Amazon Kindle: the Web makes Amazon go bad crazy

Mark Pilgrim has a great, incisive post about the Amazon Kindle e-reader that sums up almost all of the reasons I won't be buying it -- it spies on you, it has DRM (which means that it has to be designed to prevent you from modding it, lest you mod it to remove the DRM), it prevents you from selling or lending your books, and the terms of service are nearly as abusive as the Amazon Unbox terms (and worse than the thoroughly dumb-ass Amazon MP3 terms).

Mark only misses one anti-feature of the Kindle: it comes with EVDO wireless through Sprint, which means that, inevitably, there will be world class Awful Crap that Kindle owners will confront, because it is impossible to involve a mobile carrier with a technology without infecting that technology with Awful Crap. When you lie down with dogs, you wake up with fleas.

Act I: The act of buying

When someone buys a book, they are also buying the right to resell that book, to loan it out, or to even give it away if they want. Everyone understands this.
Jeff Bezos, Open letter to Author’s Guild, 2002

You may not sell, rent, lease, distribute, broadcast, sublicense or otherwise assign any rights to the Digital Content or any portion of it to any third party, and you may not remove any proprietary notices or labels on the Digital Content. In addition, you may not, and you will not encourage, assist or authorize any other person to, bypass, modify, defeat or circumvent security features that protect the Digital Content.
Amazon, Kindle Terms of Service, 2007

Here's the biggest mystery of the Internetiverse for me today: why is it that Amazon, the most customer-focused, user-friendly company in the world of physical goods, always makes a complete balls-up hash out of digital delivery of goods? You'd think that they'd be the smartest people around when it comes to using the Internet to sell you stuff you want, but as soon as that stuff is digital, they go from customer-driven angels to grabby, EULA-toting horrors. Why does the Web make Amazon go crazy? Link

(Disclosure: If you buy a Kindle and then give them money to read Boing Boing, they send us some of it )


  1. Snds lk mst f th cmplnts bt t r whmscl rthr thn prctcl.

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    cn’t wt t s “Ntflx” typ srvc fr Bks. nstd f pyng $9 nd kpng th bk, w cld py $2 nd rnt t. G t BkFlx r whtvr, py $2 fr nw bk nd thy vrwrt yr ld bk wth th nw bk, nt ntrly nlk rntng mv nd sndng bck th DVD.

  2. YAMARA, they might be going for the sense of fire in this Thomas Jefferson quote:

    “If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of a thinking power called an idea … no one possesses the less of it because every other possesses the whole of it … as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening mine”

    As usual there is some kind of Orwellian ‘new speak’ dissonance.

  3. Other than the fact that this “Kindle” looks like the usual DRM crap, I won’t be buying it because it only works in the United States of America. 3 years in the making and they couldn’t figure out a way to get it to work outside the tiny area of USA. I thought these guys at least would figure out that the there is a large English speaking world outside the USA. What the heck were they doing for three years??? Must be disappointing to spend three years working on something and have it turn out so lame.

  4. I wonder how much of the garbage in the EULA is forced upon Amazon by the content rightsholders? Of course, it’s still a valid point that they could resist this, and haven’t.

    As to Awful Crap from Sprint, I really don’t think that will be an issue. Amazon’s revenue stream from Kindle users is dependent on Sprint remaining invisible, and I think Amazon will do a good job of keeping them that way.

    And Sprint is the only wireless carrier that has, to date, failed to piss me off.

  5. Buying and selling and lending used eBooks? Do crazy people actually do that, or want to do that? I know it’s a matter of principle, and I prefer dead trees anyway, but c’mon, that’s silly.

    I have some jpegs that I’ll lend you, and a couple animated gifs, but not for keeps! I’ll want them back, and you better not recompress them.

  6. RealCatholicMen #3: Instead of paying $9 and keeping the book, we could pay $2 and rent it. Go to BookFlix or whatever, pay $2 for a new book and they overwrite your old book with the new book…

    …or you could go to the library and “rent” a book for free. I think I’ll continue to do that rather than start paying for it.

  7. You know what, in life, some things will simply have DRM… and people just won’t care.

    Now, with music, yes, I want to make mix CDs, I want to give my friend a copy and I want to do what I want. But who makes mix books?

    The fact of the matter is, the book reading crowd ain’t the DRM crazy people that MP3 users are. And if they are, they most likely don’t care about DRM on books.

    Personally, I think the Kindle is a cool idea. However, EVDO means (I think) no going out of the USA and the fact that it costs $400 dollars negates any savings made from buying a $25 dollar book for $9.99 (at least in the short run).

    Lets face it, society as we know it is more impatient and wants things now, not in 5-7 business days. Not to mention the fact that by downloading a book you don’t waste paper/transportation/fuel/etc. And while I would be willing more to not have to deal with an extra book in my house at the end of the day, the startup costs are simply too high and there aren’t enough books on the network yet.

    In 12 months or so when everyone and their mother has signed up for this I think we will be looking at a new way to read books as we know it… just not now.

  8. The problem with digital technology is that there is no physical product. Barring DRM, the only way to transfer an eBook to a new owner is via good faith, as in selling the book, transferring the file, and deleting your copy.

    We’re led to believe that “good faith” isn’t a strong enough system to rely on (see also: the 62% of people who did not feel Radiohead’s latest album is worth purchasing). How do you create a system then to fully transfer over ownership rights of a digital file to another person?

    Perhaps with eBooks, we need to work around the idea of buying and selling. Perhaps we need to focus more on a solid model based around the library system in which members of the site can “rent” as many books as they’d like for a given period and return them for new ones, ala Netflix. The only reason why one should pay for such a service is due to maintenance fees (bandwidth and so-on), since they are not publicly funded like our libraries are.

    But even then, you will still have people like me who purchase and rarely/never resell books (especially paperbacks). I don’t want to be limited to 10 books forever; I want to be able to own as many as I want. What if I do decide to sell the book? We’re back to the DRM issue.

    So here’s our problem: How do we ensure the handling and transfer of a digital file is actually occurring without somebody fudging the system in nearly all cases? I say nearly all because even with physical books, someone could simply copy the entire book and sell it. We cannot destroy copy machines because of this, but at the same time, because a person can copy a physical book, we should not leave the system wide open for people to easily copy the digital files.

  9. You’d never know this thing had any downsides with the thorought handjob Charlie Rose gave Besos last night on his show. (Not sure if it’s Rose’s fault, but he threw a lot of research at Besos and none of it was devil’s advocate stuff.)

    I also think this is a cool idea. I’m going on a plane tomorrow and bringing three books with me, 2 hardcovers. I’d rather have a Kindle-type device. But I want my books like I want my music. I want total control of my media.

  10. I’m starting to think that it’s crufty business model crap like this that prevents decent tablets from reaching the market. Give me a 10″ IPod Touch with a PDF Reader and who needs Amazon anymore? But no, it can’t be that simple.

  11. Y’know, I might almost pay $400 just for an e-ink device that could access the live Wikipedia for free from anywhere in the US. If I could edit (which I doubt this allows), if I were confident that they wouldn’t suddenly start charging for it (I’m not), and so on. I spend a lot of time on Wikipedia.

