Just a note for those that might have missed it…I’m one part of a three part post over at TechSource on the Kindle 2 and libraries. I’m pointing it out mainly because of the fact that I did the very first, I think, video for TechSource, showing off the Kindle 2’s Text-to-Speech feature. Go take a look, and let me know how you think it came out.
This week, ebooks were all over the tech news, and there were at least two huge announcements. Well, one announcement, and one not-so-secret launch coming Monday.
The announcement was the Google Book mobile service, which gives users access to 1.5 million books from the Google Book scanning project OCR’d and formatted for mobile screens, like those of the G1 and the iPhone. In one fell swoop, Google has made these platforms the home of the largest electronic book library in the world…the Amazon Kindle store currently has 230,000 books, while Project Gutenberg has just over 100,000.
The upcoming announcement is that almost certainly on Monday, Amazon will announce the Kindle version 2. Leaked photos make the v2 look sleeker, more updated, and with much better physical form-factor. What I’m most excited about is the possibility of v.2 of the software, which better UI and possibly more features. As long, of course, as the software is ported back to the original hardware.
Are these the things that will finally push ebooks firmly into the public consciousness? Time will tell, but I can hope.
Two days before I received my Kindle, Roy Tennant published an article on his Digital Libraries blog entitled “Prediction: The Kindle goes down in flames“. I normally agree with Roy on lots of things, but this is a topic where I’m going to pick on him a little.
Let’s rewind to October of 2001, where a plucky little company named Apple released a strange new product called an iPod. With 5 gigabytes of storage, this pocket-sized marvel cost….$399. What did it do? It played music. That’s all it did. Moreover, it only connected to your computer via an esoteric plug called “Firewire” that 90% of the personal computers in the world didn’t have.
It took Apple 3 financial quarters to sell over 200,000 of them, and it wasn’t until 2004 and the cost per gigabyte dropped under $20/GB and the iPod was on it’s third generation that sales really took off.
The Kindle, for all the publicity it has garnered, is only 8 months old. Is it the perfect reading device? I’m not sure yet. I’ve been consuming ebooks for years, beginning with reading them on my Handspring Visor Deluxe in mid-2000. I’ve read them on cell phones, computer screens, and other PDA’s. And I can say without any reservation that after 24 hours with the Kindle that it is a completely new and better reading experience.
The advantages for the Kindle are twofold: a device customized for reading makes reading easier, and the device comes from Amazon. The Kindle is great for reading, not suffering from the issues that, for example, the iPhone might…primarily the issue that an LCD screen just isn’t very good for reading in any form of bright light. The device is driven by Amazon, who has the reach and power in the publishing industry to get books for the device (take a look at the difference between any other ebook provider’s numbers and Amazon’s). Amazon also has the infrastructure to support immediate electronic delivery of any ebook they carry, directly to the device. Anyone else doing that?
The Kindle does several things (it does not, contrary to Tennant’s assertion “only read books”). It allows for reading, annotating, bookmarking, dictionary lookup, and other common reading chores. It also comes with permanent free cellular internet service. Amazon Whispernet gives you, while not a full web experience, a browser and access to the ‘net anywhere you can get a Sprint cell signal. For no additional cost past the cost of the device. Seriously, how much is that worth over a year?
With all that said, I’ve only had the Kindle for less than 48 hours. I wasn’t going to buy one so early in the development cycle, but do I regret having one now? Hell no. It’s a marvelous piece of technology for readers, and I fully expect that in a couple of years I’ll still be toting it around from conference to conference in lieu of a few pounds worth of wood pulp.
If anyone wants to take a look at the Kindle, find me at ALA Annual, and I’ll happily let you play with it. Just holding it, seeing the screen, and seeing how much thought went into the design will make a difference, I promise.
Steve Lawson, in the comments, pointed out something that I wanted to address. Tim O’Reilly, in a comment on Roy’s post, says:
â€œI also struggle with Amazonâ€™s DRM and sole-source approach, which seems to me to be a flawed copy of Appleâ€™s iPod strategy, missing not only Appleâ€™s brilliant design but also the positive externality that consumers could easily add their own music collection to the device by ripping mp3s.â€
I am no fan of DRM, and I admit that it gives me pause regarding the Kindle. That said, the “sole-source” approach isn’t true…the Kindle happily ingests any .mobi file you want, and there are plenty of places sourcing native Kindle files of public domain books. First thing I did was put a few dozen of my favorite classics on there, for free. As well, if I had an easy way to digitize the books I already own (in the same rough manner of the digitization of my CDs) I would be doing it, and adding them. The issue there isn’t with the Kindle, it’s that there is no easy digitization of dead trees.
Ok, so we’ve all seen the press, read the Newsweek story, and if you’re reading this you probably read my take on the Amazon Kindle. Here’s a new feature that wasn’t heavily marketed for the Kindle, that has a direct impact on library efforts…and the surprising thing is, it has nothing to do with reading a book.
I’m talking about Amazon NowNow.
It’s an “experimental” feature on the Kindle, but NowNow is a human-powered answer engine that uses the Amazon Mechanical Turk group to search and answer questions for users. The service is in beta, and has been for a year or so (Jessamyn blogged about NowNow back in January).
