The Future of Publishing or Kindle-ing?

Amazon has announced the forthcoming release of the Kindle 2, which may do for books what iPods did for music, which is to say, totally turn publishing on its head.

And I have absolutely no idea how this will turn out.

On one hand, I absolutely cannot envision a world where books are replaced by files. I recall feeling this way about music, which is why I'm hesitant to reject this change. The arguments have been made: books are more tactile and experiential than CDs, books are more varied in their collectibility, etc. Plus, the Kindle 2 costs $359!

On the other, there are advantages.
1) Immediate access to books and magazines. This, to me, was the great advantage of iTunes. Why suffer the snooty glares of music store employees when you could download a full album in seconds?

2) Reference. I'm assuming the Kindle has a search option, which would save time in looking up and quoting passages. If there was some way to move my entire book collection to my computer, that would be terrific.

3) Cost. Considering hardcovers go for upwards of $20, $9.99 is a hefty savings, and a number customers are used to paying for digital content.

4) Text books. Publishing as a whole doesn't quite touch the same level of screw-the-public mentality the major record labels had reached. Text book publishers are a different story. Elimination of the ridiculous company-store fees students were forced to fork over for "updated" editions would be a welcome perk. Text book publishers, I hope you're hearing your death knell.

5) Democratization. How will publishers look for talent in an age where printing costs are heavily diminished? Will the market be flooded with mediocrity? Will lessons be learned from the democratization of the music industry?
Looking over that list, it's difficult not to sense big changes ahead.

I predict a more measured transition. I don't think people will throw out their books like CDs, but it's impossible to disregard the advantages digital reading will bring. Here's hoping publishing companies are better prepared than major record labels, and here's hoping they embrace the revolution, just not too much.


  1. Stephen King's next novel will ONLY be released on Kindle. I wonder what it cost to make that deal with him.

  2. I'm hoping for the flood of mediocrity so I can finally get a book deal!

  3. The only thing I'll miss is writing in the margins. But I'll look like a genius working on an impossible math problem furiously scribbling in a yellow legal pad while focusing my attention on what looks like the most pretentious calculator ever. So I guess there's that.

  4. i don't think there will be any more of a flood of mediocrity than print on demand has already made possible. but i agree that while this will probably be big in the future (especially when the price comes down), i don't think it'll ever replace physical books to the degree that mp3s have replaced cds. but what do i know, i still buy cds...

  5. i posted about this on my blog the other day. i think the big thing is that Amazon has plans to make Kindle files available for viewing on iPhones and G1s.

    when you suddenly take the $359 hardware cost out of it, it becomes a lot more appealing. (then again, this might be negated by the experience of reading an entire book on the small screen of an iPhone)

  6. I'm with Aaron - I don't think books will ever be fully replaced. But I also worry about "the flood of mediocrity" ...but (like Chad) that could be a good sign for people like me.

    We have a substitute teacher in our building who owns some sort of book gadget. He downloads books on this little machine and then reads them all day while he subs. (I'll just say it here that I hate it when he subs in my room. I've walked in on total chaos while that man is in my chair reading).

    My concern with reading books on a machine is this: how can you write notes in the margins? Or underline your favorite lines?

    Oh I just had a horrid thought: what will this type of machine do to Christian publishing?! We already seem to do everything half as well as The World. This could be a disaster. Anyone who can type the words "Jesus saves" will probably be able to publish. Oh no. We have to make it stop.

    And just one final thought so you know how far under a rock I live: I don't own an mp3 player, an iPod, or any little music machine of any sort. I just bought my first digital camera and I hardly know how to use my cell phone. All that being said, I'm a master on Facebook.

  7. I think it'll take off in small ways. I've been flying a lot for work and to see family and have seen the Kindle more and more on planes.

    However, I wonder if it'll bring a renewed interest in classic books and hardbacks. The I-pod has wrecked the cd industry. I have a coworker who makes fun of me for having cds on my desk that I actually listen to. The demise of cds combined with the diminished sound quality of some downloads has brought back a renewed interest in vinyl.

    There have been a few record stores in Portland who've had an increased sale in turntables and a lot of new vinyl also comes with a free MP3 album code.

    I don't think the Kindle could ever replace the smell of old books or the feeling one gets going into Powell’s or any old bookstore. I think books will be around for a while.

  8. I wonder what this will do to our public libraries. On Kindle, there is no such thing as a free 20- year-old weathered paperback.

    Well I suppose the loss of our libraries could help fund the auto industry.

  9. Libraries run by cyborgs?

    My prophetic dreams are coming true...

  10. Melanie,

    This is an important consideration. Libraries are publicly funded to democratize knowledge across socio-economic lines.

    If a digital tipping point occurs with books, what would public access to literature look like?

  11. My solution is: turn all books into easy-to-read text/message board language. Here are Shakespeare's classics:

    Hamlet: :(

    Bottom: LMAO!

    Juliet: XP

  12. I'll put my library hat on... Until there is mechanism to lend books on electronic readers, Kindles won't impact the book publishing in this way. Audio books are just starting to circulate in this way - download/borrow an audio book for two weeks and it self-destructs at the end of it's loan period.

    The bigger threat are projects like google books, the million books project, and print on demand. Same for textbooks and technical books. As an engineer, I can't read a technical or reference book online because I'm usually looking in the index for a specific topic.

    That all said, I am reading and commenting on this from my new iTouch. :)

  13. Nope. Not going to happen. I'm not being a luddite. I love technology, but books will remain on paper forever. My list of reasons is long (and includes writing in margins -- crucial for textbooks), but here's the big one:

    Young adult males adopt tech early. Young males and females bring it to a tipping point. These are the same people who buy music. The bulk of the popular book audience is middle-aged women (a bane to my book sales, but that's a weepy rant for another day). They aren't going to pay for and learn how to use a Kindle. They'll keep swapping books with their friends.

    For better or worse, this is going to remain a niche market. But don't worry, Chad. Your writing is good enough to merit the slaughter of more than a few trees.