Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Kindles, eReaders, and electronic books

Quite a lot has been written recently about the future of electronic publishing.  It sounds to me like the publishing world thought that they could comfortably put off worrying about a major transition to ebooks for several more years.  But the Kindle has been wildly popular, more popular one suspects than even Amazon thought it would be, and the future of ebooks seems to be right now.

I know very little about publishing other than what I've read in the past few weeks, so I can't really comment on that.  But I can talk about it from the reader's point of view, because I'm making the transition myself.  Last Christmas, my sweet spouse wanted to get me a digital reading device of some kind, but he doesn't really feel comfortable ordering things online.  So he went down to Borders and got a Sony Reader. Then this Christmas, after my mom had a bit of a financial windfall, she got all three of us (my sisters and me) a Kindle.  So this is based on a year of using the Reader and two weeks of using a Kindle. 

Like many booklovers, I love the physical object that is a book.  I love the feel of them.  I love having shelves of them in the house and stacks of them on my bedside table.  I love the way they smell.  I love opening up a new read and getting swept away in it.  And you lose that with these devices.  So I wasn't sure i wanted one at all.  In general terms, the two devices have the same pros and cons.  The pro, the big one, is that you can take the entire stack of books that you need to get through a week of vacation in one small little device that will fit in your purse.  It's amazing how much you can get on these things.  My Reader, after a year of use, has the complete works of Shakespeare, all three volumes of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, the Narnian Chronicles, the Bible, a couple of Jane Austens, and probably a dozen other books on it, and it's about a quarter full.  The cons, from my perspective:  You lose the book experience.  You can't spend twenty minutes rearranging the books on your shelf.  You can't flip back ten pages to remember exactly what the hero said as he gazed into the heroine's eyes.  You can't turn the book over and re-read the back cover when halfway through the novel it turns out to be entirely different than you expected.

And pricing.  good Lord, what a mess.  Sometimes it's a bargain to buy an ebook, but often it's not.  and since I'm a pretty big cheapskate when it comes to buying books, this is a pretty big obstacle to me.  I'm just not going to pay $9.99 for a new version of a Georgette Heyer ebook when I can order a used paperback for $4 (including postage-- in fact, most of that is postage since the used books on Amazon are often one cent, plus 3.99 for postage).  And some publishers clearly just don't get it at all.  Tana French's books keep showing up on the year end "best of" lists, so I thought I'd try them. Since the first one (In the Woods) has been out for several years, I thought it would be cheap and a good one to get in Kindle format. ha. The paperback from amazon is $9.  The Kindle edition is $14.99.  go figure.  Maybe somebody is so addicted to their Kindle that they'd be willing to pay extra, but I'm definitely not one of them.  

So.  on to details.  to compare the two of them.  The Kindle has the better screen, hands down.  It's much easier to read-- brighter and clearer with a better type face.  If you set them next to each other, the Kindle looks bright white and the Reader looks gray.  And the page-to-page navigation buttons are slightly easier on the Kindle-- there is a page forward and a page backward button on each of the two sides of the Kindle, large enough to easily hit with your thumb as you hold it, whereas on the Reader, there are two thin metallic buttons at the bottom of the screen, that aren't really placed at a place where your fingers would naturally be while holding the device.

But other than that, the Reader is better.  (That isn't to say that the Reader wins, because having the better screen is huge.  It makes it much, much more pleasant to sit and read on the Kindle).  The Reader has a touch screen, which so simplifies navigation through the menus that I keep touching the screen on the Kindle and being surprised when it doesn't react.  Jumping around to different locations in the book is easier on the Reader, too.  You touch the page number at the bottom of the screen and a slider pops up.  You can drag the slider forward or backward to jump to a few pages--or a lot-- forward or back.

There is no similar way to move around a book on the Kindle, or at least not that I've found.  In fact, the Kindle has done away with "pages" altogether, in favor of "locations" which seem to be about a paragraph or so.  So if you want to jump back ten pages to check what somebody said or some other detail, on the Reader you would just drag the slider back a half-inch and there you are.  but on the Kindle, you have guess how many "locations" back it would be and type in the number, which can be something like 10980.  And there are no numbers on the Kindle's "keyboard" so you press "Sym" to pop up a submenu of Symbols and Numbers, then use the arrow keys to move around the numbers and press Enter on the one you want, or the five you want in the case of a number like 10980.  You can, I've read, press Alt plus a letter to get to the numbers, but since the numbers aren't anywhere on the keys, you'd have to memorize which numbers match to which letter.  To summarize:  other than page-forward and page-backward, navigation on the Kindle is a pain.

Also, the Sony Reader store is specifically designed for the Reader (obviously), whereas on Amazon, it can be confusing to know if you're looking at the paperback, hardback, audio, or Kindle version of a book.  The reviews are also all lumped together on Amazon-- the dozen or so versions of Ulysses that are available for the Kindle all have exactly the same reader reviews, making it difficult to figure out what is the difference between them.

So.  Honestly, I have to say that even with my gripes about the Kindle, I still prefer it.  The screen is that much better.  But I still use the Reader, and I have to say that in many ways it is much more thoughtfully designed.

I'm obviously not a professional reviewer as this has been all over the place.  Sorry for the lack of organization.  but just in case you wanted to know.


  1. Fascinated in your blog comparing Sony Reader with the Kindle. You are clearly a reader first and foremost. If you'd be interested in discovering ebooks which are good reads and which are not available in any other way, do look at
    I'm a long-established novelist. A couple of years ago I became fed up with the traditional publishing scene, so I set up this website as an epublisher.

  2. Oops - the link in my comment didn't come through.
    It should read ...do look at http://writersreadersdirect.com

    Check out novels in the literary category, and short story collections (Brian Kirby's Personal Column recommended).

    Good luck!

  3. Thanks for the link, Susan!

    Also I forgot to mention device management. The wireless downloads on the Kindle are great, and addictive. So if you're using that, the Kindle comes out ahead. But if you don't want to use the wireless, there is no easy way to manage the Kindle. The eReader has an iTunes-like interface where you can drag and drop files from your computer to the reader, but on the Kindle, you have to choose a different download method at the Amazon website, download, go to My Documents and find the file, then go to My Computer, open the Kindle, and drag the file into the Kindle documents folder. Since I'm trying to help my mom learn to use her Kindle long distance, this is really irritating.

  4. as if they had read my mind, the Georgette Heyer books are on sale now at Amazon (kindle version). They were $9.99 and now they're $7.99. Don't know how long it will last, so if you're a Heyer fan, stock up.