Whatever else it’s remembered for in the publishing industry, 2008 may be remembered as the year that e-books finally caught on. Kindles are a regular sight on my train these days, and seem poised to become as ubiquitous as iPods: due to unexpected demand (or shrewd marketing?) Amazon sold out well before the holidays and established a Kindle waiting list, elevating the device to the vaunted commercial realm of Birkin bags and Tickle-Me-Elmos. Meanwhile, executives at one publishing house recently told me they now read all of their manuscript submissions on Sony Readers, not paper, and they may eliminate bound galleys in favor of electronic review copies.
I've read 20 books on my Kindle since last Christmas, plus it's where I read the Times 80% of the time. We've been having a rainy autumn in Orange County. Some mornings my choices for the home town Register are the print edition in a leaky orange plastic bag on the driveway or the Kindle edition, which downloads to the reader on the nightstand before I awaken.
Each of those books cost $10, the newspapers no more than $15 a month. Most commentators, even the Times's Gregory Cowles, who wrote the blog item above, are principally focused on the changing aesthetics of reading. It reminds me of those who still insist that listening to a book isn't quite reading. What makes the Kindle and devices like it so revolutionary is the inevitable alteration of the pricing and financial structures bolstering print. They can save newspaper and book publishing. They can make reading cool again, especially among young people who wrongly insist that they get all the news they need by visiting the web sites they like. With their changeable font sizes, Kindles make every one of the 200,000 books available for download from Amazon accessible to those who can only read large-print books (we might ask those customers, as they survey the limited offers in large-print books compared with the Kindle, how they feel about the big aesthetic issues). And Kindles are as green as green can be.
Give one to a child this Christmas. Give one to a nursing home. And memo to the Times: Instead of just observing the Kindle, buy 100,000 of them and give them away to college students with one-year subscriptions.
Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan