This month Kindle turned ten. Happy Anniversary to Amazon and its extraordinary sell-out gadget. A year after launch, ebooks began to outsell paperbacks and Amazon basked in triumph. The largest bookshop the world just got even bigger.
Q: What did the coffee say to the Kindle?
A: Hey, where ya’ bean!?
But Kindle's been hiding recently. Ebooks sales are plummeting and no one is predicting that they will surge. Meanwhile, paper books are climbing.
So, what happened?
Reading on a Kindle seems to be a different experience. It took us a while, but finally we realised we don’t like it so much. Good design is lost. When the publisher can’t control the shape, size, thickness or even paper quality, books lose their uncanny ways of communicating.
Even small details are lost in the switch to digital. Amazon restricts file formats to just one, so publishers lose artistic control. For example, readers are able to choose the book’s font (from a paltry choice of seven), which means each page break and line ending is liable to shift, making it impossible to plan what the reader sees.
Ever wondered why a publisher would print a square book? Or why an adult novel has illustrations? Or found a book with amazing pop-out artwork? Why different books use different fonts? Because it matters.
Books aren't just words. The smallest design choices make big differences. Our brain subconsciously notices these and they compliment the experience of reading on paper. For all its benefits, a Kindle screen can't replace that experience.
If a bookmaker is an artist, then an ebook coder is a mechanic.
So what happened to Kindle? I’ll tell you what happened – design happened.