The dark side of the Kindle

 Posted by on 11 December 2009  Modern Life
Dec 112009

As a bookseller, I obviously have a bias against any sort e-book.   To date, my argument has tended to be along aethestic lines — how a book feels, how it smells and the like — as well as toting the technological advantage of the traditional book — you can read it in the bathtub without too much worry, don’t worry about dropping it, no batteries to recharge and so on.

I still believe these to be valid arguments, but I have found another that might be more convincing to true technophiles.  Blogger Dan Cohen found that Amazon has unwritten restrictions on downloads for the Kindle:

“Oh that’s the problem,” he [the customer service rep] said “if some of the books will download and the others won’t it means that you’ve reached the maximum number of times you can download the book.”

I asked him what that meant since the books I needed to download weren’t currently on any device because I had wiped those devices clean and simply wanted to reinstall. He proceeded to tell me that there is always a limit to the number of times you can download a given book. Sometimes, he said, it’s five or six times but at other times it may only be once or twice. And, here’s the kicker folks, once you reach the cap you need to repurchase the book if you want to download it again.

Granted, this information is available to the customer — its right there in the small print of the legal agreement that we all love to ignore on a daily basis.  And when I say “this information,” I mean the fact that there’s a limit.  The specific limit is trickier:

“How do I find out how many times I can download any given book?” I asked. He replied, “I don’t think you can. That’s entirely up to the publisher and I don’t think we always know.”

I pressed — “You mean when you go to buy the book it doesn’t say ‘this book can be downloaded this number of times’ even though that limitation is there?” To which he replied, “No, I’m very sorry it doesn’t.”

How many versions of the Kindle have come out to date?  How frequently are Kindle users going to be expected to update their technology?  Cohen suggests it might happen every couple of years, meaning sooner or later, all the previously purchased books will have to be repurchased.  (Note:  I have paperbacks I bought twenty years ago that I have not needed to repurchase, even though new editions have been released).

Given that Cohen’s post was written in June and I haven’t come across any other outcry, I wonder if this issue has been resolved or if it simply hasn’t come to a head yet.

In any case, I still don’t see the death of print in the near future, as the marketplace is becoming crowded with e-readers:  Amazon’s Kindle, Sony’s Reader, the Barnes and Noble nook, and Samsung’s Papyrus, not to mention the multitude of ways books can be accessed through the regular old Internet.   Until there is a industry standard, I think most people will shy away from making an investment in an e-library that might up and dissapate into the ether when their e-reader fails to make the cut.

Though the printed book may seem antiquated, sometimes the best technology is the old technology.

  • Pat J

    Mmmmm, DRM.

  • Reader

    Interesting and useful into. That said, I’m not yet troubled: my interest in a Kindle is not for books, but for international newspapers and magazines where the shelf life will be a day anyhow. I hate reading newspapers on a computer screen.

    If Sony or any of the other competitors can get their device to offer similar newspaper access within a couple of months, I’m there. Otherwise, I’m stuck with the Orwellian Kindle, because the fools who make the other products still haven’t figured out that book readers like me couldn’t care less what their book inventory is if I can’t wake up and read the Times (the real one and the NY one) without unpacking a laptop every morning.

  • thebanana

    Screw Kindle, and you can quote me on that.

  • Wynston

    Once readers are cheaper and more widely available Amazon will probably support Epub which is pretty much the industry standard already. Also Google Books will eventually make a lot of out of print books available to read without having to search them out.

    I bet a similar debate occurred when books first came about, there were probably a bunch of people who thought that scrolls were the only way to read. I mean I love books, but readers have a few advantages that are hard to ignore. One is weight, as a student it was a pretty big pain to carry a backpack stuffed full of books. Even now the 800 page hardcover in my backpack is probably the weight of 5 kindles. Another is that books are often awkward to hold, especially trying to read on your side in bed. Readers are pretty easy to hold with one hand. Another is obviously the environmental impact of books, not just in actual paper but also the transportation of them.

    Basically the technology is going to get a lot better, colour will probably help them catch on. Or alternatively battery life will improve and e-ink will be abandoned in favour of LCDs. This e-ink/lcd hybrid screen is pretty neat: It seems likely that in say 20ish years (or less) that schoolchildren are probably going to be doing most of their learning/reading on some sort of laptop or tablet.

    Once I can get something decent for $100-$150 I will definitely pick one up if only for the ability to read public domain books more easily than going to the library.