Eve Dmochowska
Eve Dmochowska

There’s a Kindle on my wish list

There is a new technology in our midst, and once again old-school thinking is about to get a serious shake-up.

Kindle is a new gadget, available from Amazon.com, that allows digital books to be downloaded and read on the go. The device is sexy, smart and intuitive. It also apparently offers a very good reading experience, due to special technology in the screen that does not require back lighting. In other words, it is nothing like looking at your monitor for the whole day.

Here is how the process works: You buy the Kindle ($400) and you set up your account. You browse the Amazon/Kindle bookstore using the device, and choose which books you want to download onto the Kindle. Books cost about $10 each, almost all the New York Times bestsellers are available and the Kindle can store approximately 200 books. Once you have chosen which books you want to buy (newspapers, blogs and magazines are also available), they are delivered effortlessly to the Kindle. You do not pay connectivity charges, and there are no contracts.

So here is where the shake-up happens. Suddenly, everybody can be their own book publisher, easily. This is not new, but it is nevertheless revolutionary. Just as anybody, in theory, could have spent the last 10 years providing online content via their own website, one-to-many online publishing did not really take off until technologies such as WordPress made blogging popular and easy, and RSS feeds made them easier to access.

Similarly, the Kindle offers both vital ingredients to relative instant success: it offers a sexy, intuitive device together with the opportunity of using it to read virtually thousands of books. The real clinch is that it is offered by Amazon. Sony already have their own digital reader, but books need to be specially formatted to be readable, and often cost more than $20 each. We know that we are unlikely to encounter that problem with Amazon. Since it is primarily a bookseller (despite offering over 30 other categories of products), we can be pretty confident that it will protect its own interest by making as many books available in the Kindle format as possible.

The price, despite being about R3 000, is also not bad. I bought two books at Exclusive Books this past weekend, and I spent over R350. If I was able to buy them with instant download from Amazon for $20, I would have saved myself about R200. It wouldn’t take many weekends like that for the device to pay for itself.

Of course, of course, I know. You want to have a tangible, real book on your bookshelf. But do you really? I love books, and I have an extensive library, and I do not think that will ever stop. But there are many books I buy, read in a day or two, and never, ever, look at again. The Kindle would be perfect for these. And it saves trees? Travelling will be lighter, students will not have to carry heavy textbooks around and since first chapters can be read for free, you will always know you are buying a worthwhile read.

But let me get back to the industry shake-up. An author no longer needs to beg and plead for agent representation, or the backing of a publisher. An author can simply sell their book through Kindle, and watch what happens. If it sells well (word of mouse, and all that good stuff), publishers will be falling over themselves to publish the book in print. The power roles will suddenly switch. It is also possible that a publisher will agree to market the e-book, in return for the rights to publish it should it prove successful. Now, not only power roles shift, but the roles of the players themselves begin to change.

I anticipate that just as there are a prolific number of blogs, there will be a prolific number of Kindle books. After all, all these writers who find time to write everyday will be very excited by the opportunity to write and make money as well. It will be up to the crowd to find the gems.

Of course, the Kindle is only available in the United States, and I am not quite sure when, or how, that could ever change. Right now, the downloading of books happens wirelessly, and I do not know how that could be adapted to our internet climate.

I do, however, know that I want one of these goodies ASAP. The Kindle was launched in the last week or so, and is already sold out. Christmas delivery looks unlikely. But I am scheming and plotting, and should have one in my hand within a month or so.