Amazon's Newest Shiny Kindle Won't Kill Print

by Laura Creste

Kindles and other kinds of e-readers have been around for years, and I still haven’t made the switch from print to screen. I don’t see this as a particularly passionate or political decision — it’s just a preference. Not everyone, however, feels that way.

At the New York Times, Farhad Manjoo reviews the new Amazon Kindle Voyage, claiming the new e-reader “beats” hardcovers. I don’t understand why he’s compelled to phrase it as an us versus them debate, seeming to delight in the death of the printed word. Calling the Kindle Voyage an “executioner” of hardcovers, Manjoo asserts:

Until recently, there were only two remaining reasons to hang on to books — either you just couldn’t get on board with the way a Kindle page looked, or you were suspicious of Amazon’s power and larger motives in the publishing industry, and you saw the printed book as the only bulwark against its overreach.

This is a grand statement — and an oversimplification. Manjoo doesn't tap into the mind of many, many readers here.

Yes, I’m concerned about the ramifications of Amazon's intense control of U.S. book sales, and a great, new Kindle that could cause people to switch to e-readers does nothing to alleviate that worry — but that’s not the only reason I choose to pick up a real, paper book.

I, like many paper-devotees, like underlining my favorite lines, and highlighting text on a screen just doesn’t do it for me. I like having a break from the screens I spend so much of my day with, between my laptop and my phone. I like putting my favorite books on my shelf where I can see them and spontaneously return to them. I like swapping books with my friends and seeing their marginalia. I like browsing in a bookstore, a social experience that can't be replaced by recommendations based on browsing history, no matter how good Amazon's algorithm is. I like giving my money to brick-and-mortar stores instead of Amazon.

In reviewing the virtues of the Voyage — which sounds like a stellar device — Manjoo makes a good (albeit familiar) case about the benefits of the Kindle. I’m sure it’s convenient that you can tap on a word and the dictionary definition appears. And genealogical charts might be useful if you’re reading Tolstoy or George R. R. Martin, where things can get a little confusing and knowing the family dynamics is crucial.

Now the Voyage has less glare and a softer look that mimics the printed page — awesome. And after hearing all of this, if you're an advocate of e-readers, get into it. Maybe even switch if it sounds like it has what you're looking for, on-the-fence reader. But it's off the mark to trumpet that Amazon's newest device, no matter how good it is, portends the death of the printed word for all readers.

Maybe what's really missing here is addressing the middle ground. Perhaps the latest updates to the Kindle will usher in an era of dual reading experiences. After all, the truth is that some moments are better experienced on the screen than the page and vice versa.

You can use your e-reader to read your newspapers or The New Yorker without having to even leave your bed. You can read the novel everyone's talking about but you somehow know you're not going to want to own or display (you know what I mean). But you might also want to buy printed books of your all-time favorite stories that you’d prefer to tangibly hold. Or to take a paperback to the beach and not worry about the sand getting in your device. Or to give the gift of a great book to a friend, which is something I love to do.

I’m not a luddite. I can see the value of e-readers without feeling like I have to pledge my loyalty to them in an imagined war between print and screen. The page may be black and white, but this war doesn't have to be.

Images: sheila_sund/flickr; Giphy (3)