Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Kindle Kindle Burning Bright?

First off, a housecleaning matter -- if you e-mailed me between Thursday and Sunday and you haven't yet heard from me, please e-mail me again. Our servers were down and your e-mail has been eaten by the server monsters and is now in e-mail heaven (or e-mail hell if it started with a rhetorical question). But we're back up to speed now.

As promised, here's a post on all things Kindle. In case you haven't heard the news, Amazon has released its own e-reading device, which it is calling a Kindle, and which has sparked (I'm officially the 10,000th person to use this pun) quite a lot of interest, speculation, scorn, praise... you name it.

Here's the dime tour: basically it utilizes similar e-Ink technology used by the Sony Reader, so the screen really does look like ink on paper, doesn't use a lot of power, and the device is cool to the touch and can last a really long time between charges.

Best of all, and the reason the Kindle is attracting a certain degree of breathlessness: it uses cellular wireless technology so you can download e-books anywhere in cell phone range, at approximately $9.99 a pop. No plugs, no chords, no hassle (in theory). There are a whole lot of titles available (about 90,000, including most-but-not-all-bestsellers), and you can also pay (!) to subscribe to newspapers and blogs that you normally read for free on the Internet. Opinions regarding the appearance of the device have ranged from "functional" to less-than-flattering comparisons to the Commodore 64. The price? $399.

And no, is not available for subscription on the Kindle, although if you actually wanted to pay to read this blog, God help you. Save it for the psychiatry bills, sweetheart!

Here are some reactions to the news around the Internet and blogosphere sites I frequent: Newsweek, New York Times, Slate, Thomas Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt, The Millions, Maya Reynolds, and of course GalleyCat (and here, here, here, here, and here).

Big disclaimer: I haven't used a Kindle yet. But naturally I have an opinion (which is completely my own, btw -- you can share it but no one but me is responsible for it).

It seems to me that the publishing industry has wondered if/when e-books were coming ever since the dot com boom. During that span we've all seen the explosion of mp3s taking over the world of music, and in the book world digital audiobooks have seen significant growth. Everyone has been wondering when we'd see the iPod of books. So when will e-books take over?

My opinion? When they're better than books.

Consider the iPod -- it represents a significant advancement in the experience of listening to music. It doesn't skip like CD players, it doesn't require lugging around tons of CDs, it allows the shuffle function so you can use it like your own personal radio (impossible with CDs), it's small and portable... basically it improves every single aspect of listening to music, except possibly the ability to show off your impeccable music taste to people who visit your apartment. Forget about the fact that it looks cool (which it does) -- it's just a major leap forward for the experience of listening music.

But books are tough to beat as a technological device. They're portable, they're easy to read, they're (relatively) cheap, they're durable, you can pass them on to friends, people enjoy the tactile experience of turning pages... they're extremely tough to improve upon.

So far, although they're now as easy to read as books, which was one of the major early stumbling blocks, e-readers are still only handily beating books in one area: convenience. The Kindle can hold many books (but not an unlimited amount) so you don't have to lug around multiple books, and you can get a new book almost instantaneously. They're convenient. But you can't really share your books, you don't have the experience of turning the pages (and in fact on e-readers there's a bit of an annoying delay while the screen wipes), and you'd have to buy a whole lot of discounted $9.99 e-books to make up for the initial $400 investment.

If my math is right, assuming you save roughly $10 per e-book over buying a print edition, you'd have to spend $800 ($400 + 40 e-books) just to break even.

The decision to buy an e-reader, then, seems to me to come down to one question: is the convenience of the Kindle worth $400 to you?

To some people, yes, it would seem so. Since I read a boatload of books and manuscripts every year I'm one of those people, and I want an e-reader for Christmas so I don't have to constantly print out and carry around manuscripts.

But even setting aside all of the nostalgic element of turning the printed page, until e-readers handily beat books in terms of the economics, portability and reading experience, it seems to me that they will continue to be a niche device for people who need and can afford to pay for the convenience.

In my opinion there will never be a widely used iPod of books, a device that people buy specifically for books -- e-books will take off when they can be easily downloaded and easily read on a device like a larger iPhone-of-the-future, something people already have, which evens out the economics since you don't have to plop down a significant chunk of money before you even buy a book. This would give e-books the decisive edge in economics, which might just tip the world of books toward e-books. Until then? Printed page for most of us.

I was going to make a You Tell Me tomorrow about the Kindle, but judging from yesterday's comment section I know people are itching to share their opinions. So let's hear it: what do you think of the Kindle?


cyn said...

i don't even like watching vids on the laptop. i'm not into youtube! and i *definitely* don't want to read a book on the screen. i prefer flipping the pages and tucking a bookmark in.

