Monday, 19 November 2007

Kindle or kindling?

The blogosphere is literally* ablaze with comment on Amazon's new e-book reader, Kindle. Richard Wallis asks about the likely impact on libraries:

If, as Amazon predict, these devices will end up everywhere how long before the
first librarian is presented with one along with the request to check out the
library's copy of Harry Potter on to it?

Admittedly, I would be super-impressed if we could start lending books on devices of this ilk, but I can't see it happening soon. As Richard's colleague Rob Styles pointed out at Talis Insight** earlier this month, the DRM implications on issues dear to our hearts, like the Public Lending Right, are inherently problematic. Copyright for electronic content doesn't work anything like its equivalent for printed matter, with convoluted licensing and contractual agreements introducing far too many limitations.

I like e-equivalents of reference materials, as I've probably mentioned here before (although I'm too lazy to actually search for relevant posts), but I like my fiction in printed form. Printed books will just about survive a drop in the bath, they have pleasantly off-white pages that mellow and yellow with age, and they require no technology other than my specs, and maybe a bag to carry them.

You can't say the same for e-books. If I dropped a Kindle in the bath, I doubt I'd get it working again. I'm not going to do the hyperbolic "and it'd electrocute me and burn the house down as well" bit, which is bound to come up somewhere, because I don't actually believe it would. But still: a printed book will become usable again after a couple of hours on a radiator. I'm not convinced that any electronic gadgetry would survive the after-effects of a Lush bath bomb.

Personally, I'm holding out for the direct neural interface. Much more sf, and considerably cooler imho.

* Used here in the Colemanballs sense, i.e. metaphorically rather than literally
** Which I really must write something about, seeing as I enjoyed it immensely