– Opinion: The Digital Future of Books

Interesting article about the relationship between our devices and our attention spans. The author quotes Jeff Bezos, who hopes the “Kindle and its successors may gradually and incrementally move us over years into a world with longer spans of attention.” I guess we shouldn’t expect a Twitter client to be built into the Kindle any time soon!

Last Lecture

I bought The Last Lecture in Kindle format a few days ago. I’m almost done reading it. It’s a pretty good read. Lots of short chapters, mostly random anecdotes from Randy Pausch’s life. There’s nothing in the book that’s likely to change my life, I think, but just a lot of interesting little insights, and some fun stories.
This is also the first book I’m reading, in its entirety, on the Kindle. It’s been a pretty smooth reading experience. Certainly no worse than reading an old-fashioned paper book, but not necessarily any better. Of course, there are some photos in the book, and they really don’t look at all good on the Kindle, so that’s a concern. In the future, I’ll probably avoid buying any book for the Kindle if I know it’s heavy with photos or other graphics.

more stuff to read

I’m still loading my Kindle up with free stuff. I haven’t bought a single ebook from Amazon yet. I just re-discovered the 2007 Nebula page at Fictionwise, which lists a bunch of Nebula-nominated stories from last year that are available from them for free.
And I also just noticed that Fictionwise has a number of magazines available in Kindle-compatible formats, including Analog and a few other SF and mystery magazines. I’ve been somewhat disappointed in Amazon’s selection of magazines for the Kindle; they’ve only got 11 magazines available, and none of them are primarily fiction magazines. I may decide to try out a couple of magazines from Fictionwise and see if they work well on the Kindle.

more Kindle DRM discussion

Right after the Kindle was released, there was a lot of talk about the DRM/licensing model it used. The subject seems to have come up again this weekend, starting with a post on Gizmodo that got referenced on Slashdot and Boing Boing. If you look through the comments on all three of these sites, you’ll see some well though out opinions, plus of course some less (perhaps) cogent ones.

I’ve loaded my Kindle up with a fair number of free (and legal) non-DRM’d ebooks from various sources. I do intend on buying some stuff from the Amazon store at some point, but just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Yes, I do know that I won’t really be *buying* these books, but rather just buying a license to read them on a particular device under specific conditions. I’m OK with that. I usually only read a given book once or twice, and I don’t feel the need to keep a copy of every book I’ve ever read, so I really won’t mind it if my Kindle ebook “library” disappears if I ever decide to just get rid of my Kindle. If I buy an ebook that’s really great, and I really want to keep a copy around, I’ll probably go out and buy a hard copy too.

One of the arguments that I see come up frequently is the idea that if DRM’d ebooks *completely* replace hard copy books, then various really good things about the current book economy will go away — lending books to friends, buying cheap used books, borrowing books from the library and so on. I really don’t think we need to worry about this happening any time in the near future. I think the ebook reader market is going to remain a niche market for quite a while. Even if the price comes down, it’s just not a model that’s going to appeal to most people. There are a lot of people who just don’t read enough to warrant buying any kind of dedicated device for reading. Just picking up an occasional paperback at Border’s, or the library, or the airport bookstore, is more than enough for them.

And I don’t think that the iPhone, or smartphones in general, and going to be used as ebook readers by too many people. That’s also an opinion I’ve seen tossed around a bit. I think the iPhone (or iPod Touch in my case) is great for browsing through the NY Times site and checking out a few articles, but I wouldn’t want to try and read a novel on it.

So I guess that’s my (more than) two cents on the Kindle DRM thing. I don’t know if anyone will find this post particularly useful or interesting, but I just had to get all that off my chest.


I got a Kindle today. I ordered it back in early February, so it took about a month for Amazon to get it out the door. It’s pretty much what I expected. The screen is very readable, in any (reasonable) light. As many others have pointed out, the button layout makes it a little awkward to figure out a good way to hold the thing without pressing either the next page or previous page button. I think I’ll get used to it though.

The built-in web browser is interesting, and might be somewhat useful. Gmail seems to be usable on it. Lotus Notes webmail is out of the question, though. Mobile-friendly sites like ought to be useable.

I haven’t bought any books for it yet. For now, I’ve just got some free books on it that I downloaded from ManyBooks and Tor.

For the most part, I’m liking it. I have so many hard copy books sitting around that I won’t be using it for most of my reading any time soon, but I’ll start reading something on it soon, just to start using it. I’ll likely blog more about it after I’ve played around with it some more.

more Kindle stuff

I just noticed a post by Tim O’Reilly on the Kindle over at Radar. He talks a bit about the possibility of getting O’Reilly books out on the Kindle. In one of the comments, something interesting is mentioned: The Kindle has no monospaced font! That’s really a big problem, when you start getting into code samples in programming books. Oh well, yet another obstacle keeping me from the Holy Grail of tossing all my 1500-page programming books and replacing them with e-book equivalents.

more Kindle thoughts

I’ve been thinking about the Kindle again. I still haven’t quite decided to buy one, but I’m getting closer.

