Why You Shouldn’t Buy an Amazon Kindle

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Suppose you were choosing between two cars. The first qualified for free gasoline for life, the other required you to pay $10 or more per fill-up. Which would you buy?

Despite competition from tablet computers like Apple’s iPad, e-readers are still making major inroads. According to Gartner Research:

Worldwide connected e-reader sales to end users are forecast to total 6.6 million units in 2010, up 79.8 percent from 2009 sales of 3.6 million units, according to Gartner, Inc. In 2011, worldwide e-reader sales are projected to surpass 11 million units, a 68.3 percent increase from 2010.

One of the most popular e-readers is Amazon’s Kindle. While nobody outside the company knows exactly how many Kindle e-readers Amazon is selling, one thing’s for sure: It’s a lot. In fact, it may be more than Gartner estimated in the press release above. According to this Bloomberg article from Dec. 21, 2010:

Amazon.com Inc. is likely to sell more than 8 million Kindle electronic-book readers this year, at least 60 percent more than analysts have predicted, according to two people who are aware of the company’s sales projections.

Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg estimated, on average, that the company would sell 5 million Kindles in 2010. Last year, Amazon sold about 2.4 million Kindles, said one of the people, who asked to remain anonymous because the company doesn’t disclose Kindle sales figures.

The popularity of e-readers may wane as tablet computers like the iPad – also suitable for e-reading – cannibalize the market. Apple sold nearly 7.5 million iPads in the last three months of 2010 alone. Still, if the research above is correct, e-readers like the Kindle will continue to do well through 2011 and beyond.

Why Kindle is a bad choice

But if you’re tempted to jump on the Kindle bandwagon, don’t. Why? Simple. If you buy a Kindle, you’ll  forgo  thousands – and someday, perhaps millions – of free e-books. Because libraries nationwide are now offering e-books, and they can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle.

A few months ago, I wrote a post called Thousands of e-Books: Free. From that article…

When you think about using the library now, you may think of getting in the car, driving to the nearest branch, finding the book you’re looking for – hopefully all the copies won’t be checked out – then waiting in line to borrow it. But what if all you had to do was log on to the library’s website, do a quick search, then click “download”?

That’s now happening with thousands of books at thousands of libraries around the country. It’s a whole new world of convenience – and one that may appeal to a whole new type of library card-holder: younger, tech-savvy readers who may not have considered the library before, but now see that free e-books and instant downloads make the library a better alternative than iTunes or Amazon.

Today your local library isn’t carrying a complete catalog of e-books.  The reason? Some publishers aren’t playing ball with libraries because there just isn’t enough money in it for them. The publisher of my latest book, Life or Debt 2010, Simon & Schuster, has thus far has refused to do digital deals with libraries. According to this article from the New York Times, MacMillan is another publisher not providing e-books to libraries.

But according to the librarian I interviewed, these problems will ultimately be ironed out as the demand for e-books continues to expand and publishers work out a profit model that works for all parties involved.

Although your local library isn’t yet offering every book in e-reader format, they are offering thousands that way. And I hope it’s obvious that spending $10 or more to buy an e-book from Amazon, Google, or anywhere else is dumb if you can get the same book free from the comfort of your home.

In order to read an e-book from the library, you have to either use a computer (Mac or PC, including tablet computers like the  iPad) most smart phones, or have a compatible e-reader.  Many libraries use a company called OverDrive to supply their downloadable audio and e-books. Here’s a look at compatible e-readers from their website:

Notice an e-reader conspicuous by its absence? Another big distributor of e-books to libraries is NetLibrary.  According to their website, they offer 146,000 titles that can be read on Nook and Sony Digital Readers. But again, no Kindle.

So here’s the question: Suppose you were choosing between two cars. They cost roughly the same amount, but the first qualified for free gasoline, the other required you to pay $10 or more per fill-up. Which would you buy?

If you already have a Kindle reader, at least there’s a new service that allows you to borrow or lend your e-books to other Kindle owners for free for 14 days – it’s offered by The Kindle Lending Club. You can read about it in this WalletPop article. But compared to the opportunity to download thousands of e-books from your local library? No comparison.

What does Amazon say?

Two days ago, I called the media relations department of Amazon, leaving a detailed voice mail about why I was calling, that I was on deadline, and asking for a call back. They responded with an email about 8 hours later saying, “Thanks for your interest in Kindle.  Can you send me your questions and deadline and I’ll determine the best person to answer your questions?” I responded by email, saying that I was now past deadline and asking why Kindle isn’t able to download library books and if Amazon had any plans to change that.

They never responded. Maybe they’re at the library.

Stacy Johnson

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