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Kindle and the future of electronic books

Posted: 2007-11-21 01:34:00, Categories: Free software, Literature, 526 words (permalink)

Picture of the Kindle ebook reader by ShakataGaNai. A couple of days ago, Amazon unveiled their electronic book reader called Kindle. Newsweek published an extensive story about it. In short, Kindle is a roughly A5 size, 300 gram electronic device with a daylight-readable grayscale display and possibility to buy electronic books from Amazon.com. See also Gizmodo's hands on test and Wired's critical comparison between Kindle and Sony Reader for more information.

There has been several attempts in the eBook arena before, none of which have been hugely succesful. It's interesting, considering that most other forms of content such as photos, music and videos have already gone digital. Net is used for many kinds of text content such as email and news, but books and magazines are still mainly read on paper.

The most important new feature in Kindle compared to other similar readers is its mobile Internet connection. Transfer fees are included in the price at least in the U.S. That makes it easy to retrieve a new book any time, without the need of connecting the reader to a computer. Compared to PDAs, the biggest difference is the daylight readable screen and longer battery life. Kindle is advertised to survive for up to one week on a single charge, or two days with the wireless connection enabled. That sounds finally enough for not having to care about charging all the time.

Books to the device are delivered in an Amazon proprietary DRM-protected format. Kindle supports some unprotected formats as well, but most of the content will be delivered as protected files. Fortunately it seems that purchased books can at least be backed up to a computer and continued to be read even if Amazon would decide to discontinue the service. However, copying and reading them freely on any device doesn't seem to be possible. It's not a surprise, but still disappointing.

Having a lightweight, daylight-readable, long battery life, Internet connected device for reading books and other information on the web (Kindle provides access to Wikipedia and some kind of limited web browsing) sounds attractive. I'm certainly a potential customer. However, I hate being locked in some proprietary format for the content I buy. Therefore I'm rather unwilling to go shopping for DRM-crippled books; unprotected PDFs would be much better. Similarly, I've already bought plenty of music online in MP3, Ogg Vorbis and FLAC formats, but not a single copy-protected song. Perhaps I could consider if the restrictions are circumvented first — I have bought DVD's after DeCSS came out.

It's early to say whether Kindle will succeed or not. However, with the backing of a company as large as Amazon, which is able to provide a huge selection of available content, it will certainly not be ignored on the market. The majority seem to be less strict about DRM than me, as iTunes taking over a large chunk of music sales has shown. Whether it'll be the now-released Kindle or one of its successors which will become the killer device, I do believe that the real transition from paper to electronic books has now begun.

(The picture in this article is from Wikipedia, taken by user ShakataGaNai, see the picture page for details.)

1 comment

Comment from:
Just found a brilliant take on the DRM of Kindle titled The Future of Reading (A Play in Six Acts).
2007-11-27 @ 21:26

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