Amazon’s Kindle: pay to read blogs? WTF?

by Mathew on November 18, 2007 · 46 comments

So lots of people probably know by now (at least if they read Techmeme) that Amazon is launching an electronic book-reading gizmo called the Kindle on Monday, and there’s a gigantic cover story about it in the latest issue of Newsweek magazine. Speaking of which, the Kindle will apparently be a magazine and newspaper reader too, letting you read publications that you’ve downloaded using its built-in wireless connection.

amazoneink-thumb2.jpgFirst things first — I think that Bezos is right to emphasize the wireless aspect, which is based on a cellular-style service that Amazon is calling Whispernet. Previous e-book readers had to be hooked up to the PC or a cradle of some kind in order to download new books via the phone line and so on, but being able to buy and download them almost instantaneously will add a whole other dimension (I realize that the iPod has managed to succeed without that ability, but then I think music is different from books in a whole bunch of ways).

The second thing that hit me was the part where Steven Levy says that users will be able to download books, newspapers and magazines, and will even be able to “subscribe to selected blogs, which cost either 99 cents or $1.99 a month per blog.” That one made me do a double-take. Pay a monthly subscription fee to read a blog? Either Levy and/or Bezos have been smoking something, or they have found some magical way to get people to pay for something that has historically been free.

I’m trying to think of a blog that I would pay money to read, and nothing is really coming to mind — not even Engadget or TechCrunch or Boing Boing. But that line of thinking raises the inevitable question: if a blog like Engadget is pretty much as good as a magazine (which I think it is), then why would people pay for one but not the other? That can lead you in one of two directions: charge for the blog, or don’t charge for anything. We know which one Jeff has chosen — but is it the right one?

Other questions include: Is it really as ugly as it looks in the photo? Steve Levy says no on his blog, but David Rothman of TeleRead says yes. And will it be open and support industry standards, or will it be full of awkward proprietary formats and DRM?

  • http://www.deepjiveinterests.com Tony Hung

    It is truly and utterly fugly. I don't care what anyone says about holding it, or “people called the Nano fugly”, or what have you. That thing was dropped out of the fugly tree and was hit numerous times on the way down. I mean jaysus, with all that beige and the hard edges, it practically *screams* beige-box PC, circa 1995. (Where's the Gateway logo, man?)

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  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    yeah, I have to agree, Tony — it doesn't even have a kind of anti-chic ugly look. It's just plain ugly.

  • http://www.livedigitally.com Jeremy Toeman

    Good post Mathew – I think Kindle is failware ready to happen. My $0.02 http://www.livedigitally.com/2007/11/18/why-ama

  • http://www.robhyndman.com Rob Hyndman

    Yup – I'm wondering how anything that ugly makes it though to production. Bezos must have wanted this one *an awful lot* for all those smart people to bite their lip.

    On the pay for blogging thing – like any other wireless service, I suppose people wouldn't be paying to read blogs so much as they'd be paying for the convenience of being able to do it wherever. I mean, it's just a device specialized for reading, isn't it? I suppose there *might* be lots of written content that people might want to access wherever or a device that makes reading a pleasure.

    Well, no, there isn't, actually. ;)

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  • http://www.strfireblue.com/ strfireblue

    My first reaction to seeing photos of the Kindle was to react as others did. This thing is waaay too ugly for anyone to want to purchase it. Not with the iPod as comparison. People looking for new gadgets want something that's slim and shiny, which the Kindle clearly is not.

    Avid book readers, and ebook readers like myself, may not be turned off as quickly. I read all my books on a Palm Zire, whose tiny screen kills my eyes on a daily basis. If I'm willing to sacrifice my vision to bring my books with me, then I think I could shell out some cash to have something as ugly as the Kindle. It's the books I care about, not what the reader looks like.

    If it was $100 cheaper I'd be all over it.

  • Dominic

    $399? BEFORE I read anything, including stuff that used to be free? Wad dem smokin' indeed.

  • wrs

    Well, the Kindle is a kind of service, isn't it? So why not try to charge for it? Being bound to sit on a computer to read blogs is a drawback.

    I think Bezo's approach is perfectly in the line of Techdirts unified theory on the economics of free.

  • http://welchwrite.com/blog/ Douglas E. Welch

    Of course, the blog subscription serivce also begs the question, if Amazon is making money off a blog, where does the creator of that blog sign up to get their cut of the profits. Every content creator deserves to be compensated when money is made off their content, regardless of how its delivered.

    Is Amazon contracting with certain bloggers to make their content available for a fee? One would hope.

    Douglas

  • http://blogs.zdnet.com/mobile-gadgeteer Matthew Miller

    I was under the impression that bloggers would pay the monthly fee to be featured on the Kindle, not that people would pay to subscribe to blogs. If people had to pay for blogs, wouldn't Amazon have to pay the bloggers for monetizing their content? I don't think Amazon can charge for content that I write and intend to make free to people, can they?

  • Tony

    Amazon is in favor of DRM-free these days (as evidenced by their MP3 store). I don't think they'd do DRM books since that's not really their style.

  • http://www.engadget.com Ryan Block

    Thanks! Although I might be 5% more flattered if you felt we were worth paying for, too.

  • Aaron Huslage

    You forget that there apparently is *no* monthly service fee associated with the device. I'm sure you (or someone you know and love) pays for your bandwidth at your home or office.

    Charging a small monthly fee for certain things makes sense (although .99 seems a bit steep) given the network connectivity that you're getting for free if you don't download anything onto the device. Someone has to pay the bills.

