Is Amazon's Kindle the next iPod? The signals are, at best, mixed. Techcrunch, Silicon Alley Insider and tech analysts like Mark Mahaney and Steven Weinstein have been playing a guessing game about the sales impact of Kindle -- bullishly suggesting that the product, like the iPod, is about to go mainstream and sell millions and millions of units by 2010, 2012 or some other tipping point in the misty future.
But as I argue in my Independent column this week, the cheerleading tech media hasn't been thinking about Amazon's e-book from the perspective of a bibliophile like myself. I'm the Keen Kindle Kontradiction -- the reason why I'm not bullish about Amazon's e-book. I'm a keen buyer of books, purchasing and reading around two hundred each year. I'm also a keen traveller, logging somewhere around 200,000 miles a year on airlines. And i'm a keen gadget geek too, taking with me on all my global trips an iPod, a World Edition BlackBerry 8830, a Canon S80 camera, an M-Audio Microtrack digital recorder, a JVC HD7 camcorder and various laptop computers. So, one would assume, I'm should also be a keen Kindle konsumer -- especially since nothing annoys me more than schlepping heavy books on and off planes and to and from airports.
But I'm not. I don't own a Kindle and have no intention of buying one. And that's because I'm a bibliophile. I love and collect hardback and softback books -- I buy them, read them (at least one or two pages), scribble in them, and then lovingly retire them to my groaning bookshelves as evidence of my immense erudition. And while I don't have a problem reading a digital book (the words are the same, after all), there is no way that I will go digital and stop buying physical books. And that's the current problem with the Kindle. Amazon's business model is that it forces me to an either/or decision. Take my Cult. For $9.99, I can buy the digital download of my book on Amazon or I can buy the physical paperbook for $11.20. But to get both, I have to spend $21.19. That's why I won't buy a Kindle. The analog book doesn't give me digital rights and I refuse the buy the identical product twice -- however impressed I am by its ergonomic elegance.
The reverse is true, of course, with music. When I buy a physical CD, I'm free to put its tracks on my iPod. And that's one of the main reasons why the iPod went from a nice-to-have to a must-have product. Until Amazon and the publishing industry offer bibliophiles like myself simultaneous digital and analog rights to purchased books, the Kindle will remain a very pale comparison to the iPod.