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November 26, 2007

Filed under: fiction»industry»ebooks

Book Burning

Against my better judgement, I'm really interested in Amazon's Kindle ebook. Let's get the objections out of the way first.

First and foremost, it only reads .txt and .azw at the moment, the latter being Amazon's DRM'd file format. No RTF, no PDF, HTML only through the web browser. Second, because its ebook files are protected this way, you can't loan them to someone else or sell them when they're done. There's no used book market for the Kindle.

But I don't think either of those matter, because I doubt they'll actually last. Amazon has stated, obliquely at least, that the platform will open at some point to new applications--but it'll probably be hacked long before that. And there's a fundamental difference between DRM for text and for audio: with audio, stripping DRM often means losing data--burning to a CD and re-ripping, for example, is a lossy process--but stripping DRM off text can usually be done without losing anything. Books that I buy from Amazon will probably be convertible to something else, if I should ever need to do so, the same way that Microsoft's LIT format has now pretty much been cracked open.

It's possible to freak out too much about DRM. The fanatics at Boing Boing, for example, recently had a hissy fit over Amazon's MP3 license, which (in theory) restricts resale. Were they planning on reselling MP3s? Could Amazon actually enforce that? Probably not, to both questions, but that's not stopping people from getting hysterical about it, even though the average user couldn't care less.

The draw of the Kindle, for me, is that I buy a lot of books, and I typically buy them from Amazon. The fact that Kindle is usually cheaper is nice, as is the fact that the books wouldn't take up physical space. Our apartment has a fair share of bookshelves, and they're overflowing at the moment. It would be nice not to have to worry about piling up more dead trees in our limited real estate.

And the free wireless network is also tempting. Despite my disagreement with both its general philosophy and content, you can kill a lot of time with Wikipedia. And an always-on cellular web browser, no matter how basic, is a pretty big value-add. When external applications make their way onto the Kindle--which, again, I think is pretty much near-certain, even if Amazon changes its mind and tries to stop them--it could be a really killer value.

Right now, the only deterrents are the lack of availability and the $400 price tag, and that's probably a good thing. I'd guess we're going to see the Kindle develop over the next 6 months to a year, until it reaches something more like its full potential. At which point I might actually be able to buy one.

All that said, as the title of the post hints, isn't a fire just about the last thing you want your book platform to evoke?

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