As Jeff Bezos and Amazon unveiled their e-book device called Kindle on Monday the blogosphere is already abuzz with predictions that this device will be the iPod of books and is going to revolutionize the way books are read and published. This is the hottest topic on Techmeme today and everyone from Robert Scoble to Michael Arrington to GigaOm has something to say about it. Some of the A-listers were also peeved because Newsweek got the cover story and they (the bloggers) were bound by the NDA and were supposedly not allowed to talk about the feature list except reiterate what was in the Newsweek piece.
It’s usually pretty rare for me to be skeptical about new technologies but there is something about this that just doesn’t seem right and it has to do with how we consume the content. The iPod phenomenon was revolutionary in terms of how music was and is accessed but not how we listen to it. We have always fundamentally listened to music either through a pair of headphones or via some kind of speaker system and that did not change when you purchased an iPod - the final “product” i.e the music was still delivered to your speaker system as it always was prior to the iPod.
Now with Kindle the dynamics are slightly different. Yes we will be able to access books like we have never been able to before. Sitting on a beach you could download a paper back novel in under a minute. No doubt that aspect is revolutionary but the underlying issue is the average reader is going to have to learn how to use a totally new interface to read the content. The experience is different, instead of paper now you have this electronic device that delivers the content. For tech savvy readers this might not be that big of a deal but the average consumer of books is not that tech savvy. In fact they might actually be intimidated by a device such as the Kindle.
Now after playing devils advocate I think a device like the Kindle still has some legs and could be tremedously useful. The first thought that crossed my mind when I read about this was “damn I could have used something like this when I was in college.” Instead of lugging around all those heavy text books in my Jansport backpack back in the day a device like the Kindle could have been extremely useful. I think Bezos & Co should pursue the educational angle and try to make a deal with the text book publishers. Of-course there is not much money to be made in the education sector but then again thinking long term , habits are portable and when students graduate and leave college they will expect to use the device for non-school reading.
In a nutshell I think this is great and I’m certainly going to buy one but I think it’s going to take sometime for the average book consumer to get used to the fact that there is no physical book anymore.