Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Kindle part 9 - Final Thoughts

The Kindle is an electronic book reader produced by Amazon.

I am sitting in Panera for lunch quietly consuming my Creamy Tomato Soup and Bacon Turkey Bravo half.  As often happens, my original schedule has become a work of fiction, a laughable dream of deluding myself that this time it will not all be finished at the last minute.  In my line of sight are three laptops and one Kindle (not my own).  I had planned on working on a different writing project over food, but the Kindle sighting spurs me into finishing out this topic.

I am not going to interrupt the woman's lunch with questions even though I am curious about her story.  When I escape to any number of nearby lunch time haunts with my reader all I want is some solitude to cram in a few chapters.  She is an older woman, probably in her 50's.  Her device is a Kindle 2.0 and she has it propped upright inside its lime green cover. Every time she pages forward she does so by reaching out and tapping the device.  In contrast, I typically set mine flat on the table with a finger in close proximity to the next page button.

The sandwich is amazing, as usual, and the soup is warming.  Fall is sneaking in and the temperature is starting to turn.

Ok...She just finished her lunch so I had to spring a few questions:

"Excuse me, how long have you had your Kindle?"

"My Kindle?  About a month.  I love it."  Even with the cover, now closed, the Kindle 2 has a slim profile.  She slips it into her bag and I ask another question.

"Did you buy it for yourself or did someone get it for you?"

"I bought it after a friend showed me hers," she replies. "It's so convenient.  I take it everywhere."

"What do you read on it?" I ask, fully aware that this constitutes a "here's your sign" moment.  However, she offers up the distinctions I was hoping to catch.

"Just books.  Not magazines.  I don't find it convenient for that.  But for books, it's wonderful..."

Ugh - sidetracked - Overheard while writing this: "Dad died on the operating table this morning."  I can't help listening in to the man on the cell phone at the table over my shoulder.  Am I a soulless bastard?  The cell conversation I can hear sounds like this:

"The hotel is giving us a hard time.  Can you wire me $100.  I don't get paid until tomorrow night.  I don't even have $30 on me."

And I think, "Why are you eating lunch in a Panera where you are going to spend at least $8 on a single sandwich?

It sounds like a con to get people to give him money.  Honestly, I pulled out my wallet just hearing one half of the story.  I check my instinct to dump my cash on hand into his and I get up to leave instead.  I look back as I hit the door.  He is standing up looking for a new place to sit now thatno one else is close enough to hear his plight.  I am convinced that not giving this guy the $50 in my pocket is the right call.

Back to my recollection of the conversation with the Kindle user...

She continues unprompted, "It's wonderful for traveling.  You can finish one book and go right to the next just by visiting their store.  And it cuts down on the number of books you have to pack.  Just this!"  She points at her bag.

I hear my own words spun back at me.  I smile and offer up positive sounds such as "Oh, interesting." and "That sounds nice."  Then she hits me with the following and I keep a straight face:

"You can even change the font size to make the text bigger.  I don't need reading glasses to read it."

"Quite so", I think and my mental checklist of the pitch is complete.  After she leaves I have the realization I have been searching for all month:

I doesn't matter which device does what or whether print will fade to the realm of the hobby collector.  People like to read.  They are going to find a way to read and reread books, newspapers, magazines...anything.  The existence of the Kindle, the circumstances that led to my lunch time conversation, are all echoes of this desire.  'If it isn't one thing, it's another."  Right now, it is the electronic book reader.  Enjoy the moment.


This concludes the Kindle as a topic of Fading Interest.  Thank you for taking the time to read it.  The next set of pieces should start on October 1st.  At the moment the set is called "Snippets" and will consist of nine (ish) writing samples I have put together (or puked out) in the past few months.  I am going to firm them up enough so that each could be completed as a short or a novel in the future.  At least...that is the plan.  Right now it sounds terrible interesting.  We shall see what my opinion is in another three weeks. 

