I Broke Down and Ordered a Kindle Paperwhite; Here’s Why

Ever since we first started this website, I’ve been staunchly anti-Kindle. I’ve disliked like Amazon’s DRM scheme, its reluctance to adopt library ebooks, its inhuman use of “Locations” instead of page numbers, its attempt to hardball Macmillan by refusing to sell Macmillan books, the list goes on.

When a Sony Reader was the only decent non-Kindle choice, I bought a Sony Reader. When the Nook Color came out, I got one of those. I’ve given my sister another Sony, and my mother a Kobo, and I’ve stayed firmly Kindle-less for more than four years now.

But that changed last week, when I broke down and ordered the Kindle Paperwhite ($120), which appeared (until that day) on our Ereader Comparison under the category “Those we don’t like.” We’d passed over it in favor of the Kindle Touch (which has been discontinued), and the Kobo Mini ($80, touch capable, more below).

Here’s why I did it. Some of these reasons might be more subjective than others, and some I’ve researched more thoroughly. And, because most of my reservations about the Kindle are philosophical ones, some of my understanding of its hardware and interface might be flat-out wrong. I’ll be updating and posting again when I actually start using it.
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Kobo Mini Mini-Review

The Kobo Mini is Chamber Four’s official first pick among E-Ink ereaders, but until yesterday, I’d never tried it (our budget is small enough to step on and crush). The Mini got to our top spot for two reasons. One: we gravitate toward basic models when picking E-Ink ereaders (if you’re thinking about getting a $180 Kindle Paperwhite with 3G, for example, we think you’d be better off with a $200 Nexus 7). Two: Kobo is the only major ereader whose default store sells universal ebooks. That means that if you want to switch to another ereader, you can take your Kobo books with you, which is emphatically not true of a Kindle or a Nook.

Anyway, I bought my mom a Mini for Christmas (hopefully she doesn’t read this blog very often), it arrived yesterday, and I couldn’t resist “setting it up” for her (i.e., trying it out). And so I figured I’d jot down a few quick thoughts. I’ve only played around with it for a bit, so feel free to tell me where I’m wrong, but this is stuff I would’ve liked to’ve known before I bought it (though I still would’ve bought it).


Size and Best Usage

This is probably the defining feature of the Mini, hardware-wise. It has a 5″ screen, a full inch smaller than either the base Kindle model or the base Nook. The Mini also has a pretty thin bezel around its screen (unlike the Nook) and no hardware buttons to take up space (unlike the Kindle). If you put those elements together, the Mini feels very small. From a glass-half-full standpoint, it’s the difference between sticking the Mini in your pants pocket and having to put it in your backpack. For me, that’s great. The only ereader I’ve used that came close to this was the Astak Pocket Pro, which was still bigger because of its hardware buttons (and anyway doesn’t appear to be available anymore).

These days I do most of my reading on an iPad or iPhone. I never take the iPad out of the house unless I’m going on a trip, primarily because of bulkiness. So out in the world, I read on my phone. That system has advantages (no second device to carry), but also big disadvantages (reading late at night will keep you up).

Most of all, I’m starting to believe the (somewhat anecdotal) evidence that says I read less when I have the option to hop over to the Internet with two taps. Of course, I get distracted most often when I’m reading a bad or mediocre book, but I’ve definitely noticed a problem, and I’m not alone.

That opens up a niche (despite doomsayers) for current and future ereaders: they can survive as a cheap second (or third) device that has one function, reading. For this function, the Kobo Mini is pretty great.
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What I Want to See in the Nook Color

A few weeks ago, I reviewed the Nook Color, and found it good, but unfinished. While it has its share of problems, almost every one of them could be fixed with software adjustments and firmware updates. Here’s my wish list for the big update rumored to be scheduled for January.

Smooth edges

The biggest problem with the Nook Color is that its interface needs some smoothing. It sometimes takes an extra tap to wake the screen up, and navigating—especially in magazines—can be laggy and frustrating.

This isn’t the first time B&N has rushed a Nook to market: when the original Nook came out last year (just in time for the holidays), most reviews agreed that its interface was similarly laggy, and in later months B&N improved it markedly. Hopefully that happens again here.

Fix note-taking

Right now, you have to pin each note you take to a patch of text, and the firmware doesn’t distinguish between notes and regular highlights. If it did distinguish, and gave you more note-taking options (like, for instance, taking notes in magazines), it would make this a much more desirable device for students.

I’d also like to see more integration with a word processor—perhaps in the next hardware generation this could even happen through Bluetooth.

