There's a gadget out there that may solidify the most lasting change in books since Johannes Gutenberg invented moveable type in the 15th Century -- and could save you a few bucks in the long run as well.I'm talking, of course, about the Amazon's ( AMZN) Kindle, which lets you download books, newspapers and other reading material instantly. I've never been a true "early adopter" of new technologies, and I don't write tech reviews. But the story of the Kindle has implications for both business and personal finance. Plus, think of all the trees we'll save. It all started when an email arrived announcing that Amazon had lowered the price on Kindle to $359 from the previous $399. I'd been hearing about this device, but I really wanted to see this thing before I ordered it. That turned out to be easy. Amazon has created a blog on their site that is actually creating local user groups. I posted a request to see one, and got a lot of responses. The posts were from people who offered to meet in some public place and give me a demo. Everyone who already had a Kindle raved about it. Comments ranged from explaining how easy it was to use and set up, to how much money they were saving on books (even bestsellers cost only $9.99) to how they were using their Kindle to save money on college texts. One devoted Kindle user explained she was making money selling all her used paper books! When my own Kindle arrived, I stared at the box, worried about the setup process. No problem. Even for me, it was easy. Within minutes I understood more about Kindle than I do about my new cellphone.
It takes just seconds to download anything from newspapers to best-sellers. Subscribe to papers such as News Corp.'s ( NWS) The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times Company's ( GOOG) International Herald Tribune, and they'll arrive wirelessly overnight. It's all charged to the same credit card you used to purchase your Kindle, and you receive an email receipt for your downloaded purchases. You can download reading material anywhere, using the Kindle "Whispernet," which does not require a subscription. Just click a button to "shop the Kindle store." I was just sitting in the airport, and in seconds the new David Baldacci novel was in my hands. Lightly in my hands. The Kindle weighs less than a paperback. It took only a few minutes to get used to pushing the "next page" lever, (or the one that lets you go back any number of pages). Then I was immersed in my "book." You can read in any light, from the sunlight streaming through the airplane window to those little overhead lights flight attendants ask you to use when they pull down the window shades so other passengers can watch movies. When I had to turn off my "electronic device" on landing, I clicked to place an electronic bookmark. Next time I turned Kindle on, I came back to the same page. In case you haven't figured it out, I'm in love with my Kindle! About the business aspects of this story: The library can be downloaded only through Amazon.com, which must have cornered the market for this type of device, at least for the time being. It's like the old days when Gillette priced razors low so the company could keep selling blades. Now, $359 isn't "low" -- but it's pretty reasonable. It's particularly good for people who like to purchase books when they're new (and are thus trapped into getting more-expensive hardcover editions), and those who buy lots of books in general. What does that mean for the bookstore chains? I'm not predicting the demise of paper books, just as television didn't destroy radio. But it will change the economics of publishing, saving shipping and printing costs, and still netting the publishers (and authors) a nice profit. Shoppers who are already changing their minds about retail spending in an era of consumer debt, may stay away from bookstores in droves. Just as "ma and pa" bookstores lost out to the big Borders ( BGP) and Barnes & Noble ( BKS) chains over the past two decades, Kindle might change the future for those companies. As for Amazon itself, CEO Jeff Bezos has said he doesn't expect the Kindle to replace paper books. Publishers must still decide to make titles available for the Kindle, for one thing. While Bezos declined to break out sales figures for the unit, he noted that of the 130,000 titles currently available, Kindle downloads accounted for 6% of the sales of those titles. Amazon also says Kindle owners purchase 2.6 times more books downloaded into Kindle than they did before -- and the Kindle has been available only since late last year. From a personal finance point of view, the Kindle could change your spending habits and save money. Gosh, sometimes it costs $9.99 to buy popcorn and a soda, not to mention the cost of a movie. For the same dollars, you can stay home and read. In an era where consumers are looking for bargains in everything, only the public library, or possibly the used-book store, can beat the Kindle on price. As for convenience, Kindle simply can't be beat. And that's The Savage Truth.