Kindle for people who buy books

March 2, 2009

books / business

When Amazon’s Kindle first came out, I wasn’t impressed. I thought it would certainly be annoying to read normal length books on screens. I saw one a few months ago at a conference, and was much more impressed. Amazon really managed to create a device for reading books that doesn’t look like it would be annoying (granted, I only saw it for a few minutes).

Recently, of course, they released the redesigned Kindle 2, which looks much better. That said, I think it still needs something to work for people who already buy lots of books.

I buy books all the time. Theology, spirituality, design, programming, ministry, art, whatever. Books are wonderful. If I bought a Kindle, my first boundary to really using it would be that I have many books that would not be on it. I’d have to figure out which books (in addition to Lord of the Rings, of course) belonged in my bookshelf as well as my Kindle.

Moving forward, I would have the same decision. Should the newest Rob Bell book go into the Kindle or onto the bookshelf? What about Karl Barth (can anyone really imagine reading Church Dogmatics on a Kindle)?

And this is where I think the business model is weak. There are lots of people out there comparing the Kindle experience with the iPod/iTunes experience. So far, though, I haven’t seen anyone mention one big difference; with iTunes, you can:

  1. Buy a CD, rip it onto your computer, and play it there, on your iPod, or continue to play the CD (and yes, there is a sound quality difference).
  2. Take your newest iTunes purchase, burn it onto a CD, and again have the same options of where and how you can play it.

The transition from cassette tapes to CD’s happened, on a large scale, right before my teenage years, so I missed the stress of it. I have nothing but sympathy for those who endured it, and those who endured similar transitions with albums, and so on.

But I have been spoiled by the vast convenience of digital music. I have no plans of discontinuing the purchase of CD’s, and also no plans to stop ripping my purchases onto my computer so I can listen to them there. I also have no plans to discontinue my iTunes purchases, or to stop burning these songs onto CD’s, for exactly these reasons. I passionately believe in supporting musicians by buying their music, but I don’t believe in buying two versions of the same thing, or having to replace existing media with new.

Until someone comes up with a business model for the Kindle that is at least comparable to the economic and practical sense that the iTunes model provides where I don’t have to buy music twice, I think the comparison will continue to fall short. I don’t want to have to buy a book twice in order to read it on my Kindle, or by turning the pages in the physical copy.

I realize that these are very different media, with very different industries behind them (though, if Apple can dominate bend the will of the music industry, certainly Amazon can do the same with the publishing industry). I also realize, of course, that I’ll never be able to “rip” a book, or “burn” an eBook. So I’m guessing that the business model I’m looking for does not result in free transfers from hard copy books to eBooks.

But there is no reason that there can’t be a compromise. What if I get a discount on the Kindle versions of books that I already own? What if I get a really good package deal if I purchase both versions of a book?

What other ideas are there that can help bring this experience up to par with the iPod/iTunes experience?