44. The Jeff Bezos: A piece of moldy lettuce wrapped in a fancy advertisement for a delicious, juicy corn beef sandwich (from “Celebrity Sandwiches”)
True to form, the Amazon press conference this morning about the boring, essentially-the-same next version of their “popular” e-book reader (code name Kindle!) failed to deliver even the meagerly exciting news that Kindle books will now be will soon be may one day be available on your mobile phones. Unless, of course, you also buy a Kindle. Readerville speculates:
Reading various accounts around the web of the Amazon press conference this morning, I’ve seen some lamenting that there was no announcement of an iPhone app, with the suggestion that was expected. Certainly the remarks last week begged speculation, but the more I think about it, the less I think they’re on the brink of simply making Kindle-format books available for other devices. That’s what they’ll have to do if they want the whole Kindle concept to survive for the long term, but it seems to me that, for now at least, they’re deeply invested (literally and figuratively) in the device—in making Kindle-format books available to Kindle owners. So while I can see them releasing an iPhone app this year, I don’t see it as standalone access for the purchase and enjoyment of Kindle books. I see it as a way to enable people with Kindles to sync those books onto their phones when going places without the Kindle. (In fact, here’s how PW put it: “… Bezos said Amazon is working on ways to sync the Kindle to other mobile devices.”) In other words, an iPhone app will cost you $359, Kindle included.
That said, I really hope I’m wrong.
And I hope she’s right, because the Kindle is crap, built on a closed system of crap. Remember when the first Walkman cassette players came out? Of course not, because I’m older than Moses, and you aren’t. Here:
Okay. They played music on cassette tape. Which had a basic universal format, meaning nobody really owned the rights (and profits) to “the Walkman cassette.” They had one industry standard, and Sony didn’t try to force everyone to adhere to a specific “Walkman-only” format. And so the player flourished, and people broke free from the shackles of home stereo systems. Which could also play cassettes.
Now imagine Jeff Bezos with his Amazon Time Machine, going back and getting his paws on the Walkman prototype. Suddenly, it will only play WALKMAN CERTIFIED cassettes. Which means that anyone who has already released their music on cassette – which was everyone in the music industry – is now either forced to re-release it in WALKMAN CERTIFIED format, or it won’t work on the hip new device.
Do you think the Walkman would have lasted? Maybe; maybe the record companies would have kowtowed to Sony, and re-released everything in this format, and then all the other music equipment manufacturers would have bought in for the format rights, so they could start playing WALKMAN CERTIFIED cassettes. Maybe. But now? When new technology is always right around the corner? Give me a break. Proprietary format equals greed, and that’s unlikely to work in the long run. (I know it has with the iPod, but that’s based around a medium that has a “coolness quotient” – music – and is further reinforced by the coolness factor drilled into our heads by the Apple Marketing Machine. Maybe you’ll pay extra for the iPod that you saw Bono selling on the fun commercial, and it’ll play the new Andrew Bird album you can only get in iPod format through iTunes. But ebooks? Reading? The Kindle? You might as well lug around a VCR. Hipster cachet doesn’t factor in.)
Meanwhile, in conjunction with O’Reilly’s Tools of Change conference in NYC this week, Plastic Logic has revealed more about their much-anticipated device. It’s a larger, tablet-style device with touchscreen capability, and they’ve got extensive partnerships in place for newspaper, book and magazine distribution to it. For ebooks, they’re partnering with Fictionwise, the same place one currently buys books to read on the iPhone (using either eReader or Stanza) and other platforms. What gives Kindle 2 a little bit of breathing room is that the Paper Logic device won’t release for at least a year. But by then, if rumors prove true, Apple will have revealed a tablet of their own. So in aiming at the iPhone-plus-deluxe-reader customer, Kindle will have some pretty stiff competition.
So before you start sipping the Kindle Kool-Aid, take note: a “cooler” (better looking, flexible, probably cheaper) competitor from Plastic Logic is on the way. Likely to be the first of many. And then, when Apple releases their own e-reader (which also happens to surf the web in a way that’s useful, and will play music, and games, and will likely be reinforced by a gigantic, extra-cool marketing campaign)? That Kindle will be one more non-biodegradable hunk of crap in the landfill. No VCR for me; I’m going to wait for the DVD player. And in the meantime, this pile of actual, real books will work just fine.