What with, brass buttons?
August 20, 2012 9:24 AM   Subscribe

Is it worth having a Kindle when I have no money?

I've been given a Kindle for my birthday, which is really nice and sweet of the givers. My worry is that I'm not really going to get as much use out of it as I might, and wonder if it might be better exchanging the gift for something else.

The key of the problem is that I have no money to buy new books, and so most new titles are effectively beyond my reach. I also don't read fiction, so an awful lot of old books aren't interesting. I know that there are old non-fiction books available to download, but non-fiction tends toward obsolescence by the time it is out of copyright. It might be nice to have a Kindle for reading some old and interesting books, and free ebooks here and there, but I'm not sure that's enough reason to keep it.

So, with all that said, I am going to get much use out of it? Is there something that I'm missing that will really make it useful for me? Experiences of using a Kindle without money?
posted by Jehan to Technology (33 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You could borrow books from your local library, if they have e-Library loans.
posted by discopolo at 9:26 AM on August 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

Do you have a library card? I've had a Sony eReader for about a year and I have, so far, purchased one book. I check a lot of books out from my local library.
posted by muddgirl at 9:26 AM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think the problem is not so much "no money" as not reading fiction, honestly. I wouldn't buy a Kindle just to read nonfiction even if I had tons of money, probably. However, it is worth pointing out that it is a relatively capable reader of text-only PDFs, too, so while I probably wouldn't have bought it for those purposes, it was extremely handy to have when, for example, I was competing in moot court and was able to have that instead of either my full laptop or a giant binder full of the problem/brief/other materials. So if you do a lot of reading of stuff on the internet in general, it might be useful, but not the ZOMG THIS IS SO AWESOME that it has been for my fiction-reading purposes.
posted by gracedissolved at 9:27 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your library has free e-books, and there are others available through services like Pixel of Ink.
posted by spunweb at 9:28 AM on August 20, 2012

I'm a big fan of Longform, and they have a 'send to kindle' button that will mail things to your kindle directly. They're full of free to read interesting long non-fiction articles that sound like exactly what you're looking for.
posted by true at 9:29 AM on August 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Are you an Instapaper user? Instapaper on the Kindle is a great for reading long-form journalism.
posted by teriyaki_tornado at 9:30 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was just coming by to suggest "talk to a librarian in your public library" about whether or not they use Overdrive with Kindle access...using that, you'll have free access to many current fiction books.

I have a hard time, myself, fully grokking the "don't read fiction" bit, but you say "non-fiction tends toward obsolescence by the time it is out of copyright"...that's totally not true for histories, essays, and a ton of other non-fiction. Scientific non-fiction is even still relevant, if only to understand the progress of science through the years. Browse Project Gutenberg for a bit...if you read at all, there has to be things hiding in there that would interest you.
posted by griffey at 9:36 AM on August 20, 2012

There are lots of torrent trackers, IRC rooms, and other internet nether regions where one can get their hands on all sorts of new and popular ebooks of any sort, and not pay a red cent. What your morals/local judiciary think of this is a different question.
posted by A god with hooves, a god with horns at 9:36 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

My local library service does not lend ebooks.
posted by Jehan at 9:36 AM on August 20, 2012

You might run this question by your local library staff. My library started lending ebooks within a year of my asking about it, so you never know. :-)

You can also sort Amazon's Kindle store by price, low to high. I've found some pretty amazing deals that way, like well-known non-fiction titles for $2-$3 USD. That's especially true right now--there are 500 books available for about that price as part of a new promotion, and non-fiction is a big part of that.

Can you be more specific about the type of non-fiction works you like to read?
posted by circular at 9:43 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was going to jump on the library bandwagon... Do you have access to a library that does, perhaps through a friend or relative who lives elsewhere and would share their account with you? Or even another library you could join - I have 3 libraries between where I grew up, where I live now, and school.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:52 AM on August 20, 2012

Do you have no money as in you're very poor? Amazon routinely runs sales with very good books in the 99 cents-$2.99 range if you have some money every now and again to buy books. Check the Kindle Team Twitter for an idea. Or do you literally have no money to spend at all, period? Then you might be hosed or at least have to turn to less-legal methods.

If you could convince someone to get you Prime membership, they also have a lending library for Kindle titles for Prime members.

