Thursday, April 9, 2009

Kindle under attack

E readers may well be the future, but at present, they are under attack. According to a WSJ report, Amazon is facing flak on various fronts.

On Tuesday, a group representing members of the US National Federation of the Blind and the American Association of People with Disabilities staged a protest over limitations in the Kindle’s read-aloud feature. Last month, Amazon said it would amend the feature to give publishers and authors the ability restrict it at the request of the Authors Guild, which says voice performances of books require separate contracts. During the protest outside the New York headquarters of Authors Guild, protestors chanted “Stop the greed, we want to read.”

A separate backlash about Amazon’s prices for e-books has been building for weeks among Kindle owners. On Amazon’s own site, hundreds of readers have argued that charging more than $9.99 for many e-books is highway robbery. They even created a user-generated tag — “9 99boycott” for the more than 800 e-books in the Amazon store that they feel cost too much.
Publishers set suggested retail prices for all their books, printed and electronic. They sell them to Amazon and others retailers for a discount based on the suggested retail price — so discounting to the consumer happens at the retailers’ discretion. Simon & Schuster, for example, says that the suggested retail price of their e-books mirrors the price of the most recently published printed edition of a book (hardcover or paperback).

Amy Hoy, a 24-year-old living in Vienna, Austria, helped stoke the $9.99 protest with posts on Amazon’s discussion boards. She says she got her Kindle last November, and has bought more than 60. “I go through novels like a toddler goes through Goldfish crackers,” she said.
“After the initial few months gorging on $5-8 novels, I was shocked as some of the prices for the Kindle books I was shopping for seemed to be rising dramatically and noticeably,” she said. After hearing the same complaint from other Kindle users, she decided to formalize a protest in the discussion board, offering technical instructions on how to tag books on the Amazon site as over-priced.

She doesn’t think all books should cost less than $10 — but thinks the digital versions without considerable extra bells and whistles should cost less than a paperback that can be passed along to a friend. “I bought a $350 device just to face this kind of brain-dead economic decision,” she said. An Amazon spokesman declined to comment on either issue.

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