Remember the Kindle? Oh, right—publishing’s Andrew Ridgeley

imagineAt last we have photographs (just clever photoshop renderings, but exciting nonetheless) of what Apple’s forthcoming tablet browser/reading device may look like.

And what it looks like is the death knell for the Kindle and its low-contrast screen and back-to-1985 design aesthetic. As well, this should break for good Amazon’s attempted stranglehold on digital books. There will be more vendors and more formats available, and there will be little reason to abide by Amazon’s draconian only-on-our-devices form of the ebook.

The Apple tablet should do for books and print what the iPod did for music—break the media free of the medium and really change the landscape of publishing. Seriously, if this thing is half as beautiful as it looks in these images, posthaste it will consign the Kindle and Sony eReader to that peculiar graveyard of ebook Also-Rans. (Remember the RocketBook? No? S’okay, neither does anyone else.) What Apple “gets” that escapes Bezos and Sony is that any device must be more than just an ereader; it should be a browser, a picture display, and so on—a multi-media device for these multi-media times.

Of course, this begs the question: What does this mean for books? What does this mean for authors? What does this mean for publishers? How will authors make money when content is just a data file beamed between reading tablets? Anyone out there have any ideas? Want to sketch them out here? We’ll kick your thoughts around and expound further in a post next week entitled “W(h)ither publishing?”

[Update: And there is this in the New York Times, which certainly merits discussion. Trust we will fling our puny minds at this, too, at some length in the next few days.]

  1. That depresses me. I like having bookshelves full of books, and going into bookstores and physically browsing. I don’t want most of my adult life to be condemned to browsing through amazon and other websites. I really don’t want everyone to start reading on these ebook machines, because I do think it will mean that paper books will become obsolete, and I find that sad, because reading an entire book on a screen has never been something I’ve found particularly enjoyable. You just can’t curl up with an e-reader like you can with a paperback.


  2. I say bring it on. I have a Kindle, which I do curl up with–even to read children’s books. Kids like pushing buttons. Anyone who says kids won’t like being read to on a Kindle probably hasn’t tried.

    The Kindle reminds me of the early digital cameras. They sucked, but they were fun toys for gearheads. (Confession: I am on my sixth or seventh digital camera.) Some people bemoaned the loss of film development. Everyone else started taking more and better pictures.

    I love bookstores and visit at least weekly. I love printed books and have thousands in my house. I’m starting to view them as collector’s objects, though. I buy signed books. I buy beautiful books. I buy books you can’t get in the U.S. I don’t really want any airport paperbacks.

    I worked as a newspaper reporter in the early ’90s and it became quickly evident to me that the industry was in huge trouble. I jumped online in the mid-90s and had many happy results.

    Whenever you inject too much romance into a technology–trains, newspapers, typewriters–beware. People who figure this out early end up running the show.

    The enduring element here is story. Stories can be told with images, with words and images, with just words, through song, on the big screen–possibly even with formats we haven’t imagined.

    I think we all have to ask ourselves if we want to be storytellers or prisoners of technology that might not last. And I’m not talking about ereaders, alas.


  3. Count me as an ebook lover. I avoided the Kindle and other dedicated readers for exactly the reason you mention — I want my devices to do more than one thing (I read on my cell).

    The Apple teaser-tablet is indeed very pretty and, design-wise, in line with the iPod Touch and iPhone. And because it looks so much like the iPhone, I worry that if Apple offers whispernet-style downloads, they’ll require users to use AT&T. (Please, Apple, don’t do that. Also, bring the iPhone to Verizon. Thank you.)

    As for “vooks”, my visceral reaction is gak. (1) I think the video elements would feel intrusive, and never match what I picture in my head as I read. There’s nothing worse than a book-movie whose cast doesn’t match your imagined cast. I’m down with multimedia books — I think we’ll see a lot of collaboration among media artists (books with soundtracks, etc). What I don’t want to see is video that takes the place of text. (Vook-makers, please make the video elements optional. Thank you.)

    I don’t know about the Andrew Ridgeley metaphor. He was just another in a long line of less-than-stellar-halves-of-duos (poor John Oates). I’d equate the Kindle to Poison’s Unskinny Bop on the day Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit showed up. Bye-bye, hair metal. 🙂


  4. The whole “vook” idea is extremely scary.


  5. Personally I love books. Real books. And I don’t think they will ever be obsolete because there will always be people who love and display and collect books. There are always purists.

