Amazon is offering an advertising-subsidised version of its flagship Kindle, putting adverts on the idle screen and main menu in exchange for a $25 discount on the hardware.
The company is making much of the fact that the adverts will link to special deals and money-off vouchers, but they're still adverts that will hang around at the bottom of the main menu and remain on the screen whenever the Kindle is turned off. The addition of adverts brings the price of a Kindle down to $114, a shade over £70, though it will be US-only for a while.
This is what the Kindle was built for of course. When it was launched Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos talked about dynamically-updated adverts embedded in the books themselves, not to mention author and reader annotations to the work, which would cease to be a book and become a ever-evolving meta-document in the style of a Wiki. "This isn't a device, it's a service," he said in 2007, predicting the end of the book as an inviolate form and Kindle as the enabling platform.
All that becomes possible thanks to Kindle's use of what Amazon calls the Whispernet. Whispernet is really just a 3G phone embedded in the Kindle connected to a data-only tariff for which Amazon pays. The innovation in Whispernet is in the business model, which hides the network entirely from the user. The customer pays for books and other content, not the cost of delivering that content, which is invisible.
That model enables Amazon to reach out to every Kindle (every 3G Kindle at least) to update downloaded work, embed new adverts or update dynamic texts. However, the market has again proved far more conservative than the technologists expected, and today the Kindle platform (hardware and software) is used mostly to read books and has failed to become the physical embodiment of Web 2.0 – so far at least.
Slotting adverts into the bottom of the menu screen is a tiny step towards that Web 2.0 nirvana, and at least Amazon is being clear about customer options: pay an additional $25 and be free from advertising, or take the money and lose control over your idle screen* graphic. ®
* Amazon insists on calling the static graphic displayed when the Kindle is switched off a "screensaver". But given that e-ink screens don't need saving, and the static nature of the image, which wouldn't save anything, we're sticking to "idle screen".