Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Indifferent

This is what I love about my new Kindle e-reader:

1)The coverage map was wrong! I am in a Whispernet coverage area after all, it seems, which means I can have any book or periodical I order delivered to my Kindle within a minute. I know! I couldn't believe it, either! So I kept ordering, and ordering...
2)The price. Much has been said, of course, about the 9.99 best seller, but I am only moderately impressed by this. After all, Amazon.com has been selling 27.95 hardcover bestsellers for $13-$15 for years. What I love are the $2.00-$3.00 mysteries and suspense/thrillers, the $1.49 per month magazine subscriptions, the 75-cent Sunday New York Times. Moreover, many authors are giving away their back list titles for $00.00, presumably to generate interest in their new releases- a terrific promotional idea that I just might try myself!
3)Portability. The Kindle slips into my purse as easily as a day planner and takes up a lot less room, so if I have a few minutes to spare while waiting to meet a friend or sitting in the dentist's office, I always have something to read.
4)Audio books. I listen to an awful lot of audio books. Books on CD are expensive and bulky to store, and trying to change a CD while jogging or driving is, well, inconvenient to say the least. I've recently begun downloading audio books to my Ipod, which has worked out fine, but, now that I have a choice, it's much more convenient to have all my books stored on one device.
5) Speaking of audio, I love the text-to-speech feature. Admittedly, text-to-speech is rarely enabled for new titles, and the voice is a close relative of the one that narrates your GPS, but you can slow down or speed up the voice for clarity, and talk about convenience! Now you can continue reading your book without actually reading it.
6)Free samples. You can read the first chapter of a book or try a periodical for fourteen days at no charge. Brilliant.
7) Adjustable font sizes. This is huge for eyes as tired (and as old) as mine.
8) The bookmark feature. I know this is not particularly clever or inventive, but every time I
click on a book, I am taken back to the last page I read, even if I have two or three books going at once. That's nice.

What I don't like about my new toy:

1) No color! I know the greyscale/electronic ink is easier on the eyes than reading a computer screen (or, so they say, actual print on paper) , but I find reading black on grey depressing, and wonder if it will eventually shadow my enjoyment of the reading experience--especially when I can't flip to the color cover to give my brain a break.
2) Speaking of flipping, I can't get used to not being able to flip forward to see how many pages I have left in a chapter-- or in the book. There is a small counter at the bottom of the screen that marks your progress, but it's not the same. This makes for a very different reading experience.
3) I found holding the reader to be uncomfortable and unintuitive--books have two sides, right? So I actually made a cover for my Kindle (they sell much nicer ones) so that I can hold it in two hands like a real book.
4) The Biggie: Too much information! I spent all day Sunday reading newspapers from around the country. Why? Because I could. I downloaded more books than I would ever purchase if I went into a bookstore and had to physically carry them to the check-out counter (my one rule of thumb having always been: if you can't carry your purchases, you've probably spent too much) . Who has time to read that much? I know I don't. But there is great comfort in knowing that if I ever do get time, books are waiting.

In summation:

Will my e-reader replace print books for me? Not a chance. Audio books did not replace print books, either, but I enjoy them both. The e-reader is a supplement, not a substitute; a convenience, not a necessity. Do I absolutely, positively desperately need one? Well, no. I didn't actually need an Ipod either, but every time I get on the treadmill and crank up the music, I sure am glad I have it. I suspect the Kindle will be the same, once the novelty wears off. It will have its uses, even if they're limited. It won't change my life, but I think I'll always be glad I have it.

