It is practically a given to many people that some amount of what you do on the internet is being tracked. There is occasional outrage over this, such as when even their less tech savvy subscribers began to catch on to the fact that they were Facebook’s salable resource more than its target audience, but that is just going to be the case when you’re talking about “free” services. Consumers are usually even less forgiving when they pay full price for something and get their activity tracked anyway. Why is the Kindle so amazingly popular despite being fairly open in demonstrating that at least some tracking is obviously going on, then?
We can’t say that it is the result of Kindle owners being complacent. Glance at the reviews of the Free App of the Day in Amazon’s Appstore for Android and you’re likely to see Kindle Fire owners outright attacking app developers for including anything that tracks or otherwise exploits users in what is supposedly the fully paid version of their application. This is not a shy or understated bunch of people we are talking about, when the situation calls for more forceful reactions.
Where these app developers are chastised for sneaking in tracking, however, Amazon is openly displaying the fruits of their analysis. This is one part of why they are able to get away with it. They never deny that user data is being tracked and analyzed. It is something that people know when they buy into the line. Amazon is going to keep a list of what you buy, sometimes even what you consider buying, and they will draw conclusions from that.
There is more to it than that, though. Amazon might be collecting this data for any number of purposes that work for the benefit of the company, but they are offering a clear service to their customers by offering the tailored suggestions that come standard in any Amazon account’s home page. The popular theory that I have heard voiced is that this alone accounts for the general complacency with which Kindle users in particular take this situation. At least there is a visible tradeoff here.
I would say that the real explanation is slightly different, although that is a part of it. Amazon has done a lot to make itself a very customer-friendly company. More often than anything else, their customer service receives glowing praise. They not only brought us eBooks in a major way for the first time but actively got into disagreements with suppliers to try to bring them to us at reasonable prices. Amazon really seems to be one of the few companies left that puts customer satisfaction first. That makes it easy to trust that they will use any information they collect in a responsible manner.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that there is an unconditional trust here. We all remember the congressional inquiry into the Silk Browser’s privacy features around the time of the Kindle Fire launch. If there are concerns, they should and do get brought up. I just find it fascinating that the sort of behavior that causes outrage in other areas gets more or less ignored here. Maybe Kindle owners are really satisfied enough to feel that Amazon deserves some trust?
We’ve been seeing a great deal of interest in the potential savings provided by the Kindle in educational settings lately. Now that some of the initial antagonism is out of the way, people are coming to see eReaders as valuable tools. It needs to be kept in mind, however, that as much as the Kindle can serve as a book analogue in the majority of situations it is still not a book and not suitable for every single situation where books are used. How we decide which situations to use them in is something that still remains vague.
Perhaps the most interesting case is the early education classroom. I’m thinking Primary School here (1st – 5th/6th grade). On the surface it makes perfect sense. Using a Kindle rather than buying books means that schools can potentially avoid everything from lost reading material to profanity scribbled in the margins of textbooks. Students wouldn’t even need to worry about forgetting their books on the way to or from school. For every positive, though, there is a negative.
The most obvious is probably also the most trivial to fix. Kids break things. Whether through overwhelming exuberance or deliberate malice, from time to time they just tend to do damage as a group even if the same isn’t necessarily true of any specific individual. The Kindle, whatever else you might say about it, is not the most durable piece of electronics in the world. Amazon has an amazing return policy and does great work in making sure that damaged E Ink screens are replaced when the occasion calls for it, sometimes even for customers long out of the warranty period, but we have to assume they would balk at 5-10 free service orders per classroom every six months. Given the investment already being made in texts on a regular basis, it still might make sense to go with the Kindle. At the very least, a good case can prevent all but the most destructive acts from doing damage in my experience.
More important would be the issue of efficacy. While the Kindle is great for sequential reading, its limited navigational options and slow refresh rate can be a pain for referring to scattered parts of a book. On top of that, until color screens come into fashion in the eReading world there will always be some question of whether enough is being done to hold student attention. There is a reason that most textbooks for children are thoroughly illustrated and brightly colored.
Rather than just assuming a stance on this, I have to say that it feels like an issue best decided through trials. There are surely ways to use the Kindle properly in these classrooms, just as there are obviously ways for it to be used poorly. The only way to really figure out how to make it work is to throw the new technology into the mix and see how the kids take to it. I do believe that exposing children to this sort of technology early in their lives can have positive effects on both their technical proficiency and their love of reading, but one person’s anecdotal evidence about a kid who loves their Kindle is hardly enough for me to argue for an educational policy even when the anecdote is mine.
I’m curious what you all think on this. Do Kindles and kids make a productive combination?
Let’s face it, Amazon has not been great up until now about making sure that customers outside of US markets get access to their products and services in a timely manner. The Kindle Fire will be a long time coming to other countries due to its strong ties to an infrastructure that hasn’t been built up anywhere else yet, Amazon Prime has yet to carry quite the same incentives for everybody, and many of the promotions that Amazon runs don’t quite make it to any of their sites besides Amazon.com. It’s always good news when this changes, though, even if only slightly.
