Kindle DX E-Book Reader

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.

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