Opinion

Felix Salmon

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.

Comments
14 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Glad to see someone connected to both finance and technology on the Kindle bandwagon. I’ve been ramping up reading on the Kindle as well (though it is more that I can carry a collection of books on a plane and not a newspaper on a subway). But would really like to see better LAYOUT on the thing. Reading the NYT on it is still like reading news on LYNX way back in the day. Much like the FT Electronic Edition, I’ll wait for the day when they can get a good graphical format suitable for reading the news in a non-linear format.

And come’on, PAYING for blogs on it!?

 

Ummm, I’m seriously confused. Why do you want people to email files (html, txt, pdf etc) to your kindle address? They should email it to you regular address. And if you want to read it on your kindle, it takes approximately 15 seconds for you to email it to your kindle address where it’s instantaneously converted into a kindle-readable file and downloaded to your kindle. If you want to forward it to someone else, you have it on your computer to forward it whenever you like. The person you forward it to can choose how to read the file — on computer, sending it by email to kindle, converting it to another e-reader format, etc.

 

Putting a newspaper on Kindle takes away the pleasure of spreading out the real thing, skimming through the headlines and pages, finding the expected plus many surprises you might not have found otherwise and also seeing how the editors put news in context. Where was it played? Top of the fold? Buried with the liposuction ads? It can also be part of a ritual, such as reading the morning daily, WSJ and NYT with breakfast and coffee. It’s like settling in with a familiar friend instead of a piece of equipment.

P.S. Also, the “dead tree” reference is irrelevant. Newsprint comes from forests that are specifically planted and harvested for pulp, then replanted.

Posted by tgable | Report as abusive
 

Also Felix, you could just setup a mailbox that autoforwards to your @kindle.com address. Hmm. I smell web app necessary.

 

You know what else takes away that pleasure? Newspapers going out of business.

I love when the paper-philes talk about all of the sentimental rewards and “benefits” of paper over electronic, but are unprepared to pay the premium associated with receiving those “benefits.” If you’d like to pay three times as much to get your “familiar friend” delivered to you, where it will take up space until it is recycled or otherwise discarded, while the rest of us receive the information on our digital devices, be our guests. Just understand that to either (a) watch newspapers fail because they fail to embrace forward thinking, or (b) expect everyone to bear the costs of your lingering sentimentality, is to not *quite* be helping matters.

Posted by madiq | Report as abusive
 

On my kindle 2, I get to decide how the articles are laid out, not some jackass editor who decides what goes in the top-left corner. I appreciate the organic process of “settling in with a familiar friend” too, but that is a ritual I can live without. The convenience factor of wireless delivery, admittedly for a voracious reader, is worth much of the price.

 

The problem with people emailing an electronic version to me, or to an auto-forwarder, is that at that point I have a copy which I then could, if I wanted, disseminate to anybody at the click of a mouse. And publishers are understandably reluctant to go there.

Posted by Felix Salmon | Report as abusive
 

how is this improving the Kindle?
Where are the practical improvements, I read my kindle voraciously, the two things I would like to see (besides more content)…
1) a better handle for reading, conventional reading puts my thumb between the pages of a paperback, this keeps the book open to my page, but with a kindle this is hardly necessary, how about a range of fitted handles, something that would allow you to flip a page without streching your fingers out.
2) how about small screw holes so you could attach a booklight, and this should be located on the bottom of the device so it will not make the kindle top heavy.

As for newspapers, I see them going a different direction, I hope that they go toward people being able to subscribe to only the content they want. I read four newspapers regularly, but I only read 2 or 3 sections of three of them (Chicago Tribune, NY Times, Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal).
Hopefully in the future I will be able to subscribe to exactly what I want to read, if I could do that I would read them on my kindle.
This would benefit the news organizations greatly, allowing targetted advertising, it would allow newspapers to only put three one or four good sections instead of 6 or seven sub par sections (as has happened with the Chicago Tribune).
A paper like the Tribune could do sections like Chicagoland, Chicago Sports, Tempo (or living). They could eliminate everything on the national and world fronts. Someone who wants national or world coverage already needs to buy a different paper anyway.

Posted by Rollins Warden | Report as abusive
 

Felix – one can easily take content off of the Kindle. Just plug it in to your pc and you can see the individual files listed. Copying them off the Kindle is just a simple drag/drop.

Having files emailed directly to your Kindle email address provides no security advantage over auto-forwarding them to your Kindle.

Posted by Stewie | Report as abusive
 

I’m hoping the NYT ports across a version of Times Reader, which I think is the best online implementation of a newspaper. More thoughts on that topic here: http://blogs.reuters.com/richard-baum/20 09/04/15/what-makes-a-good-electronic-ne wspaper/

 

@Felix Salmon

“The problem with people emailing an electronic version to me, or to an auto-forwarder, is that at that point I have a copy which I then could, if I wanted, disseminate to anybody at the click of a mouse. And publishers are understandably reluctant to go there.”

Valid point but this problem has been solved some time ago via DRM (Digital Rights Management) containers. An MP3 file that you get via iTunes is a good example of such a DRM containter. That is, you can forward this MP3 to anyone you want but they cannot listen to it (or read it) without a valid key. Kindle should incorporate similar technology

Posted by Julian Kaljuvee | Report as abusive
 

Felix,

I worked as the software director on much of the Kindle software. The white list feature was intended as a form of spam filter. The wireless costs are quite high, (although acceptable for the business model), and without a white list it was too easy to overwhelm the feature.

You could set up a proxy email address that forwards to the Kindle if you wanted to get around it.

It is gratifying you are enjoying the product.

Posted by bob goodwin | Report as abusive
 

Most Americans do not read. Anything. This is not going to make a bit of difference in the publishing world. Twitter is more relevant. The people who enjoy books and magazines want to hold books and magazines for the illustrations, and photographs and as decorative pieces. It is very hard to sell creative content in the modern marketplace with an ocean of free content out there, you have to offer something unique. The kindle might work as a mobile editing tool in conjunction with google documents. This is how I sell my e books, so my readers can add their own content, if they wish. I do sell books and digital film, but only because my readers want to meet me(I deliver in person on occasion) and I am willing to work blue in my little satires. I also know how to photograph myself so I look like I used to rather than how I look in my day to day life. It is a form of magic in a way..and magic is what you need to sell creative content in this corporate controlled media oligarchy. This is why you will now see huge stars tweeting, and showing up at screenings in the heartland to actually speak with their fans. writers have been doing this for years.

 

Re Kindle and newspapers, I have a question I hope you might be able to answer to help me work out if I want a Kindle.
If a newspaper doesn’t generate all of its own articles, and instead carries stories from Reuters, AP, AFP, Bloomberg etc alongside its own journalists’ stories, does it have the right to reprint all of the stories that appear in each day’s edition on Kindle? Or does it strip out all the wire stories, leaving white space/nothing where the wire stories went? Are there ways around this copy right problem for newspapers?

Posted by Lee Brown | Report as abusive
 

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