Can Amazon’s Kindle Set Books Alight?

The Kindle is an e-book reader released by Amazon in November 2007.


Like the Sony Reader, it uses electrophoretic technology to simulate ink on a real page. It doesn’t require a constant stream of power and can be read outside, both advantages over a standard LCD. I find concentrating on anything with a backlight uncomfortable even over a short period; I don’t read the web in the same way that I read a book: I scan one for information, and linger over the other for entertainment. I find concentrating on a book only available as a PDF near impossible, so am quite enthusiastic about the electrophoretic technology.

It has a full keyboard under the premise that you’ll need to search through the Amazon store to purchase books. It’s debatable how useful this is; you could easily buy items on your main computer, then sync it to the device. One of the key features is the ability to do things like this on-the-move wherever you are over an EvDO link. Unfortunately, this isn’t available in the UK, so I envisage the sync-option will be recommended outside of North America.

I first read about the Kindle in The Independent while carrying several heavy politics books in my backpack; I kid you not, so was initially attracted to having all the books in one small device. Other than this the Kindle is ergonomically better than a book as you don’t need two hands to read it, which has its advantages if you’re a bathroom scholar.


So would it work–having all my politics research books in one small device? Unfortunately, after some deliberation, I don’t see this happening:

  • Many of the books are not available in an electronic format, though there may come a day when publishers create an electronic accompaniment as standard.
  • Referencing. Understandably academic institutions discourage the use of mutable electronic resources. Any electronic academic book would have to preserve the page numbers of the hard copy–perhaps as meta-data.

In England, there’s a big focus on teaching computing skills to children, usually by purchasing something expensive that the teacher has no idea how to use and ends up damaged. In this respect, the Kindle seems an ideal candidate to distribute to children. Books could be licensed for a site in the same way as commercial software.

Software and Formats

Robert Love has written some first impressions of the Kindle on his blog and reveals it runs a modified 2.6.10 Linux kernel. His blog is well worth a look at, I’ve read it in the past regarding his work at kernel and userspace level to access the IBM Active Protection System.

The Kindle displays a wide array of formats, including plain text. Potentially you could have the whole of the public domain works at Project Gutenberg at your disposal.

Citizen Novelists

Journalism was opened up when the barrier to post on the web was removed. People no longer had to script HTML by hand; arguably PHP and MySQL created Citizen Journalism. With no publisher fees and associated distribution cost, can the Kindle do the same for amateur novelists?

As writing a novel is time-consuming, I doubt citizens will make the same impact on books as bloggers have done on journalism. However short stories might become popular. Essentially the barrier to creating the content isn’t removed, it’s the barrier to consuming the material: in this case eye-strain and power consumption.

Analog to Digital

Technology is terrific, but sometimes I begrudge the relentless march away from analog towards digital. I still buy CDs – yes, I know–but they’re a step away from only owning music files. Also, books are wonderfully tactile. I had to write an essay recently, and all the new copies of Turn of the Screw had been checked out, so I poked around the shelf and managed to find an anthology of Henry James published in 1913. Reading it carefully, you’re touching and smelling a piece of history.

I begrudge how things are obsoleted. I would love one of those old-fashioned typewriters as it isn’t acceptable to wait while technology boots up when you have a burning idea. Also, they don’t use any power. Nevertheless, I guess I’d soon be complaining about things jamming and ink going everywhere. It remains that battery technology in laptops is woefully inadequate and it’s inconceivable why anyone would prefer using a laptop to take notes rather than a pen and notebook, discounting disabilities.


At its current price, I would never consider buying one, and I don’t like the idea of owning copies of material that I can’t lend and re-sell. However, if it leveraged online content, by allowing the user to subscribe to RSS feeds and only charging to access the network, I would consider buying one down the line. Unfortunately, the marketing is skewed against this: they’re not making money on selling a tablet with an easy to read screen, they’re selling the consumables it can access.

Ultimately, the burning question regarding the Kindle is if it obsoletes newspapers, what will you wrap your fish and chips in?