Will Kindle Spread Like Wildfire or Fizzle Out?


Published: January 31, 2008

Amidst the madcap gadget-rush of the holiday season, Amazon.com debuted its newest media device, the Kindle. Amazon’s first foray into the “e-reader” business, the Kindle hopes to revolutionize the publishing industry by making all of your book pages digital. Amazon’s gadget sports a special screen called “digital ink,” which emulates the effect of an actual page and print. Its light-weight design, free wireless access to around 90,000 books, periodicals, blogs, newspapers and long battery life could impact the sale of books in an entirely new way. It can hold around 200 books (many of which can be previewed before purchasing), can access Wikipedia for free and has a built-in Oxford American Dictionary.

Is the Kindle, and devices like it, sounding the death knell for the world of books as we know it? Could it change the entire landscape of the publishing world, eliminating hard copy reading materials? Or is it just another e-reader, thrust into a market that might not be ready for a digital remaking?

Tony Kale, FCLC ’08, had not even heard of Amazon’s new product before now. His puzzlement quickly turned into excitement over what the Kindle promises. “The Kindle might do to books what e-mail did to writing letters.” He said that he would use the Kindle to “check sports updates and random things on Wikipedia.”

Some students like Ashley Gormley, FCLC ’09, were more skeptical. “My professor asked us what we think of this as the future of books and I laughed. I would never, ever buy anything that looked like that. I like the idea of the Kindle but they spent far too little on the design.” Gormley said further, “It’s only a few years before we’re going to be able to have ‘smart’ paper that’s bendable and so forth, so why invest in something that’s going to end up obsolete?”

Rick Manista, FCLC ’09, owns Sony’s e-reader, a device that utilizes similar technologies to the rival Kindle. “I use my e-reader for books I would not want to pay full price for unknown authors, books that got bad reviews, etc.” But even he was not fully convinced of the future of digital e-readers. “It is very impersonal. You miss feeling the weight of the book, seeing how far you progressed, and even the smell of the pages.”

All of the students interviewed agreed that a Kindle-like device might make textbook buying and schoolwork easier. It would be less expensive for schools and students, more comfortable and no student could ever say they ‘forgot’ their textbook at home. If the only thing they needed to keep track of was their Kindle, there’s very little excuse to not be prepared for classwork or homework.

So what exactly do Fordham University professors think of Amazon.com’s new wunderkind?

Brian Rose, professor of communication and media studies at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC), does not believe that the Kindle is the answer—yet. Rose said, “Sooner or later, someone will figure out how to make a sleek and elegant electronic reader—calling Steve Jobs— and the notion of a digital book tablet will take off.” Rose further commented, “Whether people will miss turning pages—well, just consider the old fashioned newspaper, which nobody seems to mind reading on screen. Somebody will get this right and, yes, replace the book. Just not the Kindle.”

Anne Hoffman, professor of English at FCLC, saw the benefits the Kindle could have from a teacher’s perspective. “This has great appeal for someone who travels to do research, assuming that the books one needs are available on the Kindle. It is also potentially valuable to the instructor who might assemble a whole syllabus on the Kindle.” But she also had worries that “market concerns [would] inevitably govern selection. Value in the humanities is not determined by marketing reports. The Kindle is an exciting tool for students, readers, scholars, in terms of mobility and ease of access, but it also loses some of the specific texture and atmospheric richness that actual books and libraries offer.”

Amazon.com’s Kindle is currently priced at $399.00. More information, including how to purchase the Kindle, can be found at http://www.amazon.com/kindle.