Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Are You There, Amazon? It's Me, JA

An open letter to Jeff Bezos and Amazon.

I want to tell you why I haven't bought a Kindle yet.

I'm still considering it, because I made about $3000 in June selling my unpublished novels and published short stories on the Kindle. Three grand is a nice chunk of change, and it will be interesting to see if those numbers stay strong through oncoming months.

But even with this success, I can't bring myself to buy a Kindle.

Here are the five main things preventing my purchase:

1. Cost. A Kindle is simply too much money, especially compared to other electronic gadgets that do more. While I'm sure manufacturing costs are high, all costs reduce with time, and if I were Amazon I'd spend a lot of time and money figuring out how to get the price down so more people buy Kindles.

2. Most of the books on Amazon are too much as well. This is the publisher's fault, because they set the price. So perhaps Amazon should stop dealing with publishers and start dealing directly with authors. Mr. Bezos, if you want an exclusive JA Konrath title, contact me.

2. DRM. When I buy a book, I want to own a book and do whatever I want with it, and copy-protection makes that impossible. Again, this is publishers doing this, not Amazon, but it is preventing me from buying Amazon's Kindle.

3. Format. There are too many ebooks available on the net for cheap or free that aren't compatible with Kindle formats. The Kindle DX reads pdf, which is terrific, but it costs a hundred bucks more than the Kindle 2. Give me this feature for less, and I'm sold.

4. Unitasking. A mini-laptop costs the same, is only a bit larger, and can do a billion things. As of right now, the Kindle is limited in what it can do. It does what it does very well, but people like their gadgets to have cross-purposes.

Unfortunately, Amazon hasn't released a Kindle app for PCs, and I have no idea why. The laptop minis are perfect for reading because they are so portable.

But Kindle has released an app for the iPhone and iPod Touch. My son recently got an iPod Touch, and I played with it for a few days.

Wow.

I love this gadget. Reading on it is ridiculously easy, not only using the Kindle app, but using other readers like Stanza (also owned by Amazon.) Many books also have their own app, including my novella SERIAL, which doesn't require a reader--you simply download the free ebook and the reader is included.

I had no problems curling up with the iPod for an extended reading session, and enjoyed the experience. While I don't believe this is going to be the de facto way of reading ebooks in the future, for the time being it's a nice placeholder.

So what will the breakout ebook reader be like? Mr. Bezos, take note.

1. Under $150, and available at retail outlets like Wal-mart and Best Buy.

2. Wireless Internet capabilities for downloading books.

3. Able to read many different ebook formats, with no DRM.

4. Adjustable font size, type, and contrast.

5. A built in light.

6. Color no-glare e-ink.

7. Upgradable memory and operating system.

8. Long battery life, scratch proof, and water proof (or at least with skins available to make it waterproof.)

9. E-Book 2.0 capabilities.

What is E-book 2.0? And why aren't more people thinking about it?

Here are my Criswell predictions for E-book 2.0:
  • The books will be interactive, the words clickable on a touch screen. You click on the word "lugubrious" and it gives you a dictionary definition, or the word "Taj Mahal" and it shows you a jpg picture.
  • Ebooks will have extra content, such as author annotation, first drafts, deleted chapters, extra short stories, interviews, essays.
  • The ebook version and audio version will be packaged together.
  • There will be options for ambient sounds while reading, as well as music.
  • Ebooks will be upgradable, meaning the author can continue to add DLC (downloadable content, which is hugely popular in videogames) to books. A reader can buy the first part of a chapbook, then automatically get each new chapter as the author finishes it.
  • Ebooks will link to book-specific forums, where readers can review the book and share thoughts and interact with other readers.
  • The touch screen will be signable, so authors can autograph their books (much like signing the electronic screen on a credit card machine.)
Will these things come to pass? Honestly, I think they will. Playing with the iPod Touch, seeing the unlimited potential of a handheld electronic device, there is no reason why books shouldn't go the same route movies have gone, getting deluxe DVD editions with extra Rom content. It will be interesting to see what the future holds.

In the meantime, I'm going to be reading on my son's iPod, waiting for the Amazon Kindle to catch up...

