Amazon's Kindle e-book reader

Amazon's Kindle e-book reader

I’m still skeptical about their long-term prospects. But Sony and Amazon, makers of the Reader and Kindle e-book devices, claim that their sales are booming. It appears, at least if you believe Sony and Amazon, that e-books are finally (finally! after nearly 10 years of waiting) taking off. Here’s a quote from the New York Times article, “More Readers Are Picking Up Electronic Books,” that gives a nice overview of the state of e-book readers at the end of 2008:

For a decade, consumers mostly ignored electronic book devices, which were often hard to use and offered few popular items to read. But this year, in part because of the popularity of Amazon.com’s wireless Kindle device, the e-book has started to take hold.

The $359 Kindle, which is slim, white and about the size of a trade paperback, was introduced a year ago. Although Amazon will not disclose sales figures, the Kindle has at least lived up to its name by creating broad interest in electronic books. Now it is out of stock and unavailable until February. Analysts credit Oprah Winfrey, who praised the Kindle on her talk show in October.

Sony claims that it has sold about 300,000 of its $400 Reader devices. And publishers are claiming that sales of their e-titles have grown from 1 percent to 2 or 3 percent in the past year. Woo-hoo. But, seriously, does this mean that e-books are actually on the brink of success?

I’m still not convinced that e-book readers will hit the big time until costs of the devices come way down. Why pay $350 or more for a device that holds books you have to buy for $20 or so? These are books with all kinds of protections plastered on them, ones that you could buy in 3-D paper format, at a discount, for $20 or less, and then give to friends or resell? You can’t do anything with a Kindle or Reader book after you’ve finished it. I don’t think that the devices offer $350 or $400 worth of extra features.

The article also says that the Kindle is “most popular among 55- to 64-year-olds.” If we boomers are the ones who find it most appealing (of course, we’re also the ones most likely to have the cash to buy an e-book reader device), that doesn’t bode well for their future, I think. It’s younger users that power a technological fad.

But maybe all will change when the prices for the readers come down. Hey, Amazon and Sony, where are the e-book reader devices that cost under $300 and have more cool features that appeal to the gaming generation?

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