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Curling up with Kindle

Nicole Inglis
Special to The Vail TrailKindle, a hand-held library of sorts, may someday eclipse books in popularity.
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Launched in November of 2007, the Kindle is an electronic reader with wireless capabilities, designed to house entire libraries on a single, hand-held device. But after the release of the first Kindle, and possibly revolutionary innovations for the second generation, the question still remains: Will e-books ever catch on?

Steve Jobs, CEO and co-founder of Apple, told TechReport.com that 40 percent of Americans read one book or less per year. It’s for this reason he believes Kindle and the e-book market won’t be successful.

Nevertheless, Amazon is hoping Kindle will force a quick and drastic shift in the publishing industry. They’re trying to find a way to make the transition as seamless as possible, like that of the compact disc to the mp3 player. However, the music industry had some pretty big advantages in its digital revolution. There were some middle stages, like the development and subsequent copyright tug-of-war over Napster. File-sharing programs helped pave the way for a digital music market. But books don’t have the same head start.

Despite the media hype and a cult following on tech blogs and discussion forums, most people admit to never having seen a Kindle in the hands of a person on the street. The leap from page to screen is a big one, and Amazon is doing its best to try to make the Kindle experience as close as possible to reading a book.

The Kindle uses “electronic paper display” that is intended to read just like the pages of a book. It doesn’t strain the eyes like a computer screen would because it uses ink – only it displays the ink electronically. The Kindle screen has no backlight or glossiness like a computer, so you can read just as you would with a regular book; outside in the park on a sunny day, or in your bed with soft lighting. E-ink also is used by the other electronic readers on the market, such as the Sony Digital Book.

The Kindle is convenient, sure, with enough memory to house 200 titles in one 10.3-ounce PDA-style computer. It’s designed to fit comfortably in your hands and gives you access to Amazon’s vast selection of entire books, daily newspapers and blogs. It doesn’t require any synching like iPods do, and in fact, doesn’t ever need to be hooked up to your computer. Instead, the Kindle allows you to download through a wireless connection called Whispernet no matter where you are.

“I’m reading twice as fast as normal,” said Dee Clink, 60, a Kindle owner in Grand Junction. “The pages turn very quickly, and it’s extremely easy on the eyes.”

Clink is in the honeymoon phase of her Kindle relationship: She’s only had it for a week, and has spent much of the last few days going over the manual. But she was surprised at how it easy it is to use

“I love it,” she said. “And I’d recommend it to anyone who wanted an electronic reader. But they’re not for everyone.”

Clink said someone like her daughter probably will never buy a Kindle. An avid reader and active book club member, she does a lot of reading, but, “she really just likes the feeling of holding a book, I think,” Clink said.

“There are some people that are just stuck in the way that they do things and some people really like this sort of thing. I try to stay up on everything electronic. It just makes life a lot easier nowadays if you do.”

Besse Lynch of the Bookworm in Edwards sees the Kindle as a looming threat for local bookstores across the country. The problem isn’t that books are going digital; it’s where they’re being bought from.

“The Kindle shuts us, and any brick-and-mortar bookstore, out completely, because it only allows you to search and download from Amazon’s store.” Lynch said. “It gives them a monopoly.”

Lynch says she’s not sure how much the Kindle is catching on because Amazon is vague about its sales numbers, but Amazon could essentially corner the e-book market the same way iPods revolutionized digital music. The music market has since adapted, with many artists and record companies selling music over the Internet, as well as the inception of the iTunes store. But there are still those who long for the scratchy sounds of vinyl records and the musty smell of basement record stores.

“I think that there will always be a place for books.” Lynch said. “People love that

feeling of curling up on a couch with a good book. I just can’t imagine people loving their Kindle the same way they love their books.”

Lynch says e-readers in general might have their place in today’s fast-paced society. The convenience of an e-reader while commuting, for example, could eliminate a lot of extra weight and space.

She said the Sony version of the e-reader, the Digital Book, is often used by people in the publishing industry. The Digital Book cannot download texts over a wireless connection, but you can buy “e-books” from a number of outlets, including independent bookstores such as the Bookworm.

Because the Kindle is specific to Amazon, the proceeds from purchases cannot go back into the community, Lynch said. Amazon will not create jobs, pay local taxes, or put on events in the community, she pointed out. Amazon actually refuses to pay state taxes at all, a policy for which it is currently in litigation.

Despite being bound to Amazon as of now, an audible buzz is developing over the “Kindle 2.0,” or the next generation Kindle. Improvements include a thinner design, and reformatted buttons intended to cut down on inadvertent page changes.

The word around business and tech blogs, however, is that the Kindle might find its niche in education: The ability to download hundreds of dollars of heavy textbooks onto one Kindle, coupled with the ability to highlight and annotate on the screen, could launch the Kindle into the tech gadget stratosphere so dominantly occupied by the iPod.

“I think e-readers are a part of the future,” Lynch said. “It’s not the only direction that books will go, though. I think some people will still just read books, some will use e-readers, and some will use both. But there will always be books,” Lynch said. “And there will always be people who love them.”


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