Amazon has recently announced that their ongoing Kindle Daily Deal promotion will be extended to the UK’s Kindle Store. Amazon.co.uk customers will be able to enjoy specially discounted Kindle Edition eBooks on a daily basis. Each book will be available at this price for 24 hours before reverting to its normal number. In the US Kindle Store, it has not been unusual to see heavily discounted titles in a variety of genres and it is hopes that this trend will continue now that the offer is being expanded.
Sadly, while as I mentioned this is definitely a step in the right direction, it does little to address the ongoing problem. The newest Kindles have not yet been given much of a presence outside of US markets. While, for example, you can buy the new Kindle 4 in the UK you cannot order a Kindle Touch, or even a Kindle Keyboard without 3G. Prices are still noticeably higher due to a number of factors including the lack of Special Offers integration, and this has not been changing at the rate we might expect.
Clearly Amazon is responding to a number of pressures. I could reasonably see it being difficult to justify having a Kindle Keyboard WiFi if consumer demand in a particular country leaves them sitting on a shelf while orders come in for the 3G model. The Kindle Touch, due in particular to its much-touted X-Ray feature, requires access to Amazon technology still in its early stages. As such it might be worth working the bugs out before implementing it elsewhere. The Kindle Fire relies on all sorts of media streaming avenues that will require years of time and more money than anybody likes to think about to make happen in new markets. Each new market, in fact, will be the same headache all over again since global media rights are not exactly simple to secure. There is a lot that goes into getting something ready for international release on any large scale.
That said, all of this is insufficient to really justify the continuance of the problem or Amazon’s lack of comment on user demands. It is nice when they come up with something like the Kindle Daily Deal, but in the end it seems like audiences outside the US are almost an afterthought. If Amazon hopes to secure any significant presence beyond what it already has in hand, the only option is to start pushing for more equal treatment of these customer bases. Or so it would seem to me.
Well, it’s August again. That means it is definitely time to get things ready for the upcoming school year for all those parents out there. Normally, this is where I would come right out and say “Hey, buy them a Kindle and save money in the long run!” We’ll consider that a given for all the usual reasons like pricing and saving on precious and increasingly overused bag space and move on to why this year provides some interesting factors to take into consideration. It’s also a great way to encourage a little bit more reading in kids who are otherwise bombarded with far too many other attention draws to consider it time well spent without something extra to make it appealing.
The pricing on eReaders has gotten to the point where, pretty much across the board, they are affordable as replacements for the sort of fiction that usually comes up in schools. When you are used to paying $7.99 per book for something you can get on a Kindle for a dollar or even for free, the device pays for itself pretty quick. The same is true of the competition as well, naturally. Right now, as far as school use goes, I would consider both the Nook Simple Touch and any of the Kindles as ideal for the purpose.
The most important factor, aside from text pricing and availability which are fairly universal as relates to what might be required in these circumstances, is durability. Ideally, you don’t want to have to replace whatever you go for any time soon since it can take the better part of a year for the savings to offset the purchase price unless your child is a big reader. The new touchscreen Kobo isn’t bad, but it feels a bit flimsy by comparison with others. Both the Kindle and Nook at this point are pretty equally rugged and have a large variety of cases available for protection and personalization. Do not skip getting a case, if you can help it. These are generally solid devices, but even an inexpensive case like those in the Marware Eco-Vue line is enough to save from most wear and tear taken in transit and even buffer against short falls that would otherwise destroy the screens.
If neither eReader option is quite what you are hoping for, it might be a better choice to hold off on a purchase entirely, for once. Amazon has two new Kindles on the way, according to seemingly accurate reports. While they will not be making it in before the beginning of this Fall Semester, being October releases, there promises to be an introduction of touchscreen technology and possibly even a price drop even beyond what has been happening recently with the Kindle in general. We may even see the first in the new line of Kindle Tablets, making possible all sorts of new uses including the replacement of textbooks. That latter point, of course, won’t apply to most pre-college students, but it might be important for kids who are near to graduating and moving on.
When you decide to pick up a Kindle for the first time, there are a lot of factors that can play into it. The first ones that come to mind are also probably the most important. You’ve got instant access to any book you want to buy no matter what time you want to buy it at. You can carry around hundreds or thousands of books at a time in your pocket. Chances are good that you’ll save money overall on your book purchases, if you’re a regular reader. That sort of thing. There are a few things that have come up that one might not expect, however.
Something that many people perhaps don’t expect is an actual reduction of clutter. Many Kindle owners find themselves replacing paperbacks with Kindle Editions over the course of their ownership. The eBook is more durable and harder to lose. This can result in a great deal of space saving over the course of dozens of book replacements, many of which can be at least partially subsidized through resale of the used copies unless you’re a fan of library donations. eReading can come to mean that the only books you actually have to keep track of are the ones you like enough to want to display proudly in hardcover.
