My innovation hype detector went off in this NYT piece on the Kindle. The offending quote is as follows:
Today’s idea: The advent of e-books and Google’s online book archive mean “2009 may well prove to be the most significant year in the evolution of the book since Gutenberg hammered out his original Bible.”
Anyone who makes a quote like this should be expected to spend at least 60 seconds reviewing the history of books before uttering a phrase such as “…the most significant since”, don’t you think?
Frankly it’s a stupid comparison. The Kindle is, or is not, awesome based on how it makes reading easier or better, which I’m pretty sure it does. Why drag Guttenberg into this yet again?
Here’s a quick run through of book innovations history to help frame the kindle:
- Movable type – Gutenberg should be taken down a few hype notches. China had working presses for centuries before he was born (around 1000 AD). It just never took off, in part because written Chinese language has hundreds of characters, compared to Germans 26.
- Gutenberg – Deserves credit for the Western, as in European, printing press. He made several very clever enhancements never seen before, but did not invent the book nor the press. He was also not much of a philosophical hero or idea liberator – as best we can tell he was just a fine craftsman mostly failing to make a living printing bibles.
- The invention of cheap paperback books, Penguin makes books cheap enough for the average citizen (1935). This was a revolution in the U.S. as in made books cheap, portable and part of middle and lower class culture.
If anything I think paperback books are the best comparison as they were a revolution in distribution, access, convenience and portability much like the Kindle is. They also revolutionized the business model for authors, publishers and bookstores, much like Kindle will if it’s success continues.