The good and bad of the Kindle

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19 July 2009

Every year Magenic gives its employees a cool tech gift around the holidays. This year it was a Kindle 2, and so I’ve been using mine for several months now and have some thoughts.

On the upside, the Kindle allows me to bring a number of books with me everywhere I go. This is very nice, given how much I travel for work, and the fact that I do most of my reading while sitting in airplanes.

Also, I like the form factor of the device, including the size, shape and weight. And the screen is easy on the eyes. I really think I read faster on the Kindle than with a paper book because of the clarity, consistency and the nice way the device moves forward from page to page.

But there are some things I dislike too.

I like to share books. My wife and I have a respectable library in our home, and we’re constantly loaning books to friends. And borrowing books in return – it is a great way to interact socially and share common interests.

The Kindle entirely destroys the concept of book sharing. With a real book I spend $8-$25 to get something I can read and share with friends. With the Kindle I pay the same price, but only I can read the result. All I can do is tell my friends it was good, or not.

As a content creator, I suppose I should be cheering on the idea of books that can’t be shared, but I’m afraid I’m a reader first, and author second, and this is a really serious drawback for me. To the point that, since getting the Kindle, I’ve purchased a couple paper books because I know I’ll want to share them. Obviously I didn’t waste the money to buy them on the Kindle too, as that seems rather silly to me, so there I was back to lugging around paper books on the airplane.

The other major problem I have with the Kindle is the same one I have with buying music online.

While Amazon (and music vendors) portray the transaction as a “purchase”, it is really a “lease”.

I’ve lost several CDs worth of music over the years, as a music vendor went out of business and their licenses expired and the music I “bought” was rendered unplayable. I’ve long since decided that I’ll never buy DRM “protected” music. Such a “purchase” is a hoax – a total scam. Personally I think it should be illegal to portray it as a purchase transaction (false advertising or whatever), but I guess we live in a laissez-faire enough world that it is up to each of us to get ripped of a few times before we rebel against the dishonest corporate entities.

I hadn’t really thought about the Kindle being in the same category until I read this recent article. It turns out that Amazon can yank your license to read a book if they desire. And of course it is true that if Amazon folds, or gets bored with the Kindle idea, that all the books I “purchased” will disappear.

With music I’ve been paying a monthly fee to the Zune service to lease access to all the music they have. And that makes me reasonably happy, because it is an honest, up-front transaction that is what it says it is. I get access to amazing amounts of music as long as I keep paying my lease. If I stop paying, or if the Zune service goes away, the music disappears. This makes me happy overall, and I view this as a reasonably value.

Maybe Amazon should do this with the Kindle too. Be more honest and up-front about the nature of the transaction and the relationship. Charge a monthly fee for access to their entire online library of books, and have the books disappear off the device if/when I stop paying the monthly fee.

Of course this still doesn’t solve the problem where I can’t share books I “purchase” with my friends, I still don’t know of a good solution to this issue.