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Amazon's new Kindle Wi-Fi (with special offers) is too good to be true

Find out why Donovan Colbert thinks Amazon's new Kindle Wi-Fi (with special offers) will be one of the most questionable advertising campaigns of this holiday season.

Special offers?!? That sounds awesome! Where do I sign up? I wonder what the special offers are? And why is the Kindle that includes special offers less expensive than the same Kindle that doesn't have any special offers at all?

In what is likely to be one of the most questionable advertising campaigns of this holiday season -- and one that might tarnish what looks to have been an otherwise flawless roll-out of the Kindle Fire color Android tablet -- Amazon has rolled out an aggressive marketing strategy that includes various Kindle markets priced at very attractive points for the Christmas holidays.

The Kindle 3G (as a line and as a specific Kindle) offers one singular advantage -- the ability to download a book over a free 3G "whisphernet" connection anywhere you can get a 3G signal, which is pretty cool. This $189 device also has an experimental browser, but honestly, browsing on a Kindle browser with an e-Ink display, even with free 3G, isn't a great pleasure. The 3G connection may be snappy, but the e-Ink refresh is pretty intolerably slow for web pages. Arguably, I think the 3G line will only appeal to people who really want to be able to download a new book, whenever and wherever they are, without having to find a local McDonald's, Starbuck's, or other Wi-Fi hotspot.

Next, we have the Kindle Wi-Fi. This device is $139, and it offers all of the same features as the more expensive 3G version. The only difference, as mentioned above, is that you have to find a Wi-Fi hotspot to download a new book. The only place I really see this being a hassle is if you're out camping in a very remote location and you decide at the last minute that you've got to read the latest NY Times #1 Best Seller. Heck, even in a case like that, what are the odds that you'll be able to get a 3G signal, anyhow? For $50 difference, I just can't see a lot of people making the 3G choice for an eReader with only a few basic tablet functions.

But then we've got the NEW Kindle Wi-Fi with special offers, which is priced at $114. What are these special offers? Does it come with free books? Maybe I get some free music downloads from the Amazon MP3 store or a premium streaming subscription from Pandora. How can they bundle special offers and yet sell the device for even less than the regular Wi-Fi Kindle? It sounds too good to be true.

Because it is. These "special offers" that are included in the less expensive version of the Kindle Wi-Fi are advertisements. But the circular advertisements that are hyping the Kindle in anticipation of the coming Christmas shopping rush are ambiguous at best in making this clear and potentially unethically vague at worst.

There has already been a lot of discussion about the general concept of including advertisements in a subsidized Kindle, and the general consensus is that the way Amazon is approaching this isn't very attractive. You're saving about $25 on the initial purchase, and in return, you're agreeing to have a device that inserts "non-invasive and non-disruptive" advertising. It seems like you can opt-out later, and Kindle will disable the advertising and then charge you the difference.

I suppose the idea that you could buy the device, see if you can live with the advertisements, and later disable them (if not) makes sense. Why not save $25 in that case? There isn't any real risk. If you dislike the ads, turn them off and pay the difference between the ad-supported version and the normal $139 dollar version.

I'm not as put off by the general idea. I just think Amazon is handling the advertising and presentation of this proposal in a bad way. I think it may possibly blow up in their face and create something of a scandal. I think that it's all in their choice of wording. Really, why word it that way? It's sneaky, under-handed, and a little slimy. I can see less tech-saavy buyers purchasing this unit thinking that the special offers are some sort of "value-add" bonus. You know, a special offer is,

"Buy a Chevy Suburban today, and get a free microwave, TV, Minifridge, or iPad."

or

"Order before midnight tonight, and we'll double your order to two USB cupholders for the price of one -- plus the sham-wow is yours to keep, even if you decide to return the cupholders."

but not

"Buy this device and agree to get advertising delivered to it, and we'll charge you $25 less than the version that doesn't include ads."

The idea to insert advertising into the Kindle is already somewhat controversial. Amazon has gone to great pains to explain that the ads will not disrupt the actually reading experience -- books won't have commercial interruptions. It's hard to imagine how Amazon managed to navigate all that trouble without realizing just what a potential powder-keg ad-subsidized devices are. You would think they would have learned from this and made sure that their advertising campaigns were clear and descriptive with little or no chance for consumers to misunderstand.

