Tim Bray, a well-known smart person, wrote a post today about how he’s been reading John Scalzi‘s Old Man’s War series on his Kindle (he’s apparently on book three, The Last Colony). Because of the addictive qualities of these books, he implies that he can feel Amazon siphoning money out of his wallet as he compulsively starts the next book in the series. His commentary seems to boil down to something like “Amazon makes it too easy to buy books.” I think he’s kidding, but there does seem to be an undertone of real concern there.
Now, I’ve read this entire series, and I can vouch for the books’ highly addictive nature. But unlike Bray, while reading the books I spent no time checking my wallet, or cursing Amazon, or worrying that they were getting too good at their primary business, or that they somehow might end up using their technology in dangerous ways. In fact, Amazon never crossed my mind. And actually, I spent no money at all on these books. (Sorry, John!)
See, I happen to have heard of this thing called a “library.” Amazingly enough, these library things let you read books without you having to pay for them yourself. This is particularly useful to me since books are something I like to read, but don’t like to own.
To be a little more serious, there are some reasons why a library might not be an appropriate place to obtain a book. For folks whose attention spans are so short that they that simply cannot wait at all to begin reading something, a library isn’t going to cut it. And for someone who absolutely must read a book on the specific e-reading device of their choice, again a library might not do the trick. Unfortunately Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and the publishers are trying their darnedest to cut libraries out of the mix (or at least make things really inconvenient) when it comes to e-books.
But for me novels are a perfect example of the kind of entertainment where a week or two wait doesn’t mean much. In general, novels will be just as good (or bad) next week or next year. And after all, there was a four-year wait between the fourth and fifth books in the Old Man’s War series. No amount of payments to Amazon could reduce that delay.
I’m also fortunate to prefer to read novels in hardback form. I’m sure this format will go away at some point, but for now, there’s simply no significant upside to dealing with the vagaries of e-readers and e-books. For example, and this is the real head-scratcher for me: Why purchase something (a novel) that you use once and are unlikely to ever use again, and in a format (Kindle) that you can’t sell or give to anyone else? This is an awesome deal for Amazon and the publishers. It’s a much less compelling deal for readers; it just shows the incredible value that some folks place on having a book in the format they like and in the time-frame they desire.
So what Amazon is really doing here is not only, or even primarily, charging for the content. It’s actually charging for access and for convenience, two time-honored ways of making money. There’s little point in complaining (or even joking about complaining) when you’ve made your own choice to trade more money for less waiting.