I got a Kindle

kindle with custom screensaver on

I am aware that I am dreadfully behind the times, but the Kindle I wanted finally hit a price point that I felt was worth it and I got one: a Kindle Keyboard 3G/Wifi model. It’s nice. I’ve been tinkering with it. Here are some initial impressions.

1. Now that the Kindle Fire and other fancier ebook readers are out, the older ones are relatively inexpensive. While you can still buy this model new for low three figures, I got it refurbished from ebay for $50 delivered and was happy about it. Didn’t come in an Amazon box. Just showed up in some bubble wrap with a cable. Fine by me and super cheap for worldwide low-end 3G and an “experimental” browser.

2. I am mostly interested in using this when I travel for the free worldwide-ish internet access as well as being able to carry a lot of books with me on a long trip. I still prefer paper books but am at the point where I need to have more working knowledge of ebook readers than I have. We lend them out at the library that I occasionally work at, but that isn’t enough. I am not interested in buying a lot of new books. I am not interested in creating any more of a relationship with Amazon than I already have. I have a loose relationship with copyright laws but that doesn’t mean that you should, necessarily.

3. First step: hacking it so I can do what I want with it. I do not want their default screen savers. I do not want to pay them to convert things to PDF for me. I do not want to only buy things from the store, I don’t really care about the store. I don’t like the blinky page turning effect. A quick google brings me to this page. I follow a few instructions and I have my own screensavers and a jailbroken Kindle. I also read more about the blinky page flashing effect and why it exists (and that the alternative is often ghosting which would drive me crazy) and I’ve decided to stick with the blinky and learn to live with it, even though it’s nice to have options. I am not messing with the default fonts, for now. I am not installing KIF the Kindle interactive fiction interpreter, for now. I am okay that I will miss out on Amazon-only releases, for now.

4. Second step: get some books. As I said, I wanted to see how much I could do with this without involving Amazon. I’m not anti-Amazon so much as I’m just Amazon-agnostic and don’t want to have my device talking to them about me. There are basically three main ways to get books on to the thing: buy them, steal/borrow them, create them.

As much as I love the DIY Scanner idea, it’s a ways off for me. So I’m going to focus on the middle option.

First option: I went to Listen Up Vermont and gritted my teeth through the terrible interface (which I hear is changing), found a book I wanted to read, went to check it out, tried three different library cards until I got one that worked. Then got to the Amazon page and had to log in there as well. Did not want to register my Kindle. My only option at that point was to read the book in the “cloud reader” [i.e. on their website]. Okay. No way to download a book without becoming an Amazon customer. I’m sure this is not news to anyone who has a Kindle, but I hadn’t really tried this all out yet. This whole process took far too long.

Second option: Open Library. Found a book I wanted to read. “Checked it out” via Open Library’s nifty checkout options. Not even sure which library card I used, maybe it was just me being in the state of Vermont. Checked out the PDF of the book. Downloaded it to my desktop via Adobe Digital Editions which did not require me to register for an account but did have less functionality if I didn’t register which seemed okay to me. Could read it on my desktop. Was prohibited because of DRM from reading it on my Kindle. In the interests of science I tried to figure out how to get this to work anyhow. Spent a lot of time on this website reading about Calibre and the DRM and ebooks generally. Don’t let the post dates fool you, this is a fairly up to date blog. Calibre is a great ebook management tool that follows in the steps of some other open source tools in that it doesn’t break DRM itself, but you can obtain plug-ins that will do the DRM-breaking if you want. It also does a lot of other great things like allowing you to edit ebook metadata and group and organize your ebook collection. You can also use Calibre to format-shift your ebooks to and from various formats. I took the DRM off this ebook and then moved it to my Kindle. It’s not so great to read there because it’s in PDF format but it was good for proof of concept. 500 page PDFs are just not awesome for reading.

Third option: piracy. Most of the time if you search for a reasonably popular book using the title and other words like “mobi” or “epub” you can find forums where people upload pirated copies of these books to filesharing sites like divshare or mediafire. It’s worth noting that the Apprentice Alf website that helps you break DRM explicitly says that breaking DRM to upload books to piracy sites is an explicitly uncool use of DRM end-running which is the position I agree with for the most part. I tried the pirate download options with a book I already had in hard copy and found not just that book but a bundle of five other books by the same author. Downloaded, unrar-ed drag-and-dropped to my Kindle. Started reading. No passwords. No failures.

And as far as the reading experience, I’ve taken to it much more quickly than I thought I would. This is, of course, what everyone but me thought would happen. The Kindle is light, the back-forth buttons are simple and not accidentally clicked. I like being able to look up words in a dictionary without moving more than a few fingers. I like that it knows where I left off. I like getting to toss a book out when I am done with it. All in all my conclusions are much like the ones I was nodding my head with at the In Re: Books conference. Ebooks readers are great and improving all the time. It’s the ebooks themselves–the DRM, the bad user experience, the complicated and wonky checkout procedures, the lack of privacy, the changing restrictions we deal with as libraries, the terrible websites our vendors create–that are not just suboptimal but at the center of a bad user experience that we’re in the awkward position of promoting as if it were our own.

So, mixed feelings of course. I’ve gone to bed and read my Kindle most nights this week and enjoy it. I still can’t look a patron in the eye and explain that they need to go through a bunch of bad websites, log in at least twice and create relationships with multiple vendors who are not the library in order to check out a book from us. Here’s hoping the landscape will change for the better. Here’s suggesting we do what we can to help that happen.

