Thursday, April 30, 2009

Some Kindle pundits have caught Whine Flu

As you've no doubt heard by now, Amazon recently announced that they will finally begin charging a fee for sending personal documents to your Kindle wirelessly (after giving it away for two years).  Instead of charging by the document, as they had originally planned, they will by the megabyte -- 15 cents per MB rounded up to the nearest megabyte.

Of course Kindle critics see this as one more sign of the Kindle's future downfall. 

One blogger asks "Does this increase lessen the value of the Kindle?", and proceeds to express his displeasure at the pricing change.

My favorite headline so far comes from C-Net:  "Amazon's Kindle: Your fat personal docs aren't cheap." 

Exactly how "fat" do your personal documents have to be before transferring them wirelessly is no longer cheap?

Just for a frame of reference, I visited Project Gutenberg and looked up War and Peace.  Any guess on how much that "fat" txt file will cost to transfer under the new pricing structure?  60 cents.  That still seems like a bargain for document conversion and wireless delivery, especially considering we're paying no monthly fee for wireless service.

Of course PDFs are much larger than text files, but given the dodgy quality of PDF conversions for Kindle I doubt too many Kindle users will be concerned about PDF pricing.

I don't know about you, but I don't have too many Tolstoy-sized personal documents sitting around that I need to transfer to my Kindle.  But if you do, fortunately there's always the free solution of transferring documents to your Kindle manually via USB cable, either after converting them yourself using a program such as Calibre (which we introduced you to earlier), or by using your email address.

I'm certainly no Amazon apologist, but the whole thing seems to be much ado about nothing.  I strongly doubt it will affect future purchase decisions or send any current Kindle users scrambling to eBay to list their device.  Not until Apple unleashes their "Kindle Killer," that is (yawn).  But that's another column.


Currently reading on my Kindle:  Nothing!  I'm reading a real paper book from my local library.  Ugh.  Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-zinn.

Follow me on Twitter @phigginbotham.


C.K. said...

Heh. Whine flu, eh? I don't think I'm whining.

As I mention in the Obsessable piece that you link to, I am intending to go the free route to handle this, it's just that the move is such a clear money grab on Amazon's part. I also think it's a little disingenuous to have the current pay structure increase but to include language highlighting the low $0.10 per document price of transferring personal docs on the huge commercial for the Kindle page that Amazon has. Even now it still reads:
"Personal Documents
Kindle makes it easy to take your personal documents with you, eliminating the need to print. Each Kindle has a unique and customizable e-mail address. You can set your unique email address on your Manage Your Kindle page. This allows you and your approved contacts to e-mail Word, PDF documents, and pictures wirelessly to your Kindle for a small per document fee--currently only 10¢ per document. Kindle supports wireless delivery of unprotected Microsoft Word, PDF, HTML, TXT, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, PRC and MOBI files. "
I don't see how it's a good business move for Amazon either, considering that they're trying to get more people, theoretically, to choose the Kindle over a growing e-ink reader marketplace. The cool functionality of the Whispernet connection is one of the things that made me decide to go with a Kindle this time instead of buying another Sony Reader. The new Sony Reader understands PDFs natively (as did the first generation that I had), and it comes with a touchscreen and a built-in LED light.

I still think the Kindle wins because of the note-taking features, but it doesn't change the fact that it puts the Kindle in a slightly less strong position for market share for a slight monetary gain in the face of damaging larger, longer lasting gains. That type of move makes even less sense coming off of a increased profits quarter, imho.

Tomster said...

Note that it seems using the browser to download books etc. over wireless (e.g. feedbooks) is not subject to this fee, because this does not go through amazon, so they probably can't track it per-user. However the wireless provider certainly knows how much bandwidth is being consumed, and how much of it goes to amazon versus how much is browser traffic, and probably shares this information with amazon. Amazon is probably keeping a close eye on this 'unmonetized' traffic, and it's probably accounts for the 'experimental' status of the browser: Amazon would rather nobody used it, because it costs them money which they cannot offset except by charging more for things they can track per-user (book sales, file conversions etc.).

There's no doubt all of this detracts from the value proposition, and one wonders if it is just the beginning: will they start charging for free books from the Kindle store, for samples, will they unbundle the wireless access from the cost of the Kindle etc.?

'Free' Whispernet is one of the key differentiating features of Kindle; the last thing they want is to unbundle and force people to pay $10-20/month just to buy ebooks from them. Obviously the cost of providing this is is factored into the $359 price, but the more people use it for things that don't pay Amazon's bills, the more it eats into their profits. Hence the fee hikes in an attempt to preserve them.

It's easy to criticize amazon for this, but consider that the only other ebook readers with wireless delivery are those which already have a way of paying for it,: e.g. if you own an iPhone, you have to have a data plan - but would you pay $80/month if all you could do is read books on the thing? That's probably why Sony's reader doesn't have wireless access - they could not work out how it would get paid for, apart from charging monthly access fees. If all your device does is display text, few people would pay even $10 per month for wireless access (and most data plans are way more than that).

So it will be interesting to see how it all sorts out.

Paul Higginbotham said...

Thanks, CK. Always a privilege to hear straight from a quoted source. I apologize if I seemed to accuse you of whining. That wasn't my intent. I was simply stretching for a clever headline. Fail on my part. Heh.

I do disagree with you on the importance of this aspect of the Kindle though. I think you overestimate its impact on the general public. I'd say (pulling figures out of my bahookie) that the majority of Kindle/eBook buyers are more concerned about availability and ease of purchase of eBooks in general than they are about transferring their own documents to it. But I could be wrong.

Chris said...

It seems like this could be targeted at people using a service like kindlefeeder to get blogs without going through Amazon. I doubt if Amazon ever cared about the occasional document, but getting documents auto-delivered daily is not only using the bandwidth but cuts into their revenue from selling blogs and newspapers.

Bart said...

Hmm... but isn't it just that they changed the fee from $.10 to $.15? And also the charging by MB thing, which is fine because I've never needed to send a file over 1MB to myself (text files are tiny... they're probably trying to keep people from over-abusing the service and hogging bandwidth)?

It's never been free as long as I've owned a Kindle, unless you use the email address which sends the file back to your email account (and which Amazon will continue to support with the price increase) so you have to manually copy it over through a USB cable.

Amazon never said they're keeping their prices the same forever. As a consumer you shouldn't expect that from any service provider either. It's not a fair expectation for anyone.