A “standard” assumes the features are already set

“Ultimately, the success or failure of the eBook and eBook reader market is going to depend on establishing a standard format,” writes Tony Bradley at PCWorld. He’s right to the degree that, once a format is ready to make reading on a digital device better, it must become a standard to ensure that readers can access the file on any device and that publishing involves managing as few formats as possible. But there is an assumption in the article that there is a viable format exists on which everyone should agree. We are very far from agreeing what an e-book is, except that, as a subset of that definition, it will display words on a page.

A first-generation standard will scratch only the surface of the problem, addressing the problem of getting words on the digital page. The industry and, more importantly, readers, need more:

  • An open annotation system, but one that respects personal privacy by keeping notes meant only for the book’s reader (and, by extension, anyone with their password, their heirs) separate from public notes and conversation embedded in/around a book title.
  • A privacy regime enforced at the document level, preventing tracking of personal reading.
  • A page-independent reflowing capability, so that ridiculous ideas, such as “books for the Kindle DX,” become the fossils they deserves to be. A book should never be dedicated to a device, though there are some bizarre collectibility plays that might go that way.
  • A page-independent citation system so that kids can use an e-book citation in their homework as easily as a scholar.
  • And more…. Such as the whole question of how to integrate networking into documents.

The challenge of establishing that first standard, which lets e-books be read on any device, including PCs and smartphones, will be choosing technology that doesn’t shut the door to these additional standard requirements of a book while preserving forward-compatibility.

UPDATE: As I was arguing the other day and in the previous posting, the conform-to-compete trend in e-books is indicative of a wave of destruction. Mike Cane argues an e-book bubble is already well underway and I would not disagree with him, except to point out it is a very small bubble, though one that could unfortunately hobble the market for another half decade if it pops just now. Having published an e-book in 1993, when these things were going to be big, big, big! I have no illusions about how small a market can be. Cane, however, uses his argument to conclude that components of current technology, such as E-Ink, will inevitably fail. He argues this for all the right reasons that e-books don’t do anything spectacularly different than books and often represent less-than-a-book—he’s right that it is a race to the bottom based on price. The individual components could succeed or fail, perhaps not even within the e-book industry.

CrunchPad, a $250 Kindle killer?

CrunchPadMockTechCrunch founder Mike Arrington will launch a Web browsing tablet device, perhaps as soon as July. The device, described as 18 millimeters thick with a 12-inch screen, that will be sold in a variety of colors for less than $250, according to The New York Times. The first version of the device, which will have a color screen, is pictured to the right. Additional prototype photos are available here.

The CrunchPad will have a simple user interface based on four touch-screen gestures, shown in the YouTube video below, one of which opens a soft keyboard for entering text. One could conceivably use the device to participate in social networks and other collaborative Web applications.

CrunchPad will purportedly do nothing other than surf the Web. But I think that statement misses the greater significance of the device. A reader featuring rich color and the ability to play streamed video is the exemplary reader that e-book enthusiasts have been craving. It would be a simple matter to develop browser plugins that handled various e-book formats. More importantly, however, the Intel Atom-based device, will support mixed media titles with ease, making it a potentially game-changing player in the digital publishing industry.

While not an E-Ink device, and there’s no need that it be an E-Ink device, its price point and features make it a strong contender against the $489 Kindle DX for the hearts and wallets of readers. The practical question is what kind of battery life an Atom CPU and 12-inch LCD screen will deliver. Definitely a device to keep your eye on.

Amazon on the record: Device limits set by publishers

I queried Russ Grandinetti, vice president, Books, at Amazon about the lack of clarity about how many devices can access a Kindle book or how many times a buyer can expect to download a title from the Kindle Store. He referred me to Drew Herdener, director of communication at Amazon, who replied with the following:

Russ forwarded me your note.  Thanks for your interest.  To answer your question, there is no limit on the number of times a book can be downloaded to a registered device (i.e. Kindle, Kindle DX, iPhone).  In the case where the publisher has chosen to apply DRM, there may be limits on the number of devices that can simultaneously use a single book.  If a customer has upgraded or replaced their device(s), they can delete the content and deregister any device(s) no longer in use, which enables the customer to download to new registered devices.

So, to reduce the answer to its component parts:

  • Buyers may download an unlimited number of copies of a Kindle book title they have purchased to a registered Kindle device or iPhone (and, future supported devices) that are associated with the buyer’s Amazon account,
  • unless a publisher has decided to impose a limit on the number of devices that may simultaneously have access to the title,
  • in which case, the user may go to their Manage My Kindle page and “deregister” a device to allow for downloading to a device that does not currently have an access to the book.

Publishers, not Amazon, make these decisions. Customers need information about device limits when buying, it should be displayed on the product page as a courtesy to customers. I still believe setting a higher limit than six is essential to making a book useful to a family.

I have asked Drew several follow-up questions and hope to have a bit more soon on how customers can identify books with limits and whether there is a system-wide default limit on number of devices.

A usability note based on this information: The Manage My Kindle page does not list either the number of devices on which a title  may be accessed, nor the devices on which the title is currently is readable. Both would be helpful information, the latter because it should be possible to deactivate a device’s access to a single title without wiping out the device’s library—this is doubly important because only some of the titles in the Kindle Store come with simultaneous device limits.

I may want to make a book accessible to my son’s iPhone, for example, which would be the seventh registered Kindle device in our household, by taking it off my daughter’s Kindle. If I disable all the titles on my daughter’s Kindle by deregistering it, she’d be pretty disappointed, when all she wanted to do was share a book with her brother (not that she’d be in the mood to do that very often).ManageKindleitem

My roughly hewn mock-up of what this should look like in the Manage My Kindle library is displayed to the right. There is ample room in the Your Orders listings for a book to include a device listing that allowed per-device  registration of the title. By checking the red box, one could deactivate the title on just one device, in this case “Dad’s Kindle.”

Without per-device control of titles, the system effectively limits the number of devices a customer can use conveniently to the lowest number of devices on which they may want to read a DRM-limited title. That needs to change. And it is good that Amazon is listening.

Kindle DX sold out in three days—not so much

UPDATE: Reader David Sloves notes that shipping schedules may be the culprit in the shortage of Kindle DX. In fact, the Amazon site now says Kindle DX will be available on June 22 (as of Tuesday, Amazon says June 22; last evening, it said June 17), so we have the answer. No, the Kindle DX didn’t sell out in three days.

Original text:

First manufacturing run of Kindle DX reportedly sold out. CRN reports the first, undisclosed number of Kindle DXes produced for Amazon by Prime View International, has sold out in just three days. The device, which sells for $489, was introduced earlier this year and launched on June 10. No wonder Prime View bought E-Ink Corp. earlier this month, they’re cutting their costs as Kindle sales accelerate.

You know what would be nice as Amazon reorders? Spec in a removable memory slot in both Kindle 2 and Kindle DX.

Keep in mind that Amazon hedges its bets. Kindle1 shortages were the result of short production runs. This time, though, I’ll bet the manufacturer kept the production line intact.