The Two Times I Was Wrong

When I’m wrong about something, I’ll admit it. I called Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader a loser last year — not because I don’t believe in e-books, but because the device is too expensive and too big. Amazon has refused to release sales figures for the Kindle (which would seem like further evidence that it’s not taking off with consumers) but now TechCrunch is reporting that they’ve sold 240,000 units (based on information from “a source close to Amazon with direct knowledge of the numbers”).

If 240,000 units have really sold, then I am flat out wrong. Nobody, not even me, can argue with $75 million in revenue for an innovative tech product’s first year. I do find this figure slightly incredible (especially since I live in New York City and have never yet seen anybody walking around with a Kindle), but I also believe TechCrunch to be a reputable source of information, so I’m not sure what to think. Many other industry observers are similarly pondering what this all might mean; Chad Post’s roundup of recent Kindle buzz is a good starting point for the ongoing discussion.

Wrong is wrong, and if TechCrunch’s reported numbers are right then the Kindle is a big winner and my prediction was wrong. I still say that it’s crucial for the electronic book industry to make e-books affordable for readers in all income segments, and a format that requires a $360 initial outlay goes against the grain of everything I believe about the importance of reasonable pricing for books, electronic or otherwise. Still, if 240,000 Kindles have sold than I clearly missed this call.

On a completely different front: I had never heard of historian Niall Ferguson four months ago when I lost my temper after reading his cover article about terrorism and global politics in the New York Times Book Review. I felt that Ferguson’s article offered Bush-worthy cliches about terrorism and Al Qaeda, and I mocked his puffy academic credentials as harshly as I could.

I still can’t explain what went wrong with this terrible NYTBR article. However, I recently noticed Ferguson’s name on a TV listing for a public television history series called The War of the World: A New History of the 20th Century and tuned in to see what my nemesis had to say. I was surprised to discover in Niall Ferguson an aggressively original thinker with a valuable theory about the primacy of ethnic tension in the sad history of 20th Century international politics. I watched every episode of this series, and after it was over I bought a Niall Ferguson book called The Pity of War: Explaining World War I.

The Pity of War turns out to be a smart and important book designed to challenge long-settled notions about the Great War. Ferguson, who is Scottish, comes down particularly hard on Great Britain’s role in escalating the conflict, and concludes that much of the misery that resulted could have been easily avoided. Like Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke or David Andelman’s A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today, this book urges readers towards a wider understanding of the two world wars that still so haunt our world today. In complete contradiction to my original statements about Niall Ferguson, I am happy to say that I now consider him one of my favorite contemporary historians. I am certainly going to read more of his books (probably this one next).

Wrong is wrong, and I now freely concede that I was definitely wrong about Niall Ferguson, and was probably wrong (we still do not have solid information here) about the Kindle as well.

If I’m ever wrong a third time, I’ll let you know then too.

7 Responses

  1. I’m not sure about Ferguson,
    I’m not sure about Ferguson, but I’m also not sure about this Kindle. I’ve heard that number as well, it’s quoted everywhere in industry pubs, but almost everyone adds “though I’ve never seen one.” Shelf Awareness quoted a San Francisco bookseller who takes the train daily to work saying it, you’ve said it from NYC, and I got news – I take no less than three different subway lines here in Boston everyday and haven’t seen it once, even while coasting past MIT. Who is using this thing?

  2. This would be a good time for
    This would be a good time for a headline like:

    The kindle sales numbers have been released, selling 240,000 units, easily eclipsing my initial forecast of 7.

    It might be early for you to admit defeat though. I still don’t believe it. We’ll need to see how many books are being downloaded or however it works before we truly know if this thing will stick around.

  3. I have a kindle, and it’s my
    I have a kindle, and it’s my favorite toy. I recently went on vacation and kindles were all over the airport, in fact I had 2 men come up to me just to talk about how much they loved theirs. Amazon has a video on their website telling just how many kindles they’ve sold in the last year. It’s a great product and I would recommend it to everyone.

  4. Rubiao, I agree with you.
    Rubiao, I agree with you. Your comment was exactly in line with my thoughts, and Brian, I haven’t seen it either, I took planes more than usual recently and no where have I noticed it, but, JH, your comment kinds of trumps all that. You have it, you like it, you’ve seen it. I think that I have no idea what to look for and haven’t looked for it, whereas you have one, like it, and your eye is keen for it. I may have seen dozens of them and looked right past them. ‘m curious, JH, how do they work? What do you like about them? How is the glare, can you readt it in bright light?

    Aboot Niall Ferguson Levi, I saw that he wrote for the LA Times and it dawned on me that, yes, I’ve seen his writings many times and probably read them — but like the Kindle, he was hiding in plain site. I can’t say anything on what he wrote or if I thought they made sense at all, but your comment here has intrigued me to read something by him.

  5. I love my kindle and would
    I love my kindle and would never ever part with it (except maybe for kindle 2.0) but the ability to be able to order a book and start reading immediately is too much temptation. Damn you Amazon!

  6. I also used to think that the
    I also used to think that the Kindle was the imaginary snuffleupagus of tech toys. But yesterday, I actually saw one on the NYC subway. I had to rudely crane my neck into the reader’s private space to make sure it was a kindle. But I had to know.

    So that’s one kindle out of hundreds of subway rides and a few dozen airport gates in the past year. Meanwhile, the tally of regular ol’ paperback books was probably in the thousands. Same for ipods. 240,000 kindles? I doubt it.

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