I’m a convert to the Kindle eReader.
But I’m not a convert from ink and paper.
No, I converted from the iPad, much touted by Apple as giving the ultimate ereading experience. For about a year, nearly all my personal book consumption had been on the iPad, either in Apple’s own iBooks app or the free Kindle app which can be added to the iPad.
But since last November, I haven’t read a single book on the iPad. I’m in no hurry to read any more, for two main reasons: one, the Kindle’s reflective ‘e-ink’ screen is easier on my eyes, and two, it’s summer and I like to read in our bright back porch where reflections on the iPad’s glossy glass screen make reading very difficult.
(Most of my comments here about the Kindle would apply to any ereaders that use e-ink – e.g. the Kobo, Sony and (not available in New Zealand) the Nook. They all essentially have the same screens. Note, however, that the new Kindle Fire model doesn’t use e-ink, but has similar screen technology to an iPad.)
At first sight, iPad ereaders have an aesthetic edge. The iPad screen is closer in size to a real book, at 9.7 inches (diagonal) compared with the Kindle’s six inches. Superficially, ebooks on the iPad look more like the real thing. They have more elegant fonts, pages that turn realistically and book design niceties like running headers. Navigating around an ebook collection and administering it is much faster and slicker on an iPad.
iPad ereaders go beyond both real books and Kindle books, in letting you change background ‘paper’ colour – even letting you put the display into inverse with white text on a black background – useful if you don’t want to disturb your partner in bed. And of course iPad ereading will always shine (pun intended) where the ambient light level is low. The display is a backlit computer screen whereas the Kindle has a reflective screen that needs external light, just like a paper book.
It was the iPad’s’s backlit display that finally turned me toward the Kindle. The iPad is…sort of…OK, but the Kindle is just nicer to read for extended periods. Kindle fonts are clunky compared with the iPad, but they are more readable. They just sit nicely like real printed type, on a non-reflective background that is more paper-like.
Kindle also better for reading than most printed books
The Kindle screen seems small at first, particularly if you’ve made the font fairly big. But I get sucked into that little screen…sucked into the book itself…more than reading a real paper book. It’s a new and compelling reading experience. For me it’s just a better way of reading any book that is essentially all text, like novels and many non-fiction titles.
There is still an honoured place for printed books that are heavy on illustration and good design. I like handling them and I like reading them. I far prefer browsing through them. And I earn my living producing them so yes, there has to be an honoured place for them!
But for most other reading, give me an ebook any day. I know, I know…electronics and plastic can never replace the feel and smell of real paper, real binding and the general ‘handle’ of an ancient and loved cultural icon. Well crap. I don’t care how beautifully put together the paper version of the latest Booker Prize winner is – I’ll read it on my Kindle, thanks.
I know I’m not alone in my e-ink enthusiasm. Over the past year I’ve met or read about many Kindle converts among serious booklovers who might once have said ‘never’. Though not technology nerds in any shape or form, they are now devoted to the Kindle their husband or wife bought for them. My wife is among them. She got her Kindle the Christmas before last, took to it like a duck to water and gave me a Kindle a year later. Thanks, Liz.
The Kindle is lighter and much easier to handle in bed. Its pages are evenly lit, which they sure’aint in a ‘real’ book with opposing pages at different angles. Even worse is wrestling with stiff binding and putting up with curved pages and distorted lines of text.
One area where the iPad is much better than a Kindle, is the ability to shoot off at a tangent via the web and find out more about some aspect of the book you’re reading. For instance, I read Bill Bryson’s marvellous book At Home on my iPad and frequently looked up photos and other details of things he was writing about, at Wikipedia and elsewhere. Yes, you can do that on a Kindle too, but it’s glacially cumbersome, with no colour.
Online dictionary access to look up the meaning of words you’re reading in the book is good on both platforms.
Traditional books give no encyclopaedic or etymological help whatsoever.
