Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos has released the Amazon Kindle (named to evoke the crackling ignition of knowledge), an electronic device that he hopes will leapfrog over previous attempts at e-readers and become the turning point in a transformation toward Book 2.0. "This is the most important thing we've ever done," Bezos tells Senior Editor and Columnist Steven Levy, the first journalist to have access to the Kindle, in the current issue of Newsweek. "It's so ambitious to take something as highly evolved as the book and improve on it. And maybe even change the way people read."
Levy writes that Book 2.0 is shorthand for a revolution (already in progress) that will change the way readers read, writers write and publishers publish. Amazon is well placed to move things forward, but it was not something the company took lightly. "If you're going to do something like this, you have to be as good as the book in a lot of respects," Bezos tells Levy. "But we also have to look for things that ordinary books can't do." Features include paperback-size dimensions, being able to change font size into an instant large-type edition, and the ability to hold several shelves' worth of books, plus hundreds more on a memory card and a limitless amount in virtual library stacks maintained by Amazon. And the device is not just for books. Via the Amazon store, you can subscribe to newspapers and magazines.
Levy talks to Bezos about the new device and the impact technology will have on the future of reading in the November 26 cover, "Books Aren't Dead. (They're Just Going Digital.)" (on newsstands Monday, November 19). "Music and video have been digital for a long time, and short-form reading has been digitized, beginning with the early Web. But long-form reading really hasn't," Bezos says. The Kindle represents a milestone in a time of transition, when a challenged publishing industry is competing with television, Guitar Hero and time burned on the Blackberry; literary critics are bemoaning a possible demise of print culture, Levy reports.
Though the Kindle is at heart a reading machine made by a bookseller-and works most impressively when you are buying a book or reading it-it is also something more: a perpetually connected Internet device. A few twitches of the fingers and that zoned-in connection between your mind and an author's machinations can be interrupted-or enhanced-by an avalanche of data. Therein lies the disruptive nature of the Amazon Kindle. It's the first "always-on" book.
Levy also explores what kinds of things will happen when books are persistently connected, and more-evolved successors of the Kindle become commonplace. First of all, it could transform the discovery process for readers. 'The problem with books isn't print or writing," says author Chris Anderson. "It's that not enough people are reading." (A 2004 National Education Association study reported that only 57 percent of adults read a book-any book-in a year. That was down from 61 percent a decade ago.) His hope is that connected books will either link to other books or allow communities of readers to suggest undiscovered gems.
Levy reports that the connectivity also affects the publishing business model, giving some hope to an industry that slogs along with single-digit revenue growth while videogame revenues are skyrocketing. "Stuff doesn't need to go out of print," says Bezos. "It could shorten publishing cycles."
Also part of the cover package, as the first journalist to get his hands on the device, Levy reviews the Amazon Kindle, available Monday, November 19 at http://www.newsweek.com/.