I’m not getting Kindle in both senses of the verb — not buying and not understanding, both as a device and as a model.

I was approached to add BuzzMachine to the blog available for sale on the device but didn’t pursue it because I don’t see the sense in selling this blog when it’s available on the web for free. Oh, I’d love to think that I could sell it — nothing against money; though I’m often accused of it, I’m not arguing that content should be free but that it just is. But if this content is available here for free, why would and should someone buy it on a different device? Why shouldn’t that device just bring me the internet? The iPhone does.

Of course, that’s because the business model is different: Amazon created a device through which it could sell content; it is charging for the content instead of the access. But I have to believe that the Kindle will feel imprisoned when I want to get other content that I know is out there on the web. And I wonder about the economics of paying for all that access if people don’t buy enough content. The alternative to that is to sell a subscription to content but who wants another monthly bill? I do prefer the a la carte nature of iTunes over subscription movie services.

If the Kindle enabled me to pay for access so I could get the entire web, would I get it? I doubt it, because it appears to be a limited device. The iPhone is more powerful. It gives me the ability to both buy content and see the world of content. It’s a connected computer. Am I going to lug around a device just to read books and a limited set of blog and newspaper content without the ability to fully interact with it? No.

I’ve said often that I don’t believe re-creating an old media form electronically is the salvation of that form. The salvation of the content within that form is to take advantage of the new opportunities afforded by electronics and connectivity. I haven’t touched a Kindle yet, so I don’t know what it adds but those additions would be more valuable to me than its homage to the size and feel of the book.

(Disclosure: I own Amazon stock.)

: Update and correction: Tom Evslin and Aaron Pressman in the comments say that you can, indeed, surf the web from the Kindle, though with some limitations. So now I’m triply confused: Why try to charge for blogs? I’m also doubly glad I said no.

  • James Fulford

    You can read ebooks and blogs on either the computer you’re reading this on, or your Treo. (Mobipocket is what I use, and Mobipocket Creator will turn any HTML, PDF, or DOC file into a Palm-compatible file.)

    You do not need to buy an ebook reader to read a book–you have the reader already, and it’s a sunk cost, since you have to have a computer and a smartphone anyway.

  • Ron

    I agree and I don’t own Amazon stock !

  • Maybe I’m totally wrong, but by all appearances, there’s nothing at all stopping you from accessing this or any site using the EVDO connection – at no extra charge. Kindle has a (somewhat primitive, at least compared to iPhone) browsing environment, but according to the Kindle User Guide, it does Javascript, SSL, and cookies, and supports downloading of a couple formats including unprotected MOBI files and TXT.

    The subscription to blogs is something I imagine will appeal only to less technical users who typically subscribe to sites via email and don’t know what RSS is. My guess is that the convenience of having all the content you want to read (books, newspapers, blogs) downloaded and available offline immediately will be worth a buck a month for some people, just not the majority of folks who read sites like this.

  • Kevin,
    That makes charging all the odder.

  • Jeff,

    I agree it’s odd to charge, and I don’t quite know why they’re doing it. I can’t imagine there’s really any extra cost involved to convert blog feeds for the Kindle format, nor that Amazon stands to make any money at all selling these subscriptions. I’m not sure what went on when they approached you, but I can see part of the reasoning being that they want to create a way for blog writers to make money on the distribution of their content in the same way that writers and newspapers/magazines obviously will on this device. Blogs aren’t exactly free, either – as you know, most these days are ad-supported, and while the net effect of this is that, to users, they are free, many writers want to make money. We see this resistance when it comes to offering partial instead of full feeds (or none at all), and the recent emergence of feed advertising. Why Amazon didn’t go this route is unclear – perhaps technical limitations, or even a (misguided?) belief that this method would be tempting to top-tier bloggers, who would then sign on and promote Kindle while advertising their subscription to readers.

    It’s totally wacky. But if some bloggers think they can make money this way, then it’s at least a novel option. Still, I highly agree that a-la-carte is the way to go.

  • I am still struggling with the idea that Amazon would expect the obvious target market for this emerging tech — the highly-connected business traveler — to pay for stuff that’s free on the Web. It just doesn’t jive. It’s like Amazon decided not just to redesign book publishing but to take on all forms of publishing. (Charging the user to move files between devices is even more startling. I so do not get that, unless Amazon had to find a way to rationalize underwriting EVDO for their users, and drawing a line at using the network for anything Amazon didn’t provide was how they did that.)

  • A dedicated eBook reader makes as much sense in 2007 as a dedicated word processor made in 1992.

