Friday, July 4, 2008

Pico de Arte and Some Thoughts on My Kindle

Thanks to Billy at Chapter and Verse for the Pico de Arte Award. I am honored and humbled. Thank you very much Billy.

The criteria for the award is as follows:

To inspire others with their creative energy and talents. This can be through writing, artwork, design, interesting material or contribution to the bigger community. It is a special honour to receive it.

I am passing this along to the following bloggers. These are all places I visit regularly and I always find thoughtful, creative posts that teach me something.

Steve Malley
The Electric Orchid Hunter
Timothy Hallinan

On another completely different note, I've been thinking lately about my Kindle. Yes, I bought a Kindle a few months ago after my Uncle Denis got one and I developed Kindle envy. I'd always looked at the Kindle as a supplement, not a replacement for actual physical books and to be truthful, I didn't do much with it for quite a while. My original thought was that it would be great to have when I'm traveling and I really wish this was something I could have had during the years when I was traveling over 50% of the time. I'm always pretty weighed down with reading material any time I'm going somewhere for more than an overnight trip. Lately, I've started using it more and the ability to have more books than I could ever possibly read available to me on one small device is great, but there are so many other cool things I can do with it that I'm not sure too many people know about. Here are some of my favorites:

1. The font is adjustable. I have finally come to the point where my near vision is starting to go. I can still read without reading glasses, but I finally broke down and got a pair and I find myself reaching for them more often than not when I settle in at night to read. I don't need them when I'm reading the Kindle.

2. There's a built in New Oxford American Dictionary. When I come across a word I'm not sure about, all I need to do is highlight the word is and the definition pops up.

3. There's a search function. If I'm reading and run across a reference I'm not familiar with (a name, a literary reference, a foreign phrase, a place, a book title, etc.), I can type it into search and I have the option to search the Kindle, the dictionary, Wikipedia or the web. When I run into something I'd like to research when I'm reading an actual book, I rarely remember to check it out later, so it is extremely useful to be able to do it while I'm reading.

4. The wireless service used to download books from Amazon and to perform searches comes with the unit as part of the admittedly high purchase price -- there's no further service fee. The account also comes with a Kindle email address, so I can send documents and pictures to the Kindle. The literary agent, Kristen Nelson loves this feature because it allows her to send client manuscripts to the Kindle, rather than schlep tons of paper around.

5. I can highlight text and/or add my own notes about it and it's saved. The "clips" I save are available on the Kindle home page and the highlighted text and the page it appears on are included in the clip file.

6. One of my favorite things about the Kindle is that if I'm interested in buying a book, I can download a sample of the first few pages of the book for free. This lets me check out the author's style and get the feel of the book. If it doesn't hook me, I haven't lost anything. If I want to buy it, the Kindle is connected to my one-click account and I have it within a minute.

7. Here's one that I am shocked that Amazon hasn't been playing up as a marketing tool. Buying ebooks is not only less expensive than buying brand new paper books, but it is an almost entirely green alternative. An enormous amount of resources are used to print, store, pack and ship paper books. There's the paper itself, not to mention the fuel required to truck and deliver books around the country and around the world.

There are quite a few more things that you can do with it that I either haven't tried yet or don't know about, but I wanted to share my thoughts on the usefulness of this ebook reader.

I'm curious about your thoughts on the Kindle or other ebook readers. Since the Kindle's release, I've been surprised at some of the hysterical, bordering on irrational posts and comments I've read about it. I accept that most of us love the feel of a real book and we're reluctant to make a shift. I love "real" books too and I foolishly continue to buy them and really ought to stop since I do have the Kindle. Writers in particular seem to have a huge fear that ebooks will be a bad thing. The first fear expressed is that people will pirate free copies of the book. Frankly, I think that's not a big concern. Secure purchasing has been worked out for music and software already and it's inevitable that there will be some pirating, but I doubt seriously that it will have any greater impact than shoplifting does. In fact, people lend physical books out all the time and it isn't really possible for me to lend the books I download to my Kindle to anyone, so in some ways, it could stimulate more book sales. The other part of the ebook model that I think should be encouraging is that since the cost of selling an ebook is next to nothing compared to the production and distribution of physical books, and since the price point for ebooks, although lower than for physical books is still relatively high, the profit margin to the publisher on ebooks is logically far greater. This could potentially do two things. Publishers could choose to purchase more titles, since the risk associated with producing and shipping physical copies is drastically reduced, and/or they could choose to allocate more money toward promotion and marketing.

Now there are a couple of obvious downsides to the Kindle specifically. The first is that it's obviously a proprietary device designed to only work with Amazon. The second is that there are quite a few ergonomic improvements they could make. The thing really looks more like an early computerized toy than a modern piece of technology. And the third is that it's pretty pricey, which is normal for any new technology device. The first DVD players, .mp3 players, digital cameras, etc. were all two or three or twenty times more expensive than they later became.

