Saturday, January 23, 2010

Kindle Crazy

Do you have a Kindle? Do you know what a Kindle is?

The Kindle is an electronic book device, or an electronic reader. This year, it was the single most-requested and bestselling item in’s massive catalogue of products. It was also the number one Christmas present in North America. There are other products like it, including the Sony Reader and the Nook. And Indigo Books plans to launch its own Canadian eReader in the near future. If you don’t have one yet, or if you don’t know much about them, you will soon (especially if you are reading this!).

The eReader is the new “it” product, the new “Tickle-me” Elmo. Until recently, it was considered a novelty and more of a toy than a viable, sustainable electronic tool. Marketers thought that people over 40 would not be interested, but guess what? It’s the over-40 crowd that is swallowing them up. One of the great appeals is that we can adjust the text size, so as our eyes deteriorate, we can make the print bigger and bigger!

eBooks (the written material rather than the device) have been available for purchase for a long time. You can order them from various electronic publishers and download them onto your favourite electronic device such as the iPhone, BlackBerry, Mac, or PC. But the eReader is a product unto itself. It’s what I call a cyber book. It has many qualities of an actual, physical book, but its content is transmitted through cyberspace.

I’ve been keeping my eyes and ears open about this product for a long time because I’m an avid reader. I’ll read anything—newspapers, magazines, books, blogs—you name it. I love learning and I love language and words. I’ve been reading material on-line for ages, so when the electronic readers hit the market a few years ago I was intrigued. But the features were limited and the price was too high. Like high-definition flat-screen TVs, the technology was sure to improve, competitors would jump in, and the price would come down. This has occurred and I am now almost ready to commit.

The Amazon Kindle is an amazing product, from what I understand. It comes in two sizes, about 8” x 5” and 10” x 7” and the width is .38”, like a pencil. The current price is $259 and $489us respectively. Given how many books I buy (a weakness of mine) I think it’s a good deal, especially since bestsellers cost about $9.99us.

But such a gadget can never replace the feel of pages between your fingers, or the smell of paper and ink as you flip the pages. Books are comforting, and rows upon rows of books sitting on our bookshelves make us feel clever. Did I really read all those volumes? Some of us pass our books along to other book lovers and we relish the conversations that arise when we hand them over. “This is a great read, you’ll love the imagery.” Or “It was tough slugging at the beginning, but definitely worth persevering.”

I have a friend who is about the most voracious reader I’ve ever met. Reading is her passion and if there is anyone I know who belongs in the book world, it’s Penny. She must spend a fortune on fiction, but unlike some book lovers who hoard their books to keep them pristinely preserved, she generously sends them on a journey through the hands of her friends. I don’t think it will be easy for Penny to relinquish her beloved books, but eventually, I think that she too, may find herself on the eReader bandwagon.

The pros seem too compelling to resist:

• it’s portable (much lighter than a typical book)
• it holds up to 1500 books in 2 gigabytes of memory
• you can choose from over 400,000 titles, including those that are no longer in print
• it has no backlighting, therefore no glare and reads like real paper indoors and out
• it has a long battery life
• you can listen rather than read as it includes a text-to-speech feature
• you can adjust the text size and the font
• there’s a free built-in dictionary and free access to Wikipedia
• Google Books, an electronic library of 10 million scanned titles, allows many to be downloaded free of charge.

Publishers are not enthusiastic about this product and bookstores have no choice but to get into the game. Writers are keen because they are happy when anyone reads their work, regardless of the medium, and they still get royalties from each copy sold.

One last advantage, which most of us can appreciate, is this: books are not the most environmentally friendly things around; the fuel that goes into producing them and transporting them is adding to our pollution problem; the massive consumption of paper products is devastating our forests (for example, about 5 million trees are cut down annually to produce phonebooks); and those books and magazines lining our shelves collect dust, which according to studies, can cause serious health problems. With too much exposure, librarians in particular are prone to respiratory illnesses. Do you ever dust your books? I certainly don’t.

My choice is made. I want an eReader. The question is which one? I think I’ll wait a little longer to see what the Canadian version can do. And if the price comes down some more...even better.


  1. The way of the future. I'm looking forward to actually seeing one of these devices. Thanks for researching!

  2. I am one of the many who asked for and got a Kindle this past Christmas - your pros and cons are right on the mark. For me..I must say the physical book has little appeal and actually clutters my household so the 'green' aspect of the Kindle is likely its biggest appeal. Second would be the ability to pull and and get my hands on a book in seconds. The download/accessiblity feature is unbeatable. Plus, you can read samples for free - download in seconds, read and it you still want to read on after your very generous sample, then you buy. It's fantastic for those of us spending time in airports.

  3. Thanks for your comments. I have a few questions: can you get colour images and diagrams on the Kindle? Can you highlight passages and make notes on the documents? I didn't come across this info in my research. Also, which size do you recommend?

  4. I read an article in the New York Times a few days ago, saying that some publishers are giving away their e-books for free to get those authors to the top of the bestseller list. Not just a sample of the book, but the whole book. I'm not convinced of the wisdom of giving away content for free. Haven't they learned anything from the mistakes of the newspaper industry?

  5. Carla,
    Just a followup on your previous question. While reading an article about the iPad, the author referred to the "function for annotating text or clipping interesting passages" on Kindle. Here's the reference:
    Hope that helps!

  6. Thanks, Beth. That's an interesting article. The question now is: iPad or Kindle? I think I'll wait a little longer on the sidelines to see what happens with the iBookstore negotiations and the cost of the Kindle. More competition, better prices...I hope.