I was gone for several days last week to the Florida Christian Writer’s Conference, and am just now digging myself out from the things that piled up while I was gone. The conference was a lot of fun. I taught for six hours on internet marketing for writers and was up very late most nights critiquing the web sites of some of my students.
Being a west coast guy and a night owl, I had trouble falling asleep before 1:30 AM, which was kind of a bummer because I had to get up at 7 AM to make it to breakfast before my 8:30 AM classes.
Aside from massive sleep deprivation, I really enjoyed it all and met a lot of interesting writers. I actually fell asleep and almost fell over one evening during a terrific talk by Calvin Miller, which showed just how thrashed I really was.
When I got home Sunday night, my newly ordered Kindle was waiting for me. I didn’t get a chance to even unwrap it until Monday night, but have been playing with it off and on since then. Here are a few random thoughts on the Kindle.
The Kindle I got is version 2.0, which appears to be much slicker and more polished than version 1.0. At $359, I consider the Kindle still too expensive. However, it’s definitely a fine machine if you have the money and if you need it.
The Kindle connects to the world in two ways:
1) via a wireless connection to the Sprint network (you don’t pay anything extra for this–Amazon pays the Sprint tab).
2) via a USB connection to your computer
The power cord is actually the USB cable, which connects into an electric plug that has a USB connector. It’s a clever idea and it means that you only have one cable for the device.
The Kindle has a built-in web browser that lets you view web sites over the Sprint network. Since the Kindle’s graphic display is still limited to 16 shades of gray, you’re best off viewing sites that are mostly text. Note that the Kindle graphics uses “electronic ink” which uses very low power, so you get a long battery life. The resolution is about 200 dots per inch, which is twice as good as most computer monitors, so the display is very easy on your eyes. It is not backlit, so you can read it easily in direct sunlight. But you’ll need a light to read in the dark, just like a regular book.
You can also connect wirelessly on your Kindle to the Kindle Store (which is really Amazon) where you can buy e-books. You use the Amazon One-Click technology to buy them, and they download direct to your Kindle. Since every Kindle has a unique ID, Amazon knows who you are when you connect to the store. If somebody bought you the Kindle as a gift, then you have to register it with them so that it will recognize your Kindle when you connect to the store. It’s all quite seamless.
One downside of using Sprint for connectivity is that you can’t connect if you’re outside the Sprint network. My house is in a cell phone dead zone. None of the cell carriers reach my house, so when I’m at home, I can’t use the Kindle to connect to the outside world. However, I can still log on to Amazon and buy books there on my computer, then download them direct to my computer and then move them to my Kindle via the USB connection. So I’m not exactly helpless, even in the dead zone.
The Kindle lets you read several different kinds of files. You can transfer them to your Kindle just by plugging in the Kindle to the USB port on your computer. Your computer thinks it’s a USB flash drive and you can drag files into the “documents” folder in the Kindle and that’s all you have to do. Here are the kinds of files you can transfer in this way:
1) You can read the special .azw files that Amazon uses which have digital management rights built in. This enforces copy protection, so you can’t buy a book on Amazon and give it to someone else; it will only display on your Kindle. Normally, you don’t have to drag these into your Kindle from your computer, because when you buy a book on Amazon, it automatically downloads to the Kindle wirelessly within 60 seconds. But if you’re outside the Sprint network, you can log on to your Amazon account and download the book and then drag it to the Kindle.
2) You can also display plain text files (with the .txt extension) directly on your Kindle.
3) You can display unprotected e-books in .mobi or .prc format (the so-called Mobipocket format). There are a lot of these books on the web for free (more about this later).
4) You can play Audible format sound files (with the .aa or .aax extension). This means you can play any audiobook from Audible.com or other audiobook sellers directly on your Kindle. The Kindle has built-in speakers that are “good enough” and it also has a headphone jack.
5) Likewise, you can play .mp3 sound files.
6) Some of my loyal blog readers have been wondering about Word .doc files or .pdf files. You can’t display these DIRECTLY on your Kindle, but Amazon will convert files in this format to Kindle format for you FREE. All you have to do is email the .doc file or the .pdf file to your Kindle (each Kindle comes with its own email address). When you email the document, it goes to Amazon, which converts it to the Kindle’s special .azw format, then forwards it to your Kindle wirelessly. At the same time, Amazon sends you an email on your own computer, notifying you that the .azw file is available for download to your computer, which you can then transfer to the Kindle via USB. It may sound a little complicated, but it’s actually not. It’s quite slick and easy to use. The file formats you can transfer this way are: .doc, .pdf, .html, .jpg, .gif, .png, .bmp, and .zip. This is actually pretty good, since these are most of the common formats for text and simple graphics.
I will confess that I didn’t get the Kindle in order to save a few bucks on books that I buy on Amazon. That is a nice side benefit, but what I really wanted is a nice reading tool for Word .doc files. I constantly get requests for endorsements from my author friends, and sometimes they want to send a Word .doc file. (This is a lot cheaper than sending paper, and it’s also quicker.) The problem is that I end up not reading the manuscript because reading a novel on a computer is torture. As I have been learning in the last couple of days, reading it on a Kindle is a real pleasure. I’m currently reading a novel by a friend of mine (my former editor who’s also a novelist) and I’m well into it.
