I love my Amazon Kindle II. Sure, there’s some things I’d change, but overall, this is up there with the iPhone for me. I was waiting for it for years. The Kindle One looked too much like a 1950s kitchen appliance for me. The older Sony units didn’t thrill me. The iRex eBooks also didn’t grab me. But then… the Kindle II. It wasn’t just the product itself; it was the whole ecosystem around it. It seemed like the time was right. Here’s some thoughts I’ve had about it so far…

How it’s Changed My Reading Life

I’m Reading Much More

Mostly likely any eBook customer is an avid reader. Some readers may be used for specialty applications from electronic flight bags for charts to tech manuals of some sort. But the latest generation of eReaders are Crossing the Chasm from early adopters to mainstream. While I may be an Early Adopter in many ways; I’m not quite bleeding edge in terms of technology adaption either. Anyone who doesn’t buy that we’re headed into the mainstream here should take a look at a recent Silicon Alley Insider Story explaining how 35% of Amazon Book Sales are for Kindle versions when such versions are available. In any case, what I’ve found is the Kindle has helped me read an average of a typical book a week. Sometimes a bit longer for really long books, etc. This has happened for at least two reasons. The new ease of reading during my commute and just how quickly text flows with the Kindle. I don’t really have much time to read book length material outside of commuting time; with the exception of the occasional summer beach excursion. I’m sure others have both similar as well as their own reasons for why they’re choosing this device.

The Train

I commute by train. Two trains actually. A light rail, then a Path train to NYC. Yes, you can read on the train. A paper book, a magazine, whatever. But actually, sometimes it’s difficult. Even managing a small book can be problematic when you’ve got a briefcase and you’re on a packed NYC train. Just turning a page can be an issue. With the Kindle? Life is Easy. One funny thing has been the sort of anonymous Kindled Spirits with whom I occasionally share a brief nod as we see each other Kindling about. (Plus mine is a bit tricked out with a jet black skin as I didn’t like the white. This sometimes gets a second look or a question from another Kindler. Or is it Kindled? I think Kindled.) One thing that does slow down my reading a bit is I’ll typically get asked about the unit at least once per week. And I’ve noticed one minor future shock social oddity. When you see someone else reading a book or magazine, you can typically make out the cover. And maybe say, “Hey, great book, huh?” At which point, you’re either snubbed or perhaps have a nice conversation. With the Kindle, you’re subject matter is wholly opaque. (Well, to other train go’ers. I assume Amazon knows not only what you’re reading, but when your reading and the rate at which you do so. But… that’s another issue. I must say though, I’ve not asked the company if the device tracks and uploads such info similar to how TiVo and other DVRs do. I know I’d have had that put in, with customer opt out options. If I get around to dropping them an email and they resopnd, I’ll update this section.)

The Cost

eBooks are still too expensive. I know from personal past self-publishing experiences about how much typical printing costs. Nevertheless, the books I’ve been buying are typically between 10% and 40% less than print. For me, the Kindle II will have paid for itself inside of a year. And I’m not even including the free books I’ve either converted from The Gutenberg Project, (although more are simply available in Amazon’s format), or gotten elsewhere. Publishers are being a bit piggish about what they’re asking for price-wise. Digital Rights Management (DRM) notwithstanding, it would be un-wise for them to charge too much lest as these units become more mainstream, piracy becomes more prevalent.

Some Cascade Effects I See Coming

Page Numbers and Referencing

Back in the late 80s’ I was working at seminal consumer online service Prodigy. Around that time, more and more of online products were becoming mainstream and in the early 90s the web started showing up a bit. One of the tiny, utterly minor changes that had to be made for students was… “How do you reference this stuff for an academic paper.” This got worked out easily enough of course. But what about now? For obvious reasons, eReaders don’t have page numbers. For a book, place is typically referenced by line number. Looks like we’re going to need to update some reference rules again. Oh, and while we’re at it, start changing print books as well. After all, page cross references don’t work well in eBooks. Either eBooks will need to have a completely different production stream, (well, that’s true anyway), or references should just change to reference line numbers and add line number ranges to page headers or footers along with page numbers.

Paper / Distribution  / Cover Art?

As a disruptive technology, eBook reader market penetraion will have some cascade effects. The paper industry, distributors, and more will be drastically affected. Even if “only” 10% of books end up in electronic format over the next several years, that’s a big hit to just about any business. And what of book designers and cover artists? Perhaps cover art will still be desireable; especially as we’ll eventually have high res full color flexible paper, etc. etc. But there’s going to be at least some dis-location in these areas. Anyone not factoring this reality into their business plans and considering alternatives is going to suffer in ways similar to what the Newspaper industry is going through.

About the Naysayers: iPhone Purists, Etc.

Within a disturbing number of venues, (blogs, reader comments, forums), I’ve seen some disparaging remarks toward the Kindle and eReaders in general. I’m not talking about some graphics not being quite right yet or other features here or there. That’s typical and healthy conversation and such things will work themselves out over time. I’m talking about the myopic foolishness of those who think eReaders don’t work as you could just use your iPhone or whatever other cool device instead. Such talk reminds me of the Web 2.0 echo chamber. Where industry pundits spend so much time talking to themselves, they forget about real consumers, their real needs and real use cases they have for such products. What disturbs me is that these folks are supposed to be creating the latest and greatest. They’re the crowd most often saying things like, “so and so doesn’t GET IT.” And yet, just like almost all economists missed calling an upcoming recession, a lot of these folks totally don’t get what’s driving some successful products. No, not even. Some successful whole product categories that are themselves game changers. Here’s the bottom line. UI / UX MATTERS! Marketing and market presence matters. Certain device form factors are better for this thing or that thing than other devices. And people? Some people prefer one over the other for whatever reasons they do. And you know what? That’s ok. As much as I think my iPhone is at the same time one of the coolest and most useful devices I’ve ever owned, it’s no good for book length text. And even worse for 8.5″x11″ .pdf texts. Some people in today’s tech industry really need to get a bit more empathy for their prospective customers or risk completely missing the next big things.

What’s Next?

More of the Same and More specialty products. A rising tide lifts all ships. While all companies in a space will of course fight for market share, certain leaders lead by growing the whole pie. Amazon is clearly spearheading the whole category. But in doing so is bringing along a lot of others with them; from eBook manufacturers to specialty eBook websites and more. The result? A healthy ecosystem for eBook category growth with a lot more players seeing niche places for themselves in the cagtegory. 2009 might not quite be the year of the eBook or eReader. But unless something else comes along, 2010 just might be.