E-books: Can Amazon and Google make them work?

E-books: Can Amazon and Google make them work?

Summary: Amazon and Google are reportedly going to give electronic books a try. The big question is whether it'll work.

TOPICS: Amazon, Google, Hardware

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?

Topics: Amazon, Google, Hardware

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  • Who cares?

    Yeah, that makes sense. I'll shell out $400-plus bucks for a reader which lets me access a list of books so short that if they were [b]free[/b] with the reader I'd still be paying more per book than if I scored hardcopy -- but their e-books actually cost more than hardcopy because they know you don't want to accept that you were suckered by the reader.

    Meanwhile, I've got a very nice list of [url=http://www.webscription.net]WebScription[/url] e-books that I can read on my notebook, on my desktop, on my PDA, whatever. My choice of formats, no DRM, and they cost [u]less[/u] than hardcopy.

    Possibly best of all, the authors and publishers are making money. Unlike the ones who are concentrating their efforts on fighting a war with their customers.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • WebScripttions

      I have used this servcie for about 4 years, no other e-bookstore can touch it. Unfortunately, the selection is pretty limited to that publisher and genre.

      I have also bought some books from Fictionwise, they have a broader selection, but most come with DRM.

      No dedicated reader, use a PDA, Laptop, Desktop, or in the case of WebScriptions, read them online.

      If Amazon copied WebScriptions, I think they would have a huge hit.
    • That's the problem.

      What will really cause e-books to come,into their own will be a CHEAP reader (like about $25-$50, although I think THAT might be too much). Paperbacks sell better than hardbacks for the same reason.

      Until then, look for Hardcopy to continue to dominate.
  • A separate device will never fly...

    - I wager nearly all of the possible client??le for an e-book already owns a device capable of displaying it. Produce a J2ME reader that's as device neutral as possible, hand it out for nothing, and charge for the e-books. Let the consumer decide if their postage-stamp phone screen is sufficient, or their laptop, or their PDA. Or all three. Locking to a single device is lunacy, and locking to a *dedicated* device is straight to plaid.
    • Still needs to be daylight readable, sand proof, coke proof, etc.

      How about something modeled off of the OLPC???
    • Exactly how I feel

      Why be locked into a single device. E-books I've used so far work with Acrobat Reader. Unfortunately I wasn't a fan of using M$ Passport to allow whatever machine I was on the ability to authenticate my use of something I purchased. And the eBooks were only compatible with Acrobat Reader 7, not the newer version 8.

      While Acrobat was close, your Java reader makes a lot of sense, too. Should allow a document (e-book) to be portable to any device. Should be cheap/free with e-book purchase.

      In general I didn't like the e-book. Too much reading on a screen all day sucks. I'd prefer print. But when trying to reference back to passages in the book, I enjoyed being able to search over the whole book for words/phrases.
    • OR have a dedicated Reader for . . .

      Those who don't have any device, but the software should be available for free otherwise. And the device should be CHEAP. No $400 devices. That's a sure way to ensure that you don't have any sales . . .

      As for everyone already having the device, I don't know. I think that there's a LARGE group that would use the device if they could afford it, I know I would consider a separate device. I don't particularly like all-in-one devices.
  • Nobody wants to pay for a reader

    Why in the world would I want to pay $400 for an ebook reader, when I have a perfectly good ebook reader already on all my PCs and my Blackberry (or PDA/Smartphone)? I really don't want one more piece of electronic gear to carry around. Sell me just the ebook file itself, especially if it's less than the print version, and I'll buy it, but not if I have to buy a proprietary reader.
    • Better, nobody wants to pay for an expensive reader that is fragile and not

      daylight readable. But, people would love a reader they could tuck under their arm like a book, daylight readable, sand proof, etc, but cheap. A modified OLPC might just fit the bill.
      • I totally agree

        I stopped buying PDAs because of just this. You drop one just a meter, and the screen would be shattered. Now they hardwire batteries, so you either send it back and wait a week or two to replace the batteries, or have to buy a brand new PDA. If they was $25US broken ones wouldn't be too bad. But $100 and up it's not worth it.

