Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The new "Kindle with Special Offers" is a terrible "bargain"

Amazon is offering a Wonderful New Bargain in Kindle e-readers: the lower-end, $139 wi-fi-enabled Kindle for  $114, a $25 price break, in exchange for ads and special offers popping up while you're reading, as well as "sponsored" screensavers--more ads.

Until now, the promise of e-ink e-readers has been a reading experience as close as possible to the experience of reading a print book, with some "improvements" only possible with digital technology: adjustable font size, the ability to carry dozens of books as easily as one (or more easily than one good-sized hardcover), and the ability to download a new book in moments. The "Kindle with Special Offers" is a departure from that: treating the e-reader like the net, where we have long accepted ads as the price of reading sites for "free." Except, of course, that the "Kindle with Special Offers" isn't "free" in any sense. There's a $25 saving on the purchase of the device itself. Books purchased from Amazon will cost the same--except perhaps where some of those "special offers" apply.

There might be an argument for this if it were truly making the Kindle more accessible to a much wider audience. But realistically, for how many people will a $25 savings on a device that will still cost over $100 really be the difference in affordability? Some, surely, but many? I'm skeptical. And in exchange, the reading experience itself is compromised. Whether you're reading the latest light romance or the latest literary masterpiece, a rousing adventure, an intriguing mystery, or an enlightening work of popular science, ads will be popping up, intruding on your immersion in the world of the book. And unlike the ads that used to be bound into the middle of cheaper paperbacks in my younger days, you won't even be able to rip them out and dump them in the trash.

This is not a good development.