Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Are You There, Amazon? It's Me, JA

An open letter to Jeff Bezos and Amazon.

I want to tell you why I haven't bought a Kindle yet.

I'm still considering it, because I made about $3000 in June selling my unpublished novels and published short stories on the Kindle. Three grand is a nice chunk of change, and it will be interesting to see if those numbers stay strong through oncoming months.

But even with this success, I can't bring myself to buy a Kindle.

Here are the five main things preventing my purchase:

1. Cost. A Kindle is simply too much money, especially compared to other electronic gadgets that do more. While I'm sure manufacturing costs are high, all costs reduce with time, and if I were Amazon I'd spend a lot of time and money figuring out how to get the price down so more people buy Kindles.

2. Most of the books on Amazon are too much as well. This is the publisher's fault, because they set the price. So perhaps Amazon should stop dealing with publishers and start dealing directly with authors. Mr. Bezos, if you want an exclusive JA Konrath title, contact me.

2. DRM. When I buy a book, I want to own a book and do whatever I want with it, and copy-protection makes that impossible. Again, this is publishers doing this, not Amazon, but it is preventing me from buying Amazon's Kindle.

3. Format. There are too many ebooks available on the net for cheap or free that aren't compatible with Kindle formats. The Kindle DX reads pdf, which is terrific, but it costs a hundred bucks more than the Kindle 2. Give me this feature for less, and I'm sold.

4. Unitasking. A mini-laptop costs the same, is only a bit larger, and can do a billion things. As of right now, the Kindle is limited in what it can do. It does what it does very well, but people like their gadgets to have cross-purposes.

Unfortunately, Amazon hasn't released a Kindle app for PCs, and I have no idea why. The laptop minis are perfect for reading because they are so portable.

But Kindle has released an app for the iPhone and iPod Touch. My son recently got an iPod Touch, and I played with it for a few days.

Wow.

I love this gadget. Reading on it is ridiculously easy, not only using the Kindle app, but using other readers like Stanza (also owned by Amazon.) Many books also have their own app, including my novella SERIAL, which doesn't require a reader--you simply download the free ebook and the reader is included.

I had no problems curling up with the iPod for an extended reading session, and enjoyed the experience. While I don't believe this is going to be the de facto way of reading ebooks in the future, for the time being it's a nice placeholder.

So what will the breakout ebook reader be like? Mr. Bezos, take note.

1. Under $150, and available at retail outlets like Wal-mart and Best Buy.

2. Wireless Internet capabilities for downloading books.

3. Able to read many different ebook formats, with no DRM.

4. Adjustable font size, type, and contrast.

5. A built in light.

6. Color no-glare e-ink.

7. Upgradable memory and operating system.

8. Long battery life, scratch proof, and water proof (or at least with skins available to make it waterproof.)

9. E-Book 2.0 capabilities.

What is E-book 2.0? And why aren't more people thinking about it?

Here are my Criswell predictions for E-book 2.0:
  • The books will be interactive, the words clickable on a touch screen. You click on the word "lugubrious" and it gives you a dictionary definition, or the word "Taj Mahal" and it shows you a jpg picture.
  • Ebooks will have extra content, such as author annotation, first drafts, deleted chapters, extra short stories, interviews, essays.
  • The ebook version and audio version will be packaged together.
  • There will be options for ambient sounds while reading, as well as music.
  • Ebooks will be upgradable, meaning the author can continue to add DLC (downloadable content, which is hugely popular in videogames) to books. A reader can buy the first part of a chapbook, then automatically get each new chapter as the author finishes it.
  • Ebooks will link to book-specific forums, where readers can review the book and share thoughts and interact with other readers.
  • The touch screen will be signable, so authors can autograph their books (much like signing the electronic screen on a credit card machine.)
Will these things come to pass? Honestly, I think they will. Playing with the iPod Touch, seeing the unlimited potential of a handheld electronic device, there is no reason why books shouldn't go the same route movies have gone, getting deluxe DVD editions with extra Rom content. It will be interesting to see what the future holds.

In the meantime, I'm going to be reading on my son's iPod, waiting for the Amazon Kindle to catch up...