Vol. XXI, No. 2
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September, 2008

The Kindle: An Addendum and Implications for E-Publication

Harrison Eiteljorg, II
(See email contacts page for the author's email address.)

My review of the Kindle, Amazon's electronic book reader, appeared in the last issue of the CSA Newsletter. Since the review appeared I have noted some added issues that seem important enough to justify revisiting the subject.

One, the illustrations are too small to be useful when they are meant to convey anything more than a casual impression. While reading a book about the American economy, Where Does the Money Go?: Your Guided Tour to the Federal Budget Crisis, by Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson, I was forced to that realization by the important -- but useless -- figures included in the book. There were many charts and graphs in the book, and they were critical additions to the text, providing detailed information about changes to the federal budget over time. They were useless on the Kindle. The letters and numbers on the charts and graphs were too small to be read, and changing the general text size affected only the text, not the letters and numbers in the image. In addition, the graphic information in general was too small and indistinct to be useful. I even tried a magnifying glass to see if there might be more detail than visible to the naked eye. Magnification did not help at all.

Two, because of the (unnecessary) restrictions regarding the use of electronic devices during take-off or landing of an airplane, the Kindle cannot be used during those periods. The shorter the flight, the more annoying that is. This problem is not unique to the Kindle, of course, but must apply to any electronic device on an airplane until the authorities realize that the prohibition is unnecessary.

A previously unstated advantage of the Kindle should also be pointed out here. Once a book has been purchased, it is yours for life. Even if the book should be removed from your Kindle, it can be re-loaded on the Kindle registered to you from Amazon.

On balance, I do not think I would buy the device again at its current price. I am already finding myself drawn back to paper books instead of buying them as Kindle electronic books. That is not principally the result of the issues mentioned here but stems more from the general difficulties noted previously: moving about quickly in a book, either to locate myself or to find something previously noted. There is also the issue of recognizing pages of prior interest from a quick visual examination; that cannot happen with the Kindle since the appearance of any individual page changes with text size. I should note that I am not an avid reader of fiction, and that may have an impact on my choice. Non-fiction seems to me to require a different kind of access.

My experience with the Kindle began in part as an attempt to examine a broader question: the desirability of e-publication for scholarship, the ultimate non-fiction resource. Some of the issues with the Kindle are not shared by the quasi-standard e-publication form, PDF files. PDF files can be very precise about position; indeed, with the Pages Navigation panel open, more can be known -- and more quickly -- about one's position within a book than with a paper book. Electronic bookmarks and the like are also possible, and any page will consistent as to appearance. Nevertheless there is something very different -- and intagible -- about a paper book that makes it more desirable to me if I am going to sit down and read from "cover to cover." The PDF seems the ideal middle ground that the Kindle is not; the PDF is an electronic document that provides excellent access, including text searches, and it can be printed out when desired. There is no small, portable reader that I am aware of designed for the PDF, and a small screen may take away some of its advantages. But I do not see the Kindle as a better solution for me.

-- Harrison Eiteljorg, II

For other Newsletter articles concerning the use of electronic media in the humanities, consult the Subject index.

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