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Tuesday, 03 March 2009 06:44

How to hold back an e-reader business - tie it to a phone network

The Amazon Kindle e-reader has been getting great publicity since it was first launched in November 2007. Yet it is hard to understand why Amazon has hampered its global distribution by tying its capabilities to a mobile phone network. Isn't the Internet good enough?

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has made no secret of the fact that he would like the Kindle to be the iPhone of e-readers. That's great Jeff, except the Kindle is not a phone. What worked for Apple is not necessarily appropriate for Amazon.

To my mind at least, the function of an e-reader is to store reading material. The best and cheapest medium for downloading reading material - any material - is the Internet, whether that's through a mobile phone network, wireless hot spot or hard-wired service.

Why on earth anyone with a fantastic online retail service like Amazon and a promising new product like Kindle would want to go through the hassles of dealing with mobile phone carriers on a country by country basis is beyond me. With the iPhone, Steve Jobs and Apple had no choice but to do that. With the Kindle, Amazon simply doesn't need to.

If Jeff Bezos and Amazon want to take a lead from another company, they should look to Asus and the Eee PC. Within days of releasing the innovative new netbooks they were flying off the shelves. Now, released around the same time as Kindle, millions of Eee PCs have been sold and they're in stores all over the world.

Right now, if reports are to be believed, a few hundred thousand Kindles have been sold in the US. The reports also say that even in the US it's hard to get hold of a Kindle because you can only get them through Amazon and they're often out of stock.

What should be happening is that some Chinese, Taiwanese or whatever manufacturer should be producing Kindles with wireless capability by the millions. Users should be able to download stuff to them via the Internet through Amazon and a range of other suppliers. Why make things difficult?

If Bezos wants to maintain a tightly knit relationship and compatibility between Kindle and the Amazon store that's fair enough. Amazon is after all the 800 pound gorilla of the online retailing and books business. However, you don't need a special exclusive relationship with a particular mobile phone operator gumming up the works.

Personally, I would be quite happy to buy a Kindle if it was cheap enough through Amazon or my local computer shop. I certainly wouldn't want to buy one on a plan from my phone company - one phone plan is quite enough forme thanks.

If Amazon is really serious about making the Kindle e-reader a mainstream product then it's about time it gave the world a chance to see whether all the hype is justified or just a bunch of e-vapourware.

Hey, Amazon has just released Kindle 2. Who cares? Most of us never got a chance to see Kindle 1.

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Stan Beer

Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 35 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.

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