42 comments:

Jenny said...

I agree with you that it would be great if the kindle did what you all said.

But, I have the kindle 1 and love it for what it does do for me!

I have no interest in a iphone/touch/pod, etc, so having a kindle works great for me!


P.S. I have read your books on the kindle too.

Robert Burton Robinson said...

I would love to see all those features too, Joe. But right now I'd settle for just a lower price.

At $150, I'd buy a Kindle today, as is.

I remember when my grandmother (who loved to buy new gadgets right when they came out) bought a newfangled thing called a VCR for around $1,000. It even had a remote...with an extra long cord.

And you could "fine-tune" the channels by turning little dials. We only had three local stations at the time. This was before cable TV.

But it was a wonderful device. She could tape her soap operas while at work and watch them later in the day!

I guess it's just a matter of time. But if Amazon doesn't move fast enough, some other company will jump out ahead of them.

D. Robert Pease said...

I too agree with nearly everything you said. I would love to have a Kindle. I have an iPhone now, and read some books on it (a few of yours I might add) but I have problem with eye strain after a while. And the e-ink technology of Kindle would help with this. I disagree that the Kindle should become more iPhone like, at least for now where the technology stands. Sometimes when you do everything you don't do anything well. From what I've seen of the Kindle it does what it does, very well. Perhaps some tweaks, looking up words, etc... but don't start putting games, and music and apps on it and forget about making it a great ebook reader.

So why don't I have a Kindle. One word. Price. It is insane to buy something that does one thing only, no matter how well it does it, at that kind of price. Unless you are in the business, as an agent or editor. Or if you read hundreds of books a year. I read maybe 30 or 40.

If the Kindle was $100-$150 I'd buy one right now. And I suspect that a whole heck of a lot of people would too. I know Amazon is making good money on the Kindle, but are they really going to be there in the long run? I think Apple, with their iPhone/iPod Touch and the pricing model, has done an absolutely amazing job of squashing the competition. And they started from behind. Amazon is in the lead at the moment with the Kindle, but I'm afraid they still haven't built the kind of market share that will keep them there for very long. The name of the game for them right now should be building such a huge following that the Kindle becomes the de-facto eBook reader. And that means lowering the price.

It isn't even that I can't afford a Kindle now. I could buy one without a second thought really, but it is more the principle of the thing. I need to justify in my head that the cost is worth the benefit.

Sorry for the long rant, but I believe this very strongly.

spyscribbler said...

I love my Kindle, so I have to speak up. :-)

#2: They are still the cheapest you can buy them anywhere on the internet, and always cheaper than in the store. (Not true of other ebook sites, believe it or not!)

#3: You're actually mistaken about this. The Kindle will read any .mobi, .prc, .pdf, .txt, .doc file that is DRM-free. (Most of the ebook sites use those formats, although alot of them insert DRM.) There are also a few sites where you can download all those free books, thousands of them, directly from and to your Kindle. (Although Kindle has caught up and is now offering them for free, too.)

If you want to buy a DRM-protected book from another site, then you have to strip it. And I'd always advise stripping your Kindle files and storing them somewhere, too. DRM is just silly.

#4: If there were laptop capabilities, people wouldn't read. I wouldn't read. The point is reading.

Did you know about the free wireless internet, though? What other device gives you unlimited free wireless internet browsing? It sure comes in handy on the road. And, um, it's FREE! Sure cell phones have that feature for about $50-100 a month, so you recoup the price of your Kindle in 4-8 months.

And the Kindle also has #2, 3, 4, 8, and limited 9. The battery lasts for weeks without charging, as long as you leave the wireless off when not in use. They have the dictionary feature.

In addition, the Kindle also will highlight text and let you make notes in the text. You can later download these quotes and notes to your computer.

Which makes writing essays and critiquing/editing a breeze.

The Kindle does everythign I want, except I want one bigger than the DX, too, so I can scan in all my piano music, LOL. I'd still want the little Kindle for reading books.

spyscribbler said...

PS: You can highlight a word and search the encyclopedia, which often has pictures. It's just not a simple mouse-over feature like the dictionary.

JA Konrath said...