Apps – Instapaper, Goodreads, Evernote, Etc.

I desperately want Instapaper on this puppy, especially an Instapaper app that auto-downloads everything you’ve sent to your account, so you could read everything offline, like the way the Nook already does newspapers.

I’d also love to see an Overdrive app for managing library books and library audiobooks, a Goodreads and/or Copia app for social reading, a Google Editions app, and Evernote for proper note-taking. All of these (except probably the Overdrive app) are well within the range of possibility. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Wattpad, Smashwords, Scribd, the list goes on.
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New Kindle Same As the Old Kindle; Wi-Fi-Only Kindle Now Cheapest E-Ink eReader

So Amazon announced the new Kindle Wednesday. Two big pieces of newsworthiness here.

One: TeleRead nailed the prediction. I mean, by a matter of hours.

Two: this wi-fi-only Kindle is a contender. It’s only $139 (ships Aug. 27), making it the cheapest E-Ink ereader on the market. Our problems with Amazon and Kindle still exist: the proprietary Kindle format means that you can never completely trust that you’ll always own your books; there’s always a chance that they’ll pull a Yahoo! Music and your ebooks will simply disappear. Of course, this is true of all DRMed formats, but with Adobe DRM, you can borrow library ebooks and not spend money you might never get back. To make matters worse, Jeff Bezos is kind of a jerk, and he frequently does things that are either stupid or just kind of bullyish.

All that said, $140 is a great price—that and the presence of Kindle apps on computers and smartphones makes the whole package quite tempting these days.

As for Kindle 3 (3G version), it’s the same as the old Kindle 2. It’s black now, I guess. A touch smaller. Buttons are a little different. Otherwise the new Kindle is nearly identical to the old, and still not our first choice for an ereader.

Wednesday Links 3-10-10

News about books and ebooks from around the web:

  • Vapidity will continue to rule the bestseller list. Sarah Palin plans to “write” another book (get ready, Marcos), Lindsay Lohan has plans to hawk her crazed mutterings, and Hilary Duff just signed a contract to write a series of young-adult Da Vinci Code-style caper novels (I kid you not). Previously, we learned about reality star Lauren Conrad, who’s writing novels (plural) despite having never read a whole book in her life (which you should do, if you want to write one). Then there’s always Dan Brown, a terrible writer of stupid books (even his website wants to be a movie)… but he has 80,000,000 readers. And let’s never forget Douglas Preston, a horrible writer who’s so overprivileged and out of touch that he attacked his own readers for not paying exorbitant prices for his crappy books. Please help me solve this. If you like any of those writers, do me a personal favor: stop buying their books and watch TV instead. TV does mindless entertainment much better than books, and then books can go back to being carefully crafted works of the imagination, and not just paycheck tickets cranked out by illiterate uncaring morons and vapid celebrities trying to cash in on their fleeting fame. Publishing industry: I hate you. To wrap up this rant, here is a grossly unreadable article about nothing, written by an editor from Knopf. It’s a joke, right? Nobody’s that bad a writer, especially not a professional editor, right? Right?
  • Borders is broke and starting heavy layoffs. Three months ago, while discussing the Nook, I noticed that Borders notably had no plans to release its own ereader/ebookstore. I said this about it: “Oh, and also… remember Borders? I’d say they have about 2 years of financial solvency left. It’s going to be like a brontosaurus dying.” Based on my understanding of the financial gobbledygook in the article in that first link, that timeline was just  slightly generous. Ebooks are the way of the future, bookstores. Don’t be shy.
  • Two weeks ago, the NY Times published this article by Motoko Rich about the prices of ebooks vs. paper books. It included this chart, which got everybody in a huff because it claimed that ebooks selling for as low as $9.99 will provide as much profit to publishers (not authors) as full-price, $26 hardcover books. Among the respondents: Gizmodo, GalleyCat, John August, and almost everybody else in the world. I just have one thing to add. Rich estimates the costs of printing and shipping at $3.25. Since online hardcover prices max out at about $15, that means, logically, ebook prices should max out at about $12. Since some new, hardcover, guaranteed bestsellers go for even less (like Stieg Larsson’s next one, pre-selling at Amazon for $11.50), ebook editions of those should come in at sub-$10. Which means maybe readers asking for $9.99 ebooks wasn’t so astonishingly entitled after all. Maybe the Macmillan/Amazon kerfuffle lost Macmillan more than it gained them. Maybe publishers should shut up about prices and windowing and all those other caveats, and just put their weight behind ebooks. Stop treating your customers like enemies, and maybe everything will turn out OK.

