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Why I don't like Amazon's Kindle

(If you've somehow failed to notice Amazon launching their ebook reader, the Kindle, look here.)

I don't like the Kindle. Here are my reasons:

1. Aesthetics. The Kindle looks like something you'd shove under a door with a dodgy hinge to keep it from opening by mistake. It looks cheap, plasticky, and badly designed (at least, in image; I haven't seen a real one yet, for reasons that will become obvious in point #2, below). I mean, what were they thinking when they let it out of the lab? Compared to Sony's reader design, let alone the iPhone, this looks like cheap rubbish. Except it's not; it cost £200 US $399.

2. Network architecture. Unlike previous ebook readers, the Kindle can go online all on its lonesome to let you buy ebooks direct from Amazon.com. Which is a truly excellent idea, except that instead of doing the sensible thing and building in wifi support, Amazon went with something called Whispernet that runs over a third generation telephony protocol called EV-DO, which doesn't work outside the US. Congratulations; you've just stopped me from buying one, because — surprise! — I live in a country where the wavelengths available for EV-DO have all been assigned to other services.

This is particularly inexplicable because Amazon's core market (folks who travel and read a lot) are far more likely than other folks to travel to places where their ebook reader won't work.

(I will concede that Amazon may be working on a UMTS or even a GPRS design for use in the rest of the world when they've ironed out their contractual requirements for licensing ebooks for sale in non-North American territories, but if so, guess what? Non-NorthAm Kindle's probably won't work in the USA! It looks like they've decided to enforce the arbitrary trans-Atlantic rights split in English language book sales in hardware.)

3. DRM. Digital Rights Management software means that you won't be able to read Kindle ebooks on other devices. Books you buy for your Kindle will vanish, in effect, if you change machine. Cory Doctorow nailed it in one when he pointed out that the Achilles' heel of the whole DRM argument is that DRM penalizes honest users, not dishonest ones. (Honest? You've got to jump through all these hoops to use the thing you paid for. Dishonest? You'll grab an illegal cracked copy, or crack the DRM, and thumb your nose at the inconvenience.)

We have a technical term for any business plan that relies on making life difficult for customers and easy for non-customers: we call it "circling the drain".

4. Intrusion into the reader's privacy. If you buy a Kindle you've got to accept that Amazon's ebook reader is monitoring your usage and transmitting data about you back to the mothership — yes, that's in the terms and conditions. (Look for "Information Received" in the small print.) It's outrageous: what would you say to a librarian who said that your lending rights were contingent on their monitoring precisely what you were reading and how long you were spending on each page? Reading is one of the few activities that we're used to doing in private, alone in the privacy of our own heads. Kindle is making a bare-faced attempt to strip away your privacy.

5. Marketing stupidity. Kindle is, bluntly, aimed at the wrong people — and it's the wrong size. It really needs an XGA or higher resolution colour screen — the display technology of the OLPC XO-1 would be perfect (for reasons I'll explain in the next paragraph). The XO-1 display is dirt-cheap, sufficiently high resolution, low power consumption, colour, and degrades to usable black-and-white in bright sunlight. (The obsession with epaper has drawn the ebook industry down a blind alley; sure epaper has a stupendously low power draw, but ubiquitous gadgets (ipods, phones, and the like) have trained us to plug stuff in overnight, and there are very few situations where you will find yourself reading for more than 12 hours straight without access to a mains socket.)

The ideal launch market for an ebook reader exists; it's college students and academics. They're used to paying over $1000 a year for textbooks and often up to $100 for a single book. The books are big and heavy and they need to carry them around. The books go out of date — an ebook reader with an online subscription service for correcting errata and adding supplementary material would be perfect. If Amazon had designed their hardware a little bit differently, then stitched up a deal with Elsevier and the other big publishers of peer-reviewed journals and textbooks, they could have rented pre-loaded Kindles out to students for $1000 a year and shifted container ships full of the things on day 1.

But instead of designing a device that will allow college students to carry all their (expensive) textbooks around in a single notebook-sized package, Amazon seem to be going after the consumers of (cheap) popular literature and fiction. Readers who are unwilling to spend much more than US $7 on a mass-market novel in the first place, and very unlikely to read more than 100 titles per year. And then they're expected to put up with intrusive DRM that devalues their purchases, intrusive privacy-invading monitoring, and (to add insult to injury) a $400 entry price before they can join the party.

Yes: for no obvious reason, Amazon have ignored the obvious, lucrative market and aimed Kindle instead at a tiny population of mad bibliophiles. They've invented the perfect Christmas present for Harriet Klausner.

Do I think Kindle is destined to succeed? Well ... this reader's a turkey, but the Kindle service might succeed, if they can iron the bugs out. But they're going to have to make a whole lot of changes, and some of those aren't up to Amazon — the publishers need to change their minds about DRM, and (perhaps more controversially) to accept that it's necessary to renegotiate their rights splits to permit a true worldwide English language ebook market to evolve.

Finally: some of my books are available on Kindle. I think I've made my opinion of the platform clear. However, if you must drink the Kool Aid, if you've already lost your saving throw vs. shiny!, then please allow me to encourage you to buy my ebooks.




Interesting point about it not working outside the US. You would think that with the passage of time and the creeping globalization, everyone would be realising that regional restrictions serve only to irritate customers.
For movies and videogames, these restrictions have been apparently difficult to remove, and although the raison d'etre for the restrictions has disappeared the Companies behind them still feel they can wring out more money from the customers with the restrictions in place.
Shackling a new 'format' (format in the sense of distribution since we re talking about books) of entertainment with not only the restrictions of DRM but also regional restrictions and the disadvantages of a network architecture which is at best 'not commonly used' will ensure that even if successful, Kindle will be forever crippled for most tech-savvy users.


I agree completely. It's a piece of shit.

When are they going to get a clue on this?

Anyway, I watched your reading at Google on YouTube.

It was great! Nice job. My vote for the actor to play Bob in the movie would be Tobey Maguire, the guy that played Spiderman. Pretty expensive actor, though.

Nick Cage might work, but he's a little old for that part.

Hey, maybe they could make "Atrocity Archives" into a movie
without totally fucking it up. Stranger things have happened.

I would get the guys that did the "Hellboy" movie. They did a pretty good job. It had Nazi stuff in it.


Enzo, to be fair the way English language book publication rights are sold may have something to do with this. Briefly: rights to North American territories -- USA/Canada -- and rights to UK and commonwealth countries other than Canada are sold separately. This traditional split means that a US publisher is very often not allowed to sell books in the UK, and vice versa. The Kindle's EV-DO system may have been selected deliberately to enforce this rights split.

On the other hand, Sony's strategy is to check what country your credit card is registered in and only sell books to you that are legally for sale in that territory. Which I think makes more sense (although the whole rights split business is clearly increasingly inappropriate in the ebook field).


Consistently, manufacturers of digital devices (barring Apple) behave as if their primary customers were the data suppliers rather than the data consumers. Which makes sense given that without no data, there's no product, but does mean that the data are so constrained as to be useless.

I think that one of the barriers to a good digital book is that you've *always* had to buy a separate device to play recorded music, while having to buy a separate device to play a book is new. I suspect that to make it work either the device or the books are going to have to be massively subsidized for awhile. (In fact, Amazon is subsidizing the books, I think; in one of the press stories, a publisher was quite surprised to find out his books were available, and it turned out that Amazon was buying physical paper copies for every digital copy they sold.)

Me, I'm a late adopter on *buying* tech stuff; I'll try any piece of software early, but I buy hardware at least a year after all my cool friends have made the plunge. I'm the wrong person to ask if something's going to succeed or not.

On an unrelated note, are you willing to explain why the proper usage is to call you "a Scottish writer" rather than "a Scots writer"?


Charlie #3: a better way is to check the country the purchaser is in, which you can do with such a system whether it's WiFi or some mobile phone-based technology. After all, we buy books abroad all the time, and some of us buy books that have no rights for English-speaking territories at all due to them not being in English (is learning languages a region-coding hack and therefore illegal in the US?)


Well, you already know what I think about DRM as a means of discouraging inappropriate sharing of books, and how very glad I am that my publisher didn't buy into that idiocy. A lot of that's to do with seeing my very first cracked software running on a friend's Apple IIe. Oh, and one of my colleagues being seriously inconvenienced by a burglar stealing the computer in his office -- the one with a serial port dongle for the software with a replacement cost three times that of the computer. I *know* that all DRM does is inconvenience the honest user.

But I'm not convinced that Kindle-DRM is all about the publishers wanting it. I think it's got more than a little to do with Amazon thinking that if they push hard enough, they can make *their* proprietary DRM/ebook format the defacto standard. Just as Sony did...


On an unrelated note, are you willing to explain why the proper usage is to call you "a Scottish writer" rather than "a Scots writer"?

I have no idea. Because, y'know, I'm a writer of Jewish ethnicity (and atheist outlook) who grew up in England and merely happens to live in Scotland -- and may not live there forever. And the Scots/Scottish usage thing confuses me.


I want a good ebook reader, darnit. I've wanted one for years, and after long exposure to the iPod, I want one even more. (Has Apple done anything in the ebook department?)

I adore the ability to have the vast majority of my music collection in a device small enough to fit in my pocket. I'd give a lot to have my book collection (or a sizable percentage of it) on a device I can toss in my purse or knapsack.

Somebody needs to solve the DRM/rights/whatever issues and get me my reading toy!! :)


"what would you say to a librarian who said that your lending rights were contingent on their monitoring precisely what you were reading and how long you were spending on each page?"

This made me scratch my head and go "Didn't I just read about such a librarian sometime in the last week? Little monitoring strips built into the books?"

Then it hit me: "Doh!"

Greatly enjoyed Glasshouse, thanks!


BTW, Charlie, I'm getting the XO--left a link on Making Light to the OLPC news article about the Internet Archive guys reviewing it as a potential e-book reader. (Which I will link again here for those who aren't on both sites: http://www.olpcnews.com/content/ebooks/internet_archive_laptop_ebook.html )

Anyways, it occurs to me that I actually don't have ANY of your books in tangible or non-tangible formats, but I'm certainly gonna want something to test the e-book potential of my new XO....so if'n you point me at a link where I can purchase non-DRMed, XO-friendly ebooks from you, I can let you know in a few weeks how they look there. :) (And you can be my first e-book!)


PixelFish: go look at www.accelerando.org :)

(Alas, my publishers buy all ebook rights, so there are no DRM-free commercial ebook editions of my works.)


Pretty much hits the nail on the head.

I'm astounded that they've managed to achieve a design that's worse than Sony on every count.

If the price of the reader and the books were appreciably cheaper or better yet the dead tree volumes were included at little extra cost, I would be tempted despite the DRM just to reduce the number of books I carry when traveling.

But at $400 and the EV-DO bit it was DOA for me.

