Amazon's (partially) ad-supported Kindle: 1st step towards ads in e-books

A lifetime of looking at ads saves you a measly $25

By now you've probably heard about the new "Kindle with Special Offers" that Amazon launched yesterday, but just in case you missed it, here's the deal. Take an Amazon Kindle, plaster ads on the home screen and the 'screensaver' and knock $25 off the price. Instead of $139, Kindle with Special Offers goes for $114.

What is Amazon thinking? Or more accurately perhaps I should ask what potential buyers are thinking. In order to save $25 you're going to sign up for ads for the life of the product? This seems absurd to me. I have to assume Amazon has done market research and has determined there's an audience that isn't bothered by ads, or (*gasp*) even likes them (and to be perfectly fair, the name of the device is "...with Special Offers" and not "...with Ads") but as a blogger who covers services like Hulu Plus and hears plenty of outrage at the idea of mixing ads with paid content, I'm finding the whole issue hard to wrap my mind around.

I've always thought the Kindle should be cheaper, and to be fair we've seen Amazon cut the price pretty regularly. But considering the Kindle is a device that we use to buy things from Amazon I can't help but feel they ought to sell it at a loss. It seems to me there are a lot of other ways Amazon could put Kindles into the hands of people not prepared to lay out $139 in one go.

How about a Kindle Book Club? You sign up and agree to buy at least 2 Kindle books (with appropriate caveats, like minimum prices) a month for the next two years, and Amazon gives you a free Kindle to read them on. At the end of the two years the Kindle is yours to keep. Amazon gets a new Kindle customer (and since you'll have almost 50 Kindle books by the end of your contract you probably won't jump ship to another e-book store when it expires) and you get the elegant reading experience of an ad-free Kindle.

If that's too complex, at least put a time limit on these ads. How about these Kindles get ads for the first year, then revert to a pristine Kindle?

I think I'm most concerned about the ads on what Amazon calls its "screensaver." When you put a Kindle into standby mode the screen gets a nice picture of an author or a piece of artwork. I've always really liked these images; maybe I'm a romantic but I feel like they give my bedside table a touch of culture. And now that portrait of Mark Twain is going to be replaced with a special offer for Viagra or something. Blech.

I exaggerate, of course. I'm sure Amazon will keep these things tasteful, and they list their launch sponsors: Buick, Olay, Visa & Chase. None of those are particularly seedy. And just to be very clear, (for now) you won't see these special offers while actually reading a book, which is how you spend the vast majority of your Kindle time.

Still, it's $25, people! If it sounds like I'm taking this whole idea a little bit personally, well, guilty as charged. I'm a book lover and this feels like the first step towards putting ads in e-books, and I really don't want that happening. Your Kindle will last you for years! Please pay the extra money and get one that doesn't come festooned with ads! By doing so you're telling Amazon that ads and books don't mix.

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