  • I am having a really hard time wrapping my hands around this idea. This almost seems like Amazon picked up the Foleo where Palm dropped it off.

    What would have made more sense? A full fledged web-browser and reader. I think the iPhone is too small for what is can do, and something the size of the Kindle is what I have been looking for, except it won’t handle what I need it to do.

    Guess we’ll all be able to get one on the cheap soon enough when they are on clearance next Christmas!

  • I always go back to my theme that open access to information is the basis of a functional democracy.

    When a vendor “rents” you the access to information it become easy to turn off that access when it is politically expedient. With the printed word it is possible to evade government censorship, although it may be difficult. Look at the role of samizdat during the waning days of the USSR. It was realized to be so dangerous that access to photocopy machines was restricted.

    When governments are going against the will of the majority, the first thing they do is to shut down the press: see current actions in Burma and Pakistan, for example.

    A device like this may allow for the distribution of material during a lenient period but then the source may be removed during a subsequent crackdown. The kindle doesn’t permit sharing or even, I’m assuming, printing. So, short of passing one device around, the banned material becomes invisible.

    As more and more material becomes digitized and storage is centralized the danger of censorship becomes ever greater.

    We can debate whether renting access to movies and music is important to democracy, but I don’t think there is any debate about the importance of the printed word.

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  • sidereal

    To the people who assume you can just use an iPhone or other LCD device as a dedicated eReader, you’re forgetting that the original function eReaders were supposed to fill is the reading of longform text, like novels or other dense books. And the crucial feature there is the eInk technology that lets you read with reflected light (like a printed page) rather than off a backlit display. Reading novels off an LCD screen will blind you. Another issue is battery life. The eInk displays only use power when you ‘turn’ a page. Otherwise the little ink balls are just sitting there for free. So you can reasonably read an entire book without having to charge up all the time.

    The problem is that we’re moving away from dedicated devices. Everyone wants a phonemp3playerwebbrowserPDAvoicerecorder, so eReader manufacturers try to cram features onto the readers to compete. It’s stupid. I’m not going to read blogs on eInk. I’m going to read a book on it. So either they knock it off and sell a cheap, open eReader that’s just an eInk display and a hard drive, or Apple will eventually come up with an eInk display that they can snap onto an iPhone and the other players will be buried.

  • I’m already on record as a card-carrying member of the minuscule pro-Kindle minority ( but there does seem to be a remarkable amount of misunderstanding out there about what this gizmo can and can’t do. I can’t really argue with the no one-function gadgets point. If that’s your belief, Kindle isn’t for you. But it is an elegant reading machine with looooong battery life, a snappy screen and a built-in, goes-everywhere-with-you bookstore.

    On my Kindle that arrived today, I surfed the Internet and visited blogs including this one. They all looked great, though obviously rendered in just 4 shades of grey. There is no charge for this surfing. I had more mixed results with more graphics heavy news and newspaper sites but some now have special mobile or text-only versions. I used gmail to read and reply to messages. It was a little clunky but it worked. All of this is free (anyone remember the uproar over the iPhone’s required monthly access plans?).

    And as far as the complaints about getting stuff onto Kindle, I loaded text, Microsoft Word and PDF files from my laptop. For teh PDF and Word files, this required me to email the files to Amazon. Within 2 minutes in each case, I got a download link. AT NO CHARGE, I downloaded the converted files. I plugged my Kindle into my laptop’s USB port and dragged the new files on. Total elapsed time for a dozen files — less than 5 minutes. I know that Amazon is not listing PDF as a supported format but it works fine. Another way to accomplish this without any emailing is to get the free Mobipocket Creator software, which imports PDFs, HTML and Word formats and outputs in a format Kindle can read directly. The 10 cent charge only kicks in if you email a file you want converted directly to your Kindle via wireless.

    And one final comment – Amazon/Bezos recognize that the the consumer is getting less value for an ebook with DRM and they are charging less than a print book. To pick a somewhat silly example, Clive Cussler’s new thriller The Chase is $16 in hardcover at Amazon, $21 as a Sony ebook and $9.99 at Kindle. Older titles are much cheaper. An old William Gibson novel that sells for $8 in paperback was $5 on Kindle.

  • Reese

    The fee for blogs is to cover the data transfer costs that Amazon is eating by using Sprint’s network to deliver the data. Someone has to pay for ALL data transfer, so it’s Amazon since they aren’t charging a monthly service for to have the Kindle — which is a nice change.

