A nice person over on my Twitter feed asked my why I call my Kindle “Sir Kindle the Fusspot.” Well, the short answer is, Sir Kindle is very fussy and requires some delicate care in file transfer and management. The longer answer is, I’m embarrassed to say, the honeymoon of me and Sir Kindle is over, and I’ve recognized some serious flaws both in the unit itself, and in the way Amazon is electing to do business as a purveyor of ebooks and ebook readers.
First, the Kindle itself: I like the unit, I’m used to holding it in a way that doesn’t accidentally turn a page or go back a page, and I really like the skin Hubby gave me for Hanukkah that turned Sir Kindle into a hot pink spasm of visual pleasure.
The wireless feature is marvelous, and obviously it’s a major selling point of the Kindle itself. You can email files to the device, and wirelessly transmit a sample of a book to the unit. I keep the wireless turned off to preserve battery life but when I turn it on – whoosh! All the files I’ve emailed and sampled arrive and I’m good to go. The minimalist approach to loading ebook files is a marvelous thing. The idea that I can purchase content from anywhere I have a wireless signal is equally awesome.
But herein lies one of the problems:
If by chance I email a file that Sir Kindle doesn’t like, I don’t always hear back. Sometimes I’ll receive a “There was a problem with your email” reply, though with little explanation as to what the problem was. WHY didn’t you like the file, Sir Kindle? WHAT was the problem? Alas, all I know is that like a Chevy Nova, it don’t go. Sir Kindle’s reply has about as much explanation and understanding as a surly teenager saying, ‘Whatever.’
The other problem I’m having with Amazon is with the choices the company itself makes. As a for-profit entity, I well understand the goal: make money and increase value for shareholders. No brainer. Amazon isn’t a 501(c)3, and it’s not a book lover’s co-op. It’s a for-profit corporate entity, and I totally get that.
My understanding does not change the fact that as a consumer and a reader – and an affiliate of Amazon – I think some of their decisions show a remarkable amount of head-up-the-butt-itis.
First: Amazon’s decision to become more and more monolithic in its formatting, distribution and availability of ebooks is epic, epic fucking fail in my opinion.
As most folks know, there is only one format, the AMZ. Amazon can convert .mobi and several other types of files, but in the end, Amazon is like the Highlander: there can only be one.
But if you’re going for brand dominance, which, fine, that’s an admirable goal, don’t shoot yourself in the foot. I think you’ve made several wrong decisions here:
1. You’ve drastically reduced or eliminated users’ ability to bargain-shop. If a book is available free online at eHarlequin or elsewhere, there isn’t a guarantee that the available formats will work for Amazon – not unless I do some kinky things to the file first, and there goes that whole ease-of-use thing. I’ve heard from several publishers that Amazon can be a bear to deal with when it comes to hosting Kindle files, because Amazon wants such a high percentage of the cost of the file and will only make it available on its own website, and prefers not to have Kindle files outside the scope of Amazon.com.
In this economy, bargain shopping is key, and as prices of books on Amazon increase, Amazon.com’s Kindle files are no longer the best deal, or the best bargain. I don’t have the time or the desire to manipulate files every which way to get them on the Kindle. And even though the open source masterpiece that is Calibre can do the kinky bits for me, Amazon’s inability to recongize the need for consumers to bargain shop is very, very short sighted.
2. Library lending. Many savvy libraries offer ebooks for borrowers, including Ye Olde New York Public Library, which, by virtue of being employed in Manhattan, I have the ability to join (OH THANK YOU NEW YORK CITY MMMWMAH). But not for the Kindle. Again, because Amazon likes to control access to its files, it’s not so keen on allowing third-party distributors to negotiate the lending of library ebooks in the Kindle format, and yet again, users lose an opportunity to bargain-shop and save a few pennies.
Amazon: seriously, have you seen the economy? Get with it already.
The things that never bothered me much about the Kindle while the gleam was new and shiny and the experience virginal are bugging the ever living crap out of me now. I can’t bargain hunt; I can’t take advantage of deals on other websites, unless, as I said, I want to do the funky chicken and try to strip the file down to it’s undergarments, and hope hope hope Sir Kindle will accept the more-nakeder file.
I’m curious about what the Kindle Press Conference will bring, but if it’s the Bubbly Boy Kindle 2.0, unless it comes with library lending capabilities, I’m not impressed. Design, which isn’t Kindle’s strength by a long shot, isn’t something that really gives me a problem in my use of the Kindle. I’m used to it. Function and frugality are way, way more important to me than form, and Amazon and Sir Kindle are rapidly causing me to lose my patience on both fronts.
Will the Kindle become the 2008 version of the Apple Newton, which was light years ahead of its time but ultimately a failure in that it paved the way and watched everyone else (Hi Palm!) blow past it at 500mph? Or will Kindle and Amazon get with it and understand that reading is important, and adopting ebook technology is nifty, but consumer demands for bargain shopping options is more important than controlling the product’s availability and sales point?
Does my opinion ultimately matter?
No. But it matters in that I’ve been an outspoken fan of the Kindle as the venue through which I learned to appreciate ebook readers and the possibility of ebooks in general. So imagine my embarrassment as I realized that as the power of the Kindle has increased, so has the limitation of readers to bargain shop, take advantage of libraries, and seek out the most inexpensive options for readers – as the price of ebooks on Amazon increases.
Meanwhile, the Sony family of e-readers are a different animal, as I’ve come to learn. The Sony Reader is a saucy wench who is friendly to many, many file types and is a good buddy to many a public library. In the coming weeks, I’m going to be test-driving a Sony Reader and writing up my experience as I compare the two devices as a high-volume reader and lover of the ebook. Sony has agreed to send over a Reader for me to test-drive, and I’ll be putting the Sony and the Kindle through evaluations based on how I as a reader employ the device.
One more thing: until now, the prize for the Videomo contest has been a Kindle.
I’m amending that: the winner of the Videomo Contest will have a choice between the Kindle or a red Sony Reader 505, courtesy of the alluring folks at Sony. If the winner would rather have the Sony Reader, instead of the Kindle I originally offered, I’m totally down with that.
My point, and I’m making it in every way I can, is that consumers should have choices, and in my world, so should Videomo winners.
I’ll be revisiting the subject of Sony v. Kindle in the coming weeks, and seeing which reading device will ultimately win my shriveled, wonky heart.