19 November 2007

Amazon and e-books

Cyberspaces is abuzz with news of Amazon's e-book reader, Kindle, for example at the ZDNet site there's a review and pictures. In the review, Jeff Bezos is quoted as saying


"This is a 500 year technology and we forget that it’s a technology. As readers we don’t think about this too often", said Bezos. "An interesting question is why are books the last bastion of analog".

The answer: Books disappear when you read them. They fill their role and get out of the way. "What remains is the author’s world", said Bezos, referring to the reader "flow state".

It seems very odd that a bookseller - on the other hand, he's not a real bookseller, is he? - should say that books disappear when your read them. That suggests that he has no idea of what people do with books - they are an instrument of social interaction: we talk about them, we exchange them, we lend them (occasionally) to friends, we pass them on to charity shops and many of us keep those we treasure to read again and again, and even if we pass the physical object on, some of what we read remains in our consciousness.

E-book readers may become a new fashion item, but unless I am very much mistaken, they'll never replace the printed book - the book just has too many 'affordances' that a computer screen lacks - and apart from anything else, if I leave a paperback on the train before having read it, I can pick up another secondhand copy from Amazon for a fiver - if I leave my 'Kindle' behind I'm nearly $400 out of pocket!

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