    As for the blog fees, I immediately figured out they could be greatly reduced by simply creating your own script that pulls data from whatever RSS feeds you want and outputting them to a Word doc that gets emailed to your Kindle address — which has Amazon process it, beam it to your Kindle, and charge you 10 cents. For $3/month you could technically subscribe to 10,000 blogs and have all the latest posts delivered in ONE large document that gets added t your Kindle each day. You’d want to format the ‘order’ of the data somehow to make it easy to navigate, but this is definitely one way to greatly reduce the cost involved with reading a lot of blog content on the Kindle.

    I think the other thing that’s being missed here is that reading a lot of content on the iPhone stinks. I have one and only use it for short reading bursts. It’s not that easy on the eyes to read for a long period of time. On the other hand, one could read an e-book on a laptop, but that’s a joke. When are you going to sit around on a beach somewhere, or on a train, on an airplane, or anywhere else for a long period of time and try to read from your laptop? That is definitely NOT a good “consume large amounts of content” solution.

    I think the Kindle is making an effort to “bridge the gap” between a tiny cellphone that does a good job of bringing us small amounts of news and content, and a laptop that’s more of a computing station.

    I would much rather have a Kindle on an airplane and be able to switch between several different books rather than lug all of those books with me.

    And if college textbooks can eventually be purchased on the Kindle… WOW. Just think of a student being able to have all 12,000LBS of his/her textbooks loaded onto one small, lightweight device.

    I think, ultimately, we’re talking about “what’s the solution for being able to consume a lot of content COMFORTABLY?”

    The iPhone? NO WAY. Spend more than an hour trying to read on that thing and you’ll have experienced some major eye strain.

    A laptop or tablet PC? NO WAY. Those are overkill. Too big and clunky.

    It’s not always about having the best device that will “satisfactorily” do everything, it’s about having a device that does the BEST JOB for the purpose it was created for.

    Is the Kindle the answer? It’s too early to tell. But it’s definitely moving in the right direction.

  • AvidReader

    I think what most of you are forgetting (or perhaps you aren’t aware) is that Amazon’s Kindle is for people who enjoy reading novels, which is the extreme minority in most areas of the country. The purpose of it is to create a way to carry all your books around with you, purchase books instantly, read the books you buy, and then write up reviews and read them.
    It serves all of those purposes, but broadly it serves one purpose: a little best friend to the avid reader. A person interested in reading a book is not interested in also checking email and stock quotes, although it seems like the Kindle could be forced to do so.
    When I’m using my IPod I don’t wish that it also made a cup of coffee. In fact, if presented to me, I would not buy that stupid device. The Kindle is to read with. That’s pretty much the end of the story. If it were made to do everything we’d have a laptop in our hands which would be too big and would then negate the purpose of having the Kindle.
    One last note: The iphone is more expensive than Kindle, as far as I know. It’s also too small for someone looking to read a novel to be confortable with.

  • I checked with Kindle tech support to verify that there is no additional charge to use the browser for unlimited access to websites unless the websites themselves charge. So this is a rather novel approach where you buy a device, pay for only as much content as you want to buy, but get unlimited browser access to the free web (with some fairly severe technical limitations like no flash). It is an alternative to free content with paid access.

    Don’t know how many people’ll buy blogs on Kindle (mine’s available there); would guess that more’ll buy books and perhaps newspapers for more convenient reading on a train or plan than either paper or a laptop. Maybe subscribe to their favorite blogs for convenience. For what it may be worth to some people, the blogs sold through Kindle have to be ad-free.

    Blogged more about it at

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  • Everyone seems to be surprised by the blogs, especially the blogosphere. I will go against the crowd on that: selling blogs may be a dumb business proposition….

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  • Jimmy

    For someone who is so Internet savvy, Jeff, you can be so … out of touch sometimes. This device isn’t for someone like you, or even many of the people who would read your blog because they’re savvy enough to use the Internet, probably have access to broadband, and is only beginning to use the Internet to get information from newspapers, magazine, and other online sources. I would say the majority of people who use this device will have no interest in the blogs available. They want it for the easy of reading novels for 40-50% off retail price — that’s cheaper than Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Sam’s Club, and even Wal-Mart. That and having the ability to carry around several books without the bulk of the books themselves sounds like a great idea to me. Besides, would anyone in there right mind want to read a novel on the tiny iPhone screen? Although, I have to admit, I refused to shell out money for the overpriced and over-hyped iPhone, so I will not be buying one of these devices even though I would love to try it out. This device is doing what blogs have been doing for years: making it cheaper and easier to get information and entertainment.

  • I didn’t buy a Segway, and I’m not buying this. So there!

