Tag Archives: Barnes and Noble Nook

Kindle, etc.: Third time’s a charm

23 Oct

Starting at only $139, the recently-released Amazon Kindle 3G joins the ranks of affordable electronic devices. No longer a hefty investment, this controversial reader is bound to eventually become as common a purchase as the iPod. Amazon boasted record sales of the device in the weeks following its release last July, and that same month the company announced that, for the first time, e-book sales had surpassed those of hardcover books.

Meanwhile, the Barnes and Noble Nook has come down to a competitive starting price of $149. Although less popular than the Kindle, the Nook allows public library rentals, an attractive option that the Kindle does not offer. This feature is yet another indication that e-readers are moving closer toward becoming a widely accessible option for readers from a large swath of the economic spectrum.

Some tech pundits such as Nicholas Negroponte predict that the physical book will be obsolete by 2015. While many critics agree that these predictions are premature and exaggerated, one cannot deny that e-readers are slowly becoming a medium of choice for reading.

For those bibliophiles who remain steadfast in their decision to only read physical books, this transition is unsettling. I myself continue to remain in denial that e-books will become the default medium of books in the near future. I’m one of those people who simply can’t entertain the idea of using a single, generic graphite device to read and store my entire book collection. For me, the feeling of holding a book in my hands, admiring its binding and cover, and flipping its pages not with a button, but with my hands, is central to the experience of reading. I love just being around books. I love my book-filled office and the heartily-stocked bookshelf in my sparsely furnished apartment which will soon reach its capacity. After all, our culture has long drawn a deep and inextricable connection between the physical presence of books and the figurative presence of creativity, intellect and learning.

But is it possible I’m just an old fogey, too young to rent a car, but yet somehow too old to be swayed in my beliefs about how books should be consumed? I ask this because recently, my father raised a very interesting point: quite a few people in the generation before me – himself included – felt the same way about music. Heck, my dad still asks how to get to Newbury Comics and (the now closed) Looney Tunes every time we’re in Harvard Square. My father does not own an iPod, nor do I think he ever will, and he’s made me realize I may have been just young enough to get swept into iTunes camp. Our conversation went something like this:

My father, in disbelief: “So you don’t buy physical CDs anymore?”

Me, nonchalantly. “Nope.”

“And that doesn’t bother you? You don’t care owning the album, enjoying its art?”

“Well, I can download an icon of the album cover on iTunes.”

A disconnect here? I think so. My father still cannot separate the physical aspects of an album from the experience of listening to music. I, meanwhile, am able to accept digitized versions of these as sufficient. I owned some CDs as a teenager and did always enjoy the feeling of purchasing a favorite band’s new album, admiring the details of its jacket and filing it away in my CD case, but then MP3s came along and suckered my impressionable teenage self in. My listening preferences, not having been cemented yet, were still malleable enough at this point to embrace digital music.

What make books different than music in this case? Sadly, not much. I’m well-aware I may have a similar conversation with my own children someday. They’ll view my love of physical books as quaint and impractical, trying to convince me that e-books remove nothing essential from the experience of reading. I’ll continue to object, making them drag me to the one or two indie bookstores still remaining in our neighborhood.

But I’m hopeful. Music albums do still sell – their sales have simply gone down and their popularity underground. But true music lovers of all ages still seek them out and will continue to do so. I suspect it may remain the same for books. 20 years from now, most of us may own e-readers and use them for the majority of our reading. But a few, even among those who use e-readers for some of their reading, will continue to purchase physical copies of our contemporary favorites and timeless classics and beautiful anthologies. The book won’t die entirely – at least not anytime remotely soon. So in the meantime, let’s gather our hardcovers while we may and not waste too much precious reading time worrying about a future we can never fully predict.