Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Me and my Kindle: Sue Purkiss

In October I was lucky enough to be given a Kindle for my birthday. Now, I have to admit that where new technology - or even old technology, actually - is concerned, I am not at the cutting edge. (I was going to say I'm somewhere back in the Stone Age, but that would really be unfair to Stone Age techies: I couldn't even make a new-fangled thing like a flint arrowhead. But I digress.)

I admired it, a little nervously, ordered a nice bright blue cover for it, charged it up, and then put it away so we could both have a rest. But before Christmas, I was off to Brussels for a week or so to meet my new grandson. Aha, I thought - the ideal opportunity. I was taking a bag full of presents plus the normal luggage; there wouldn't be enough room for a decent supply of books. The Kindle was about to come into its own.

So I sat down with it, I downloaded the instructions, we had a friendly chat, I ordered a few books - two Dickens, since you ask, an Alan Gibbons, a Penelope Lively (by mistake, this one, I was actually just looking), and we were all set. I was about to get to know my Kindle.

Of course, many of you will have been using an e-book reader of some kind since the year dot plus one or two. I'm hoping you will be able to explain some of the things I still haven't mastered. But mostly, this post is for those who still haven't dipped their toes in. I'm going to tell you how it's been for me. (Please note: this is about the Kindle from the point of view of a reader, not a writer. For the writer's point of view, best go to Authors Electric.)


Pros

  • The most obvious pro is that it's small and light, so it's perfect for journeys. It was at its heroic best when the train I caught from Paddington to Bristol was full, so that I had to stand as far as Reading. (No, not an impenetrable pun - I mean the town.) With the Kindle, I could hold on to a seat with one hand and my Kindle with the other. It was easy to see the screen, and, back in ancient Rome with the charismatic Didius Falco (no, not to be found in Dickens or Alan Gibbons - will explain later), I was able to laugh in the face of adversity and Great Western.
  • The screen is very comfortable to read. In a dark corner, it's easier to see than a paper page. You can adjust the print size, too, if you want to. And you don't need two hands to keep the pages flat.
  • It's fantastically easy to order new books. You can access the Kindle Store on the device itself, choose your book, and within minutes it's downloaded and ready to read. This is great if you're on the move. For instance, some time ago I read the first Lindsey Davis book about an informer in ancient Rome, the aforementioned Didius Falco. My son had the second in the sequence, so while in Brussels, I read it. I was hooked. He didn't have the third, so I downloaded it onto my Kindle. When I reached the end, there was the first chapter of the next one. After a very brief struggle on the grounds of cost and self-discipline - Dickens was still there, ready and waiting - I gave in, and ordered the next one. Okay, yes, and the next - for the train, you see...


Cons

  • It's fantastically easy to order new books. What you should do is order old, free books, or seek out ones that are cheaper than the paperback version would be. I'm sure I'll get the hang of this in time, (particularly with the help of Authors Electric) - it's just that Didius Falco has very cleverly got in the way.
  • Ordering books is very quick, but everything else is very slow. I don't have a smart phone, and had thought the Kindle would be handy while I was abroad for checking emails, blogs etc. I found each action - connecting, loading up a new page etc - agonisingly slow; and when the page had loaded up, it was much too tiny to read. I know there's a way of getting round this and making the page bigger, but I lost patience and used my son's laptop instead. I was going to have another go at it before doing this post, but the Kindle seemed to have got confused, what with having been away and all (not to Brussels, just to Essex even) and plaintively said it couldn't connect. It managed it after about half an hour, but this post is already late. (Sorry, sorry...)
  • The device is visually very dull. I'm sure the technology will catch up, but at the moment it doesn't do colour.   But in the meantime - how hard could it be to make the device itself some colour(s) other than grey? It's positively leaden, which seems a contradiction when one of its usps is that it's very light in weight. I'd be much fonder of it if it was bright blue. And the screen savers which it uses - they are images of classic writers from the past, which is fair enough, but these versions are strangely dull too: Emily Dickinson is on there at the moment, with dull charcoal eyes and dull charcoal hair. Black and white most certainly doesn't have to be leaden, but these images are.
To sum up, I like my Kindle. In some circumstances, I like it a lot. I wouldn't consider it for any books which are illustrated, and by preference I would still go for a conventionally produced book - particularly one which is beautifully produced, an object of loveliness in itself as well as in what it contains. For the future, I'd like something which was similar to the Kindle in terms of size and portability, but was also easy to use as a means of accessing the internet and using the keyboard.

