Why The Inventor Of eBooks Says Kindle Won’t Go

by Michael Hart on June 1, 2009

Kindle Won't Go

Many people have argue with me for years on the subject of dedicated eBook reader devices, with any number of reasons they like them, but it is really only that they can’t read small print or they still want “the look and feel” of the dead trees pulp bound up in dead animal skins.

I won’t even address the latter issues here but to say that the world always says it will stick with the old ways until a new generation comes, and then the car or the telephone or hairstyle, or whatever, becomes ubiquitous, then the story is closed, and the argument forgotten.

However, I will address the issue of font size.

This is an issue mainly of interest to Boomers, and to others born with limited vision, rather, sadly, than just from olde age.

However, the Boomers are losing power faster in all respects than the media are willing to show because the media is still controlled by Boomer and even older groups, who will not admit their time went, of even pretending to be middle age. I won’t argue right now that people born in ’65 were the last Boomers, how silly, those Boomers of the real kind were already having kids!!!

Even so, it should be obvious, and I tried this out on a 9 year old this week, new generations, those whose eyesight will not deteriorate for a long time to come, those people can read prints I can’t even read with my reading glasses, thus they could care less about the size of the font available in a Kindle, leaving the Kindle sadly to the declining Boomers, who are spending $500 on the average when they buy a Kindle, while an entirely new computer generation is buying this new crop of Netbooks that are full computers in pretty much all senses, but are even smaller in size than the Kindles, and smaller in price.

I just bought one for $278 that I can use every other hour from 9 to 5 and still have the power for a little extra work afterwards.

Yes, the keyboard is a bit too small for my big hand, much larger than average so I think I may look into an external keyboard for long usage.

However, I should add, I have always been quite satisfied with the little foldup keyboards with my Palm Pilots and Visors and the like.

But my values are not the ones that count here, it is world values, and I will be the world has no desire to spend more on a Kindle than on the full boat, or even full sized, laptops that are the best selling computers for years now. They replaced desktops as the primary around 2005…depending on whose reports you believe.

There are several reasons people will not buy a dedicated eBook reader, and some of them a very powerful reasons that cannot be argued with via any intelligent reasoning rationality.

First: the new generations are used to screens the size of Nintendo GameBoys, grew up on them.

Second: the new generations also think screens on cell phones are just fine, and most of those are now even larger.

Third: the new generations have always got the paperback editions as much as the hardbacks, so they don’t have the same nostalgia for Look And Feel of those as do people who stared reading a while before paperbacks became very acceptable.

Fourth, Fifth, etc. the alternatives. . . .

Fourth: most people don’t realize it, but many cell phones also come with WiFi built in so the unit is basically a small Kindle to start with! You don’t even have to have the phone activated to use the WiFi functions, which usually have a pretty normal browser, text reader, and such in them to start with, and also accept any numbers of third party programs most eBook readers have already heard of, no need for me to pitch them.

Fifth: many PDAs are also available that do an awful lot of the same things described above at a much lower cost than a Kindle, Sony, etc.

Sixth: if the largest cell phone screens would not do, even the iPhone, Curve, etc., there are all the new netbooks coming out that should get the job done in any number of ways as far as an eBook presentation goes, from reading out loud, dozens of programs to choose from to read or to listen via text to speech, etc.

Seventh: in all the history of electronics the dedicated products, those that do only one good thing, rather than the integrated products, are never known to sell very well.

It’s like buying a HiFi that has one box for FM and one for AM, another as a pre-amplifier, and another as an amplifier, another bass or treble controls box, etc., versus one box for all.

Why would someone spend the same amount of cash on a Kindle/Sony as on a netbook or a laptop?

The Kindle isn’t portable enough to be the more take along kind of item than a netbook/laptop.

It would appear that ONLY the person who has an awful time reading would want a Kindle, simply, and truly, just because of the variable fonts & and the new X2 being about to read out loud, or the kind of person who just wants to have a lot of the latest toys and doesn’t care about price to benefits ratios and the like.