    I’m afraid I wouldn’t be much of a customer for Amazon’s DRM-encrusted e-books, though. I buy, read, and keep literally hundreds of physical books every year and I might conceivably buy a fraction of them in an electronic format (probably a small fraction; I like real books), but I just can’t see myself spending “real” money on an e-book unless I can do anything with it that’s possible with the “real” book (short of bopping someone on the head with it), as well as enjoy all the unique advantages (searchability, easy transferability, etc.) of a digital medium. And I expect to pay less, since there’s no expensive paper involved. So sue me, I’m greedy.

    I do actually have a large collection of PDF and DJVU files, especially out-of-print reference books. It’s unlikely I’d ever shell out for a reader that can’t either deal with both formats, or at the very least offer a painless — and free (ten cents, sheesh!) — conversion method.


  12. I don’t think the old arguments about DRM really apply in the same way as they do with music. MP3s were widespread before Rio and others created the MP3 player market, which in turn had to exist for a while before companies tried to create digital music services. The CD is phsical media containing a digital copy of a song, and it’s a snap to load the music from a CD onto an MP3 player. An iPod isn’t much more than a Walkman that holds 1000 albums instead of 1, at least not the way most people use them.

    But there’s no way to buy a bunch of books and magazines and instantly load them onto a portable reader, or, likewise, to easily digitally distribute (“share”/”pirate”) them. People care about DRM when it gets in the way of how they’re used to doing things, but the eBook experience/market barely even exists yet.

    A few packrats aside, most people are used to buying new copies of music, video, software and books when they wear out or get superseded by better formats. LPs get scratched, HD DVDs replace DVDs which replaced VHS, 5 1/4″ floppies don’t fit in your Playstation, books get old and lost. It’s not as if a college English class studying Othello doesn’t have to go out and buy copies because 400 years’ of surplus copies are just lying around everywhere.

    If I can be sitting in an airport, think “I want to read X” and a minute later be reading it on a great screen for less than half the cover price, that’s really cool. I’ve played with the new Sony eBook reader that has the same screen as the Kindle, and the screen is phenomenal. I can actually imagine a mostly paper-free book future now.

    The Kindle is too expensive for me, and there are a few kinks like screen refresh/flicker, but it’s the best eBook reader/service pairing to date, I think. When it has, say 50% of the feature set of my PDA, it’ll be really compelling.

    In a world where music and feature-length movies can be and are easily pirated, to the massive economic detriment of publishers, I can’t see book publishers committing the kind of harikari that DRM-free eBooks would mean. Not when ASCII is a millionth the size of video — there’d be no need for BitTorrent, grandma could just dial in to AOL and email the book club her entire library as an attachment.

  13. I’d also like to hear Mr. Doctorow tell us under what arrangements Amazon is selling Boing Boing on this thing.

  14. Why oh why no wifi?!

    Wifi is at least pretty open and pretty standard!

    EVDO is Sprint. Only. While they feel like it.

    I could always get a wifi router, years down the road, and plug the thing in. What if EVDO gets replaced? Maybe electrical gadgets aren’t meant to last so long that this is an issue, but I don’t really like the dependency on Sprint. For example, like others said, it won’t work outside of the US.

    I might even prefer no EVDO, no wifi– at least I’m not paying for the hardware (plus other stuff for EVDO). If I can store hundreds of books on a tiny card, I don’t need to be connected to the intarweb all the time. And if I really need the book, I’m sure I’ll figure out those dang bookstores.

    But then Amazon doesn’t get their cut… hmm.

    I still think wifi would be the way to go.

    Wifi + keyboard maybe touchscreen + textbook companies=== school ass-kicking machine. Receive, work on, and submit homework from one device–wirelessly from any hotspot in the world.

    All of my textbooks in that slim device instead of 40 metric shit-loads worth of paper textbooks.

    I’d definitely (probably) get one if it consolidated the school mess. Homework submission, wikipedia, textbooks in one device would be godly amazing.

  15. Except for obvious locations like schools, wi-fi centers, etc. there are still a lot of places where wi-fi isn’t available or open. EVDO isnt’ great for “surfing” but for downloading content and books, it will work okay.

    Amazon isn’t charging for “boing boing” content or any other blog. They’re charging you to “deliver” the content. Legally, it’s two different things. Obviously they’re not trying to tout this thing as a way to surf the web easily and quickly.

    I’m pretty sure that the whole “lack of PDF” support is probably due to licensing restrictions/fees from Adobe. After all, you can e-mail a PDF to the mobipocket site, have it converted to the mobi format, and then import it into your Kindle. It’s a bit of a pain, but it’s free, quick, and works just fine.

    Personally, I’m going to wait a few weeks to get some reviews but I think this is a great device for travelers to catch up on newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals that just get thrown away. I don’t know that it’s what I’d want to read a novel or a book, but maybe. I’d love to ditch the 15-20 magazines we get and get the content sent to this wirelessly and automatically.

    It would also be fantastic for textbooks.

  16. Isn’t PDF an open standard? Am I wrong? I certainly don’t use Acrobat to view my pdfs. Why would there be additional costs associated with a hardware or or software rendering of a document?

    Methinks it’s probably the fact that it would have needed a bit more processor oomph (correct me if I’m wrong), thus a wee bit more juice. This could push the price of the components up, or it could just be a slow as heck PDF reader. Doesn’t take much to read a plain text file.

    Just a thought.

  17. Allow me to reiterate two important points that many of the commenters in the thread have missed:

    1. It doesn’t matter if rightsholders forced Amazon to put stupid EULA terms in the Kindle. It still sucks. And Amazon has been at the forefront of refusing rightsholder demands in other contexts (for example, they won’t remove or hobble their used book market, and Bezos’s fine statements on this are quoted above). If a publisher came to Amazon and said, “You can only sell our books on your store if you promise to prevent your customers from selling them as used goods and loaning them to friends, and if you allow us to go over to their house and take the books away if they displease us,” that publisher would be shown the door. The point of this post — and the important question — is why is it that Amazon’s balls shrivel up and fall off as soon as we start talking about digital distribution, given that Amazon is arguably the best digital retailer in the world?

    2. The problem with DRM isn’t just the restrictions placed on the DRMed files themselves. As I mentioned in the article (and this is important): DRM means that the device has to be designed so that users can’t modify it, lest they modify it to remove the DRM. Anyone who develops any add-ons for the Kindle will be required to sign agreements promising that no user-modifiability will arise as a result of their software. There will never be an “open” way to improve the Kindle. This isn’t a little specialized PC that can read ebooks and be extended and improved by readers, entrepreneurs and the world at large. This is a cable-box, a little caged one-thing-only gadget that starts from the assumption that the poor suckers who give Amazon $400 for it are Not To Be Trusted, and therefore it must take countermeasures to prevent them from understanding it, extending it and improving it. Leave aside the moral outrage for a second: is it likely or even possible that all the people who know how to improve your $400 toy work for Amazon?

    As to BB’s arrangement: if you sign up for Boing Boing with Kindle, we get some of the money. But it’s not germane to the post, unless you believe I would have been even *less* complimentary about the Kindle had I not stood in line to derive a vast fortune from it should pigs fly and buying blogs on the Kindle takes off.

  18. In addition to what Mr. Doctorow posted above: I believe the worst thing about DRM is the legal aftermath. DRM itself is annoying and worse than useless for the reasons given above and more, but that simply means it is either cracked, or it fails.

    Unfortunately, since the DRM lords tend to be powerful and rich, they buy laws that force people to use DRM and use violence to punish those that avoid or crack DRM. There is no such thing as a DRM-enforcing law (like the DMCA) that does not deny your basic rights as a human being.

  19. eBook readers like this are hilarious to me.

