Tag Archives: Kindle

The future of books

The summer after I finished fifth or sixth grade (I forget which), my photo appeared in my home-town newspaper along with a two- or three-paragraph story. In the photo, I was carrying a teetering stack of books, my weekly haul from the public library. The story quoted one of the librarians about my seemingly unquenchable thirst for reading. As I recall, I would have won the prize as the library patron who had read the most books that summer — if there’d been such a prize.

I still read lots of books — 100 or more a year — and I’m not even a particularly fast reader. But something has changed in the last half-century. I now read books almost exclusively on my Kindle or my iPad (mostly on the former).

I love these new reading devices. Amazon.com has reported a substantial upsurge in book sales to its Kindle customers — about 50%, I believe — and I’m very much part of the pattern. I read more, I read faster, and I find myself remembering more of what I read. So, I’m always puzzled when friends tell me they HATED the Kindle they bought or wouldn’t be caught dead reading a book on an iPad.

In fairness, I’m an early adopter of new technology. The iPad promises a new reading experience? Sign me up! The new Kindle offers a screen with higher contrast? You’ve got me! I’ve never thought “new” was always better. But in my experience it often is, and it’s certainly worth trying.

It’s occasionally tempting to accuse the Kindle-haters among my friends of being Luddites. Then I recall that the Luddites were workers whose jobs were being consumed by the mechanical monsters they confronted, so that analogy would be unfair to them.

Yes, I too lament the protracted death of bookstores. I’ve always loved to wander at a leisurely pace through the aisles of a well-stocked independent bookstore (or even, I confess, a Borders or B&N at times). I used to appreciate the feel in my hands and the unmistakable smell of newness of a new hardcover book as I opened it for the first time. But my life goes on even though I experience these pleasures so much less frequently these days.

Many people seem to equate the advent of the e-book as the death-knell of books and publishing. Of course, it’s certainly true that the publishing industry is restructuring in major ways, but that’s a process that began years before e-books became widely available. It has as much to do with the rise (and now the seemingly imminent fall) of the major bookstore chains and, perhaps even more so, with the increasingly large role played by the big-box discounters.

The problems of publishers aside, it’s nonsense to think that the printed book is a dying phenomenon. Last year, according to a friend who runs a publishing company, one million titles were published in the U.S. — a much larger number than had been the case only a few years ago. Apparently, there’s been a spike (or flowering, depending on your point of view) in self-publishing, which accounts for hundreds of thousands of titles. As far as I can tell, Americans may be buying fewer books, magazines, and newspapers, but I’d have to be convinced they’re actually reading less.

So, the world is changing. What else is new? Growing numbers of people now read e-books in addition to, or perhaps instead of, printed ones. But the e-book itself is obviously a transitional format. When it costs no more to print in color, or to include photos or other illustrations, the black-and-white age of the typical printed book will certainly fade. And it’s only a couple of steps further to the multimedia “book” that incorporates audio, video, and interactive features.

If you’re one of those people who can’t part with the feel and the smell and the heft of a printed book, five or ten years from now you may still be reading in the age-old format that began (shakily, it now seems) with Johannes Gutenberg.I expect to be navigating my way through the colorful and engaging content of a multimedia “book.”

Books on paper aren’t going away, at least not anytime soon. Eventually, probably decades from now, the book will become an artifact of a time long passed. What will have replaced it? What is the book of the future? I won’t begin to speculate. But I’m convinced that billions of educated people will be “reading” at least as much as we are now, learning a lot, and enjoying it immensely.


Filed under FAQs & Commentaries

iPad vs. Kindle

No, I’m not going to tell you that one is vastly better than the other. It’s not that simple.

Early adopter that I am, I purchased my first Kindle not long after the device came on the market. Within weeks, I had found a new love-object. It quickly became apparent that I was able to read books much more easily, quickly — and, yes, pleasurably — on the Kindle than on paper:

  • More easily, because I could carry the Kindle with me anywhere, snatching 10 minutes here and 20 minutes there to move a little further into the meat of whatever book I was reading;
  • More quickly, because the line length, using the large type I selected, was short enough to allow my eyes to skim more rapidly over the text; and
  • More pleasurably, because I wasn’t forced to bend books at the spine, hold them down with my elbow, or prop them up with a pillow because, since they were often thick hardcover editions, they were uncomfortable to rest on my lap in a chair or my stomach in bed.

The advent of the Kindle 2 made this happy camper turn somersaults. I loved the longer battery life and was even more pleased that no longer could a subtle swipe across the device turn the pages far back or far ahead and cause me to lose my place.

That helps explain why I’ve read a total of somewhere between 150 and 200 books on the Kindle — and practically none on paper.

