Hey, TeleReaders; this Kindle’s for my sister-in-law, not for you

evan-schnittman2 Think DRM is a necessary evil? Love the iPod model for e-books---built around Amazon's Kindle? Today's your day. I'm very pleased to publish some pro-Kindle commentary from Evan Schnittman, vice president of business development and rights at Oxford University Press (photo). Discussion's more fun with different viewpoints included, and given all my skepticism about DRM and an Amazon - dominated iPoddish model for the book industry, I encourage other defenders to submit their own essays to the TeleBlog. Meanwhile thanks to Evan for taking time to present his side! - David Rothman. David kindly linked on November 21 to my Kindle review on the OUP blog and called me out on a major area of disagreement between us; DRM. One of my basic points is that Amazon has made a huge play taken right out of Apple's iPod playbook and, if Amazon fails, I fear the world of e-books might forever fail. David's response was that if Kindle fails, it will be the death of DRM and not the e-book. David's view is that the restrictive DRM has kept the e-book limited and the only solution is a world of DRM-free content. My position has always been that the iPod, with its 75% market share and pretty much invisible yet omnipresent DRM, is the only model of hope for e-books. I have been playing with my Kindle and watching others as I demonstrate it. The Kindle comes with the New Oxford American Dictionary preloaded, so I was fortunate enough to attend the Amazon press conference and receive my Kindle the first day it was available. Using the Kindle and showing it to others has helped firm up my position on DRM and on what it takes to be a reading device. The best quote on how the Kindle does as a reading device belongs to Jeff Bezos. I believe he said something like, "The device disappears after a bit and one is left with a reading experience." This is exactly what is right about the Kindle--it's clearly designed by readers for readers. The Kindle is supposed to be a device that disappears, not one that inspires techno-envy. Kindle has one job, and one job only--to create a seamless digital reading experience from purchase through immersive reading.

Immersive reading has always been the bane of electronic content. As extractive content such as reference has flourished in digital form with the public writ large, immersive reading digitally has only worked with a very, very small subset of the population–those who don’t mind reading on a tiny, backlit LCD screen. While there are plenty of bloggers who feel this way, there just aren’t enough compared to the vast number of readers who, like me, would never, ever get through a long article on a Blackberry, let alone a full book.

The Kindle is the first device that not only allows for a pleasurable immersive reading experience (Sony and IRex do as well) but also, like the iPod, creates a seamless experience in getting DRM’d content into the device in less than 10 seconds. In fact, the experience of buying and using content on the Kindle is easier than using iTunes as the wireless Kindle bypasses the PC (or Mac) completely. Search, buy, read–that is the Kindle experience.

So to all of you who think it’s ugly, to all of you who find flaws with its lack of cool and lack of features to all of you who are outraged that it’s difficult or impossible to get your old eContent onto the Kindle, and to all of you gnashing your teeth over the fact that content bought on a Kindle stays on a Kindle because of the DRM, I say the Kindle is clearly not for you!

The Kindle is for folks like my sister-in-law Laurie, a voracious reader of print books who sat at my dining room table last week playing with the Kindle for hours–fascinated by the book like experience it offered, the scale of content offered, and the easy way by which the content could be purchased and loaded automatically into the device. Laurie, who would never think to read on an iPhone, who downloads music onto her iPod without ever considering the DRM, wanted a Kindle more than anything. She wanted it because the Kindle did a spectacular job of removing the technology experience from the ebook experience, precisely what the iPod does with music.

Laurie represents the endgame publishers have been seeking since the days of the Rocket e-book (Geek check – I still have one in its original box!)–a device that makes the experience of reading e-books about the reading and not about the device and its technology. The holy grail for e-books is when Laurie (or me for that matter), not device users, not gadget hounds–people who are heavy readers and don’t care about DRM, WAP browsers, or Verizon’s new open device plans. Laurie represents the core constituency of publishing today and if she is willing to buy and reads books on the Kindle, game over. And if folks like Laurie aren’t willing to buy and read on the Kindle, then it’s game over for e-books and long live print!

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9 Comments on Hey, TeleReaders; this Kindle’s for my sister-in-law, not for you

  1. “Laurie represents the endgame publishers have been seeking since the days of the Rocket e-book (Geek check – I still have one in its original box!)–a device that makes the experience of reading e-books about the reading and not about the device and its technology. The holy grail for e-books is when Laurie (or me for that matter), not device users, not gadget hounds–people who are heavy readers and don’t care about DRM, WAP browsers, or Verizon’s new open device plans. Laurie represents the core constituency of publishing today and if she is willing to buy and reads books on the Kindle, game over. And if folks like Laurie aren’t willing to buy and read on the Kindle, then it’s game over for e-books and long live print!”

    Aye, there’s the rub. Yes, Laurie doesn’t care about DRM *today*. But say 3 years from now when it turns out the Kindle never quite took off and Amazon phases it out. Then Laurie looks around and notices that, hey, XYZ Corp has a new improved color eInk reader that’s even better than that Kindle was. Great. Except since all of those books she bought from Amazon are DRMed for the Kindle, they won’t work at all on the latest and greatest new gizmo.

