Kindle Is A Failed Concept Says Jobs

There was lots of excitement generated by yesterday’s Macworld 2008 presentation by Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Bet you can’t wait to get your hands on a MacBook Air. In an interview with some New York Times technology columnists after his presentation (the columnists called it “his performance”), Jobs had something interesting to say about other technology gadgets. The one comment I thought of most interest to our profession had to do with Amazon’s Kindle device for reading e-books. Jobs doesn’t have a problem with the technology, he just thinks it’s a pretty bad idea – and not because people don’t like to read e-books, they just don’t read much at all anymore. From the article:

Today he had a wide range of observations on the industry, including the Amazon Kindle book reader, which he said would go nowhere largely because Americans have stopped reading. “It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.”

When the Kindle first appeared there was a fair amount of discussion among librarians about how the device might be used to encourage reading. Jobs is pretty savvy about technology and consumer trends, and just the fact that he doesn’t see it going anywhere because people don’t read should be a cause for concern. Now perhaps his observation only concerns whether it can be a huge hit with consumers, rather than a niche product that will catch on with the 60% of people who do still read with some regularity. Perhaps the ultimate fate of books and reading will depend to some degree on academic librarians and things we might be able to do, perhaps working collaboratively with faculty, to encourage more reading and develop lifelong readers.

Then again, maybe Jobs would be satisfied if we all just watched television shows and movies on his company’s gadgets.

9 thoughts on “Kindle Is A Failed Concept Says Jobs”

  1. Thank you, NEA. Your scare tactics are working. People now believe reading is on its last legs.

    Jobs is full of …. ahem, hot air. There has always been a substantial part of the population that doesn’t read books. That doesn’t mean nobody reads, or that Kids Today don’t want books. Teen book sales are doing quite well, actually. 300,000 people share their libraries at LibraryThing. And there’s a book published in the US every 2.2 minutes, according to The Culture and Commerce of Publishing in the 21st Centurey. A few of those are read.

    I don’t think much of the Kindle – it’s too expensive, thanks to their DRM you don’t really own what you buy, and you can’t even read it in the dark. It’s a fashion accessory for a limited population that can afford to buy a gadget that lets you make impulse purchases more easily.

    But I agree, we have a role to play not just in encouraging reading, but in encouraging the habits of curiosity that make reading worthwhile. The role we play should go beyond helping students be good students, but help them have the habits and skills to be free and fulfilled human beings.

    They need to develop critical habits of mind so that when they hear pundits and government agencies say dumb things like “Americans have stopped reading,” they can put it in perspective and move on.

  2. You would not buy a Kindle because you can’t read it in the dark? Have you gotten rid of your paper books? Maybe I should get rid of my Palm because I can’t read books on it in the light!

    On another note, my kids are all literate but many of their classmates are not. If we stop teaching kids to read because they don’t want to take the effort and their parents really don’t care then we are soon going to be way down on the literacy list. How will you feel when Mexico has a higher literacy rate than the US? They are close to that now. And of those who are literate functionally many of them do not read books in a form but comics. Al in Benson, AZ

  3. I wouldn’t buy a Kindle for a lot of reasons. I have so many books I try not to think too hard about how well the joists in a 150 year old building are holding up. Maybe I should stack them up on the first floor to hold up the second.

    If it makes you feel any better, the reading scores for 9 year olds are at an all time high, according to NCES. The fact that high school scores are down, however, is the only thing you’ll see in the news. If you look at those scores over time, though, even they aren’t so alarming; the scores are the same as in 1971, as Nancy Kaplan has pointed out. In other words, Johnny reads about as well as Johnny read back in the 1950s when Life magazine wrote an article titled “why Johnny can’t read.” For whatever reason, the only way we seem to be able to promote reading is to say it’s in crisis.

    For the record, I would be perfectly delighted if Mexico had a 100% literacy rate. I’m not sure why that should be worrying to us.

    And for the record I love Art Spiegelman’s comics.

  4. I think Jobs limiting reading to only one media (books) is dangerous. I think we can see that in every library we work in or visit. His one stat alone does not mean that Kindle or similar devices will fail.

  5. I got mine yesterday evening, a Christmas present not quite a month late. I started to play with it early this morning.

    The first thing they tell you to do is to explore the Kindle Store – I encourage you all to do that even if you don’t buy the product.
    In addition to Kindle Books, there are Kindle Newspapers and Kindle Magazines. The offerings in both of these categories is quite slim in my view, but especially with the magazines, where is The New Yorker, Harpers, etc.? There do seem to be a number of blogs, but subscribing to them is not free? Again why?

    Jobs comment makes more sense to me after doing that little exercise. The iPod has become the norm for portable digital music. My experience with the iTunes Store is that they aren’t near comprehensive ( has more based on my cetainly biased search for old albums) but surely they have every title that might generate volume for them. Kindle doesn’t have that and Jobs, I believe, was remarking about the low likelihood that they’ll get there.

  6. I surely agree that people have stopped reading books, but not stopped reading. Lot of people still read but most of the sources are not books, rather they are blogs, videos, presentations, formated pages like websites, demos, rich media news etc which is not possible with kindle.

    Kindle looks like as if it has just been designed to replace books. But, that not a customer pain point from business perspective. If i can read on my laptop and the same time i can do other thinks like emails, videos etc , why do i need a different device.

    People who read hard books, love to read because they love hard books. If i love roses, i wont like an electronic gadget manufactured in japan, which glitters with different colors and looks like a rose which i can carry anywhere and which never stales.

    So, in a nutshell , problem statement before design kindle was

    “Design a device which can replace books”

    and, kindle has successfully done it.

    So, whatever judgment you have about kindle will depend on, in what perspective you are looking at it. If amazon launched kindle to capture huge business then, i would say that would be really difficult because people have stopped reading books and those who do reads because they want to get the feel of reading hard copy books.

  7. It is interesting to read this 3 years in the future. Oh, guess what? The kindle is a huge success in sales. Everybody has one here in the future… 😀

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