I think Apple, with their iPhone/iPod Touch and the pricing model, has done an absolutely amazing job of squashing the competition.

I agree. It's a combination of price, features, and the ease of iTunes. Amazon should take a close look at Apple, before Apple, or Sony, beats them to the punch.

Kindle will read any .mobi, .prc, .pdf, .txt, .doc file that is DRM-free.

I've played with a Kindle, and the pdfs need to be converted, and often wind up looking like crap after conversion.

Converting is also a pain. Why not make the feature available without converting? This was done on the DX.

What other device gives you unlimited free wireless internet browsing?

The iPod Touch. :)

I believe the Kindle is getting closer to being universally embraced with each new product, but the price still remains the biggest factor against. And this isn't because $300 is too much--I paid that for the iPod Touch. But the iPod Touch can do so much more.

Jamie D. said...

I'll have what you're having, with one more request. I want to be able to download ebooks from my computer's hard drive, not have to always go through Amazon's app to put things on a Kindle (or any other ebook reader). Wireless internet is all well and good, but I want the choice to transfer my own files directly rather than have to email them to Amazon if I want them on a Kindle.

Jamie D. said...

I should mention that currently, I read ebooks on my PDA (Palm TX). And that works just fine for me. The Kindle is actually bigger than I'd want to carry around all the time. My PDA is more "subversive" for sneaking in a few "pages".

Clare Revell said...

I just plain live in the wrong country to even consider getting a kindle.

spyscribbler said...

Really? That's cool! Are you sure, though? I thought you had to be near a Wi-Fi access point, right? With the Kindle, you get cellular wireless, which works wherever you can get a cell phone signal, even if you're far away from a Wi-Fi access point.

I haven't found conversion to be difficult. You just email the file to your Kindle, and it shows up all nice and neat.

And Jame, if you want, you can hook up the Kindle and transfer it from your computer. :-)

I enjoyed reading on my Palm TX, too.

Basil Sands said...

The problem that Amazon is having but has yet to tell anyone, if they ever will, is that they are stalling.

You see, their technical analyst has not returned yet with the proper data to complete the task of making the machine work the way it is supposed to. He only managed to send the specs of the most basic level of functionality back to them before he got stuck with some guy from Britain and a lunkhead who claims to be President of the Universe (OK, he's really stuck with a double-lunkhead named Zaphod Beeblebrox try pronouncing it with a mouthful of marshmallows...gives you a buzz).

Once he returns to HQ we will see the full specifications come to life and the Kindle will become more like a real life guide to all knowledge, reality, and comprehension of everything that is really, really cool.

...and you will still be able to reall plain old books on it if you insist, even read in the bathtub.

Come on Ford! They're waiting!

Mary Stella said...

I've downloaded exactly two works of fiction. Lynn Viehl's Darkyn novella and Serial.

Does that make me a Luddite?

Now, if Kindle/Amazon ever makes an app that I can use on my Acer netbook, to easily download and read, I might start to buy more books in e-format.

It would truly be cost-effective for me and let me have multiple uses for the netbook.

Mark Terry said...

If Apple came out with the equivalent of an iPod touch with a size of the Kindle, say approximately the size of a paperback book, and came in at the $300 price range of the Kindle, I'd go for it. I'd love to not only be able to read on it, but be able to watch videos, play games, surf the net, and play music on a larger screen. I'm an iPhone user, and yes, I paid $300 for it. I've got the free Kindle app, but it's still too small a screen for my aging eyes, although I was impressed by the app in general. I CAN read a book on it, I'm just not likely to.

Otherwise, I agree with all your points. And if the Kindle came down to about $150 I'd be on it like a pike on a minnow.

Katherine said...

I haven't bought a Kindle for mostly the same reasons JA hasn't.

I did a quick break-even analysis, and the number of ebooks I'd have to buy before the Kindle was worth it to me was ridiculous. The multi-use issue is a real issue -- another gadget to keep charged and avoid dropping doesn't sound appealing, especially when I already have a pocket computer (Nokia N-800) that I can read PDFs and other docs on.

Computers made us used to the idea of the all-in-one gadget. Having specialised gadgets does not appeal.

ben said...

