Wednesday, November 21, 2007

eBook reader/Kindle roundup

Amazon has just released its new ebook reader, the Kindle. The name always makes me think of Fahrenheit 451, but maybe that's just me. Lots and lots of people are blogging about the Kindle, so I thought I'd gather up some of the best reviews or discussions of ebook readers in general and link to them for your convenience!

An excellent starting point is Booksquare. They point out many of the Kindle's shortcomings, but they also talk a bit about ebooks in general and make the link to the current writer's strike out in Hollywood. One of the things Booksquare says about the Kindle:

...the fact that this device makes Fort Knox look like an open bar really bothers me. The lack of PDF support alone should send everyone into therapy. Customers who buy the Kindle are locked into Amazon as supplier. ... There is a cumbersome process for loading your own files onto the device, but, whoo-hoo!, you get charged ten cents for the privilege.

Boing Boing feels pretty much the same way, although most of that post is simple agreement with Mark Pilgrim's post, which is itself a collection of quotes--from 1984, from the Kindle's EULA, etc. It's creepy.

BuzzMachine talks briefly about how limited the Kindle is:
The iPhone is more powerful. It gives me the ability to both buy content and see
the world of content.

The consensus so far is that Amazon has veered off the road to goodness and books, and is crashing through the undergrowth of senseless oppression. Me, I think it's mainly just stupidity and a lack of market research. I'm also amused by the customer reviews of the Kindle on the Amazon site. Out of 448 customer reviews (so far), the Kindle is barely scraping a 2.5 star review overall. To quote from a few of them:
What Amazon does not understand, is that I want something that could replace my
*laptop* so I can review work related PDF files without printing them out. I do
not want something to replace my paperback novel which is cheaper, more durable,
has infinite battery life, and I'll be able to read 20 years from now. --Alex P.

Amazon is so focused on selling books through the device that they've
dramatically limited consumer flexibility related to other reading. --D. Solberg

Until the consumer ebook market has something that functions as a standard
format, so that I can choose the device and the content service separately, and
so that I can be assured the content I'd purchase will be readable on most
devices, I'm not interested. --Kyle Felker

Now, let's trot along to a happier place. Here we have the BAEN Free Library, where lovely ebooks abound. And they are free. The authors themselves decide if they want to offer a book for download in the free library; typically you'll only get the first book or two of a series, and if you like it, of course they hope you'll go out and buy the other books. But if you don't like it, you aren't out a single penny. And you can download the books in a myriad of software types, including RTF (rich text format) and HTML.

All this squabbling about hardware is going to be moot in another ten years. It's not going to be like the kerfuffle of VHS vs. Beta or even iPod vs. everyone else. Unlike movies and music, which have always been a little bit hard to get at, people have books readily available everywhere--to buy, loan, borrow, and receive as gifts. Even before the age of recording, people had books. But now we're being told that ebooks are somehow different, that transferring a paper book into electronic format somehow makes it more like a CD or DVD than a book.

No one buys into that. The developers of ebook readers need to realize that what readers want is a reasonably-priced reader without proprietary (and therefore limiting) format that will hold a bunch of books. Publishers need to clue in that a customer who buys an ebook should have all the same rights as a customer who buys a print book--that is, the customer can loan out or resell the copy they bought. Oh, and the ebook reader should be cute and not stupid-looking. Unlike the Kindle.

I blogged about ereaders a few times in September, here and here and here. And no, I don't know why that lolcat pic doesn't show up. Dammit.

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