A personal six month experiment: Pros & cons of digital reading

5/7/2010 | Christian Kreutz

The Kindle New York Times von B.K. Dewey (Flickr)

Half a year ago I started a small experiment. I have changed to read content on digital devices. Before I opted to do so, I had always thought that I would miss the feeling of paper, but to my surprise I do not. I am quite impressed how easy and helpful it is to read on digital devices such as the iPhone and Kindle. There are a lot of advantages to this, which also have interesting implications for ICT4D. However, the “walled garden” concepts of Apple and Amazon are a catastrophe.

The Pros

  • The reading experience through an e-reader is really enjoyable. I also started reading on my iPhone, although it cannot compete with the impressive contrast of the Kindle.
  • Lightweight advantage when you do a lot of travelling. You have all books, newspapers, and articles of all sort with you in just a device. No weight of extra paper or books to carry around.
  • With the Kindle you can select any unknown word and get the definition from the Oxford Dictionary right there (hope Wikipedia makes that available soon too).
  • You can also have content from the Internet on your Kindle. I normally read a lot of stuff I find online and being able to do so on my Kindle or iPhone is a big plus.
  • No Internet. The international version of Kindle is great for me exactly because it has no Internet. No surfing - just reading.

By far, the best option is the instant delivery wherever you are. I can get books whether I am in Europe, Asia or Mexico. It is particularly great to receive your newspaper wherever you are; and even better to get it the night before publishing. Newspaper browsing is better than I thought with different sections or small abstracts.

A neat combination for the reading flow

A felicitous combination for me is the Kindle and Instapaper. Instapaper, equally to Read It Later, allows you to quickly mark articles on websites to read them later. The great thing is that it only takes the actual article and erase all the rest around it. With Instapaper you can configure a subscription to your Kindle, so that once a week all your selected articles are uploaded on your Kindle for a buck. You can also do this with an USB for free.** That way you create your own weekly newspaper and read it on your Kindle.** There are also Apps from Instapaper and Read it Later for the iPhone.

The cons


Here comes a big disadvantage. If you want to browse quickly forward and backward it is a hassle. Imagine a travel guide where you want to find quickly all sorts of information. I have tried it a couple of times and I must admit it is a pain. You can search through and get too many results or click endlessly to find your required information. Hey, it might just be a matter of practice.


  • Books are only available in English for the Kindle. Amazon has its own propriety format and does not accept the widely used epub format. So it is an Amazon or no book.

Other formats

  • If you want to get, for example, PDFs on your Kindle you need to get them converted by sending them to Amazon by email. The converted files do not appear very great. Who would have thought that?

Note taking

  • Here comes a huge problem. You can make notes in Kindle by selecting certain text pieces. All notes are saved on a clipping.txt file, which you need to transfer to your computer. Now, you have a big file with bits and pieces of texts not always referring to where it belongs to. Of course, that is all different for the books you bought on Amazon. Here, all your notes can be even accessed on your private Kindle page. Amazon makes little or no effort to provide a good way to take notes from different content. So, in conclusion, note taking is not greatly solved. I have not seen anything good for the Iphone either. In a book you just underline the phrase and that’s it.


The big problem: Walled gardens

The big problem is, however, the concept behind either the Kindle or the iPhone/iPad approach. You depend completely on the companies behind it. The Kindle is basically a mobile shopping cart camouflaged as an e-reader. And the iPhone allows at least different formats such as the common epub format, but if Apple does not like a book, then you cannot get it.

Do not get me wrong, I find it great that authors and publishers have here a way to get some revenues, but they are themselves completely dependent on two giants. Apple and Amazon take a 30% share, although their costs to provide and deliver are minimal. In the case of the Kindle, the publisher has to even pay to deliver the book or sample chapters.

By the way, that is one reason why I decided to give up the iPhone and change to an open source driven mobile phone. I can recommend anyone to jailbreak the iPhone to get better privacy. It is very easy. Hope this will be soon possible for the Kindle as well. In conclusion, I see an increasing dilemma that many of these tools can be very practical, but they have serious privacy concerns.

Nevertheless, the delivery of content on mobile devices in such an easy and cost efficient way can help to draw lessons for non or little connected places around the world.