Arnold Kling  

Not on Fire for Kindle

Ignorant Masses, Dogmatic Elit... The News Business...

[UPDATE: I found the web browser on the Kindle. You have to go to the Kindle home, select menu, then select "experimental."

Of course, I am one of those troglodytes who uses a PC client for email. But once I set up a Gmail account to fetch my mail, I can use the Kindle to check email. That really changes the story. Now I can take advantage of the screen and the wireless access to have a portable email reader. That makes me a lot happier about owning it.]

I have spent a few days with my new Amazon Kindle reader. A number of people have offered favorable reviews--Charlie Martin and Megan McArdle.

I think that the screen, the wireless Internet connection, the light weight, and the long battery life are its best features. There is a lot potential there. But.

It turns out that my reading style is to scan. Sometimes I'll be in the third chapter of a book and start asking myself what the author is getting at. So I'll flip to the conclusion. Or I'll jump ahead to what I think is a more important chapter. Although one can use the Kindle that way, it takes a lot more thought and effort than with a paper book.

My main concern continues to be with what is available on the Kindle. The typical semi-academic nonfiction that I read tends to be unavailable. My guess is that if I stick with the Kindle it will skew my reading in the direction of more popular nonfiction.

I'm not the first one to say this, but it's probably bad to try to replicate an older media experience using a new technology. Instead, if a new device is going to have real impact, it has to be adapted in unexpected ways. For that purpose, the proprietary Kindle format and the closed operating system are its most serious flaws. If it could be hacked, I could imagine it being used for email or blogging [well, it can be used for those purposes--see update above]. Or it might become a vehicle for new scholarly journals, or cheaper textbooks.

But as a closed system, you have to compare it to book technology. It is easier to purchase, carry, and store books on the Kindle. But it is harder to read them.

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COMMENTS (7 to date)
Jack writes:

The Sony Reader seems to address at least some of your concerns, and that is what I'm going to purchase rather than the Kindle. Have you tried it?

liberty writes:

I spend way too much time in front of a screen already; the nice thing about books is that they don't have a screen.

tim writes:


I hear that often. Hate to break it to you but the "book format" is just another type of monitor. Just one you are used to. The screen on the Kindle is very unlike your typical LCD or CRT monitor. Its not "screenlike" at all.

I agree with the poster. I think the Kindle works for non-work related books but it doesn't work for books that I use as part my work (which is half my reading). Its treatment of graphics and the speed will have to improve greatly. Also - Amazon needs to fire its designer and hire Apple. The layout of the kindle breaks every fundamental design rule I know of.

Saying that I enjoy the Kindle. But the format has a ways to go.

spencer writes:

I think you are on to something about format.

For example, I do not seem to get as much out of reading the Wall Street Journal and/or the New York Times on line as I do reading the actual paper.

I'm not sure why, maybe it years of habit.

But for example, when I read the paper I look at the ads for information. Why is that firm running this ad? I often find that it gives me insights about the economy that I do not get from reading the online version.

When I read the online papers on line I'm more limited to what the editors decide to put on the front page and do not see as much of the articles that are not worth front page coverage. But that is where you get ahead of the game, learning about issues before they become front page news. If you do not know about something until it is front page news you are too late and it is already in the market.

cameron writes:

okay i agree that the Kindle should have an open SDK for the devlopment of new apps, but i am confused on a few things

You can easily convert just about anything to kindle. Sure there are problem with formatting things with equations, but this is a more general issue in the computer world then it should be. I will imagine it wont take very long for 3rd party tools to help with the formating issues to be developed.

So far i would say 90% of my current eBook library has converted just fine.

As far as availability of books. Amazon is pretty committed to making everything it can available via the Kindle Store. They are possible the only company out there that might be able to get publishers to Publish extensively in an electronic format.

I also check my email, blog, twittter, read rss (for free), from my kindle all the time. I even use the built in GPS like features (press alt-1 while in the browser). I think that part is more open then you are giving credit to.

You can easily skip around a book as long as it has been formatted correctly for the kindle. Although i do agree that the style you appear to read in is not well suited to the Kindle.

Again i agree it would be nice for it to be a more open platform, but i think some of your criticisms miss the mark

Arnold Kling writes:

My version does not allow me to check email. The "experimental" portion of the menu (see this article) appears to have been dropped.

Arnold Kling writes:

OK, it was not dropped. It only shows up on the menu from "home." I'll have to take a look

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