TKC 55 Nicholson Baker

Nicholson_Baker_-_headshotNewsRupert Murdoch is still talking tough about a possible break with Amazon over the Wall Street Journal’s Kindle edition, despite a price increase in May and a bigger share of the revenue for News Corp.  Also, Sony announces two new Readers, one costing only $199 and the other featuring a touchscreen.

Tech TipZoolert really works! It checked every five minutes for four months and finally enabled me to purchase Power Rules for $9.99.

InterviewNicholson Baker, author of “A New Page: Can the Kindle Really Improve on the Book?” in the Aug. 3 issue of The New Yorker, says he expected to like his new Kindle more than he did, and that led to a highly literate takedown of the device and his surprising preference for reading in bed with an iPod Touch. Also, what Baker has learned about the Kindle and the community of Kindle pioneers after publication of his piece.  Click here for a list of his books available at the Kindle store.

ContentShmoop this week announced 200 new textbook titles for the Kindle. Also, a highly regarded translation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy is now available on the Kindle.

Comments – Howard Dunlavy, Tom Lichty, Allen MacDiarmid, Charles Tey Tay, and an audio comment from Kes Woodward.

I’ve submitted a panel proposal for South by Southwest Interactive 2010, and when the PanelPicker goes live August 17 through September 4, I’d appreciate your support for the topic, which is “Taming the Kindle – Guidance for Readers and Authors.”  Thanks!

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Comments 16

  1. Steven Schwindt wrote:

    I enjoyed your interview with Nick Baker. I read his article in the New Yorker when it first came out.

    The sound quality of his side the conversation was not good, not nearly as good as other phone interviews. It was almost painful to listen to the quality of the sound. His interview was good however.

    Posted 07 Aug 2009 at 10:14 am
  2. Len Edgerly wrote:

    Steven, I’m wondering how you were listening to the episode. I just checked it on my MacBook Pro with external speakers, and I also listened in the car – both seemed okay, given that it was a phone connection for Nick Baker. I’d love more details so I can figure out if there’s some way to improve the phone audio on future interviews. Thanks….

    Posted 07 Aug 2009 at 1:17 pm
  3. Andrys wrote:

    Thanks for getting the interview with Baker, who probably has no idea how emotionally biased his essay was, albeit entertainingly written.

    I’ve written my own response to it at

    Posted 07 Aug 2009 at 2:40 pm
  4. Len Charnoff wrote:


    I had no problem with the clarity of Nick Baker’s voice.

    But, like Steven I found the quality of audio on Tom Weber’s TKC #51 painful to listen. It was the only episode that I skipped the interview

    Posted 07 Aug 2009 at 10:07 pm
  5. Len Edgerly wrote:

    Len, I agree the #51 was painful. Tom Weber was using a headset with his phone and it was cutting in and out. Never again.

    Posted 08 Aug 2009 at 2:23 am
  6. Heather Hollick wrote:

    Len, I can’t thank you enough for the interview with Nicholas Baker. When I learned of Baker’s article in the New Yorker a chill ran down my spine with a fear that perhaps my enthusiasm for the Kindle was clouding my judgment on the real value and functionality of the device. Was this little gem not as good as I had allowed myself to believe? I have not read Baker’s New Yorker article and am now relieved to discover that I do not need to.

    As Baker spoke it seemed to me that many of his points were almost non-sequiturs. Consider:

    * Baker doesn’t like the Kindle because his iPod touch is better for reading in bed after his wife has fallen asleep.

    * Baker doesn’t like the Kindle because Amazon will not release sales figures.

    * Baker doesn’t like e-ink technology because he thinks the latest LCD screens are better, irrespective of the shortened battery life and the widely noted eye-strain induced by backlit screens.

    * Because the DX is too heavy for him it is therefore a monumental mistake for Amazon to have made it. In his mind there is no use-case where it might be valued.

    When I think back to your recent interview with Mike Elgan and his keen insights for the publishing industry and the future of reading, it was clear to me that Baker has no credentials or credibility as a reviewer of technology. He seems to place no value in the technological advantages of the device, such as adjustable font size, ever-present Whispernet, virtually unlimited library of books always in my purse and a mere thumb click away, the ingenuity of free book samples, etc. He makes no allowance for the excellent ergonomics of holding the Kindle verses wrestling with a paper book on your lap. For me, these pluses overwhelm the legitimate shortcomings of the screen and the buttons on the Kindle.

    Nor does he seem to have the ability to project beyond his own limitations. People do like this device and that somehow seems incredulous to him. After listening to your excellent interview I can calm my fears and remain true to my love of all things gadget. Long live the Kindle!

    Posted 08 Aug 2009 at 6:22 pm
  7. Linda wrote:

    Len – I like the new website look very much. Great improvement.

    Posted 08 Aug 2009 at 6:30 pm
  8. Mario Jarrin wrote:

    After I listened to your interview with N. Baker I went to the New Yorker magazine, printed his article to PDF, and copied to my Kindle DX. I am looking forward to reading. it 🙂


    Posted 08 Aug 2009 at 7:14 pm
  9. Bob Cope wrote:

    Baker really came through as a “reluctant critic.” It seems his “real” reasons for dissing the kindle are:
    1. It doesn’t meet his “state of the art” pixelation requirements. Boo hoo. Guess he’s only a Walt Mossberg wanna-be after all.
    2. He doesn’t like the light.
    And he sure didn’t see the light when you gently tried to give him a few clues about the kindle’s true attributes late in the interview……..
    I really think our time was wasted with all his “apologies”–too bad he doesn’t even have the courage of his “convictions,” such as they are.
    Onward and upward…..Keep on readin’!

