Why I hate the Kindle

Back from a peaceful two week holiday in the depths of the French countryside – no internet, no mobile signal, walks and swims with a decreasingly grumpy teenage son – I found amidst the weekend newspaper articles analysing the UK riots an interesting Financial Times feature announcing that this is the summer of the e-book. Its author, Carl Wilkinson, sings the praises of e-readers in place of a heavy stack of physical books in the suitcase. The article goes on the describe the flurry of innovation in publishing, a healthy phenomenon that I wrote about here a while ago.

But I do disagree with the FT’s opening premise that e-readers are better for holiday reading. The owners of the house we rented will find I’ve left them a stack of paperbacks finished on holiday, so the weight in the luggage is only one way. And here are all the other reasons physical books, including the paperbacks Mr Wilkinson predicts will be squeezed out of the market by e-readers like the Kindle, are superior.

1. You can’t safely spill sunscreen or wine on an electronic device, or get sand in it, or leave it out in bright sunshine.

2. You can’t share books on a device. I can’t even get e-books I bought on one device onto another device I own, although no doubt one of my domestic IT support staff (sons) could do it for me. I certainly can’t read the e-books my husband downloaded because he’s onto his next e-book on his iPad. E-books torpedo domestic and friendly sharing.

3. They could do the same to the second hand book market (our local Oxfam book shop was damaged in the riots although I fear it was wanton damage rather than self-improving looting; 2nd hand book sales form an important revenue stream for the shops). Nor can you leave your e-books on the book-swap shelf at the local station. No doubt publishers think it’s a good idea to shrink the second hand trade, but they’re wrong: a small number of additional physical sales of new books for them does not remotely compensate for the loss of consumer welfare from a much smaller book market. Besides, as reading is an experience good – consumers have to do it to know how much benefit they get from it – publishers should be thinking of the second hand market as a sort of advertising that drives longer-term sales of their product, especially as students – the most likely long-term readers – have low incomes. Publishers will only thrive if reading thrives!

How big an issue is this? Without having researched the question of second hand sales thoroughly, I did find this report of a now out-of-date US study (via the Booksellers Association):

“Used books are one of the fastest growing segments of the US book industry and the report notes that, propelled by e-commerce, the used book market is ‘exploding’, and it estimates that in 2004 total used-book revenue exceeded $2.2 billion, with 111 million used book units sold, up 11% over 2003. Overall, used book sales are estimated to comprise 8.4% of total consumer spending on books.”

4. You can’t cut and paste quotes from an e-book. Their makers are so paranoid about “intellectual property theft” that to quote from an e-book on this blog, I have to retype the whole thing.

5. How are you supposed to refer others to specific pages of the text – in a footnote for example, or in a review? Floating “locations” have replaced fixed  “pages”. Will authors have to start numbering their paragraphs, as if in a mediaeval manuscript?

6. I particularly hate the Kindle. This is a personal thing, as obviously many eager readers luuuurve the Kindle. What I hate is the smallness of the screen, meaning you only get a couple of hundred words of text on it. I read quickly so have to keep thumbing to the next “page” and get thumb-ache. I hate not having the text immediately preceding the bit I just read. I hate having to keep scrolling back by several “locations” to go back to something rather than just turning back a page. I also hate the greyness of the screen and the ugliness of the device – and correspondingly do love my iPad on which I read work papers and an occasional e-book. I hate the way my e-book has comments and highlights from strangers on it, even if I can turn the feature off.

7. I have other idiosyncratic dislikes of e-books too. For example, I can’t see what other people are reading when I’m on the train. This used to offer moments of delight. One time, sitting in a block of four seats on the Tube, I was reading an improving economics book, and my fellow-passengers were reading a Nick Hornby novel, Seamus Heaney’s District and Circle, and Herodotus. How cheering is that?

Enough ranting. Tomorrow, the first of my reviews of my holiday reading.

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73 thoughts on “Why I hate the Kindle

  1. A mostly well reasoned piece, however you’ve fallen into the common trap on technology critiques: wilful ignorance.

    The points about second hand books are 100% valid, however saying things like ‘you can’t cut and paste from a e-book’ is ridiculous. Firstly, at least on the kindle, you can, very easily, an secondly how on earth were you planning to copy and paste from a paperback into this article *without* re-typing it?

  2. I think I disagree with nearly every point here :-) Let me explain….

    1) Ok, I sort of agree. Dropping a book in a pool is less expensive than an ereader – which is why I keep mine in a case. Several beach holidays and it is still working fine.

