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Kindle doesn’t light my fire

For the last three weeks I’ve been the perfect candidate for a high-quality ebook reader, such as the Kindle that Amazon debuted today.

As I crisscrossed the country — Tallahassee/NorCal/Tallahassee/Denver/Chicago/Tallahassee/Atlanta/Panama-City — I lived in the rarefied world of the highly-connected business traveler, my small body bristling with smartphones, Bluetooth headsets, teensy high-powered wifi-enabled laptops, iPods, cellular PC cards, and several other devices, most of which require long black proprietary cords.

And I also lugged good old dead-tree reading. So much so that I checked my carry-on bag in order to carry on my hefty old-lady bag that holds all necessary hardware (as well as wallet, keys, license, cough drops, and empty pretzel bags), plus a well-stitched reinforced tote bag (thank you, OCLC!) bulging with several books, a pile of magazines and journals, printouts of stuff from work, and the day’s newspapers.

I always tuck a couple more books in my suitcase, because there is absolutely nothing worse than facing a long plane ride without reading material. I once stood up on a Southwest flight and yelled, “Does anyone have something to read? Please?” At which point two frightened guys immediately handed me their Wall Street Journals.

So the Kindle might seem to make sense for me. It’s got that all-elusive screen quality — and when you enter the Trifocal Years, trust me, it’s all about the screen quality. Thanks to Amazon’s decision to use cell phone technology (versus wifi), you can download books in a minute just about anywhere you are in the U.S. You have access to over 80,000 books, including 100 of the 112 best-sellers — a better batting average than most airport bookstalls. You can subscribe to newspapers cheaper than you can get them in paper; you can read blogs; you can even load your own documents on the reader. You can make notes! You can annotate! And it’s only 10.3 ounces — half the weight of a small box of powdered sugar!

Let’s shrug off the $399 price tag — I’d save enough on Times subscriptions to pay for the Kindle in a year — and note that at $9.99, best-sellers would suddenly be accessible to me.

So, nu, I hear you ask? Is it not good for the readers?

Well, not quite.

First, as Jason Griffey points out on Pattern Recognition, the Kindle reinforces the idea of one owner per book, period. Fair use? We don’t need no steenkin’ fair use. If the Kindle’s DRM model becomes standard, you can kiss libraries goodbye.

Second, it’s a proprietary format. So when Kindle loses its spark and is replaced by the Apple iReader (yes, I made that up), your Kindle books are lost. Sometimes I misplace my books, and once in a while I lose one; but I don’t go to sleep at night worrying that in ten years I won’t be able to access what I can see on my own shelves.

Third, Amazon picks the blogs you read. Yes. They do. Several hundred of them. The world of blogging becomes commodified and stilted and squinched down to the same airport-mall collection. And — sit down — you have to pay for them (“Get blogs wirelessly delivered to your Kindle for as little as $.99 per month”). Yes — you heard correctly — pay for blogs. Anil Dash sounds a twee hesitant when he says, “I don’t think they should be charging for blogs that are distributed to Kindle users.” Let me be man enough for both of us: that blows chunks. Amazon. Stop. Now. Insane.

Fourth, unless you transfer documents via cable, you are charged every time you transfer a personal document to your Kindle. Yes, Kindle burns your own money to move documents from one device you own to another! It’s just a wee micropayment — ten cents per document — but like felling fair use with a death blow, that strikes me as a very bad precedent (though a pretty slick trick; I’m trying to think of a few businesses I could “repurpose” along those lines — perhaps that plate-to-mouth thing that happens in a restaurant? Call it a “prandial usage” fee, perhaps?).

The most enthusiastic reviews on the Amazon product page come from testers who got free access to the Kindle and authors who were caught on tape rhapsodizing about the glorious new flying machine. (Nabokov is dead, or he would no doubt point out that his own works aren’t in there.) Which reminds me of the last three weeks: fun, interesting, mind-expanding — but also, in its way, terribly cloistered, a world circumscribed by other highly-privileged people laden with technology and advanced reading. For three weeks, it didn’t cause too much damage; but if I lived in that strata, me and my old-lady bag and a Kindle, eventually I would see the world as a place defined by Starbucks lattes, carefully-selected hotel mood music, all the other people who think a lot like me, and that thin slice of the reading world afforded by Jeff Bezos and Co.

I believe we are moving to a networked future. I just hope this isn’t it.

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  1. The paying for blogs aspect disturbs me, but I can see how some non-tech people would like to pay a small price for the bundling ‘service’ Amazon is providing. That’s OK as long as those of us who are comfortable subscribing to RSS feeds are free to do so. What’s your blog worth?

    Tuesday, November 20, 2007 at 2:12 am | Permalink
  2. Why, my dear, FRL is priceless!

    I’m less bothered by the paying aspect than I am by the reductive (and pay-for-it-all-thrice) world Amazon is presenting.

    Tuesday, November 20, 2007 at 6:38 am | Permalink
  3. And, just to clarify, it looks like you can’t actually upload your documents with a USB cable. That is, when you drop a native PDF or .doc file, the reader doesn’t see it…it’s gotta be converted to the Amazon format.

    So yes, a bit…overzealous? I hesitate to use the word greedy…

    Tuesday, November 20, 2007 at 8:27 am | Permalink
  4. The word “cocky” comes to mind…

    Tuesday, November 20, 2007 at 9:13 am | Permalink
  5. “I once stood up on a Southwest flight and yelled, “Does anyone have something to read? Please?” At which point two frightened guys immediately handed me their Wall Street Journals.” Okay…the next time I run out of reading material on a long flight, I’m trying this!

