Kindle vs. non-kindle books

By Razib Khan | January 3, 2012 10:29 am

Out of curiosity, how many readers are switching mostly to Kindle books? I myself find myself doing this. Not for any ideological or conscious reason. Rather, cost and portability are both major upsides of the Kindle. I also find that “impulse buys” are easier for me on the Kindle (purchased The Great Sea and Civilization: The West and the Rest, the latter mostly to see if Panjak Mishra actually did read the book). The Kindle has been around for a few years, but it looks like web traffic related to it is still increasing radically. I compare it o the iPad below.

Update: OK, never mind about the comparison. I suspect that the bounce for “Kindle” is due to Kindle Fire.

  • EcoPhysioMichelle

    I buy new books exclusively on Kindle if possible. Portability, cost, impulsiveness, and environmentalism are all in its favor.

  • iron0037

    I use Stanza on the iPhone to read classics, primarily because they’re free that way. It’s also nice to bookmark, search, and annotate text, something far more challenging with a printed edition.

    That being said, a sizable chunk of my reading time is spent in that half hour between the airplane door closes and the “all clear” is given for electronic devices. A Kindle or iPad wouldn’t help me there. I’m also not convinced of the current economics of an eReader. For $250, I can get quite a few printed books. I’d have purchase more than a few discounted eBooks before I broke even on the upfront cost of the eReader.

  • Ed

    Living in Brazil and being an avid reader of books in english Kindle was a real boon, not much for the lower price of the books but because the delivery now is instantaneous, compared to a month or more via mail. Unfortunetly, there are almost no new books being published in portuguese for the Kindle (there are rumours, however, that Amazon is planning to begin operations in Brazil).

  • Anne

    I buy nook books for space and concienence issues.

  • Peter

    My Android phone has a free Kindle app, basic but usable, so it was a very easy choice for me!

  • Ryan

    I’m pretty old-fashioned; I own a few hundred paper books, partly because I find them much easier to read than ebooks, and partly because I view them as furniture for my room.

    Besides, ebooks are generally heavily priced, and often are dearer than cheap ex – library books; I don’t like seeing companies increasing their profit margins without me getting something significantly better in return.

    @#2 – the FAA recently gave Ipads the all clear for use onboard airplanes, just I’m not sure about the Kindle. I suppose that informations not much use unless you’re in the US though :)

  • Joseph

    I only read on my iPhone now.

  • leviticus

    Being a fan of nineteenth-century travel literature and campy old fashioned adventure books like H. Rider Haggard’s stuff, I can say that kindle has revolutionized my reading. Until recently I had to deal with musty old library books, the rare find in a book store or on amazon or abebooks, or the cheap, but serviceable reprints from elibron. The latter’s business model was probably all but destroyed by kindle. As far as impulse buys, kindle hasn’t changed my reading. I usually wait awhile before I read best sellers. Infact, I rarely go through amazon for precopyright books, using or project gutenberg. I don’t like kindle being limited to the .mobi format, bad move amazon.

  • toto

    I only read on my iPhone now.

    So where do you purchase your weekly new set of eyeballs?

    I enjoyed reading short texts (like Heart of Darkness) on my Iphone, but for longer stuff it’s Just Too Small.

    Also I’m annoyed at the lack of navigability. I like to be able to flick back and forth through big bunches of pages. It’s not quite there yet with Iphone reader.

  • Scott

    i purchase almost all of my non-professional books in e-book form save for those series (yes I still read science fiction) I started reading in paper form and wish to keep. That’s a product of my OCD driving me to be a “completionist”*.

    In professional books (math, stats and computer programming) I have to have paper copies as I spend a lot of time flipping back and forth throughout the book quickly. In the form e-books are in now I’d lose my train of thought as I had to slowly click from page 297 to page 42 then off to page 112 (with a visit to the index) to check on a definition.

    * a trait that has caused me great pain as I bought “The Matrix” in DVD form before seeing the last two horrid films. What am I to do? I can’t waste money on them but I need to complete the collection!

  • Nicole

    Not surprising. Have you used the Kindle Fire? Clearly it is not as capable as the Ipad, but for $200 they are incredible. The nook color is also pretty dandy. check out some reviews The Samsung Galaxy tab is pretty impressive as well. Although it is a little more pricey.

  • Chris

    No kidding… I’m a technician and I tune MRI Receiver coils… we are required to use the technical material provided on their intranet, but we only have dumb terminals. Clients on a thin-net. Painfully slow to go from one page to the next, and even more so if you have multiple documents open.

    In the Navy, I had access to shelves of technical manuals that I could flip back and forth through very quickly to reference the material I needed.

    e-Books are OK, but I still prefer paper for my leisure and technical reading.