I'd think that based on these things, if I had been in the Amazon marketing group responsible for the Kindle, I would have probably called it "Advertising subsidized Kindle Wi-Fi" and explained it with some copy like,

"The new Advertising subsidized Kindle Wi-Fi has non-invasive advertisements from vendors and partners delivered to your device. In return for agreeing to have advertising delivered by use to your Kindle, we are able to lower the price of your Kindle hardware."

Maybe that's why I'm not in marketing. Every ad I've seen says,

"NEW Kindle Wi-Fi (with special offers)" with no further description of just exactly what "special offers" mean.

Let me know what you think. Is this simply a case of caveat emptor, or is this a case of a vendor being purposefully vague in a way that's probably going to come back to haunt them?

About

Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his profession...

28 comments
BentLightyear
BentLightyear

I have a personal policy to never, ever buy anything from or even click on, an ad. I understand that everyone has to eat and ads are a way for some to do it, but they are scum (just kidding). When I want to buy something I search for it and buy it, but only because I originated the transaction. On the other hand, we have already allowed ads to exist and now we're stuck with them. They're ubiquitous and inescapable. Even if you pop for the additional $25, you're going to see ads, if your Kindle has a browser. And excuse me, but I'd never consider buying a tablet of any kind without a browser. Surely someone has already published how to jailbreak the KwSO and remove that pesky "feature". If not, it won't be long. Reading the above comments, I was struck by the rudeness and incivility in them. If you said that stuff to someone's face, you would likely get punched in the mouth. I urge my fellow nerds to disagree all you want, but please do it as if your mom was watching you type it. I think DC's point is well taken. Kindle will get egg on their face from misrepresenting their product. They don't have to pinch themselves; just tell it like it is. We can take it.

rclark
rclark

I am a developer, and have to put up with a lot of ads on the sites I visit. Tech Blogs especially seem to be magnets. I figure that the people who pay for the site, generally have that right. I'm partaking of another persons knowledge for free, so no gripes about ads unless they make the site unusable. Which several are starting to do. It can get so bad that a full screen will have a small area right in the middle that has content, while the banner, left, right and bottom margins have scrolling or flyaway ads while you read. That in and of itself is not disasterous except when the controls for the content are destroyed by the ads. As a power kindle user, I do not and will not take the ad sponsered kindle. I would rather pay the extra and be able to keep my standard splash screens. (Hey Amazon. You need to let us select the Authors we want on our splash screens!) Even my little kindle which is about as cheap as they go, only has ads on the browser while surfing. Having said that, I do trust Amazon more than tech sites for advertising. They are good at it and most of the time the ads are at least in the ballpark. If you are going to bombard me with ads, at least make them relavent.

dhays
dhays

"The idea to insert advertising into the Kindle is already somewhat controversial. Amazon has gone to great pains to explain that the ads will not disrupt the actually reading experience ??? books won???t have commercial interruptions. It???s hard to imagine how Amazon managed to navigate all that trouble without realizing just what a potential powder-keg ad-subsidized devices are. You would think they would have learned from this and made sure that their advertising campaigns were clear and descriptive with little or no chance for consumers to misunderstand" the word actually should be moved to before will (the ads actually will not) or change it ot actual. No ereader yet of any brand, waiting on pricing or justification to not buy books, which is still better.

cmwade1977
cmwade1977

I have had the Kindle 3G with Special Offers for a while. In general, the special offers are intended to get you to buy more from Amazon. Many of the special offers that have been made are for items that I would have purchased anyway, thus saving me more money. There are some true ads as well, but they do not get in the way, so what do I care? Bottom line is the Special Offers add value to me and my circumstances, not everyone will have the same situation, but I do not see how this is a powder keg as said in this article. In fact, when I had a problem with my Kindle before, they shipped a replacement unit without special offers and I had to work with them to get them reenabled, I would estimate that the special offers have probably saved me over $100 since I got the Kindle.

marcedhk
marcedhk

I TOTALLY get and agree with the point the Colbert is trying to make. The "Special Offers" tagline seems deliberately misleading, and I think it's likely to sucker many who might just think it's cheaper because it's on sale, or don't compare it carefully with the other models. A better analogy would be a dealer advertising a used car as a "2011 Toyota Camry (with Extended Reliability Testing)"!

veewvee
veewvee

Hey, anybody notice the ads on the right of your screen?

LedLincoln
LedLincoln

So they didn't give it the name, "Advertising-Subsidized-Kindle". Big deal. I know that a pre-owned car is a used car, don't you? And it was obvious to me that you would get ads on this Kindle. No, I don't like it, but it's the world we live in. Reminds me of the ancient AOL days, when you sat with your 16K modem connection waiting for AOL to download "art" - art being advertising.