    Thanks for the review of the Kindle. Sounds like something worth skipping.

    Tuesday, November 20, 2007 at 9:35 am | Permalink
  6. Laura wrote:

    I’d be interested to see the lawsuit that emerged if someone’s Creative Commons non-commercial licensed blog got distributed by one of these gadgets and Amazon got paid for it. But perhaps if you’re CC-licensed, you’re automatically excluded from the Web According to Amazon.

    Tuesday, November 20, 2007 at 1:50 pm | Permalink
  7. I’m impressed that you would stand up and ask for something to read on a plane. If I finish the book and newspaper I always bring along, I’ll read the SkyMall catalog. Anyway, every e-book reader thus far has worked on the squeeze-out-every-cent-from-the-user principle, and until the device manufacturers loosen up, these things will fail. Is there any educated person who really needs a device like this?

    Tuesday, November 20, 2007 at 3:03 pm | Permalink
  8. TonyT wrote:

    Having just coughed up the $399 I feel compelled to rush to the defense of the wise and benevolent BezoSamazon…. Don’t guess I’ll often need to burn the 10-cents on wireless docs transfers to myself…. And having blog content automatically delivered overnight wirelessly to a device I can hold in one-hand and carry into the bathroom sounds like a bargain at 99-cents per month…. Proprietary is a dirty word in my book too, but the free network access and the Wikipedia applet almost makes up for that little bit of built-in evil….

    Tuesday, November 20, 2007 at 3:15 pm | Permalink
  9. Tony, I appreciate you doing your part for the economy, and your dedication to treeless reading. Bravo!

    However, I wake up and Bloglines has refreshed my feeds automagically without charging me a plug nickel — and I choose what to read.

    If you get tired of that toy, send it my way, y’hear?

    Tuesday, November 20, 2007 at 5:03 pm | Permalink
  10. Jodi Schneider wrote:

    Karen, have you thought about OLPC as an ebook reader? I’ll be trying out g1g1 and a flash drive. Hardware specs put the screen at 1200×900, 200 dpi and this
    photo from Casey Bisson
    gives a good sense.

    John Mignault’s also disses Kindle, saying
    “You can spend the same amount on the OLPC Give One Get One program, get a much more versatile machine that’d make a terrific eBook reader, and do some good in the world.”

    Saturday, November 24, 2007 at 2:26 am | Permalink
  11. Jodi Schneider wrote:

    Have you seen Mark Pilgram’s piece on Kindle, The Future of Reading (A Play in Six Acts)?

    Saturday, November 24, 2007 at 11:51 am | Permalink
  12. Jodi, I hadn’t. That’s wonderful!

    Monday, November 26, 2007 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  13. Mark Perkins wrote:

    Have not tried it yet (price) but I like the look of iLiad

    wifi rather than cellular but seems more ‘open’ than the Kindle (GPL)

    Saturday, December 1, 2007 at 2:03 pm | Permalink
  14. Michael wrote:

    The point that a lot of people seem to be missing about paying for otherwise free content (i.e. blogs) is that with the Kindle, you are not paying a monthly or annual data charge like you do with your phone, or your computer’s connection to the Internet. Instead, Amazon has opted a pay-per-use model. With books and magazines, the cost of the data delivery is built into the price of the book, magazine or newspaper. But with ‘free’ content (i.e. your own documents or blogs), the small charges are paying for the wireless connection costs.

    Name a device where you can get onto the internet completely free of any service charge?

    Monday, December 10, 2007 at 10:02 pm | Permalink
  15. But anyone who buys a Kindle already has “free access.” It’s not like this is the One Laptop Per Yuppie program; you tack on the cost onto everything else you’re paying for.

    But yes, most of us have figured out that this is how Amazon is making sure it doesn’t lose its pants for providing free cellular.

    Tuesday, December 11, 2007 at 6:06 am | Permalink
  16. Daniel wrote:

    Then there was Plucker…

    I run a free Linux based eReader on my “ancient” Archos PMA430 called JustReader.
    ( JustReader can read a number of file formats,
    Plucker is one example)
    The Plucker site has similar software for just about any O.S. Plucker is also a standard/file format, also free.
    It’s just a matter of time before many more “free e-books” become available. Kindle and fee based systems are desperate attempts at fading pure profit.

    Monday, January 7, 2008 at 5:28 pm | Permalink
  17. JRoDDz wrote:

    You’re buying into the “I have to BUY my books from Amazon theory” which of course is what Amazon wants you to think. They want you to think that they are the only place you can load up your Kindle with stuff. Not so. You can get free ebooks from a number of sites and put them on the kindle. You can also transfer PDF documents (books) into the kindle using mobicreator, then put them on a SD card and into the kindle. You can read blogs wirelessly through the kindle browser instead of paying the .99 a month. Theoretically you can just pay for the hardware and never pay Amazon 1 red cent again if you are smart about it.

    Friday, August 29, 2008 at 9:55 am | Permalink
  18. Todd Kelley wrote:

    There are 3 reasons why Kindle2 is contrary to the values of librarians: Access, access, and access. 1) Access is limited by the cost of the reader. 2) Access is limited by the proprietary nature of the format. 3) Access is limited by the limitations on use (one reader per work). Having said that, the Kindle2 seems to be VERY popular. I have one and many of my colleagues and contemporaries have one. Why? It is convenient, easy to use, expertly designed, and has some other advantages over the other brick shaped object. I am working with staff at our library to consider how to take advantage of the Kindle2 and the interest in it. In my opinion, doing anything else would be sticking our head in the sand a little bit further.

    Thursday, March 5, 2009 at 10:17 am | Permalink

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