I have resisted getting an ebook reader so far, not least because many of the books are not available (or, at least , not available to me – see below) in electronic format. I was not terribly excited by the idea of reading the latest vampire-boy magician-terrorist thriller or Shakespeare or George Meredith in electronic format. However, I realised that it would useful when travelling, saving having to haul heavy print books around, so I got one for my Christmas present. I have just been playing around with it and, after learning its quirks, have more or less worked out how to use it, though I have not learned all of its features. However, there are two things about it that annoy me.
What do you see in the two pictures above? If you have normal vision you see the figure 6 and the figure 8. I am colour blind so all I see is a load of dots. You can test yourself at this site. I have what is known as red-green colour blindness, which means that certain shades of green and brown, red and brown and, as we shall see, red and green are confusing to me. So what has this to do with the Kindle? When you first get the Kindle, you have to charge it, either by connecting it to your computer with a micro-USB cable or using the cable to connect to a plug, such as you might use to charge your smart phone or tablet. It takes, they say, around two hours. Anticipating this, I connected it on Christmas morning, knowing that I would be busy on Christmas Day with armies of relatives arriving. I periodically checked it. I was told that, while charging, it would show amber and when charged, turn to green. I continued to check it and it continued, as far as I could tell, to show amber. What was odd is that the battery symbol seemed to show that it was fully charged and I was able to use it but it still showed amber. As you will have guessed, it wasn’t showing amber. I mentioned this to my significant other (who gave me the Kindle) and she pointed out that it was, in fact showing green. It didn’t and doesn’t look like green to me but it seems that Amazon have chosen a bright olive green that fools me. Had they chosen a more emerald green I would have been all right. If I was in the US, I would have sued Amazon under the ADA but I am not so I won’t. But yah boo sucks to Amazon for not testing their colours on colour-blind people.
My second gripe is access to Kindle files. One of the books I wanted to purchase is a book written in German but which has been translated into English. I can buy both the English and German print versions of the book from Amazon US, Amazon UK and Amazon Germany. However, as I am in the UK, I cannot buy the Kindle version. The German Kindle version is available on Amazon Germany but, if I even go to look at it, it says Dieser Titel ist für Kunden aus Ihrem Land nicht verfügbar (This title is not available for customers in your country). I am not allowed even to see how much it would cost. Amazon US is even worse. If I search for the book, either in the Kindle Store or generally, it does not seem to exist. However, there is a link from the publisher’s website and that does, indeed, take me to the page for the Kindle edition of the book where, of course, it says Pricing information not available. Only by pretending to be US-based can I see the price – $9.99. So I can buy this book in print format in German or English from Amazon UK, US and Germany but I cannot buy it from any Amazon in electronic format. Not only can I not buy it in electronic format, Amazon is going to do its damnedest to make sure that I do not even know it exists and, if I do, it is going to hide the price from me. BTW, Barnes and Noble (US) will sell me a Nook version, presumably only in epub format (no good for the Kindle). I wrote to the publishers asking them why they had not made available a UK version. They could not be bothered replying, which is why I don’t mention the name of the book, so that they do not garner the slightest bit of publicity. It is behaviour like this that encourages honest users to turn to pirated versions.
Third gripe (related to the above). Pricing. Rotten old Amazon charges £89 for the Kindle in the US but $79 for it in the US. You cannot get either Kindle Touch or the Fire in the UK. However, on books it seems to be different. I thought that the reason for hiding the price of ebooks on the other Amazons was because they would be cheaper, particularly in the US, so I did a very small and very unscientific study. I started with Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. The Kindle version costs $9.99 in the US. If you do a search for it, you will get that information if you say that your region is the United States and search anonymously, i.e. without signing in. If you say that your region is the UK, but still search anonymously, the price drops to $7.14. If you log in from a UK account, it remains $7.14 but, when you click on it, it says Pricing information not available. In other words, if you have a non-US, non-UK (and probably non-Spain, non-France, non-Italy) account you can buy it for $7.14. Interestingly enough, the UK price for Freedom is £4.49 (marginally less than $7.14) and the German price (for the English version) €5.67, a bit more than the UK and US prices. BTW, I was only able to see the German price by using a German proxy to browse amazon.de, otherwise I would have got Dieser Titel ist für Kunden aus Ihrem Land nicht verfügbar (This title is not available for customers in your country). I also tried A Sense of Ending. Prices were €9.89 (Germany), £4.54 (UK) and $7.08 (US), with the UK and US being about the same and much less than the German price. I thought, to be fair, I would try a German-language book. Here’s where the problems start. Amazon.uk does have a foreign language section, though the choice tends to be mainly limited to the classics. Amazon.com does not have a foreign language section so if you are in the US or relying on on the US for your Kindle experience, i.e. not in the UK, France, Italy, Germany or Spain, tu es foutu, mon cher. (Yes, I know there is a an amazon.jp but they don’t have ebooks yet because of a dispute between Amazon and the Japanese publishers. Amazon Canada customers have to buy their stuff from the US, though they have to pay C$109 for their Kindle. As far as I can see Amazon China customers can buy Kindle covers but not the Kindle or Kindle books.) You can search for the foreign language books in Kindle format on amazon.com and they do have some. For example, you can buy Elfriede Jelinek‘s Die Klavierspielerin (The Piano Teacher) in Kindle format in English, Italian and Spanish but not in German! How droll these Amazon people are! I did try a comparison with Daniel Kehlmann’s Die Vermessung der Welt (translated as The Measurement of the World) but could only find it in Kindle format on the German site (€9.99) and UK site (£8.38), though the English language version is available for $8.42 on the US site. In short, the whole pricing model is seriously fucked up and, till, they sort it out, you are going to have people gaming the system, buying/downloading illegally or just not bothering and sticking to the print format. Which is maybe what they want.