Monday, June 30, 2008


I met Michelle at ThrillerFest when her first book, THE TUNNELS, was coming out. She's a sweetheart and I'm delighted that she was kind enough to not only provide ten copies of her latest, BONEYARD, for me to giveaway at during the month of July, but that she volunteered to share some thoughts with my readers. Enjoy!

The New Beta Wars: Amazon Kindle vs. Sony Reader
By Michelle Gagnon

It’s a shame I’m not single anymore. Every time I use my Sony Reader, I get approached by numerous people (especially men) who want to hear all about it. On airplanes, in the gym, at the movies, I seriously have been shanghaied by an average of three people a day since purchasing it a few months ago. The main questions I always get asked: How does it work (very well), how do I like it (I love it), is it hard to use (yes and no, more on that later)…

The irony in all this is that I am the furthest thing from an early adopter. I didn’t get a cell phone until the late 90’s, and only upgrade computers when they expire after a long and storied life. Over the past decade I have been dragged kicking and screaming into the modern world. I come by it honestly: my mother is one of those people who thinks the lunar landing was filmed on a sound stage.
Yet here I am, at the forefront of new technology. Mind-boggling. Since there seem to be daily posts about e-readers on the lists I lurk on, I thought I’d sum up my experience here…

Let me start by saying that I never had any intention of using the darn thing. I bought it for my husband to use during a month-long motorcycle tour of Europe (am I the best wife ever or what?) I figured, what better way for him to not only have a dozen books on hand, but to carry travel guides for each country he was visiting, all in a device that tucked neatly into a saddle bag. Right?

Wrong. Turns out there were only a handful of European travel books available on the Sony site, most specific to cities. Worse yet, we had a hell of a time downloading the software to use the damn thing. And Sony customer service, in a word, sucks: there’s no live chat, no phone number to call, just an email that will reply to you within a day or so. But despite the very specific questions that you ask, the powers that be at Sony will only send you the same set of instructions from page one of their manual over and over again (until you start threatening their children, after which they stop responding at all). It literally took us four months of fits and starts to register the damn thing, get the store software on my computer, and transfer a single book to the Reader. Nightmarish. And mind you, my husband is much better at these things, and he was stymied as well. We were on the verge of making the Reader an extraordinarily expensive paperweight, or venting our frustration on it with a baseball bat (√† la the fax machine scene in “Office Space”). And then one day, I had an epiphany. I clicked a tiny box in the upper left hand window and voil√†: we were in business, no thanks to customer service.

So after finally figuring out the basics, I quickly became hooked. I didn’t expect to—I’m one of those people who wax eloquent over the feel of a book in my hands, the whisper of pages turning, blah blah blah…

But with a few months of intensive travel facing me as I braced for my next book tour, I decided to download some books. I was only going to use it for travel, I was still in control. I swear, I could stop any time I wanted. After taking it on a vacation to Mexico, I was hooked. I read a book a day, and never had to deliberate over the weight in my suitcase, or whether or not I should shed paperbacks en route like some strange molting creature. What I discovered is that this format suited my reading habits perfectly. I read voraciously during every snatched moment of free time (waiting in the Doctor’s office, in line at the bank) and my Reader fit into every purse, whether I was engrossed in a novella or a 700 page tome. Who knows, with this nifty device I might actually have finished War and Peace. Maybe.

All that being said, there are some downsides. I have to hook the reader up to my computer via a usb cable to transfer books (oh, the horror—it’s so 2004), and not every title is available. In that respect, the Kindle rules: wireless downloads of over a hundred-thousand titles, plus access to dailies like the New York Times, WSJ, and New York Post and magazines such as TIME, Atlantic Monthly, and Forbes (mind you, there’s still a dearth of the standard travel guides, which is bizarre to me. What could be a more perfect selling point for this tool, than marketing it to travelers?) Plus, the Amazon is slightly less compact and weighs more, largely thanks to the keyboard included for aforementioned wireless transfers.

