Kindle Goes on Vacation, but Will It Get to the Beach?

Sand, Salt Water, Sun, Small Children Worry E-Reader Owners

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NEW YORK ( -- You just paid $489 for your new Kindle DX. Now you're on vacation -- perfect time for a leisurely read. But will your new toy join you seaside?

Does it make more sense to stick with a paperback at the beach?
Does it make more sense to stick with a paperback at the beach?
The decision was already made for Alan Press, senior VP-marketing at The Economist: The DX he recently ordered is on back order, and it will be a few weeks before he receives it. In the meantime, he plans to stick with print media, reading "Fool's Gold," by Gillian Tett, and then "The Zookeeper's Wife," by Diane Ackerman.

But others must face the digital quandary head-on, weighing the benefit of a portable, electronic device with the reality that is a day at the beach: sand, salt water, sun and small children. Those are four big S's that don't bode well for the little K.

Amazon is notoriously quiet about sales data for its Kindle, but Citigroup analyst Mark Mahaney estimates 500,000 Kindles were sold in 2008 and 300,000 in the first quarter of 2009. For all the hype, that means only one in 380 Americans has a Kindle. Still, Mr. Mahaney said first-year sales for the Kindle were 32% higher than those for the iPod, and he is projecting that more than 1 million Kindles will be sold this year. Amazon reported that sales of books for the Kindle are already 35% of those for print.

Stakes are high
For Sarah Power, senior VP-director of strategy at Initiative, the risk was too great. Her husband bought her a Kindle for her March birthday but she ended up returning it, much to his dismay. "I just wasn't sold," she said. "I don't know if for my life right now it's the perfect thing. I have kids, and I don't know if they will drop it." The stakes are high with an e-reader: dropping it in the water does not just mean a few soggy pages; it means a crisis call to customer service.

Ms. Power said she frequently visits her town's pool, and few people there have e-readers. "I feel like people talk about it being cool more than it actually is really cool," she said. So she'll stick with the latest in the Sookie Stackhouse series, the inspiration for HBO's show "True Blood."

Last summer, we noticed that many people bringing high-tech gear to the beach toted plastic, sealable freezer bags along with them. This year, a whole cottage industry has sprung up to offer gear protection. There's the OCTO splash-proof case for the DX and the Belkin neoprene sleeve for the Kindle 2. Even Patagonia -- the rough-and-tough outdoor store -- has a recycled polyester book sleeve. Bloggers and community forums have burgeoned around them proffering reviews and ratings.

But not everyone is a worrywart. Media maven and newspaper-industry blogger Jim Romenesko bought a Kindle earlier this year, and he'll be finishing Joe Queenan's "Closing Time." His Kindle tells him he has read 36% of the book so far.

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