The Kindle has a number of benefits over its rivals and over reading real paper material. First, it weights only 10 oz: It’s lighter than most paperbacks. But since you can hold hundreds of books on the device, it’s effectively weightless.
Second, access to the Amazon store and the internet in general is fast and free. This point cannot be over-emphasized: Free access to the internet! The experience is not like using a laptop with a Wi-Fi connection, but it is significantly better than using a cell phone. Amazon has also made buying e-books amazingly quick and simple; it is literally one click.
Third, many of the books are offered at reduced prices, and most, if not all of the NY Times best sellers go for $9.99. Amazon claims that they currently have over 100,000 books in Kindle format, together with a selection of newspapers, magazines, and blogs.
Fourth, You can email yourself a variety of files (PDF, rtf, doc, txt, etc.) of research papers, public domain books, user manuals, or web page clipping for 10 cents.
Fifth, you can play digital music on the device and listen with standard 3.5mm headphones. This is not something I have tested, nor do I have any inclination to do so. My iPod Nano serves this purpose.
And sixth, the screen is surprisingly clear and bright, much better than many paperbacks I have read.
No device is perfect and the Kindle is no exception. For starters, it costs $399. That’s relatively cheap by e-book reader standards (The iRex Iliad 2nd edition costs $699) but expensive when compared to a paperback book … or ten … or thirty. If we assume Amazon’s discounts on the Kindle e-books are $10 on average, the device would require 40 purchases to break even. However, if you read books from the public domain, such as Project Gutenberg, this break-even number could be much lower.
Another problem is that images within PDF-formatted documents don’t always appear. To be fair to Amazon, the fact that they even support PDF conversion should be acknowledged; however, to achieve the truly paperless library is going to require better handling of graphics. And forget about converting PDF books that were scanned in as images. Until they can perform optical character recognition (OCR) “on the fly,” these books will not be converted effectively for the Kindle.
So free access the internet seems the big one for me. That is incredible. Of course it is a little lame to have to pay to email yourself, though. I cringe wondering where that small fee will lead when users demand more services. Cell phone-like subscription prices eventually? *Sigh*
I have been on the waiting list at my institution to get at this thing and try it out myself for about two months now. As a reader for books I’m sure it is great, but I don’t see e-readers that are only e-readers going anywhere. Just as Pete mentions, the cool thing about Kindle is not that it is a nice book reader so much as it can read a lot of different formats and it accesses the internet. This is why cell phone usage went through the roof (that and the price for a basic phone dropped). The cell phone was no longer “just a phone” but a calendar, a clock, a contact list, a web browser, a texting device, a camera, etc.
What does all this mean for libraries? The Kindle is kind of old news in the library blogosphere but there are definite connections to higher education in general. Textbooks? Someday soon if not now already. Word processing? Doubtless in the works (esp. if there is already a clumsy PDF reader application). Once multi-touch combines with something like this we will have a very portable computer, complete with internet access. It will just happen to also be a cheap and easy way to read and buy books from Amazon.