Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Death of the Book


Well, maybe.  I met up with a friend recently to say goodbye, as I'm moving to China for the next few years.  He suggested that I buy a Kindle.  He's looking to move fairly frequently himself pretty soon due to the nature of his work, and so he's going to be investing in a Kindle.  He had a point: it's easier to carry a Kindle somewhere far away than it is to ship a box (or boxes) of books.

As I was packing last night, that point hit home like a rock.  A heavy rock.  You see, my shipped luggage is only allowed to weigh 23kg each max, if I don't want to pay penalty fees.  My luggage was WAY over.  The culprit?  Well, certainly, I had a ton of clothes (they don't sell my size in China, you see, I know from experience), but the books needed to take the real blame.  Especially the hardcover ones.  I didn't realize how many books I owned that I still haven't read (despite trying to give away a ton).  Paring down that mountain of books to a set that I could bring to China was a major chore.  Fitting them into my luggage was an excruciating game of Tetris.  But trying to figure out which books to bring and which to not bring after realizing that I was over the weight limit?  Torture.

How does one choose between Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy?  What about Elisabeth Elliot vs C.S. Lewis?  Bill Bryson or David Berlinski?  David Bank, David Kirkpatrick, fight!  Argh!  Choices, choices, choices!  Darn physical constraints.  Certainly, the Kindle would relieve a lot of that type of pain.  Even if I lose my Kindle, all my purchase records are available so that my books can be easily replenished.  Of course, it might not be the same as curling up on a couch by a (gas) fireplace and devouring words through the night.  But from what I've read, Amazon has done a fair job of trying to replicate the reading experience.  I'm comforted by this quote from Bezos:  "You are not going to improve Hemingway by adding video snippets."

But it does seem natural that if a product can become digitized, it will.  Especially due to the web, digital products have an ability to be freely (as in freedom) and easily sold, purchased, shared, distributed, and stored.  Therefore, products and objects will tend to become digital if it is physically possible.  History has certainly demonstrated that.  The music industry has been undergoing the most massive transformation for a long time now due to the advent of MP3s and the like.  iTunes is quite possibly now the standard.  Kodak's film business has pretty much died as photography became more and more popular and people preferred to publish photos online to share with others.  Are books next?  And yes, Catherine, here's my question: what would this mean for libraries?  Already, Amazon's e-books are outselling hardcovers.

The fun thing about the Kindle is that it's allowing authors to bypass publishers and sell their books independently, much like iTunes enables musicians to bypass labels and sell their own music.  That's interesting.  Although it might work better for iTunes because it's easier to consume and validate the quality of music than it is to consume and validate the quality of books (something about the time needed to read a book, and not judging it by its cover, you know).  But still, interesting.  Can the industry be turned upside down?  Certainly, I'd be able to bring a lot more clothes and other stuff to China if all my books were on my Kindle, not in physical form.  Not that I'd go and rebuy all my books for the sake of having a Kindle.  That'd be just stupid.

One thing's for sure.  I think I'd definitely prefer the Kindle over the iPad.  The screen would be easier on the eyes, can be read in sunlight, and the battery can last for much longer.

But I do think I would miss browsing books at those United Way book sales.  :)


  1. if you don't need some things in a jiff, you can always ship a box of stuff to yourself to china by boat.

  2. I'd be even more scared of it getting lost! :p