The Future of Books? (and some free advertising for Amazon)

After weeks of speculation, Amazon are about to launch their e-book reader and download service under the Kindle moniker. We’ve already had several debates about this in the Solaris editorial office – Newty thinks e-book readers are the work of Santa Satan whereas I think it’s just a matter of time before somebody comes up with the perfect combination of technology and delivery system. At first glance, I’d say that Amazon is almost there.

Enough storage for 200 books? Check. Proper wireless broadband connection without the need to be within spitting distance of a Wi-Fi hotspot? Check. A catalogue of 80,000 titles at launch? Check. Subscription services for magazines and newspapers? Check. Portability and lengthy battery life? Check.

While other e-book readers have come unstuck (having to port books over a USB connection from a PC being the killer for me), Amazon appears to have learned from other peoples’ mistakes. Making it the same size as a standard paperback, and emulating the bulge towards the spine, seems quite savvy. Following the proven Apple model of tying in the hardware and delivery service for content is a sound idea too, but with the added benefit (over the early iPods at least) of being able to download content directly onto the device.

The only downsides I can see? The price for a start. $399 isn’t cheap, but those of us on this side of the pond can take advantage of the current exchange rate of the pound versus the North American Peso. And it’s as ugly as hell, only in a vaguely cute retro Mac way. How long before they patronise 50% of the population and release a version in pink?

Christian

8 comments:

Mark Newton said...

It's worth saying that I don't quite think they're the work of Satan. Not quite. They have superb use as marketing tool for sample chapters etc. My point is that everyone's been banging on about the ebook revolution, and it hasn't happened, and it won't have anywhere near the effect that the iPod has had (see my blog posting on the reasons for this).

People who love fiction books love holding books. So these are the type of people who will prefer the real thing. They’re not going to be so fussed about buying an ebook reader. Now people who don’t care about books so much don’t tend to buy so many of them, one or two a year, so why would they want to fork out so much money for a device they’ll hardly ever use? And there’s a third type of book buyer, those who buy to be seen to be reading something smart, or the latest thing. Fashion-conscious readers. They’re not going to be able to show off their intelligence, or lack of, on an ebook reader. All of these reasons are likely to to keep us in paper for a long time yet.

Mark Newton said...

And I've just seen a picture of one on engadget.

Dudes, that's one UGLY device. I know we're all 80s retro at the moment, but this is pushing things... At least Apple had the thought to make the iPod look sexy. And does the e-reader have dancing funkster silhouettes? I think not.

George Stirling said...

As The Bookseller points out, there are also questions regarding their business model. Why would anyone want to pay a subscription fee for reading news and blogs when these are already freely available online?

Also, as any dystopia reader will tell you, the juice required to charge an e-reader might seem rather wasteful when the oil runs out and we're all reduced to three hours of power a day. Having words on paper will seem quite a sensible idea in the not-too-distant future.

Christian said...

But how do we ship the paper from A to B when the oil runs out? We already have other environmental problem with paper recycling - how many journeys does your newspaper go on after you chuck it in the recycling bin?

When the oil runs out we'll be back to slate and chisel.

George said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
George Stirling said...

I didn't mean new books, and certainly not newspapers. We'll all be reading dogeared pulp from the 60s with suitable lurid covers.

Simon Haynes said...

It looks like the status panel from a high-end airconditioner mated to a ZX81 keyboard.

Oh well, I'm sure you could prop doors open with those nice bevelled edges.

Mark Newton said...

When the oil runs out there are about a billion other alternative fuels ready to use (we've had the technology ready to go for years); but governments and oil companies will still be squeezing every last penny out of us until then...