There were plenty of people who claimed they'd never download music and yet the majority of people in the country have an iPod or some form of .mp3 player. We resisted most technological advances and yet, the useful ones have all been adopted.

So what say you readers and writers? Are you one of those who will never consider using an ebook reader? Do you use one now? Do you see them as a threat or as a good thing for writers?


Mary Witzl said...

Although I'm one of those Luddites who tends to resist change that involves devices or machines, I can see the huge advantages of a Kindle when you have to carry a lot of heavy books. I have done in one of my shoulders schlepping heavy grammars and dictionaries around, and the thought of being able to get these all onto a Kindle is really exciting.

As a writer who hopes to be published one day, the piracy issue doesn't worry me as much as the thought that I'll never be read at all. I'm all for the greenness of the Kindle -- the fact that it saves trees -- but silly as it sounds, the feel of a book in my hands, the smell when you walk into a bookstore or library -- all these visceral things are what keep me longing for real books.

Patti said...

i've looked at the kindle as an oddity...until now. i had no idea it had so many functions. but i am still hesitant. i love a physical book. i'm gonna start asking around and see if anyone i know has one. i need to see this in person.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I saw someone using one on a subway in NY recently and he was certainly the center of a lot of interest. People kept coming up to him and asking for a demo. Didn't get much reading done but he sure had fun.

Anonymous said...

Two things intrigue me about Kindle:

1. Portability.
2. Storage economy. I don't have a lot of books compared to some, but I have enough that I dread moving them.

These things bother me about it:

1. It's proprietary
2. The cost of hardware and software. Hardware price will eventually fall, but the price of books likely won't. Kindle editions, while considerably cheaper than their analog counterparts, offer continual savings to publishers and Amazon for years and years and years just in inventory carrying costs and warehousing alone. I have little faith that Kindle retail prices will reflect those continual savings. I have even less faith that the margins on Kindle editions will offset the retail prices of printed books.
3. No shareability or after market sales.
4. Too costly to replace my current library.
5. As I understand, authors cannot distribute Kindle editions free of charge.

Question I have about Kindle editions:

1. Do authors get a larger royalty share on Kindle sales? It is, after all, the cheapest way to distribute content. I certainly hope publishers give authors their due.

Charles Gramlich said...

I will eventually get an ebook reader, but I want one I can load up books that I already have in ebook format on. I'll probaly have to do some research into it. I just really, really, really enjoy having print copies of books on my shelf. And I don't think that'll ever go away.

Dana King said...

Congratulations on the award, and thank you for the kind words about my reviewing perspicacity on Tim Hallinan's blog. I see lots of interesting stuff here, as well. I'll be back.

Tim said...

Lisa --

Thanks a trillion (is that hyperbole? NO!) for sharing your award with me. I've linked to it from my site to show the world from whence this generosity flows.


Lana Gramlich said...

Thanks for the info on Kindle. Personally I much prefer reading a physical book in my hands than reading on a screen. Besides, a book can take the lumps & bumps of travel like no electronic device can.
Congratulations on the well deserved award! :)

Lisa said...

Mary, Believe me, I still prefer the sensory experience of having a book in my hands too so I don't find it silly at all.

I think the biggest thing I missed about albums when Compact Disks began to replace them was the liner notes. Now that most people download music, all of that is gone.

Patti, It's not a replacement, but it does have some pluses.

Patti, I really violated one of my own cardinal rules when I bought the Kindle: Never buy the first generation of any "bleeding edge" technology. Subsequent versions will be cheaper and better. I brought mine on a business trip to a sales meeting a couple of months ago and everybody had a pretty good time playing with it there too.

Rob, I agree with you on 1 and 2. 3 will be true to an extent, although there's sort of an equivalent to the after market sales. Brand new releases are all $9.99, but older and remaindered books are cheaper. Right now, most Kindle editions are new books and there are some older ones and classics. I suspect that the same thing will happen with books that happened with movies. It took a few years before you could get a lot of movies on DVD, but now you can get most of them. I don't know if I'd ever bother trying to replace my physical books. That's one thing that separates books from music. There was a reason to replace albums with CDs (at least if you planned to get rid of your turntable), but I can't see replacing a book I've read and have in hard copy. As for #5, I suspect the publishing industry will have to work out how the business and promotional end of this will work. I read on Janet Reid's site that some publishers are starting to distribute electronic copies of Advanced Reader Copies (which is long overdue, if you ask me since so many of them go unread anyway). I also read on a different post that an author who has an ebook coming out soon said that she can give out five e-copies. Don't forget that non-Kindle files can be sent to a Kindle and read on it too, so the number of copies the author gets to give away would be determined by the publisher and it wouldn't necessarily have anything to do with what happens to the book once Amazon gets it and converts it to Kindle format.

