Friday, February 13, 2009

Kindle – necessity, luxury, or hype?


Ever since I first heard about Amazon’s e-book reader (or wireless reading device, as they call it), I’ve wanted one. Then I decided I would wait for them to come out with a new model so some of the kinks would be worked out. After all, with the hefty $359 price tag, I want something I’ll be happy with. This week  Amazon debuted the Kindle 2 which will be released on February 24 and the web has been aflutter with reviews, blog posts, feature wish lists, and of course, controversies.

The big appeal of the Kindle for me is that I am a voracious reader and English books are hard to come by in Israel. And they are expensive. You can download a book for the Kindle for $9.99 which is comparable to what I pay for the newer books in my favorite second hand bookstore in Netanya. The biggest drawback for me is that you can’t use a Kindle on Shabbat. I personally think I should get a heter – it’s definitely pikuach nefesh if I don’t have what to read on Shabbat.

But as I read the various posts and articles online I wonder if maybe I should wait a little longer. The NY Times Gadgetwise has four suggestions of what we need on a Kindle and 64 reader comments weighing in with what they think the Kindle is still missing. Some valid ideas are the ability to read PDFs, borrow e-books from the library, Wi-Fi, and backlighting.

One of the big complaints about the Kindle is that Amazon has chosen to be “the Apple of eBooks, not the Google” (Blankenhorn, 2009). Currently Kindle books can be downloaded and read only on a Kindle, and Kindle books cannot be read on other devices. Books whose copyright has expired and are freely available in the public domain from sites such as Project Gutenberg or e-books that can be downloaded from your public library cannot be read on a Kindle. Blankenhorn says that the money is not in the hardware (the readers) but in the books themselves. Ironically, Amazon sells music without copyright protection (as opposed to iTunes) so you why not copy that model to their book?

A new feature of the Kindle 2 is the Text-to-Speech feature, which allows the Kindle to read your book to you. Though the quality is not comparable to having an actor perform a book as an audiobook, it is supposedly passable. This feature is generating controversy as the Authors Guild feels that this might cut into the publishing industry’s audiobook sales, which was more than one billion dollars in 2007. The guild’s executive director, Paul Aiken, is quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying,  “They don't have the right to read a book out loud. That's an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law."

What do you think? Is the Kindle just an overpriced gadget that nobody really needs? Or is it the wave of the future and you just have to have one?


Anonymous said...

It is a BIG TIME over priced gadget that you can continue living without. Aside from the fact that you can't use it on Shabbat, which in your case really would be Evel, just remember who bought the first edition and you know that I won't stop with the comparisons....seriously, save your money for when I need to come to Israel. I love you, Shabbat Shalom!

Aliza "La Jewminicana" Hausman said...

I want one. I want one. I want one. But only if I can read PDFs I get from the library. I think my sister is getting one and I'm hoping she'll little me play with it so I can see if it's even worth it to keep dreaming about one.

Fern Chasida said...

I hear ya Aliza. I want to be able to read library e-books on it. And I really want a heter for Shabbat. Maybe you can ask your DH for me.

Yossi said...

You didn't mention the really big deal about the Kindle, though, which is its Electronic Ink display. Being able to download books anywhere and any time is exciting, but people would have been doing that already on their smartphones if the displays were adequate for reading. There's no question in my mind that before long electronic readers will look *better* than paper books do, and be reasonably prices, and become as ubiquitous as Bic pens, at which points, paper books will go the way of the dodo (and those of us who are sabbath observant will be in trouble).

As for the Kindle itself, I really want one too, but buying an elecronic reader at this particular point in time seems sort of like spending hundreds of dollars on a 16MB portable MP3 player in 1998.

Fern Chasida said...

Thanks for reading Yossi. There is talk that Kindle books will be available for the iphone and google phone at some point. Not all of us have smartphones though. I know I'll probably wait for now to see what else develops but I really really want one.