Mormon Studies on a Kindle?

July 29, 2009 | 22 comments
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I was kind of excited when I got my Kindle a few weeks ago. I liked the idea of having lots of books in one place, not having to haul the usual load around. I liked the idea of searching a book easily, of highlighting text and copying it out. Other features, like mailing in my own papers, also sounded intriguing. Unfortunately, the Kindle doesn’t deliver particularly well for Mormon studies.

Start with the good points. The device is light and portable. The book prices are nicely low (though I ordered a few books that I already had, since I wanted them readily available, so there was an extra cost there). And the searchability of the e-book is really, really cool. Let me say that again — searchability is extremely nice. It also allows text highlighting which you can access later from the computer — really cool.

Many other features are also good. The add-your-own-papers feature works wonderfully. The Kindle reads Word documents very well, and its basic-internet is functional, if not pretty. The Kindle also has a nice catalog of free public-domain books. I know they’re free elsewhere and not hard to find. Still, it’s nice to be able to load up Heart of Darkness and Pride and Prejudice and The Scarlet Letter.

Unfortunately, there are major problems.

First, there are still major, massive gaps in the book catalog. Rough Stone Rolling is available on Kindle. So is By the Hand of Mormon. The not-available list is embarrasingly long and dwarfs the available list: Magic World View; Brodie; Mormon Enigma; all Nibley; Prince’s McKay bio; Mormonism in Transition; Shipps; the list goes on and on and on. (Oddly enough, Terry Tempest Williams’ Refuge is not available, but Red is.) Until Kindle has a better catalog of Mormon studies books, it’s going to be of very limited utility.

A second, major, non-negotiable down side: Endnotes. As in, they don’t exist. Or rather, they exist, but in many books, they’re not coded, and so you can’t access them from the text. This is the case for Rough Stone Rolling, for instance. There is no way to read along with the endnotes as you read the text. This makes the endnotes mostly useless.

I checked with customer service, and was told that the problem was “relatively uncommon.” This was not borne out by my experience — RSR, plus the two legal texts that I ordered, all had uncoded endnotes. After an hour with customer service, I learned that my only option was to e-mail the publisher (in Amazon’s “feedback” box) and ask them to please, pretty please, release a properly coded version of the book. Here’s hoping.

To make it worse, there is apparently no way to tell, ahead of time, whether a book’s endnotes will be coded. The only way to find out is to buy the title.

And finally, at least some of the books don’t allow nifty features. The Kindle has a book-on-tape function that reads any book to you (very cool), but that functionality is disabled for RSR. You can’t tell whether that feature is enabled for a book ahead of time, either.

(And yes, I know, Amazon zapped purchased copies of books which turned out the be unauthorized, and that was very bad. That doesn’t bug me as much as these other problems.)

So overall, the Kindle is a pretty, searchable, expensive device that doesn’t have many of the books I want, and doesn’t let me see the endnotes in the books it has. Until they address these issues, it’s not going to be a useful tool in Mormon studies.

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22 Responses to Mormon Studies on a Kindle?

  1. Blain on July 29, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    Here’s a vote for stamping out endnotes in favor of footnotes in general (endnotes at the end of a chapter for lengthier notes remaining okay). Endnotes at the end of a text are annoying in the extreme for this reader.

    That aside, thanks for the review on the Kindle. I’m not yet tempted by it, but I suspect I’ll be purchasing its offspring or a competitor in about four generations. I hope they’ve resolved the royalty problems for the authors of the works by then, or there might be a lot less current material available for them.

  2. mlu on July 30, 2009 at 2:28 am

    DRM also creates a problem for notetaking. Some books have a limit on how much text you can clip to notes but some don’t and you can’t find out whether a book has such limits and if so what they are. Even after you buy it.

    At some point, the notes you take will be replaced by a message letting you know that you have exceeded your limit, but you won’t know that until you review the notes. You think you’re actually clipping text for later use.

    You can’t find out what rights you’ve actually purchased.

