I think that what people are missing by focusing on the Kindle device is the appealing service model. What Amazon is offering here comes very close to instant gratification for readers. It's not tied to a physical bookstore or library. It's not even tied to a computer or a wired or wi-fi connection to the internet. Instead the service is tied to Sprint's cellular network. This may not make it particularly appealing to a lot of Montanans due to Sprint's spotty coverage in our state. But it does make it very accessible for many Americans. And Amazon is picking up the cost of the cellular connections.
I presume that once you've set the device up, you can have ready access to your Amazon account. So, you search for a title, click on order and it's downloaded to your device in less than a minute. Pretty darn easy. And even easier in regard to periodicals you subscribe to via the service. You can just leave your device on overnight and the New York Times (or whatever newspaper you subscribe to) will be downloaded automatically. You wake up, pick up the device and read away. No trudging out in the snow to pick your paper out of the bushes. You don't even have to turn on your computer and wait for it download - as I do with my NYTimes subscription on Audible.
A lot has been made of the fact that there are digital rights management issues and that you won't really own a copy of the work. I'd agree that you're probably buying access to rather than the book itself. Does that really matter to most people? I suppose if it does, they won't find this model appealing. I have to confess that I am a certifiable book junkie. But I find that there really aren't that many that are keepers, especially now that I'm reading a lot of topical nonfiction.
The big question that remains to be answered is does Amazon have the pricing right? Most people seem to agree that $399 for the Kindle itself is too much. But $9.99 for current bestsellers seems a good deal. And the newspaper subscriptions are cheaper than print. $13.99/month for the Times is even cheaper than their own electronic edition.
I don't think there's any argument that devices like the Kindle will ever replace books and other print materials. For example, I really can't imagine reading the Sunday Times on a paperback sized reader. There are some things you just want to spread out all over the dining room table to enjoy. And pictorials on a black and white reader? Not incredibly satisfying, but will it suffice? And will convenience win out over the overall quality of the reading experience?
What does this emphasis on convenience mean for libraries? We seem to have put the emphasis on free rather than convenient. That has, no doubt, had an impact on who is actually using our services. If Amazon's model catches on and saps demand for current topics and titles, we may need to be ready with alternate service responses, if we are to remain vital centers of our community.
Anyway, I think there are a lot of possibilities out there for how libraries might respond and look forward to reading some interesting comments.
Read Steve Gibson's review of the Kindle on Amazon.com. He's actually used it!