    However, I kind of think that e-book publishing will amount to more profit for nearly everyone. Is that dense of me? Less overhead, less printing cost, speedier production…. I mean, if you take the iPod comparison a step farther – yes, it changed the way we buy music. I don’t have cartons of empty jewel cases in my closet anymore but I’m still buying and listening to what I want to listen to. And an “album” still costs me ten bucks. And Kanye West is still rich as hell. The music industry hasn’t tanked, it has just changed. The little guys seem to have benefited and the big guys have had to work just a little bit harder. There are people even in that industry who are crying poor and wailing about how digital music will be the end of them but it hasn’t been. The only people who are really suffering are the cd shops and, while that same fate may affect our little local booksellers, a part of me is still optimistic. Like I said – purists. I don’t have an e-reader and it will be about a million years before I can afford one (or am willing to cough up however much for one) but even if I do make the transition I wont be giving up my books. And something tells me I’m not alone in that.


  6. A few weeks ago I spent a relaxing weekend in the city. What could be better than sipping a latte, eating a chocolate croissant, chatting with my friend while at the same time, overlooking one of my favorites places ~ Sephora. I felt happy and content. Then the Man with the big Kindle sat down next to me. I don’t own one! I gawked with envy at him and his digital device. My friend stated (quite loudly as a matter of fact) she had never seen a Kindle either and we realized we were probably the only two people in the tri-state area who have never laid eyes (or fingers) on one. Needless to say, the Man never looked our way and treated us like the annoying kids on the airplane who can’t stop whining and crying.

    As a non e-reader I’m looking forward to checking out the Apple tablet thingy, for I am a huge Apple fan. However, I will say I am full of doubt about it’s reliability. I have one of the newer iPhones and I’ve had nothing but problems with it freezing up. I even took it in to one of the cute dudes at the Genius Bar and they opened it up, performed all kinds of surgery on it short of a transplant, and the rotten thing STILL freezes. I guess my concern is that I’d have the same problem with the tablet and I’d be stuck on the same page right when I need to know what happens next, or something horrific like that.

    Anyway, all that is beside the point and thanks for listening. I can’t imagine books will become obsolete. On my tiny Main Street we have two separate book stores with one being dedicated to just children’s books. I don’t think people will ever tire of perusing book shelves, of appreciating beautiful book covers and fiddling with the pages.

    Good points were made about the music industry as well as the progression of the digital camera world. I think it’s a good thing to move forward and I don’t see why we can’t live with both real books and the e-readers.

    Think of all the kids who lug heavy back packs around…those heavy history, english, math books and novels could fit in the palm of their hands. Cool.


  7. My four kids (ages 13 and under) are huge readers. HUGE READERS…multiple novels a week readers. Guess what they want for Christmas? E-readers. We’re scoping out the best ones now.

    Stories will survive, they’ll just be in a different format. And authors will get paid to tell the stories…I can’t wait to find out how!


  8. *hearts Apple* I am so going to figure out how to get my hands on one of these!

    To be honest, I’m excited. I am definitely a “physical book” kind of girl. I love the sense of well-being that fills me when I go into a room and am surrounded by books. I love holding them in my hand, and turning the pages.

    However, I also think that a tablet e-reader device like this one will open more doors than it closes. How awesome will it be to have more avenues to immerse one’s readers into one’s story? I’m not an e-reader sort of person, yet. But I have a feeling that Apple will convince me to be one very soon. 😀


  9. Rebecca Stead is the reason I don’t like e-books. I have a Kindle app for my iPod, and her WHEN YOU REACH ME was one of my first digital book downloads. Well, I loved that book. And I wanted to lend it to people. And I couldn’t because it would mean giving them my iPod.

    Lending books is one of the basic pleasures of reading. I don’t want to give that up.

    Even if they come up with a 14-day lender lease to transfer files that expire, there would have to be a universal format and all of my friends would have to own a reader.


  10. Kurtis, I actually believe that at some point, sharing ebook files will be possible. In the same way that music e-tailers eventually gave up and removed DRM (digital rights management) locks on music, ebooks will likely end up shareable.

    This may mean that piracy becomes a problem, but I think it will have the opposite effect. Print pirates in other countries will be hurt by free books, and most readers, if they love a book, buy a copy anyway (for themselves or their friends).