    I asked Amazon about this but they ignored me.

  3. Mark D. on July 30, 2009 at 3:44 am

    Gadgets like the Kindle are great as long as one understands that one is effectively leasing books rather than purchasing them, that that lease comes with a bunch of unconventional restrictions, and a variety of contingencies may cause the lease to be effectively revoked.

    A normal book can be sold to someone else for example…

  4. Kent Larsen on July 30, 2009 at 7:54 am

    Kaimi, others, these are all reasons why ebooks in general still have a way to go before they will gain widespread acceptance. While some formatting issues (such as the footnote problem Kaimi mentions) still exist, most of the issues are distribution issues — what information should be communicated to the customer (rights available in the book, formatting done, etc.).

    The Kindle’s biggest advances include hooking the device to the ‘net, allowing instant ordering, and setting up a system that allows anyone to sell their ebooks for the Kindle.

    As far as I can see, the biggest problems remaining with ebooks are distribution and marketing problems. The devices are good enough (not quite perfect), but the supporting systems for distribution and communication about the books are still in their infancy.

  5. Geoff B on July 30, 2009 at 8:53 am

    I’ve looked into the Kindle, and it’s just not for me. Maybe in a few years. I am a blackberry addict, but I still like the feel of books when I read. The price is also a bit high — like $300, right?

  6. Kari on July 30, 2009 at 10:20 am

    Kaimi – I love my Kindle (version 1), but it hasn’t completely replaced books for many of the reasons you mention. One of the nice things about Amazon, is you can return ebooks if you’re not pleased. I have returned every book I have bought in which the endnotes aren’t linked, and I am very specific about why I’m returning the book when I speak to the customer service rep. I also send a message to the publisher to let them know it’s unacceptable.

    Mark D. – While it is a lot like leasing, it’s very easy to “own” the texts. On the Kindle, simply turn off the wireless (which I do unless I know I need something downloaded as the battery lasts about 3.5x longer with wireless off) and back up your books to your computer. If a book is deleted by Amazon when you turn wireless back on, then simply restore it from your computer after you’ve turned the wireless back off. It’s a simple process.

    KL – I agree with you about distribution. Periodicals distributed through Amazon lose all formatting because they are simply converting an RSS feed to the Kindle format, which really isn’t the right way to distribute periodicals that are more book-like (and requires your articles to be viewable on the web anyway, essentially making them free). And while a lot of new books (i.e. published this year or last) are available, many publishers aren’t going back and converting their recently, but not newly, published books, like RSR.

    I wish that Dialogue and Sunstone would make electronic versions available, not just the pdf versions that are already available. I’ve emailed the Dialogue folks about it, and I left comments about a year ago at The Red Brick Store but I think it’s a long way off, because of the distribution issues.

    It’s a bit time consuming to do it right and ensure the notes are all appropriately linked, but I’ve been able to convert a few Dialogues from PDF to kindle format, and I love having them on my Kindle. Still not great for images, but really most published periodicals aren’t publishing high quality images anyway.

    Blain – In an electronic format, where the size of text can be changed at will, there is no consistent pagination that would allow for footnotes. My understanding of the Kindle DX is that it has a built in pdf reader, which would allow for footnotes, but if you set the view to page width, you’re still scrolling down a screen or two to read the footnotes. I’d rather be able just click the link to the note, jump to it, and then jump back to my previous place with one push of a button, which is what the Kindle does now for properly formatted texts.

  7. Dave on July 30, 2009 at 11:12 am

    Bummer. I think Kindle is like Windows — someday they’ll get it right. Like Microsoft, Amazon is big enough in its market to get it wrong a couple of times and still come back for another try.

  8. Kent Larsen on July 30, 2009 at 11:25 am

    Kari (6), I hope you see that its a little more than what you mention. I think about it in terms of infrastructure. Amazon needs to realize, for example, that they need fields in their database to indicate what rights are available when you purchase a Kindle ebook, to indicate if the footnotes are linked properly, etc. But I think that this is all too new for them to get these things set up right and the database populated properly and accurately.

