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Welcome to William Van Winkle's blog, home for everything from notes on his latest ebooks to leftovers from his articles in CPU, Tom's Hardware, Smart Computing, and other media outlets. Check out his author pages at Amazon and Smashwords!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Kindle Special Offers: Amazon Smashes the Sacred

Amazon now offers it's $139, 6-inch display Kindle for $114 -- if you're willing to view the "special offers & sponsored screensavers." This is not a good sign.

I bought my wife a $139 Kindle for last Christmas, and she loves it. Every night, I find myself jealous and wanting an e-reader, too, although I'm not quite convinced that Kindle is how I want to do it. Perhaps you saw in my prior post how unfriendly Kindle is to library borrowing. I'm also still debating whether I want a full-blown tablet to be my reading device along with many other things.

In the literary question of whether "to Kindle or not to Kindle," Amazon may have just decided the issue. See, I get into debates with people about whether e-readers are better or worse than printed books. There are the obvious technical arguments both ways. But ultimately, this is not the real issue. The deep question is whether to read or not.

The National Endowment for the Arts reports that "the U.S. population now breaks into two almost equally sized groups -- readers and non-readers. A slight majority of American adults now read literature (113 million) or books (119 million) in any format." Only half of us read books in any format. Does it make sense for us to bicker around the table over technologies while the war for literacy and readership rages outside?

For me, reading is sacred. Many of my fondest memories involve reading, and I stake my livelihood on the millions of people who value reading in a similar way. The Amazon photograph above notes "the joy of reading." It is joyous. It liberates and expands our minds. It takes us to places -- geographical, emotional, informational, and experiential -- that life would otherwise deny us. Mark Coker of Smashwords indicated to me that reading is essential to the future of civilization. I don't think he envisioned advertising and merchandising as part of that role.

You can now buy that $139 Kindle for only $114 -- a massive $25 savings -- if you're willing to view banner ads at the bottom of the home screen and a full-page ad as your screen saver. Amazon lists the following as special offer examples:

  • $10 for $20 Amazon.com Gift Card
  • $6 for 6 Audible Books (normally $68)
  • $1 for an album in the Amazon MP3 Store (choose from over 1 million albums)
  • $10 for $30 of products in the Amazon Denim Shop or Amazon Swim Shop

Even if these don't sound offensive to you, Amazon's sample photographs tell a truer story. "Go experience the joy of reading"...by putting your book purchases on VISA and going into debt.

Amazon goes on to describe its new Kindle app and coming site called AdMash, which allows you to pick your screensaver ads.

Amazon writes, "You can also set your personal Kindle Screensaver Preferences to give us hints on the style and types of sponsored screensavers you'd like to see on your Kindle. For example, you can indicate that you'd like to see more or fewer screensavers that include elements such as landscapes and scenery, architecture, travel images, photography, and illustrations. Together, AdMash voting and Kindle Screensaver Preferences help us select the most attractive and engaging sponsored screensavers to display on your Kindle."

So not only do you endure ads, but you can choose ads that are more likely to part you from your money and, more importantly, distract you from your reading experience. The best thing to happen to television since the advent of color has been the DVR if for no other reason than because it allows you to skip commercials. But now we have the experience of book reading, which has been more or less free of commercial advertising for the last 1,000 years, suddenly gaining advertising! Isn't paying over $100 for the e-reader enough? Aren't the dollars Amazon retains from every ebook purchase enough? Do we now have to sacrifice the ad-free sanctity of readership so that the content distributor can increase its profits? Because that's all this is about. It's not about you or me. Our reading experience is in no way improved through this change. The only beneficiaries are Amazon and its shareholders.

Amazon might argue that that the book itself remains untouched. There are no in-document ads. To that, I would append the word "yet." There will always be next quarter and the next annual report. This isn't like the multi-hundred dollar discount incentive of a two-year cellular service contract. For $25, you're tossing away your right to a commercial-free e-reading experience forever.

Be ashamed, Amazon. Be ashamed of undermining the hallowed experience you've told us for years that you believe in and foster. Was it all an act? Was it a long-term, convoluted, underhanded ploy to turn one of the last intellectual forms of entertainment into just another chance for us to become billboards?

Please fix this, Amazon, and let's keep book reading about books and reading. Take the high road, and show the rest of the market that it doesn't have to be this way.

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