Thursday, 17 June 2010

Kindled Spirits

Points in time where I change my mind from one side to the other tend to be exciting ones; they make me think a lot. Therefore, this post is dedicated to explaining why I have decided that, on principle, I should get myself a Kindle eBook reader (and why I should be doing so despite all the negative arguments I have raised here and here).
Here are the reasons why I think I should get an eBook reader:
  1. Bulk: Most of my reading is now done on the train. A lot of my books are quite heavy to carry, and a couple of recent acquisitions prove the point. As in, I have no idea how I'm going to read Bill Bryson's At Home or Adrian Johns' Piracy. Both are massive hardbacks.
  2. Space: We're running low on book storage space. It's a good problem to have, but it's still a problem.
  3. Cost: I buy many more books than I can read. Electronic books cost roughly half the price of paper books; it seems as if the cost of the eBook reader itself would be recovered within a few months.
  4. PDF books' availability: Books in the PDF format are becoming more and more available for free or for a relatively minimal payment. I'm not talking about Project Gutenberg style free books only (i.e., books that are no longer copyrighted). I'm talking about things like the Worldcon science fiction convention, taking place in Melbourne this year, offering its members an electronic packet containing all the Hugo award nominees (here); that's a hell of a way to keep oneself up to date with the best of this year's sci-fi crop.
    However, once you download all the packet's PDF files, what do you do with them? Reading from the screen is not a favorable option; it sucks (sorry for stating the obvious, iPad fans). However, reading from a proper eBook reader is a delight.
  5. Book availability: Although this is by far the eBook reader's weakest spot, there is constant improvement. John Scalzi's book The God Engines, for example, has only recently been made available for the Kindle (sadly, it's not available to Aussie Kindle owners yet).
  6. Environment: Getting books on paper and having them shipped across the seas by air means more carbon in the atmosphere than reading their electronic version, even while counting the carbon cost of the eBook reader itself.
  7. Gadget factor: Let's face it, I love to surround myself with the latest technology. Once Google Android tablets ala iPad become available I suspect it wouldn't take long for me to get one, either.
Note having an eBook reader will not imply the death of the printed book. At the risk of repeating myself, most of the books I want to read are not available to me in electronic form. Nor do I want to buy a DRM equipped version of an electronic book that I know I will want to reread, as I probably won't be able to use it in a few years time.

Alright, I've decided that I want an eBook reader. Why a Kindle, then?
  1. Availability: Currently, Amazon has the largest selection of eBooks at its disposal. I don't know if this situation will last, as publishers are afraid of Amazon becoming too powerful (powerful enough to make them redundant). There are also new powerful kids on the block, like Apple and its book store; but again, do I want to read my books on a computer screen, no matter how sexy that screen is? And do I want Steve Jobs to oversee what I can and what I can't read for me?
  2. Reliability: Having played with both the Kindle and the Borders applications for the PC and the iPhone, there can be no doubt as to which application seems better made. The Borders app crashes, is riddled with bugs, and lacks functionality I would consider mandatory on an eBook reader (for example, you can't delete books from your reader).
  3. PDF rendering: Given that I want to upload PDF format books to my eBook reader, the reader's ability to render them properly is important. While the Kindle has a good reputation there, reviews of the Borders reader indicate it cannot be trusted in its PDF rendering.
  4. Book formats: This is actually a negative for the Kindle. As far as DRM book formats are concerned, the Kindle supports only Amazon's own eBook format; most of the rest support the more generic ePub format. If the ePub format turns to rise and rule the market in a few years time, Kindle owners (at least those of the current Kindle models) would be stuck in a corner.
  5. Reader's quality: Build wise, the Kindle is superior to the Borders Kobo reader. It's slicker and feels less like it's going to break in your hands soon.
In conclusion: Am I rushing to buy a Kindle? No; rumor has it Amazon will be releasing new models come August. I'll wait to see what the future holds, hoping the Aussie Dollar doesn't continue on its downward spiral during the upcoming months.


Geno said...

Have you ever considered the Nook? They have there own ebook library, you can read up to an hour a day any entire ebook in their store, they have free ebooks weekly, etc.

By the way, I ran across your article when I googled kindled spirits. I use that as my pen name.

Moshe Reuveni said...

I would have loved to use the Nook, if only B&N would let me. The Nook does not work outside USA (or at least in Australia): You can't get any content for it and its 3G doesn't work.
It could be the best eBook reader out there, technically, but unless you're an American (or unless you have a PDF library of your own) it's as useful as any other paper weight.
Time for B&N to get a move on in the world.