Amazon Kindle e-Book Reader

Amazon announced their e-Book reader, called Kindle, today to much fanfare. I just don’t get it. To me, it seems like a solution in search of a problem.

I like gadgets as much as the next person, but if someone was to give me one of these I’m not sure I’d use it once the novelty wore off. And at $400 the only way I’d use one is if someone gave one to me.

One claimed benefit is that it’s smaller than a paperback book. Great. But even at today’s prices it’s no great loss if I leave a paperback book behind someplace. The Kindle is another electronic device to keep track of and if lost your out $400. (Amazon says you can re-download the books but you’re locked in.)

The technology does seem rather slick even though pictures of the device make it look like it was designed in the 70’s. But all that technology is proprietary and tied to Amazon. If they pull the plug what would happen to the DRM protected files?

The pricing structure is a bit strange. Ten bucks for new releases does offer a significant discount over buying the new hardcover version. But when compared to mass market paperbacks the price isn’t so great. The NYTimes bestseller list for mass market paperbacks (20 books) all had prices of $9.99 or less. In fact fifteen of them were less. Considering the paperbacks need to be printed, shipped, warehoused, and shipped again the electronic versions seem expensive. While there are exceptions, many Kindle books sell for the same or more than the paperback edition for the same title. You can also get magazines, newspapers and selected blogs. But all will cost you, even the blogs that are free on the Internet.

The ability to store 200 or so books is pretty cool. While I may have a hard time justifying carrying 200 books around all the time I can see a benefit in having multiple books. Either for longer trips or to provide variety. It could be beneficial if someone like a salesman or engineer could add their own documents to the book but that seems difficult to do. PDFs have to go through Amazon for conversion (although I suspect conversion software may begin to appear on its own).

Maybe it’s not a solution looking for a problem, maybe it’s a $400 solution to a $40 problem. Am I missing something here? Sony’s e-Book reader isn’t a hot item but its $300 and I pick that as the reason over features.