The New Yorker's Epic Takedown of the Kindle Adds to Bezos' HeadachesS

Nicholson Baker of the venerable New Yorker decided to try out Amazon's Kindle to see if it was really the future of reading. He wrote a whopping 6,300 words on the subject, but allow me to summarize: it sucks.

His complaints are many, and almost all justified: the grey screen is too grey, there aren't enough books available, stuff other than the text (such as pictures) don't come through well, its newspaper subscriptions leave entire articles out and reading on it just isn't a pleasurable experience. Hell, he doesn't even bring up the whole remote-deletion thing; that must have happened after they went to print.

All in all, it's a pretty damning takedown of Amazon's flagship device. Sure, you can dismiss some of his arguments (textbooks look terrible on the Kindle 2, but they probably look better on the DX), but taken as a whole, it sure doesn't leave you wanting to buy one. And he discovers things I certainly didn't know about it, like its shoddy newspaper conversion.

It's enjoyable if you like reading Nexis printouts. The Kindle Times ($13.99 per month) lacks most of the print edition's superb photography-and its subheads and call-outs and teasers, its spinnakered typographical elegance and variety, its browsableness, its Web-site links, its listed names of contributing reporters, and almost all captioned pie charts, diagrams, weather maps, crossword puzzles, summary sports scores, financial data, and, of course, ads, for jewels, for swimsuits, for vacationlands, and for recently bailed-out investment firms. A century and a half of evolved beauty and informational expressiveness is all but entirely rinsed away in this digital reductio.

Sometimes whole articles and op-ed contributions aren't there. Three pieces from the July 8, 2009, print edition of the Times-Adam Nagourney on Sarah Palin's resignation, Alessandra Stanley on Michael Jackson's funeral, and David Johnston on the civil rights of detainees-were missing from the Kindle edition, or at least I haven't managed to find them (they're available free on the Times Web site); the July 9th Kindle issue lacked the print edition's reporting on interracial college roommates and the infectivity rates of abortion pills. I checked again on July 20th and 21st: Verlyn Klinkenborg's appreciation of Walter Cronkite was absent, as was a long piece on Mongolian shamanism.

The Kindle DX ($489) doesn't save newspapers; it diminishes and undercuts them-it kills their joy. It turns them into earnest but dispensable blogs.

Like I said, damning. His solution to people who want a digital version of their books? Buy an iPhone or iPod touch. I'm not sure I agree with that, as I'm still a sucker for paperbacks, but it makes sense. Do we really need a device solely for reading books when so many of us have perfectly capable book-reading devices in our pockets right now?

But man, Amazon can't be happy with the timing of this article, especially one of this scope coming from The New Yorker, a publication that is read by the heart of the Kindle's potential customer base: well-heeled literary nerds. It's pure coincidence that it dropped the week after Orwellgate, but it sure seems like the honeymoon is over with the Kindle. It's just not the device that is going to convince everyone to jump on the eBook bandwagon. Sure, it's got its fans, but regular books are still safe, for now. [The New Yorker]