Bless me, O Biblioblogosphere, for I have sinned.

I have betrayed the trust of my librarian people by *gasp* loving my Kindle like I am told I would love a child if I had any interest in being a parent, which I don’t.  But I do have an interest in reading digital content on a sleek, affordable, and easy-to-use device.  Thus the Kindle.

In true geek fashion I recorded my Kindle unboxing (complete with Space Invader wall clings in the background).

Let me tell you why I love my Kindle so.  But before I gush like a schoolgirl in love with Edward Cullen, let me tell you that I feel guilty for loving it.  I boycott the Kindle as a librarian but love it as a consumer.

  • Stellar User Interface Design: The Kindle has a gorgeous form factor.  It’s easy to hold in your hands — light, smooth, and perfectly sized for my hands anyway.  The user interface is easy and intuitive, end of story.
  • Smooth Content Delivery: The simplicity and speed of getting content is amazing.  I’ve been using the Kindle app on my Android phone for months now, and it literally takes you 5 seconds to buy and start reading a book from the Kindle Store. How long does it take to start reading a library eBook from the point you decide to download it? On the Kindle itself it’s just as easy.
  • Cross-Device Content Delivery: Amazon was brilliant in being the distributor for the device, the content itself, and the interface/software used to access the content. But they were doubly brilliant in offering the content & interface on other devices through Kindle Reading apps, so you can use your desktop, laptop, iPhone, iPad, Android phone, etc. to access the Kindle universe of eBooks.  The Kindle device itself is secondary…they really covered their bases.
  • Seamless Syncing: Amazon’s Whispersync technology syncs up your library and where you left off in your books without you having to do anything. Not having to think is good, yeah?  Steve Krugwould be proud.
  • Public Domain Title Access: You can get free public domain titles onto your Kindle through free eBook sites like Project Gutenberg, all linked to with instructions from the Kindle website.

Now that we’ve covered the pros, here’s why I detest the Kindle as a librarian:

  • No Access to Library-owned eBooks (for shame): As you probably know, the Kindle is the onlyeReader devices that doesn’t allow library digital content onto it.  The nook, Sony Reader, the sad little kobo, and even the iPad all allow library digital content.  Amazon would rather only sell you their stuff.  In the case of eBooks, Amazon does not support the standard EPUB format.  It only allows for content that is in one of its approved formats: their proprietary DRM-format (.azw), plain text files (.txt), unprotected (read: no DRM) Mobipocket files (.mobi or .prc), unprotected (read: no DRM) PDF files (.pdf), and this odd and not-often-used Topaz format (.tpz). There are programs (like Calibre) that can convert non-DRMed EPUB files into unprotected Mobipocket files so they can go on your Kindle.  And since there are scripts you can run to convert DRM-ed EPUB files into non-DRMed EPUB files, you can indeed get these books on your Kindle…but illegally unfortunately.  The fact that Amazon doesn’t allow library-owned eBooks onto its devices is a travesty.  It’s wrong on every level.  But Amazon has no real motivation to open it up.  They make money from selling people books.  If people could get those same books on their Kindles for free and without paying Amazon, just by logging in with a library card number, Amazon is going to lose some business.  And losing business for the sake of looking like you love libraries is sadly not a winning proposition in our society.  Here are some straight-forward instructions to help you get around the idiotic DRM rules and get library eBooks onto your Kindle.  This does clearly violate Kindle’s terms of service, the library eBook vendor’s terms of service, and even copyright law.  But you know what?  All you’re doing is accessing an eBook your library owns and wants to check out to you on a device of your choosing.  Goddess forbid we can actually provide content that isn’t device-exclusionary!  So you know what?  Go for it.
  • No Sharing or Selling (err, legally): As with almost all consumer-purchased eBooks, Amazon’s Kindle eBooks forbid the transfer of the book to any other user or to a different (non-Amazon) device.  This is a violation of the First-Sale Doctrine which guarantees someone like an individual or a library to share the book once it’s purchased, loan it out, or sell it.  None of us can do this with eBooks or other digital media like movies and music.  It’s wrong and many people find ways around it because, frankly, the Kindle was not that hard to crack.

Perhaps someday I will make peace with the fact that the Kindle universe makes me happy.  Perhaps someday Amazon will allow digital content from libraries onto its devices, will accept industry standards, and stop being an inbred walled garden of capitalist greed.  But I’m not holding my breath.

