Monday, November 19, 2007

The Kindle, and all that that implies

Thanks to Shelf Awareness (a great electronic resource for those of us in the print industry, as many of you know), I spent all morning reading this article in Newsweek about the Kindle, the new e-reader just released by the same company that runs Amazon. I know that name -- and often, the concept of internet book sales and digital books -- is likely to incur hisses from the bricks and mortar booksellers. I admit to feeling some stirrings of indignation myself at the sometimes smug sense of inevitability with which the author (as most journalists, seemingly) wrote about the increasing viability of digital tools for reading. But, as is my habit, I'm trying not to make this an us-vs.-them thing (i.e., those vapid digital people vs. us serious print people, or those hopelessly old-fashioned meatspace people vs. us progressive connected people). Because as usual, I don't think a viable e-reader and a healthy book market are necessarily mutually exclusive. (For example, I used Google to research the article's claim that "studies show that heavy Internet users read many more books than do those not on the Net", and despite many of my colleagues' assertions it seems to be true, at least according to this report from Statistics Canada.)

The Newsweek article also led me to two new blogs about the intersection of books and technology: if:book, a project of the Institute for the Future of the Book, based right here in Brooklyn; and Teleread, "News & views on e-books, libraries, publishing and related topics". Now I've got lots more perspectives on this revolution/evolution/intersection/ flash-in-the-pan, or whatever it is, to absorb and use to create my own opinion. Not bad.

If only my eyes weren't so tired from reading words on a screen all morning. Hmmm...

What do you think, intelligent and bookish readers? Have you thoughts on whether the Kindle will indeed make e-books viable, and if so what that means? I would love to interact with you in this digital forum. Or if you'd prefer to engage in real-life conversation, I'll be talking to customers at the bookstore later today -- you could drop by.

Update: Before you make a decision, I recommend perusing the E-Book Report, a column for Publishers Weekly by the editor/publisher of Teleread. He calls the Newsweek article a "puff piece" and points out several major problems with the Kindle that will probably be familiar to those following the e-book saga.

1 comment:

Tobias said...

I'm still, to some extent, a fan of physical objects; I listen to a lot of music and own a fair amount of books, and I still tend to associate an album with a CD on my shelf rather than a line in my iTunes directory. That said, I tend to purchase music on CD so that I have a backup (I've had too many hard drives implode on me to opt for the "rip all my CDs/sell all my CDs" approach many friends of mine have taken.

That said -- what makes me skeptical about an e-book equivalent to the iPod comes from the ease (or lack thereof) of digitizing one's own existing materials. If I want to listen to, say, an Okkervil River CD on my iPod, I can easily rip and copy it. If I decide to take the plunge with the Kindle, there isn't an equivalent way to convert the existing books I own into a digital format. And I'd tend to think that the core audience for the Kindle are readers -- people with a fair amount invested in books already -- and I'm wondering whether they'll bristle at having to start a collection over from scratch. (Now, if Amazon told Kindle buyers that they'd automatically gain access to electronic versions of any titles they'd purchased through Amazon when they bought said reader -- that might be another story.)

If we do see books become more and more digital, I'd also wonder how the inevitable filesharing crisis will affect writers. Many mid-level bands seem ambivalent about it, but they also have touring (and, increasingly, licensing deals) to counterbalance it. What might happen when mid-level authors get to the same point without any alternative income from their work worries me...