The Amazon Kindle is one thing that I really want to hold in my hand. I don’t necessarily want to own it (I certainly don’t want to pay the price), but I have no idea what I’ll think of the screen without looking at it. And this screen is absolutely critical to this kind of product. I’ve heard that it is really easy on the eyes, that it doesn’t look like a “screen.” I imagine that it looks something like a calculator screen. Less shimmery than a standard screen, very flat, very static–critical for long term reading.
From what I gather (mostly from Robert Scobel’s rant[ht: slashdot]), really the only major issues with this are emerging-technology issues that can and will be addressed. The Kindle–the current incarnation–has some major user interface design issues. But the key concept and delievery–electronic books on “electronic paper”–seems to be perfectly viable.
This is not going to spell the end of books. People like physical, tactile things. Some people like heavy books partly because they are heavy. People like to dog-ear pages, they like it that they can physically flip right to their favorite part of the book. Sure, a search can find anything–but that’s impersonal. Everybody’s search can find anybody’s anything. I can flip to my favorite part of my favorite book. There’s a difference.
I think this generation of e-books will begin to chip away at the printed book market. It will challenge and industry that dearly needs a shakeup. But in the course of years, a decade or so, the “industry” that’s really going to suffer will not be the publishers. They can retool, reinvest, start printing on demand rather than in obscene batches, sell their books through the new medium. But the public library is going to unravel once this technology becomes cheap and common.
It won’t happen right away, because rights-management will fight it all the way. But when this kind of device gets to be about as common as a portable music player, people will get sick of rights-management and insist on the ability to legally read books for a temporary loan period.
When that is hashed out, it still may cost a small amount of money, and there will certainly still be people who would rather go to the library and get a real book. But a majority of people with money will see no point in going to the physical library with its limited selection and limited number of copies when they can get any book instantly on their reader–and then buy a physical copy after that if they like.
So there will still be people who want to go to libraries, but there won’t be enough people who want to pay for libraries. Probably there will be a backlash, and the libraries will get some funding and some protectionist legislation and so on. But a lot of public libraries are struggling already. When people compare the inconveniences of a library with the inconveniences of an electronic book, the e-book is going to win dollars to dimes, and a lot of librarys will close.
Not all of them. Some people will still love books and the best supported libraries will stay open. But, within my generation, if technology continues to advance and to cheapen, small local libraries are going to close in droves.