Monday, December 28, 2009

And the E-Winner is...

pages written since last post: 2

Over the last few days before Christmas, the debate changed from whether or not I would get an e-reader to a much simpler choice: which one. Yes, the nook is too cool for words (it has color! At least of the book covers) , and Barnes and Noble has posted a terrific comparison chart between the nook and the Kindle. The nook claims to have over one million titles (although a cursory search revealed several titles that were available on Kindle were not available on nook), and the pricing between nook and Kindle is pretty much the same for the device and books to read on it. The size, weight and features of both devices are virtually the same (but the nook has color!). My choice: The Amazon Kindle. Here is why, in order of importance:
1)Speedy delivery. I wanted it over the holidays, while I had a little bit of time to play with it. Amazon.com promised 2-day delivery, and by George, I got it. The nook, on the other hand, would be delivered on or about Feb. 1.
2)Trust. See above about promises.
3) Customer Service. As soon as my order was processed, Amazon.com sent me an e-mail inquiring whether I would like to purchase books for my new reader, and promising they would be delivered to my Kindle en route. Did I order books? You bet! And I just loved thinking about the technology that could track down my little Kindle on some FedEx truck somewhere and send to it the books that I had personally chosen, so that I would have something to read when it arrived. Maybe I'm easily impressed, but that's what I call service.
4)Convenience. Everything I needed to know about my purchase was available right there at my fingertips. I did not have get in my car and drive anywhere to receive the benefits of my Kindle (the nook implies that some of its most desirable features are only activated when you walk into a B&N store).
5)Free shipping. Okay, on a $259 purchase, free shipping does seem like the least they could do, but it was a nice touch.
6) One-click shopping. They just make it too easy.

And as I glance at the above list, I realize that those are, for the most part, the reasons I've always chosen Amazon.com over a brick-and-mortar bookstore. Almost since its inception, bookstores (and publishers, oddly enough) have felt threatened by Amazon.com. Speaking strictly as a consumer, maybe they should be.

So now I am sitting on top of a mountain where high speed internet only became available three years ago and where the waiting list for best sellers at the local library is still six-plus months, the proud new owner of a Kindle e-book reader. How do I like it?

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

On the Other Hand...

Pages written since last post: 7

I'm still struggling with Kindle lust, but as promised, I am examining both sides of the electronic books issue (from a purely self-centered point of view, of course). Having searched high and low, here are the downsides to e-readers that I've come up with:

For authors and publishers:
1)For most titles, you can download the first chapter free. Here are the books that I purchased in hardcover that I would not have not have bought at all if I could have read the first chapter before purchasing:

South of Broad
by Pat Conroy
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larson
How I Became A Famous Novelist by Greg Hely
That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo

This is not to say that these might not turn out to be wonderful books, but so far I have not been able to get past the first chapter in any of them. And with ten or more absolutely delicious titles waiting on my nightstand at any given time (think how many more titles I would be tempted by if I weren't limited by the space available on my night stand!), one chapter is pretty much all you get before I move on to something more interesting. Bad news for those literary types who think the tried-but-true rule of writing "Open with a hook" doesn 't apply to them (and for those very un-literary types who never took the trouble to learn that rule).

2) E-books are cheaper. Well, DUH! screams the publishing industry, because this simple fact is, of course, at the center of the entire controversy (in case you haven't been keeping up, the truth of the matter is that publishers are not at present losing money on the cheap e-versions of their books, but they seem to be worried that they might somehow do so in the future). Because here's the truth, a dedicated reader like myself will in fact buy books (like those mentioned above) sight unseen, in hardcover, at full price if given no other choice. Books I wish I had ordered electronically:

The Lost Symbol
by Dan Brown. I definitely paid too much for this one.

Under the Dome by Stephen King. In fact I only paid 9.00 for this, but at 1123 pages it's too heavy to hold! I definitely wish I had this one nicely tucked away in a lightweight e-reader.

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Neffenegger

For Readers

Here I am limited because I don't, you'll recall, actually own an e-reader yet. I hear the page-turn function can be slow, which would make me crazy. I put a good deal of value on the interior design of a book-- how it's formatted, the type that's used, the design of chapter headings, etc.-- which would be missing in most electronic editions. And yes of course I would miss paper books, and when I do, I will buy one. What really bothers me is the cover art. Can someone assure me that when I download a book I will also be able to download a full-color, full-size version of its original cover?