The other utterly ridiculous elements of the Kindle that you didn't touch on were the pay for blog RSS, pay for public domain, and pay for your own text to be put on the Kindle. In particular I've got serious misgivings with regard to the need to pass your own files to amazon to get them on the Kindle. Methinks they will be scanned for copyright materials and ad keywords.

Frankly, I'm astounded that none of the ebook companies don't bundle in a fully indexed Project Gutenburg compilation on a 4GB SD. That and a compacted version of the static wikipedia.


And the Scots/Scottish usage thing confuses me.

"Scots" is either an ethnicity or a language, whereas Scottish is a political division? That is, a person from Hong Kong, Jamaica, or Pakistan could emigrate to Edinburgh and become Scottish, but they would not become Scots?


Apart from the aesthetics, I immediately tagged the kindle as a no-sale. I spend probably about $1500 a year on books, so you'd think that I'm their target market. But there are a couple of things that are pretty much non-negotiable.

1. It needs to support all the normal ebook formats that are already out there. PDF, MSLit, .txt, .rtf, mobipocket, etc. I already have a ton of books I've bought, mostly from Baen.

2. Any ebooks I buy need to be easily portable to some other reading device, or to a PC. I have books that I bought over 30 years ago that I occasionally still reread. I'm certainly not going to start buying things now that will prevent that in the future.

On the other hand, here's what I really want. Take something like the kindle, only not so ugly. Create a subscription service to it that, while I'm subscribed I get access to the back catalog of several major publishers. I don't know exactly how sales work right now, but I'd guess that by the time most books have been out 6 months in paperback they've hit at least 90% of all the sales they're ever going to get. So publishers shouldn't lose money by making them available on a subscription service. And you know what? The vast majority of the books that will end up on the device at that point are books I already own, but I now would have access to in a convenient, portable format. So that way, for my $15/month I essentially have a portable public library. And DRM the heck out of those books, I don't care.

Now Amazon probably makes too much money on long-tail marketing for them to want to do something like this. On the other hand, Google wants to digitize the world anyways, has the money to do it, and should be all over something like this.


Ironically, monopole, the one good aspect of Kindle is that it's got always-on internet and can slurp down the up-to-date wikipedia whenever you need it.

But for that money I'd far rather buy a Nokia N810 web tablet and install FBReader. (In fact, if I didn't already own a Nokia N800 and a Sony PRS-505 I'd do exactly that.)


Having been discussing the Kindle and e-book reading in general with a number of people recently, a _very_ common refrain is that they will not read e-books because they hate reading from a screen, it strains their eyes, etc.

I don't see how the OLPC display, which (at least according to the articles I found about it) is not particularly high resolution and seems to suffer artifacts depending on the angle you're looking at it from, is going to assuage the people who do find it uncomfortable to read on the screen for extended periods.

Work is being done to develop color e-ink displays, and fast-refreshing e-ink displays. These are, I think, probably going to have more utility for e-book reader purposes than traditional (or even somewhat novel, as the XO-1's) display.


Yup, these are the reasons why I made my save vs. shiny!

I'm in danger of failing my save for the XO though. I mean, I may want a dedicated Squeak box. There's always time to play with Smalltalk-80.

Fiction as ebooks doesn't appeal to me yet. (I don't need lots of recreational reading stored in a small space yet.) However, as you said, reference texts as ebooks could be really useful, especially if it's easy to search and annotate. I wonder why, with several ebook readers on the market, this is still an untapped opportunity.

The iRex iLiad makes a point of its annotation capabilities. But I don't think they've marketed in any way like what you've suggested. (It's also even more expensive than the Kindle.)


Thanks, Charlie, for the link to Accelerando. I'll snag a hard copy too.


I've seen an iLiad. It's very close -- 1024x768 screen (the Sony and Kindle readers are 800x600), a much better technique for page-turning, and the screen's touch-sensitive so you can scribble notes on it. Downside: the software and hardware are both buggy, very version 1.0, and part of the hardware problem is a design flaw that limits battery life to about 14 hours (or less -- possibly much less).

All else considered? If you can live with a 6 hour battery life, don't want to read DRM'd texts, and don't mind a fast backlit colour LCD screen rather than slow reflective monochrome epaper, the Nokia N810 web tablet is winning.


Just to add, one device I'm keeping an eye out on is the Hanlin v9t (a very little bit of information concerning it here). Its main additions over the previous models in the line is the ability to read PDF and the touch screen. I suspect it'll also be significantly cheaper than the iLiad, though probably still more expensive than the Kindle. Still, I think that device is really getting there for academic purposes.

There was a recent review at Crooked Timber of the iLiad which focused on its utility in academia. He makes some compelling points.


Agreed. I've seen doctors carry Harrison's Internal Medicine in their electronic "agendas?"(what's the name for them in English?). The electronic version costs about 80e and takes up about 90% of the device's memory. I'd pay 200e for a 10 year electronic subscription to Harrison's. Ideally, the device would hold a couple other reference texts and maybe even a nifty "life-saver" for emergency situations (how much potasium to give to a 25 kilo child without killing him, for example). Computers are available for this kind of fast research, but in a public Hospital you can't really depend on them. But I digress...


One of the undigestible things about the textbook market is how slim the margins are. They can be as little as 10%. It's explainable: small press runs, frequent new editions (in math? really? we discovered something new about differential equations? Same goes for inorganic chemistry, mechanics...). The high initial price is theoretically justified over resale values (like cars, used books, etc.), until that new edition is announced for next year's class.

Frankly, I don't need an awesome screen for reading: I read books on a VGA notebook when, as a frustrating experiment, the Hugo nominees (including at least three of the novels) were first put on CD-ROM by Brad Templeton in 1993. I've read them on a banged-up 160x160 Palm(mostly short stories, but that's how I read Accelerando, which I've since bought in dead tree format so the rest of the clan can try it out).

Something vaguely iPod Touch-sized (all screen), beach-compatible (hardy and easy to read in the sun), and long lived on power is all I want. I don't need a QWERTY keyboard, although the digital download does sound attractive.


The obvious competitor to the Kindle is the Bookeen Cybook which has been designed with almost exactly the opposite philosophy to the Kindle. It reads a number of proprietary formats and pretty much all free ones.

As I'm sure a number of the readers of the blog are already aware some US-based Baen readers are creating a sort of OEM of the Bookeen see http://naebllc.com/ which is priced a little cheaper than the Kindle. Due to Bookeen's gratuitous gouging of UK/Euro customers it looks to me like you really ought to buy via this group rather than direct from Bookeen if you are in Europe.

But, while I agree completely that the Kindle is a braindead concept, fairness forces me to note that the kindle isn't a total dead loss WRT non DRM books. It can read non-protected mobipocket format boosk directly and this is possible without getting Amazon to convert the book or even see it apparently. So if you have a shed laod of Baen books or multiformat fictionwise ones then you ought to be able to read them in the Kindle


The other stupid thing about offering mass market fiction on the Kindle is that the device makes it impossible to do what most readers do, which is lend books around to each other. I'm a lot less likely to spend even $7 on a paperback if it comes with a prohibition on ever lending it to my friends, or even reselling it. I think in that case I would pay... oh, 25 cents, maybe, if it were a book by an author I know.

I totally agree that a Kindle-like device (DRM issues fixed, of course) would be great for textbooks. Also technical references. I've got three 50-lb beasts of reference books that I have to handle practically every day, and that's not even half my professional reference library. I have to leave them at home because I like having a functional spine, but I'd love to be able to carry all that stuff with me every day, and if I could get auto updates without spending another $250? Oh, yes. Most architects don't ever buy another copy of Graphic Standards because the updates don't change very much of the book, but you can bet a lot would subscribe to an annual update download.


elsie @ 8

My theory is that sometime in the next year or two Apple will add e-reader functionality to the then-current model of the iPod Touch. The screen of the first version has just enough resolution (and can do more bits of anti-aliasing than any current epaper), and the OS is reasonably open so that they could allow any reader software to run on it. If they standardized on a non-DRM format first, and allowed DRM on a per-book basis (based on what the publisher wants to sell), they'd rise above all the screaming about DRM and survive no matter what happened. And even if they didn't, it shouldn't be difficult for 3rd parties to put any e-reader they want on the machine. And it already has WiFi.


Elio M. Garcia @16: Actually, the XO's display is 1200x900 at 200 DPI -- comparatively high-resolution for an LCD, where the usual display runs around 90 DPI. It's also sunlight-readable, a major feat for an LCD. It isn't the 300 DPI of printed pages, though. From watching video of the Kindle's UI, it seems to me, as Charlie says, that the e-paper tech isn't quite there, and isn't quite convincingly worthwhile for this application yet. The XO in its tablet-mode sounds pretty well-suited, though a bit large, for joel @22. More specs are available at http://laptop.org/laptop/hardware/specs.shtml

My major objections to the file support on the Kindle were assuaged when I read somewhere that you can actually just hook it up to a computer with a USB port, iPod-style, and treat it like a USB drive. Drag and drop text files, PDFs, mobiPocket, etc. files on, and you're good to go, so you've got access to all the Project Gutenberg and Baen Free Library content you want. Having to pay to access Amazon's pre-packaged blog and Web content sucks, though. I imagine people are already writing software to package arbitrary RSS feeds for the Kindle, but having to plug the device in to your desktop to get that isn't quite as nice as getting it on demand out of the ether. (And I'd like a pony to go with that too, please...)

I think I'd like an ebook reader to be thinner and larger -- closer in profile to an 8.5x11" sheet of paper than a paperback. The killer app for me, as was mentioned upthread, is technical books and textbooks and PDFs, things that go out of date fairly quickly or that I'd otherwise be printing out. I don't need that stuff cluttering up my bookshelves in 20 years or my recycling bin in 20 minutes. Getting an O'Reilly Safari subscription on a better Kindle-alike would be awesome. It seems like those markets -- magazines, newspapers, technical books, tabloids -- are more likely to be cannibalized by successful ebook technology than the fiction market, for a while at least. It'll be interesting to see whether the version N+1 ebook readers take that into account.


I bought the Sony 505 this weekend (from a place where I can return it in a week if I don't like it). I'm still planning on getting the Bookeen device via NAEB, but I have no idea when that'll actually happen.

I've been using it to read some Bean ebooks over lunch. And showing it off to everyone at work :). So far, the first question is "is that a kindle?" Everyone seems impressed.

I've tried reading on a Nokia 770 device... it was okay, but not great. The Sony is better for what I do. And that's with the fact that I still can't convert my .rtf files to the native format, because libprs500 doesn't want to work on Leopard.

I'm still evaluating, but, so far, it looks like a win.

I don't think the Kindle would fit in my pocket. The Sony does, even in its case. I just have to be careful not to sit down. If the Kindle had WiFi instead, that ... might have been a different consideration. Some friends are very interested in getting newspapers on it.

I think we're 2-3 generations away from being "right" for mass-market.


