Wednesday, November 21, 2007
I was discussing this with my students last night and thought it was interesting. Amazon has just begun selling the Kindle, an ebook reader that they hope will become the next big thing.
Maybe it will be--if not this device, maybe the next version. Even though it does look kind of dorky and given the $400 price point, it's tempting to say that this is Amazon's Foleo, I don't think so. The Foleo didn't fill a niche, this device does. The ebook market is a tiny fraction of the publishing industry. If the industry can get people to shift to reading books electronically, printing and distribution costs disappear. But why would one use this device instead of a laptop or tablet? As someone who uses a tablet and reads a lot of academic papers in pdf format, I can tell you that this is not an option. It is very difficult to read on an LCD screen for any length of time--especially when you're on the wrong side of forty. The high contrast e-ink that these devices use is supposedly much more readable.
The other issue is battery power. If you need to read a lot or need access to a lot of reference material (like a physician, say), but don't need the computing power of a laptop, this device is for you. According to the product page, you can get two to three days of battery life out of it as opposed to the two to three hours of a laptop/tablet. The other innovation is that the devices are connected to Sprint's EVDO network with no cellular contracts or fees to the end user (costs apparently picked up by Amazon). Users buy books, or magazines and newspapers for a monthly subscription, and the material is downloaded instantly. There is experimental pdf support (this is what's stopping Base10 from buying it right now) and even an experimental text-based browser.
There is a market for a device like this. Base10 has looked at the Sony Reader, another device of this type, and didn't think it was all that. If this is different, and pdf's are readable on it, I would buy it instantly.
UPDATE: Arnold Kling on the economics of the Kindle.