    It’s $400.

    You know what else costs $400?

    * A full-blown laptop with respectable specs (Dell just dropped the price on their entry-level Vostro).

    * An ultraportable Asus EEE

    * An iPhone

    If this had shown up five years ago for half the price it would’ve been significant. Now with portable computer prices as they are, it’s an expensive toy.

    The crazy thing to me is that this isn’t the end of ebook readers! There will be more attempts with more complicated schemes. Meanwhile laptops and ultraportables will get cheaper, lighter, more powerful, and have better battery life. Heck, the iPhone is really just the best-selling tablet pc ever, and it also makes phone calls. The iPhone, Vostro, and EEE will all allow you to read Project Guttenberg and Wikipedia until your eyes fall out of their sockets. Oh, and you can access the full-blown internet, watch movies, listen to music, chat with your friends, play doom, and run a web server. Oh, and you can read any blog you want for free.


  20. It’s no good to me unless I can write and highlight and copy the pictures (for presentations and what not, properly cited of course) them. I spend a crazy amount on books and would totally love if I could buy a pdf of books and read them on a laptop. But if I can’t mark them up (and give them away/sell them if I think they’re crap or not something I’m interested in)then they’ll never see my money.

    If it doesn’t have all of the features of the real thing, I’m not going to bother.

  21. Thanks for saving me from embarrassing myself by telling people how cool it looks.

    Can I safely take it to the beach or pool to read like a paperback? Do I dare use it on the crapper (as most everyone knows, a man’s (and my wife’s after showing her the pleasure)favorite reading room)?

  22. My first Boing Boing comment and here’s what I want to know about the Kindle: where’s the source?

    Sony publishes the source to their readers, all the way back to the first Japanese only Librie, the day the binary ships.

    The legal notices feature built into the Kindle lists off the open source projects that it exploits but I still haven’t found the link to go grab the source for the open source binaries locked up inside it.

    My other disappointment today: $400 and it uses the last generation e-Ink panel. I put my Sony PRS-505 (2nd gen US reader) next to it and the difference in quality is immediately apparent. I put my PRS-500 (1st gen US reader) next to it and the quality was spot on the same. I guess Amazon had to cut corners on the panel to afford some other feature and sell the unit for $400. Call me crazy but I’d think the last thing you’d cut corners on in a dedicated ebook reader would be the display.

  23. BusyDoingNothing @ 11:

    Re: the 62% who “did not feel Radiohead’s latest album is worth purchasing”.

    I assume you are saying that 62% of those who downloaded it didn’t pay for it. You say that as if it was unreasonable. But keep in mind a few things… Radiohead -specifically- said that you should download their album & pay what you think it was worth. If you aren’t a Radiohead fan, $0.00 is not unreasonable to check out a band you’re not familiar with (or in my case, you just never “got” (though I haven’t yet downloaded the album, paid or not)). Second, 38% is a far larger percentage of the revenue then Radiohead receives when they sell an actual, physical album. Radiohead is a big enough band that they -might- get $1 for every $18 album sold. If so, they get far more then the average band. (See for the average band’s economics)

    The point of all this is simply that DRM benefits the record companies (or in the case of Kindle, the publishers) far more then it benefits the artists. When the artists finally realize this, the days of the corporate record companies / publishers will be over.

    Please excuse me if none of this make much sense… It’s VERY late and I should have been in bed hours ago… I’m skipping a few steps in between the first paragraph and the second, but this is a smart crowd, so I expect that most of you can make the leap.

  24. BusyDoingNothing @ 11:

    the 62% figure is a lie: “somebody” paid a third-party company WITHOUT access to the real data to publish distorted informations obtained through a not-better-specified “survey” as if they were the real thing.

    The Radiohead explicitly said that comscore was publishing “wholly inaccurate” data and that their survey “in no way reflected definitive market intelligence or, indeed, the true success of the project,” but obviously once the news is out, well, that’s it, you can do nothing to correct the false impressions it generated.

  25. Hi, this is my first Boing Boing comment too.

    As en ebook enthusiast living outside the USA, I’m very, very disappointed about Amazon’s decision to make the Kindle available only to US-based customers. It’s ironic, because I’m a longtime Amazon customer, and bought books and CDs from long before they even opened their european stores! Now, not only Amazon doesn’t want to send a Kindle to me, but it uses the EVDO system, which doesn’t even work where I live. Thanks, but no thanks, Mr. Bezos!

    Another thing: the proprietary format used by the Kindle is a lot more annoying than simple DRM-ed ebooks. The Kindle requires you to by their own .AZW books, but can’t read ordinary PDF or the DRM’d Mobipocket (.prc or .mobi) ebooks sold through other retailers! I already got a few of those (my favorite authors don’t always go with the no-DRM strategy, alas) and couldn’t read them on the Kindle even if I would, and could, buy one.

    The other ebook readers available right now to the US market (the Sony PRS, the Philips-iRex iLiad, and Bookeen’s Cybook Gen3) can read the common ebook formats, including the de-facto standard Mobipocket, with or without DRMs.

    Last month, the Paris-based company Bookeen released their brand new ebook reader, Cybook Gen3, with 6-inch e-ink display, USB connectivity and several very nice features, like dictionnary lookup, adding your own fonts or zooming on PDF books. It can read DRM and non-DRM books, is not locked to one ebook retailer, and American residents can order it for 350 USD through the Bookeen online store:

    I hasten to say that I have nothing to do with the Bookeen company, I’m just a happy, happy customer. I’ve been using my Cybook Gen3 for about a week now, and I’m very pleased I bought it, because it’s a very nice way of reading e-texts, especially if you’re an avid reader.

    Something other of interest for American residents: Baen’s NAEB (“Not Another E-Book”) company is going to distribute the Cybook Gen3 to US and Canada next month, and provide local customer support.

    So, if Amazon “kindles” interest for ebooks, fine, but don’t jump and buy one of their customer-enslaving machines! Try the competition first ;-)

  26. Mikelotus: “Can I safely take it to the beach or pool to read like a paperback? Do I dare use it on the crapper (as most everyone knows, a man’s (and my wife’s after showing her the pleasure)favorite reading room)?”

    Um…you let your wife watch you taking a dump while you read a book? That’s just sick man.

  27. Big surprise. It has DRM so there’s a lengthy screed published on BoingBoing describing how this product sucks, including *potential* ways this product *might* suck (i.e. Sprint’s network).

    Maybe a more balanced review/analysis would be more interesting. After watching Bezos on Charlie Rose last night, this seems like a pretty cool, if not imperfect, product…certainly cooler than what I read in the blogosphere would have you believe. Having your newspapers and magazines pushed to your reader, impulse buying that book you overheard people discussing a seat over on the train, etc. are pretty nifty features. Yes, DRM sucks. Yes it’s not the uber-opensourceohmygash reader that people like us would love. But it’s a big step in the right direction (combining a built in delivery mechanism and well stocked store, ultra low battery life, and an interface my grandparents can understand, push periodical subscriptions, etc), and a pretty cool concept as well.

    Not trying to troll or start flame wars or blahblahblah. I’m just saying a little more perspective than “DRM blows and here’s why” (again) couldn’t hurt your case and make for a better read.

  28. Daring Fireball pretty much nailed what’s wrong with the Kindle:

    Basically, he points out the difference between the Kindle and the iPod. You lay out the cash for an iPod and you can load all of your already owned music on the device. You can purchase new music from a wide variety of retailers. That same music (as long as you’re smart enough to buy non-DRMed music) will play on any new device you buy in the future.

