A friend referred me to an article in the Economist on the upsurge of popularity of the Amazon Kindle. The new ebook reader has led publishing pundits to speculate whether this is the beginning of the end for printed books. (This is not, of course the first time we’ve heard this version of “the sky is falling, the sky is falling!) For all that the Kindle is a cool gadget, it’s a very conservative one, in that all it really does is enable you to read stuff on it. The Kindle does not remind you of your next appointment or tells you when to buy cat food. It just enables you to download stuff to read.
The Kindle is not a threat to printed books, says the Economist, as Kindle users are an unusually prolific bunch of readers. They buy e-books in addition to buying their usual amount of print books. For the young, the early adapters, and the infrequent readers, adding the Kindle app or another called Stanza to their iPhones may be the way to keep up with the latest bestsellers, newspapers and magazines.
Could ebooks kill off printed books the way iTunes and similar sites led to a decline in buying music CDs? Probably not as books are not usually sold by chapter the way CDs might be broken up and sold by separate tracks.
The real beneficiary could be newspapers. In a time where print newspapers are going out of business with depressing regularity, people are willing to pay to subscribe to newspapers and magazines to read on their Kindles. It only goes to show that the public is willing to pay for an otherwise free service if they see a benefit to themselves. In this case, the convenience of reading their daily paper on a convenient device they carry with them on a regular basis.