Now, enter the iPad. Tempted though I was when the iPad was first announced, I resisted the impulse to be the first kid on my block to own one . . . until I learned that Amazon.com had created an app that would allow me to download books previously available only for the Kindle. (The library of available books on Amazon.com is vastly bigger than what’s available anywhere else, and especially from Apple.) I immediately bought an iPad and reveled in the oohs and ahhs of my coworkers and friends at the sheer beauty of the device.

Then I tried to install it. Unbeknownst to me, the iPad is not a self-contained computer. It must be installed through a “real” computer — in this case, my new HP laptop running Windows 7. Turns out, though, that Windows 7 isn’t overly fond of the iPad. After an hour or two of futility, I turned to a friend for help who is a certified, grade-A geek. It took him more than three hours to get the machine running. I had further trouble getting it to “sync” with my laptop, but that’s another story.

Apple includes an edition of Winnie the Pooh with full-color illustrations as a starter in the iBooks library, and as you may already have seen, it is wondrous to behold — nothing short of gorgeous. But I was more interested in reading books from Amazon.com, so — with some renewed difficulty — I downloaded the Kindle app and several books from my archive at Amazon. Another delay ensued when I couldn’t figure out where those books had gone on the iPad, but another techie friend solved that problem without difficulty.

Finally! Days later now, I opened my first Kindle book on the iPad — and felt cruelly betrayed.

Here’s what you can’t do with Kindle books on the iPad:

1) You can’t adjust the size of the type. You can only switch from landscape view to portrait view and back again.

2) You can’t look up words in the dictionary, because there is none.

3) You can’t get a sense of how much of a book you’ve read, because not only is there no pagination (there isn’t on the Kindle itself), there is no indication of the percentage of text you’ve completed or any comparable mechanism.

4) You can’t see the cover in its full-color glory. (You can’t do that on the Kindle, either, but you most certainly can with iBooks on the iPad.)

In short, buying an iPad to read books from Amazon.com is a non-starter. Perhaps the Kindle app will be improved, but it will have to go a very great distance to equal the amazing performance of the iPad with books from Apple’s online store. Here are a few of the many capabilities of the iPad in book-reading mode:

1) You can switch from landscape to portrait view, or vice versa, and lock either one in place.

2) You can adjust the font size by tapping an icon located in the upper-right-hand corner of the page.

3) You can adjust the brightness of the backlighting by tapping on another icon, located right next to the font symbol.

4) You can search the book using a keyword or phase by tapping a third icon — a magnifying glass — in the upper right. That action pulls up the keyboard, allowing you to enter a search term in a drop-down window.

5) You can switch from the book you’re reading to another book in your iBooks collection by tapping the Library button in the upper-left-hand corner of the page.

6) You can switch to the table of contents by tapping an icon in the upper left, and then tapping the number of the chapter you want to read.

7) You can tell how far you’ve read two different ways: the iPad calculates the total number of pages in your book and shows at the bottom of each page the number of pages you’ve already read (such as “586 of 2570” with the font set at a large size); and you can see at a glance how far a button has progressed from left to right along a line of dots stretching across the bottom of the page, thus giving you a sense of whether you’re one-quarter or one-third or one-half the way through the book.

8) You can see how many more pages are left to read in each chapter, because, in faint gray type at the lower right, that information appears (“43 pages left in this chapter”).

9) And, of course, you can see the book cover in full color — not to mention any full-color photographs or illustrations the book may contain. And black-and-white photos appear as sharp as on even the most advanced computer screen.

So, why haven’t I trashed my Kindle and switched all my book-reading to the iPad? Here are the drawbacks:

  • I can carry the Kindle with me everywhere. The iPad is too big, too awkward, and just a little too heavy to carry around.
  • Amazon.com still offers by far the world’s biggest selection of electronic books. The company has a virtual monopoly on that market (though that may change over the long run).
  • The iPad has the same annoying tendency that handicapped the Kindle 1: just brush the screen accidentally, and you might turn two pages or ten. (Yes, it’s cool to be able to turn the page with a simple swipe of the finger — but not so cool to find yourself ten pages ahead of yourself without even realizing it until you notice the lack of continuity from the page you were reading to the one that’s come up in front of you.)

So, iPad vs. Kindle — who wins?

They both do. I’m sold on reading electronic books instead of the paper variety.

And I expect I’ll be using both these devices until one or the other of them matches the attractive features of the other, addresses its own drawbacks, and gains access to electronic books offered by all sellers, not just its own in-house stock.


Filed under Commentaries, FAQs & Commentaries

“How much should books cost?” and other misleading questions

If you have a Kindle, as I do, you’ve come across complaints in the pages of Amazon.com about the “outrageous Kindle price.” Most of the time, as you know, that price is $9.99.

