Wednesday, February 18, 2009

All are welcome. All are welcome. Come into the light.

We Kindle owners are a happy bunch.  We delight in looking at our Home screen and seeing the long list of books at our fingertips everywhere we go.  We love finding a new book on the Kindle store and clicking that "Buy now" button, knowing that in a minute or less we're going to be reading that book.

But we also know that not everyone is ready to join us on the e-book bandwagon.  We've discussed the objections that publishers and authors have over e-books, but there are also many readers who don't look too kindly upon e-books.  The recent announcement of Kindle 2 has spurred a flurry of "Why I don't like the Kindle" op-ed pieces.  Many of them have one thing in common:  fear.

Specifically, many bibliophiles are glancing longingly at their grand collection of books amassed over their lifetime and getting misty at the thought of a life without them.

"Will Amazon’s Kindle 2 Make Our Library Obsolete?" ponders Bloomberg's David Pauley.  Pauley brags about the library he had built in his new house and describes "the serenity I find when surrounded by real books."

Pauley writes "Today, I’m worried that technology will make books obsolete."

Mike Rau, a columnist for, echoes the same type of worry in a recent essay titled  "Technology can't replace paperbacks."

"So, to my friends at Amazon (and Sony), I can tell you that I'm impressed with your device. It's a wonderful technological gadget.
But I cannot now nor ever support anything that might so directly contribute to the demise of the printed word."

If you aren't ready to embrace the Kindle or e-books in general, fair enough.  Old habits are hard to break.  And some people will always prefer the look and feel of real paper to an electronic screen.  But I don't understand the fear.  Why do some feel that it's either/or when it comes to e-books and physical books?

And the term "obsolete" bugs me.  When I think "obsolete" I think of 8-track tapes. 

Unlike most media that is supplanted by newer technology, the book will always survive because it's a self-contained delivery system.  Fifty years from now you'll be able to pick up a book from your shelves and access the content the same way you can today.  Sadly the same can't be said of that box of 5 1/4" floppy disks left over from my Atari 800 days.  Now that's obsolete.

My guess is that even when (or if) the day comes that e-books are overwhelmingly outselling physical books, that won't spell the demise of the printing press.  Perhaps decades from now dead-tree books will become less common -- they may turn into a niche market, much like the vinyl LP market is today (Ever try to convince an vinyl enthusiast that CDs are better?) -- but books will always be around.*

Even those who adopt the e-book as their preferred reading medium will most likely still turn to dead-tree books now and then for special editions or works from their favorite authors.  Some things are simply worth having in physical form.  And there's a big difference between a book you want to read and a book you want to own (And as long as DRM is around there will always be a large distinction between the two.).

So fear not, Kindle naysayers.  Your libraries are safe.  Books and e-books can live in harmony.  Join us.  We'll be here to welcome you with open arms when you're ready.

Kindleville readers, do you have any additional words of comfort for those who fear the death of print?  Or do you think there's a ring of truth to their worries?

* Newspapers might be a different story, but that's another column.


Follow me on Twitter: @phigginbotham
What I'm reading on my Kindle right now:  American Gods by Neil Gaiman


Kevinpars said...

Great column!

I love to read my Kindle while surrounded by my bookshelves. I love my books but I also love to be able to increase the font size on the page and not having to balance an 800 page book on my lap.

I agree - why can't we all get along!

JimK said...

I placed two orders yesterday: One for an ebook, and one for a six-hundred page tome I wanted to see in my hand and on my shelf.

For me, the beauty of the Kindle is not to replace all books, but to eliminate the dreaded paperback from my bookshelves. I have cases and boxes and shelves full of hundreds if not approaching a thousand paperbacks from over the years. I want out from under the obligation of all that paper. Certain books will continue to be bought. Books I feel are important to me. or cookbooks. Love cookbooks. Don't want those on the Kindle.

Anonymous said...

I too was surprised by the negativity and doomsday attitude I found while researching the Kindle 2 (on preorder now, this will be my first ebook reader). These book lovers seem quite materialistic, so intent on having a collection to show off. I'm more interested in the words and stories and with the Kindle I will be able to read whatever and whenever. It is a great ADDITION to our reading habit.

Spike Nesmith said...

Once upon a time I bought an MP3 player and stacked its five gigs up with all manner of legally-bought (legal in good faith) music from the now sadly defunct AllOfMP3. Then, my MP3 player died and with it immediately went those five gigs of music. 'AllOf' was dead, and an unfortunately timed accident with my laptop - where I had backed up the music - had rendered it a six hundred dollar paperweight.

What would stop hundreds of dollars worth of literature spent for naught in one fell swoop if my Kindle breaks?

William Elliott Hazelgrove said...

The Kindle is the wave of the future. I am much more concerned with the Kindle downloads on my new book, Rocket Man, a book that is really about right (satire about a family trying to keep their home in the suburbs) than about regular book sales.
William Elliott Hazelgrove

Kindle 2 Rocks! said...

Books and ebooks can definitely live in harmony. I agree with that statement and I look forward to getting my kindle 2 and having an ever-expanding catalog of available titles at my disposal! I think over the next two years, kindle is going to be the next ipod, meaning everyone's gonna have one!

Paul Higginbotham said...

@Spike Nesmith: Every purchase you make from Amazon is recorded on their servers. So if your Kindle dies or you accidentally wipe the memory (as I did the other day), you can download your books again for free.