Does Amazon\'s The Kindle Mark Break-out for eBooks?

The New York Times announced that Amazon is launching a new e-book reader The Kindle. My first reaction to this was, why? I applaud Amazon for trying but I don’t see this as a big business, even with their book buying heft behind it.

The New York Times announced that Amazon is launching a new e-book reader The Kindle. My first reaction to this was, why? I applaud Amazon for trying but I don’t see this as a big business, even with their book buying heft behind it.

Back in 1999 Neil Gershenfeld wrote a book “When Things Start to Think.” In it Gershenfeld, an MIT Professor who led the Physics and Media Group and the Things that Think Media Laboratory at the MIT Media Lab (I’m not sure what he’s doing now) analyzed the future prospects of e-books. He wrote that paper books have the following attributes:

  • Boot instantly
  • Have high contrast, high resolution displays.
  • Are viewable from any angle, in bright or dim light.
  • Permit fast random access to any page.
  • Can be easily annotated.
  • Require no batteries or maintenance.
  • Are robustly packaged.

Let me add another quality:

  • Are relatively inexpensive. Paperbacks retail for between $5.95 and $14.95 and you can get them even cheaper used.

So, the question is, what can The Kindle do that a paper book can’t. And can it do it better than a paper book for less? The Kindle uses the same screen technology as the Sony Reader.

alt I’ve seen the Sony Reader and the resolution is actually quite good. It’s easier to read from its screen than from a computer. It’s small, lightweight, and feels good in my hand. It also boots fairly quickly and is easy to turn on and off. It’s easy to turn the pages and scroll through a book although not as easy as flipping the pages of a paper book. The Sony Reader cannot be annotated; The Kindle can since it comes with a keyboard. But clearly, annotating with a pen is much easier than with a tiny keyboard. Both the Reader and The Kindle require batteries. Lastly, both are electronic devices and although I assume they can survive a fall, how will they do with getting wet, sitting at the bottom of a pile, getting banged etc? My books take a beating but keep on… well you know.

So the Kindle and the Reader are decent substitutes but they still don’t match all of the key features of a paper book. And to break hundreds of years of habit, something has to be much, much better. CDs for example were much more durable than records. Both devices are also somewhat expensive. The Sony Reader costs $279.00 while the Kindle is expected to retail for between $400-$500. Expect that price to drop (see iPhone).

The Kindle may have some interesting niche applications. It may serve as a good platform for technical manuals that would benefit from search functionality. And as Michael Arrington points out on his Techcrunch post, it could serve as a great platform for readers to download all kinds of pirated e-books.

But I don’t think a stand-alone e-book reader will ever go mainstream. Instead, I think the launch of the iPhone is bigger news for portable reading. Eventually mobile devices will incorporate e-reader technology, creating a market of billions for e-books. Seeing the market potential, publishers will get more savvy about how to package their information in chunks that can be easily digested through these devices.

I might be wrong but it will certainly be interesting to see how this evolves.

Sol Nasisi
Sol Nasisi: Sol Nasisi is the co-founder and a past president of BestCashCow, an online resource for comprehensive bank rate information. In this capacity, he closely followed rate trends for all savings-related and loan products and the impact of rate fluctuations on the economy. He specifically focused on how rates impact consumers' ability to borrow and save. He also has authored a wee

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