Last week, Amazon announced the impending release of their third generation e-book reader, the Kindle DX. (See the New York Times article on the announcement.)
The Amazon Kindle has created somewhat of a sensation with what are thought to be “iPod-like” sales numbers. (Amazon has so far succeeded in keeping the actual sales numbers private.) Amazon does say a couple of interesting things, however, about the number of books that Kindle readers buy. According to Amazon’s figures, purchasers of Kindle e-book readers buy as many traditional books as they did before, and are supplementing their purchases of books on paper with purchases of e-books.
Stepping away from the hype, the Kindle comes in for considerable criticism, mainly around the issue of digital rights management. Just as with early versions of the Apple iPod, the Amazon Kindle has been created with very tight digital rights management, which limits customers from sharing their books with other Kindle owners, giving their books away after they have read them, donating them to a library, and so on, which are standard ways people think about books. Not only is a Kindle owner prevented from downloading and reading a Kindle book on any Kindle they do not personally own, if Amazon ever stopped supporting the Kindle, there is no clear method to allow anyone to read the books they have “invested” in.
There was also some misguided flak from the Authors Guild about the computer voice that can “read” books to you on a Kindle. The novelist, e-book proponent, and Kindle critic, Cory Doctorow wrote an illuminating piece in The Guardian about how wrong-headed the Guild was in opposing the “read-to-me” feature of the Kindle (which also exists on every computer with a recent version of Adobe Acrobat Reader).
“But why should genealogists care?” you might ask. While there are 275,000 titles available, very few of those are specifically genealogical in nature. The main market for the Kindle and its readers is contemporary best-selling fiction and non-fiction. While there’s some overlap there, with some novels illustrating the time periods of our ancestors’ lives, and some non-fiction best sellers being excellent volumes of history, the connection seems tenuous.
The real benefit for genealogists in the Kindle is that its platform is not entirely closed. In addition to reading books formatted for the Kindle itself, it can also read books from the public domain converted into Mobipocket format. Tens of thousands of these books are available on several sites including Gutenberg.org, Manybooks.net and Feedbooks.com. But, since these books are also mainly not of interest to genealogists, a more compelling feature of the Kindle is that (in its first two versions) it can convert PDF and Word documents to Kindle format. The conversion is not perfect, though, and some files simply don’t work.
Kindle DX and Genealogy: Here’s where the Kindle DX comes in. The Kindle DX reads PDF files natively. This means that genealogists will be able to download any PDF file they have access to, whether it’s a public domain PDF of a local history from the 1890s downloaded from Google Books or their genealogical society’s newsletter, and take it with them in a device that is about the size of a piece of paper and 1/3 of an inch thick. Since the device has 3.3 GB of storage, there’s plenty of room for books. The Kindle is nearly instant-on (try that with your Vista laptop!), and less of a strain on the eyes than a computer monitor because it’s not backlit. The Kindle also allows for easy bookmarking, highlighting and copying of portions of text. It keeps track of where you were the last time you opened any document.
So, you heard it here first, the Kindle DX will be an attractive addition to the genealogist’s gadget bag, limited only by its $489 list price.