What's so bad about Amazon.com's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Kindle?

Fellow Fool Tim Beyers is coming down on Oprah Winfrey for backing Amazon's cool e-book reader on her show two weeks ago.

"Oprah's advice is worse than conflicted; it's moronic," Tim concludes. "If the members of your audience are struggling to make ends meet, are they really in a position to spend more than $300 on a Kindle -- just for the opportunity to spend hundreds more on e-books so the device can pay for itself?"

I'm not arguing against Tim's suggestion that Oprah sold out. When she has Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on her show, positions the Kindle as her favorite new gadget, and even has a video tutorial on her website, in which Winfrey and Bezos demonstrate how easy it is to use, I smell either money changing hands, or Bezos holding compromising snapshots of Winfrey.

However, the Kindle is a perfectly reasonable appliance to pitch in front of a crowd that routinely spends nearly $20 a month to buy Winfrey's "Book of the Month Club" entry. Paying half that price for the electronically-delivered Kindle version will more than pay for the Kindle in time. Winfrey's right. Sorry, Tim.

Defending Kindle's life
Most electronic gadgets, like smartphones and satellite radio receivers, come with monthly subscription plans beyond the initial investment. The Kindle doesn't. It connects to sites like Amazon and Wikipedia for free, using Sprint Nextel's (NYSE:S) high-speed data network.

Are Kindle owners swayed by the convenience of ordering discounted books and magazine subscriptions? Sure. The same can be said of impulse purchases from Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) App Store, and that comes on top of the $70 or so a month that iPhone owners pay for calls and connectivity.

In pitching a gizmo that promotes literacy, shaves the costs of book ownership, and saves harried readers from trekking out to the local book superstore, what disservice is Winfrey doing to her viewers? Technology provides a shortcut, Winfrey is taking it.

Should she silence her Sirius XM Radio (NASDAQ:SIRI) radio channel, saving her fans $13 a month in XM subscription fees? Should her Book of the Month Club become the Public Domain Pamphlet of the Week Club? Please.

You go, O
These are uncertain economic times, but Winfrey is under no mandate to be a role model for frugality. She's there to entertain and enlighten her audiences. If replacing paperbacks with more capable gee-whiz gadgetry makes sense, she's going to do it.

However, since my friend Tim and others seem to think that Oprah just scored a product-placement deal with Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX), suggesting that everyone sip eight tall lattes a day, let me make the frugal case for the Kindle that Winfrey never did.

This thing weighs 10 ounces, so you can take it everywhere you go. Let's say you're at the mall, and you see a pair of shoes you want, or that video game you promised your kid. You can fire up your Kindle and see what Amazon is selling the same product for. If the mall price -- plus any applicable sales tax -- is cheaper, you're making an informed decision. If Amazon offers the better deal -- and you can wait for delivery -- you just saved money and learned an important lesson in comparison-shopping and patience.

The built-in dictionary and access to Wikipedia will save you from bleeding into your wireless phone's Internet charges when you're stumped. Subscribing to Amazon's blog -- it's free -- will give you reading material the next time you're hanging out in your dentist's waiting room.

Beyond the Kindle
No one is handing the e-book crown to Amazon. Sony (NYSE:SNE) was actually the first company to introduce a reader with an eye-friendly "electronic paper." It even had a real-world partner in Borders Group (NYSE:BGP) to promote the fashionably early Sony Reader. Amazon raised the stakes with its Kindle store and Sprint connectivity, but there's nothing stopping a gadget maker from topping the Kindle.

That's the point. Winfrey is introducing a novel "novel" concept to her audience, but it's something that will seem all too commonplace in a few years. At that point, will anyone still remember the debatable inappropriateness of pushing a $359 gadget before a crowd of cash-strapped lemmings?

Of course not. History will be rewritten. Or if not history, at least its Wikipedia entry -- accessed from the Kindle, of course.

Other page-turners in the Kindle saga:

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Starbucks, Sprint Nextel, and Borders Group are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Starbucks, Amazon.com, and Apple are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. The Fool owns shares of Starbucks. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been shopping online for about as long as Amazon.com has been in business. He owns a Kindle, but does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.