by Russ Roberts on June 27, 2008

in Books

I broke down and bought a Kindle.

What I like after taking it on a four day trip:

Having a bunch of different stuff to read that takes up very little space.

The act of reading on it. It’s surprisingly pleasant. I find myself reading quickly.

How relatively easy it is to take notes.

How incredibly easy it is to mark a passage

The ability to download a bunch of samples to read before you buy and buying the one you’re in the mood to read.

Buying books that don’t clutter my house. I have a lot of books already.

What I don’t like

Not having books around the house I’ve read to pick up and share with my family and friends

Reading the Sunday New York Times. It’s just not as much fun. Not even close. Didn’t really even want to read it. I’d really have to want to read a particular article.

Having to turn it off when the plane takes off or lands.

It’s a weird thought to think that this might be the future of reading. It’s possible that it might be. It would be sad to lose the opportunity to look at a shelf of books and figure out what I want to read next or what I want to share with my kids. But it might be worth it if it means you can carry around a few thousand books with you all the time which is the way it’s heading.

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Rex Pjesky June 27, 2008 at 4:26 pm

I wonder if the old book by Ben Bova called "cyberbooks" is available on the Kindle?

Virtual Memories June 27, 2008 at 4:41 pm

Another one of the drawbacks of the Kindle is that you can't display highbrow cachet by showing off the cover of whatever you're reading (insert Gravity's Rainbow joke here).

Owning one of these makes me think about the sort of books that I want physical copies of, as opposed to ones that I'm content only having digital versions of. That ties into the "inability to share what you're reading" that you brought up.

I started my rambles about the Kindle here, but really need to write more about it.

Russ Roberts June 27, 2008 at 4:47 pm

Virtual Memories,

But you can also hide the low-brow material you enjoy. Sort of. With a new device like this, other people want to touch and hold and explore it. They can quickly discover you are reading Robert Ludlum.

Alan June 27, 2008 at 5:09 pm

Does this mean we'll see a Kindle edition of "The Price of Everything" now?

kd June 27, 2008 at 5:22 pm

My fear is about the way Kindle distributes content is that it lets one company monopolize this important sector of the economy. For the free market to work, there has to be more than one company.

ak mike June 27, 2008 at 5:31 pm

kd – not to worry. Although Kindle is getting all the buzz on these blogs, the truth is that there are scores of high-quality online digital book stores, and numerous devices similar to Kindle – I, for example, own the Sony PRS-505, and there is also the Iliad and the Cybook. More devices and more stores are on their way. Check out for more info.

Ironman June 27, 2008 at 5:33 pm

Speaking of air travel, I wonder if the Kindle's designers are considering a feature that would allow users to turn off the radio (cellular) connection without having to shut down the unit in the 2.0 model? That kind of feature would allow readers to be able to keep reading during those takeoffs and landings.

FreedomLover June 27, 2008 at 6:02 pm

Kindle is too expensive right now($359) on I'm going to wait another year.

Martin Brock June 27, 2008 at 6:15 pm

It would be sad to lose the opportunity to look at a shelf of books and figure out what I want to read next or what I want to share with my kids.

Only for you. Your kids will never miss it.

I don't have a Kindle yet, but it's a very attractive device. I'm a gadget geek and bought two earlier attempts to create the ebook, the Rocket ebook and the ebookman, both of which used LCDs and fell well short of the mark. The Kindle's keyboard put me off when I first saw it. Seems a waste of space better devoted to a larger page. But the wireless delivery, with network charges included in the cost of still reasonably priced ebooks, is a great business model. The look of the Sony Reader appeals to me more, but the buy-a-book-anywhere delivery model makes the Kindle a breakthrough device that could finally realize the ebook concept. It's inevitable. Dead tree books will be around for awhile, but the days are numbered.

Your willingness to take the plunge may push me over the edge too. You should work on commission.

Dan June 27, 2008 at 10:06 pm

Lately I've been thinking about the ability to e-mail things to my Kindle. The cost is 10 cents PER DOCUMENT. Your "document" could be a book, say the Wealth of Nations (which otherwise costs $5 on the Kindle, iirc). You just need the text in HTML or MS Word format. The result is nicely formatted and looks just like your purchased content. It seems there's a lot of free content I wouldn't consider -printing- on my own (bad use of ink/paper), but I might like to read on the Kindle for $0.10. New life for Project Gutenberg?

cameron mulder June 27, 2008 at 10:29 pm

I love my Kindle.

