Monday, June 22, 2009

Kindle 2 Review -- as a reader and as a writer

If you shop Amazon, you have probably been assaulted by an unrelenting barrage of advertizing for the Kindle. If you love books, you have probably heard of it. If you live in a cave, read on because this is something you need to know about.

I received a Kindle-2 for my birthday. I love it--but this electronic book is not a good value. I will explain that in moment. This is a wonderful device for an avid reader, and it is also a very useful tool for writers.

Why I love it:

  • The Kindle (and probably any other electronic book) offers a very compact way to store books, and a pleasant way to read them. It is small, light and has long battery life.
  • The screen is small, about 2/3 the size of a paperback book, but it offers high contrast and is very readable under almost any lighting condition.
  • The font size is easy to change. I usually use a small font during the day, and switch to a larger font at night (tired eyes, lower light). A friend who is visually impaired loves it because he can easily read content using the larger fonts.
  • It can hold a ridiculous number of books. I currently have about fifteen books and about fifty samples.
  • You can load your own documents to it.
  • Unlike a book, you never lose your place, you can set bookmarks wherever you want, you can clip text and download it to your computer, you can make notes as you read.
  • Unlike a book, it has a built in dictionary and free web access (direct line to Wikipedia).
  • My favorite feature: you can download samples for free. I love this as I can try a book or new author for free. The samples are generous, 20-30 pages, and give a feel for the book. If you don’t like it...delete it. If you like it, you can buy the whole thing right from the Kindle.

Why I love it as a writer:

  • You can easily put your own work on it.
  • For me, this offers three benefits:
  • First, it helps me to read as a reader when I am revising. When I read my stuff on the Kindle, it looks like the ‘real’ books I read on it. I can see exactly how the work looks on the page relative to other books. This helps me see what is working and what isn’t and it distances me from the work so I can evaluate it more objectively.
  • Second, it allows me to carry my work with me wherever I go. This lets me do read-throughs (and take notes) anywhere, anytime.
  • Third, it allows me to show people my work.
  • The only down-side to this is that the formatting is dicey--it took me about 8 iterations to find formatting that came across readable on the Kindle and it was a trial and error thing...I don’t know why it finally worked, and I don’t know why earlier formats failed. In addition, features such as tables of contents and headings seem twitchy and you do not appear to be able to choose your own font.

Why it is not a good value:

  • The Kindle is VERY expensive. Other devices in this price range offer a ton of features (email, games, color screens, large amounts of memory, music, voice recording, configurable content and displays).
  • Kindle books are VERY expensive. They cost more than paperbacks. As they are ‘free’ to print and distribute, it seems odd that they are more expensive than paperbacks (which cost about $3 to produce, including the 80 cents or so that goes to the author). Is Amazon insane? Or are they trying to rip us off?
  • Kindle books have draconian DRM, such that you do not really own them (and they can become unavailable at any time, even though you purchased them). This has apparently been a nightmare for people who moved from the Kindle-1 to the Kindle-2 as many books they had purchased would not transfer to the new device. Amazon’s customer service: you can buy the Kindle-2 version if you still want the book -- no refund, no credit.
  • Kindle books have none of the benefits of a traditional book -- they cannot be shared, traded or borrowed. They have no residual value after purchase.
  • The Kindle is a beta product. The first Kindle was a piece of crap. The Kindle-2 is better, but it is still a prototype. Still something under development. Not ready for prime time. They actually describe about half the features as “experimental”. So why does it cost more than an iPhone?
  • The keyboard sucks. It is hard to type on (much harder than smaller devices like Blackberries and cell phones). It is unresponsive. It takes up about 1/3 the total length of the unit. A flip out keyboard or touch screen would work much better. Expect disappointment if you want to type longer notes or try to ‘write’ on it. Did Amazon involve any engineers in the design of this product?
  • It is a heavily marketed profit making machine for Amazon. Amazon makes about 500% more profit per book sale on the Kindle than it does for a conventional book. As you might imagine, this incentivizes them to try and push everything toward the Kindle.
  • It marries you to Amazon as they are the only source of Kindle content distribution. It gives them a monopoly on your content.
  • Amazon has notoriously bad customer service, especially when it comes to the Kindle. Not honoring warranties, charging absurd repair and battery replacement fees, and pushing out new versions without informing or accommodating users of the previous version.


  • I genuinely think this is the future of books. There are a lot of kinks to work out, and Amazon needs to normalize the price points and marketing strategy, but in ten years I think this kind of device will have supplanted traditional print.
  • I enjoy, use it every day and will probably continue to do so.
  • It is also a valuable writing tool.
  • When it falls below ~$150, it will be a good value.
  • When books fall to the $3-5 range, they will be a good value.
  • I predict 3rd party books will become available, and I predict more free content will become available, both of which will make the Kindle a better value.
  • For now, buy one if you have obscene amounts of money or can write it off as a business expense (a writer can). Better yet, get one as a gift (you will feel less ripped off). You also might consider waiting for the Kindle-3 (probably in about a year) as it will probably be the first mature version of the product.
  • Finally, if you wait, the price will probably come down--Amazon simply cannot get the market penetration they need at the current price point.

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