The Digital Duchy of Amazonia

Because ereaders and ebooks are still in the adoption phase, many people and libraries have yet to evaluate and purchase them.  Buying that first device isn’t as simple as picking out the model you prefer, it is choosing which digital ecosystem you will join.  We have witnessed this with the development of smartphones.  Beyond selecting a particular phone, you must decide to join Apple’s, Google’s, Microsoft’s, or RIM’s walled ecosystem.  Once you’ve climbed the learning curve, entered all your data, and purchased some apps, it’s no trivial matter to leap the wall and switch ecosystems.

We are seeing this concept of digital ecosystems emerging in the ereader market.  As Steven Levy writes in Wired magazine:

Indeed, [ CEO Jeff] Bezos doesn’t consider the [Kindle] Fire a mere device, preferring to call it a “media service.” While he takes pride in the Fire, he really sees it as an advanced mobile portal to Amazon’s cloud universe. That’s how Amazon has always treated the Kindle: New models simply offer improved ways of buying and reading the content. Replacing the hardware is no more complicated or emotionally involved than changing a flashlight battery.

(That’s why, in a sense, some of the iPad comparisons and cavils you may read today in the hands-on reviews of Fire are somewhat irrelevant in light of this larger issue. Yes, the Fire lacks the industrial-design pyrotechnics that make fanboys foam at the mouth like the iPad does. But who cares? Like a lizard shedding its skin, next year there will be another Fire and in three years the original will look as antiquated as the bizarre-looking Kindle 1 appears today. When you pay $199 for Fire, you’re not buying a gadget—you’re filing citizen papers for the digital duchy of Amazonia.)

When you make that first ereader purchase, you are joining that vendor’s digital world whether it is Amazon, Apple, or Barnes & Noble.  You’ll learn how to use their device, enter notes, create highlights, and even socially share your reading experiences.  Very likely, you will shop in their online store for potentially proprietary-format ebooks (.mobi in the case of Amazon) with your licensed copies stored in their cloud.  Your choice of ereader may also impact whether you can access ebooks offered by your library.  Again, leaping the wall from one ebook ecosystem to another won’t be easily or cheaply done.

Choose carefully.