MLongfellow
MLongfellow

Serious journalism this is. I don't think this is right and this is how I would have done it because I obviously have a superior attitude and the way i think things should be is obviously correct. Since they did NOT do it the way i thought they should have this will obviously blow up in their face and will most likely result in a scandal, and if it does not, well, I will report it as a scandal anyway. When was the last time you saw an advertisement from a car company that stated in the opening seconds in large bold font "Your likelihood of dying in a fiery crash in this vehicle is far greater than just not driving"? Why should Amazon have to jump in a consumers face and make sure they understand from the outset that "We are going to show you ADS! And you will have to love it or pay us more money!!" Amazon gives us a tag-line then later explains what it means. That is how these things work. If you are stupid enough to want to buy something from one line of an ad, well, perhaps you could help the author of this piece of drivel with his next blockbuster article "Auto manufacturers aren't telling us in a totally obvious way that we will have to purchase that hideously priced GASOLINE for our vehicles!!!"

yorgor
yorgor

If you do not own or use a Kindle then your remarks here are meaningless. The Kindle is a very easy to use reading device that nothing else really compares to. It is not a computer or tablet, just an easy way to carry your library with you anywhere. Much better than toting around a sack of books. I have my favoite books and auto updated magazines with me all the time and do not have to go looking for them, I own both the original keyboard model and the newer Fire and Touch and as far as I am concerned Amazon is going in the right direction with this.If you don't like the occasional pop up ads, then spend the extra money and quit your complaining.There are 100's of free books available from Amazon and your local library. Get one or move on. yorgor

jeb.hoge
jeb.hoge

Ad-supported is no longer a significant issue with most users. My Roku shows ads (certainly one reason those are so inexpensive), most people are used to ad-supported free apps in iOS and Android, and the way that Kindle implements ads is discreet.

CraigsPCrepair
CraigsPCrepair

The only advertising that I have encountered so far are when the kindle sleeps, the normal wallpaper is replaced with an advertisment...and at that point I am not reading anyway....its not like they are inserting ads into the text of the books.

.Martin.
.Martin.

I have had a 2nd Gen kindle since January 2010, and have loved it every minute. back then they only came in a 3G version (no WiFi) and I have seriously turned the 3G on only twice, and that was to set the clock. in my opinion, no matter how "non-invasive" these ads are, I would never get an ad supported kindle. never.

ian
ian

"Dan, no kindle owner and not going to be one of them, since I already have an iPad and Android tablets." I was very doubtful before buying a Kindle earlier this year. But e-ink is streets ahead of any conventional screen in terms of reading comfort in all environments, not to mention exceptional battery life (I generally have wifi turned off as I load my books via USB from the PC and get around 3-4 weeks). I suggest you try one. Ian (recently converted).

dan-r
dan-r

I frankly have doubts about the kind of "non invasive" ads that the cheaper version of Kindle is going to present to users ; ads are all pervasive pieces of junk, and we have so many invasive ads cutting TV broadcasts and beetwin them that we may feel vaccinated. But repetitive messages get printed on our brains and influence us in many ways. I would prefer to pay 25 bucks more than be bored by stupid ads, but it is a moral scandal that such an offer is presented to users at all. It shows that, for the promoters, books are only goods and not considered as supports for litterature and culture. Dan, no kindle owner and not going to be one of them, since I already have an iPad and Android tablets.

tjsobieski
tjsobieski

"Arguably, I think the 3G line will only appeal to people who really want to be able to download a new book, whenever and wherever they are, without having to find a local McDonald???s, Starbuck???s, or other Wi-Fi hotspot." Find it difficult to believe that anyone NEEDS the ability to download a new book at the beach or poolside. Have 2 Kindles in the family, AND 1 Android tablet AND 1 PC running Kindle soft, I read a lot and sort of plan what I want to read before hand. Instant gratification? Grow up.

yorgor
yorgor

The ads can be closed after a few seconds, and are not really a pain. yorgor ( multiple Kindle owner)

tony
tony

In the UK, the requirement is that ads are "legal, decent, honest and truthful". There was a great BBC Radio comedy series on the subject. Since 1 March 2011 the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) now covers marketing communications on UK based web sites and even the marketing feeds on Facebook and Twitter. So if you think that this claim is not "legal, decent, honest and truthful" just find an example on a UK web site and report it. I suspect that "special offers" meaning that you will be subject to advertising is a grey area for "honest and truthful". It is potentially misleading by omission.