Now that i have had it long enough i have come to actually prefer it to real books.

Sure i still love having something on my book shelf, but the fact is there are few books that i go back to all that often and more importantly i can very easily make notes and highlight areas on the kindle and it is actually easier to go back and look at those things on the kindle then in the real book.

Also having a search function on my books is just amazing. Then the amount of free content that i have been trying to read for ages is now very accessible.

There are some serious problem, such as DRM and the device being tied directly to amazon. But this is something that should be dealt with once the ebook market matures (just like it was dealt with as the online music market matured).

It is going to be a while until some gets the whole ebook reader right. Also the economics of these devices really isn't going to work for the mass market until they get ridiculously cheap.

Martin Brock June 27, 2008 at 11:27 pm


Can't you just copy Wealth of Nations to the Kindle from your computer without emailing it? There's enough free stuff online to keep you reading for a thousand lifetimes, but I suppose modernity is worth a little attention.

Unit June 27, 2008 at 11:39 pm

It sounds like you cannot e-mail out of the kindle. Such a feature would be nice when you're trying to quote from a book, you could just cut and paste. I wonder if hackers will eventually succeed in getting stuff downloaded from these gadgets….

vidyohs June 28, 2008 at 8:29 am

Not the same thing as a kindle but, for those who are interested, the above URL takes you to a free source of audio books and some movies. All the books are in the public domain so the selection does not include everything you might be interested in.

I have downloaded some to disc to make the drive to and from my jobs in Texas traffic more tolerable.

Martin Brock June 28, 2008 at 8:56 am

Lots of good stuff there. The Wisdom of Father Brown read by Martin Clifton is very good.

wintercow20 June 28, 2008 at 10:13 am

What has been holding me back are two things. Most important is the lack of ability to buy "used" books for really low prices. Most of the old classics in my library I obtained from used book stores, library sales, yard sales, estate sales, and the like. Second, I like having stacks of books lying around so that my kids can browse through them, for whatever reason. One of my favorite parts of growing up was milling around my grandfather's library collection – probably learned more than way than from most other things.

vidyohs June 28, 2008 at 10:39 am

I can establish an intimacy, a relationship, with a good book. I have never been able to do that with an electronic gadget of any nature.

I can appreciate the convenience of such as the Kindling especially if one is traveling and finishes what one is carrying for reading. The Kindling would make it easy to begin a new story without having to look for and purchase a new book.

I suppose that if I had grown up with electronic gadgets I might feel differently; but it is what it is and I am what I am.

I am amazed at how thin the line is that separates me from the "others". I was born in 1941 and my first wife was born in 1945. By age 5 she always lived with a TV in her home. I didn't see one until nearly age 14 and had none in the home until 1957. She was what I call of the "TV generation" and I am not and can never be. For reading pleasure I prefer my books, and in general I despise TV and hate reading on a computer.

vidyohs June 28, 2008 at 10:41 am

Furthermore, this was the first time I had heard of a Kindle.

I guess I need to get out more.

Martin Brock June 28, 2008 at 12:26 pm

it is what it is and I am what I am.

A cantankerous old fart?

I'm 20 years younger and well into the TV generation, but I finally rebelled and now watch no television at all, except occasionally in hotel rooms and when visiting friends. I still enjoy a few television programs, but I won't have one on in my house. The web has replaced television for me now, and I do read online a lot, even the scattered works of vidyohs now and then.

What I really want more than a Kindle is a good, mobile web browser with affordable broadband, something like a Sony Mylo with 3G access when a wifi router is not in range. I'd like a detachable, full sized keyboard too. Digital paper seems an improvement, but I've read lcds for so long now that I hardly know the difference.

The iphone is close, but the display is small, and I can't bring myself to pay two grand for the wireless contract. The Mylo is very close, but I'm too often far from a wifi connection. Kindle's footprint seems about right, but the little keyboard annoys me. I'd rather have it larger and detachable. On the Mylo, at least it's retractable. A Mylo with some always-on wireless access, pay as you go like the Kindle, as a backup for wifi, is what I want. It can't be far away.