When you mention adding a light, are you talking an overhead light(like a normal book light) or a back lit screen?

Because a back lit screen pretty much defeats the e-ink's purpose.

Andrys said...

=======
" 'What other device gives you unlimited free wireless internet browsing?'

The iPod Touch. :) "
=======

The iPod Touch my friend uses needs WiFi. He uses the WiFi at home and could not use it where we were without paying for monthly access. I'm able to use the Kindle to access most of the Web w/o paying any such monthly charges.

The Kindle has 24/7 cellular network wireless access, to the Net. that's available just about anywhere a cellphone works, and this is included in the cost of the device which you feel should cost $150. The component parts have been analyzed to cost $180 just to get them, but it doesn't include the cost of integration of the parts, nor the distribution nor warehousing or administration and support.

Cellular networks are always relatively slow for this kind of access but the wireless feature is very useful when wanting to look up something anywhere you happen to be. I look up product reviews while in front of something I'm not sure I should buy. I even post to forums with it.

We are talking about wireless access to the Net anywhere you happen to be, for no additional monthly cost.

It costs $60 per month when added to a wireless gizmo like the Novatel MiFi 2200 or to a netbook via Sprint or Verizon.

With Wi Fi you're looking for hotspots that MIGHT be nearby and MIGHT be free, when you're away from your computers.

24/7 wireless costs. To get a netbook working that way (though certainly faster and with color), you'd need to get a $60/month wireless account for another $720/yr if you wanted to be able to just use it away from your computers.

AT&T has programs now which offer an Acer or Dell netbook for $200 with tax while you then pay $60/mo for the wireless. That's still $920 + tax and fees on the wireless access.

In the 2nd year it would be $720 + tax and fees. In the 2nd year for the Kindle, it would be $0.

But we are talking about a book reader. The rest described is just a bonus and it is well worth a one-time charge of $360 to others.

The Netbook might be a better deal for you if you don't mind carrying a netbook around to read books with, while waiting in lines or anywhere else, and you don't mind paying $720/yr for your unlimited wireless access.

Andrys said...

Jamie, any of the Kindles are too large for what you want.

But as for moving files from your computer to your Kindle, of course you can, with the included USB cable.

Uncopyprotected MOBI/PRC files, available from almost any online site are the main format. I use the free MobiPocket Creator to make Kindle compatible copies from many file formats. Others use Calibre or Stanza. They're all free.

An easier way if interested in web articles (w/o picking up the surrounding ads) is just to highlight an article and paste it to a WORD file and either autoconvert it quickly yourself with one of many free utilities and move it over to the Kindle
or use utilities that extract the articles and send them to the Kindle via Whispernet.

Instapaper is a super utility, but that's done with the wireless feature although you can collect many articles and then send them in one digest which costs 15c for one send direct to your Kindle.

With many online book sites, the mobi/prc versions can be sent direct to your Kindle at no cost. True for the free sites as well as the ones where books cost.

Here's an Amazon forum thread in which customers tell one another about the almost million non-Amazon books available that can be put on the Kindle (mostly free or at low cost) and how to find them and get them on their Kindles.
http://tinyurl.com/kindlebooksites

Nadine said...

Have you been reading this? http://www.thebigmoney.com/features/kindle-chronicles

Adrian said...

The Kindle blockers for me are:

1. DRM. I want to be able to loan, give, borrow, resell, donate, and bequeath my books.

2. Cell network. This is a deal breaker for me since cell phone coverage is so spotty. Only one of the big three providers gets any signal at our house--and it isn't Sprint. (I live in a suburb of the Silicon Valley.)

3. Book prices. I'd have no problem with $300 for the device if the books were less than the price of a paperback. I read about 20 books a year. My wife reads almost 100, most of which she borrows from the library. If books were $2-$5 each, we'd probably buy them all out of convenience.

JA Konrath said...

You guys were right--the Ipod uses WiFi.

Andrys said...

Nadine, interesting article.