You know, despite agreeing with everything you have written up in this article about the Kindle I still find that I want to read and hear everything I can about it, and even though I know that it's an evil device that will monitor my reading and peer in to make certain that I'm not reading pirated ebooks I still find myself wanting one. Thank God that I don't have any money, I think it just might be because I have four devices I read ebooks on already and I just want more.

Oh, and that shameless plug, if you must buy this evil device then buy my books, is beautiful. If I'm overcome despite disliking the spying and the DRM I will surely buy yours first.


A really good discussion of the DRM privacy here

Charlie @15
Wikipedia access with Amazon monitoring is too close to "Mother Hitton's Littul Kittens" by Cordwainer Smith for me.

That's because Charlie is a Scottish Space Ninja writer first and foremost and scot space ninja writer doesn't have the same ring to it.


I'm also massively curious, since the service "monitors your usage" (including where you bookmark, what's in the Kindle, etc. etc, which means if you load any text pr0n, Amazon knows it), what happens if they DO open it up to other countries. Say you use your Kindle in the UK to buy a book that's available THERE, but not HERE in the US. They could just shut down your access when the airplane lands in New York.

"Mother May I?" services are just plain evil/stupid.


Re: college students as e-reader target market: how close are we to college students already needing to have notebook computers to do course-related e-mail and read course web content (never mind the social-networking and blog-reading and MP3-playing), and is an additional e-reader device really necessary and/or desirable? I don't know.

I get the idea (from looking at received technical books donated to a Friends of the Library sale where I volunteer) that a number of textbooks already come with some expectation that the purchaser will have a computer to go read additional web content associated with the book.

@22: And the publisher may have gone to some effort to include with the book a token which may be used to gain non-transferable and limited-duration access to the webby content. I expect this has to do with limiting sharing and resale.

O'Reilly's Safari is, eh, OK for technical books, but makes me want a bigger screen on this MacBook. Similarly for some PDF'd data sheets and manuals. On the other hand, I'm not sure I want to haul the result around with me.

Rumor is that Verizon (the other CDMA carrier than Sprint) will be doing something not entirely unlike s/CDMA/GSM/g over the next who-knows-how-many years so I wonder about EVDO's lifetime too.


Charlie Stross wrote in a comment upthread,
"Alas, my publishers buy all ebook rights, so there are no DRM-free commercial ebook editions of my works."

While I hesitate to correct an author, actually there are DRM-free commercial ebook editions of the first three books in _The Merchant Princes_ series.
To be precise the first two and the eARC (electronic Advance Readers Copy) of the third, althought the site also lists the final edition of the third.

I am one of those lucky enough to be able to buy them while they were available.
Unfortunately they were only avaiable to buy for a short time. They still exist on the site, so those people who bought them can download them in the future.

See here

http://www.webscription.net is the site that sells eBooks,in multiple formats, all without DRM,
originally only for Baen, and more recently only for a few other smaller publishers.

In the first half of last year, TOR and Jim Baen negotiated an agreement to sell all TOR eBooks via Webscriptions.

About 16 Books and eARCs went on sale (around May 2006 IIRC)
from Authors including Vinge, Norton, Priest, Carey, Wilson and Stross.

Unfortunately, a few days later, someone in TORs corporate parent company discovered that their subsiduary was selling eBooks without DRM, and at Baen's / Webscription's usual low prices - US$5 or 6 per book and US$15 per eARC, and the corporate Suits intervened to stop any further sales of the books.

IIRC I have read that there is still some faint hope on the Baen/Webscription side of the fence, that continuing negiotiations, and continuing good sales of Baen's non DRM eBooks might yet convince the Suits to reverse their decision.

(Before this they also sold - and continue to sell - Drakes TOR Lord of the Isles fantasy series, but that was a special deal negotiated by the Author in his individual contracts IIRC)



Frank @32: I have just graduated from a program that requires computers and sends all official correspondence via e-mail. Coursework is done online, course reserves are online through the library. It would be impossible to attend that school effectively without a computer, and it is very difficult to do it without a laptop. And that was at a state school. I think that future is here, now.

I've used some of the web content included with textbooks. For the most part it's practise test questions, which can help if you've burned through all the questions in the book and your professor won't talk to you any more, but is not as useful as, say, a rotatable digital model of a diagram where you can pull parts out and see how the thing really goes together. But they don't offer that sort of thing because it would really eat into their profits, so the web content is generally not much of a bonus.

As for whether a secondary device as a book reader has value, it really depends on whether you think the current computer screen technology makes readable text. I do not find that to be the case. In writing my thesis over the last year, I downloaded endless papers and other e-texts, but had to print them to be able to sit down and read for long periods. I've only seen Sony's epaper screens, but they are far more agreeable for study than a laptop screen. For readability, I'd gladly haul my laptop and another device rather than my laptop and several massive textbooks and references around campus.

Two devices isn't necessarily a bad thing, when you get a clear advantage in usability.


Martin @33: Wow, thank you! I didn't realize the Lord of the Isles books were there. Not as joyful as if Brusts books were -- or, better yet, the Malazan books -- but they're going in my shopping cart naetheless!


Martin @33: I have spoken to two unimpeachable sources (one high up at Tor, the other high up at Baen), and the word is that Tor will be reactivating their webscription service as soon as the lawyers finish sorting out the contractual arrangements. (Which are going slowly and tediously as Holtzbrinck's lawyers grapple with stuff they don't understand and haven't dealt with before. The exec at Holtzbrinck who jammed on the brakes is now out of the picture, but the legal formalities have to be observed.)

My assertion that there are no DRM-free editions of my work available was therefore an over-simplification ... but it stands, insofar as there are no DRM free editions on sale right now.

Ayse @34: the Sony PRS-505 (admittedly too small for a text book e-reader) weighs 250 grams. The iLiad is 50% larger and probably weighs around 350 grams. For comparison, a hardback novel weighs roughly 600-750 grams, and a Macbook weighs 2200 grams. (Even a tiny subnotebook like the Asus Eee weighs around 950 grams.) Also, the e-paper book readers have a battery life in the 12-120 hour range, compared to 3.5-6 hours for a laptop and infinity for a dead tree.

If I was doing university again, I'd want a decent ebook reader (if one was available) as well as a laptop, simply because in many situations a decent ebook reader (with annotation facility) would save my poor shoulders from the weight of a laptop ... not to mention my wrists if I was holding the thing in front of my face.

(I've tried reading off a tablet PC -- specifically a Toshiba Portege R400 -- and the damn' thing was just too dense and heavy: it felt like I was holding a thousand-page hardbound tome, not a book.)


None of the textbooks on my shelf would weigh less than that tablet. Most weigh well over a kilo.

I think a limited-subscription textbook service would be a real shame. I still refer to some of the textbooks I bought for undergrad work 7 or 8 years ago, plus a non-course textbook that I bought cheaply secondhand. And no, wikipedia is not a substitute for those books ;)


Charlie: You might want to try reading off a slate-style Tablet PC, like a Motion Computing device. MUCH lighter than the R400 and certainly lighter than many of my text books.


Oh yeah, and about margins for textbooks: yes, they're odd. But for most academic publishing there's no "margin" at all for the author (in fact a lot of journals have page charges). I don't know how well the publishers do out of it, but it would be an unusually successful textbook that netted the author any serious money.


I guess I'm skeptical of dedicated ebook readers in general, at least until they start to look like that PDA from Iron Sunrise. Convergence with other devices seems much more likely to me.

I have read things on my Nokia tablet (light enough to carry around and hold like a book, but the screen feels cramped) and on my laptop (better for references when I'm spread out somewhere, but somehow the screen also feels cramped).

But one of the things that excites me about ebooks is being able to format-shift them back onto paper. I think binding books is fun. An electronic copy offers the promise I can create a much nicer object for reading and lending than a mass printed edition, on top of the usual appeal of easy searching and instant gratification.

The drawback is that laying out a book is work, way more than I naively imagined before I tried it. And several of the free electronic copies I've seen under CC licenses, etc., as opposed to commercial ebook editions, seem to be drafts without the benefit of final editing (is this true?). So by the time I've reformatted something like an html version for printing, I will have effectively read it already! If I'm not the only one doing this, the internet ought to be able to help here by sharing such conversions, but in the meantime, I content myself that I'll eventually enjoy re-reading them in a few years.


You pretty much hit all the low points of the Kindle. The whole idea of a dedicated reader is dumb and you'd think Amazon would have figured this out by now (they've all failed). Screens aren't the problem, we have plenty of screens on our phones, PDAs and MP3 players -- content is the problem: DRM, limited titles, incompatible file formats, high cost of product that costs a fraction of the dead tree version to warehouse and distribute, etc.

The other big miss for Kindle is it doesn't know if it wants to appeal to traditional paper book readers or younger "generation screen" readers who don't give a fig about leather bound first editions, typographic design and other such dead tree fetishes. They just want quick, simple, reliable online access to their electronic entertainment. I nearly died laughing when I saw photos of the inane leather cover that comes with the Kindle and the other touches that try to make it acceptable to the paper book generation, totally missing the real markets for ebooks (which are an additional form, not a replacement for printed books).

Done properly ebooks have the potential to greatly expand the recreational reading market (which as surveys show is dying, slowly, on it's feet as the young grow up on DVDs, computer games and other mostly net-based entertainment) and make publishers (and hopefully authors too) more money. Done the way Amazon is trying to they'll simply fail to get their existing customers to switch from paper books while also failing to interest the people who currently spend their leisure time playing Halo and watching DVDs.


In @36 Charlie Stross replied to my earlier post (@33 which was in reply to his @11).

Thanks for sharing the encouraging news that the negotations for Tor's eBooks to be sold via Webscriptions are still proceeding.

I just note that in your original comment @11 you didn't explicitly say either "available" or "on sale now".
Without those qualifiers, I had thought that you were saying they didn't exist, rather than that they can't be purchased at this time. But your reply indicates that you know all about things, so that's fine.

You also relied to Ayse about eInk reader weights.

The wonderful www.mobileread.com site also has a wiki with a very helpful table comparing all the reading hardware with eInk screens.

The Bookeen Cybook Gen3 which uses the same 6 inch screen as the Sony and the Kimble only weights 174g.
I presume that is without its leather case.
(The STK-101 which is almost idential to the Cybook - but has much inferior software - is quoted at 176g).
BTW they say 388g for the 8 inch iLiad.



Has anyone seen this article in the Globe and Mail?

The title asks "Could the Kindle spark book piracy?" It stems from an article at a tech blog:

Both authors seemed concerned because readers could upload their own files. Oh the horror! Imagine using an ebook reader to upload your own files. That's a selling point, not a flaw. After all, most fans of ebooks buy ebooks from more than one merchant, including places such as Baen (and Ellora's Cave, heh heh) that offer books in multiple, DRM-free formats. As I read the article, I wondered, "What do they want? A device that's even more restrictive?!" Talk about not understanding the field.

Ack Ptui!