    2) Yes, you can. If you’re talking about an Amzon Kindle, your whole family can be tied to one account and read each others books. If you’re talking about different devices, removing the DRM to share the files is simplicity itself.

    3) I’ll agree that the 2nd hand market may suffer – because when you can email a book to a friend, why would you buy one? But they’re also suffering because they can’t resell CDs or vinyl.

    4) Indeed, you can on a Kindle and on most other ebooks. If the publisher refuses to let you do it – either apply economic sanctions (don’t buy from them) or technological sanctions (remove the DRM).

    5) Referring to page numbers is dangerous! Are you referring to the hardback or paperback? The 1983 edition or the large print 1994 edition? I expand on the problem of page numbers in this blog post.

    6) Errr… you can change the font size on the Kindle. You don’t get preceding words on a paper book. You can switch off features you don’t like. I’ll agree that the page is greyer than a regular book.

    7) Or, look at it the other way – no one knows you’re reading Dan Brown!

    I agree that there are annoyances with ebooks – but the fact that most readers weigh less than a paperback and have access to an almost infinite supply of material, I think is worth it.

    The book publishing industry is facing the same dilemma as the music and movie industries did a few years ago. They’re responding with technological countermeasure which are expensive, ineffective, and annoy the customer. That’s what I hate about the Kindle.

  3. One point I completely disagree with is that you said you cant move your ebooks between your devices. While that is a problem with other ebook platforms like the Apple Book Store, the Kindle store is by far the best at allowing you to access your books on different devices.

    There is obviously the Kindle device, but also the Windows & Mac desktop application. There is the iPhone, Android, WebOS, Blackberry and Windows Phone apps available. There is also now a web kindle reader allowing you to read your books in a web browser.

    • You have this the wrong way around. Unusually enough it is Apple which are using the open standard (epub) for their books. Amazon are using a completely proprietary standard that will only work on their devices and apps. Although a big fan of electronic books I am a little scared by the prospect that in 20 years I could lose my entire book collection in the same way my parents lost their Beta Max video collection…

  4. As Austin pointed out there are one or two technological flaws. It’s very easy to share a Kindle book with the ipad app. My partner has the Kindle and we both share the books. As for the screen I personally find the kindle is far easier to read, especially in direct sunlight. I do however appreciate point 7.

  5. Some might argue that point 7 was precisely the advantage of the e-book. Perhaps gone are the days when we’ll see smartly dressed adults embarrassedly clutching the ‘adult cover’ version of Harry Potter due to their shame at admitting that they are enjoying a children’s fantasy. Fair point all the same.

  6. I use my Kindle a lot of the time for storing PDF files that I want to access, I have manuals for most of the goodies I use in the Kindle from my cameras to PC and TV sets. I also often put pages from the web and notes into a PDF and load into the Kindle.

    Two organisation that I belong to, now send out their newsletters as PDF so I load into the Kindle.

    The one weakness of the Kindle compared with other EReaders is that you cannot borrow books from the library. Many libraries now have a service where you can borrow EBooks but it is not compatible with the Kindle.

    • “Many libraries now have a service where you can borrow EBooks but it is not compatible with the Kindle”

      that would be a weakness of the lending service, shirley ?

        • As it happens, it’s Amazon that has prevented the Kindle from being compatible with the library lending service (shocking, I know). That is changing this fall, when Amazon will finally let its brave little reader join the crowd already on the playground.

  7. 1. How often do you spill stuff? This is fair point but I see it a lot and I feel it’s over-stressed. I’ve spilled coffee on a book once, dropped a book in the bath once and had a book get drenched in rain once. That’s in a few decades of reading. Each time the book was more or less ruined and I think the impulse to protect a paper book for me is only slightly less because of the price. Also, would you say not take your camera or phone on holiday because it’s relatively expensive, or would you simply take more care with it?

    2.& 3. Both fair points. The ability to transfer ebooks around is something that needs to be worked out.

    4. See Austin’s comment. You can’t cut and past from a paper book either.

    5. Locations aren’t “floating” they’re just as fixed as pages. However after considerable demand Amazon now provide the facility to have page numbers instead if the publisher chooses to do so. Most of the recent ebooks I’ve purchased have them. Though what paper edition they relate to I’m not sure – which is one of the reasons I was never keen on the idea in the first place. Page numbers are an arbitrary artifact of the physical book, these are not physical books but they do have their own arbitrary numbers to specify position within the book. Still, they’re now there if you want them.

