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Friday, March 26, 2010

Kindle douses flame for sharing.

My father knew promote desired behavior through incentive. As a youngster, like many kids, I had an allowance. But Dad had always wanted me to read and be interested in books and learning. To provide incentive to acquire books (we lived in a small farming community with no public library) and read, book purchases didn't count against the allowance. Since they were "free currency", I indulged often, and a lifetime love of reading developed.

It is because of that background that while I have purchased and owned many books, I possess relatively few. When I read a book, I'm usually only a few chapters in by the time I decide whom I'll give it to when I'm finished.

Which brings me to the experience issue I’ve developed with my Kindle.

I received a Kindle a few short months ago at Christmas. I love it. I love the weight, love the readability, love the interface which makes the Amazon bookstore open to me 24/7/365, regardless of whether I'm riding my couch or riding down the actual Amazon.

(As an aside, the downside of the Amazon Kindle bookstore is that the long tail of the internet got shorter. BA (Before Amazon) I was limited by the inventory of the bookstore. If I wanted greater selection, I needed to find a bigger bookstore. Amazon gave me limitless access to every title - new, used, or out-of-print. AK (After Kindle) my selection has been reduced again, with not every title available.)

What I don't like about my Kindle experience, is that I'm no longer able to share the joy of what I read with others the way I used to. Sure, I can recommend that someone read a book, or buy them a credit or a hard copy version, but it's not the same as finishing a book and giving it away with my regards to someone I feel will appreciate it.

I'm guessing that this scenario was well evaluated by Amazon. After all, with readers not able to give away their product-based books, logic would suggest that revenue would rise as the would-be recipient of a free book has to buy one themselves. I’m skeptical, thinking it more likely that a positive reading experience from a gifted book (essentially giving away a product being the highest form of word-of-mouth advertising) leads to future purchases from the same author.

Either way, when considering a dramatic change to an experience, particularly one like the Kindle that turns a product experience into a product-service hybrid, you have to consider all possible touchpoints of the product model and where value might be added through the experience, whether it was intended or not.

An alternative? How about the ability to gift a title once? The argument against is that a grey market for digital books develops, but truthfully, this already existed when books were tangible products. The difference is that now, Amazon could use the gifting information to refine its customer-preference sensing algorithms and promote relevant product suggestions in an entirely new way.

Books & literature are turning into an exclusively paid for experience and we’re unable to either receive or create surplus value through enjoyment and learning. The economic incentive my father so ingeniously used to foster a love of books and a thirst for knowledge has been greatly diminished for those unlucky enough to have the otherwise excellent e-reader experience.


Leslie said...

Interesting observations! I like to share books, too, and to have them passed along to me as well. I'm not sure I'm ready to give up my printed pages just yet...

Chris Reaburn said...

Leslie, thanks for stopping by!

Here is some additional detail on the book selling / sharing issue.


Truthfully this is one where I'm torn. I find it interesting that giving books away was seen as societally beneficial behavior, while giving an ebook away would be seen as a potentially criminal intellectual property violation.

The publishers are mostly large corporations, so it's easy to see which side of this debate they land on, though I think their answer is shortsighted.

Writers in particular have a right to fair compensation for their work. It seems to me that most writers will say that they just want their stories / opinions to be read and debated, when they may mean that as a means to being able to live in a large house.

Barry Dalton said...

this is the one issue I have with my Kindle also. One of the best things about reading a book IMO is the ability to share it. Whether as a gift for gift's sake or because it meant something to you and the message is a connection between you and the one you're giving it to.

I think there are a couple of ways Amazon needs to address this. Your suggestion is a good one. i hadn't thought of that.

Another is to create a used market for Kindle files. The technology is simple - to put a tag on the file as its downloaded. Then allow it to only be reuploaded to Amazon's site for resale. They have a robust store for used paper books, this seems like a logical next step. It's a must in my opinion.