Why I probably won’t be getting a Kindle 2

What I have seen of the Kindle 2’s design makes it an envi­able device to gadget-lover-Brian. While the first Kindle looked like it was made by Tandy, this updated one looks like it came straight out of Cupertino. It almost looks like an over­sized iPod Touch, seam­lessly melded with a key­board, and large enough to be read from.


But that’s gadget-lover-Brian. Home-owner-Brian is less sure of the eco­nom­ics of it all. Part of this is related fea­tures, but most of it is the DRM and media model.

Sure the Kindle comes with free inter­net access for web­pages and down­load­able blog con­tent and RSS feeds. But, you see, I already get that on the iPhone. It down­loads all of my Google Reader con­tent, saves it for offline read­ing, and lets me hit up any web­site with a zippy web browser. I do not know about the K2, but the orig­i­nal Kindle has these fea­tures, but more clunky, in a sec­tion of menu labeled “exper­i­men­tal.” While I carry my iPhone every­where (it’s my phone, date­book, and long-term-storage notepad — as opposed to the Hipster PDA notepad I carry around for quick data-capture), I don’t see myself car­ry­ing the Kindle every­where to access these same fea­tures in a less zippy inter­face.

Home-owner-Brian’s biggest com­plaint with the Kindle is the media. I’m a big fan of books. After my most recent Powell’s purge, Delicious Library shows me as still own­ing 514 books. I’m also big fan of let­ting friends and cowork­ers bor­row books. These two things are at odds with the Kindle’s busi­ness model.

With the iPod, I can take my entire exist­ing library of CDs and, with very lit­tle effort, load them into the com­puter to sync to the iPod. It is a mat­ter of telling iTunes to auto­mat­i­cally import and eject a CD, then feed­ing the com­puter a steady stream of CDs over time as I do other stuff. 500 CDs might take sev­eral ses­sions, but could prob­a­bly be done in a week or two. I’m try­ing to imag­ine doing the same with books. Scan a page, flip the book over to scan the fac­ing page, flip to the next pair of pages. There is a lot more hands-on effort as com­pared to keep­ing an eye on the CD-ripping per­cent­age bar. There will prob­a­bly be some OCR soft­ware involved, as you would want to store that con­tent as text rather than images — images that are large, don’t allow re-wrapping of text arbi­trar­ily, and with lines prob­a­bly shifted by a degree or two instead of being a per­fect right angle to the edge of the page. I have a dif­fi­cult time imag­in­ing doing this with one book, much less 500.

The DRM is another bit of nas­ti­ness. I’m used to let­ting peo­ple bor­row books. The Kindle doesn’t really have a way to do that. I remem­ber read­ing about some kind of hack­ery in which you could “loan” your book to another Kindle reader (but then you couldn’t access it your­self until that per­son was done?), which I guess kind of works — if the sorts of peo­ple you are loan­ing your books to are Kindle own­ers. To me, that scheme seems awk­ward at best and impos­si­ble at worst because most peo­ple I would be loan­ing books to do not have Kindles. Going back to the iPod/iTunes com­par­i­son, Apple had DRM, but there were some loop­holes in that regard. You could always burn a few tracks to disc and make a “mix tape” for a friend. You could sim­i­larly burn an entire CD to disc and re-rip it (poten­tially loos­ing a lit­tle bit of audio fidelity) to com­pletely strip the DRM for use in non-Apple-approved MP3 play­ers. Although these were not “fea­tures” as bul­let points on a mar­ket­ing paper, they were “fea­tures” that con­tributed to the usabil­ity of the device and the con­tent ecosys­tem in which it lived. The abil­ity to exer­cise your fair use is impor­tant.

If Amazon could some­how fix or cir­cum­vent these two issues in the Kindle 2 release (and who knows — they might, we’ve only seen leaked hard­ware pho­tos and heard noth­ing of pos­si­ble ser­vice changes), I would be more recep­tive to the new Kindle. As a fru­gal con­sumer, I really do not rel­ish the thought of re-purchasing my exist­ing library in a new for­mat. I do under­stand that the Project Gutenberg foks have plenty of clas­sics for free, but hon­estly, the books I really want to read are much more recent releases and not avail­able through that group. I already own the paper ver­sions and under­stand that “rip­ping” [no pun intended] them in the con­ven­tional for­mat is time-and-effort pro­hib­i­tive, but maybe Amazon can do some­thing where you scan the bar­code and you get the book for free, but with more checks and bal­ances to make sure you don’t just tromp through the library or book­store and scan every­thing. Perhaps tak­ing a photo of your­self hold­ing up the book in a non-bookstore-or-library envi­ron­ment? They could use Mechanical Turk to approve and deny photo sub­mis­sions. This would at least get my exist­ing library into the Kindle. The bor­row­ing I am less sure of, but per­haps they can take a page [another unin­ten­tional pun] from O’Reilly.

I do feel that O’Reilly had got­ten eBooks right. When I pur­chase an elec­tronic book from them, I am deliv­ered a plain vanilla PDF. There is no DRM; it can be read by any appli­ca­tion or device that under­stands PDF files. Although it is a plain vanilla PDF, it is computer-generated specif­i­cally for me. At the bot­tom of every page is my name (or email address or some other human-friendly iden­ti­fy­ing infor­ma­tion) and some ser­ial num­ber stuff (computer-friendly account infor­ma­tion because names are not always unique.) The onus is then on me to do the right thing. I can share the whole thing with some­one if I think them trust­wor­thy. I don’t do that, but I like hav­ing the option. I can print out a few ref­er­ence pages or the intro­duc­tory chap­ter for a friend — much like pho­to­copy­ing the same from a print book. Every page points back to me, so I can­not just pub­lish it on The Pirate Bay, but I can cir­cu­late it within my social cir­cle, just as I can do with dead-tree books and music. If the Kindle eBooks were to drop DRM and be a more device/software agnos­tic for­mat, home-owner-Brian would be much more inter­ested in the device and ser­vice.

Posted in: Dear Diary Gadgets

One thought on “Why I probably won’t be getting a Kindle 2”

  1. FWIW: Amazon’s .PDF con­verter does a good job with O’Reilly’s eBooks. I’ve man­aged to dump quite a few onto my K2, and they are usable.

    And being able to search a large num­ber of books offline is a big plus...

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