Improving the Kindle

By Felix Salmon
May 4, 2009

I subscribe to three daily newspapers: the WSJ and NYT get delivered on dead trees to my door, while the FT gets delivered electronically to my Kindle, ever since I got given the Amazon reader for my birthday last month. I also read all three on the web. But when it comes to off-web weekday reading, the Kindle is trouncing the dead trees, at least in terms of the amount of my attention it’s getting. It’s much smaller and lighter and more convenient than a newspaper — it’s easy to dip into on the subway or in other pockets of dead time.

With a larger Kindle coming this week designed specifically for newspapers, I share a certain amount of hope that newspapers will be able to take full advantage of this new medium. On my wishlist: that the paper is updated more than just once a day; that the Kindle subscription can be bundled with paper and online subscriptions; that a mechanism can be found to easily email stories to oneself or to friends; and that there be some way of searching a newspaper for a story without having to try and work out which “issue” of the newspaper that story appeared in.

As for the Kindle more generally, my number-one gripe is its draconian whitelist policy when it comes to emailed books. At the moment, I can give you my kindle email address, and you can send me your book in electronic form, but that won’t do any good unless and until I add your email address to my whitelist. If you’re not on my whitelist, you don’t get a bounce message saying that the book wasn’t received, and I don’t have any ability to retrieve your book from some kind of spam filter. Instead, it just disappears. Once I add your email to my whitelist, any books you sent me before I added your email still won’t arrive.

The Kindle is a great way of sending books to journalists, who tend to have desks and bookshelves piled up with unsolicited books they’ll never lug around with them and read . On the other hand, if they’re easily accessible on the Kindle, they’re much more likely to be read. What’s more, if you email an unprotected PDF file to my kindle address, I can’t copy it or email it to anybody else: the book is perfectly secure that way. But because I have no way of turning Amazon’s whitelist feature off, you can’t just send me that book, because it’ll never arrive. With luck Amazon will fix this problem soon, and the publishing industry generally will start spending a lot less time and money sending out physical books to people who don’t want them and didn’t request them.

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