Tuesday, November 27, 2007
First off, a housecleaning matter -- if you e-mailed me between Thursday and Sunday and you haven't yet heard from me, please e-mail me again. Our servers were down and your e-mail has been eaten by the server monsters and is now in e-mail heaven (or e-mail hell if it started with a rhetorical question). But we're back up to speed now.
As promised, here's a post on all things Kindle. In case you haven't heard the news, Amazon has released its own e-reading device, which it is calling a Kindle, and which has sparked (I'm officially the 10,000th person to use this pun) quite a lot of interest, speculation, scorn, praise... you name it.
Here's the dime tour: basically it utilizes similar e-Ink technology used by the Sony Reader, so the screen really does look like ink on paper, doesn't use a lot of power, and the device is cool to the touch and can last a really long time between charges.
Best of all, and the reason the Kindle is attracting a certain degree of breathlessness: it uses cellular wireless technology so you can download e-books anywhere in cell phone range, at approximately $9.99 a pop. No plugs, no chords, no hassle (in theory). There are a whole lot of titles available (about 90,000, including most-but-not-all-bestsellers), and you can also pay (!) to subscribe to newspapers and blogs that you normally read for free on the Internet. Opinions regarding the appearance of the device have ranged from "functional" to less-than-flattering comparisons to the Commodore 64. The price? $399.
And no, http://nathanbransford.blogpot.com is not available for subscription on the Kindle, although if you actually wanted to pay to read this blog, God help you. Save it for the psychiatry bills, sweetheart!
Here are some reactions to the news around the Internet and blogosphere sites I frequent: Newsweek, New York Times, Slate, Thomas Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt, The Millions, Maya Reynolds, and of course GalleyCat (and here, here, here, here, and here).
Big disclaimer: I haven't used a Kindle yet. But naturally I have an opinion (which is completely my own, btw -- you can share it but no one but me is responsible for it).
It seems to me that the publishing industry has wondered if/when e-books were coming ever since the dot com boom. During that span we've all seen the explosion of mp3s taking over the world of music, and in the book world digital audiobooks have seen significant growth. Everyone has been wondering when we'd see the iPod of books. So when will e-books take over?
My opinion? When they're better than books.
Consider the iPod -- it represents a significant advancement in the experience of listening to music. It doesn't skip like CD players, it doesn't require lugging around tons of CDs, it allows the shuffle function so you can use it like your own personal radio (impossible with CDs), it's small and portable... basically it improves every single aspect of listening to music, except possibly the ability to show off your impeccable music taste to people who visit your apartment. Forget about the fact that it looks cool (which it does) -- it's just a major leap forward for the experience of listening music.
But books are tough to beat as a technological device. They're portable, they're easy to read, they're (relatively) cheap, they're durable, you can pass them on to friends, people enjoy the tactile experience of turning pages... they're extremely tough to improve upon.
So far, although they're now as easy to read as books, which was one of the major early stumbling blocks, e-readers are still only handily beating books in one area: convenience. The Kindle can hold many books (but not an unlimited amount) so you don't have to lug around multiple books, and you can get a new book almost instantaneously. They're convenient. But you can't really share your books, you don't have the experience of turning the pages (and in fact on e-readers there's a bit of an annoying delay while the screen wipes), and you'd have to buy a whole lot of discounted $9.99 e-books to make up for the initial $400 investment.
If my math is right, assuming you save roughly $10 per e-book over buying a print edition, you'd have to spend $800 ($400 + 40 e-books) just to break even.
The decision to buy an e-reader, then, seems to me to come down to one question: is the convenience of the Kindle worth $400 to you?
To some people, yes, it would seem so. Since I read a boatload of books and manuscripts every year I'm one of those people, and I want an e-reader for Christmas so I don't have to constantly print out and carry around manuscripts.
But even setting aside all of the nostalgic element of turning the printed page, until e-readers handily beat books in terms of the economics, portability and reading experience, it seems to me that they will continue to be a niche device for people who need and can afford to pay for the convenience.
In my opinion there will never be a widely used iPod of books, a device that people buy specifically for books -- e-books will take off when they can be easily downloaded and easily read on a device like a larger iPhone-of-the-future, something people already have, which evens out the economics since you don't have to plop down a significant chunk of money before you even buy a book. This would give e-books the decisive edge in economics, which might just tip the world of books toward e-books. Until then? Printed page for most of us.
I was going to make a You Tell Me tomorrow about the Kindle, but judging from yesterday's comment section I know people are itching to share their opinions. So let's hear it: what do you think of the Kindle?