Rest assured, bookstores and publishers: Amazon’s Kindle will not do to books what Apple’s iPod and MP3 downloads did to the music industry. That’s the word from novelist Stephen King, who was the special guest at this morning’s well-choreographed Kindle 2.0 launch.
After the presentation, King hung around and granted paidContent a quick interview. Excerpts after the jump, and audio excerpts are here.
Following his introduction by Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos, the perennially best-selling writer discussed how he was approached by the online retailer in mid-January to produce a story to be specially featured for the next generation launch of Amazon’s gossamer-thin e-Book device. Initially, he demurred, saying he had never written a story on demand. But when King, who had the original Kindle, realized “Hey, I could have gotten a new Kindle,” he called Amazon back and agreed. In the excerpt King read to the audience, a young Kindle reader debates his teacher about the virtues of the electronic reader. King didn’t reveal how his short story ended, but he did wind up with a new, one-of-its-kind pink Kindle. Prospective customers will only have the choice of the white/gray model for now, which will ship for $359 in the U.S. on Feb. 24 — no word yet on when sales will start in Europe. (King’s novella UR is pre-selling in the Kindle store for $2.99, 25 percent off the “digital list price.”)
– A good (electronic) read: King told me he’s pretty taken with the object, but he is still reading print and ink mostly. King: “I see it as a complement. I like reading on it just fine. I was surprised at its ease of use. It’s counter-intuitive, in the sense that you don’t want to read an instruction booklet. In fact, the one the kid has in the story doesn’t come with one. If you can turn on a button and turn a page — it’s really amazing to me. They’ve really done their best to make it easy.”
– Books are apples, songs are oranges: In other words, selling books online can’t be compared to selling music online. King, who published a story on the internet about eight years ago called Riding The Bullet, offered this take on the distinctions between buying books and music: “I just have to say that there is a fundamental difference between books and iPods and CDs and MP3 downloads. People, when they want music, they have a tendency to be selective. And they can be [when it comes to music]. You can take a song like Dire Straits‘ “Money For Nothing”, and pull it out of that album by downloading just that song. It’s 8-and-a-half minutes long and costs you 99 cents. Maybe you don’t want anything else on that album. I might want “Walk of Life” [another song on the band's Brothers In Arms album], but that’s just me. Or take The Police — there’s only two songs in their entire catalog that I might want, because I don’t really like them. But I can enjoy the parts that I do like. But when you talk about a book, you have to have the whole thing. So it seems to me that there’s a more level playing field. Yes, MP3s and iTunes destroyed the CD industry. Nobody’s going to buy the whole if you can just buy a slice. But that doesn’t apply to books.
– Kindle’s also a plot device: Making the Kindle integral to the plot device was King’s idea. Amazon did not require him to mention or tout the product for the story they commissioned, King said. “I don’t think I would have written just any story for the Kindle. It made it more interesting to me to make it more Kindle-specific. It actually gave me a chance to confront some of these questions of books versus electronics.”