23 thoughts on “I got a Kindle

  1. It didn’t take you long to discover why pirated eBooks are so popular…SIMPLICITY!! I have a Sony Touch reader and use Calibre for my ebook manager. I’ve gotten a few free books from the Sony bookstore, but there again is the DRM issue. Can’t even move them to the Calibre library without removing DRM. I do like Smashwords. No DRM and you can download whatever format you want. If you need to change it to something else you can do it in Calibre. You purchased it and you can do whatever you want with it. And that’s the way it should be. Check out freebookspot.es. Not saying you should use it, but check it out. Now if it was this easy to check ebooks out of a library….Just to point out here, if I were to download and read a pirated book, that author or publisher would never have gotten a penny out of me anyway. I would have checked the paper format out of the library or bought it used from a used bookstore or from Amazon’s second hand book sellers. Maybe that’s just an excuse I make for myself, but it’s still the truth.

  2. Amazon doesn’t convert anything to PDF. And if you use the @free.kindle.com address, then you can only download that personal document via wifi for free.

    You should also give Project Gutenburg a shot. http://www.gutenberg.org/

    Sometimes Project Gutenberg Australia will have somethings that have expired in AU but not in the US. http://gutenberg.net.au/

  3. Another source of free ebooks is Smashwords.com, as mentioned above — all formats (including mobi, for kindles), and many authors have freebie loss-leaders. And, as mentioned, no DRM!

    Glad to see someone else who notices and dislikes the flashy-page inversion thing. That requirement of e-ink tech drives me screaming inthe other direction. Fortunately, I don’t mind backlit screens, so phone & tablet work for me.

  4. Thank you for posting your experience as a new Kindle owner. I’m currently in my last semester at an ischool and have thus far resisted getting an e-reader, partly because I still prefer the paper in my hands heft of a real book, but partly because I find the price to be very preventative. That said I too have been eying older version Kindles on ebay not that so many of the newer models are the popular buys. I appreciate you sharing your experience because it gives me an idea of what I will encounter if I purchase one, and because I appreciate your skepticism and willingness to talk about things like pirating as something other than pure evil. Ideally I’d love to be totally against pirating, but I also think that publishers and e-book providers need to find better ways of interacting with their customers and giving them the freedom to use the files the purchase as they see fit (ops mini rant). Any thanks again for sharing your experience, I found it really helpful and if I do get a kindle I will definitely be checking out some of those links you posted.

  5. Same model as mine. Acquired summer of 2011 when in Ohio, got a Mark Twain/Walt Whitman cover made for it and, heck, must have used for a few thousand hours by now. Not just for books, but as another backup for basic web browsing and webmail – especially when in the open country – and for geocaching, for which it was unexpectedly useful in the midwest USA.

    The eBooks section of the University of Adelaide has an impressive and growing collection of DRM-free classic books, of high production quality:


  6. Ah. I forgot the sarcasm tag.

    eBooks could be easy, but I think publishers are still scared in general. I keep hoping they’ll come around to selling and distributing digital copies, like the music industry eventually did.

  7. Hi, I’m a long-time Kindle user, but am new to circulating eReaders in a library. You mentioned that at your occasional you loan out devices to patrons. Do they borrow Overdrive items on them? I’m having trouble figuring out how to do this on a Kindle. We also have Sony readers but I haven’t gotten to those yet.

  8. I use my smart phone as an e-reader because, for the most part, I’m against single-purpose digital devices. As the lines between eReader and tablet continue to blur, this may become less of an issue, but I do enjoy being able to read and turn pages with just one hand.

    I tried to be a good ebook library user, but between the poor browsing experience and weird software and accounts required, I’ve mostly given up. These days if I’m not finding and downloading books through more libertarian channels, I tend to buy them. Like you, I try and avoid Amazon purchases, though I do frequent Google’s bookshop. Not necessarily the lesser of two evils, but Google pretty much knows more about me already than I do about myself, so I don’t know what further harm it could do.

  9. You made a good choice Jessamyn!

    Your version of the Kindle also has the voice function, something the newer ‘upgraded’ models have removed. While a little bracing the first time you use it, it soon becomes pretty natural and means you can ‘read’ even when you are doing chores around the house.

  10. johnofjack – that chart is awesome! And I mean that sincerely – it’s great at demonstrating the ‘simplicity (not!)’ of ebooks – is it available for re-use? I’m putting together a libguide on ebooks and it would be perfect for adding some levity about the whole process

  11. Karl – Sure, you can use it if you’d like. I made it on the clock, though, so it might be better if you credit it to Alachua County Library District rather than me directly.

  12. Thanks, Jessamyn. I’m glad it’s useful.

  13. I love it that when you get a Kindle, it makes the American Libraries Direct newsletter ;)

  14. You can buy DRM free books in any format and convert them to mobi using Calibre. Calibre is awesome – you can organize your library, convert books to different formats.
    It can do other things ad well but I haven’t gotten to that yet. Glad I’m not the only person to get my 1st ereader this year.


  15. Fantastic image. I’ve had similar experiences with my Nook. So, “me, too.”

  16. In regards to the blinky effect when you change pages. If you think about turning the page in a book there is a big blinky effect. Turning the page I think is as big a visual disruption and the brief flash of the page changing on an e-ink device. For people that learned reading in paper books your mind has tuned out the page turn. After a little use of your e-ink device you will likely find that you do not notice the page change anymore. Because I primarily read on an e-ink device I have noticed that now I am bothered by the page turn in a paper book.

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