Kindle or Swindle?

Posted: October 22, 2011 in Opinion

It was my birthday on Thursday and, against all his instincts, my husband bought me a Kindle. My son bought me a lovely black case to keep it in. Both gifts remain in their boxes. 

I haven’t yet been seduced by the feel of the object in my hand, its smooth curves and buttons waiting to be pressed. I am resisting temptation on that front because I am as susceptible to elegant, functional design as anyone else.

I am waiting for someone to give me a reason to want it and, if they can convince me, I will break the seal and hope it doesn’t turn out to be the white elephant I fear. I ought to say at this point that, except for the odd piece of Toblerone or glass of wine, I rarely want something unless I need it.

I did a brief canvass of Kindle-owners a few weeks ago and came to the conclusion that, although they love them, the reasons why are woolly. I’m sure Kindles could be invaluable – I imagine students at school and college would much prefer to carry one small item instead of lugging great tomes around and creating back problems for the future. And it’s true that members of a book group can all upload the same book at a fraction of the usual paper cost. But I don’t belong to a book group.

So, why do I need a Kindle? Here are some of the other reasons I have been given for keeping it, and my instant reactions. Feel free to shout abuse at my reasoning.

FOR: It is small enough to carry in a handbag for instant access to reading material, any time, anywhere.

AGAINST: So is the average paperback. And it doesn’t need a fancy case to stop it getting damaged. And dropping it in the bath wouldn’t be a major disaster.

FOR: There is no glare.

AGAINST: I’ve never had a book glare at me yet. The first one that does will find itself at the back of a cupboard with its corners turned down.

FOR: Books can be uploaded really cheaply – so cheaply that it doesn’t matter if they never get read.

AGAINST: Have we got more money than sense? My spouse paid £111 for this baby and it’s going to take a bloody long time to claw that back. Compare it with the three-books-for-a-pound deal at my annual village fete and I think it’s obvious which makes more financial sense. On top of which, I can take them back the following year (a small percentage unread at 33.3p each) and make a donation to village hall funds at the same time. £111 would buy me 333 paperbacks which, at roughly ten a year, will last me 33.3 years – rather longer than I expect to inhabit this body. It would take a hundred years at thirty five books a year to read all the books the Kindle is capable of storing. Is it just me or are some people in denial about their own mortality?

And here’s a novel idea – I can go to my local library (yes, I’m still lucky enough to have one) and read a book of my choice for FREE, unless it’s Blood Meridian, which cost me so much in fines over the three months it took to read it that I could almost have bought my own copy.

FOR: The latest releases can be uploaded much cheaper than their paper equivalent so I could be right up to the minute with the literary Joneses.

AGAINST: Except for reviewers, who on earth needs to read a book in the first year of its release? Will it cease to be good five years on? I read Gulliver’s Travels a hundred and fifty years after it was written and it remains one of the freshest, wittiest and most pertinent satires I’ve ever read. And, if I’m so desperate I can’t wait for my birthday or Christmas for the latest thrilling AS Byatt, I can get the library to order a copy. For nothing!

Quite apart from this, I have a suspicion that having everything immediately – no waiting or delicious sense of anticipation – not only creates a restless and dissatisfied society, but is making life whizz by at an ever-increasing rate. I want to slow it down if anything!

FOR: I could upload the ebooks written by friends and acquaintances that haven’t been released in print, some of which are free.

AGAINST: True. This is the trickiest one and puts me at most risk of offending someone. What it boils down to is that I’m never going to be able to read (and reread) all the books I want to anyway, so this is one way of narrowing it down. I usually borrow books I’m recommended, otherwise I can take pot luck with new and familiar authors at the fete. I got into the recycling habit when I commuted to central London every day for twenty years and got through fifty plus novels a year. I bought and sold them at the second-hand stalls under Waterloo Bridge and consequently read many wonderful books I might never otherwise have heard of. So, apologies to my fellow writers – it’s nothing personal.

FOR: There is no need to cut down trees for paper, which makes e-reading more environmentally friendly.

