Thursday, November 22, 2007

An Open Letter to Amazon About the Kindle

Dear Amazon Kindle Support:

I’ve purchased a Kindle after looking at a friend’s beta-test version, and think you guys really have a winner here, and I feel I can say this as someone who had spec’d out the ideal eBook, as a dream project, back in the late ‘80s at a large Redmond software company (the needed technology wasn’t available yet).

However, I do have a problem, as a customer, with the Kindle’s lack of support for DRM content downloaded from Mobipocket. After all, Amazon owns Mobipocket, and to not support purchased Mobipocket files while supporting open Mobipocket files seems weak.

I understand that, from a business point of view, Amazon wants to differentiate the Kindle and to raise the barriers against other content providers, but what Amazon is really doing is forcing me and other customers to buy two different electronic books. If I have to do that, then I’ll probably end up only buying the content I can use on both devices, and failing that I’ll end up buying only the content I can use on more than one device… which means I’ll eventually sell or abandon my Kindle and go to something like the iRex iLiad as soon as someone implements support for .AZW (the Kindle’s ‘native’ eBook format).

If you really want to kill off the Mobipocket format, then do so by only publishing new titles in .AZW, not .MOBI DRM, and then offering a conversion from DRM Mobipocket to .AZW. Amazon has the marketing clout to ensure that it can publish what it wants. But, really, does Amazon want to be in the hardware business? No. Amazon was founded to be in the book business, and the twelve years of building a tremendous infrastructure was forced upon it by the demands of the market and of the products it chose to sold. Everything else is just productizing what Amazon needed to build in the first place (web services, storefronts, etc.). If only books didn’t need to be printed… but people aren’t going to want to have to worry about the Tower of Babel (different formats for electronic books, and devices that purposely choose to exclude the most popular format for business reasons).

Amazon wants, no, needs to be in the virtual book business. Leading the transformation away from physical media, of any type, should be Amazon’s goal. The best way to do this is to remove impediments to customer adoption. Do this by offering free .MOBI to .AZW conversions for 90 days after a new owner gets a Kindle, and then charge a nominal fee thereafter. Then no one has a reason to buy any other eReader.

I guess Amazon has the data for it’s decision to leave current electronic book owners out in the cold (no support for rights-protected .MOBI files), but what does this really buy you? If you don't offer conversion to .AZW, someone will figure out how to provide DRM’d .AZW files even if you don’t publish the specifications, just as Real Networks found out how to produce iTune-compatible protected music. Far better to make a few cents for conversions than to watch your competitors start offering content for the Kindle that you won't get any money for.

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