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Editorial: Engadget on the Kindle DX

You wouldn't think what amounts to a screen-size upgrade over the Kindle 2 would provoke such heated debate, but discussion at Engadget HQ has been at fever pitch since Bezos & Co. announced the Kindle DX this morning. Rather than try and condense the opinions of the staff into one Grand Unified Theory of The Ebook Market, we thought we'd let everyone speak for themselves -- check it out below.

Update: Paul tacked on his thoughts as well.


Kindle, what the hell is a Kindle? While you US Americans are showering in Amazon's third iteration of E-Ink, you know what we're doing over here in Europe? Watching Sony's Reader choke-hold the marketplace in a tag-team with Google's half-million strong collection of free, public domain books. Nothing makes us happier than a good Gee Dubya joke and a polite romance set in Victorian times. I say good day sir.

As a Kindle 2 owner, my first reaction is to be a little ticked off -- I would have likely sprung for the DX if I'd had the option back in February, and now I just feel like I wasted $360. On the other hand, after a few months with the Kindle, I've basically given up on it -- it's just not as good as a real book, and that makes me wonder if students are really going to take to the DX when it hits colleges and universities. I spent a lot of time in college and law school at library tables stacked six inches deep in open reference books, and there's simply no way to recreate that experience with a Kindle, no matter how big the screen. Plus, I know I'm not the only one who writes all over the margin and highlights in five colors when I study -- if I tried to do the same using the tools on the Kindle, I'd basically end up with a totally inverted screen. Maybe I'm wrong and all the kids are clamoring for a $500 black and white e-book whose advantages over paper are dwarfed by its limitations, but I have a feeling the Kindle DX will be a novelty on the academic scene for a long time to come.

As for newspapers, the math simply doesn't make sense. Let's use the New York Times as an example: at-home paper delivery of the Times for a year costs a new subscriber something like $617. Compare that to the Kindle pricing of $13.99 a month plus $498 for a DX -- hello, $665.88. From a consumer standpoint, that's actually kind of a win, since the Kindle offers much more than just the Times. But from the NYT's point of view, it's totally obvious why subsidized Kindles will only be available on contract to people who aren't in the delivery area -- there just isn't enough cash coming in from their cut of the Kindle edition to keep the paper afloat. Will this change? Sure -- but not until the NYT stops spending money on printing the paper every day.

Amazon has to be aiming at a different sector than just consumers here. Creating two devices for the same segment within three months makes absolutely no business sense, and I'm guessing the company is hoping to shuffle these things into public school systems (government checks are attractive, you know) and select universities ready to jump on the bandwagon and generate a little buzz. Truth be told, the price isn't so outrageous when you're selling this to institutions. It is a little extreme if you're a simple consumer, but again, I'm guessing Bezos isn't really expecting too many of you to care about its super-sized e-reader.

Oh, and the DX won't save newspapers -- partner papers won't even subsidize this thing if you're within range of a paper route, which is just about as myopic as it gets. Has it even dawned on these folks that people don't enjoy getting a wad of paper thrown on their deck anymore? Bottom line is this: Amazon has to be thinking outside of the consumer realm with the DX. Be it public school systems, universities or other enterprises, that is where the money is. You'll notice newspapers weren't included in that mix -- obviously, they're not interested in throwing tradition to the wind in a last-ditch effort to find a life raft. Too bad.

My thinking is that the success of the Kindle DX depends almost solely on the pricing of the content. If textbooks are 40 to 50 percent cheaper than the ones in the university bookstore then the device will practically pay for itself (even at $489), and Amazon will have opened the door to a huge potential market. Alternatively, if newspaper subscriptions are offered at a heavily discounted rate, or if the DX itself is offered at a subsidized price with a newspaper subscription, then it'll get a strong foothold in a niche that's only going to get bigger. Of course, the chances of either of those happening is probably less than 50-50, and the chances of both are slim to none, which leaves the Kindle DX in much the same position as the original Kindle and Kindle 2: a device that either needs to get a whole lot better or a whole lot cheaper.

Amazon appears to be trying to frame the e-book market much the same way Apple (or any manufacturer, but particularly Apple) frames the laptop market: the 15-inch and 17-inch MacBook Pros are virtually identical in appearance, performance, and specification, for example, but the distinction is somehow totally justified. Problem is, e-books are in the very first moments of their infancy, and consumers are still looking for a single product they can rally around -- the last thing we need is nebulously-differentiated stratification across an entire product line that alienates early adopters and has the potential to hush folks who otherwise could've been evangelists for the technology. If Amazon wanted to release the Kindle 2, fine; if it wanted to release the DX, fine; but releasing two similarly-positioned devices just months apart is a confusing (and potentially upsetting) move at this point in the game, despite the company's clear signals that Kindle is as much a platform as it is a product. Talk to me again when the market's mature, guys -- in the meantime, you won't see me buying another Kindle until they're in brilliant, flexible color.

To be honest, I don't understand the big kerfuffle. 8.5 x 11 is a really important size for a lot of people that were born before the "internet" was kind of a big deal -- what's wrong with giving them the option, even if it comes three months after the Kindle 2? Sure, it's expensive, and no, I won't be buying one, but I don't think it's too early to have multiple credible, distinct options from a single manufacturer. I also recognize that this isn't going to Change Education As We Know It, but we've gotta start somewhere. Most technology takes quite a bit of incubating before it's truly applicable to most people, and while the Kindle DX won't make e-books the de facto standard in education, it's a decent step in that direction. A future generation is going to think those paper textbooks we all used "back in the day" were pretty silly, so for the sake of generational pride I'm happy to be moving in the right direction.