Me and my Kindle

I was wrong about the Kindle. When I unboxed it two nights ago, I excitedly bought my own book to feel all cyber and tweeted about it. But the book wouldn’t show up. “Opening,” it said forever. Two hours went by and I called Amazon (which – new for them – made the phone number easy to find and answered it in a minute). The lady said the modem had to be fully charged. That made no sense; it would mean essentially that it would never work unless plugged in. But, fine, I waited for the green light. Still no book. Two hours more. I called Amazon again. The man said it must be a defective unit and he nicely said he’s ship a replacement (this is why I am happy I have Amazon stock). I chronicled my frustration on Twitter, and word passed around there.

The next day, I tried the Kindle in Manhattan and it worked fine. Two more tests verified that the problem was not the Kindle but Sprint, which was never great at home when I had a Sprint Treo but would at least work. Now, it took more than four hours to download a book and even going to a new store menu page takes minutes. I confessed my mistake on Twitter and shifted blame to the phone company. Sprint monitors Twitter – that’s the good news – but they might as well not, as the Sprint guy merely tried to sidestep responsibility, saying that there wasn’t a network outage (I didn’t say there was) and shifting blame back to Amazon: “Spoke 2 @Sprint Care, Retail. Kindle issues should go 2 Amazon customer care.” Amazon should learn to pick its partners more wisely in the future. And I need to learn to cram caveats into tweets when I have problems.

So now I have a Kindle that works in some places, not others – and not working at home may be a killer. This is why I wish it came with wi-fi, or at least the option (especially for when I travel overseas). I prefer my control of communications on my iPhone. But then the problem with the iPhone is also that it has to be connected; I’d like to download content – such as the New York Times – to it so I could read the paper on the train.

The iPhone and Kindle are a study in contrasts. The biggest is, of course, the business model: One may buy books on either, but current content on the iPhone will, in most cases, be ad-supported; on the Kindle, it is paid for by the reader. The iPhone UI, right down to its flowing scrolling on its touchscreen, is elegant and happy; the Kindle is klunky and irritating. The Kindle lets me download and read anywhere; I like that; the iPhone won’t let me download The New York Times to read on the subway and that’s too bad. The iPhone lets me control my communications better. The Kindle screen is larger, yes, but the iPhone isn’t that much smaller:

kindle iphone comparison

So I’m undecided about the Kindle. Its organization is still inelegant to say the least. For example, when reading the Times, it wants me to go story-by-story – that’s bookthink. I want to see the menu of articles in a section. But when I then go to an article and page through it, to get back to that section listing, I have to go back to the top and then back to the section. When reading a book on either device, I miss easy ways to thumb through.

If I traveled a great deal and took books with me everywhere – which I don’t – the Kindle would clearly be a godsend. And maybe it will make me start traveling with books – and reading them – more often, as the web has been bad for my book reading habits. But I’m still not sure.

I also wish that the business model of book publishing were different: that I could buy the contents of a book and get it in any and all media: I could read it on paper when I’m home and on Kindle when I’m on the road and listen to it on my iPhone when I’m driving. I disagree strongly with Roy Blount Jr.’s assertion on behalf of authors (other than me) that the Kindle shouldn’t be reading books aloud to readers because it would cannibalize audio-book sales. This assumes that people who buy the print book also buy the audiobook in great numbers and that having a book read by the computerized and irritating voice of a Kindle will hurt sales. No, I think a book should be sold as a package: buy access to the ideas and get them however you like. I think that would spur greater sales. The next step is to move past selling books as a product, frozen in time, and start selling them as a process. But that’s a post for another day.

I’m holding onto my Kindle for now. I was wrong about it at first blush and so I need to give it more of a chance.

  • Jonathan Landman

    Jeff — Actually, the New York Times iPhone app does work on the subway (though imperfectly, I am sorry to say.). You don’t need a live Internet connection. An update coming within the next few days will make it work much better.

    • Bravo! I love the app. It does take a while to get started sometimes. But I still love it. It’s especially good for reading the columnists, I find. That’s now a habit.

