Monday, November 2, 2009

I want a Kindle

Clearly the e-book is the future of publishing and the Kindle has always sounded better than the competition. I could see it as a working tool for publishers, as Geoff Walker of Penguin Books outlines here, but I’ve never quite seen the point of it for me.

It’s not just that I make my living from books – editing them, writing them and, as a manuscript assessor, helping others get their work into a publishable form. It’s more that that I like books as a medium – they’re portable, readable under all but the dimmest light, the big expensive ones have nice pictures and the little cheap ones you can throw away after reading or pass on without caring if you never see them again.

Also, I spend half my day at a computer screen, so I prefer to read anything else in printed form. So why would I want a Kindle?

Now I know. Rory Sutherland, the Spectator’s IT columnist explains:
The Kindle is different from other e-book readers in being permanently connected to a mobile phone data network. This seems to me a great advantage over the competition. It means you can stand in the middle of a field in perhaps 50 countries in the world and order a copy of any of 350,000 digital books to arrive through the ether in 60 seconds. More important, this connectivity makes it a potent news-reading device — it automatically receives digital copies of chosen newspapers and magazines the instant they hit the newsstands.
But wait, there’s more:
Already, browsing Amazon’s Kindle store in anticipation of what to buy has led to some happy discoveries. The Spectator is already available in Kindle form. So are a few hundred other periodicals, including the TLS, the Telegraph and the New York Times. Ninety P.G. Wodehouse novels and stories can be bought as a bundle for less than $8.
It’s the instant access wherever one is that appeals. That, and the bundling. (There is an outstanding bundle coming of New Zealand books, thanks to Martin Taylor’s work with the Digital Publishing Forum, which was set up by Copyright Licensing Ltd.)

There are problems for authors with all digital rights. As Sutherland says:
What can you charge for an electronic book ($4-10 seems the current norm)? How much of this money will go to Amazon, which created the Kindle and owns the rights to the Kindle file format? How much will go to the publisher? How much will be lost to piracy?
Even the NZ Society of Authors, which is currently revising its contracts manual for authors, The Business of Writing (I did the previous revision a few years ago, before any of this was an issue), doesn’t yet have a definitive view on what we want for our digital rights, and I suspect local publishers don’t yet either. We are very much in uncharted waters.

But the Kindle is coming to New Zealand, and I want one.


Contrapal said...

No you don't.

Chad Taylor said...

Does the screen flash black every time you "turn" a page? That gets old pretty fast. And how long does it take to adjust the font size? The Sony I tested in the bookstore took so long I reached for something to read while I was waiting.

Stephen Stratford said...

I don't know, Chad, as I haven't used one yet but that Economist piece I linked to ( implies not, and Martin Taylor won't shut up about how great it is. He showed me one other reader - can't remember what sort but it wasn't a Kindle - that was easy to change the font on, which is great for older users. We will all be older users one day.

Chad Taylor said...

The only e-readers I've seen, the interface is terrible and the design is clunky. I read Sherlock Holmes on my iPod Touch, which is superior.

Of course, the reason why neither of us have used a Kindle is because it's tethered to a proprietary network, and therein lies the rub. MP3 and file sharing broke down old markets and created new opportunities for artists. E-books are all about digging the old establishment deeper: locking off that distribution, keeping those old names safe.