It has been reported recently that Amazon has sold 500k of their ugly Kindle readers in 2008. In fact, despite the slump of sales of almost everything in the last month of 2008 the demand was so high they did run out of them in November.

This shows the power of content. Kindle isn’t the best of digital readers. And it is ugly. And there are limitations to the content you “purchase”. In fact, a book you “buy” from the Amazon’s Kindle store is not your property, you can’t do nothing with it other than read it on the device. For example you can’t give it to friends. Or print few pages. So in fact it is a long-term lease that will function as long as Amazon and your Kindle will work.

But the Kindle wins with other digital readers and other more open ebook formats because of the amount of well catalogued content – books, magazines – you can easily get on the device for moderate prices. In fact, even my father’s book on composites which is a scientific textbook on an exotic subject is available as a Kindle book.

Amazon clearly had connections and power to work with major publishers to get their books as Kindle ebooks. And they had easier time persuading them to do so, as because of the closed nature of the whole system they could offer publishers more reassurances their content will be protected. Plus, small, independent publishers can use their very simple publishing platforms to get their books to Kindle with very little cost. The effect is that user buying Kindle gets an easy access to a huge library of books, something no other reader offers. That is why the Kindle “brick” has gained momentum many doubted it will ever get (me included). Once again it was proven that content is the king and the key, not devices to deliver it.

The only hope now for open ebook formats and other readers remains the fact that Amazon Kindle is not available anywhere outside the US. That leaves a huge market open for other devices. And lets hope other players will use it, because the future where digital reading is monopolized by a closed platform is not a vision to cherish.

Over and over people come up with something they think will replace traditional books. Over and over they are proved wrong. Next in line to get slapped is Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. His Kindle device is not only ugly (and who would like to be seen with something hideous in his hands?) but it also perpetually ties its user to Amazon, them being the only source for purchasing any content for Kindle.

So not only this “e-book” concept lacks all the advantages of the traditional book – no requirements for power or wireless coverage of any kind, durability, ease of use – but it also limits the concept of ownership. If I buy a book from Amazon now I own it. I can lend it or give it to a friend. I can make a copy of a few pages and give it to a friend. Will I be able to do the same with the Kindle-book? I doubt it.

I think the ugliness of the thing together with lack of clear benefits of having it over a laptop or… about 10 or so normal, paper books will be enough to kill it. People who read – and read a lot, otherwise this toy makes no sense at all – are not the same target market as usual gadget-buyers, especially customers who buy modern all-singing-all-dancing “mobile phones” and then waste money on ringtones and wallpapers. People who read tend to think.

There are just a few people who had a very good idea and had also enough luck, connections and execution power to turn it into gold. But even fewer are able to do it more than once. It is nothing unusual to get so immersed in one’s idea that one is not able to see its flaws (happens to me too). The problem is that no one dares to tell the wealthy and powerful people their idea is… less than perfect, to put it mildly. Some may fear for their position, others want to just rip the stupid affluent off.

Clearly no one told Bezos he won’t get far with this and judging by his announcement he didn’t realize it by himself. Yet.