Amazon and the Kindle 2

Oh, Amazon. Every now and then you do things that make it difficult for me to be a fan (and customer) no matter how much I like your stuff. (This is a characteristic you share with Blizzard, so you’re at least in interesting company.)

First, the Kindle 2.

My house is filled with bookshelves and books, perhaps unsurprisingly. Holly has been very interested in the potential for electronic books to serve as a replacement for physical books in certain circumstances- for example, for travel, ease of storage, and the possible replacement of some of MY books. 😛 We bought the Sony Librie from Japan some years back and have had a mixed experience with it. For her birthday we bought a Kindle 2. That one didn’t work out so well, so Amazon sent a replacement, which is what I’m basing “the good” below on.

The Good:

-Readability. It’s a good device for reading standard text- without killing your eyes.
-WHISPERNET. Free access to the Internet, just about everywhere, without a monthly charge. This isn’t all good (elaborated below), but it’s been useful for using sites like Wikipedia.
-Text to Speech. The “experimental” text to speech feature is surprisingly decent. It’s not as good as a regular audio book, naturally, but it’s certainly been usable when set with the male voice at the fastest speed. H has been using it regularly, and it is by far her favorite feature.
-Images look surprisingly good. One of the things we’ve been very interested in is the use of the Kindle 2 as a manga reader, and it does that job adequately (with a couple of caveats I’ll address below).
-Free books. There are several free public domain books available from the Kindle store, as well as some newer free books (usually the first in a series). For example, the first book in the Temeraire series, His Majesty’s Dragon, is free.
-It’s easy to buy things. This can be dangerous (see “the ugly” below).

The Bad:

-The manga selection sucks. There’s about one.
-The overall selection could be better.
-Book organization could be better. It would be nice to have folders or better ways to view your books instead of a big list that you can only organize in a limited number of ways.
-The browser. The Kindle is in black and white, and not all sites render well- not even sites that are mostly text.
-I wish they’d kept the ability to use memory cards with the Kindle.
-I keep on comparing it to my iPhone and trying to zoom in and out to no avail. ^_^;

The Ugly:

-DRM. I disagree with the idea of tying a specific copy to a specific device. This alone almost caused me not purchase the Kindle 2. That’s the basic reason for my dislike of DRM, which goes beyond that- my experiences with DRM with games, music, and the work of libraries and archives have made me very distrustful of its use.

-Having to zoom in each manga page to get the best image possible. Really, they should just allow you to keep it zoomed in at all times. (Zooming basically takes away the top and bottom information bars.)

-It’s easy to buy things. Possibly too easy. We returned the first Kindle 2 we received because it would freeze when we did certain things (such as, oh, hitting the “back” button on the first page of any chapter). When this first occurred, we pressed various buttons to try to get it to unfreeze, and nothing worked- not even a hard shut down. After about 10 minutes or so, the screen started responding again- and somehow, during this time of non-response, we purchased the then best-seller 3 times. Oops. Amazon promptly refunded the purchases, and after a week or so and a number of phone calls I convinced them to send us a replacement, which has worked much better.

-Amazon’s capitulation on the text to speech issue. I submitted feedback and received their standard reply, part of which is excerpted below.

We’ve looked carefully at the legality of Kindle 2’s Text-to-Speech software, and it is clearly legal.

Nevertheless, we believe many rights holders will be more comfortable with the text-to-speech feature if they are in the driver’s seat. With text-to-speech, Kindle can still read every newspaper, magazine, blog and book out loud to you, except if the book is disabled by the rights holder. We believe most rights holders, usually the publisher or author, will decide to keep text-to-speech enabled.

Here’s the thing: if it’s clearly legal, then rights holders don’t deserve to be in the driver’s seat. In this case, users do. You’re not doing us any favors; quite the contrary, your stance can hurt lawful use in the long run. I realize that you’re probably doing this in order to convince publishers to put their books on Kindle in the first place (not to mention possible contract disputes), but I’m pretty unhappy with the decision.

Also, Neil Gaiman’s take on the subject seems eminently sensible.

-Amazon’s attack on the ability to place other legally purchased books on the Kindle. If Amazon wants electronic books to succeed, I think they’re doing it wrong.

All in all, despite the problems we’ve had, we both agree that we like the Kindle. We truly hope that Amazon changes its practices, and we hope that the Kindle continues to improve.

Cross posted at the Copyright Advisory Network.

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