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Strike 3 for the Amazon Kindle Project

We’re fairly open-minded when it comes to new technology. We purchased a Kindle 2 and later a Kindle DX when they arrived on the scene. Amazon’s electronic store implementation with Sprint is every bit as good as the Apple Store for music and movies. And electronic ink (eInk) technology is quite an improvement over traditional computer displays and even outperforms non-color printing on paper. You really do have to see it to believe it. That’s where our love affair with the Kindle ends unfortunately.

Strike 1. Electronic books play an important role in reducing the squandering of natural resources. There’s also a substantial cost savings to publishers in distributing electronic books. In fact, it costs them almost nothing. But there’s a healthy dose of greed somewhere. Tim O’Reilly points the bony finger at Amazon which is free to charge whatever the market will bear for its electronic books. And they appear to be doing just that. Thanks to a boycott last year, the pricing of most New York Times best-sellers now has dropped below $10. But the dirty little secret is that the cost of technology books remains stratospheric.

In our non-scientific comparison of Kindle offerings with new and nearly new printed books in the technology category (even on Amazon’s own site), it was almost always possible to find a new or nearly new printed book at less cost than the Kindle alternative. Plus you get the accompanying CDs with the bonus materials that never are offered to Kindle purchasers. And, unlike the Kindle varieties, you can resell the real books once you’ve read them. Here are a few examples:

Python Cookbook. Amazon: 44 new and used books from $23.94. Kindle price: $29.67

Professional Excel Development. Amazon: 50 new and used from $29.65. Kindle price: $34.01

Quickbooks 2009 for Dummies. Amazon: 40 new from $13.64. Kindle price: $14.17

Practical Guide to Linux. Amazon: 36 new from $27.46. Kindle price: $28.34

Beginning PHP and MySQL. Amazon: 64 new and used books from $19.50. Kindle price: $25.90

Strike 2. The Kindle 2 reportedly has a nasty habit of cracking when attached to the $30 case which also is manufactured and sold by Amazon. The cases are $50 for the DX! Until a $5 million lawsuit was filed last week, Amazon was forcing customers to cough up $200 to repair their Kindles damaged by Amazon’s own case. Now they’ve had a change of heart. Too damn late!

Strike 3. The reliance on DRM technology to copy-protect Kindle books and prevent users from passing along their electronic books to others is just plain intolerable. The straw that broke the Camel’s Back occurred this past Thursday when Amazon took a page right out of George Orwell’s 1984. In this episode, Amazon literally snatched the already purchased 1984 books off every owners’ Kindles (without notice) because of a dispute between Amazon and one of its distributors. While the purchase price of the Orwell books was refunded, the entire episode labeled as Virtual Book Burning by InformationWeek reinforced just how unacceptable Big Brother tactics remain even in today’s digital world. Owners lost not only their books but also their personal notes about the book. Imagine someone coming onto your porch and removing a book you were in the middle of reading and annotating for a college class. But they left a check for the cost of the book on your coffee table. Yikes! The fact that it occurred with the infamous Big Brother handbook is just icing on the cake. Don’t you know that George Orwell is rolling over in his grave… because, no, you really can’t make this stuff up!

On the Horizon. Luckily, there’s a new, DRM-free eInk offering in the wings called txtr. In addition to 3G connectivity like the Kindle, the txtr also will include Wi-Fi support for the many hard-to-reach cellphone locations where a Kindle becomes next to worthless. The sooner, the better in our book. It’ll be a very long time before we do business with Amazon again. You’re OUT!

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  1. Ward – you missed the best example of pricing gone amok… The Wall Street Journal! I was thrilled about the new DX and was set to get one – if just to get my WSJ delivered electronically… Not worrying about have to start/resume the paper if I traveled… Feeling a little bit better about the environment and not having to waste all that newsprint for my copy… Having it right there first thing in the morning…

    What a rude awakening to find that it was more than the print copy AND didn’t include Web access to the WSJ. The reviews of the Kindle WSJ are terrible – telling you that you even lose other content in the normal print edition.

    And the papers wonder why they are going down the tubes… because some bean counter figures it is cheaper to print a newspaper, and in my case, US Mail it to me every day than to allow me to electronically download it.

    It’s crazy!

  2. While I can’t argue with strikes two and three (I used to have a copy of 1984 on my Kindle, thanks Amazon!), I don’t agree with the logic on your first point.

    The lower prices in your examples are not sold directly by Amazon. Since Amazon doesn’t have control of the pricing how is it a fair comparison? What would be the resolution to the problem? Should they put a minimum sell price for Amazon Marketplace sellers? Constantly adjust pricing to be competitive with Marketplace sellers?

    Just had to point that out, I do enjoy you’re articles. Keep up the good work!

  3. RE: "On the Horizon. Luckily, there’s a new, DRM-free eInk offering in the wings called txtr"

    The txtr looks interesting, but where’s the keyboard? external isn’t very convenient… 🙁

    Still waiting for the perfect or near perfect device…. but alas…

  4. I like the Kindle Reader, but this taking the book back is ridiculous. The electronic book reader is the sign of the times. Lets get with it. We pass paper books to others and even sell them at yard sales for a dime. Electronic books should be no different.

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