7/9/08

Kindle: the technology and hubbub

A combination of research on Amazon's electronic book reader, the Kindle, and the Atlantic Magazine article about Google making us dumber took this blog in directions unforeseen. My initial thoughts were about how Kindles would be used in a library, specifically the Southfield Public Library. Those thoughts will be shared in another post. Due to my gadget-loving nature I also thought Kindles were cool and hip, but then I thought about the intellectual property issues surrounding such digital distribution. That moved my thoughts to the music industry, copyright and of course the writing industry. This rabbit hole went deep and it was messy.

Krugman & Intellectual Property Matters
Paul Krugman, columnist for the New York Times, first made me think about writing on this topic, a topic that split into many. He wrote a brief column about the Kindle and offered a short discussion about how intellectual property laws are going to have to change with technology. He used the newspaper industry as an example of the struggle to give intellectual property away online in exchange for ad revenue, but he still sort of leaned on that model. I have some qualms giving away intellectual property and building a business model around that practice. Much of my worry stemmed from journalism's dilemmas. This model doesn't sound all that mad, but it sounds like things could go seriously wrong, especially for content creators - writers, musicians, etc.

Krugman received interesting feedback on his column. The New York Times published letters to the editor three days after Krugman's column; they were pretty good. One mentioned the fact that there are many writers who can't write for a living and have to do something else. This inevitably led to less time for the writing process. Another writer wrote about how easy it would be to zip through text on a electronic reader. I thought this a great point; I love Control+F.

The same day the letters were published, there was a blog that brought up some very excellent points about content having high value and Krugman denying that fact in his column. The post wrapped up strong:

Krugman's article is based on the premise that intellectual property will become worthless, that the real money is made selling ancillary products. His example is the Grateful Dead, which makes its money not from its music but from sales of tshirts and memorabilia. We don't buy it for a minute. Great content has value in and of itself. Harry Potter's adventures will sell, even without any related tshirts, bookmarks and action figures. Content has value as does the intellectual property of writers and songwriters. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

With all this in mind, my brain still whined "We've got to get a Kindle!!! It's just as important as iPod or BlackBerry!" I calmed it down by gently agreeing that yes it would be amazing to have a device like this, but that it's a little too cutting edge (read: expensive, plus, I'm a librarian for crying out loud). I would be an early adopter if I could afford it. I seriously feel that these gadgets are going to do one of two things: either they will make me and a bunch of other people fantastically successful and happy or they will destroy me and the rest of mankind, like in the Matrix.

Kindle's Technology
All these issues sort of swirled around in my brain and I decided it was time to find some reviews on the Kindle. The first one I found was in the May issue of Scientific American and it was fascinating. The article, called "Working Knowledge: Inside the Kindle E-Book Reader," described the technology that both the Kindle and Sony Reader are using: electronic paper. This stuff apparently catches light quite like the texture of paper. It is also very energy efficient: one battery will allow the user to turn 7,500 pages. Obviously downloading the books requires more energy, but that's still pretty cool technology. And if you get the Kindle, you can get those books or newspapers and magazine subscriptions through a wireless network. Instant gratification for reading urges? Would this help people read more or be distracted more? I personally would friggin' adore this thing. And be completely distracted by it.

In the May 20 issue of Forbes, the blog post "Amazon’s Kindle hopes to become the iPod of books" takes a look at some business implications Kindle might create for Amazon. This article made me grumble a little, because it first made me think of how Amazon as a business entity bungled tapping the world of libraries for their hot, hot business. Memo to Amazon: We need you as much as you need us! Someone better have lost their job for that genius move.

Now Amazon's looking to make up for it. The article rekindled (no pun intended) my worries about how technology is forcing change, which may or may not be a bad thing. I'm a little on the fence until I hear what more writers think about this. It should be no surprise that the first example offered by the article is the iPod and how it changed the music industry. Not all musicians are too crazy about the changes imposed by innovation. The Kindle wants to be the iPod of reading, which will indeed have an effect on writers.

Survey says...
I also looked to the blogosphere to learn about other people's use of Kindles. Did they like the product? Was it dependable, etc? I have yet to see one up close and personal. I found this very informative and honest look at the Kindle:

3 comments:

Abhishek said...

hi - i run a kindle blog and can answer some of your questions. also if you want to talk to actual kindle owners you can join a social network for kindle owners and book lovers we just launched yesterday evening.
We’re in pre-Alpha - Would appreciate it if you would join and help build the community (amazonkindle.ning.com - moving to a more book oriented url during alpha)
More details at http://thekindle.wordpress.com/2008/07/12/social-network-for-kindle-owners-and-book-lovers/ including ‘3 Free Kindles in the first 3 months’ promotion and other information.

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