Kindle: Not Ready for Prime Time
If you believe the hype, the Amazon Kindle is going to revolutionize books. I’m very interested, but I doubt it will be as successful as the iPod, thanks to the ugly consequences of Digital Rights Management.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the Kindle application for my iPhone. The Kindle application has helped me to read more and more often. I appreciate the environmental benefits of reducing the manufacture and shipping of books. And I’m even interested in getting a Kindle device in the future.
But there are some huge issues with the Kindle. When you’re finished with an old-fashioned paper book, you can give it to someone else. You can donate it to a library. Not so with an electronic book for the Kindle.
Now consider music. You can legally copy your CDs to an iPod. And multiple online stores sell music for an iPod: Apple’s iTunes store, Amazon mp3, and even independent systems such as eMusic. What about the Kindle? No, you can’t copy your paper books to a Kindle. And you can’t purchase books from any store except Amazon. In other words, the Kindle is effectively limited to Amazon.
This is a business problem, not a technical problem. If Amazon wanted, they could extend the Kindle system to let you loan your electronic books to friends. (And that might even spur others to buy Kindle systems!). Amazon could open the Kindle hardware to other stores and collect a licensing fee, much like how videogame platforms license their systems to 3rd party software developers.
But ultimately, this is a question of money. In general, I believe that people are willing to accept restrictive digital rights management when they get content for a very low price.
For example, suppose Amazon didn’t sell electronic books, but they charged just a few dollars to rent them for 14 or 30 days. If it cost just $5 to rent a book for a month, my friends wouldn’t mind spending $5 to read a book that I recommend. And I might reread old books if I could pay a few dollars to get an electronic copy of a book that I purchased in hardcover or paperback.
Until Amazon addresses these issues, I think the Kindle is going to be a niche product.