    With the Kindle, you have to re-buy all the books you already own. You can only buy books from Amazon. If Amazon decides the Kindle isn’t making money and drops the service, your device is worthless. Didn’t we learn anything from the debacle a few weeks ago?

  29. If I could deliver an ultimatum to all purveyors of DRM-ed goods, it would be this:

    If you want to use DRM to pretend that the data you are selling me is a physical product, then fine. As long as you let me re-sell this supposedly physical product.

    I’m fine with the no-reselling clause on the DRM-free Amazon MP3 store, because they aren’t pretending those bits are physical entities of which only one copy can exist. I can even deal with DRM on Netflix streaming, since no one was trying to convince me I was paying to “own” a copy of that content.

    But when you try to sell me DRM-ed products at a “keeper” price and then tell me that your system of pretend physical property enforcement isn’t even advanced enough to allow me to transfer the product to someone else — I’m sorry, you can’t have it both ways. I’ll be sticking with analog.

  30. If I can’t take it in the bathtub and drop it in accidentally without losing hundreds of dollars, it’s not gonna replace books for me.


  31. Beatnik, “perspective” doesn’t automatically mean “an opinion closer to my own.” If you want to explain what opinions you do have, we may get somewhere.

  32. Kamapuaa:You’ve just conflated lending a single book to a friend with lending an entire library of books to a friend. Well, if you plan on buying a Kindle for every book you buy, then there’s no conflation. Otherwise, whenever you lend someone your Kindle, you’ve lost access to every ebook you own until your friend returns your Kindle. Surely, you can see that lending an entire library is not the same thing as lending a friend a single book?

    Also, your next paragraph implies that there isn’t already piracy in publishing. It implies that if it were not for the DRM in the Kindle, piracy would be even worse. Optical character recognition technology has long existed. Also, if history holds, those who want to defeat the Kindle’s DRM will defeat it. As usual, all DRM will do is shackle law abiders, not law violaters. The track record, so far, is that DRM has been worthless in fighting piracy.

    I think you need to inspect some of your own logical fallacies.

  33. ftr rdng Nl Gmn’s blg, hv t gr, dn’t s th prblm wth DRM n Bks.

    t’s ls mprtnt t nt tht th DRM s n th <>md nt th <>dvc. Tht s, f y dwnld Crtv Cmmns bk y shld b bl t snd t t nd fr ll y lk. Th Kndl sn’t gng t <>dd DRM t t.

    DRM s hghly nnyng fr msc (nd wll nt by DRM prtctd msc) bcs wnt t cpy my msc t CDs nd dvcs bt rlly, why wld wnt t cpy bk? Wht wld cpy t t? nvr fl th nd t cpy rl bk, s ‘m nt sr why ‘d cpy n Bk.

    Nt bng bl t rsll t s knd f mt fr m snc nvr rsll my thr bks, thr. rthr lk bng bl t g bck nd r-rd thm n dy.

    f trvld mr ftn wld prbbly by n nw. s t s, thnk ‘ll wt ntl, lk th Phn, th nw wrs ff nd th prc drps.

  34. According to the Amazon support page for Kindle, it natively supports text files, as well as .mobi files, and shows up on a computer via USB as a mass storage device. Since a .mobi converter application is available at the Mobipocket site, so there is no reason that you could not add your whole DRM-free library ie Project Gutenberg or CC-licensed works like Cory’s books to the Kindle, bypassing the whole purchasing/DRM side of Amazon’s model. (It still costs $400, but it is sounding a lot more tempting than it did at first.)

  35. At the moment, with 528 reviews posted on the Amazon site, it has a 2.5 star rating, with many comments similar to those posted here. (The 5-star and 1-star reviews predominate, indicating the polarization on this subject.) But I’ve found it very educational to browse those comments. Here’s a link to the thread containing the “Most Helpful” reviews, both pro and con.

    I think it would have been a good idea for Amazon to have solicited negative comments in advance and responded to them up front in a Q-and-A document at the time of issuance, even at the cost of publicizing the downside(s) of the device, and making semi-lame rebuttals, and not having a good answer for certain jabs (beyond “Wait for version 2.0,” which of course they wouldn’t want to say at the launch of version 1), and maybe getting into awkward areas. (E.g, blaming the publishers for certain objectionable (mis-)features.)

    I also think it might have been a good idea to have pushed the launch back three (?) months and added some PDA capability, file-conversion software for the Mac, and made some other improvements. As they say, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.”

    Incidentally (to mention another recent hot topic here), I hope they’ve got a Dvorak keyboard capability, or at least software remapping of the keys.

  36. PS: For some crazy reason there are no clickable links provided on the page where the Amazon team responds to questions–instead, they must all be copied and pasted.

  37. W3EM, did you even read the post? Tell you what: you respond to *one single* substantive point and I’ll talk with you about it. Until then, you’re just the kind of troll who thinks “STFU” is argument.

  38. Apropros Gaiman’s remarks on DRM.

    The important thing here isn’t the DRM per se — that is, the restrictions on the Kindle. It’s that:

    1. DRM means that the device can’t be extended or improved upon by its owners. Nor can it be improved upon if that weakens the DRM. That makes the Kindle a dead end — unless you believe that everyone who knows how to improve the Kindle is working for Amazon. The future of reading won’t be a closed platform. The future of books won’t be “one company gets to design the reading experience and all other companies have to adhere to it.”

    2. The user-agreement that accompanies the books is incredibly abusive, and flies in the face of Amazon’s commitment to customer rights — and Amazon’s history of (W3EM, are you paying attention this time?) refusing to give in to publishers when they demand that Amazon undermine the ability of customers to buy and sell used goods, loan their property, etc.

  39. Realcatholicmen @ #41: …why would I want to copy a book? What would I copy it to? I never feel the need to copy a real book, so I’m not sure why I’d copy an eBook.

    Well, let’s see. Suppose the Kindle doesn’t sell because too many people have qualms about it, and it’s discontinued next year after you’ve bought $300-400 worth of books for it. Or, suppose 15 years have gone by and Amazon is out of business and its successor doesn’t give a damn. Hmmm. Might you not want to still read those books, particularly as you’ve said you like to keep books and reread them? With a paper book, it’s no problem. With something in an open electronic format, it’s also no problem. With DRMed media you’re out of luck if you can’t convert it – and you’re breaking the law if you do convert it, even for perfectly valid reasons.

    Naturally the what-if cases I gave above are hypothetical, because the product’s just been introduced; they’re not going to kill it in its first week. They’ll continue to be hypothetical right up until it goes away, and then they’ll be real problems. I’ve been around the computer industry nearly 30 years now, and seen data retention and conversion problems happen with pretty much every proprietary format, again and again.

    If you plan to use it with non-DRMed media, the DRM still poses a problem, though a lesser one. It requires obstacles be put in the way of doing whatever-you-like with the product (because that might enable you to break the DRM.) I think that’s the other half of what Cory’s getting at. That’s annoying, but a lesser problem.

    It’s why I won’t buy music off the iTunes store, but have an iPod loaded with the MP3s I’ve recorded off my CDs. I’m OK with it as a player, just not as the gatekeeper for what I own.

