15 hottest products of 2008: The Amazon Kindle

I'm ambivalent about the Amazon Kindle, but 250,000 people have thought highly enough of it to buy one in the last year. It was released to the public in November 2007.

The Kindle -- which is a wireless, portable reading device weighing 10.3 ounces, only available at Amazon.com -- isn't the stuff that rash, impulse buys are made of. It costs $359. Considering you can buy most books for $10 or $20, give or take a few bucks, or get one at the library for free, it's something that you're probably only going to buy after some pondering.

But the thinking behind why one would buy a Kindle is that then you can pay for books for a much cheaper price. For instance, Stephen King's short story anthology, Just After Sunset, sells in the Kindle format for $9.99 instead of $28 retail (or $16.60 at Amazon.com). Or take a book like Time of My Life: A Novel, by up and coming novelist Allison Winn Scotch, which sells $23 retail and for $9.99 on Kindle. Or... well, you can see the trend already. Amazon.com sells books on Kindle for $9.99.

If you're a voracious reader and like buying books rather than checking them out at the library or sponging them off friends and family, that's a lot of money that you can save in the long run. And for every book you buy to use in a Kindle, you're presumably saving a tree -- well, a few branches, anyway.

Once you order, you can have the digital version of the book you want in your hands in under a minute. Not every book, but the Kindle has access to over 190,000 of them. You can also read quite a few newspapers and blogs through your Kindle.

But one thing is for sure. If you're excited about the prospect of owning a Kindle, don't expect one as a gift for yourself for the holidays, unless someone already has bought it for you. Increasing the odds that the Kindle may also make WalletPop's hottest 15 gadgets of 2009, Amazon.com won't ship out any more of their reading gadgets until some time into next year. In late November, Silicon Valley Insider reported that the current wait time for a Kindle was 11 to 13 weeks.

Amazon.com, however, is urging customers at its web site, to "ORDER KINDLE NOW to reserve your place in line. We prioritize orders on a first come, first served basis."

Selling out may have something to do with Oprah Winfrey endorsing the product with a $50 coupon last October.

That may be just as well. There have been rumors since at least the summer that a Kindle 2.0 will be coming out, one that's sleeker than the first, with more features. Or that may be wishful thinking. Forbes recently reported that it would be at least a year before a new version of Kindle arrives.

If you want a Kindle, you'll just have to get one the old-fashioned way: get in line behind everyone else on a waiting list at Amazon.com. Or you can get it the new old-fashioned way -- purchase it on eBay, where Forbes says it's been known to sell for as much as $500.

Many readers have sworn they will never give up the printed page. Sure, there's nothing quite like curling up with a good book, but with a Kindle, that's what you're doing. You actually can read the Kindle at the beach or in bed. It's not quite as pliable as a paperback, and there's something about the feel of a book in one's hands, and the look of the font that I can't imagine not having, although the Kindle's screen reportedly looks like paper rather than a digital screen.

Anyway, for all my reservations, I think of how people must have felt when the first audio books came about. It probably seemed like a death knell to the printed page, but so far, books -- the non-digital kind -- are holding their own.

In the end, though, I'd like to think that it's not the medium that's so important, but the information inside. And much as I love books on printed paper, even if they're someday read in a hologram format, as long as the story is riveting, I have to think that people will keep reading books. From a career standpoint, I'm kind of counting on it.

Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale). His book is available on Kindle for--you guessed it--$9.99.

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