I was reading this article in review of the kindle and I had a couple of thoughts about digital distribution and media. [1] Now of course, I'm pretty sure that the Kindle is not the end all device for digital text, but I think it gets a lot of things right, and is a good development for technology. Some thoughts:

Reasons the Kindle is a Failure

  • DRM. If you're not allowing people full access to their files in open formats your not really selling the books. Period. This is a hugely ideological complaint, but here the impact: the prices are too high given that they're not really selling you the book.
  • Given the above, I think 5 dollars (half of what they charge you now) is probably the most they could reasonably charge for a book and likely something within a dollar of $2 USD is probably ideal. Mass Market paperbacks are 7 bucks, which is lower than the ten that an ebook. More on pricing.
  • The device is overpriced and they nickel and dime you to death for service. Getting books/texts converted cost 10 cents. Certain RSS feeds cost recurring fees. I think either they have to subsidize the price of the device and then have a service contract (that includes credits for a given number of books, possibly tied to amazon prime?) or keep the price of the device high and really give the service away for free.
  • The obligatory complaints about the objects design and interface.

Reasons the (right) next "Kindle" could be amazing.

  • If they fix the price/DRM/etc. problem, sales go up, total revenue goes up, it's more successful.
  • Given the always on internet, people buy a kindle book for different reasons then they buy a regular book: You buy a kindle book because you have time, you've read the first couple of sample chapters and you want to read more. You buy a dead tree book because you see it on the shelf and you think you might enjoy reading it later on. I have lots of print books in my collection that I've not read. I think you're probably less likely to collect digital books in the same way.
  • Digital distribution does away with overstock, and most distribution costs, which means the reasonable limitations on publication becomes editorial/production staff time, and available good manuscripts. [2]. This doesn't mean that there won't be codices anymore, they just won't be produced in the same way, and they won't be bought and sold in the same way.
  • If this or some sort of digital reading device becomes more ubiquitous (and cheaper and therefore more accessible to a greater segment of the population,) such a device could be the main way that we we do a lot of our reading of text, and I think it isn't hard to imagine a revival of greater interest in book length forms as result of the proliferation of such a device.

Just a few thoughts at any rate.

[1]As an aside I think it's fascinating the way that the author of that post connects (rightly I suspect) the marketing of Kindle to women (though the links are loose, I think chicklit/"pop fiction" is sort of the ideal material for this sort of device) rather than to the typical (male) geeky early adopter types. I think this is fascinating, but it's not
[2]A digression on the costs of traditional publishing: It probably costs 15 bucks to make a high quality hardcover that sells for 25 dollars; so that leaves 10 dollars between the seller (I think markup for books is 35% of the cover price) and the author/publisher so were talking about a few bucks at best. Mass market and trade paperbacks have even lower margins.