Sunday Extra: Will Kindle Print Replica books really only work on “Kindle Fire Tablets, iPad, Android Tablets, PC, and Mac”?

So the other day I was shopping for some of my textbooks on Amazon and discovered that they had a Kindle edition. Not wanting to lug around a big heavy book, I opted to go digital and tangentially save a tree or two, and get it for my Kindle. Now, there’s just one problem with that; these were “Print Replica” books, and they aren’t actually available for my old-school Kindle (the kind that has a keyboard, from back before there was any other kind). Well, oops. Or was it?

First off, I can still read them on my PC, but I’ve been trying to keep from having to lug a laptop to school; mine’s getting elderly and a replacement would be expensive. So that’s out. My Android Phone cannot, for some arbitrary reason, zoom in to read the text, which would handily work, and the Kindle can’t read actual textbooks, right?

Wrong and wrong. You see, Android Phone and old-school Kindles both support these things called PDF’s. They’re the actual technology behind the Print Replica books, and, interestingly, there are a number of fallacious reasons why they don’t actually work on these devices. Were it not for the fact that you can use third-party devices to read Kindles, I’d suspect this of being some sort of Kindle Fire upsale ploy, but I’m more thinking that the goal was to keep dissatisfied customers from saying “I bought this and I’m not willing to put up with reading it.”, which is a little more palatable.

However, here’s some things to note that stomp this question into the ground:

  • The books contain the entire searchable text, which coincidentally means that the plaintext could be outputted, with dubious formatting (but at least page breaks) to the old-school Kindle reading format on the fly.
  • Textbooks are actually okay for on-screen reading on smaller devices, since their print is rather large to make up for the fact that each page has only one column and  the human eye likes to have only a certain number of words per row; a user with normal, healthy eyesight could read them easily even on a smaller mobile device (also, the Kindle Fire doesn’t necessarily have that large a screen, were we to really get into that).
  • Even really poorly formatted PDF’s for mobile and black-and-white reading worked fine on my Kindle 3; I’ve read through the entirety of Eclipse Phase’s core rulebook on mine during a road trip without getting a headache or carsick, so there’s not even that much of an issue. Part of this was the fact that the old Kindle can zoom in for PDF’s; not always well, but still enough to make them legible and it’s tolerable.

So then what’s the reason for this device lockout? Obviously there’s a very flimsy degree of customer protection; though as an owner of an old Kindle who’s willing to put up with the lack of support I don’t feel very protected by the lockout. On one hand, however, I have seen Kindle 3’s perform rather arbitrarily when it comes to whether or not they’ll like a PDF, which may be the logic behind this, but the PDF that should have been the most terrifying for the device actually worked fine (Eclipse Phase is a huge book with rich PDF features).

My opinion is that this is one of those “designed obsolescence” things, where the idea was never to keep the Kindle e-ink readers up to date with the cutting edge, but to sell them for entertainment and amusement until such a date as the technology could be advanced to allow relatively painless real-time functionality. The fact that there’s a lockout on phones is also convenient for Amazon, since they offer one of the few high-quality entry-level tablets, with a $159 buy-in and an Amazon-centric marketplace, there’s a lot of reasons why they both want to sell Kindle Fires and why their lockout could push someone who has a normal fully-functional Android phone to upgrade to their tablets, and since Amazon tends to be the third-party app store of choice for Android, it’s logical that most people would just bite the bullet and buy a Fire as opposed to another device (perhaps the Nook, which seems to be cheaper but equitable) since they’re used to Amazon’s service.

So, in short, shame on Amazon for using a proprietary format rather than just giving consumers protected PDF files either with a watermark or other DRM and letting us sort out our own issues.

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