Week is also worth a look.

I've been writing about (and hoping for) an affordable and practical e-book reader and its potential impact on schools and libraries since about 1995, So far I've been disappointed. Despite the logic of moving from cellulose to silicon, things have just not moved at the pace for which I'd hoped.

But one thing that excites me about this gadget is not the device itself, but that Amazon reports to have worked out deals with major publishers to sell e-versions of their best sellers for $9.99. This may do for e-books and e-book readers what the $.99 song did for iTunes and iPods. At less than ten bucks, you aren't paying much more for that latest Daniel Silva or Clive Cussler than for an ad-filled magazine. Oh, with its wireless connectivity, a truly electronic version of magazines can be sent to the Kindle as well.

I've always held the hope that e-book readers just might prove to be of real benefit to struggling readers with the potential for truly differentiated reading materials, built in glossaries, text-to-speech synthesis, etc.

I've darned well waited long enough. This puppy better be good. And at $399, come down in price real soon.

Thanks to Will Richardson's The iPod of Reading post for this head's up about these articles. 

amazon_kindle.jpg  Prototype from Engadget Sept 2006. Sorta buh-tugly, unfortunately