I am having one of those rare days where I am actually feeling my age and as a result I am somewhat (uncharacteristically) cranky. After chasing the neighborhood urchins off of the driveway and kicking the cat I was playing with my Kindle and instead of 1) being thankful for the technological marvel that it is and 2) still being alive to see it I instead started grousing to myself about what it isn’t, and what it doesn’t have. Just for the record, I love the Kindle. I really do. I don’t love it as much as the flash drive (for which, I confess, I have acquired feelings a couple steps down from a fetish) but it’s close. It’s not quite where I want it, however. Herewith, some suggestions. Some of these items are within the control of Kindle’s makers, and I have shared with them, receiving in return the electronic equivalent of a pat, tickle and rub on the head. Other of these suggestions would require some modification from elsewhere. Without further ado:
— A built-in backlight would be wonderful. I have trouble sleeping and night and a page or two of Pilgrim‘s Progress would be just the berries as a cure for insomnia. If I get up to go into another room I usually awaken my wife, which I don’t like to do. It would be easy to reach for the Kindle, and fall back asleep within minutes, if not seconds. I know that one can buy a light to attach to The Precious but if you’re paying over one hundred dollars for something like this to begin with, you really shouldn’t have in order to read it at night. I mean, I can read an iPad at night.
—A carrying/storage case that comes with your purchase. When you pay over one hundred bucks for something you ought to have something that provides you at least minimal protection for it. Maybe Jeff Bezos could farm that one out to the folks at Church & Dwight, who have made a fortune manufacturing and selling cases that provide at least minimal protection from all sorts of things at a very low cost.
— Free books with a purchase of a Kindle. I’m not talking about things in the public domain, either. I’m talking about books people want. You buy a Kindle, you get three books (for example), each of which retail on the site for fifteen or less, for free, as an incentive to buy a Kindle. It’s a wonderful instrument, but we’re being asked to shell out a lot of money for an object that won’t work unless you shell out more money. And by the way, I’m talking free to the consumer. Amazon takes the hit on the payment to the publisher (if any) and the author, both of whom get paid as if the book was purchased. And while we’re wishing and the beggars are riding, what about a points arrangement? The Kindle owner buys books, and accumulates points, which they can turn in for a book. The consumer gets one point per dollar spent, and then can turn in (for example) three hundred points for a three dollar book. People love getting things that they think are free. Get people buying and reading more.
— Access to Pandora from your Kindle. Wouldn’t that be fun? If you have no idea what Pandora is check out www.pandora.com and become your own disc jockey.
That’s a few of the things that Amazon could do on its own. Here are some other things that would make the Kindle more interesting.
— More books. I am amazed what is available on Kindle but am more amazed by what I cannot buy. The Alexandria Quartet by Laurence Durrell. A lack of golden age science fiction by such luminaries as Robert H. Heinlein (a lot of his books are missing) Theodore Sturgeon (what?! No More Than Human?!). None of Ross MacDonald’s classic novels. This is a complicated issue having to due with rights and estates and lawyers, oh my, that it is probably going to get worse and not better. I am a capitalist and proud of it, ladies and gentlemen, so please believe me when I tell you that t there is money to be made here for everybody if we all play nice and divide the pie up equitably. Pretend its Christmas, there’s one candy left in the dish, and the person you want to seduce most is looking at it. Share.
— Don’t let the publishers set the prices, at least all by themselves. I am not one of those guys who believe that publishers are inherently evil or even evil at all, by accident or design. It is simply that setting the prices for books in this new format is virgin territory for them. Significant mistakes are being made. The sweet spot for the price of a novel appears to be around $2.99 per book. The attitude of some publishers towards this, in some cases, seems to be that of Captain Picard: “$19.99. Make it so.” Won’t happen. iTunes started screwing around with the price of single music tracks — raising them — and guess what? Sales dropped. As a talking point, start at a price of around $8.99 for best sellers and $2.99 for mid-list or new authors to generate some interest in new blood and to encourage readers to try someone new. Let the author and Amazon (or B & N, or Apple, or whatever vendor) make the final decision, and let the publisher explain how that price will affect what happens to the book in physical form. It’s a different business model, true. But we’re not all sitting on the dock at Boston Harbor, waiting for the ship to bring in the next installment of Charles Dickens’ new book. It’s time to rewrite at least some of the business manual.
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What I’m reading: I finished Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin a few days ago and have re-read it twice since then. It is a classic, pure and simple, of many genres but possessed fully by none. If I could afford to I would pass it out (or load it onto Kindles) door-to-door. The last few pages continue to bring tears to my eyes. But don’t tell anyone.