Monday, August 16, 2010

The Lure of the Kindle

People keep asking my opinion of the Kindle, Amazon's wireless reading device, and others of similar ilk. Figured it was about time to spell it out. Let me start by saying these opinions are coming from someone who is not all that enchanted with technology. To be honest, I have come a long way since hurling my mouse across the room because I could not get graphs to settle into the text of my Masters thesis...which by the way took a 180+ page look at the scintillating topic of authentic assessment versus traditional testing in high school American Lit classes. Order your copies today!

I can now locate the spell checker (which I seldom use; but I didn't need to tell you that, did I?). From time to time I can fetch and place a picture into a text document; I can read and send email, although I frequently forget to attache the intended documents; and I can find on the Internet. Now, with all that acquired skill flowing from my fingertips, I learn that, once again, I am several technology incarnations behind. I do not have a cell phone or any device to attache to my ear or index finger 24/7. No need, no desire. So, that is my starting point for my opinion of the Kindle.

Nosey people, with little sense of decorum, ask if the Kindle has hurt my business. Believe it or not, a couple customers have even brought their wafer thin "books" in for me to see, expecting that I would rejoice along with them. Come on, people, I sell books. Think about it! Some people are simply gadget folks, and they are not my customers. They have been Amazon customers since that on-line retailer broke into the marketplace. I can happily say that I haven't noticed a change in my business. As a matter of fact, each of those joyful Kindle owners have since returned to buy books!

Personally, I would probably get one of these contraptions if I lived in a tiny apartment with no room for books. That apartment would have to be very far from a library. A long commute to work might also tempt me. For me, the dangers outweigh any advantage. Have you seen these things? They are paper thin. I would manage to break it, or worse, lose it within days of purchase. Oh, but then, I would be safe if I bought the extra warranty for $50.00. The first generation Kindles are now selling for $139.00, but I bet those who jumped on the bandwagon without thinking about the built in planned obsolescence factor paid much, much more. The newest ones cost close to $400.00, and we all know it won't stop there. You can buy a leather case for another $50.00, or a deluxe case for $60.00. Shortly, no doubt, the Kindle will read your book to you, leaving you hands free to text, apply make-up,dance or whatever else can be done while driving.

My biggest problem with the Kindle is that it is an Amazon product. Amazon, along with B&N (currently in a state of turmoil due to overconfidence) are partly responsible for the decline in small, indie bookstores throughout the U.S. Most simply can't compete. We do not try, and when we did, it made no difference. Case in point. We, and another local indie bookstore advertised pre-sales for new Harry Potters at the same price Amazon listed, meaning we stood to lose money on the deal. Still, mail trucks were filled with HPs coming into the Lakeshore from Amazon. All those kids hungry to open those books could have picked them up at our midnight party, or grabbed them during the day - hours before they arrived via mail. So, again, those people who love gadgets will use gadgets. I am sure they have their reasons, and I continue to be ever so grateful for our loyal customers.

As long as I am on a roll (not a rant) let me share a fear with you. What happens when Amazon rules the world of books? When they are the only game in town, you can be sure those attractive prices on best sellers, and their come-on package deals will go poof, and their pricing structure will change. I worry about what will happen to our many fine libraries if the love affair with electronic readers continues. Our Manitowoc and Two Rivers libraries are treasure troves for intellectuals and explorers. They are havens rich with informations, insights, and all sorts of fun...all without judgement. But, most of all, they promore books and reading. Will the Kindle create the perception that books, and therfore buildings housing them, are passe? What happens then?
And then there is the notion of....of, so sorry, I never intended this to get so long. Bottom line, if the Kindle lures you away from us, keep in touch. Please know that your friendship will always be worth more than dollars in the register.

What am I reading? We got a pile of new kids' books in last week, and I have been having the best time reading silly stories.
(Steve, where have you been? How have you been? Have you stopped reading?)