AGAINST: True again, but many forests are planted specifically for that purpose and wouldn’t otherwise exist. And young trees absorb the most carbon dioxide. When a paperback comes to the end of its readable life, it can be pulped and used for newsprint and toilet paper. Try burying an obsolete Kindle when you can’t resist the spinky new singing, dancing colour model available next month in the US, and see how long it takes to rot down. Not to mention any minerals used in the making that might have been mined by children (or have subsidised war) in the third world, as they are for some mobile phones. Eco-friendly? Who knows.

And let’s not fool ourselves; another massive corporation is making a fortune out of this. That’s worth a protest, isn’t it?

In spite of all the above, I am still wavering and a present is a present…

So, should I open the box? Or take the money and put it back in the coffers for winter fuel?

I’d love to hear your reasons for either wanting or loving a Kindle. Perhaps someone can make me set aside my doubts and rip that seal open. You’ve got 24 hours to convince me, should you choose to accept the challenge.

My husband and I lay in bed last night reading our books, as usual. He said, “Can you imagine if we were both lying here holding Kindles?”

We paused, smiled, and carried on reading.

  1. Sam Wyld says:

    Yes! They are absolutely brilliant for taking away with you and acting as a sat nav… that is, if you don’t have sat nav.

  2. I went through a similar set of arguments when I got mine. Now I really like it. I generally read paperbacks at home and Kindle books when I’m away, but not exclusively. For me, the book is the thing – by which I mean the words, not the medium – and whether it’s read on paper or screen is actually pretty irrelevant.

    • Sue says:

      ‘whether it’s read on paper or screen is actually pretty irrelevant’

      Simon, are you presenting this argument for or against?

      We haven’t been on holiday for so long, it’s not a good reason, I’m afraid…

  3. Cathy says:

    I love my Kindle. I’m not going to argue about it though. Fed up of the KIndle v paper books thing! People can read via whichever medium they want (in my case, both). Why fight about it?

  4. Justine says:

    I tried out a Kindle the other day in John Lewis.

    I didn’t like it. The Kindle itself feels cheap to me and it’s rather an ugly piece of kit. There’s something cold about reading on it. Words on a screen don’t have the same magic for me as words on paper. And, this may just be me, but I felt almost as though there was a barrier between me and the words.

    E-readers will improve massively in the next few years, so I’m going to wait and see what happens, I think.

  5. I don’t have a Kindle and though I’ve been intrigued by them, I haven’t been seduced yet. Apart from the advantages of being able to travel the world with hundreds of books in your hand, Kindle seems a huge step backwards in terms of design – black and white, limited fonts and graphics – yet it misses all the advantages of a computer – the web, audio, movies.

    But there is, Sue, a flaw in your argument. I don’t think everybody’s reading demands would be satisfied by the 3 for a quid deal in the village fete – mine certainly wouldn’t. I just checked my records and found I spend about £100 a year on books at Amazon (some of them second-hand), and at least half of that again at my local bookshop. Some of these are non fiction books that I need for various research purpose, others are books I just want to read now and some are presents. A Kindle would have saved me money and saved the world a few trees.

    But I’m not convinced yet.

    • Sue says:

      I see the flaw, Roland, and I do buy the odd new book, usually for my husband for his birthday, then I get to read it too! Charity shops also have a fantastic selection these days and I can often find the author I’m looking for, if not the actual book. But it will be there, sooner or later. The Booker Prize comes a few short weeks before Christmas, so I can put in my requests then. I’m a delayed gratification kind of a girl, I guess.

      And the trees are only there for the paper.

  6. Lee says:

    Thanks for this, Sue! I’m afraid I can’t help you in getting your Kindle unwrapped because I agree with you completely. I’m no luddite, and I was pleasantly surprised by the ease of reading a kindle, but I think I will always prefer the old ‘analogue’ books. For one thing, you can’t flick through the pages on a kindle, and I am a great (and if I say so myself, highly skilled) flicker – I’m always purring back through to check a name or a date.

