The Kindle 2, unpacked.

Amazon’s new electronic reading device has everybody a-twitter. The paradigm-shift it may or may not represent is the Big Pea under my mattress at night, but for the purposes of this post I’m going to focus on a more basic discussion of *the thing itself*.  I’m eager to hear reactions, especially from our customers.  Book people are lucky to have a fabulous network of peers, but in recent weeks I’ve been craving a dialog with our book-buying audience. We’ll be taking the Kindle and our Flip camera to the cobblestoned streets of Nantucket to see what people have to say. Watch for that in upcoming posts…

Being a Gemini makes it easy for me to be both a threatened-independent-bookseller and a techno-gadget-freak.  I order new reading devices enthusiastically but open the boxes with trepidation, for each new gizmo poses a challenge to Ye Olde Bookworks and the status quo.  I’ve been taught to believe that in threat lies opportunity, so that’s the attitude I’m going to go with.  As our co-manager Jeanne always says, “Onward!”

And yet.  I’ve been holding off on buying a Kindle for one obvious reason: it’s from Amazon, say no more.  But resistance turned out to be futile. I just had to know what we’re up against, so I placed the order last November and the new model finally arrived this week.  The launch occasioned so much fanfare in media and tech circles–and generated so much anxiety in the worlds of publishing and bookselling–that I couldn’t wait to get my paws on it and assess the threat for myself.

Bottom line?  Buy an iPhone. I’ll explain.

To set the scene, I was paying bills on a cold, grey, windy Nantucket day in February, so I was properly depressed.  The mail truck hummed around our cul-de-sac and sure enough, the Kindle had arrived. I took lot of pictures to document the, um, special occasion.

The box read: “Once upon a time…”.  I hoped it wasn’t a sort of advance epitaph about bookselling…

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Jeff Bezos greeted me by name in his welcome letter, which was a bit disconcerting. If he really knew who he was talking to, wouldn’t he be more apologetic?!?

I have to give props to the packaging, because it was paper-based. It came partially charged (assisting with the instant gratification factor as alluded to in a Kindle review on BookChick’s Blog), but let’s cut to the chase. Right out of the gate I was unimpressed with the display. It’s not a revolutionary white paper-like screen, as I’d been led to believe–the screen is grey and it’s dim. Furthermore, it has the same annoying black flash when pages refresh that I found so objectionable in the Sony Reader. The display area is small compared to the size of the unit, it’s monochromatic, and–sin of sins in the modern world–it’s made really to do only one thing.  All huge strikes in my book, if you’ll pardon the pun.

When the Kindle is left idle, classic images appear, mostly of authors. The pictures really are a nice touch, but the second one that popped up reminded me unpleasantly of the imminent demise of the Oscar Wilde Bookshop, a West Village landmark which closes its doors March 8th:

02420261 027 028029 030 

Almost as troubling is that that last one is supposed to be Emily Dickinson.

The gadget’s features have been well documented elsewhere on the internet and in the news lately, so I won’t go into much detail.  The thing it does better than any device on the planet is wirelessly deliver “books” over the “whispernet” faster than you can say the words “they store all my personal info, making it incredibly easy and painless to give them money!” (If I sound petty and jealous it’s because I am. Both.)  One thing about the Kindle that might help sell traditional formats is that’s fabulous for sampling books. One of the first things I did was download a teaser for “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle,” a book which I confess I have not read. Pretty cool.  But did I like reading on it?  Not nearly so much as I like reading on my iPhone, which in turn I like not nearly so much as I like reading a book. (You’ll forgive me if I’m not ready to refer to those as “p-books”, as printed paper books are now being dubbed so as to differeniate them from e-books. Oy vey.)

By now my ambivalence is showing, and I haven’t even touched upon the exorbitant expense–$359 for the unit, sans content (one has to buy a lot of books at $9.99 before beginning to save money, though public domain titles are free)–or the Draconian DRM (digital rights management) issues in all this. DRM is where the real threat of Amazon lies by dint of its sheer size=power=ability to control the industry. I’m enough of a capitalist and child of consumer culture to be wowed by a killer product (Hello again, iPhone.) but the Kindle just isn’t impressive enough to win me over for general use. If I were a student and my textbooks could all be held in this miniscule thing, it would be fabulous. If I was going on a trip to China (I actually got invited, but I don’t think I can swing the price) it would be great. For general use it’s just not all that.  For commuting, or travelling, or reading while killing time on the go, I’d choose an iPhone, because it is one thing and I can buy its content from many places, including both Amazon and Nantucket Bookworks . That just sits better with me, and no doubt with most people.

Is the Kindle cool? You bet. Will it change people’s daily reading habits? Nope. Of course, the elephant in the room is bigger than this particular toy, but the hour is late and these thoughts are wearying. I’m off to–you guessed it–read a book in bed.

-Wendy Hudson

Many smart book types are weighing in daily on this discussion, so for starters check out what Patrick from Vroman’s, Rich Rennicks from Malaprops, and Arsen Kashkashian from Boulder Bookstore have to say. Slate also has a good piece detailing the threats Amazon poses to publishing in the ebook age. Thanks to Ann Kingman for that, and to all Twitter friends for the invaluable information of recent weeks. Onward!

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