I’m no prophet, but I don’t think Amazon’s Kindle will do much for electronic books

Best that I can tell, the one thing that dedicated electronic book readers have going for them is convenience. You’re traveling, for example, and you want to take half a dozen books but if you cram them all in your carry-on bag, it’ll weigh as much as college cheerleading squad. And you don’t want to pack them in your checked luggage, because then you won’t be able to get at them during your mind-numbingly dull flight.


The Sony and Amazon offerings give you that convenience. The Amazon adds the capability to download “content” at the airport, or in your hotel room—in case you decide that everything you brought isn’t worth the effort. Still, as an average reader, who probably buys at least of a Kindle-worth of books annually  ($399 would buy a lot of books), I can’t see spending that kind of money on a reader, and adding one more piece of electronic equipment (cell phone, laptop, camera, and all their attendant charging bricks, cords, etc.) to my carry-on bag.


As neat as the Kindle gadget appears to be, the problem is content. The lack of content.


So many books, so little reason to make them electronic

Sure, there are lots of books available, but most of them are just the same thing you’d get in paper. How many of them are genuine electronic books? By that I mean, “books” that actually take advantage of the platform? In some respects, by making blogs available, Kindle sort of bridges the divide. But not so much.


Many years ago and not long after the emergence of the Web, I worked in the administration of a fabled creative writing program. After one of our staff lunches, I had an interesting conversation/argument about electronic books with a colleague.


He was—and likely remains—a committed lead-pencil luddite. I was decidedly pro. He was decidedly con.


Since the advent of the Web, I’ve been fascinated by the possibilities inherent in electronic reading. For the most part, however, I haven’t seen any of the wishes I have for ebooks fulfilled. There are people who are writing them, but for the most part, they are way out of the mainstream (note to publishing companies: get with it). And way out of the mainstream not due to any fault of their own, but likely because we the reading public have got so much potential reading to sift through, it’s hard to find your way past the headlines.


So in one important respect, I see the Kindle more as a limiting factor. You get books, magazines and newspapers. And some blogs. And you pay for subscriptions and downloads. If I ever bought one of these things–an ebook reader–it would have to have a color screen. It would have to have sound. But most importantly, it would have to have the content to make it compelling. 


Way back during that conversation with my luddite friend, I said (something like), Sure, I don’t have any use for an electronic book that’s no different in substance from the printed book. But imagine, for example, you’re reading a biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Instead of that glossy section of photos you often get in the middle of biographies, you got an electronic version of that—perhaps the poet reading from her works, telling us, in her own distinctive voice, about burning the candle at both ends. Suppose in a bio of Jack Kerouac, you got his readings and you got Allen Ginsberg’s photos, and the author’s fabled appearance with Steve Allen. And way more.


Sometime, some publisher is going to find the right platform (an iphone?) and build an electronic book that’s going to be a blockbuster. It will take advantage of most of the potential of electronic publishing. People will flock to it. And then the next one will be better. Maybe that will happen with Kindle 2. I can’t wait.

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About Steve, i.e., him

Stephen Stark is an award-winning novelist and bestselling ghostwriter. His fiction and nonfiction has appeared in numerous publications, including The New Yorker, the Washington Post, and the New York Times, Poets & Writers and in many other journals. He has been a fellow and taught at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, and won an NEA Literature Fellowship in fiction. His novel, Second Son, was a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 1992, and a New and Noteworthy Paperback of 1994.

2 thoughts on “I’m no prophet, but I don’t think Amazon’s Kindle will do much for electronic books

  1. You’re right. Kindles will never catch on. Certainly not worth adding one more piece of electronic equipment and its attendant charging bricks, cords, etc. to your carry-on bag when said bag is already brimming with an iPad, iPhone, and 4 laptops.

    • Don’t recall saying that it wouldn’t catch on. The point I was trying to make, perhaps badly, was that it wouldn’t help the “book” evolve into something that provides enabling technology to exploit the possibilities of electronic books. I think the Nook and the iPad come closer to this, but I still haven’t seen an electronic book — you probably have to be a wizard with code and a writer and a game designer, or something, or a team of those, to do this — that really blows my mind.

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