Personally, I read a ton of nonfiction on mine. Mostly nonfiction, in fact.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:54 AM on August 20, 2012

I think that far fewer UK libraries lend ebooks than in the US. I've had great success with torrents too.
posted by ellieBOA at 9:55 AM on August 20, 2012

Archive.org has tons of old archival material that you can send to your kindle. For example, searching the name of my city turns up collected material on all presidential visits to the city, an old "history" book (what today we'd call "living history," I think) where a guy interviewed a bunch of original settlers when they were in their 70s, a history of the local schools complete with old pictures of the buildings, a completely collection of a local medical publication from the 1800s with research being done at the local hospital, civil war records, township histories, several city histories from different eras, several city growth plans from different eras, a cookbook the Methodist church's Ladies' Aid Society put together in 1880 ... some of it's a bit messily digitized, but there's enough on Archive.org to keep anyone who likes history interested for years.

I also read a lot of old-timey cookbooks and housekeeping guides and etiquette books and "how to raise a daughter" things on my kindle. Addictive.

There are some free non-fiction books on amazon (a lot of trash, but some gems too). I also have used the instapaper to kindle, it's nice.

You can also send PDFs or .docs or .txts to the kindle, so if you have to read long documents for any reason, it's pretty useful. (Well, less-so for the PDFs because of sizing/zooming issues.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:56 AM on August 20, 2012

Can you be more specific about the type of non-fiction works you like to read?
I don't mind popular non-fiction works from any area. But I prefer history and archeology books, tending toward the in-depth or even academic, when I can get them. I would happily read academic papers, in fact, were recent ones available. But reading JSTOR pdfs from the 1920s doesn't seem like a good use.
posted by Jehan at 10:00 AM on August 20, 2012

> less-so for the PDFs because of sizing/zooming issues

Calibre converts PDFs to .mobi format easy as pie. I wouldn't know how to use my Kindle without it.
posted by languagehat at 10:02 AM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Assuming what you have is an e-ink Kindle (rather than the Fire, which has more to offer), I'm afraid I agree with those who have noted that it's not that you don't have money, but that you don't read fiction.

Academic books are, to me, the least likely to be satisfying to read on a Kindle. The Kindle is great for prose -- pages and pages of it, like novels or nonfiction books like history and biography. But it's best for stuff that's mostly text, and as far as I know, the free sources if your library isn't a source are far better for fiction (public domain classics) than nonfiction, especially stuff like archeology that I would think would involve at least some art or photos to look at.

If you had no money but loved novels, I would tell you that you will easily get your money's worth. This way, I'm not so sure.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 10:15 AM on August 20, 2012

There's always the Magic Catalog of Project Gutenberg Ebooks. Pop it on your kindle, and you can browse through and download just about anything from Project Gutenberg right from your kindle (with a net connection, of course). I'm on a Mark Twain kick right now and have been using the hell out of it.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 10:23 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do an Amazon search for "free Kindle books" and you'll find 125,351 results. Surely something in there will be to your liking.
posted by Soliloquy at 10:25 AM on August 20, 2012

My local library service does not lend ebooks.

Given that one does not have to be physically present to borrow an ebook, you may be able to borrow from libraries that do, even if they're not close to you. I was visiting a friend once and the local library allowed me to get a library card. (YMwilltotallyV with this; my local library at the time wouldn't even let me do their mandatory yearly library card update with anything other than a utility bill in my own name.) Or perhaps you have a friend with a library card. [Probably technically against the rules, but it's not like you can lose an ebook or return it late, so there's no risk to your friend.]
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:36 AM on August 20, 2012

I've loved my Kindle for a few months and haven't paid for a single book. I've found that Amazon really push the Amazon store, but there are many ways to get material.

Science Direct have a Send to Kindle application, which will send papers in mobi format to your Kindle. I don't know if there are academic publishers with similar applications for different disciplines.

I use Calibre to read my favourite news sites and to convert books from PDF to mobi format (with some tricks to make the format come out well).

Friends with large libraries of ebooks have also shared with me.
posted by hannahlambda at 10:39 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

What kind of Kindle is it? If it's a Kindle Keyboard with 3G, you have free internet pretty much everywhere you go (except if you're way out in the middle of nowhere, and maybe even then). That might be useful to you. Newer Kindles don't have this feature, though.
posted by danceswithlight at 10:53 AM on August 20, 2012

For reading pdfs, I've found that flipping the kindle to landscape layout gives me a reasonably comfortable resolution without needing to zoom (though I am slightly shortsighted - if you are longsighted you may not be happy with it).
posted by *becca* at 10:55 AM on August 20, 2012

Most UK libraries that do lend ebooks only lend DRMed epubs, which cannot be used on a Kindle and cannot (legally) be converted with Calibre.
posted by TheRaven at 10:56 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

You sound like you want to hate it, so you will. Exchange/return it.
posted by bensherman at 11:43 AM on August 20, 2012 [7 favorites]

If you're poor as in "will I be able to eat this month" then sell it. If you're poor as in "I work 120 hours a week and am too exhausted to read, then sell it." If you like to read and can get membership at a library that does ebooks, or you would be happy to read free out of copyright books like most of the classics, then keep it and use it.
posted by zippy at 12:09 PM on August 20, 2012

But I prefer history and archeology books, tending toward the in-depth or even academic, when I can get them. I would happily read academic papers, in fact, were recent ones available.

