A Very Big Announcement

shh - finger to lips - secret rumor

I’m making a big, secret announcement here — on Friday! Watch for that special blog post at noon (west-coast time, or 3:00 east-coast time). I’ve been preparing for that big day all week…

So in honor of “my big announcement day”, I’ve tracked down the very first e-mail that I’d ever sent to anybody about Amazon’s Kindle. It was before I’d even bought one, towards the end of 2009, but I’d sent an e-mail to some friends on a mailing list that we’d set up for discussion random things. Barnes and Noble had just announced a brand new e-reader that they were about to release, called…the Nook. “It comes out at the end of November,” I wrote, “and looks a lot like Amazon’s Kindle, except it’s got a virtual ‘touch’ keyboard instead of an actual keyboard — along with a touch screen.”

Most of the differences are minor — you’ll be able to read entire ebooks (or “browse” them) if you bring it into a Barnes & Noble, and you’ll be able to “loan” ebooks to your friends for two weeks. I’ve been skeptical about the whole concept of a techno-gizmo-logical “reading device,” even though several blogs that I read were raving about them. But they’ve got some capabilities I didn’t know about…

* Free, always-on internet access. It’s kind of minimal, I’ve heard, partly because the screens are black and white, but the price is right. The idea is that if you can go online whenever you want, you can also browse their book-buying catalogs whenever the whim strikes you. (One user told a story about hearing NPR describe a new book — and deciding to purchase it then and there on their Kindle. Within seconds, it had been beamed down to his device, and he was off reading its first chapter…) But beyond purchasing copies: it’s also a cheap back-up internet device.

* You can subscribe to newspapers — even out-of-state newspapers — and for less than their print editions cost.

Plus, I had two experiences that made me start thinking seriously about it. I discovered Project Gutenberg’s free online library had an entire collection of short fiction (by Bret Harte) that’s set in California’s gold country. I’d been to four bookstores, none of which actually had any of his books, so score one for digital books. (And Project Gutenberg has other cool obscure texts. For example, in 1914, some guy in California took a walking tour “Through Bret Harte Country,” and described what every city was like.)

More importantly, I’ve been reading the stories on my computer screen — and thinking that maybe a low-glare reader might make it more feasible to read longer digital works. (For that matter, you can also read blogs on these things — so maybe I could also just cut down on my monitor-based web browsing.) But the most compelling argument I saw for digital readers were from people who said that after they bought them, they read more. You’d never lug 20 books to the dentist’s office or while you’re riding on a bus — but your Kindle (or Nook) can carry them all, so you can pick out something that fits your mood. And maybe because it’s a new experience, it also makes reading feel exciting and new and geeky.

But also, people said that they were now reading more literature — because it was free. Or they’re reading obscure pulp fiction and mystery novels from the 1920s whose copyright had expired. And digital publishers also give away the first chapter for free (to try to entice you to buy the whole thing) — so I’ve heard people say they try more different kinds of books now, and it widens what they’re eventually reading.

Maybe — dare I say it? — it’s actually an improvement on reading a book, since maybe it’s lighter and easier to hold. And if you want to look up a word, you don’t have to fumble around for your dictionary. There’s even a built-in text-to-speech feature.

Granted, it may be that the only people you hear talking about the Kindle are the people who are deeply in love with it. But I wonder if this is going to catch on and really change our world in a major way? (One tech site even claimed the Kindle already had a faster adoption rate than the iPhone.)

Anyone have any thoughts on these new-fangled digital reading devices?

You know the rest. A few friends said they’d also been skeptical of the Kindle, until they bought one, and then they loved them. So I eventually bought a Kindle for myself, then started a blog about the Kindle…and the rest is history. And now there’s a new milestone coming up — Friday, at noon (PST).

Check this blog tomorrow to hear the big news!

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