Cultural Learnings from Amazon

Okay, so I've been through the process of transmogrifying text into Kindle friendly format. It's not too difficult to do, but there are a couple of significant things to note: Alas, people outside the US can do everything except sell Kindle-formatted texts. Amazon requires a US bank account to complete the final stage of the process. There are unofficial mutterings that this will soon change, so watch this space.

The formatting process is pretty easy and they take the time to display exactly how the text will look on a Kindle: handy when you don't actually have one yourself. But it looks like sales will be tightly controlled through Amazon themselves; no flogging the formatted texts for sale on...say...your own e-commerce web site. I'm not surprised. Amazon have made it clear that the Kindle is a closed ecosystem. You want in, you play by their rules. It's their device, so I don't begrudge them doing what they like, but it does occur to me that when you combine a closed sales system that with a proprietary format and DRM, the net effect would be lower sales.

In his recent article for the Monthly, John 'Satan's Work' Birmingham argues that modest e-book features for the iPhone are already superior in quality to the Kindle and that the rumoured tablet, if let loose, would render all this mucking about with Kindle format useless anyway. I'm not so sure. The iPhone App store is just as closed as Amazon's and the tools for creating and displaying texts are wrapped up in software developer hell: the kind of place that terrifies even more techie writers like myself.

It's not a DIY thing.

At the moment, formatting your text for the iPhone involves actually creating your own e-reader application. This means not only a greater initial outlay to hire someone to develop the application for you, but also that different texts use their own systems and rules governing how the text is displayed, how pages are turned, etc. Lack of consistency between titles doesn't seem that great to me. While I read a lot of text on the iPhone, I have only bought a handful of e-books for it, and I haven't really read them yet, mainly because the titles available (typically public domain classics) haven't really grabbed me.

That fact though that these discussions are finally happening suggests that the e-reader may finally finally be maturing into something people might want to actually invest in. That's a positive. Conditions are ripe for a kick-arse reader to capture the popular imagination and possibly to allow writers the means to reach a wider audience.

All we need now is the right device.