Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Will Kindle Kill the Softback?

There are a lot of comparisons to be made between the delivery of text and the delivery of audio in the world of media. However, there is one major difference... the format of a "book" has never really changed very much. 78's gave way to the 33/LP which in turn splintered into cassettes, 8-tracks, 45-singles, tape-to-tape, and eventually CD's, with many unusual formats in between. Killing the CD, as the iPod and other digital musical devices have effectively done, wasn't really such a big technological leap, given the transitions that had already occurred over the past fifty or sixty years.

Sooner or later, the means of delivering text will change. It's a transition that's already begun, given the popularity of eBooks and various devices that negate the need to dedicate paper to hold the information contained within a book. Electronic storage is less expensive, more efficient, and, frankly, less energy intensive and more environmentally-friendly.

Still the transition away from the Softback will be slower than the transition from "physical" forms of music storage to "digital" storage. Another reason for the delayed transition for print media is the absense of a qualitative difference between the two. The letter "a" on a digital display is as readable as the letter "a" on a page of paper, even a page of paper that's been sitting on a bookshelf for twenty years. On the other hand, Peter Frampton's "Lines on My Face" sounds significantly better as a digitized file than it sounds on an old piece of vinyl.

The Kindle, offered by Amazon, might finally be the "iPod" of digital books. It has some short-comings, but you have to admire Amazon's approach. Their hooking up users to a free internet service to download titles is very shrewd. It's a captive device and every download will bring them revenue. The device has some shortcomings; in many ways it is reminiscent of the very first iPods which had some issues of their own. But it is a first step in what could completely turn the publishing industry upside down.

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