Well, the Kindle isn't going to really help you with finding those kinds of materials, you still have do the digging. For example, Omnivore a couple months ago had a post on Balancing in East Asia. One of those links led to a scholarly publication called "World History Connected" that did a feature on Re-conceptualizing Asia in World History.
posted by FJT at 12:12 PM on August 20, 2012

I happen to know on good authority1 that if you go on certain websites of the Swedish variety, you can find lots of books available for download. Like, tens of thousands of books at once, already converted for the Kindle, ready to load into Calibre.

They frequently tend towards fiction and genre fiction, but that is not universally the case and unless you reading tastes are very esoteric I think you would probably find stuff that's interesting. Some of the collections available for download are, if you were to amass the same thing in paper form, at least the size of a good-sized home library. And there are big non-fiction collections floating around there as well.

The morality of such things is best left to the meditations of the reader, but in weighing the utility of the Kindle in the abstract I don't think you can just disregard their existence, any more than someone weighing the utility of the iPod in 2001 could disregard the existence of Napster.

The only problem you may run into is that most true scholarly content (papers, journal articles, most publications) will be PDFs, and the Kindle really isn't the best for reading them. The iPad is somewhat better because the screen is larger, but honestly I don't think there's an ideal device for them on the market right now other than a computer; you really need a display about 8"x10" at minimum to view most PDFs without reflowing them, which is bigger than most tablets.

1: Possibly from the same guy who everyone seems to be friends with and always knows what the current price of weed is. Hell of a guy.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:21 PM on August 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

A) Readability / Instapaper type apps are good for reading articles.

B) Kindle Books for a lot of popular and new books seem to be cheaper than the hard-copies. And there are loads of significant non-fiction philosophy / arts books that are free on Project Gutenburg that are still very relevant.

Also I would think that the resale value is going to be pretty low on a Kindle so it doesn't take much use to before you have saved that on books.
posted by mary8nne at 12:32 PM on August 20, 2012

If you're in the UK, you can now trade in some paper books for Amazon gift certificates - they pay for the postage and deposit it into your bank account. If you have anything you're not using, particularly academic books, you can buy new books that way too.
posted by mippy at 12:38 PM on August 20, 2012

Unless you need the money you will get by selling it right now, keep it. It'll come in useful at some point. A friend of mine has a Kindle and for the longest time she had nothing but a Bible on it. She just found it was a good compact way to carry around a Bible with hyperlinks in it.

Also agree that Longform is fantastic. And I have found a lot of cool historical things for free on my Nook. (With the Nook you can shop for free on the Google library; I don't know if Kindle does that.)
posted by BibiRose at 1:18 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

One thing the Kindle is really good for: Go to the page for any book you want that is available on Kindle. Underneath the purchase links, hit "Send sample." You now have the first chapter of the book for free. That might help you determine if you really want the book.

There's also Lendle (and I'm sure there are similar sites) where you can borrow books legitimately from other users over the web.

This is my favorite free Kindle books blog: Free Kindle books and tips. On this page at Amazon in the left sidebar, you will find links to Amazon's daily book deals and their "Big deal: 500 books as low as $0.99." If you like light casual gaming, there are a few free games available as well. (Yes, for the original Kindle, not the Fire tablet.)

I'm not bananas about my Kindle. I like it for when I want to pack light and still have something to do, such as this past winter when my mom was in the hospital for 9 days and I spent the nights with her. I do like that it doesn't trigger migraines like some backlit devices - even my laptop - do.

Overall I find it less expensive to buy real, used books from Amazon, which are often less than $5 shipped and in perfectly fine readable condition. But I keep the Kindle for the occasional eBook and for the convenience.
posted by IndigoRain at 6:18 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

http://www.eReaderIQ.com has website and a daily email that tells you when books are free on Amazon, in a variety of genres.

So many free books out there!
posted by dreamling at 8:43 AM on August 24, 2012

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