    Its not just the Kindle that suffers these problems. Almost all ebooks have this problem to some degree or another. Yes pdf is exactly like the printed page, but someone still needs to code the links in a pdf so that index entries, tables of contents, footnotes, endnotes, etc., all have clickable links. pdf files also have various levels of security protection (how much of a document you can copy, how frequently, etc.), and no ebook vendor or website that I know of has the ability to indicate on the description page for an ebook what limitations are in the file.

    I have to add that I absolutely agree with mlu’s criticism of DRM, and I am largely persuaded that it is a bad idea to use it. BUT, then I had a translation I did taken and distributed, without attribution or credit of any kind and without my permission. So I certainly understand the desire to try and protect documents on some basic level. Realistically, this means that anyone disributing ebooks will be faced with the choice of either excluding DRM-encoded ebooks from what they distribute, or support DRM-encoded ebooks alongside those not encoded.

    You may not like it, but I suspect DRM will be around for a few years at least.

  9. Kari on July 30, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    Kent,

    I am a little confused, it sounds like you want more of a description of the formatting and capabilities, rather than rights, or do I misunderstand?

    I fully expect DRM to be around for a long time, but the DRM for many Kindle books isn’t a big deal for families or even friends, if you associate them with one Amazon account; you can associate up to 6 Kindles per Amazon account and share books between them. My spouse and I share books this way.

    Also, the Kindle book DRM is easily broken, if one feels strongly about doing so. Amazon has developed a newer format for Kindle books with stronger encryption. It also allows for embeddable fonts. However, the couple versions I have seen have terrible fonts which made the books unreadable. I also returned those. I would be interested to know if the books mlu has seen this issue with were the older or newer format. I’ve yet to have my notes clipped in any of the Kindle books I own, but maybe I’m just note taking enough notes to see the issue.

    I don’t understand the issue, as it pertains to the Kindle, as to copying a document. Do you really use your Kindle to copy large chunks of a text to share with others? I’ve yet to figure out how to copy more than a page at a time using the Kindle. I know you can physically copy a whole physical book, but the time and expense is rarely worth it.

  10. Steve Evans on July 30, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    Thank your lucky stars that BCC is available for Kindle!

  11. Kari on July 30, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    After Amazon takes their cut, what are you getting per month per subscription, about 2 cents?

    And I love the product description. Write that yourself, did you Steve?

  12. Steve Evans on July 30, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    Why, Kari, I hadn’t noticed – I guess Amazon fills in that description automatically, based on their review?

    Yes, we are bathing in filthy lucre.

  13. Bob on July 30, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    I would love to have a Kindle, but I think the netbook will do it in. I have an HP netbook..it’s sweet.

  14. wreddyornot on July 30, 2009 at 11:42 pm

    Over against having only a license to the limited use of a DRM-protected text with a book purchased through Amazon or some other ebook vendor, I wonder about one’s right to take acquired conventional paper books–over a lifetime a person can buy a lot of them–removing their spines via a guillotine cutter, and feeding them through a resonably efficient scanner, applying OCR to extract the formatted text electronically, making any necessary edits to them that might make them more accessable but doesn’t change the words, etc., including adding bookmarks and hyperlinks for, say contents and footnotes and the like, and then converting the resulting files, via say mobipocket, and ending up with backup copies of the original purchased hardcopies that can be conveniently stored on a Kindle or whatever electronic device you like. No commercial motive whatsoever, just making a backup of what you bought and ease of use, having all the conveniences of your personal library at your fingertips whereever you go? Always open. Only needs an infrequent charge to keep it going.

    Any legal/ethical problems with this? In otherwords, not necessarily buying the licenses to use DRM-protected files in the form of ebooks, but having bought actual paper and converting it to ebooks?