I held a co-worker's Kindle in my hands today and played with it today. It's actually quite a pretty little thing.

The problem is that it displays 2/3 of a page or less -- it's roughly paperback-sized, but the lower third of the device is keyboard. My friend said "If you'd keep the default font size, that wouldn't be a problem." I pointed out that if I kept the default font size, I couldn't *read* it. It's not made for middle-aged eyes. The combination of my fast reading speed, the small screen, and the slow refresh rate makes it not for me.

My friend is very pleased with it. She goes on month-long vacations and reads very quickly; now she can pack one "book" in her bag and have a library, and she can have her current book with her wherever she goes even when, as now, it's 700 pages long.


I think the people for whom a Kindle-like device is a big win will be people who ride mass transit when it is so crowded that it's difficult to read anything. A light, capacious reader which can be held and controlled with one hand, and which automatically receives the day's papers overnight seems like a godsend.

I'm going to wait until they get the screens bigger and get them refreshing fast and smooth.

David S. wrote: " I nearly died laughing when I saw photos of the inane leather cover that comes with the Kindle and the other touches that try to make it acceptable to the paper book generation, totally missing the real markets for ebooks (which are an additional form, not a replacement for printed books)."

Right. Like, can you imagine anyone selling a leather cover for a cellphone, PDA, or iPod? Ridiculous!

D. Williams wrote: "My vote for the actor to play Bob in the movie would be Tobey Maguire"

My vote would be Simon Pegg.

Monopole wrote: "The other utterly ridiculous elements of the Kindle that you didn't touch on were the pay for blog RSS, pay for public domain, and pay for your own text to be put on the Kindle. In particular I've got serious misgivings with regard to the need to pass your own files to amazon to get them on the Kindle. Methinks they will be scanned for copyright materials and ad keywords."

My guess is that they did it that way for ease of use for the customers. Emailing a file to 'yourself' is pretty simple.

Incidentally, the charge is only for the EVDO transmission. If you send the files to YourName@free.kindle.com, the converted files will be emailed back to you, for free, and you can load them on your kindle via USB or the SD slot.

As far as web, blogs and free rss: I can't imagine the kindle would be a very attractive platform for that kind of reading, due to the screen refresh issues. It's handy to be able to access them, but I think most people would rather use a different device for that if they have the choice. The web access functionality is probably there primarily for buying stuff from the kindle store - everything else being rather lumpy gravy.

Monopole, again: "Frankly, I'm astounded that none of the ebook companies don't bundle in a fully indexed Project Gutenburg compilation on a 4GB SD. "

Since the kindle has an SD slot that supports up to 4GB, anyone could make a 4GB disk image of Gutenberg ready for download and installation.


(The following post turned out to be pretty long. As it is my first post here I hope I'm not violating any etiquette by posting a message as long as the article I'm replying to.)

I've been reading this with interest as a recent Kindle purchaser. I seriously failed my Shiny! saving throw, evidently. I love gadgets of all kinds and this one intrigued me enough to give it a shot. The 30 day return policy didn't hurt either. After using it for a week, I have decided that I will definitely not be returning it.

In answer to many of the points raised here:

- It isn't as ugly in person as it is in photos. I've never quite figured out why it is seemingly impossible to take a flattering picture of the device.

- E-ink is much better than a regular LCD for reading. Pretty much feels like reading print on paper after a little while. If I can read a book under the current lighting conditions, I can read my Kindle. You have to see E-ink to appreciate it. It is much easier to read a book than on an LCD or CRT. Less eyestrain and feels much more like an actual book.

- The EVDO just works for me. Yes, I am in the US, so it isn't much of a problem. If I travel then I can simply download a book to my computer and transfer it via USB cable to the Kindle. Having wifi also would be nice. But, free wifi doesn't seem to be as ubiquitous as would be necessary to make a device like this successful. They had to choose some network and EVDO works for the US, the initial target market. Hopefully they will iron out rights issues and figure out a way to make these available in other regions. That would require a different network standard of course. But, it turns out that EVDO is plenty fast for downloading books. Text just doesn't take up that much room unless we are talking a book like War and Peace something truly large like Peter Hamilton's Night's Dawn books.

Also don't forge that a wireless service like EVDO on Sprint, which Amazon uses with the Kindle, simply just works. I don't have to hunt down hotspots. I don't have to get an IP address or work my way through the page that takes over my browser at a hotel to provide me the same. I just turn on the EVDO functionality if I have it turned off and I can download books extremely easily.

On top of all of this, the cost of the wireless access is pretty much built into the price of the Kindle. If I don't want to pay to have my own documents mailed to my Kindle, I simply use the free address they provide and it is emailed to me so I can load it myself. Otherwise, they do charge 10 cents apiece for each document you mail directly to your Kindle where it just magically appears.

- DRM and intrusion on my privacy. I dislike DRM. Right now, Amazon claims that they can't get the publishers to agree to make books available without it. Whether or not they will allow some one to sell a DRM-free book as a Kindle edition via their website, I don't know. I'm willing to live with it for the time being, but really hope that they eventually do away with the DRM.

The potential for abuse of personal information is a bit more worrying. I don't know that they are using info about my reading habits for anything. I would assume that they will target me with ads via email (they already do). I opt out of their providing info to partners wherever possible. In the meantime, I suppose I'll just have to keep anything that I'm worried about off of the Kindle. Definitely not ideal. But again, I'll live with it for the time being until a better alternative comes along.

- I'm not sure that the target market is wrong. If they can establish a beachhead with avid readers such as myself who like gadgets. Us early adopters will likely slowly sway others over to such a platform. College textbooks would be nice on the Kindle. But college students are generally poor (they have to pay for college after all) and right now the annotations and such aren't as good on the Kindle as they are in a book. There is no easy way to link one document to another for cross-referencing, etc. It is still easier to have several actual books open in front of you than to flip from one book to another on the screen. Eventually someone will figure out the interface issues around this. It might be Amazon or it might be someone else.

- Lack of PDF support - This one was a big issue for me at first. Turns out that PDF just really isn't designed to be resizable for the most part. One of the nice things about the Kindle is that I can make the text really small when I want to fit a lot on the screen and make it larger if I'm tired, running on a treadmill at the gym, etc. PDF doesn't do a very good job of re-flowing everything. Not that it can't, but most PDF files and PDF viewers don't handle this very well. PDF is generally best at presenting a page the way it would look if printed. Especially when reading fiction, I don't care how it would look printed - just that it is easy to read.

- The size of the screen - I agree that this could be larger. But the trade-off is losing the keyboard, which is useful for searching, using the built-in web browser, etc. Or, they would have to make this larger. It is maybe the size of a trade paperback and the size works as it is. I personally prefer having the smaller screen and turning down the font size over having a larger device. But I don't have trouble reading the smallest font and some people will.

How about some of the high points of the Kindle?

- Extremely easy to download books. Simply browse through the Amazon online catalog, choose a book, and click purchase. If I want to sample it first, I can choose to download the first chapter or so of any book.

- Subscriptions to newspapers and magazines. So far I have subscribed to Time and The New York Times. NYT shows up every day ready to read before I wake up. No bulky newsprint to deal with and I can easily read it wherever I want just like the paper. Easier, in fact, since it takes much less room. Time likewise shows up once a week ready to read. Unfortunately Time has chosen not to include pictures. The articles are all still there, but no images included. Kind of annoying, but I read it for the articles, not the pictures. I will probably drop the NYT subscription and purchase individual issues on Sundays primarily for the book review section. I just don't have the time to read it every day. I look forward to seeing more magazines available and hope that magazines such as Time will upgrade themselves to have images also. In any case, you get to try a newspaper or magazine free for 2 weeks before they charge you. So, I expect that my sampling of NYT will end up being free.

- Blog downloading - I was incredibly skeptical about this. Why pay for access to a blog? I tried slashdot and that didn't work well for me for a couple of reasons. First of all, I pay more attention to games.slashdot.org than the main page and they won't let me subscribe to that. Second, half of the fun of slashdot is reading the articles that they point to and reading the follow-up discussion. Not seamless enough right now on the Kindle for my tastes, though it is possible.

BoingBoing is the one that sold me on this. BoingBoing includes enough info in most of the articles that I don't need to visit other sites as much as with slashdot. They include images in their feed. It updates every hour or so. And, I simply open up a book (the Kindle) and start reading without having to be near a computer. If I did the same thing with an iPhone I'd have to pay a monthly service contract for the wireless access or make sure when I was reading to be near a wifi hotspot. I'm seldom out of range of a Sprint cellular node, but often have no convenient wifi access. At $2 a month I don't feel that I'm being over-charged. For some blogs it isn't worth it. For some, it is. For ones where it doesn't work as well for me, such as slashdot, I will continue to read via my computer at no charge.

The Kindle definitely isn't perfect. It is a long way from it. If it does reasonably well, I would expect it to continue to improve with new models over time. Much as Apple has done with the iPod.

I personally want a way to organize my books - right now they just give you a flat list you can sort in various ways. I also want their conversion tools to do a better job of converting PDF and other documents to the Amazon AZW format when I email them a document to convert. Usually they are readable. Sometimes I get a message just stating that there was a problem converting the file and telling me what file formats they support. No other clue as to what the problem is. Sometimes I can get it to work by doing something such as shortening the name of the file, other times I can't.

As an early adopter, I'm very pleased with what they have provided so far. I hope it will get better in time. There are quite a few copyright-lapsed works on Project Gutenberg as well as quite a bit of material available via the Creative Commons license.

At the moment, I'm reading Accelerando. I purchased it quite awhile ago but never got around to reading it. Thanks to it being available free for download I don't have to pay for the book a second time to read it on the Kindle. Thanks Charlie!

The Kindle won't completely replace paper books for me. There is too much material not available yet. It doesn't have color, etc. But, it is a great device for reading books and that is basically what I was hoping for.



I'll note that I was impressed that Amazon has some Mac Cocoa programming books available on the Kindle.


Aagh! I'm innocently reading Charlie's Diary, one of the safest places on the planet, and Klausner's name jumps out at me. If I'm searching for a review of a book I've learnt to omit her name specifically from the search terms. She's certainly prolific, but chooses the weirdest things to focus (or not) her reviews on.


@4 Jonquil

"I think that one of the barriers to a good digital book is that you've *always* had to buy a separate device to play recorded music, while having to buy a separate device to play a book is new. I suspect that to make it work either the device or the books are going to have to be massively subsidized for awhile."

You have a point, certainly. Console markets until now operate in that way, selling machines at a loss and getting profits from selling games. Oddly enough e-book readers seem to be designed in the opposite way, selling expensive machines and subsidizing books... and I don't think that's ever going to work, even forgetting DRM, intrusive practices and propietary formats.


Looks: quite a few people are picking on the looks of the device. I suspect much of this is because of the very unflattering FCC pics which were available long before Kindle itself was. They prejudiced quite a few people, myself included. But y'know what? In real life, in your hands, it looks fine. Besides which, when did a book become a fashion accessory? Folks, get it through your heads: this isn't an iPod. You don't wear it to get noticed.

