PRESENTATION: 1984 Redux: The long term materiality of the Kindle infrastructure

May 22nd, 2015 § Comments Off on PRESENTATION: 1984 Redux: The long term materiality of the Kindle infrastructure § permalink

Abstract: The launch of the Kindle in 2007 marked the arrival of the eBook as a marketable phenomenon and in the following years, the eBook marketplace has gone from strength to strength. Amazon has consolidated its position as the market leader through created a complex proprietary infrastructure that has locked users into the Kindle system. This spans the ubiquitous hardware, software, large store and range of services which constitute the Kindle brand.

This has a caveat, as it means that all the data and infrastructure is reliant on Amazon’s continual investment in the Kindle brand. Due to the cloud-based storage of the Kindle’s data and the limited lifespan of the hardware, users are reliant on Amazon’s continual support. This transition is from book-as-object to book-as-service, which has some exciting opportunities but leaves consumers, and book historians, vulnerable to losing important historical data. The removal of data is not without precedent, as a copy of George Orwell was removed from users’ Kindles directly once it was discovered the publisher did not own the rights to the novel. More recently, Amazon discontinued their Kindle Popular Highlights website which offered an annotation corpus of over one million individual highlights, which is now no longer available.

In order to understand the complex materiality of the Kindle’s infrastructure, it is important to understand how it creates a situation in which we have landed into the precarious reliance on Amazon to preserve the infrastructure. The current project explores the precarious materiality of the Kindle infrastructure and the difficulties it presents for contemporary and future book historians who wish to delineate a comprehensive account of digital book culture in the early twenty-first century. As a corollary, the paper will suggest some solutions to the problem that can be undertaken currently including the urgent need to preserve the evidence that is proliferating on the Kindle infrastructure.