Reading 2.0 and the Future of Books

I finally got around to listening to the  NPR OnPoint radio show, which was originally broadcast on Nov 20, 2007, the day after the Kindle was announced.

One of the guests was Steven Levy, the Newsweek reporter who did the cover story on the Kindle. He noted during the discussion about whether kids have too many other distractions today to spend time with a book.  He said, “a passion for books really comes from being brought up with a passion for books”. The next caller remembered how growing up she would read books that her parents left around the house, after browsing through the chapters and scanning the front and back covers. She doubted that the Kindle could replicate that experience. The point here is that the virtual world is very different from the physical one. There are advantages and disadvantages to each.  The Kindle lets anyone browse the world’s largest bookstore, read reviews and get recommendations about similar books, and even read the first chapter without actually buying the book. This would be nearly impossible to replicate in the physical world, unless one belonged to a book club that met in a huge B&N or Borders on a regular basis. In fact, there have been several occasions when I ended up downloading a different book on the Kindle than the one I thought I wanted, simply after reading the reviews and browsing related titles. The idea behind the KindlesforKids project is to bring that “social reading” aspect to families and communities that lack access to libraries or bookstores.

Another caller envisioned distributing Kindles to school children pre-loaded with every textbook that they would use during a particular grade, thus relieving them of the burden of buying and carrying around a bunch of heavy books all year. This is a great idea in theory, but the fact is that most school systems provide the textbooks to students; they generally do not have to buy them until they get to college (at which point it becomes a significant expense, and a rapidly depreciating asset). So it would be necessary to formulate a new licensing and distribution model between the school systems and the publishers. If enough schools were so inclined, the publishing industry would be forced to go along. Let’s hope they don’t look to the music industry for guidance.


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