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Kindle in caseBeing off the beaten track last week without a mobile phone or network signal I missed the debate on twitter and then on various blogs about Kindles and libraries.  Catching up this week on the debate particularly with the blog posts by Ian Clark and Simon Barron it struck me as interesting  that both identified the ease of use of the Amazon device and the ethical dimension of a ‘locked-in’, proprietary format and potentially monopolistic model as key aspects, despite having different views on whether to buy or not to buy a Kindle.

As someone who has bought a Kindle, uses it regularly and who wasn’t persuaded to buy an ebook reader until Kindles became established, then I’m probably one who has been convinced that the convenience of Kindles, particularly the ability to read your ebooks on a range of different devices outweighs reservations about the proprietary format.  It isn’t just the quality of the ebook reading experience that sells the Kindle but it is the infrastructure that can deliver your content to whatever device you choose (and then to any of your other devices as well) with a minimum of effort.  And that convenience hides the dimension that your purchases are effectively stored ‘in the cloud’ and under the control of Amazon, that you licence those books, rather than own them, and are going to be pretty much exclusively buying your books from Amazon.

What does strike me is that it is perfectly possible with tools like Calibre to convert ebooks into a format that can be used by your Kindle (or other ebook readers) so you aren’t in theory locked into having to buy from Amazon.   WH Smith/Kobo suggest you can load them through PDF format  as suggested here http://www.whsmith.co.uk/support/HelpeBookFAQs.aspx#FAQ2.1.  But there are likely to be DRM (Digital Rights Management) restrictions to prevent you converting ebooks bought in epub format into Amazon’s AZW format or vice versa.  [It’s something I need to check out to see how practical it is to try to get ebooks from Waterstones or WH Smith/Kobo onto the Kindle].  And that makes me wonder a little bit whether Amazon restricting themselves to a proprietary format now other ebook providers are starting to get going with their own delivery mechanisms is actually going to mean that Amazon miss out on the potential of people buying ebooks from Amazon to load onto Kobo or other ebook readers.  And if Amazon see themselves as a content provider, then wouldn’t they want to sell their content as widely as possible?

Amazon Lending Library
Having just caught up with the debate on Kindles and libraries it was ironic to see this week’s announcement of the Amazon Kindle Owners Lending Library.  The immediate reaction seemed to be that it was an potential threat to libraries, but I’m not so sure.  The deal (on available in the US initially) is that it is available to people who sign up to the Amazon Prime subscription service at a cost of $79 a year, you can borrow one free book a month, from a list of ‘over’ 5,000 (which implies to me more than 5,000 but less than the next significant number) and includes “100 current and former New York Times Bestsellers”.   Hm… so that’s at least 4,900 that haven’t ever been in the New York Times Bestsellers list?   So maybe not many well-known titles.  It will be interesting to see if it gets introduced in the UK and what the list of titles might be.  But unless the list grows significantly the Amazon Owners Lending Library sounds much more like a small incentive to sign up to Amazon Prime.   Now 5,000 titles might be small, and it might not be packed full of bestsellers but if you look at the public library offering of ebooks through services like Overdrive then 2,500 titles isn’t unusual for a public library ebook and audiobook download service.

So if you’re in the US you can use Overdrive to borrow from the public library and read them on your Kindle or borrow them through the new Amazon Kindle Owners Lending Library.  It will be interesting to see if there is any impact in US public libraries and if these features will get introduced into the UK at any stage.

Following a comment on this blog by Nick Lewis on my quick thought about the Kindle I’ve been looking in more detail about how the pagination matches up on Kindle ebooks across three different devices, a PC, an ipad and an android phone.  Both the PC and ipad versions show both pages and locations, the android app just shows the locations.

I’ve only so far looked at three fairly new novels as most of the older material I’ve looked at didn’t seem to show page numbers at all.   In  all three cases the location will take you to the same place within the text, or at least to the page that contains that location. 

When it comes to pages the PC and ipad versions have the same numbers of pages but the content on each page isn’t exactly identical.  In the samples I tried it varied from a few lines difference, to several paragraphs or more.  Given the variations in screen size then it probably isn’t surprising (and I’ll check it against the Kindle itself to see if there is more variation).  But the variation means that to give an accurate reference you are not only going to have to specify that it is the Kindle version of the ebook, but also the device you are using to access it.

There are some other thoughts about citing kindle ebooks on the web on Booksprung for example http://booksprung.com/how-to-cite-a-kindle-ebook that has an interesting discussion.  Our institutional Harvard referencing guidance (OU Harvard Guide to Referencing December 2010) has this to say

4.4       ebooks on ebook readers

The correct format for referencing an ebook used on an ebook reader (such as a Kindle reader) is: Author, A. (year of ebook publication) Title of Book [ebook], place of publication, publisher.

Example:

Matthews, D. J. (2010) What Cats Can Teach Us [ebook],London, Penguin.

In-text citation: (Matthews, 2010) or Matthews (2010) notes that…

As page numbers are not available on ebook readers, use the chapters instead for indicating the location of a quoted section:

In-text quotation: Matthews notes that ‘kittens are often delightful’ (2010, Chapter 6)

This suggests referring to a chapter rather than trying to find specific page numbers.  Although the Kindle at least now does now include page numbers the fact that they aren’t absolute and vary depending on your reader may mean that this is the best solution.

Updated
Owen Stephens (@ostephens) has just pointed out that you could use the percentage to provide a citation for exactly where you are referring to in the ebook. That is present in all the different types of Kindle apps I’ve tested.

Kindle screen I got to the end of one of my Kindle books the other day and it suddenly dawned on me that I’d read some of the book on an ipad, some on a PC, some on a phone and the rest on the Kindle device itself.  I had entirely taken it for granted that I could pick up from the page that I’d last read up to on another device.   I find it interesting that something like that, which would have been pretty much unthinkable a few years ago, now is commonplace.

I’m finding the range of Kindle reading applications to be really useful.  I’ve got them on a couple of PCs, an ipad and a phone so it makes it pretty easy to pick up something I’m reading as there’s rarely a time when I don’t have some form of electronic device with me.

It’s good that Amazon’s marketing people worked out that making it easy for people to access their content on as many devices as possible was the way to go.   It’s great that there aren’t limitations on which devices you can be reading it on.

Not that there aren’t a few tweaks to some of the Apps and tools that it would be good to see.  I’ve got my content on the Kindle arranged in themed folders so it would be good to pick that up some way on the other reading apps.  Also I know that as my ebook library grows I’m going to want better tools to search that ‘elibrary’.  So it would be good to be able to tag books and search for them (hmmm sounds suspiciously like cataloguing!).

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