If you want a stark illustration of the publishing industry's confusion about the future of books, look no further than the slate of recent stories about Amazon's Jeff Bezos, the Kindle, and reading.
Last week, in an interview with Charlie Rose Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced the Kindle 3. He described an intense focus on assuring no tradeoffs for the reading experience. "Every single design decision as you're walking down the process has been made to optimize for reading. The number one thing that people are doing on their iPad right now is they're playing a game called Angry Birds."
On the same day, the Wall Street Journal posted an article which included Bezos' stirring defense of plain old reading. "For the vast majority of books, adding video and animation is not going to be helpful. It is distracting rather than enhancing. You are not going to improve Hemingway by adding video snippets."
The next day the New York Times wrote about a class of ebooks so new that we don't even know what to call them. (Are they "enhanced"? "amplified"? "enriched"?) These are full colour, full motion books with video, maps, audio clips, or 360 degree pictures of the elements.
We also learned that Amazon will be selling Kindle editions of these books, even though they won't run on Amazon's actual hardware e-readers. That is to say, they'll run fine on the Kindle apps available for computers and smartphones, but not on the Kindle itself.
So even with the same company, conflicted feelings reign: Amazon will sell enhanced ebooks, but that doesn't mean its CEO has to like them.
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