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chron.comNews, search and shopping from the Houston Chronicle

Dec. 3, 2007, 10:44PM
Computing- Kindle a nice try but a real book is a more solid value

“……Sadly, the Amazon Kindle doesn’t get us there. It falls into the “nice try” category, but lovers of traditional books don’t have much to fear….” ( By Dwight Silverman).


It’s hardly surprising that Kindle doesn’t excite those who don’t like e-readers. It’s such a small step forward on the Sony, which itself was such a small step on its predecessors. Yes, Kindle has a wireless connection… Well, gee whiz. How many Moore’s law years have we waited for this meteor of tecchie whizz-bangery in readers. And, oh yes, Kindle lets you connect to Amazon’s strong box of intellectual property. Really, if you’re going to make a portable reader like this even part way exciting, let’s get lap-toppy real and have it play miniature DVD discs as well, or something.

I have a confession to make here. I think…maybe booklovers are right. We should stick with the perfect bound beautifully leafed paperbacks stuffed in our bookshelves. They are such heirlooms to pass on. And, as a bonus, we can clean up the world a little, remove the remaining naturally occurring forests and replace them all with pine softwoods for paper products. That’d make the Amazon basin attractive. Cool temperate pines instead of those sweaty tropical hardwoods, all that impossible undergrowth, those pesky bugs, salamanders, birds and pint-sized mammals. With pine forests everywhere you blink you’d be able to walk in silence across the globe. So much peace you could hear a pine needle drop. The world would be as clean as a pine needle whistle. We could finally spell an end to raucous, riotous out-of-control nature, and look forward to a one-size-fits-all pine forests for our continuing bliss. Why have we waited so long?

…The point is, has always been…Digital books and readers should not be considered, really have not ever been, a threat to paper books. Film – it not only survived TV, it thrived on it. Radio not only survived film and TV, it thrived on both of them. Books would thrive like an untouched Amazon rain forest on e-books if the trad-publishing minds making the hard economic decisions would just relax their grip a little. If only the meddling moguls and their attendant tribe of fetlocking luddites could just let things happen a little naturally. Look at what Seth Godin (Unleasing the IdeaVirus) did with his 200,000 free e-book downloads….he sold a barrel full of hard covers…26,000 of them (all sold over the Net, the profit going to him not S &S). Now, maybe the sell-ratio (sale to give-away) wasn’t all he could have hoped for, but really, do you hear him crying?

Jeff Bezos is right, both in substance and as a promoter of his new product, to say: “we knew we would never out-book the book…We would have to take the technology and do things the book could never do.” (The Guardian)

He may change the whole scenario, because he and Amazon have shown they can climb mountains, but so far and still:

  • The e-reader is uncompetitive on price with the print book – To pay out for e-reader hardware at current prices and then the texts themselves, also generally on current prices, is a non-starter in mass-market terms.
  • The e-reader is uncompetitive with other new media technology – Laptops have add-ons and features that e-readers don’t even get close to.
  • The e-reader and e-book still threaten the system of copyright – The owners of the print book system will not let control of the information system slip into a free-for-all digital distribution over the Net.

For all the above reasons and plenty more, the e-reader has not (been) developed with anything like the speed or with the commercial/technological commitment/vision of other new media technology (the word processor through to the iPod).

There are many cultural arguments against the e-reader. For many, reading is a cultural not a commercial process. For the print book lover the e-reader is a product brought to us by philistines. Yet Anglo-American publishing, with a few exceptions, has almost always been based on commercial factors not cultural considerations*.

* The much vaunted first copyright act, the Statute of Anne, came about first and foremost as a result of a commercial battle between copyright holders and only became an “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or purchasers of such Copies” by chance developments not design.