Kate H said...

I think you're right on the Kindle, Nathan. I'm a Luddite when it comes to books.

I have to point out, though, that the iPod does have one big disadvantage compared to CDs: when music is converted to that format, a large portion of the information is lost. The highest and lowest tones, overtones, etc. just disappear. Research shows that listening to music in this form can actually HARM YOUR BRAIN. No, I don't have the reference for this at my fingertips, but I promise I am not making this up.

Marva said...

I'd like a reader for PDFs. Lots of my friends are writers. We share our deathless prose, quite often in PDF. As I understand it, Kindle doesn't handle PDF yet.

As for uploading a MS Word file and have it converted to a readable format, what do they think? I'm made of money?

The reader I want can be used on any of the files on my computer: PDF, RTF, Word, Text. Let me read those and I'll buy one.

For downloading $10 books: no way.

Nathan Bransford said...


That's my understanding as well, although the Sony Reader will handle PDFs and RTF without a fee (and the Sony Reader is $100 cheaper).

Laurel Amberdine said...

I would love an e-reader, because I don't have the storage space for all the books I want. Especially the kind of paperback novels I love to snap up in mass quantity.

I'd have to see the Kindle up close to be sure, but it sure looks ugly for $400. The Sony Reader looked nice, but only would talk to Windows, no Mac. I wish Apple would come out with a reader.

I have read novels and magazines on my Palm, and I enjoyed that. But so far the pricing of e-books has been (with a few exceptions) insultingly high. I know how much shipping and printing costs, compared to maintaining a server for downloads. I can't bring my self to pay near-full price for nothing but data.

$9.99 is okay for a just released hardcover, I suppose, but it's still more expensive than a mass market paperback. Grr.

Anonymous said...

I like BOOKS. I like the smell of the paper, feeling the layout, thickness, width, height. I like flipping through the pages and feeling the draft hit my face. I like looking at the artwork and feeling the smooth surface. I like books. So, if I ever get a Kindle it will be because I have way too much money and have idea what to buy next. (I may even use it sometimes, but rarely.)

Colorado Writer said...

Blech. I like holding a real book. I don't want to go blind reading a computer screen. I love the smell of books. I love seeing them on my shelf, nightstand, dashboard, floor...etc. I love buying books.

But, I could see why you would want one.

150 said...

Paying to subscribe to blogs and feeds? Paying to have them convert your files to their format so you can read them on Kindle? Paying $10 for a book I can get for $8 in paperback, $4 at Half-Price Books? And a $400 reader? LAME.

(Free access to Wikipedia? AWESOME.)

Make the features and formatting free, and drop the price of ebooks to something more appropriate for a glorified data file, and kick the price down by half, and we'll talk.

I'm not sure the solution for ebooks is a designated reader so much as a fully-functional tablet computer that makes getting and reading ebooks better. I mean, my gosh, I can read Project Gutenberg files on my iPod for free, AND it plays music.

Oh, and the idea of the select wheel also being the select button gives me the jitters. I can just see trying to push it and accidentally scrolling instead.

cynjay said...

Ebooks won't take off until they make waterproof readers so that you can read in the bathtub.

Lupina said...

Laurel, I bet the I-reader is in the ready stages at Apple!

I don't think I would use even a Kindle-quality reader for pleasure-perusing. Books are just too lovely to give up. But for research, well, a reader could be a sweet deal. My house is swollen with books, many of them purchased for non-fiction fact-finding and background purposes. I would much rather have them stowed in a portable device, so I could fill my actual shelves with the fun stuff instead. And $9.99 is about what the cheapest used books on Amazon cost with shipping. But I would not pay $400. Still, gazing into my I-Crystal I can foresee a cheap reader in my distant future.

Erik said...

What does e-mail Hell look like?

(sorry. had to.)

I completely agree with you on all points. Technologies beat out the old wayz of doing things when they beat them soundly, on every point. Convenience will never be optimal as long as the book reader is a separate device, meaning that the iPhone or similar device will be the reader/phone/iPod/camera/planner of the future.

The problem is that it also helps to be small, until you want to read a book when it should be huge. That'll be a fun trick to work out.

Now, there are caveats to this prediction of course. I'm a child of the 70s, so I remember the Beta/VHS war. The crappier technology won largely on price, or at least that's what I remember. But it was all we had, and to do this 70s style:

Lead Singer: Thassa way it waaas...
Backup Chorus: Thassa way it was
Lead: Thassa way it was
(Together) an' we liked it.
Chorus: Ooooooo ...

The best technology does not always win for reaons that aren't even clear. That seems to me to be the only chance Kindle has.

