When Amazon came out with the Kindle, and Sony, Barnes & Noble, and others introduced their own e-readers, many literary purists were distraught that a device could destroy the visceral experience of reading an actual book–the smell of starched paper, the cracked spines, the dog-eared pages. However, e-readers have proven to be a raging success for bookworms who need more versatility, especially while on-the-go. With the inundation of tablets and e-readers in the market, Amazon is looking for a way to keep their Kindle afloat.
On May 3, Amazon will introduce the Kindle With Special Offers, which will retail for $114, or $25 less than the standard version. In exchange for this discount, Amazon will embed advertisements on its home screen, much as free mobile applications have embedded ads. While the company indicates that ads will not be displayed within the e-books themselves, the solitary experience of being immersed in the page will still be degraded. Anything that takes away from a reader’s adventure is not what reading should be about, and nor should Amazon foster that kind of mission.
Actual ads in books are not new, having appeared in dime store paperbacks since the late 1950’s despite protests from concerned readers. In fact, paperbacks were not the only types of books affected; Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye had a print that included ads, and Michael Frayn’s comic novel Against Entropy was also spliced with ads. In an interview, the author stated that it was “particularly depressing” to learn about the cigarette ads in the American edition of his book, and called ads in books, “a barbarous practice.” Publishers reacted to the overwhelmingly negative criticism by removing these ads from books, much to the dismay of advertisers. Will history have to repeat itself in order for Amazon to eventually pull this new Kindle model from its shelves?
If Amazon truly wants to make their Kindles available to the masses, they would consider an alternative pricing model that does not adulterate the reading experience. People still have to pay for the actual e-books, and in the grand scheme of things, a $25 pricing differential is hardly of note. According to Interpret’s New Media Measure, 55% of total consumers would pay extra for a service that allowed them to avoid advertising. Perhaps if there was a subscription consumers could purchase that would enable them to read an unlimited amount of books, it would help ameliorate some of the Kindle’s sticker shock? Until then, I, for one, will not be excited about the Kindle With Special Offers, as the only “special” it offers is a cheapened literary experience.