The community debate about the Kindle sometimes seems more interesting than the Kindle itself. Here's a good virtual round table session with the headline "Will Kindle send book publishing the music industry way?". What really caught my imagination was this excerpt from Fran Toolan's comments:
In music, with each new 'device' something improved for the end user - usually it was the quality of the audio sound. That really helped the adoption of new technologies. Books - as we know them today - will not have this advantage. Until books start getting written differently - with links to other places and incorporating social networking opportunities - the content will not be enhanced by the device.
Yes! Who cares about a simple conversion of a print book to an electronic device? Why should the mass market get excited about an e-book reader if it offers little more than the functionality of the printed book? (Btw, talk about small world...I had the pleasure of hearing Fran speak at the PubU conference last month...he's a very bright guy and his RSS feed should be on your "must read" list.)
The social networking aspect that Fran refers to is particularly fascinating. And yes, I realize that the way books are used today, most people just want to sit down and read them on their own with absolutely no need for a social networking component. But the first PCs were built for individual use in a world without networks as well and look at how things have changed since the 1970's.
I was in a meeting earlier today where the subject of book clubs came up. As most folks know, book clubs aren't as popular as they once were. What killed them? I asked a couple of coworkers this question and both of them immediately said "Amazon." Interesting. So with the Kindle, does Amazon find itself in a position to reinvent the book club model?
One of the key advantages to joining a book club was that you can get those first few titles for next to nothing. They'll send me 3 books for a nickel immediately if I promise to buy 5 more at full price in the next year. Sold. What if you could join the "Kindle Sports Book Club" for $1, get 3 e-books and promise to buy 5 more for full price? Amazon is in a great position to enable mix-and-match deals like this.
Now dial it up a notch or two and build more social networking functionality into Kindle, version 2.0, as Fran suggests. Actually, his original point was that the books need to be authored with this in mind and I totally agree. If you fast forward to that point in time the "Kindle Sports Book Club" allows you to set up reading groups with friends or total strangers, pass content back and forth, mash it up with your own, etc. Very cool.