  40. After a little more surfing of web comments on this item, here are a few more constructive criticisms I’ve found:

    1. Should have landscape mode like Sony (helpful for viewing PDFs).

    2. Should have a speak-the-text feature and button. (Latest Adobe reader has this.)

    3. Should have a slide-out keyboard (to reduce the device’s area and/or enlarge the keyboard or screen).

    4. (This may have been made on this site–I’m posting these from memory): Should have the ability to type into it from ones regular keyboard–i.e., there should be a way of plugging in such a keyboard.

  41. The thing I find funniest about this entire affair is that the advertisement bar at the top of the page is running an ad for Kindle. I don’t know this is the Internet playing an ironic prank, but every BoingBoing page I click to has a Kindle ad on it.

  42. Here are the highlights, from the Amazon site, of additional constructive suggestions:

    William C. Schneider:
    to make it even more useful it needs to have … IM capabilities.

    Jim Choung:
    various ways of underlining – i want… NEED… to be able to hilite, underline, double underline, triple underline, parenthesize, bracket and Circle and enter brief tags on the visible page for annotations.

    Patrick Tai:
    One big advantage of digital document is the feature of links, not only to outside documents (such as dictionary), but within the document, e.g.
    1. search for word in document,
    2. author provided hot-links, such as footnotes or references.
    3. jumps to index page or from index page.
    Does Kindle have these features?

    Randy Russell:
    I am ready to relocate my book reading to Kindle. Immediately. Then I saw that there are NO PAGE NUMBERS on the Kindle display. I do a lot of research and I also read a lot of fiction critically. I can’t imagine not having page number references for moving backward and forward in a book.

    Can you put the manual on-line so that we can read it before we buy?

    E.L. Faber:
    Don’t tell Amazon, but if this thing could be subscribed to JSTOR or other scholarly journal aggregators (Ebsco, Project Muse, etc), I’d probably pay DOUBLE what they’re asking now. So, I suspect, would many other academics (probably even more so for sciences than my field, history; perhaps even more so for law students, eg Westlake, Med students, etc).

    George H. Steele:
    This little box needs to be offered to schools at $200 a pop – subsidized, for sure – but in conjunction with e-books of elementary and secondary school textbooks.

  43. Here’s what I’m beginning to think: Amazon should maybe offer a large-screen version capable of displaying PDF documents without conversion, and aim it at the student-textbook market, the technical manual market, and the scholarly-researcher market. (Maybe it’s already in the pipeline?) There are hundreds of thousands of customers in each of those fields who’d pony up for the convenience and cost savings it would provide.

  44. This DRM stuff is killing me!!!

    I do not live in the US anymore so I could care less about the breaking US law and removing DRM for personal use.

    DRM no DRM…. I just want to be able to play my media on any platform that I choose. DRM is like going into your local stereo shop and having to purchase a DVD player for each movie studio.

    So now I found a great decission – MelodyCan ( converter which helps me to resolve drm-protection problem.

  45. Cory – thanks for the response on Gaiman’s comments about you.

    In regards to another book format – audio books, many publishing companies are moving to a non DRM format for releases.

    Publishing houses wanted DRMed ebooks are thinking exactly like the major record labels.

  46. I think Cory is missing/mistating a couple things.

    Right now I am looking at a “copy” of Eastern Standard Tribe on my Kindle.

    How can that be?????

    The Kindle is not a DRM locked box. It is a box that supports the DRM of locked Kindle files.

    So Cory rejected amazon’s offer to offer his books in Kindle format. No biggie!!

    The Kindle supports text files and mobi files and prc files natively. It supports Word files and HTML files and PDF files via conversion.

    I was able to simply plug my Kindle into my pc and drag a copy of his book in prc format right into the Kindle documents folder and shazaam I have an ebook version of the novel readily at hand.

    I also sent an HTML version of his book to my Kindle email address and a few minutes later it automatically appeared on my Kindle.

    I don’t like DRM any more than Cory but I am pragmatic enough that I recognize the current reality of the situation of commercially produced intellectual property.

    Also, if I want to share a book with a friend I could simply register their Kindle on my account. That is a bit of a kludge cuz they would then temporarily lose access to their books until they re-registered their Kindle back to their account.

    My bet is that in the not too distant future amazon will convince publishers that it would not be a bad thing to allow folks to de-register a book from one device so it can be sent to a friend and registered on their device and then “returned” when they have finished reading it.

    As some others have suggested I too would love for amazon to take the Netflix approach and offer the all-you-can-read buffet for a set monthly fee.

    Time will tell.

    Anyway, after only having my Kindle for a few days I love the thing and look forward to future iterations of the hardware/service.

  47. HEAVYG #54 & 55: Those are good posts. It’s the sort of response-to-criticism Amazon should have developed ahead of time and posted upon release, to blunt criticism. (Not that there aren’t valid criticisms remaining.) I agree with the remarks about Amazon’s recognizing the current reality of the DRM situation, and about “time will tell.” In about a month I think the dust will settle a good bit and we’ll have a clearer view of things.

    (My only criticism of your post is that there are too many one-sentence paragraphs.)

    Here’s one more interesting suggestion from the Amazon site:

    Joshua Kim:
    Hi….I would purchase a Kindle if I could subscribe to newspapers and magazines by topic – and aggregate across the topics. For instance, I would pay $20 a month to get all the technology articles from the major newspapers and magazines.

  48. Here’s the link to the online manual:

    If Amazon doesn’t come out with a large-screen version, maybe Adobe will. Amazon should pre-empt such a large competitor’s getting into its space.

    I suspect Amazon rushed the kindle out to catch the Christmas buying season. Too bad.

    Here are more snippets of interest from the Amazon site:

    B. Barnes:
    Strike One – The e-Ink
    The downside is that there is no back lighting; that, coupled with the fact that the e-ink leaves ghosting from the previous page, it actually makes the text harder to read than a real book.

    (Ghosting? Is this true?—RK)

    Strike Three – The Publishers’ fear of change
    It costs about $200 to digitize a book, compared to the thousands to produce and distribute a hardcopy book. Publishers have no desire to pass that savings on to the consumer. They saw what happened to Tower Records and there is no way they want the same for Border’s and Barnes and Noble. … So plan on a trickle of titles as the 800-pound Amazon gorilla fights to get publishers on board.

    (I suspect it wouldn’t only be the retailers whom the kindle might disintermediate, but the publishers as well, 50 years down the road.—RK)

    Cody Harding:
    I give it three months, one price cut, and a software upgrade download from Amazon, and the Kindle will be the big thing amongst e-book enthusiasts. And maybe get Starship Troopers on their book list.

    Christopher Hensley:
    From the description and it’s having Wikipedia, Amazon has just created the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Earth Edition)!

    Big Horse:
    Since amazon has been offering ebook upgrades for almost everything I purchased, I naively presumed that amazon will offer kindle upgrade as well for the books I have purchased from amazon. This seems to be not the case and I find it extremely disappointing.

    Griffin Fariello:
    And we are to pay $400 for this device? What if we happen to forget it on the bus or it is lifted from us?

    (I assume there’s a way for Amazon to disable access to its site by a stolen kindle (once the original owner notifies Amazon). That would reduce theft.—RK)

    Michael Ferrando:
    Question: Will one of the newer high capacity SD Cards (SD/HC) work in the Kindle? My thought is more space the better and I’m interested in using Audible books with the Kindle. The manual isn’t clear.

