This week has witnessed much talk about Amazon’s possible release of a new, larger Kindle eReader designed for newspapers and textbooks, culminating in an article in the New York Times that claims confirmation of such an impending announcement. That’s on top of talk from magazine publisher Hearst’s announcement that it intends to produce its own reader, not to mention the ever-present rumors of an Apple tablet or netbook suitable for reading books and news.

Given all the fuss, I thought this would be a good time to talk about why I sent back the Kindle 2.0 I bought two months ago, after trying it for a few weeks. I’m sure many Kindle users are different sorts of readers than I am, and perusing novels or business books on the thing might prove far less dissonant than I found the experience. But I read all kinds of books, and I tend to use them in ways the Kindle is not designed to support.

So here we go with…

Top Ten Reasons I Returned my Kindle.

10. But you got to read last time!

Intervening in children’s disagreements about who gets to use the Nintendo DS or choose the television program is one thing. Inviting kids to argue about who gets to read the book is a perverse cultural regression.

9. Bits can flip, but pages cannot

Print books are random access; Kindle books are not. I can flip arbitrarily through a print book, looking for a chapter, passage, margin note, or dog-ear. I have to search or browse laboriously through a Kindle book to the same effect.

8. What do you read, my lord? Words, words, C34df$eE

One of my planned uses of the thing was for reading long unpublished documents like student papers, journal submissions, etc. But when I tried to move a 600 page PDF manuscript I was reviewing to the device, it mangled the thing horrifically.

7. Damn, my book died

Despite the Kindle’s very long battery life, the cognitive dissonance inherent in worrying about whether or not my books are suitably charged was too much to bear.

6. Please insure your novel is in the off position

Print books can be read during takeoff and landing; Kindle books cannot. That may seem like a detail to some of you, but for us frequent travelers, takeoff and landing are horrific, empty swaths of time to be filled only by the ennui of SkyMall.

5. A royal(ty) pain

Those of us who write books like it when people buy them, because we get royalties. Royalties are usually based on a percentage of the list price. Ebooks are not only cheaper than print books, but also most publishers offer a reduced royalty on such editions. Such matters might make for more sales of certain titles, but for those of us writing heady non-fiction, our books are unlikely to offer as much in return.

4. I dropped my book in the parking lot

I’m already worried enough about all the other delicate doo-dads in my life: mobile phone, laptop, handsfree, camera, card reader, sunglasses. Worrying about the fragility of my books is a burden I’m not yet ready to bear.

3. What page was I just on?

The Kindle is made for reading forward. It features giant “Next Page” buttons on either side of the screen, and a single, much tinier “Previous Page” button on the left side only. Given my inclination to flip back by going left and forward by going right, I often lost my place while moving around between pages.

2. The death of the bookshelf

When visiting a friend’s house or office, one of the first things I do is peruse their bookshelves. The books we read (or even the ones we just display!) say something about our interests and personalities. But the Kindle turns the messy, living bookshelf into a dead and unwieldy list of titles.

1. A book is a flowerbed

People who don’t beat up their books aren’t really reading. Books are meant to be dog-eared, written in, bent, filled with receipts and papers, and otherwise turned into memory palaces for the things that go on while we carry them. A book is a little garden in which we grow ideas. The Kindle is a rock.

Admittedly, some of these gripes are temporary concerns, matters sure to be resolved in later editions (the PDF conversion issue). Others will evolve as the marketplace shifts to electronic books (the question of royalties). But others are more material concerns that may never be addressed by any electronic book reader.

Surely our patterns of reading will change, and eventually we may even forget what print books were like. But as for me, I’m going to put off beginning that process. At least for now.

published May 4, 2009


  1. Joe Clark

    Try importing a tagged PDF and see what happens.

  2. Ian Bogost

    As rumored, here’s the new Kindle DX. It’s bigger, which is nice I suppose, and rotates to landscape view, and offers an internal PDF reader, purportedly solving reason #8 above. Otherwise, the DX is just a bigger version of the original.

  3. nick

    Regarding point 2, as I once heard Henry Jenkins say, ebooks don’t satisfy an important need that academics have: To display a huge array of books on bookshelves so as to provide evidence, when people come over to visit, that they’re learnéd.

    We laughed at that and pretended that it was a joke.

  4. Kat

    I’m afraid I simply like the feel of a book in my hands. I like holding them, feeling the pages, the sound of paper sliding of paper, and the smell of a brand new book from the store or an ancient old book from the stacks in the University Library. Not to mention I hate reading text on digital screens. Digital test (even on the Kindle) hurt my eyes.

  5. Diego Planas Rego

    10) Please…

    9) I think is easier in Kindle to find your way… you just search the last place you were in, or your notes, or your highlights, or your bookmarks… in books you’re lost unless you remember the page…

    8) Being using it to read scientific articles for my master thesis, with no problems… I’m guessing you used the incorrect program to export them…

    7) OK… but I mean… really?

    6) Bring a book and the Kindle!!!! That’s what I do every weekend!

    5) TOTALLY AGREE. I only have e-books where the author is dead. I buy still tree books for the one’s alive.

    4) No comments. Whoever is clumsy, clumsy is.

    3) I guess you had it for less than 3 hours. It is not THAT difficult to get used to.

    2) I’m guessing you’re quite… old? All of my friends read (well, not all, but a big majority). 98.6% of them don’t own their books or they have them lent or given to the Red Cross after reading.

    1) Yes and no. I enjoy doing that with some books, but fiction books… I’ve never done it… seems strange to annotate Shakespeare.

    But still… nice post.

  6. Tom S

    … and one more reason, one that I found out:

    Leaving your Kindle in the seatback of an airplane and losing it forever is incredibly more expensive than doing the same thing with a single book or a few printed-out journal articles.

  7. Ian Bogost

    Tom: ugh.

  8. Ernest Adams

    All excellent points. One thing that would resolve some of them is for E-book readers to use non-volatile memory (flash RAM or similar) and to have solar panels on the back so they can be recharged anywhere.

  9. Lindsay

    Writers make more money off ebooks then paperbacks. Also more friendly for the environment. If a flood or fire happened in your house what would you take. Your bookshelf with 1000 books on it or your kindle with 3500 books in it? Bite me old man.

  10. Lame lame lame

    This is the lamest list of reasons ever.

  11. Prestamos Personales

    Regarding point 2, as I once heard Henry Jenkins say, ebooks don’t satisfy an important need that academics have: when people come over to visit, that they’re learned.

    Leaving your Kindle in the seatback of an airplane and losing it forever is incredibly more expensive than doing the same thing with a single book or a few printed-out journal articles.