The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Kindle Arrives

Got my Amazon Kindle two days ago. For those who don't know, it's an electronic book that can hold 200 volumes, play MP3s and connects wirelessly to the Internet. I think it's glaringly obvious that some version of this technology is the future of reading. About the size of a paperback book, you can shop online at Amazon and have your books downloaded in about 60 seconds. The price of books? Varies from about 50% of the bookstore price down to a buck for public domain material like "The Complete Shakespeare" to maybe a dime if you download it from Project Gutenberg. I think I'll tend to use it more for research than pleasure reading, though. It looks and feels kinda like an Apple wanna-be. If Apple had made it, I would expect more elegance, whereas what we have here is functionality.

My guess? Jason will grow up with these things, and consider printed books antiquated. Whatever. Anything that makes information cheaper and more available is just fine with me.


Feeling "Blah" today, and there might be four or five different reasons for that, including being slightly overtrained. I'm taking the day off from working out, will do yoga tomorrow, and see how I feel on Friday.


"Buzzword," the online Word Processor, is still cool in my book. My desktop Mac has some problems with it, but they seem related to the internet connection, rather than the program itself. My laptop works fine. I think they have a winner.


Kinda fun watching Hillary and Barack both claiming victory after Pennsylvania. It's true: it's all about who can frame the debate and control the story. Personally, I thought if she won by less than 5% it was a victory for Obama. Over about 12%, a victory for Clinton. She won by 8.6%, which makes it a draw in my book. She needed to win big. So far she's done nothing that would prevent me from voting for her. But I could imagine a scenario where back-room deals are cut that feel...unfair. Now, I understand that this isn't about fair play. So I'm not saying my reactions would make sense. But if something nasty goes down, I would really have to close my eyes and think of England when I pull the switch for her, and I don't want that. I want to be enthusiastic. I don't think I could be enthusiastic about McCain unless he were to seriously denounce the Iraq debacle and what I see as an inept Bush administration. I don't think he'll do that. Which means he either agrees with the policies, or is playing dangerous political games. Either one is bad to me.

On the other hand, I resented it when Liberal talk radio pilloried him for making an obvious statement "there will be more wars," as if he had said "I want to have more wars." That struck me as unfair and dishonest.


The question of the day is: What do you think of the future of electronic books like the Kindle? Would you use them? Why or why not?


Mike Ralls said...

If I buy a Kinddle, and spend the next five or ten years buying various books on it, and then or whatever company buys them in the future decides the format is no longer functional and stops support for it then I'm screwed. But if I buy real books, well that is a format that has lasted thousands of years and I know that I will still be able to read it in the future. I don't know that about Kinddle.

Stuff like this really makes me warry of any companies scheme;
"People who bought music from the MSN music store have been royally hosed by Microsoft: as of today, if you buy a new computer, or refresh your hard-drive, you have to kiss all your music goodbye. Microsoft has shut down its DRM "license server" and left people who bought music . . . out in the cold."

I've got no interest in having that happening to me, so when I buy a digital book reader, as I'm sure I will in the 5 to 20 years, I will make sure that the company can't screw me over too bad in the future because they can afford to anger the 7% of the market I represent (or whatever).

I have not noticed a great increase in screen reading ease over the last ten years, and many people just don't like to read for long times on their computers. so I am not sure there will be a big breakthrough in the next ten, and that will be a bottleneck.

I don't _think_ e-books will sweep all before them because I remember back in the early 80's when VCRs first came out a lot of people thought Theaters would go extinct, but they haven't. They still exist because people like the experience of going out to the movies, and I think that people will still enjoy the experience of reading on paper for the indefinite future. The market share for e-books will likely increase greatly, but I don't think paper books will make up less than 50% of the market in the next 25 years.

Kukulkan said...

I believe that the people who read your blog tend to be people (including me) who romanticize books. Although I would read electronic books and I think that electronic readers are the future of the medium, they lack romance. Sitting on the couch drinking a beer or brandy would feel very different with a book than with a reader. The readers will never replace books for me -- supplement yes, but not replace.

Veronica Henry said...

As a technology pro during the day and aspiring writer/avid reader by night, I'm kinda torn.

You see, the geeky side of me loves the idea (but not the price) of the Kindle, but like kukulkan, love holding a book, staring at the cover and gazing at them on the shelves.

I know eventually ebook readers will be as commonplace as the mp3 player, but I for once am holding out on this latest gadget.

Anonymous said...

I feel as Mike does when it comes to not trusting the technology to be around for more than a year or two before it was replaced by another format. I'm also very used to books, and love their physicality. I love the smell of new books, and old ones. I love the look of a row of books. I also love the feel of pages turning. If a reliable electronic format existed though, and I could read it comfortably while reclining on my couch, lying in bed, or sitting on the toilet, I'd seriously consider switching over, especially if the text size could be increased so I could read it without my reading glasses, or if the product's illumination made it easier to read than the printed word. I hope the e-books would still have covers though.


