I've had an on-again, off-again relationship with my Kindles. The original was not much more than a toy, but the Kindle 2 was a more usable device. It still needs work in the formatting department (hopefully the Lexcycle acquisition will help with this—I very much hope to see epub support rolled in to the Kindle at some point courtesy of the folks who brought us Stanza). But the distribution model is a good one. If you buy a book from the Amazon store, it gets delivered over the air to your Kindle.
Now, the Pragmatic Bookshelf doesn't participate in the Amazon eBook store: it is frankly too expensive for us, and we value having a direct relationship with our readers. So when we announced our support for the Kindle, we did distribution from our own site: you download your .mobi file from us and drag-and-drop it onto your Kindle via USB.
But… Amazon also let you send files to your Kindle via e-mail. In the old days, this used to cost $0.10 per file. So we modified our store. If you have a Kindle, you can register it with us and we'll send your eBooks to it automatically. If we release a new beta, it'll get sent to you, and we'll send you an e-mail to let you know it's there. It was a nice compromise, and at 10 cents a pop, not a bad proposition for our readers.
But then, yesterday, Amazon changed the rules. They now charge for transfers on a metered basis. Send a file to your Kindle over the air, and it will cost 15 cents/megabyte. Suddenly what once looked attractive now starts to become expensive. If we update a beta book 10 times, and the .mobi file is 5.5Mb (about our average), then you're out of pocket $9. Because we don't want our readers to get hit by surprise Amazon bills, we'll probably remove the feature from our store over the next few days (let us know if you think we should keep it).
Color me paranoid, but I suspect, that's exactly what Amazon wants publishers to do. Of course, they could argue that it's fair for readers to pay for bandwidth usage, but in reality I suspect that these transfers are a vanishingly small percentage of their overall network usage. Instead, Amazon probably realizes that this facility allows publishers to bypass their store and have direct relationships with clients. And Amazon d0esn't want that. This charge is just enough to discourage most readers to sign up with publishers such as ourselves to receive automatic updates to the eBooks they own.
I think that's a shame. We were looking at an entirely new model. Imagine how cool it would be if your books updated themselves while you slept. Now we'll have to wait for another device to become popular before that becomes a reality (Apple tablet, I'm looking at you…).
In the meantime, if you own a Kindle, and you'd like to receive automatic updates on it without having to mortgage your house, you might want to consider asking Amazon to reconsider this charge. I don't hold out much hope, but you never know.