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TRENDS, JULY 29, 2009


Digital revolution, new creative class, and Amazon's Kindle


J. Smith is a young writer. He is the publisher of his own books. Smith has basic computer skills, he makes the design of his books unassisted, using Photoshop and pictures that he made with his digital camera. Smith's books are digital and available for download on his website. His readers pay only 1$ for a book. This is a sort of "good will" price, because Smith knows that Internet is a place where everything can be free. His last book has 10 000 downloads. It has been on the "market" for 3 months. And it will be on the market forever. Smith has a few advertisers that publish ads on his website. The money from the books and advertisement give him freedom to write and to live the life that he wants. Smith is an example of the emerging creative class of free artists, musicians and writers--a by-product of the digital revolution.

J. Smith is an imaginary person. But he could be real in a near future or, say, after a generation when people will be completely accustomed to reading on screens. There is no doubt that people can replace the paper medium with electronic one. In the early Middle Ages few were able to read silently, yet today few read aloud. It became a matter of habit to be silent readers.

J. Smith is a real future person--a potential ready to become reality.

When habits change, the taste, producers and products also change. The digital revolution will sweep or transform great segments of the existing publishing businesses -- the traditional companies that publish books, music and newspapers will disappear or will be forced to change their activities in accordance with the new habit to consume content digitally. It is sure that many will bankrupt, and a few will emerge and develop with the advance of technology.

The popular invention of Amazon, Kindle, which offers electronic books, is part of today's digital revolution, but it won't have lasting success if it keeps the prices of the books unreasonably high for a digital platform or if it stays closely connected with the traditional publishers.

The existence of cheap digital platform poses a few reasonable questions: Why does the author need publishers as mediators between his readers and his work if his book can exist only on electronic platform? What do publishers do if the book is offering only on tablets such as Kindle? Or how much they do (if we do not count the promotion) in a digital environment and in what price ?

These were some of the questions I asked myself while I was reading an article, written by Nicholson Baker and published in the last issue of the New Yorker (A New Page. Can the Kindle really improve on the book?). Baker said that he do not want to pay $359 for a reading device (Kindle2) that does not offer Nabokov, sells one dollar cheaper than the paper price of the books, and offers reading pleasure on a grey screen.

Amazon's Kindle cannot be revolutionary if it does not compete with price, accessibility and quality. Kindle or any future electronic device (and book) will succeed if it is sells cheaper, if the money from the book/product sales go primarily to the writer/creator, and when the publisher (if there is one) has find its proper place in digital world.Montreal Review

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