Sunday, January 23, 2011

what i like about my kindle (samples!) part 2

for the past few years, i've been a bystander in the e-reader revolution. i've read a lot about how e-books are going to destroy the publishing industry and i've read a lot about how e-books will be the salvation of the publishing industry. but, of course, the future of publishing is more nuanced than either of those two perspectives, so i've also read a ton (which is like three a lots) about how e-books will be both the death knell and the salvation of the publishing industry. at the same time.

and so, this fall, when my mother asked me for a christmas list, i asked for (and then received) an e-reader. i figured it was finally time to (potentially) throw my parents' two cents into the ring and develop an opinion based on the real thing. enough theory, i thought, let's touch and feel the thing. let's see what it's like to actually read a book using an e-reader.

i just e-read my first book, big machine by victor lavalle, and the kindle reading experience was neither off-putting nor a mesmerizing delight. like any new experience, there were little boring things that i liked (e.g., the ease of reading while my hands are busy, that is, not having to prop the book open to a page) and didn't like (e.g., the difficulty of making in-text notes that include "advanced" punctuation marks like commas, question marks, and smiley faces), but i'm neither tempted to sell my bookcases nor return the kindle. i don't have much else to add on this point.

however, my learning-through-the-generosity-and-consumerism-of-others approach to understanding the effect that e-readers might have on publishing has been a success.

i mentioned in an earlier post that when in sleep mode the kindle displays some kind of an image, often a portrait of an important literary figure or some ancient-looking text. occasionally, the kindle also displays a silhouetted  image of a person, perhaps a child, reading a book under the cover of a single tree. below this image is a definition for kindle--"light or set fire. arouse or inspire"--followed by some examples of the word's use.

i hadn't thought of the product name kindle except as a nonsense word, like nook (although i suppose that too is connected to its parent word, as if the nook provides some kind of a cozy space for reading and learning). but my exploration of the kindle interface gives me hope that it may indeed kindle readership, and in a way that i hadn't imagined.

what i found most interesting and awesome about the kindle, especially for the future of publishing, is the sample feature. it turns out that every kindle book has a sample. i've been using google books and amazon's preview function for awhile now, so perhaps this shouldn't have been so surprising. but nonetheless, reading something on the internet, whether on my laptop or iphone, is so much less cozy than on my e-reader. and the good news is that the samples are fairly lengthy, long enough anyway to give a good sense of the book.

my kindle really is like a portable bookstore. i can download samples (or purchase books) from anywhere there's a cell signal or wi-fi connection, and i can download (or purchase) as many samples (or books) as i like. this means i'm not bound by a visit to a store. a coworker might mention a book to me on monday, and so i download a sample. and then, while walking to my car on thursday, i might read the sample and decide it looks worth a read.

and so, although i'm probably wrong about this, i'm hopeful that the convenience of this sample function could indeed open readers up to all kinds of things they might not otherwise read. it could make people more likely to pick up a new book. i'm a strange bird, but for me it already has. for whatever reason, i've doubled my reading pace since owning a kindle.  

if nothing else, the immediacy and ease of the purchase function should lead to more sales. and as someone who appreciates good books and great writers, who wants publishers to continue finding and publishing good books and great writers, and who imagines a universe where great writers can make a living pursuing their craft and someone like me can make a living helping them do that, that makes me happy. 

hooray for e-readers! hooray for people who spend money on books! hooray for happiness!