Playing with the Kindle, Playing with the Future

SciFi Hall Of Fame by TahoeSunsets
SciFi Hall Of Fame by TahoeSunsets

A cynic is not merely one who reads bitter lessons from the past, he is one who is prematurely disappointed in the future.

–Sidney J. Harris

It’s no secret that I’m not a big fan of eBooks or eReaders, but there’s no question they’re growing in popularity… at least amongst technology companies. While the hype coming out of last week’s Consumer Electronics Show was so over-the-top it’s difficult to take any of these new devices seriously, it does make you appreciate a bit more the huge advantages Amazon has with its Kindle.

Publishing Perspectives’ editor Edward Nawotka stirred up some controversy last week with his opinion that the current breed of eReaders were good enough, noting, “My septuagenarian mother is delighted with her first-generation Kindle.”

My thirty-something wife – an avid reader, elementary school teacher and generally a late-adopter – also enjoys her Kindle (a birthday gift from me in November 2008), mainly to read books she’s either unfamiliar with or unwilling to buy in hardcover. But it’s not going to become her primary reading option any time soon. Among her criticisms are the limited selection of books she wants to read; inelegant navigation and annotation functionality; and, in her words, “Everyone talks about portability, but what’s more portable than a book?”

She’s not a big bestseller reader, so release timing isn’t a significant factor for her, but she does love the one-click ability to purchase whichever books she wants in whatever format she prefers via her existing Amazon account.

A loyal customer in hand is worth two tech fetishists at CES…

In my first sustained Kindle experience, I just finished reading Book View Café’s e-book-only steampunk anthology, The Shadow Conspiracy, and was frustrated by an inability to easily jump back and forth into the loosely threaded stories, or to even know how far from the beginning or end I was in any particular story. I’m actually having difficulty writing a solid review of it because of those issues.

Twitter Review: The Shadow Conspiracy/@BookViewCafe: #Steampunk e-anthology deftly weaves poet kings, mad science, immortality and revenge. #booksin140

The underwhelming experience solidified my opinion that – if the e-readers we have now are indeed “good enough” – e-books are still not ready for prime time.

I have an op-ed going up on Publishing Perspectives on Thursday [link updated] that touches on this, suggesting that 2010 will be the year of “e”, but that “e” will stand for experimentation. I also attempt to make the case that eReaders will never have their “iPod moment” because books are not music.

If you’re not a regular reader of Publishing Perspectives, I highly recommend that you subscribe to their daily enewsletter and RSS feed. Their model of one strong article or op-ed and a separate bit of commentary each day focuses on quality over quantity, a wonderfully contrarian online strategy, and their international focus allows them to introduce many different voices into the mix.

Two of my favorite posts were Nawotka’s own “Falling In and Out of Love, with E-books” op-ed, and the interview “Grupo Planeta CEO Jesús Badenes: ‘We Must Not Undervalue Publishers.’

In the latter, Badenes makes some great points, including:

Asked what most excited him about the future, he remarked: “Convergence is the word on everybody’s lips. It remains to be seen how this will play out in the book world, but it is worth watching and, in some ways, is a very exciting opportunity for the publishers.”

Ultimately, he asserted, publishers still have an important role to play in our newly digitized world: “We advance payments in order to give writers time to write. We finance the professional book experience; we fight for space in the bookstores. We make the market for books and have interdependence with the content creators. It would be a grave mistake to undervalue the publishers.”

I remain optimistic about the future of publishing. What about you?

6 thoughts on “Playing with the Kindle, Playing with the Future

  1. Just yesterday I came to the vague realization that I won’t be buying an e-reader (ereader?) any time soon. I like ebooks just fine, but I don’t want a single device that’s just for my books. I hardly even use my iPod, because I seldom just walk around listening to music. I like books as they are, and the ability to flip around, and the ability to eyeball how far I am through a chapter, and various other features of the analog tech.

    Still, I’m glad that we’re making progress with e-readers, and I look forward to what they’ll look like in three or five years.

  2. Guy– Megacongratz on last night's “Digital Book World” event at the Bowery Poetry Club! You use the space like a physicalization of the digital — the body pulled up from context into laughing breath! Thanks, daddio.

  3. My comment has gone missing. I'm sure it was insightful and cutting. Suffice to say, I like ebooks for reference materials — I own several gaming PDFs — but I don't think current ereaders (e-readers?) are going to do it for me. I need something it's easier to jump around within, or a device that serves my computer needs at the same time that it serves my ebook needs.

  4. Your comment is there in the queue, but it's not appearing here for some reason. Weird…

    Current eReaders are barely good enough for straight narrative text. Illustrations, tables, cross-referencing are not strong suits. Yet.

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