November 25th, 2007

monk john

Thoughts on the Kindle and e-readers

First, this isn't a review of the Kindle. That would require me to have one, and honestly, I don't care enough about one to even try to get a review copy. Of the Kindle itself, I'd have to say, it looks awkward, the design seems rather biased against lefties, and it's yet another piece of technozoomdweebie gear to carry around.

I got into smartphones years and years ago to get away from carrying multiple single-purpose gadgets. The idea of one that's taller and wider than any paperback I've ever carried, and weighs 5/8 of a pound has utterly no appeal to me. Really.

The idea that it will replace books is laughable on multiple levels. For one, 90% of my reading is on a plane. I can read a book on a plane from taxi to taxi, and the only interruption is the safety lecture. With a Kindle, you can't read from taxi to 10K feet, and during final approach. If I don't want to keep a book, I can leave it in a coffee shop. I'm only out a couple of bucks, and I've maybe made someone else's day. Sweet. With a Kindle? It's a damned albatross. Too big to shove in a pocket, too expensive to not worry about, just heavy enough to be annoying, and I'm not seeing anything in it that says "walk down the street and read me".

Yes, I read while walking. I'm good at it. I've got some awesome radar that lets me be deep into a book and register traffic, people, street signs, you name it. I've got an internal inertial nav system that's got to be seen to be believed. No one, and I mean, no one, is going to roll me for the latest Clive Cussler or "Destroyer". Really. But something electronic and shiny? That'll buy a rock or two. No thanks. I have enough overpriced electronic shit I have to worry about.

The other major problem with replacing books is that there isn't an online store that you want to browse the way you will a book store. Jeff Bezos can hump his Kindle until it's as sticky as a stripper's shoes, but you don't browse Amazon, not really. You might link-hop a bit, but face it, Amazon's strength is that it lets you get shit done like a SEAL sniper. You find your target, take the shot, and get out. That's not bad, not on any level. It's one reason why I use, no why I love Amazon so much for buying gifts and the like. They have a lot of stuff, it's easy to find, and it's usually pretty cheap. It's also really easy to get through the whole "trading money for stuff" part of the transaction.

But when I go into a bookstore, it's with the knowledge that I'm going to have hours to kill. I wander. Every section, (okay, not the romance novels. If I want porn, I just get it off the internet, not bodice-rippers), looking at covers, thumbing through ones that look interesting. I don't have a goal in mind. I want something to jump off the shelves at me. Maybe it's a magazine with an interesting article about the sinking of the Scorpion. Maybe it's a study of Keith Richards' guitar licks, or a history of the CIA. I go to book stores because I don't know what I want, and I want some random "a-ha" mojo to smack me in the head and make me take it home. I find most of my best books that way. Basically, I want some random author to run up and cerebrally bugger me. I'll smile and ask for more.

In a book store, I'm rather adventurous. Online? Not so much. Online, I'm going to get stuff I already know I want. Amazon is perfect for that. Low-hassle and convenient.

You aren't going to browse on a Kindle. Oh you can come as close as Amazon lets you, but in the end, you aren't browsing even remotely close to how you will in a real, honest-to-god book store. Besides, I adore used book stores, and Amazon sucks ass compared to that, 'cause Amazon ain't got no trade in lovin'.

That's not to say I think the Kindle will be a flop. Well, they need to fix that fucked-up design, make that thing about 12.5% of it's current cost, kill that stupid DRM shit, and make it fit in my damned pocket better. But there is a market for the Kindle, even outside of the technophile dingalings like Le Scoble or Winer, who cream their underoos every time someone hands them a new technotoy. (Please, for the love of humanity, don't show Sta-Puff 2.0 or Capt. Gouda the level of computerization in sex toys. Even if they could write worth a crap, the idea of either one of them even knowing what a sex toy is makes me vomit in my mouth a lot.)

The Kindle, while utterly horrid for replacing books, is fantastic for replacing dead trees in what I call "disposable reading", aka newspapers and magazines. (You'll note I've left off blogs. That's deliberate. I still pretty much hate the New Media Douchebags who are, mostly due to mass stupidity, and ease of manipulation, the "A-list" of the "blogodorkosphere". There are about six "blogs" worth reading. This one ain't one of them. Daring Fireball is. Other than those few, stop reading blogs with shitty writing. It rots your mind.)

Face it, you don't keep newspapers unless something truly important happened that day. You don't keep magazines except for the same reason, or they're National Geographic. You get the paper, read it, maybe do the puzzles, then chuck them, or leave them for someone else. You get Time, you read it, you dump it. They're disposable. Completely forgettable once the next edition comes. For this? The Kindle is brilliant. However, this brings to mind some form issues and a marketing plan that looks like they found the one for the Segway, and substituted "Kindle" for "Segway" throughout the document. Repeating the dumb doesn't make it smart. It just makes it refined dumb.

