November 22, 2017

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The Kindle and Media Mini-Evolutions

The Kindle and Media Mini-Evolutions

All media must crawl before it can walk.

After reading about the launch of the latest version of the Amazon Kindle, I had a couple of thoughts:

  • I’m not buying one of the things, but if they give me one I bet I’ll love it. Think of Gillette giving away razors so we then buy the new blades. Amazon can make money off me selling electronic books, newspapers and magazines.
  • The durn thing is in black and white! What?

Regarding the first point, I understand the Kindle is not a commodity they can give away–yet. However, the price point is steep for one who considers himself an “early observer” rather than “early adopter.”

As for the second; how can the Kindle replace our current reading media if it doesn’t come in color? The answer? Every change in media comes with its own mini-evolution. To illustrate, think of a more high-level evolution of communication:

  • Cave drawings
  • Oral/speech
  • Text/written
  • Printing (add pictures back)
  • Movies
  • Audio
  • Video (television)
  • Color
  • Portable media (audio, video)

…and so on. Granted, this is over-simplified, and many things overlap.

How does this relate to the Kindle? Think of the way some of these media evolutions overlapped, and repeated. Movies were silent, then added sound, then added color (not strictly in that order, but for simplicity’s sake I’ll call it that way). Television started with black and white and tiny, low-resolution screens. Gradually, color was added, resolution improved, and even distribution and content opened up.

Audio-only media has had similar evolutions. I’ll just pick one out of the group: the transistor radio. Music sounded terrible, but it was portable audio in a way we could not have imagined prior to the transistor’s invention. Eventually, the transistor gave way to better-sounding “boom boxes,” the Walkman with hi-fi headphones, the Discman, and the iPod and its cousins.

Why drone on about disparate media innovations? I think the Kindle is repeating history. People embrace the utility despite its limitations (the original transistor radio, the lowly black-and-white console TV), and gradual improvements will be added as technology allows and in response to demand (color TV, hi-fi Walkmen).

The Kindle is still crawling. I have to think that color is coming, as I can’t imagine reading many periodicals–and even many books–without having the full visual element. I suspect that’s coming. I also suspect improved audio, visual, and interactive elements could come as well.

I understand the limitations of the Kindle. I suspect the Kindle will continue to catch on, and improve with each generation. I’m still waiting for a color Kindle. And for Amazon to give them away like razors. I’ll buy the blades.

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