Yesterday, a co-worker told me to go take a look at Amazon.com. There was a notice about a new product that the website is selling, the kindle. When I got home for the night, the current issue of Newsweek was sitting on the counter, with the kindle as the cover story.
The kindle is a new e-book reader that Amazon is pushing through, most likely to take advantage of the digital revolution and the effect that items such as the iPod have had on the music industry. It's probable that Jeff Bezos is hoping to replicate the same thing with their website. It's an interesting little device - it has the ability to connect to amazon.com and be independent of a computer. It's got a 30 hour power life and it's supposed to be very easy to read, given the nature of advances in screens. What really bugs me is that the article in Newsweek leads me to believe that Amazon.com or someone high up there owns the magazine - it reads as a glowing advertisement for the product. They essentially mark this as a huge change in the way that we're going to read. We're not.
This isn't going to change anything in any major way or form. The publishing industry has tried to do the whole e-book thing earlier in the century (it's fun to say that) and it didn't take off. I remember thinking that the ebook readers were really cool. The only problem was that the readers were expensive, the text was harder to read, books were hard to come by and were expensive. Not to mention that it runs on batteries, which can die on you. Compare this to the hard copy of a book. They've been around for five hundred years, they are flammable, but can be read at your convenience (aka, they're not going to run out of batteries), and they're relatively cheap. Plus, they're not going to vanish on you when the reader has a hardware problem or if you drop it. A book, however, might incur a little damage to the cover, which is what it's designed for.
The kindle does do some positive things in the direction towards e-books becoming popular - the reader can purchase books via the store on it's own as a unit and it seems to be easier to read. You can get a magazine or newspaper uploaded to it. However, the huge price, ($399) is certainly not helpful, as is the fact that publishers aren't going to lower prices for e-books - they'll remain about the same price. This caution on their part is probably a good thing, because I don't really see this taking off the way that the iPod has. People said the same thing about the iPod, but the method of listening to music has advanced to match technology. Record players, 8-Tracks, cassettes, CDs and now digital versions of the song only improve upon the ways that music is purchased and listened to. Literature, on the other hand, hasn't changed significantly over the past 500 years. It's still printed pages bound together. This device might bring these devices more popular, but it will not, as the article suggests, change the way that we read. This comes at a very, very interesting time. Over the past couple of days, a report was released, To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence, (article) that suggests that the number of people in the United States has dropped significantly over the past couple of years. The report looked over a broad range of ages, reading habits and is essentially an overview of a number of reports, all with the same conclusion - people read for pleasure less than they did a very short time ago. The NPR Report that I heard about this on maintained some other interesting statistics, mainly with personal success and reading level, and the results are astonishing, and amount to the following: the younger and more consistently a young person reads, the more likely they are to succeed. The current prison population maintains about a 3% higher reading level. Hopefully, this device will make it more accessible to people, more at least more hip. Slick electronic devices have that ability - look at the iPod compared to the other models out in the market now. I'm not wishing that this will go down in flames - I personally think that the new Sony reader, while not as good as this one, but it looks cool. I'd buy one, but the price tag is a huge factor and I'm not giving up my small library for anything. I still love the look, feel and smell of regular, old fashion, low tech books.