I’ve tried the earlier ebook hardware before. I’ve read books on a black and white palm pilot 3, a nokia cell phone (1 inch square of text!), a Dana. I’ve never succeeded reading long documents on computer screens. I’ve learned that its better to have a small portable ebook than a book with a large screen.
I’ve tried the earlier available content before. I’ve read ancient free books, spent money ebooks put out on weird small publishers. I learned that the average quality of ebook is lower than a randomly selected paper book at a book store or library, because publishers kept the best books off the ebook market or priced higher than the paper version.
DRM and the small (and sometimes large) companies. I’ve lost the licenses to just about all my ebooks because I can’t remember the passwords, the companies have disappeared, the ebook readers don’t support my current hardware. I only trust something as big as Amazon to stay in business long enough to support DRM and even then, I suspect that I’ll lose all my licenses on my books in about 10 years, hopefully long after I’ve read and lost interest in the book.
Sometimes cheaper. Amazons $10 price point actually makes some books (usually new books) cheaper than the 2nd hand or new paper version. If you take into account the cost of physical shipping, time spent driving to books stores and libraries and the time spent listing and re-selling used books, I think the $10 is cheaper than some used books with less than a $10 base price.
Search? The search experience on Amazon leaves something to be desired. I haven’t found how to search for books between 1 and 5 dollars, so when you sort by cheapest first you get a metric boat load of junky public domain books that probably were market failures back in 1870 as well. The “best selling” free books are usually things one would read in college when you want a serious, difficult read. Filtering by publish date will leave in books from 1870 because all the project Guttenbeg books are republished in 2008!
Samples. Samples for dedicated readers are a killer feature. You can read more sample chapters in Kindle than you can read standing up at a book store. And a kindle preview blows away the previews that amazon provides for other books.
Quality. It looks like some quality publishers are missing, but most of the best books I’ve read in the last 5 years are available in kindle format.
It also looks like ebooks are friendly to writers. Some writers are earning more by self publishing to ebooks than when they used a brick and mortar publisher. If the new business model favors writers over publishers, this can only be a good thing for readers, who have been stuck reading a really small number of authors who by dumb luck discovered they can write a best seller the first time around. How many writers gave up because writing books didn’t pay enough to get the first few lousy books out of them so the best sellers could emerge?
The Amazon PC book reader is somewhat primitive compared to other PC books readers. The cutting edge of ebook readers in my opinion is still the SQL 2000 Books on Line chm file. The MSDN team was miles ahead of their time in letting readers view their book as a hierarchical tree, as a searchable resource a book and a source of stand alone articles all at the same time. Like the iPod, the PC Kindle interface achieve ease of use by just removing advance features all together. This is not nice. All software, should start out easy and have a an easy path to the advanced interface– analogous to windows software having menus and mice for beginners and key strokes for advanced users.
Competition. The competition is a yet to be seen Apple tablet (which I doubt will have eInk), the B&N reader, the Sony reader. Having owned a lot of small devices, a keyboard-less device is great until you need a keyboard. Then it really-really sucks. eInk is a must. It is the low resolution and awkward shape of a laptop that keeps me from reading long documents online. Just like in the music world, 9 track killed vinyl, was killed by tape, was killed by CD, was killed by MP3, no matter what format you choose your screwed. Even the DRM free ePub will eventually become as unsupported as EBCDIC and Atari Writer word processing files. All digital media is temporary.
The (possible) multifunction Apple Tablet. I’ve also owned lots of multifunction devices– they all work best for their primary use. My gPhone’s eBook reader is one of the best ebook readers, but it still is a better phone than an ebook reader. My gPhone keeps dimming the screen to preserve the battery for the power hungry phone on board. The phone keeps bringing up the password screen to protect my privacy and for security. If a paper book prompted me for a password or turned all the pages white after 4 hours, it would be returned to the bookstore as defective! A multipurpose laptop is going to be optimized for running GUI touch applications– a long way from the needs of a book.