    Amazon, whomever they're buying their wireless from and the blog publishers are not charities. They want to build an industry and if they need to actually <gasp> charge money for stuff then we as consumers will need to assign value to those things.

    Just going OMG they're gonna CHARGE for something that I read for Free( like this blog…the one with ADS all over it that pay for it) is not the solution to solving your content woes, my friend.

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  • http://obscurelyfamous.com Daniel Ha

    I didn't look into the Kindle at all really, but it looks like an uglier way more expensive Sony Reader.

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  • David

    It doesn't look so ugly if you look at the final product, which is a tone whiter than the FCC leaked one.

    Check out http://www.mobileread.com/forums/forumdisplay.p… for some real photos.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Tell you what, Ryan — let's cut Jeff out of the loop and I'll send you the 99 cents a month directly :-)

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Aaron, I don't have any content woes — I read things on the Internet and they are free, apart from what I pay to access the Internet. If Amazon wants to charge a fee for the wireless access, that makes sense to me — but then I already pay a fee for my cellphone, and I can read any blog or information source I want to on there as easily as I can on the Kindle.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    If Amazon wants to charge for the wireless access, that's fine with me. Charging for the content is a different story.

    Are they going to have tiers or packages like cable? You can have a bundle with Proust, Dostoevsky, the New York Times and PaidContent, but not Engadget, unless you get the sports package… what a nightmare.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    I assume they're going to make deals with certain blogs, Matthew. At least that's the way I read the Newsweek story.

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  • http://www.sabreean.com Constance Reader

    It looks like some sort of handheld medical device, like a heart or blood sugar monitor. Now THAT'S ugly.

    And for $399? My library card is free, my books don't need batteries and they won't be destroyed if I drop them.

    I can also see air travel hassles. I travel a lot for business and I've seen several occasions on which a traveler patiently tried to explain what “airplane mode” means to a flight attendant who refused to listen. You'd think the airlines would have sent a memo or something, but…

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  • HalJ

    Wait, as a blogger, are they going to pay US to allow our blogs to stream on their device? If not, I'll look for a way to block it. Blogs are monetized by ads, and how would I make money from those readers? Surely we could block their IP range from accessing our work.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    It's something you have to sign up with Amazon to be part of, Hal –
    as PaidContent and others have. That raises an interesting question
    though: if I pay for those feeds on the Kindle, do they come with ads?

  • pants part deux

    wow. this thing looks like a medical device.
    awesome.
    dont let motorola see this! they will want to add a camera + mp3 player to it!

  • GearsofWar

    They are paying a kickback to the bloggers listed, based on subscriptions sold:
    http://www.amazon.com/ref=kinw_ddp/b?node=24164

    Now, correlate that list with how those blogs are currently covering the launch, given they have been given a stake in its success :p

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  • panamajack

    I suppose Amazon sees this precisely as a way to *creatively* charge for the EVDO bandwidth in an ala carte fashion (while also trying to make a buck for themselves and their affliated A-list bloggers) … which does make a bit of sense when considering that your Kindle book purchase is directly subsidizing the bandwidth as well. Certainly though the web has come full circle when it comes to providing free content (when is the G&M going to drop online subscriptions a la the NYT and WSJ by the way ?).

    How much would you personally pay to have unlimited RSS feeds downloadable whereever you go? How about a selection of any 20 blogs provided ? I think the latter at $5 a month would be my pricepoint.

    Oh but why oh why so fugly !

  • wraith808

    Being able to download books wirelessly… I already do that on my phone. And my phone does other stuff. Like… make calls. And i can carry it with me anywhere. I jumped on the whole dedicated reader thing when it came out a few years ago, and didn't like it. And I don't see anything compelling about this entry, either.

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  • panamajack

    Wraith, where can you wirelessly download new releases (in any format) for $9.99?

    Heck, where can you download any major new hardcover release for $9.99 ?

  • wraith808

    Fictionwise.com? Mobipocket.com? I can do it from either from my Blackjack… and did it on my mx220 and my HTC Star Trek… this isn't new.

  • http://www.drumsnwhistles.com/ Karoli

    I don't get the whole concept. First of all, what is the point of the keyboard if you're reading, not writing? Second, I know of no eBook reader that's been even moderately successful no matter how much buzz there is around it, so why would they put any effort into this? Being a bookworm myself, I'd much rather have that new book with the freshly-printed smell and smooth paper in my hand.

    The only application that I can see for a device like this is educational. If textbooks can be put on it, it would be helpful for students. But even then, college students would just as soon have it on their laptop, and K-12 students wouldn't necessarily be trusted to keep it operational, so I'm not sure it's a great solution for that either.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    I agree, Karoli. It seems like a gadget with no obvious reason for
    being. Kind of like the Segway :-)

  • Raymond

    I think this is unfair for all the bloggers around the world. Amazon was not the one who writes the blog, why the heck would he ask for a payment for something that he didn't publish?

    Come to think about it, Amazon is serving us with Whispernet for free.. So do you think they will compensate the payment from whispernet through the means of paid subscription on blogs?

    And, if this is the point.. Then should we also say that Amazon must divide the earnings to the bloggers?

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  • john

    you can but the kindle here..its the best!

    http://www.mobilereadingdevice.com/

  • janf

    Take a look at Kindle Netshop that are in Association with Amazon.

    Take a look….

    http://www.kindlenetshop.com/

    Best Regards

    Jan-Fredrik

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