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  • It’s about e-ink technology. Until you personally see it, you will not ever get it. Unless you are a true reader, you will not appreciate it.

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  • Rudy

    The Kindle is primarily a book, not a phone, or a music player, or a web browser. A book! As one who spends as much time as possible engrossed in books, I “get” the Kindle, totally. Books serve a different purpose than blogs and email and websites and cell phones. To my mind all of these serve to keep me engaged in the real world, while books serve to take me away from it all, into a different place. With a good book, I’m right there inside of it, living the story that I’m reading. When you’re in this state, the book itself becomes almost invisible; it is simply eclipsed by the words that transform into images and thoughts in your brain.

    In my opinion, Amazon is on the right track with the Kindle. I don’t have mine in hand yet (it gets delivered tomorrow), but I know that they’ve tried to replicate real books to the greatest extent possible. That’s why there’s e-ink, a larger screen, long battery life, etc. I cannot imagine trying to read a book on an iPhone or a PDA, and I can’t imagine what people are thinking when they suggest this as an option… except that these folks must not read books very often!

  • I’m a stock trader on Wall Street, and the only reason I would like to get the Kindle for Christmas this year is so I can read the Journal on the train every morning without having to deal with pages of a newspaper flopping around in my hands and in other commuters’ faces. It’s overpriced at $400, but it’s a fantastic convenience. In contrast to your example, the Wall Street Journal isn’t a blog, and it can’t be read in its entirety for free on the web.

    Something the Kindle does that the iPhone doesn’t? It downloads the entire Journal at 4:00 in the morning and lets me read the whole thing while I’m inside cast iron tubes underneath the Hudson with no cell signal.

  • Peggie Ashbury

    I’m a middle-aged teacher and a voracious reader. I am on the waitlist for the Kindle because of the convenience. I scanned the available books and found them to be of interest. I also look forward to reading the newspaper and having no pile of recycling to deal with at the end of each month. Granted, the initial price is high, but over time, I expect I will recoup much of the investment through the reduced cost of books. The ease with which I’ll be able to carry my ‘book’ is also a plus. I won’t ever have to think twice about bringing something to read. I can’t wait.

  • David Levine

    Just got my Kindle
    If you are surfing sites like I did trying to decide if its for you, maybe I can help
    First, decide what you want it for
    Do you read books? spend lots of time heading to Barnes and Noble? Like the idea of saving on novels and being able to read them on a format that makes serious reading pleasurable on an electronic device? Like instead book gratification? Get one. One note, there are a lot of titles not available, but I am taking amazon at thie word that they are adding huge amounts of content in the near future to download, and they would indeed be the people to do it.

    While you can access blogs for a cost, newspapers, and some magazines, I consider this more icing for people who don’t mind spending a few extra bucks, Business travelers who dont wanna lug a laptop everywhere come to mind. Sure you can convert PDF and DOC files and import for free with just a few minor hoops to jump through. And with the new e-ink, you want to read large files, its not a strain. The web browsing and such are listed with the kindle as experimental.
    To me, what this means is, if its the main reason your buying his device, don’t, get a small laptop instead. This is for reading.

    There are some minor design issues I would change, I suspect we will see a better designed cover out soon, and a different layout for the side buttons, sleeker look etc. But the bottom line is when you read a novel, you sink into it like you do in a paperback.

    The kindle and its like may not come cheap, but with no monthly fees, a free Internet browser you can use anywhere you get a sprint cell phone signal, discounts on novels and the amazing e-ink, I think your not gonna be finding these on the discontinued rack, at least not until the Kindle 2.0 comes out.
    Bottom line, this is a device for people who read books, not for websurfing

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  • Jonny B

    I am not much of a book reader but if Kindle can make each and every words audible as well, I will buy one for me and also for my dog.

  • TMA

    just got a Kindle as a birthday present — and, while I agree with many of the reasons why it SHOULDN’T be successful, I have to say, I like it! It’s a convenient size, the screen is EASY to read (my eyes often hurt after spending a day reading my computer screen, but this is much more book-like), the wireless interface is simple enough, and — as I convert my word documents and PDFS, the ability to either pay a small fee for the wireless download or use the free one to my computer and follow with a USB transfer is acceptable. Battery life so far is quite impressive, too!
    There are a few things I’m lukewarm about — the web browser, the lack of sufficient unicode support — or whatever it is that makes the mathematical expressoins in my PDFs get garbled, etc. And a surprising number of the books I would be tempted to buy don’t have a kindle version out yet. Still, if I had to pick either my computer or my kindle for a long plane trip, I think I’d rather read my kindle!

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