Steven Levy's Newsweek cover story The Future of Reading was so unabashedly reverential toward the new Kindle reader that I had to check twice to make sure the article wasn't a paid product placement. Though the official product review only took up three-quarters of a page, there's no mistaking the impression that the seven-page spread is about Amazon's Kindle and its potential as the electronic device that will "leapfrog over previous attempts at e-readers and become the turning point in a transformation toward Book 2.0. That's shorthand for a revolution (already in progress) that will change the way readers read, writers writer, and publishers publish." Other devices such as the Sony Reader and One Laptop Per Child XO laptop receive very brief mentions.
I have been interested in the concept of e-books for several years now, and it is interesting to see the proliferation of screened devices that could work as electronic readers. The iPod, iPhone, and laptops are all contenders. I can imagine that a superbly designed, dedicated e-reader would merit it's existence as a stand-alone device, but one that would branch out to include other functions.
It remains to be seen whether the Kindle will fit that bill. I suspect that it's asking too much for it to do so in its first generation. Amazon.com does have the credibility to back up Jeff Bezo's claim that the Kindle "isn't a device, it's a service," and I predict that an evolved Amazon-backed e-reader will provide the infrastructure needed to spur widespread acceptance.
In the meantime, it's still surprisingly hard to imagine what life with an e-reader would be like. I look forward to three major benefits: one, being able to check out books from the library via e-reader; two, the ability to consolidate a back-breaking load of textbooks into one small device; and three, since I have independently published two books, the possibility of doing so electronically is this small publisher's idea of a killer app. It's not only paper and production costs that eat into my already-slim profit margins, but the transportation costs of shipping books from the printer, to my warehouse, and then to customers. With gasoline and postage costs at all-time highs, I can't afford to compete with Amazon's free two-day shipping, even for my own books. While big-time authors and publishers may still have the luxury of scoffing at e-readers, the smaller outfits may want to get on board to promote digital delivery. If Kindle can connect me to my readers through online, wireless communication, I am all for it.
Amy Tiemann is a member of the CNET Blog Network. Her blog posts represent her personal opinions, and not necessarily CNET's.