Share good ideas and conversation.   Login, Join Us, or Take a Tour!

Why Kindles Suck

I'm moving. Which means making a lot of judgements about what things are kept and what things are eliminated. As a consequence, a lot of books have gone to the recycler.

Theoretically I could take them to a library. But I know a librarian and he has confirmed with me that about 99% of those books end up at the shredder. I could take them to a used bookstore but LA has pathetic few of them, they're run by assholes and the books have a 95% chance of ending up in the shredder anyway. So I skipped the middle man.

It's not that I hate books. It's not that they're books I don't expect to read again. It's that hanging on to a used book seems no more moral to me than torrenting an .epub. After all, I bought the book once. Being required to hang onto physical media to prove ownership (that doesn't benefit the original copyright holder one bit) strikes me as anti-consumer. And unlike physical books, I can (and do) back up my digital media.

I've owned three Kindles. They're shitty devices. Everything that's wrong with e-readers is a direct consequence of Jeff Bezos' vision for digital books, which is the same as his vision for books, which is "a commodity I can profit from by screwing the middle man." Kindles aren't designed for reading books, they're designed for shopping for books, and that design is every bit as shitty as everything else Amazon has ever designed.

Despite Amazon starting life as a bookstore, Bezos is not a reader and never will be - he's a shark who decided that was the weakness he'd forge an empire upon. The Kindle is in the same vein. Amazon had leverage over publishers, so it turned the thumbscrews. .azw is a shitty format. .epub beats the shit out of it. Much like Audible - another shitty format that Amazon wins through convenience of shopping.

But you know what? I buy books on Kindle that I wouldn't buy as physical media, and I buy books on Audible that I wouldn't read. I spend substantially more on digital media than I ever did on printed media... but that's because I'm a pragmatist. I recognize how I interact with my words (not my pictures - we'll get to that) and act accordingly.

Craig Mod worships books the way hipsters worship vinyl.

Yeah - there's a physicality to vinyl records that certainly appeals. At a certain level of emotional maturity there's reassurance and power in crates upon crates upon crates of vinyl, sleeves and grooves and faded labels. There's a transcendental pleasure in the non-random access of physical media that absolutely aids their appeal as objects. However, content is platform-agnostic unless that content is wholly dependent on physicality.

Mod mentions McSweeney's. Of course he does. That most precious of vanity houses, where every word is a poem and every layout is an homage to the Farmer's Almanac. Where content is too clever by half and if deprived of its whitespace and linen becomes tawdry and dull. The argument being that the whitespace and linen is a part of the content - the medium is the message (I know who McLuhan was, too). But it's bullshit. Anything worth reading can be read in whatever ways words are transmitted. eReader, Kindle, Morse Code, who gives a fuck.

And in order to make this point, Mod goes all the way 'round to talking about the "openness" of physical media - as if self-publishing an off-format hardcover with weird fonts is every bit as simple as vomiting your draft up on Lulu. PROTIP: everything you do outside of the norm is an upcharge, and your physical media starts out about $8 behind compared to a download.

I did not throw away all my books. My shirakawas? Safely boxed up. My first edition Arcology? Wrapped in paper. Those large, beautiful, interesting physical objects that I like to review and enjoy showing off are very much still a part of my life and always will be. But that pulp 3rd edition of Zelazny's "Isle of the Dead?" I can torrent that any day of the week. It cost me a dollar when I bought it, 20 years old, 15 years ago. Zelazny is dead, his agent is retiring, and if I actually wanted to enrich to coffers of the players behind the book, Amazon will sell me a two-fer with another novel for $9.

And then I'll have something I can search, I can highlight, I can sync across three platforms and if I feel like ripping and emailing (both of which are trivial), I can share with whoever I want anywhere around the globe for free.