On Wanting a Kindle

I have a confession to make. I really want a Kindle. Bad.

No really. I do. The DRM scares me, and I think the books are just the other side of "too expensive," and because I come from a long line of "book collecting people" I think there are a lot of books that I would want to own in the paper. Furthermore, I have a great laptop for reading books (a small tablet), and I have a very long history of using small form computing devices (think palm pilots and pocket pcs) to read books. And yet, I returned to paper a few years ago, and don't feel really bad about that.

I'm not going to get a Kindle, at least not yet. I want to see what the Barnes and Nobel "Nook" looks like. I need to upgrade the laptop more, and I think something like the Nokia n900 might end up being a better device in this space and even if it isn't, I think we're going to see a lot of development in the "tablet" space in the next year, and it seems premature to buy now. For me.

Given all these caveats, I think its interesting to think about why I want the Kindle so bad. Here are some questions and answers:

So given all these caveats, why do you want a Kindle so bad?

I've held one on a number of occasions, and I've always been struck with how nice they feel. They're solid and they're thin. The text is clear and readable, the page advance buttons fall wonderfully under your thumbs. The experience, at least on these second generation devices, is really quite good.

I've rather famously, taken an entire bag of books along with me for a long weekend trip. A weekend where, I ended up reading about two and a half pages. So, the fact that you can take a whole pile of books or more properly the potential for getting the one right book you want, is appealing in a practical way.

Is this just about the hardware, or is there more?

I think the Kindle is the ideal distribution mechanism for periodical literature. The codex is likely to be of enduring importance for quite while, but I'm almost certain that the magazine and newspaper isn't. While blogs are great, don't get me wrong, I think there's a need for publications that are in-between the "book" and the "blog," and I think the Kindle is a great space for those kinds of texts. Practically, I'd like to read more content of that sort, and if I had a kindle, I suspect that I'd get a lot of use out of it.

The instant distribution model is a huge plus, and I really like to read. Cory Doctorow says something to the effect of "Ebook readers will fail, because a 'good' ebook reader would need to remove distractions and malfunction possibilities as effectively as paper, and devices that 'only' read books, won't sell very well next to devices which also check your email and play games." And I think that's probably a true observation, but it looks like the Kindle does single-function pretty well. I think the next year, or so, will be really interesting as we see more tablets in the market.

You're obviously not going to get one today, so what would make you change your mind?

The DRM and the price of the books. The DRM really needs no additional condemnation. I think 10 dollars is a bit steep for books, particularly because it's so flat rate, and while it's cheaper than the hardcover (and that's good,) it's also more than a paperback in most cases. And at least in a paperback you have something on your shelf. And the DRM really adds insult to injury. If they distributed the files in plain text/html and some weirdass XML format that would be one thing, but they give you a blob that is certain to be next to useless in a year or two. If books were 3 bucks, or 5 bucks, or even 6 or 7 bucks--even if the device was 300--or there was some sort of subscription service, I wouldn't mind the DRM, but as it is... the DRM makes the economics difficult for me to compute.

If the DRM is such an issue why have you gotten this far?

A lot of times in the paper-book world you buy a book. Read a hundred pages (or maybe twenty?), and then are so disgusted by the book that you can't bare to read any more, and you set it aside. And often times a trip to the bookstore (particularly in advance of a trip) means buying a number of books, when only some of these books will be of worth (to you) to justify their expense.

These situations are less likely to happen with a Kindle. There are significant samples, and you carry the bookstore around with you. I suspect the chances are that you only really need to "buy" the books that you read, which might end up being significantly cheaper in the long run.

The Kindle is a physical manifestation of a shift away from the physicality of information, but it's only really a symptom and not a leading cause this shift, right? If you accept this, if you accept that most information and knowledge only exists as bits and photons, then all of the rituals that we build around books (collections, libraries, shelves) are less important.

What about the *Nook*?

The nook is a more impressive platform. For sure, it fails the Doctorow test of (potentially) being too interesting for tasks that aren't reading books.

I think I probably have some more writing to do on this subject, but, in general I think Amazon is a better and smarter company than Barnes and Nobel, and if the name of the game in ebook readers is "vendor lock-in" then I trust Amazon a bit more. In a lot of ways, I hold B&N responsible for the ongoing/impending collapse of the publishing industry. [1]

In any case, mostly, at the moment I just want to wait and see before I make any sort of decision on the subject.


[1]The consolidation that B&N and Borders organized for the sale of books collapsed a lot of the niche markets that were maintained by niche booksellers, and the much lamented disappearance of the midlist and backlist. The current "blockbuster supported" book industry isn't sustainable beyond the next 5 to 10 years or so.
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