Information and the Future

This is the blog of the Information and the Future task force of the Rolfing Library at Trinity International University. The IF task force exists to explore the role of libraries in the future of Christian higher education.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Thoughts on ebooks, part 2, the Kindle

In addition to my earlier comments about ebooks in general, I wanted to make some comments about the Kindle, Amazon's new reader. I really haven't looked at it carefully until today, primarily because I'm happy with my current ebook arrangement, and partly because of the $400 price tag.

But when I'm commenting on ebooks, it seemed like an oversight not to look at the Kindle, so I went to Amazon and started reading up on it.

The first thing I noticed is that it's sold out. Completely. You can get on a waiting list, but devices ordered today will not be available before Christmas. That tells me that it's sold better than even Amazon dreamed of. Maybe this will be the thing that convinces people ebooks are here to stay, after all.

Another of the first things I checked is the availability of books, and despite the way Amazon is promoting their arrangements with publishers and the amount of content they have available, I've not yet found a book available for Kindle that's not available in other ebook formats. The Harry Potter books aren't. Neither are recent books by Janet Evanovich, John Grisham, or Tolkien. For the record, as I understand it, this has to do with individual authors rather than particular publishers. For example, to date, the Tolkien estate has flatly refused to let any of Tolkien's works be made available electronically.

In other cases, it's just the way the author's contract was written.

(Note: this doesn't contradict my earlier comments concerning the prevalence of most bestsellers being available in ebook format. There have always been a few authors whose works aren't in electronic format, for whatever reason. My point is that, as yet, Kindle doesn't appear to be offering any books that haven't already been available electronically.)

Over nine hundred people have left reviews for it, but the average is three stars out of five. Of those, 372 gave it four or five stars, 272 gave it only one star, and the others gave it twos and threes.

Having skimmed the one star reviews, what becomes apparent isn't a problem with the Kindle, but a problem with Amazon's review system, one authors have long known about: people leave 'reviews' not because they've read the book/tried the product, but because they have an ax to grind. In this case, most of the one star reviews have been left by people who clearly haven't purchased one, and don't intend to so. The ax in this case appears to be DRM. People are angry at the thought of not being able to lend the books out. It's a fair complaint, but not relevant to the Kindle, per se, and I'm not sure it's not as much a backlash against the music industry as anything else.

To a certain extent, publishers benefit from people being able to lend books, since at least some of the time, that results in the person who borrowed the book either buying it for themselves, or buying the next book by the author. But on the other hand, people have to accept that if no one pays for something, whether it's an mp3 or a book file, then the musician/author doesn't get paid, and since they have to eat, too, eventually, no more books or music get made.

Another recurring complaint in the one star reviews, which I think is valid, is that Sprint's coverage is so limited that large sections of the country can't use the device anyway. Apparently, if you live out of major metropolitan areas, or away from the interstate system, there's no point in buying one.

What of the three star reviewers? Most of them obviously own one. A lot of the negative comments focus on the poor case, while others note that reading books on it is wonderful; reading newspapers and blogs, less so -- in part due to having to pay for things that are free on the web, and in part due to the lack of graphics. (Particularly where newspapers are concerned.) At all review levels, people complain about not being able to read .pdf documents on it.

I wonder, though, if people who are complaining about buying newspapers that are normally 'free' on the web realize that most newspapers don't put all their content on their website? That to see the whole thing, you have to read the print version?

I did see one reviewer who noted that the format that Amazon uses is essentially the same as that of Mobipocket (one of the current ebook readers.) Mobipocket has both free books (i.e., out of copyright) available as well as books covered by their DRM, and apparently it is possible to transfer DRM-free books acquired through Mobipocket to the Kindle.

This interests me. One of things that concerns me about my current setup is that PDAs are being made obsolete by smaller phones. I've assumed that at some point, when my PDA dies, I'll go for a BlackBerry (which has a larger screen than your usual phone) but if Amazon did stretch themselves to allow Mobipocket books to be installed, I'd certainly consider buying one when my PDA dies.

But then, I don't live in the wilds of the west, away from Sprint's network.



  • At 2:53 PM, Blogger Rebecca said…

    Thanks for the update on Kindle, Cindee! I had been curious how it was doing in sales, so it was interesting to find out it's doing so well. They've certainly done a great job marketing it on their website...


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