Kindles for book haters


Nearly a year ago my wife gave me a Kindle, because she hates books.

I need to clarify that statement a little. What I mean is that my wife and I have fundamentally different relationships with the concept of the bound written word.

I love to read. I used to spend a great deal of time reading recreationally. When I buy a book, I read it (shocker), and then I place it carefully on a bookshelf with hundreds of others like it. I’ll go back and re-read it over the years. Books are my friends. They follow me from home to home. I see bookshelves as essential pieces of furniture. Any flat surface in the home is a potential place to park a book. In fact, possibly several books. In a perfect scenario there are several books placed strategically around the home any of which can be picked up where I left off when the mood strikes.

My wife has a far different interpretation of the the book ownership lifecycle. First, her mind, books are not a design accessory. Second, books are to be read, and then once read, immediately shuffled off to another home. They can be given as a gift, taken to a used bookstore and exchanged for another book, sold on eBay, etc. They don’t become permanent additions to the household. The concept that every table in the house is just crying out for a small pile of books is alien to her.

So, since she and I have such wildly different perspectives on books, she took proactive action with the gift of a Kindle in an attempt to stem the flow of book entry into our home. It worked for a while.

And then Steve Jobs broke my Kindle.

Now I admit, I was an unwilling convert into an e-book consumer at the start. In the early 00’s I was an fan of the HP/Compaq iPaq line of PDAs. (Eventually I peaked at the hx4705 which I think still compares favorably to the functionality of today’s smartphones.) On all of these devices I installed Microsoft Reader, and had spent quite a bit of time and money purchasing e-books for that format.

Then Microsoft stopped supporting the Reader software, and left me and all of my DRM protected books high and dry.

Eventually I moved to Windows 7 and OSX, and this eliminated my ability to even install Reader, let alone activate it. That experience really soured me on e-books. I’ve never opened a paper book and had it tell me I was not permitted to read the book, or that my book wasn’t activated. I still have a memory stick filled with books in the .lit format. I’m sure someone out there has cracked the DRM that will allow me to convert them to PDF or MOBI, but it is the principle of DRM in books that offends me in the first place. It was unrealistic to expect me to have to “activate” my books every time I change PCs for the rest of my life. In fact – the means to do so didn’t even survive 5 years after my last .lit purchase.

So, I wasn’t really looking forward to moving all my literature purchases to the Kindle. While my wife was thrilled with the idea that the books that I shed constantly like leaves would be contained to one device that never left my backpack,  I had more than a few reservations.

I started slowly with the free books, and then the cheaper classics. Some books, like the Dresden Files series that I had on hardback I converted to Kindle because although I love them, they took up a lot of space on the shelf, and since no one would ever read them but me there was no point in having them on display. Some of the older titles were pretty cheap, a couple were full price. With the latest book due out soon, I placed a pre-order pleased with the concept that I would get the book as an easy download the instant it came out.

Then in stepped Steve.

Now the whole e-book concept amuses me. For over 200 years publishing houses have told authors that of course the publisher gets the lion’s share of the revenue. After all, the publishers carry all the costs of physical production, distribution, marketing, etc. and should recoup their costs plus make profit. Yet when I am purchasing from a best selling author for whom marketing probably only involves posting the release date of the next book, production doesn’t exist, and distribution is via download over Amazon’s bandwidth, suddenly I am expected to believe that the cost is NOT for the physical product, but rather the intellectual property.

Amazon had actually managed to strong arm the publishers to a semi-reasonable price point, especially on new releases. I placed my pre-order for $9.99.

Then the iPad came out. Steve needed to get the publishers on board with a new format (iBooks) so he gave them what Amazon wouldn’t. He allowed the publishers to set the price. Poof, my pre-order disappeared. Almost all new releases disappeared from Amazon as publishers pulled from the Kindle, forcing Amazon to negotiate new contracts to distribute e-books in their format. With Apple’s iPad, the publishers now had an alternative distribution channel to threaten Amazon with, but Kindle’s market penetration assured that the publishers would come back, just at a higher price.

And they did. A few weeks after the release date, my book (Changes) became available on Kindle again – for $14.99.

Now $9.99 I can rationalize. But $14.99? For a product I can’t loan to a friend (OK, that just changed), can’t sell at a used book store, can’t give as a gift when I’m done with it, and if I ever break my Kindle I need to replace it to access my book? Not to mention what will happen when Amazon someday is so different from today that I can no longer activate any new Kindle I may buy? This is even worse than the 8-track / cassette / CD issue. Am I expected to re-buy all my books every few years to keep up with format changes? Odd, because the written word hasn’t changed so much over my lifetime that I should fear it being no longer of any use to me.

So, I don’t buy nearly as many Kindle books as I did when I first received it. Usually one-off titles that I have no permanent attachment to. Perhaps an occasional best seller before a trip.

Don’t misunderstand, I love the concept of e-books. They’re green, portable, convenient, etc. Unfortunately the publishing industry – just like the music industry – wields their lone tool in an effort to preserve a revenue model that is unsustainable.

So now I use my Kindle primarily for something other than buying and reading e-books – which I’ll cover next time.

Thanks Steve.

2 thoughts on “Kindles for book haters

  1. You lost me when you said your wife understands the lifecycle of a book because ebooks are the last thing that comes to mind as a solution. When you pay to access an ebook, you’re leasing temporary and limited usage rights to a product still owned by a publisher, author or device manufacturer. Oh, and considering that if you have the right device and your friend has the right device, a company might grant you permission to loan their ebook to one of your friends? How generous!

    The two of you have both pieces of the puzzle. Some books are kept and cherished. Other books are shared, donated or sold so they can enjoy new owners within their lifespan, a life that may be 25 to 50 years, or longer, if well cared for. Ebooks are appropriate for people who don’t care about ownership.

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