You may be right. You might hold it in your hands (or see someone with one) and think it is butt-ugly. But don't you think you owe it to yourself (and those who read your reviews) to withhold your hatred of the looks until you have seen one in person?

DRM: Well, yeah. That's a publisher issue. No getting around it; they're scared of piracy. We shall see how this evolves over time - in the near term, I think Amazon deserves a lot of kudos for kickstarting the market in a very real way. They've just expanded the available universe of ebooks far more than any other two devices on the market combined. And with 187 new books in 3 days, it seems safe to say they'll keep doing so at a pretty good clip! Finally, note: Kindle can read non DRM'd materials as well.

Privacy: simple. Turn off the wireless and use ebooks from non-Amazon sources. There is a hard switch on the device just for this purpose. Same goes for the network architecture. You can fill the Kindle with content via a USB cable.

Or you could have a look at their privacy policy and think it through for yourself. Is Kindle any less private than web browsing?

Marketing: I can't say for sure. Maybe the educational publishers didn't want to play along. Maybe Amazon did the math differently than you. But nothing stops the Kindle from being a textbook e-reader as well as as a pop-book e-reader, other than the publishers.

Screen: I have not seen an OLPC screen yet. I have seen the Kindle/Sony screen, and it's very very nice. I'd been reading with FBReader on the N770, and after awhile, a backlit LCD *is* more tiring for the eyes. YMMV.

In short, I see a lot of people hating on the Kindle without really thinking it through. It's an amazing little device, and it moves us forward toward etexts in ways the Sony and Bookeen devices just don't. The hate has been so visceral, so irrational in many cases, that I wonder if the thought of moving away from paper-and-ink books doesn't awaken the Luddite in a great many otherwise tech-friendly people.


It's selling to the book market, both ends.

That is, book readers who are aware of tech, but not tech-savvy, and book publishers, who are struggling to accept that market models will have to change.

And Amazon have been busily applying computers and the Internet to traditional mail-order. They don't really come across as in-depth innovators. So it doesn't surprise me that the Kindle is a bit parochial, scuttling along the coastline of new tech, going the long way around rather than striking out into deeper waters.


Why not Wi-Fi? Bizarre; or why not partner with either AT&T or T-Mobile instead, both of whom have UMTS data networks (T-Mobile has their own in both Europe and North America).

This of telling headquarters what you read is a dealbreaker, anyway; one may recall that all that David Addington unitary executive bollocks began with wanting to let the FBI pull peace protestors' library records.


I don't live in the US, and WiFi would have been useless for me. At least the current solution is useful for the US people, and had I lived in the US it would have been a good selling point for me. With WiFi, the only time during the day I have free WiFi around is when I'm at home, and then I can just download on my PC. On the other hand at all times during the day there's mobile phone coverage where I am. Of course, if Amazon can hijack GPRS then it should work decently in most places (with less coverage in the US, but still better than WiFi).

Regarding DRM, my main problem with it is that every company invents its own incompatible format. I dislike DRM in general, but if the Kindle supported secure Mobipocket, I'd have bought it.


Quux @49: "Is Kindle any less private than web browsing?"

Err - yes? It's bookmarking how long you actually spend on specific pages within specific books. So out there, somewhere, some lovely Amazon exec happens to know that your guilty little pleasure is reading the odd steamy sex romp on weekends. (and I'm the UK and don't have one, so forgive me if I've dropped one) And that you happen to dwell on the homoerotic scenes.

At the very least you suddenly find adverts for a certain kind of dvd dropping through your door, if you've been unfortunate enough to not notice that Amazon have suddenly set a new policy in place where you have to go and re-opt out of marketing.

At the worst a down on his funds marketing stooge decides to have a filter through some, now easily gained, data they've collected on you.

Interest your wife much, would it sir?

Might be a bit of a stretch of the imagination - but all of a sudden your privacy on a very private pastime (reading) is blown out of the water.


Serraphin: and this is before we consider that in the UK having the wrong skin colour and reading habits can land you five years in pokey for "materials that might be useful to terrorism". While it's possible -- maybe even probable -- that some of the folks currently cluttering up British prisons for having a copy of the Anarchists' Cookbook in their possession while being muslim might have intended to put some of the recipes into practice, I'm also acutely aware that stuff in my library would make excellent fodder for a Procurator Fiscal's report, were my ethnicity/skin colour the subject of an anti-terrorism witch hunt. I expect a bunch of those guys to end up walking free, with substantial damages for wrongful imprisonment, in a few years time when the current climate of fear dies down. That's scant compensation for the years lost in the meantime, though.

The right to read in private is the logical corollary of the right to speak in public: you don't have free speech (in the political sense) without both sub-rights. Monitoring personal reading habits makes it practical to prosecute people for ThoughtCrime, in the full Orwellian meaning of the term.

That's what makes the Kindle's monitoring so abhorrent.


Charlie, you summed up my feelings exactly. However, I'm looking forward to future generations of the Kindle, if there are any. There are only two people who can pull off a successful mass market ebook reader & store, and that's Amazon and Apple. Hopefully Amazon will learn from it's experience with generation 1 of the Kindle and address all of the issues with future releases. Otherwise we might have to wait for Apple to come out with an "iReader". :)

As far as DRM goes, I can accept it as long as the price is low enough. The way I see it, DRM is something that decreases the value of a product, since it restricts it's use.


"It's bookmarking how long you actually spend on specific pages within specific books."

I call bullshit. It's bookmarking the last page you read. How long you are at a particular page can vary for any number of reasons: your bus stop arrived, someone interrupted your reading to talk about their weekend, you had to blow your nose, your cat puked on your shoes.

This means the snooping value of this information is nil.


Oh, also, if I'm not mistaken with e-ink, the last page you read stays on the screen until you change the page, without using any power at all. So people will routinely be leaving their kindles on a page for long periods of time. There's no need to turn it off to conserve battery power and backlight lifetime.


Jon H, do you think it's ok for Amazon to monitor how you use your Kindle? I ask because if I read you correctly, your argument is that because the information is potentially inaccurate, it's ok for Amazon to gather it?

I don't want Amazon to monitor my usage regardless of whether that information is useful or not. Is there a cell radio equivalent of a packet sniffer? I'd love to know exactly what Amazon is transmitting to and from a Kindle. Right now, they may not be doing any monitoring. The point is that the terms and conditions allows them to do so whenever they want. It's not acceptable for anyone to track what pages of which books I'm reading. Why should it be acceptable for ebooks?

I don't know if the Kindle has an off switch. But I remember reading that it is possible to turn off the cell radio. (Surely, they need one for airplane use anyway.) If they are doing any monitoring, that might be a potential defense.


John Chu @59

I can't answer for John H, but for my own personal use - yeah. I'm not bothered by Amazon 'monitoring' my use of the device. The real reason for the 'monitoring' of content on the Kindle and the last page read is backup, which I find perfectly acceptable.

YMMV. I'm personally comfortable with this because 1) I've long since passed my Anarchist Cookbook days, 2) as a sysadmin myself, I know just how boring personal data is, and how unlikely anyone (with access) is to bother sifting through it, 3) I actually live in Seattle, know some Amazon IT people, and am satisfied with their ethics, and 4) I understand that Amazon has a reputation to protect, and because of this, will not be stupid with the data.

At the end of the day, anyone who uses a credit card and/or supermarket loyalty card realizes that Big Brother knows exactly what brand of suppositories they are using. Anyone who surfs the web understands that their ISP (or, for the more paranoid, their 'secure proxy' provider) has access to similar data. Anyone who doesn't shred the trash before neatly bagging it knows that the garbageman has access to quite a lot of interesting information about them.

And Kindle-detractors choose to single out this device?


Quux: "I'm personally comfortable with this because 1) I've long since passed my Anarchist Cookbook days". In other words: "if you've done nothing wrong you've got nothing to be afraid of, citizen". Sorry, but as a resident of Blairstrip One I can't sleep easy in my bed on that basis. Nor is it acceptable to say "Amazon are okay and have a reputation to protect" -- you don't know who might acquire them next week, or what subpoenas the next administration but one might serve on them. Data is persistent.

I'll accept backup as a valid point if and only if there's a button that says "press me to back up your bookmarks, preferences, and personal data to Amazon.com" and the machine doesn't do so unless you press it.

Hint: I refuse to use supermarket loyalty cards; the only reason I'm willing to collect air miles is because the government(s) are already monitoring my air travel habits. And yes, I shred sensitive correspondence before bagging it, and my web browsing habit is mediated by a number of interesting blocker plugins and a periodic trawl of my cookie jar.


Finally, yes, the Kindle does indeed have a separate off switch for the radio.


OK. So, if you're worried that your reading habits are tracked by Big Brother, then you're covertly shopping (cash-only!) used bookshops in a trenchcoat and dark glasses. You're browsing web wirelessly and connected to someone else's access point - and you've taken pains to change your MAC address. You've thought out your mitigation strategy for the Little Man Dressed in Black who might be entering your residence while you're away, or bouncing a laser beam off your windows when you are at home.

Which is fine; I don't mean to be supercilious here. We all need to find our own comfort level when it comes to guarding privacy. That's why I bothered to type out those four little letters "YMMV". We all consider our personal risks and act accordingly. There's no shame in being more, or less, paranoid.


Jon Chu @ 59:

Call bullshit if you will sir - I agree that reporting how long you spend on a page will be bugger all use. But if it's reporting usage statistics it may well be reporting percentages of time for a specific page. Not unreasonable for a device that is uploading this information and therfore may not need to keep useless megs of time stamps.

However - even if that doesn't perturn you, surely this would:
(It will report on...)"Annotations, bookmarks, notes, highlights, or similar markings you make in your Device are backed up through the Service."

Backed up is an interesting term - as mentioned I don't have one, not have I first handed one. So I'm not sure if you can turn this 'feature' off.

But as mentioned above - it sounds like a spooks dream.

(You'll have to forgive me Jon, I'm not passionate about a lot - but privacy, freedom of speech and the integration of technology into society - well I'm there :))


63: You don't have to postulate "Big Brother". It's Amazon.com, stock ticker AMZN. It's in the fucking terms and conditions.

Further, you seem to be using an out-of-date strawman generator. Mocking people concerned about their civil liberties as paranoids obsessed by wearing dark glasses etc was the standard set of talking points in the late 90s/early 00s; it's been superseded by TERRORISTS!!! TERRORISTS!!! TERRORISTS!!! after it emerged that the government was indeed doing all the things and more we warned you about.

I'd switch the automatic update function on.

Further, Charlie used to *build* e-commerce companies' guts for a living, so you ought to wind your neck in.


Alex @65:

I very deliberately pointed out that I was not being supercilious. I was pointing out that there is a level of risk in everything we do; the only question is how determined your attacker is. I'm sorry it bothered you.


