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Why The Kindle Hasn’t Changed Books, and Other Slightly Ridiculous Questions

Over on Wired David Piece asks the same slightly ridiculous question outside pundits ask every so often: why  Amazon has failed to change books as an art form as much as it has changed the book market.

If Amazon wanted to, it could with a single act bring a new form of book into being. That’s because Amazon has more or less vertically integrated the entire book industry within its walls, building a complete reading universe of its own making. Lots of authors now write books especially for Amazon, which readers find on Kindle Unlimited and Prime Reading, read on their phone and tablet, listen to through Audible or your Echo, and then talk about on Goodreads. Amazon has tools that help you write your book, format the manuscript, design the cover, file the right metadata, publish to the right places, and get paid the right amount. Want to make a comic book, a kids' book, or a textbook instead? Amazon can help there too.

Over the years Amazon has tried to experiment with form a bit, with the not-quite-book-length Kindle Singles and the periodically-delivered Kindle Serials. If you look carefully, there are even a few Choose Your Own Adventure-type books lurking in the store as well, but they’re third-rate romance and fantasy stories you’ve never heard of. And Amazon’s executives express an interest in continuing to push the medium forward in new and interesting ways.

But so far, Amazon’s contributions have stayed on the margins.

The thing is, Amazon has invented new-ish forms of books: The Kindle apps support audio and video embedded in an ebook, and last year Amazon also debuted the Kindle in Motion format.

So Amazon has invented the new format; it’s just that the new stuff never took off (judging by the many failed enhanced ebook startups, it is probably because consumers don’t want it).

The thing that many outsiders keep missing is that Amazon won the ebook market by giving consumers exactly the same stories they were already reading, only in a new package. Yes, Amazon invested huge sums in making the Kindle platform friction-free, but when you come down to it the content being delivered was the same as before – the only change was the medium it was delivered on.

And that is why it succeeded where previous attempts faltered. Amazon gave consumers the content they already wanted, only on a new medium that let readers carry hundred of books at a time.

And yet here we have David asking Amazon didn’t invent a new form of books.

Well, Amazon did, but even so just asking the question is slightly absurd. It is like if Apple had taken the music market from vinyl to Mp3s, only to be asked why they didn’t invent a new form of music which mixed in, I don’t know, tactile sensations.

I am not understating the case.

What David is really asking in his post is why Amazon, as a deliverer of an existing form of art, has failed to invent a new form of art.

The new form of books that David asks for aren’t the same art form as has been produced over the past millennia, and yet he wants to know why Amazon hasn’t invented them.

Do you see how ridiculous that sounds?

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Carmen Webster Buxton December 21, 2017 um 1:46 pm

Anyone remember the Vook? ( I thought not! It went nowhere because, as you point out, no one wanted it. It’s not what technology can do that drives the market; it’s want people want to do. People who want to read a book read a book, and people who want to watch a movie watch a movie. I, for one, have never ever hankered to stop reading so I could watch a video clip or stop watching a movie so I could read art of the story.

The Kindle Changed the Book Business. Can It Change Books? | The Passive Voice | A Lawyer's Thoughts on Authors, Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing December 21, 2017 um 3:26 pm

[…] Link to the rest at The Digital Reader […]

Mackay Bell December 21, 2017 um 4:05 pm

Yes, it’s a very stupid article. Basically it’s asking why Amazon didn’t turn books into video games. The answer, because we already have video games.

Ebooks are fundamentally different from print books, and Amazon has made that possible to a mass audience. You can jump to any page, you can insert notes, you can search for any word, you can keep thousands on a small device. You can change the style of the text, enlarge it or shrink it, and virtually every ebook also includes links to other ebooks. It’s also much easier to include pictures, which instantly enlarge with a click. All these features are commonly used. Add in audiobook linking and some books include dictionaries, etc.

In terms of content, Amazon has made all sorts of new content available, new genres and subgenres.

Throw into the mix that Amazon has brought back short fiction as a viable income stream for authors, and just the entire self-publishing revolution and… come on! It’s only been a few years since this all started!

Nate Hoffelder December 21, 2017 um 4:54 pm

I think he wants Amazon to turn ebooks into websites, not video games.

Allen F December 21, 2017 um 5:51 pm

A 'book' is not an art form, it’s a story put to words. If what he wants is an 'art form' he doesn’t want a book. He wants to 'call' it a book, but that’s not what he wants. (Maybe a read along picture book like we already have for kids …)

Nate Hoffelder December 21, 2017 um 6:29 pm

If you accept that art is a creative work in its best state then a well-written book is art, and thus books are art forms.

Tom Wood December 30, 2017 um 11:10 am

Hey Nate!

This article is being quoted at New Republic:

Nate Hoffelder December 30, 2017 um 2:06 pm

Yep! Saw that, and linked ti it in a Morning Coffee.

Tom Wood December 30, 2017 um 2:44 pm

Their article is on the front page of DIGG now, so here’s hoping you get some good traffic!

Carmen Webster Buxton December 30, 2017 um 3:43 pm

Great going, Nate! That’s some good web "ink" there!

The "Kindle for Non-Fiction" Already Exists, But You Might Not Recognize It Because It's Not a Book | The Digital Reader January 2, 2018 um 1:25 pm

[…] last month asked whether Amazon could use its Kindle platform to reinvent books. I thought that was a ridiculous question in and of itself, but the ensuing debate over on The Passive Voice has made me realize that there […]

eBooks are a Stupid Product, and Other Blinkered Ramblings | The Digital Reader February 20, 2018 um 7:11 am

[…] and a reader explained in the comment section of this post, readers like ebooks because they are the exact same stories we already read, only with a few extra minor […]

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