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Kindle part 8 - The Future of Digital Readers

The Kindle is an electronic book reader produced by Amazon.

No! The series isn't over yet.  I wish it was but I have a few more pots to tip over.  Following closely on the heels of my middle-of-the-road, everybody wins Part 7 "gem" I bring you the other side of the coin:

Electronic books aren't going anywhere.

Question: Do you have any idea how much just the US spends on books?  I don't, but it is a lot.  Ok.  Fine.  I will actually use some of my powers and do a spot of research.  (No one said this was going to involve research.)

Answer: $25 billion in net sales of books by US Publishers in 2007 (according to statistics collected and presented by the Association of American Publishers)

Rest assured the marketing guys and gals at Amazon and Sony have a clear idea as to the size of the money pot.  As long as capitalism is singing loud and strong a commodity market with that kind of market capacity is going to see epic battle after epic battle.

So...Supply and Demand.  That's it, honestly.  Everything about this industry is going to play into that single bullet point.  There is a demand because the device is:

  •     Fast,
  •     Convenient,
  •     Sexy,
  •     and Slick.

What is the difference between Sexy and Slick? Sexy - other people notice it and you notice them noticing.  Slick - the damn thing works and works well.

All of that demand rolls right around to supply.  The consumer mouth is open wide and the corporate shovels are tossing in coal as fast as they can.

Do you remember your first mp3?  I do not.  The concept of digital music is so drowned in the sea of ubiquity I cannot pull memories from its murky depths.  We are becoming anesthetized to the concept of digital print.  And, there are more entrants to the field than Amazon and Sony.  Say hello to the Royal Phillips Electronics' e-reader:

The iRex DR800SG

This contender is backed by Best Buy, Verizon, and Barnes & Noble.  It supports the open e-pub format (ala Google Books), it has a touch screen and some other crazy competitive features sure to start the next round of ebook wars.  Now we have three major players in a multi-billion dollar market.  Competition breeds choice and innovation.  This is capitalism, this is consumerism, this is a winning battleground for the customer.  E-books are here to stay.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Kindle part 7 - The Future of Print

The Kindle is an electronic book reader produced by Amazon.

Holy hell does that title sound pretentious.  No lie, the tail end of this topic has been akin to pulling teeth.  I keep reminding myself that I am writing to improve and that all of this is merely practice.  For a week now the topic of next month's dull and dreary op eds has been a shifting and elusive target.  It snapped into focus this morning and the excitement built instantly within me pushes me to wrap this Kindle nonsense up.

The Kindle will not destroy the printed book.  The shift of a library here or there to an all-digital, all the time format is not the herald to a tide of technological revolution.  Everyone that comes down passionately on either side of this issue is fooling themselves with their personal brand of extremism.  The printed book is not going away.

The Kindle is a dependent technology. In order to function you must live in a world that gives you access to electricity.  You must live in a society where the materials presented by the Kindle are created and available.  You must live in a realm where possessing a Kindle is permitted.  And you must live in an environment where the Kindle will function. 

    What if Amazon goes under?
    What if authors stop producing Kindle works?
    What if there is a two week blackout?
    What if you are on a boat?
    In a cave?
    What if your job says no to unrestricted wireless connectivity?
    What if the Kindle is replaced by new technology?

The last is a sticky wicket and the only honest question of the bunch.  Ideally, Amazon will offer a migration path for your purchased content.  But beyond all these crazy hypotheticals there are three reasons that print will live on:

    1. Not everyone wants, needs, or will buy an electronic book reader.
    2. It is difficult for someone to take a physical book from your collection permanently.
    3. The mark-I eyeball does not need an upgrade to read a printed book (as long as you treat them well or are not already blind)

I have seen all sorts of dire what-if predictions relegating print books into the same historical bin as vinyl and 8-track tapes.  The people shouting are using their time on the soap box to decry the progression represented by electronic book readers.  I do not have anything classy to condemn that level of one-sided blindness.  All I can say is: suck it.  This time everyone wins.  Your print books are not going anywhere and neither are electronic book readers.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Kindle part 6 - The competition

The Kindle is an electronic book reader produced by Amazon.

