The Cult of Kindle

The Cult of Kindle

Summary: I'd not given Amazon's Kindle ebook reader much chance of succeeding given the stratospheric price tag combined with DRM, but then I started reading the customer reviews for it and just realized that the Kindle has already amassed quite a considerable cult following, and this could be crucial to its success.


I'd not given Amazon's Kindle ebook reader much chance of succeeding given the stratospheric price tag combined with DRM, but then I started reading the customer reviews for it and just realized that the Kindle has already amassed quite a considerable cult following, and this could be crucial to its success.

The Cult of KindleWhen I look at the Kindle I see a device that holds a lot of promise, but this has been true for every other ebook reader that's entered the market.  And history is littered with the tombstones of failed ebook readers.  And for every pro feature of the Kindle (nice screen, wireless download, and good battery life) there are some serious negatives to contend with (price, DRM, Sprint network coverage).  It's also ugly.  I don't usually judge things by how they look but this thing, in my opinion, is ugly in a way that I thought was exclusive to the Zune.  Weighing up the pros and cons, I'd come to the conclusion that the Kindle has already hit the peak of popularity and the only way for it to go was down.

But then I realized that the Kindle had a cult.  The Cult of Kindle.  A group of people willing to give it a five star rating just because someone else didn't, willing to back up every design, engineering and marketing decision that Amazon made, willing to defend the Kindle with their last dying breath.  The Kindle doesn't cost money, it saves money.  Why only buy one!  That 0.75 second flash as the pages turn isn't a downside, it gives you an opportunity to absorb the previous page and admire the Kindle's prefection.  It doesn't harm your eyes, in fact, it fixes them.  Ergonomic issues that other reviewers have bought up are dismissed by the Cult of Kindle as flaws with the reviewer, not the device.  The Kindle is perfect, and the Kindle 2.0 will be a little more perfect.

When I look at the Kindle what I see is a $400 blank book.  Sure, it has features that go beyond being an electronic book reader, but these are vague and lacking is specifics.  Really the features of the Kindle boil down to three things - click, buy, and read, with extra emphasis on the second step.  For a blank book, the price is high.  I had an exchange with David Berlind over on his blog yesterday (my three comments can be found here, here and here) and when I mentioned price he tried to counter my argument this way:

But if cost is still bugging you, I can remember a lot of people laughing at the premium that Starbucks was charging for a cup of coffee.

My counter to this point is that to make use of Starbucks you don't have to buy a $400 cup. 

The DRM issue also bothers me.  Well, not the DRM so much but the feeling that if this service did tank, you'd end up with a $400 paperweight and no access to the books you bought.  Those who think that this can't happen then it's worth bearing in mind what happened to services such as Virgin Digital and Google Video.  I'm always wary of the investment I have tied up in, but at least there I didn't have to buy a $400 reader to take advantage of the service.  Remember, what DRM giveth, DRM can taketh away.

The real test for the Kindle will ultimately be the test of time.  Will people who've bought one continue to buy books, will Amazon continue to be able to generate enough buzz to keep them selling (and drop the price), will people who've made an investment in books for the Kindle buy another when their first Kindle dies or becomes obsolete?  Also, and crucially, will the service last?  I'm sure that Amazon will be able to count on the Cult of Kindle to do their part.

Looking at the Kindle service as a whole and the areas where Amazon have got it right are areas where the company already excel at - and that's adopting the path of least resistance to online commerce.  In a single iteration Amazon has bettered what Apple have been trying to acheive for years with the iTunes store.

Would I buy one now?  No.  Would I buy one in a year's time?  Hmmm ... maybe.

Before I close, I'll leave you with the first act of The Future of Reading (a Play in Six Acts):

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


Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Security

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  • The first reviews are useless... it a Kindle, a movie, or music.

    The favoring reviews the first few weeks for any product are always
    suspect. Usually employees, or for hire marketing folks who go online to
    pitch glowing reviews for a product they probably do not even own, just to
    drive up *hype*.
    This is mostly true with movies like IMDB, where even before a movie is
    out, you find nothing but four or five star praise from those lucky few that
    got to see a sneak preview of a film, and their first desire is to rush online
    and post their glowing comments.

    Same is true with Kindle, people just bought one and the first thing they
    want to do is heap praise, upon praise.

    The Kindle is doomed to failure.

    It's a lifeless, empty shell with no other goal in mind then to sucker those
    few gadget oriented folks out of their money and time.

