One of my chief objections to the Kindle is a suspicion that it heralds the end of owning books that you can give, lend, share or buy secondhand. I had to eat my words a little when Lendle started up, but the news today is that Amazon has crippled Lendle because it “Lendle does not ‘serve the principal purpose of driving sales of products and services on the Amazon site” . (See Lendle’s own statement here).
Nothing about the Kindle itself makes me want to own one, because I will always love books, things you can hold, bend, drop in the bath and dry on a radiator, get sand and suntan lotion on and stick bits of paper in. The surface of a kindle is hard and dead, it gives no tactile feedback, you cannot alter it. The appearance of text on the surface is unchanged by the light, or the angle of the book. There is no left or right, no beginning or end, no geography. One page looks like any other. ‘Browsing’ for me is a verb of motion, it means you moving through a book or a book-filled space. It’s a precondition of serendipity, one of the greatest joys of a room full of books. Kindle books ought to be cheap, but they’re not. I have books that are 20, 30, 50, 100 years old, and still function as books. Will you be able to say that of your Kindle repertoire even 10 years from now? I suspect not.
But it’s the lending thing that gets me most. As Britain’s libraries face the axe, and Kindle sales increase, it looks frighteningly as if books, learning, information and knowledge are going to become pay-per-view commodities, rented but never owned, an example of what Slavoj Žižek means when he says that ‘exploitation increasingly takes the form of rent’ (First as Tragedy, Then as Farce, p. 145).
Update on 23/3/11: Lendle is back up again, after a day’s agony, but I’m still not convinced, especially after reading the HarperCollins want to impose a 26-loan limit on e-books that are bought by libraries.