My wife and I recently bought each other Amazon’s Kindle e-book readers as gifts for our 25th anniversary. We now have quite a lot of cockpit time with these beasts and I can say with some confidence that the Kindle is a huge event for the world of books. It changes everything in very fundamental ways.
Let me start out saying that the two of us are voracious readers. We basically can’t go to sleep at the end of the day without having buzzed through a few chapters of whatever we’re reading. Our house is filled with so many books that we have an annual spring cleaning where we give away several large boxes of them every year, and we still never seem to have enough room. We’re the sorts of people that would wind up at a Borders every week and a half. Or, the sorts who would pack a couple of knapsacks (his and hers) with books for a trip, and still have to go to Borders at some point on the trip while leaving behind in the hotel room a stack of paperbacks. We regularly skip the inflight movie unless it’s really good and we haven’t seen it to keep reading our beloved books. We were delighted when one of our favorite vacation destinations, Kona, Hawaii, got a big Borders for that reason. Our annual expenditures at the book store are too scary to ever tote up. Did I mention we love to read?
So imagine the convenience of being able to carry all of those books in a slim little reader that is actually more comfortable to hold than most any paperback and all hardbacks. It’s incredibly easy on the eyes–I have yet to find a situation where it wasn’t at least as good as an actual ink and paper book, with the exception of its relatively poor graphical rendering. You’ll want to stick to books that are mostly print. The user experience is quite simply, wonderful. Until you actually try reading an entire book, you really can’t imagine how good it can be. If not for the fact that I hate the thought of buying a second copy of books I’ve already read and may never read again, I would be going through the whole house and just tossing anything I could get on the Kindle that was mostly text.
Amazon says that where a title is available on both Kindle and in their bookstore, about 35% of the sales are going to the Kindle version of the book. That number is only headed up, as I can’t imagine buying a book I would like to read on the Kindle and can get on the Kindle. Every Kindle buyer is likely to be a one-way wholesale adopter of buying Kindle books at the expense of paper.
Our kids don’t (yet) have Kindles, and there are publications we don’t like to read on the Kindles (I for one am also a magazine fiend and the mags I read have lots of pictures), so we still go to bookstores. However, we go a lot less often than we used to (approximately monthly since getting the Kindles), and my wife and I often leave the store with very little purchased. OTOH, we can be seen feverishly taking notes on what to buy in the Kindle store as we come across physical books that seem interesting. That has to be galling for any book store owner that is aware that’s happening, but it is going to get a LOT worse. Amazon just acquired SnapTell, which is an app that lets you take a digital picture of any book, CD, DVD, or video game and it will later tell you what the item was. Imagine walking through the local book store, camera snapping away at anything you like, and finding its all on your Kindle by the time you get home. The book store paid for your browsing experience, but Amazon got all the revenue. Look for bookstores to become hyper-sensitive about people taking photos inside their four walls.
If you don’t think Kindle is a phenom, consider this. On our recent trip to New York all sorts of people spotted us with Kindles and wanted to check them out. They were all quite favorably impressed and wanted one. This is not unique to us. Amazon has started a volunteer program where Kindle owners meet folks who want to see a Kindle for coffee. That’s some brand loyalty for you!
Things to Love About Kindle
- The overall user experience when reading a book is great. Screen readability is excellent, and the navigation experience is very good.
- The browsing experience in the Kindle store is not bad, but more on that later.
- The savings when buying Kindle books are pretty compelling. It will take a little while to offset the cost of the Kindle itself, but getting hardbound editions hot of the press for $9.99 is cool. Especially if you follow a gaggle of authors for whom you must always have their latest title and can’t wait for the paperbacks.
- The device even looks and feels pretty sexy. Though it isn’t up to Apple’s standards, I would say it beats a lot of PC’s.
- Battery life is good, and the Kindle charges fast.
- The wireless connection also seems excellent. Frankly, it was better than my Apple iPhone 3G, probably because it doesn’t use AT&T.
- Being liberated from carrying around the weight of books is awesome. Being able to instantly get more books when you finish what you have read is awesome.
- There are free books and really really cheap books there. I picked up the original Sherlock Holmes series for free. It’s very cool to see these titles out there and you really feel like you got something of value when you can pick one up and enjoy reading it.
- I love the iPhone Kindle reader. It isn’t a substitute, it’s a way to keep reading a few more pages during your down time. For example, I would pop it out during a cab ride, or while waiting for a movie to start. It’s very readable, and very usable–much more than I would have guessed given the screen size. The best part is it is linked online to the reader. Read further on either and the alternate devices still knows what page you are on.
Less Positive Thoughts
The user experience of the Kindle as a reader and its associated shopping experience for buyers are excellent for newcomers. But we are already getting to a point where the UI’s are less than ideal. Some examples:
- How do I manage having a large number of titles on the Kindle? It’s pretty crude. Kindle has search, but it could also use some form of foldering.
- How do I trade my Kindle back and forth with my wife’s and keep track of which things each of us has read? Foldering would save us there too, but I’m even thinking of some online facilities to coordinate such collaborative family ownership. After all, it’s very common for bookreaders to share books. Amazon and the publishers aren’t going to lose much money here. I’m not suggesting they let the book move to another Kindle, but make it possible for more than one person to read on a Kindle.
- Related to this task of who has read what, and on how to keep all my titles organized, is the need for better tools for the iPhone app. I don’t want to download all the books onto the iPhone. The app knows how far I have read in the Kindle, why doesn’t it also know what I am reading? If it did, it would simply download the latest thing automatically if it wasn’t already on the iPhone. And then I’ll want it to clean up when I finish a book. I don’t want to clog up my iPhone’s memory with books already read.
- Shopping on the web is better than shopping on the Kindle. In some ways, I even like the iPhone Kindle reader shopping experience better. Color matters to me when looking at book covers even though inside may be black and white. It’s an odd little psychological quirk, but one I’m sure publishers know all about as they design covers to help sell books.
- Shopping is skewed to helping me find the best sellers of the moment. Once I get tired of that, I get very little help unless I go to Amazon’s web site on a real computer. The best sellers don’t change that often, and once I go through the list for the third or fourth time I get tired of seeing titles I don’t want and know I will never want. I wish it was easy to make them disappear with one click. Knowing what I made disappear would help Amazon make better recommendations to me as well. This is one of the aspects I alluded to where things work well for newcomers but start to bog down when you’ve used a Kindle for a while.
= I like the idea of a list of things to think about buying but not buy, but they need to take it further. First thing is I can’t find a way to add to my list when I am on the Amazon web site. It only seems to work on the Kindle itself. Second is I will want ways to categorize that list. Amazon is great about letting people make lists on their web site, why not let people have multiple lists on the Kindle and carry them over to the web site? That would also simplify my problem of organizing my titles for my wife to read. I’d simply have a list called “Kathy”.
- How do I reconcile Kindle with my paper books? I want to tell it what I own and have already read and have it know those titles so it can warn me not to buy them again. If I had that feature I really would get started giving away the paper books. As it stands, physically possessing them is my record keeping system.
- How do I subscribe to an author? I have a list I follow but I always forget a few. Any book I read I should be able with one click to indicate I want to be told any time they publish a new book. This is a big opportunity to sell more books Amazon has missed.
The list goes on, but these are improvements, not tragic flaws. They will come with time. Go get a Kindle. You won’t be sorry!