  49. Here are a few more constructive criticisms / suggestions from the Amazon site:

    John Clifford:
    Let new Kindle owners have 90 days of free conversions so they can bring over all of their currently owned Mobipocket ebooks, and then charge them thereafter. This would be the best of all worlds. Current eBook owners who are prospective Kindle owners don’t have to worry about re-buying their current eBooks. Other prospective Kindle owners don’t have to worry about only being able to buy eBooks from Amazon. Other publishers, who followed Amazon’s Mobipocket guidelines, aren’t frozen out from providing Kindle owners with content. And, Amazon gets to make a little money for every book that goes on the Kindle, whether or not it came from the Amazon Kindle bookstore, while also protecting itself from unfair trade practices lawsuits. Everyone wins.

    1. Put comfortable hand grips on the sides – I want to be able to hold my book easily! I’m not exactly sure why there’s a rubber grip on the back of the book but not the sides – my fingers aren’t designed to hold a flat surface like the back of the book!
    2. Move the Previous/Next buttons somewhere else that is still easily accessible. It’s not easy to operate a Kindle with one hand and it definitely should be. Also, my fingers want to grip the sides of the screen but since the buttons are there, I can’t. This was annoying to the point that I returned mine.

    (That could be remedied in the next software upgrade: Give the user the option to configure his Kindle to “Turn Page on Double-Click Only.” That way he could hold the gadget by the sides with no problem–only a rapid double-click would “register.”—RK)

    4. Why is there a physical Wireless On/Off switch? I forgot to turn it off and it drained my battery. It should be a software switch that activates when it needs to access the Internet, unless you’re on an airplane or something in which case you can put it into Airplane Mode.
    5. Why is it white? Mine was dirty less than an hour after I got it. A darker color would be appreciated!
    6. Why is the Kindle oriented vertically? When I read, I read in widescreen, i.e. two pages open in my novel. When I tilted the Kindle and held it horizontally, it was MUCH more comfortable to hold. The Sony E-Reader has this feature and I think it’s great.
    10. PLEASE put a store button on the Kindle! I don’t want to have to go into a sub-menu just to access the Kindle store – I want to hit a button and be taken directly in!

    Amazon can easily build a use bookstore for kindle where you can sell your ebooks, you can do same today with but this will take uncertainty of shipping out of this transaction and a buyer instead of receiving a copy with dog ears will receive a brand new digital edition.

    Joshua Hardwick:
    Perhaps in the future Amazon could offer discounts or freebies for books or periodicals of a person’s general interest from time to time.


    Here are some gripes:

    C. Hampson:
    The case … has a single piece of plastic that is about half a centimeter thick that is supposed to hold the device in place. The unit falls out of the holder constantly. On top of that, they put all of the power on/off switches on the backside of the unit, so you have to pop the thing out of the case an awful lot.

    How the F am I supposed to duplicate my library into the Amazon format if it just randomizes what it calls the files?
    My file name: Anne McCaffrey – Pern 02 – Dragownsdawn.txt
    Amazon Rename: 797774147.azw

    Mohamed F. El-Hewie
    I spent few days in vain to make my book Kindle-ready. My book is already on and was previously scanned in the format for the “Search Inside” the book. It could be easily viewed by’s readers in the optically scanned format. So, why do I have to prepare another upload of a single file for the Kindle conversion?


    And here are some back-pats:

    Stewart Brand:
    A device whose cleverness and seamless integration offers its own thrill.

    G.M. Arnold:
    This is easily the best ebook solution I’ve encountered. I’ve tried reading ebooks on my PC or Mac – wrong, wrong, wrong: reading a book is a “sitting back” activity, while using a PC is a “sitting forward” thing.

    M. Haider:
    I’ve read some of the other reviews and it appears that no one has taken the time to read the instruction manual to understand how powerful this device really is. For avid readers, being able to sample books before buying them is priceless.

    S. Devitt:
    For a heavy reader, and particularly one who travels often, this product will become as integrated into the daily routine as the blackberry and ipod.

    E Gonzalez:
    I have been waiting for an EBOOK Reader for some time now. There are already a few out there, but none of them with a library big enough for me to invest in the readers. Amazon changed that. With 90,000+ titles and the potential of millions, I could not wait to get the Kindle.

    S.J. McGeown:
    No more waiting for weekly or monthly journals, the update is at your fingertips, with the push type technology. The cost of scientific journals should be on the way down, as this allows immediate scientific review, although the cost may go up as the possibility of advertising may be severely constrained, or not!

  50. Got a Kindle. Love it. Agree with Cory, however — DRM and mobile carriers suck.


    Step 1 – Turn the wireless off (there’s a convenient switch on the back just for this purpose) — its an enormous battery drain anyway even when the device is not in use.

    Step 2 – Use Mobipocket software to convert non-DRMed materials from Baen and elsewhere to non-DRMed Mobi files and copy to Kindle via USB.

    Boom. Best of both worlds. eInk, annotation and search (lack of which is #1 reason I’d never buy Sony Reader), and no DRM.

  51. >As to BB’s arrangement: if you sign up for Boing >Boing with Kindle, we get some of the money. But >it’s not germane to the post, unless you believe I >would have been even *less* complimentary about >the Kindle had I not stood in line to derive a >vast fortune from it should pigs fly and buying >blogs on the Kindle takes off.

    Wait, how is this ‘not germane’? ‘The Kindle attempts to curtail rights and is evil but we’re lending our name and content to it because we’re quite sure it won’t make us any money’? If you’re so sure and it’s so evil why not just opt out altogether? Wasn’t this a moral argument to begin with?

  52. reposted from one of Joel’s Kindle postings on

    “Given that the Kindle ostensibly lets you read Mobipocket files, does the mobipocket version of Down and Out ( work? Can you download it using the browser, or do you have to transfer it via USB?”

    Brian Carnell @ #60 says that the mobipocket EST file works, but that he transfered it using USB. I’d still like to know if you can use the built-in browser to download and read un-DRM’d mobipocket files.

    I’d also be interested to know if any software exists to produce mobipocket files on Linux.

  53. @ #61 & 62:
    I don’t fault Cory for letting the Kindle stream the BB blog. First, Cory’s not the only decision-maker at BB. Second, here’s an analogy: Would it be reasonable to criticize a band that objected to the iPod’s DRM features and other policies for not refusing to let iTunes store sell its songs? I think not.

    Here are more comments-of-interest from the Amazon site:

    J. Rivera:
    3) I would hate to buy the Kindle just to see the price drop dramatically 3 months from now. If that happens, I want to be reassured that I would be reimbursed if the price drops by a lot. Similar to what happened with the iPhone recently.

    5) If Amazon offered 1 or 2 free ebooks of MY choice out of all of the Kindle books currently available for purchase. I am not sure if they offer this already, but it would be nice.

    Leonard Senn:
    Some people have indicated that the page forward and page back keys are often pressed inadvertently. I read in the instruction book, and the leatherette cover was meant to be used even when reading. Using it while reading completely eliminated the problem of pressing fwd/back keys in error.

    Brandy Fortune:
    It’s a heck of a lot like the iPod. In fact one way it’s better is they back up all the purchased books on their servers, iTunes doesn’t let you re-download anything at the moment. … Now ANYONE can publish a book and anyone can buy it, I have hopes that is just like podcasts, suddenly anyone can be a audio personality, now anyone can be an author with far less limits than previously.

