Monday, May 11, 2009

Thoughts on the Kindle DX

The big news this week, of course, was Amazon's announcement of the next member of the family, the Kindle DX. I decided to let the news settle a bit before writing anything about the DX here on Kindleville. Now that a few days have passed I wanted to share my observations as both a consumer and a publisher. Let's start things off with the positives.

Kindle DX Pros
I'm glad Amazon is innovating and not just sitting still. The Whispernet content delivery feature included in the entire Kindle family was a unique why-to-buy for K1 and it remains one for K2 and DX. It would be very easy for Amazon to just sit back and watch the competition limp around without that sort of feature but they're not. (Although I have to admit it's remarkable that Sony, for example, still hasn't figured out a wireless solution almost 18 months after the Kindle set the standard.)

I'm also delighted that Amazon is, at least on the surface, trying to help the newspaper industry find their way. Perhaps most importantly though, I'm thrilled Amazon is looking to help reinvent the textbook publishing industry. Having seen firsthand just how screwed up that sector is I'm glad Amazon is trying to do something about it. It's just that I'm not convinced the newspaper industry can be saved and I'm pretty skeptical the textbook industry can be changed, which leads me to...

Kindle DX Cons
The word on the street is that Amazon keeps 70% of the subscription fees you and I pay for newspapers and magazines. Hey, I wondered why there are so few products to choose from and now I know why. 70%. Are you kidding me?! Even Apple turns that model around and only keeps 30% on App Store sales, passing the other 70% along to developers. I can totally sympathize with newspapers/magazines as long as this remains the Kindle revenue model. As I read somewhere else recently, Amazon needs these magazine/newspaper publishers more than the publishers need Amazon. I hope Bezos & Co. wake up to that before too long. In the mean time, just know that your choices here will continue to be extremely limited.

One of the key benefits to the Kindle DX is the larger display size. Amazon plays that up and how it will provide a reading experience closer to what you've grown accustomed to in newspapers and magazines. Huh? I've had a NY Times subscription on my Kindle for almost a year now and I'm here to tell you that I love the fact that the content isn't rendered like it is in the printed paper! One of the flaws in trying to invent a next-generation product is to focus too much on the attributes of the current product. As my O'Reilly colleague Mac Slocum asks in this blog post, "why would anyone want a print experience on a digital device?" Amazon, liberate yourself from the way things work today and focus more on the great functionality you an offer tomorrow.

Regarding textbooks, I've got two kids in college and there's no way I'm spending almost $1,000 so both of them can have an e-reader...unless the price of textbooks comes way, way down on these devices. Heck, I recently bought a replacement laptop for my daughter and only spent $350, so there's no way I'm coughing up this kind of cash for a one-trick pony like the Kindle DX. You might be thinking it's OK to pay $489 for the device because the textbooks will be a fraction of the price students pay today. Dream on. I'm sure DX textbook prices will be less but I seriously doubt the savings will pay for a DX. Don't forget there are a bunch of textbook publishers out there who are used to getting fat margins on their print products; they arguably have a monopoly in this space and even though it's being challenged on a number of fronts, don't look for them to suddenly become filled with benevolence.

I admit that I'm still pretty irritated with Amazon's decision to essentially abandon the K1 and focus on K2, DX and beyond. I'm not asking for a free upgrade but I sure would appreciate it if they'd simply provide some of the same features available on K2 to all those early adopters who bought into K1. Text-to-speech is a great example. Is there really a reason why Amazon can't simply offer a software upgrade to support this on the K1? Again, despite the rumor of a "media pad" from Apple, the folks in Cupertino are not abandoning existing iPhone users. In fact, I'm looking forward to the OS 3.0 update that's due later this summer. It sounds like it will include a number of very cool features...and it will show up on my phone for free. Hey Amazon, even if you can't find it in your heart to offer free K1 software updates like this, how about making text-to-speech (and other K2 functionality) available for $5?!

I still use my K1 every day and I even bought a new book for it last night. So although I haven't abanded Amazon and the Kindle platform, each new product release seems to give me more and more reason to explore other alternatives. That doesn't sound like the type of customer loyalty Amazon has built via their core services but sometimes it feels like the Kindle comes from a totally different company.


Yondalla said...

As a college professor I would LOVE for textbooks to come to the Kindle. I agree that Amazon is unlikely to be able to provide the savings that will make it attractive to most students.

Also, textbook publishers are already beginning to sell their textbooks on the web, either on their own sites or through coursesmart (or similar). Though I don't want to read for hours on a backlit screen, my students don't mind. The computer versions have better highlighting and notetaking functions. I just don't see what Amazon has to offer textbook publishers and students.

Oh...and I LOVE my Kindle 2. I won't give it up for anything.

Anonymous said...


I don't know why it's a surprise that Amazon might keep 70% of the subscription fee. After all, they keep 65% of the retail price for Kindle books, which I think is equally egregious.

I, too, am still a Kindle-1-only user but tend to use it more for non-book (or non-Kindle book) stuff than for purchased Kindle books. I still think the typical $9.95 price point for new-release books is far too high.

And now Amazon won't even pay the Associate fees on Kindle books. That's a real boneheaded move in my opinion.

Bryce Leo Photography said...

Sadly Amazon can't offer text to speech on the K1. The K1 has a processor that is significantly weaker compared to the K2. The K2 processor is not just twice the speed it's also got a far more efficient instruction set.

Anonymous said...

As far as I know, you actually did get all the features of the K2 that can be implemented via software (deleting on the home screen, sync to last page read, etc). There is a reason you don't have text to speech, and the answer is the processor. It's almost as easy for them to implement stereo speakers as it is to implement text to speech.