Amazon and Google are reportedly going to give electronic books a try. The big question is whether it'll work.
The New York Times reports that Amazon in October will launch the Kindle, an e-book reader. The Kindle will run $400 to $500 and will connect wirelessly to an Amazon e-book store.
For its part Google will start charging customers for full online access to digital copies of books. Publishers will set prices and share revenue with Google.
No one from the companies is commenting, but that hasn't stopped the rest of us from talking.
You can't mention e-books without thinking about Sony and its efforts that have so far failed to make digital books mainstream (see Sony Reader review). Peter Kafka at Silicon Alley Insider notes all the problems--e-books require customers to change behavior and few people read more than one book at a time.
Now perhaps Amazon does take e-books mainstream (I'd bet Amazon has a better chance than Sony). But it's a stretch. I kinda like books and print is a nice diversion on the train from the laptop, wireless card, smartphone, instant messages, phone calls and other stuff you get every minute of your day.
Can an e-book really be a diversion? I doubt it. But with any luck Amazon will put more thought into its e-book reader. I just hope that Amazon is conducting at least one of the following tests with the Kindle to really ensure it's a hit.
- Test 1: The beach test. Take the Kindle to the beach on a 95 degree day. How does it take sand? What happens with a little sunblock on it? How's the screen look in the sun? Does it overheat? Since Amazon is in Seattle--where it's rainy a lot--I doubt it has thought of this test.
- Test 2: The john test. How's the Kindle in the bathroom (the one place where print is clearly the best medium)? Does anyone want Wi-Fi in the place where most reading occurs?