Regardless, something of the kind will be ubiquitous soon. I don't know the number, but the conventional book's days are numbered. They may never go away entirely, but they'll be a quaint reminder of simpler times soon enough.

Virtual Memories June 28, 2008 at 12:50 pm

Ironman: the 1.0 does have a switch to turn off the radio antenna. The problem is, it's still an electronic device and flight staff will try to get you to shut it off.

Also, I use to download a lot of neat public domain books that are Kindle-formatted, then transfer them over to the device via USB.

The key (to me) for understanding the Kindle ecosystem is to see it as a parallel to the early days of iTunes. Sure, the process of converting a book to digital format is nowhere near as easy as ripping a song from a CD into MP3, but it's a pretty similar retail marketplace, as Amazon has to negotiate with a ton of publishers about rights, prices, etc.

The Dirty Mac June 28, 2008 at 12:53 pm

"Reading the Sunday New York Times."

You may find that you can live without it. I stopped reading that rag a couple of years ago when the stories about the rioting French youths were buried on page 10.

vidyohs June 28, 2008 at 3:54 pm

"A cantankerous old fart?
Posted by: Martin Brock | Jun 28, 2008 12:26:17 PM"

Nope. A cantankerous young fart.

Why just the other day I decided to buy one of them there horseless carriages. Seems a mite more convenient to me. Hay is bout near as dear as that there gasoline anyway!


Russ Roberts June 28, 2008 at 10:14 pm

Martin Brock,

I do work on commission. If you buy a Kindle through the link in the right-hand margin or the link in this post, Cafe Hayek's proprietors do make a little something to cover our costs…

Any purchases always appreciated.

Kent Gatewood June 28, 2008 at 10:15 pm

How's the eye fatigue? When my eyes can't handle the internet, I can still read a book.

Frank June 29, 2008 at 1:11 pm


Welcome to the dark side. I love the physical aspects of books but the electronic readers have a lot to offer and I've shifted 90% of my book reading to electronic.

I've had a Sony PRS-500 for a year or so now and found many of the same things to be true. The airline issue was one I never anticipated and so I now have a crossword book next to my ebook. I've also found that;

- The ebooks are not a total replacement for regular books and particulary not for newspapers.

- I can not convey how much it improves traveling. Particulary on multiday trips that would require more than one book.

- I'm reading a lot more and I'm reading more classics (as they are free).


fiona June 29, 2008 at 2:44 pm

I'm reading these comments (and responding) on an eeePC. The Jumpdrive plugged in holds (so far) about 5 books downloaded from in html format, zipped. There's room for lots more onthe 256k drive. There is an included ebook format that takes .rtf, which you can get zipped, and then unzip when you are ready to ready.

This is a fully functional computer too, weighs about 2 bs and has a great screen that you can customize to the age of your eyeballs…

fiona June 29, 2008 at 2:46 pm

I'm reading these comments (and responding) on an eeePC. The Jumpdrive plugged in holds (so far) about 5 books downloaded from in html format, zipped. There's room for lots more onthe 256k drive. There is an included ebook format that takes .rtf, which you can get zipped, and then unzip when you are ready to ready.

This is a fully functional computer too, weighs about 2 bs and has a great screen that you can customize to the age of your eyeballs…

Virtual Memories June 29, 2008 at 3:47 pm

Hey, Kent,
There's no comparison between a Kindle screen and a computer screen, when it comes to eye fatigue. The Kindle isn't backlit, so eye fatigue doesn't really come into play, any more than it would with print on paper.
Plus, you can change the size of the text really easily, if you do find that you're having trouble focusing.

jp July 1, 2008 at 8:32 am

Thanks for the review, Russ. I'm planning to by myself one for my birthday in a couple of months.

One of the features I most look forward to is being able to read big, heavy books with one hand, while lying on my back, etc.

Daniel July 1, 2008 at 2:47 pm

I can't wait to get my hands on one of these.

I'm also looking forward to a subscription model where I can read as many books as I want for a monthly fee, like netflix.

How far away will that be?

This type of technology has true transforming power. It brings knowledge to the masses, much like the internet.

But not all people can afford a computer, or even using the internet is hard due to its structure (what the hell is a URL?), but a magic book in every hand that can search and find any book. Me like.

Beside, the net doesn't have real knowledge like books do. Unless you consider volumes and volumes of porn as real knowledge.

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