Fourteen years ago I wrote a short story about an e-book reader that changed the way people read. Today Amazon finally released Kindle, and the name makes me wonder if they read my story. The Kindle is more than an e-book reader, it's really a wireless appliance for reading text. You can buy e-book versions of popular titles, subscribe to newspapers, magazines and blogs, and the only reason I can see that they don't grant full web access is that it's not in the current business model. All of the purchasing and downloads occur over the cellular network, but without and fees or subscription plans. All the costs are in the selling price. Amazon does include access to Wikipedia as well.
The Kindle, if the electronic ink reading experience holds up, comes very close to what is needed to replace school textbooks. At 10 ounces, it represents a huge savings in children's vertebrae, not to mention trees. While it doesn't support color, color is one of the worthless enhancements to textbooks that add cost rather than educational value. I'm routing for the Kindle to succeed and for future models to be adopted by the public schools. The price is no barrier, given the current cost of textbooks, and will only fall with time. I would buy a kindle today if I wasn't leaving for Israel tomorrow, where the service isn't (yet) available. I'm not going to do anything really crazy like buying Amazon stock, but I think they might have gotten the thing right.
Amazon is now inviting publishers to sign up for their Digital Text Platform in order to publish, well, text. As I've often whined on this blog, I lost $500 a month when Amazon stopped selling my Lightning Source provided e-books, so you'd think I'd be jumping in with both feet. Currently, there are a few obstacles. First, the royalty deal is 35% of the net to the publisher, or about $5 on a $15 book. That's quite a come-down from the 75% of the net I used to earn. Secondly, the market doesn't exist yet, just a few Beta Kindle users out there. Thirdly, they strongly recommend submitting the texts in HTML, which means a reasonable amount of optimizing work.
I would have thought they'd have made the publisher terms a little more attractive, at least initially, in order to benefit from small publishers and authors pushing Kindle adoption, the way Associates helped Amazon grow in the early years. It could be they feel they have all the critical mass they need with the NYT Bestseller list, or they think the sticker price is too high for a single title to drive a customer purchase. In the meantime, the customer reviews by people who have never held one of the things much less bought one is running strongly against. I suspect they'll turn around soon when Amazon gets past the debate about what it "could have been" and actual buyers report on what it is.