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Is Kindle Burning the Book Industry?

by Kaitlin Tambuscio, Arts and Leisure Editor


The Kindle is coming to Princeton--is TCNJ next?
On October 23, 2001, a tiny, white, rectangular shaped device was released that would come to change the way the entire world listened to music. The iPod, in conjunction with iTunes, made it possible for people to tote around their entire musical library, instead of listening to CDs in their bedroom or on their Sony Walkman disc player. Today, virtually every student on every college campus, some children in middle school, and even senior citizens listen to music on their beloved iPods. CDs, like their predecessors, records and 8tracks, have become virtually obsolete.

On November 19, 2007, Kindle, the handheld reading device, was released by amazon.com, and sold out within 4.5 hours. The device has the ability to hold over 1500 books, condensing your library into a 1/3 inch thick, 10.2 ounce reading device the size of a normal paperback. Wired called Kindle, “The iPod of the book world,” which raises important concerns to an industry already suffering: is print dying? Is Kindle the future of reading?

Essentially, the experience of reading a book has not changed or evolved since Guttenburg invented the printing press and made books accessible to society. For hundreds of years, the experience has been the same. You go to the library, or to your favorite bookstore, or borrow a book from a friend, and you read it. Some people like to read books curled up on the couch with a cup of tea and some love to read on the beach. Linda Wells, editor in chief of Allure loves reading on planes.

“People hate planes, but I just think ‘Oh, heaven!’ because I get to read the whole time!” If she were to read a Jane Austen novel on her next trip to Paris, she would read it the same way Jane Austen read her favorite novels in the 1800s, unless of course, she had a Kindle. The act of reading, and the ways by which people read has not changed, virtually ever, and all of a sudden, a tiny little device is announced via press release, and threatens to digitize the static way in which people read a book.

That said, there are many notable features about the Kindle device. The Kindle 2, the most recent model of the device, features 3G wireless, making it possible to download books to your Kindle anytime, anywhere without paying a fee or hunting for wireless hot spots in less than 60 seconds. Amazon, and fans like Laura Paone, student at The College of New Jersey and recent Kindle owner, claim that, “the screen and the fonts don’t put any strain on my eyes, and I actually think it’s a lot easier to read than a printed book because Kindle has 6 different font sizes that you can change.” According to Paone, the battery life lasts up to two weeks before you need a recharge, and the Kindle is easier to read than a book, especially outside because you don’t have to struggle with keeping your page and holding the book properly.

Kindle marks your page for you, comes equipped with a “Read to me” feature that converts text to audio, and even has a built in dictionary feature, an extra that Paone loves because, “I hate putting my book down because there's a word I don't know... it interrupts the flow of the story. The built-in dictionary allows me to look up the word without completely disrupting the story.”

The Kindle seems like an innovative device, with the goal of making your life simpler. Every book you own could literally be held in the palm of your hands. It really does seem like the ipod for books. When the iPod was released, there was much controversy over the music industry and how devices such as this, and the ability to download illegally, could kill the music industry and hinder record sales.

The print industry has been suffering lately. Countless numbers of magazines have folded, publishing houses have laid off many staffers and cut budgets, and in this economic climate, people aren’t buying books. HarperCollins, a major US publishing company, lost 75% of its operating income during the first 6 months of 2008 due to a huge decrease in sales, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

According to an article by Douglas McIntyre from bloggingstocks.com, “One theory about a recession is that people will not buy cars or refrigerators, but they will buy beer, razors, soap and books. If you can't ride around in a new Chevy, at least you can read about someone who is. That theory went out the window, at least in part, when Barnes and Noble said its same store sales were down – a lot.” McIntyre writes that in 2007, the bookseller made $4.4 million, a very small amount, and this year, lost $18.4 billion as same store sales fell 7.4%.

Novella Carpenter writes in the San Francisco Chronicle, “I had always thought that books were recession-proof, that most people facing a night at home due to budgetary constraints would gladly curl up with a mug of hot water, put on extra socks to keep the nip of their unheated apartment at bay, and read.” Clearly, this is not the case. Bookstores are suffering, and the article suggests that, “The Kindle, an electronic book sold by Amazon.com, will no doubt take away more book buying customers.”

Right now, Amazon is the only company that offers books for Kindle owners to purchase. If the Kindle continues to grow in popularity, companies like Barnes and Noble and Borders will continue to suffer. Even if people would like to buy ebooks from the bookstores, right now that option does not exist. If you own a Kindle, you must purchase books from Amazon.

Still, the ebook industry is growing. Penguin, a major United States publishing company, is experiencing a rise in ebook sales. Yahoo News reports, “John Makinson, chairman and chief executive of the Pearson Group unit, told reporters that its e-book sales for the first three months of the year in the U.S., the leading market for e-book readers, were about seven times the level of the previous year.”

The article also says that, “Sales of electronic readers, including Amazon's Kindle and Sony's Reader, have been growing fast over the last year in the U.S. as the gadgets, small and light enough to be carried in a handbag, can eliminate the need to carry around the more bulky books and newspapers.”

While the Kindle is a very innovative piece of technology, there is one major complaint that Amazon is receiving: at $359, it’s very expensive, especially considering that you still have to purchase books. Every book you currently own, unless you intend to continue reading your old school paper backs and hard covers, would have to be repurchased to be readable on your Kindle. This would mean buying your favorite novels, the novels you always want to have at your fingertips again, and considering the economy, this does not seem plausible. While New York Times Bestsellers are $10, other ebooks sell for more. “The Kindle will have to get a lot cheaper before I consider buying one,” says Kelli Plaskett, junior Interactive Multimedia major at The College of New Jersey.

Eva LaSata, junior accounting major at The College of New Jersey and literature lover says that cost was a major deterrent to buying a Kindle. “The price is a bit steep only because you are still paying about fifteen dollars per book in addition to your initial investment. I don’t mind paying for books but I do believe the price of the books should be greatly reduced off their physical price because you are eliminating the cost of the paper and materials to produce the product.”

Although the books are costly, considering the elimination of production costs, the Kindle is environmentally friendly, something that attracts people these days. “I like the idea that paper is not wasted when you download books on a Kindle. It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” says LaSata.

While there are many benefits to owning and reading from a Kindle, there are some that just can’t fathom the idea of reading classic novels on Kindle. Josephine Cusumano, senior English major, is one of the Kindle skeptics. “ You won't have that tangible feel of a book. A book is a physical work of art, something you can write on, pass on and keep forever.” Even LaSata says she isn’t ready to read her favorite novels off of a screen.

Listening to Mozart on iTunes wouldn’t seem strange to anyone today, and maybe in a few years, reading Charles Dickens on Kindle will be the norm, but until then, the battle between print versus digital will continue to wage until someone waves the white flag, or is defeated.

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