    6. I’m afraid I do love my kindle. It’s a Kindle 3 where the contrast is much better than on the previous versions. I know I don’t read very fast so the page turning is not an issue for me. In terms of going back I often have to remind myself of something earlier in the book due to a not-perfect memory. Having a search function is heaven. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve spent minutes flicking through a book unable to find the precise passage I’m thinking of. I also don’t like the comments thing but you switch it off and forget it.

    7. LOL. If I’m ever on a train with you I’ll loudly announce what I’m reading how about that? ;)

  8. I agree with most of your points, and disagree with some. But for me, the issue is about engagement. I find that my electronic device of choice (iPad) is great for relatively shallow content and media use (news, videos, banking, etc) but I just can’t engage with it as I do with a book. I’ve tried several reading apps and really, my limit is a cople of pages. Maybe this says more about how my brain works than the device itself.

    • Nope. It’s the device. I have the Kindle and the iPad. Engagement on the Kindle is easy and nearly impossible for me on the iPad. It has something to do with the glossy, back-lit display I think.

  9. The Kindle is amazing for disabled people – I have Brittle Bones, and for the first time ever I can buy a book when it comes out, rather than having to wait for the paperback because I can’t hold hardbacks. My grandad has failing eyesight and has been an avid reader all his life – large print books are expensive and unwieldy. He’d loving the Kindle we’ve just set up for him because he can enlarge the font size at the push of a button. Technology has a lot to offer to disabled people, and that includes the Kindle!

    • This is a wonderful point. The author of the article fails to realize that the benefits over paper books far exceed any negative. Being able to dramatically reduce the weight of a book alone justifies the brilliance of an e-book. The complaints in this article are a bit too self-centered and nit-picky. E-books can be improved, but that doesn’t mean they’re a bad idea at all.

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  11. Amazon stores all your notes and highlights on it’s website. You can go there and copy and paste, and also see the page numbers. It’s stored in the cloud forever, which I think is great. Kindle.amazon.com, then click “your highlights.” You can also now lend Amazon titles to other customers for a limited period.

  12. I feel so much about this am just writing a lengthier reply! I think it doesn’t come down to quantitative arguments. I think these are all reductive. A book is more than the sum of its parts and functionality. Long live idiosyncrasy.

  13. If you consider the ebook as an additional way to read, instead of a replacement of paper books you get best of both worlds.
    I’m not interested in keeping most of the books I’m reading. I buy the paper version of the few I like to keep.
    My experience of my Kindle is that’s it’s as much as a portable library as an ebook reader and I really love it.
    As I see how fast the ebook improves, I am very exited for my grand children :)

  14. I couldn’t help nodding in agreement with the whole post. However one caveat – I am a self acknowledged ‘basement level digital migrant’ so this might disqualify me from an opinion on the e-book debate….

  15. You can’t safely spill sunscreen or wine on an electronic device, or get sand in it, or leave it out in bright sunshine.

    rubbish. are you sure, or are you assuming? have you spilled sunscreen on a Kindle and seen it fail?

    E-books torpedo domestic and friendly sharing.

    rubbish. ebooks have done no such thing. narrow-minded publishers pushing back against sharing might be holding back innovation.

    You can’t cut and paste quotes from an e-book.

    rubbish. kindle allows you to bookmark and share quotes. you can’t cut and paste from a physical book anyhow.

    How are you supposed to refer others to specific pages of the text

    very easily. see here: https://kindle.amazon.com/post/2RIB5DG8TYATW

    you don’t hate the kindle, you hate change.

    • No, actually, I’m ok with change. It’s the Kindle I hate. I have tried one, albeit not for long. Not for long enough to bother figuring out how to work around all the things I hated about it.
      A number of people have correctly pointed out that I can’t cut and paste from a physical book either. Indeed. What I should have said was that I expected to be able to copy a quote from an e-book and was correspondingly frustrated not to be able to do it.

      • It’s the Kindle I hate. I have tried one, albeit not for long.

        in that case the title of this post is incorrect. may i suggest:

        7 assumptions I have about the Kindle

        you are right, in that the device does have its flaws. yet somehow you’ve managed to highlight none of them.

        • I thought it rather a fun article. Perhaps the title could read: “proof of some readers: ‘tenura anus’ “

  16. You can copy and paste from Kindle — everything that you highlight is accessible at https://kindle.amazon.com/ — Amazon recently launched a feature that allows you to share your highlights automatically with others as well.

    If you are reading a book that you did not purchase directly from Amazon, it is a little more cumbersome, but it can still be done by Tweeting a highlight, which gives you a link to the quote that you have highlighted.