There was a time when I could surreptitiously read my Kindle at work on a slow day.  Two things have happened to make those days a fanciful memory:

    1.  The term 'slow day' is no longer contained within my vocabulary
    2.  Everybody knows what is contained within the faux leather rectangle found always at my side.

My interest in the device intrigued one of the executives in my office.  We struck up a conversation on the merits of an electronic book reader as a substitute for carrying piles of papers in a briefcase while travelling for business.  Long story short, we decided to compare the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader for this purpose.  We settled on the Sony for him primarily because of its native ability to handle pdfs.

When the device arrived, I took it for a spin so I could train my exec on the ins and outs.

As much as I would love to write an original, mind-blowing breakdown of the pros and cons between the Kindle and the Sony Reader - it has already been done.  The article linked below lays out the major points:


The article compares two models of Sony with one Kindle (the 2.0) according to the following categories:
  • Screen clarity
  • Screen refresh
  • Size
  • Covers
  • Memory
  • Dictionary
  • Controls
  • Folder Management System
  • Price
  • Content
  • Non Proprietary Content
  • Page display
  • Customer Service
  • Ability to take notes/Highlight/Annotate
  • Library compatibility
  • and Lighting
The important take-away is to prioritize your needs to the strongest functions for each device.  For us, the ability to arrange collections on his desktop and quickly port them to the device was critical.  It was also essential that the selected device have native pdf capability with an absolute minimum of fuss.

The DearAuthor article was written in March 2009.  I have the following brief update from the Kindle side:  The Kindle DX is available for people who primarily read magazines and newspapers.  It is bigger in the screen but I believe it stands as another pointer to the 'one device / one function' issue I mentioned at the end of part five.  I thought that the Kindle was now able to borrow books at some public libraries, but that may have been a dream because now I can find no evidence of the ability.

Personally: I prefer the Kindle.  It is lighter and I like the screen more than the Sony.  I do not like the computer dependency the Sony seems to have out of the box (here is some software for you to install!).  Honestly,whispernet has been so good to me, so dependable, that the Kindle has generated a significant quantity of product loyalty within me.

In closing, I am going to present the excellent prioritization summary from the DearAuthor post I linked above.

From: http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/2009/03/08/how-to-decide-between-the-sony-and-the-kindle-eink-readers/

There are five features of the Kindle that are superior to the 700
  1. Screen quality  (the refresh speed difference is negligible in my opinion)
  2. Note taking ability (except when it comes to taking notes)
  3. Dictionary function
  4. Buy on Demand
  5. Interoperability with the iPhone
There are four features of the Kindle that are superior to the Sony 505
  1. Speed of refresh (the Sony 505 has a superior screen quality)
  2. Note taking ability
  3. Dictionary function
  4. Buy on demand
  5. Interoperability with the iPhone
There are five features on the Sony 700 that are superior to the Kindle
  1. Built in light
  2. Touchscreen
  3. Collections/folder management system
  4. More than one format ability
  5. Ability to edit the meta data (the Calibre program works with the Kindle so if you use Calibre, this “feature” is negligible).
There are four features on the Sony 505 that are superior to the Kindle
  1. Screen quality
  2. Collections/folder management system
  3. More than one format ability
  4. Ability to edit the meta data

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Kindle part 5 - Other things you can do with it

The Kindle is an electronic book reader produced by Amazon.

Over ten years ago, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She fought it and fought hard.  The chemo took her hair and her stamina.  She bought a wig that made her look like Mary Tyler Moore.  Her treatments caused her lymph system to swell one of her arms until she was embarrassed by it.  Through all of that she fought...and won.

For a while.

Some evils can never be destroyed.