Another plus I’ve encountered, though I probably wouldn’t want to put it to the test in any major way, is the durability of the eReader. I’ve heard plenty of arguments that consolidating to a Kindle means that if you break one thing then you’re out of luck until you replace it, but they have proven difficult to damage in a number of situations. Moisture generally isn’t a problem, kids can’t tear their pages, and short falls do no damage. On that last point, maybe it is just me, but every time I drop or knock down a book it seems to fall in just the right way to bend half the pages. Anybody else find that annoying? Moving on…
The most outstanding example that I am aware of is probably restricted to the Kindle 3G. In the aftermath of the string of tornado that made their way through the US in the past few months, many people found themselves without power, let alone internet connectivity. Thanks to the long life of the Kindle’s battery, there were a number of people that I’ve heard of who were able to find information that they needed and reassure friends and family of their safety in situations where doing so would otherwise have been very difficult. Cell phones simply don’t often last that long, no matter how conservative you are with their battery life.
Now obviously these aren’t selling points. The extra functionalities, if you can even call them that, are highly situational. I’m always interested in perks that can make what was already a great acquisition even more valuable. There’s more use to be found things like a Kindle than you can generally find on a spec sheet, if you look for it.
These days there is a lot of talk about how, though it’s great that the Kindle is taking off and eBooks are becoming ubiquitous, it’s really a shame that the local bookseller is becoming a dying breed as a result. It is definitely a little bit sad to have so few options when you want to go out shopping. I miss the smaller stores. What brings all this to mind today is the news that Borders(NYSE:BGP) is filing Bankruptcy this week.
Now, admittedly you can’t call Borders a small retailer anymore, but that is how they started. The fact is, book stores in general just aren’t doing as well since websites, specifically Amazon(NASDAQ:AMZN), became the go-to retailer for all your reading needs. As much as many stores, Borders in particular but others as well, try to diversify their product in addition to doing everything they can think of to attract readers, it’s hard to maintain the local face of a company in spite of declining sales. Even Barnes & Noble(NYSE:BKS), pretty much the big name in books for as long as I can remember, isn’t exactly doing as well for itself as it needs to be in spite of their efforts (and successes) with the Nook.
Given my own enthusiasms, I would like to give credit to the Kindle. It’s great hardware, has an impressive platform behind it, and the selection that we have available as a result is second to none. In many ways it’s like you’ve got a book store in your pocket, assuming you prefer garments with slightly over sized pockets.
Much as I’d like to place credit there, though, the trend began before the Kindle was more than a thought and a hope. Maybe not even that. This year is the first time the eBook is competing with the paperback on equal terms from the start, and it’s definitely the first time we can expect to see any comparable numbers between Kindle book sales and the print medium as a whole. eBooks are a big deal, but they’re just now realizing their potential.
What changed the game for the Brick & Mortar crowd, the way I see things, was the convenience and the successful marketing of the Amazon.com website. It wasn’t the first place to buy books online, but it has had a great selection from the start and the best selection anywhere since fairly soon after it got moving. Add in the functionality as a used book vendor, the inclusion of other media (and non-media) options besides books in the same purchase without there being any effect on your dedicated book browsing, and the decent review system that lets you improve your chances of getting the most for your money and there are options that no book store, small or large, has been able to keep up with.
So yeah, in a very real way I think that it is Amazon’s work that we see when book stores close down left and right. But they did it by giving people what they wanted and doing a better job than the stores that closed. Sure, I’ll miss being able to walk into a Borders when they’re gone (as most of them will be soon), but given the choice I know I’d rather shop through Amazon most of the time anyway. Apparently most people feel the same way.
I’ve used eReaders for a long time now, and enjoyed them since the start, but the overall pattern of my reading didn’t really change much until I got my Kindle. To this day I have at least several hundred paperbacks in my collection. Since getting the Kindle, I’ve added perhaps a dozen to the pile and gotten rid of quite a few that were falling apart. Employees at bookstores often make jokes about paperback “collections” since, as most heavy readers already know, the Mass Market Paperback format simply isn’t designed to last very long. Grabbing a Kindle helped with that a bit since it lets me reread my favorites endlessly, pick up new things on a whim without worrying about how much space I have available, and simply change my mind and read something else on a given day. I’m one of those people who reads several books concurrently, but who wants to carry around four books at once, on the chance that you’ll be in the mood for the wrong one? I’ll always love hardcover books, and my buying habits haven’t changed where those are concerned, but when it comes to variety, reuse, convenience, and portability(something that is extremely important if you move a lot given that paper is surprisingly heavy), I’m not likely to go back. It’s not a sales pitch, not an argument against those who don’t want to make the switch yet, just what I’ve experienced and I feel that I’ve gained.