Apples and Oranges and Kiwis and Nectarines

This week's New Yorker has a damning, and slightly erroneous (did the NYer have to lay off some fact-checkers?), article on the Kindle.

I read said article on my Kindle, ad-free, upon the instant of publication, while highlighting interesting passages and looking up the odd word, on a comfortable e-paper screen that didn't glaze my eyes like shiny magazine paper and smooshy columns are like to do.

As I've said here before, the Kindle is not for everyone. And, as the article's author chronicled his journey with the device, it would be completely fair if by the end he decided and articulated, for this reason and that, that this particular e-reader, or maybe no current e-reader, was meant for him.

That's cool.

After all...

If you want a touch-screen, you don't want a Kindle. (Try the Sony.)
If you want backlighting, you don't want a Kindle. (Try the Sony.)
If proprietary formats offend you, even when one is not restricted to just those formats, you don't want a Kindle. (Maybe you don't even want a computer.)
If you want to read textbooks or PDFs, especially ones with graphs and detailed images, you don't want a Kindle. (You want a Kindle DX.)
If you're a total Barnes & Noble fanboy, you may not want a Kindle. (B&N is launching their copycat reader ASAP.)
If you want your reader to be more than a reader, you probably don't want a Kindle. (Query: do you ask your paperbacks to make toast?)

But.

If you want a paper-like screen, you may want a Kindle. (Not an iPhone. Not an iPod.)
If you want a paperback-size screen, you may want a Kindle. (Not an iPhone. Not an iPod.)
If you want to be able to change font sizes when you read, you may want a Kindle.
If you want to read for hours a day, going weeks without charging, you want a Kindle.
If you want a slimmer-than-slim device that can handle repeated conks to the noggin, you want a Kindle.
If you want to sample the first chapter or of any book you're thinking about purchasing, you want a Kindle. (And only a Kindle.)
If you want to read magazines, like the New Yorker, on an e-reader, you want a Kindle. (And only a Kindle.)
If you want to read newspapers on an e-reader, you want a Kindle. (And only a Kindle.)
If you want books, magazines, newspapers, and blogs to be delivered within seconds to your Kindle, on schedule or on demand, whether you are in the middle of a cornfield or a busy airport, you want a Kindle. (And only a Kindle.)

Obviously, as a fan of my Kindle 2, I'm eager to promote it, but I love it so much, I'd never recommend it blindly and wholesale. Your needs and wishes are your own. For some people, the extra device is nonsense. They're fine with reading on their iPhone, and the Kindle app for iPhones means they get all of the benefits in a format they like. Super!

Some people love books so much that the smooth, sterile plastic case of the Kindle or any e-reader will only disappoint. The luxury of paper, vellum, leather, or that foil-embossing on V.C. Andrews paperbacks  will in no way be replicated on this gadget. But still - no problem! One size does not fit all, and that includes the reading experience.

(I said once before, "I love books, but I love reading more." My love of reading, not books, and the way I read is part of why the Kindle works for me. But - I'm not done with books. Out of prints, illustrateds... the masterfully produced book still has a welcome place.)

Likewise, some people love to share their books, or cast them away for profit, and at this time no one has implemented "send this book to a friend" or "sell this book to a waiting buyer" buttons on the Kindle. The generous and the broke may therefore demur for now, but me, I'd rather gain the storage space than wait for the best of all worlds.

I do really like my "Sell This Book" idea, but I can't see every party getting on board. I'm thinking you could, say, put the book on offer for 25% of the purchase price. You can't sell it without a willing buyer, but the book is removed from the device as soon as you list it, as if you'd dropped it off at the consignment store. If other people are selling the book, it's a matter of getting in the queue as soon as possible. First offered, first sold. Along comes a buyer, who buys the copy at 75% of the list price. That leaves 50% floating around to cover Amazon's administration fees and soothe the publisher's hurty spots. Maybe there would also be a cap, like you could only sell or buy X number of "used" books per month, and that number would go up as you bought more "new" books.)