As far as the questions, I have the same ones. It would be nice to hear from someone who knows how this works and I think some of the people who visit here are published authors with Kindle versions of books available, so maybe one of them will tell us.

Dana, Thank you and let me apologize for referring to you as "she" on Tim's site! You did a fine review and interview -- both much more interesting and insightful than the usual. I'll be following you too.

Tim, You are very welcome. You've always got such interesting, thought-provoking posts and you are a gifted writer. The contributions you've made through your Writers' Resources and by establishing the Dickens Challenge are pure philanthropy and those of us who aspire to publication one day truly appreciate your generosity.

Lana, I'd be surprised if anybody came out and said they prefer to read electronically, but it's certainly possible that the generation of kids growing up on the internet may feel differently. "Real" books will still be around for a long time, I'm sure.

Steve Malley said...

Thank you so much for the award! It was quite a surprise!

I'm starting to think about an e-reader for my next long trip, but it's early days yet. Probably wouldn't be the Kindle, though, since all those nifty network features don't work outside the US...

Lisa said...

Steve, You are very welcome and the sentiment is sincere. I always learn something when I visit your place.

It is early days for e-readers and I am certain Amazon won't be able to retain a stranglehold on e-books via the Kindle. It would appear they've got things nicely locked up for themselves at the moment, but I don't see that lasting.

Vesper said...

Thank you, Lisa, your words warm my heart! I, too, am always drawn to your blog - it is wonderful and you fully deserve the award! Thank you, again!

Riss said...

Congrats lady! (c: I am sort of a dinosaur when it comes to technology but it would be kinda nice to have a bunch of books at my disposal without actually having to carry them or pay those ridiculous airport prices in Euros for a new book. Aaaannndd....I like the idea of a reference option but I wouldn't get anything read because I like researching stuff hehe. Anyway...I'm glad you're enjoying yours and again, congrats. You do a lot of good stuff for the web :D

Carleen Brice said...

I imagine Amazon isn't playing up the "green" aspect because they still ship books (& Kindles) via truck. Also, all (or almost all) books available on Kindle are first published the old-fashioned way. So I'm not sure there's yet a green payoff to an e-reader. Though perhaps one day soon? Have fun in Grand Lake!!

The Electric Orchid Hunter said...

Congratulations, and thank you! I hold your opinion in highest regard. I feel quite unworthy though, as flesh space has been virtually all-consuming of late. I hope to change that soon - post #100 is coming up! And it only took me three years to get there...

As for the Kindle: since I got my first iPod, I've been buying more CDs (and vinyl!) than ever before. I'm sure the same will happen if I get one of these - I'd use it for Dan Brown-type airport trash not worth killing trees over. But books like the new Michael Chabon, Maps and Legends, make for fine physical specimens. What I'd liek to know is: how does the screen hold up in daylight?

Günter said...

Lisa, I finally responded to this on my blog. Thank you very much for thinking of me.

My book collection is in the low-to-mid thousands, and I am constantly, compulsively, pulling volumes from shelves, flipping through them, putting them back. On trips I usually fill as many bags with books as my wife will allow and return with two or three more. Bags, I mean. Part of the appeal is physical, tactile; I could wax poetic about the feel of a book, the sound and smell of paper, etc., and there's no doubt that I like the look of full bookshelves in my home. But really I would love to have a Kindle. If I only had an extra $300.00.

Denis said...

my favorite thing about the kindle is that its easier to read than a book, especially in bed, because you only need one hand. in addition you can put it down, (say when you want to grab a phone or a cup of coffee) and keep reading. if you put a paper book down you lose your place.
have fun at your retreat.

Shauna Roberts said...

Clearly I haven't been using my Kindle to its full advantage! Thanks for pointing out all these features I didn't know about or forgot.

I like the Kindle because I can carry it in my purse and always have something to read in a waiting room. And no more carrying piles of books on every out-of-town trip.

Jennifer said...

Congrats on the well-deserved blog award, Lisa!

I view my iPod in the same way as you view your Kindle--I still love to purchase actual CDs, but the iPod is handy for walks, travel, etc.

My husband is a software engineer and a major tech-head, and he's been hyping e-readers forever. I wouldn't be surprised if HE got one one of these days, but I have no interest, really. I spend so much time staring at my laptop screen that it's a real joy to step away and read an actual book. Plus I get horrendous eyestrain headaches from looking at screens for too long. :/ (One reason I sometimes handwrite story drafts.)

And, as others have said, there's a sensual aspect to books that appeals to me. Devices lack that.

I think it's a great alternative for people who, for various reasons, don't want to amass a huge collection of books, and I don't feel threatened by it at all.

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf