Jag Venugopal's Blog

May 20, 2009

Ebooks and the Kindle

Filed under: Digital Living — Jag @ 3:31 pm

Amazon’s kindle is being hailed as the next big thing in books. It does away with needing to produce ink on paper, and is touted as the resurrection of the ebook. Additionally, there is a fair amount of buzz on how it is the savior that the newspaper industry has been desperately waiting for.

I, for one, am not so sure. There are a couple (significant) problems with the Kindle that will need to be addressed before it is ready for mainstream adoption.

Problem No. 1: DRM. When I buy a book, I can read it, photocopy a few pages under fair use guidelines, lend it to a friend or sell it second-hand. Kindle titles are wrapped with a DRM scheme. This means that they can only be read on the Kindle device for which it was sold. I’m sure that as you purchase new Kindles, Amazon will allow you to bring over your books to the new device, but still: you cannot share it, and you are restricted from reading it on anything other than your device. In short, a lock-in of your books to Amazon. its ironic that Amazon, which is a large seller of DRM-free MP3 music would choose to DRM-protect its books.

Problem No. 2: Price. The larger Kindle costs close to $500. Assuming that the average book is priced $10 on the kindle than in the print copy, it would require 50 book purchases to break even. Given that the life of an electronic device is somewhere around three years, that would require you to read 50 books in three years to break even. this equates to a book every 3 weeks, non-stop. Read less than that, and you won’t break even. Of course, it could be argued that the Kindle cannot be justified on the basis of cost savings alone, but on the added convenience of not having to lug books around. This justification can, however, be neutralized by citing the comparative advantages of books: chief among them being that you don’t lose a lot of money if you damage one. Further, paper on ink books offer better resolution and color, both things that the Kindle doesn’t.

I read a lot of e-books, some purchased through O’Reilly, and others acquired elsewhere (though to keep my conscience clear, I always purchase a paper copy to ensure that the authors and publishers get paid). I like to read the ebook if I’m working on my computer, and use the paper copy elsewhere. A viable e-book solution would be platform-neutral and DRM-free (perhaps using custom watermarking to thwart pirates). It would be standards-based and work on multiple e-book hardware and software platforms.


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