Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
February 12, 2009 7:48 AM

Rekindling A Passion For Reading

You can't always get what you want...

When I was younger, it was not uncommon to grab a few buddies, hop in the car and make the 45-minute trek south to Plattsburgh, NY. While cross-border shopping is nothing new, the real reason for the after-work pilgrimage was for some Pizza Hut and Mountain Dew. We were starved for it, because there was no Pizza Hut or Mountain Dew to be had on the island of Montreal. And, while the thought of neon-green soda and extra-salty pepperoni still brings back memories that make me shake my head, the allure of travelling and being able to see and buy stuff that you can't get where you presently live is slowly slipping away.

This past year, I've logged more than 150,000 air-travel miles, flying all over the world, and one thing is for certain: No matter where you are, they have pretty much the exact same things they have in any major metropolitan city. From a Starbucks on every corner to a Gap and McDonald's - we're more similar than you might suspect.

That being said, every so often technology brings that wanting feeling right back up like a Meat Lover's burp. If you couple the travelling with my passion for business and motivational books, you can imagine my dismay when the Amazon Kindle e-book reader was not released in Canada. Unlike our wait for the iPhone, even if you jumped across the border and picked up a Kindle, you could not really get it unlocked. So yes, while you could read books from the e-reader and sync them from your home computer, the Kindle Store - which runs on Amazon's Whispernet (Sprint's EV-DO wireless network) - is not available in Canada.

Think of Whispernet like iTunes for books. You fire up your Kindle and the homescreen says, "Welcome back Mitch, did you know that Seth Godin released his new book, Tribes, today and you can buy it and download it right now for $9.99?" One click and poof, you have the book on your reader. It has been a huge success south of the border.

The device itself (which retails for about $350 US) has been almost impossible to find on Amazon since it launched in November 2007. Just this week, Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos launched the Kindle 2 in New York City. As with everything in technology that follows Moore's Law (everything improves at exponential rates - think double the speed in two years time), the Kindle 2 is no different. A smaller form, faster, more capacity (the first Kindle could only hold about 200 books, while Kindle 2 will store about 1,500) and many more whiz-bang features.

The sad news is that there is still not a set release date for the Kindle in Canada.

Tools of Change for Publishers.

Amazon is not the only company making the news in the past few days in terms of the digitization of the publishing industry. This column is being written from the 16th floor of the Marriott Marquis hotel in Times Square. From Monday through Wednesday this week, O'Reilly Media (the company widely regarded for creating the term, "Web 2.0") is holding their TOC (Tools of Change) for Publishing conference here. For three days, publishing industry professionals are poking and prodding the latest technology and debating through keynote, panel discussions and roundtables exactly what they are going to do as more and more people begin not only buying e-book readers like the Kindle, but begin reading books in different ways on different devices.

The changes are happening faster than you may have noticed. The Kindle already has nearly 250,000 books available in the Kindle Store, and "Tech analyst Mark Mahaney at Citigroup Investment Research estimates Amazon sold about 400,000 units last year and that Kindle hardware and book sales will contribute about $1 billion to Amazon revenue in 2010," according to the recent USA Today article, Amazon unveils slimmer Kindle."

The widely popular and free iTunes application, Stanza, has become the most popular electronic book reader for the iPhone platform, with over one million downloads. Stanza is also tied to Project Gutenberg (a volunteer effort to digitize, archive and distribute cultural works), enabling anyone to read many pieces of classic literature right in the palm of their hand. Sony also recently released their next-generation e-book reader that includes an interactive touch-screen display.

What would Jeff Jarvis do?

Books have come a long way, and the attendees at Tools of Change for Publishing think it is going to go a lot further in the next short while. Jeff Jarvis, associate professor and director of the interactive journalism program at the City University of New York's new Graduate School of Journalism, columnist for The Guardian, blogger at BuzzMachine, and the author of the just-released book, What Would Google Do?, said in his keynote presentation on Tuesday afternoon that books must quickly become more "updatable, searchable, linkable and correctable." In the same breath he added that books have changed from a "product" into a "process." His own book has an audio, video and even PowerPoint version (not to mention constant updates and additions over on his blog).

After all, why should books and the ideas and stories they explore be bound to paper alone?

Movable type indeed.

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business - Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:

- Vancouver Sun - Curled up with a good e-book reader lately?
- Montreal Gazette - Rekindling a passion for reading.

By Mitch Joel


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