Goodbye,Goodbye?

They are expensive today,but the Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s Nook will redefine the way we read.

Kushan Mitra        Print Edition: January 10, 2010

Let me tell you a bit about myself. I review gadgets for a living. The first computer I ever used was at the age of six in the summer of 1985 and it was a Sinclair ZX Spectrum. I am on my fifth game console, and god knows how many mobile phones I have used through my life. I am a product of the modern age, and I freely admit that unless I plan some downtime, I cannot bear being offline for too long. Put on a long flight (such as a 17-hour ride from Los Angeles to Dubai), and I will try and watch everything humanly possible on the in-flight entertainment system and cannot for the life of me figure what people did before seat-back televisions on planes. But somehow e-book readers just short-circuit my system. Honestly, I have spent a couple of weeks with the Amazon Kindle and it just does not fit in. I mean, books are portable, unless it is James Joyce's Ulysses or Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy. Books don't run out of battery, they don't break, they have a high-contrast ratio, and yes while they get damaged if you dunk them in sugary fizzy water, with a bit of sun they are readable again. E-book readers are not. Yet, there are massive advantages to e-book readers like the Amazon Kindle. Advantage number one is it is rather small, and weighs and measures as much as a thick magazine. Number two, it can store a lot of books (1,500 to be precise), and because it uses "e-ink" rather than an active LCD screen it wastes power and strains your eyes a lot less than a laptop. So, if you are the sort that packs in 10 books and 20 magazines every time you head out of home for a short trip, this will save you a lot in hand baggage allowance. And now, Indian newspapers, starting with Hindustan Times, are available on the Kindle store to which you have permanent wireless access. Soon you will have a choice of several thousand other newspapers and magazines. Quite nice, one would think. But now let us get to the important bits. It costs $259 (Rs 12,170 at current rates) from the Amazon store and best-selling new books like SuperFreakonomics cost around $12-15 (Rs 560-700) each to download. Again, the HT subscription that costs $9.99 (Rs 470) a month is great if you are travelling, but five times what it costs on the news-stand. For a US audience, this makes sense, but here, a paperback copy of SuperFreakonomics costs Rs 349. And though Machiavelli's The Prince is only $2 (Rs 95), the Kindle is not about old, out-of-copyright books, is it? It is either that, or a lot of hysterical right wing writers in the US, because that’s what the best-seller list throws up (as well as classifying SuperFreakonomics as fiction). From a simple price value perspective, the Kindle makes no sense at all. Nor does the fact that most books I want to buy are unavailable in Kindle's Indian store. However, there's no denying that electronics is the future. It makes sense from an ethical perspective—think of all the trees we'll save—and e-readers are bound to improve on things like the tactile feel of reading a book over the years. The fact remains that the Kindle is a device that people yearn to own for no other purpose than that it exists. Yet, it is a device that you should consider if you can afford it. The day when books are published electronically aren't far off, so you might as well be equipped. M

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