After reading David Crotty’s excellent post yesterday, I came across an interesting related post by Joe Wikert about how the quality of the Kindle experience isn’t necessarily about the e-books but about the wireless and its side-effects.
Then, last night, I took my kids to the local bookstore to get new novels for them as the school year ends. The result? Both titles they wanted were sold out, and neither title is at the local library.
But I could have gotten both books immediately on the Kindle.
It got me thinking about the whole ownership thing.
Discussions about digital rights management (DRM) and the limitations of sharing or keeping books purchased through the Kindle hit on a certain way of realizing or feeling the value of textual material — basically, ownership.
And a lot of our “book” mental model still rests on the concept of ownership.
Publishers implement DRM because they’re built (currently) on the value of ownership of the work. Users want to share or keep what they’ve purchased to enjoy the rights of ownership.
But the Kindle experience changes this mental model. Wireless shopping and storage make using it a very different experience. The user shifts out of a gatherer mode and into a hunter mode. This is very important. As Wikert puts it:
So true and yet so easily forgotten. The Kindle could have simply become Newton 2.0 without this important feature. Customers come for the eInk display but Whispernet is what keeps ’em coming back. (It still blows my mind that no other Kindle competitor has figured this out . . .)
What are the side benefits? Readers have seen them before.
One of the benefits many Kindle owners cite right away is that their nightstands are less cluttered. Suddenly, there’s something nice about not owning books. When they travel, they can impulsively carry, purchase, and transport dozens of books if they choose while increasing their load not at all. They can preview a half-dozen books in 30 minutes in the airport, all wirelessly. Then, they can locate and purchase books no newstand or bookstore nearby would ever carry. Finally, through subscriptions to blogs, magazines, and newspapers, information updates are delivered as they sleep but no paper accumulates.
Consider how many encyclopedias you’ve purchased in the past 20 years. Will you ever buy one again? Of course not. Wikipedia and Google have combined to make ownership of an encyclopedia irrelevant. The same thing is happening to atlases (Google Maps and GPS), and will soon start happening to cookbooks (Epicurious, anyone?).
The Kindle, with its wireless, is another factor in the world that is making ownership optional. I think this is a trend users will embrace. They’ve already embraced it with music and movies.
I’ve read dozens of books on the Kindle. I own none of them. I’ve loaned none of them. I’m fine with that.
In fact, owning books has been problematic for me over the past few years. We have four avid readers in the same house. Bookcase space was already at a premium, so not owning 30+ new books has been OK for peace on the homefront. I can buy books without anybody knowing how many I’m reading simultaneously. I can indulge my bibliomania secretly.
What about lending books to friends? I don’t know about you, but for me, loaning books is often awkward — I remember who has them, how long they’ve had them, and what condition they were in when I loaned them. I can’t hide perfectly my irritation at the lost book, the late book, or the damaged book (you dog-eared the pages?!). With my Kindle books, I can’t lend them. Problem solved!
Ownership isn’t a panacea, especially in an age of information abundance. Will I be concerned if the Kindle dies and books I’ve read on it become inaccessible on that platform? Not really. If I want to read them again, there will be plenty of alternative ways in the future. And my bookshelves long ago stopped being my collection of known facts and resources.
Joe Wikert points to a related post about how e-books still have room to evolve. I agree with the author’s points while noting that they’re already evolving in many ways. Two of my favorite old Sherlock Holmes collections are on my Kindle — for free. A copy of “Moby Dick” typeset especially for the Kindle also held sway for a while. From classics to current bestsellers, I can wirelessly get books for free and for less.
And I don’t have to own them.