When I heard about the Amazon.com’s first generation Kindle, I scoffed. I thought that ebooks would be a fad because the machines were clunky, there was no standard format for files, and the most sought-after books were simply not available.
And on top of that, I like holding books. I love being able to go to used bookstores—new ones too!—and being able to walk out holding something tangible that I can later show off in my collection.
And then the Kindle 2 came out, and I was told that the new model fixed almost every problem that the first-gen one had. The screen was 4x higher definition than the original, the library of books available for it exploded, and the device was given native support for PDFs and MS Word documents.
I still wasn’t sold, but the Kindle was becoming more of an option. What convinced me that it might actually a viable reading platform is how wonderful the Stanza and Kindle apps were for my iPhone. I loved being able to download a book and always have it with me while I was out
It’s been two weeks since my wife gave me my Kindle, and I am completely sold on ebooks not only as a major player in the publishing industry, but as my reading medium of choice.
The Kindle has a lot going for it:
- It’s fun to read. Really. I look forward to being able to start reading my Kindle. It’s comfortable, too, and I’m sure that plays a major part in the fun. I can lie in any position and not worry about being able to see one page and not the other, nor about the book accidentally closing and losing my place. It sounds petty, but I promise you, until you’ve sat with a Kindle and seen how crisp the screen is and how convenient it is to sit with an ebook active on your lap without having to keep a book laid open, the comfort and ease doesn’t necessarily strike home as being as awesome as it is.
- The highlight and note feature is very convenient. I didn’t think it would be. As an English major, I was taught to always read with a pencil in my hand to make marks and notation on anything I read. That way, I can return at a later time and find important passages. I thought it would be miserable to type on the Kindle, but I find that it’s quite easy to highlight and make notes on the device. The best part, though, is that since I cannot flip through the book to find the marks I make, the Kindle collects them all in a list where I can access them all. A major problem I’ve had in the past is losing a citation I desperately need because I page past it; the Kindle protects me from that.
- Access to the online Kindle Store is incredible. I had thought accessing the store from the Kindle itself was a bit silly. After all, I ordered books all the time from SFBC.com and Amazon itself, and there was no problem with waiting for the books to be delivered; however, when I actually tried it on the Kindle, I found how wonderful it was to have any book I wanted at my fingertips without having to wait for it to be delivered. It turns out that it came in handy while reading my first purchase Old Man’s War because when I started, I thought it was a stand-alone novel, but when I realized it began a trilogy, I was able to start the sequel the day I finished OMW, losing none of my break on waiting for the rest of the series to be delivered.
- No excess eye strain. If reading paperbacks hurts your eyes, then the Kindle will, too. If not, then you’re dandy. The e-ink screen really impresses me. There is no real glare on the screen because it is matte, and in any light where a paperback could be read, the Kindle can be, too. The contrast is just fine. While reading, the Kindle looks just like a crisply printed page in a book. I’ve read upward of 4-6 hours in a row so far, and my eyes did not really hurt. It’s nothing compared to how my head and eyes ache after I spend a few hours sitting in front of my computer or staring at my iPhone.
- Cross-platform page syncing. Kindle software is available for the iPhone as well as the PC. These two platforms sync with each other and the actual Kindle via the Whispersync wireless network, allowing readers to keep their place in books no matter which device they open the book on. I can be 23% through a novel on my iPhone and go to my Kindle and read through 67% and then go back to my iPhone and it will be waiting and ready for me where I left off at 67%. It’s not revolutionary, but it’s incredibly useful for people who read here and there and may not have access any specific device at all times. Seriously, the Kindle makes a book’s portability insane.
- My briefcase is lighter. If you saw the video that I made for the Bibliofreakblog Kindle giveaway, you’ll remember that I’m the kind of guy who carries a lot of books around. With the Kindle (or any ebook reader), I can keep these texts consolidated in one place. While I doubt I’ll ever fill the Kindle up (1500 books is a lot, and I am averaging a mere 30-35 a year), being able to keep a few dozen that take up only a single slot in my briefcase makes my day just a little lighter and easier. I’ll take any breaks I can get.
- Books are cheaper. Hardcovers, even at discount stores like Walmart, generally run $20-$25. The last two paperbacks I bought at a bookstore were both $15. That’s ridiculous. Kindle new releases are $9.99 and most of the older books I’ve looked at are between $4.99 and $6.39. That’s affordable. Now, my wife works at a public library, so I can get dibs on most books for free, but I’m the kind of guy who likes to both own my books and support the authors—it is their livelihood after all.
- There are no pages. Have you ever read a book and not known what page you were on? Instead, the Kindle uses a percent system based on numerical locations in the text. You can either be 34% through or 97%, but there is no way to know which page that corresponds to without doing the actual math yourself. The Kindle Store does tell you what the printed version’s page-length is, but you have to exit the book and turn wireless on to check on the device itself. It took some getting used to, and I haven’t really thought about it in the last couple of books, but it was incredibly strange for the first couple not knowing what page I was on.
- It has a battery. Which means that it will eventually run out of power. Ebook readers will always in some capacity be tethered to a wall socket—at least for a little while. In the two weeks I’ve had the Kindle, I had to charge it once, and I have read 4 books on it. That’s not bad, but it’s certainly something to consider. I have to charge my iPhone every night, and it is habit by now. Plugging in my Kindle before bed beside it once every two weeks is no big deal to me.
- In order to avoid eye strain, the Kindle’s screen is unlit. The very same reason that my above #4 is a positive can also be construed as a negative, too. Being unlit limits the places and times one can read. Without adequate lighting, the Kindle is as useless as a paperback would be, highfalutin’ technology or no. This weakness can be circumvented three ways: turn on a lamp, buy a booklight, or switch to Kindle on your iPhone/PC for those times when you need to read in low light. Since I have been conditioned by actual books my whole life to read in lighted areas, I have not really been impacted by this one at all.
- New ebook release dates may be delayed. With a cheaper list price comes disadvantages. Some publishing companies do not want consumers getting used to reading new books at the low prices that ebooks allow, so plans are being announced that new release books are having their electronic counterparts delayed up to 4 months, which places them in a spot between the hardcover and paperback releases. If you are the kind of person who waits for paperbacks anyway, you’ll be fine and actually make out a little better by opting for ebooks. If, however, you’re like me and have a set of authors whom you love to read as their new books are released, then ebooks will not be available for you to get your literature fix in its entirety.
Positives and negatives considered, I am totally sold on ebooks. I love my Kindle and fully expect an ereader of some kind to be a staple in my library from this point on. I do not think that the ebook will ever completely overtake or replace the physical book market because of the innate weaknesses in the technology (battery, DRM, release delays). I do think, however, that the ebook will share the market and thrive in a niche that is derived from its tangible strengths.
The Kindle is a great example of the potential the ebook has. I look forward to what the future holds for the format. If the current generation is any indication, the future is bright for the Kindle.