Reading Experiences: Kindle App

After years of purposely ignoring ebooks, seeing readers come and go out of the corner of my eye – and library collections and packages tried and rejected – I’m finally experimenting with a few new ways of consuming monograph-length content.  Today, I consider the Kindle App for iPhone.

Why lug around a separate device that costs hundreds of dollars when you can get a free app for the device that’s already attached to your person 24×7? I guess some people have their reasons, but after hearing a Kindle-owning colleague say that she was thinking about selling her Kindle because she usually uses the app, I decided it was time to give it a try.  And you know what?  I like it!  Here’s what I like, after reading one full-length monograph and starting a second:

  • I can read the beginning of books before I decide to buy. Not the standing-in-the-aisle kind of reading, which might get me all of one page in, or flipping-through-the-chapters kind of reading (which would be nice to have, a la Look Inside the Book), but enough of a first chapter for me to figure out if I really want to read it, and read it now. If I read to the end of excerpt and want to keep going, it’s a good indicator that my money would be well spent. I’m buying the book at “point of read.”  If it looks interesting, but I’m not ready to keep going, I’ll keep the excerpt to remind me to revisit it later. So far, this model works better for me than the 30-second song snippet as a good predictor of my interest.
  • I can annotate and highlight with abandon. It’s a fact: I cannot bring myself to write in or highlight most of the books I own, no matter how useful the notes might be. Occasionally, I read with a pencil in hand, ever-so-lightly marking spots of interest, never to find them again. Most of the time, I don’t need to make notes or highlight, but when I do, it’s great to feel free to go crazy without defacing an object.  Plus, the Kindle app treats my highlights as bookmarks, allowing me easy access to them later.  I’d like to read a book club book this way to see how it affects my contributions to the group. 🙂
  • I can travel more lightly. At this time of the year, I’m frequently lugging a pair of shoes in addition to my lunch, plus maybe some Yak Trax, an umbrella, or pilates gear. A paperback more or less may not seem like a big difference, but for one less thing in the bag and one less thing to remember, it’s nice to use the phone.  Even if I intended to take something in print, there’s always content on the phone that doesn’t require the internet.
  • I can read it easily wherever I want. OK, I haven’t taken my phone to the bathtub and have no intention of doing so anytime soon, but otherwise, the phone is stacking up pretty well against a typical trade paperback. I was talking ebooks with some family members at Thanksgiving and my aunt expressed reservations about reading an ebook during, say, a quiet dinner for one.  But think about trying to eat and read for a minute.  A magazine works pretty well: it’s a reasonable page size and it lies flat. (For the record: The New Yorker is not on the list of things I’ll prefer in e-format anytime soon.) A print newspaper? Forget it – I’ve never understood the allure of reading the paper over breakfast. SO unwieldy.  Then we have books.  When it comes to paperbacks, I don’t see too many advantages for print over the phone.   I can set the phone beside me and scroll at my convenience. I don’t have to hold onto it throughout my meal or keep turning it face down to hold my place while I cut my veggies. Curling up in bed with it? Why not? The beach? Show me an upper-middle class professional who doesn’t take their smartphone to the beach and I’ll show you one who never leaves the office. Perhaps if I had an expensive, dedicated ebook device I’d think twice about the beach, but the reality is that the phone is going to go with me anyway.

So, what don’t I like?

  • I miss browsability. I don’t mean the browsing that happens when you see what’s shelved next to a print book.  I mean the experience of scanning and flipping through a book – that I  haven’t found any e-substitute for.  My eyes are terrible, but they’re still great at quickly taking in information from the printed page, almost as fast as I can flip through a book to find a passage that caught my eye. Is that passage early or late in the text? Was it before or after another point of interest?  The place in a book and its context can be quickly constructed and ascertained.  This loss is the number one thing I dislike about reading on the Kindle App.
  • The DRM thing. I believe in fair use and first sale.  I don’t like purchasing items under contract or with terms of use that limit copyright law. This isn’t a post about the thorny issues of intellectual property and electronic formats. There are real issues and I think they’ll get worked out, but until that happens, my purchases will be very limited. For the foreseeable future, I expect to download a lot of free samples and then buy them in print.