Here’s a scenario that’s got me thinking:
(It’s kind of a long story, so bear with me.)
I bought the audiobook version of Brad Meltzer’s “Zero Game” from iTunes awhile ago. I’ve been listening to it in the car, and enjoying it quite a bit. I hit a point, though, where the audio just cut out and skipped ahead about five chapters. I went back and forth with Apple about it, and eventually got a refund. (They tell me that they’ve now posted a corrected version, so if you’re interested in the book, don’t let this glitch stop you from buying it!)

While I was going back and forth with support, though, I really wanted to just continue reading the book. If I’d had a Kindle, I could have just bought it from Amazon, and picked up reading the missing parts the same day I hit the glitch.

I did wind up buying a used hardcover copy of the book from Amazon so I could read the missing part. Now, while that obviously took longer to get to me than the Kindle version would have, it was a bit cheaper, and I can (theoretically) resell it, or just give it away, when I’m done reading it.

However, I’m sitting here right now looking at the book, and thinking that I’m probably going to just toss it on the floor in a pile of other old books when I’m done with it. The used book system on Amazon is great for buyers, but they’ve driven down prices on used books so much that there’s not much point trying to sell it after I’m done with it. And I don’t know anybody who’d really be interested in reading it who I could hand it off to. And I know I’ll never talk myself into just throwing it out.

I’ve got a whole bunch of books that fall into this category. Basically, books that I’m probably never going to want to re-read, and have almost no resale value, but I can’t bring myself to throw them out.

In some ways, the economics of this seem almost perverse, but I think I might be willing to pay a little extra to buy a book that doesn’t leave any physical footprint in my tiny little apartment. Something I can keep on a device, or my computer’s hard drive, or wherever, for however long I want. It’s annoying that the DRM scheme on any e-book reader (Sony or Amazon) will prevent me from loaning or giving away my old “books.” And it’s a little galling that the e-books generally cost more than a used copy in hardcover or paperback. But I’m looking at this apartment full of old books, and thinking that I could really reclaim a lot of space if I could just get rid of some of them!

Having said that, though, there are certainly still a lot of books I’d like to keep in hard copy form. Jasper Fforde’s books, for instance, wouldn’t work well on a Kindle, since he plays with fonts, footnotes, and other odd stuff that wouldn’t translate well into the single-typeface Kindle. In fact, Fforde’s concept of the “UltraWord” system, introduced in “Well of Lost Plots”, is, in some ways, a parody of DRM’d e-book systems. One of the characteristics of UltraWord was that you could only read any given book three times, then it would just refuse to open.

I’m aware that buying DRM’d e-books right now, for any platform, will probably leave me with books that I won’t be able to read again past, say, five or ten years, since whatever platform I buy now will probably be gone by then. I bought Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy in Microsoft Reader format several years back, and read them on my old Toshiba Pocket PC. While I still have those files around somewhere, I don’t have the Pocket PC anymore. If I want to read those books again on the Kindle, I’d have to repurchase them. (And, hey, I see that I can get them for the Kindle, for $3.19 each. That’s actually not a bad price. Cheaper than the average used copy, even.)

e-book readers and related topics

I blogged about the Sony Reader a couple of months back. The Amazon Kindle is out now too. One of the things I didn’t like about the Sony Reader was the lack of technical books. I did a little searching on Amazon, and they definitely seem to have a better supply of programming books available than Sony. The pricing on them isn’t great though. For instance, ASP.NET 2.0 Unleashed is $36 on Amazon for the dead tree version, and $32 for the Kindle version. That book is almost 2000 pages, and weighs 6 pounds, so I can understand why the physical version costs so much, but I think they should really be able to deliver the electronic version at a significantly lower price. Leaving that aside for now, it’s still pretty compelling to switch from having a big pile of 2000 page, 6 pound books to having a single device weighing less than one pound holding multiple books. And I still think the idea of a partnership with Safari would be great, but I guess that’s too much to ask for at this point.

There have been some interesting reactions to the Kindle, from people like Scoble and Mossberg. One thing that concerns me is that both of those guys have pointed out some interface problems that make the device a little frustrating to use.

Cory Doctorow pointed out a few negatives on a post on BoingBoing, and talked about it a bit during an episode of TWiT from a few weeks back. His big problem is basically the DRM and TOS stuff. I don’t necessarily mind DRM, if it’s done well, and if I can trust that the company behind it will be supporting the system for a while. In other words, I don’t have a big problem with iTunes DRM, but I don’t really trust that anyone else’s DRM is going to be around long enough to make it worth my while to invest any money in it. Of course, I’d rather just not have *any* DRM, but that just doesn’t seem feasible right now. I know we’re getting there on music, but it doesn’t look like we’re anywhere near there on books yet.

I really like the wireless purchase and delivery system on the Kindle. That seems much better than the Sony system. I think that if they can get some of the interface kinks ironed out in the next iteration of the hardware, bring down book prices a bit, and maybe bring the price of the device itself down, then I’ll be ready to take the plunge and get one.