John Gruber thinks Kindle will flop. His main points revolve around DRM and closed formats — common hotbutton issues with tech bloggers. I don’t often disagree with Gruber, but in this case I think he’s missed the mark. Or, at the very least, I think he arrived at the conclusion via incorrect assumptions.
Gruber makes analogies to music and video formats, but he doesn’t account for an important difference between the way many people use books and the way people use music and video. When I buy music, whether it be on CD, iTunes, Amazon.com MP3 or anywhere else, I want to be able to listen to it over and over and over for a long time. When I buy a book, I tend to read it once, maybe refer to it a few times over the next few weeks or so, and then let it sit and take up space on my shelf for the rest of my life.
It certainly could be argued that this isn’t the most logical thing to do. If I want to read a book only once, borrowing from the public library seems like a great choice. However, the selection isn’t as good as Amazon’s, and it’s far less convenient. I should sell or give away books when I’m done with them, but again it comes down to the convenience factor — finding someone who wants to take a bunch of random books can be harder than you’d think. And of course I could throw them out, but that just seems wrong. So I’m stuck with boxes and stacks of books I’ve already read, and I know I’m not the only person in this situation.
From that perspective, Kindle is very attractive because the books take up no space and require no effort to get rid of when I’m done with them. Further, given the way I use books, I don’t give a damn if I can’t read them three years later. I wouldn’t even be terribly annoyed if I couldn’t read a book a month after I’d finished it. That’s a total non-issue to me. I’m not building a library (well, I am, but not intentionally). I’m reading books once and storing them because I’m too lazy to figure out what else to do with them.
All that said, I’m not planning to buy a Kindle at this point. The convenience is tempting, but I don’t think it’s worth $400 to me. I’m also not totally sold on the idea that an electronic device could replace the experience of reading a paper book. I think those are the things that will have a big impact on Kindle’s fate. DRM will certainly be a factor for some people, but on the list of things that determine Kindle’s success, it’s nowhere near the top.
Disclaimer: Though I’m a former Amazon.com employee, I never worked on anything even remotely related to Kindle, and I don’t have any insider information about it. If you’re looking for inside scoop, you’ve come to the wrong guy!