Kindling a new reading option

After months and months of deliberation, I recently decided to take the plunge and buy a Kindle. Or as Amazon calls it, a “Kindle Wireless Reading Device (6″ Display, Global Wireless, Latest Generation)”.

The decision to buy an eReader at all was not an easy one. Because unlike many of my friends, I have not completely swallowed the kool-aid. I like licking my fingers and turning the paper pages. I’m an enthusiastic participant in the secondary book market. I have an immature Border Collie who chews expensive plastic things. And there are places where eReaders just don’t work – like the hot tub.

But my last stay at the lake really got me thinking. I was headed up for 3 weeks and I generally average a book a day. Having accepted that large-format paperbacks are here to stay (at least at Costco, and my aging eyes aren’t complaining), and having purchased sufficient variety to keep my interest piqued, and having included an appropriate number of (thick, heavy) technical reference books, I found myself boxing up and shlepping 25+ lbs of books into the car, into the boat, up the mountain, back down the mountain, back into the boat, and back into the car. Suddenly, that 10 oz. option was looking pretty good.

Once I decided to pursue the idea, I was faced with the choice of three incompatible devices: Kindle/Nook/Sony. I was actually hoping to let it all shake down to a de facto standard before I jumped into the market, so as to avoid making the wrong decision – a la VHS/Betamax (I chose wrong) and Blu-Ray/HD-DVD (I’m still happy with good old progressive-scan). But I’m not sure we’re there yet. And as it turns out, competition is good for technology – so I embrace the battle.

The final barrier was lifted when Rich and I were fortuitously seated with a delightful young couple from Texas on a recent scenic train ride through the Royal Gorge in Colorado. Somehow during the course of our visit, it was revealed that they each have an eReader – hers a Kindle and his a Nook. I confess that I hadn’t heard of the Nook before. Much conversation and questioning ensued, followed by feverish Googling upon our return to the land of broadband.

The upshot is this: I first settled on the Nook, and went so far as to order one. But driven by buyer’s remorse and my propensity to over-think and over-research all decisions, I actually reversed my position and went for the Kindle. Fortunately for me, the Nook is back-ordered by 2 months so the switch was easy and not subject to the 10% Barnes and Noble restocking fee (which incidentally, Amazon doesn’t impose for the Kindle).

My reversal was facilitated by the following reviews, which were written by someone who meets my stringent criteria for internet postings: if you are going to review something and post it on the internet, it had better be comprehensive and organized. I quote: “To be on the safe side -> Please assign points to the listed advantages of each eReader according to what features you value and figure out what is better for you.” To “switch11”, whoever you are, you are my hero. Be sure to read the comments – they add tremendous value to an already comprehensive review.

Review of the eReader experience:

Kindle vs. Nook, Take 1:

Kindle vs. Nook, Take 2:

As I pondered these write-ups, I concluded that the best thing about the Nook is that it got the Kindle developers off their butts – price went down, battery life went up, and PDF support appeared, all not long after the announcement of the Nook features. As I’ve already mentioned, competition (in technology) is good.

So the decision is made. I like that I can bookmark or stop reading on one device and have it carry over to another. I’m thrilled that with the Kindle, I can charge through a USB cable from a 12V power source (the Nook requires AC power). I’ll be able to instantly look up words/names on Wikipedia, and really, what’s the point of built-in WiFi (Nook) without any sort of browser? And as much as I was compelled by the memory micro-SD expansion slot on the Nook, I have to agree with one commenter – I’m not buying it to be an MP3 player, and isn’t 1500 books enough?

Now, on to Facebook, where I learned things about eReaders that I had not considered. For instance:

“Another downside for the Kindle: If you step on a book, you might rip the cover off. If you step on your Kindle you’re out $300 :(” Followed shortly thereafter (by the same poster) with: “Kindle support rocks! They’re sending me a new kindle by tomorrow! :o”

Seriously? You step on your Kindle and they send you a new one? Her response to that: “Well it MIGHT be possible that I forgot to mention foot involvement when I called them….”

Several other commentors echoed the same sentiments about Amazon’s customer service regarding damaged units (which seem most commonly to involve crushing, flinging, and drowning – I hope chewing is also covered), leading me to conclude that the hardware is actually just a loss-leader – the true revenue stems from the ease of buying content. Or as another friend puts it, “I really like my Kindle, particularly when I’m travelling. The only drawback is that it’s too easy to purchase books!” Yes, registration of the Kindle automatically ties to your Amazon account / credit card. At $6-$10 per title with easy search and instant download, I can only say this: Cha-ching. Makes iTunes look like pocket change.

I don’t expect the Kindle to replace our current reading habits, merely to supplement and provide options, primarily for traveling. Reference and non-fiction books with extensive photos and maps will still have their place on the bookshelf. And until they sort out the search features, we’ll still need indexes and Google.

As we continue down this path, I also think that Amazon may have to consider creative pricing opportunities. For instance (and these are just off the top of my head):

  • Buy the Kindle version and get the print version for 25% more (or vice versa).
  • Provide subscription options (modeled after Rhapsody-To-Go) – i.e. 30 day ‘rental’ period for some percentage of the purchase price. DRM is already built-in so this shouldn’t be too difficult.
  • Allow your friends with Kindles to “Buy” (i.e. Transfer) your purchases to their own devices for a discounted rate (which would put Amazon back into the secondary book market).

I should clarify that I haven’t actually touched my new Kindle. It is being shipped to Rich in Colorado, so that he might enjoy the benefits on his Amtrak ride home next weekend. But we have already purchased three books that are queued up for download the second he turns it on and registers it. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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