And neither device comes with a backlight, so reading it in even a slightly darkened room can be tricky. Apparently you can use a booklight under those circumstances, but I’ve never owned one so I can’t say either way. Also, every once in awhile I’ve forgotten to bookmark my spot (electronically, of course), which can be problematic. The Reader automatically opens to the page you ended on, but God help you if your husband decides to start reading one of the three books he’s downloaded, so when you manage to seize the Reader back from him it’s necessary to click through a hundred pages to find where you left off, which can instill instant carpal tunnel syndrome and is generally bad for marriages. (I know, it was initially a gift for him. But possession is nine-tenths of the law, right?)

In other words, we’ll be buying another one soon. Probably the Kindle this time around, because I suspect that with Amazon’s access to titles and download features, my little Reader will go the way of eight track cassettes and BETA video players. Which in truth makes me sad, I’ve become very attached to it. I’m even considering giving it a name, maybe Ishmael…any suggestions?

On a related note: I’m giving away a Kindle this summer, along with other fabulous prizes. To sign up , go to and register for my newsletter (which goes out extremely sporadically, maybe six or seven times a year).

Michelle Gagnon is a former modern dancer, bartender, dog walker, model, personal trainer, and Russian supper club performer. Her debut thriller THE TUNNELS involves a series of ritualized murders in the abandoned tunnel system beneath a university. Published in the United States and Australia, it was an IMBA bestseller. Her next book, BONEYARD, depicts a cat and mouse game between dueling serial killers. In her spare time she wrestles her Sony Reader back from her husband.


Dani said...

Everyone is talking about eReaders these days. I confess, I just started reading eBooks and still use my laptop. At least the screen IS lit in a dark room. That part I'd not heard, so good info. Nice job on this tour, Michelle! Sell lots of books. :)


elysabeth said...

Nice comparison. I would like to win one of the Kindles. Signed up for you newsletter but not sure I am really getting them. I signed up from blogbooktours forum - so it's been a while. Good luck on your tour - E :)

Unknown said...

Thanks for your info on the Sony. I'll probably be buying a Kindle later in the year. I like the wireless aspect of the thing.

Anonymous said...

Wired has compared the features of the new Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader. They don't give a definitive verdict yet, but point out the $400 Kindle's biggest drawback: lack of "format neutrality." Labeled as a "portable DRM bookstore," the Kindle won't be able to read open formats like Acrobat PDF (unless you have a Windows PC and convert them first). We agree. You will be the judge but, while the $300 Sony Reader may not have always-on internet connectivity, looking at the specs it seems like a better option. At least on paper:

The Sony allows you to read virtually any format. It may not have the huge commercial titles selection that the Amazon gadget has, but you can read any PDF, TXT, RTF, DOCs, Blogs and RSS for free and right away. On the other side, PDF, RTF and DOCs are all out of the question with Amazon's device unless you have a Windows PC and go through the hassle of converting them for the Kindle with Mobipocket Creator. And inexplicably, you will have to pay $1 for each blog and $1 for each RSS you subscribe to. Maybe not a huge investment, but is it really necessary to pay for this when you are already getting this information in your smartphone?

The Sony also wins in one important area, which is often overlooked by most manufacturers: design. The Sony is simple, clean and looks more similar to a book. With its cheapo UMPC-like keyboard, the Kindle looks awkward. If Jeff Bezos wants this to be the iPod of books, he better hire John Ive. Amazon argues that they wanted to make it look like the Vessel of Culture, but the fact is that something doesn't have to be ugly to appear serious.

And while some will love the idea of electronic mail and web browsing on the Kindle, gadget history has taught us that frankendevices more often fail than succeed. Of course, the rules are meant to be broken—as the convergence of telephony and computing has taught us—and this could turn out to be the device that kills the pulp forever. But personally, I have a difficult time seeing this happening with this version

Mike Cane said...

Delightful post! Some link luv: Sony Reader Gets Truth And Love

There's something for reading in the dark now too.

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