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Kindle FAQs

With the release of better and less-expensive Kindles I’ve been getting a lot of questions from people who know I love mine and are wondering if they should be getting one.

So here, I present my answers to the most Frequently Asked Questions I hear about eReaders like Kindle. If you have any other questions, leave them in the comments and I’ll add answers.

Do I Have To Connect It To My Computer To Buy Book?

No, the Kindle has a built in wireless connection to the web that uses the cellular network to allow you to connect anywhere and slurp books from the Amazon Kindle store into your Kindle.

(The new, cheaper wi-fi only version will only do this in areas that have a wireless network connection to the web. If you can browse the web using your laptop, you’ll be able to connect using this wi-fi only Kindle)

Can I Get Any Book I Want?

No. You can get lots of books. But it’s up to the publishers if they want to allow their books to be available on the Kindle. Sometimes they do sometimes they don’t. But there are hundreds of thousands of books available, including most new releases and publishers are working to get their back catalogues into ereader formats, pretty well. There are also thousands of books from small and independent publishers and self-publishing authors as well as free books: everything from classic literature to business books.

I Hate Reading On Screens. Why Won’t I Hate This?

Reading on an eInk screen is nothing like reading on a backlit computer screen, or phone screen. It looks like paper, the text isn’t pixelly, the contrast doesn’t strain your eyes. It is no more taxing on the eyes than paper. I swear. There is no glare and you don’t have to dog-ear the pages to keep your place.

Will I Be Able To Read Outdoors?

Yes. In fact, the display is more crisp in sunlight than artificial light. Forget your digital camera’s LCD screen or your phone’s screen, even your iPad’s or laptop screen. This is like paper. The brighter the light, the better it likes it. No glare, either.

I haven’t taken my Kindle to a beach, it’s true, but reading in the garden, in parks, and, I dare say, beer gardens, are all very much on the menu.

What Is The Difference Between 3G and Wi-Fi?

Wi-fi is a way to connect to the internet via a wireless internet router. If you can walk around your house and use your laptop or tablet anywhere without plugging it in, you have wi-fi. If you connect to the internet in coffee shops, that’s over wi-fi.

3G is the cellular data network that your smart phone uses. Kindles with 3G connectivity allow you to shop, download and sync book wherever you are (as long as there’s a cell-phone network in range).

Is There A Monthly Fee, Contract or Plan?

Nope. Amazon takes care of the charges for connecting to their “Whispernet” network to download books, even if you’re using the 3G connection.

Can I Lend Books

No. The BN Nook has a lending feature: you can lend Nook editions to other Nook owners IF, and this is a big ‘if’, the publishers approve the feature. Kindle does not currently have this feature and frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if the big publishers block this on their titles.

[Updated 9/2011]: YES. You can lend books to other Kindle users (in the same country/licence region) for 2 weeks. ALSO you can borrow books from your local library.

(There are some caveats: the borrower must be in the same country/licencing region as you; the publisher must have enabled lending and not all have; you must do the lending from the Amazon.com web interface; you cannot access the books you lend while they are away)

You can also share your notes and highlights and see what other people have been highlighting in the same books your reading. It can be amusing or annoying, depending on how you prefer to read (I mostly keep this feature turned off but sometimes use it. I have been known to send quotes directly from my Kindle to Twitter or Facebook, which is kinda cool).

How Much Do Books Cost?

There was a bit of a war going on between publishers and Amazon and readers earlier this year. Publishers wanted nothing to be below $14.99 and readers wanted nothing to be more than $9.99. As things stand now you can pay anything from $0.00 and up for books, but most newer titles are around the $9.99 mark. Things you could pick up in mass-market paperback are usually between $5.99 and $9.99 and some new releases come out around that $14.99 point.

Amazon is manoeuvering behind the scenes to find ways to pressure publishers to keep the prices down, so we’ll see.

How Many Books Does It Hold?

