I recently added a book to my wishlist and ended up clicking on the Kindle version first. I said aloud, jokingly "I want the paperback, not a $200 investment in reading" and went to add the paperback version. This led me to think though: Shouldn't the Kindle be cheaper if you want to revolutionize the reading experience?*
I understand it's expensive to make and maintain, of course, but it's a bit like: How would you teach people to write without giving them a pen for free? If everyone had a Kindle, then the idea of buying a book on the go, or choosing an electronic version over a physical one wouldn't seem difficult or strange. It would be the first place to go, since the Kindle would become your primary mode of consuming literature.*
Right now there is a price point problem. People either can't afford it, don't want to invest into something that will change, or something that isn't going to last. To approach the business of reading, I think you have to work at it from a different angle. People already know how to read, so they want to buy books. People are used to having the thing that is "reading" already in their minds and all they want is to pick up a book and do it. The Kindle puts a step between readers because they have to use a device to do something they already know how to do: read.*
By removing the device's detrimental elements and forcing it into the one area where most people have problems with it, you force the Kindle into the reality of being the place to go for reading to be done. Sure they can still buy paperback version if need be, but ideally, the Kindle will become what iPods became for music. A cheap and effective way to consume entertainment on the go. In the past you had to sit in a car, or god forbid, at home, to listen to music, but now you can participate in the enjoyment of music everywhere.*
You can already do that with books, but to do that with the Kindle, I think the ease of which people enter into the electronic book reading agreement needs to be simpler and cheaper, so that people can't find a good reason not to use the Kindle to read.
I understand the idea of free Kindles is a bit insane, but the business of book buying online seems like a better market once everyone has ways to buy books off Amazon in a quick and easily digestible fashion. No more waiting for books to arrive in the mail, or feeling like you have to buy from used sellers to save money; people can simply buy a book and read it immediately, with the same satisfaction as visiting a bookstore.
Alternate technological consequences of cheaper hardware:
1 laptop per child's charity organization
$100 Laptop: MIT's cheap laptop idea
There are similar initiatives to make laptops and netbooks cheaper around the world so that people can always have access to the internet or at least information software.
Internet as a human right: http://news.cnet.com/8301-17939_109-10374831-2.html
Making technology as accessible as possible will arguably make people capable of learning from anywhere in the world, as well as improving communications throughout the world between families and people in general.
I'm curious as to the future implications of products and ideas like this, since obviously television never caught on as something necessarily needed for survival in society. It was always a safety first kind of option with a relationship with the news channels when people still used bunny eared tvs. Outside of news and entertainment though, TV has always simply been a distraction for people to use, mostly there for entertainment only. I suppose there are documentary-like channels and public service areas, but since they're owned by certain types of companies, they aren't made for free.
The internet isn't free to maintain, nor are the sites located on it, but cable survives off advertisements having commercials everywhere and people paying a monthly fee. Arguably people are still paying for the access rights to cable lines with modern broadband on the internet and the sites online survive via adverts on the side in lieu of forced commercials like on TV. To make it accessible for “free” seems like more of a government mandated area, in the case of Finland, where access is relatively cheap, so it might as well be made free up to a point, and for those who want better access, they can pay for it. Much like healthcare; if you want free service, wait in line and get it; if you want service right away, you end up paying for it out of pocket.
Will we see free internet in our time or will companies continue to be able to dole portions of it out for a modest fee? Will we come to use electronic reading materials for free, while paying for the software that will go on it? Will we manage to get access to a computer in the same way we have access to a refrigerator when we rent an apartment? Perhaps not the best analogy there, but the principle is that you get hardware because it's necessary for survival with limited open source abilities, but outside of that you end up paying out of pocket.
(I wrote the top half first as a kind of open letter to Amazon, then thought the implications were a bit broad, hence the discussion into the outcomes of such a system, however impractical in a capitalist society like ours. Arguably, people are still getting paid, but some are giving up their market shares.)