Gutenburg's invention of the printing press responsible for the creation of the "modern" book has been modified and certainly evolved by new technologies in the past 550 years, but it hasn't really changed all that much from the original. Not really. And why should it?
After all, the ancient technology known as "book" represents not only superior longevity for storage, convenience of portability as well as compatibility between different users, but also requires no electricity or batteries to enjoy begins working the moment you open it (provided, of course, you know how to use one of these complicated devices) and never crashes. And let's not get into the depths of joy and passion people have for printed words on the page.
Yesterday Amazon revealed a revolution that the world has been anticipating for quite some time now. The Amazon Kindle e-book reader takes existing e-book technology such as the eye-pleasing "electronic ink," the ability to store hundreds of volumes of books in a single portable device and being able to instantly create a "large print" version of the text with a sales and delivery platform that takes even the iTunes/iPod method of digital delivery to a whole new level.
Wireless digital delivery. No need to download the book to your computer and then transfer it over to your portable reading device. No sir. With Kindle it's automatic and as convenient as using a cell phone. You simply hit a button and you're browsing on Amazon's website for just under 100,000 possible books, magazines, newspapers or blogs that can be downloaded within about a minute.
It's enough to make even a die-hard lover of the physical printed book sit up, take notice and say: "I gotta get me one of those!"
Yes, I'll admit it. Despite my large library at home and my desire to continue to increase it. (As a member of the Folio Society, I just ordered a $90.00 special Folio Edition of Robertson Davies' The Deptford Triology despite being able to purchase much cheaper paperback versions of these beloved books)
So last night, while Francine was watching the 11 o'clock news, I was watching online video demonstrations, interviews and reading articles about the Amazon Kindle. And every few minutes I would pause, look up at Francine and say something utterly intelligent and insightful like: "Cooooooool!" or "Wicked!" or "Ah man, that's neat."
She finally had enough of it after about twenty minutes, and headed off upstairs to lay in bed and read a hard cover book I'd purchased that day for her. Meanwhile, I stayed downstairs and read and watched more about this fascinating new device.
The Kindle costs about $400 US (Okay, that translates to, right now, oh about $400 Canadian, or maybe actually about $392 Canadian) and most new releases and bestsellers retail in Kindle version for $9.99. Paperbacks look like they cost about 5 or 6 dollars, and magazines and newspapers have varying monthly subscription charges. Amazon even offers an email method of delivering your own personal Word documents to your device for a small fee, allowing you to travel with your required business docs (for example), without having to carry a dozen folders.
By the time I popped back up into bed all I could talk about was the device and how much I wanted to write to Santa and add it to my already giant list of things I was hoping to see under the tree on Christmas morning.
Of course, Francine grounded me quite nicely by asking me if owning a Kindle meant I would stop buying hard copy books. Despite wanting to lie to her just to get her to allow me to own this device, I admitted that owning it would not deter me from my lifelong desire to own copies of books. I did sway a bit and say something along the lines of being able to read a new book for only $10 and then only buying it if, upon reading it, it was deemed worthy.
Francine just shook her head, knowing me better than that. I had to really dislike a book to not want to keep it.
But it made me think about the downside to using such a device. Okay, on the plus side, it was damn cool, incredibly convenient, and with the amount of traveling I do it would make having more than one book in my carry-on laptop bag a cinch. But on the down side, I would likely end up spending more money, because I'd likely drop $10 on the e-book version and then turn around and drop another $30 on the hard copy. And despite the "electronic ink" I'd really have to be able to test out reading on that screen to see if I'd be able to properly adapt. I have read perhaps half a dozen books in pdf format on my laptop over the years, and despite the convenience of being able to do so while commuting in to work on the GO train, it wasn't nearly as enjoyable as the feeling of curling up with a book.
Of course, it might be easier to curl up with a Kindle.
But I do think that Amazon should consider changing their module just a bit. It's really good. But it's still a bit lacking (at least from the perspective of someone who hasn't tried it out yet).
What about, if you purchase the Kinder version of a book, then want to purchase the hard copy, you're given a rebate off the price via a credit on your Amazon account? Would it mean lost money for Amazon, or simply just a smaller margin on an additional sale through their already prosperous online channel? But I'm sure there are a ton of other book nerds out there like me who would do this -- Heck, I'm doing it now with free audio books -- if I enjoy an audio book (usually downloadable for free via cool online places like Podiobooks.com) I tend to go out and buy a hard copy of the book after. It's just the way I am. I know not everyone is like that, and pirating digital content is all the rage, but it's just not for me.
And I also think that, in order to entice people into the world of e-book reading, they need to do something to help get it into the hands of people. And I don't just mean lowering the $400 price. I mean doing something like taking a series of public domain titles (a la Project Gutenburg, for example) that could be downloaded for free from their service. This would allow people a chance to seriously check out reading kindle-version e-books without having to invest in more than the Kindle device, and, like iTunes, which offers music for 0.99 but also provides RSS feeds to thousands upon thousands of free podcasts, it would drive a lot more traffic and a lot more users through their doors.
I went to sleep, by the way, after spending a joyous 15 minutes reading the preface to a book I'd purchased that day.
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.