A few years ago it came back.  This time it was lodged firmly within her liver.  She fought again.  It was much harder this time, but she fought and fought.  My final journey home before her defeat and quiet passing contained within it a small item germane to the topic this month.

The home of the second half of my youth is nestled within a no-man's land of wireless signal.  The high speed cable stops a mere few hundred yards from the house and the cable company has refused for years to extend it.  Internet connectivity can be accomplished in one of two ways: outrageously expensive satellites or outrageously slow dial-up.  The phone needed to be kept clear therefor my options were zero.

Except that they were not quite zero; enter the Kindle.

Does anyone remember a time before Mozaic when the majesty of the new internet was navigated with Links?  Links, for those that do not know or do not recall, is a text only browser for the webs.

The Kindle, at least my version one, is hit or miss on surfing the modern web.  Most sites break and I have no idea how exposed it is to maliciousness.  However, I had dropped everything and ran home with my Kindle as my only piece of tech.  I had my laptop but without a net connection it was not much use to me.  This was a few weeks before the start of my I-phone days.  I needed to get messages out, needed to post what the hell was happening, and I only had my Kindle.

I was just enough.

I located the spot in my home where my whispernet ran full bars, punched through to a message board I frequent, and got my messages out.  It is not the greatest browser in the world, in fact it is probably one of the worst.  Butwhispernet is clutch.  Amazon eats the cost and it works in interesting places.

It seems like these feature pieces are merely one bullet blown out into a long-winded story followed by three more, less represented points. Ok...it is exactly that.  Here are some of the other interesting things you have at your disposal with a Kindle:

  1. Note taking (cumbersome and awkward but functional)
  2. Dictionary lookups (I have used it a few times for real words I did not know, but mostly as a whiz-bang for demos)
  3. Dogearing pages (I need to get more in the habit of this because every time I let someone monkey with my Kindle I spend minutes trying to find my place in my book)
  4. Music (if you care to spend the time to burn and rip your music out of your I-tunes proprietary format into something more universal.  I have exactly one album on my Kindle and I only use it to demo the sound)

And so on...and so on with a handful of small, semi-useful features.  Honestly, the Kindle, and most book readers, are odd devices in today's tech landscape.  They are mostly one dimensional.  The Kindle does one thing well...it displays pages of a digital work.  All of the other devices in my life are multi-purpose.  This is probably the second biggest long term weakness of the device.  The first would be the "have to have a stable society that provides electricity and content" thing.  The second, in my opinion, is the convergence toward multi-faceted tech.

I have recently downloaded the Kindle app to my I-phone.  The screen is smaller and it does not sync well with the version one (because of battery life and the related fact that I rarely turn on the wireless).  I prefer to read books on my Kindle, because it is the better device for that purpose, but I am already experiencing situations where I leave the Kindle on the table because of where I am going or what I am doing ... and the I-phone Kindle app has me covered.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Kindle part 4 - A Plea to Authors

The Kindle is an electronic book reader produced by Amazon.

There is a small fear within me that my premise is too on target; too case-in-point.  This entry in my Kindle series is not on schedule and my desired end of month down time has been attacked.

I forgot about Labor day.

Well...I also went out of town.  Then procrastinated.  Then forgot about Labor day.  Then it was Tuesday (primary raid night) and now it is Wednesday...night (although it is actually Sunday, hooray work!).  In my defense for this last excuse surrounding my ever fading interest in holding on to one subject, I was suddenly asked to hop a plane and fly to New York and then Boston.  In fact, I am writing this on a piece of paper stuck between the sandwich bread that is the direct warning to power off all electronics and the startling airborne ding ... oh awesome ... we have just been delayed for forty minutes.  The saving grace is that we are not being held inside the sandwich.

My Kindle is turned off at the moment, primarily because I have finally caught a few moments to write and secondarily because of Wil Wheaton.

