Books Of The Electronic Variety

2010 September 1
by CajoleJuice

I’ve been thinking about e-readers a lot lately. This may have something to do with Amazon greeting me with the above picture of its new Kindle every time I visit its site. And I’m not the only one influenced by Amazon–the new Kindle is the fastest-selling version of the e-reader. But doesn’t it seem as if the newest version of any product is always the one bought up the quickest?

Regardless, the $139 price tag is a big deal; just a year ago the Kindle was almost twice as expensive. I believe that this price drop has not been caused by competing e-readers, but by the iPad. Why would consumers buy a device that can only read books when they can get one of those fancy iPads that does everything (except support Flash) for only a couple of hundred dollars more? Yeah sure, consumers can be told that reading a novel on an LCD screen is not the same as browsing the internet or messing around with Excel spreadsheets at work, but many neither notice nor care. In response, ALL the e-reader manufacturers have had to compete with the Apple juggernaut. Who other than technophiles are going to be interested in the Kindle? And that same group of technophiles — at least the ones with money to burn — are definitely going to squeal over the iPad.

Perhaps Amazon is lowering the price of the Kindle because it’s following a razor and blades business model, selling its e-readers at a low price to generate a market for the Kindle Store. Whatever the reasons, e-readers are certainly reaching a mass-market price sooner than I expected. I’m just not sure they’ll ever reach mass consumption — until maybe flexible e-ink is widely available or some other unforeseen development, like people actually reading books more than their Facebook feed. A thin, flexible e-ink screen would be amazing. You could read the digital version of the New York Times, delivered to your flexible e-ink screen each morning; or flip over to your subscription of Wired or The Economist; or download the latest New York Post for a laugh. When you’re done, you can fold it up like a regular newspaper.

But if the technology were that advanced, wouldn’t it have a touch screen and enough processing power for the internet and streaming video and whatnot? It’d turn into an iPad-type device. Instead of reading novels or magazines above a 5th-grade level, they’d play Farmville 2024 and manage their fantasy teams. It boils down to how much people want to read, and I’m not sure that the average person wants to read at the expense of other entertainment.

I’m not above considering this trade-off, as I tried to allude to with my fantasy sports joke. I play video games, browse internet forums, IM people, and generally do a ton of shit other than read. An iPad device does appeal to me — just not at its current price point or level of functionality. At the moment, the Kindle is still much more enticing because it’s almost quarter of the price of Steve Jobs’ God tablet.

And, as I’ve said on here and on Twitter, I’m starting to hate all the crap I’m gathering. Books have been eating up my shelf space this year much quicker than Blu-rays, DVDs, and video games combined. I’ve really cut back on that latter group, but I’ve compensated with $25 or above mini shopping sprees on Amazon. An e-reader would eliminate a lot of future clutter, but I wouldn’t be able to lend my books to friends and, more importantly, I wouldn’t be able to exhibit them on a shelf in a vain attempt to make myself look intellectual, an impression unlikely to last if anyone looks down at my Judge Dredd or Family Guy DVDs.

For now, I think I can resist purchasing a Kindle. But once they’re selling for $99 and I’ve finished reading all of my physical books, I might just take the plunge. It’s the price point that got me to finally buy a PS2, and I remember feeling like an idiot for waiting so long.

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  • Karakand

    As bookshelves are only for personal amusement in a post-Kindle world, I’m working on a ‘wretchedly out of date political/economic commentary’ one.

    Recent acquisition: an exploration of Comecon/EEC trade in the Twentieth Century’s future. The true duel threat quarterback.

    • Karakand

      dual holy shit how embarrassing

      • CajoleJuice

        Do you want me to edit and destroy the evidence?

    • CajoleJuice

      And that’s genius. The last chapter of Europe: A History naturally delves into them, but luckily it doesn’t fall far into the trap of looking forward.

      Although, it does say how America is certainly at the peak of its power, and that it might have trouble dealing with Japan’s economic dynamism. lol

      Edit: This comment threading continues to piss me off.

  • Karakand

    The Big Bad Nippon Nightmare is adorable in 80s movies.