Mr. Bezos, Tear Down This Wall

Amazon is not-so-quietly building a wall between itself, its competitors, and open e-book formats. It's time to show them that those of us who seek e-book readers without boundaries will not stand for their market monopolization and Soviet-style platform containment.

Amazon is not-so-quietly building a wall between itself, its competitors, and open e-book formats. It's time to show them that those of us who seek e-book readers without boundaries will not stand for their market monopolization and Soviet-style platform containment.

So while I was out on a business trip to Chicago this morning, news broke about the probable introduction of a large format Kindle device aimed towards easier reading of textbooks and other large media, such as magazines and newspapers. As usual, I'm late to the game when it comes to Kindles, but I'll try to add some new perspective here.

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

I've gone on (in multiple iterations) about the cost analysis of Kindle ownership and my feelings about the Kindle so ad nauseum that the my dead horse storage bill at the local veterinary clinic is starting to become excessive. For those of you that have not been subjected to my missives on this before, here is what I have said in the past about Kindles in a nutshell. They...

a) ...Are too expensive for the average human being

b) ...Are a device for doing nothing other than read books, magazines and newspapers using Amazon-protected formats or personal documents converted into the device's internal protected format when loaded through Amazon's e-mail conversion service, for a transaction fee. Oh yeah, and charge you for reading blogs (albeit awkwardly) that you would otherwise have free access to on your PC or other handheld device. Amazon has also removed storage card capability from its latest generation Kindle 2 which makes it even more of a hassle to get data onto the device.

(EDIT: Apparently, you can also read unprotected Mobipocket format books on the Kindle, but it requires manual data transfer via USB. Amazon's DRM-protected AZW Format is little more than DRM-enabled MOBI with a different encryption method. Encrypted MOBI can also be converted to AZW with the right hacker scripts.)

c) ...Are completely proprietary and cannot be modified to do anything other than their primary function which are to read DRM-protected Amazon books, unless you are a hacker and want to risk voiding your warranty.

d) ...Use a proprietary e-book store that is completely controlled by Amazon and makes it impossible for independent authors and publishing companies to run independent stores which are compatible with the device. Amazon has chosen to go with the iTunes/iPhone App Store model for loading e-books onto the device, and has forced large publishers to deal with them directly and cut heavily into their profit margins for the privilege of being listed and sold on the Kindle online store.

So it really doesn't matter to me if the Kindle is book sized, magazine sized, or the size of a coffee table (maybe I shouldn't give them any ideas.) The "Jumbo" Kindle that is likely to be announced shortly will cost at least $500.00 if not more, and will be even more out of the reach of normal human beings, let alone students.

Perhaps you didn't notice, but a few weeks ago Amazon purchased Lexcycle, the software company which produces the popular Stanza e-book reader software for iPhone and iPod touch. Stanza is currently capable of downloading and reading over 100,000 e-book titles in EPUB format, including magazines and newspapers.

The Stanza/Lexcycle purchase by Amazon looks good on paper, except when you read between the lines and realize exactly what is going on here. For some time, there have been rumors of Apple coming out with a tablet device, which in effect would be a larger-format iPod Touch with a screen comparable in size to the Kindle 2.

Is it just me, or does Amazon's purchase of Lexcycle and Stanza a prelude to an e-book cold war? By taking Stanza off the market -- at least from Apple -- and likely changing the software in the future so that it can only talk to Amazon's e-book store instead of e-book stores run by competitors, it will be able to control what the Apple Tablet is able to do as an e-book reader and if necessary, pull Stanza off the market or restrict its functionality so that the Apple Tablet is not as an attractive an e-book platform as the Kindle. Or so they will think.

Apple, of course, will likely respond in kind, by releasing their tablet in a similar price range to the "Jumbo Kindle", in color, and with the usual access to the iPhone/iPod App Store as well as a special "Book" channel to the App Store that they will create specifically for selling electronic books, along with integrated e-book functionality, with no doubt an Apple-created e-book format that it will release to developers as an addendum to the iPhone 3.0 SDK.

And of course, Apple's "Book Channel" will no doubt be fully searchable and will be available as part of an iTunes update and will work with existing iPhone and iPod Touch devices. The iTablet will be an Insanely Great device, and if they really go through with it as many have speculated, even I am likely to break down and get one.

When faced with a choice of the dictatorship of the Red Fruit or the stone face of the oppressive Amazon Wall, I will choose the Fruit, as much as it pains me to say so, given all the criticisms I have made of Apple and the iPod/iPhone in the past. At least the iTablet will be able to do something other than read books, and you'll be able to write applications for it, even though the App Store is completely controlled by Apple and they decide who can develop for it or not.

While Amazon and Apple duke it out (I liken this to a tense standoff between Soviet Russia and Communist China) I suggest that the other industry players with potential horses in this game -- namely Google, Microsoft and SONY, as well as companies like Barnes & Noble and BORDERS (also known as the free world) who can supply them with competing e-book stores to Amazon and Apple -- band together to support open e-book standards and book reader devices with open developer APIs, open source operating systems and open functionality, so that any publisher of any size can host their own e-book stores, perhaps on platforms such as Google Checkout.

Perhaps the true answer to Amazon and Apple will be a completely open reader and device standard created by a yet-to-be created consortium, with affordable devices for the masses running on AndroidSymbian and gosh, shall I utter it -- even Windows Mobile.

Is Amazon building a wall between itself and open publishing formats and standards? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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