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Kindle: iPod for Books or More Like the Good-for-Nothing Segway?

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LA is a gadget kind of town. We’re also, it seems, swiftly becoming quite the literary town. And so, as the year draws nigh and you scramble around the city trying to score the latest whatever for your loved ones this holiday season, it would be wrong of us to ignore Kindle.

Amazon’s Kindle has been out for a month now. Many in the book world deemed it a failure from the outset. Many booklovers who like to touch, hold and smell the real deal have no desire to touch the fake, plastic, watering-can-of-a-book anytime soon.

The techies, who would normally adopt something like this straight away, have raised concerns about the $400 price, Amazon’s proprietary platform, the clunkiness of the interface and the fact that, well, it’s not as pretty as the iPod.

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Those directly involved in the book industry – writers, publishers, printers, book cover designers – are all calling it evil because they’re worried it will put them out of work. Anyone who thinks it might vaguely threaten their livelihood has dismissed it as a passing fad and a crap piece of technology.

No one wants to take it seriously. No one wants to deal with it. But just a month after its launch, the asking price has soared from $400 to $1,500 on eBay and the wait list is long and ever growing. This is not the Wii, for sure. It’s not even a Wii plus Guitar Hero plus an iPhone. But in a town where the latest thing is the only cool thing, is there something to Kindle that might, maybe, have a bearing on the way we’ll read books in the future?

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The Basics

  • It's $400
  • eBooks are $9.99 each and are only available in one format – Amazon’s format
  • You can store 200 books at a time
  • The visual screen is designed to simulate the turning of pages
  • It is wireless and you can browse websites & blogs from it – for a “surfing” fee
  • Kindle wireless coverage is Sprint's, so you're S.O.L in Montana & Alaska
  • The browser isn’t a standard web-browser (what would LAist look like on it, I wonder?)
  • You could access blogs like LAist on Kindle, but that will cost you too - $1.99/month per blog

The Pros

  • 200 books at one time sounds like a damn good option when on a long flight – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve packed too many books or not enough books into my too-full suitcase. What might you read, what might you learn, if you had that many books at your disposal and were stuck on a long flight for many hours?
  • Green, green, green – Imagine how much paper, how many trees, how much chemical ink wastage would simply vanish if we all read books on Kindle?
  • A new hardcover book is $24 and up – if I can really get all my books for $9. well, color me happy. But the question is – what books are available and when? All the books I’d ever want to read? The latest as soon as it comes out?
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The Cons

  • The name is ridiculous. Kindling? Ken-doll? Fire? Flame? Set the book world on fire? All silly and not nearly cool enough to inspire masses to wait in line or pay too much for it.
  • I’m a toucher and a feeler and a smeller of books. I like to line them up on my shelves. Maybe I could get past this to save a few (or millons!) of trees. Maybe. I’m skeptical about how cozy Kindle can be by the fire (no pun intended, or...wait...). Or when reading a 1,000 page book.
  • Scratch reading in the tub off the list.
  • What about the gorgeously laid-out books like Only Revolutions? How could you do them justice with such a clunky piece of plastic and a touch screen?
  • As Simon Owens so aptly points out: “what the hell use is a blog if you can’t click on outbound links?”
  • Who at Amazon decides which blogs are “available” on Kindle and which ones are not? (And who gets a cut of those profits? If Amazon “sells” access to LAist, will LAist see a piece of the action?)
  • Only 200 books? Doesn’t that number seem small for $400? As many have pointed out, I could buy a ton of disk space for way less.

The Deal Breakers

  • You want me to pay to surf free content from your tiny little screen? In your crappy little browser? Please!
  • If I buy a book on Amazon to read on my Kindle, I can’t share it with anyone else. And I can’t read it anywhere else. The Amazon format isn't PDF. What will this mean for the thousands of readers who purchased earlier platforms in which the PDF was king? I don’t like the idea that I can’t move the file that I paid for to my computer, my iPhone, my Blackberry, what-have-you.
  • I also cannot buy Kindle-ready books anywhere else. Unlike the iPod that will at least play my non-iTunes purchased music, the Kindle makes me a slave to Amazon. I don’t like being a slave. UPDATE: Reader Starman, in the comments below, points us to a few sites that offer Kindle format (.AZW) books for download.
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So What?
There are a million different scenarios and market angles and lessons learned from the music industry and downloading encrypted artistic content and battery-life/plug-in concerns that I haven't even touched - you are busy holiday shoppers after all. There are many "big" things about Kindle to discuss and I'm sure many of them have already raised questions in your minds. Or bad memories. Or both.

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I think too many people are making too big a fuss about this. Is it pretty? Hell no. Is it likely to revolutionize the book industry this year? Uh-uh. But would it be extremely convenient and good for the earth if something like it (something smarter, something cheaper, something cooler, something that didn’t screw things up like the music industry first did) was created? Absolutely. If they can get it and the price (and the color and the interface and so much more) right, I could see this thing working in a few years. Maybe sooner. Maybe from someone less intent on owning the technology and the content. Sony? Apple? And all this, from someone who loves her books, all lined up on their shelves. This, from someone who wanted to hate Kindle on spec.

What do you think?

  • What would make you use this first-generation Kindle?
  • Or some better version of it in the near future?
  • What are the big issues and deal-breakers for you?
  • If it takes off, do you think Los Angeles will be an early adopter?
  • Or will we wait it out until it’s really, really cool?