For those who may not know what the Amazon Kindle is, it is, in short, an eBook (electronic book) reader. eBooks provide users with the same content as dead-tree versions (with some exceptions on illustrations and footnotes, depending on the conversion). The Kindle, which sells for $359.00 on Amazon, is one of many such readers on the market. Several features set it apart from the others:
1. Amazon's 130,000+ Kindle-format books are priced around $9.99 (some higher or lower).
2. Built-in wireless (called Whispernet) downloading is also free with purchase of the Kindle.
3. Form factor: the unit is shaped something like a book and is tapered on one side to make it easy to hold. The machine does make it very easy to read for long periods of time without the fatigue you get in your hand from holding a book open and up while reading.
The two major upsides to eBooks are presently: generally lower cost and ease of transportation. A book addict like me can literally carry hundreds of books in a unit the size of a typical small paperback. Another benefit that may not be obvious at first is privacy. How many times have you found yourself in a waiting room, an airplane, or other public places and wished those around you could not see what you were reading?
My only real complaint is not an original one and is directed to Amazon's DRM (Digital Rights Management) policy. To briefly illustrate, imagine you want to share a book you've purchased with friends. Here's how it currently works: When you buy a Kindle eBook from Amazon, it is marked with DRM tied to your account and will not work on other people's Kindles. There is no way (yet) to transfer ownership of a Kindle book. I don't think it's all that technically difficult to limit the ebooks to one reader at a time, just like you can only loan a book to one person at a time.