Amazon's KindleYahoo News reported today that Amazon is dropping the price of its Kindle e-book reader device by $40, to $359. Woo-hoo, I say. Not.

Until the price of a good reliable e-book reader reaches $100 or less – and I’m not holding my breath – I doubt that e-book readers will become must-haves for more than a very few people – and they certainly won’t be of much interest to young people. Why buy e-books that you can’t move among devices, and can’t sell used, when you can buy real 3D books? Last weekend I spent half my Saturday helping out with Austin Public Library’s Monster Book Sale, and saw all kinds of wonderful books – yeah, well, all kinds of discarded library books, plenty of which were pretty wonderful – for $2 to 50 cents apiece.

I bought a classic discarded hardcover library copy of Ursula K. Le Guin’s marvelous A Wizard of Earthsea, with its 1968 copyright date and its plastic-covered dust jacket all raggedy around the edges, for $1. At that price, I can carry it around easily and not care (too much) whether it gets any more beat-up that it already is, or whether it gets something spilled on it.

Try buying that book as an an e-book at that kind of price. Have you seen the wonderful article, “The Elusive E-Book,” by Stephen Sottong in the May American Libraries? I wish I could link to it, but ALA doesn’t allow access to non-members. If you can get hold of a copy, please read it. Sottong expresses exactly my feelings about the current unworkability of electronic books. He says:

The reason [the Sony Reader and Amazon Kindle} will fail is the same one that doomed the Rocket e-book: Why would anyone pay $300 to $400 for a dedicated reader device when the display and interface are not as good as a paper book? As author Walt Crawford concisely put it, “Paper books work.”

Costs must come down, and flexibility must improve for e-books to succeed. We need to have e-books we can read on our cell phones and laptops without transfer hassles. And even then, I don’t feel that we’ll see e-books ever triumph – because, like Crawford, I think the 3D book works really well.

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