Increase Kindle Adoption – Provide Content Sharing

In my previous post, I mentioned that my biggest criticism of the Kindle was the inability to share content. Really, it's my only MAJOR criticism of the Kindle device and platform. but this criticism is a big one.

With the Kindle 2 release announcement, I'd hoped that Amazon would come out with software/system updates that would allow for some method of sharing books/magazines/newspapers. The Microsoft Zune, which admittedly isn't tearing up the consumer electronics bestseller chart, has a feature that allows its owners to temporarily share songs with friends. It's a cool feature and helps promote the sale of new music among Zune owners. Sadly, when I currently finish reading a purchased book on the Kindle, it ends up in the online equivalent of a banker's box in the basement. I can pull it up later and re-read it, but mostly it's buried. The cynic in me says "Eh, whatever - the publisher and seller are both happy and have no incentive to let me share an e-book."

Now I knew this going into my purchase, so it's not like I can gripe too loudly - but it seems like such an obvious area for potential improvement with Kindle 2. Had they addressed this issue, I'd already have my current Kindle on Ebay or Craigslist and an order placed for the new version. Then again, I'm not convinced that allowing for the sharing of content would require the newer hardware version.

Here's how I could see it working. as a Kindle owner, I'd have a "Friends" list (not unlike IM, the Xbox 360, etc). I could choose to transfer a title (book, magazine issue, or newspaper daily) to someone on that Friends list. While it's available to them for reading on their device, it would NOT be available for me to read on mine. At some point, that title comes back to me and is then unavailable to the Friend. Like a physical book I loan out, I can't read the book at the same time as my friend.

I could see all sorts of arguments against this from the publishers. we'd lose sales to those Friends because why would they buy it if they could borrow it from you? What would stop someone from setting up their own mini Netflix-for-Ebooks and buying once to share many times? Here are a number of ideas for ways to accommodate publishers, free for the taking by the Kindle team. I think putting one or two of these in place would alleviate many concerns:

  1. Limit my list of Friends to a small number - 3, even - to discourage any sort of mass sharing.
  2. Limit the number of times I can add/remove people to/from my Friends list in a given period of time.
  3. Limit the number of times that a title can be shared among Friends. For example, if a title has been shared with two other people, that's it. No more sharing unless someone else buys it.
  4. Limit the length of time that a title can be over on that Friends list. Maybe they only get it for a week or two? 30 days?
  5. Don't allow a new title to be transferred among Friends during the first 60-90 days after its release.
  6. Charge the Friend receiving the book one-third of the purchase price.
  7. Charge me and my Friends a premium for access to the "Sharing Among Friends" feature.

It's worth noting that NONE of these constraints are in place for physical books. When I buy the physical version of a book, I can lend it to as many people as I want. For as long as I want. Doing so doesn't cost either of us a cent. Further, I can put it into the "used books" ecosystem and the publisher doesn't see a dime after my initial purchase.

In fact, the ability to share physical books is the ONLY incentive I currently have to buy physical books that are otherwise available in Kindle form. If it's a book I'm likely to want to share among friends or family, it makes more sense for me to buy the physical book.

For example: I'm considering reading "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The physical version of that book on Amazon is $12.60, while the Kindle version is $11.34. It's the type of book that I'm likely to read and then share with a few family members and friends. So if I buy the physical version, Amazon gets my $12.60 and the publisher gets some portion of that. Beyond that, neither sees more money from me or the people I choose to share it with for this title. Like most people, I talk with friends and family about what I'm reading. so it's unlikely that they'd all rush out to buy the physical version also if they know they can borrow it from me in a couple of weeks. Even if they have Kindles, it's more likely that we'd buy the physical book just so we could share it and avoid spending the $11 EACH to read it.

BUT - imagine that I buy the Kindle version and have three friends with Kindles that would also like to read it. Assuming they've implement suggestions #1, #2, and #6 above, I could lend it to those three people. I'd have to lend it to one after another because the "license to read" the book can only be on one Kindle at a time. but each of those three people would pay $3.75 to have the book on their device for a period of time. In total, Amazon would have collected over $22 from my circle of just THREE "reading friends". A nice premium over the $12.60 they get if I go the physical route. which is the only option now for groups of friends/colleagues who like to share books.

In my view, providing some premium-level service that includes sharing could be a nice way for Amazon and the publishers to make some aftermarket money - and it doesn't have to cannibalize new sales. In fact, I think it will spur a lot of new sales for the Kindle. many people I've shown it to say they'd love to own one but they don't want to lose the flexibility of sharing a book with a friend. The ability to share via the "Whispernet" book download service would lower that hurdle, which could only be good for publisher's sales of ebooks.