  • I don’t know about Kindle for reading newspapers. It’s great for linear reading of books you don’t want to clutter your shelves up with… and cheaper… except for more impulse buys. Great to be driving out West and download a book about the Santa Fe Trail while you’re driving down the highway.

    But I started reading Sontag’s On Photography and got very frustrated that I couldn’t make notes like a real book and deface it with a yellow highlighter so I could easily revisit the parts I need to think more about. So I ordered a used book on AbeBooks.

    Nice to have all these multiple channels.

  • hi Jeff, i’m a fan of stanza on the iphone. Just finished your book. Enjoyed it a lot. On a different topic, you might enjoy the response Ryanair made to a blogger that blogged about a bug on their website. Made it onto main news on TV.

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  • I know JLandman addressed this with regard to the NYT but how on earth can you — a supposed new media guru — say the iPhone doesn’t let you download? My daughter has several apps on her phone that let her download and read on the subway.

    • download the entire new york times. jeesh.

      i couldn’t have been clearer: “…the iPhone won’t let me download The New York Times to read on the subway …”

  • Mave

    yes, we will save many trees and that is an important consideration, but how many people cannot and will not be able to afford a kindle or iphone? or the more-than-a-paperback, less-than-a-hard-cover price of many books?

    and when book prices go up, as they will, how long will it take before only the upper classes have the “privilege” of reading and educating themselves?

    at a time when higher education is slipping out of reach for the working class and poor, is this truly the direction in which we want to go?

    will we live to see the day when reading for a relatively few lucky individuals of meager means has to be subsidized by family and other foundations and let the rest be damned?

    • For a college student, one Kindle with open-source texts costs a lot less the overpriced books they buy. Netbooks, Kindles, and such will soon cost well less than $200 and connected cloud boxes – as I saw when I appeared on a San Jose computer show a week ago – can cost as little as $11 (sharing a single PC).

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  • Safran

    Jeff – sorry you had a bad experience with the K2. My experience has been very positive. The business of the authors getting pissed about the text-to-speech program? Utter stupid nonsense. Who buys the text AND audiobook version? And who would replace hearing a favorite writer or author’s voice with the K2 robot?

    Who ever thought books would have DRM? Bad enough the K2 is a walled garden and I can’t share a book with my Dad.

    Once I buy the book, it’s my damn book and I’ll consume it however I want.

    • Try sauteed with a little garlic and lemongrass

      Seriously, though. There is a sort of mechanical DRM with a traditional book. You can only lend it, sell it etc. when you have finished with it. The technology for an individual to replicate a conventional book doesn’t exist. If it did, authors would have good reason to be worried.

      With eBooks, it is rather different. If (when?) eBooks become universal then without DRM an author will definitely sell fewer copies – in extremis only one to each community wherein the book will be quickly and easily copied to all who are interested, without the author receiving any compensation.

      It is hard enough to make a living out of writing even under today’s conditions. If free private replication of books became the norm I think it would all but eliminate writing as a career and the availability of the written word would suffer as a result.

      EBooks are, to my mind, more akin to recorded music than they are to traditional books. When you buy a record you don’t buy the music. You buy certain rights to it. You buy the right to listen to it yourself or play it to friends, but not to put on a public performance. You certainly don’t buy the right to make free copies for your friends. Sure, it happens but it is illegal and the record companies will do anything in their power to limit it and/or prosecute blatant offenders.

  • Peter Hodder-Williams

    I’ve been puzzled by the whole WWGD video thing. Firstly, irritated that I couldn’t download it from Spain, and then puzzled, because Google would have given it away anyway to support more sales of the book.

    And now, you’ve proved me right:
    “I think a book should be sold as a package: buy access to the ideas and get them however you like. I think that would spur greater sales.”

    OK, so if I send you a photo of me with my copy of WWGD (dead tree version) could I have the link to my free video please?

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  • Ob balance, I would probably use anything that possessed the capability to block articles by David Brooks. I prefer my opinion pieces to be informed.