For around the same cost as a kindle, I'm buying a OLPC XO. (half of that money is a donation.) I'll probably end up spending half my time on it browsing the web and the other half reading e-books.

I will read a lot of CCed and public domain books on it. Maybe I'll put all of Project Gutenberg on a couple of large SD chips.

Charles, don't worry. I'll continue to get all of your books from the public library....and hand sell them to my customers at the book store.


Hal: I'd like to buy an XO-1. Alas, only on sale in North America.


The comment about an ebook reader being great for an academic rings true for me. I like travelling light, so often even my 12" iBook is too much. If I had a lightweight device containing all the papers I've downloaded, which I can read comfortably and annotate freely, and some useful textbooks that'd be pretty good. I'd like to get an iLiad, but UKP450 is just too much for a poor postdoc :)


Serraphin@64: I think you've conflated Jon H and me. We're two different people.

We also apparently have rather different opinions on Kindle monitoring. I don't like it. (No, I don't use supermarket loyalty cards. Yes, I have my own paper shredder. It shreds sensitive documents on a regular basis.) To take Jon H's argument literally is to say that the monitoring is ok because he thinks the data is useless. My rebuttal to that is that my objection monitoring has nothing to do with the utility of the data.

I, too, am worried that they could read my annotations. Likewise, until there is a way to convert PDFs locally, you have to email them to Amazon for conversion.

As quux says, though, we all have a level of monitoring we're comfortable with. My level for an ebook reader is no monitoring at all. But there will undoubtedly be people who don't care, or perhaps want Amazon to know what pages they've been reading, or how they've annotated the text.


I'd like to buy an XO-1. Alas, only on sale in North America.

Suggestions for how to transship, now officially supported by the faq.

I would also be happy to forward you one from where I live in Canada. That requires trusting a random internet person though. :)


Charlie wrote: "If I was doing university again, I'd want a decent ebook reader (if one was available) as well as a laptop"

I'd second that. The only problem is that there doesn't seem to be a decent ebook reader, and even then the books you really want for it (references and textbooks) are not available for it, so why bother (especially for $400). I'm sort of half-assedly casting around for something that can display PDFs nicely, as I have a large collection of those that I need to refer to regularly, but it hasn't become urgent enough that printing them out and using 3-ring binders doesn't work just fine.

My killer app would be an e-book reader that is able to take pen input so I can make annotations (most of my annotations are drawings or diagrams, so a keyboard is not going to work). It'd have to accept documents in a number of formats, managed off my own system, not remotely. I've had enough trouble with iTunes wiping out recordings of lectures on my stupid Shuffle (in the name of "updating" my listening material when all I wanted was for it to recharge the device -- no, don't try to tell me how to fix this as it's all about Apple resetting preferences when software updates) that I don't trust Other People's Ideas about how I should manage my data at all. I'd rather download to my laptop or home server, then upload to the device as desired or needed. Which would also give me access to something more like my complete library, as Kindle is somewhat limited in its carrying capacity, whereas the home network has a great deal of storage.

Handling my own data would remove the need for a wireless connection monitored by anybody but me, which is frankly not really a selling point for the Kindle. Why would I want Amazon to be able to look at my reading habits? I already buy a lot of books from Amazon, I keep my list of books I want to read there as a wishlist, and if they offered non-DRM ebooks I'd buy those, too. They already know a lot about my reading habits, so I don't see any need to share with them how fast I read, or what I linger over, or for that matter whether I read a book I bought from them at all. I'm no security paranoid -- I have grocery loyalty cards and use them -- but I'm definitely not going to hand over data for nothing.


Jon H @45
I wasn't aware of a way to load the kindle w/o passing through Amazon. If it is possible, I'd check off a "doesn't suck as badly" box.

What does kill me is that at the prices involved (subsidy or not) Sony, Amazon, etc. aren't rushing to dump as much public domain shovelware as possible with the readers. With a bit of inexpensive indexing and conversion a huge number of books (17,000 in the Gutenburg 2006 compilation DVD under 4 GB) can be distributed on a cheap (~$25) SD. Toss in an exhaustive Bible compilation and concordance for the believers and you've really got a selling point.

Either toss it in, or make it trivial for folks to roll their own (bittorrent w/ conversion like Miro for video).

I'd say that the iPod's success derives from the fact that people already had stuff to put on it right out of the box, and then added iTunes content afterwards.


Ayse, have you seen an IRex Iliad? On the minus side: a lot pricier than the Sony or Kindle devices. On the plus side: pen input for annotation, and a larger, higher-resolution epaper screen.


For some reason, a reference I made to this well-reasoned rant attracted a fan of the device (a quick Google search for his name and Kindle makes me wonder how much he's making shilling for it).

I think your comments, amplified by what Tim O'Reilly had to say, sums it up pretty well.

We can't be too far from open-source hardware that levels the playing field for people who want devices like this . . .


I must check that out. Price will probably not be as much of an obstacle soon. Of course, the super-corny name is a bit off-putting. But we must all suffer for our art.


Check out this link for how a good eBook reader might be like:



monopole wrote: "Either toss it in, or make it trivial for folks to roll their own (bittorrent w/ conversion like Miro for video)."

I think Gutenberg might be more material than the UI can handle right now. Navigating through and finding things you want to read might be a challenge, depending on the UI.

What probably would be handy in the near term is a kindle-optimized UI, web-based service which you'd give your kindle email address, and then you could browse through the Gutenberg collection. When you see a book you want, you could click a button and it would be emailed to your kindle email address. You could eat the surcharge for the convenience of having it loaded onto the device automatically, or you could use your free.kindle address and upload the file via USB.


Serraphin wrote: "Call bullshit if you will sir - I agree that reporting how long you spend on a page will be bugger all use. But if it's reporting usage statistics it may well be reporting percentages of time for a specific page. Not unreasonable for a device that is uploading this information and therfore may not need to keep useless megs of time stamps."

Fine. I don't particularly care if they collect spurious data. Hell, it might be useful as exculpatory evidence.

Prosecutor: "Mr. Hendry has the Koran on his Kindle! J'Accuse!"
Defense: "According to Amazon's bookmark data, Mr. Hendry never read more than the first ten pages of the Koran on his kindle."

Don't forget that Amazon is going to be footing the bill for the EVDO charges for this information transfer. This won't be cheap, and may give them incentive to limit the amount of data transferred, and the frequency of transfer. Data collection might be *much* more intrusive if the device used wi-fi. Also, frequent home-phoning to upload data would eat the battery pretty quickly.

"However - even if that doesn't perturn you, surely this would:
(It will report on...)"Annotations, bookmarks, notes, highlights, or similar markings you make in your Device are backed up through the Service."

Backed up is an interesting term - as mentioned I don't have one, not have I first handed one. So I'm not sure if you can turn this 'feature' off."

Um, it's a feature. So that if your kindle is lost/stolen/broken, you can easily replace everything that was on it, including the notes. It appears that you can't conceive of the point of such a feature, and so you instantly are suspicious of it.


Jon you're right. I mean - what with me saving my bookmarks/notes/etc to things like CD, Floppy, USB key or - I don't know - SD card for the past fifteen years, I can't think of a reason I wouldn't let Amazon upload all that information.

I actually work for a place that offers remote backup as a service. The backup solution has to offer a lot of very secure promises on things like data protection, because we feel that perhaps people don't like their information being available to marketing companies (and/or other). Although it's likely there - what kind of guarentee are they making of the safety of your information?

I'm not saying it's a useless feature - remote backup can be insanely helpful (House goes up in flames, all your marked work is availble). But if it's not an optional feature - it's a worry.

As for your J'accuse (I love that shout :)) this is where folk like myself, and many SF authors or wanna be authors might get in trouble.

See I'd currently have bookmarked information on the "enrichment of uranium", "Nuclear detonators", "Islamic belief" and lots of map points that would be good places to safely 'test' such items. This is for a story (oh dear gods MI5 - if you're reading I'll pass it on - I'd rather not the rubber glove treatment), but how would that flag?

Prosecution: "You sir - are a maniac with plans for world domination! Your Kindle tells me so!"
Me: "Err - did my country allow me to be extradited to Cuba?"

Again I am the first to admit it's far fetched, but not out of the realms of imagination.


The elephant in the e-paper room is screen life. There's no way to monitor the state of the electrostatic bubbles of pigment (hence the horrible refresh methods), and over time they will degrade to an even grey. The time to do that is usage based, but can be anything from 18 months to 3 years.

The screens are also *very* fragile (and not covered by the warranty on any e-reader I've seen...).


Simon @ 80: LCD device screens also seem to be pretty fragile, at least judging by how often PSPs and iPods seem to smash even with careful handling. Presumably it will be as cheap and easy to change the screen on any of these devices as it is on PSP or iPod? At least as soon as the screens start appearing on eBay - they haven't yet but I can't believe it will be long.

No Kindle, though. Hell no. Bookeen cybook maybe...


I just had the craziest idea:

What we need to get a really good reading tablet is not e-ink or LCDs... but a genetically engineered species of letter-shaped insects which can be electromagnetically directed to form rows of text inside a thin plexiglass cabinet.

(The battery life problem solved: the tablet would run mainly on sugar.)


A.R.Yngve@82: Hmm... Any ebook reader I own has to do Unicode.


@82 - could you live with bacteria? MIT is working on it.


Jon H@78, I already save important things like that off the computer here at home and on a flashdrive at the credit union in my safe deposit box (swapped out every Monday, assuming it's not a holiday or snows, then asap). My website lets me back up a lot of stuff there, but I much prefer to have it all under my control. (This won't surprise anybody who knows me.)


Well, NAEB have told me on their site they don't want my business since I'm in England (which I really don't get - the figures still end up vastly cheaper but oh well). Guess I'm waiting another generation.

As for the XO-1, if they sell it to me in a retail shop for the price of one, with say... a 50% markup (so, say, 150) I'd buy it in a flash. But I'm not jumping through hoops. If they don't want the project to be funded by first-world sales because of a "principle" which amounts to cutting their legs from under them, they're welcome to do it).


Simon wrote: "The elephant in the e-paper room is screen life. "

Ah, but the same is true for LCDs - at least, CCFL-backlit LCDs. While e-ink's wear happens at refresh time, the backlight's wear happens all the time it's on.

LED-backlit LCDs are supposed to be immune to fading this way, but time will tell on that score.



Well, NAEB have told me on their site they don't want my business since I'm in England (which I really don't get - the figures still end up vastly cheaper but oh well). Guess I'm waiting another generation.

