The Future of the Kindle
Kevin Drum has a post musing on the differences between reading books printed on paper and reading books that have been loaded onto his Kindle. His conclusion isn't kind to the e-reader:
[W]hat's struck me the most in my back and forth between Kindle and paper is that the Kindle is really unsatisfactory for books that have a lot of charts and tables. The resolution is poor; columns don't line up right; captions break up halfway through; and both charts and tables can sometimes be pages and pages away from the text they're connected to.
More generally: the Kindle is bad for any book in which the actual layout of the text is important. That's pretty obvious for something like a coffee table picture book, but it turns out to be true for nonfiction with lots of illustrations too.
This isn't very surprising: The publishing industry has put quite a lot of effort into perfecting the display of text on a piece of paper. To put it slightly differently, books are pretty good at being books. They have a lot of practice at it.
But the Kindle is young yet. And as I argued in my assessment of the gizmo for the Columbia Journalism Review, its true potential isn't in displaying printed text in an alien, electronic medium. It's in hastening the transition to digital text that will be displayed in its native context. A book that has paid particular attention to formatting is a book that has been optimized for the printed page. The Kindle will be poor at displaying such a book. But the question is what happens when someone finally writes a book that has been intelligently optimized for the Kindle? A book with hyperlinks, and maybe embedded video. A nonfiction book that allows you to download the full studies it mentions and lets you click on a quote to read the full transcript of that interview.
I didn't much like the Kindle when I tried it. But that wasn't really the Kindle's fault. I wouldn't have much liked the early years of the television, either. Back then, the magic box was showing radio programs that were sexed up with moving images. But over time, it began showing programs that were written for television first, not second. Eventually, the Kindle will undergo the same transition. And it will be a lot better at displaying books written to take advantage of the Kindle than it is at displaying books written to take advantage of wood pulp.
Photo credit: Getty Images Photo.
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