The conservative Kindle

Just a quick follow-up to Tuesday’s post about this incredible week in matters of the printed word: The article I ended up doing for The Economist focused mostly on the Kindle and its possible effects both on books and on newspapers. My editor Tom wrote a Leader (ie, an Editorial) to go with it (as usual, there is overlap).

As you can see, I see the paper-printed word being cut by a pair of scissors with two blades: one blade is the “conservative” new medium of the Kindle and its ilk (the phrase comes from John Makinson of Penguin); the other blade is the more “radical” edge of mobile-phone apps for reading.

Like Makinson, I consider the Kindle “conservative” because it wants to preserve and improve long-form reading for people like me. Which it does, as I can attest now that I have played with the Kindle 1. So the Kindle as such cannot be something that Penguin’s imprint Riverhead (my publisher) or I as an aspiring author should fear.

I consider the apps (such as Stanza) “radical” because they are more likely to lead to new reading habits among the young, habits that may lead them away from deep immersion in long-form literature. (That is not a criticism, just a hunch.)

I have no doubt, furthermore, that traditional newspapers readers (again, like me) will subscribe through the Kindle and drop their paper subscriptions. One line that got cut from my piece (which must adhere, ironically enough, to the line-count and layout of the paper version), is this: No more soggy newspapers piling up in the rain while the subscriber is out of town on business.

I mean, what of that alleged “sensual” experience that some people claim to get from paper? The print that rubs off from the New York Times? Or the ads of ladies in lingerie next to the table of contents? I am in favor of lingerie. But is this the appropriate place for it? The Kindle saves me from all that nonsense, and gives me a much more focused reading experience, no matter where I am traveling.

Some interesting overmatter that did not make it into the piece:

The Kindle 2 “reads to you”, as Bezos proudly says. He’s not talking about audiobooks but about software that vocalizes the text when you’re, say, driving. As Penguin’s Makinson pointed out, this raises some interesting questions for authors. Is software-powered audio an audio book? Who has rights to it?

Will future Kindles make books “linkable”? The link economy is where Jeff Jarvis thinks the future lies.

And one last frivolous thought: How strange for Bezos to name the thing Kindle, which leads to an immediate association of books and fire–ie, book-burning.

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