Mayday Post

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The Kindle is HOT. But will we get burned?

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News about Amazon’s launch of the redesigned Kindle 2 was met with generally triumphant praise. It’s sleeker, faster and better than its predecessor. In theory, the Kindle is a great product. We love our iPhones and Blackberries, mostly because we need (or want?) to receive, read and send emails instantly. This same desire for supreme portability and instant gratification has only naturally migrated towards our reading habits. But should we be concerned? Are we eradicating books?

This isn’t exactly a preposterous question since, as a person with no newspaper subscription, I find myself partly responsible for the demise of the daily. Let’s not forget that we’ve also run the post office into the ground (thanks, emails!).

Don’t get me wrong. I love my blackberry and spend hours scouring my Google Reader. I’m really not against replacing paper with digital technology… but I don’t want books to be the latest causality.

I’m a bibliophile. I wouldn’t have studied architecture had I not walked into the Taschen store the summer after my freshman year of college and discovered the deliberate, smart details of design/architecture publications. Books fascinated me so much that they later became the subject of my senior thesis. There’s something about picking up a book, feeling its heft and leafing through the pages. The actual layout and design of a book, the relative placement of images and text, and entire pages within the larger context of the book are significant and totally dependent on the books 3D material presence.

With the Kindle, you lose all of that. As newspapers and magazine have learned (though be it the hard way), written content alone is no longer safe from digitalization. I completely agree that there are upsides to screens and instantly editable texts. But I just can’t allow books to be desecrated so that they can be read on a Kindle. I won’t.

To be fair, I’m not talking about novels. The objects of my affection are design and architecture books. And they’d probably never be available for digital reading precisely because the significance of the content cannot be found in the words alone. Do I have a problem with the guy reading the latest John Grisham on his Kindle in the subway? Probably not. But I just don’t want people to forget about books as objects like we’ve forgotten letters and tangible correspondence. If the Kindle becomes as widely popular as an iPod (how are CDs even selling anymore?!) are we preparing ourselves to walk into apartments and houses with no bookshelves?

If digital versions of the books that people actually buy (like New York Times Bestsellers) begin to overtake the print versions, our whole culture of books will be thrown off, making it even harder for my dear design books to keep their head above water.

I call designers to arms. It is your duty to keep print relevant, to make books beautiful, and to preserve the experience of the sum of all of a book’s parts. But it also your duty to design reading experiences specifically for the Kindle. Because we worry about digital media when it could replace the traditional, not when it’s something new entirely.


Written by beckyquintal

February 16, 2009 at 8:49 pm

One Response

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  1. […] I’ve already mulled over the future of books. But what about book reviews? Some newspapers have cut book reviews from their print editions.  The LA Times now maintains a web-only book review presence.   Book editor David Ulin, the man in charge of the LA Times book website (Jacket Copy), takes an optimistic and open approach to the future of the book review. Jacket Copy has a large following, proving that the demand for a more interactive book culture exists. […]

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