Will Kindle make NY Times bestsellers list?

Daniel Henninger:

Time-pressed Christmas shoppers who visit Amazon.com nowadays see a homepage pushing Kindle. Kindle is Amazon's "revolutionary wireless reading device." This ambitious ($400) and ultimately admirable gadget springs from the hopes of Amazon's visionary founder, Jeff Bezos, whose e-company began with books but in time found that profitability required the selling of things that people prefer to do with their ever-dwindling free time.

It was hard not to notice that Kindle was born unto us about the same moment the National Endowment for the Arts released a report on reading's sad lot in our time. Amid much other horrifying data, it revealed that the average 15- to 24-year-old spends seven minutes daily on "voluntary" reading. Cheerfully, this number rises to 10 minutes on weekends.

An earlier, equally grim NEA report, "Reading at Risk," announced the collapse of interest in reading literature--basically books. This newer study widened the definition of "reading" to include magazines, newspapers and online leisure. No matter. Even if the definition of literate life includes persons who spend their seven voluntary minutes with InStyle magazine or online reviews of HDTVs, the report still suggests that unmandated reading is heading for the basement.

As someone whose professional hero up to now was Johannes Gutenberg, I'm obviously cheering for Mr. Bezos's Kindle, whose pages appear in a book-like technology called E-Ink. It must be counted as good news that Amazon's Web site says the first run of the Kindle machines is sold out. (A spokesman said they won't disclose how many. Hmmm.) Still, one must ask:

Are Kindle's early adopters the leading edge of a new literate future, or a small, fanatic band of bookish monks, like those in Walter M. Miller Jr.'s 1959 sci-fi classic, "A Canticle for Leibowitz" (not yet available on Kindle) who preserved books in a post-nuclear apocalypse? Are we in a post-digital apocalypse for serious reading?

And if so, does it matter?


Obviously it is not overpriced if it sold out so quickly, but I think eventually for this product to succeed, Amazon is going to have to take the Gillette razor, or ITunes approach lowering the price of the device in order to push the sale of main product books. I probably read more than most people and I think the device makes sense particularly if it gives you away to store your books in a more compact format. It might also be helpful in retrieving information you want to discuss in your writings.

But, at this point the economics do not make sense to me. Most books I purchase cost less than $20 which means it would take 40 books for the device to pay for itself. That is a pretty healthy pile of books to plow through.


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