E-books have been the "new thing" for many years now-- much in the way of Dippin' Dots, the self-proclaimed "ice cream of the future". Dippin' Dots have bee the "ice cream of the future" for over two decades, yet they have steadfastly not been able to replace ice cream, the ice cream of the past, as the frozen treat of choice anywhere but at overpriced amusement parks and sporting events. Similarly, as long ago as the 1980s, society was going to become paperless. No more bulging folders and overstuffed filing cabinets. And books were doomed.
Fast-forward two decades and finally traditional paper publishing seems legitimately threatened by digital formats and electronic access. Newspapers are dying across the country and around the world as online access to news, information and opinion continues to replace the standard newspaper because it is easier, faster and cheaper. On the book and magazine front, reference materials are rapidly dwindling (I would not want to be the purveyor of encyclopedias these days, though the electronic versions of Brittanica, World Book and other popular paper encyclopedias will likely keep them viable for a while), and much of the words technical and scientific output is now published first, sometimes exclusively, in digital format.
But what of the novel? This has been the one significant hold out-- reading for pleasure, reading on the go-- how to replicate the ease, familiarity and inexpensiveness of a paperback? While I may be quite willing and able to read about trends in librarianship, or articles about my favorite sports teams online, I don't want to read John Steinbeck, Christopher Moore or Stephen King on my computer screen. For a number of reasons, including the fact that I spend enough time in front of my computer already, the fact that I need a power supply (though the new batteries in laptops are reducing this concern some) and the fact that computers, even laptops, aren't easily carried about and opened and browsed in the manner of a book.
Enter the Kindle, or other similar products, like Sony's Reader. Though pricey up front, the cost of titles to add to these products is low (many of the titles you can download onto your Reader are free via Google Books or other sources), and once purchased a title can be read on several Kindles simultaneously. Long-term then, the pricing becomes competitive with traditional formats, especially since newspaper and magazine subscriptions on the products are also cost-effective compared to print pricing.
But are they comparable on a "qualitative" basis? Would you like to "curl up with a good Kindle"? In a word, yes. The size is comparable, the weight is comparable, the text is comparable and, in many ways, the Kindle is superior. Reading John Steinbeck and wondering what in the world a "welkin" is, or why you would ever want to make it ring? Simply bring up the pre-installed dictionary and discover that a welkin is, "the sky". Or, alternatively, "heaven" and that to make the welkin ring is to make a "very loud sound." Then back you go to your book (the Kindle pops you right back to where you left off-- no need for bookmarks!).
Shazam. Reading on the couch or in bed is as good, nay better, than with a book because the Kindle is easily held with one hand. Unlike most books, where either the size or the tightness of the binding make it difficult to hold one-handed for any length of time. Additionally, the Kindle does have a text to speech function (albeit, not a great one), the ability to increase or decrease the font-size (no need for Large Print editions) and the ability to make notes or highlight sections of the book without actually defacing the text itself. You can add bookmarks, or search within a book for a particular word or phrase. And the wireless access allows you to use your Kindle to connect to google and wikipedia, though navigating those sites through the Kindle interface is clunky (and that's being overly kind-- it is very awkward).
The big downer-- the Kindle is proprietary. Books purchased via Amazon for your Kindle are not transferable to your PC or your Sony Reader. Digital books via Google can not be added to your Kindle (unlike the Sony Reader, which is more flexible, though not exactly open source). So, though cheap, you must purchase your book content for your Kindle from Amazon-- there's always a catch, eh?
Still, despite the DRM (Digital Rights Management) complaints, and the large initial cost for a Kindle, I found myself becoming a Kindle fan. So, a pretty solid Rave for the Kindle. I hope that Amazon realizes that their proprietary approach is a longterm loser (or, perhaps, I hope that their proprietary approach is a longterm loser), but I think the library will have to explore some e-reader options.