    Seriously though, A cell phone and a mini laptop (netbook?) do it for me.

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  • scopo911

    I too am undecided on the K2. Got mine and my first book as WWGD, my first newspaper was WSJ 14d trial. Here’s the funny part, I bought the K2 version of WWGD AFTER I bought and was half way through the print version – why….b/c I was about to take a very long car ride and wanted it read to me, so that I could finish the book in the dead space of car time. So, I may seem a contrary example to your point that no one would buy both, but not so fast.

    First, I did this more as an experiment, to see how the speech-to-text worked and to practice in fact some of the insights from your book. I would not do it again. In the future, I think I will buy the K2 version if available, just so I have the option on how I ‘consume’ the book.

    Any worry about the K2 speech eroding audio book sales is complete nonsense and would in fact piss more people off than it would save book sales. If I were a fan of audio books (which I’m not), I would have HATED hearing the K2 drone on for four hours in the car. But it did exactly what I wanted it to do.

    Where I’m still undecided is in the many imprefections that you have already mentioned: wi-fi, other media, how the articles are presented – I hate that, etc. And, I’m still not sure if I can really read a book on it, I’m still a bit old school for the paper.

  • Thanks for this,J eff I was debating whether to get a kindle and when I saw your first tweats about it, decided to hold off. Now, I think I’ll get one soon.

  • Stephen Cohen

    As an early adopter who bought K1 upon its release, I’m impressed with updates to K2 and think that it addresses shortcomings. Today’s Kindle app for iPhone addresses, I think, part of your concern about purchasing the content and being able to consume it “whenever, wherever, however.” I’ve found myself buying some books in hard copy after I’ve read them on Kindle to place on my shelf, to pass around and to refer to. There’s still something about the hard copy that makes holding it a pleasure, but the Kindle, for me, is a much better way to actually consum it.

  • Frank Williamson

    The iPhone Kindle app is awful compared to the real Kindle with it’s electronic ink. We’ve all become so accustomed to the eyestrain of staring into a flashlight (computer and cell phone screens, – like you’re doing right now) we don’t even think about it anymore. Because of the e-ink of the Kindle I can read for 3-4 hours straight without any perceived eyestrain. Even a paperback or hardback causes more eyestrain than the Kindle and forget about comparing the Kindle to anything with an illuminated screen. As Bezos said on a TV show – “Who wants to stare into a flashlight?” He’s right about that part.

    Since the free app came out a few days ago I do read a little on the iPhone but the experience is sadly lacking compared to the Kindle. In fact, comparing the two is motivating me to buy a second Kindle which is probably exactly what Bezos intended. Use the Apple iPhone to sell more Kindles.

  • I would probably get a Kindle if I could copy text files directly to it but it seems I have to EMAIL them to myself through Amazon?!? Also, why did they take away the SD slot? I want to use an ebook or other device my own way, not by some corporate standard method that restricts my fair use. So for now, I’m sticking with my TRGpro.

  • Alexander Bos

    Technical issues put aside, what I mainly question is their business model. A Kindle costs about $260 or $490, depending on the screensize. That’s quite expensive if you realise the only thing you can do with it is read books. (you purchase a netbook or laptop for the same amount which is multi purpose) E-Books however, have very low production cost. You don’t need to cut trees, you don’t need presses, you don’t need ink, you don’t need the labour to produce the book, you don’t need storage cost and shelve space… So in order to provoke a fundamental change in the reader’s behavior (i.e. stop buying books), one would expect that the books would be priced a little above marginal cost, so both reader and publisher benefit from the low production cost. Currently most e-books are priced $9.99 This is only a dollar or 2 cheaper than the paperback version. This means that you need to purchase 130 books in order to do break even. So even if you buy a book every month, you will have a pay back period of 10 years! Most consumers will probably have a less economic approach, but also digital content is often perceived as FREE or at least very cheap. Therefore I expect the business model will have to change significantly in order to be successfull and address the mass market.

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