Thursday, June 9, 2011

Kindle and the Classics

History is littered with unintended consequences, most of which we would be better off without. But occasionally we see a positive consequence that no one intended. In the 1980s ships from Asia introduced the zebra mussel into the Great Lakes. Everyone worried that they would foul the cooling water intakes on marine engines, but to my knowledge that was never a real problem. Instead, they had the unintended consequnce of cleaning the water. Each year the water in Lake Erie where I grew up was noticeably cleaner and therefore more enjoyable for swimming.

I predict that Amazon Kindle will produce a positive but presumably unintended consequence. For decades academics have downplayed the value of classical Western literature. In school we were subject to a diet of multiculturalism. Instead of Frankenstein or Crime and Punishment, we read Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

The Kindle changes the game, though. Most of the classics are available for free because they are no longer protected by copyright. Anyone with a Kindle can choose one of the classics, download it and begin reading it in a matter of minutes. The low price and infinite supply should increase demand for these books, and people everywhere will benefit from reading excellent literature that they otherwise would not have read.

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