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Happy birthday, Kindle

By Dave Rosenthal

4:04 PM EST, November 19, 2012

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Today marks the fifth birthday of the Amazon Kindle -- the biggest change in the way we read since Penguin started selling paperbacks for the cost of a pack of smokes. I was a slow convert to e-books, but that's mainly an outgrowth of being able to receive free review copies than a Luddite stance. My wife has a Kindle (current selection: "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand) and I often read on my iPad.

As I've noted on Read Street, e-readers have their shortcomings:

-- I can't leave a Kindle lying on a beach towel when I jump into the water at Ocean City.

-- Striking cover art such as the gothic drawings on Lauren Groff books is lost.

-- Artistic bookplates are useless.

-- There's no place for authors to autograph at book signings.

-- I can't use my collection of random bookmarks: a ticket from the Paris metro, an Orioles game stub or a pass to the Prado.

-- I can't strike up a conversation with a stranger holding a copy of a favorite book such as "The Art of Fielding."

But e-readers are becoming more and more ubiquitous -- with the public, schools and libraries -- and are available in new versions such as the Kindle Fire tablet. They're also more portable and more powerful. The original Kindle was 7.5" x 5.3",  weighed 10.3 ounces, and held more than 200 books; the latest version is 6.5" x 4.5", weighs less than 6 ounces, and holds more than 1,000 books.)

The increasing impact is easy to see by the list of the best-selling Kindle books; all of those at the top of the list are relatively recent releases. (E-readers, which allow reading choices to be kept private, are perfectly suited for sales of soft-core title such as "Fifty Shades of Grey.") Here's the list:

  1. Fifty Shades of Grey
  2. The Hunger Games
  3. Catching Fire
  4. Mockingjay
  5. Fifty Shades Darker