Both new and used books in Fiji are ludicrously expensive. Unfairly so, I think. A friend of mine who runs a resort in Fiji told me about a huge amount of books and other reading material he sourced from a school in the United States a few years back. His intention was to distribute the material to a local primary school in the village near his property. When the container arrived into the country, Fiji's tax authority insisted he pay thousands of dollars in duty to clear the shipment. He refused and thus began one of those island experience odysseys all too common in this country. In the end, I believe he told them to either burn the entire lot or just let him have the books. Someone, somewhere, must have finally realised the ridiculousness of the entire drama and let it all through...but as usual, I digress...
I'll estimate the average new-release soft cover books available in Fiji run FJ$40-60 with new hardcovers almost double that (easily $90-120)...yes, they can be found for cheaper but not typically the stuff I want to read. Not surprisingly, there's a healthy trade circuit among the expatriate and local community and I think books are among the fastest items to disappear when someone migrates out and sells their stuff.
For my kids, however, the situation is more dire. The quality and selection of books they can get here seems entirely crappy. There are one or two decent bookstores to choose from but given the voracious appetite for reading that my kids have (which I'm quite happy about), I can't easily drop thousands of dollars per month on literature. The Internet has certainly made things a bit easier when it comes to reading material but the side effect to that is less actual book reading. In my house, my kids have read and re-read their books a number of times. Some months ago, I walked in on my 10 year old, Ethan, reading a dictionary. He was up to the letter M and it made me feel like shit or, more appropriately in terms he might be able to understand, MANURE.
Last month, Amazon released their global KINDLE edition, and in a single split instant, everything changed. I had been waiting for this product for years and was always impressed with the reviews I've read about it. Although I very much enjoy reading, I wouldn't call myself a crazy bookworm. If I have books, I read them. If not, I might think about reading but I don't always have to have something in my hand. The KINDLE, however, always struck me as a perfect solution for the developing world reader. Ease of use, simplicity, content...
Before a trip back to the states in January, I ordered one and had it delivered to a friend's house in Los Angeles, where I was stopping off before heading to the east coast. I wasn't really expecting to get so attached to it myself, actually. I like good design and was keen to see how how it was developed as a product but I think I truly intended for the kids to take advantage of it. When I arrived in LA and opened up my new toy, I was immediately sucked into being a believer.
The most common argument against e-readers seems to be made by people who endlessly clamor for the feel of paper in their hands. Not so long ago, I argued the same thing when pushing back on e-readers like the KINDLE. After just a few hours of using it, however, I realised that functionality wins out over nostalgia more often than not. Perhaps if I found myself in a place where good books weren't in shortage or were priced more appropriately, I would be flexible on this point but in Fiji, the KINDLE is an answer to both my prayers and to the prayers of anyone who enjoys reading a lot in this country.
Almost immediately, I found a treasure trove of free e-books online so for the first few weeks of KINDLE ownership, I enjoyed an endless supply of material. I'm not intending to write a review of the KINDLE, though...enough has been written and said about it elsewhere but as I used it more and more, I started questioning why everyone doesn't have one of these things. It appears well built and sturdy and the functionality of the product is so evident. Although people in Fiji can now purchase them, there is no local Whispernet access to Amazon and the product is not WiFi-enabled. This essentially means that all material must first be downloaded onto a computer and then transferred to the KINDLE manually via a USB cable. Far from the end of the world but still not as easy as having wireless access. The biggest negative to not having wireless access is probably not being able to browse and read the numerous blogs and newspapers which Amazon has partnered with to provide KINDLE content.
As my trip to the United States wore on, I found myself using the product more and more, often at times where I never thought I'd actually be reading. On the subway in New York, I typically prefer to stand and hold onto the rail straps. With a paperback, it often proved challenging since you have to let go to turn the page. The KINDLE is easier. I found myself sitting down having a cup of coffee and naturally taking out my KINDLE to begin reading, something that I would never seem to do with a book. The product seemed to encourage me to read more. In the airport on the way back, someone walked by me holding the latest Newsweek magazine. I flipped on the KINDLE and was reading it within 3 minutes. Very sweet.
When I finally returned to Fiji, my kids were all over it and never skipped a beat when it came to changing the way they consume books. It was as natural a progression for them to go digital as anything. Kaia, now thirteen, has already finished three books on the KINDLE. Clearly, I need more than one for everyone to get along.
On the cost side, I paid US$259 for my KINDLE (just under FJ$500). I reckon the savings I'll get from the purchase will easily pay off the product in fewer than six months. The added functionality they've introduced into the KINDLE very much differentiates it from a regular old book. A built-in dictionary and thesaurus, annotations and notes, the ability to read multiple types of content on a single device and carry it around with you...I suppose they can be considered pretty basic features but here, in a developing country like Fiji, this along with the sheer simplicity of adding an endless supply of new and affordable content make this one of the most useful products I've ever purchased in my life.
The KINDLE is a dream if you live in a place where books are not readily available.
Incidentally, my first ever KINDLE book purchase was Seth Godin's "Linchpin". I recommend it highly.