22 January 2008

Something Steve Jobs didn't invent.

Via Zach Klein, Steve Jobs said of the Amazon Kindle:

“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the [Amazon Kindle] is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore. Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.”

I think this is really interesting because it was the iPod that played a very large role in taking a very old medium (music) and figuring out a way to retail it effectively for electronic consumption--something that for a while seemed like a dubious possibility given the anemia of the record industry and the prevalence of free [illegal] downloading services.

While I don't think advances in technology were ever a threat to the general consumption of music--only the traditional ways in which it was consumed (i.e. physical storage objects like discs)--as it is so manifestly with the consumption of literature and the printed word (in other words, in absolute terms, people are reading less but not listening to music less), I'm surprised that Jobs has so little faith in the ability of a device to reshape the way we engage a medium of expression. Maybe he's just sore that Apple didn't come up with it first, but I don't buy his skepticism. The Kindle surely may fail, but it sounds like the biggest thing that's happened to the printed word in a long time.


mandy said...

I think you're exactly right that Jobs' scoffing seems particularly undo (he probably is peeved he didn't think of it first), but I think there are two things going on that will hamper the success of the Kindle:

1) It's cost prohibitive. If 40% of Americans hardly read more than one book every year, why would they pay $399 to have a hand-held device that can hold 200 books? It's true that purchasing the Kindle means access to books a bit more cheaply through Amazon, but this would basically require folks to make a commitment to reading that they don't already have. With the iPod, listening to music was something people were doing already and the iPod allowed something that a lot of other storage devices didn't: ridiculous ease of portability. Which brings me to my second point.

2) You still have to read. While the Kindle may *also* provide ease of portability, there are still two hurdles -- people aren't reading very much (see above) and it still requires one's full attention to read. The iPod allows you to listen to music (and even audiobooks) while walking down the street or driving a car. Unfortunately, this convenience cannot be provided for text -- it still requires your undivided attention. (Unless, of course, technology becomes available in the near future to telekinetically beam books or soldered cerebellum USB ports become the next Big Thing.)

All that aside, I think the Kindle is a great device, and if they were cheaper I'd maybe even get one. But I do think comparing it and its success to the iPod is that whole apples/oranges thing.

The Becca said...

I think there have also been a few flaws in the rollout of the kindle.
1. It hasn't generated enough buzz.

The Becca said...

assholes. ok
2. Even with all the words I've heard used to describe this thing, I have NO idea what it looks like or how it operates.
3. Another market that should be targeted is the education market, but can you write and take notes on this thing? Limiting it ONLY to recreational readers knocks out the majority of the book buying public... the students! It must function at the student level as well.
4. I think Steve's also a little pissy because it does encroach on his internet realm. If you can read books that are downloaded, why can't you read blogs? Or news? Or hey, why you're at it, check your email. That could quickly bleed into other areas of the iphone's realm.