Like many avid readers, I have strong feelings about the experience of reading a book and the idea of reading on a black and white electronic device has always seemed very odd to me. No color cover? No more “new book smell” or the feeling of holding a book? No more additions to my bookshelves when I’m done? No more… uh… mmmh… that’s all I can think of, really.
This is what went through my head when the Kindle 1 was announced, over a year ago. The idea sounded vaguely intriguing, but also clearly sacrilegious for someone like me who’s been fascinated by books since I was a little kid. I took a look at the early Kindle reviews and at the device itself and I dismissed it. It was not for me, and while the technology was promising, I was sure that it would take at least another five years before anything technologically credible came on the radar. I wasn’t ready to let go of my paper books yet.
The announcement of the Kindle 2 a few weeks ago made me go through the same questions again, and this time, the answers surprised me. Without even realizing it, I was strangely more open to the idea of reading on a clunky-looking black and white device. This was really puzzling since while all the early reviews praise the Kindle 2, everybody agrees that it is a minor upgrade over the first version. More like a Kindle 1.1.
But despite this fact, not only did everybody already seem to like the new device, they also raved about how they liked their Kindle 1. A lot of Kindle 1 users even said they had already pre-ordered the new version, despite the steep price ($359, same as the Kindle 1 when it came out) and the fact that it was just a minor upgrade. While the sales of the Kindle 1 are believed to be decent but modest (betweeen 400k and 600k according to unofficial sources), the device has certainly created a niche of fans who just couldn’t consider their reading world without the Kindle incorporated in it.
Interestingly, all of them say that they are still reading paper books, so it’s more about enhancing their experience than completely revolutionizing it. You read as many books on the Kindle as you can, but you use paper books for the rest.
Thus began my slow mental conversion to a world of electronic words. Over the past few weeks, I started to think about what it would be like to have a Kindle, and as the days went by, I realized how many strong points the Kindle offers. So many more than I initially thought. So two weeks ago, I ordered one. Amazon informed me that it shipped today and I just can’t wait to receive it.
Here are some of the strongs points I found about the Kindle these past weeks, in no particular order.
- Folding and breaking
- Newspapers in a readable form
- Saving space and trees
- Immediate download
I tend to read fiction books most of the time, and I particularly enjoy complex plots. The downside of such books is that you need to pay attention to every page you read or you might miss essential parts of the story. The other night, I came acros the mention of a character that had been introduced briefly about fifty pages earlier, but I just couldn’t remember who that person was. I have grown used to this kind of limitation in regular books and I just read on, hoping that the context will refresh my memory about who this character or what this event is. The Kindle’s ability to search through my books will certainly allow me to fill in these blanks. Of course, this applies to non-fiction books as well in case the index doesn’t cover that particularly subject that you want a quick refresher about.
I usually take a book with me for lunch. Unfortunately, very few books lend themselves to table reading, so I usually limit myself to magazines that I can fold so that they will hold steady on the table while I eat. It’s just not practical to bring a novel with me since I’ll need one of my hands to keep it open while I eat. The Kindle doesn’t suffer from this limitation.
I enjoy taking newspapers on long car trips to break the monotony and do some out loud reading for everyone in the car to enjoy (and also to spark conversations). Unfortunately, I don’t always remember to buy them when we stop, and newspapers are just hard to handle overall, especially in a car. Not so with the Kindle, since you can download them on the road. However, it looks like paper subscriptions can only be purchased monthly, which wouldn’t work for me. I hope that the Kindle will allow me to buy individually pieces of newspaper soon.
I have always loved words, whether they are in my native language (French) or my current one (English). I just can’t bear the idea of reading a word and not knowing exactly what it means. Inferring its meaning from the context is just not enough to me. I usually use my trusted G1 to look up new words, but I already know I will be using the instant access to the Kindle dictionary quite a bit.
I have to say that I really enjoy having shelves lined up with hundreds of books. They are part of my history, a lot of them are associated with great memories. Unfortunately, most of the books I read are easily forgettable and after a little while, the space they occupy becomes a concern. As a matter of fact, a lot of the books I read five or ten years ago are stored in cardboard boxes that I don’t even bother opening when I move. While the sentimental part of me laments the fact that these shelves are going to fill up much more slowly with a Kindle in the house, the practical me is quite excited at the idea of using this space for better purposes.
Kindle books are cheaper. I usually make a point of never buying hardcovers because my book queue is usually always filled with titles and there is very little reason for me to pay a premium for a book that I will probably only get around to reading in a few months from now, so when I notice a new book that I want to read, I set a reminder to buy it in paperback in my calendar in six months from now and I forget about it. With both hardcover and paperback cheaper in their electronic form, not only will I be saving some money, but I will probably be tempted to read current books more.
I am currently reading Godel, Escher and Bach (832 pages) and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles (624 pages). I usually carry at least one of those in my back pack when I go to work, so I can read it on the shuttle. It may not seem like much, but the weight adds up, and carrying a Kindle instead will certainly a big relief for my back.
As I mentioned above, this is probably not a very strong argument since the urge to own a book “right now” does not strike me very often, but this ability will certainly develop over time, at least for newspapers and maybe for more books.
Of course, not everything is rosy in the Kindle world and there is a lot of room of improvement. Some of the points that I already know will probably bug me a bit are:
- No color
- Steep price
Not a huge deal for me at this point, but I certainly hope that the e-ink (or other) technology will improve over the next few years so that it becomes possible to display full color graphics.
Even the Kindle’s most ardent supporters admit that the device doesn’t look very good. On top of its clunky look, the Kindle has come under criticism for dedicating so much space to a keyboard, which represents such a minority in use compared to just reading. I am guessing the keyboard is made necessary by the fact that e-ink is not a touch screen technology, but I’m hopeful that we will be able to get the best of both worlds in a few years.
$359 is a lot of money. While you do recoup some of it by buying books cheaper, this price stills puts the Kindle out of reach for many potential users.
As you can see, I am very much looking forward to receiving my Kindle 2 and I’m curious to see if it will live up to my wild expectations.