Kindle is not for me

Surely I must count as some sort of a dinosaur, as it was only today that I’d purchased – and then promptly returned – my very first Kindle e-book. I managed to avoid Kindle up until now by being able to find paper books or online e-books at my university library for the titles I needed. But today I urgently needed a book that wasn’t available at my library and I couldn’t find it in any other electronic format.

I did see the book before in some kind of a PDF format for a reasonable price at Google Play, and I naively assumed that it would be waiting for me there in my moment of need. It turns out that e-books can sell out too (how exactly, I don’t quite understand), as the PDF was gone from Google Play and is nowhere to be found on the net.

The Kindle version of the book I was looking for was slightly cheaper than the paperback, and if I bought it I could have it instantly, so I took the plunge and purchased it. I downloaded a copy to my “Kindle for PC” app, and another copy to the Kindle app on my iPad. But as soon as I started reading, I began to run into several disappointing surprises.

First, there was no real pagination for this academic e-book, which meant that I wouldn’t be able to reference quotes directly. I was amazed that after all these years of kicking around, the Kindle people still haven’t solved this problem.

I also found it inconvenient that when I carried out any sort of operation with the e-book such as a simple search, Kindle would re-flow the text and it would end up looking different every time. The highlighted text with my note that I expected to find at the top of the page ended up at the bottom of the page and so on. Annoying. I need to have a sense of where stuff is in the book that I’ve already read and made a note of. Shifting its position around just makes it more difficult to comprehend an already challenging academic text.

Then I discovered that there was no direct and easy way to export my highlights and annotations from either the PC or the iOS app. The only way I could get any quotes or notes out was if I enabled an external clipboard capture software and copied each quote and note individually. I was ready to put up with that until after an hour of copying and pasting Kindle had kindly informed me that I had reached the copying limit set by the publisher. What? I’ve paid for this book, I should be able to copy out anything I like from it for my personal use, just like I can do with a paper book. I was starting to get angry.

The “icing on the cake” was when I had enough of reading on  the PC and I decided to carry on in my armchair using the iPad. When I loaded the Kindle iOS app, I fully expected to see my highlights and annotations that I had created on the PC app and which had been synced with the Amazon cloud. But after several attempts at reloading and refreshing, my notes simply didn’t show up on my iPad.

Perhaps some of the above problems had to do with me being a Kindle novice and missing some of the features that may have solved them instantly. But I just had an overwhelming feeling of being underserved and constrained by both Kindle apps and the entire platform. Both apps are very feature-poor compared to such excellent PDF readers like GoodReader or PDF Expert. I could think of two possible reasons for this. 1) Amazon can’t be bothered about the academic market that needs page numbers and annotation sync and export, or 2) it is some sort of an underhanded effort to force you to buy an actual Kindle device, where I presume at least some of the above issues have already been resolved.

Whatever the case, I’ve returned my first Kindle e-book and I will avoid buying another one, if I can help it. And I certainly won’t be buying a Kindle device any time soon. I’d rather read a good old PDF file on my iPad any day!

P.S. (12-Apr-2013):

Another shortcoming of the desktop PC Kindle app is its inadequate search function. I did a search for a single word in my e-book, and Kindle returned the suspiciously round figure of 100 results. I went through all the 100 results and then repeated the search. Not only did I get a different figure the second time (99 results), but they included results not contained in the previous search. When I manually flipped through the rest of the book, I found several occurrences of the search term that were simply not found by the Kindle app in either of the first two searches.

Together with everything else I mentioned, this makes the Kindle PC app – in conjunction with the iOS app – unsuitable for academic reading (at least in comparison with the tools available in PDF readers such the aforementioned iOS apps and PDF-XChange Viewer on the PC).

P.P.S. (12-Apr-2013):

Out of curiosity, today I had installed the PC app for NOOK Study and downloaded the same e-book (in whatever format NOOK uses) that I tested with the Kindle app. NOOK Study is directly targeting the academic audience, so I expected it to be more sophisticated. And it was, to some minor extent. For one, it allows you to export your annotations in .doc and .txt format, which would work for me. But I still found it far inferior to the PDF readers I use. I wasn’t able to test the search function because, as NOOK informed me, they were still building the search index for this book, and the search function would be available at some point in the future, depending on the size of my library. It all sounded a bit too tentative to me.

