This Just In: Time Writer Says Newsweek Is Wrong!

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I’m on record as thinking, and saying, that Steven Levy, Newsweek’s lead tech writer, is really really smart and really really knowledgeable and a really really good writer. He really really is. I have no desire to get into any kind of blogospherical wrangle. That’s not my thing.

But why, why, why would Newsweek put Amazon’s Kindle e-book thing on the cover? The idea that books will become digital is a delicious, well-aged canard that has been kicking around for at least 10 years. Quite a few companies have come at it from more or less this angle before. All have failed, as will Amazon. I can explain why the Kindle will fail in one very brief sentence: holy mother of Caxton, this thing costs $399!

Yeah, I know, the iPod was insanely expensive too. And yeah, unlike its predecessors, the Kindle has a well-developed (I assume, I haven’t seen it) and well-designed content delivery infastructure from which it can sip, like a delicate hummingbird, the infinite nectar of the library of Babel. And yeah, the Kindle does wireless, and you can search within a book (something you can’t do with the Kindle’s competition, the Sony Reader, which I panned here).

So what? You can’t drop it or get it wet, and it needs recharging, and it’s hard to read. It’s still not time for e-books, because books aren’t broken, and e-books are. And they cost $399. The time will come, no doubt, but not yet. Yay verily, the goat’s entrails are knotted, and the sky disgorgeth a hail of frogs. I defy any commenter to credibly claim that he/she is going to buy one.

(And just by the way, has anybody written anything about the fact that digital books could kill off the publishing industry really really easily? I mean, like that? Music and movies have some resistance. With them, the file sizes are big, fidelity is lousy, and those artists have lots of ancillary revenue streams to live off once their stuff starts getting mass-pirated. But books are tiny, they come through at ultra-high fidelity (duh, words don’t get compressed), and authors don’t tour or sell merch or sound any better at the multiplex. Seriously. The Internet is the common cold, and music and movies have some antibodies to it, but book publishing is the boy in the bubble. E-books better have some sick DRM on them, or we’re looking at a mass die-off.)