Is the new Kindle Zero the sign of things to come?

AmazonfreelogoIt was always going to happen, but most of us didn't think it would happen so soon. Every Kindle has been cheaper than the one before it…

This afternoon, Amazon is going to announce the Kindle Zero, (screenshot) the first ebook reader that's free (to Prime members, of which there are millions). If you want one, you should hurry, because free goes quick… (here's a sneak preview of the prototype Zero)

The trend has been clear–electronic devices always get cheaper, and locking people into a platform has always been profitable. Hotmail, search engines… free is the driver of attention.

Beyond the surprise of leaping into the free reader, though, are the announcements from Random House and Wiley that 10% of their titles (the ones that used to be free) will now come with a cash incentive. (HT to Kevin for the original idea).

Read a book, get paid in cash. This is beyond free.

People have long treated reading books as a chore, as work, as something to do as little as possible. Now, for the first time, you can get paid for the drudgery of reading.

What this means is simple: you can now order 150 books and a new Kindle and get paid more than $3,000 just for accepting them and reading them when you can. Dense, difficult books like Russian tragedies and others earn you even more, up to $45. Per book. And of course, how-to books earn you hundreds of dollars each, but you do have to read them.

Of course there will be ads. Once it's free, you're not the customer any more, you're the product.

As a pioneer in free ebooks more than ten years ago, I feel like I have to keep up, hence my announcement today that to go with the new Kindle Zero, the free edition of my new book comes with a new Buick LeSabre or a large fig newton, your choice. While supplies last, one per customer.

[Ways to analyze this post: Check the date. Note the absurdity of $3000 per Kindle (with a million out there, that would a be a three billion dollar hit to an industry that can ill afford it). Note the fig newton reference. Note the silly drawing. See you next year.]