For Kindle, 2010 a breakout year

Amazon's best-seller could save reading, newspapers and conversation

January 05, 2011|By Dan Rodricks

When my geekiest friend — a computer nerd from way back, a connoisseur of gadgets — announced that he had acquired both an Apple iPad and an Amazon Kindle, I merely attributed this to his delicate condition: The guy's addicted to digital devices — he loves them, he collects the latest and greatest, and he won't leave home without them.

But, as it turns out, my friend is far from alone. TechCrunch, an online source for technology news, reports that a recent survey of 1,000 iPad owners found 40 percent of them also own a Kindle. Another 23 percent said they planned to buy a Kindle in the next year. This proves a couple of things: Lots of Americans still have lots of disposable income, and lots of Americans have my friend's delicate condition. But, most importantly, it suggests that the flashy iPad has not killed off the modest, functional Kindle.

In fact, Amazon's third-generation Kindle appears to be the company's best-selling product of all time, with sales estimated around 8 million in 2010.

Obviously, the iPad and Kindle are very different. The latter is a simple e-reader that you can now buy for $139. The iPad is a full-color tablet, with all sorts of applications, that sells for $499. Because books and periodicals can easily be downloaded to the iPad, some techies believed it would capture the reader market from Kindle.

Hasn't happened. "My wife doesn't take the iPad to the beach to read," my geek friend says, "she takes the Kindle."

The claims of the lean and light Kindle 3 are impressive: It can supposedly store 3,500 books (that's why Amazon got into this business) and it offers subscriptions at affordable rates to 153 daily newspapers (including this one) and 74 magazines. Its battery life can be up to a month on a single charge.

One thing I've noticed in the last year: More people speak of owning a Kindle matter-of-factly, as if they were telling you they owned a car. If sales of the third-generation Kindle were as good as market watchers say — Amazon does not release official figures — then it's possible 2010 could have been a breakout year for this simple, reliable e-reader: It not only survived the iPad, it thrived. And Hallelujah, people still want to read books and periodicals.

Make that, some people.

At a couple of gatherings over the holidays, I got into conversations with men and women who do not read newspapers or magazines anymore, and they seemed to be almost boastful about that. Incredibly, one man told me he no longer reads The Baltimore Sun because "there's no sports in it." Instead of arguing or trying to sell the idea of reading my employer's newspaper — in print, online, or on a Kindle or iPad — I just moved on to the crab dip. Some of the nicest people I met over the holidays were the most uninformed and boring people, too.

I no longer apologize for sounding elitist on this subject. And I don't care if it sounds self-serving. Of course it's self-serving. The whole nature of this column, suggesting the wonders of the handy Kindle, is self-serving. From time to time — like, once a year — I speak up for the newspapers that so many citizens believe they can live without. The time to do it was not on New Year's Eve; that would have soured the crab dip. So I'm doing it here. Maybe I'm just preaching to the choir, but you never know who might stumble onto The Sun's web site and accidentally read this.

So here goes:

If you do not read a daily or weekly newspaper, in some form, you are not as informed as you should be. You are not really engaged in the democracy. You are missing out on a lot of the riches of our culture. And, trust me; you're not as good a conversationalist as you think you are. You need better material.

With all these incredible devices at our disposal — including the increasingly affordable Kindle — access to the printed word, from newspapers to classic literature, has never been as easy and as clean (no ink on your fingers) as it is today. So, you have no excuse for being a boring toad at a party. Thank you for reading this, and have a nice day.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He is the host of Midday on WYPR, 88.1 FM. His e-mail is dan.rodricks@baltsun.com.

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