        Now combine the idea it's stuffed with DRM, and has to be on one particular reader, and that reader is $500...

        I'd buy hardbacks before I'd go back to PDAs, as mentioned above, and put up with DRM.

        My wish list? #1 the reader is cheap, and durable. An OLPC sounds like a good idea. #2 the books are DRM free. Face it. DRM IS DYING, no one wants it, and no one is supporting it.

        Sorry Amazon, and google. Get rid of sticking it to the customer, and [I]think of the customer first[/I] you may be able to make this work.

        - Kc
  • The chicken and egg problem. Untill there are enough titles, nobody will

    buy readers. Until there are enough people with readers book companies will not feel a need to release digital books.

    But, we also need a good, cheap, and functional reader. Actually, a modified OLPC might just fit the bill though. Get rid of the keyboard, and make a bigger screen, and you have it. Would take spills, daylight readable in black and white, sand proof, drop proof, etc.
    • Lots of books coming out in eFormat

      Actually, there are a lot of books in many genres and subjects coming out in eFormat. And better yet, I'm starting to see older, backlist books being released too. I get most of my books from Fictionwise.com and Webscriptions but I also shop at Mobipocket.com and I've found a whole slew of other sites now offering ebooks.

  • RE: E-books: Can Amazon and Google make them work?

    I read almost exclusively e-books. First because my vision is getting bad enough that I like being able to adjust the size of the type. Second, though, is because I read so much. I have several thousand dead tree books and they take up way too much room--rooms actually, I have one room lined with shelves and 2 others with half high lining on multiple walls. But I can carry only one dead tree book at a time and that is extra weight in my already full bag. However, I have about 1000 ebooks on my computer and carry about 100 in my Palm TX. All for no extra weight or space requirements since I already use both of those devices for other things. I simply see no read to spend extra to buy a reader. I'm more interested in finding my older dead tree books in e-format.

    • And if you have a converter program . . .

      There is a Lot of Amateur fiction you can get for free. I read a lot of Fan fictions, and the ability to carry them around without hooking up via WIFI is great.

      Gotcha beat on the portable side, though. On my Axim X5A, I have a 2-gig SD card with several movies on it, and a 1 gig CF card that has about 500 meg worth of reading material . . .
  • Why not use gutenberg.org with PDA or iPhone?

    If you already have a mobile internet device with minimal browsing abilities (iPhone, Blackberry, Treo, other smartphones), then you're already carrying around a thing with a screen and connectivity. That's enough to let you read thousands of public domain books at gutenberg.org. Webscriptions is another source that someone mentioned above. Why add to the pile?

    E-ink and others are working on color versions of their screen technology, with better refresh speeds. I would not be surprised if that became the standard for cell phones because it saves so much energy.
  • RE: E-books: Can Amazon and Google make them work?

    The convenience and ease of use of the ebook makes it a compelling purchase. I bought the ebook reader by Sony but--- I refuse to pay near the list price of a paperback for a book in electronic format. Fortunately there is an abundance of free material from the Gutenberg Foundation and its affiliates. Their availability has me reading the classics. I discovered these on a new website www.novelmaker.com where classics are available free. At this site I am also finding free novels, short stories, juvenile fiction and poetry. Apart from the classics, my prize find was a book by Alex Hiam in the juvenile fiction area of the site. I downloaded it put it on my reader, loved it so much I actually printed it to give to my grandchildren. Sites like NovelMaker.com that offer free material will eventually help change the publishing industry and bring a new market for ebook readers like the Sony and my soon to be purchased Iliad which has a larger screen and provides for flexibility. Ellie Mill
  • finding free ebooks or buying from an ebook store

    Have any of you found sources for free ebooks other then Gutenberg.net and NovelMaker.com?
    Are you willing to pay the price for ebooks from sony connect and other ebook stores?
  • RE: E-books: Can Amazon and Google make them work?

    I think eBook adoption is a long way off. I've detailed why on my blog:


    Seems like cyclical hype - a virus of sorts - that infects the book industry every 3 years or so.