I decided at the tail-end of last year that I needed to get an e-reader. 2010 saw a huge increase in my awareness of books and magazines which are available in various electronic formats, but not print. Apex Magazine and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, for example. Then there are magazines published in the States, like Asimov’s and Clarkesworld, which are just so much cheaper and easier to buy as e-versions. And I got hold to two .pdf books last year. I have nothing against computers, I just don’t think they’re a good medium for consuming words. The computer’s big and bulky and takes up your entire lap, it’s tied to a plug socket, needs its own bag, the screen makes your eyes tired, scrolling down is a pain, the cat can’t sit with you… It’s just not a fun experience.
I fought long and hard against getting a Kindle, thanks to Amazon’s history of being a dick. I finally decided to get a Sony PRS-650. It didn’t have wi-fi, but that was a sacrifice I was prepared to make as the only reader with wi-fi available in the UK is the Kindle. When it came to buying it, though, I couldn’t actually find one for sale in the UK. Not even in the Sony store. Good jerb, Sony.
So, I brought a Kindle with wi-fi and 3G.
Now, a couple of misconceptions I had about the Kindle:
You don’t own books you buy for your Kindle, you rent them from Amazon.
When you buy something from the Kindle store, it downloads to the hard drive on your Kindle. You can then take it off the Kindle’s hard drive and put it on your computer’s. Amazon keeps a back up of everything you buy from them, so you can re-download it if you accidentally delete your copy.
You can only read Amazon ebooks on the Kindle.
You can read, annotate, and generally scribble over most document formats… except for epub. Which is the industry standard for ebooks. I can only hope that Amazon adds support for epub and Open Office docs in the future.
It is worth mentioning, though, that the Kindle needs its own special cable to connect to your computer, and to charge. It looks like a mini USB slot, but it isn’t.
The trouble with sitting around in cafés and buses reading on my Kindle—which is the whole reason I brought one—is that people ask me, ‘is that one of those ebook things?’, at which point I’m answering, ‘yes, it’s fantastic, here look at this’ before I realise what I’m doing.
You can organise all the files on your Kindle into folders, and one book/magazine etc can go into multiple folders. So, you can have Frankenstein in your Classics, Sci-Fi and Horror folders. No need to make difficult choices about which shelf to put it on any more.
All the folders are displayed and accessible from the home screen. If you’re part way though reading something, the Kindle will automatically remember the page you were last reading, and load up the file on that page. You don’t have to put a bookmark in or anything like that.
Turning pages is done by buttons on the side of the Kindle, one for forwards and one for backwards. There’s a button for each on both sides, so you can hold it in your left or right hand. There’s a small qwerty keyboard at the bottom for making notes, searching through the Kindle store or searching the text. There’s a progress bar down the bottom of the screen to let you know how far through the file you are, and you can put the cursor next to a word to see a quick dictionary definition of it. You can make notes in the text, highlight bits, cut bits out and put them in a separate folder for later… you can even see what parts of a text other people have highlighted. And, most important, using the interface is quick, easy, and headache free. If there’s anything you want on your Kindle and you don’t want to plug it into your computer, you attach the file to a blank email and send it to an address Amazon gives you, and the next time your Kindle connects to a wi-fi network it picks it up. Amazon even reformat the file to optimise it for reading on the Kindle.
It’s a pain in the arse to flip through a book on the Kindle to find a particular place not marked in the index or looking to see how much of a chapter you’ve got left, but then it’s a pain in the arse flipping through a paperback to find a particular paragraph if you haven’t marked the page.
Reading something on the Kindle is a wholly different experience to reading something on paper or on a computer. It’s as easy on the eyes as paper, but the feel of it in your hands, the texture of it, the weight, the way the light reflects off it… all those peripheral things you don’t really notice give reading on it a different taste to anything else. It’s a taste that takes some getting used to.
Now, I don’t care what the adverts say. I’ve got mine safely sealed in a Tough Love case and hidden behind a screen protector. I don’t know why (actually, I suspect it’s all Apple’s fault), but there’s a trend in tech gadgets for slim, shiny things that need to be wrapped in bulky protection for their own good. You want to replace a scratched screen? Hah! Anyway, I want my shiny to stay shiny, so it gets locked away for its own good.
There are many, many problems with the ebook market at the moment, and Amazon is right in the thick of it. Publishers and distributors are argy-barging over pricing and rights and ownership, and of course consumers are getting shafted by both ends. If you want to get the latest releases on ebook, wait until the fight’s over and the dust has settled. Keep buying your paperbacks, and the occasional hard back of the book you’ve been really looking forwards to.
For most other people, though, it’s a good investment. There’s the entirety of Project Gutenberg you can download for free, a lot of which you can get through the Kindle store for £0.00. There’s .pdf’s people give away for the joy of having someone read their work (or for the joy of being nominated for a Nebula award…). There’s magazines. There’s old books which aren’t out of copyright but only cost 70p. There’s Kindlefeeder, which will send up to four rss feeds to my Kindle for no charge. There’s the fact that you can send .doc files to your Kindle, so you can read you friends’ writing without printing it out or being at your computer—and you can make notes as you read. There’s the text-to-speech which’ll read the majority of books to you. There’s a brilliant trick which I came up with: Go to Google maps and get your directions; print the directions to a .pdf file on your computer; send the .pdf to your Kindle—all the directions for your weekend away in one place and without needing to use the company’s printer!
So what I’m saying is that there’s two types of people who should buy one: People like me; and people like my mother. My mother is an exceptionally sharp, intelligent woman with a life-long passion for trashy romance novels. Her collection of Mills & Boon, Georgette Heyer and suchlike is measured in square feet, taking up three 4ft x 6ft bookcases last time I checked. Yes, my brother and I moved out and have been replaced by Mills & Boon. The sheer amount of literature my mother consumes means the Kindle would be the difference between doing your sales and purchase figures in a notebook, and doing them in Excel. One may be more noble, but the other just makes life so much easier.
The Kindle also has a couple of odd features like a web browser and mp3 player. The browser works but is painful to use, and I haven’t tried the mp3 player. I have an X-Fi for listening to music, but I suppose there are some who don’t mind their music mangled into a bland mess of vague noises. The browser was useful for checking email when I didn’t have an Internet connection, but you couldn’t do much more on it. One device, one function. Stick to using something for what it’s good at.
So, yeah, that’s my Kindle sales pitch. I really don’t like being a corporate mouthpiece-and-fanboy, but the sad fact of our society is that it’s only the big corporate bully boys who can break new ground, and the Kindle is really the only fully-functioning ereader available in the UK. Owning one is having as much of an effect on my life as owning a mobile phone has. Maybe in a few years, the ground will be broken enough to allow the small innovators to move in, and I can get an ereader made by some wizened old guy in his garden shed who survives on cups of strong, sweet tea and custard creams. Until then, we need to show that there’s a market and a desire and that means dancing with the devil. Still, say it with me now: At least it’s not Apple.