    This isn’t some geek hypothetical scenario, either. This is exactly what happened to normal consumers who drank the DRM Kool Aid with the Rocket Book, and found their investment in ebooks worthless after that product was discontinued and abandoned.

  2. One truth that the DRM promoters don’t want you to know. DRM is about greed. If you have to buy the same music, ebook, video, etc. all over again because your new gizmo can’t read those old files – well hey, that’s too bad.

    Most of these companies would like nothing better than to “rent” you content, instead of you buying it. It’s a constant revenue stream for them. Software is going the same way. Every heard the term “software as a service”?

    And as for Amazon, remember when they stopped selling PDF ebooks? They used DRM to lock them to a particular computer. When Amazon decided to stop selling these type of ebooks, they basically told everyone to f-off when they wanted to access the ebooks that they had paid for and couldn’t. Amazon had their money, so tough luck. Read the Kindle license agreement. You’ll see that the same type of language is in there.

    With DRM, you are at the mercy of someone else as to whether you can legitimately use the content that you have paid for. That is why DRM is evil and the average person should care about it.

  3. I loathe DRM and refuse to buy music from ITunes because of it, but have been using another restricted yet enjoyable way of listening recently with a Naxos web radio subscription (for the vast cost of $US10 per year). This just streams CD’s from a selection of about 30 varieties of music and does a lot to keep me sane at work. Why not have a “rental” of books in the same way? (like a DVD rental). The rental could last 3-4 weeks and then expire or be renewed or give the option of purchasing a DRM free copy to existing customers. Surely a watermark or serial number could deter piracy. The lower cost would be recouped by selling a lot more rentals; like a library book or DVD, if you don’t like it you don’t bother buying. Hollywood seems to thrive on this type of marketing, so it must work.

  4. Greg Schofield // November 30, 2007 at 7:34 am //

    Let time tell, let Kindle sell and sell well. If it is getting this much coverage (none in Australia naturally) all to the good.

    Anything that gets ebooks out there on eink is good. It won’t take all that long for people to realise that DRM is essentially no good. If the kindle creates a big market for itself it also creates a bigger market for other approaches, given time that is.

  5. The article fails to draw a link between DRM and ease-of-use. To take the iPod example: iPods were popular well before the introduction of the iTunes store, partly because iTunes made it easy for people to rip their existing audio CDs. I would venture a guess that even now most of the content on iPods comes from ripped CDs (or other, less legitimate methods) rather than the iTunes store. More importantly, it was the ability to easily grandfather in all the existing content that made iPods popular, not the (later) availability of convenient but DRMed music.

    Granted, most people don’t have the same quantity of ebooks to ‘grandfather in’ for a new device, but it’s certainly the case that what matters most is ease of use, and DRM is not necessary to that, as DRM-free retailers in both music and books have comprehensively shown.

  6. This statement on his blog made me scratch my head:

    >>>What Kindle has that no other device I have seen has – and to me, these are the two biggest breakthroughs – a qwerty keyboard and EVDO cellular wireless connectivity.

    I guess he never saw the original version of the Sony Reader, the Japan-only Librie. It had a Kindle-like keyboard and was DRM-heavy too. The DRM (self-erasing “rental” books and magazines) helped to doom it (the buttonage probably helped too).

    http://www.makezine.com/extras/50.html

    Oh, no question that the instant gratification and PC-bypass the Kindle offers is great. But that’s a small enticement up against far too many negatives.

    Yet, who knows? Let’s say a ton of everyday people buy the Kindle and it does indeed become the “iPod of ebooks.” When the DRM Gotcha bites them, maybe the scream will be so loud that things will *have* to change for the better. Several million angry customers can make a lot of DMCA change!

  7. “I guess he never saw the original version of the Sony Reader, the Japan-only Librie. It had a Kindle-like keyboard and was DRM-heavy too. The DRM (self-erasing “rental” books and magazines) helped to doom it (the buttonage probably helped too).”

    Right, but you’d have to be a real ebook nerd to have ever heard of the Librie. I mean everyone reading this blog is probably aware of it, but beyond that… (though technically all sorts of PDA-centric ebook solutions have QWERTY keyboards too). And, of course, the Rocket eBook had a software keyboard.

    Anyway, it is really perplexing why Sony eliminated the keyboard. The Kindle keyboard kind of sucks, but at least its there.

  8. >>>Anyway, it is really perplexing why Sony eliminated the keyboard. The Kindle keyboard kind of sucks, but at least its there.

    Less suckage. Plus, as I constantly point out, it’s called the Reader, not the Scholar. (There’s Sony’s opening to do a keyboarded up-version… but they have been too slow with developing the Reader. Ah, for some of that churn-em-out CLIE spirit!)

  9. My mother has a checkbook with a calculator on the inside of the (flexible) cover. Why not a reading device that puts the keyboard into a separate cover? Have various key layouts available. Leave the cover at home if you don’t need it.

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