Laura Kramarsky said...

My far less erudite opinion than others you've linked to. In short, it's not there yet.

dr. love said...

I don't smell my books but I understand the connection some folks have with the printed word.

I for one miss the size of the artwork of vinyl records. And I think it's a crime that an artists vision of an album can be sold off in pieces through digital music services. But eventually we have to accept the changes these technological advances bring to us.

Arjay said...

Nathan - Never say never.


Jordyn said...

No. Nothing will ever replace books. As interesting as the Kindle is and as much as the geek in me is intrigued, I don't really want one. At all. Something about it repulses me a little bit.

Onovello said...

I'm with Anonymous 1:58, and can't say it any better than that.

kate h is right about sound being lost on conversion, but how much depends on the format. MP3 takes out a lot of information, which is why you can cram many more sound files into an iPod. I know I get fewer pieces/listening hours on the gadget, but I'd much rather go with AIFF, which preserves the sound.

FYI, unless the sampling rate is high enough, any sound converted to digital format may suffer some loss.

Tammie said...

I agree - it has to withstand the bathtub test!

There is a gadget for double the cost that is marketed to musicians to hold sheet music, download tabs/music from the internet and allows you to set your play list and is as large as an actual piece of paper which I think is pretty cool as I watch my teens use a 3 hole punch over and over on their tabs of music from hell. Just don't love the cost.

What happens to cover art? Although I do hate those paper covers over hardback books - but I'm veering off.

The idea of a gadget to rid my shelves of actual books is going to maybe look more like an actual book and have other features that let the user create/store/share their library.

Laurel Amberdine said...

Er, I hate to be nitpicky, kate h and onvello, but iPods don't especially play MP3s (AAC is preferred), you can easily rip CDs to a lossless format, and the new iTunes plus is higher data rate than CD.

Not that this is on topic, but I'm starting to twitch here. Have pity on a geek.

original bran fan said...

I can see the value of an e-book reader for textbooks. Not for much else. Then again, how often have I been researching something and had two books open at the same time so I could compare them? Can't do that with a Kindle, no matter how many books it holds.

In yesterday's thread, I asked what about book signings? Will those disappear? Now I'm wondering about all kinds of promotion. How will kindled books be promoted vs. paper books?

(Is kindled the right verb? "to google" is a verb now, so I thought "to kindle" might be as well...)

Anonymous said...

The Kindle, the Kindle.

Justin Bobby is out! I am hoping they rekindle.

K.C. Shaw said...

I'm with the bathtub readers. When it's cold, I retire to the tub with a book and a mug of cocoa. Ooh, or a big bowl of ice cream, seriously!

The Kindle costs too much, is too clumsy, and is too limited for me. So what if I can get bestsellers for ten bucks? If I want to read a bestseller, I usually check it out of the library--because the library has a bajillion copies of bestsellers. For ten bucks I can get a mmp from one of my favorite authors, or two (well, one and a half) ebooks from a smaller publisher.

I bought an Asus eee laptop a few weeks ago. It's tiny and weighs just two pounds, and it works great as an ebook reader.

KingM said...

No interest.

I'll buy an ebook when it looks just like a book, where you flip the pages and where you just happen to be able to reformat the whole thing to change the words on the page to the next novel.

Until then, no thanks.

Liz Wolfe said...

As much as I love the smell and feel and look of a paper book, I can see a lot of uses for an e-reader. Textbooks would be great in a searchable e-format. And the younger generation is more accustomed to reading electronically than on paper. And there are advantages to writers and publishers. It costs a LOT less to produce a digital file than to print a book. So, it stands to reason that publishers (and hopefully authors) could make more money from a digital format. So, WHY haven't any publishers come up with an e-reader that doesn't cost hundreds of dollars? Most of the people I know don't want to pay $400 for a device to read a book.
There are too many negatives to an e-reader right now. But if there were an e-reader that wasn't cost-prohibitive to a lot of people, it might catch on a little faster.

Angela said...

The segway comparison by Galley Cat was pretty accurate. I love how the amazon site tries to create hype...Hype should be something that happens due to consumer feedback not something you have to create before the fact. That's just plain silly! The rest of my 2 cents I put on my blog, and provided 10 great reasons of why I think the Kindle will bomb.Just in case anyone needs more reasons why the Kindle just isn't worth $399.

diana said...

The reason people want something to hold lots of songs (e.g. an iPod) is because it takes approximately three minutes to listen to a song, and then you (most likely) will want to listen to a different one.

However, most people take far far longer to read a book, and thus have very little need to carry around a few hundred, or even a few dozen books at a time.