    (My (Roger Knights) comment (here only)):
    That last point hints at the staggering potential of the Kindle. It may be the reason Bezos called the Kindle “the most important thing we’ve ever done.” Authors could disintermediate publishers and sell direct via Amazon, upping their royalties—and saving the customer money too. For instance, if an author now gets $2 per hardcover book (or $1 per paperback), he could price his eBook at $6, split the gross 50/50 with Amazon (if that’s OK with Jeff), and wind up with more $ in his pocket. (And so would the buyer.)

    As for how an eBook is to generate “buzz” to attract eBook customers:

    1) Amazon could distribute free (but time-limited) copies of eBooks to its “top 1000 reviewers (or some other bunch of sincere reviewers, as judged by customer feedback on their reviews).
    2) The ordinary bunch of customer reviews.
    3) The normal Amazon suggestion process of “customers who bought the eBook you just bought also bought these eBooks …”

  54. In post #63 Michael R. Bernstein wonders:

    “I’d still like to know if you can use the built-in browser to download and read un-DRM’d mobipocket files.”

    The answer is YES!!

    Using the Kindle browser I just downloaded the mobipocket version of Down and Out and it placed it on the Kindle home page with all the other books/documents. The file even includes the cover art which is displayed by the Kindle.

  55. HEAVYG @ #65: Thanks for the info!

    In that case, it should be possible for someone to create an online archive with free (as in beer and speech) ebooks to download, assuming that un-DRM’d mobipocket files can be bulk produced, using public-domain and CreativeCommons works as sources.

    I am still searching for free software that can run on Linux to create mobipocket files, though.

    Do mobipocket files have feature-parity (ie. reopening on the last viewed page, bookmarking, clipping, etc.) on the Kindle with the .azw format?

  56. In post #66 Michael R. Bernstein asks:

    “Do mobipocket files have feature-parity (ie. reopening on the last viewed page, bookmarking, clipping, etc.) on the Kindle with the .azw format?”

    Yes. It seems those features work regardless of file format.

  57. HEAVYG @ #68 said: “It seems those features work regardless of file format.”

    Thanks for the additional info.

    I’m curious though, do those features really work for *all* file formats as you imply, including text files (such as those downloadable from Project Gutenberg), and not just for ebook formats like .prc and .azw?

    If Free content in Free formats is downloadable via Whispernet at no extra cost, the value proposition of the Kindle is rather different (and larger) than what Amazon is presenting.

    The only missing piece necessary to unlock that value proposition is open source software that can produce a supported ebook format. This could happen either by Amazon adding support for any open ebook format to the Kindle, or by some third party creating software to produce one of the supported ebook formats (by reverse engineering the format, if necessary).

    The non-user-modifiability of the Kindle would still be annoying, but I think I’d be willing to pay a couple hundred dollars for an appliance device that gave me free wireless browsing + storage for ~200 novels + Free format ebook downloads + an e-ink display for reading + 30 hours battery life.

    That would be useful to me without ever buying a DRM’d book, although I think I’d still wait for the price to drop.

  58. Ironically, the Kindle image on the Amazon home page is showing images (in black and white) of Freakonomics, The New York Times, and Boing Boing.

  59. The motivation for these devices is inherently evil from the start, so on a feature-by-feature appraisal it’s just a matter of how evil.

    Any time I have to pay $400 for a device to read files that cost $8, yet contain nothing more than the information already contained in a book that I could also buy for $8… it’s suspect. But given that there are real-world, tangible publishing costs for books and not for eBooks, the idea of paying the same price is evidence of evil.

    My full opinion is published on my web site.

  60. In post #66 Michael R. Bernstein is curious:

    “…do those features really work for *all* file formats as you imply”

    Those features work for all the files I have tried (I have not played with any of the graphical file types yet). I didn’t have any straight text files onboard when reading your latest post so I fired up the Kindle browser and grabbed a book off of Project Gutenberg. It downloaded straight to the Kindle home page and I was able to do all the previously discussed things with it. One thing I did notice though with the text file from Gutenberg was that on the Kindle it had some odd line feeds inserted in the text. Don’t know what’s up with that. The same file from Gutenberg was fine on my pc. I’ll send the file to amazon and let them convert it and send it to the Kindle and see if the same problem exists.

    I did send a couple of Word files to the Kindle before the holiday but deleted them after I read them. I know that the doc would re-open wherever it was last open but I didn’t try to make any bookmarks, etc. so I can’t promise that would work on those but I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t since amazon is likely converting them to either azw or mobi or prc.

    It’s not surprising that the Kindle offers direct support for un-DRM’ed mobi and prc files since amazon bought Mobipocket a couple of years ago. My guess is (and this is strictly wild speculation on my part) that the azw file format is basically a riff on the mobi and prc file format.

    I agree that the Kindle being able to natively support un-DRM’ed mobi and prc files is a definite plus as that opens up a lot of free existing books to ready use on the Kindle and makes it easy for others to convert files into an unlocked format that can be used by the Kindle and many other platforms/devices.

    I agree the price of the device is a bit much but at this price I’ll be sure to suck up as much bandwidth as I can using the Kindle browser .

  61. HEAVYG @ #69:

    “Those features work for all the files I have tried […] I’ll send the [gutenberg] file to amazon and let them convert it and send it to the Kindle and see if the same problem exists”

    Thanks for following up, I really appreciate your ongoing reportage.

    “It’s not surprising that the Kindle offers direct support for un-DRM’ed mobi and prc files since amazon bought Mobipocket a couple of years ago.”

    Huh. I didn’t realize that.

    “I agree that the Kindle being able to natively support un-DRM’ed mobi and prc files is a definite plus as that opens up a lot of free existing books to ready use on the Kindle and makes it easy for others to convert files into an unlocked format that can be used by the Kindle and many other platforms/devices.”

    Perhaps we’re not using the same terms here. While un-DRM’d .mobi and .prc files are nice, the only software currently available to create this format (Mobipocket Creator) is, AFAIK, a windows-only download, and the .prc ebook format itself is proprietary and undocumented. This is not *quite* free enough for my purposes, as it basically means that Amazon has set themselves up as a central point of failure for converting my own legally obtained content (either that, or I’m forced to install Windows, an operating system I don’t use).

    I’d really like to see either some open-source tools for creating un-DRM’d .mobi, .prc, or .azw files, or Amazon updating the Kindle to read any one of the other ebook file formats for which such tools (for example rbmake) already exist.

  62. I just discovered something interesting by searching for ‘H. G. Wells’ in the kindle bookstore: It looks like free ebooks available from the mobipocket site are also available from Amazon as 99-cent downloads.

    Can someone check one of these out and see whether Amazon is converting these to DRM-infested .azw files or if these are still unprotected .prc files?

    Amazon page for ‘Mysterious Island’:

    Mobipocket search for the same title (2 results):

  63. Hmm… more info: If you sort the Kindle bookstore by price (low to high), you can see three books from Springer for 1-cent, some 25-cent and 33-cent books from various sources, and a whole mess of books from Fictionwise starting at 49-cents (quite a lot of those, actually) on up.

    This means that Amazon is charging *more* (99 cents) for at least some of the public-domain works it got from Project Gutenberg via Mobipocket than it is charging for some in-copyright works from other publishers (49-cents).

    Now I’m REALLY curious as to whether the (formerly free) public domain Project Gutenberg books in the Kindle store have been converted to DRM-encrusted .azw files …

  64. Update: searching for “Public Domain Book” in the Kindle store gives 7,379 results, all priced 99-cents.

  65. Roger Knight and Brandy Fortune, I can answer one of your questions: this new setup will not displace or disintermediate the publishing industry. I’ll give you the extremely short version.

