Opinion: Amazon's Kindle won't make E-Books popular but how hard can it be?

Columns & Opinion, E-Books

Jon_smal.gifJonathan Weinberg writes…

I don’t read as much as I used to, one look at the amount of books in my house is enough evidence to tell that story. Not that I don’t have many, oh no, I’ve got shelves full of novels and non-fiction. It’s just most of them are bought on a whim, and then a few pages in swapped for something else or put down to play the Xbox 360 or check out the telly.

Children too aren’t reading as much as they should. In fact, David Cameron, the Tory leader, is about to announce plans to try and get every youngster up to speed with their reading by the age of six. It’s a massive failure in any education system when kids can’t pick out enough words to enjoy a story without it being spoken to them.

But all that could – and should – be changing with the advent of E-Books. Yes, they’ve been around for ages, and never really caught on. But I just can’t understand why not. Sure, it’s lovely to feel the paper between your hands, but people said the same about vinyl which was then replaced with CDs and those too in turn were replaced by digitised MP3 tunes.

What has always been lacking on the E-Book front is a catchy device. Like the iPod changed the way we listened, we need a gizmo to change the way we read. What could be better than downloading new books from all sorts of genres and all sorts of authors to a simple gadget that can be carried with us. I’ve no doubt that we will get there, it just doesn’t seem to be happening fast enough – despite Amazon’s attempt to launch their new Kindle gadget.

Sony has tried it with their Portable Reader System but it’s never really had mass appeal. Personally, I think the design is to blame, as these need to look far more like a real book than a PDA. Imagine a thinner version of the Nintendo DS with a screen on either side and you’re getting close to the idea.

Amazon though look set to challenge the idea that E-Books aren’t going to sell. And let’s face it, if any firm can do it, then it has to be the company who has done more for reading than any other. The electronic bookshop has been responsible for a surge in sales over the past decade.


But it’s latest attempt, called the Kindle, does look destined to be written off as just another useless piece of technology, however sound the idea. It looks atrocious, like an oversized PDA and not anywhere near as sexy as those beasts of portability. It also costs $400 which is ridiculous.

Who on earth is going to pay that kind of price for a gadget that’s not even on the same planet as the mainstream. How hard can it be to make E-Books popular by producing a cheap electronic reading device.

Two screens, a front and back cover, a memory card slot and WiFi for over-the-air downloads. Add to that a couple of gigs of on-board storage and away you go. It really is not hard to come up with the specs needed to win over the majority of those who enjoy reading.

After all, if you can carry around half a dozen different books in your pocket, as well as digital newspapers and text downloaded from blogs and the rest of the web, it’s going to sell, and it’s going to sell well.

I hate to say it, but I think it’s going to take a company like Apple to bring a device to market that wins the public over. They have the brand and they have the sheep-like following. They also make extremely gorgeous gadgets.

So come on Mr Jobs, how about the iPod Reader? You’d be doing children across the world a huge favour with their education, you’ll once again change the way we view a section of lifestyle entertainment and, more importantly, I’ll be able to clear some space off my shelves and maybe finish the whole Harry Potter collection.

Jonathan Weinberg is a technology journalist who writes far more than he reads but is now off to patent his design for an E-Book Reader before Mr Jobs and Apple can get in their first!

Via Wired

Jonathan Weinberg
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  • I can’t recall when I have ever read such crap. It is typical of the shameful utterings of people who know nothing about that they write about.

    It is obvious that no one writing here owns or probablhy has even seen a Kindle. I have had mine since Dec. 12th, and absolutely love it — I even love the much maligned design, which I think is truly outstanding. But mainly I love to read with it — I already have over 200 books on it, many of which were free out-of-copyright classical books which I first read many years ago as an English Lit major at college.

    Of course I bring my Kindle with me everywhere I go — to the john, to bed (where it is the only “book” I have ever been able to read in bed), to a restaurant when I am eating alone, and for use any moment when I have even just a few minutes to read. It is very easy on my eyes — much better than a computer backlit screen. I typically read four or five books at the same time, which Kindle easily lets me do, even keeping track of where I was last.

    Charles Wilkes, San Jose, Calif.

  • I actually think it’s a good idea, but it needs to be less than £100 and content is an issue. I use the library, and it comes out of my council tax. Make a deal with local gov for an electronic library (think of the space and staff saving) and I’m in. The library model already has DRM built in to it as well; If I keep the book for more than three weeks it costs me. So iLibrary (with local gove support) and an iReader, and It’ll be the poodles swingers.

  • I think you miss the point rather here. ebooks are a fundamentally flawed concept. They’re not popular because they’re worse than books. Books aren’t heavy, they’re not encumbered with DRM, their batteries don’t die etc. Technology and gadgets become popular when they do a task that was previously difficult or time-consuming. Reading isn’t and certainly ebooks won’t make it any better. I spend 3 hours a day on the train and I read in that time. More than 90% of the books I read come from charity shops or second hand stores. None of them cost more than £2. I only carry one book at a time – who wants to carry 300 books around with them? People who want to read web content are already well catered for with mobile web enabled devices and colour screens. This is just a non-existent market.

    That said, I might consider buying an e-book reader for less than £10 with books available at less than £5 and without DRM. It’s unlikely to happen though and ebooks are doomed to failure in their present form.

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