Reprinted, with permission, from Librarian in Black


  1. Sarah, great article ( you traitor, you! ) and I so agree with your points. My thoughts lately: Why-oh-why don’t we have something even remotely similar to the Amazon experience for library users? We are not even in the same universe. And it’s not just Amazon. B&N, Kobe, iBooks and other online book vendors let users choose and request e-books which are smoothly delivered in seconds to a multitude of devices. Despite our many excuses, there is a pattern here which could be emulated by libraries. We ignore it to our detriment.

    Our users are forced to use clunky, geeky systems and jump through such cumbersome Byzantine hoops they often need to consult a physical librarian (hmmm, design feature?) just to get the opportunity to finally read an e-book, if they are lucky. Many give up in frustration. To read our books on their devices, the more tech-oriented resort to cracking DRM – which is increasingly easy to do. We in libraries continue to spend hundreds of thousands on e-book packages. And a whole segment of the tax-paying population becomes more and more alienated from libraries and what they mean. Those that can afford it can simply buy e-books through Amazon. As a public trust, we do an immense disservice to those who can’t …

    Confession of a fellow traitor: lately I’m reading a *huge* and utterly delightful e-book compendium of PG Wodehouse (pretty much everything he published). I would need a small luggage cart to tote around a paper volume like this. Paid under $3.00 on Amazon’s Kindle Store. Found it in minutes. Downloaded and was reading in seconds. Love my Kindle. As another author may have put it:

    It is the best of times, it is the worst of times …

  2. I just cannot fault Amazon for its intelligent business decision to avoid ePub entirely. As a format, it is NOT perfect, and why let other companies into your playpen? never. Just being smart. No harm in that.

  3. Amazon is a company and is in business to make money, that’s what keeps the economy going ’round as they say.

    They have a great business model and the best customer service on the planet, they sell well-made eReaders and make it super easy to purchase ebooks, and they have the most extensive bookstore, both physical and ebook, online. What more do you want?

    Oh yeah, you want they to damage their business by accepting the ePub format. Not going to happen, and shouldn’t.

  4. Hmmm…”the sad little kobo”

    Have you used one? The Kobo has updated itself, I have read good reviews about it and have read good things from people who own one. No it is not a Kindle, it does not have the market share of a Kindle. So what. I am frankly tired of Kindle elitism like that.

    I have a rival ereader and am extremely happy with my choice as well and I am able to borrow library ebooks and support my local library. I am retired and cannot afford to spend money buying ebooks. I have never had a problem using my ereader, never had a problem downloading from my library, never had a problem finding a book to purchase or get free and am very happy that I can also purchase via the google ebookstore as yet another choice. Some people choose Kindle and are very happy. Some people choose other systems and are very happy. It all depends on what works for you, your values and your lifestyle. Why do you feel you need to justify your choice to the rest of the world?

  5. “Here are some straight-forward instructions to help you get around the idiotic DRM rules and get library eBooks onto your Kindle. This does clearly violate Kindle’s terms of service, the library eBook vendor’s terms of service, and even copyright law. But you know what? All you’re doing is accessing an eBook your library owns and wants to check out to you on a device of your choosing. Goddess forbid we can actually provide content that isn’t device-exclusionary! So you know what? Go for it.”

    Most libraries don’t encourage their patrons to not observe copyright law and the DRM is an extension of copyright law. I do not agree with the above. Sure it is possible. It is possible that I can also do anything I want.

  6. Why libraries at all? What possible economic rationale is there for authors, publishers and retailers to support e-book lending by libraries?

    Amazon has clearly made their decision and it will be a cold day in hell before the Kindle supports any type of library lending. Nothing to do with epub either. How long others will continue to accept this state of affairs remains to be seen. Some publishers already refuse to make their titles available to Overdrive. They will not be the last.

  7. “Why libraries at all? What possible economic rationale is there for authors, publishers and retailers to support e-book lending by libraries?”

    Do you have answers you would like to post? Or are you merely being rhetorical? I would be interested in hearing your “rationale”.

  8. My first comment on the discussion here is this. I believe in the rule of law. But I don’t believe in stupid, unfair, ridiculous law or stupid ridiculous conditions set by retailers.
    If I buy a HiFi system in town today (which I plan to do ..) and they tell me that the condition of the purchase is that I am forbidden to play MP3 music through it, only CDs … I have no intention whatsoever of observing that instruction. None. Nada. I do not care a whit about what they say. They can say what they like.
    Same with Amazon’s instruction about selling. I bought five eBooks from them several months ago. I have read them all. I intent to sell them to an ex work colleague who is not working right now, in January for a couple of quid. I bought them. They are mine. End of story Rory.
    I apply the same thinking to Library books and reading them on an eDevice of my choosing. if they agree to lend them to me it is my prerogative how I plan to read them.