tjsobieski
tjsobieski

Television ~ 1950s: Let's take a minute for a word from our sponsor, who makes this show possible ~ 21st Century: 5 minutes of ads on cable TV that you already paid for the privilege of watching

marcedhk
marcedhk

Not just run of the mill ads? That would change things in Amazon's favor, I think.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Let me guess, you work for the marketing department or advertising agency of a major fortune 500 company, MLongfellow? ;) Or are you a small retailer that uses creative ad copy to try and lure customers into your store? I worked for a PC retailer like that at the beginning of my career. Reading our ads always made me feel dirty. Your car "analogies" (I mean, it isn't really fair to call them that) - just simply don't work, in either case. Let me address the second one about gasoline as an example: If I had wrote my outrage that Amazon sells the Kindle as an eReader device but doesn't advertise that you have to buy eBooks in ADDITION to the cost of the device itself - THEN your analogy to having to buy gasoline would work. But that wasn't my point. If owning and operating a Kindle empirically increased your changes of dying in a horrible, violent manner, Amazon knew that, but did not disclose this, and I was making my point based on THAT - your horrible fiery crash analogy would work. But I wasn't, and it doesn't. If, on the other hand, your local GM dealer announced a new Cadillac Escalade 2013 that included special offers, and at a special discounted price, and you rushed down there and found out that the "special offer" was that the discounted price was subsidized by having to view ads before your new car would actually start up - I think there would be some general outrage about this method of advertising a product. In particular this becomes a problem if a customer does go in, and does purchase the product without actually talking to anyone to find out specifically what the "special offers" are. This is not an unreasonable scenario if you've ever been to a Best Buy. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to find that many sales people at big box retailers don't know or understand what the Special Offers Kindle is all about, themselves. There is an opportunity to have clear, meaningful advertising that honestly discloses that the lower priced Kindle is advertisement-subsidized. This is the high road, the ethical business path. Using confusing terms is the opposite. I mean, I get it, your vote is for caveat emptor - which is fine... I asked for this feedback in the article. But I don't think you've done very good at all in defending your reasoning for this belief. Sorry, but thanks for playing.

radleym
radleym

If you haven't tried a Nook (ipad, android tab ...) your remarks here are meaningless.

.Martin.
.Martin.

that was what they were going to do. that does reduce the annoyance of the ads...

tjsobieski
tjsobieski

Then I would suppose that you don't watch TV for the same reason?

radleym
radleym

"But e-ink is streets ahead of any conventional screen in terms of reading comfort in all environments" Like in the dark?

marcedhk
marcedhk

as with a little more planning you can buy and pack the 2 or 3 books you plan to read on vacation, can't you. But you spend the money on a Kindle because it's more convenient. Similarly, people spend a little more on a 3G Kindle they can download books to at the beach because that's a little more convenient than having to download it before they leave on vacation or at a hotspot on the way. I have a 3G kindle, and have used the 3G many times where a free WIFi signal was not available - in the waiting room at the doctor's, waiting to board a plane, on a road trip, in hotels where they still charge for WiFI, when visiting older family members who don't have internet, etc. It's not unlike the cell phone experience. I put off getting one for awhile as I never really needed it, but once I had been using one for about a month I started wondering how I had ever gotten things done without it!

dcolbert
dcolbert

Are you suggesting that the majority of offers delivered by Amazon via the Kindle with "Special Offers" are genuinely *special* offers? I mean - the impression I've gotten is that this is an AD SUBSIDIZED Kindle - not a Kindle that delivers *special* offers... To me, that would mean *special*... EXCLUSIVE... great deals that you would not be eligible for or know about UNLESS you had a Kindle with Special Offers. In *either* case, I'd say this highlights my claim - it is UNCLEAR exactly what a "Kindle With Special Offers" is. There seems to be a lot of uncertainty on what this means, exactly. I feel like Kindle has, intentionally or not, handled this in a way that could easily lead to misunderstanding. I suppose that was the main point of the blog - and this branch of the thread only serves to illustrate that it is a pretty valid point.

.Martin.
.Martin.

but if there was a legal way of watching shows without ads, I would do that. the little TV I do watch, is digitally recorded, so I skip the ads ;)

reg.doug
reg.doug

Ummm.... yeah. By using a book light. (or the kindle's lighted cover [I probably won't buy on of those]) -recent kindle wifi purchaser