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The Kindle Is A SwindleThe Kindle Is A Swindle

Amazon's Kindle v2 officially arrived today, and it's a swindle. I have no argument with the item itself, but $400 is a lot of dough to pay for a gadget that will sit gathering dust a couple of weeks after you've purchased it.

Michael Hickins

February 9, 2009

4 Min Read

Amazon's Kindle v2 officially arrived today, and it's a swindle. I have no argument with the item itself, but $400 is a lot of dough to pay for a gadget that will sit gathering dust a couple of weeks after you've purchased it.Amazon customers are already up in arms -- and they're right.

There's a discussion raging on Amazon's site about the price of digital books. Unfortunately, even though they're trying to make a stand, the users have already capitulated; their rallying cry is "never pay more than $10 for a digital book." Ten? How about five? Yes, the Kindle is itself a thing of beauty -- and you have to admire the audacity of charging subscription fees for magazine content, including blogs, that are free online. Once upon a time, I had been seduced by the idea of an e-book reader; a teammate on my darts team used to bring his Sony Reader to the bars so he could read when he wasn't playing, and I could see the benefits: no hefty book to carry around; he could read in dim light; girls came over to check it out; and he got a bunch of free books just for buying it. Plus, professionally, I can see that the whole publishing model is dying, both for news and books. Books require publishers to kill trees (for no good reason -- most books end up on the remainder pile), bid millions of dollars in advances on royalties just to create buzz, and then waste fossil fuels shipping the books all over the country. Never mind that publishers can almost never predict the demand for them once they're produced. And then there are those frequent travelers who can't decide whether to take Jack Welch's management tome or the third volume of Proust's A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu. Digital books do offer a solution to those problems. But when you buy the Kindle, you're becoming a prisoner. You're paying close to the same thing for an e-book as you would for a paperback, and you're locked into the hardware vendor's own library. Amazon, of course, touts this disservice as a feature -- you download books wirelessly to your Kindle using Amazon's proprietary Whispernet EV-DO network. And now that you've got a Kindle, you're stuck with Amazon's arbitrary pricing scheme. If not arbitrary, how do you explain the fact that Moby Dick costs $1.99 if you buy it from Sony's library and $2.39 (how did someone come up with $2.39?) if you buy it from Amazon? Hamlet? At Amazon: $5.65, compared with $1.99 at Sony. There are probably as many, if not more, examples where Amazon is cheaper than Sony. But the point is, where is the logic? Someone will also have to explain why books in the public domain aren't free -- there are no production costs involved. Recent books are priced just as arbitrarily: Amazon charges $9.99 for a digital copy of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas; Sony charges $13.45. This makes no sense, especially when you consider that I can download the Sonny Rollins jazz classic, Saxophone Colossus, for $9.99. I'm not saying that music is intrinsically worth more than books, but it does require more artists and involve higher production costs to cut an album than to produce a digital book. As a writer, the last thing I want to do is diminish the value of content. But even the brontosaural music industry is ahead of publishing. It has learned that giving content away actually works as a business model. (People will ultimately willingly pay for something they like -- for a variety of reasons. Giving it away doesn't cut into that, but it does help get the word out.) However, Amazon's Kindle strategy is consistent with its determined march to corner the digital book industry; for instance, after acquiring print-on-demand (POD) publisher BookSurge in 2005, it announced that it would no longer carry books from rival POD publishers iUniverse, Lulu, and others. So you want to buy a Kindle? And then you want to pay almost as much for the electronic books it stores as you would for the real things, based on the premise that you don't want to have to carry too many books when you're traveling? If that's really your reason, let me clue you in on this other piece of technology that costs a lot less. It's called a wheeled bag.

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