Kindle the Flames of Revolution

I won a writing award at my school. It’s the Nancy Barcus Memorial Award, named after an ex-faculty member of Houghton. It’s not really an award just for writing, but also is a sign of general competency, a good attitude, and involvement with the Houghton College Writing Department. I feel very good about receiving it, perhaps as a sign that I actually do know what I’m doing after all.

That and it comes with three hundred dollars attached.

As honored as I am about the award, the three hundred dollars are what this post is about. I feel like I need to spend them on something writer-ish, like books and such. Or perhaps put it towards some journal subscriptions, making literary connections, etc.

I doubt I’m going to be putting towards any of those things.

Rather, I think very seriously about putting it towards Amazon’s new Kindle. What, you say, what is a Kindle? Kindle is Amazon’s new e-book reader. A convenient little hand-held gadget with wireless access which lets you download books and read them directly from the built in screen.

Now, e-readers aren’t very popular at the moment, especially amongst the writer crowd, for a number of reasons. The biggest practical reason I’ve heard is that people don’t like reading off of screens: it hurts their eyes. Well, that’s taken care of here. The Kindle doesn’t have a monitor. It has what they’re calling an Electronic Ink Display. Basically, when you load up a book, the data gets written to the display in a very literal fashion. It isn’t little glowing lights that shows you the text, the actual display itself changes colors. It’s like reading off of paper, only the paper can change it’s content. All the versatility of a monitor, all the clarity and smoothness of a page. So you have an entire book on a single sheet. More than just one book, really: Amazon.com has released over 10,000 titles for kindle download so far, all for $9.99 or less. More are coming out every day. Seems like a good deal to me, even though the piece of hardware itself is $399.99.

Despite it all, though, most of my writer-friends make small hissing sounds whenever I talk about it. Something about the concept still bothers them. I know exactly what it is to.

Written print is dying, slowly and surely. The internet in general (us bloggers, really) delivered the first blow. Kindle (or, perhaps a similar piece of hardware that will come after) is the box they’re going to bury it in. They don’t like it, they don’t want books to go away, because there’s something incredibly nice about having something in you hands as you read it: the rasp of paper, the creaking of a spine when you bend it a little to far, the little wrinkles that the paper gets when your hands are sweaty and you stay on one page too long. E-readers can’t replace books any more than blogs can replace manuscripts—which doesn’t mean they won’t try. Print as we know it is dying, not much to be done about it.

Personally, I can’t wait.

Now, now, before you all go throwing tomatoes at me, let me explain myself. The fact is that I love books, probably more so than the next guy. But I don’t look at them, like most do, as vehicles for information. I look at them as an art form, the book itself being a beautiful thing. Unfortunately, publishing companies nowadays are very much business oriented, not art-oriented. They care about profit, and distribution, and numbers. I don’t really blame them: they’re running a business, and there’s nothing to be done about it. But the end result is that books—the actual physical books, the paper, the binding, the ink and the like—are made as cheap as possible in order to maximize profit. Your standard commercial paperback is a tiny thing, not even half the size of an 8×11 sheet of paper. The words are crammed so full at every page that they’re an eyesore to read: I’d rather stare at a monitor all day. The pages are almost never acid free anymore, though, so any books you might have will crumble in twenty to thirty year’s time, anyway.

Trade paperbacks, the large ones, are only a little better. The text isn’t so smashed, and the books aren’t quite as fragile, but the acid’s still there, and even if they last long enough to crumble, you won’t be able to hand them to you grandchildren by any means. Hardcovers—did you know?—are trade paperbacks connected to cardboard siding via two pieces of paper. Look at the very front and back of a hardcover near you, where the ‘cover’ meets the actual ‘book.’ Those two sheets of paper that seem to hold everything together? Those really do hold everything together. Hardcovers are no more durable than anything else, and not really any nicer. It’s all done with glue and cheap paper nowadays, not a hint of stitching in a book to be seen.

But only, I say, for nowadays. Until print dies. Until all the Chicken Soup for the Tortured Soul readers, the Oprah fans, the people looking for Hillary Clinton’s latest biography have left the market, have gotten they’re kindles and won’t have anything to do with clunky, outdated books anymore. Then the ones that will be left will be the bibliophiles. The book lovers. Us.

Basic free-market principle: if there’s a market, someone will satisfy it. And the market that will be left over after print dies will be the market that is no longer satisfied with glue and acidic paper. The publishing houses that still make old fashioned books will do it right, they’ll stitch the pages together, give the books proper headbands again. Acid free paper will abound.

When Print dies, it won’t really die. It’ll just become what it should be—beautiful. Admittedly, prices will rise, because good books take money to make. But if you’re just looking for a cheap read, that’s what you’ve got a Kindle for.

So that’s why I’m considering buying a kindle—to add a bit of funding to the cause.

If I do end up getting one, I’ll let you know how it turns out. The product looks good in the demonstrations I’ve seen, but I’ll need to actually use one to get a feel for it. I’ll keep you posted.

~DK

Edit: Behold the Kindle here.

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5 Comments

  1. March 31, 2008 at 11:54 pm

    I have to admit I WAS poised to fling tomatoes and pass this by, but I’m glad I didn’t!

    I see exactly what you mean. I’m a lover of books myself, as is my mother. For example one of the things I love about books is the smell they have. Old books generally have a better smell than the newer ones, and sometimes particular genres seem to have a certain odour to them.

    The quality of the make of books today has definately declined and I only hope that your prediction is correct – that soon books will be put together in a way that is worthy of them being called a book. Like other book-lovers, I have no problem with paying a little bit more for something that will increase the lifespan and readability of the book.

  2. Wes said,

    April 1, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    Or you could pick up that Palm and keyboard you were thinking about getting. It’d actually fit within the $300 without requiring you to spend $100 more. :-P

    My hardcover LotR book seems to be better than glued together. I’m not sure what exactly I’m looking at so I could be wrong. And my comm textbook is printed on acid-free paper. Still, you definitely have a point.

  3. bking said,

    April 3, 2008 at 8:12 pm

    I’d hold off for a next gen e-reader, see if they can work out some of the kinks.

    see reviews here:
    http://arstechnica.com/reviews/hardware/amazon-kindle-review.ars

    here:
    http://www.wired.com/gadgets/gadgetreviews/multimedia/2007/12/YE_Gadgets_Top10Letdowns

    and also check out below for some of the developments in next gen:
    http://arstechnica.com/reviews/hardware/iLiad-review.ars

  4. jennifermuirhead said,

    April 8, 2008 at 9:15 am

    Great, now I want one too! I won’t be able to afford one for ages, though. On the bright side, by the time I have the money they will probably have worked any bugs out of the design.

  5. Hector Torres said,

    May 21, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    Don’t listen to all the little whiners who nit pick about this and that about the kindle. If you are a READER of books you are going to luv the Kindle. I got one and it is great. Yes I have a reams worth of pre purchase documents I printed up when I was doing my due diligence but after buying and using the device many of the complaints and quibbles I read now seem trite and small. This thing is a book readers best friend. Just buy the thing kid. I have always been an avid reader and still the Kindle has increased the amount of reading I do. There are many many sites on the net that will help you get the most out of the device. Why R U still reading this………get crackin and buy the thing.


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