Jeff Bezos is a visionary and, who knows, one day I might be tempted to get myself a Kindle (assuming future versions run on something different than Sprint’s EVDO network). Yet, what I have found to be noteworthy this week is not the device itself, but the hype calling the Kindle “the iPod for books” (here are headlines from Newsweek and Business Week).
It requires the thinking person just about thirty seconds’ effort to come up with at least four reasons to dispel this superficial and downright weird notion.
- When I bought my first iPod, I spent a weekend or two loading the hundreds of CDs I had bought and loved in my previous life as a music listener. Then, I sold many of the CDs on eBay. When I buy my first Kindle, I will have no way to load onto the device the paper jungle that threatens to take over my home. I suppose I could search for digital versions of the books I loved best, but (as correctly noted by Peter Kafka writing in the Silicon Alley Insider) there is just no way that the Kindle can suck up all my books the way the iPod did with my CDs.
- Does it matter, anyway? What people do with their music is listen to the same music they know and love over and over again. (To get some variety, I have always opted for the iPod with the fattest memory around, and never owned a Nano or Shuffle, because I would otherwise hardly listen to anything else than the collected works of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, I’m afraid). What people do with reading, unless they have a serious obsession with one particular piece of work, is move on to new book after book after book. I am occasionally tempted to go back to rereading Tolstoy’s War and Peace, but I guess what I will do next is to move on to Taleb’s The Black Swan.
- The iPod changed the way we listen to music by giving our lives a soundtrack in shuffle mode. I don’t think I will ever read snippets of books in shuffle mode – call me a traditionalist, but I’m still a fan of linear narratives and long-form essays with their arguments neatly laid out in the correct order.
- The most attractive capability of the Kindle, in my opinion, is the ability to search the full text of the books in its memory. So, for example, if I wanted to compare the recurrence of the word “whale” in the Bible, Moby Dick and Pinocchio I could run a quick stat on the Kindle. This makes for an interesting party game (although serious literature and language scholars are better served in their research by more industrial-strength databases and tools). That’s not something that has really occurred to me with the songs on my iPod. It might be an idea for Apple to get the thing to load full lyrics texts together with the music, but it would hardly be a game-changer.
I’m sure you can find more, but, when people tell you that “the Kindle is the iPod for books”, these are just a few of the reasons why you would be well justified in saying that that’s an incredibly dumb notion.