Newsweek has all the details right here.
I've been hyperventilating about Amazon becoming a book publisher since at least 1998. That's the juicy part of the business... finding writers for your readers as much as you spend time finding readers for other people's writers. A book costs about a dollar or two to print and sells for $20... Lots of room there for Amazon to integrate the process, to find long tail successes, to match hidden needs with authors needing promotion.
Kindle, the code name for their new ebook reader, gives them a platform where they can actually begin to be a publisher (though for now, they're resorting to acting like a low-paid middleman, once again leaving short-sighted publishers to cripple a new medium).
When Amazon came to talk to me about being included on the reader a long long time ago, I said sure, but.
The but is that I wanted my books to be free and included in every reader, and my blog, too.
The beauty of real books is that they don't require a reader, which means that millions of people are eligible members of the market. Even if you only have .0001% market share, you can still get your book read.
The challenge that my hero Jeff Bezos has is that if he's really really lucky, he'll sell a million of these things in a year. And that means that at $10 a book, you need to have significant market share to make an impact. The Sony reader has been out for months and it has sold, perhaps, a few thousand units.
My thought was to use it, at least for a few years, as a promotion device. Give the books for free to anyone who buys the $400 machine. (Maybe you can have 1,000 books of your choice, so there's not a lot of 'waste'.) You'll sell more machines that way, that's for sure. And the people willing to buy the device are exactly the sort of people that an author like me wants to reach. No harm, no foul, all three of us win. If there were a million of these machines out there and an author had a chance to have her next book show up automatically on all of them, few among us would say, "no thanks to that exposure."
This is a disruptive approach, the sort of thing only a market leader could pull off. It changes the world in a serious way. I wanted to be part of that.
I was unpersuasive. Sorry.