Printed Books on the Road to Obsolescence
Like the early PCs, the Kindle 2 is a primitive tool. Like the Rocket e-book of 1999 (524 titles available!), it will surely draw chuckles a decade hence for its black-and-white display, its lack of built-in lighting, and the robotic intonation of the text-to-voice feature. But however the technology and marketplace evolve, Jeff Bezos has built a machine that marks a cultural revolution. The Kindle 2 signals that after a happy, 550-year union, reading and printing are getting separated. It tells us that printed books, the most important artifacts of human civilization, are going to join newspapers and magazines on the road to obsolescence…
The Kindle is not better than a printed book in all situations. You wouldn’t want to read an art book, or a picture book to your children on one, or take one into the tub (please). But for the past few weeks, I’ve done most of my recreational reading on the Kindle—David Grann’s adventure yarn The Lost City of Z, Marilynne Robinson’s novel Home, Slate, The New Yorker, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, and the New York Times—and can honestly say I prefer it to inked paper. It provides a fundamentally better experience—and will surely produce a radically better one with coming iterations.
Kevin Drum chimes in with 2 things he’s realized about the Kindle. One of them — he now buys books one at a time. The other is that he likes the gray-on-gray e-ink. That’s something Steven Berlin Johnson says he doesn’t like in his list of early reactions to his new Kindle. He notes there’s an iPhone app, it’s wonderful for no-hands reading (while eating, for example) and there are no page numbers, just location numbers. He wonders how to cite a passage from an e-book:
…but I think it begs a larger, and more interesting question about standardizing page references in all e-books — including Google Books for instance. (I’m going to write a longer piece on this…)
Fred Wilson was an early detractor who has seen the light:
Reading is addcitive on a Kindle. If authors and their publishers see that and make buying a book an impulse purchase (like a ringtone or a game on a mobile phone) they will see way more purchasing activity, more reading, and more addicted readers.
Letting customers read a book’s initial pages for free is a great Kindle innovation and makes good use of the digital medium’s ability to dissolve the print requirement to bundle chapters. (Thus, this is a better-than-reality feature.) The innovation will no doubt sell more books — particularly for fiction, where people will want to see what happens next once they’re gripped by a story. In fact, for mystery novels, Amazon could probably give away the first 90% for free and charge the entire fee just for the last chapter.
I haven’t seen one yet but the killer app for me will be hyperlinked text.