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Economy of scale doesn’t

Posted: 07.06.09

A tale of electronic ink and the stupidity of false economy

Broken Kindle 2, time for an e-link replacement screen

I got a new Kindle 2 for Kathleen for her birthday. I have a Kindle 1 and she kept borrowing it. It was a simple decision, and a hellofa hit with her. On its maiden voyage to Dallas she, in a rented car, had to slam on the breaks and it, inside her giant purse along with her tiny PC went flying off the passenger seat into the dash and then the floor. I had neglected to include a Kindle cover with the birthday gift. The corner of the PC took care of the Kindle’s screen.

The first step when she got home was to call Amazon and talk to a service tech. I explained the situation, he checked the purchase date and warranty and concluded that since it was customer damage it was not covered under warranty. I told him I wasn’t asking for a gift, I wanted to get it fixed. He said, “We don’t fix them, but I am authorized to sell you a replacement at $179.” A new Kindle 2 sells for $359 so that’s effectively a 50% discount, and I’m guessing what the manufacturing cost of the machine is. I, of course, said yes. I then said, “That’s a pretty good deal, a new Kindle for half price.” He said, “It’s not new, it’s reconditioned.” Hmm, I thought after I hung up. They don’t repair them and yet they have reconditioned units for half price.

The Kindle 2 costs $179 to manufacture

So now we would have 2.5 Kindles, a functional Kindle 1, a reconditioned Kindle 2, and a broken Kindle 2.

The temptation was too great. All that had to be done was to replace the display panel. I know who makes those panels; it’s the E-Ink company. Well it was the E-Ink company; they’ve been bought for $215 million by Prime View International, which has been the Cambridge, Mass.-based partner in making “electronic ink” displays for Amazon and Sony ebooks.

I tried to contact them. I called. Got a robot that said leave your number and someone will call you back, but if you’re smart, you’ll go to our web page and send us a message. I left my number and a brief message—“I would like to buy a replacement panel for a Kindle 2.” I then went to the web page, and following their instructions sent an email to the same effect.

About 30 minutes later a robot sent me an email that said it had received my email and that a human would contact me within two weeks. OK, I’m not in a rush.

Two days later I got a call from Bangladesh or Hyderabad, or Bombay, the nice gentleman on the other end of the line wouldn’t tell me, “I’m very sorry sir but we are not permitted to give out that information,” he said in his sing-song way. Then he proceeded to ask me questions, what kind of a business this was? I explained that I was a market researcher and wrote a bi-weekly report on new technology concerning computer graphics; I could hear him typing all that in. He then asked what products I was designing or planning that would use an E-Ink display. I said, no product, I’m looking for a replacement panel for a product I hear that has an E-Ink display in it. “Oh,” he said, “you have a product with an E-Ink display? And you want to replace it?” He typed that in too. He seemed truly confused, but recovered. “Oh, he said, sing songish again, “You want to replace an e-Ink display. You want a replacement panel.” Yep I told him. Another pause, and then he said, “I will have someone contact you. Thank you for your interest in E-Ink products.”

So clearly E-Ink/Prime View doesn’t listen to their voice mail or read their email, other than to collect a phone number, by a robot no doubt, and send it to someplace in the southern Asian continent. They then pay someone there to make a long distant call so they can have the message that was on their voice mail and in their email read to them—in this case I was the reader.

What was accomplished?

  • Well that around the world exercise accomplished the following:
  • A guy in the southern Asian continent was kept employed, as was his boss, and her boss—so that’s good for local economy—but bad for E-Ink.
  • About 10 minutes of my time was wasted reading my email to the gentleman in India, or wherever.
  • I haven’t been able to give E-Ink any money for a panel.
  • Amazon has given me a new Kindle 2 at cost—no profit there.
  • So this is a lose-lose situation for me, Amazon, and E-Ink.

Oh yeah, and I should have bought the $29.99 cover for the Kindle 2 in the beginning even though I thought that was too much—I would have saved myself $179 and a lot of time.