It turns out I love Wil Wheaton.  In 2007 and 2008 he saved me from the depths of dark depression with ad infinitum relistens of his PAX 2007 keynote address.  He continually inspires me with his ability to revel in his geekdom and in his ability to turn out pages and pages of delightful material.  I read his site.  I follow his tweets.  I am chronically too shy to approach him in any digital manner to express my gratitude and warm feelings for his work.  Wil Wheaton is a great writer and I want to be one, too.  Not just that, I want to be as good as Wil.  The polished style, the voice...he pushes me to better at this.

The other day, while perusing WWdN in Exile, I decided, if I had any chance at gaining the skill Wil demonstrates, I should probably get around to reading his print works.  Clicking...clicking...clicking...ah ha!  Just a Geek ... I can get that on my Kindle!  Done.

I did not dig in to it directly.  That turned out to be a good thing.  Instead, David Weber finally released By Heresies Distressed and I lost hours and hours of my free time catching up with him.

Yesterday I was tricked by Weber.  Tricked in that the final thirty or forty page turns were a dramatis personae and a brief glossary.  It was the same as book 1 (Off Armageddon's Reef - my first read on my Kindle) and book 2 (By Schism Rent Asunder).  I forgot.  The same thing has happened three times in a row and I forgot.

Anyway...tricked by the promise of more to read and suddenly denied the pleasure, I skimmed through my collection and noticed Wil's book: Just a Geek.  What the hell...click.

I went to bed late.  I arrived at work late.  I was simultaneously reading while working...while driving...right up to now where I find myself suddenly full of words for my next piece.

The writing in Just a Geek is exactly what I needed to see in print.  But the message...the message is what I needed to hear.  Thank you, Wil Wheaton.

This part was intended to be a plea to authors.  My intent was to point out that I own all the Miles Vorkosigan books, but, during the first few lonely nights in the tiny box that was my last apartment, while all my books were locked within cardboard cubes, I purchased and read a pile of them on my Kindle.  I was going to mention that while I love the three Weber books currently available, I would be more thrilled to see all of the rest including the Harringtons and the sequel to Shadows Over Saganami.  And I was definitely going to point out that having Steven Erikson's amazing Malazan books on the Kindle store is wonderful, it is criminal that the the only three available are books one, six, and seven.

I was going to wrap all of that into a plea to authors to put more content into the Amazon Kindle Storefront.  But I think the reason I delayed is because I had yet to experience Just a Geek, and by extension, I had yet to be led to the following realization:

     Everyone needs to be more like Wil Wheaton.

Also:  Wil needs to put more of his works on the Kindle.

And behold!  We are once more held in the sandwich of the Luddites.  The tower has cleared our path and my tray is once more locked in its upright position.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Kindle part 3 - The Amazon Kindle Storefront

The Kindle is an electronic book reader produced by Amazon. 

My first experience with the Kindle Store was shocking with a side order of Orwellian onion rings.  After allowing the device to languish unloved on my only table for the better part of a week, I decided one sleepy, sunny Saturday morning to investigate the thing. 

The combination of newness and strangeness drew me ever closer as I puttered around that morning.  Eventually I freed it from its box and settled in for a bit of exploration.  After a few minutes of investigation following an obligatory battery charging session that must have been brief because I cannot recall any impatience, I powered up the wireless system and connected to the Amazon Kindle Store.  

The first two parts of this series were generally positive and bordered on fanboydom (which is absolutely a word).  The Kindle Store is home to much of my criticism for the device, however.  With the caveat that I am still using version 1, and that the battery life of the device with the wireless system engaged is incredibly brief, I will continue.

There are seven major sections to the Kindle Storefront.  I use exactly two of them and both of them occur at the bottom of the screen.  The top 75% of the screen contains the following:

Browse the Kindle Store
New York Times Best Sellers
Kindle Top Sellers
New & Noteworthy Books
Kindle Daily Post

and then the two options I actually use:

Recommended For You
and Search Store

Browse the Kindle Store - I suppose there are people that enjoy sifting through various paid content such as magazines, newspapers, blogs, and books (those are the choices) looking to spend money they had not planned on spending.  In my mind, that is what browsing is - a determination to spend money you don't need to spend but an indeterminacy upon the target.  Regardless, it is not a section I haunt.  I lack the battery life and would rather get straight to reading.  I do not enjoy shopping.

