Sunday, November 18, 2007

Oy Yoi Yoi! Bezos Declares Himself the New Gutenberg!

OK. Who doesn't want to be the Leonardo, Gutenberg or Edison of his day? But do you get there by declaring it to be so? Or do you wait around for posterity to declare that you're special? It seems to me that humility is an important aspect of greatness. At least in the present. Edison may have been a keen self-promoter, but history proved him correct in whatever he may have thought about his accomplishments. Heck. Did he need to brag about the lightbulb? His invention was destined to place him the history books, because it worked.

The Amazon Kindle hasn't even been released yet, and he's already got Newsweek quoting him as saying that he's going to improve the book, the way he "improved" the bookstore. Good grief.

First of all, is an improvement over Borders, Tattered Covers or Barnes and Noble? It may be an easy way to shop while you're at work, but I'm not sure that it's an improvement on wandering the stacks of Tattered Covers or Strand bookstores.

Second, how do you improve on a book? By making it digital? How does that improve a technology that's been around before Gutenberg? Think about it. The old-fashioned book works every time, requires no power source and is simple to use. (I've never had a patron ask for help using a book! The most ignorant patron in the world can figure out how to lift a cover....) They can be dropped and work with light. Anything digital is going to rely on a myriad number of associated technologies for them to operate. And if they're not all working in harmony. Who knows what kind of kind technological "adventures" are in store? What's more, will a Kindle be guaranteed to work in 200 years? My copy Bushrod Washington's biography of George Washington still works as well today as it did when published nearly 200 years ago.

Call me a cynic, but I just don't yet buy Jeff Bezos as the new Gutenberg. I'm sure it will sell some books. But it's not going to make me toss any of my prized books any time soon. It's a gimmick, Jeff. Not a revolution.

Of course, I'd sure love to have one....