Enough. Seriously, the earlier Kindles hold over 2000 titles (of average size) and the newer ones say they can hold over 5000 titles. That’s plenty for me and probably you. But if you run out of space, you can simply archive titles at Amazon and download them again (no extra charge) whenever you want to access or re-read them).

What Is The Keyboard For?

The keyboard is there so you can type in titles, words, search terms, and even make notes directly on your Kindle.

Say you are reading some giant Russian tome and can’t remember the first time Ilya turned up or who he’s related to. Simply type ‘Ilya” and the Kindle will find all instances of his name, starting with the first. You can jump to that section, then press the ‘back’ button to return to where you were reading, secure in the knowledge that Ilya is, in fact, the farmer from Chapter 3.

If you like to make notes in your books, highlight a passage with the cursor then use the keyboard to make our comments in a little file. Next time you come back to this passage you’ll see the highlight and be able to bring up your note. Also, you can view all your notes and highlights on one screen and back them up at Amazon’s site so you never lose them.

[Updated 9/2011] The new ‘virtual keyboards’ on the newer Kindle models work in one of two ways: the lowest-end model does not have a touch screen. Instead, you use the five-way controller to highlight and select the letter you want, must like on a TV interface with your remote control. The touchscreen Kindles allow you to type directly onto a virtual, on-screen keyboard.

Does it have a dictionary/thesaurus?

Oh yes. As you’re reading, if you get stuck on a work, just move the cursor to the start of the word and a definition pops up, unobtrusively, at the bottom of the screen.

[Updated 9/2011]: The Kindle Touch models include X-Ray:  relevant Wikipedia entries downloaded with  each title and accessible from inside the book. For example, if your book mentions the Boer War, you will be able to highlight the term and have a Wikipedia explanation pop up on-screen.

Will It Read To Me

Yes, the Kindle can read to you. It’s no substitute for a great audio book recording (see my analysis here) but it’s nice if you’re in a pinch. Also, you can turn the volume down and let it just turn the pages for you while you read (great for knitters, crafters and moms with babies). It’s not available on all titles, again because the traditional publishing industry is scared by all this progress.

All models — except the $79 model — support audio content, so you can load your own mp3s or Audible content on to your Kindle and listen to it through built-in speakers or through headphones.

But I Love Real Books….

I do too. I love the feel, the smell, the heft of real books.

But what I love even more is reading them.

With my Kindle I can read them anywhere. There are smart-phone apps that sync with your Kindle account so you can read a few pages on your phone if you’re out and about and forgot to bring your Kindle. It starts up right where you left off, even on a different device.

I love never having to remember where I put my book down. never having to find scraps of paper for bookmarks, or cursing when I lose my place.

I love being able to hear an interview on the radio and buy the book while the author is still talking, all without leaving my house.

I love that I’m reducing my carbon footprint by not driving to a bookstore and buying a dead-tree book that has been processed and printed and shipped half way around the world (an awful lot of books are printed in Asia, you know)

What is WhisperSync?

Their ‘WhisperSync’ technology means that you can read your book on different devices and, as long as they are connected to the Internet, each device will remember what page you were on and automatically ‘open the book at the right point.

Should I Buy A Kindle Or A Nook?

I’m sentimental. I love the fact that Amazon did this because they believed it in. B&N did it because it made business sense so I’ll stick with Kindle as long as they make it and support it.

(the very savvy Chris Brogan has a compelling argument here for sticking with Amazon and Kindle.)

[NB This section compares only the original e-ink Nook and the e-ink Kindles] The Nook has a couple of features that aren’t part of Kindle. One is the color screen at the bottom that lets you browse by cover art. As a Kindle-lover, I see this as unecessary frippery that’ll probably drain the battery and cause the end of world civilization. But you might like it better than browsing the text-only list of titles on the Kindle.

That Nook Lend-To-A-Friend feature is appealing too. I’m just not convinced that a, the publishers will go along with it and b, that Kindle won’t implement it too. Kindle and Nook now allow for lending to a friend (as long as the publisher allows it). Kindle has partnered with libraries to allow you to borrow from your local library’s collection.

