Falling out of love with the Kindle

November 15 2011

I’ve owned a 3rd generation Kindle for just over a year now. My wife bought me one for our wedding anniversary last October, and I’ve found it to be one of the single best designed gadgets and most useful I’ve ever owned. Other than using Calibre on a smartphone to read some Sherlock Holmes novels, I’d never really used an ereader before, and was convinced that despite my tech-loving ways, I’d never abandon paper.

How wrong I was. The convenience and size of the Kindle, not to mention the battery life, are near perfect. When I travelled to Zambia at the start of the year, not taking up half my rucksack with books was a godsend. Being able to put the Kindle in my jacket pocket and read it on the tube has changed the way I read.

What’s more, I’ve spent a lot more money on books in the last year than I have previously. The simplicity of one click ordering and sending books straight to the Kindle from the website is wonderful. Plus, I’ve always felt vaguely uneasy about using so much paper.

No wonder it’s changing publishing.

The thing is, the Kindle suits me. Unlike most men of my generation, I’ve never been a collector of anything. I don’t have a large music or DVD library, and I don’t have a secret cupboard full of fancy hats. In my younger days, I could never understand how people could afford such things.

I do have a lot of books. I don’t treasure them, though. Hell, I don’t even sort them alphabetically. They’re there because, well, that’s what books do. They accumulate over time because they are physical objects which no-one likes to dispose of. And right now, I don’t have room for all of mine.

So sure, the DRM in Amazon books worried me slightly, but I didn’t really think about it too much – I already happily subscribed to Spotify because the ability to tap into a library much larger than my own filled the fairly large voids on my record shelf. I accept the compromise for convenience. And the Kindle was a gift and secretly I’d been dying to try it out.

Except that now, my Kindle is dead. And Amazon want £40 to replace it. I know that’s not much, but it is a wake up call for me. And more than the £10 I can pay to replace the battery myself. It’s now all too real that I have to continue buying stuff from Amazon /forever/ just to read the books I’ve already bought. It’s not like Spotify, where the model is a rental one from the start. This is a lock in, plain and simple.

Yes, I knew that from the start, but I reasoned that books were likely to go the way of digital music and eventually become DRM free. The cold hard fact that they’re not is now a little clearer to me. Funny that as Linux user and a FOSS advocate, it’s taken me so long.

It’s not the end of the world. I have many other devices I can read my ebooks on using Kindle software – an Android tablet, a smartphone, PC and laptop – and there’s no charge for doing so. Still, I plan to strip the DRM out of the books I’ve bought so that I’m no longer tied to Amazon exclusively.

But I will miss the little grey fella for its incredible convenience. I’ll have a go at fixing it myself – third party batteries are only a tenner – and then hacking the firmware

“The best single purpose device ever made” was how one friend described it. And I agree, but it really needs a longer warranty period than year.

More importantly, though, there’s the forthcoming Kindle Fire. A sure fire success of an all purpose tablet because Amazon is – essentially – giving it away. They’re selling it for less than the bill of materials, so the retail price is less than it costs to make. But it’s pretty clear where the long term profit lies.

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