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The Kindle and I

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Monday, February 8, 2010

By Matt Storin

I had no intention of buying a Kindle (honest). I feared its impact on bookstores. I felt there might still be kinks to work out.  And I figured the price would come down.  But just before Christmas I suddenly owned one. It was a birthday gift from my spouse. Two weeks later I canceled my weekday subscription to The New York Times.

Now there is no more prototypical "ink stained wretch" than I.  Yet there I was separating myself from the paper copy of the Times for nearly the first time in my allegedly adult life. I still can't quite believe it.  I've had a paper copy of the Times delivered to my home or office for all my professional life, except when I lived in Asia in the mid-70s. 

Anyone who knows me knows I can be found mid-morning at the Starbucks on the Notre Dame campus, poring over my crinkled copy of the Times (the parent company of which sends me a pension check with comforting regularity).

The Kindle may not be the perfect way to read a newspaper, but, for the moment, I'm sold.  I’m sold because I read the paper more thoroughly on my Kindle and I say “for the moment” because technology is always changing and the iSlate is coming, promising full color (Kindle is only black and grey) and other goodies. And, of course, these tablets are just one more way in which, subscriber by subscriber, the newsprint model is slipping away.

The reason Kindle works for me, apart from the obvious convenience of a portable device storing that day's paper, to say nothing of several books in various stages of completion, is the structured roadmap it presents.  I get a list of stories by section starting with “Front Page” and a brief description of the piece. 

Unlike reading the newspaper on the Internet or newsprint, my eye does not wander.  There is only one story to see at a time.  And what some might see as a disadvantage – a lag time of about one second for each click – actually works for me.  It leads me very deliberately over each story and each list.  And there are no ads!

Yes, there are disadvantages, particularly in comparison to the paper version. Your eye does not enjoy the handsomely displayed feature story with appropriate photos.  On Kindle, you may get one grainy black-and-gray image per story. There is also no function for searching the paper as you get online. (You can mark a portion of the story and write a note about it, just as you can while reading a book.) One probably could argue that it's not as much “fun” to read the paper on Kindle as opposed to paper or, especially, online.

My point – and again, this may reflect weaknesses in my reading habits – is it more or less forces you to consider one section, and then one story, at a time.  I would guess I am actually consuming somewhere between 30 and 40 percent more of the stories.  But I have to stick to a certain discipline, starting at the front page and working my way through the sections.  No fair going to Sports or the Op-Ed page after scanning page one, as I might on the paper version.  (I said it was not as much fun.) 

Also, you don't have the online pleasure of comparing, with a click or two, the story the Globe or the Washington Post might have done on the same topic. Knowing Apple, they might make the iSlate more fun. At this point, apart from the price of the Kindle, which would be daunting for many young people, I'm thinking the generation raised on the Internet would miss a lot of the online functionality (access to other sources of news, hypertext, video etc.).  But this ink-stained wretch is happy.  Also, I think I read books faster on Kindle, but that's just a hunch.

It costs $13.99 a month for the Times on Kindle.  I still get the weekend paper home delivered.  I prefer my wandering eye in trying to tackle the mammoth Sunday edition. Some habits die hard.

 

Matt Storin, the former editor of The Boston Globe, is currently an adjunct professor in the Gallivan Program for Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy at the University of Notre Dame.

Posted in: Civic Journalism

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