The selection of books is pretty much the same (why would publishers go with one device and not the other, and reduce their sales?).

Kindle does not support the ePub format, the open-source format that allows you to transfer books between different ereader platforms.

Kindle or Nook? I guess it comes down to whether you want to buy your books from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

What If I Still Don’t Want An eReader?

You can still read ebooks – on your computer or smart phone. Amazon has created ‘apps’ (applications or programs) that allow you to access Kindle content on other devices.

If I Can Read On My Computer, Phone Or Tablet, Why Would I Buy A Kindle?

[Updated 9/2011]: Amazon now offers a Click here to buy through my affiliate link (I get a kickback) or here to buy with no links: http://amazon.com/kindle

Want To Know More?

Read my other articles:

Kindle Touch Screen eReaders and the Kindle Fire Tablet

Nook and Kindle Comparison, from when the Nook was released last year

How To Publish Your Book On Kindle

Kindle 3 – Should I Buy One Now?

Using the iPad as an eReader and how it stacks up to Kindle

Kindle Software Update

[Updated 9/28/11: Want to read about the Kindle Fire and Kindle Touch? Click here.]

Now I’m sure that this is a coincidence, given that Barnes & Noble’s new ereader the Nook comes out today, but I just got an email from Amazon saying that my Kindle now supports PDFs. And you can rotate the screen, to give yourself more screen real estate, for those wider layouts.

(One of the glitzy selling points of Nook seems to be its color touch screen, for displaying book covers and controlling the machine, but another feature that people were excited about was the native support for PDFs. Up until now, with Kindle, you’ve had to email them to yourself and pay a fee, or convert them to Kindle format with third-party software, and lose the formatting.)

Amazon says that you can just wait and let your Kindle update over the wireless connection, but I was impatient. So I’ve downloaded the update, followed the instructions for manually installing it, and am about to play.Kindle Software Upgrade

OK, up and running.

I’ve dragged a PDF doc to my Kindle (via the USB cable) and am opening it.

First Impressions — and Hyperlinks

The first thing I notice is that it looks pretty good.

The second thing I notice is that there is a hyperlink right there on the first page. I wonder if it works… No. There five-way navigation button (that would usually pop a little hand onto the screen and allow me to annotate my document or click on things) does nothing. Since a PDF is essentially a photocopy of a page, I’m not entirely surprised. However, on my computer this document is a dynamic PDF, which does allow me to click on the hyperlinks, so it’s a bit of a shame that the Kindle, with its web access, doesn’t.

(To be fair, I put the same doc on my iPhone – with the GoodReads app – and couldn’t click on the hyperlink either. I suspect it may have something to do with how the hyperlink was originally created. Unless, at creation, you tell a PDF document to make your hyperlinks active, you’ll end up with a dumb document on your computer screen too.)

The third thing I notice? Oh, it’s still black and white. ;)

On To The Text

Native PDF as-isOK, so I scroll into the text. It’s pretty small, and this is a PDF, not a tagged text, so I can’t use the built-in font resizer (that’s a short-coming of PDFs, which were designed to preserve a set layout. Useful sometimes, but not so necessary for most books, I think).

However, I use the nifty new rotate function to turn the page.Kindle Rotate Function

Much better. 1

Rotated PDF on Kindle

Although now there’s three ‘next page’s to read one PDF page, which means three e-Ink flickers to read one PDF page. That might be a bit much.

However, when I go back to the menu, to open up a new document, the menu is in landscape mode too. And the five-way button automatically compensates (so “down” on the button, even in this orientation, is still “down” on the screen). That’s nice.

And you can read regular books in this format, which makes the largest font size more readable (you get more words to a line).

Oh, and there’s a new ‘words to a line’ function, where you can tell it to add fewer words to a line. it doesn’t seem to affect the kerning (spacing between characters) as much as make the margins bigger).

