Why Kindle 2 is the Goldilocks of E-Book Readers

5/8/09Follow @wroush

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it makes book-buying frictionless. In Wednesday’s press event introducing the Kindle DX in New York, Bezos revealed the startling fact that for books with electronic Kindle editions, digital unit sales amount to 35 percent of print sales. In other words, if Amazon sells 1,000 copies of a print book, it will sell 350 copies of the Kindle version. I’d argue that the wireless feature alone accounts for most of this success. That said, it was something Amazon couldn’t afford to leave out if it wanted the Kindle to appeal to the same consumers now accustomed to downloading songs, videos, and applications instantly to their iPhones and other mobile devices.

I won’t review every other feature of the Kindle 2 here, but I do want to mention just three of the lesser-known functions that have made me even happier with my purchase.

Clippings.
Thanks to Web-based tools like Evernote and Instapaper, I have become an inveterate clipper of articles or passages that I find on the Web and want to remember for later. It’s easy to do the same thing on the Kindle 2, by manually marking the beginning and the end of a passage in a book, then saving it to the device’s clippings file. If you’re reading a newspaper or magazine article, the Kindle provides a helpful menu item that copies the entire article into the clippings file. The next time you connect the Kindle to your PC using the provided USB cable, you can copy the clippings file to your desktop, and if you want to save the clips to Evernote or some other tool, you can just cut and paste from this file. What would be even better, of course, would be the ability to send clips straight to Evernote using Whispernet. But not even the iPhone has this function yet.

Personal document transfers. When you get a Kindle 2, you also get an e-mail address like myname@kindle.com. You can use the address to e-mail documents to your Kindle via Amazon’s servers, which will reformat them to display correctly on the device. I’ve tested this for Word, PDF, and JPEG files and it works great. Amazon says it also works for GIF, PNG, BMP, and ZIP files.

The company recently increased the price of these transfers slightly—they used to be $0.10 per e-mail, and now they’re $0.15 per megabyte, rounded up to the nearest megabyte. But that’s still a pretty negligible amount. And you have to remember that Amazon charges nothing for all other Whispernet traffic. (Just try asking AT&T or Verizon Wireless to reduce your data plan bill to zero.)

Kindle 2 displaying a photographBeyond just sending yourself documents, the fact that your Kindle has a unique e-mail address means you can program Web-based services to send mounds of free content to your device, where you can read it at your leisure. My favorites so far are Instapaper (for clipping long Web pages such as magazine articles) and Kindlefeeder (for sending any RSS feed to your Kindle).

And here’s a sneaky trick: for works that are in the public domain, you can make your own perfectly legal e-books. I did this last weekend after discovering that Amazon doesn’t yet sell any Kindle editions of poetry by William Carlos Williams. (In fact, the Kindle store is pretty short on poetry in general.) So I tracked down a few websites that have published Williams’ poems, copied and pasted them into a Word file, and e-mailed it to my Kindle.

Image viewing. Over the USB connection, you can create a pictures folder and copy photos from your computer onto your Kindle. The Kindle 2′s screen, thanks to those upgraded electronics, can show 16 levels of gray, meaning it creates pretty good black-and-white renditions of almost any picture. See the photo above for an illustration. You probably won’t find yourself using the Kindle to show off pictures of your kids or pets to your friends, the way you might with your iPhone, but it’s still a nice feature to have.

The Kindle 2 has many other nifty features, such as a built-in dictionary, a rudimentary Web browser that lets you search Wikipedia and other sites and even send e-mail, and a text-to-speech engine—which makes any book into an audio book, and consequently became the subject of a ludicrous dispute between Amazon and the Author’s Guild. (This is the same group of know-nothing dinosaurs who tried to stop Google from scanning out-of-print library books and making them searchable—but more on that in a future column.) Amazon hasn’t acted on some of my other suggestions about how to soup up the Kindle platform—by experimenting with subscription-based book clubs or book bundles, for example, and by giving potential buyers a chance to try out the device at bricks-and-mortar retail stores. But I have a feeling they’re not finished innovating.

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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  • Erika Jonietz

    Wade Roush writes, “…Amazon charges nothing for all other Whispernet traffic.”

    Not precisely true. The cost is presumably built into the $9.99 price of most Amazon e-books, which, while less than the cost of a new hardback, is still significantly more than the company charges for most paperbacks. How can delivering bits over the air cost more than having books shipped to Amazon’s warehouses; paying workers to stock them, pull orders, and prepare them for shipping; and shipping the books to buyers? (Not to mention the cost for publishers to print the books in the first place.) As a consumer, I’m very happy to pay for content, and glad to recognize the value added by a good publisher (including vetting, editing, copy editing, and preparing the electronic files). And I want to be “green.” But until the price for the e-books themselves reflects the savings that publishers and retailers would seem to reap from electronic editions, I won’t be a convert. Of course, I realize I am likely in the minority: $9.99 a book is not a barrier for most people willing to pay $300-$500 for an e-reader in the first place.

  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/wroush/ Wade Roush

    Erika,

    Thanks for your comment. You make a very good point. The cost of “free” Whispernet delivery of Kindle editions is doubtless built into the price.

