Saturday, February 14, 2009

Kindles? Newspapers? Textbooks? . . . "I’m a writer. I work at Harvard"

People get very excited when arguing about the Kindle.

On February 11, Joshua Benton posted Why Kindles Will Fail at The Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard. I assume Joshua choose his words in the service of stimulating an active response. It worked. Three days later there were 58 comments. This will give you a flavor of the post that started it.

The Kindle is going to fail.

It is not “the iPod of books.” It will never be.

To support this hunch, I offer two data points:

— I’m a nerdy guy. And I’m a writer. I work at Harvard, which is filled with nerdy people who are writers. I write about the intersection of writing and technology for a living. I’m a classic “early adopter” for tech. I buy a lot of books; my girlfriend is editorial director at a book publisher; I have lots of friends who’ve written books; and I’ve got a variety of fiction and non-fiction book projects of my own, in varying states of completion and disarray.

I say all this to illustrate that I am the exact target audience for the Kindle — precisely the mix of book reader and tech lover who should want one. And yet, 15 months after the Kindle, I have not seen one single Kindle in the flesh.

Not one.

Some selected comments:
Cmt 1:
Um, Amazon sold something like 500,000 units of the Kindle 1. These have gone somewhere other than into the ethers, right? Could the remote possibility exist that people outside of your smug, elite little thinktank *are* buying, downloading and enjoying books on this platform? Zheesh, what a pretentious attitude…
Cmt 10:
Whatever, I published 30 books on kindle and I’m doing fairly well. I love residual income streams, I make money while I’m sleeping - I sleep better! Maybe kindle will fail. It’s not failing now.
Cmt 18:
Now, give me something about the size of that Day-Timer that is PDA, cell phone, AND wireless computer - with a fold-up or roll-up keyboard for serious typing - AND that also serves as my e-book reader… and you got a sale. Until then, the only real market I see for dedicated e-book readers is if someone can take over the college textbook market - and slash the cost of textbooks.
Cmt 24:
I suspect that’s actually *part* of why they were missing at the conference - after all, I definitely didn’t see many analog books around that weren’t promotional materials for conference attendees. My Kindle stays in my bag at conferences. It comes out when there’s no wifi around - on the subway, on the plane. I curl up with it at night. Where there’s lots of networking and e-mail checking happening, I would not expect Kindles to emerge.
Cmt 34:
Good grief. “I’m a writer. I work at Harvard…” It’s reporting by folks like you that gives journalism a bad name. Try reaching outside your circle and you just may meet someone like… me. I’m a writer. I buy dozens of books a year. I also just bought my second Kindle. It’s a hugely flawed, but magnificent and life-changing device.
Cmt 52:
. . While it would be great to replace college textbooks with an e-reader, courses often require multiple books. Q: How do you compare passages and quotes in books when you only have one reader? 3. On college e-textbooks: Who didn’t write in their books in college? I don’t think that the kindle note-taking features are robust enough for a Uni student. 4. The size of a kindle is too small to digest content when speed-reading.
Since reinventing textbooks is one of my pet projects, I really like comment 52. The trick is that Kindle 2.0, 3.0 and 4.0 with, and only with, digital print output is the secret sauce. But Amazon is already doing books on demand, so it should be pretty soon.

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