I’m not being a Luddite here. I may not like the disappearance of the physical book, but there’s nothing special about the printed word vs. the digital word. The important part is the data, and like music, that can be transmitted, kept, and carried along much more simply when stripped down to that essential. I’m a singularitarian at heart; I want my brain uploaded, so I’ve no essential problem with uploading books. There’s no reason the last invention of the Middle Ages (since the printing press pretty much kicked off the Renaissance) should be our preferred technology today. So this isn’t a screed against e-readers at all. All I’m saying is this: when you get one (and we all will, eventually, get some device upon which to read, even if it’s not designated for that task alone), don’t get the Kindle.
1) You’d lock yourself in. You’d be forced to buy from Amazon. That doesn’t sound so bad on the face of it. Currently, ebooks have a fixed price, so cost-wise there’s no difference. And even when that does change, and it will, Amazon will be the ones to lower their prices first (which brings up another point, below). True, but there’s a principle of having consumer choice (the very reason the prices will fall). Due to the formatting, you can only get books for the Kindle through Amazon. Oh, you could pay extra for a conversion fee, but don’t think that by buying a book from somewhere else that means you magically own it. It’s Amazon’s.
2) See, unique among e-readers, Amazon’s Kindle doesn’t actually offer you ownership. You’re permanently renting it. Same difference? Not quite. The reason for the distinction is that when you buy something, it’s yours, and when you’re renting, it’s not–it can be taken away. Everything “in” your Kindle is loaded up and saved to the cloud. They can suddenly cut off your access, either your access to all the books you “purchased” for a policy violation that you might not even know you committed, or everyone’s access to certain books. Some users discovered this when Amazon and MacMillan got into a dispute over pricing. Not only did they remove all buy buttons to MacMillan books, they pulled sample chapters from people’s Kindles. And they removed MacMillan books from customers’ wish lists.
3)Which brings us to the deeper principle. Amazon’s first priority isn’t satisfying its customers; they are reaching for the monopoly. Every decision they’ve made has been aimed at dominating the industry, and once they win the race to the bottom, I doubt they’ll care so much about customer experience. If they help drive prices down low enough for e-books, the other publishers will have no room for profit margin and will fall. Amazon will become your big e-book publisher, and I doubt they’ll spare the expense of copy editors. In fact, with the walls knocked down on the publishing industry, what you’ll get is a complete lack of quality control. Everyone can and will publish on Amazon. After all, everyone wants to be an author. How will you know what’s actually been well considered? It’ll be a wild gamble. Though, eventually, content aggregation will build itself up. But even then–will you be able to get these books anywhere else? Monopoly means cutting away consumer choice.
What’s the best way to make sure that the books you purchase are actually purchased? And to provide even a hope that consumer choice will remain after the switch to e-books? Well, it’s a complicated mess, but there’s a simple first step. When you buy your e-reader, purchase anything but the Kindle.