I love my Kindle, but…

I was given a Kindle for my birthday earlier this year. I’ve always loved books, to be honest I am a bit of a book hoarder (much to the exasperation of my partner). I knew I was getting a Kindle (it was one of those presents…) and I was looking forward to it, but not without a certain amount of trepidation. What if the entire E-book experience turned out to be crap? What if I just hated reading of the Kindle’s screen?

So is it any good?

Yes. It is great. You can prize it from my cold dead hands.

One of my main justifications to my partner was that all the hefty technical tomes that lie about the house could be ditched and I could read them all on my Kindle (I think that was what persuaded her that it wasn’t a complete waste of money in the end). Unfortunately most technical books only seem to be avilable as PDFs – to be frank PDF rendering on the Kindle leaves something to be desired (although to be fair this depends on the formatting of the PDF itself).

My other worries turned out to be unfounded. I find reading on my Kindle a very pleasant experience, I’ve read it on the beach, in blazing sunlight – just like the ads.

I’ve just returned from holiday. I switched of wireless and came back without having run out of battery.

As long as you remember to put reading material in it, it is great and it is amazingly liberating to be able to carry about hundreds of books, articles and RSS periodicals (via Calibre).

Would I recommend it?

Absolutely, although I have severe reservations – not to do with the Kindle itself – more to do with the entire E-book ecosystem.

Perhaps the best thing about having a Kindle is that I have started to read books that I simply never would have read – think classic books that are  out of copyright and that can aquired for free. There is no risk in  trying out a free E-book. Obviously there is no cost but more importantly there is no book to find space on a shelf for; no unread book sitting around making you feel guilty.


Over the years I have discovered countless authors from browsing second hand bookshops and charity shops. I’ve bought scores of books for 50p or so, the majority of which I still have years latter. It’s great that so many out of print or merely out of copyright books are available through sites like Project Gutenberg (or even the Amazon Kindle Store itself) – but what if you want to read a book that is  still in copyright? You can buy it, borrow it or steal it.

I don’t want to steal books. Why? Rowena Macdonald, an old friend of mine is an author, and other friends write for their livings. Authors work hard and deserve to be paid. (BTW you can buy Ro’s latest book Smoked Meat.)

You can borrow E-books from some libraries. Where I live though, there is no deal in place for Kindle. If it was looking for a particular dead tree style book, I could locate a used copy from any number of sources. It is true that authors do not directly gain benefit from the resale of a book, but the resale of books does help support the publishing and book industry in a wider sense. The environment of books and bookshops is of very tangible benefit.

I can’t count the number of new books that I have bought as a direct result of discovering an author in a second hand book – each of those purchases goes to support the publishing company, the author and a shop. Similarly I have spent too much money on the spur of the moment when a book has caught my eye in bookshop or art gallery.

In the UK at least E-books are subject to tax, unlike paper books, so prices can actually be more than the price of the physical book. Personally I’m surprised that anybody coughs up for an E-bbok when the real book costs no more… There is no romance in owning an E-book (although if romance is what you are after you’ve found the right medium). There is is nothing to touch or hold. You can’t feel the texture of the paper or smell the ink. There is no cover art, precious little blurb. In short other than the utter practicality, the E-book experience is inferior in every way.

The overheads of publishing an E-book are clearly less than that of a printed book,  and it would be lovely to see more publishers have more realistic costs for their E-books. It is very hard to estimate, but I don’t think it would be too unfair to suggest that printing + retailing costs make up 50% of the cost of a physical book.

If there is one thing that most E-books could do with, it is a decent editor. Authors and publishers could be a lot better paid and we as consumers could still get mainstream E-books at a much reduced price.

The Kindle’s ability to download a book sample for free is a lovely idea and it works – it persuaded me to buy Hugh Howey’s book Wool. However, while be able to read a sample at your leisure is great, it’s not going to replace that random book shop browsing experience, where you stumble across a gem you would never have found in a million years in a cuarted online experience.

E-books aren’t going anywhere, they are here to stay. As technology improves they are only going to provide a richer reading experience, but I do worry about the damage already being done to the world of second hand, passed on books. You can’t give an E-book away when you’ve read it.

On Digital Reader I came across this article. What E-books (and indeed Music) need is a legal way to pass on or to resell E-books, analogous to the way we can give away or sell a paper book or a CD.

DRM shouldn’t just be a stick to beat the consumer with – it could and should be neutral, balancing the needs of content creators and consumers (but that’s another story).