Kindle versus Kindling
I see Amazon is coming out with a newer, larger edition of the Kindle reader. While most of me loathes the very idea of electronic books, a small part of me would very much like to own one. This is the part that is continually selling, trading, and giving away books to make room for yet more books. While my collection is in a perpetual state of turnover, the overall number of books has increased over the years. I have two bookcases in the living room, not to mention the plank shelf above the front window. I have books in the kitchen, books in the bathroom (for those moments alone), and books under my bed. There are graphic novels in my clothes closet, and oversized books on an Ikea shelf in the bedroom. And those are just my books. I share my tiny home with two more voracious readers and their collections. Suddenly, storing dozens or even hundreds of books on one small electronic device doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.
Without a doubt, lack of shelf space will force me to surrender to Kindle eventually. My jazz CDs have already reached critical mass. These days, I buy music in disc-free download form whenever possible. For now, though, the disadvantages of electronic books outweigh my logistical difficulties. What are these disadvantages?
Start-up cost. The new Kindle DX will set you back nearly five-hundred bucks. The paperback sized version is somewhat cheaper, but the price has not decreased now that a sexier version is on its way. This is a significant investment for what is, essentially, a very fancy blank book. The books themselves, just like music downloads, require an additional payment. Worse still, if you want a digital version of a book you already own, you have to buy it all over again.
Batteries Required. There is no way around it. The Kindle is an electronic device. Paper books consume trees, but electronic ones consume power. I’ve never had a paperback switch off because the charge ran out. I’ve never had to change and recycle its batteries either.
Goodbye Secondary Market. There is no such things as a used e-book. Once you buy a Kindle book, you’re stuck with it. You can’t sell it to a used book store, donate it to the library, or even lend it to a friend. (Unless you trust your friend with your $500 electronic reader.) In short, if the book sucks, you can’t recoup any part of your investment. (On the plus side, maybe this will finally stop ratty copies of Future Shock and Your Erroneous Zones from piling up at thrift stores.)
Limited Selection. While Amazon’s stated goal is to make every book they sell available for the Kindle, that goal is still way off on the horizon. Right now, there about 275,000 books ready for Kindle download. That may sound like a lot to some people, but when you consider that my little craftsman cottage contains roughly 2,000 books, it no longer seems that impressive. The kinds of books for sale also present a problem. Right now, the digital shelves hold mainly bestsellers and new books by established, mainstream authors. In other words, books that a large number of people will want to buy. Trouble is, I don’t read those books. Right now, I’m in the middle Michael McDowell’s Cold Moon Over Babylon, a twenty-nine year old Southern Gothic that has been out of print since I left elementary school. Could I read that on a Kindle? Not a chance.
It’s not really as bad as all that. What is, right now, Kindle’s biggest problem may turn out, in a few years, to be its greatest virtue. When books become digital, they need never go out of print. Why would they? Digital books don’t clutter up warehouses or bookstore shelves. None of the storage costs that motivate the destruction of unsold books will ever hold true again. Computers have already changed the way I buy and even trade books. (If you’re unfamiliar with internet book trading, check out Paperback Swap, my favorite exchange site.) In a few years, once the technology settles down, I fully expect that Kindle, or something similar, will change the way I read. Maybe then I can use my shelves for something else. Anyone got some spare houseplants?