Steven Barnes said...

There's definitely no romance in a Kindle...which is why I like it for research, rather than pleasure reading.

Good point about the formats, and possible obsolescence. And I agree that "real" books will never go completely out of style. But they might well be specialty items within twenty years.

Scott Masterton said...


I might purchase a Kindle, but there is something special about a book. I like the sound of the pages, the smell of the print and the fact that once you have a copy of it in your hand it's pretty much there. No one (including myself) can go in and change it. I like that. I get a lot of my news on the internet, but for some reason there it's never more "real" as when it is printed on newsprint.

I think you're right. I think the printed page may become a rarity, but it will definitely be a shame.

Ed Greaves said...

I disagree, I've had my Kindle for about two months, and have read seven books on it so far.

I think it's great, and while I understand the reservations on wanting to give up completely hardcopy, there are somethings that are just fantastic about it.

Like finding out that a new book was just released from the author's blog, and then being able to pop open my device, buy the book and have it in my hands in under a minute. That's hard to beat. Plus, with a savings of over 50% off the cover...can't really go wrong.

I've found that once you start reading, the form and function really meld together better, and you really just forget that it's a digital device and you're reading. It doesn't feel (to me) like reading a screen, its much coser to a real book than anythign I've ever seen. There's still room for improvement, but I think this is a viable device that'll hold up for the long term.

Don't get me wrong, I love my hardcopies, and I'll never give up completely on those, because some things are just a joy of ocnstruction. But there are many books I know I'll just read once, and move on, and therefore don't see any reason why not to go green, and keep it digital.

Vincent S. Moore said...

I'm actually reminded of something you wrote in Streetlethel. About physically printed books being a more dependable yet more independent means of acquiring and possessing information.

With concerns over the environment, I can see how devices like The Kindle would be perceived of as being better. Yet how many people can afford it? How many people would buy it? Those questions worry me about the technology.

Steve Perry said...

As the technology improves and the price drops, the market will expand. People who like this thing, and the Sony Reader, like 'em a whole lot. People who don't like them, hate 'em. Looks like mostly four or five stars, or one star, and it doesn't seem quite ready for prime time yet, maybe two or three versions out.

For years, I wore battery-powered wristwatches. Every year or so, I'd replace the battery, and the quartz movement was accurate and mostly out of mind.
Couple years back, I wanted a watch with a bright glow-in-the-dark face, so I could see it while out in the camper. Found a mechanical automatic, what they used to call a self-winding watch. Long as I wiggle my arm now and then, it never needs winding or a battery, and I like it better.

Leather and paper will always have a feel that electronic readers won't, and no batteries to replace. Glocks are perfectly fine weapons that will outlast a typical owner, but compared to wood and steel, the Tupperware feel lacks a lot.

I like fountain pens, too. An analog guy, last of the generation that grew up that way.

Eventually,e- readers will mimic books better and they'll get cheaper, and then I'll probably get one.

Not yet.

Mark Jones said...

I haven't yet seen one of the Kindle readers so I can't say how comfortable a reading experience it would be. But I know that the main advantage of such a thing, for me, would be the convenience of having my entire library (or some vast chunk of it) available in a single "book"--whatever I feel like reading (or rereading) would be instantly available. No more hunting through double- and triple-stacked shelves or rooting around in the basement in for rarely-read books stored away down there!

Combine that with the ability to a) buy books wirelessly, and possibly b) back them up online, and it condenses my entire housefull of books into a single volume. (Or maybe two, just in case I lose or break one....)

Anonymous said...

Some very good points made.

I think books made with paper will eventually go away because of the rising cost of paper, especially if publishers continually offer electronic versions at a fraction of the cost of paper books.

The only reason I could think of for buying a Kindle-type product soon is if I go back for my doctorate ... having my full library of references to work from at any time in any place would be an immense help.

I won't buy one otherwise for the simple reason that if I forget it or lose it, it's SO much more expensive than a book ... at least, right now.

I'll be sad when paper books eventually lose out to electronic for the one thing which I can't see electronic books replacing: the thrill of finding a long-sought novel, or uncovering a never-before-read author, in the used book stores ... or the new books stores, for that matter. I suppose it's possible that "used copies" of electronic books will eventually be available ... but it's not the same thing as picking a book at random off a shelf because you like the title, or the cover, or simply because it's the next name over from your favorite author, browsing a few pages, and realizing that you've found another "must own everything they've ever written" writer.

Besides, as a poor college student, it was only the used book stores (and a carefully preserved Otherworlds Club card, if anyone else remembers those) that allowed me to read the widest range of authors ... so that when I had some money, I knew whose new books to buy.

Finally, on a side note: I wonder what all the artists will do when publishers no longer need them to do cover art.