In my earliest encounters with this all-too-common complaint, I wondered whether there was a groundswell of concern for the financial health of Amazon.com, which I’m told pays an average of about $13 for those self-same books. After all, if you lose $3 on every sale, you can’t make it up on volume.

But, no. In my naivete, I had failed to consider the possibility that book-buyers would think $9.99 was too much to pay for a book priced at $25-30 retail. Although the logic of this position escapes me, it appears to be common among Amazon’s customers. Somehow, the logic seems to go, a book whose physical manifestation consists exclusively of electrons should cost . . . well, how much, really? $8? $5? Less? After all, the publisher doesn’t have to pay for paper, printing, and binding. Nor does it face the costs of storage, distribution, and returns, right?

It’s hard to imagine that any of these kvetsches has ever tried to run a business of any sort, much less a publishing company. The reality is, as anyone in publishing will tell you, a new book — admittedly, not an out-of-copyright title — involves . . . guess what? . . . a lot of work, and somebody’s got to pay for that. Start with the writer. Then consider the editor (sometimes more than one), the proof-reader, the typographer, the designer, the marketing staff, and don’t forget the people who supervise all these often-temperamental individuals. It turns out that the cost of paper, printing, and binding (called “PPB”) in the argot of the publishing industry, is relatively minor. Perhaps $3-4 for a fat hardcover book. Storage, distribution, and returns collectively may amount to more than PPB, but they vary greatly with volume and thus with the popularity of a title. If the book in question is a best-seller, and the author has an established name, the royalty may amount to all the printing and distribution costs combined. And publishing jobs don’t command high salaries, to say the least, but I haven’t heard of any starving editors lately. Add these real costs up, even factoring out the costs of manufacturing and shipping a physical product, and you’re likely to find that they amount to more than that $9.99 we typically pay for new books on Amazon.com.

It turns out, though, that some of these folks think $9.99 is an outrageous price because . . . books should be free! Now, perhaps I misunderstood something along the way, but I distinctly recall reading a comment by one customer who bragged that she had acquired more than 200 books on her Kindle that were absolutely free! It’s true, of course, that I’ve come across free book offers in the Kindle section, and I’ve picked up a few myself — generally, classic titles that have long been out of copyright. But I find myself pondering what my reading experience would be like if I limited myself to free books. Something like wandering the streets of a college town and picking out books from the boxes of stuff left behind by students at the end of a semester. Interesting concept, eh? I wonder what that would be like.

But I’m not wasting a lot of time and energy on that thought. I’ll pay for my books, and as long as Amazon is able to force publishers to let them sell most titles at $9.99, I’ll be grateful.


Filed under Commentaries, FAQs & Commentaries

“Do you really read all those books?” and other FAQs

OK, so nobody asked. But I’ll bet you were thinking that, right? I’m going to answer, anyway.

“Do you really read all those books?”

Yes, Virginia, I do. I review only books I’ve read. I may sometime be tempted to review some awful book I’ve thrown down in disgust after reading only a chapter or two, but that hasn’t happened yet. (Well, it did once, but my review was so intemperate that I deleted it.)

“So, how can you post a review almost every day? Don’t you work, too?”

Well, the question of whether I work is a matter of opinion. There are those who aren’t so sure, and I’m sometimes among their number. However, it is true that I read a lot — not a book every day, for sure, but an average of two or so per week.

“So, if you only read two books per week, how can you review one a day?”

There are mysteries in the universe, but this isn’t one of them. When I bought my first Kindle a couple of years ago, I found myself reading more and more, because for me reading on the Kindle is faster and easier than reading hardcopy (believe it or not). So, in about two years, I’ve accumulated nearly 200 books in e-book format and read nearly all of them. When I haven’t just finished a book, I review another one I recently read.

“Why are your  book choices all over the map? Why isn’t there any pattern?”

Didn’t someone say once upon a time something disparaging about consistency? I think so. In any case, a disregard for consistency has been one of the guiding principles of my life. However, once I’ve reviewed a whole lot more books, you may detect a pattern after all. I read both fiction and nonfiction, with a slight preference for fiction. The nonfiction is largely of recent origin and pertains to politics, history, world affairs, or, occasionally, science. The fiction tends to be recent popular but respectable fiction, historical novels, murder mysteries and other crime stories, and sometimes science fiction.

“Are you one of those self-righteous people who failed as a writer and turned to reviewing books to get even?”

Well, my success or failure is in the eye of the beholder (me), but I have written — and, yes, published — a slew of books. If you don’t believe me, go to http://bit.ly/15bfTb. Just don’t expect to find the Great American Novel there.

“So, what gives you the right to review all these books?”

Hey, it’s a free country, isn’t it?

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