The Kindle Controversy--'A Sign of What?'
The letters we published late last week wondering who is buying the Kindle, if 240,000 have been sold, kindled more reactions on Friday and over the weekend. A few readers said they have seen a fair amount of Kindles, and one owns a Kindle and is a big fan--with a few caveats. Others wrote that they use or prefer different e-book reading devices, such as the Sony Reader and Pocket PC. One correspondent noted that 240,000 or fewer Kindles in a population of more than 300 million would understandably make Kindle-spotting difficult. Yet another writer said he's reading ever more books because he's found a great "new" electronic form--the audiobook!
With a few reservations, Kim Welsh, who bought a Kindle a month ago, said she likes it "much more than I thought I would. For reading materials that are primarily text-based such as novels, it is ideal. I'm finding that the e-Ink technology lives up to its early reputation of being very easy on the eyes, and the delivery system from Amazon to the Kindle is unbelievably seamless and lightning fast. (It's a good thing that the electronic versions of the book are less expensive.)
"For books and publications that include a lot of graphics, color, or artwork, Kindle is not the way to go. Traditional books are wonderful and many can never be replaced by a digital reader. For me, with most books, it's more about the story or the information inside (along with the quality of writing overall) than it is about the container.
"I don't think it's a big mystery that we're not seeing Kindles everywhere yet. $359 is still spendy. But eventually the prices will come down even as the quality of the device, and others like it, improves. Kindle and e-book readers have their place. They're not perfect, but they're getting there. I sure like mine."
Elaine Bloom of SpaceContest.org wrote that she saw her first Kindle "at the New Space conference of the Space Frontier Foundation (SFF), being used by a member of SEDS (Students for Exploration and Development of Space), and I know that the executive director of the SFF has one and loves it."
Bloom called this another example of "what I have come to think of as the 'digital divide.' E-readers may not be popular among people who are a bit older (like me), but they're what young people use. They are just not that interested in carrying books around."
Still, the Kindle has potential for making inroads among the older generation because of the ability to adjust type size on it, she said: "As we face the graying of America I am often amazed by the small or very light typefaces used in books."
Dan Poynter, author and publisher of Para Publishing, has written about e-books and prefers using a Pocket PC for reading while traveling rather than a Kindle or Sony Reader, which he called "one-trick ponies." (He does like the Kindle's quickness in downloading new material.) "My speaking travels average some 6,000 miles each week. Yes, 6,000; I made five around-the-world speaking itineraries this year. (I have a home in Santa Barbara but live on United Airlines.)" He reads a lot--but from his Pocket PC--and rarely has seen a Kindle.
Several readers noted that some sales forces have been given Sony Readers, in part to cut down publishers' carbon footprints. Random House rep Ginny Mortorff wrote that "one personal benefit for me is that I took 15 manuscripts with me on vacation. Since we motorcycle around the country I have been limited in the past because of space issues, but my Sony Reader held more than enough for me read to my heart's content."
Julie Carter of Grand Prairie, Tex., wondered if Shelf Awareness readers "really want the Kindle to fail. Do people think Amazon is LYING and that no one is really buying those Kindles?"
[Editor's note: Actually Amazon won't say how many have sold, which has fueled the Kindle controversy.]
Carter continued: "I live in a decent sized city (350,000+) in Texas with no public transportation (meaning we drive ourselves to work, and few people read on their commute), and I've seen TWO Kindles. I know of several more. But why wouldn't someone in big bad New York or San Francisco not have seen one? Let's do the math.
"240,000 Kindles. Round down the U.S. population to 300,000,000. That's about 1 per 1,250 people. So in a city of 8 million people, that's 6,400 Kindles.
"Come on, people, I love books too. But I'm not in denial about what will be involved in the future of reading. Books aren't going anywhere, and no one (except maybe Jeff Bezos) wants them to. But the convenience of carrying a whole library in a $300 device the size of one book is an addition to the bookselling world that can't be denied."
Eric Stover had a twist on the e-device debate, writing, "I'm a bookseller in one job, write software for bookselling in another, and am of course an avid reader. What I find far better than either paper books or e-books are audiobooks. While my paper book reading has remained fairly constant over the past few years, my reading in general has gone up exponentially to the point where audiobooks now make up about 80% of my reading so far this year (60% last year, 20% the year I discovered audiobooks . . . yes, I'm a big enough geek that I actually track that sort of thing). Interestingly since I do all my e-book reading on my iPhone, most of my e-book reading occurs either when I've not thought to bring a book somewhere or at night when the lit screen is less intrusive than a book light or lamp would be. Neither of these would be likely uses if I had a Kindle . . . I still want one--I'm too much of a geek not to--but I'm unsure of how it would fit into my practical reading habits."
Ellen Smith of the Hudson Library and Historical Society, Hudson, Ohio, had a money-saving tip for all e-readers. "Train commuters who are inclined towards e-books (or audiobooks, for that matter) should realize they can save themselves their hard-earned dollars by downloading books from their public library for free--so long as they DON'T use a Kindle. Amazon has not made its device compatible with any public library version (a product of OverDrive), therefore everything viewed on a Kindle costs money!"
And in a note that makes for an appropriate close to today's letters about the Kindle and e-books in general, Alexandra Ogilvie wrote, "I recently left my job at an independent bookstore where I had worked for 17 years. On the Metro in Washington, D.C., on the way to my first day at work in a university library, I noticed a man standing over my shoulder on the packed Metro car reading on a Kindle. It was my first (and so far only) sighting, and I felt like it was some kind of sign. A sign of what, I am still working out."