Friday, January 11, 2008

On E-book Readers

After speaking with some of my peers on the topic of my last post, the value of books became a focus of many conversations. I couldn’t help but to bring up Amazon’s new gadget, the Kindle. The Kindle is an e-book reader which essentially lets one download books onto a small tablet, which can hold up to 200 books. The technology is amazing, described as “electronic paper” the Kindle is much different from an ordinary screen. From what I understand, small beads are magnetized to rise to the surface of the screen. This way, real paper is simulated, and typical eye strain one might get from viewing a screen is reduced. People may criticize the electronic restraints of the battery life, but the Kindle only turns on to activate a new page. Enough of the technical details as they can be found on the Amazon site or the many tech news sites which covered the Kindle when it was released (selling out in a matter of hours). In November, there was a great article on the Kindle from Newsweek which states that the Kindle will essentially change the way people read books.

Many critics may believe that the Kindle will destroy literature. With the ability to hold hundreds of books on a single device, it may be possible to render libraries obsolete. The capacity of a library and bookstores are limited, but an infinite amount of books can be held in electronic form. In searching for research material while at home, I found it very difficult. Local libraries and even Barnes and Noble did not have appropriate research material. Rare books will not longer be hard to find, and people will be able to buy new books at the touch of a button with instant gratification. Making libraries obsolete is one possible result of this revolutionary technology, but I believe the Kindle looks to revive the literary scene. Much like Youtube is dependent on user-generated content, the Kindle has a similar system called Digital Text Platform. A quick look at Amazon's website shows that anyone can publish their own material and put it on the Kindle marketplace. The author can attach any price they wish (a minimum of 99 cents). By being able to post one’s own material without having to find a publisher, there is potential to spark a phenomenon of new writers where the entire world is their potential audience. The reason the Internet has not accomplished this is because it is rather difficult to read an entire book on a computer screen. There are also portability issues. E-book readers solve all these problems, but there is a major roadblock to sparking this new revolution in writing. The problem is that Amazon absorbs 65% of the revenue made from the book. I am not sure if this is the case for writers published by other publishing houses.

Pappano brings up an important point on screens which can be related to e-book readers. She quotes a child development expert David Elkind. He believes that “very young children haven’t developed the ability to understand that a picture on a computer screen is a symbol for something else in the real world” (67). By reading books on a screen, a disconnect is created between the reader and the author. Instead of feeling that the author has a set of ideas and beliefs, we take the ideas in as fact or not crediting the author for his beliefs. Also, in the time we take to read a book, we create a physical connection with the book – the weight of the book and the feel of the pages.

Another major setback of current e-book readers is cost. A Sony brand e-book reader costs $300. While the Kindle did sell out in the first day, e-book readers have relatively high price points because the consumer must also purchase books to read. Therefore, the cost of the reader is for the technology alone. There are good deals on books for the Kindle, most likely a result of the reduced cost of shipping, storing books, etc. for Amazon. I can imagine that with a cheaper product, this technology can catch on very quickly. Seeing the capabilities of e-book readers, it is possible that everybody will have an e-book reader. As computers have become a necessity in everyday life, computers have been made more accessible. As people begin to adopt e-book technology, we will also see greater accessibility to such technology.

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