I’ve had my Kindle for just over three weeks now. I’ve really enjoyed using it: I’ve finished two full-length books (â€œThe World Without Usâ€ by Alan Weisman, and â€œTakeoverâ€ by Charlie Savage), I’ve downloaded and dipped into a couple of Project Gutenberg files (Milton’s poetry and Greek philosophy), I’ve sampled an enjoyably trashy novel ((No, I’m not going to identify it – but you can find some interesting things if you select a category in the Kindle store and then Sort by Price, Low to High!)), and I’m just starting â€œArsenals of Follyâ€ by Richard Rhodes. I’ve also downloaded sample chapters from several books, sometimes to check them out and sometimes just to demonstrate the latency to curious friends.
I’ve also been reading newspapers, taking advantage of the 14 day free trial. I’ve tested the New York Times and San Jose Mercury News; both were OK, although they need to work on consistency of content. I’ve read the Seattle Times every day; I usually scan it over breakfast at my local Starbucks. I’ve developed a good rhythm, scanning the contents, clicking in to individual stories, popping back when I’m done. It goes pretty quickly. I really wish that Amazon could sign up an English paper – The Guardian, or the Independent (hell, even the Daily Telegraph), complete with crosswords! Never mind; reading newspapers on the Kindle seems to work well (and better than reading the RSS feed, which is what I used to do).
But now, suddenly, it gets serious. I need to decide if the Kindle is simply a convenient gadget, or whether it’s going to be a long-term part of my intellectual life.
It all started when I read a piece called On Intuitions in Philosophy in a philosophy blog called the Leiter Reports. It quoted a review by Michael Liston of a new book by Penelope Maddy ((Professor of the Philosophy of Science at UC Irvine)) : Second Philosophy: A Naturalistic Method. I read the review, and I immediately knew that I wanted this book. The reasons are unimportant right now; read the review for yourself if austere philosophical naturalism is your cup of tea. The important thing was that Amazon showed that it was available in two formats: hardback, at $61.20, and Kindle, at $58.50. ((One friend was surprised: “I thought all Kindle books were $9.99!” Well, no: although most of the NYT best-sellers are available at that price, Kindle books cost anything from (hang on, let me check) 25 cents to $1,079.96.))
This isn’t a throw-away (or even a give-away) book. It’s the kind of book that I will read carefully once, and then re-read in six to twelve months. It’s also the kind of book that I will probably refer to when reading a similar book, or cite in anything I write on a related theme. As a paper book, it would probably acquire various “post-it” comments, or even marginalia. And if I really enjoyed it, I might want to lend it to a few friends who would appreciate it.
Of course it’s also the kind of book that could turn out to be a great disappointment, and which I would try to sell at the local university bookstore, so that it might find a better home.
So I downloaded a sample chapter of “Second Philosophy” to my Kindle, read it carefully, and enjoyed it. ((Publishers need to recognize the value of this; the opportunity for unplanned purchases is clear.)) I like Maddy’s thesis as well as her style. This simply confirmed that I do, in fact, want this book. Setting aside the option of waiting patiently for a paperback edition, the choice is clear: hardback or Kindle? There are several questions to consider.
- Given the restrictions on lending and resale, is the price of the Kindle version reasonable? I think that the answer is “no”; my gut feeling is that a more reasonable price point would be around $45 or $50. However it’s hard to blame the publishers for picking the price that they did: this is a new business proposition, and there’s no obvious model for pricing. So the question is, would I pay this price even if it seems unreasonable, just because I want to give the publishers some data?
- Is the Kindle a suitable device for reading this kind of book? In general, I think that the answer is yes. However on one point I can’t answer without checking the paper edition: footnotes. On the Kindle, reading a footnote involves scroll, click, read, back. If the paper book uses same-page footnotes, the Kindle would be much slower. If, however, the hardcover uses chapter or volume end-notes, the Kindle will be much more efficient.
- How will it work to have a subject library spread over multiple types of media? Beats me – the only way to know is to try it? It’s silly to get hung up on mystical mumbo-jumbo like “the sacredness of paper”; the only way to learn is to do.
- Perhaps the most important question: is the Kindle really going to be in my future? I’m a classic early-adopter, an inveterate fiddler with electronic devices of all kinds. I’ve lost count of how many different cellphones, PDAs, palmtops, tablets, PMPs, portable game players, and ultralight computers I’ve owned. How many of them were used for content ((Other than games.)) that I couldn’t transfer to somewhere else? None. Even my DRM-laden iTunes music can be burned to regular audio CDs. But if I load my Kindle with a book that I want to be part of my permanent library, I’ve got to be certain that the Kindle won’t wind up in a dusty drawer with the other forgotten devices. ((At this point, some will start ranting about DRM. Don’t. I’ve heard it all before. Look at how long it took go get from the first Apple iPod to Amazon’s DRM-free MP3 store. It’s illogical to expect book publishers to move any more quickly.))
After re-reading what I’ve just written, I went through to the other room, opened up my Kindle to the last page of the sample of Maddy’s book, and clicked on “Buy Now”. I’ll let you know how it goes.