So what’s the big deal? Well, the Kindle is an always-on internet appliance…anywhere you can get a cell signal, you can be online with the thing. Which means that you can ask a question and get an answer, from nearly anywhere, from a human, emailed directly to the device you used to ask the question in the first place. And this is built into the device…yes, Amazon might decide to charge for this, but right now they aren’t.
Is this Reference 2.0? Imagine being asked a research question by a patron, finding the perfect article for them, and being able to send that article to the device they are going to use to read it. Yes, I realize that laptops sort of fill this goal already, but the Kindle is certainly a more user-centered way of getting at this process. The patron doesn’t have to find a way to ask us questions…the device they are using is a direct line to us. It might not be that distinct from a webpage with a meebo widget…but I think it is qualitatively different somehow.
The Kindle is for sale at Amazon right now, and the details of the device are intriguing. More highlights:
- It connects to the net via cellular networks, specifically EVDO. So anywhere you can get a cell signal, you can buy a book. And there is no charge for the connectivity…Amazon is underwriting it.
- There looks to be subscription models for newspapers, magazines, etc, all delivered automatically in the background. Wake up every morning and the Times is waiting.
- New York TimesÂ® Best Sellers and all New Releases $9.99, unless marked otherwise.
And, my favorites:
- Includes free wireless access to the planet’s most exhaustive and up-to-date encyclopediaâ€”Wikipedia.org.
- By using the keyboard, you can add annotations to text, just like you might write in the margins of a book. And because it is digital, you can edit, delete, and export your notes, highlight and clip key passages, and bookmark pages for future use.
- The source code for the device appears to be available…one can only guess that they leveraged some open source software and are complying with the license. Except that it’s machine readable source…hmmmm.
Here’s the bad:
- They are advertising “more than 250 top blogs…” I take this to mean there is no open RSS reader built in. That seems a nearly criminal omission from the Kindle. I mean, RSS is the backbone of content choice on the web right now…come on Bezos!
- It does support ebooks via Audible…so you can read or listen, as you choose.
- From the License Agreement: “Amazon provides wireless connectivity free of charge to you for certain content shopping and acquisition services on your Device. You will be charged a fee for wireless connectivity for your use of other wireless services on your Device, such as Web browsing and downloading of personal files, should you elect to use those services. We will maintain a list of current fees for such services in the Kindle Store.”
- And here’s a good one: “You agree you will use the wireless connectivity provided by Amazon only in connection with Services Amazon provides for the Device. You may not use the wireless connectivity for any other purpose.”
Ah, and here’s where eBooks and physical books diverge, and is the source of 99% of my frustration with the format (also from the License Agreement):
Use of Digital Content. Upon your payment of the applicable fees set by Amazon, Amazon grants you the non-exclusive right to keep a permanent copy of the applicable Digital Content and to view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times, solely on the Device or as authorized by Amazon as part of the Service and solely for your personal, non-commercial use. Digital Content will be deemed licensed to you by Amazon under this Agreement unless otherwise expressly provided by Amazon.
Restrictions. You may not sell, rent, lease, distribute, broadcast, sublicense or otherwise assign any rights to the Digital Content or any portion of it to any third party, and you may not remove any proprietary notices or labels on the Digital Content. In addition, you may not, and you will not encourage, assist or authorize any other person to, bypass, modify, defeat or circumvent security features that protect the Digital Content.
That book you bought? Not yours. Can’t sell it. Can’t even give it away.
Oh, and for those librarians who still hold tight to the privacy bandwagon:
Information Received. The Device Software will provide Amazon with data about your Device and its interaction with the Service (such as available memory, up-time, log files and signal strength) and information related to the content on your Device and your use of it (such as automatic bookmarking of the last page read and content deletions from the Device). Annotations, bookmarks, notes, highlights, or similar markings you make in your Device are backed up through the Service. Information we receive is subject to the Amazon.com Privacy Notice.
They know when you are reading. They know what you are reading, and that you bookmarked the sex scenes. Oh yes, they know.
So, exciting new product? Yep. Amazon, like Apple before them, has realized the power of a closed market segment, where they control the distribution and the consumption of media. The real test will be whether this survives the 2-3 year adoption cycle and moves into the magic price point range ($100-150).
“The vision is that you should be able to get any bookâ€”not just any book in print, but any book that’s ever been in printâ€”on this device in less than a minute.” –Jeff Bezos
How’s that for a librarian’s dream? The Kindle, Amazon.com’s new eReader, launches tomorrow, and Newsweek has an article online about the new, possibly revolutionary, product.
I can’t do a complete thinkpiece on the Kindle right now, but over the course of the week I’ll get to my take on the device. There are still lots of questions unanswered (the wireless connectivity charge, for one), but here’s the quick take to be expanded on later:
- This could very well be the iPod for books. It is revolutionary.
- Libraries seriously need to get their heads on straight regarding copyright law and licensing. If we don’t do some very, very serious lobbying very, very soon, eBooks will kill the current library model. We really need to do some serious thinking about how this impacts us.
- It is too expensive. For $400 I can buy a laptop (or two!) and do many more things on it.
- I want one.
Now playing: Counting Crows – Love and Addiction