Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The End of Books?

The November 26 issue of Newsweek has a cover article on Amazon's new product, a "digital book" called the Kindle. The article barely rises above a hype-spot, but the idea of an iPod for Books has captured my fascination. Turns out there's a technology called eInk that allows a screen to reproduce an image that's closer to ink on paper than any screen yet invented. Apparently eInk works by rearranging elements behind the glass, instead of projecting images with light, which makes it a lot easier on the eye, so you can read something of book-length without frying your irises. It also burns way less energy; one 2-hour charge is supposed to last weeks. The eInk screen isn't illuminated, so you have to read in a well-lit area, and it's only available in black and white so far. I hear it also flashes black each time you turn the page, which some people find disorienting.

This eInk technology isn't new, and there's already a few digital books out there, including a similar product from Sony called the Reader, but I hadn't ever heard about any of this before, so I'm guessing they haven't put as much marketing into it as Kindle's getting. Another unique aspect of the Kindle is that you can use it without a computer, and it's linked directly into the Amazon website; you can download a bestseller for $10 in less than a minute.

A lot of the hype has been directed toward winning over bibliophiles who fetishize the physical nature of books: the feel of the paper, the smell of the glue and ink. For me that's not really an issue, my love of the book is only a sideproduct of my love of the story. In a lot of ways the Kindle sounds cool to me: lighter and smaller than a book, able to store up to 200 texts (which is key for me, because I hate the bulk and clutter of a personal library), able to change the size of the font, and to search for words (probably useful if you can't remember who a certain character is in a longer novel). The key problem, and it's definitely a deal-breaker for me, is that the fucking thing costs $400. And then each book you buy is another $10. You even have to pay to read stuff that's normally free, like blogs and your own personal files. I barely even buy books at the bookstore--like one or two a year--because I hate shilling out twelve bucks for something I'll be done with in ten hours. There is no way I'd ever pay $400 for the right to spend $10 each time I want to read something new.

Which brings me to another topic: libraries are FUCKING AWESOME. The vast majority of the books I read come from the San Francisco Public Library, and they don't cost me a cent. I stopped by the library on my way home from work and picked up nine books I've been eager to read. Nine books! That'll keep me busy with great reading for weeks. And then when I'm done, I can take them back, so I don't have to have them laying around my shoebox apartment, taking up my precious space.

Whoever came up with the idea for libraries is a hero, if you ask me.

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