It probably already exists - I know that as far as technology goes, I always arrive ten days after the battle. If so, go on, tell me about it! 

20 comments:

Elen C said...

Sadly what you want doesn't exist yet - the second it does I'll be buying it too!

There area few 'nearly' things. The iPad is close - internet, apps, basic wordprocessing as well as ebooks. BUT it doesn't use eink, so is backlit.

Kindle Fire is coming to the UK soon and is a non-apple version of the same. Again, no eink.

It won't be long though before eink, internet and colour all come together to make the perfect reading machine (I think that used to be called 'books'...)

Frankofile said...

YOu might look at the Asus eeepad transformer. It's a tablet with a detachable keyboard (which also extends the battery to 16 hours' usage). Expensive. But I use it as a reader (handles colour), and as a netbook. Oh, and as a phone (Skype) and for all those little android apps that people can use on their phones (sudoku, anyone?). I am not connected in any way with this product, just found it served my purposes. I just wish more illustrated books were produced in electronic format!

Frankofile said...

No e-ink, so backlit, I should add. Elen is right.

madwippitt said...

Yes, I'm with you on the biring grey casing. I had to buy an electric apple green cover to jolly it up so I could spot it when I put it down instead of losing it somewhere in the background ...

But modst of all, hurrah for another Falco fan!

madwippitt said...

Oh good grief. Sorry. That should be boring and most. Brain going faster than fingers.

Carole Anne Carr said...

Glad you added that all this is from the reader's point of view. As an author, I can benefit from my ebooks, but sad that the wonderful experience of actually handling a book is missing. I still buy some books in hardbook and enjoy. :0)

Ann Turnbull said...

I got mine last August, and do so agree about the boring grey appearance. I now keep it in a nice red cover, BUT this makes it twice as heavy! I haven't travelled with it yet but if I do I might leave the cover at home and carry the Kindle in a light padded envelope. No problems reading on it, though - and did you know you can convert a Word manuscript to a PDF and transfer it to your Kindle? I'm probably way behind the times, but I only found out yesterday, and it's a real boon.

Sue Purkiss said...

I didn't know about that, Ann. I'm sure there are lots of other useful things I haven't discovered yet, too.

The iPad certainly looks very lovely - but I don't think it would pass the standing-on-a-train test!

Penny Dolan said...

I found this really useful as it confirms some of the prejudices (?) I felt about the Kindle.

If I was a daily or regular commuter I know I'd get one right away (especially for the Falco!) but just now I'll wait for future developments in the devices and enjoy my lovely real world books.

Jan said...

Many of these objections refer to using the Kindle for activities which are not its primary purpose. I've never attempted to look at emails on it - but I do use it for commuting and holidays, and it's wonderful. A whole rucksack-full of books in one! And the e-ink is great because it's not tiring on the eyes the way a back-lit screen is. I suppose the lack of colour is a problem if you want to read illustrated books (though as Elen C says, Kindle Fire is on its way) but most of the books I want to read are just text. And B/W suits me fine for that.

Susan Price said...

I know I'm one of the Electric Authors, and so biased, but I love my kindle! I don't mind it being a boring colour (I keep it in a bright red, light-weight leather cover). I don't want to connect to the internet with it - if I did, I'd get distracted from reading my book by emails that can wait.
I find it far less annoying than paper books - no losing your place, no struggling to hold bulky pages flat. I get far more absorbed in reading on the kindle - it gets out of the way of the words.
In short, I'm something of a gadget lover, and always expected to be a kindle fan - but I love it much more than I expected to!

