Originally Posted by Steve Jordan
It's just occurred to me: Bob R, who kicked off this excellent discussion, hasn't been heard from since post #1! [...]
Anyway... Bob, I'm curious: Do you still think all this attention might not bode well for the e-book field? Or are all those potential customers just sheep being led to the slaughter?
I was just enjoying watching the discussion build and evolve. But I'll add a few comments:
* To start off, I have to say that the attention from Kindle is a positive for e-books, and I can say that without any qualifications. It's a big deal because it's getting a lot of mainstream publicity and people need exposure to become interested in the possibilities and advantages.
* The device itself has both positive and negative factors, and I'm happy to see that both sides are being revealed. Any device that pushed forward with new and innovative features takes the risk of being nitpicked to death. It's sort of like the old saying about talking to an auditor - answer questions briefly and don't bring up new topics because it only leads to more questions and investigations. If you have a simple device it's not (generally) going to be criticized as much as a feature laden device. I believe we've seen that with all the PDA and smartphone and UMPC complaints. Now we're seeing some of that with the Kindle as people have usability complaints.
But as far as being good or bad for e-books, I can once again say that the Kindle hardware is another definite positive.
* However, my concerns about the direction that Amazon is taking with privacy issues and excessively exclusive DRM control still stand as before. The future of content control is still up in the air. As someone pointed out before, the iTunes store even allowed controlled audio content to be burned onto a CD, so it wasn't 100% hostage to the platform. But Amazon has created a very anti-competitive environment.
It reminds me a little bit of the bit ruckus about companies that made ink-jet printers in such a way that only their brand of refill cartridge would work. There were legal battles because refill prices were very high and other companies wanted to make and sell competing refills. I don't remember the result, but I think that the printer manufacturers won in court, which means that the consumers lost (in the form of higher prices and less suppliers of the refills).
I desire to see a more competitive future business environment for e-books. I want to see legitimate competition of content based on the actual words and the formatting. I don't want to see artificial price control because of format and DRM wars and gamesmanship. I don't want to see consumers reduced to simple rental of content under the guise of a purchase. And I don't want to see consumers misled about what they are purchasing. If DRM keeps up, we have made e-books a disposable world, where you only really get the content for a period of time. It makes e-books a harder and more expensive technology and in my current viewpoint, it means everyone loses. Both consumers and sellers.
In my mind, Steve, the heroes of the future content marketplace are the Mark Cubans, Steve Jordans, and the many other sellers that try to use popular and open formats without DRM (or at least making DRM less onerous). I see the IDPF and Sony and Adobe and others moving toward ePub as a very positive move. It might not solve DRM issues completely, but at least it's something that gets us away from "unreasonable" content control. It's a move in the right direction.
There's a paradigm to be set. It will be determined by e-book sellers like Amazon, and by the legal system, and by politics and by customer response to the various constraints. If anyone tells you that they know how it will turn out, I think they are naive. Every Kindle with closed DRM and loss of previous generic MobiPocket DRM is a nail in the free market coffin. Each step along the way is helping determine the future of the marketplace for books and content, and I wrote this original post because I feel strongly that it's an important topic. Splintered and highly controlled e-book sellers with proprietary DRM that ties the books to the devices are one of the worst outcomes for the future of the book. And it even has potential consequences for the future of libraries and preservation of books.
I will cheer for any manufacturer and publisher that is promoting a future of a free competitive market without artificial constraints for content. And I will gladly point out when I think that a company such as Amazon is taking us the wrong direction (which is exceptionally relevant to this topic because of its wide ranging influence).
My article has been described as "angry" and "hostile" and so forth, and some even think I hate the Kindle. I do consider this a topic that's so important that I will get passionate about it. I think it's similar to the passion we have seen on the MP3 front with albums and DRM. In fact, I think it's of equal importance because I consider the availability and market for books to be critical to our society. But it would be a mistake to think that my passion is because of the hardware or because I don't like Amazon in general or because I like my Sony Reader, etc.
Bottom line, I still think that in every move like the one Amazon made to get into the e-book business, we see a little bit of the future of books being written out. There are a lot of players and a lot of vested interests, and there will be a lot of twists and turns. I see a distorted and sub-par future for the general welfare of our society relative to books and book selling as it goes electronic. But I'm hoping that a free market for books and content will prevail.
I don't expect everyone to agree with me, and that's fine. I'm just trying to get that point of view out there. I want people to understand the issue. Then all the people that are much smarter and more important than me can fight it out and figure out what's really best for us.
Well, Steve... I bet you're sorry you asked now!!!!
P.S. With respect to your specific question about customers being sheep led to the slaughter, I wouldn't put it that way. The damage I see is in setting the paradigm for book selling. I hate to see a closed market direction precedent. But for the individual consumer this is a short term thing. As long as one knows that they are taking the risk of locking up content in a strict DRM scheme, that's fine. I do it myself right now with Sony Connect books. It's not perfect, but it's pretty much what we are stuck with for most modern popular books and best sellers.
If the Kindle is popular and wildly successful, it's hard to tell whether or not the level of popularity will be significant in the war for the marketplace. It might actually help, because as people get more familiar with e-books more quickly, they also might become more educated consumers. Or we might see a backlash from consumers against DRM. Personally, I don't in any way suggest any kind of boycott or avoidance of the Kindle. I think that would be misguided. People should get what is best for them. Who knows how this will play out. I would buy one myself if it was the right device for me, and I would enjoy having one.
All I hope for is that in the midst of the Kindle excitement, people don't lose sight of the far-reaching effects that a paradigm of closed content and strict DRM can have on the e-book marketplace if it becomes widespread. And that people understand that it will mean higher prices, more headaches, and repeated purchases as platforms change.
Well one more thing I hope for... that people understand that this is a significant issue that is worthy of being highlighted, but my word is not the final word in any way. It's an ongoing topic that will have plenty of time to be debated and fought over, and my goal is to simply bring exposure. Also realize that this is spur of the moment writing, not some carefully planned out essay. So if anyone is annoyed or offended, or if I've been less than gracious in my writing, please accept my apologies. And if you have a Kindle, don't let this take away from your excitement about the device and e-books in any way. However you look at it, this is a great day for e-books!