Is Kindle the iPod of books?

Several weeks ago, Amazon introduced the latest in a long line of “e-book” readers, known as the Kindle. Available for $400, it comes equipped with an easy-to-read “E Ink” screen and a wireless connection that allows users to download books that they purchase from the online retailer. Kindle users can also upload their own files to the reader by e-mailing them to a special address associated with the device, or by using a USB cable.

Could this latter feature help the Kindle do for books what MP3 players did for music — that is, provide a platform for copyright infringement on a vast scale? Mike Arrington of TechCrunch seems to think it might. In a recent post, he speculated that the Kindle could become the vehicle of choice for reading “pirated” e-books downloaded via BitTorrent.

Although it is primarily used for the swapping of music, movies and software, there are also books available using the P2P standard, including some versions of recent best-sellers such as the latest Harry Potter novel. Downloading them and emailing them to a Kindle is child’s play, Arrington says, since the device automatically translates Word documents, PDFs and other file formats.

“Users may buy a book or two on Kindle, but many users will simply steal the content they want to read. Thanks to Amazon, that’s really easy to do on their slick new device,” the TechCrunch editor writes. “Should users do this? No, and we do not encourage this. But will they? I think we all know the answer to that.”

There are some hurdles when it comes to books that music doesn’t face, of course. For one thing, books still primarily come in paper form, while music is already digitized on CD and is easy to “rip” and upload. Books either have to be scanned — which is time-consuming — or the e-book format they are in has to be cracked. And not everyone likes to read books multiple times, whereas people often keep music around on their MP3 players for months or even years.

All that said, however, it seems likely that books will be dragged kicking and screaming into the age of digital media just as everything else has, and the Kindle could be the vehicle doing the dragging.

(cross-posted from my Globe and Mail blog)

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