Amazon’s long-awaited entry into the electronic book reader has finally arrived. The company announced the release of the Amazon Kindle on their website recently; the device will face off against Sony’s Reader in the thus-far unsuccessful attempt to move the reading public away from printed books and toward e-books.
At first glance, the features of Kindle listed on Amazon’s website are impressive: they claim the display looks and reads like real paper and that no computer or cables are needed. Books are delivered less than a minute after purchase (through what the company calls “Whispernet”), and although the device is wireless, there are no wireless charges; Amazon pays all of those costs. There are approximately 80,000 e-books available, including the vast majority of New York Times Best Sellers; Best Sellers cost only $9.99. Kindle users also have access to major U.S. and international newspapers and over 250 blogs. Finally, it is lightweight (smaller than most paperbacks) and can store up to 200 titles.
There are some obvious drawbacks, however. The Kindle costs $399, and with the cost of the actual e-books factored in, it could be some time before a person buys enough titles for there to be any real savings over purchasing the same books in printed form. Even 80,000 titles only scratches the surface of the number of books out there; the selection will likely be much more limited than Amazon would have readers believe. There is also the risk that a malfunction could wipe out a person’s entire library. Amazon makes no reference to what recourse consumers have in such a situation.
Another possible issue looms on the horizon. Although Toni Morrison, James Patterson, and several other authors have said positive things about Kindle, the ongoing screenwriter’s strike has shown that the issue of compensation to writers is a complex issue when dealing with newer electronic methods of delivering their content. Authors have no real union, so a strike is not an option, but a fight over royalties could happen.
The ultimate success of Kindle, or any other e-book reading device, depends on the degree to which the public embraces the idea. If the reviews of the kindle on Amazon’s own website are any indication, success is far from assured. As of this writing, with 66 customer reviews only 12 people gave the device the highest 5-star rating, while 25 gave it the lowest 1-star rating. In all, 51% of reviewers gave Kindle a negative rating.
It is unlikely that Kindle will move books into the electronic age, for a few simple reasons. Those most comfortable with this type of technology are young people; they are also the group least likely to read books for pleasure, preferring other types of entertainment. Those who do read regularly seem to prefer the tactile nature of printed books, the feel of the pages. When you spend all day looking at a computer screen at work, escaping with a paperback allows life to slow down, if only for a few hours.
The Kindle may ultimately find a small niche market, but even that is unlikely. Most people simply aren’t going to want reading War and Peace to feel like reading e-mail.
Amazon.com, “Kindle: Amazon’s New Wireless Reading Device.”