I left a comment there that the Plastic Logic won't fill the bill either, as he has said, but for other reasons as well. Here's info I collected to try to figure out what the focus of the company is with that device:

http://xrl.us/plogic609

The Kindle or any other e-reader device won't be what most people need. But it seems there's quite a lot of $interest in it at least currently.

Adrian, I use the wireless only when away from my home because I have WiFi here. In the Silicon Valley in general, you would probably get pretty good reception.

But you're not in the target crowd for that because you prefer the library or cheaper books. Books that were popular a few years ago are generally $2.50 to $7 so that's out of your range.

However, a friend who is in a similar position to yours wound up getting one anyway and shocking me, and I rarely hear from him now because he's a voracious reader and is just into free books and there are tons of them for the Kindle though they're not among the bestsellers. He likes the classics though.

If you prefer paper books and want to read newer books, there is nothing like a good used bookstore and the library.

Amber Argyle-Smith said...

Wouldn't it be awesome?
Thing is, it will happen. It's just whether Amazon is the one to do it all.

Suzanne said...

I would add: why would I pay Kindle for delivery of NYT or other magazines or newspapers when I can read them for FREE via their apps on my iphone or computer...and they're in color!!!!!!!

I think you're right, ASUS or Apple or someone like them is going to come up with a Kindle competitor in the near future.

Anonymous said...

"Under $150, and available at retail outlets like Wal-mart and Best Buy."

Bah, they'd have to get it down to under $50 for me to get one.

Debbi said...

You mentioned the ability to sign e-books. Were you aware of the patent Amazon just got on the Kindle Pen? You can read about it at http://tinyurl.com/mlqudm

ben said...

Here's an Amazon forum thread in which customers tell one another about the almost million non-Amazon books available that can be put on the Kindle (mostly free or at low cost) and how to find them and get them on their Kindles.
http://tinyurl.com/kindlebooksites


I would like to see this site, but can't get the link to work. Anyone have a different link?

Andrys said...

ben,
Don't know what happened with that url. Here's one using another shortener:

http://xrl.us/kindlebooksites

Zoe Winters said...

I think these are all good suggestions and would move even me in the direction of buying a Kindle, even as much as I love my paper books and "not interacting with technology when I read fiction" I can still see its uses in many situations, such as travel.

One thing I don't think is a great feature though is an ability for authors to sign the ebook like a credit card machine.

When I pick up a signed book on my shelf that's a tangible thing. An author, even a famous author's signature on an ebook is still an intangible and impersonal thing. What makes an author signed book great is how "personal" the item feels. Especially if you stood in line yourself to get it autographed or a writer friend sent you an autographed copy of their book. A signature on a screen is just meaningless to me, and probably most other fans of books.

I'm also leery about a lot of the ebook 2.0 stuff which would require authors to become multi-faceted entertainers and do many other things besides "just" writing books. Authors are already paid crap enough, to add to their workload to try to sell something which SHOULD stand on it's own (a good story) seems like a bit much.

Though I think podcasting is a great opportunity to market and build a fanbase, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little resentful of the fact that it makes an author have to become a verbal performer as well as a written one. And creates a whole NEW thing with all the production values one has to worry about.

Seems to me that all this just creates WAY more work for the author. Plus, with how much publishing companies already pressure authors to put out a book or more a year, we already have a level of "ugh" to the quality of many books put out just based on the "authors as machines who can produce on command" mentality.

Rather than following the rule of only saying something if you have something to say, authors are encouraged to say something to fulfill their three book contracts. Ugh. Loading an author down with even more busy work that takes away from the time spent writing and the quality of that writing, is bad for literature overall. We may as well give it up and just watch movies. (Most of which is also dumbed down crap.)

Zoe Winters said...

Oh, I also would never release early drafts of anything as an add on. I'm sorry but the crap draft is a private thing, even if I was rich and famous I wouldn't release first drafts. I don't know that I'd release deleted scenes either. Deleted scenes are deleted for a reason.

Joe Menta said...

The kindle has a built-in dictionary that will automatically give you a definition when you highlight a particular word in a novel. It's a great feature (which doesn't require that the wireless connection be turned on) and I use it all the time.

Jude Hardin said...