They also give you the option of which way you rotate the text. This means you can have the keypad on the left or on the right. It’s a little thing, but it might affect your comfort. (it’s also means you can now read upside down in portrait mode too, if that tickles your fancy!)

The PDF Problem

I think the PDF support will always be a little clunky, until PDFs go away, because the point of a PDF is to tie the text to one layout (and to stop the text from being scraped out of the document and changed or pirated). A large part of the point of an ereader is to allow you to customise the layout and play with the text to make it fit you. (If not, why aren’t they all just PDF-viewing machines?)

There is an existing problem with PDFs, and that is the way designers use them. Even reading a PDF on a computer screen annoys me, because they are almost always designed for a portrait, 8.5″x11″ printed page, which is absolutely wrong for every monitor I’ve ever met.

For documents with charts and graphs, and for poetry and art books, PDFs make sense (for now.

But for novels and informational plain non-fiction PDFs are a really dumb way to display information and I think they’ll go away in time. Or maybe evolve radically.

Until then, I’m willing to bet that Amazon is going to take the flack because designers are going to continue to design PDFs to fit on a 8.5×11″ piece of paper, and the Kindle is many things but it’s not that.

In short

It’s nice to be able to drag and drop PDFs to my Kindle, because sometimes PDFs are how the information comes. Designers, however, have not been designing their PDFs to be read on a monochrome, e-Ink page, and it shows. If the designer uses a font color other than black, or if they think in 8.5″x11″ pages (which, let’s face it, a lot of them do. That’s why they’re using PDFs: to make sure we plebeian readers don’t mess up their beautiful layout), then it’s never going to look great on a smaller e-Ink screen. But, for the most part, it’s workable.

  1. The book in these screenshots is Michael Stelzner’s excellent How To Write A White Paper.

Open Letter to the Authors' Guild re: Text To Speech on the Kindle 2

I read that, in response to your complaint, Amazon is preparing to give authors and publishers the choice of whether to offer their books with text-to-speech.


But I’m writing to ask you to encourage your members to tell their publishers to say ‘yes’.

I understand the contract issues and the rights issues. I understand the ‘slippery slope’ argument.

From my own experience I say: I love to read. I sometimes buy audio books, but I really love to read. In fact I hate to stop reading. With the text-to-speech function, I don’t have to. I’m getting through books faster than ever because I no longer have to put them down when I cook dinner; do dishes; drive to pick up my pre-schooler…etc. etc. I’m already buying more books because of this.

I would not buy the audio book of every printed book I buy. You are losing not sales and it is not decreasing demand for audio books (yet, yes, I know you’re arguing for the future. I’m arguing for people like me who will always want to read the majority of their books).

Please encourage your members to think of this as a ‘value added’ feature for readers, rather than a competitor to their audio book rights. Please encourage them to say ‘yes’. Please encourage them to give this a chance. If it does turn out to be A Bad Thing, then you have your clause from Amazon. But please let your members know this could be an exciting new technology that readers might (or might not) love. Let us find out.

In addition, please consider my friend, a mother of two young boys, who has been losing her sight for years now. I am taking my Kindle over to ‘meet’ her this week. I know she’s going to be excited about the variable text size (Large Print doesn’t have its own license, does it?), and thrilled by the text-to-speech. She might have bought one and become a reader again, but now I’m not so sure, since I can’t guarantee her that all the titles will be available.

Thank you for all the work you do to protect the livelihoods of the authors who add so much to my life. Now, go and assure them there are honest readers out there who just want to squeeze a little more reading time out of each day! (And you could refer them to Neil Gaiman’s experiment where his publisher offered “American Gods” free at their website and saw a resultant jump in sales as people used the freebie as a ‘try before you buy’. Giving readers choices and flexibility and freedom can be a good thing).

Leave Comments Here

Kindle 2 Text-To-Speech

OK, so the Kindle 2 has this feature where a robo-voice will read your book to you.