Really? Umm I think they said you might want to check taxes and shipping before you buy but going on the Baen ebookreader forum they are well aware that we European based folks will see a significant advantage buying from them rather than direct from Bookeen and as far as I can tell they intend to let us order (once they let everyone order that is... currently there are umm issues)


BTW another "feature" of the Kindle as reported in Baen's Bar:

Of course there is always a fly in the ointment. I got my Kindle today and
so far it only reads v4. files.

v6 and v7 won't open

This refers to mobipocket files. It seems that the Kindle won't read the newer versions of the mobipocket spec which, assuming it wasn't a user error (unlikely), is pretty stupid seeing as Mobipocket is owned by Amazon. On the other hand its the kind of SNAFU that regularly hits tech companies so it will probably be fixed fairly quickly.

PS Looked on the mobipocket website today and was (amused/annoyed) by the fact that they have an entire section called Below Print Price and they tout this as being something special.


On privacy of backups:

A backup solution could take a password from you, encrypt on your device and only send encrypted data to Amazon for storage (you can do this now for PCs by using the punnily-titled free software "Duplicity" to store encrypted backups of your machine on Amazon S3 for pennies a gig). If the batteries in your Kindle explode one sunny afternoon on the back shelf of your car, you could simply key the password in when your insurance sends you a new one; the data is delivered back to you still encrypted, then decrypted on your device. Amazon need not know anything.

Backup and privacy aren't exclusive. That's how it works on your PC, if you want. That's how it could work on Kindle. I don't think it does, though.

On the perils of databases:

It's all very well saying, "most of it is boring, and who's going to check anyway?" The answer is no-one -- because sifting through giant databases is Machines' Work. So it's the machines which will do the checking, and discovery of Awkward Things (See under: Wikiscanner).

Maybe you don't care who knows about your reading habits -- but in 20 or 30 years time, you find that your life has been through many changes, you're running for some kind of political office, or running a company that challenges a major entrenched player. Suddenly weird facts about you start turning up in the press; facts clustered together, lacking the context that explains them, but horribly suggestive.

Amazon have a reputation to protect, they wouldn't do anything bad with this data, right? And if they get served with a request for data, combined with a gag order -- something both the UK and US allow -- well, your privacy just fell in a forest and noone who doesn't wear a patriotic flag lapel pin was around to see it happen. So what, they're all good guys and you're a law-abiding citizen with nothing to fear, right? Tell that to all the inmates of Guantanamo who have been released, after several years of abysmal treatment, because it turned out the only thing they'd done wrong was to be found in Afghanistan with a Casio watch on. Maybe that only happens in dry, dusty countries right now but this data is archived forever and who knows when some "99% Accurate!!!111!" software is going to finger 1%*60,000,000 = 600,000 innocent people in the UK. And even if nothing like that happens, go ask any of the ex-wives of abusive policeman who've been stalked through police databases how they feel about it. (Or Valerie Plame.)

Or, on the completely low-key end, maybe in a decade the market changes, Amazon fails to adapt in some key way and goes out of business. And the biggest asset up on the auction block to pay off the creditors? Hmm.

Hey, it's happened to me -- I've had email addresses and data that I gave to companies I trusted, sold off after their demise by the receivers. It doesn't even have to wait that long, it might just get bought up by a holding company that doesn't understand or care about customers (just look at that fiasco with the Australian bookstore trying to shake down publishers a while back, or how Facebook 'Beacon' could've gone, or any number of great-company-gets-acquired-by-tossers anecdotes.)

The simple solution is to just not collect the data in the first place and then none of this actually matters. Of course it gets really fiddly with things like Gmail, which is not only a great service for most people, but fundamentally wouldn't work without them being able to archive everything you ever say to anyone online.

But there's sod all you can do about Gmail because even if you boycott it half your conversations will be logged on Google's servers anyway because your correspondents will only have Gmail addresses, because when it was launched, most of the other services were balls-deep in a race to the bottom to see who could out-screw their customers more and only changed course when Gmail started cannibalising their market-share with big ajaxxy tagged multigigabyte skewers, making it hard to get properly worked up about it, especially when they have a track record of saying "no" to government trawling operations for which their two biggest rivals roll over and assume the party escort submission position.

This is probably getting wildly offtopic, so I guess I'll wrap up with a final point, "the only question is how determined your attacker is" -- this might seem like a trivial point, but it's not. If it takes time and effort to track someone, only "worthwhile" suspects will be tracked -- people who are actually suspected of having something. This, to me, seems like a sensible balance-point. On the other hand, if you just have to type a name into an automated data-mining appliance, then people can, will, and have, plugged in the names of celebrities looking for something tawdry to sell to the Daily Whatever.

So I vote for keeping this particular bar higher.



From the NAEB site:

"If you're in the euro zone order the reader direct from Bookeen. If you order it through us the combination of taxes and shipping cost will send the price past any savings you might have achieved"

If this isn't true, needs to be updated then :)


Before I can get to e-books, I've got to get a handle on the old technology: talking with the mouth and listening with the ears.

#4, 7, 13 et al:

"are you willing to explain why the proper usage is to call you 'a Scottish writer' rather than 'a Scots writer'?"

Because there's a Scots language and alphabet, a language closely related to English that's spoken in Scotland.

As sco.wikipedia begins:

"Scots (or 'Lallans' a poetic spellin for lawlands) is a Germanic leid that's spak in the Scots lawlands, Northren Islands an in Northren Ireland an the Republic o Ireland (whaur it's kent as 'Ullans' in offeecal circles, but by ordinar fowks as 'Scotch' or 'Scots'). In maist airts, it's spak alangside the Scots Gaelic an Inglis leids."

But that leaves me puzzled as to why Boston has a basketball team called the Celtics, prounounces SELL-tix. But the word "Celtic" is otherwise pronounced more like "KELL-tix."

And how to you pronounce the sport singular: "Celtic Football Club... a Scottish football club based in Glasgow, which competes in the Scottish Premier League, the highest form of competition in Scotland. The full name of the club is The Celtic Football Club. Until 1994, the club's full name was The Celtic Football and Athletic Company Ltd.
Celtic play home games at Celtic Park commonly referred to as Parkhead, which has a capacity of 60,832, and is currently the second largest club stadium in the United Kingdom. In 2006-07, Celtic Park attracted an average attendance of 57,927, making the club second after Manchester United in average attendance for any football club in the UK."

And who the Celts really are, and why did they have an ancestral entity whose bodies, more than a thousand years old, mummified, in proto-tartans, were found on the Silk Road, with much ballyhoo, by a National Geographic-funded team?

De Jubainville's Celtic myth has been deconstructed in two recent sceptical publications: The Atlantic Celts:
Ancient People or Modern Invention by Simon James (1999), and The Celts: Origins, Myths and Inventions by John Collis (2003). Nevertheless, the story lingers on in standard texts and notably in The Celts, a Channel 4 documentary broadcast in February. "Celt" is now a term that sceptics consider so corrupted in the archaeological and popular literature that it is worthless.

This is more than my New-York-born (literally On Broadway) California-resident teacher/ Mathematician/ Physicist/ Biologist/ Science Fiction author's brain, of Jewish descent (by mitochondria) married to a woman born and brought up in Edinburgh, can fathom. Which, by the way, for you Nanotechnology folks, is:
1 fathom = 18,288,000,000 angstroms, more or less.


Jonathan @ 92

I think you may find at the time of their inception Celtic Football Club in 1888 and the Boston Celtics 1946 the only pronunciation of their name in common usage was as SELL-tic. It wasn't until the mid 1960's with the rise of a more general interest in folklore and general or family history did the harder Kel-tic pronunciation become more used and it you can't change the pronunciation habits of several hundred thousand people no matter what linguistic reason there may be.

For my trouble I support a football probably uniquely named after a notorious prison and a work of fiction by a famous author namely "The Heart of Midlothian". This was the nickname for the Tolbooth prison situated on Edinburgh's Royal Mile from 1480 to 1817 and is the central location for Sir Walter Scott's novel in 1818 of the same name.

(To explain my moniker here 'Heart of Midlothian' = 'The Hearts' = 'The Jam Tarts' = 'The Jambos' = 'Jamboesque' that which has the property of being like a Jambo. Yes I know it probably nothing to most folk on here but it's a dull working shift for me today.

By the way for anyone interested in learning more about the Scots Language this site is a good start http://www.scots-online.org/grammar/whits.htm


Thank you, Jamboesque.

The Heart of Midlothian is: (1) the 7th of Sir Walter Scott's Waverley Novels, surely one of the best; (2) the heart-shaped mosaic embedded the pavement near the West Door of St. Giles Kirk on the Royal Mile, which I have spat upon for good luck, albeit I was not a prisoner. Long story, which you probably know, and which I am not expert enough to properly recite.

I am fortunate to have married into Sir Walter Scott's family. My wife, on the other hand, however successful she becomes as a writer, will never be THE writer in her family.

So, when will Charles Stross' oeuvre be translated into the Scots Language? Just wondering...

"Science Feection is scrievin that for ordinar taks place in the futur, an is quite weel-likit. Thare's monie forms o it sic as 'Cyberpunk', 'Hard Science Fiction', an 'Soft Science Fiction.' Monie fowk threaps that the Novelle Frankenstein wis the first Science Feection novelle, but awtho it coud hae been the first it wisna till the 'Dime Novels' o the 1920-30s, an the 'pulps' o the 1950s that fowk taen tae it. Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Fred Pohl, Charlie Stross (in mony respects, an eccentric an a free speerit), an Theodore Sturgeon is amang the maist kenspeckle Science Feection writers. Ae science feection novelle in Wir Leid is But'N'Ben A-Go-Go bi Matthew Fitt.... A computer is a machine for tae mak manipulatin data mair eith.... Mathematics is the studie o feck, structur, room, an chynge. Historically, mathematics developed frae coontin, calculation, meisurement, an the studie o the shapes an muivins o pheesical objects, throu the uise o abstraction an deductive raesonin. Mathematics is uised forbye tae remit tae the insicht gained bi fowk bi daein mathematics, forbye kent as the bodie o mathematical ken. This hinder meanin o mathematics includes the mathematics uised tae dae warkin oots or models an is an indispensable tuil in the naitural sciences, ingineerin, makin spaceships faster than Einstein's relativity theories statin that the speed leemit o the Universe is the speed o licht in a vacuum, an the economics o abundance."

Slightly tweaked from sco.wikipedia.


Andrew @ 92:

Below are comments from (another) Andrew and myself at bar.baen.com a couple of weeks ago on the pricing as we caluclate it give the current weakness of the US$. The response from NAEB to my final comment was "and we want to take it too". They probably ought to update the website but it is conceivable that they don't intend to do so until they actually get the readers from Bookeen because Bookeen might consider this to be some kind of unauthorized / unethical behaviour and decide not to ship the readers.

The same applies for France.

NAEBLLC - ebook $375, shipping ~$25 = US$400 or €271

Bookeen charge €358.30 (inc S&H) for the basic and €458.30 for the
deluxe. I find it hard to believe that VAT and duty will be more than
€100 (~ 40% rate). Assuming that rate, I'll be paying €371 to get
almost a deluxe for €13 more than bookeen's basic.

