Amazon Kindle for Academia

I’ve mentioned before that I was given a Kindle for my birthday a few weeks back. In fact, the Kindle has become quite the talking point since everyone who knows about it keeps asking me how I find it. Yes, for all our all touch screen mobile phones and ultra powerful laptops, we are utterly bewildered, disgusted and beguiled by the idea of an electronic book…

I’m the first to admit that the Kindle is something I’d never have bought myself since I love a good paperback and second hand bookshops are something of an addiction. However, since it has landed on Planet Alex, I’m giving it a fair go and so far I’m fairly impressed. I’ve compiled a list of pros and cons based on my usage for personal reading and academic work.

Pros

People say they can’t get over not reading from an actual book. You do. Once you are absorbed in the text you seriously won’t notice the lack of pages or the fact you are reading off a screen.

When I’m on the Oxford Tube up and down to London, having a choice of reading matter all bundled up into one small package is great. I used to pack a novel and a slim poetry collection or two to dip into – now I just pack one item.

Loading the content is very easy and the charge lasts much longer than a mobile phone, or even my iPod Touch (which does boast ebook reading apps). It’ll be good for around 1 month away from the power socket.

Most books out of copyright can be sourced online for free and read on the Kindle. If this had been available during my undergraduate course I would have saved a lot of money and probably also read around the course more.

Books that are in copyright are generally a few pounds cheaper than a new copy. I paid only £2.99 for Emma Donoghue’s Room.

When I move house in August I may have fractionally less paperbacks I have been trying to resell for months to lug across the city.

You can add notes and footnotes in the text, and transfer them to your computer. This is a bit clunky as a method of note-taking, but it does work.

Cons

Secondhand would still work out cheaper on lots of texts.

I’m slightly uncomfortable letting Amazon control all of my book consumption since they can screw small publishers. However, when I really thought about it, I do buy most of my books there anyway.

Not all publishers are producing ebook versions. For example, of my core texts for my DPhil, one publisher (Cape) has all the books available to download. Picador has only most recent in ebook format, and Carcanet don’t list any of their titles in that format.

In fact, most of the books available currently are the commercial titles – the biographies and blockbusters. Not much hope of catching literary theory up there in the bestsellers list.

A major bugbear for me – the device has the ability to give page numbers but not all of the ebooks being sold have the page numbers included. If I wanted to reference something for an essay or article things could get difficult. For this reason, I’ll primarily be using the Kindle for recreational reading and not research.

So, if you are prepared to still buy books new when the publisher doesn’t do ebooks, to go for secondhand when the price is better, and can trade off convenience for some titles against the ability to reference properly, then a Kindle could work for you too.

I don’t think this is the death of the book as we know it – heaven forbid –  it is just another option. To become a really viable option for academic users though, they need to iron out the permissions, referencing and get the less commercial publishers and books on board. With time, if these issues were sorted, we could have a fantastic research tool. I could see it working particularly well, for example, with something like this fantastic hypertext of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land.

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