Douglas Preston (Jerk) Comes Crawling Back to His Readers

An arrogant hack author named Douglas Preston appeared in a New York Times article two weeks ago, wherein he said that readers who wanted ebook editions of his book (and wanted them for less than the cost of the hardcover) were astonishingly entitled and, quite literally, he accused them of making America unhealthy.

So. That ticked some people off—including me. Two weeks later, Preston has realized that maybe he shouldn’t run around insulting his customers, and he has now offered up a half-assed backpedal (via), in which he attempts to mollify his readers with about half a Hallmark card’s worth of affection. He succeeds, however, only in proving he thinks his readers are stupid enough to believe his obvious lies.

Chris Meadows at TeleRead debunks Preston’s turnaround pretty thoroughly. I just want to add a couple of “how stupid does he think we are?” points about both the statement and his other new comments:

  • Preston never apologizes. He should apologize.
  • Preston says he wants to make money for Wal-Mart. In his original comments, he said “the Wal-Mart mentality…is very unhealthy for our country.” Is this a joke?
  • He says he has no control over pricing or windowing (the practice of delaying ebook releases to force people to buy hardcovers), then says he supports windowing. He uses movies as an example of windowing, but fails to mention that movies in a theater offer more value and a different experience than DVDs, while hardcover vs. ebook editions of books offer exactly the same experience (and the people who disagree can still buy the hardcover).
  • In his statement, he says, “We want to write the best books we can.” Uh, no. If that was true, you’d spend longer than 9 months apiece on them.
  • He says he wants his “publishers to make [his books] available to you in the format in which you prefer to read them.” Come on, Preston, you’re not even trying.
  • And, of course, the ultimate lie: “From our perspective, the most important element in all this is you, the reader.” What does it mean when my BS detector shrieks and then melts?

Look, Preston, here’s the thing: you write books because they make you money. You hate ebooks because you think you’ll make less money on them. You hate your readers because they want ebooks, and because they don’t like being bossed around, or being told they’re stupid and greedy.

You grudgingly crapped out this… this statement, whatever it is (not an apology), in which you transparently lie and say you like your readers. Hopefully, it’s not fooling anybody, but TechDirt put this news in the “good-for-him dept,” so you got at least one. Basically, you’re a jerk. But now you’re being slightly more diplomatic about it.

Listen, you owe your readers nothing less than a debt of immense gratitude, especially if they’ve allowed you to write full-time and make a decent living at it. You should be fighting your publisher to give your readers what they want. They don’t want free books, and they don’t want to rip you off. They just want a fair deal, and when you call that “entitlement,” you should come crawling back on your knees and beg for their forgiveness. Instead you throw this sloppy mess of platitudes at them. It makes me furious, and I’ve never given you a dime.

OK, deep breaths.

The person I really feel sorry for is Lincoln Child, Preston’s writing partner, who hasn’t said anything stupid about this. But then, he’s worked with this colossal jerk for years, so… I guess he’s not entirely innocent.

J.K. Rowling Sued Again + Other News

Not really a full links post, but a few things caught my eye this morning. So here we go.

First of all, J.K. Rowling has been sued for plagiarism, again, hilariously. This time the plaintiff is the estate of a writer who died thirteen years ago. They claim she stole from a 36-page pamphlet called “The Adventures of Willy the Wizard.”

The entire case rests not on copied passages, but on the fact that “both Willy and Harry [are] required to solve a task as part of a contest, which they achieve in a bathroom assisted by clues from helpers.”

So, your case rests on the word “bathroom.” Good luck.

My other favorite line from that story is the estate’s PR guy (not lawyer) saying: “‘All of Willy the Wizard is in the Goblet of Fire.’” That’s a joke, right? Because “Willy” is only 36 pages long? Right?

And there’s a lot of other funny stuff in the Guardian piece. In other news:

  • Engadget reports the new iRex ereader is finally coming out, only four months late. This new model, the cutely named DR800SG, is notable because it costs less than $800, and it gives Engadget a chance to backhand the stupid Nook by calling the iRex “Barnes & Noble’s first big play in the space.” Since it has a stylus-driven touchscreen, file it under Y for Yet another reason not to get a QUE.
  • And, finally, The Rapture, one of my favorite bands, says this about their upcoming release:

“Our new album’s gonna be fucking 100 times better than the iPad,” [band member Gabe Andruzzi] jokes. “With this record you’re going to be interfacing with your soul in ways that have never happened before.”

So we’ve got that going for us. Which is nice.

