Last week I spoke to 48 members of the Indian Prairie Computer Club at the Hinsdale Community Center about ebook readers, the Thomas Ford Kindle program, and the implications for libraries. While most of the audience had heard of Kindles, only a few had actually seen one, and few knew that there were other readers on the market. That other competitors are hinting that they will soon offer readers was news. I spent many of my fifty minutes before the group answering questions about what ebooks are, how the Kindle works, who might use a Kindle, its pricing, and how Amazon sells many bestsellers at a loss.
I explained that my library's Kindle program is a demonstration and not a long-range service. I said that we are not collection building with the Kindle at this point, as ebooks and readers will evolve much in the coming years. As Nicholas Baker says in his New Yorker article of August 3, 2009, "EBook readers are in their infancy." He and other publishing commentators say that Amazon will eventually be hurt by its proprietary format. Once the customer honeymoon with the Kindle fades, the demand will be for readers that can load open ebooks that may be acquired from a variety of free and commercial websites. A color reader is also needed.
Sony is stepping up its effort to compete, but so far its marketing has lagged far behind Amazon's marketing. Barnes & Noble says that it will soon be offering a reader and open ebooks for sale. Google and Apple have hinted that they may step into the ring with readers and books. Google actually has the books already. Apple has iPod iTouches already which can read books using various apps (including Kindle for iPhone and iTouch) that are free or inexpensive.
The Kindle is a pretty well-designed product as it is, but people with visual problems may find the gray on gray hard to read. The electronic ink without backlighting may be environmental, but it may also hold Amazon back. I doubt Amazon will stick to a limited purpose Kindle, as the company sells music, movies, audiobooks, and other media. If Amazon made an iTouch-like product, it could sell all these formats to device owners.
Here are some articles with news about Kindles:
Deahl, Rachael. "The E-Book Price Conundrum," Publishers Weekly, May 11, 2009, p. 4.
Rich, Motoko. "Preparing to Sell E-Books, Google Takes on Amazon." New York Times, June 1, 2009. p. 1.
Milliot, Jim. "Cracks in Amazon's E-book Empire." Publishers Weekly, July 27, 2009. p. 3.
Baker, Nicholas. "A New Page: Can the Kindle Really Improve on the Book?" New Yorker, August 3, 2009.
Arends, Brett. "Kindle in Danger of Becoming Betamax." www.sharebuilder.com August 10, 2009.
"Sony Plans a Kindle Rival with Wireless Downloads." Associated Press, August 25, 2009.
"Sony Wireless E-Book Reader Proves Kindle Was on Target." www.pcworld.com. august 25, 2009.