Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

a dialogue

ENTHUSIAST: My Kindle is awesome. I can carry around hundreds of books in one small package; I can order more books from almost anywhere and have them downloaded to the device in a few seconds. And the books cost a good deal less than their dead-tree equivalents. It’s revolutionary, I tell you.

SKEPTIC: I guess. But what if you lose it, or break it? Then you haven't lost one book, but hundreds.

EN: No, actually, I haven't lost any books at all: they’re all backed up on Amazon’s servers, and I can re-download them whenever I want. (Something I can't do with the music I buy from iTunes or for that matter from Amazon.)

SK: But how can you re-download them if you’ve lost your Kindle? Can you read them online at Amazon’s website?

EN: Well . . . no. That would be cool, but no. I would have to buy another Kindle, and then I could get all my books back.

SK: But at that point you’d have paid around eight hundred bucks for your two Kindles. You’d have to buy a hell of a lot of books at the reduced Kindle price to make that pay for itself.

EN: Well, I do buy a lot of books — but okay. Still, how likely is it that I’ll lose my first Kindle?

SK: Don't know. It varies from person to person, I guess. How careless or accident-prone are you?

EN: Well, I can't remember the last time I lost a book or had one stolen, and I am more careful with the Kindle than with individual books. So I think it’s worth the risk. Especially when I travel, to have so many reading options available to me.

SK: I’m glad you mentioned that. Is having all those options really such a good idea? Think of it this way: Suppose you bring one book along with you on a trip. Suppose you start it and it’s not really doing much for you — you’re having trouble getting into the mood of it, the swing of it. If you have it on a Kindle, you’re almost certain to give up and turn to one of the dozens of other books you have available. But if it’s the only book you’ve got, you’re more likely to stick with it. And if it’s a good book — if it’s a book that holds real pleasure or instruction for the persistent and non-distracted reader — then later on you’ll be glad that you read it. You’ll be glad that you didn’t have something else to read on that trip. You’ll be glad that you had a book instead of a Kindle.

(to be continued)


  • Coming in Part 2 (I hope):

    SK: What happens when Amazon goes bankrupt, or decides to discontinue service to the Kindle? Do you get to keep your books?

    SK: What if you want to loan your friend a book on your Kindle, but you don't want to loan him the Kindle itself?

    SK: What if you get tired of your Kindle, and decide to sell it? Does the buyer get all the books as well?

    SK: How long will I have to wait before someone cracks AZW and the entire Kindle library is available as a cracked torrent?

  • Alan Jacobs said...

    I think you've rendered any follow-up post unnecessary, Ethan. The one other question I was going to ask is this: What if you decide that Amazon is not a company you want to do business with any more? What are you going to do with that device with the big "Amazon.com" logo splashed across its front?

  • Tony Comstock said...

    "Suppose you start it and it’s not really doing much for you — you’re having trouble getting into the mood of it, the swing of it"

    Funny you mention this. After being courted very hard by a pay-per-minute website, we tried a couple of our films with them.

    They did terribly. Given the option of sticking it out or clicking over to something else, people watching online clicked over to something else.

    This is not so different from what TV producers have faced for years now, and the effect can be seen on how shows are presented. I understand why it's necessary, but it doesn't improve the shows or the viewing experience. Just imagine what it will be like when the TV and computer are the same thing, and viewers can decide to read e-mail or twitter in the middle of the film you're trying to show them?

    For this and other reasons, I'm looking backwards for inspiration. People still go out to music, theater, comedy. You have to give them a really good reason to leave the house, but if you're up to the task they will. Here's hoping I am.

  • The trip scenario presumes that you have a book and ONLY THAT ONE BOOK as your option and therefore you would stick it out and in so doing reap the literary benefits of your persistence.

    But mightn't you be just as likely to give up on the book and go see a movie, watch TV, read a bunch of magazines or for heaven's sake buy another book?

    The Kindle let's you choose another book as the first and easiest option.

  • Human nature is to blame if people can't/don't stick with a book, not a device. And of course, there are obviously issues with E-readers (all the concerns listed by other commenters) but at the end of the day the convenience will trump all and technology will march forward as usual, so best to get used to it.

  • I've heard all the arguments against the Kindle, and I wouldn't disagree with many of them - if I were still able to read printed books.

    I'm not, due to aging eyesight. I haven't read a book for pleasure, other than the occasional large-print edition, in nearly seven years. Most of what I want to read is not available in large print.

    For people like me - and there are many of us, thanks to the aging of the Boomer cadre - the Kindle and similar devices which offer the ability to magnify text on the fly represent, not a choice between reading in print and reading on an electronic device, but a choice between reading and not being able to read at all.

  • The argument that you should *restrict* reading choices on the road is essentially Luddite, a grown up verion of castor oil

  • I'm with the first commenter, when my eyesight is truly fucked I'll get one. But until then, I don't really see the point. It's not like an Ipod where you download the songs and sit back and relax, flicking forwards and backwards at will - reading takes time and concentration.

    Plus books are always my fallback gift on birthdays and christmas. Whatever crap you get someone, its always more thoughtful than a voucher sent via email.

  • Hrm, "books", you say? Don't need batteries or cellular service?

    Sounds good, I guess, but wait - each book only has one book inside it? I have to buy a new book every time I want to read a different one? Seems wasteful - all that paper! And you don't even print it out when I want it - you just print a million copies and hope people buy them? Jesus, that's even worse!

    And you can't read it in the dark? But it's dark, like, half the time! There's no way to save your page except to bend a corner down and make a permanent crease? No automatic newspaper and blog delivery? The text never changes, even if the author releases a revision or afterword later? I'd have to pay for multiple editions of the same work just to have the latest one!

    I'm sorry - books will never take off. Too many problems. Haven't you seen the Kindle?

  • good old neon said...

    The very same, lame, uninformed arguments could be used to justify never owning a computer, mp3 player, etc.

    What happens if my hard drive crashes, and I lose all that information - movies, mp3's etc? Sure, I have back ups, but now I have to buy another computer in order to access this information. Hell, why bother owning anything, what if my house burns down?

    Do you own or have you ever actually used a Kindle?

  • To the contrary, I have put aside quite a few books that didn't quite suit my mood, and then revisited them another time. I have purchased over 200 titles since I got my Kindle, and have read all but the newest, not necessarily in order. I like being able to travel with so many choices. As for cost, I amortized the cost of the kindle after thirty books, so if I unfortunately lost mine, I would gladly replace it. BTW, its is possible to download books not published by Amazon, or download thousands of free titles from open sources. Next to my espresso maker, the Kindle is the best new technology I've received since my first portable Sony TV (1969).

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