    I have three friends who have bought Kindles recently and I think they all fall into the same category. They are very clever people who consider they should be better read than they are. Busy jobs, social lives and other hobbies have meant that they don’t read many books. Also, I would guess, they just don’t enjoy reading much. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but I think they have always felt slightly guilty about it and they imagine that owning a Kindle and loading it up with the top 100 World Classics will magically open the way for them. They insist I will be proven wrong, but I think the novelty will wear off within a year…

    Of course, not all Kindle owners fall into that category and for many people it must make a handy alternative to be used when travelling, holidaying, skydiving etc. Still, I think I’ll stick with my second-hand paperbacks.

    • Sue says:

      Cheers, Lee! You may be right about the novelty wearing off. If someone doesn’t enjoy reading (???) no amount of technology will make a lasting difference.

  7. Stace says:

    I don’t have a Kindle but I’ve read a few eBooks on the iPad with the Kindle app. The original iPad is a bit too heavy to read anything comfortably, and I even managed to drop it on my head. (Only the once!) The iPad also has a backlit screen so, to me, the backlit Kindles look very attractive.

    If you can get good books at 3 for a pound then you’re very lucky. In Australia, where books are so much more expensive in the first place, even second hand books command a fair price. Our local St Vinnies sells hardback Stephen Kings at $8 per book. Bear in mind that the Australian dollar is about equal to the American dollar! It’s ridiculous.

    I’ve seen stats which show people buy more books when they own a device to read them on. So I am convinced that Kindles are good for the publishing industry as a whole, and therefore good for authors. I think true book lovers have a duty to buy a reasonable number of new books as the budget allows. Nobody gets royalties when we buy books second hand.

    But after reading your summary, I wouldn’t open that Kindle unless you were planning on buying some books over the next few years – maybe if you have a list of books you really want to read and which aren’t likely to be bought second hand. Otherwise, as you say, it doesn’t make any sense for you. That said, our local library has started lending eBooks, but I have no idea how that works. Maybe check your own local library for that possibility too?

    I can’t see myself reading many eBooks until the technology improves. And I really don’t think Kindle books would appeal to your sense of design, Sue. Most of them still look pretty rubbish, no matter how pretty the device itself.

    • Sue says:

      Thanks for your balanced post, Stace. Perhaps I’m lucky in that several people in my village of about 30 houses seem to have excellent taste in reading matter. You are clearly at a disadvantage in where you live as far as books go.

      There is a massive debate here about the future of public libraries but, as things stand, I can request any new book and they’ll get it within a couple of weeks. If I don’t read past the first chapter, I personally won’t have wasted any money. The author will get his/her cut and someone else may well enjoy it after I take it back. What’s not to love?

      You’re right about the design aspect. Many ebooks look lamentably poor. I had a rant about this before.

  8. Lisa Hinsley says:

    Sounds to me like you really don’t want it. Kindles can be fabulous – but only if you want it. My husband refuses to even give mine a go. I love my Kindle. I like the fact that I can fit it in my handbag. Paperbacks used to end up bent, dirty and with ripped pages. My Kindle is in a case that’s fab.

    I don’t read in the bath – so no problem there.

    I like the ease of using it. The fact that I can make notes as I go along, and find them easily. I like getting the many, many free books that are constantly on offer. Indies are cheap, and you never know how good or bad it will be. I get a sample before I buy. Can’t do that with a paperback. Classics are also free, as long as they were written before a certain date (which I can’t remember). I have lots of those loaded up, and it’s a case of: I’ve just finished a book, what do I fancy? Which I can do without getting up (I am a lazy person).

    But I like to buy my favorite authors in paperback. I still browse the bookshops and buy a few. I still look around the charity shops for anything interesting. I prefer my research books in book form, easier to flick around. But to buy pulp fiction, nothing beats a Kindle.

  9. Juliet Boyd says:

    I don’t have a Kindle but I have got the software downloaded onto my laptop. I feel I have the best of both worlds and with no extra cost for hardware involved. I might feel differently if I had a long commute every day, but I don’t, so reading on my laptop isn’t a problem.