Andrew said...

It's interesting to think of the way that the iPod is an improvement but the Kindle is not. Perhaps the difference is that we'd all recently switched formats for music, from records to CDs, and so vinyl enthusiasts were already considered dinosaurs, while book enthusiasts are still book enthusiasts. But in general, readers don't see a problem with books that the Kindle solves, while music listeners were aware of the problems that the iPod solves.

I could certainly see the possible value in the future of having my whole library in one device, just like it's nice to drive to work knowing I can pick any one of 2000 of my favorite songs. But the road between here and there seems so long that I'm hesitant to take those baby steps.

Heidi the Hick said...

I pretty much agree with everything you said about the Kindle.

I personally can't get excited about it though. As I commented yesterday, I simply love books.

As for the Ipod comparison: Me being a Mac fan, I like it very much. Me being a recording engineer's wife, hearing at least once a day how crappy music sounds now, how radio stations are too compressed, how mastering engineers smash everything and master everything too loudly, and how anybody under the age of 20 has no idea what recorded music is supposed to sound like...Well, it's like this. Digital has both destroyed and saved music. Music has been reinvented. The music industry has not yet caught up.

I'm getting kind of dizzy thinking about what kind of growing pains the book industry might be facing!

Isak said...

I don't think I have a good perspective on this because despite the things I use at work, I'm technologically backward. (I just got a cell phone about two years ago.) The need for things like an Ipod or satellite radio mystifies me, but I love music, lots of music. Yet I don't want to carry around every song I've ever heard or can think of.

So I guess I agree with Nathan. Books have reached the evolutionary pinnacle of what they are. The triumph of all great things is their simplicity.

Kate H:
I've read that any music is actually bad for the brain, and long periods of listening can cause psychological damage at any age.

A Paperback Writer said...

How do you write comments in the margins and record your impressions when it's on a screen? Doesn't work for me, but I'm not going to tell anyone else what to do about it.
Oh, and I don't own an iPod either, as my ears can't tolerate any kind of earphones/earbuds for very long. I still use CDs in a stereo. So dark ages, I know.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Sure, I want a reader. I'm out of room, I'm allergic to book mold, and heavy books give my arms some problems after marathon reading sessions. And I like trees.

I just want one that costs a lot less, doesn't make me buy things already in the public domain and freely available, talks to my Mac, and has ergonomic advantages over the paper things. Pretty wouldn't be bad either. Basically, I'm asking for good design and a price point that I wouldn't get as an early adopter.

Melanie Avila said...

I have no interest in eBook format (for now) but my mother has already ordered one. I'm sure I'll know within a week how FABULOUS it is. :)

Linnea said...

I expect its time will come but for me that won't be any time soon. The screen wipe delay alone is enough to make me wait until the technology improves.

Jenyfer Matthews said...

"Ebooks won't take off until they make waterproof readers so that you can read in the bathtub."

Old fashioned paperbacks don't do so well in water either.

I'm a (former) librarian. People have been predicting the demise of the paper book since for YEARS now. I don't see it happening. Nathan said it better so I won't repeat the points but paper books still have most of the advantages.

My own books are currently published digitally (though my publisher is putting out all its titles in print eventually - can't wait!!) I had never tried ebooks prior to being published digitally but I got myself an eBookwise reader this summer. It only reads books, but it also only cost $130 with an extra memory card. It will hold up to 200 titles (depending on file size). I like it because the bookstores in Egypt are pretty limited and it allows me to go online and get new books with no shipping or duty costs. It also has a backlight so I can read in bed without disturbing my husband. With the light turned down low the battery lasts about 22 hours.

The Kindle? Too expensive and too ugly. Looks like an old ten-key calculator. Why would I want to pay for what I can read for free on my computer? Jane from Dear Author blog reports that many of the titles Kindle reports to be in their collection are actually nonfiction. Woo hoo.

I think I'll stick with paperbacks from Amazon for now.

Solidus said...

"e-books will take off when they can be easily downloaded and easily read on a device like a larger iPhone-of-the-future, something people already have"

And there you have it. I am a big reader of e-books, including magazine subs. The reason? I already have a very nice Palm PDA, which makes an excellent e-book reader. OK, so the screen isn't as large as a book page, but it's very easy to use.

But I wouldn't pay £200 for an e-book reader if that was all it did. Nor if it didn't fit into my pocket. The big advantage (for me, at least) of e-book is that I can carry loads around in my pocket, always available for queues or bus journeys or whatever.


Luv2Read said...

I already have FREE access to over 5 million books, and these volumes takes up no space in my apartment, except when I'm actually reading them.

It's called the library, and it blows your $9.99 book right out of the water.