  15. Doc Sarvis on August 2, 2009 at 11:38 am

    I’ve been doing a lot of religion-based reading using my Kindle (Mormon-based and otherwise), and while I agree that there is a major dearth of Mormon studies material avaiable, there is a lot of interesting stuff, much of it free or at very low cost. List to come…

  16. Doc Sarvis on August 2, 2009 at 11:47 am

    Here’s an informal list from my Kindle (sorry that I am not providing links but you can find this stufff on Amazon pretty easily); except for the items that I mark with an asterix (*), everything here is either free or under $5. Many are free.

    Triple Combination with 1830 BoM
    NIV Bible
    KJV Bible
    Institutes of the Christian Religion – Calvin
    Jesus the Christ
    The Prodigal God and The Reason for God – Keller*
    Autobiography of Parley P Pratt
    Claiming Christ – Millett*
    The Refiner’s Fire – Brooke*
    A Different jesus? – Millett*
    Works of Jonathan Edwards
    Rough Stone Rolling*
    By the Hand of Mormon – Givens*
    Under the Prophet in Utah – Cannon (technically anti-Mormon but paints a very interesting picture of the 1890s church – free)
    Mormons and the Bible – Barlow*
    Works of Augustine of Hippo
    ESV Bible
    The Quran
    Mormon Settlement in Arizona
    The Victory of Reason and Discovering God – Stark

  17. Kari on August 3, 2009 at 1:29 am

    wreddyornot,

    Don’t know about the legality of what you describe, but who cares? If you’re willing to tear your physical books apart, and don’t share the electronic versions, no one will ever know. I have always considered unauthorized distribution to be the reason for copyright laws, so in my no-legal-training opinion, even if you’re breaking the letter of the law, you’re not breaking the spirit of the law.

  18. mlu on August 3, 2009 at 1:51 am

    Kari, um. I don’t know.

    I’m using a Kindle 2.

    The book that was clipped badly–when I was about a third of the way through was On the Rule of Law by Brian Tamanaha. It’s a 2003 copyright from Cambridge U Press. I just finished Atheist Delusions by David Bentley Hart (2009 copyright from Yale U Press) and clipped notes all the way to the end without a problem. I was, admittedly, more sparing because I had no idea how much I could clip.

  19. Kari on August 3, 2009 at 9:09 am

    mlu,

    Since I’ve obviously never clipped enough, I’m wondering how large your file of clippings became. Have you copied it to your computer and looked at it? Were both books bought from Amazon, or did you obtain them elsewhere? I assume both had DRM.

    I’ve read online that the clipping amount is set as a percentage of the book size, and that each book can be different, so it’s not a Kindle setting, but it’s encoded in the book. I’m going to look at a couple of my books and see if I can figure out how to change the setting.

  20. Kari on August 3, 2009 at 9:15 am

    Just out of curiosity, what do you do with your clippings after you’ve clipped them? Is it so you can include extensive quotes in other documents? Research files?

  21. mlu on August 3, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    I think the amount you can clip is probably a percentage of the book, but I would think I could just find out. I could clip less–rationing–if I knew. Amazon says the policy is set by individual publishers, but they don’t tell you what the policy is, even when you’ve bought a book.

    I understand the reason. With unlimited clipping I can easily liberate the book into a doc and send it wherever. I’m not quibbling with the policy but with the secrecy.

    Yes, research files and for quoting in other writing.

    You end up with just a text file you can download to your computer containing any quotes you’ve clipped. My practice has been to underline as I read, then to go back and type what I’ve underlined into a text document, then. . .but it was so time intensive that I only got a fragment of the books I read captured in a way most useful to me.

    I read a book today and now have 28 pages of clippings, which are the core thoughts I want to use for other purposes.

    The ability to clip as I read was the main reason I bought a kindle. I read quite a lot online but I’m often frustrated reading paper books because I want notes in digital form when I’m done.

  22. Kari on August 4, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    So a bit of research and I learned how to disable the “clipping limit” for a book. It’s very easy to do. Now I’ve just got to test it out. It doesn’t disable or crack the DRM, so I’m pretty sure it’s not illegal. It’s just a setting in the metadata of the file.