Three Problems with the New Kindle

When it comes to reading in the digital age, Amazon just doesn’t get it.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Debuts The New Kindle DX At NYC's Pace University

Finally, the Kindle is remarkably deaf to the world of social media. You’d think Amazon, pioneer of user feedback on books, might have included some functionality that allows for reading to be more participatory. Want to form a book club around your Kindle reading? Try booksprouts.com, because Amazon ain’t any help. Maybe you’re an author who wants to update a chapter for current owners? No dice. Curious about which parts of the book you’re reading are the most highlighted? Keep wondering. Like Apple and its tightly controlled iPod/iPhone ecosystem, Amazon seems intent on maintaining a tight leash on customers and ignoring the enormous potential of social media to enhance the digital media reading experience (and, incidentally, lock-in users).

None of these complaints would matter if the Kindle was birthed from some vast library of unique Amazon patents that allowed the company years to perfect its consumer tech. With only one apparent patent related to the Kindle, however, Amazon has few proprietary advantages over numerous other companies that are busy making e-readers. (Hey Amazon, it’s not too late to submit your patent on 11-click file conversion.)

Amazon can fix its kludgy document conversion system, but it will have a much harder time selling subscriptions against competitors, say Plastic or iRex, that will one day offer decent Web browsers for reading free online content. Perhaps even Sony, burned by its attempt to sell a proprietary music format, will make a play for an open standards Internet e-reader. Similarly, if Amazon execs think textbooks are more of a killer app for students than social media, they should check out this new thing called Facebook. I hear it’s all the rage with the kids.

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, wrote in a letter released Wednesday that until recently, 
“printing has been worth the hassle.” Perhaps, as he says, the Kindle DX will “inch us a bit closer to a paperless society.” So far, my trusty printer has nothing to fear.

Omar Wasow is a Ph.D. Candidate in African and African American Studies, and has an A,M. in Government from Harvard University. He was the co-founder of BlackPlanet.com.

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