Stephanie said...

Um, it's easier for me to read in the bubble bath with a real book, and I don't feel so bad if I drop a cheap paperback into the suds.

I read at least 3 newspapers online daily, but I still really love the newsprint with my orange juice in the morning, and curling up with a real book in the evening.

I've grown up in a computer world, I only faintly remeber my parents using typewriters, but yes, I still have a distinct fondness for the printed page. (Did I mention I'm a journalist? I like to see my words in print better than on the website too).

Anonymous said...

I'm cool with ebooks, and I'm also totally cook with paper books because I don't need a machine to read them and my computers have broken down too often. ;)

If I'm reading something for the first time, paper's way more comfy. If I'm going back through it to cite something I already read, keyword searches kick page-flipping ass. Having both versions is fun. :)

Meanwhile, paper doesn't let you change typeface size or pop up to form Braille. What if a future ebook display does?

That could be especially good for schools that lend textbooks instead of telling kids to buy their own. The 15 regular copies + 3 large print copies + 2 Braille copies a small school's Class of '21 needs for 11th grade fast-track American history could just be converted to the 16 regular copies + 4 Braille copies that the school's Class of '22 needs for 11th grade fast-track American history.

"Besides, as a poor college student, it was only the used book stores (and a carefully preserved Otherworlds Club card, if anyone else remembers those) that allowed me to read the widest range of authors ... so that when I had some money, I knew whose new books to buy."

You didn't have enough access to a public library? :(

asha vere said...

E-readers for the win.

Cheaper pricing of books -- and options for obtaining them free -- instant purchasing, portability of multiple books and the possibility of freeing up all the space in my house that's currently taken up by bookshelves make the Kindle, Sony Reader and products like them incredibly attractive.

That said, I wrote a post a few months back about how although I like the idea of the Kindle, right now it has all the sex appeal of a fax machine.

Not only won't I buy an e-reader right now because I want to be sure the technology won't change too rapidly, but I'm also just shallow enough to want the one I ultimately buy to look a little better.

It's a pity Steve Jobs says Apple won't be working on an e-reader.

Lynn said...

You can probably guess what I think of Kindle and such by this:

A scene in one of my 'futuristic' novels depicts a couple using a telescope to peer into an apartment across the street. They notice a bookshelf with actual books on it and are touched by the old-fashioned nature of the man who lives there. The older of the nosy pair admits to having a few favorite volumes of his own and explains to the young woman how reading from a screen just doesn't feel the same when you are curled up in bed on a rainy evening. He chuckles a little when he tells her which scenes in which books are enhanced by cognac or coffee stains. She looks at him as if he just admitted to having some bizarre fetish. Ah, well. To each his or her own, eh?

Nancy Lebovitz said...

I haven't seen a Kindle, so I don't know what I'd think of the screen. I find that while I'm willing to spend hours and hours reading at the computer, it's generally easier for me to read anything longer than an long short story if it's in a book.

The print newspapers are dying (though I suspect they made some business mistakes), and the future for print books doesn't look terribly good.

On the other hand, there's a big generation that's still fond of print on paper.

I'm going to bet that people will keep working on improving readers until there's one that's cheap enough ($20? $50?) to be generally attractive, with a screen that's easy on the eyes (and possibly one that unrolls for large images), and with a good enough solution to the rights problem.

Ed Greaves said...


The Kindle screen does not feel like reading a computer. It's not 100% the same as reading paper. Probably a lot closer to 99%, or maybe 98%.

For research? I think it is fantastic. I mean, built in search capability, that can search EVERY book currently on your device at once for the referenced word? And for that same search, you can also search the dictionary, Wikipedia, and the web in general! (Oh, and the Amazon store for that matter.) That's pretty useful if you are trying to cross reference.

At this moment, I have just under 500 books on the device. The number of free books available help that along tremendously, including a lot of current stuff that Authors are using as promotion of their work. (You can read stuff rom the Baen Free Library for example, and the new free downloads are cool too.)

Personally, I like the styling. I'm not a fan of what apple does with it's supposed slick styling. I find it a lot less than cool. But I realize I'm in a very small minority there.

There's definitely room for improvement, but I know people are innovative, and come up with their own solutions to the problems that come there way, and while future models might be better (say, waterproof) a good ziploc baggie will work, and doesn't much affect the functionality of the device. So, if you're deadset on reading in the bath, there are still ways. Even if less than ideal ways.

What's also awesome about them, is if you have the kind of family that reads a lot of the same material, then purchased books can be shared by the devices (assuming all on the same account. Up to 6 devices) You can even be reading the same book at the same time. No more having to wait for mom, dad, husband, wife, etc, etc to read before you get your hands on it. That's pretty awesome.

Now I just want to be able to buy the unabridged OED on this thing. That alone would be worth the price of the device.