2) Not every title is available electronically and publishers are now joining forces to make certain that top titles are not released electronically until close to the time the paperback edition comes out.

3) Here is the bottom line for readers: Price, and convenience. If, like me, you buy most of your hardcover bestsellers from Amazon.com (where I live, I really have no choice), and you always order in quantity and get free shipping, you'll end up saving only a dollar or two on Amazon.com's already heavily discounted hardcover price if you buy the electronic version. Last year about this time I added up the amount I had spent on books all year and compared that to the cost of the electronic editions of the same books. Over the course of a year (and a LOT of books) I would have saved less than $70, hardly enough to pay for a pricey e-reader. So what you're mostly paying for with an e-reader is convenience.

$259 is a lot of convenience.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Kindle Envy

Pages written since last post: 145

If you’re not in The Industry, you may not be aware of the firestorm of controversy regarding the evil e-reader which is destined to destroy publishing as we know it forever (speaking strictly from the point of view of a writer, this may not be a bad thing). It has taken me a really long time to comprehend the significance of this, because I am pretty much at the bottom of the technological curve. I’ve never sent a text message in my life. Totally don‘t get Twitter. My big-city friends are shocked and appalled when they dial my cell phone and, like, no one answers (don’t they know the only use for cell phones is when your car breaks down on the side of the highway at midnight in an ice storm?) I don’t know anyone– yes, this is God’s honest truth– who owns a Kindle. I live in one of the 3% or so of America that is not covered by Whispernet.


Every time I open up the Amazon.com page that $259 Kindle flashes in my face like some kind of subliminal siren’s song. First I am intrigued. Then I’m hooked. Now I am obsessed.

Here are the books I would download today, immediately, right now, if I had a Kindle:

Super Freakonomics by Levitt & Dubner (okay, this one I would probably buy in hardcover anyway)

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Knit The Season by Kate Jacobs

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton

Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

Ford County by John Grisham

The Christmas List by Richard Paul Evans

Angel Time by Anne Rice

The Lost City of Z by David Mann

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Mann

And that’s not even to mention the dozens of less expensive (2.99-3.60) books I would download simply to glance over– because I need to know what the competition is writing, why these books are selling and who is buying them; in other words, for business.

Publishers and authors take note. With the exception of one or two titles, these are books I would not otherwise buy at all. Here’s why:

Michael Crichton, John Grisham, Barbara Kingsolver, Anne Rice : I usually buy these authors in hardcover, but each of the titles seems to be a diversion from what I usually expect from them. I’m not sure I’d actually finish any of these books, and these titles, together, amount to over $100. I could buy half a Kindle for that.

On the other hand, if I read and enjoy these titles, I will buy them in hardcover to keep, particularly the Michael Crichton book, which I know is his last. That’s a promise.

The Christmas List, Knit The Season: Fluff. Enjoyable, but not worth $25.00 each. Sorry.

Super Freakonomics: Because I want to read it right now. I’m in the mood. I live 60 miles from the nearest bookstore. I want something to read.

All Others : These have been recommended to me by the Literary Elite who, in my opinion, have only about a 40% success rate (much like movie critics). I will occasionally take a chance on their recommendations, but not to the tune of $27.95

So there you go, the honest truth from a real reader, and this is a factor that I think might be too often brushed aside in the e-book wars. These are potential sales of books that would otherwise be borrowed from the library, loaned by friends, or not read at all. The author, and the publisher, make money from these sales. Words are read. Stories are told. This is a good thing.

Of course there are down sides to the $9.99 e-book, and I will endeavor to uncover them in the coming days. There is more and more controversy, as everyone tries to get in on the act. And, bottom line, $259 is still a lot of money to pay for a device that does only one thing, and that one thing is something you can do by yourself: read.

On the other hand... Christmas is just around the corner. Santa Baby, I’ve been an awful good girl this year.