Monday, December 17, 2007

Kindle Owner Interview: Mary Minow

Mary Minow writes for the LibraryLaw blog and is has written several insightful posts about the Kindle (see here, here and here). She also agreed to an interview as a new Kindle owner. Here are her thoughts on the device so far:

JW: Given the $400 price point and first generation technology, how hard was the decision to make the commitment and buy your Kindle?

MM: A couple of things made that easy. First, I'm willing to try something and return it within 30 days, so I didn't feel that it was a commitment to give it a shot. Second, my husband gave it to me :>

JW: How many books do you typically read in a year? What genre do you tend to focus on?

MM: I couldn't count...especially because I pick up armloads of nonfiction and read pieces of them. I like biography, travel, anything in the 020s, 090s, 300s, 910s … (Dewey). As for fiction, I go with very hot bestsellers and old classics. I'm a Harry Potter fan, but it’s not available in Kindle edition. I’ve read a few sample chapters, though, from Kindle books about Harry Potter.

JW: What has been your impression of the Kindle so far?

MM: Oh my - where do I begin. As soon as I had it in my hand for an hour, I knew I wouldn't return it. The screen is so easy to read, and the size is just right for me. Yes, the buttons on the right edge are too big, but I can find ways to hold on without accidentally turning the page (too often, anyway). It may sound cliché, but it did just what Bezos promised - it disappeared and there I was, lost in a book, Candide. I've tried reading ebooks on a pocketpc, a treo and a tablet. Never made it through more than half a book, and even that was rare. Too small or too hot or too much flickering. I find myself reading on the Kindle for hours and hours, more comfortably than with a stack of papers or even a hardback book. And when I’m away from my desk, it’s all still easy to get to.

I’m a very enthusiastic user. I even agreed to be part of a Kindle focus group sponsored by Amazon.

JW: Have you been using your Kindle for anything other than book reading (e.g., magazine/newspaper subscriptions, blogs, etc.)?

MM: YES. I've been reading student papers from a digital copyright class I teach at San Jose State. I subscribe to the Kindle New York Times and the San Jose Mercury News. Within two days, I suspended my paper subscriptions. I'm reading MORE of the paper, with a lot less clutter around the house. I miss the graphics, though.

I love the two week free trials. I enjoyed a trial of the Irish Times, and delighted in getting tomorrow's paper the night before. The built-in dictionary was great to look up words like "Taoiseach."

I've tried several free trials of blogs, but couldn't bring myself to pay for any of them. I can read blogs for free anyway, using bloglines mobile and the clunky Kindle web browser, though it’s not as slick.

But the coolest thing for me is that I can easily take loads of .docs and .pdfs from my computer, send and convert them to the KINDLE. Dead simple and quick.

JW: How do you feel about the pricing levels Amazon is featuring since launch for e-books, magazines, etc.?

MM: If you think of the price as $9.99 for a book that retails at $35, then of course it sounds excellent. But it's not, really. It's $9.99 to have the USE of a book for a while, on one device (and select others registered to the same account). The DRM Kindle version is not compatible with any other devices, and let's face it, you can't count on using this device in a few years. There are $1 titles like Huckleberry Finn, but that's really crazy, since it's easy to get mobipocket editions of public domain titles like that for free from and others. If all you want to do, though, is read a book once, now, and you don’t want to get it from the library, it meets that need at a reasonable price. I love the free chapters. It’s better than browsing in a bookstore in some ways, because I can browse whenever and wherever I want. It’s limited, though, to the chapters offered by Amazon.

JW: Do you have any recommendations for Amazon to consider when they look to finalize a feature set for Kindle 2.0?

MM: I'd like to be able to borrow bestsellers as ebooks from the library and have them work on the Kindle (and disappear when they are due). The Kindle should definitely be able to read books in the epub standard, developed by the International Digital Publishing Forum. Overdrive just announced its support for epub yesterday.

This is very significant. I understand the need for control of the content, but digital rights management (DRM) overreaches, particularly when content you buy doesn’t work on other devices. It’s like buying a CD that plays only in your CD player, but not in your car, or on your computer.

Someone has already cracked the Kindle DRM to allow machines to read DRMed Mobipocket. But that's not a good solution for legitimate users. In most cases, it’s illegal to circumvent a technological protection measure. Authors and publishers are understandably fearful of having their content completely unprotected. But if every vendor uses its own DRM, ordinary consumers will get really upset and go to extreme measures like hacking. Look at how common and easy it is for people to bypass DVD encryption today. Amazon needs to work with epublishers through the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) to develop another solution. First, start with a standard (unencrypted) format, i.e. the .epub standard, Second, if DRM must be used, make it interoperable with other consumer devices.

My colleague David Rothman, at, has fought for years for meaningful e-book standards. He tells me: "It would be great for the IDPF to develop testing tools that can assure that various products truly work with .epub. There's been past talk of this, and along with some others, I'm also in favor of an .epub logo. At the consumer level there could be .epub logos for e-readers, PDAs, and cellphones that came with .epub software. Later when interoperable DRM is possible, a logo of a different color could be used. Then e-books would finally be like audio CDs--easy to shop for, without format hassles. This would be a godsend for libraries, which could offer a lot more e-books, knowing that the standards wouldn't become obsolete." [Emphasis added]