Kindle Source Code: Real news matters most

GPLSnapEarlier this week, many sites and some publications reported that Amazon released the source code to its Kindle products, making them “open” platforms for development. While it is true that Kindle source code updates were released, the company has been doing this for a while, as is evident from the different versions of source code available on the site. It’s required by the license under which Amazon is using open-source applications and the Linux operating system, known as the GPL.

However, it is not a release of source code of the system for displaying e-books on the device, but of the GNU-licensed code used in the device. It is possible to get at some of the features of the operating system using this code, but one cannot access any of the code for the e-book reader, the Kindle format or digital rights management (DRM) features of Kindle, as Ryan Paul of Ars Technica explains here.

I didn’t post about this until now, because it wasn’t news, but a misunderstanding. We now return to things that are really happening.

Foreign Affairs magazine now on Kindle

Foreign Affairs, the journal of record on international affairs and diplomacy, has launched a Kindle edition. The $1.99 monthly price is a bit confusing, as it is a bi-monthly magazine, but it works out to $3.98 per issue; individual issues are available for $5.99. How does that compare with the paper price? The paper magazine is $32 a year.

For me, this is another magazine I can move from the paper list to the digital one, and quit accumulating piles of these pale blue issues around my office. As a searchable publication, the e-version is far more valuable, though thumbing through old issues does have its charms. Quickly assembling a comprehensive list of articles that discuss a topic, such as “North Korea” or “Soft Revolution,” is very handy.

One suggestion: Make all the archives available for Kindle, sell that archive of 50 years of authoritative foreign policy thinking for $99 or $199. I think at least a third of subscribers would pay for the complete collection.

Noted News & Opinion, June 16, 2009

Global entertainment and media spending will reach $1.6 trillion in 2013, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers annual industry projections, AdWeek reports. The U.S. media industry will not match growth in the rest of the world, increasing only 1.2 percent annually, compared to the global rate of 2.7 percent, reaching $495 billion in 2013. Digital revenues are predicted to grow from 17 percent of the market today to 25 percent, for a total of $124 billion annually, four years from now. Bad news for magazines and newspapers, where revenues are expected to continue to head south.

Surprise, Jeff Bezos doesn’t like the Google-Author’s Guild settlement. But he won’t say why, according to CNET: “We have strong opinions about that issue which I’m not going to share,” Bezos is quoted as saying during the Wired Business Conference. “There are many forces of work looking at that and saying it doesn’t seem right that you should do something, kind of get a prize for violating a large series of copyrights.” The article also suggests that Bezos said Kindle sales now account for 35 percent of paper book sales, which I believe is a misinterpretation of what he said, as I discussed yesterday. What he appeared to say was that when a book is available in paper and on Kindle, 35 percent of the sales are in Kindle format.

Author Jeff Matthews suspects Google’s good for writers. He’s fond of Google Books as a research tool, as I am, then relates an interesting story about discovering why his grandfather won a medal in World War I through a book scanned by Google. It’s a touching story and is completely valid with regard to out-of-copyright books, but that kind of title isn’t what the Google-Author’s Guild covers. I have a different opinion, but I found Matthews’ story compelling.

S&S e-books venture is doomed. Author Anthony Policastro (Absence of Faith and Dark End of the Spectrum on Kindle), writing on his blog, argues that Simon & Schuster’s announced distribution deal with Scribd will fail because the pricing strategy is wrong. “Most people won’t even pay even $10 for an eBook,” Policastro writes. “The reason is that they do no perceive the value the same as the printed version.” I disagree, not because of the price point, but because the e-book as it is today is no improvement over reading a book and, in many ways, diminishes the reading experience. Someday, readers will pay more than the Jeff Bezos price ($9.99) for a book, because it will be a portal to new experiences through reading. But Policastro is right about S&S’s pricing strategy: If they want to succeed on Scribd they must compete on price, going below Amazon’s pricing.

Mitch’s Perspective: Today’s e-books have been positioned as less valuable than a mass market paperback. That needs to change, which means the features and services associated with the e-book have to change, for the better.

Amazon would be boycotted, if Science Fantasy publisher has a say. Antellus, a publishing company operated by its only author, Theresa M. Moore, has complained that Amazon is slow to respond to publishers experiencing problems with its DTP publishing platforms’ management of ASINs and and associated accounting systems. She also says Amazon should be faster in its deployment of a color Kindle. While the former may be a real problem, condemning Amazon for a “seller agreement, which allows Amazon to modify and/or sell books from its suppliers in whatever format it chooses at its own discretion,” which is key to providing book buyers archival access to titles without having to renegotiate rights each time it updates file formats, and failure to be the first to deliver a color reader diminishes the force of her arguments.

Kindle de-coupled from book sales? No.

The New York Times reports on allegedly revelatory statements by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos at a Wired conference in New York today.

In the future, Amazon.com’s Kindle e-book reader will display more book formats beyond its own. And you should also expect to see Kindle books on a lot more devices.

Amazon has, of course, acquired several of the developers of leading e-book formats, most recently Lexcycle, maker of the Stanza Reader that dominates the iPhone platform, or did before Amazon released Kindle for iPhone. It is not surprising that the company will support non-Amazon formats since it already does, including Adobe’s PDF format in the Kindle DX (though without support for internal or external linking and standard navigational features of the PDF), amongst other non-DRM formats, but it is sheer speculation to say that ePub support (which Amazon should support) is coming soon.

What of the question of Kindle hardware’s independence from the Kindle bookstore, which The New York Times says is a startling disclosure? The two groups have long operated separately, but Bezo’s comments today to the effect that he wants to see many different titles in many formats on the Kindle at the $9.99 price point contradicts the significance attributed to his remarks. If a book format Continue reading