The Author’s Guild is up in arms because, generally, authors sell the audio-book rights for a fee that goes some way to making up for the pitiful amount most authors are payed in advances and royalties (they are not all JK Rowling). It’s easy to mock the Author’s Guild for this, because the robo voice is, currently, so inadequate especially compared with a talented voice actor.

I feel some sympathy for the Guild, until I remember how stupid they’re being by fighting this.

Jamais Cascio has a really great article on the topic, which sums up the situation in a way that had me nodding vigorously :

The reason that [The Authors’ Guild’s] Blount’s wrong is that he’s just trying to hold back the tide, fighting a battle that was lost long ago. The reason that the 21st century digital writers [who mock the robovoice] are wrong is that they’ve forgotten the Space Invaders rule: Aim at where your target will be, not at where it is.

(thanks to WWDN:In Exile for this link)

He goes on to make some very realistic proposals about where the technology might go that would realise the Authors’ Guild’s fears. And then he points out that it doesn’t matter. You can fight it all you like (the record industry did), it’s going to happen and you should, instead, be expending your energy on figuring out a way to work with the approaching technology.

I think we are a very, very long way from the technology ever truly replacing a great reading. But quite apart from that, the fact remains that most people don’t listen to audio books. And why? Because they are phenomenally expensive.

Let’s look at the New York Times bestsellers list: James Patterson’s latest novel is up there. In hardback its list price is $27.99. The audio book is $39.99! For a novel. For a novel that will, in a few months come out in paperback and be sold at Walmart for under $10.

Add to that, a lot of audio books are read by mediocre readers.

But all is not lost.

The Author’s Guild should consider that as the text-to-speech technology advances, it might just be that it gets people MORE used to listening to their books, and increases demand for high quality audio books. ( I, for one, will never be able to resist hearing my favourite authors read their own works — well, those that are good at it. Neil Gaiman and Douglas Adams spring to mind).

Think of wine-drinkers. How many people would risk a day’s pay on an expensive bottle of wine the first time they drink it? Precious few. But offer them a tasty $6 bottle and you let them edge their way into the market. They’ll keep drinking $6 bottles of wine or they’ll work their way up to Dom Perignon, or stay somewhere in the middle. But they’re drinking wine and taking it to other people’s houses and now they are in your wine-making world where you, as a wine-maker, can reach them.

I love my Kindle, and I understand that it might eventually put some mediocre actors out of business. And it might decrease sales for some audio books (mostly in non-fiction, according to my personal crystal ball). And I love the fact that desktop publishing and digital printing has made it faster, easier and cheaper to publish books, even though I understand that all the make-up men at the publishers have been out of their jobs for 20 years.

But yesterday I spend $18 on a pack of six greetings cards that were hand-fed in to a vintage letterpress machine by a boutique printing firm. And I’m really, really excited about seeing them (and touching them) when they arrive.

There will always be a market for a high quality product, as long as that product is relevant. And when it’s not? Well, telegraph operators are pretty much out of luck these days, and I’m not sure that any amount of lawsuits is going to do them any good.


These are two very good posts from the trenches: Neil Gaiman has a conversation with his agent, and the agent discovers she might have some more thinking to do.)

Wil Wheaton does a side-by-side comparison: reading from his latest book “Sunken Treasure” and allowing the Text-To-Speech technology to do it too. For a true comparnison, here is my Kindle 2 reading the same passage (recorded with a microphone, so you can hear the speaker quality too!)

(On a related note, Wil recently released this book in print and then offered a PDF download on the ‘please don’t be a jerk and forward it to all your friends’ license. Sales skyrocketed, but every time the digital download threatened to outpace the print book, he saw a jump in print sales too. His conclusion was that people were reading the PDF, then deciding they wanted a nice hard copy. This matches Neil Gaiman’s experience giving away ‘American Gods’.)

Update: Neil Gaiman has just posted a reminder about Lenny Henry’s audiobook version of Anansi Boys, which I love. It adds so much that I can’t imagine ever reading the printed book. It adds so much that it should kill this argument stone dead. Seriously. Have a listen…