What Kindles are actually for.
(Someone should tell Amazon.)
I’m a late convert to the Kindle, and so are most of my friends.
We didn’t buy Kindles when they first came out, because although we are relatively young, we are a bit old-fashioned. We love books — and we were told that a Kindle was a replacement for books.
Turns out that isn’t really true. And as we’ve discovered what Kindles are actually for, we’ve become converts. But that’s in spite of, and not because of, years of marketing effort by Amazon — and if that’s not a solid failure of marketing strategy right there, I don’t know what is.
The way Kindles have been marketed is the perfect example of the modern marketing malaise that sees marketers focus on the channel/technology, and not the ideas or services they facilitate.
Everything my friends and I had been shown about Kindles in all the nice adverts focused on the physical experience of reading — drawing positive comparisons with either books or screens. Makes sense at first, right? Kindles have nice non-tiring screens — so reading on a Kindle doesn’t strain your eyes like a computer screen would. Kindles are comfortable to hold. Kindles are light — so you can read anywhere (and in this instance, yes, the ability to take a huge volume of reading material on holiday DID always appeal, but since I only go on week- or two-week long holidays once in a blue moon, it was never quite enough of a pressing sell to make me cough up the cash). Reading from a Kindle is every bit as nice as reading from a proper book, Amazon told us. No — better! I mean, look at this advert. “It’s so thin and light!” cry the nice friendly avid readers.
Erm, ok. So what? Of all the great, transformative reading experiences I’ve had in my life, from the discovery of my love of fin de siècle pulp horror to devouring Elena Ferrante’s novels, never have “thinness and lightness” ever factored into my reading pleasure, and let us pray they never do.
But then I was gifted a free second-hand Kindle just before I went on holiday, so I used it just because I could. And it was then, slowly crisping myself in the sun on an Ionian beach, that I realised what the true consumer benefit of a Kindle was. It was for propping up wobbly Greek tables.
JUST KIDDING! No…
Kindles aren’t a better kind of book. They’re a better kind of bookshop.*
There I was, in Greece, finishing my first-ever John Le Carré novel (I know, I know. Shameful.) If I had packed physical books I would perhaps have packed this novel, plus a range of other rather different books, to try to anticipate the various reading moods I might be in. But it turns out that JLC is so bloody good that I wanted more. I downloaded the next novel in the series. By dinnertime I had downloaded another. And another. In one week I read 10 and spent about £60.
I would never in a million years have thought to pack ten spy novel to take on holiday, or spend £60 in one go in a bookshop on one author. I’m not even a big spy novel person! But I was addicted, and my Kindle allowed me to follow my reading whims to precisely where I wanted to go, at the tap of a screen.
And not just while on holiday. Reading the paper on the bus, coming across a good book review? No longer would I tear out the page, only to forget I’d done so the next time I was passing a bookshop. Hearing a forgotten classic mentioned on Radio 4? No more making soon-to-be-misplaced notes. Every time, I’d just download the book straight away, and there it would be on my home screen, reminding me to read it when the mood took me.
All those of us who are vociferous readers surely know that feeling of craving something to read, standing running our hands over the hopeful spines on the bookshelf, and yet finding nothing. Nothing particularly takes our fancy, nothing feels right. You’ve bought only novels, but suddenly you’re craving non-fiction, or biography, or poetry … and your Kindle can make that happen. Because of this — and not because it is light, or thin, or easy to look at - my Kindle has made me read much, much more than I have at any time since I was ten and managed to fraudulently snag myself two library cards so I could read 14 books a week instead of 7.
Kindles are more like the reading version of Netflix than they are a replacement for books. But the marketing of Kindles is akin to how it would be if the people behind Netflix had focused on the medium via which people would use their service, instead of focusing — as they have rightly done — on the viewing choices it opens up. Imagine if Netflix was marketed on being “nice and rectangular and easy to look at” instead of on the ease of access to quality programming it opens up.
The great, magical, wonderful thing about a Kindle isn’t to do with the act of reading in and of itself. It’s about discovering infinite things to read, whenever, wherever, whatever your mood.
*Some of you will be saying, “A better kind of bookshop!? But my bookshop is cosy and beautiful and staffed by charming people and there are talks and there’s even a rather nice coffee and cake shop!” and to that, I say, “Yes, so is mine, AND they give me free tote bags — but it cannot be conjured into existence on the top deck of the number 73 bus, and therefore, it loses.”