First, stop obsessing about portability, and think about more ways for ease of use to make the Kindle v.X better for disposable reading. For example, do the deal with Starbucks, Panera, Indie Coffee shops to build Kindles into the tables. Dump the keyboard and go for gorgeous screens. Don't worry about battery life, and instead make them AC power only, and stupid easy to maintain. Go for an iPhone-style screen that can be cleaned with Windex and a paper towel, but one that's 8.5"x11", and at an initial cost to the shop of about fifty bucks a unit. Don't stop there. Waiting rooms cry out for Kindles, and would be a willing audience for them. Who here loves medical waiting rooms? Love them old magazines and big pharma ads? Yeah? No? Thought not.

Airports are another great place for Kindle v.2. Large amounts of people waiting in predictable places, wanting something to make the time go faster. What better place for an unlimited amount of reading? Ads won't be a problem here, we have ads in papers, magazines, and TV news now. For once, you have an audience that won't mind ads. Sweet!

For the portable versions...honestly, pick something to focus on in v.2. In this case, the reading experience. Leave the file upload stuff alone. Concentrate on making it as pleasurable to read as possible. Jack the res higher. Much higher. iPhone-and-then-some higher. Make it smaller. Actually, make it fold. And get rid of the friggin' keyboard, there's far too many ways to get around that silliness, and we all know it, especially when you're talking about a lamer keyboard like on the Kindle v.1. That's just some cowardly nod to whiners for whom the lack of a keyboard somehow equates to being useless. They suck, and their opinion is not only stupid, but proven wrong. They need to get over it. There's nothing about reading that requires a keyboard.

Also, sponsor recharging stations. Along with the static mounts in airports, coffee shops, what have you, have inductive recharging stations. Lay the Kindle down, pick up a charge while you read.

Finally, drop the fucking DRM. That shit doesn't work. It's never worked, and it never will. It's absolutely stupid that even v.1 came with it. If there were publishers that wouldn't play without it, Bezos should have flipped them the finger and let them sit on the outside looking in. So what if I buy a book and want to move it onto someone else's. Why should that cost anyone anything. Note...move, not copy. It's worked for books for oh...centuries. I think that's a good model. No lamer "you can only loan it for n days" shite either. I want to turn a friend onto a magazine article I think they'd like, I just make with the tappity-tappy, and bang, they've got mail. Sure, it cost me a couple bucks, but how do you think I let them read the latest cool article in my copy of Time now? Same way. Again, just in case you didn't get it: DRM is for idiots who think that they're smarter than every other person on the planet. Or Ballmer. Which is the same thing, when you think about it.

If it seems I'm advocating an infrastructure as much as the device, well, I am. Look, e-readers have by and large failed like cost-cutting on the Titanic, because they're all enclosed worlds. You can't do anything with them but read stuff you either send yourself, or download yourself. What's up with that? Lame. Why not let indie bookstores have Kindles and Kindle stations where they can offer up their own downloads for customers of stuff they think is cool? Same thing for libraries? Hell, libraries could make all kinds of cool uses out of this damned thing, and face it, they're on board bigtime if it increases reading and patronage. Why ignore a built-in fanbase? if you get out of the mindset that created Kindle v.1, you have a real potential to create the next...fuckit, the first next big thing. Screw following everyone else's example, do it different, and do it right.

But that's going to involve some risk-taking, and some looking ahead beyond the next quarter, or the next mastubatory outflow of the technophiles. Because if you sell it to technophiles, it's doomed. Who does Apple sell to? Not the technophiles. Who is the Wii aimed at? Not the technophiles. Technophiles are like baby birds. They're cute, until you realize that what they really are are a bunch of small, loud, brainless nincompoops who spend all day sitting in their own shit, waiting to be fed by the momma bird, and don't even realize they're getting nothing but ABC worms in the form of warmed-over vomit.

Again...don't listen to the Technorati Circle Jerk Crowd. They're all short-sited dingalings who think the entire world is going to get better because of HDTV and blogging. They're stupid. Design Kindle for people who read newspapers and magazines. Who want to sit down and enjoy every aspect of reading. Fuckit, figure out a way to turn a damned page by dragging your hand across the screen, instead of this next/back button bullshit. Make this thing cool to people in a diner in Des Moines and a southern restaurant in Binghampton. Make it something that Our Lord of the Bad Haircut Megachurch in Arkansas wants to put in all the pews. (Face it, the religious market are sheep by design and intent. You get some fundie megachurches putting this in, and the money will flow like rain in a hurricane man.) If the technophiles whine, give them a USB key and some bullshit speech with the words "new media" and "community building" in it. They'll be so into the afterglow that it won't occur to them that you're ignoring them. Look at the set of people who aren't inane technophiles compared to the set that is. Which one's bigger? Yeah, thought so, and face it, we're talking about Amazon. Even the computer illiterate know what Amazon is. That's a hell of a lead. If you don't fuck it up.

The Kindle has some real potential. The question however, is this: Does Bezos want to just be better than existing e-readers, or does he actually want to change the world?

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