To Kindle Or Not To Kindle? Not Yet!

The Wall Street Journal, in a Mar. 25 article, “E-Book Market Heats Up”, by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg and Sara Silver, announced the launch of a free electronic-reader application for the amazingly popular Blackberry, owned by Research in Motion, Ltd.. Very welcome news: Blackberry is said to be releasing larger-screen devices to improve the reading experience. Blackberry users will have access to free e-books and browse through 60,000 titles for sale at Fictionwise, B&N’s e-book retailing unit. Meanwhile, Google is making more than 500,000 public domain titles available to Sony Corporation’s competing Sony Reader. Wow! We do need that…provide more access to more titles… something Amazon needs to learn to do.

Indeed, the e-book market is heating up. One big problem with Kindle is that if you pay the $359 and buy the device, you will be able to buy books to read on it ONLY from Amazon. You also will not be able to share, that is, download, copy & paste, etc., any Kindle offerings, or part of any Kindle book, (evidently, not even short passages), to anyone else, friend, or other end-user. That’s a shame! Why be so undemocratic with books? I can see being a little tight with copyrighted music, but why move in a direction of ending up with a complete monopoly of reading? Yes, within a decade or two, if Amazon gets their way and isn’t challenged in the marketplace of electronic devices (or the marketplace of ideas!) Amazon may control whether you can own a book or not. If you aren’t wealthy enough to buy from Amazon, you may be out of luck! With real books, it’s always been nice that you can buy a book and then sell it later to a bookstore or at a garage sale or something…and if you keep it LONG enough, it will very often even go UP in value! No such luck with Kindle.

Personally, I won’t be happy with Amazon’s Kindle or its competitors until a much larger number and variety of books can be downloaded and read on these electronic devices. Look at it from my point of view, for a moment… I have written 30 books, NONE of which are viewable on Kindle, the way Amazon chooses the books which can be sold and downloaded.

Don’t get me wrong… I love the basic idea of being able to read books on life-like-looking screens on portable media, but there is one overwhelming reason why I would not use one of Amazon’s Kindle readers nor suggest that someone else buy one: The books that can be seen using Kindle are limited at present to 240,000, according to recent figures. That sounds like quite a few books, quite a nice selection, to be sure, and you can download any of these thousands of books, at (what is it?) $9.99 or so, and store a thousand of ’em at a time…but you may never see one of MY books on Kindle, or that of any of tens of thousands of authors whose books didn’t get published by big publishing firms. Writers of experimental books, books that come from one of the American subcultures or, indeed, diverse world cultures, books that “buck the trend”, books that are extremely controversial, simply won’t be available on Kindle if they’re not among the “Chosen” few. Self-published books by authors who didn’t want to pay about $100.00 each to get ISBN numbers for their offerings, are totally out of luck, because Amazon won’t accept book titles for sale that don’t have ISBN numbers. I never saw it as a huge priority to pay $100.00 for an ISBN number. As a bookseller I never liked, and never used, ISBN numbers. They are a pain in the butt. What’s wrong with title, author, publisher, date, and other pertinent descriptive terms? That’s what I use in my book descriptions.. not the silly ISBN numbers! There are millions of different titles, and hundreds of thousands of new ones appear each year, so even with 240,000 titles, Kindle isn’t supporting more than a tiny fraction of what’s out there in the real world . I’m sure Amazon is not consciously censoring literature or scholarship, but unconsciously, without really knowing what they’re doing, they are censoring a vast array of rogue presses, small independent publishers and creative entrepreneurs who publish their own books, or use companies such as lulu.com to do it for them in a professional way.

Another problem with Kindle is that it evidently will not ‘play’ a .pdf file or any similar kind of file, so books that are transmitted as e-books, like some of mine are, will also not be available on Kindle.

Since Amazon has built this Kindle system which has a partiality for only certain kinds of books, and only a small variety, a small fraction of all the available books, not to mention the new books that come along so happily and suddenly sometimes, I can’t see the Kindle system as being a worthwhile investment.

So, I’m glad Kindle is getting some “heat” from the Blackberry, as well as Sony, backed by Google! Hearing the footsteps behind them, maybe they can find a way to create more democratic access to a larger number of books by the reading public. Best, ——Ed