New York Times Best Sellers - Flat out, there is a lot of complete shit on this list.  I am not of the opinion that majority opinion is an excellent needle for picking out what you should read next.  Moreover, a popularity contest is not going to focus on the types and styles of books I want to read.  I suppose there are those that want to read what everyone else is reading.  I have never read a Dan Brown novel and I do not intend to start now.

Kindle Top Sellers - The same argument only with less range and depth of content.  It bothers me that this takes up space on my screen.  It isn't useful information.

New & Noteworthy Books - Technically I have clicked in to this once or twice, but it was on a dare.  Or maybe I was young and impressionable.  I certainly did not spend any money.  The only time I have been magically coerced into making a purchase I had no intention of reading was while listening to a riveting story on NPR.  That books was not even featured in this section of the Storefront, but I did complete the transaction while waiting for a red light to change.  I suppose I should not condemn the New & Noteworthy section, but there is a reason it is not called New & Purchaseworthy (well...two reasons, because I don't think "purchaseworthy" is a word).

The Kindle Daily Post - Completely useless.  Completely useless.  I don't care, Mr. Kindle Marketer Guy.  I am a walking billboard for your product, I do not need your version of the kool-aid.  I am already invested.  I have bought in.  Now you are just taking up space on my screen.

I am going to roll the last two sections (the pieces of the experience I use) into the rest of column and pick up where I left off with my mention of Orwellian onion-rings.  All of these sections were blatantly obvious as to their function and purpose when first I connected to the Storefront and went a-poking.  I was sitting on my front stoop in the delicious North Carolina sun on a quiet Saturday morning.  I did what I do whenever I enter a bookstore...head for the sci-fi & fantasy and start searching for my favorite authors.  That morning I started with David Weber.

Search Store: david weber    [go]


And behold, a few titles popped up.  Most of them were not by my author, and the specific ones I was hoping to see were not there at all.  However, at the top of the list was a title, by my author, I had not known existed (it was new):  Off Armageddon's Reef.  by David Weber.  If you have read this book then you understand that at that moment I had no idea what the gem before me held.

Scroll to the book    [click]

The individual pages for books are great.  They have tons of useful and useable information, the screen is filled to bursting with data I need to evaluate my selection.  There are link outs to reviews and also links to additional titles by the same author.  There is even the Amazonian "people who bought this item also bought..." section.  All of this is incredibly useful for determining the priory of a book with respect to its series companions and whether or not you should buy it.  I rarely do nowadays, but on that day I showed a measure of caution and used the "Read a Sample" option.

Read a Sample   [click]

... a few seconds go by and suddenly  "New item downloaded" flashes briefly on my screen.  I navigated back to the home screen, found my book snippet and dug in.  It was the first chapter / prologue bit and I was completely hooked only a few pages in.  Hell yes I wanted to buy that.  Back to the store!  (and here come the onion-rings)

Upon my return to the book page, I scrolled up to "Buy Now" and gave it a click:

Buy Now   [click]

This was my first purchase and my Kindle greeted me warmly by name (the device is registered to me).  It also said the following (in text, paraphrased):

Hello!  This is your first purchase on your Kindle.  Here is every credit card you have ever used ever in the past ten years or so on Amazon.  Which one do you want to use for your one click purchasing of Kindle books?

Scared the hell out of me.  There were 16 digit numbers on that screen I had not seen in years, many many years.  Before the shock could wear off I gently scrolled the wheel up the screen, and with a breathless "uh ... this one:"  I clicked.

The book arrived in its entirety less than 20 seconds later.  I noticed that my battery life was dipping so I killed the wireless and read my book.

It was epic.

