Kindle is no answer to reading books digitally

Buy a book in a bookstore today and it’s yours forever – or until the paper starts crumbling into dust – hopefully long after you’re dead.

But buy a Kindle reader – available in the UK today for over £200 (~$325) and you’ll be saddled with a device that that uses a proprietary file format and is bound to be superseded in a future not so far away.

And it’s kind of obvious that future e-readers will have an open book format, far better screen resolutions, color capabilities and other capabilities probably supplied by third parties, just like third parties create applications for the iPhone.

The other vital component for an e-reader to be universally successful is that it’s got to be cheap – far cheaper than a netbook and preferably given away by an Amazon or another big vendor.

That more or less happens in Europe with mobile phones – find the right tariff and it lets you upgrade to newer and smarter phones every 18 months or so. The relationship of the manufacturer to the publishers of books is vital – paying an extra few pennies for a title on an e-reader that’s free wouldn’t be a burden on the author, the publisher, or the buyer of the titles.

Amazon presumably hopes that its early entry into the world of the e-reader will give it an unassailable advantage in a marketplace that’s showing every sign of growth.

But a Kindle is not an iPhone and there are already technologies about that promise far better abilities than the Amazon machine in its current incarnation. The usual economies of scale that have brought powerful devices into our hands with components costing just a few cents apiece will drive the e-reader market too.

Ever lend a friend a book? We all have. The industry has to work out a way of us being able to do the same with an electronic book without making it free for just about everyone.

Google and the internet have lulled many into believing that information, and content generally, is free. That delusion is already inducing widespread panic through the newspaper industry giants worldwide – it has to cope with two models which really are mutually incompatible – producing copy on real paper and reproducing it digitally.

HP figured this out with its printers years and years ago. Now the printers are virtually free and we pay for the electronics by buying the consumables – the ink and the paper. The same model could easily be replicated for e-readers, the hardware is free and the books and newspapers cost. It’s hardly rocket science to work out how to do that.