Can the Kindle really improve on the book?
by Nicholson Baker, The New Yorker, August 3, 2009
Everybody was saying that the new Kindle was terribly important—that it was an alpenhorn blast of post-Gutenbergian revalorization. In the Wall Street Journal, the cultural critic Steven Johnson wrote that he’d been alone one day in a restaurant in Austin, Texas, when he was seized by the urge to read a novel. Within minutes, thanks to Kindle’s free 3G hookup with Sprint wireless—they call it Whispernet—he was well into Chapter 1 of Zadie Smith’s “On Beauty” ($9.99 for the e-book, $10.20 for the paperback).
Lots of ordinary people were excited about the Kindle 2, too—there were then about fifteen hundred five-star customer reviews at the Kindle Store, saying “I love my Kindle” over and over, and only a few hundred bitter one-stars. Kindle books were clean. “I’ve always been creeped out by library books and used books,” one visitor, Christine Ring, wrote on the Amazon Web site. “You never know where they’ve been!” “It has reinvigorated my interest in reading,” another reviewer said. “I’m hooked,” another said. “If I dropped my kindle down a sewer, I would buy another one immediately.”
And the unit was selling: in April, tech blogs had rumors that three hundred thousand Kindle 2s had shipped since the release date of February 24th. Bezos wrote a letter to shareholders: “Kindle sales have exceeded our most optimistic expectations.” He went on “The Daily Show” and laughed. (See the YouTube video called “Jeff Bezos Laughing Freakishly Loud on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”)