Upon my return to the store the next week (looking at my usage file, my uptake was slow but steady) and over the course of the next month, I watched my Recommended For You section warp and grow as I made a few purchases.  I am not sure if it pulls any data out of my non-Kindle purchases...I think it might.  I appreciate the Recommended Section, however I have two major issues with it.

1.  The damn thing is only 4 pages long and cannot be extended.   Yes, I admitted before that I don't browse...what I meant is that I do not browse collections that are not targeted directly to me.  If I was presented with a refreshable, extensible, lengthy Recommended For You (me) section, I would browse.  Dammit...I want to see more than 40 books!

2.  Fuck Terry Pratchett.  I mean, you cannot, from the Kindle, tell Amazon to drop something from your list.  The moment I snagged a Garrett novel by Glen Cook (think Chandler meets low fantasy) combined with a few Bujold rereads (yes I bought electronic versions of books I own physically), 75% of my damn Recommended For You (me) section was filled with Terry Pratchett.  I have read a few of them, but I am not interested in his entire collection!  In fact, I am not that enthusiastic about reading him at all.  I have recently discovered that I can manipulate the list from the interwebs, but this is not an ideal solution.  I want to be able to drop books off that list from my Kindle.

Over all, the Kindle Storefront does what it is supposed to do.  I do not spend much time on it, but when I am there I find what I am seeking quickly (or determine it is not there quickly enough:  Weber, what the hell...I want Harrington on my Kindle!).  I am certain the experience is more user friendly for the Version 2 people.  I have definitely burned out the last joule of battery life completing a series of downloads.  The whispernet, the protocol used to deliver items to your Kindle is fast and free (to the user).  If the adjustments were made to the Recommended Section I would probably spend more time in the store and make more purchases.  The credit card thing was freaky at first, but now it is merely a small story I tell when giving a longer version of my pitch.  As a librarian, I can appreciate that search is front and center and, finally, the ability to cross navigate from a book to all books by that book's author is incredibly sweet.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Kindle part 2 - A cost analysis

The Kindle is an electronic book reader produced by Amazon.

The Kindle is not an inexpensive device. When I purchased mine I shelled out $400. Currently, it is down to $299. When the Kindle 2.0 hit the shelves, the desire to possess one burned within me. However, the device is not for everyone. At its core, the Kindle is a luxury and some might argue that it is a status symbol. There are people for whom the Kindle has little allure. I am not one of these people, but they exist. Like all consumer electronics and the lifestyle they either accessorize or promote, there are hidden and not-so-hidden costs.

"I went shopping for some books today," my friend proclaims as we settle in for a delicious night of sushi out and about in Old Town Alexandria.

"Did you find anything you wanted to read?"
I have my follow up questions set to fire. Her fractious combination of shopping and non-possessiveness has always astounded me.

"A few titles,"
she replies and tells them to me. I do not remember what they were but I had not read them.

I begin, hoping the mischievous twinkle I felt should be in my eye actually was sparkling away. "I thought you were not allowed to have anymore books in your house?"

"Oh well...that's easy...something has to go,"
she grins. "Four books for as many dollars." And then proceeds to take a bite of her five dollar nigiri.

I've asked my friend for the particulars of her system and have shook my head in amazement at her ability to actively prune her collection. There are surprisingly few books in her home that have tenure track status. And a large number of her transitory books are acquired for less than two dollars. She doesn't burn with the same need to possess as I do and she has incredibly interesting and not too complex rules (once you examine them) about the value of money.

The Kindle is not a good match for her.

When I was a teenager, one of my big birthday presents every year was a season pass to the nearby ski resort. The challenge every year was to go at least the number of times necessary to "break even" on the pass. I always did, and once I had passed that mathematical boundary, I felt like I was skiing for free. The initial buy-in for the Kindle is similar. The break occurs with the discount found on most books (Hey Scalzi, what gives?). So, theoretically, if I purchase enough books, the device "pays for itself". Technically true...however...

