When e-readers started coming out a couple years ago, I thought of them as unnecessary and expensive. Last time I checked the reading process worked pretty damn well on paper, with enough trees remaining on Earth to keep that going for a few more generations. I questioned why we’re taking a simple and pure act of reading a book and turning it into a complicated beast with technology that doesn’t add any value to the process. I also did the math and calculated that reading books on the Kindle would be more expensive than reading used books. So if it didn’t add any value to the reading experience, and cost more money, why would it take off as a product?
My second trip to South America lasted 13 months, and during that time I traveled with a duffel bag of about 40 books (many were Spanish and Portuguese learning materials). While it was a pain to carry around, I was able to keep up my reading while on the road. I didn’t want to deal with the duffel bag system for my current European fuck tour, so when the Kindle reduced in price to $139, I decided to try it out. The duffel bag was replaced with this:
I’m one of those “I like the feel of paper” guys. Nothing can take away from the sight of real ink printed on real paper. That took about one week to get over. Due to the dim background, reading on the Kindle is actually easier on the eyes than reading on white paper, and not at all like reading on a regular computer screen. I noticed that not only was I reading faster but my sessions were longer. Since I’ve written five installments of book reviews here on the blog, I can actually calculate my reading speed in four separate periods.
August 2007 – March 2009: 1.1 books/month
March 2009 – May 2010 (Duffel bag period): 1.3 books/month
May 2010 – December 2010: 1.1 books/month
December 2010 – February 2011 (Kindle period): 5 books/month
From August ’07 to December ’10, my reading pace was 1.2 books per month. After getting a Kindle, that jumped over four times to 5 books/month. I know that the Kindle sample size is small, but even if it settles to a mere 2.4 books a month that is double my normal pace.
The kicker is that the latest batch included a couple of paperbacks. I’d go slow on those, then knock out a Kindle book in under five days, something I rarely do to dead-tree versions. I found myself planted in front of it for marathon sessions, with a result that I stopped watching movies (goodbye Netflix Instant subscription). What the Kindle did for me was make reading a book more enjoyable than on paper.
There are a few drawbacks, though, which are worth noting:
1. Reading PDFs can be a pain because either the typeface is too big or too small (it’s only bearable if you rotate the type orientation by 90 degrees). Instead of dealing with that I let Amazon’s email service convert the book to the .azw format, but some formatting is lost.
2. You can’t easily flip back to an earlier section. To do so you have to bookmark your current page, find the earlier page, then go back to your bookmarks screen and click around to your current place in the book. While the Kindle remembers where you last left off after turning off the device or going to the home screen, it offers no easy solution to quickly refer to other passages.
3. Books heavy in images aren’t suited for the Kindle. I tried to read Jay Z’s Decoded but the formatting was so bad I eventually requested a refund. Charts and tables usually show up fine, but it all depends on how much care the publisher put into their Kindle format.
4. No epub format support (sometimes you’ll find a depository of free older books that are in the epub format). In that case I use the bulky program Calibre to convert to mobi format, which is readable by the Kindle.
5. You accumulate books there’s no hope for you to read and feel overwhelmed with so many choices. This isn’t entirely a bad problem, but with a Kindle I really feel like I’ll never be able to “catch up.”
Recently I read a review where a user said it “re-kindled” their love of reading. As corny as that sounds, that is what the Kindle does. Whatever pace you read at now, you’ll read more with a Kindle. Don’t buy the device to save money because you’ll be spending more on books than you ever have.
Here’s a little in-home demonstration:
With my own positive experience using it, I’m hitching my wagon to the Kindle. Call me a fanboy but I believe e-reader devices are the future of books. While no one is predicting a 100% market penetration with e-readers (people still do buy CDs after all), it will shrink the paper book market. Book stores and publishers must adapt to this change to stay relevant, yet I’m skeptical they’ll let go of their existing model (I still see Kindle versions that are more expensive than the paperback edition). Guys like Joe Konrath show that the publishing houses are especially in for a world of hurt.
Here are recent Kindle sales of my books:
They went from nothing to nearly 200 copies after just eight months (it’s on pace to pass that for March). To put things in perspective, it took me 26 months after publishing Bang to sell over 200 copies/month for both ebook and paperback. Even though only a tiny minority of book readers own a Kindle, they read so many books that just a minor uptick in Kindle sales will move a large volume of copies. So while the Kindle sales rank for Bang has remained steady (around 9,000), each month I’m selling more because of all those new Kindles. Therefore in a year or two that modest rank of 9,000 can translate to something like 20-30 book sales a day. You won’t need to be famous or published to earn a fair income that enables you to write more books.
As for which version to buy, I have the wifi-only version (unless you don’t have wifi at home I see no point in paying extra for the 3G version). Even when I return to the States I can’t imagine putting away my Kindle and going back to paper. If I had a choice of paying a couple dollars extra to read it on the Kindle than to have the paperback, I’d go with the Kindle version, which I can easily slip into my jacket pocket to read anywhere. As you can see, I’ve become quite a Kindle groupie, and believe that within ten years they’ll be more people reading on them than on paper.