Will the Kindle fulfill those decade-old eBook prophecies?

kindle.jpgWhen I first started in libraries about a decade ago, I remember hearing much about the death of the book. The book was supposedly going to go digital. While this has happened w/ research materials such as scholarly journals and some reference works, it has failed to occur with books, magazines, and other printed paper that we read daily. Part of the problem has been inferior and overpriced technology (remember the Rocket e-Book). And no matter how much I tried to pretend, reading on my PDA was never the same as reading from a book–although I did read my share of books on that sucker.

More recently, the folks over at Sony seemed to have a major breakthrough with their Reader and its paper-like eInk technology. The problem is that no matter how cool the devices become they will not be successful until someone realizes folks will never pay the same amount (or close to the same amount) for a digital book as they will for a physical one. We realize that it is much cheaper for a company to create a downloadable book that has no costs for materials, transportation, or stocking and until they pass that savings on to the consumer, I hope the consumer is not stupid enough to embrace eBooks. Witness the iPod and iTunes. It has been so successful not only because of the device but because Steve Jobs offered complete digital albums for $9.99, which was significantly cheaper than most CDs.

With Amazon’s heavy holiday press on the Kindle, which is undeniably cool with the wireless and all, they might be headed in the right direction. Though the thing is quite pricey ($399), I am sure it will come down in price. But, where I am convinced they are on the right track is what they are charging for books. As an example, say you wanted to read David Halberstam’s final book The Coldest Winter: American and the Cold War (and I do), you could but the print version from Amazon for $20.99 plus shipping; the Sony store eConnect sells their digital version for $20.76; the Amazon Kindle version is available for a mere $9.99 as is every other title I saw. Magazines and newspapers are equally cheap and it is all available to be downloaded wirelessly. I think Kindle (even with its’ Buck Rogers looks) is a step in the right (if still overly expensive) direction…finally.

As for me, this pricey technology does not factor into the budget of a librarian; I will observe this from the sidelines and continue checking out books until a wide array of eBooks for a reasonably-priced device are freely available from my local library–much as MP3 players have become the cost equivalent of a few CDs and free downloadable audiobooks services are currently proliferating at public libraries.

One Response to “Will the Kindle fulfill those decade-old eBook prophecies?”

  1. Kottke had a good post about Kindle this morning.

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