I bought my Kindle in April of 2008. The Kindle 2 came out in the Fall of 2008. I decided that, if I had "saved" $300 on book purchases I would upgrade and eat the extra $100. I did the math...and was barely breaking $75. No new Kindle for me. On the other hand, I had saved $75 !!

But did I?

I have no data to show it and I have no method to extrapolate it, but I wonder if my rate of new book purchases is significantly greater now than when I did not have the device. I know...I flat out know...that I am purchasing and reading more books. The convenience factor is just too big when reading a series to move from one to the next immediately. But is the difference in my consumption now, versus a year ago inside the typical 20% discount on purchases? I have my doubts.

In my opinion, based on observation of one subject (myself), the presence of the Kindle drives me to purchase more books and to purchase books I might not have found skimming through my local bookstore.

My friend from the story above does not buy new books, or if she does, it is a rare event. She makes use of her library and she enjoys digging through inexpensive paperbacks at used book stores. I used to do that as well (the digging; even though I am a librarian, I don't use my public library for books).

So far, I have focused solely on books via the Kindle. There are many more types of materials available. The selling point for one of the confirmed sales I spoke of in part 1 was her ability to get the Economist delivered to her Kindle. And she does, and she reads it, and she loves it (and two days ago I showed her how to get her text to speech active for it). There are numerous blogs, magazines, and newspapers that can be delivered directly to your Kindle for a free.

Currently I subscribe to no pay services.

It is not for a lack of content. The amount of pay content is stunning. But I do not use my Kindle that way. My Kindle is read while waiting in line, falling sleep, lying on the couch, or waiting at red lights (yes...I know...that is not a good thing...I am aware that it is, in fact, a stupid thing. If my authors weren't awesome, perhaps I wouldn't have this problem. Hey Scalzi, what gives?). I do not need a subscription to a newspaper, that is why I have Google News. I do not need paid delivery for the various blogs I read, that is the purpose of the first 30 minutes of my work day. However, it is important to realize that for many Kindle users, these ongoing subscriptions are rolled into their cost and their value proposition. They are never going to "ski for free". But then again, I don't think I will either.

The Kindle 2 is currently listed at $299. That is a damn sexy number for consumer electronics. That number combined with the thought collecting I have been doing for Fading Interest this month made me pull out my xls sheet (conveniently named Kindle Math.xls) and update it.

The latest entry reads:
Date 24-Aug-09
Order # …
Title Just a Geek
Price $9.99
AdjPrice $16.99
Savings $7.00
Cumulative Savings $228.70

Since April of 2008 I have saved $228.70 in book purchases that I may or may not have made if I did not have the Kindle. Odds are low that I would have discovered some of the authors I have found in the past year, but that is a conversation for another day. Nearly $230 saved...nearly $300 to upgrade. The trend line of my data says $300 saved on May 10th, 2010...or I could just buy the damn thing now. Even if I waited until May 10, I will still be $100 below what I paid for the device. I will not be skiing for free for a long time yet, if ever. Plus, once I upgrade, the lure of paid content will be strong. My friend with the Economist is delighted with her choice. I might even be able to convince my manager that reading headlines on my Kindle was work related. But the point remains that the Kindle and the lifestyle that comes with using the device, the choices that are made because it exists in your world, mean that the economics will never take you back to positive territory. The Kindle remains a product for a consumer. It is a luxury and a wonderful target for disposable income.

My conclusion for you today is this: do not use the financial cost involved in obtaining and living with a Kindle as your sole reason to have or have not. Take a deep look at how books, magazines, blogs, newspapers, and other rich content touch your life and decide on the level of luxury you want when experiencing it.

About Me

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Geek - Gamer - Librarian - Writer. Only awesome at one of those things at a time, unfortunately.

About Fading Interest

After writing op-eds and travelogues for several years, after finishing a few books, and after failing to get the ball rolling with project after project I stumbled into an idea that might just hold my interest long enough to enjoy some level of satisfaction with my writing.