The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Column: Nevermind newspapers, Kindles are the next big thing

When the Internet first became a part of the mainstream world, I was probably too young to notice or care. In fact, I can hardly remember a world without the Internet. It’s always been there, like a nice friend always willing to help me out whenever I need it. And hey, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It makes my life immensely easier, both for academia and for amusement.

So picture for a moment what our world would be like without it. No e-mail, no Facebook, no Wikipedia, no CNN.com, no widespread dissemination of easy information, downloaded articles, pirated movies / TV shows (not that any of us upstanding Grinnellians do such heinous things). It’s a scary thought. I’m pretty sure campus—scratch that, the world—would be a very weird and confusing place. I’d probably have to actually go to the library on occasion.

Barring some zombie apocalypse of unrivaled proportions, it’s pretty unlikely we’ll ever have to face the nightmare of a world without the Internet. We might just have to live without something almost as good, though—newspapers. Yes, that’s right; the very S&B you know and love is NEVER COMING BACK! Well . . . maybe not. But read on, dear reader, read on, for the truth.

You see, while the S&B is funded mostly by our beloved SPARC, and therefore, by the College and the student activities fund you all pay, there is no SPARC in the real world. There’s just economics, and frankly, not much of that is making sense at all these days. To be clear, we’re not talking about small newspapers, like your local town paper or a state paper (although some of those have already gone under). We’re discussing seriously big names like The New York Times, The Washington Post or the Los Angeles Times. Costs have gone up, readership is down, and no one has the spare change anymore to pick up a copy on their way to work. They’re in real trouble.

Enter the Internet. That friend, who we all love and abuse quite constantly, and which you might even be using to read this article, is not so much of a friend to newspapers. Yes, they’ve created websites, evolved online-only content, tried to make you pay for special sections or editions online (like we’d ever do that), and filled their pages with ads in a desperate attempt to keep turning a profit. Yet we can still get the same news printed in newspapers online, and for free. So unfortunately, it’s not looking like it’s enough. The newspaper as we know it—and the entire print industry, for that matter—is worried. And you should be, too.

Or should you? Amazon.com recently launched the Kindle, the latest iteration of a so-called breed of “e-readers,” or mini-computers designed to download electronic copies of books (or newspapers) that you can read on these devices. They have even done away for the most part with LCD screens that cause eye strain after a few hours of reading in favor of more natural, “ink-based” screens. There are a few around campus, if you pay attention.

These devices are quickly becoming popular—not quite as popular as iPods are today, but then again, these are first or second generation devices, sort of like those blocky, 5-pound iPods from several years ago that could hold 3.5 songs and had a 20-minute battery life. These Kindles allow you to download books in less than 60 seconds as long as you have a cell phone signal, and one device can hold hundreds of novels. Instead of carrying around an entire backpack of books, you can now just carry one Kindle. The battery lasts for weeks, unlike your laptop, and books are all cheaper, since you’re only paying for a digital copy and no printing is involved. It saves costs for the publishers and it helps cut down on needless tree-killing.

There are some downsides though: the screen is pretty small, and if Amazon or the service goes under, you’re out a lot of cash—$360, to be exact. It takes a lot of books to make up for that initial investment and start earning on the savings. But they’re getting better—Amazon’s Kindle 2 was recently released, making some crucial improvements on the first version, and on Wednesday Amazon, in conjunction with The New York Times, will launch an even newer version, with a much larger screen, designed to save the newspaper industry. And did I mention this version is designed for textbooks?

Now even the bookstore is getting worried! Imagine downloading all your textbooks onto one small, light-weight device. Then imagine all those same textbooks that weigh down your back and your soul costing less because they’re not in print. It’s a beautiful thought, ain’t it? So the economic recession might not be all that bad, if this pipe dream comes to pass sometime in the future. For now, however, I think I’ll stick to my print copy of the Times—as long as it’s around.

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