I’ll take $5 in free Diana Krall songs over a line-art drawing of Emily Dickinson anytime, thank you very much.
I’m talking about Amazon’s "Special Offers," which is Kindle code for "advertising." After the introduction last month of new Amazon Kindle e-readers and tablets, a mini brouhaha erupted. During the big unveiling, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos neglected to mention that the lowest-priced, new Kindle Fire tablets come with ads. And it was subsequently reported that buyers of the new Kindle Fire tablets would not have an option to get rid of those ads. Amazon later changed course, however, and is now giving Kindle Fire users the ability to opt out of ads for $15.
Ad-supported Kindle e-readers have been around since May 2011. You can buy a "Special Offers" Kindle for $20 less than the same model without ads. And if you purchase an ad-supported e-reader, you can wipe them out later by spending $20.
My question is: Why would you even want to get rid of the ads?
I understand why, on the surface, you would be opposed to ads being shoved in your face. After all, we zip past on TiVo ads and click away from online advertising all the time. However, I’ve owned Kindles with and without ads, and I definitely prefer the ones with ads. Here’s why.
1. Kindle e-readers without ads display line-art drawings of dead authors whenever the device is in sleep mode. I can’t tell you how tired I grew of looking at Agatha Christie, John Steinbeck, Charlotte Bronte, Alexandre Dumas, Emily Dickinson and others. I mean no disrespect to these talented writers. I just don’t want to look at the same drawings of them over. And over. And over. And over. Yes, I know you can jailbreak your Kindle to create custom screen saver images. But I’m not willing to put my Kindle at potential risk just for that.
2. By comparison, Kindles with "Special Offers" have an element of surprise. Whenever I pick up my Kindle Touch with ads, I never know what the screensaver image will be. Right now, it’s an ad for AT&T. Next time, it might be a promo for the new TV show Nashville. The images change often enough that I don’t get sick of any of them in particular.
3. Kindles with ads are $15 to $20 less expensive than those without them.
4. You turn your Kindle on, the ads disappear. The only other place you’ll see them is at the bottom of your main navigation screen; you won’t see an ad pop up for Xanax while you’re reading Stephen King’s latest anxiety-inducing novel--though that’s not a bad idea, come to think of it.
5. The ads, on occasion, might actually serve up something you want. Just the other day, for instance, I received an offer for $5 in free Amazon MP3 downloads. I didn’t have to make a commitment of any kind; I just downloaded the five 99-cent songs I wanted, mostly from Diana Krall’s new album, and that was that. The songs went directly into my iTunes library, too.
So let’s recap: Occasionally free stuff you might actually like. No endless line-art drawings of Emily Dickinson. Ads that are unobtrusive, for the most part. And you save money right from the beginning. What’s not to like?
Sure, Amazon could be more upfront in the future about its pricing. But I think the company could also do a better job of selling the benefits of its "Special Offer" Kindles.