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Kindle-Deprived Canada

So Amazon’s Kindle will be released in more than 100 countries... but not in Canada.

The much-hyped electronic book reader was first released in the United States in 1997, and already has 45 percent of the e-reader market in that country. As of October 19, you’ll be able to buy it in England, India, Brazil and many other countries.

But not here.

Some people I know are very annoyed about that. But the announcement doesn’t kindle (sorry, had to get at least one pun off) any disappointment, jealousy or resentment in me. I just don’t see what the fuss is about.

First, some background. Electronic book readers (e-readers) can store hundreds of texts in a slim, lightweight book-size device. They’re convenient -- slip one in your purse or backpack and you’re never short of reading material on the bus, SkyTrain or in the dentist’s office. And you don’t have to worry much about dead batteries -- they use so little energy that they can go for days at a time without needing to be recharged. You can jump from one book to another as your mood takes you and then go back to the first at exactly the same page you left off.

They have their limitations. When it comes to an e-reader, one font fits all. They’re hard to read in bright sunlight. They don’t have colour. They don't display images very well. Not all books are available electronically, even new ones. And they’re pricey - the Kindle sells for US $259 in America. The Sony Reader is slightly cheaper, with its basic model going for $259 Canadian. Books cost extra on top of that, generally costing about $10 each. And when you buy an e-book, at least from Amazon, you don’t actually own it outright, as people who bought copies of George Orwell’s 1984 found to their surprise earlier this year. Overnight, their copies of 1984 were erased from their Kindles by Amazon, because it turned out the e-publisher selling the book didn’t own the rights to it.

Since it was introduced, the Kindle has received the lion’s share of media attention, despite the presence of other electronic book readers. Besides Sony, others in the market include iRex, and Plastic Logic, which is partnering with U.S. bookstore giant Barnes and Noble.

Amazon has captured the fickle attention of the media for two reasons. First, Amazon, like Apple, Google, Twitter and Facebook, is sexy. Anything they do right now is of interest. Poor Sony, despite offering a better, less restrictive e-reader, is largely ignored. Sony was sexy 20 years ago, but not now.

Second -- and this is the reason the Kindle won’t be available in Canada --- Amazon has built wireless access into the Kindle. Not only can you read books on the go, you can buy -- and receive them as well, over cell phone network connections. And that goes for newspapers and magazines as well. Unfortunately for Canadian Kindle-lusters, Amazon hasn’t yet reached agreement with Canadian wireless providers and publishers.

I’ve had a Sony Reader for six months now and I don’t miss not having a Kindle at all. For one thing, the Sony Reader can store books in several other formats besides its own native format. For example, you can read PDFs on the Sony, which is very useful for me as a graduate student. I used to search for academic papers online, download them, print them out and then read them on the SkyTrain. Now I just download them and copy them to the Reader where they can stay, taking up little space, easily accessible and easily searched. The Sony Reader also easily handles out-of-copyright texts like the thousands available through Project Gutenberg, as well as books sold by independent e-book vendors. You can’t say the same about the Kindle, at least not yet. If you can’t purchase it through Amazon, you can’t read it on your Kindle. (PDFs can be read on the Kindle, but it doesn't seem very easy).

So Canadians, get over your Kindle envy. Kindles may be cool, but cool isn’t always better.

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