    Posted 08 Aug 2009 at 9:53 pm
  10. Mary McManus wrote:

    My response to Mr. Baker’s piece in the New Yorker is at:

    Posted 09 Aug 2009 at 3:39 am
  11. Al wrote:

    I was not as put off by his article as much as others. I treated it as an opinion piece, not a technical review. When he made a negative comment that was just plain wrong, like hard to hold for example, which is a benefit for arthritic hands on elderly people who cannot hold a large print book up by hand, I just discounted the rest of his comments as well. Meanwhile, my Kindle is for my use and if he doesn’t like his he should sell it and move on with getting library books or paper books, complete with the attendant delays, wrong text size and weight.

    Posted 09 Aug 2009 at 7:48 am
  12. Al wrote:

    I also found the sound so fuzzy that I nearly fast forwarded through the podcast. I struggled through it and caught most of it, but it was painful to hear. I was listening on my iMac with it’s internal speakers, but everything else is clear and easy on the ears.

    Posted 09 Aug 2009 at 8:45 am
  13. Linda Hopkins wrote:

    My Kindle has never given me a paper cut.

    To truly celebrate the Kindle, I see it for not only what it is, but what it will become. I do not agonize over its shortcomings; I marvel over the technology that brought me the Kindle.

    I believe Nicholson Baker didn’t give his Kindle a chance to show him that its features outshine its shortcomings. With so many enthusiastic users, a negative article about the Kindle makes better copy than a positive one, and I believe Mr. Baker didn’t want his Kindle to become an indispensable gadget friend. Thus, his harsh article and opinion. I suspect he is not well versed of the many features of the Kindle–“the thing” being not worthy of his time.

    Mr. Baker’s complaints seem trivial and whiny to me. The Kindle description and video make it clear that the Kindle is not backlit and all books are not yet in Kindle format. His expectations were unrealistic. If the book light Mr. Baker purchased isn’t working well for him, he should one find that does, instead of considering it a major flaw of the Kindle. A light can attach easily to a cover (again, he should find one that suits him best), and some are even built into the cover. Where is his sense of adventure? He could discover the way to configure the Kindle to work best for him if he were open to it.

    Should Amazon have waited to produce a perfect Kindle and platform that would appeal to everyone, including Mr. Baker? Amazon could have waited until the Kindle had a color screen that can be read easily in the dark as well as in bright sunlight; a slick web browser; the ability to scan your eye to determine the appropriate font size and style for easiest reading; voice controls; a store with all books ever published available in Kindle format with perfect layout (no typos or line-ending issues); a chameleon feature that allows the user to change the design and size of the Kindle on a whim; and a built-in Swahili dictionary.

    Personally, I’m happy to be an early Kindle adopter, even with its flaws, which haven’t detracted from my enjoyment. It’s perfect in its own way and will evolve into a device that’s even more amazing. I regret that Nicholson Baker cannot see the Kindle in that perspective. I, for one, like having no paper cuts.

    Posted 09 Aug 2009 at 6:30 pm
  14. Soosie Burnett wrote:

    Aloha Len! Just wanted to comment on Zoolert. Every time I tried to use it, my selection was unavailable. So I switched to Excellent results, and even when a not-yet-released book does not yet have a price, Shoppingnotes alerts me as soon as a price has been set.

    My use of Shoppingnotes started five months ago. Before then new releases were almost never above $9.99; now it is the new normal. I now have about 27 books on Shoppingnotes as more and more new releases are over $9.99, and they stay that way longer and longer. I’d be interested in future guests who may have insight into pricing policies and the future of ebooks, price-wise.

    Thanks again — or as we say in Maui, Mahalo nui loa (thanks very much)!

    Posted 11 Aug 2009 at 1:41 pm
  15. Mario wrote:

    After reading the article and then listening to the interview again I have to say that Len did a great job drawing Baker out. For me the article just cemented what Baker, I believe, is about: a Luddite not about technology, but about his idea of what a corporation should act like. He disliked the Kindle because he dislikes Amazon’s secretiveness about sales, and total control over this system. He likes the iPhone because the program he uses to read was developed by a sole programmer. One meets his idea of fairness, the other one doesn’t. The interview, and article, told us more about how Baker feels about Amazon than about the Kindle. Based on his comment on how difficult is to navigate in the Kindle from book to book, I suggest he never even read the manual for the Kindle. Yet sadly, this last item also makes him partially accurate. Who wants to read a manual so as to be able to read a book? Not many of us.

    Posted 12 Aug 2009 at 7:49 pm
  16. thorn wrote:

    i can’t read comfortably for extended periods on my ipod touch, but definitely get where mr. baker’s coming from. if apple had created this device 10 years ago, we might not even have e-ink today — just like we could have ended up with gas mantle lamps instead of electric light bulbs.

    i also hear mr. baker’s gripe about the clip-on light for kindle 2. that’s why i chose the m-edge platform cover for my device. it’s not beautiful, not ugly; has stiff boards that protect the screen; stands on its own so i can eat and read at the same time — and its integrated light is finally available. i was lucky — found after i ordered that i don’t actually read in the dark all that much, so the wait for the light to become available was not too painful for me. but now that i have it, i use it a lot — and i do always have it with me. it doesn’t clip to the cover. it has a 1-1/2″-wide tab that slides into a snug pocket behind the device. the light itself then pivots up and down, and has a flexible neck just like the mighty bright’s. the light claims to have two intensities — i don’t notice a big difference between these, and don’t care too much. i find it to be an exceptionally nice design, as the light itself really goes nowhere on its own, once set into position. i frequently change positions while reading, and this light doesn’t require a lot of futzing.

    re. ‘kindle’ vs. ‘the kindle’ — i am under the impression that amazon named the device with a verb.

    still enjoying the show. thanks ~

    Posted 18 Aug 2009 at 1:11 pm

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