Thoughts on the Paperwhite

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About six weeks ago, I took the plunge and bought a Kindle Paperwhite, the latest Amazon ebook reader.

I had dragged my feet on this, but the Significant Other and the Younger Person — early adopters when it comes to technology — loved their Paperwhites and seemed to be reading more because the devices were much easier to carry than actual books.

Like most people over the age of 12, I grew up reading books printed on paper and, more recently, books on my iPad.

Because I’ve been traveling around this year, getting a smaller device made sense. But from my point of view, this Paperwhite thing is not an unmixed blessing. Some thoughts:
Upside

1. My Paperwhite will hold between 1,000 and 2,000 books, which is considerably more than even my largest handbag.

2. As with my iPad, the Paperwhite makes it easy to get books. There is not much of a discount over printed copies of best sellers, but plenty of classics are available at minimal or no cost. Plus, many libraries now make ebooks available for time-limited borrowing.

3. The Paperwhite is backlit and easy on the eyes. I actually turned the light down a good bit, per my own taste. The type size can be adjusted as well.

4. Charging the Paperwhite (it requires its own separate charger, alas) takes just a few hours. Amazon claims that one charge will last six weeks, but my observation suggests that this may be an optimistic assumption.
Irritating Details

1. The Paperwhite displays advertisements, mostly for books, when the device is turned off. Most of these books are mighty obscure, and I’m not inclined to investigate them further. My guess is that Jeff Bezos and the gang collect ad revenue or a cut of the sales from impoverished authors for these slightly annoying promotions; if you want to opt out of the ads, it will cost you $20. Either way, Amazon wins.

2. Some of the Paperwhite features are silly. If your finger lights on a given word, say “the” or “house,” up pops a helpful dictionary definition of the word. Even people with very limited vocabularies will not appreciate this.

Another annoying feature is the underlining of sentences that previous readers of the same book have highlighted as significant. Every single one of these sentences is a broad truism. Personally, I don’t care if 151 people have highlighted a given sentence. I’m pretty comfortable figuring out what is important to me.

3. The Paperwhite’s operations are more intuitive than the earlier iPad reader, but it still takes some time with youtube how-to videos to learn how to work this gadget.

This is not a problem people had with genuine books, except perhaps the generation that lived during the period when when reading formats switched from scrolls to bound books.

4. Going back and forth on a Paperwhite is a pain in the neck. This is not so true with nonfiction books, where chapter names give a good idea where to look for a datum or discussion you want to reread.

But fiction is difficult. When I read a novel, I sometimes want to trace back to see how the writer set up an action or described a character. While it is true that you can mark pages as you go along, often a question arises only later. In a book-book, you can open to the general area where you think the passage may be and page back and forth to find what you seek. Not so with a Paperwhite or, indeed, any ebook.

Recently I read an interesting, funny ebook that I wanted to discuss on my blog. I looked for several specific passages for about a half hour and then gave up. Too much work.
Philosophical Issues

1. There are questions about what you buy when you buy an ebook. If I read a traditional book and know that I won’t read it again, I can give it to a friend or donate it to the library for its annual book sale. Not so with an ebook.

2. Amazon collects information on how we use ebooks. This is not exactly an invasion of privacy — Amazon probably won’t report that Kim Kardashian read only 57 percent of a given book, assuming she has time to read between photo shoots and all. But the company can, and almost certainly does, aggregate data on how far most people read into a given book. This generates information that can be used when choosing whether to promote an author’s subsequent book and how to price that book, among other things.

Maybe this shouldn’t bug me, but it does. Again, when I buy a traditional book, it’s my business whether I read it or not.

3. There are other ownership issues. The following comes from a Tim Guy article, “The Best Ebook Reader,” at thewirecutter.com. (The site critiques digital products, among others, and collects a small margin when its readers use the information to make purchases.)

When you purchase an ebook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, or Google,
that book is protected with a digital rights management scheme, which means that the book is available for reading only on devices that support each store’s DRM system. For example, you can read Amazon-purchased ebooks only on Kindle devices or in Amazon’s Kindle apps for other platforms—you can’t view them on a Barnes & Noble or Kobo reader.

In addition, DRM raises questions of ownership. This issue first came to light in 2009 when Amazon remotely deleted digital copies of certain George Orwell books from some Kindles. A recent example (in early 2016) was Barnes & Noble’s announcement that the company would stop selling Nook content in the UK, leaving customers wondering whether they would lose access to previously purchased content. (Barnes & Noble says it has partnered with Sainsbury’s to offer “continued access to the vast majority” of titles, but it has provided no information yet about what “majority” means or which titles customers may lose.)

This isn’t an issue specific to any one seller, and it isn’t a problem with the DRM-free ebooks you can purchase from some independent sellers or download from sources such as Project Gutenberg. But DRM is worth keeping in mind, because it means, among other things, that once you commit to an ebook reader, you’ll likely end up sticking with it because you won’t be able to transfer your DRM-protected ebooks to another e-reader platform.

4. I can remember when people got annoyed about Borders running small bookstores out of the book market. Then Amazon ran Borders out of the book market.

Amazon now is the big daddy of all ebook sellers. By using the Paperwhite, it seems as if I have been enlisted to help that company run all the other, smaller players out of what is left of the book market.

Troubling.

 

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