On the Word “Entitlement”

I just read this NY Times article (via) and I’m noticing a trend that’s really starting to infuriate me. It’s the use of the word “entitlement” by publishers and authors to describe their own customers.

In this article, author and complete jerk Douglas Preston is featured in this paragraph:

“The sense of entitlement of the American consumer is absolutely astonishing,” said Douglas Preston, whose novel “Impact” reached as high as No. 4 on The New York Times’s hardcover fiction best-seller list earlier this month. “It’s the Wal-Mart mentality, which in my view is very unhealthy for our country. It’s this notion of not wanting to pay the real price of something.”

This kind of thing drives me absolutely insane. The ebook release of Preston’s book is delayed by four months because Preston and his publishers want their hardcover money. According to those publishers, Impact‘s “real price” is $26. Speaking of entitlement.

But let’s see some peasants brandish pitchforks. Exactly what are the outrageously entitled Wal-Mart Americans saying? Here’s another paragraph from the article:

“I just don’t want to be extorted,” said Joshua Levitsky, a computer technician and Kindle owner in New York. “I want to pay what it’s worth. If it costs them nothing to print the paper book, which I can’t believe, then they should be the same price. But I just don’t see how it can be the same price.”

Hmm. That’s logical, sound, completely unentitled thinking. For years, publishers have been charging $20 or more for “hardcover” books, implying that some of that cost goes toward the actual production materials. Now, with ebooks, they’re trying to charge the same price for brand new ebooks as they charge for the outlandishly expensive hardcover editions.

The problem with this isn’t that customers are “entitled” to think they should get ebooks cheaper. The problem with this is that no publisher has yet advanced any logical explanation as to why the ebook editions SHOULDN’T be cheaper than the hardcovers. The burden of proof is on the publishers, and they haven’t convinced anybody.

Furthermore, it infuriates me when publishers think or believe that just because their pricing system has been a certain way in the past, that’s the way it should be forever. $26 is not the “real price” of a book. Dan Brown is not worth $26, Sarah Palin is not worth $26. And let’s face it, Douglas Preston isn’t worth $26. (You can just tell by his hair, can’t you?)

In reality, the hardcover of Impact goes for $14.29 at Amazon. If you want customers to pay more than $9.99 for the ebook edition, start by showing them a formula that goes something like this: [hardcover price] – [paper, ink, cardboard, and shipping costs] = [ebook price]. To sell a hardcover for $14 and then argue that the “real price” of the ebook version is up to $15…  sheer madness.

Now, I do think publishers should be able to set their own prices. I also think Macmillan is incredibly stupid to raise their prices $5 per ebook. I hope it brings them to their knees. Fine, though, it’s up to them.

But when rich, bestselling hack authors (Preston’s crapped out more than a dozen novels in the past decade) start insulting their own readers, things are taking a wrong turn. It’s not readers’ “absolutely astonishing sense of entitlement” that makes us think technological advancement should bring down production costs, it’s basic common sense. And no matter how many times publishers say ebooks are expensive to make, it will never make sense to charge the same amount.

Macmillan eBooks Still Available At Sony’s Reader Store For $9.99

[UPDATE: Amazon gave in, and will sell Macmillan books via the “agency model” Macmillan laid out. Which means Macmillan ebooks will cost $13-$15, even at Amazon. I’m putting the over/under on the date of Amazon’s next major Kindle screw-up at March 15.]

So Amazon has barred all Macmillan books (print and digital) from its U.S. website after the publisher insolently disagreed with Amazon’s stringent pricing policies. Macmillan asked for either a different pricing structure or “windowing,” i.e. delayed ebook releases (Macmillan CEO John Sargent claims Amazon will make more money, and Macmillan will make less under the new structure, which confuses me). Amazon responded with the Macmillan ban.

You can still find Macmillan books at the Sony Reader Store, however, and you can find many selling for the $9.99 price point that started all this. I’m assuming either higher Macmillan prices or windowing is coming to Sony, but at least you can buy the books.

For the record, I think the entire hardcover pricing system is greedy and predatory; it’s essentially publishers milking their biggest fans’ excitement to make a few extra bucks. I think Macmillan’s making a big mistake in trying to preserve hardcover pricing, and refusing to fully embrace ebooks.

However, this Amazon move is thuggery of the first order, and it doesn’t feel like the stalemate will be resolved very quickly [UPDATE: Or maybe it will, what do I know] (or that it will be the last of its kind). The Macmillan ban combined with Amazon’s continued refusal to allow library ebooks on the Kindle makes one thing clear: Kindle is simply not the best ereader for book readers. If you read mostly books, get a Sony Reader or an Astak Pocket Pro. If you read mostly newspapers or magazines, get an iPad. [UPDATE: Amazon’s cave-in brings the Kindle back to the realm of relevancy for book readers. But it still comes with too many questionable corporate decisions for my taste.]