Sue Purkiss said...

Mm - it is very useful, the way it saves your place. I'd forgotten about that.

Book Maven said...

I have a Kindle and an iPad2, which covers all bases. It would never occur to me to try and get the Internet on the Kindle.

I don't mind at all that's it's grey - and the cover I bought for it is black. I bought the Complete Works of Dickens straightaway as soon as I'd got it, and Jane Austen and Shakespeare, all for ridiculously low sums.

The only novel I've read on it so far, apart from friends' unpublished work, is Wolf Hall and it was ideal for that.

I'll never stop buying dead tree books though - it's a quite different experience.

Ria- The Beaucoup Review. said...

My relationship with my Kindle is weird. I'll be obsessed with it for a few months, then not pick it up for a few months over and over again. However, I'd still recommend it. Though I do see where you're coming from and it is nice to hold a proper book as well.
I don't mind the colour, as I have a case, but it would be nice for it to be available in lots of different colours!

Giles Diggle said...

What price ebooks? How much are you prepared to pay? It depends what you really mean by an ebook. My own purchasing habits as a reader have given me pause for thought.

Previously, I have compared ebooks for the Kindle as being like well-thumbed library books: text but not necessarily a sensory experience.

I have been buying quite a lot of books for the Kindle during December, prompted by the free classics, The Kindle Daily Deal, and the Twelve Days of Kindle Christmas promotion.

I have purchased 20 books and have paid no more than £1.57 per book. Most have been for £0.99. At a fair reading rate for me that's about £25.00 for six months' reading. A sobering thought for an author trying to make a living.

It seems that price is dictating what I read, and it's all interesting quality stuff. It turns out that £1.99 is about the maximum, I am prepared to pay for a Kindle ebook. That means for the author to have any chance of making a living, their royalty needs to be at least 50%. That should be ok, considering lower production costs and no expensive warehouse and shipping.

So what am I prepared to pay more for?

Well, I might pay £3.99 for a new novel, which would normally come out as a hardback, if I thought it was a must-read. It would have to be pretty special. I would pay a premium for an ebook on the iPad if it was illustrated or was an app like T S Eliot's The Wasteland or Jack Kerouac's On the Road, or a reference book like The Elements or anything that DK produces. Illustrated children's books I would pay for too, even if they didn't have multi-media features.

As a reader, do I feel guilty? No. Should I as an author be concerned? Yes.

We are fortunate as readers that authors will always write, because they have to, even if there's not living to be had from it.

Sue Purkiss said...

Thanks, everyone - and particularly Giles, for the longest comment I've ever had on a post! What you say about cost is interesting. I too feel I shouldn't have to pay as much for an e-book - it doesn't cost as much to publish, obviously. But I'm prepared to pay more than £1.99. As a reader, I'm paying for what's inside the package, not for the wrapping. And as a writer, I'd hope to receive a reasonable payment for that.

Well, we can all dream...

Linda Newbery said...

Thanks for the mentions of Authors Electric, Sue! My next post, on Saturday 7th, will be about Kindle for writers - well, partly, anyway.

I don't mind the charcoal grey at all, though I might soon have to buy a more eye-catching cover than the black one I've been given.

Ann Turnbull said...

I'm always surprised that people want to take so many books on holiday. I find I have less time to read on holiday than at home - far too busy rushing about visiting places, going for long walks, and sitting around in restaurants. I like to have one book - maybe even two - but that's enough.

JudiJ said...

Sue, I also love my Kindle, particularly the ability to preview a couple of chapters before making the commitment to buy and, living in Australia, the ability to download the Observer for less than the cost of what passes for a Sunday paper where I live. My dull grey Kindle is also now very beautiful, wearing a Van Gogh coat of almond blossoms. I cover all my devices with skins from Gelaskins (Canadian I think) - you will be amazed at the variety of designs for all shapes of Kindle, as well as other devices. I have no vested interest - just thought you might like to know.

Sue Purkiss said...

Oh, they're so pretty! The only difficulty is going to be how to choose...