Oh, I also would never release early drafts of anything as an add on. I'm sorry but the crap draft is a private thing, even if I was rich and famous I wouldn't release first drafts. I don't know that I'd release deleted scenes either. Deleted scenes are deleted for a reason.

I totally agree, Zoe.

JA Konrath said...

I also would never release early drafts of anything as an add on.

I would love to read the first draft of some of my favorite novels, to see what changes were made. It would get me to re-buy these novels as ebooks.

I'd also get a kick out of getting a chapter a month from an author I like, as Stephen King did with The Green Mile. I foresee these chapters would be polished, not crap, and would take ebooks in the same direction podcasters have been doing for years.

Jude Hardin said...

I would love to read the first draft of some of my favorite novels, to see what changes were made.

That might be interesting and amusing once or twice, Joe. For writers, that is. For non-writers? Forget about it. I think the novelty would wear thin rather quickly. At any rate, I don't think it would be much of a selling point for ebooks. Stephen King showed some of a first draft and then the edits he made in On Writing, and to me it was the most boring part of the book. You can't really look at edits like that and say Oh, yeah, that's how you do it because everyone's process is so different.

Jude Hardin said...

BTW, Joe, have you heard about this site?

I just heard about it today, so I haven't really investigated it yet, but it's sort of an online book club where you can discuss books that you're reading with others who are reading the same thing. You can even write in the margins and compare notes etc. An application like that might be a strong selling point for e-readers.

Stacey Cochran said...

I've got two questions that come to mind as I'm reading your blog this week, JA: what is Mobipocket and do you need to upload your books there if your books are already on Kindle?

Also do you know how to upload your books to Borders' eBook store and scribd.com?

Is there any value in doing so?

Stacey Cochran
Bestselling Author of CLAWS
The Colorado Sequence

Anonymous said...

Anon 4.0 back in black!! ;)

I agree, the price is waaayyyy to high.

I also wouldn't want it to be the everything machine you propose it should be; having it cluttered with Twitter/Youtube etc etc etc junk is unecessary.

But it should be the maximum reading/book experience machine. Make it viable for you to fully enjoy audio books, larger text, etc etc etc.

Also, make it backwards compatible for people who are less tech savvy. Let people who already have books on CD be able to play their CD's on the Kindle. This way they have an immediate bond with the machine.

But the first hurdle of course is the price of the kindle!

Zoe Winters said...

Ha! Jude and I agree on something! I'm marking this down. :D

Maria said...

Well, now the kindle is cheaper. Maybe after all the 200 dollar people buy it, they'll go for 150?

I want a kindle. But yeah, the price is just too high.

Andrys said...

Maria, that may be some wait.

The $299 type of pricing does tend to mislead and I guess that's why they continue to do it, but it's actually, then, the "300 dollar people" -- but, again, I feel that if you don't already pay for 24/7 wireless, it is very well worth it to have this available to you almost wherever you are, for free rather than $60/mo as it would cost with netbooks.

By the way Sprint has a deal right now for a 99c notebook with 2 years of wireless (though data per month is capped), for $60/month.

Verizon and AT&T have similar deals but the notebook is $200 in their cases.

Maria said...

Andrys, you're right. I meant 299 (or 300) not 200. Silly me.

:>)

Yes the wi/fi is nice, but I don't pay for it now (I don't even own a cell phone.)

What I do love is that Kindle is great competition for these other devices out there. And who knows. Someday maybe I'll get one!

Andrys said...

Maria, it's sort of nice to meet someone who doesn't have a cell phone! It took me years before I got one.

Re WiFi, I have Comcast at home, so I got a Netgear router for about $50 and it makes the WiFi network for me, for no more money than that. I've had it for about 4 years now. So I use my laptop and a color printer/scanner via that little router.

As for the Kindle, I hope you do get one someday if you want one - it's like a magic Window to words, for me.

Maria said...

Nice to meet you, Andrys!

I do have wi/fi for the internet at home and I love it. I carry my laptop all over the house.

I do read ebooks now--on my laptop so I can see where a kindle might one day be something I'd enjoy. We'll see where the pricing goes and where the competition push things. The more competition at this stage the better. It can only improve all the end products and it will also help lower the price!