I was as eager as everyone else to take a look at the iPads when they arrived here. Maybe more interested. After all, there is the very real possibility that it could have as profound an effect on books and the book industry as the iPod had on music. But just what that effect would be is not yet clear. The iPad might be the antidote to Amazon’s exclusionary Kindle. Or not. Apple might be the player that is fair to authors and publishers and booksellers and readers, unlike Amazon. Or not.
As it turned out, iPads did not actually arrive at the Co-op until around 12:30 pm of the on-sale day, hours after they were in the Apple stores. And though they do not go in the part of the Co-op that is my domain (books), that Saturday I happened to be the manager on duty and so I let the UPS driver in (we don’t ordinarily get deliveries on Saturdays) and showed him where to put the boxes.
It was not long before a box was opened and Bob, in whose domain, (technology) the iPad resides, had come down to the store to check on the delivery. Because he could not get the display set up until Monday, he offered the iPad to me for the afternoon and that’s when the fun began.
It’s light. It’s sleek. The resolution of the screen is truly astonishing. And it was (and, as I write this, still is) an attention getter. The first to notice me exploring the iPad as I stood on the sales floor of General Books, were two young male students. It was immediately apparent that these guys were very tech savvy. The shorter guy told me he’d written quite a bit about the iPad, all negative. He couldn’t see the purpose of it. But as he spoke he moved closer to me and I could tell he was very eager to take the gleaming little machine out of my hands and try it. I handed it to him. Soon he was trying out a game on it. His friend now wanted to try it. “What do you think?” I asked but they didn’t need to answer. I could tell by the looks on their faces. They were impressed.
But they had not come into the Co-op to look at iPads. No, they were shopping for a book for a birthday present for the girl friend of the shorter guy. He’d already bought a book for her, and now his friend was shopping for one. He wanted Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaardner. This internationally bestselling philosophical novel, written by a Norwegian high school teacher, has achieved almost cult status amongst readers. In it, a fourteen-year old girl finds two notes in her mailbox. The notes pose two questions: Who Are You? Where Does the World Come From? The novel is the story of Sophie’s quest to learn the answers.
We were out of the book (a bookseller’s bad dream, but one cannot have all books at all times and actually no one does, not even the online stores that purport to). The young man was happy to have us order it for him. And we ordered a couple for the shelf.
So, our young customers played with the iPad, fell in love with it even, but left happy having ordered a book made of paper and ink. Other customers were also eager to try it out and so I barely had time to play with it myself. Subsequently, we have sold quite a few.
It’s interesting to me that Apple has separated the creation of content from the consumption of content, and in doing so, has made the consumption a richer experience. And though I’ve heard people complain, “But you can’t make phone calls with it,” or “it doesn’t have a camera,” separating creation from consumption really isn’t such a radical notion. Until computers, this was often the case. Cameras and darkrooms were used to produce photos not display them. Books were for reading novels, not writing them. Musical instruments were a bit of an exception; a piano could be used to create music and perform it for listeners. Apple put enormous thought into making the iPad a superior platform for enjoying content just as it put enormous thought into making iLife a superior platform for creating content and in the process gave ordinary people access to content creation abilities they would not have imagined possible.
The iPad is a very cool little machine. What does it mean for books? I honestly don’t know. I suspect paper books will be around for a very long time. They continue to have many advantages. But I also think the iPad breaks new ground and that many books will reside in both the e-realm and on paper. I am pleased that Apple is using the e-pub standard so that books from various sources will work on it.
Note: for an interesting environmental comparison read How Green Is My iPad. One flaw in the piece is the assumption that a paper book would end up in a landfill. Actually paper books have long been one of the most recycled items on the planet. Even with that assumption though, paper books come out greener. Posted by Suzy