Bezos insists Kindle will fire up book lovers
Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero said "a room without books is like a body without a soul".
If Cicero was right, then Jeff Bezos is the grim reaper of the literary soul. The founder of online retailer Amazon - the world's biggest bookseller - is hoping to replace the books on your shelf with an electronic device which sits in the palm of your hand.
Mr Bezos believes Kindle 2, Amazon's new electronic book reader, will prompt the biggest transformation in reading since the Gutenberg Bible heralded the age of the printed book:
Jeff Bezos says books and the way we read are undergoing an evolutionary step
"I think we can improve upon the book, I'm sure the book is going to be improved upon," he told Newsnight reporter Katty Kay when she went to meet him at New York's Morgan Library, a temple to the written word.
"Desk-top computers, cell phones, smart-phones all these things are perfect for bringing technology, the convenience that technology affords, to short-form reading," Mr Bezos said.
"And the idea behind Kindle is to take very, very high-tech things like the electronic ink display on Kindle... 3G wireless connectivity, and mix these new technologies together and bring that kind of convenience that we've been building for 20 years for short-form reading to long-form."
Kindle is never going to have the same smell as a book, never going to have the same tactile feel. But you do lose yourself in the story, the same way you do in a physical book
Electronic readers, which act as your personal library, are not new. Several other electronics companies have launched portable e-book readers, including the Sony and iRex.
All hope to do for books what MP3 players did for music.
Kindle 2 is the first to harness wireless technology so users can buy and download books from a virtual store in 60 seconds.
But the UK launch of the device has been delayed while a deal is struck with mobile phone companies.
And that has allowed Kindle's main competitor, the Sony Reader, to steal a march.
Later on Wednesday, Amazon is due to hold a press conference in New York where it is rumoured they will launch another version of the Kindle reader with a large screen tailored to displaying text book, newspaper and magazine pages.
The New York Times, which is said to be involved in the Amazon venture, reported that the device was being seen by US media companies as "a way to get readers to pay for... periodicals" at a time of declining advertising revenue and circulation.
Kindle 2 is more akin to the paperback book, which Mr Bezos says has "had a great run", but is now ripe for an update:
"It makes sense for it to continue to evolve," he explained. "We humans co-evolve with our tools. Our tools change us, and then we change our tools. And that cycle continues. And we do more of whatever is easy... And so as our tools evolve in new directions to make new activities easier and easier, we do more of those things.
"So if you believe, as I do, that long-form reading is important then a device like Kindle is important because it makes that easier and we do more of it."
Mr Bezos says that he does understand the nostalgia for physical books, but insists that the essence of reading will never be lost.
"Why do I like the smell of books? We did some research on that and it turns out that the smell is the glue, a little bit of mildew, the ink smell. Now why do we love those things? Do we intrinsically love those things? I don't think so.
"I think we associate them with our many, many years of reading. Kindle is never going to have the same smell as a book, never going to have the same tactile feel. But you do lose yourself in the story, the same way you do in a physical book."
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