However, the problem of the page numbers has not been resolved. NOOK did provide the page numbers, but they were not the same as those of the paperback, which they claimed to have used for the e-book version. Basically they had started numbering the pages from the electronic table of contents that they had inserted in front of the cover of the scanned book, and then they kept on counting all the pages for which there weren’t even page numbers in the paperback. For this reason all the page numbers had shifted. This wouldn’t be a problem if the text of the book had not been reflowed, as I could have just recalculated the pages myself. But unfortunately NOOK re-flows the pages, meaning that the pages become meaningless and useless for the purposes of academic referencing. Too bad. PDFs it will be…

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6 thoughts on “Kindle is not for me

  1. One of my favorite features of the Kindle is the ability to highlight text and have the kindle automatically save the highlight to “my clippings” on the kindle. This file is plain text and is easily copied from kindle to your computer as “My Clippings.txt.” Here’s a sample of one of the entries:

    The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life (John Daido Loori)
    – Highlight on Page 212 | Loc. 2122-23 | Added on Wednesday, March 14, 2012, 10:41 PM

    Master Dogen was asked upon his return from China, “What did you realize?” Dogen said, “Eyes horizontal, nose vertical.”
    ==========
    Note that if the publisher chooses to include page numbers (from the printed edition of the book) the page number shows up in My Clippings.

    I originally bought a kindle3 but have since upgraded to the newer kindle paper white. I don’t know if kindle apps include My Clippings.

    Pdf is lovely but it is primarily designed for printing on a specific paper size, a size that’s “baked into” the pdf file itself. It annoys and amuses me that many times, a pdf designed to be viewed on a wide screen computer monitor, is formatted for letter size paper.

    • Awarewriter, thank you for your comment. I realise that the Kindle device itself can handle annotations. But the point is I don’t want to buy a Kindle device, as I already own an iPad. I haven’t bought a Kindle all these years exactly because I didn’t find that it had sufficient support for PDF files. As an academic writer, I read mostly PDF journal articles and e-books. This post was about my disappointment with the PC and iOS Kindle apps even when it comes to Kindle’s own e-book format, as opposed to PDFs.

      As for the lack of page numbers being the publishers’ fault, I don’t buy that. That sounds like an excuse on Amazon’s part, as they maybe don’t want to make an investment into solving the problem. It can’t be that difficult to develop a software that could match a scanned book’s pages to those of an electronic file and allocate page numbers accordingly. OCR is all over the place these days, it has become a doddle. Looking at the PC and iOS versions of the Kindle app, they are years behind PDF reading apps like GoodReader and PDF Expert. This is why it feels to me that Amazon/Kindle is ignoring me as an academic reader and writer for some reason. They don’t seem to want to compete in this arena, despite their financial etc. muscle.

  2. I have to agree with Dr Andus.

    It has always seemed to me that ebooks in file formats originally intended to be read on handheld devices, are intended to target people that read for pleasure, not information, even when the title of the book is one that would normally be read for information. It’s not the file format itself, but the software that exists for it, both on handheld devices and the desktop.

    My first experience with this was on a PocketPC, when I downloaded a dictionary for it, in .lit format, from Microsoft. In their MS Reader software that came pre-installed on PocketPCs, you couldn’t search for anything. To look up a word in that dictionary, you had to flip through, one page at a time, till you got to the page where the word was. I don’t read dictionaries in the same way I would read a novel, one page after the other (at least not since I was a child), so looking up information in this manner made a dictionary in .lit format, completely useless to me. I ended up deleting it.

    Things have not improved much since then. They are still targeting pleasure readers with their software, ones that read one page after the other from first to last, not really caring what page number they are on. Pleasure readers do not search for information, do not make notes that they need to be able to take with them to another device, or export it for use outside of an ebook reader.

    For your kid that wants to read Harry Potter, or your wife that wants to read 50 Shades of Gray, or if you just want to read The Hitch-Hikers Guide, again, it’s terrific and has a lot of benefits over dead tree editions.

    Informational readers are still much better off sticking to file formats in which the existing software caters to their needs, which means sticking with PDFs, at least till someone actually comes up with some alternative software designed specifically to cater towards reading for information, not pleasure.

  3. Hi Dr. Andus,
    I understand your sentiments with the Kindle. It can be a bit daunting to use to both dinosaurs and non-dinosaurs alike. There have been many features added over the years to make it easier and appealing to Kindle users, such as notes and highlights.

    Accessing notes and highlights online can be difficult and inconvenient at times. There is going to be an iOS app that will be released though this coming November 2013, Snippefy (www.snippefy.com). It will be easier for Kindle users to read and share their highlights all in one place. There will be an option to share and export these as well to Evernote and email among others.

    I wanted to share this with you and your readers and hope you might want to try it because it might change the way you feel about using the Kindle.

    Thank you

    Nathan

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