I’m just not sure who the Kindle is for.

[More Macmillan/Amazon analysis by Edward Champion, E-Reads, Ars Technica, and the Guardian.]

It’s Been 1 Year! What’s C4 Got In Store for 2010?

Hi everyone. So we’ve been at it a year and we’re still going strong. As a matter of fact, judging by our stats, we’re going much stronger than we expected when we started this whole shebang. Thanks a lot to all our readers for sticking with us, and welcome to all the new readers who join us in 2010. We’re planning a lot of change for the coming year, and our birthday seemed like as good a day as any to share with you all what we’re getting up to.

The state of things to come

When we started this site, we had two goals in mind: to help sort out ereading news, trends, and pitfalls for casual users; and to share book reviews and reader-centric book commentary. We wanted to establish a site for reader advocacy, where books (no matter how they are consumed) are thought of as art and entertainment, and not as a sales vessel. We’ve passed up making money and getting free stuff in order to remain unbiased for our readers. We think we’ve been quite successful in this.

When we started the ereader portion of this site, it was largely because we couldn’t find a good entry point into digital reading. At the time, we were ereader novices ourselves, and useful information on ereaders was fragmented, confusing, and spread out all over the place. Just a year later, we’ve learned a lot, and the landscape of digital reading has certainly changed a lot.

Not only is everybody following ereaders, but it seems everybody is making them too. There are so many (most with ridiculous names and more or less the same feature set) that we can’t keep up with them all in-depth, and, frankly, most don’t warrant the attention.

We’re revising our ereader comparison to guide you toward our picks for best ereader in several categories (best book ereader, best magazine ereader, etc.), and we’ll provide links to a few other devices, but we’ll no longer be maintaining a comprehensive listing of every ereader available. If you want full coverage, try TeleRead or Mobileread; both are excellent, comprehensive sites for ebook fiends who can’t get enough ereader news. We will continue to share book and ebook news for more casual fans through our Wednesday links, however as of February they’ll be posted every second Wednesday.

Additions for 2010

In the coming year, we’ll be moving toward more book coverage. We’ll still weigh in on ereader issues when major ones come up, but we won’t be linking to every unboxing of every ereader that comes down the pipe. Instead we’ll be focusing on book reviews, and opinions about books and book trends (not necessarily publishing trends, except from a reader’s perspective).

You can expect to see some smaller, more casual posts that will focus on more minor and eclectic opinions and observations. Sometimes posts will be frequent, sometimes not. We’ll be posting more reviews, and seeking more reviews from our readers and from outside authors. We’ll be doing more themed series, not unlike our holiday posts or recent Best Books of 2009 and Literary Beach Books series. (In fact, this will be beginning in mid-February with our new, Drop Everything and Read This Book series–title subject to change.)

We’re also starting a category called Essays, where we’ll post longer, more in-depth thoughts on topics ranging from books to copyright laws, reading habits to technology preferences, and so on.

On the sidebar to the right, you will soon see a post handpicked each week to be highlighted with a sticky link. Sometimes this will be a post garnering a lot of discussion, other times it will be one our editors find relevant to something currently happening in the world, or just something from the archive we want to bring up for air.

The books reviews will be getting a home in the form of an archive page where reviews can be browsed by author and title (you can already filter by genre in our nav bar, or search for names or titles in the search box).

You may also have noticed that we have phased out the “Best ebook deal” line on our reviews, due to the general streamline of prices and formats in recent months. Check out our revamped The Best Ways to Get eBooks page for a guide on getting great deals yourself.

And finally, perhaps what excites us most is that we are finally making tangible steps towards launching our long-teased magazine. Every few weeks, we’ll feature a story, poem, essay, or other piece of creative writing, filed under “Creative Work” in the “Back Page” section. Eventually these will be compiled in the first issue of the Chamber Four magazine. We are also hard at work compiling an anthology of already published fiction from around the internet. We’ll certainly share more on this later, but we wanted to finally announce it.

As always, come back and read us, subscribe to our feed, comment, print, and share. Better yet, write us a review or an essay. And if you have a friend who might be interested in doing so, send them our url. We see C4 as a platform from which readers can speak, so we invite any and all to speak up. Thanks again for a wonderful year, we’re looking forward to an even better one in twenty-ten.