My Slashdotted post on Amazon’s new approach to the e-reader category inadvertently kicked off quite a debate. As of now, it has 187 comments on Slashdot and counting. That makes for a pretty comprehensive snap poll of attitudes towards the new $50 Kindle Fire, e-readers, e-books, and Amazon itself – from one of the most informed and opinionated tech-savvy audiences around. Here are some highlights.
First, some feedback on the e-reader category itself. Some Slashdotters feel that Amazon is unlikely to make an e-reader as cheap as the Kindle Fire, since the market is smaller, hence “the economies of scale and marketing opportunities will always be smaller.” And “the market for ereaders is saturated. So Amazon has to try something else,” adds another.
Others apparently like the old style Kindles because they use buttons for scrolling through books. “When Amazon discontinued Kindles with buttons, I bought a couple of spares.” Indeed, there’s still plenty of loyalty there: “E-readers simply are very good products with a much longer use cycle. They don’t get OS updates, or need new features. They do what they do, and do it well, and you can read books today perfectly fine on a first generation EReader.” And some like them exactly because they are limited – and therefore less likely to distract. “When I’m reading I DON’T WANT to be notified of the latest spam I just got. I don’t need the option of browsing some web site and I certainly don’t want to watch a movie or listen to music.”
A Slashdot audience is predictably positive towards e-books. “Ebooks take up no physical space, cannot be lost or left behind. Can be read by multiple people at the same time if they’re sharing a Kindle account,” points out one reader. “I avoid buying physical books whenever possible.” Another says: “at this point, I can’t *stand* paper books. They’re heavy, have slow page turns, are not searchable, can only be carried in small numbers, are difficult to use.” That said, many are far less positive towards Amazon itself, and the restrictions it helps impose on e-books.
“The fact the Amazon owns the content I ‘purchase’, keeps me from ever buying in,” writes one aggrieved abstainer. “On top of this, eBooks are way overpriced.” Publishers, rather than Amazon itself, could arguably be blamed for both of those problems, but Amazon hasn’t exactly gone the extra mile to bring them into line. “The books I buy in ‘book’ format stay on my shelves, regardless of whose stock is up or down, while the proprietary readers and single-company DRM schemes could all evaporate in a minute,” says another.
Unlike the kind of kneejerk anti-ebook Luddism you find in, for example, the opinion columns of newspapers and The Bookseller, Slashdotters seem to have a pretty savvy appreciation of the strengths of e-reading technology – and its limitations. They are clear-eyed about Amazon as a company, and its policies on issues like DRM. Perhaps that’s the best kind of general reading public we could wish for. They’ll buy a good product from Amazon, without prejudices – but also without illusions.