I’ve recently gotten my hands on a Kindle. Here are my first impressions…
I like the paperback size of the Kindle – very comfortable to hold, light enough, and good build quality. Bad keyboard design. The five-way rocker button is fiddly, but the buttons on the sides to navigate forward and back through the pages work well. The size is right. The most impressive aspect, though, is the screen. I’d never seen an E-Ink screen before, and the quality of the text is just great – reading text on this for a period of time is not going to be an issue. One strange thing – when I took the Kindle out of the box there were some instructions on the screen. I assumed they were just printed on the plastic, but they were actually on the screen. I immediately feared screen burn, but there was nothing at all. The magic of electronic paper…
Getting content onto the device
• Kindle books:
Getting Amazon books onto the Kindle is a demonstration of how tightly integrated the reader is with your Amazon account. Buying a book is easy – sometimes a little too easy… What is impressive is that when you buy the book, you can choose to send it to your Kindle:
If the wifi is on, then it will be on the device in under a minute. The first time you see this, it is impressive – this is explained by the fact that the file size is only a few megabytes. I like the option to get a sample of the book – usually the introduction or the first chapter. It’s then very easy to buy the full version.
• Your own files:
When you sign on to the Kindle you get set up with an @kindle.com email address. Although it is not immediately clear from the documentation, you can actually send text files (.txt, .rtf, Word) as attachments to the equivalent @free.kindle.com address and the file will be converted to a Kindle book by Amazon and delivered to the device. It can even do a pretty good job on converting PDFs (stick the word “convert” in the subject field of the email). You get an email confirmation and on the Amazon site you an specify the email addresses permitted to send content to the Kindle. I find this great for longer form articles from websites that I don’t have time to read straight away.
• Standalone E-books
Straight forward enough – link up the Kindle to a computer via USB and copy the file to it. It’s a bit ugly the way that you are exposed to some of the Kindle file system in this way, but it means that you can do this from any machine. I already had a number of E-books from the O’Reilly website, where I bought them in PDF format – they also have the books to download in .mobi format, which work well on the Kindle. Kudos to O’Reilly…
• Audible audiobooks
You can also listen to to Audible audiobooks – unsurprising as they are an Amazon company. I love listening to audiobooks, although it is a much more pleasant experience on an iPod. The Kindle interface is very simple and clunky. The size of the Kindle is also off-putting, but would be perfectly good sitting on the sofa; it wouldn’t work so well on the move.
Kindle books on other devices
Amazon doesn’t need you to buy a Kindle to read digital books. You can read them on most platforms – Mac , PC, iPad, Chrome browser. One problem is that the only content available in this way are books purchased at Amazon. The last page you read is synced and is preserved regardless of the platform, so you are always at the place that you stopped reading last time. Appears to work well. None of your own files are there, which is disappointing – I was hoping that the files I emailed in and were converted by Amazon would be there, but no.
Price of Kindle books
I don’t see why a digital book should be priced over £5 if it is the digital equivalent of a normal sized hardback or paperback book. I can’t see me paying £10+ for a digital version, just because the equivalent is a £12 hardback version of a book that has just been released. As a book consumer, I can see that a higher price is charged for a hardback than a paperback because the costs of production are higher. That is irrelevant when books are bits. As far as I can see, the price then can only be justified because you are getting the book as soon as it comes out – I can understand the principal of paying a premium for early access to the material (a fair variable pricing strategy, and depending on the book, one that I would accept) – however, will the price of the digital version go down when the paperback version of the book is released? Should I wait for the price to go down? I don’t have enough experience of this yet to be able to comment properly.
When it comes to “premium” hardback equivalents – for me that means lots of graphs, full colour images or special layout – then the price of the Kindle edition is irrelevant, as I would still buy the hard copy, or buy it for another platform (eg iPad), as the Kindle is not designed to meet that need.
Pricing for people self-publishing books, or digital-only publishing of niche texts could be open to experimentation , but a lower price would encourage sales (of course). It could still be lucrative for the publisher – it depends what their costs are in the first place.
However, I do like the fact that there are very cheap books available, and I’m willing to buy a very cheap book on impulse if it has gotten good reviews and / or is an introduction to a new author.
Reading vs listening to books
The one issue I have with the Kindle is that reading it demands your entire attention. One of the reasons that I enjoy audiobooks so much is that you can listen / read whilst doing other things (walking to the station, doing the ironing). I get so much more read that way. So the Kindle has the same limitation as any printed book, simply because you have to look at the words.
The impact on book shops
The one thing I feel bad about is that this will mean less trips to book shops. I love wandering round book shops, especially musty old second hand book shops. I like to see a book that has been well loved, with its yellowing pages. The Kindle (or any electronic device) will never have that – it will always be sterile. This means that I have no intention of going completely digital…
I’m surprised how much I like the Kindle. Despite all its hardware limitations (this is no iPad when comparing the specs), reading on it easy – exactly what is designed for. In that way, for books with lots of text and only a few pictures, it is a success. If you need more than that, look elsewhere – you will be able to read Kindle books on most platforms. If you get a chance to check one out, do it, and ask the owner what they think. There’s a very good chance that they love it.