  10. Pam Howes says:

    Sue, we’ve already had this discussion! You know what I think. Open the blooming box and use it. You’ll grow to love it in time. The newspapers you can download onto Kindle won’t leave mucky marks on the sheets either if you read the papers in bed on Sunday mornings! 🙂

    • Sue says:

      Hi Pam! Funnily enough, most of the comments so far are steering me away from opening the box. The more I think about the environment, the passing miracle of public libraries, the way that lending a book I love to someone else gives it a history of its own etc, the more I wonder if kindle owners aren’t as much in love with the technology as reading. Be honest – is that part of it for you?

      • Pam Howes says:

        For me it’s the lightness and simplicity and the fact I can make the font larger to suit my eyes. It saves on paper and printing ink when I work through my manuscripts and it’s so much neater and lighter than carrying a book in your bag. People still buy me books as gifts, especially music based stuff, as I like to keep that on the shelf for reference, so I’m not totally against them. But for ease and convenience you can’t beat a Kindle. I’m not techie by any stretch of the imagination, and I panicked a bit when I opened the box, but I found it so easy to set up and use. 🙂

      • Sue says:

        E-readers must be fantastic for anyone who’s disabled or housebound, even for the blind as you can have a story ‘read’, can’t you, albeit in an electronic voice. Thankfully, I’m not in any of those categories yet.

  11. Joe Harding says:

    Okay Sue. A publisher phones you up out of the blue. ‘I would like to publish Triclops electronically because it will reach the whole world in seconds, and with the right sort of marketing could sell in millions.’

    Still distinterested?

    • Sue says:

      But Joe, I’ve already said I can see that for some people, e-readers may be a practical solution. Why would having Triclops published electronically make me need or want a kindle? I’ve read all the stories many times already!

  12. marc nash says:

    1) I’m against kindles and all e-readers because to me they are about lifestyle and convenience and not about literature. They are all about delivery systems and not about content. It strikes me as a technological gambit to prop up a flagging publishing industry.

    2) Having said that, you can’t fight trends and if critical mass is reached, that will be that. hence I have 3-novels released on kindle format only. Can’t fight fate… But I myself don’t own a kindle. Interestingly, when I offered my 13 year old bookworm son a kindle, he said no. Good lad.

    3) From a personal writer’s pov, the technology is limited for all the design & typographical things I want to do with my TEXT. Kindle does not support the experimental text. This may of course change and I predict that trailers will become part of any book’s upload.

    • Sue says:

      Hi Marc. I’m not against them per se (except for environmental reasons), I simply fail to see how it can meet my needs. I don’t think people are being entirely honest about why they want one. I think they’re addicted to gadgets as much as reading…

      And yes, the future will bring more possibilities for design, if we survive the landfill problem.

  13. I haven’t read all the above arguments, but here is mine. I don’t actually have a Kindle, I have a Sony e-reader. Kindles weren’t available in the UK when I got mine. I do have Kindle on my PC and wouldn’t want to be without either devices. Yes, you would have to buy an awful lot of books to make up the price of a kindle – or would you? I’m not very good at sums so I might have this wrong but you would only get 11 books at £10 for the price of a Kindle. In the last few months I have been able to buy about 40 books from fellow indie authors at between 86p and £3.00. If I had had to buy them as paperbacks I would not have been able to afford them. I take my Sony everywhere with me, it’s great in waiting rooms and on trains, I’ve even got it out in the pub when the fellas around me start talking about football! Yes, I could get out a paperback, but it would have to be a small one, and what if I wasn’t in the mood for that particular book, I couldn’t swap to another. I frequently have 3 or 4 books on the go at once and could not possibly care them all around with me. And there is the speed involved in getting ebooks. You can see a book and have it on your kindle in seconds. Yes, you can also browse round a bookshop, but I don’t like crowded places, the feel of a real book holds no allure to me. Maybe because I have been typing them on a computer for so long. I have just waited about 4 weeks for a parcel of books to be delivered (ok it was a big parcel) but if you order a POD it takes even longer (if you don’t live in the US) and other on-line purchases take days. So I say, take the plunge, open that parcel and read some old favourites and some fantastic new stuff.

