Improving the Kindle and some other things

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 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.


9 thoughts on “Improving the Kindle and some other things

  1. Tom blew me completely up the first time I read “Poachers” and hasn’t failed to astound me since. Like you my age shows whenever something new dares poke its nose around my corner. I scurry quickly backwards, scoot under the couch and growl at it a bit before I dart out for a quick sniff then back beneath the divan. I’ve gotten to the stage of actually holding a Kindle in my hand so I guess I’m doomed. But I’m gonna hold out for a night light.

  2. Loved Poachers and Hell At The Breech but didn’t like Smonk so much.

    I went on ebay and bought a nice cover for my Kindle for 15 bucks. I also agree with everything you said about the machine except I think you can either have a back-lit or the screen they have which you can see outside on the deck or in your car while you are waiting for someone to get a mamogram.

    I’m reading Follets A DANGEROUS FORTUNE, which is not at all like EYE OF THE NEEDLE or PILLARS or WORLD WITHOUT END. Not being swept up at all, but it’s great in spurts, fits and starts, which is what I have for reading at the moment. Plus I bought it.

  3. I have a Kindle – spent $40 for a case. I have an iPad, which I’m not that thrilled with, particularly as an ereader, & spent $50 for a protective case. I’m still buying 3 print books for every 1 ebook. As for publishers setting prices, the folks that pubbed my 1st book have an exclusive deal with iBooks & insist that the sell price has to be at least $5.99. $2.99 makes more sense & Kindle, for now, sells more ebooks – so I have to go outside to get the ebook set up & submitted.

    And I chased kids (& their dog) off my lawn this morning (turned the irrigation on ’em – hah!), my cat kicked the bucket a few months ago & the scale says I gained 4 pounds this week – so I’m cranky.

  4. I read my Kindle books on my Android phone at night, since it is backlit.

    As for the flash drive fetish, I’m pretty much a sucker for any phallic object that goes in holes.

    I’m with you on the storage case — guess what the Kindle 2 covers don’t work on the Kindle 3.

    I think the three book idea is great as well, but why does it have to be Amazon that does that? Shouldn’t the publishers be offering that to uh, encourage eReading?

    I agree the rules need to be rewritten, but to ask that of publishers is a little bit like asking Congress to do campaign finance reform. Eventually, the rules will be rewritten, but it will not be by the current publishers.

  5. Interesting points, Joe, but I heartily disagree about the backlighting. I spend enough of my day staring into the lightbulb that is my computer screen. As for the case, I figure that I wouldn’t like the one that came with it and would end up buying a different one anyway.

    Are you aware of the free books on Kindle? Not all of them are self-pubbed (in fact, NO MERCY was a freebie back in June as a way of promoting HOSTAGE ZERO).

    As for pricing, I think that’s a war that has only barely begun. Everybody’s struggling to find the sweet spot, and with the biz evolving as quickly as it is now, I predict a few more years of tumult.

    John Gilstrap

  6. I agree 100% about the backlighting, Joe. Kindlers will tell you, “Oh, but you can read it outdoors!”

    Let me tell you a little secret. Nobody reads outdoors in bright sunlight. The image of someone on a park bench with their brown-bag lunch sitting next to them, hoping to squeeze in a few pages of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO on their Kindle before going back to the office is very New York-sounding, but it doesn’t line up with how most of us do our reading.

    Many, many, many, many more people read in a darkened bedroom, where the Kindle doesn’t cut it.

  7. Funny you should be talking about this because I met a guy at a party who works on the Kindle team at Amazon and I asked him the same question. It’s a common complaint, he told me, but studies show that a backlit screen is harder on your eyes than ambient lighting. I told him that it’d be nice to have that feature with the ability to turn it on and off.

  8. I sure do know about those Kindle freebies, John! And you can find some great buys for free or next to nothing but what I was talking about is a situation where the reader gets to pick and choose. Kind of like what the Columbia Record Club used to do. Or am I dating myself here?

  9. I would really, REALLY love it if Kindle made a cheaper version for us students. Maybe one that only up loads via blue tooth and/or usb. I live in SA and still can’t afford one despite the price coming down, and I dont need all the bells and whistles. I’ve been aching for once ever since it came out. My books are expensive but its all the pdf’s and photo copies I have to read which I would love to just load onto an ereader. I cant imagine that the technology without wireless is that expensive to make…I see the Kindle as being revolutionary to education and yet from SA the kindle looks very elitist.

    Ok moan over. Im just jealous of all you Kindle owners!

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