Contributed by Sarah Arndt
This Christmas brought me the newest version of Amazon’s digital book reader the Kindle. It was purchased as a solution for my increasingly problematic collection of books. Many in academia can sympathize with my obsessive purchasing of books, and my inability to part with any – no matter how old or unread. However the Kindle, though extremely useful in many ways, is not likely to completely take the place of traditional books purchases.
Its use as an academic tool for researchers and students depends on what types of materials you regularly read, and your willingness to upload different formats. While Amazon advertises over 400,000 titles available digitally, few if any of the specialist history books required by researchers and students are available. The history section mostly focuses on various strands of American history. Having said this, any PDF document can be read on the Kindle making it ideal for reading online articles, older digitized books and theses which otherwise have to be read on the computer. MS Word documents can also be converted and read on the Kindle. Readers can add their own notes to any book or document, and look up the definition of any word, although these features are a bit awkward to use.
Perhaps its biggest personal selling point is for casual reading. I spend a lot of time travelling, and you always need to have some sort of book handy for those long hours in the airport, on the train, etc. Inevitably you will finish your book before your travel ends and then you are forced to either bringing along a second book or purchase a new one, adding to the weight of your luggage. However, with the Kindle, all you have to do is select another title from your personal library, or use the web-browsing feature to place an order, without adding anything to your luggage.
The Kindle itself weights about 10 oz. and is approximately the same size as a trade paperback. It allows readers to store up to 1,500 titles on a single device, and to read for up to a week on a single battery charge. The six inch screen, unlike a computer, is not illuminated and so is as easy on the eye as paper. Items can be purchased online at Amazon with one click and delivered wirelessly across the globe in a matter of seconds. The list price is $259.00 or about €180.00. Several other e-readers have been released on the market, at different prices points and offering various features and interfaces. The Kindle’s appeal is in its connection to Amazon, which is by far the largest retailer in digital book and controls a huge portion of traditional book sales.
As a bibliophile this device triggers mixed reactions, but there is little doubt about its usefulness in certain areas. If you are tired of reading endless PDF documents on the computer the Kindle offers a portable and eye-friendly alternative. However it won’t replace traditional purchases of subject specific histories. If you are just looking for a convenient way to carry multiple bestsellers, then the Kindle is an ideal toy, offering an easy way to access a load of titles anywhere. In this case it will also save you money as most new e-releases are less than half the price of the hardback edition, with some older titles at less than a dollar. Does this signify the end of the book as we know it? I doubt it, though it does offer readers new options, and as e-books become more popular it will permanently change the face of book publishing.
Sarah Arndt is undertaking the ‘Texts, Contexts and Culture’ PhD program at Trinity College Dublin. Her Phd topic is a comparative look at Print Culture eighteenth century Ireland and America