The word Kindle makes me think of burning books

All branding aside, the oncoming launch of Amazon’s e-paper device essentially begins the practical discussion about e-paper in earnest.

Books are a neat trick, but I’m pretty exclusively thinking in terms of the future of newspapers here.

Things to pay attention to:

  1. EVDO: This device has ubiquitous Internet access when in cell range. That’s good. Obviously, any cell phone with a data plan has the same thing, although I’d argue the iPhone handles the user interface for news better than many other devices at the moment.
  2. DRM: The e-books (which users will be able to by at $10 a pop from Amazon) will be in a proprietary format, not based on an open standard. Start thinking now about what newspapers will do as devices like the Kindle improve enough (read as: get lighter, less expensive and better-looking) to get a solid adoption rate going. Will your paper (or company) charge users for a Kindle subscription and encode the pages so they can only be read on a set number of devices? (Think iTunes-style DRM.)
  3. Price: $400 isn’t that bad. I usually see sub-$200 as a spot where mass adoption becomes possible, but $400 is halfway there. Remember when DVD players cost $400? Me neither, because it wasn’t that way for long.
  4. The wider Web: It’s not clear from what I’ve read so far if the Kindle has a browser built in, but it clearly has some sort of Web access. That’s smart, and necessary. There’s something weird going on involving paying to subscribe to blogs in a feed reader, but the question for news organizations will be whether to make it easy or hard for users of future e-paper devices to get off their reservation and out to the Web.
  5. Hackability: Given the recent history of the PSP and iPhone, I’m going to take a wild guess that the Kindle will be hackable, and that users will do interesting and unexpected things with it. That’s a good thing, as far as I’m concerned.

And a red herring to ignore:

It’s ugly. Seriously. Instead of looking at it directly, try to imagine a device with similar funcationality, but thinner, with a flexible screen, and fewer buttons. That’s what it will look like in, let’s say, four years.