Amazon Kindle: The real review

About a week before Christmas, I broke down and bought a kindle. I had been using the iPhone kindle app for a couple of months, and had been teetering on the edge for a while. Then the prices came down and it pushed me over. I’ve now got a good 5 books read on it and I would like to share them with you. It’s my blog and that is my prerogative.

The Hardware:

The Kindle is very light and very thin. It’s hard to get a sense of it’s size without holding it, but it’s very comfortable to hold and operate with one hand. The buttons are very well laid out, and the keyboard, while tiny, serves its function well enough.

The screen is reflective only, meaning no backlight, so no reading in the dark. I view this as good thing personally as backlit screens tend to create eye-strain. It has relatively high pixel density and looks very good, if wanting for a bit of contrast.

The battery lasts a very very long time. Like really. long. Which is a major major winner. My battery lasted 3 weeks on its last charge.

The Books:

There’s a lot to cover here, so I’ll break it down into a handful of major topics: Pricing, Quality, Availability, and DRM.

  • Pricing: Most books can be had for $9.99 or less, which falls right beneath my pain point for books. I have no problem paying this for books even if I tend to think it’s a little high. Why do I think it’s high? Largely because I can buy a paperback book almost invariably for exactly the same price, and I know that 80% of the cost of a paperback book is consumed in its manufacture and transport. Amazon is currently in a pissing war with Macmillan over pricing, which I won’t get into here. But understand that it actually has nothing to do with prices of individual books, but in who has control over pricing to consumers. Personally I think Amazon is in the right, but it’s not something I want to go into any detail about. I will say however that $15 for an ebook is past my pain point, and it will make me think twice before buying. more on that later.

  • Quality: This has been a big issue for me, and one that really drives my opinions on pricing more than most other things. As I said in my ruminations over the iPad, of the 15 books I’ve bought for the kindle (more than I’ve read, more on that later) around 30% have multiple spelling errors or major layout problems. This is to say nothing of the non-fiction books that don’t have linked tables of contents, or linked footnotes, two of the major benefits of having e-books. I’m currently reading a book called Flawless Consulting, which as you can see costs $33 for the ebook. I bought it for the convenience, and ability to notate that the kindle offers despite already owning a hardcopy. The kindle edition is awful. Almost all the inset notations in the text are converted to images rather than text, which means you can’t highlight them, notate them, and they’re scanned in a low resolution so you can barely read them. Many of those inset notations scans also run into the body text, so you switch from an image to text mid-sentence. This makes the book completely unreadable on the iPhone and is extremely aggravating on the Kindle. This sort of thing is completely unacceptable, especially if you’re charging close to the asking price of the printed book. I would expect the same amount of proofing done on e-books that goes into prints, but that is clearly not happening. Publishers are being extremely lazy about ebooks, and being dragged kicking and screaming into the game. Amazon needs to be doing quality checks on its ebooks before allowing them to go on sale if publishers aren’t going to do it. This is easily the worst part of e-books at the moment.

  • Availability: This was a big factor in making the decision to buy a Kindle or a Nook. I searched though my current Amazon wishlist to see how many books were available to each device. I’d say Amazon had something like 70% and B&N had something like 40-50%, and every B&N book was $2-3 more expensive.

  • DRM: I hate DRM. I don’t own any DRM’d music. DRM removes your ability to lend your e-books, transfer them to another device, sell them, or buy them used. It’s a major encumbrance and potentially a major additional expense that simply doesn’t exist for print books. So why buy a product with DRM? Largely because, like music, I don’t think it’s going to last. Like the music industry, I think once we’re a few years down the road, the publishers are going to figure out that all DRM can be trivially cracked, and there’s just no putting that genie back in the bottle. As it stands, Kindle DRM can be stripped right now, and the files can be backed up to my computer and read with whatever I want. So I’m not terribly concerned about the negative effects of DRM on me. I don’t know if I need to take a major moral stand against a technology and mentality so completely compromised and so inevitably doomed. Had mp3s not fallen, I might have made a different choice, and I may very well end up eating my words, but as I see it now, DRM has a limited life whether I’m paying for products using it or not. The publishers will eventually see the same thing the record companies did: that the world doesn’t end when you send out unprotected files. Make your books cheap and really easy to buy, and people will buy them. There’s a reason Apple is one of the world’s biggest music sellers right now.

The Experience:

How the kindle will change your habits will depend very heavily on what your relationship with books is currently. It’s change my habits in some pretty significant ways.

  • Reading: I read much more now. I used to read about 1 book a month or so, and now I’ve done about 5 books in 2 months. I always have either my iPhone or my Kindle with me, so I can read any time I have dead-space in my day. I hate carrying around books, so this has given me a lot more time to read, even if it’s more scattered.

  • Buying: This is something that Publishers should pay a lot of attention to, because pricing matters. Before when I heard of an interesting book from a friend, or heard about one on the radio, I would hop on Amazon when I got to a computer and throw it on the wishlist along with a little explanation of where I heard about it. I don’t do that anymore. At least not for most books. Now I pretty much just buy them. A big part of that is the $9.99 or lower price. Another part is that the book is there instantly, and there for me whenever I decide I want to start reading it. Speaking as someone who spends a lot of time professionally trying to measure and influence customer behavior, this is a really big shift and a really big deal. I’m sure Amazon gets it, because I’m sure they track it. I don’t think the big publishers get it. The flip side of this is that I’m actually more reluctant to buy print editions of books now, and will generally hit the “i want to read this on my kindle” link on amazon instead. They then go into the wishlist bucket like before, but now I’m just waiting to see when the kindle version arrives.

  • General Use: The Kindle is really intuitive for the most part and it just gets out of your way. While I wouldn’t mind having a clock at the top of the screen while reading, and I’d like to be able to customize screen savers without hacking it, those are not big deals. You can impulse buy books right from the kindle and have them ready to read in a few seconds. In fact while typing this, I was trying out the search function and bought a book. It cost $8. I’ll take it.

The Verdict:

I like mine a lot and I would recommend one to pretty much everyone who reads more than a couple of books a year. It’s changed the way I read books in a pretty big way. The kindle as a device is right in so many ways, it’s hard to see something like the iPad really competing with it as a reader, if for no other reason than form factor and battery life.

Publishers really need to get on the ball with ebook quality though, especially if they expect to continue charging at or near the same price as printed books. Quality control is really bad, and in some books it really makes them hard to read.

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