Two recent stories provide two different perspectives on how the Kindle is radically changing the book business. The revolution the Kindle unleashes is almost entirely driven by having Sprint’s wireless networking seamlessly integrated into the device and the business model.
First, the user perspective, from Pete Peterson:
I’m the sort of person that typically reads four or five books at a time. Depending on my mood I might pick up Hugo, Buechner, Lewis, Berry, or maybe even Barry. This presents a sizeable problem to a man that travels often and has to weigh the packing of his suitcase against the weight of the many books he’d like to have with him along the way.
The Kindle did away with that problem in one swift stroke. It lets me have a quarter of a million books at my fingertips no matter where I am. That’s because included in the purchase price of the Kindle ($250) is access to Amazon’s Whispernet 3G network that allows you to purchase a book wirelessly, from the Kindle Store’s library and download it in about thirty-seconds flat.
That means that when I’m sitting in a restaurant talking to a friend and he recommends a book that I can, right there, on the spot, pull my Kindle out of my backpack, buy the book, and be ready to read it without ever leaving the table.
Now I don’t go to the bookstore without it. This makes bookstore owners want to put out a hit on Kindle-carriers, I’m sure. But wait, just because I buy a book on the Kindle doesn’t mean I won’t buy a hard copy later. I will certainly still pick up a hardcopy of a book, even if I’ve already read it digitally, simply because I want it on my shelf.
So the Kindle undoubtedly simplifies the buying of books but what about the reading of them?
Remember what I said about a book being about much more than just the words on the page? I was wrong. I was wrong and it seems so obvious to me now. I haven’t yet read a book on the Kindle and wished I had bought the physical book instead (although I have thought that I would like to go buy a physical version much in the same way that movie geeks love to buy a special edition DVD.) A book is about the story. It’s about communication. I love cover design, and paperstock, and the feel of a unique book in my hands just as much as anyone else, but when it comes right down to it, when it comes to the reading, all that other stuff disappears into the background. What matters is the story.
Meanwhile, author Steven Johnson wrote a comprehensive and forward looking view of eBooks for the Wall Street Journal, touching on some of the business implications to flow from the Kindle:
Every genuinely revolutionary technology implants some kind of “aha” moment in your memory — the moment where you flip a switch and something magical happens, something that tells you in an instant that the rules have changed forever.
The latest such moment came courtesy of the Kindle, Amazon.com Inc.’s e-book reader. A few weeks after I bought the device, I was sitting alone in a restaurant in Austin, Texas, dutifully working my way through an e-book about business and technology, when I was hit with a sudden desire to read a novel. After a few taps on the Kindle, I was browsing the Amazon store, and within a minute or two I’d bought and downloaded Zadie Smith’s novel “On Beauty.” By the time the check arrived, I’d finished the first chapter.
I knew then that the book’s migration to the digital realm would not be a simple matter of trading ink for pixels, but would likely change the way we read, write and sell books in profound ways. It will make it easier for us to buy books, but at the same time make it easier to stop reading them. It will expand the universe of books at our fingertips, and transform the solitary act of reading into something far more social. It will give writers and publishers the chance to sell more obscure books, but it may well end up undermining some of the core attributes that we have associated with book reading for more than 500 years.
The book industry has been Mobilized. Will your industry be next?