I was both excited and disappointed yesterday upon reading about the upcoming availability of the Amazon Kindle 2 e-book reader. My spouse and I are both avid readers, and in a perfect world, we'd like to each own one. In reality, Amazon has disappointed us, and I think we will wait a while until we take the plunge.
The Original -- Kindle 1.0
When the original Kindle was released in November 2007, I was psyched. The thought of carrying around an entire library of books in a compact, easy-to-read, easy-to-use form factor was very enticing.
As a techie, I love the bleeding-edge, and I absolutely love new gadgets. This thing was right up my alley.
Unfortunately, at $399, it was a little out of my price range, although I still thought it a deal when compared to the cost to purchase "dead tree" versions of books. I also felt that this premium price did not reflect the fact that this was a first generation product -- with all its warts and glitches. So I waited patiently.
In May 2008, Amazon dropped the price by $40, to $359. While this was a definite improvement, it was still more than my "discretionary funds" budget could handle. So I waited some more.
More books were released in Kindle form, including some of my computer books (you know, the $50 -$75 books that are about 2-3 inches thick). Still, I waited.
The Rumors -- Kindle 2.0
Fall of 2008 brought with it the news that Amazon was preparing a new version of the Kindle, smaller, lighter, more memory, better features, etc. Typical of most technology industry rumors, this was to be the greatest device since sliced bread. It was also rumored, or perhaps it was more like speculation, that Amazon would introduce the new version with a lower price. While several ideas were batted around, the general consensus was that Amazon should/would sell the new one for $299, making it available to a larger potential audience.
Now I was getting excited. A price that was entering the upper end of my budget, improved features, and still more books available in Kindle format.
The expectation was that Amazon would release the new Kindle in time for the holiday shopping season. Christmas came and went, still no Kindle, and worse, Amazon had exhausted their supply of the original version. Then in January, the scuttlebutt was that Amazon was preparing a major announcement in early February. What else could it be? The rumor mill started churning again, stirring up all the original buzz over features and pricing.
February 9, 2009 -- The Reality
In a press conference held at the Morgan Library in New York City, Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com Founder and CEO, announced the availability of Kindle 2 as of February 24th. I won't rehash the details here, as they can be found many other places on the web, but this was definitely an evolutionary device, not revolutionary like the original. They made many updates that make the new version a better value & more usable.
Unfortunately, they also left a lot of the expected (rumored) features out. There are two main ones that bother me -- memory expansion and backlighting.
There is no memory expandability. In this day and age, so many consumer devices have the ability to store data on and/or use memory cards and devices to expand capacity, Kindle does not. There is just no excuse in my mind for this omission.
There is no backlighting in the unit itself. If you want to use the Kindle in low-light conditions (i.e. reading in bed), you have to purchase a separate backlight, just like you would for a "dead tree" book. This is an electronic device, why couldn't they include such a feature?
One of the tech journalist/bloggers that I follow is Jason Perlow over on ZD Net. Back in November, he wrote an article about the economics of Kindle. Yesterday, upon the release of Kindle 2, he revisited his original concept.
While Perlow is not the only one to have made a cost analysis of Kindle ownership, I think he makes some good points. The fact that Kindle would be a wonderful (maybe even perfect) solution for education, especially Higher Ed, and that Cost vs. ROI is not worth it for the average user, are two main takeaways from his article.
Perlow calculated that the average college student could recoup the cost of a Kindle within 3 semesters. Some disciplines would see break-even sooner, some later.
In his ROI analysis for the average user, Perlow determined that a reader would have to purchase and read six books per month to break-even after a year (assuming that you would normally purchase that many books -- if you read that many books in a month, it is likely that you are not purchasing them, but rather borrowing them from a library).
The Potential of Kindle
I think the whole concept of e-books, and readers like the Kindle, is in its infancy, despite the fact that e-book technology has been around for a while. The major hurdles facing manufacturers of these devices are user convenience and price.
From all that I have read, the Kindle is the closest device on the market to achieving user convenience. It is the closest device to the size, feel, and readability of a "dead tree" book. The ever-present availability of the Kindle store via the Sprint WhisperNet service makes it that much easier to purchase books and other media (newspapers and magazines) anywhere, anytime.
However, Amazon has not even come close to realizing an affordable price point with the Kindle. This is an even higher obstacle to overcome with our current economic downturn. Rather than being a book reader for the average person, this is an extravagance that many cannot afford.
I suggest that Amazon reevaluate their pricing on this device in order to expand the market. By reducing the price, more people will make the investment. Therefore, more publishers will make their works available in Kindle format. Logically, more people will purchase more books and devices when this happens, resulting in more money for Amazon.
Let us not forget the economies of scale in manufacturing costs when they can build more units, or the cost savings when they are selling electronic versions of books that they no longer have to stock and ship to customers.
I may not be an economist, but this seems to me a somewhat simple way for Amazon to make more money.
The Bottom Line
As I said at the beginning of this post, I love the thought of owning a Kindle. However, when I look at the overall return on my investment, I'm not so sure that it is really worth it at the current price point.
In fairness to Amazon, I have not yet had the opportunity to have any hands-on time with either the original or the newly released, updated version. Since I am not a mainstream journalist, I doubt they will honor my recent request for a review unit, but we will see. I would really like to give this thing an opportunity to win me over, but I cannot take that chance with $360 of my hard earned money.
Have any of you had the opportunity to own or use the original version? If so, please leave me feedback below. I watch and reply to these comments, so tell me what you think. I'd like to get some feedback on the new version as well, once those make their way into the wild.