52 Hours with a Kindle

by Mark Winz

A few weeks back I won a Kindle e-reader in a drawing. I didn’t use it much until about a week ago. I was preparing to spend between 36 and 72 hours at a hospital accompanying my wife while she underwent surgery. I knew she would be in at least three places in the hospital for tests, medical procedures and recovery. I wanted to be nearby or with her during that time. Waiting in thus-named rooms, sitting with her while she slept and conversing briefly when she awoke would fill both days and nights.

I chose to leave my laptop and all printed books and magazines behind, and go in with the Kindle as my reading material. I started as a skeptic of digital reading, and a cheapskate, so I didn’t want to spend a lot of money to fill the device.I bought the New American Standard Bible and a few inexpensive and free titles from Amazon. And found some free files at the Project Gutenberg website. I wondered how it would work, and if the experience would inform decisions about making some of our magazine content available in this or similar digital formats.

Between Friday morning and noon on Sunday I read all of The Catcher in the Rye (somehow I survived high school and college without reading that) and reread 73 percent of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Yes, the Kindle tells you how far you are, percentage-wise, into the title you have on the screen. And I admit to feeling almost impish reading Douglas Adams’ 1979 work that centered around a digital book on the Kindle.

After 52 hours in the hospital I’d formed some definite thoughts about the Kindle, and answers to my primary questions.

How does the Kindle stack up to a printed book?

Reading on the Kindle was fine. Optional text-size setting was a plus over a printed book, and the screen displays text well in most light levels. It isn’t backlit so the device cannot be used in the dark as some platforms can.

The Kindle’s battery lasted all weekend. Only when I inadvertently left the wireless connection—used to download books from Amazon—on for a few days did the low-battery signal appear. With wireless off, I’ve never seen had a low-battery indicator come on. Amazon’s website says it will go a week with the wireless on and two with wireless off. My unscientific trials indicate that these estimates are at least nearly accurate.

I enjoyed the ease the Kindle offered for carrying a variety of reading material with about the size and weight of just one book. Less the Kindle I wouldn’t have carried a Bible, and the two books I read, plus several other titles I could open if time permitted or my interest changed.

The only time I hesitated to use the Kindle was during meals. I’ve been known to spill, and I suspect the Kindle would not interact well with Coke Zero or coffee. My solution: cover the Kindle with a gallon-sized Ziploc bag during mealtime. It didn’t enhance readability, but it did offer protection.

While reading a book start to finish was a pleasant, trying to flip through the digital pages from book to book in the Bible or looking up an entry in the Roget’s Thesaurus that I downloaded was difficult. This is not the platform for reference works and the Word of God, it seems to me. The Bible on my Palm smart phone is far easier to use.

Will magazine content work on the Kindle?

The simple answer for Worldwide Challenge is no. While this format might work for some magazines that use very simple designs, it isn’t for us. The simple black and white graphics available on the Kindle would not reproduce even the most simple page design in any of our issues, and certainly would fall short in reproducing a feature with several photos.

Will it work for you and your readers? Will the Kindle change any of our business models? I don’t see it happening. First, few magazine have a simple enough design to make it work. Second, even with prices dropping, e-readers like the Kindle or the Barnes and Noble Nook have a long way to go before every reader has one. While we need to continue learning to use digital formats to deliver some of our content, I doubt that paper and ink will disappear any time soon for the magazine industry.

So, as the cover of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy says, DON’T PANIC.

[Mark Winz is an EPA board member and the editor of Worldwide Challenge. He won the Kindle door prize at the 2010 EPA convention in Dallas.]