  • Tim Martin

    Ditto what Scott said about books that I have to flip through – I’d love to read them on my kindle, but it’s way too onerous. For other books, though, I love using the kindle.

  • Ares

    I’m not a fan of e-books. As an alternative, I prefer audio-books for the time saving of listening during other activities. Physical books allow me to donate them to libraries or friends after I read them and decide not to keep them.

    I give away as much as 2/3 of the books I read in a year.

  • Shecky R

    The Kindle Fire intrigues me, but have so far resisted as I ONLY read nonfiction, and like those above often flip back-and-forth between pages/sections, so not convinced that e-readers are practical except for fiction reading (even with price & portability as strong factors); still interested in the opinions/experience of others who read a lot of science or who have an opinion on the Fire….

  • Alam

    I agree Kindle, iPad iBook, etc suck at flipping back and forth. The user experience sucks.

    Specially, if u have a PDF book/content, the page alignment, schemeatics, etc r not displayed very well in Kindle, Nook, iBook.

  • Clara Comfort

    We have a nook, but I do most of my reading on physical books– from the library. I read so much as a housewife that I really can’t even afford to buy nook books constantly. Books I buy either have to be awesome and worth investing in, really long, or cost less than two bucks.

    My husband reads less, and he buys a mix of nook books and physical books– he prefers physical for academic pleasure reading though, because it’s easy to add notes.

  • Michael Watts

    My thoughts:
    I purchased a Kindle for the purpose of being able to obtain books while living in China. It’s vastly superior to paper books in that regard.

    The kindle is easier on the eyes than a paper book is, lighter, and less unwieldy. It also obviates the need for a bookmark.

    Older books are by and large not available on the kindle; a major downside.

    I was pretty pissed off to find Amazon selling the kindle edition of a book (Mistborn: alloy of law) for more than the hardcover edition (~$12 to ~$8, though the hardcover has bumped up since then). In general, ebooks from amazon seem to be noticeably more expensive than ebooks from other sources. They’ll do something bad to their reputation as a low-cost source if they keep it up.

    The kindle is quite inferior at the use case where you want to look at multiple things on multiple pages. In a paper book, I’d use my multiple fingers.

    Impulse buying is certainly easier on the kindle, but every time I buy more than a couple of books I start to feel strongly that I should be pirating them instead. At the rate I can consume books, that makes for a significant cost savings, and that consumption rate is raised by the kindle.

  • Wes

    I am using Kindle more these days, and only Kindle when it comes to ebooks (as opposed to Nook), due to the huge availability of books on Amazon. I must say, I actually like reading it on a laptop more than the Kindle in some ways – more functionality, better screen, etc. But the Kindle is decent. I think as the technology improves this is the future

    And the impulse buys are OK, I think you have 7 days to return. Old fashioned book still has a lot of advantages though.

  • Wes

    By the way, does anyone recommend any newer fiction books that might be of interest to people who read this blog? Or for people that enjoy HBD, or political incorrectness, or original thought? Something in recent years (not Wolfe or Rand or Asimov). I hate most fiction (always have) but would love something fun, new and interesting to read from this perspective.

  • Ian

    I bought a Kindle 3g keyboard because I live in the Boondocks of Thailand and it is a 400km drive each way to buy a stack of new English language books each time I run out. No, it’s not the same as reading a book, but I wouldn’t be without it.

  • JL

    I mostly read with Kindle these days, but what I miss from paper books are the unique designs. Paper books are often aesthetically pleasing, whereas books in the Kindle format all look the same — i.e. they’re practical but pretty ugly. I also like old-style page numbers, which you don’t get with Kindle.

  • Joseph

    I’m not hung up on look and feel. Why do you care about how you flip pages? I’m interested in the content. Also, the text on the screen of an iPhone is not much smaller than on the page of a book, plus it’s backlit, and you can make the text larger if you want. I don’t think it’s harder on the eyes.

  • Alexander

    I always loved books. Science fiction, fantasy, history, obscure old novels. I love to read the good ones over again. I have a bad back. I move fairly frequently. Used to scour used book stores looking for the rest of Dumarest of Terra after reading a couple. They found bedbugs in the local library. The entire set popped up at amazon at 3 am. while I lay in bed shopping. I’m waiting for Kersh. Love my kindle.

  • omar

    Off topic, but what did you find out about Pankaj Mishra? Do you think he read Niall Ferguson’s book or not?

  • chris w

    I read books exclusively on the Kindle — not the device, but the application on the iPhone. I found tablets to be too large for my taste, as I can’t hold it in one hand. Books are very readable on the iPhone screen, and considering that I always have my phone with me, it’s ideal. I’m currently rereading “Song of Ice and Fire” on my phone.

    Toto said:
    “So where do you purchase your weekly new set of eyeballs?”

