5/100: Why I Don't Want A Kindle?

I have finally moved home, after living in the same flat for almost seven years. The movement became quite a long drawn affair, particularly because of the books I bought over the years. On top of this, the house I moved in has no bookshelves, which meant another significant expense and today, a whole day's very tiresome visit to our local IKEA. In fact, I find the shopping experience in IKEA the most distressing I can have, not just because of the layout, where you have to walk miles before you can start the business of shopping: It must be nice for people who are building a new house obsessively, but not me - with limited time and specific requirements.

The £600 odd expense on bookshelves sound a bit ridiculous at this stage, but it must be made. My life isn't going to be back to normal till the books are back on shelves and become accessible yet again. In the new place, where I can afford a small study, allowing me to read and write in relative privacy, looks promising; but the room is a junkyard at this time with books on the floor.

While I know this expense must be made, I also know this is going to be temporary. I am not sure I want to live in Croydon for too long. Besides, now that I am more or less decided that I shall stay in Britain, it may make sense for me to buy a place to live. Whether or not I can afford that, and whether I want to give up my independence to move around (which I have not done for 6 years, yes, but I feel this flexibility is essential to the 'travelling' life that I want to live), is yet unsettled: The only certainty I have that I am not going to stay in this place for much longer than 24 months. So, one idea is that I must stay within these bookshelves for the period, which is an impossible target, given that the only possession I love is books.The other idea, much more sensible, is that I switch to Kindle.

At £150 which can hold 3500 books, it indeed makes abundant sense. Besides, the £150 model allows me connectivity in many countries around the world (India included, but not Iran strangely) and allows me to get the books while on the road. It allows me to read some of the classics free, and it allows me to carry around my entire library when I go on a holiday. One of my classmates even tells me that Kindle works better than books on a beach, as its brightness can be varied. And, since I am not the one to need to buy a book while riding a bus, which the 3G Kindle will allow me to do, and can wait till I get somewhere with an Wi-Fi connection, I can do with a £110 version, saving money to spend on a leather cover with a built-in reading light, costing another £50.

So, where is the problem? The problem is that I am inherently suspicious of the Kindle. I suspect that Kindle is not about the things I just mentioned, but about Amazon owning up my reading experience. It is a technical gadget aimed at altering what I read, and how I read them: Indeed, where and what and how I buy what I read. Unlike my laptop, or an iPad if I feel inclined, it is not just using Internet to read free some of the staff I would have otherwise paid for; it is the other way, stealing my greatest pleasure - being able to shop around in second hand bookshops - for a monochrome screen locked in a proprietary arrangement. There is indeed no second hand books on Kindle, though technically, it is common sense to have a social books exchange of some sort. But that will beat the purpose of Kindle, indeed: It is all about changing our habits and owning them.

I am not a conspiracy theorist, but I can see the business case for Kindle rests on killing the second hand book market. Reading books is a special, rather painful, hobby, and increasingly, it is only a limited number of hobbyists, me included, who will indulge in it. Others will cite lack of time, though there is never a lack of time for something you enjoy or consider valuable. Amazon, being possibly the largest bookseller in the world, wants to own our book-reading habits, quite reasonably, perhaps. With less people reading books, it is critical for them. But it can't do so, because of the second hand book market.

Second hand books is the social market for books. It is not just a cheap transactional convenience. It is the thrill of finding something unexpected, of making connection to a stranger who owned this book in your hand and may have shared your interests, and may be more, finding an odd scribble somewhere making you connect with the text and its readership. Publishing industry has moved on from its social and community roots to become big business; so did the booksellers. The only social bit left in book-reading is therefore preserved by the second hand book markets, something like the one on South bank, but also in every neighbourhood in the form of charity shops.

The odd thing is that Amazon, despite its size, see this as a threat. It indeed is. The publishing industry abhors students buying second hand texts and is always locked in a conspiracy with educational policy-makers for annual syllabus revisions. But students still see the pointlessness of high-priced text books with minimal revisions, and end up buying their friends' copies. The hobbyist community of book-readers also guard their second hand book-reading with a religious zeal, and this will soon be recognized as the mark of a true hobbyist. Amazon has every reason to be worried, and to make a bid to change us.

There is nothing wrong with technological progress. But new technologies should be matched with commercial progress and new business models. Kindle isn't doing this: It is a device meant to defend an out-of-date business model of production and distribution. It is one device aimed at removing the social pleasures of book reading.

Indeed, I am not going to buy into the empire any time soon.


latika said…
Hi Supriyo,
I have been an avid follower of your blogs but never managed to comment on any of them...but this one forced me to do so. I used to think that in this tech pro generation i am the only one who picks up an old and sometimes tattered book not just to read but experience the thrill that courses through me when i turn the yellowed pages which stand a testimony to the many passages of time that they have traversed....your blog made me feel that there are many others who wont give up on them just yet..

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