Rare Book Monthly
Kindle: Incredible Reading Tool, Evil Book-Killer, or Overpriced Technology?
by Renée Magriel Roberts
So, what currently has several issues of the New York Times Tuesday science edition, American Creation by Joseph J. Ellis, samples pages of Atonement by Ian McEwan and Michael Moore's Official Fahrenheit 9/11 Reader, Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns and John McPhee's Founding Fish, as well as the Messages and Papers of George Washington, Barack Obama's Audacity of Hope, Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, and the Tuesday, February 5 issue of The Wall Street Journal?
Well that's currently what's on my Kindle, of course, Amazon's pretty amazing 10.3 oz. electronic paper reader. Fitting handily in my purse, the Kindle can hold around 200 titles with unlimited storage on Amazon's servers for other books and periodicals that I purchase. After waiting over a month for mine, my Kindle finally arrived in its own leatherette case, complete with paper manual, and cables for uploading files to my computer, as well as recharging its battery.
With Amazon's utter dominance of the on-line book market, this introduction of its own branded reading device is causing a lot of concern. Consider, for example, that the Kindle is sold only by Amazon; the files that Kindle takes are not open-source and so the books and other ephemera sold for the device also have to be sold by Amazon. This pretty much cuts out booksellers and publishers who do not wish to publish to the device.
One typical complaint was recently lodged by Jason Epstein, co-founder of On Demand Books in the April 2008 issue of M.I.T.'s "Technology Review." His main complaint, and an entirely valid one, is the price. At a hefty $400, the first book purchased for the Kindle at $10 will effectively cost $410; the first 20 books a reader buys will cost $30 each; the first 40, $20 each and so on. But, of course, this does not factor in other features of the Kindle.
For example, you can download on demand, anytime and just about anywhere. Using a high-performance cellular network, the Kindle can find Amazon's servers even when my AT&T cell phone cannot. While we have to go outside to make a cell call, I can sit on my sofa and download a book or current newspaper to my Kindle. Downloading a 200-page book takes less than a minute.
From an ergonomic point of view, the Kindle is really quite pleasurable to use (my husband does complain that his thick fingers don't work so well on the little keyboard). The electronic paper is easy on the eyes and I really like the feature that allows you to create your own font size. Moreover, the Kindle does not require a computer and has its own Amazon (and its own limited Web-based connection), so the learning curve is not very steep.