Sunday, August 22, 2010

iPad vs. Kindle, Round 2

It has been a few weeks since my first posting - iPad vs. Kindle, Round 1. Today I'll focus on the Kindle. While there are no earth shattering revelations I do have some philosophical musings.

Both devices get used almost daily.  Roberta spends a lot of time, particularly around bed time, with the iPad in her lap playing Sudoku or Farmville, unwinding from a day of doing battle with 5th graders and school admin staff that act like 5th graders. Similarly, I'll find an hour or two at the end of the day to just grab the Kindle and go up and sit with her and read (I'm currently finishing up John Gierach's Sex, Death and Fly Fishing).  I will also toss the Kindle (clothed in it's protective neoprene case) into my briefcase and take it to work for lunchtime reading.

I think the best way to describe the Kindle is that it is a handy device, easy to carry, easy to hold and easy to use.  In form and function it does precisely what Amazon intended; it makes electronic reading a pleasurable experience by removing many of the barriers people experience with other electronic devices. Without getting ahead of myself with future comparisons, the Kindle is by far the better reading device. It is an elegantly designed and executed dedicated electronic reading platform, and for that I love it.

The Kindle has also has triggered a conflict in my soul.

You see, I love books. I love reading books. I love the feel of books, the smell of books. I love to collect books. I love hunting for books in used book stores and antique shops. I love building a library and having something physical that I can point to and refer to.  I love the book in its physical form and over the years have built up a respectable collection focused mainly on history, military and science topics.

A conflict came to light a few weeks ago when I was listening to an on-line review of Charles Hill's new book Grand Strategies. The reviewer gave it extremely high marks and called it a modern classic and a book that should be required reading for every employee in the US State Department.  I was fascinated by the book's premise that classic literature, and the lessons contained in the content and study of that literature, form the basis of modern statecraft.

I pulled up the website and was one or two mouse clicks away from buying the Kindle edition of Grand Strategies, but paused.  If this book is as important as the reviewer indicated then it deserves a place in my library.  Not as an ethereal digital file toted around on a perishable device like the Kindle, but in its original and intended form - the physical book.  I then went back through my account and took a look at all the books I either bought or put into my wish list over the years with a serious intent to buy 'sometime in the future'.  Virtually all of them, from history to science to military topics to classic literature, were books I selected specifically because they fit well into my physical library. They cover subjects I have a long and deep interest in, and I view their place in my library as an important contribution to my long term understanding of each particular topic.

So this describes the nature of my conflict with the Kindle.  It is a great device and certainly has a place in the modern world. However, when I buy the Kindle edition of a book I am getting nothing more than a digital file that can only be used on a Kindle device.  The history of technology teaches us that within a very short span of time the physical device and the digital format will be obsolete, and that book will effectively disappear from my library.

The physical book, however, is a relatively imperishable format.  Keep it away from flood and fire and it will last almost indefinitely.

For this reason I can not bring myself to purchase Kindle edition books that have a place in my physical library. This excludes an enormous swath of books on the topics I mention above.

Am I over-reacting?  I don't think so.  I regularly refer to books that have been in my personal library for over 25 years. Will the Kindle or the electronic version of the book I buy to read on the Kindle be around in 25 years?  Probably not.

Am I chucking the Kindle?  Certainly not.  For 'perishable' publications - books I'd like to read but have no long-term interest in - this is the perfect device.  There are also a number of books I want to add to my physical library but can no longer be found in print.  Books like Teddy Roosevelt's writings on hunting in the Dakotas or his classic tale of his Amazon River adventure (that came damned close to killing him). For publications like this the Kindle makes a valid contribution to my personal library.

I see a possible solution to this conundrum.  I'd love to see Amazon develop a pricing structure whereby if you purchase one form of a book you can get a discount on the other format any time in the future.  For example, let's say I buy the Kindle edition of Grand Strategies and like it so much that I want to buy the book for inclusion in my library.  Amazon then sells me the physical book for 25% off of the regular Amazon price.  That seems like a good compromise.

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