    • Sue says:

      Thank you, Kristen, you make some excellent points, but none of them really pertain to me or my lifestyle – not surprisingly, as you don’t know me! I work from home and live where there is no public transport, so no reading opportunities exist en route to anywhere. I sit at the dentist’s once a year and the doctor’s, probably about the same. It would now take me 4 years to read 40 books and my memory is no longer good enough to have more than one book at a time on the go. I love my local bookshop and, on the occasions I do buy a new book, it’s a real treat to wander round and feel them all. That’s not really something I can explain.

      Basically, it’s a question of lifestyle and need, isn’t it?

  14. Wayne Polls says:

    If you don’t like the taste of liver, a thousand people telling you how wonderful it is won’t change a thing.

    It’s clear you don’t want the Kindle, so leave it in the box.

    The real question is how to reject your husband and son’s gifts without hurting their feelings. Of course, I don’t know your family dynamics, so this might not even be an issue.

    Were it me, I would thank them for their kindness then ask if they’d mind if I returned the Kindle and picked out something else. Maybe you could all go together and make it a family outing.

    But whatever, don’t — don’t! — return it for cash and use the cash to pay the heating bill.

    • Sue says:

      Ha ha! From what I remember (40 years or more back) liver really is repulsive.

      My husband can’t even use a computer (he’s an artist) so it’s fine with him if it goes back. My son is 26 and the idea of a family outing would worry him a lot more than a rejected gift! So there are no obstacles in my way.

      And, apart from buying a book or two, the money would go back into the coffers.

  15. John V. says:

    All of you are not even considering the fact that a yet another huge corp decides on on what you can read and for how long. I just read an article about deletion of books already purchased. Paperback books offer freedom. Freedom to read it, lend it out, give it to your children and they to their children. Do I have ito spell it out more?

    • Sue says:

      Hi John. Thanks for your input. That’s certainly something we should be concerned about and I’ll add it to my list of ‘cons’.

  16. Joe Harding says:

    Put your husband in the box and keep the kindle.

  17. John has a point – partly. There’s absolutely nothing to stop you uploading your own books to your Kindle without Amazon knowing about it.

    My argument was that ereaders and paperbacks are both good and also both irrelevant. The words are what matters. So, yes, an argument for ereaders if you like. I like mine because it lets me read stuff quickly and conveniently. It’s also a lot lighter than a paer copy of, say A Suitable Boy or Lord of the Rings.

    My father (who is in his 80s) has just bought a Kindle. He went from 99% against to about 80% for in a few weeks. Seems about right to me.

    • Sue says:

      Simon, I’m bewildered that your kindle lets you read more quickly! Is it magic?

      Someone asked me if I was scared that the page on Kindle looked so similar to a paper page. Eh? If it looks so similar, why not read the paper version from the library? I accept for an older or disabled person, this may not be practical, but while I’ve got my own legs, I’ll carry on using the library in addition to my fete/charity shop purchases.

  18. Quickly, not more quickly. What I mean is, it’s convenient. Flick it on, start reading. Same as a book.

    I’ve got nothing against the library, obviously. I borrow books from the same library you do. But I also look forward to eborrowing on my Kindle.

    Incidentally, my Dad likes his Kindle partly because he can scale the font sizes so easily. You may have your own legs but you might find that handy once your eyesight starts to go! In many years time …

    • Sue says:

      ‘You may have your own legs but you might find that handy once your eyesight starts to go! ‘ Yes, indeed. That would constitute a ‘need’ rather than a passing fancy. However, I have my granddad’s full page-size magnifying glass, should that day ever come.

  19. Magnifying glasses? Pah, new-fangled nonsense!

  20. Open the box, Sue. I got mine for my birthday and I’ve used it every single day since. Apart from the reasons everyone else has given, I use mine to read my draft mss. It is much easier to lie in bed reading my Kindle than sitting at a desk for hours with a red pen at the ready with a huge pile of double-spaced paper. The errors are so much easier to spot in a book format than in ms format. I was a reluctant convert, but now I love it.

    • Sue says:

      Too late, Liz! It went back on Sunday and instead I have an album I have nearly worn out already and a book. I had no need of a kindle and the expense couldn’t be justified in my heart. One day, perhaps, but not yet.

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