  9. Commenter #1–You haven’t kept up with developments with OverDrive eBooks. OverDrive has direct download of EPUB eBooks to iPhone, iPad, and Android. So easy a librarian can do it.

    If you have any interest in preserving public library book access, you should be down on your knees thankful that someone out there is providing a model so that we aren’t all forced into the “Amazon experience.”

  10. I would like to know how the whole Library Model can continue to exist in a world of eBooks ?

    What will the eBook market look like in five or ten years time ?

    As a reader we will buy an eReader for a very low price, probably sub 50 euros or even less, subsidised. We will be able to buy and download eBooks from a wide range of eRetailers all over the world at the touch of a button. Most books will be in the 5 – 7 euro range. Best sellers may be up to 10 euros. Millions of eBooks will be 3 – 5 euros.

    Now where does the eLibrary model fit in ?

    Do I also have the option of borrowing these SAME eBooks from my regional, national or international eLibrary ? Can I borrow it free ?

    If I borrow it for two weeks and read it … then … what is my motivation to actually BUY ANY eBook from an online eBook eRetailer again ? And how can the commercial sale of eBooks compete with this kind of scenario ?

  11. @Starbookzz: Actually, I use the Overdrive app (yes, latest version) on an iPad and ipod regularly. It is still clunky, somewhat buggy and for many library patrons offers a user experience below that routinely offered by Amazon, B&N and other major online e-book vendors. I am not alone in this opinion. Overdrive hasn’t even made the app ‘universal’ for both Ipads and ipods. Another kludge. The past few days the Overdrive service at the Seattle Public Library has been down (Overdrive is working on it). To be fair, Overdrive has made improvements from the previous version of their app and I applaud that.

    I also stand by my comments concerning ***user experience*** both in e-book delivery and reading provided by Amazon, B&N and others as a model for libraries (public and academic). At this point in time when we are seeing more and more ‘non-techie’ library patrons approach e-books for the first time it simply is better (ease of verification, fewer hoops to jump through, better software, more reliable) than anything I’ve seen in libraries to date. Sarah’s article and her experience with the Kindle speaks well to that and my own is similar.

    Regarding your specific issues with Amazon, I think you have some confusion between the delivery model that online e-book vendors provide and the vendors themselves. I’m interested in the model and user experience – that’s what my comments are about. I will leave the discussion of Amazon as scary big brother figure to others.

  12. JFWhite–I have no issues with Amazon and never will. You or Sarah are welcome to patronize Amazon with your private funds. I think you have some confusion by lumping OverDrive in with “vendors.” You seem think that if an orange isn’t like an apple, it’s the orange’s fault.

  13. @Starbookzz:

    Starbookzz says:
    December 29, 2010 at 6:00 pm
    “…I have no issues with Amazon and never will. ”

    Starbookzz says:
    December 29, 2010 at 11:32 am
    ” …you should be down on your knees thankful that someone out there is providing a model so that we aren’t all forced into the “Amazon experience.”

    Ahem. But I digress. Overdrive is indeed a vendor of e-books / audiobooks (and a big one, to whom libraries pay a good amount of money!) although the relationship is not often clear to library patrons. That said, it does seem to me that we are all aiming for an easy, enjoyable *user experience* as regards choosing and consuming e-books no matter what the platform. Some of us have evidently found it and some of us are still looking. It’s the test of a good blog post if it inspires lively and interesting discussion and this one by Sarah certainly has done that!

  14. I’m interested in maintaining a library option for electronic media. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like or don’t patronize Amazon, Netflix. etc. OverDrive is a marvel in my opinion and we should be grateful for what it is. Sarah has her own agenda.

  15. There are some libraries working on the local level with some bookstore vendors. Here in upstate New York we have several multi-county library systems that are partnering with Barnes & Noble to legally loan out nooks with pre-loaded ebooks on them, purchased by the libraries–yet another option and choice beyond the Overdrive book selection which does not have everything you will find on B&N or Google ebookstore. The nice thing is that it is being worked out legally with B&N. I understand that some libraries do this with Kindles but they do not have a legal agreement with Amazon who does not seem to what to come to the table. Anyone out there with a legal agreement with Amazon? Some librarians are not bothered by the fact that they do not have a legal agreement to do what they are doing. But I would think that a library board would have a concern. Of course they are loaning out the device which just happens to have ebooks on it. I guess that makes a difference. I can loan my nook to my brother-in-law and he can read what is on it. But I cannot loan him my ebooks or give them to him.

  16. I know. I’ve heard it all before. Everyone has their own agenda and take on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998. Some abide by it, some don’t. I guess I am “old school.” I wait for the walk signal at traffic lights, while other people just cross whenever they like.

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