I often get requests from author friends to read their manuscript before it’s ready for endorsement or even ready for the editor. I always say I’ll try to read it, but very rarely do I find it possible. My eyes just aren’t that good, and reading on a computer is hard for me. The Kindle is going to make it possible for me to do that now. Ditto for book proposals or other documents.
So this is the real reason I got my Kindle–to read unofficial books long before they get published. My understanding is that a LOT of editors these days have bought either the Kindle or the Sony E-book Reader for exactly this purpose. It’s a lot easier to take a Kindle on the subway than to take 30 manuscripts.
By the way, the Kindle also has a text-to-speech feature that will read the book aloud to you. It’s a pretty good text-to-speech reader. The male voice seems a little smoother than the female voice. I was talking with Vicki Crumpton, an editor friend, at the Florida conference. She had her Kindle shipped direct to the conference and was showing it around. We agreed that the digital voice is remarkably good, but it’s not something you’d want to listen to a whole novel with. It just isn’t nearly as good as a real human voice.
The Kindle has a tiny QWERTY keyboard on it, so you can type (very slowly). So you can annotate your books with notes, and place bookmarks. I’m told you can even do email but haven’t tried this. If you delete books from your Kindle that you bought from Amazon, you can always redownload them from Amazon (it takes less than a minute by wireless connection), so you don’t have to worry about “losing” them.
I recommend getting a cover for the Kindle, since otherwise the screen is going to get dinged up when you put the machine in your backpack or purse. Amazon has a nice leather cover for $30, and there are many other options.
One of my writer friends mentioned to me yesterday that you can get a TON of free e-books from www.FeedBooks.com. I looked and was delighted to see a lot of great classics that aren’t copyrighted. If you love Jane Austen or Dostoevsky or Mark Twain or Dickens, then check this place out. They have many many e-books in formats suitable for any e-book reader (even a plain PDF format that you can read on a computer).
I don’t think that Kindles will replace paper books, any more than the web has replaced newspapers or magazines. What has happened is that the web has taken market share from newspapers and mags, but there is still a place for paper. I do think the Kindle and similar e-book readers will take market share from paper books, and in the future, e-book sales will be a substantial fraction of an author’s sales. Since e-book royalties run about 25%, and since e-books typically sell for less, this should be a wash for the author. But authors may see more sales because of the cheaper format, so we may see more revenue because of higher volume. I don’t feel threatened by e-books at all.
One of my loyal blog readers, Marcus, asked about newspapers and magazines. There are a number of these available for the Kindle. They download to your Kindle wirelessly as soon as they’re available (typically before you could get delivery of the physical product). I haven’t tried any of these yet. There are also about 1000 blogs you can subscribe to. Again, I haven’t tried these, so can’t comment on them.
As I noted above, the prices for a Kindle book on Amazon are a bit less than for the paper copy. I just bought a copy of CONSPIRACY IN KIEV which was recommended by an editor friend of mine. The Kindle version is priced 60 cents less than the paper version. However, shipping would have cost me another few bucks for the paper copy, and I’d have had to wait a few days for it. So it made sense to buy it on my Kindle.
Amazon lets you read several sample chapters first, before you buy, and of course you download them wirelessly. I did that in the parking lot of the UPS store when I drove into town today. I went into town specifically to test how the Sprint service worked on the Kindle. It worked fine. Of course, I could have downloaded it on my computer at home and then transferred it via USB to the Kindle, but I wanted to verify that the wireless option works well.
So that sums up most of what I have to say. I think I’ll use my Kindle in the following primary ways:
1) Reading pre-release books by my author friends
2) Reading classic novels that I can get free off the web
3) Reading new release novels when it makes sense to get them electronically instead of paper copies
I still like paper books. The problem is that I have thousands of them. They take up a lot of space. They cost me time, energy, and money every time I move. It’s hard to pack more than two or three when I travel. The Kindle is going to help me minimize those problems. I hope to read some of those classic novels that I never read in high school because my “enlightened” school decided that those old writers were no longer “relevant”. Many of them are available free, and the Kindle will make them a lot more readable than my computer does.
Here is one thing I’d like to see on a Kindle: folders.
The Kindle will hold 1500 books, more or less. That’s a lot of books. Right now, when you load books to your Kindle, they all go into the “documents” folder. A folder with 1500 entries can take a while to navigate through. Far better to have folders within folders within folders, like you do on your computer.
Jeff Bezos, if you’re listening, I hope you’ll get your team to add folders to the Kindle real soon now. It’s a fine machine. It costs quite a lot, but it does what it promises, and then some. Since Apple Computer seems to be in no hurry to produce an e-book reader, the Kindle looks to me to be the next best thing. I expect to get a lot of use out of mine.