Update: Reader, I purchased one! Read all about my still-going-strong love affair with my Kindle Touch.
For the last several years, I’ve had to gently remind friends, coworkers, and family that I don’t own an iPhone. (Until 2011, in fact, I didn’t even have a smartphone – more on that later – and now that I finally do, it’s actually an Android.) “You don’t?” they would say, in tones ranging from confusion to accusation. “Sure you do – I’ve seen you use it!” Actually, what they saw was me using my distinctly less fancy, wifi-powered iTouch (which I only own because it came free with the purchase of my iMac). But no matter how many times I explained it, I apparently seemed so much like I should be an iPhone owner that they couldn’t believe I wasn’t. Now that everyone’s finally accepted my new phone, the debate has moved on to another incomprehensible gap in my personal-electronics suite: the Amazon Kindle.
Oh, sure, I understand the appeal of a portable, lightweight book-storage machine that holds 3,500 of my favorite works (which would include my entire physical book collection with lots of room to spare). Whenever I hoist a tote bag full of heavy hardcovers home from the library – or schlep a box of books into a moving truck – I think longingly about the glory of being able to tuck my entire library into my purse. And every time I grudgingly search for some $1.49 item to bring my total purchase over the Free Super Slower Shipping minimum, I’m reminded that the Kindle could magically beam up my book in 60 seconds: the ultimate in instant gratification.
So why don’t I have one of these modern marvels yet?
I’m a cheapskate. Well, this is mostly true and partly an excuse; like many of us, I manage to find rationalizations for purchasing the toys that I really, really want. And the Kindle has come way down in price since it debuted a few years ago; at $139 for the sleek new “paperback” 6-inch size, it’s cheaper than a Nintendo DS, much cheaper than an iPad — cheaper than a half-dozen hardcover books, even. So it’s not a big investment in an absolute sense, except for an ugly and embarrassing truth…
I don’t buy books. Shhh, don’t tell! It’s my secret shame: as much as I love reading, I almost never purchase books myself. Why not? Well, this will make me sound like I’m bragging, but I just read far too many (on average, 2–5 a week); I could never afford to buy all the books I read in a year, nor would I necessarily want to keep them around afterward. (When I do buy a book, it’s because I’ve already read it, and enjoyed it so much that I want to keep it around to reread.) The books I read come from the library, or are review copies, or bought from the library’s semi-annual book sales – which, by the way, are a great way to stock up on a wide variety of reading material, get some amazing bargains, and support your local library.
The Kindle isn’t library-friendly (yet). I have to admit, this is probably the biggest factor in my failure to purchase so far. The Seattle Public Library has a large inventory of e-books and online materials, but we’re not Kindle-compatible yet. This is supposed to change in fall 2011, and that alone would make me much more likely to embrace the convenience of instant downloading. No more hauling hardcover doorstops on my daily commute! No more dragging armloads of books to and from the library, on the bus, in the pouring rain!
There’s an environmental impact. But if the environment is such a concern, you’re thinking, isn’t a Kindle the ideal way to save countless trees? Sort of. This study suggests that e-readers are more environmentally friendly than paper books after the first year. Paper books are immensely wasteful through every step of their life cycle: from the harvesting of 125 million trees annually (and its associated carbon footprint), the wastewater produced, paper production, book printing, and shipping – not to mention the fact that 25–36% of those books are later returned to the publisher for pulping or incineration, burning still more fossil fuels. The study concludes that purchasing three e-books per month for four years (144 books) produces roughly 168 kilograms of CO2 throughout the Kindle’s lifecycle, compared to the estimated 1,074 kilograms of CO2 produced by the same number of printed books (although those figures are disputed). That’s a drastically reduced environmental impact, assuming you’re willing to keep your Kindle for that long and use it regularly.
Still, this doesn’t take into account the carbon footprint of the device itself. Consumer electronics are infamous for containing a variety of toxic materials among their circuitry (which is why I didn’t replace my aging, obsolete, but perfectly functional 4-year-old cellphone with a smartphone until this year). Amazon has been coyly silent about the greenness of the Kindle, and since they’d presumably love to tout the Kindle as “green” if it were possible to do so, we should probably take their silence on the matter as a bad sign.
I’m not trying to ruin anyone’s fun, and I certainly own plenty of completely non-essential electronic toys whose only real purpose is to entertain me. But for me, the Kindle hasn’t yet reached that tipping point where the benefits (lightweight and portable, tons of storage, instant gratification) outweigh the negatives (cost of device, environmental impact, limited access to free books, and the extra cost of repurchasing my library in a new format).
Of course, that could all change if a certain large online bookseller decided to send me a review copy; you’ll know I got one if my next post is titled “Why I Can’t Live Without My Amazingly Perfect Kindle.”
Do you love your Kindle? Or are you a die-hard print-book fan? Tell us why in the comments!