Why Kindle Won’t Win: Books are Symbols!

Let’s wait just a few moments before we christen Kindle as the force that did away with traditional books. Although this technology will continue to add available titles, and as sales for the product through Amazon.com will continue to rise, the chances that it will eliminate books with hard covers, paper, jackets, and traditional marking devices are simply not too high.

I believe that one reason for this is that books are symbols. Books on Kindle cannot be symbols. First, books do not have to be read to serve as a symbol. Many people fill the shelves in their homes and offices with books that they have never read in order to symbolize their interest in, or affilitation with, a particular subject. A great example of this is Peter Senge’s “The Fifth Discipline,” which is a terrific-looking book on any shelf, but one that many people profess to have never read. If I want to show visitors to my home or office that management is important to me, there is no better way than to display many books on the subject. The same is true for deep-sea fishing, religion, cooking, or anything else. The display of books symbolizes one’s purported interest or expertise in a given topic. I’m sorry, but you can’t do that the same way with Kindle.

Second, carrying books symbolizes an active approach to life. When I see someone with a book, I know that he or she always has something to do. The book serves as an avenue to fill unfilled time, such as waiting for an appointment, riding to a destination, sitting before a presentation begins, or waiting for co-workers to arrive back in a meeting after a break. The book is a symbol that this person values time and makes the most of the time available to him or her. It’s not the same with Kindle.

Third, and finally, books are symbols because they represent another part of life for the person who carries them. Books are escapes. Novels such as John Grisham’s “The Associate” or non-fiction works such as Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” take the reader out of the here-and-now and to a place that allows him or her to get away.

You may have more difficulty seeing why can’t books on Kindle cannot fulfill my second and third reasons. It is simple. They are perceptual, not actual. Strange as it seems, there are people who carry around books so that others will notice them doing so. They have not read, nor have any intention of reading the book they carry. Do you really believe that EVERYONE who carries the Holy Bible does so because it is a source of inspiration for them whenever they have a chance to glance at it? Surely that is true for some, maybe even many – but true for everyone? Hardly.

Books are symbols. People ask “what are you reading?” “How do you like that book?” Or, walking into your study, they say, “I see you enjoy birdwatching.” Those comments are not going to come about with Kindle.

Traditional books will continue to sell – and sell well, because to many people, they are symbols. Am I right? Let’s talk about it!

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