Okay, so the title of the post makes it seem like it’s about five years too late. We all know the Kindle has changed all kinds of games and–for now, at least–is keeping up with the game-changing action, in ways that are sometimes more freeing for authors (in relation to gatekeeper/publishers) and in other ways more restrictive and monopolistic (in relation to choice of distribution channels and options for selling).
Such topics have been discussed exhaustively. So instead, I propose to add to the large body of posts about the personal process of acquiring and using an e-reader–and in particular, a Kindle.
Why the Kindle?
As a Canadian, I did feel a little disloyal. The Kobo touch is a pretty slick little device, and was at the vanguard in its particular form factor. But none of my research (including exploring the device itself on a couple of occasions) seemed to reveal a function that would allow me to make annotations and highlights and then export them and use them elsewhere.* For me, this was important, because I wanted to be able to load up my writing on the device and read it on the kind of interface a consumer would experience–but with the added ability to mark it up so that if I found typos, or wanted to delete things or make notes to self about revisions, then I could do that easily and quickly. Kindle could do this, and nothing I could determine about the Kobo allowed for it (nor Sony etc.).
Also, the Kindle gives access to a vast expanse of books, including an ever-rotating list of free and on-sale titles.
Finally, most of my readers are downloading for the Kindle interfaces. So, I wanted to see what the device itself looked like, felt like and so on, in order to get a taste of that reader experience for myself, just in case it gave rise to new or unique insights.
Not Love at First Sight
When I first got it, I thought it was okay. I had been using the kindle app on my phone and ipad and found that while the kindle was small and cute, and had a reasonable screen, it wasn’t mindblowing. Of course, the first thing I read on it was my own book–and this involved the use of highlighting and annotations. The annotations function, while fine, does have its annoying elements and that heavily influenced my early impressions of the device (more detail on this will no doubt form a separate post on my tech review blog for those who, like me, want to make use of this function as an integral part of their use of the device). Otherwise, I had a cute little case for it, but I found the case a little awkward, and generally wasn’t blown away by the reading experience.
The thing that changed things for me was actually removing the case. One of my classmates has a kindle, no case, and just tucks it into her bag and so on. I loved the tininess of it without a carrying case, when I saw hers. So I removed mine. Now, it slips into most of my coat pockets. It even fits into one of my pairs of jeans with a wider pocket (though this is less ideal). It’s feather light, and easy to flip pages. Yes–sometimes something will tap the button that turns off the screensaver, and when I take it out, I’ll have giant fonts and be thirty pages along in the book (or in another book entirely). But this is minor–it takes a few moments to find my place and then I’m back into it.
And suddenly, I’m in love. Inseparable from the kindle. I slip it into my pocket or bag by default, wherever I’m going, just in case I have the chance to read it along the way (and the thought of reading a book on my phone, with the bright screen, has become correspondingly less appealing).
I get it–finally. I had thought having so many of my e-books on my phone was heady enough. The kindle takes it to the next level, with a lightweight device that nonetheless has a spacious, easy-read screen that can be held easily at length (in a way that the ipad just can’t). There are no battery life worries, no competing with sunlight–it’s a reader’s paradise of a small, portable, easy-read device. Yes, I know this isn’t a revelation for the world–but it’s been a revelation for me, to actually experience this in person, for myself.
It also really brings home how deep the change can run. Now, I’m getting rid of my books–all the books that are single-read titles. Yes there are some that I’ll keep because I love them, or because I can’t get them in e-book form. But frankly, it’s a disincentive to actually reading the book, if I discover I can’t get an affordable copy for my kindle. The phone doesn’t cut it, though admittedly, the phone is preferred over print. Print will be reserved for: 1) instances where I have no other option (no e-book edition); 2) cases where the e-book is too expensive and I can get the print book at the library; 3) books that I love and want to read more than once, that I want to hold, heft, touch etc.
Interpolating outward, the results are profound. There will always be naysayers who insist that books are the only way. And I still do love books. But once again, I’m amazed at the extent to which convenience trumps sentiment. The old form factor is great and all, but dang it, I’ve got fifty books on my kindle, and it’s lighter and more compact than any single one of them would be in print. It becomes a matter of whether or not I have the book I want to read on hand, to pull out and read a few pages in a little pocket of time here or there. Print means that I often don’t end up bringing the book along, because I don’t want to lug it around if I’m unlikely to have time to read it. The kindle is small and light enough that it comes, regardless. And then, in moments when I might not otherwise have time, I can pull it out of my coat pocket, turn off the screen saver and read a few pages. This wouldn’t happen with print, because I might not have brought the book along in the first place.
Sure, I had e-books on my phone, but there, I’d generally end up checking my email or looking up articles in those moments. But, because the kindle is both a single use device, and easy on the eyes, I look forward to pulling it out and settling back into whatever I happen to be reading at the moment, even if it is only for a moment or two. As a result, I’m reading way more, because I can do it in those little pauses in my day. Win! (I’ve missed reading for pleasure so much, these past years, when school has basically taken over every aspect of my life. This is guilt free reading because I wouldn’t be pulling out my textbooks in such moments anyway)
I adore it. But the implications are profound. Now, I really get how it is the world is being–and will be–changed by this, both for the better and, potentially, for the worse.
*Update: though I tested it, did Internet searches, and asked the salespersons for both Sony and Kobo, whether I could do annotations–and how they’d work, etc. neither could demonstrate this function, or even tell me if this was possible. However, I spoke to one of my Kobo-owning friends just before this post went live, and she tells me that yes, there is an annotation function–which is by way of FYI for those who were thinking of Kobo, but felt that the annotations thing was an issue.