Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Seriously, dude. What’s that you’re you reading?

December 5, 2007

Today the Kitchen Boombox is taking a little break from music and looking at an only somewhat related topic, a new gadget following in the footsteps of digital music and video.


When it comes to technology, I’m not what you’d call an early adopter. It took a long time to replace my Walkman with a Discman. And longer still to replace that with an iPod. So when I first heard about the latest attempt to take books digital, my eyes rolled so far back in my head I feared they might stick there. When I rolled them back down and read about this new device—in a cover story in Newsweek, no less—it actually sounded like this might be the one to make it happen.

The device in question is the Amazon Kindle. Introduced with considerable fanfare recently by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, it solves a lot of the problems that scuttled previous attempts. It’s got decent battery life, can hold hundreds of books and can download them directly, without linking to a computer. It has a built-in dictionary, and book text is searchable. And for you inveterate marker uppers of books, yes, you can highlight text to your heart’s content.

Just as important as what it has gadgetwise, though, is how true it is to that which it emulates. It’s about the size of a paperback, and its tapered shape even resembles the slight bulge along a book’s binding. And a new technology gives its pages pretty much the same clarity of the printed page.

The late adopter in me won’t have me rushing out to plunk down $400 for the Kindle anytime soon—books on paper are just so, well, comfortably bookish to me—but plenty of people are. Already the Kindle is on back order. I haven’t seen them on the el yet, but I’m sure they’ll be there any day now. I’m guessing that, before long, they’ll be nearly as ubiquitous as the iconic white earbuds that announce to the world at large that you don’t merely have an MP3 player—you’ve got an iPod. From that aspect alone, I’m cool with the Kindle. Anything that makes reading hip is okay by me.

The future of print. The title of Newsweek’s article is “The Future of Reading”—pretty portentous. To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the printed word’s death have been exaggerated in the past. But newspapers have already seen a major shift of readers from print editions to the Web. It could be that the Kindle is finally the technology that gets it right enough to have a major lasting effect on the printed word. With books downloadable on demand—from the mother of all online booksellers, no less—bricks and mortar bookstores are sure to take a hit.

On the flipside, for better or worse, this could also be the next big step in the democratization of publishing. What MP3s have done for making the making of music affordable and accessible, what the Internet has done for turning us all into information providers and not just consumers, the Kindle could do for the printed word. Besides books, you can already subscribe to newspapers and select blogs through it. If Mr. Bezos has a lick of sense—and the fact that he became a billionaire selling books would seem to indicate he does—he will license his technology to one and all to produce content.

Freed from the monstrous costs of printing and distribution and the gatekeeping of agents and publishing houses, more writers will be able to create, market and sell longform text, one reader at a time. Granted, that will undoubtedly unleash a torrent of real crap that would have been winnowed out by publishers or polished and improved by editors trained to do just that. On the other hand, there will be some amazing gems born this way. And besides, the current system continues to assault us with Danielle Steele year after year—obviously it is less than perfect.

So while you won’t see me on the el with my nose stuck in a Kindle anytime soon, I have to admit, the idea of a Blue Kitchen cookbook some day is suddenly sounding a little less farfetched.