    I don’t find reading on the iPhone to be difficult on the eyes at all. It’s extremely readable, every bit as much so as a regular book. The font size is exactly the same, so I don’t see why you think it would be a problem. It’s only a problem on the computer because of the overly-long lines of text.

  • Guido Cole

    I read on my iPad. Novels mainly on the kindle app, scientific literature on pdf reader, easier for high lighting. Impulsive buying has increased, but the overall cost is significantly down (shop prices in Mexico are very high). As many others I resent the high cost of ebooks in Amazon and some other distributers, they seem to promote piracy.

  • Clark

    I like to read in the tub after a workout. And Kindles or iPhones don’t do well there. That said I have been testing reading both with the iBooks app and the Kindle app on my iPhone and really enjoyed it. (Overall I prefer iBooks just because you get fewer false clicks than with the Kindle app) Works great when your spouse is trying to go to sleep as you can read in the dark. The downside is that I’ve bought a lot of my books used and you can’t get those prices in the ebooks.

  • Randall Parker

    I rarely buy anything but Kindle books mostly due to shelf space limitations. I had to give away a few hundred books in order to move. If I had a huge house with a dream library I’d own more hard copies. But eBooks have a lot of advantages.

    I’ve got a Kindle DX which is much more appealing to me than a tablet because it has much longer battery life. I don’t want to reach for my book reader and find the battery is dead. Battery life measured in weeks is best for book reading IMO.

    Smart phones as book readers: I’ve done this with a few novels. I wouldn’t want to do it with technical books or historical books where I want to refer back and forth. I really want better navigation so I can switch back and forth between areas of interest. My ideal book reader would use eInk, a screen another inch bigger than a DX, and better navigation within and between books.

  • Randall Parker

    Razib, Impulse buying: yes, I buy more books now that I own the Kindle DX. I’ve also started buying more music for my Galaxy Nexus Android 4.0 phone. Just bought large collections of Mozart performances for really cheap. I’m amazed at how cheaply one can build up an excellent classical music collection.

    I do all of my book shopping and most of my music shopping using a PC web browser. It is much faster that way.

    I like that I can read my books and listen to my music on multiple devices. I now use my previous Android phone as a music player and alarm clock.

  • Garvan

    In the last six months, I have purchased more Kindle ebooks than paper books, the main reason for the change being immediate delivery. I have used Amazon’s mail delivery service for years, so Kindle ebooks were my first choice (to limit the number of companies with my credit card details).

    So far I have used the free software reader to read the ebook’s on my netbook, but expect I will get some kind of kindle device when I am next in a country where they are available for sale. When reading technical books, I quickly adapted to using bookmarks and making notes, so I don’t miss the convenience of quickly browsing a paper book. One issue I have is that maps and technical diagrams are too small and could not be zoomed with the free reader. I hope this will be better with a Kindle.

  • Antonio

    I’ve not read many books lately and the few I am reading is still via old fashioned style, which I like. I have a question though: Razib and others, how do you read scientific papers? The ones with lots of graphs, tables and equations. Do you print them? Or read over the computer? Or over tablet? If so, which one? How about annotation? That’s have been my drama lately. Cheers,

  • Zora

    A small screen, such as on the iPhone, is fine if you’re near-sighted. Just take off your glasses and hold the screen a few inches from your eyes :)

  • Steve

    I used Kindle extensively when living in Brazil but I’ve switched back to paper since returning to the US. The fact that one doesn’t “own” a book on a Kindle and the high prices totally turn me off.

  • Antonio

    side comment: when living in Brazil (Rio de Janeiro) I never have problem while buying books from Amazon, though they took longer than now that I live in LA and have the premium thing.

  • Naveen

    I’ve switched away from paper books for a couple of years now, and use Kindle on a variety of devices: iPhone (great for crowded Tube trains), iPad (lying on the sofa), as well my trusty Mac and (not so trusty) Dell laptops.
    The main draw for me has been the portability, and of course speed at which I can obtain books.
    Having access to all my archived books (and now documents) as well as the automatic synch’ing of bookmarks is also a nice.

    However, I do still yearn for somewhere to pencil notes, and the feel of those lovely tangible pages between my fingertips…oh well.

  • dave chamberlin

    They each have pros and cons. What I like about paper books is I can underline what I think is important, refer to the page number and a few word desription in the front of the book so that I can dig out the exact quote I need later. Used books via amazon is still ALOT cheaper than the minor reduction in price via kindle. I like my kindle for a variety of reasons which I think have been well covered by comments already. You can by the way buy some really nice looking floor to ceiling book shelves you can assemble yourself in under an hour at stores like target. For us book nerds nothing picks up the look of your home office like wall to wall bookshelves on what would otherwise be a blank wall. I must confess I’m an old fart and I like my old fashioned paper books, but my old tired eyes prefer kindle.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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