First, the disclaimer: Like a lot of sites on the web, this site is a member of the Amazon affiliates program. When I post an Amazon link, and you click on it and buy something, I get a commission. This isn’t a major thing for me; it sometimes takes me a couple of years just to get to the $10 threshold for Amazon to direct deposit my earnings. The post below is an honest and unsolicited statement of my personal feelings about an Amazon product, but I thought it was important to be above-board.
I’ve had my Kindle about a month, and it’s been everything I hoped it would be — a great purchase, the best $79 I ever spent.
I have, and this post is about, the Kindle e-reader. The Kindle Fire has a color screen and is a somewhat more versatile product, intended for movies, music and web-surfing as well as reading; the original Kindle has a black-and-white “e-ink” screen designed to be easy on the eyes, and while it has a couple of additional features, its reason for existing is books.
How do I love my Kindle? Let me count the ways.
I am doing more reading than I’ve done in quite some time. Part of this is that the Kindle makes it so easy and inexpensive. Yes, we have a fine library here in Shelbyville, walking distance from the newspaper, and I’ve certainly always had that as an option. But I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t made good use of it in the past few years. I would check out a book every few months (or longer than that), but I wasn’t reading as often as I should.
Now, I have all kinds of options for reading — at a moment’s notice, without leaving the house.
When Amazon first introduced the Kindle, most recent book releases were at Amazon’s suggested price of $9.99. After Apple began making deals with publishers to put e-books on the iPad, the publishers realized they had leverage and insisted on the right to set their own prices on the Kindle platform as well. So many newer books are now in the $12 range — still quite a bit cheaper than the hardback version.
But $12, or whatever, is full price. And I have not paid full price for any of the dozen or so books on my Kindle right now. In many cases, I haven’t paid anything.
You see, Amazon and the publishers are constantly running specials and sales and promotions. There are a variety of web sites, blogs and mailing lists that help you keep up with them. If you are looking for a specific book, such as the latest new release by your favorite author, you’re probably going to wind up paying full price. But if you’re a little more flexible, and willing to sift through those lists, you can find great, worthwhile books for $3.99, $1.99, or for free. You may find clunkers as well, but at those prices, it’s not a major risk.
Amazon also has a large selection of public domain classics — books that are no longer under copyright — for free.
There’s also a program affiliated with public libraries that allows you to borrow Kindle books. You go to the web site and browse the available books. Just as with a library book, there are only a limited number of copies of each book, so if the book you want is already checked out you must put your name on a waiting list. When the book becomes available, you download it to your Kindle. You don’t have to worry about returning it; it will delete itself after the two-week checkout period.
The Kindle does allow you to highlight passages and make notes, and if you do so on a borrowed library book, those notes and highlights will still be saved to your account, so that if you check out the same book again in the future, or decide to buy it, the notes will still be there.
And some Kindle books are available for free loan any time, directly from Amazon, if you’re a member of the Amazon Prime program. (I’m not.)
The other nice thing about the Kindle is that it’s like carrying around a library in your pocket. My cheap-entry level Kindle can hold up to 1,400 books — and many of the other models can hold twice that many. Even if my library grew to 1,401 books, I wouldn’t have lost anything, because anything I purchase is also permanently available for download or re-download or re-re-download from Amazon. I could delete little-used books from my device knowing that I could always get them back later. So if I want to refer to something from that book I finished last month, or a year ago, it’s right there in my pocket.
In practical terms, I think I’ll probably have upgraded to a newer Kindle, presumably with a larger memory, long before I get to 1,400 books.
The device itself is great. Amazon officials have said that the goal for the Kindle e-reader is for it to quickly lose its “gee-whiz” factor; you don’t want to be reading a Kindle, you want to be reading a book. And I think that’s exactly what happens. The device is light, comfortable to hold in either hand (there are duplicate page-turn buttons on either side), and easy to use, and so you forget about it. You can set the type size to whatever you like — tiny, huge or anything in between. If you have vision problems, every book available for your Kindle can be a large-print edition.
I usually keep my Kindle in a padded sleeve-style case, but the Kindle by itself is small enough to fit into my shirt pocket. It weighs less than a paperback.
There are a few cases where the interface gets in the way. Courtesy of the library e-book lending program, I was re-reading Stephen Colbert’s “I Am America (And So Can You!)”, a book I’d checked out in paper form from the library a few months back. One of the graphic design elements of that book is that there are little marginal notes that serve as comic counterpoints to the main text. The Kindle had no way to put them in the margin, and so they were interspersed with the text, and sometimes the positions in which the notes were placed didn’t match up exactly with the text on which they were commenting, leading to confusion.
But that’s a rare situation. For the most part, reading an e-book on a Kindle is a transparent experience.
The black and white e-ink display, which looks great, is supposedly easier on your eyes that a computer or tablet screen because it’s not backlit. Good news: you can read it in bright sunlight, unlike your cell phone or laptop or tablet. Sit on your porch swing or go to the beach and read your novel. Bad news: Just like a book, you need sufficient external light to read the Kindle comfortably. There are Amazon-approved cases for the Kindle which include built-in book lights. There are cheaper jerry-rigged solutions involving the type of cheap book light sold at Walmart checkouts. Or you can just do what I did and put a desk lamp next to the sofa, ready to be turned on over my shoulder when I’m stretched out on the couch reading.
One more note — Amazon offers all of its Kindle e-readers “with special offers” (advertiser-supported) or “without special offers.” You should definitely go for “with special offers.” You will save $30. The “special offer” advertisements, all of them for Amazon-related products or services, are not annoying or intrusive at all. They only show up in two places. One takes the form of a screensaver whenever your device is idle and goes into sleep mode. The other is a small ad banner at the bottom of the device’s home page. You never see any ads while you’re reading. And some of the special offers are actually good deals!
I understand that if you buy a Kindle with special offers and later change your mind, you can pay the $30 and Amazon will turn the ads off. But I doubt you’ll mind them.
I run into people who insist that the Kindle is some terrible thing and that they will never give up printed books. It doesn’t have to be an either-or situation, of course. But I don’t think I’ve run into anyone who has actually bought and started using a Kindle (or Nook) who doesn’t like it. I might be wrong, but I really think it’s going to turn out to be good for reading in general.