Friday, October 3, 2008

I got a kindle, you got a kindle, we all got kindle

There has been a bit of discussion about the future of books in the comments. RDC is already using Kindle, and Tim believes that books will be obsolete in 10 years.

I just don't believe that's going to happen; I'm more or less staking my future that it won't happen. It's a moot point, in a way, because I can't play that game. It would be the end of an entire industry; bookstores, printers, publishing as we know it.

But my gut feeling is that books are here to stay.

For one thing, Kindle has zero appeal to me, and I read lots and lots of books. In the end, many of my decisions are based on the idea that what I like, others will like.

Nor do I believe it's an anti-tech reaction. I don't play video games but I totally get their appeal. I totally get that they will probably get bigger and bigger and more sophisticated and complex. In fact, they are the real threat to books.

Not reading at all is the real threat to books.

In a way, it's not about the actual content.

I almost titled this entry with that phrase -- It's Not About the Content.

I happen to be someone who doesn't feel the need to keep every book I read. I've been writing them down in a notebook for 30 years now. I figure I can always track them down again. I save maybe 5% of my books on bookshelves.

But I really like having bookshelves and books and looking at them and touching them and smelling them and carrying them around. It's a nerd thing. Especially the touching and smelling. (Joke.)

There are two kinds of gardeners. The practical kind, who grow vegetables and herbs to actually eat. And flower gardeners, who like digging in the soil, planning projects, and seeing the results. Non-fiction readers are like vegetable gardeners; fiction readers are like flower gardeners.

Book readers want evidence of their prowess. I read this! the book on the shelf says. In my opinion, the very ephemeral-ness of a online version will keep it from becoming the dominant form. There are very few personality types who only value the content and not the form.

Maybe that makes us shallow. I don't know.

But if I'm going to read Moby Dick, I'm going to have that carcass on my bookshelf, by god. And if I love a book to death, I want to really OWN it, possess it, and show it off. I want tangible proof I read that sucker.

Having just received a couple of big shipments of books in my store, I can tell you that the covers are very impressive -- they make me want to pick up the books, leaf through the pages, read the back blurbs. The physical, tactile feel of a book is a big part of the pleasure.

From comments Tim has made, he reads non-fiction, technical books mostly. And for that kind of reader, the 'content only' reader, Kindle will be great. Maybe all of us will have a Kindle along with books. But my store is already designed for the fiction reader, the 'good book' reader.

Non-fiction is a vast world, and information becomes dated much quicker than fiction. Maybe non-fiction is appropriate for Kindle.

But fiction is more enduring. And books are physical manifestations of that.

Besides, sometimes just looking at a book brings back memories of it's content, what I was feeling when I read it. I don't know about the rest of you, but that feeling is sometimes the most enduring thing about a book. I may forget the plot, the characters names, but I remember the 'author's voice.' That's what stays in my thoughts and emotions, and just looking at a book can instantly brings it back.

I can look at my hardcover Lord of the Rings, and feel a wave of nostalgia.

Most arguments against Kindle have to do with cost, technical ability, readability, transportability. If these were the only issues, they could be resolved.

Books lose.

But much like the picture phone not really being a technical, cost, usability issue, but a cultural, personal issue, books will need to keep loyalty based on more intangible, human desires.

Anyone who reads quickly develops their own repertoire of favorite books, and that makes us individuals. We want our peculiar and idiosyncratic choice of intellectual life lined up on our bookshelves. I can visit a friend and look through his or her books and get a decent sense of where they're coming from..

I doubt we want to give that up..

Carrying a Kindle tells me nothing about you; if everyone is carrying around a Kindle, it makes us all exactly the same, somehow.

I got a Kindle, you got a Kindle, we all got Kindle. Plug us in.


RDC said...

One correction. I use e-books I do not use Kindle. I use .prc format which is used by mobipocket software (mobipocket is a French compnay that has been purchased by Amazon) and I read them on my Treo 650.

I have concerns about how Amazon is launching the Kindle because they are copying a page from Apple. They are trying to make lock up content as well as hardware. While the Kindle can read .prc formats, no other device can read the native Kindle format. Amazon is using their influence to get publishers to publish in Kindle format and to sell through their Kindle Store, similar to all software developers for the I-Phone having to go through the I=Phone Store controlled by Apple.

since Amazon also controls Mobi I can see that format eventually be phased out creating pretty much of an e-book monopoly, of coursed it is not yet perceived as a monopoly because e-books are only a percentage of total books. However, the Amazon controled e-book format probably account for 80% or greater of the e-book sales.

RDC said...

The ironic things is some of the comments you make about books is exactly why I have switched to e-books. Not the ability to see a book on the shelf or the tactile feel. But the fact that I can now always find a book. I have my favorites at my hand all the time.I have the ones that I have purchased but not yet read available as well. If I have a few minutes to spare while waiting for a meeting I can pull out my phone and start reading, picking up exactly where I left off. Unlike Tim I read for enjoyment, mostly science fiction.

Actually what got me started with e-book is Baen. They are putting out all of their books in e-book format. They also have a free e-book library with a substantial number of their books. Usually the first book of a series by an author for example. They also do not copy protect any of their books. What they have found is by taking that approach they have increased the number of books sold, both electronic and paper. Their e-book sales now exceeds their sales into Canada.

H. Bruce Miller said...

I read a lot, both fiction and non-fiction, and one thing that's appealing about e-books is that you don't have to figure out how to reading them. I'd hate to just throw them away, and nobody, it seems, wants used books -- even free. Getting library books is one alternative, but the available selection is limited, especially in a small town like Bend.

Maybe I'll put a Kindle on my Christmas list.

tim said...

Holy cow. When did I stop reading fiction? When did I stop reading for pleasure?

I do spend a lot on technical books, that's true.

But I read EVERYTHING. My family buys easily 6 books a week. Maybe 1/5 are technical.

What I like about these E-Ink readers is that they look so much better than computer screens. The resolution is getting better and better. Pretty soon they'll bend like paper.

I can have all of Philip K Dick in an eBook and read whatever I want to at any time.

Yeah, I'll always cherish some paper books. I paid $150 for a signed handmade copy of a Raymond Carver short story when it came out.

But even when I have a book, I want the electronic version to. I have friends that are getting rid of all their books and replacing them with ebooks already. It's the future. Just another step in publishing.

RDC said...

I find it convenient enough that it has started to become part of my decision to buy a book or not. I just ended up giving away over 500 paper books. They take up too much space.

I still prefer the Treo as my reading device, because I always carry it (since it is my cell phone) and it is backlit so I can read in dark places.

With Apologies To Henry David said...

You don't have a Kindle but Oprah does and likely a lot of her followers ....

Not only a good deal for Amazon but the customers get to save $50 with a promo code.

The power of the internet and Oprah! I bet her books are available in ebook/kindle as well. Likely not your customer but they at least do read ;-)

With Apologies To Henry David said...

The story continues: Per the following NYT article ( )
It is difficult to quantify the success of the Kindle, since Amazon will not disclose how many it has sold and analysts’ estimates vary widely. Peter Hildick-Smith, president of the Codex Group, a book market research company, said he believed Amazon had sold as many as 260,000 units through the beginning of October, before Ms. Winfrey’s endorsement. Others say the number could be as high as a million.

Many Kindle buyers appear to be outside the usual gadget-hound demographic. Almost as many women as men are buying it, Mr. Hildick-Smith said, and the device is most popular among 55- to 64-year-olds.

Not interesting the impact from Oprah but is interesting the age of the buyer -- but then maybe that is the Oprah viewer. Does this say more about the Kindle or the power of Oprah?