My post of last week about the exaggerated death of vinyl records (and their resurrection) has got me thinking about the challenge to the physical book from the Kindle and other similar electronic devices.
The contrast with recorded music is a curious one. Music has had a shifting portability dimension in modern times mainly built around the “player”.
Phonographs and record players had limited mobility, while radios became more portable (but lacked storage/choice elements). As storage media changed (to 8-track cartridges and cassettes) car stereos became possible, and eventually mobile personal stereos (both boombox and Walkman styles) the norm.
With CDs we got sound-quality and durability that created an expectation that our music should be available everywhere. Digital music was thus just the next step. Of course, there was that disruptive technology stage where digital was a poor substitute and the players were clumsy, but Apple sorted that all out for us.
The pace of change in the book industry has been much slower. The basic product is not much different to that of 100 years ago. Yes, the printing technology has been transformed, but the reading experience is pretty much the same. Portability has never varied as the content and the medium have remained one and the same.
The big question then becomes whether the embodiment of the book is more overwhelming for consumers than in the music market. I can see that carrying multiple titles around in a Kindle is more practical when travelling, or as a students, but beyond that I personally am pretty wedded to carrying a single book on public transport, to a cafe etc. I like the diversity of covers, typefaces, textures, weights, sizes etc and associate them strongly with my reading experience.
If others share such emotive connections, are Kindles a real threat to publishers, printers and bookstores? Or are they just the cassette player of the noughties?