    I read WHEN YOU REACH ME in a free galley and loved it so much that I have since purchased four copies—for friends, for myself, for a writer I know.


  11. Digital books will inevitable supplant much of paper publishing, but the change-over will not be quite as complete as for digital music.

    The low-hanging fruit for digital books are textbooks and novels. Textbooks, because they have a “freshness date” of a few years, and because students will prefer a single e-reader to forty pounds of woodpulp strapped to their backs. Novels because anything you’ll buy in paperback you’ll like buy as a download.

    I’m skeptical of Apple’s e-reader, just as I am of the Kindle. I don’t want a book that’s trapped in some proprietary format. I want a format that lets me read the book on my laptop, on my e-reader, or on my phone, as I choose. The closest format for my tastes so far is PDF.

    And paper books won’t go away. For many books, there’s a tactile and visceral component to the experience that’s impossible to replicate via bits and bytes. And the battery life of a paper book is hard to beat.


  12. One thing of which not to lose sight is that the Sony and Amazon offerings use ‘digital paper’ technology, meaning a low-power un-backlit solution that won’t suck nearly as much battery as a monster-size iPhone will. Doesn’t change the sexiness assertion but shouldn’t be left out of a comparison.


  13. . . . There is no widget like a book . . . .


  14. Publishers would be wise to do what tollways are doing with their “license-plate” billing. There is likely to be an identification in each one of these readers–make agreements with Apple to collect reader data, book usage, etc, and send the bill. 🙂

    If t’were so easy.


    P.S.: How’s that new light Ibook treating you, Michael?


  15. I’m a Kindle user, but I’d love to see a bit more competition in the ebook market. More competition means more innovation, as well as better prices for consumers. While I can’t say I’m 100% sold on the idea of reading for long periods of time on an LCD or LED screen (oh, the eyestrain) I’m certainly happy to see any company investing a significant chunk of money on the idea that people still read books.

    BTW, I do remember the RocketBook. I’ve still got mine and its tucked in with my old Nintendo Gameboy and other gadgets. Weirdly, it still works pretty well.


  16. Oooooh, color. That device looks like it could handle picture books. What are the dimensions? It looks like it might even do justice to Ezra Jack Keats. Imagine trying to read SNOWY DAY on a Kindle. 😛


  17. I love real books and I’m sure they’ll be around as long as I live. And I’ll buy them.

    That being said, I literally salivate when I see pics of the tablet. Nothing wrong with progression in technology. (Well, in my opinion.)


  18. I love my Kindle, and with the Apple Tablets’s high price, will be enjoying my Kindle for quite some time.


  19. Five years from now bookstores will look like Blockbuster.

    Sorry. I love bookstores. But the economics are unstoppable. No printing, no paper, no trucks, no real estate, fewer employees.

    Publishers are in equally big trouble unless they get their heads out of their rears and move to enhancing books with music, video and additional material. If it’s just words on a screen then writers no longer need publishers, we just need someone to collect the price of the download. Publishers either re-imagine the book (and not the Vook) or they go bye bye.


  20. Jeanie W…
    Most of what you see with the iPhone is speculation. However, it’s based on very good information.

    Google Apple Tablet, you can read rumors,(supposed specs) about this device. Size is 10.7 inches or perhaps 9, high resolution screen, (lots of pixels) and will certainly have all the capabilities of the extant iPhone. No one, so I’ve read, really knows whats inside the Tablet, (Geek stuff). Apple may, or may not – only Steve Jobs knows, introduce Apple Tablet January 2010; which is sooner than most Tablet watchers expected.

    If it matches or exceeds all the rumors, it will be a *game breaker*!

    Haste yee back 😉


  21. Hmm, it does seem slightly unfortunate that Apple will have an even greater monopoly on life’s new media. At least it will allow consumers to make an easier decision when they want to buy an e-reader (and a phone, and an mp3 player…), but what does that mean for the market at large?

    And there have indeed been some heated discussions of the vook already, at Nathan Bransford’s blog, for one.


  22. […] Noble a two-screen doozy, and a cut-rate Kindle-esque reader called the iRiver Story, and many more ways to read books that make the Kindle look like slate and chalk. Soon you’ll have your […]


  23. […] griping as newer technology looks to make the Kindle a thing of the past, as Michael pointed out in a post from earlier this month. Now we have the Nook, which has some nice features, like a touchscreen, color navigation, and the […]


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