I read maybe 10-15 books a month, and not only can't I afford to spend $1200 or more per annum on them, I also don't have the shelf space.

Southern Writer said...

I'm a bathtub reader, and I love having lots of shelves filled with beautiful books. I even like having piles of books lying around. Kindle is not for me (I would hate having to wait for a page to load), but I can see one very big advantage, should it really catch on like ipods: it would save a lot of trees, thereby reducing global warming.

When someone gets one, could you please let me know if it's backlit, so that I could read in bed without a lamp, and not disturb the person lying next to me, other than crying or laughing out loud at the good parts?

Josephine Damian said...

Uh.... Nathan? Did you see the latest on that beotch, Heidi?

Make sure you click on the next page of this article.

Cyn, I love pretty, unusual bookmarks. Another reason not to get a Kindle.

Vinnie Sorce said...

I suppose it will have it's place in the world of technoogy but call me old fashioned, I want books, books and more books on the shelves in my house.

Isak said...

A paper back writer:

Good point. I didn't even think about that.

There's a whole interactivity to reading books that I think has gotten lost on most generations. Really, the only reason I learned to read books with a pencil in my hand was from my grandfather, and if I hadn't seen him do that, I don't think I would have ever done anything like that aside from academic books.

Church Lady said...

I had a discussion on my blog about this a couple of days ago.
I think you nailed it--even if you were curious about this technology, the price is a deterrent.
I think another company will come out with a better version (ie more features) at a much lower price.
Jeff Bezos should've offered this at $199 and taken a financial hit until the device got up and running. He has the cash flow to absorb some initial loss.
Where's Apple...

Dr. Dume said...

Perhaps it's my inherited meanness, but I don't like the idea of a book that needs batteries. Besides, what if it dies three pages from the end, and you've no way to charge it up?

I like shelves full of books. I'm old-fashioned, I know, but that gadget is not for me. Certainly not at that price. I'll spend the money on the real thing.

Roxan said...

I just want to know if one could Kindle yourself to sleep.

Luc2 said...

When I'm visiting people, I automatically gravitate towards the bookcase (or the kitchen). A house without a filled bookcase or bookshelf is a house without a soul.

I also agree with Luv2read, when we're talking costs. I love libraries.

Natalie said...

It's the younger generation that usually runs with new technology, leaving the old timers rocking in their chairs saying things like "GPS? SchmeePS! In my day, we used a map to get where we needed to go!"

But as the mother of young children, I can't see teething toddlers gnawing on the corners of a Kindle. Lift-the-Kindle-flaps? Scratch-and-sniff-Kindle? I don't think so. And I can't picture myself snuggling up for a bedtime story with my kids and a Kindle.

As an elementary school teacher, I can't see 1st graders running home, pulling their Kindles out of their backpacks, declaring: "I can read it!" And as far as reading a Kindle aloud to the What about the illustrations?

So my guess is that even if the Kindle takes off with adults, it won't ever take the place of children's books. Young children will get used to real books first, (hopefully) form a positive association with them when they read with their parents, etc. then move on to the Kindle. Maybe. But like most of us, they'll still have a soft spot for the real thing.

Anonymous said...

Paper books make books available to the masses. Books eventually can be sold at discounted prices, traded, given away, so on and so forth, so that everyone has a chance to get the good stuff, not just those who can afford it.

Requiring books to be accessed through expensive technology would leave a lot of people, i.e., people who don't have the luxury of buying an eReader, out of the mix.

I am a writer and I want my books be be able to be accessed by anyone who has the desire to read my work. I'd hate to see reading become a thing only for the haves and not for the have-nots.

Cari said...

It looks a lot cooler than the "e-books" my library purchased back in the day that didn't circ. We purchased one for the library, but they're expensive, so we can't circ them. So, my vote is that I will try it out, but at the moment I won't pay for one... because I'm a librarian and I'd much rather get my books for free while supporting my place of employment and the institution in general.

Zack said...

I'm more concerned with the fact that it's a technological thing and therefore subject to mysterious failure. Also that it will be hard to operate with my fat paws. A book is simple: you open it and turn the pages.

I received a PDA a while back that was supposed to make my life much easier. It kept freezing up and had to be made to die before it could be restarted, reloaded, recustomized, and relive on the ashes of its dead self. It would be nice not to have to pack ten tomes whenever I follow the chickens across the street. But I am nervous of the thing freezing up and leaving me with nothing at all to read in the middle of the road.

Crystal said...

This post (and the comments!) is rather humorous to read in 2013. Ha! Also...quite a bit a prophecy at the end there with the iPhone/iPod bit.

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