In a recent post, I opined that Kindle may be more important as a crude opening wedge for free (sponsored) Internet access than as a change-agent for the way people read books.
Reader ellen has a good question:
“The free internet service after the $400 buy price sounds too good to be true. I would certainly buy one for that reason alone.
“I am going to ask a really dumb question. Does getting wireless access to the internet mean every time you are near any wireless you will be able to log on or does it mean you have to go through the same towers as cell phone access? Having had so much trouble with at and t cellular for my phone would sprint have to be well covered in my state? No one around here uses sprint for cell access. Everyone uses verizon, because for some reason it is best in my area of massachusetts. After many years and 4000 leftover rollover minutes I a dumping at and t for verizon.”
Ellen, that’s a good question. You shouldn’t buy a Kindle if you aren’t usually in a place where there is a good signal from Sprint. EVDO uses the same towers as voice service; so, if Sprint voice isn’t good where you are, EVDO won’t be either. Verizon also supports EVDO but that won’t do you any good with Kindle because it’s tied to Sprint’s network. Moreover, it is possible to be in a place where voice service is good and data not. If you know someone with a reasonably modern cellphone who has Sprint service, ask him or her to look at it near your house and see whether it says “EV” or “1X” where it shows the data connection (different phones display this differently). 1X is a slow data network and Kindle won’t work on that; it is rapidly being replaced by EVDO by both Sprint and Verizon.
“I am a bit confused about the "free" access to the Internet. If I am right in interpreting this, then why do I have to pay a monthly fee to read FOC? That is why I thought that I could access only those sites to which I have subscribed (signified by a bookmark in the browser?). But then both you and Pogue [nb. NY Times writer David Pogue in this article] say it differently. Hence the confusion.”
Internet access IS free through the builtin browser on Kindle. You can, for example, read Fractals of Change in the browser – free – just as you do in the browser on your PC or Mac. However, you can also elect to pay 99 cents/month to subscribe to FOC. That is confusing; why would you pay for something you can have free?
Well, two possible reasons. One, the version you pay for is presumably (I don’t have a Kindle yet) better formatted for the Kindle screen. It has no ads and doesn’t have the sidebars that the browser version does. The Kindle browser is described by Amazon as “basic” so that may make FOC pretty ugly when viewed that way.
More important in the case of a blog or other periodicals which you can subscribe to is that they are downloaded to the Kindle automagically rather than being fetched from the web. That makes a difference if you are going to want to read this content when you’re offline – on a plane, for example, or traveling through country where Sprint EVDO (and therefore Amazon Whispernet) is not available – assuming you were online at some time so that the download could take place.
Both of these reasons for buying content rather than consuming it free are even more important for books. You can read my novel hackoff.com: an historic murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble free at www.hackoff.com. Many people, however, don’t want to read a whole book online. You can also download and print PDFs free.(but not on Kindle). Or you can get it nicely formatted so that you turn pages as in a book rather than scrolling and read it on Kindle offline – but that costs $4.76. If you do that, BTW, Amazon stores it on your virtual bookshelf forever even if you delete it from Kindle to make room for more books. Probably the real comparison here is with the hardcover edition available from Amazon for $18.96.
Reader Marc Orchant did try hackoff.com on Kindle: “hackoff.com looks great on the Kindle. The formatting is clean (e.g. Q&A in the first chapter) and I'm looking forward to reading it as I count myself among the survivors of those perilous bubble days.” Nice to hear. Thanks, Marc.
Reader Terry Gold also likes Kindle (wish I had mine): “I've had a Kindle all weekend, and I'm already planning on how I can get rid of most of my paper books. I'll keep the ones that mean the most to me, but for everything else, this is the way to read. I just had Amazon send me a sample of your book even though I have the hard copy and I can read it on the web. The Kindle changes reading for me.”
On a somber note, reader Dylan Salisbury asks: “What happens after someone hacks into a Kindle and tethers their PC to the internet connection? If they had really "bought" that internet connection, it wouldn't be a problem (you can run any traffic you want over your own connection, right?) -- but I have a feeling such uses will be shut down or denied.”
I think Dylan’s right. If such hacking becomes noticeable, it probably would be shut down in some way. And that raises an interesting question: is it a violation of Net Neutrality to shut down some uses of “free” Internet access? I’d say no in this case since Amazon hasn’t been using the free access to the web as a selling point and it’s pretty clear what it’s for; but certainly there may be plenty of argument over this.