NAEB, I will pay anytime you want to take my money

Andrew Ramage quoth:

> How is the shipping & tax going to outweigh any savings ? I looked on
> the Bookeen site and they are charging £315 + £13 p+p for the
> Here's my calculation of the costs for buying an eReader from NAEB:
> eReader: $375.00 = £179.43
> Shipping (USPS Priority) $ 19.00 = £ 9.10
> Tax (Assumes 7.5%) $ 28.13 = £ 13.47
> Import Duty £ 50.00 (Guess)
> -------
> £252.00
> -------
> That's a considerable saving for me (£76) so I think I should buy a
> NAEB version. It will be 110V for the charger, but I have an UK-> US
> transformer and a power strip for US plugs.


The charger only takes 110 V? That seems really silly and short-sighted. Smart power bricks that take either 110 or 220 V are cheap. Even cheap consumer electronics in China come with them. (I could charge my Chinese cellphone here in Canada, if I needed to.)

And seeing as a logical use for one of these gadgets is taking a lot of books with you while travelling…


According to the bookeen website the plug is universal but with US 2 prong plug. The usual travel converter will solve the problem



Francis @96: import duty on ebook readers into the UK is, IIRC, 0%. So your price estimate of £252 should actually be £202 versus £328 inc. shipping from Bookeen. The price differetial is beyond ridiculous and into Apple UK circa 1990 territory (back when the price of a Mac in the UK was the price in dollars, converted into pounds sterling at a 1:1 exchange rate, with a 20% markup, and VAT on top -- this is why Macs didn't really take off in the UK until Apple's CEO flew in and sacked their EU marketing director).

Canis @91: I'm with you all the way. If this blog had guest slots, I'd ask you to re-do that fine rant as an article ...

NB: the whole DRM thing on ebooks is up on the air. I've been saying for some time that I thought the publishing industry would wise up and eventually ditch it; I now suspect it's going to happen not in 5 years, but in less than 12 months, modulo a few hold-outs. They may insist on watermarking, but speaking for myself, I can live with that (and the evidence from Apple's iTunes store is that consumers generally don't find watermarking a deterrent in the same way as DRM).


Of course, the #1 science/literary geek in Scots was James Clerk Maxwell. As Todd Trimble says on today's n-Category Cafe:

Elsewhere (perhaps in report to the British Association?), Maxwell opens a discussion of mechanics in a manner recalling Burns’s Comin’ thro’ the Rye (“In Memory of Edward Wilson, Who Repented of what was in his Mind to Write after Section?):

Rigid Body (sings).

Gin a body meet a body
Flyin’ through the air
Gin a body hit a body,
Will it fly? and where?
Ilka impact has its measure,
Ne’er a ane hae I,
Yet a’ the lads they measure me,
Or, at least, they try.

Gin a body meet a body
Altogether free,
How they travel afterwards
We do not always see.
Ilka problem has its method
By analytics high;
For me, I ken na ane o’them,
But what the waur am I?

You can find more of Maxwell’s poetry than you can shake a stick at, starting on page 577 (page 637 of 727) here (The Life of James Clerk Maxwell, by Lewis Campbell, 1882).

His publications have stood the test of time. And he got to market effectively. Nobody can beat Maxwell's Distribution.


re @97 @98

Note that the Cybook charges its battery via its USB cable connection, there isn't any other socket you can use to put electricity into it.

My understanding is that the suppplied 'charger' is just one of the many designs of 110-240v to 5v adaptors that have a USB socket, into which you plug the USB cable that would otherwise be connected to a computer when transferring files to the device, at which time it is also charging, and appears to the computer to be a flash drive (or two if you have a SD card in the slot).

There seem to be three models with differenet plugs.

But they are all rated the same.
"AC to USB Power Adapter
Input: AC100~240V 50/60Hz 0.2A
Out: DC 5.2V (5%) 700mA"

Presumably you can also use a gerneric 12v to 5v adapator with a usb connection.

In the last few years power supplies that deliver 5v DC via a usb type connector are becomming very common and quite cheap. Many people will already have one or more with suitable local plugs. I note that the Cybook one delivers a higher maximum current than most computer's USB sockets, but that is only an issue if you need to charge it as fast as possible.

NOTE that as I understand it, the Cybook can't be used as an eBook reader on external power - you can charge the battery and or transfer files to it OR use it as an eBook reader, but can't read while charging the battery.

In contrast, I gather from what I have read at Mobile read.com that the Kindle draws uses more power especialy when using the Radio, and does have a separate power adapter input for charging, in addition to the USB.
If you make sure it is turned off, it will trickle charge slowly via a USB source, but that isn't the primary way to charge it.
Turned on, I gather it uses more power than a computers USB supply will deliver - which is why it needs to be turned off to charge via USB.

I gather that the Kindle can be used as an eBook reader when being charged via it's (non USB) power adapter.



Charlie@99: Well, since you don't have guest slots, just quote away if you have a use for it, I'd consider it an honour. Or drop me an email if it needs some editing.

Martin@101: I wouldn't have predicted, back when USB was first introduced, that offering a simple, standardised power supply would be one of the single best things about it, but it's true.


Nintendo should get in on this market and release books via their Nintendo DS, it would double the income from the sale of the DS. Instead of marketing "Brain Training" for the older market they should push the DS as an all round console that can display books....can't be that hard.


Charlie @ #61: "I refuse to use supermarket loyalty cards;"

As those loyalty cards (at least here in the USA) have no authentication, I occasionally simply swap mine with someone else's. It leads to interesting conversations in line to the register.


Charlie @#99: Possibly pedantic, but the figures in @96 aren't correct - As you say, duty should be 0%, but I think the tax charge would be 17.5% on the cost (inclusive of shipping).


Gwyn: yeah, VAT is 17.5% (subject to customs inspection: note that they don't routinely inspect packages with a customs declaration valuing the contents at under £16, or under £32 if it's a gift, but they do perform random checks and IIRC you can get walloped for an incorrect declaration). Even so, it's cheaper to buy a Cybook 3 from the USA and import it back into the EU than to buy one within the EU.

Although I'm so unimpressed with e-paper overall that I can't help suggesting most folks with reasonable eyesight would be better off with a Nokia N810 web tablet; the screen's physically smaller and the battery life is shorter (at up to 8 hours, with wifi off), but you also get a lovely sharp colour backlit screen, the ability to play videos and mp3s and surf the web using a browser based on Firefox, a keyboard, the ability to run the excellent FBReader ebook reader, and you can even play FreeCiv on it because it runs Linux and lets users install third-party apps.


A few thoughts from an industrial design undergrad:

The earlier comments are correct - a lot of these things are not designed with the consumer in mind, the businesses and content providers (trolls) all seem to have a fear of success. It really feels this way with Amazon's 1.0 offering.

What do consumers really need?

2 products - one bigger for research and real work at home / office (at least A4 or US Letter), one smaller for real mobility (average paperback size)

As long as M$oft doesn't design the interface - I think we'll be OK.

Both should aim to replace paper in a general way (forests are good).

full fledged laptops and desktops are for content creation, processing, organization, archiving, etc.

iPods are for content viewing / listening with the computer as the main storage. So should it be with e readers.

Forget the oddball assortment of file formats.
We need a few competing file formats pushing each other to get better, offer more (customizable text, annotation abilities like highlighting / linking / exporting)

Wireless downloads are about as necessary as a wireless music store (varies from person to person).

Yes students can be poor, but they also have scholarships, grants, parents that give them money for necessary study tools.


JoelFinkle wrote:
One of the undigestible things about the textbook market is how slim the margins are. They can be as little as 10%. It's explainable: small press runs, frequent new editions (in math? really? we discovered something new about differential equations? Same goes for inorganic chemistry, mechanics...). The high initial price is theoretically justified over resale values (like cars, used books, etc.), until that new edition is announced for next year's class.

Parts of this are right on the money. I worked for a college textbook publisher for 5 years. The PP&B (price to publish & bind) for a book is usually 2-3$. That's for a nice big fat book, probably 2-3 colors (i.e. black and the blue notes in the margins, with maybe yellow in a chart). Several dollars go to the author, some money for the reviewers (have to pay about $500-$1000 per reviewer since they're usually teachers in the subject and have to doublecheck things), money for the corporation (my salary was in that lump), and, quite importantly, money to pay for the free instructor's books, the free samples that every prof asks for (because even if they don't want it, they can sell it or trade it), the transparencies (yes, they still use them, and they cost at least $100 per set), the testbanks, etc, etc (given all the perks the instructors get, any of us could teach pretty much any course - that's how comprehensive the perks are). And that's for a big book. For a smaller book, the economics change - print runs only get so small from the places we sourced, you go from 2+ colors to 1 color (black), you try and get the author to have his friends/coworkers read and proof it, you don't send out samples, etc, etc.

We then sell the book for $50 to the bookstore - who promptly sell it to the students for $70. That's part of why you see new editions every 2 years or so - at the end of the year/semester, the bookstore pays $10-20 for the book and resells it for $50. Obviously, on used books we don't see a dime, so it's in our best interests to "revise" every couple years.

Oh, and we can't compete against the booksellers - apparently it's been tried, and IIRC the booksellers simply stopped carrying that publisher.... which ended that little experiment pretty fast.

So, digital pricing.... if we were to sell a book online, the only savings you'd see would probably be the PP&B - we couldn't charge less than the bookstore, so we'd make more money, but we couldn't drop the price any lest we get banninated. Not to mention that you probably wouldn't be able to resell it, it'd have DRM, etc, etc.

What's the solution? HeckifIknow. One idea mentioned was to have the school add a fee per student, which would give the students access to a digital version of the books. Mass sale means better pricing, which includes money saved by skipping the bookstore, digital files for the professor instead of all the gimmes, etc. That was several years ago, and I haven't kept up in the field.

ObWish: a book reader on the iPhone/iTouch. Yes, I love that eInk is finally out. However, toss a good reader on either one of those and the Kindle is set for kindling (yar, I know, bad pun).


I've had some great e-book readers. The first was my trusty laptop that I used through law school. I was fortunate in that almost all of my casebooks were available in electronic form. I used a personal database (ah FolioViews, you were once great) for my notes, and life was good.

Later, I had a b&w Sony PDA which gloriously had a thumbwheel on the side for scrolling pages. I'd save books in .txt or .html format to the PDA, and then read them standing on the subway, holding the PDA in one hand (it was about the size of a 3X5 index card, and less than 1/2 inch thick), scrolling with my right thumb, and holding on with my other hand. More convenient even than reading a paper book.

Lately, I've used a tablet PC. Perfect for reading those huge Marvel comics archives on DVD while lying in a hammock. The screen can be set to display two pages at once to mimic an open comic book, and is large enough that the size reduction isn't noticable. It is also great for reading any pdf you care to name. Bigger than a Kindle, yes, but much easier on the eyes.

Still, of them all, the best was that Sony PDA. I'd buy another one today in a heartbeat. But they don't make them like that anymore.