Why I’m Not Buying a Kindle (Yet)

November 21, 2007

The short answer is I don’t want an e-book, I want an e-library. I’m willing to pay a lot of money for an e-library, but I think it will take a lot of time to amass this library, and I’m not sure the Kindle will be around long enough.

I’ve read through a lot of the specs and promotional material for the Amazon Kindle. For those who don’t know, this is the latest venture to produce the mythical e-book reading device. The e-book is probably second only to the flying car for unfulfilled technological promise.

I’m sure I’m the Kindle’s target audience. I’m an early technology adopter. Unlike most of my peers, I read books (I probably have 800 books or so in my bookshelves at home). I’ve even dabbled with e-books in the past. I used Microsoft Reader extensively on my Pocket PC devices, back when I had Pocket PC devices, and I even wrote a program that converted The Economist to Microsoft Reader format. (I never released that tool because of its dubious legal status, but myself and a few friends who have Economist subscriptions used it.) Back when I had Pocket PCs, I think I read more electronic copies of The Economist than dead-tree copies.

So why am I waiting on the Kindle?

  1. A big reason is hidden in the above paragraph, with the number of times I wrote, “…back when I had Pocket PCs…” From past experience, I’m now skeptical of the staying power of any e-book device. While I’m more optimistic about the Kindle than anything I’ve seen in the recent past (being backed by the biggest Internet bookseller counts for a lot), I’m enormously skeptical that any investment I make in a Kindle device or Kindle books will mean anything in five years. (Even if I could find some of those old Economist e-books, I no longer have a device that can read them.)
  2. Amazon wants Kindle to be the “iPod of books.” That’s an intriguing statement. But they’re missing one key thing. When I switched from listening to CDs to listening to MP3s on an iPod, I was able to take my entire existing music collection with me. True, it involved hours of sitting in front of a computer ripping my CDs, and hours more appropriately cataloging my classical music. But that still means that for an investment of a few hundred dollars and some time, I can now carry my entire music collection with me. This is what Amazon’s missing. If, by buying a Kindle, I could immediately get access to my 800 book library, I’d buy one today.
  3. The Kindle makes me think of the music industry’s transition from LPs to CDs. I’m too young to have lived through that transition, but I bet the audiophiles who had invested in hundreds of LPs faced a similar dilemma with the introduction of the CD. You had to buy an expensive device to play the CDs, and then you had to repurchase all of your records in the new format. At the end of the day, I think this transition succeeded because _a _CD placed next to _a _record had a lot of advantages. I don’t know if that’s true of the Kindle. If I’m just talking about the experience of reading a single book, it’s hard to beat the portability and durability of paper. I never have to plug in or reboot a paperback.

So that’s my struggle. I want to want a Kindle. I can see that having a library of 800+ books in electronic form is a better world to live in than having 800 books on bookshelves. But I’ll need to get there a single book at a time, and I don’t think a Kindle wins on the book-by-book basis. And considering that it might take me years to amass a library equivalent to my current one, and I can’t be sure the Kindle will be around in five years’ time, it means I’m going to wait and see.

(Amazon, are you listening? If you want to reach book-loving technology early adopters like me who are willing to invest in entire e-libraries, offer me the ability to buy entire e-libraries. For instance, for $8,000 I can buy the dead-tree version of the Penguin Classics. I’d pay several thousand dollars for a Kindle with those books pre-loaded. Better yet: You can go to LibraryThing and find out which paper books I currently have, and it’s conveniently cross-referenced back to Amazon’s database. I’d pay thousands of dollars if you could offer me a Kindle with a significant fraction of those books pre-loaded on it. Start offering e-libraries instead of e-books, and I’ll get a lot more interested!)