More thoughts on the Amazon Kindle and ebook readers in general
I’ve owned a Kindle for the past 5 months. Over that period of time I have used almost all the features of the device. I have several hundred books on the Kindle including purchased books, free e-books, PDF’s, and other assorted files such as MP3’s.
So, I’ve “been there, done that”. Here are some observations after 5 months
- The most useful feature to me is the ability of the Kindle to read a book to you. The Kindle can play media that is a true audio book but, more importantly, the Kindle can turn almost any book (unless specifically disabled) into an audio book through generalized text to speech capability. The voice of the Kindle is actually very good. It is tolerable to listen to the synthesized female voice – at least, I got used to it. So, I find that I “read” more books when I don’t have time to “read” a book when I can listen to the book being read to me. The advantage of having a book read to you is that you can concentrate on listening and thinking rather that combining the act of reading and listening. The Kindle has a set of speakers on the back, and a headphone jack, so take your pick for the listening mode most enjoyable to you.
- Library books. My local library and the library system to which my local library is a member is now offering to lend books in the Kindle format. Basically what happens is you check out a book in the library collection and if there is a Kindle edition you get re-directed to the Amazon.com web site. You download your public library loan from Amazon. The lending period is 7 or 14 days ( your choice). You can download the book to Kindle or you can have Amazon deliver your library loan over wireless. When the loan period expires the Kindle the library book is no longer readable on the Kindle (Digital Rights Management). When the loan expires, you have a choice to purchase the book (good partnership for Amazon) or delete the book (unreadable) from your collection. Public library lending in Kindle format mediated by Amazon is a real win. Add the fact that most of my public library loans were “speech enabled” books you not only get a book in traditional form but also an instant “audio book” of the loan.
- Shared highlights. Another win. Since College, I have been reading with a pen or highlighter. Most of the books I own are marked up. Kindle lets you highlight and mark-up library loans. If you borrow the book again, you get your highlights back. If you buy the book, you get your highlights. With the ability to highlight and with Amazon mediating the whole mess highlights can be shared. On a recent loan, I found sections of the book that were highlighted by hundreds of people. It’s interesting to look to see what other people think is important. Kindle makes reading a community event.
- Great battery life. I only charge the Kindle once a month for traditional reading. If you use the text to speech capability (or playing MP3 files) then you will get about 16 hrs of use before a recharge.
- Kindle e-mail drop box and conversion utility A capability that I seem to use more and more is a capability provided by Amazon to convert and transfer documents to your Kindle. Every Kindle has an e-mail address that is hosted by Amazon (e.g. yourid@Kindle.com). So, send a PDF, or any supported document to this address and Amazon will convert it and store it. Next time you turn on the wireless on your Kindle, Amazon will transfer these documents (or converted documents) to your Kindle. I use this a lot. Send interesting things that you find during the day at work or web surfing to the @kindle.com address and you will find it waiting for you on the Kindle.
- Web Surfing. The Kindle tries hard to make this work for you. It has an “article mode”. If you are reading a web page and the browser on the Kindle can find something that looks like an article (for example, an article in a newspaper) it will try to reformat it for you so you can page through it in readable text. Nice try. But, surfing the web on the Kindle has to be an “on emergency” basis.
I still can’t get past the fact that, for me, reading a book on Kindle is a diminished experience compared to a traditional (“real”) book. Earlier this week the Steve Jobs book by Walter Isaacson was released. Since this book was available in Kindle format I could have gotten the book “instantly” – there is no inventory problem and there is no waiting for a physical object to be delivered to you. You don’t even have to travel to the bookstore to get it. But, I didn’t want to read it on the Kindle. Why? Don’t know. So, I waited and got the real thing.
The Kindle or any e-book reader will never replace a book filled with pictures, illustrations, and art work. Unfortunately, these days, many books are only text. Perhaps the advent of the Kindle and other book readers will motivate traditional book publishers to “up their game” to produce more beautiful books. Books are about content for sure, but it’s also about the presentation of that content that make the reading enjoyable and extends the literary meaning of the words with imagery and illustrations. Words alone can not express all that can be communicated. For some books, art, illustrations, and photographs communicate what worlds alone can not express. The current format ebook readers can not reproduce this sort of rich communication – at least until that e-book reader was the size of a coffee table book. And any e-book reader that big would not be viable.
The Social Consequence of Kindle
I found one of the Kindle commercials very curious. In this 30 second commercial an attractive young woman asks a guy to go to the bookstore with her to get a new book. The guys says that he has that book on his Kindle and it only took 60 seconds to download it. So, no trip to the bookstore for these two. And no trip to the bookstore means giving up any social interaction that this would have entailed.
In my neighborhood the bookstore is a social meeting place as much as it is a place to buy books. This Barnes and Noble bookstore has the traditional Cafe as well as regular entertainment and lectures from authors. The Cafe has an amply supply of board games available for free use and it is not uncommon to see people in the Cafe playing a game of chess or checkers or having a conversation on the topics of the day. This Barnes and Noble has several book discussion groups that read different genre’s of books. We certainly have fallen far from the Salon’s of France in the 17’th century but I could imagine, with a stretch of light years (in both distance and time), that when I see what goes on at my local bookstore there is a faint glimmer of what these used to be like.
So, when I see a commercial like this I wonder if the Kindle will create a generation of people reading books “alone, together”. Weren’t you going to the bookstore? Bookstore’s deliver a social experience that can not be delivered wirelessly to any e-book reader in 60 seconds. Expediency at the cost of loss of social interaction.
You can read other articles on this site related to the Amazon Kindle here –