Judging the Book Without a Cover
With the Unveiling of the newest generation of Amazon Kindle (which began shipping on Monday) bloggers, publishing houses, newspaper editors, and even lumberjacks are thinking: what’s next?
It’s the second version of the Kindle, a wireless reading device, capable of storing thousands of titles within its svelte design.
The new toy (or tool) showcases a spate of new features like the extra-long battery life, which lets you go for days without recharging. The EVDO modem, engineered with 3G technology, frees up Kindle users from having to hunt down WiFi coffee shops to download their next title. As far as Sprint reaches, so reaches the connectivity of the Kindle 2, and users are entitled to it without paying a monthly fee. At 6 inches (diagonal) its reading space is smaller than most books, but what it lacks in screen size, it makes up for in its slim design. After all, it’s thinner than most books. Controversially, Kindle 2 boasts a text-to-speech technology, letting you listen to your books via computer-generated audio.
As Kindle racks up sales, some people are racking their brains. What does this mean for paper books? What does it mean for newspapers? What about magazine printing? Is this the death knell for printed matter?
Some say "never." The aroma of fresh print and the touchy-feely power of crisp paper holds a nostalgic sway over some people that even the most powerful technology won’t affect. Never say never. Others, eager to abandon the slightest scrap of paper in their lives are hailing this as the beginning of the end for paper—and the dawn of a greener generation.
But regardless of the disparity of opinions, one thing remains true: Kindle is selling like crazy. The strategic marketing move by Amazon—wait three weeks until we ship it—is time enough for the momentum to grow. Back in November of 2007, when the first Kindle came out, Amazon didn’t have enough product to make it through December. Although Amazon CEO says "We’re ready [this time]," he may never realize just how popular it’s going to be. But the question remains: how ready are the print moguls—the Random Houses, the Washington Posts, and the U.S.A Todays?
Random House CEO Markus Dohle, in the Wall Street Journal, weakly counters, "E-books are still a very small business—less than 1% of revenue." But what is ‘still’ a fraction may soon be the lion’s share, as Time contributor, Lev Grossman nibbles his fingernails watching the metrics: a nearly 4% drop in hardcover sales last year, matched by a similar percentage tumble in the newspaper industry. (Time, Vol 173, No. 4, February 2, 2009, "Books Unbound," 71-74).
One thing is certain. Reading is not going away. So, go ahead and let the technorati and literati duke it out over which form will take precedence. For now, you can snuggle up with your fresh-smelling hardback novel, or the soft glow of the Kindle screen—whatever you choose.