    I agree that book publishers need to get over their fears — allowing readers to share ideas, thoughts, and quotes from books is probably the best way for them to increase sales!

  17. Summarised as: “didn’t want to like it, didn’t bother to figure out how to use it, and surprisingly enough, didn’t like it.”

    Lazy article littered with inaccuracies, assumptions and hyperbole.

  18. “self-improving looting”

    How on Earth can you say that looting is self-improving, or even to one’s own benefit? Looting is self-destructive, selfless. Going to the university and making something of yourself is self-improving, selfish.

    I know that this might not be what many people say on the matter, but correct definitions are not determined by popularity (or by the authority of some dictionary). Instead, they require objectivity in thought.

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  20. hi, it is obviously meant as a rant to spark some fire but I guess you have to know that there is Amz Kindle App for Ipad.

  21. I buy a lot of books, but equally I swap a lot of books through readitswapit.co.uk

    Swapping books has introduced me to many authors I might never have read, leading me to buy more books, not less

    My major gripe about the kindle et al is that not only do I have to pay for the device, the ebook which effectively costs nothing to deliver is as expensive (if not more expensive) than a physical copy. WTF is that about?

    • I have purchased a lot of Kindle books and have yet to pay more than half the cost of the same book in print. I have paid as little as $.99 as well. You must be aware on some level that the overhead to publishers for books involves more than printing costs. It’s not exactly a place where a manuscript is popped onto a desk like magic, no expense, no cost, until the time of printing!

  22. I pretty much agree with many of your points. I still prefer physical books. I like that when I read one and pass it on it can have a life of its own. In theory you can share eBooks but I have not seen it done.

    Paying for a relatively expensive device that gives you the privilege of buying books from Amazon at very little discount, unless you are willing to fiddle around and do conversions etc is not my dream.

  23. It’s not really the Kindle or e-books your railing against. Just the DRM that gets in the way of things that should be easy. Just don’t buy DRM locked books until the market goes the same way as the download market for music.

  24. I always wonder what motivates anyone to make such comments about the Kindle. It has a ring to it of pettiness. You want this this device to be absolutely perfect as a reading tool. Well it’s not…yet. But it sure works splendidly for me in the context in which I use it.
    I bought the original Kindle on the day it was released, and loved it madly. I was especially pleased with it’s rather geeky look and interface. (FYI: I’m a electronics engineer in Silicon Valley.)
    Not ready for prime time perhaps, but nonetheless a joy to read on. Having hundreds of books and texts in the palm of my hand was a literary mans dream.
    But I didn’t like the size. Too small for my tastes. So I bought a DX. I’s 9.7 inch screen was a definite improvement. But the screen background was a bit muddy. It had a mishap and was replaced by a new graphite DX with the latest pearl high contrast e-ink screen.
    Now, it’s nearly ideal, at least for my needs. It displays pdf files beautifully. Many of the technical papers in my fields of interest are in that format. Plots reproduce adequately. The greyscale display obviously can’t display the colors. That’s what I have a PC for.
    So please recognize that this e-reader technology is in it’s infancy. It has re-kindled my reading habits.

  25. I have e books on my HTC desire, but I do not want all my books on my electronic device . I have a collection of 1930′s railways books , they are wonderful , the way they are written , the dates , the book stamps etc.. I cant get them on my Phone, but what will books be like on desire in 50 years time? . My daughter is 10 months old, I am not giving her my Phone to chew, she has her own books .

  26. Though many of the assertions in this post appear to be spurious, there are some bona fide objections to eBooks worth noting.

    I’m an author, book designer and publisher. Though I don’t “hate” much of anything (except cashiers who stack coins on top of my bills), I’m still a traditionalist when it comes to books. EReaders have their obvious, practical advantages, but when it comes to aesthetics, they do nothing to recapture the appearance of hot metal type—something that can (and should) be done with today’s technology. Big publishers need 10-30,000 book offset print runs to generate product for their retailers. Smaller type and smaller margins lead to big savings, but eBooks (and POD-printed books) don’t have these built-in incentives to wreck the typography and layout. Instead of exploiting typographic freedom as an opportunity, eReaders treat books as simple “containers for text.” The flexibility they offer is marvelous but nobody bothered to combine adjustable type sizes with a good variety of typefaces and typographical controls (for book designers to choose).

    I still like to read paper books, but I sell ten times more eBooks than I do paper editions. I’ve developed some of my own eBook technology to advance my agenda about book aesthetics but beyond that, readers are voting with their wallets.

