By now most of you probably know that the mighty Oprah threw her considerably marketing clout behind the Amazon Kindle late last week. Dear Author has a good post up about it, along with several comments. Instead of hijacking that thread, I thought I should probably ramble on about my "librarian perspective" on my own blog.
Recently I had to go to the dentist to have a cavity filled. While I was waiting on my dentist, I pulled out my Sony Reader. Suddenly I was the most popular girl in the office. The hygienist had to play with it. My dentist had to play with it. They both thought it was the coolest thing they'd ever seen. Wow, ebooks? Who knew! You mean there are ebooks? And you can buy a reader to read them on?
Hand to God people.
And this was my dentist. An educated man. A reading man. A man, who looking at my checkbook as Exhibit A, has plenty of disposable income to buy an ebook reader. And he was looking at my Sony Reader like it had just been beamed down from Mars.
Sometimes I think it's easy for us to forget that not everyone is plugged into the same corner of cyberspace as we are. Not everybody uses the Internet every day of their lives. Not every reader is trolling online review sites, blogs and Amazon. Some readers simply wander into a bookstore or library, pick up a book that looks interesting, and read it. Then when they finish reading it, they might not breathe a word about the experience to anybody.
Yes, these people exist. I used to see them every day of the week when I worked with the public.
So what does Oprah's endorsement really mean? Well, I'm here to tell you.
It will raise the profile of ebooks. People who didn't know before, like my dentist, will now know that ebooks exist.
Will Oprah increase Kindle sales? Maybe. Honestly with the shittastic economy right now I'm not convinced. Also, it's doubtful to sway people who are "in the know." The number one reason I've seen for people not buying the Kindle? They hate the monopoly. They hate the idea of the books they buy being tied to "one device." Oprah endorsing it is unlikely to change their minds. But for people not "in the know," who have $300 lying around? Who don't care (or know) about the books being tied down to "just the Kindle?" Yeah, they might be swayed.
But that's the rub, because even with Oprah getting people a $50 off coupon, I just don't see a mass of people running out to buy a Kindle. Sure as shootin', not now. Which brings us to the fate of the ebook market in general.
Right now, I can walk into any library, pull a book off the shelf, and read it. And if I have proper identification and proof of address? I can take that book home. For free! I don't need to give the librarian $300+ for a device so that I can read the book. I don't need to be technically savvy at all. All I have to be able to do to open up the book, and read. It doesn't get much simpler than that people.
And that's what the ebook market doesn't "get." Librarians will tell you, we see people every single day (Every. Single. Day.) who are freaked out by the idea of a computer mouse. Yes, a mouse. Can you imagine if we started explaining to them about downloading ebooks, the gazillion different formats, and oh yeah, you might have to convert that file in order to read it? If they didn't curl into the fetal position and start weeping, their heads would explode.
Which means ebooks will never (ever) take off until the technological divide is erased, and publishers dumb the process down - a lot. And I just don't see that happening. Because even if a first generation Reader For Dummies device lands on the market and it only costs $50? There will still be plenty of people out there who won't and can't buy it. Heck, you can buy a cheap MP3 player these days for less than $30, and does everyone own one? No.
So will Oprah's endorsement obliterate print books? Shit, even she's not that powerful. Will it knock all other ebook readers off the market? Extremely doubtful. The eBookwise is still one of the best damn deals in town, and the Sony Reader was advertised in the Target flier that came with my Sunday paper.
Still, it gives all of us something to dither about.