In an article in the August 3rd New Yorker, Nicholson Baker was generally critical of the Kindle, citing among its many deficiencies, its keyboard; the sickly green/gray color of its screen; its sole font (which happens to be one he doesn't much like); the count by "location" rather than page; the absence of a back light for night reading; a too-low pixel count as well as the lack of color and a zoom function (which makes viewing maps, charts, illustrations, etc. virtually impossible). For him, reading on an iPhone (or as one friend of mine asserts, a netbook) seemed a much better option.
For me, there's nothing as tempting as print on paper, the feel of a book in the hand, the smell of it. And when I'm at home, I'm a Luddite. But the Kindle approximates the experience of reading a book as a netbook couldn't, as an iPhone doesn't. And as just about everyone says in its praise, the Kindle produces no eye strain.
Not every book you'd like to read is available, and there are certainly some that shouldn't be read on a Kindle no matter what, anything with illustrations for a start. Color would be wonderful, as would a zoom capability, a choice of fonts, a back light. In truth, everything Nicholson Baker wants, I would like. And if I were redesigning it, I'd narrow the border surrounding the screen to allow as much reading area as possible.
Still, I love my Kindle. I love knowing I have ten, fifteen, the possibility of fifteen HUNDRED books in my purse, all contained within a device about the size of a trade paperback, but a fraction of its depth and weighing about as much as one hard cover book. I love being able to sit on a train, in a restaurant, in an airport lounge, and on impulse buy yet another book, and have it delivered to me wirelessly, by what is felicitously called WhisperNet, in less than a minute. It was this capability more than anything else that led me to the Kindle rather than the Sony Reader, or any other device that requires downloading the book to a computer and then transferring it via USB cable. I love not having to panic when I'm almost at the last page, and I'm traveling, and nowhere near a bookstore.
But this wireless capability doesn't exist everywhere, one Kindle drawback that Mr. Baker doesn't mention. Because of import/export and various other laws, the Kindle is not (yet) for sale outside the United States. A U.S. address and charge card are required to buy a Kindle edition. And even those qualified can't have it delivered wirelessly while traveling abroad, or, in fact, anywhere outside a WhisperNet service area. So, while on vacation in Europe this past summer, had I been in a frenzy to replace my dwindling stock of books, I would have had to download any I bought to my computer and then transfer it by USB cable to the Kindle, just as with the Sony Reader.
Another drawback I hadn't anticipated (though I should have) I discovered on the plane as I was leaving JFK. The Kindle, not just its wireless capability, but the Kindle itself, like any other electronic device, has to be turned off during takeoff and landing, which is when I most want to read. (Not that I worry a lot about crashing; still, I find it's good to keep the mind off the subject at those moments.)
Despite all that, (so far) nothing has dented my pleasure in the Kindle. But on the question of the cost of its editions and what you get for what you pay, Nicholson Baker did start me thinking. Yes, it's magically easy to have the book that you want the minute you want it (provided it exists in a Kindle format, of course, and you happen to be in a service area). And it certainly feels good to ante up only $9.99 for the latest best seller; or $5.49, or sometimes even nothing at all, for something you've always longed to read but never got around to. But then what? It's there on your Kindle, and backed up on Amazon, but you can't resell the book, or give it to a friend, read it on your computer, or transfer it to any other device, and if Amazon decides to (as it did recently with pirated editions of 1984 and Animal Farm) it can delete it from your list. Is this really "buying" a book? After reading Mr. Nicholson's article, I started to think it wasn't. To me, rather than an outright sale, it began to seem much more like a lease agreement, where Kindle owners are permitted keep a book they've ordered indefinitely but on limited terms and conditions. And if that's the case, isn't the average price of $9.99 way too much, even for a long-term rental fee?
As an author, I don't usually go looking for ways to cut royalties; but I'm a consumer, too, with a vested interest in keeping the market place fair.
Causes Camille Marchetta Supports
The Alzheimer's Association
The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation
Doctors Without Borders
Save the Children