Kindle: Way of the Future or Death of the Past?


Or Both.  For those of you unfamiliar with the latest foray into digital reading devices, Amazon has provided us with the Kindle DX.  The major difference being the larger screen it offers from its predecessors.  The finer details, however, being, according to Amazon (because who can say it better, right?):

“At Amazon, we’ve always been obsessed with having every book ever printed, and we know that even the best reading device would be useless without a massive selection of books you want to read. Today, the Kindle Store has more than 275,000 books available, plus top newspapers, magazines, and blogs. This is just the beginning. Our vision is every book ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds. We won’t stop until we get there.

Whether you prefer biographies, classics, investment guides, thrillers, or sci-fi, thousands of your favorite books are available, including 107 of 112 books currently found on the New York Times® Best Seller list. New York Times Best Sellers and most new releases are $9.99, and you’ll find many books for less.”

Now, on the surface of things, you may ask yourself, what in that description warrants such a doomsday title to this blog entry?  Well, hold on a sec, first let’s look at the good that it brings.  For starters, everything previously mentioned – books, newspapers, magazines, and blogs on-demand and at your fingertips.  You can carry an entire library in your bag, purse, or briefcase.  Not to mention, it has 3G Wireless, text-to-speech (in other words, it reads to you), and supports PDF.  Beneath the surface, there’s the Eco-Friendly benefits, as well.  The first thing that comes to mind, while simple, is it saves trees.  No more paper, no more chopping down trees, right?  Environment – 1, End of the World – 0 in that regard.  It also decreases pollution caused by the production of books, magazines, and newspapers, and eliminates the damage done to the environment throughout the distribution channels, mainly the carbon footprint left by shipping.  All in all it sounds like a pretty great product…but wait…

There has to be something wrong with it.  Well, let’s start with the hefty price tag.  The original Kindle 2.0 can be had for $359, with the Kindle DX being available for pre-order at $489.  But in the end, the price is only a barrier to entry for those that can’t afford it…like interns or college students.  So say you can afford it, is that the only drawback? No, for starters, when a date comes over, you can’t leave random copies of classic novels and famous treatises lying around to impress them if they’re all on your Kindle.  You could also lose it and there goes your library in one fell swoop.  However, most importantly, what about the demise of the publishing industry as we know it? If everything becomes digital, then what’s the point of actual newspapers, books, or magazines?  If more and more people are simply downloading their reading material, then the printed word will cease to exist because 1) advertisers don’t want to advertise in a medium that doesn’t reach anyone, 2) there’s no point in printing them if no one is buying them.

For some of us, that’s just not something we want to see.  What about curling up with nice, big hardcover novel on a cold winter’s night?  Or bending the hell out of a paperback on the train home from work?  What about spreading the Sunday newspaper out in front of you at the kitchen table while sipping a cup of hot coffee?  Or rolling up last week’s edition of Entertainment Weekly or the Economist to kill a pesky fly (or shoo it out the window for you bug activists)?  Heck, some people will even miss the ink stains that begin on your fingers and somehow end up on your face, furniture, and clothes when reading the New York Times.  The point being, that innovation often spells the demise of something in favor of another.  Horse-n-buggy? Automobile.  VCR? DVD.  Knowing stuff? Google.

In the end, though, it’s all up to the Invisible Hand…of the Almighty?  No, of Adam Smith.  In other words, it’s up to all of you.  If enough consumers want it, then the Kindle will thrive.  If everyone wants it, then the Kindle and other products like it will replace our ink and paper past.  However, hopefully the Kindle becomes what it should be, a way to get people to read again and read more.  Not a replacement for books or newspapers, but a bridge between nothing and something…a complement to one’s library and subscriptions as a convenient way to read while traveling or commuting or a way get a book right away rather than having to drive to the bookstore or wait days for your Amazon order to arrive.

For someone who considers themselves a traditionalist, your humble blogger here sees the Kindle as a hopeful good-natured cousin to the printed word that will peacefully coexist and grow the world of literature rather than destroy it.  Always a fan of new gadgets, as long I can have my cake (the traditional book, magazine, and newspaper) and eat it too (the Kindle), I won’t complain.  And finally, a note to Amazon: If you would like to send the Eco-Friendly Interns a Kindle or two to test for ourselves, this blog entry can easily be edited to remove any and all elements deemed to cast the Kindle in a negative light.  Thank you.

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