    For a long time, I felt the same way you do about Kindle edition pricing. Here’s what I wrote in a November 2007 article about the original Kindle (which cost $399 at the time):

    “…even if the Kindle were beautiful, there would still be the problem of price. Price, meaning both the $399 cost of the device itself—a very steep admission ticket to the world of electronic reading—as well as the $9.99 that Amazon is charging for New York Times bestsellers and other new releases. Yes, $9.99 is a big markdown compared to the typical $25 cover price for a new hardcover (and even compared to the $13 to $18 you’ll pay for a hardcover at Amazon). But it’s not nearly big enough. For better or worse, consumers have gotten used to paying low-single-digit dollar amounts for electronic content. A song on iTunes still goes for $0.99, a TV show for $1.99. Netflix rentals will run you $1 or $2 per DVD, depending on how many you go through in a month. It may be a travesty that undermines all the great traditions of literature and authorship, but my bet is that people simply won’t pay $10 for access to the electronic version of a novel, which is, after all, just a few hundred kilobytes of 1s and 0s (and with an e-book you don’t even get the paper this information is usually written on)…For the Kindle system to catch on as a real alternative to print books, I think prices for new releases would need to drop to the $5 level or below.”

    I guess my views have changed a little bit as we’ve watched the traditional business models for book, magazine, and newspaper publishers utterly implode. Writers need to get paid somehow. And I doubt Amazon will ever get the publishers to lower their wholesale prices for new books enough to make retail prices below the $10 range possible.

    And $9.99 really is a big markdown compared to the typical $25 price tag on a hardcover. It’s also in line with what people are apparently willing to pay for an album on iTunes, and it seems fair that musicians and authors should be treated roughly equally.

    In any case, my inner geek couldn’t wait any longer for the economics of e-books to change.

  • Dana Hartsock

    Funny you should mention Nuvomedia. I still use my Rocket eBook that I bought in 1998. Almost perfect in a first iteration. After all these years I still see 18-20 hours of battery life. Also funny how people complain about reading on an LCD-based device, yet probably spend hours a day on a pc or laptop without complaining. I generally have my Rocket’s backlight set to 20% intensity, never more than 40%. But eInk has great advantage in bright light. Getting new content requires Fictionwise and/or some conversion/DRM breaking. And of course with no DRM hack for the original Rocket titles I own, some day I lose all of those.  I do a lot of reading in low light situations so some form of integrated lighting is a must for me in a new reader. Same goes for a touch screen. I also own the ebookwise reader, the RCA 1150. I actually prefer the original Rocket over it but it is a little easier to get contemporary titles for the 1150.

    I’m not sold on the Kindle. As a pure “reader” I think there are better options. I think even my Rocket is superior for reading in some respects. I can annotate, underline, bookmark, do dictionary lookup, change screen orientation, via the touch screen.

    But Whispernet is a killer innovation in conjunction with the Amazon store. I heavily prefer a touch screen and some form of lighting. I won’t consider a Kindle in any form until there is a touch screen and some form of integrated lighting, and support for ePub.

    Sony has made a stab at lighting an eInk display with their LED edge lighting on the PRS-700. Not a complete success from what I hear. Also the Sony touch screen has some problems with glare, though fiddling with one in Borders I did not notice a problem. I think the Sony has a much nicer design. Give Amazon credit though, finally eReaders have some “sex appeal.” I roll my eyes as I listen to people gush about their Kindles, but at least they are talking about eReaders. The price issue still needs to be addressed. All the readers are way too expensive for mass appeal. The lowest price of entry is the eBookwise reader (RCA1150) which is an LCD-based reader. Cost is $136, close to where these devices need to be priced. But it is old technology.

    Keep your eye on http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2009/05/pixel-qi/
    I have been hoping this technology offshoot of the OLPC project will bear fruit. It promises to be more versatile than traditional LCD or eInk based displays. Time will tell if they can deliver on the promise.

    Enjoyed reading your thoughts on the Kindle 2. Even now I would prefer my Rocket over the Kindle. If Sony adds wireless to their reader I might become a convert. I need more from Amazon to be swayed. I guess that makes me something of an eReader luddite. But that is how it is for me currently.

  • http://blogger.sanook.com/kindledx hi007

    That was a short wait! Kindle DX is already out, and we do get the standard letter from Jeff Bezos to Amazon Customers on the front page of Amazon. Amazon has decided to get away for numbers for now, which is why Amazon is calling the new device Amazon Kindle DX. I have been calling it Kindle 2.5 as it is not really the third generation Kindle but it does offer some improvements over Kindle 2.0.

    Compare Kindle DX with Kindle :
    http://blogger.sanook.com/kindledx/2009/05/17/compare-kindle-dx-with-kindle/

  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/wroush/ Wade Roush

    @hi007: Actually, I don’t think the Kindle DX is out yet. I’m looking at the Amazon product listing for the DX, and while you can pre-order it now, the page says it will ship sometime this summer.

  • NS

    Reading text from the public domain on your arbitrary reader whatsit seems to you a sneaky trick? My, how far we’ve come.

    “musicians and authors should be treated roughly equally.”

    Of course, though “equally” has little to do with absolute price and everything to do with the costs and margins of providing a service, and they’re not the same service. But the price points in both these cases aren’t margin-driven and are instead aimed at what people consider a droppable sum on luxury data in the parts of world society where this stuff is currently being marketed. I find nearly all digital media absurdly overpriced, but know that that’s because real competition for supply has only begun – and because delivery is still only available to a privileged few.

    But the real reason for this post is just to note that it’s not the Goldilocks of e-book readers, but the baby bear; if you find it fits the bill then you’re Goldilocks.

    Thanks for the review.

  • http://blogger.sanook.com/kindledx2009 new_sukae2

    While the Kindle 2 still packs a punch for its price and features, those looking for the ultimate reading pleasure will find the DX the best choice between the two devices. Like I said, the price is always the deciding factor in the equation so weigh the costs versus your needs and budget before making the ultimate decision.

    Kindle DX With Kindle :

    http://blogger.sanook.com/kindledx2009/2009/07/03/compare-kindle-dx-with-kindle/