Amazon is going to release their e-book reader on Monday, called Kindle. The thing that got my attention most is that part of the delay in its release is that they were working out deals with content providers! For copywritten books, I can understand. But when there is so much more content that states that it wants to be syndicated by providing an RSS feed, licensing should be the last step in developing some type of monetization with this platform (step 1 being to get it out there, step 2 being allow early adopters to experiment). This probably means that Kindle will not be your portable RSS reader. I would say that an open platform is not in Amazon’s DNA until their recent DRM-free MP3 store (although it s really the media that is open, and not a platform that Amazon is providing). Not only might this news content be available only for a fee and have DRM, but it looks like it will be a closed platform. In the way music publishers are allowing MP3s to be purchased knowing the files could appear in file sharing networks but allowing sales of MP3s anyway, so to do (most) content providers state their permission by providing RSS feeds of content.
Out of 70 million blogs on the web, you, Amazon had to first go after the ones that are requiring licensing? If anyone can pull off this account stunt like this, it will probably be Amazon, but why go through the headache? Because Jeff Bezos thinks that success in this space means first catering to the mainstream newspaper reader. But I think it may be safe to assume that primarily the mainstream newspaper reader either prefers the actual paper and secondarily they read the online version. And anyone who is geeky enough to go for something like an e-book reader is probably getting their news online right now. And, I think it is safe to assume that anyone who is geeky enough to use an e-book reader is right now using an RSS reader to read news. Mainstream adaption might follow later.
If Kindle could aggregate and make viewable content from RSS feeds, all the newspapers sites would have to do is disable RSS if they did not want others to incidentally monetize on their content. But if the restrictions on this are because commercial incumbent dinosaurs might sue Amazon for happening to monetize their content, this is a very sad state.
<<--This is the print button from the New York Times. When I click on it, it does not figure out that I have an HP printer (or any other particular brand, hypothetically) and then grant me the rights to print because a deal has been worked out between the news agency and the printer manufacturer. I can print on whatever printer is connected to my computer assuming my computer has the correct drivers. However, when I click the button, it does present me with an annoying ad. Also, it does not check to see that the paper I have loaded meets the requirements of the publisher. If I choose to, I can print any article that has the print button. In this case, the paper and printers add value to me, but the newspapers are not making any money of this printing. Sure they might have an ad on it. The computer I am using right now is running Microsoft Windows (I am at work right now otherwise it would be Mac OSX), but I can run a browser from Mozilla, and I can go to websites without any restrictions because of content deals cut between Microsoft and my ISP. It is a free and open marketplace. Kindle (from what I can tell this early) is not. If Amazon forced newspapers to make this tough decision: allow people to consume their content at no additional charge (possibly ad supported), or remove their RSS feeds and become less relevant, Amazon would be doing them a favor. They would be forcing them to get become more innovative in the ways they monetize. But no, Bezos wants to support newspapers' dying business model and alienate their potentially most passionate users: current users of online RSS readers. This device caters to the incumbent news providers at the expense users’ freedom to choose.
Sony failed miserably in the digital audio player market when they first entered by stupidly requiring users to use their proprietary ATRC format and not MP3. And their Sony Connect music store was even a bigger failure. I expect the Kindle to do the same unless it is open.
As we can see with the iPhone, customers do not like to be locked in to one service provider. IF this device happens to have a killer user experience, hackers will find a way to make it work with any mobile service providers, and they will find a way to make it work with ANY RSS feed. Of course, the hack will be open source and probably come from some kid in Europe. Amazon will update the firmware, and the hackers will hack that, and so on. Amazon, do you really want to fight in another pointless and expensive cold war with hackers like so many others have already?
If anyone is going to innovate in this area, is it not going to be Amazon or Sony. It could be someone like Apple who can put the user experience first and then carefully balance the concerns of the content publishers. A bonus to Kindle functioning as a portable RSS reader, it could also include 1000’s of books in the public domain pre-installed, but now I am really dreaming. This would surely piss-off Amazon’s lifeblood: commercial publishers. It’s a case of Innovators Dilemma. Bezos, I thought you were smarter than this. You have really disappointed me for not being remarkable enough in this e-book venture.
Simply put: the standard for e-books is PDF and the standard for news is RSS and it appears this supports neither.
TechCrunch reports it does have a browser and you can log in and read Bloglines, a sort of “hack” so that it is an RSS reader.
Check out my next post, How Kindle Could Have Appealed to Passionate Evangelists.
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