Web marketing guru Seth Godin has a Kindle and he seems to like it but he’d also like it to be more revolutionary in a very Godin-esque way. Okay. He’s also incredibly sexist. Godin claims the Kindle is “for women” because 1. it’s ugly and 2. the top 10 best sellers are not tech-heavy and “an Oprah book is #1.” This is pure, unadulterated hogwash.
First of all, as I’ve been arguing over and over, the Kindle is for people who are big, huge, frequent, constant readers of books who are also comfortable with gadgets. Kindle is NOT primarily aimed at super-gadget hounds who also happen to read some books. The design is definitely way old school, not cutting edge 21st century. Godin says “the colors and feel of the machine don’t feel like the current uber-geek tech dream device.” Exactly.
But what does that have to do with women? My wife likes her sexy iPod Nano as much for the stylish look and feel and color as for the music. She’s also not so into the Kindle, which felt clunky to her. Zillions of both men and women find gadget design and style important. The idea that Kindle is for women because it has a weird design is, well, just weird.
Second, an Oprah book is selling well for Kindle and that’s some sort of surprise upon which we Godin can build this silly thesis? Are Barnes & Noble bookstores “for women” because they sell tons of Oprah books? In point of fact, the Kindle top 10 is just about the same as the overall, dead tree pulp Amazon.com top 10. Both (as of right now) feature David Sedaris, The Last Lecture, Tim Russert, a pair by Stephanie Meyer and, yes, Oprah’s pick by Eckhart Toll. The main difference is the print top 10 includes two more Russert books, which aren’t available on the Kindle, and the Kindle top 10 includes Scott McClellan and Fareed Zakaria’s books, which hardly seem like chick lit. Sheesh.
That aside, I’m also not on board with Godin’s critique that the Kindle “does a fine job of being a book reader, and a horrible job of actually improving the act of reading a book.” As I’ve noted before, the Kindle does a great job of improving the act of reading by giving you an instant dictionary at your fingertips, letting you change the size of the typeface on the fly, giving you the ability to search every word of a book and every word in all of the books in your Kindle library and storing notes and highlights in a computer text file. You also have instant web access, so you can follow-up references in books on the spot, like when I looked up an important 19th century Supreme Court decision in the middle of reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book on Lincoln.
On the other hand, Godin wants to, how to put this gently? Umm, ruin the experience of reading a book by turning it into a Cliff Notes reduction combined with a utter free for all of distracting distractions:
“Here are three simple examples of how non-fiction books on the Kindle could be better, not just cheaper and thinner:
–Let me see the best parts of the book as highlighted by thousands of other readers.
–Let me see notes in the margin as voted up, Digg-style, by thousands of other readers.
–Let me interact with hyperlinks and smart connections not just within the book but across books
I can think of ten others, and so can you. Instead of making this a dead end (like a book) they could have made it a connector (like the web).”
I guess it’s a fair complaint if you aren’t happy with books as they exist today and you want them to be “more like the web.” I can’t say that I wish books were more like the web at all. Let me contemplate and think and take in the author’s words quietly in my mind, please. Reading a book is not reading stuff on the web, nor does it need to be. Godin’s comment actually made me think that maybe Nick Carr was right about some people when he complained that Google was making us dumber (a thesis which, overall, I find to be just dumb, but that’s a whole other post).
Ultimately, though, Godin makes one solid point that I can agree with. The Kindle, or really the whole concept of wireless e-reading devices, will revolutionize the way ideas are sold and spread. Just not exactly, precisely in the way Seth wants.
p.s. It’s more than a little ironic that while good master Godin wants more interactivity and webiness in his Kindle, his own web site doesn’t allow comments — at all. How conversationally tone deaf is that? UPDATE: Nor has my post appeared in Godin’s trackbacks eight hours after pinging his site.
p.p.s Tip o’ the cap and thanks to Rex Hammock for alerting me to the original Godin post and linking back here.