    1. The publishing industry does more for books than give them a stamp of approval and throw them at the printers and booksellers.

    2. The music industry hasn’t been publishing a twentieth of the good music out there. Right now the audio market is underserved. But the trade book industry really has been publishing just about every publishable work they could lay hands on. There isn’t a pool of great but unpublished manuscripts out there. With a vanishingly small number of exceptions, the best stuff that gets left in the slushpile is worse than the worst stuff that gets into print.

    3. Readers won’t wade through bad books to find the good ones. Bad books are too unpleasant and laborious to read, and by the time you’ve gotten far enough in to be certain it’s a bad book, you’ve spent enough effort that you feel ripped off.

    4. None of us are going to get around to reading all the good books we want to read in our lifetime. Why should we waste our reading time on mediocre books?

    5. It’s a false model to think that the most appealing books attract bestseller-sized audiences, the less dazzling but still solid titles attract a more modest readership, and so on down, finishing up with marginal writers who only get a few readers. The first part of the model is true. However, the drop-off at the bottom isn’t gradual. Below a certain level of quality, readership drops off like the continental shelf.

    In works of fiction, the only exception to this rule are books that speak to a set of desires for specific content that are so strong and so tightly defined that content trumps readability: specialized erotica, for instance, or sub-sub-genres of romance like time-travel Westerns.

    6. If that were going to happen, it would have done so already.

    For years now I’ve been listening to hopeful writers say exactly the same things you’re saying here. Web-based publishing or e-publishing or POD publishing is going to disintermediate the relationship between the authors, their readers, and Amazon. Now nothing will stand between the authors and their readers. Et cetera and so forth.

    The readers haven’t gone for it. They could have put trade publishing out of business any time. They haven’t done so. And what the readers don’t want, isn’t going to happen.

    To be specific, what they don’t want are books of uncertain quality, edited and proofread and designed by amateurs, written by unknowns, and lacking that warm matchmaking surround of cover, sales copy, quotations from reviews and cover art that strongly hints at what kind of book this is going to be.

    That stuff is nontrivially important. The biggest reason readers buy a book is that they’ve read and enjoyed another book by the same author. Next best, it was recommended by someone they trust. After that, it’s the cover. In a pinch, you can substitute a package that sends out the signal, “If you liked thus-and-such other book, you’ll like this one too.”

    Changing technology has been making it easier and easier to self-publish books. We’re not looking forward to the day when “anyone can publish a book.” That day arrived years ago. Since then, self-published authors have been discovering the limitations of the form. What they’ve found is that anyone can be an author, and in theory any reader can order their books. Trouble is, the readers don’t do it.

  66. Teresa, I agree that disintermediation is not going to happen (in most industries that have had this prediction it didn’t happen, or if it did, an immediate reintermediation followed).

    Amazon was actually in a perfect position to effect this if they chose to, but their recommendation engine is tuned to maximize book sales, rather than maximize reader satisfaction (the two are only indirectly correlated). Compare this with Netflix, whose profit motive is tied to people watching fewer movies…

    Other book recommendation engines that do better suffer from not being built into the Amazon site.

    In any case, the only disintermediation that the Kindle model represents at this time is the collapse of the retailer and distributor roles into one.

    Anyway, as the economics of book production change, I do think we may see less concentration of the publishing market in the hands of the large conglomerates and a resurgence of small publishers and the midlist.

    I also have a feeling that over the next decade we’ll see increasing decentralization (and free agency) of the various functions you’ve mentioned on the production side (independent editors working for royalties?), and possibly the rise of independent book ‘producers’ (similar to current ‘packagers’).

    Of course, all or none of this may happen in any particular segment of the publishing world, and fiction as you noted probably has the least pressure to change.

    One interesting possibility however (given that Amazon will apparently sell works for as little as a penny) is the creation of a new market for shorter fiction (novellas and novelettes, not just short stories), as well as more variable pricing in general.

  67. Follow up for Michael R. Bernstein:

    I snagged a copy of Mysterious Island (the 2005 “edition”) off amazon and dragged it off my Kindle and it does appear to be a locked file (unlocked azw files can be dragged off the Kindle onto your pc and by changing the file extension to prc they can be read by the Mobipocket Reader).

    The Kindle version I bought does appear to be a match with versions available on mobipocket and Project Gutenberg.

    I am not aware of any open source tools for prc file creation but I vaguely recall a German website that allowed users to paste text into a box and the site would then create a prc file for you. The Mobipocket Creator software may run under Wine which might allow you to avoid installing Windows.

    You might hit the forums – that might lead to some other solutions for file creation.

  68. Wow. HEAVYG, thanks for the follow-up, and for the confirmation.

    It looks like Mobipocket’s commandline mobigen utility can be run under wine. I’ll probably give that a try this weekend, but it’s rather unsatisfactory as a solution.

    Amazon’s actions here in taking public domain works (previously converted to DRM-free .prc files and available as free downloads), encrusting them with DRM, and selling them to Kindle users as device-locked unshareable files stinks.

    These public domain works in the Kindle store each have this disclaimer:

    “This book was converted from its physical edition to the digital format by a community of volunteers. You may find it for free on the web. Purchase of the Kindle edition includes wireless delivery.”

    The implication here is that the delivery (plus a modest margin) costs Amazon 99 cents per-book, but that is undermined by the existence of a very large number of in-copyright works in the Kindle store for half that amount, and a several other non-gutenberg public-domain works available from Amazon for 25 cents:

    Given these prices, I’d be *fascinated* to hear Amazon’s justification for charging $.99 in order to add DRM to over 7k public domain works with the intent of making them less featurful than the ones available for free download.

    Fascinated, I tell you.

  69. Amazon made my short story collection into Kindle content without actually contacting me about it first. (My home page is the book’s Amazon listing, so I can watch obsessively as my sales ranking goes up and down, and the same day the Kindle went on sale, there was a link to the Kindle edition.) Currently, I have a short list of both pros and cons over this.

    Has this happened to other indie writers with books on Amazon?

  70. Michael Bernstein – the fascinating answer is that Amazon believes a sufficient number of people would prefer to pay 99c than to go through a few more mouse clicks. Like most retail, it’s not about what the item costs to produce, but what consumers are prepared to pay. Many non-geeks will consider 99c for Alice In Wonderland to be a bargain. For many, the difference between $1 and free is negligible.

    Crapper man – I’m not sure what gymnastics you get up to on the loo that would put your Kindle in danger. I’d check the terms of the accidental damage section of my home contents insurance before reading a Kindle in the bath — but if they were favourable I’d go right ahead.

    You know, this DRM’s going to get cracked in no time at all, and then it’ll all be moot. Worst case scenario — given the standard font and the optical properties of eInk, one could build something slow but reliable with a Kindle, a scanner, a robotic next-page-button presser and some OCR software…

  71. The best way for publishers & authors to deal with theft of their works it to make it available from authorized e-reading sites as soon as it is printed, at a price that makes purchase more attactive to most people than stealing, then they can forget DRM and look at the remaining thefts the way stores look at shopliftinf – a cost of doing business. That hasn’t happened yet with books, so thieves sell stolen copies on the dark net. With music the music companies cried at first that they couldn’t make any money if the price of a song was reduced to 99 cents. I guess they were wrong, they seem to be doing ok with that model. When authors and publishers get over it and realize they need to move product, some of which is going to fall off the truck, not hamper commerce we can all move on and enjoy e-books.

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