Oops, I forgot about the non-profit-minded. So, say you want to give a book to a friend. Based on the number of purchases, you are allowed to send X number of books to a friend's Kindle. (As in the selling scenario, it is then deleted from your device at the moment of the transfer request.) Maybe you have to pay a gifting fee. Maybe you can only send half of the book, and the receiver can buy the second half for a smaller price. Maybe the transfer gets tagged, and it can only be sent so many times. Maybe it can't be sent back to you when done. (Has no one ever had a friend trash their borrowed book before?)

Here's heh-ness for you: the Author's Guild of Supreme Wankerness spazzed out at Amazon for enabling text-to-speech on books, even though t-t-s is no substitute for a well-made audio book, Meanwhile, the Author's Guild of Supreme Wankerness has been known to spazz out at the entire Internet for making used books that much easier to buy. Where was even a grudging commendation of the Kindle and other readers for helping deflate the used book market? Wankers.

Oh dear. I've gone to Tangent Town, and it's not my first time to clop down its Main Street.

It's absolutely fine to say, "The Kindle is rubbish for me."

It's absolutely fine to say, "I like the idea, but the Kindle is inadequate for my tastes. I'll get something else. Or I'll wait until the technology I want is available."

It's even fine to say, "Here are the Kindle's shortcomings, and therefore everyone who thinks they're enjoying the Kindle for hours and hours every day is deluded." You'll come off as a self-centered idiot, but hopefully you'll be fair about the device's faults.

(Truly, I don't get the people who claim Kindle-lovers are just trendy gadgetheads who don't know the joy of a paper book. Dang, if Amazon has invented something to get non-reading noses into stories, then we're burying the lead here.)

My objection to the New Yorker's article started with the author's claims of a "green" screen (Green? Kindle owners across the Internet are puzzling over that one.), continued with the author's smugness over certain titles not being available (Amazon boasts that over 300k books are available for the Kindle - could you not read between the lines on that one?), continued continuing over his moans that the Kindle 2 is still a "version 1" product (so, was Amazon supposed to hold out on several major improvements until everythng could be implemented?), boggled me beyond repair when paragraphs were dedicated to how something was supposedly funnier in print because of the print version's slightly different typeface, and by the time we got to his advocating iPhones over Kindles, I knew this reviewer did not know what he was reviewing.

It's about the e-ink, stupid.


It's all about the e-ink. The wireless, the samples, the slimness, the price breaks, the dictionary, the clips, the highlights, the magazines, the blogs, the newspapers, the immediacy, the emailed documents, the way I've owned one for four months and have never plugged it into my computer, yes, yes, yes...

But it begins with the e-ink. And if you're saying, even thinking, "just get an iPhone and load the Kindle app," then you're not in a position to reasonably review the Kindle device. The Kindle is not for you. You don't even understand what the Kindle is.

And that's okay.
For you.
But not for the New Yorker readers wondering why a dedicated reading device is so popular, in a world already full of smartphones, in a world where those who love to read tend to also love the tradition of books.

There was no story. How Amazon then Bezos personally handled the 1984 debacle was a story. Competition from Barnes and Noble and the race to emerge as the iPhone of e-readers is a story. The Kindle's impact - if any - on non-readers is a story. The Kindle's impact on readers and the flailing publishing houses is a story. (I've spent more on books since getting the Kindle than I've spent in the past... well, I'd rather my husband not know how much I've spent.) The politics behind the Kindle DX and universities is a story. Hacking the Kindle is a story. And again, why a dedicated reader is flourishing when everyone is marketing Swiss Army Knife technology is a story.

What Nicholson Baker wrote was a hasty blog entry. (I know a little something about long-winded, self-indulgent blog entries that, had they been meant for anyone beyond myself and those forced to love me, could've used an edit or thirty.) Get out of my magazine and get your own blog, Mr. Baker.

P.S. Green? Really? Who's your optometrist?

29 July 2009 |



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