Shooting readily off at tangents is all very well, but it can also be a great distraction, particularly on the iPad. Sometimes I’d get so involved with the extras I was finding out about, that it would take me quite a while to get back to the book I was reading. But this is a general problem with the iPad. Its cornucopia of all manner of delights is a huge distraction from things you really should be doing, and reading books is only one of them. For distraction-free reading, use a Kindle.
While books are mostly why I have a Kindle, in recent weeks I’ve sussed out how to send feature articles to it from sources on the web. A plug-in to my computer’s Firefox browser called Kindle it lets me transfer such articles to the Kindle. Two clicks send them first to Amazon’s servers, where they are formatted nicely – sans ads and extraneous links – then pushed wirelessly to my Kindle. I’m an addict of the Arts & Letters website which has links to many great articles. These read well on the Kindle – much nicer than on my real computer or in the iPad’s Instapaper app, which I would previously send them to.
Rise and rise
The last 15 months or so have seen a huge rise in the popularity of ebook reading, and from what I read, Amazon’s Kindle and Amazon’s Kindle bookshop have been the main beneficiaries.
I blogged about this a year ago, in eBooks on a huge roll. Then I wrote: “Amazon says it is now selling more ebooks than paperbacks – 115 ebooks for every 100 paperbacks, in the last three months of 2010. Not long ago, Amazon was crowing about selling more ebooks than hardbacks. For ebooks to have moved ahead and eclipsed paperbacks so quickly is phenomenal, considering that paperbacks outsell hardbacks by a wide margin.”
Things have accelerated since then. My own extended family is an example. Liz was our first Kindle owner, a little over a year ago. Now I have one. A daughter and son have them. A brother, sister and their respective spouses each have one. My cousin and her three children each have one. My sister and cousin are so in love with their Kindles that they put them in snaplock plastic bags and read them in the bath.
Here are some American publishing industry predictions for 2012, reported by Autormedia.com:
“eBook sales will double in 2012 from their 2011 numbers.” – Thomas Umstattd, Author Media CEO
“I anticipate that we’ll see the percentage of ebook sales climb from 20-30% of the business to almost 50%.” – Julie Gwinn, Editor B&H Publishing Group
It’s possible to gift ebooks to people through Amazon and that company said in a recent press release that in the last month of 2011, such gifting was up by 175 percent compared to the same period in 2010. During December they sold a million Kindles per week.
The American Consumer Electronics Association says that ereader sales rose from 147,000 in 2007 to an estimated 18.7 million in 2011 and a projected 23 million this year.
Buying a Kindle
Kindles are now very cheap in the USA, and if you know anyone who will ship one to you, they can still be pretty cheap when they arrive here. The entry-level wireless-only Kindle 4 is US$109. Amazon will now ship to New Zealand and as of today, the total cost would NZ$156. Or you can buy the same thing at Dick Smith Electronics for $NZ189. The Electronic Dick also sells the older model Kindle 3 for $NZ289, which frankly is a rip-off.
What you can’t buy in New Zealand or have Amazon send to New Zealand, is the ad-supported version, which costs US$30 less. It is identical except that when you switch the power off, a special offer advert appears on the screen. A small version of the advert also appears at the bottom of the Kindle home screen, but never within a book you are reading.
The ad subsidy deal also applies to the US$139 Kindle Touch, which becomes US$99. Unfortunately Amazon will not ship any version of the Touch (or the Kindle Fire) to New Zealand, and Dick Smith doesn’t sell them either. But you can buy online at Amazon and get them to ship to a friend or relation who lives in the USA, who can then post the unit to New Zealand. That’s how I got my Touch. I have the cheaper ad-supported version. I can’t take advantage of the offers – and some are very attractive – but so far the ads aren’t bothering me. If they get aggravating I can make them go away by letting Amazon bill US$40 to my credit card.
You’ll probably want to buy a case for your Kindle. Don’t buy it at Amazon or Dick Smiths. It will be a fraction of the price at Hong Kong seller Deal Extreme, where we bought our excellent quality leather cases for US$9.90 post free.