Eighth: there are simply not enough Kindles to really change the eBook environment.

Just think about how many eBooks there are now, millions of eBooks given away in average months just from gutenberg.org.

iTunes had its first million selling tune about a year ago, really only ~1 year after getting a shakedown cruise over with.

If every person who has a Kindle or a Sony buys the same book, only by adding their combination of sales will they manage a million seller, and that is not likely to happen anytime soon.

How long before Amazon or Sony comes out with a new model that won’t read all the previous book entries on the old models?

How long before the first Kindle and first Sony are antique collector items rather than a real, live and well-used eBook reader?

This is NOT going to happen with eBooks from an assortment of other sources that have been here for much longer than Kindles or Sonys; the very first Project Gutenberg entry is still readable on any modern machine, the only thing is that a file from that era had only capitals if made on the normally available equipment of 1971 but it still works, and looks just the same now as the files downloaded on the first full day of eBook pioneering, July 5, 1971.

Is anyone even going to pretend that Kindle and Sony will even read their own proprietary files 38 years from 2009?

However, all those plain vanilla ASCII files on hundreds or thousands of sites around the world will still be readable 38 years from now. . . .

Anti-eBook people always make the point that CD lifespans, hard drive lifespans, etc., are very uncertain, but the fact is that not one of each and every Project Gutenberg title has ever died the kind of data death these people describe.

Furthermore, it is virtually impossible that it will ever happen, since so many people download each Project Gutenberg book the day of release.

With Sony, Kindle, and the others, you never do really know what books will be available on the next iteration of their book lists, they come & they go, even though they say no reason to ever delete an eBook, it happens all too frequently, so my recommendation is to always make backups. If they don’t allow backups try to make “IMAGE” backups such as “Ghost” and the like, that copy all the 1’s and 0’s directly without files, and file permissions, and all that jazz.

As always, if you can’t figure out how to do it just find your local teenage computer geeks and offer them a pizza and a couple liters of Coke, and they should be able to handle it. Make the effort to be sure you and get the data back any time you want by doing a practice recovery!!!

One benifit is, of course the practice, but the other benefit is that you have an extra copy in in the present time of NOW!!!

It never hurts to have an extra copy.

Terabytes are under $100, have been for a while and I have already managed to snag six of them!

When I taught computer classes here on the Univ of Illinois campus, the first thing I said was:






If this is the ONLY BENEFIT you ever get from a Project Gutenberg volunteer, it will be worth a fortune to you down the road….

Hard To Get Hard Numbers On Kindle/Sony Sales

Amazon and Sony are still BOTH refusing to tell how many eBook readers they have sold, which is a good indicator that sales are not as hoped.

However, perhaps at the end of this year we are going to hear one of them sold a million, given all the various versions as a grand total.

This, of course is stark contrast to 10 million iPhones sold per year, even more Curves at this very moment are going out, with the grand total of cell phones approaching 4.5 million now.

If 1/10 of iPhone users read eBooks, that’s new readers at the rate of a million per year, lots more than the total number of Kindles sold.

As of this time last year, August 1, 2008, just under 1/4 million Kindles had been sold. If we figure sales have doubled in the past year, the current total would be approaching 3/4 million, by August of 2009. . .or if tripled, they might be approaching a million. Amazon makes it hard to say, unless you get insider information as a report specifying the above figure did.


This same article says the total Kindles out in the world will just pass 2/3 million in 2009.

If 1/1000 of the 4.5 billion cell phones are in use as eBook readers, that is 4.5 million, many more than Kindle and Sony combined are thinking about for at least a couple more years.

If just 1% of the billion plus computers should be used as eBook readers, that’s 10 million.

So far, it would appear that eBook readers will not be a major factor in eBook reading, ever.

The reason is the same as always:

Dedicated products never sell as well as ones a company puts out that have multiple function.

Michael S. Hart
Project Gutenberg

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