    A book, ones that you can track down online, or at a bookstore, that have
    aged dust covers, and finely crafted pages, convey more then just the
    words inside, but that someone (people) spent time to craft that book for
    your reading pleasure and that you can share that book with family and
    friends. Even inscribe a message or two inside to say "Happy Birthday" or
    "Merry Christmas."

    On the Kindle? Well, let me get out my Sharpie and right D.O.A.

    Good riddance!
    • Books crafted for reading pleasure?

      I have no quarrel with the rest of your post, but I wonder where one can buy books crafted by humans for the reading pleasure of other humans. I've been looking at lots of books lately, and most of them are printed on greyish recycled high-acid-content paper and threaten to disintegrate before I reach the end of the page. Books used to be the way you describe them, but now they're all printed in China (where most of the world's goods are now produced) and aren't worth the price as objects: they won't last a human lifetime.
      • China?

        books aren't all "Printed in China." Premium books (like doctorate theses) can still be printed on acid free paper and all that. Pulp fiction got its name from the crappy paper it was printed on.

        Check out They're on example of how this can be done.
      • They still can be made

        You are right - crafted books are rare - but that shouldn't stop you. A few years ago I collected small stories I had written, printed them at work using a wax printer on some mamorized paper from a crafts shop, checked the net and found someone who still knew the craft how to get my own stories bound in leather.

        Only two of these were made - one as a gift - one to keep. And if I remember the cost, then it was 'just' some 60-80 dollar a book.

        The big downside - the time I spend. Guess this is where the Kindle is superior. But the book - my own one - will hopefully be around for a long time to come. Wouldn't be that sure if I would pass on a kindle to someone later in live.

      • I think it's a generation

        gap thing. I grew up reading books and I still prefer the kind that I can flip through. However, many of the kids out there today don't have the same feeling about books. They've grown up with gameboys. So, it will be interesting to see what happens in the future.
      • it depends on where you buy the books you can find highly

        it depends on where you buy the books you can find highly crafted books that are not only a good read but stunning too look at and pass down. one such seller is easton press.
        SO.CAL Guy
  • The latest thing

    [i]I started reading the customer reviews for it and just realized that the Kindle has already amassed quite a considerable cult following, and this could be crucial to its success.[/i]

    So you're saying that it's a $400 pet rock? This season's must-have fashion accessory?

    That kind of in-crowd buzz can kick-start a business like Apple's media, or it can burn out in a season. The difference is in whether it actually offers real value to purchasers, not just a season as a coffee-table conversation piece.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
  • RE: The Cult of Kindle

    I'm just wondering - what if even just some of the Cult of K members are employees of Amazon or its suppliers? Would not be the first time that insiders or interested parties tried to create a market or prop up one that would otherwise crash.
  • RE: The Cult of Kindle

    Right here is the thing that all the anti-DRM narcissts not only don't get, but seem to be programmed in their genome to be incapable of understanding: you didn't buy the book, you licensed the paper and ink reification of the book. Did you (or your assignees) give up your copyright to this article just because it's being painted on my LCD display right at this moment? I think not.
    • Re: RE: The Cult of Kindle

      [i]you didn't buy the book, you licensed the paper and ink reification of the book.[/i]

      With the kindle, yes. It says so in the contract. Now, if you go into a B&N and buy a book, you are buying the book.

      none none
      • The Kindle's not the book

        You may own the Kindle, which is hardware, but you don't own the content (which is intellectual property) that the Kindle displays.
        • The Kindle's no the book, redux

          And even if you own the Kindle, that doesn't give you the right to go out and open your own Kindle factory and start giving them away free.
        • Re: The Kindle's not the book

          [i]You may own the Kindle, which is hardware, but you don't own the content (which is intellectual property)...[/i]

          See, here's where I get confused by this line of thinking. My new Hamilton Beach mixer contains intellectual property. The patent numbers are in the users manual. Now, what part of that mixer don't I own? Because if you ask me I own every last screw, washer and solder joint in it.

          Just like the book. I don't license the intellectual property in the mixer or the book. I buy them, and I own each and every instantiation of a fixated idea that I pay for.

          Sorry if you don't.

          none none
    • Copyright law

      doesn't apply to classics. Therefore, if I own a book in which the copyright has expired, I can reproduce that book legally. The DRM prevents any copying of the material even the making of a backup copy; therefore, it's not the same as copyright protection. The problem is that digital media deteriorates much faster than printed media. I have books that are well over hundred years old (some approaching two years old). I can still read them; however, I have problems reading floppies that I made just over 10 years ago. Adrian makes a good point when he mentions that if the Kindle folds; you're not guaranteed to be able to ask the material you paid for. When you buy a book you not only pay for the paper and ink, but you pay for the right to access the intellectual property of another. You don't have the right to copy or plagiarize the intellectual property, but you do have the right to access it. With DRM the possibility exists that you will lose that right to access the material even if you don't lose or wear out the instrument.

