Thursday, November 22, 2007

Amazon's Kindle eBook Reader

Amazon has introduced its new Kindle eBook reader, what some are already calling “the iPod for books.” Amazon is initially offering 90,000 different eBooks for the Kindle, priced from $1.99 to $9.99. The books will be delivered to the Kindle device via Sprint’s wireless web access service (with no access charge). Interestingly, the service will include a free web browser for the Kindle reader.

As we wrote some time ago, eBooks could be a great boon for travelers just wishing to read several books but not wanting to take all that weight, but from what we can tell they’re still just electronic versions of a book. Great for reading a novel, but less useful for guidebooks. What we want to see are travel guidebooks created specifically for eBook readers. Some ways we think a real travel eGuidebook should differ from a printed book include:

Content – As much as we’re old-school print journalists, we think travel eGuidebooks should be more of what we call “MTV journalism”: quick bites, top 10 lists, “best of” stories. eGuidebooks also would lend themselves to many more maps, and the maps could be more integrated into text, rather than having to flip to the front or back of the book.

Navigation – Speaking of maps, wouldn’t it be great to read about Leeds Castle and have a quick link that goes directly to a map of how to get there and of the castle itself? Maps could be accessible from anywhere and linked from every reference in the text. Anchor links, just like a “jump link” on a web page that goes to another page of the site, can make this easy. There could also be much more cross referencing, maybe even indexing on every page, as well as the ability to zoom in on maps, or to make type larger for a poorly-lit museum (larger type is apparently available on the Kindle).

Updates – eGuidebooks would lend themselves to updated restaurant reviews, hotel reviews, and cautions or warnings (for example, notifying that a museum is under construction for the next year). And of course only parts of the book would need to be downloaded as updates – maybe publishers would sell a one-time version for $9.99, or an annually updated one for $12.99.

Organization – As with a database, eGuidebooks should allow the ability to reorganize information in many ways. Maybe you might want to list all museums within 5 miles of a train station, or list restaurants by star rating, or simply an alphabetized list of hotels.

Split screens – Tabs, split screens, or partial screens could be very helpful for showing 2 sections of content at the same time. This could be used for comparing 2 restaurant reviews, or showing a museum description on one screen and its map on another.

What we’re really talking about here is an eGuidebook as a sort of mobile website, but with lots more content and without the ads and crap that clutter the web today. (Of course, it probably won’t be long before someone starts selling ads on eBooks. We can see the advertising now: “$9.99 now, or FREE with ads!” Yuck.)

Maybe Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos reads our little blog and will discuss with his publishing partners ways to create new content specifically for the Kindle, instead of recycling old printed content. Even currently, though, we can’t wait to get our hands on the new $399 Kindle.

Happy Thanksgiving