    I agree with other respondent’s opinions that eBooks are in their infancy. Things will improve. The kindle already reads PDF files, and it’s already possible to buy my books in the Google bookstore with optional “original pages” derived directly from my typeset files. Color e-ink is already in the works. Soon enough, the only thing missing will be the smell of ink.

    Though I’m disappointed with the current state of eReaders, I’m optimistic about their future.

    Dave Bricker, author
    The One Hour Guide to Self Publishing

  27. It’s as if a child wrote this. “I hate”, “This is a personal thing”, “many eager readers luuuurve the Kindle”. Regardless of the author’s writing ability, nearly all the complaints stem from ignorance or pettiness.

  28. As far as point 7 goes, it’s not just the idle thoughts about what someone else is reading that are lost, but the chance to strike up an intelligent conversation with a stranger on public transport. “I see that you’re reading . . .” is a good opening for the kind of human interaction that is slowly disappearing.

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  31. So you hate the Kindle but luuuuuuuuurve your iPad? Come on, have you ever read a real book on an iPad? Such an asinine claim can only be made by someone who reads one book a year. Then again, I understand why you hate the Kindle… Real readers won’t read on a iPad. You can’t read everywhere because of the glare and have to load the battery 10 times before you reach the last page. In sum, it doesn’t have to be a Kindle, but E Ink is a must.

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  33. As I believe Thomas Hardy wrote of Tess; ‘I shall never be able to say all that she was and is to me’. So too, those who appreciate printed books, may never be able to explain the joy of something that is more than a collection of ones and zeros. A printed book which exists in time and space, which has gravity and substance before you’ve even opened it, reduced to something without body seems not to do justice to the time, love and care that may have been spent by the author in their creation. But then the idea of an eBook is that it is available to anyone, anywhere on many platforms, for those not fortunate enough to have an Aladdin’s like Foyles available, yes they can be a limitless source of literature, information and entertainment. But for my money a Kindle is a soulless thing, although its name appears to represents the singular of kindling, perhaps the true test would be would anyone get that upset if you burnt one?

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  35. A book doesn’t need a battery or charging up. Also a book can’t be lost if the device (kindle) fails. Also, storage of ebooks can be problematic ? The trouble with those who create technology is they only focus on the gains and not the losses, and the financial incentives for the companies are clear – minimal production costs. I never want to read ebooks or download music files and hope I never do. I also have no mobile phone because I rarely need one.

    I like the internet and technology, but it has to be used alongside traditional media and not be a simplistic complete solution, as this favours the companies more than the public. So much human foolery stems from crude solutions to complex problems. It’s such a shame that big companies seem to do their best to encourage this foolery rather than taking a more sensible and long-term view. They’d rather we spend on what we think we want than what we really want.

  36. By the time PIRACY has wreaked it’s own special destruction on the world of publishing and bookselling…….

    Perhaps only then will the short sighted arses in publishing and those greedy corporate suits at Amazon realise what a truly disastrous little can of worms the kindle really is.

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  39. I am so fully in agreement with you. The only advantages I can see about Kindle is saving trees and storage space. Recycled paper eliminates one of these advantages. If there is something convenient about Kindle, or any “e” (or “i”) device, I haven’t figured out what it is. Amazon.com can be cumbersome enough – so chock full of instructions. I suppose that I cannot use my Kindle correctly because I refuse to read all of those instructions since I have to switch between wi-fi and cable internet and the bus connector will not let me do anything but recharge the device. My Kindle was a gift, and I would sell it on Amazon, but in order to sell anything on their site, one has to read so many instructions before starting. Who has time for ebooks when so much time is required for reading instructions? I don’t have to work so hard to read a paper book.

  40. I agree 100% with your article, but you have missed opportunities to discuss so many additional reasons for hating the Kindle. For example, think about how much easier censorship would be if everyone switched to e-books or how much paying for temporary use of books (like paying for drinks at a bar) devalues them.

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  42. I am a technical guy .. use lots of book about coding… if I buy a ebook I will need to copy code samples from the ebook…this the kindle dont allow … even though the authors sate it clearly in the books that you can re-use code samples… more over programers dont read book linear… that makes the kindle a nightmare…

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  44. You know why I hate e-books and kindles and whatever else they’re called? Because they take away the magic. The magic of being sucked into an alternate world that only exists in that one book. They don’t smell pleasantly of old books, and you can’t pass it down from generation to generation, either. I will never, ever switch to e-books, they’re cold and lifeless, and that’s the exact opposite of what books should be.