      I prefer books; they're safer and more durable.
  • I had a vision

    Of seeing one of these at garage sales five years from now. Dead batteries, mixed in a pile of electronic junk that's $5.00 for the whole box.

    Maybe if they get the price of a book down to $3 or $4 dollars, then I might consider it. But within a couple bucks of what you could buy the paper book...forget it.

    Cult or no cult I'll stick to regular books.
    • Price point

      [i]Maybe if they get the price of a book down to $3 or $4 dollars, then I might consider it. But within a couple bucks of what you could buy the paper book...forget it.[/i]

      Sure thing:

      However, you don't need a Kindle. Sorry about that.
      Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Why I bought a Kindle

      I agree that they are ridiculously overpriced, but attribute that to the newness of the product. I bought it as a gift for my girlfriend, who has already purchased and read several books since Christmas.

      I spent some time with the device, mainly so I could read a book she recommended. (I do not plan to buy one for myself just yet.) I then proceeded to jot down a number of things that I hate abaout the the device itself, namely:
      - The lack of an automatic bookmark. If you leave the page you are reading and go wandering in the content on the device, you have to go sifting through the table of contents, slamming through page after page until you find where you were. This happened a couple of times, as I am very spontaneous about skipping around.
      - The oversensitivity of the body. All you have to do is grab the thing, and it leaps forward or back in response to the extra-long navigation bars. This drives me crazy!!! After a week of reading, I finally found the precise spot where you have to grab it without accidental navigation. Argh!!

      I could go on. But what I do like about it is:
      - The wireless purchase feature. I buy a lot of stuff on Amazon, so have no problem paying for content. When I read about people complaining about DRM, I think they are barking up the wrong tree. Publishing is about selling content, not giving it away for free. To think otherwise is naive. Give it up: if you want worthwhile content, expect to pay for it. I think that the prices for the books we have bought - on average, $10 each - are quite reasonable. Free would be nice, but I also think it would be nice to make transatlantic journeys by flapping my arms and clicking my heels together.
  • It's the STORE, stupid

    The press seriously doesn't get it. Nobody seems to know what previous eBook
    ventures were like. I don't think the reporters read books much, and I'm sure they
    didn't read books on previous eBook devices.

    It's not the device. Perfectly adequate devices were available in 2000. The Kindle is
    seven years better. All they needed to do was not screw up, and by all accounts
    they haven't.

    What killed the previous ventures was lack of stuff to read. It's the STORE, stupid.
    Amazon has at least an order of magnitude more titles. More to the point, if you
    are someone who buys books, as opposed to someone to whom books are sold,
    there is a good chance the book you want to read is AVAILABLE. This was not true

    I once made an informal check. At the time, of the books on Oprah's Book Club
    list, about 3/4 were available as audiobooks... yet no more than 1/10 were
    available in any of the then-prevalent eBook formats (Adobe, Microsoft, Gemstar).

    I suspect that if the average book-lover were to make a wishlist of titles, they
    would find that more are available for the Kindle then are available at the average
    mall bookstore. They would certainly find that more are available than in the
    average airport bookstore. THIS WAS NOT TRUE BEFORE.

    The people who complain about the pricing seem unaware that the past practice
    was to charge close to the full hardbound price for eBook versions of books that
    were not yet out in paperback. That pricing was a dealbreaker for almost
    everyone. Amazon's pricing is still unfairly high, but at least it represents a selling
    proposition that a sane person could accept.

    The Kindle will succeed because it will work for people who like to read, and the
    reason it will work is because of title availability.

    There's no need for it to smell like leather, or have a compartment that will enable
    it to store live silverfish (like a real book).
    • Don't you mean "publisher"?

      It's the publisher who decides whether to release a title in electronic form or not. Amazon is just a retailer; they don't actually own any rights to the books they're selling. If the Kindle isn't widely accepted, poblishers won't bother with it. As you point out, the price tag is currently too high and if that keeps the readers away, the publishers won't bother.
      • Amazon can be a publisher too

        That's where you're wrong. Amazon is not just a retailer. One potentially awesome thing about Kindle is that it allows Amazon to be a publisher too. And they can charge whatever price they negotiate with the author. Already you can buy books for Kindle which only cost $0.01.