Hi-tech device ‘Kindles’ new adventures in reading

It was 20, maybe 25 years ago in The Daily Sentinel newsroom that I first saw what at the time was hailed as the device that would revolutionize the way we read books.

It was the size of a very large laptop and weighed a lot. It was hardly user-friendly. To this day I don’t know how one went about the laborious and time-consuming task of loading it with content.

An editor visiting from Washington brought it with him. He was, and I’m sure still is, an early adopter. His enthusiasm was contagious. We’ll all have one of these, he said. Books will be transmitted electronically and bookstores will become something on the order of modern-day blacksmith shops.

I’ve watched with at least mild interest since then one attempt after another at developing a viable electronic reader.

My editor friend’s prophecy of the eventual success of such a gadget eluded us for a long time.

Maybe it would change our reading habits and maybe not. Every iteration of an electronic reader went the way of countless other revolutionary technologies. (Anyone interested in a couple hundred laser discs? Call me.)

But in 2007 Amazon unveiled the Kindle. Now it’s the hottest thing since the iPod.

Last fall, when I retired from The Daily Sentinel, my dear wife, always the thoughtful gift-giver, gave me one for retirement. No golf clubs here. I tried that already; it wasn’t pretty. Wrapped in a package about the size of a book – much smaller than the behemoth I saw a couple of decades earlier — were literally hundreds of thousands of books.

I’ve used it for a few months now, and I think it may change the way we, some of us anyway, consume the written word.

The key to Kindle’s success is the ease of downloading. A smart dog could do it. Simply pick out a book, push one button and 60 seconds later, start reading.

The advantages of reading books electronically are many. Start with price. Most titles are $9.99. There’s a large selection of books that are in the public domain that are available free, although to date I’ve paid for all of mine.

Then there is convenience. I wanted to take three books with me on a holiday trip last month. If you’ve traveled lately you know how picky the airlines are about carry-ons, and three books eat up a lot of valuable space in an overhead bin. My Kindle, though, tucked neatly into the seatback pocket in front of me. What’s more, I bought another book on my Kindle while sitting in an airport, bringing my cache of reading material to four books.

All of this has book publishers wondering whether the Kindle will do to the book business what the iPod and iTunes did to the music business.

I don’t know, but something tells me book publishing the old-fashioned way isn’t a dinosaur quite yet. There are fundamental differences between a book and a CD. If you like one track on a CD, you can buy just that track. I don’t think there will be much demand for just one chapter of a book.

But the business is growing. I, by no means, was the only person to unwrap a Kindle last year. Amazon, for the record, will say only that business is spectacular, but it declines to provide any numbers. And there are already a dozen or so competitors in the market.

The first Kindle to land in my household wasn’t the one I got last year. My daughter bought one for my wife for Christmas 2008. For all of last year, I suggested that maybe she should let me borrow it. For all of last year she declined, knowing full well that if she did, there was a good chance she wouldn’t get it back. I was stuck with old-fashioned, bulky books. But she got the hint.

Now I have my own, as do most members of my wife’s book club. That’s significant because they are all serious readers and they — every one of them — do nothing but sing the praises of the joys of the digital book-reading experience.

But one need not be a serious reader to use it. I’m certain there are golf instruction books waiting to be downloaded.


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