Heres a very different take on what I wrote about last time.
I've had a Kindle since June. Critics complain that it's not "Apple-like" enough. But Steve Jobs has famously said that readers don't want ebooks in the first place, so I suppose if the Kindle were truly Apple-like it would never have got off the drawing board (where Steve's hockey-puck mouse should have stayed; Apple's design sense is not unerring, you know).
The Kindle is the closest thing so far to the Holy Grail of e-publishing: a device that is portable, readable, simple to operate, and melts into the background. It's what you do with the Kindle that is important, and not the Kindle itself. At some point, you don't notice the Kindle, but you realize you can't live or work without it.
Well, I'm not there yet. But I'm liking my Kindle more and more. And it's not because the Kindle is a superior reading device. I like instead how easy it is to buy a book, no matter where you are. Two months ago we were driving through rural Oregon, listening to some political talk show. A book was mentioned. I turned on Kindle's wireless and was able to find and download a sample chapter of that book within 2 minutes. We were traveling 80 mph and probably a good 50 miles from the nearest bookstore. That Bezos et al. were able to graft the 1-click experience of instant gratification onto a whole new piece of hardware and get it right on the very first try is simply amazing.
Something else I like: I have to read a lot of manuscripts. They're heavy, and expensive to print out. I used to carry them in a bag on overnight or longer trips, and they always made me wonder why I didn't become a styrofoam cup salesman. With Kindle, I can send text documents to myself at my own Kindle address, and Amazon converts them back into Kindle-readable format and sends them direct to my Kindle. So I can carry dozens of mss without adding weight to my luggage.
And what's not to like about the savings in downed trees and fuel charges? As a publisher, I've seen the cost of shipping books to stores go through the roof, while at the same time consumers still resist paying more than $20 for a paperback. With a Kindle, there's no fuel, and no printing or storage charges for that matter. Skinflint readers can buy most Kindle books for less than $10.
Now that bookstores are demanding free freight from publishers, along with their unlimited returns privileges, anything we can do to go direct to readers is going to be better for us and better for our customers. Bookstores thus "disintermediated" will have to make do with selling journals, calendars, bargain books, and chai I suppose, or will have to do what they should have done years ago: accept that the publishing world is changing and that digital publishing in the form of Print on Demand and ebooks is going to be a big part of the mix in the years to come. (Why bookstores continually miss out on obvious trends is a mystery to me. I'll write more about this later.)
Kindle 2.0 no doubt will have a slicker design, less clunky navigation tools, a lower price, better response time, a workable internet browser. But for a first try, I rate it a great success. I like the world that it represents. It expands the reach and influence of publishers and writers at just the time when it is getting harder to find readers and much more costly economically and environmentally to get the content they want into their hands. Who needs hands when you've got screens?
Yes, we mourn the loss of the bound book. But I wonder if that's not just blind attachment to tradition. In 2-3 generations, who will care, and what is it exactly that will really be lost? I'd be curious to know what you all think about that.