The Future of Travel Guidebooks: The Amazon Kindle

I have recently started reading the excellent travel blog Everything-Everywhere by a fella by the name of Gary Arndt who nearly two years ago sold his house and put his possessions into storage in order to travel around the world. In one of his recent blog postings there has been an interesting ongoing conversation about if travel guidebooks are still relevant in today’s Internet age.

Gary argues that guidebooks are becoming less relevant today because so much travel information can be downloaded for free from the Internet that is more accurate and up to date then what is available in guidebooks that tend to have information that is at least a year out of date. One of the other criticisms Gary has which I greatly agree with is how heavy guidebooks can become when you are visiting multiple countries and thus carrying around multiple guidebooks. That is on top of what other books and magazines you may have bought to read during your trip. This extra weight in reading material really does add up after a while.

I have solved this problem by purchasing an Amazon Kindle:

The Kindle is a wireless E-Reading device that has totally changed the way I read, to include guidebooks. From the Kindle you can search through the tens of thousands of books offered through Amazon.com and then download the books you purchase through the wireless Internet (Whispernet) that is included with the device:

The wireless Internet included with the Kindle is not WiFi based, but is instead cell phone based through the Sprint network. So where ever you can get a Sprint cell phone signal you will be able to view the Amazon site and download books. The downloading of books usually takes less then a minute and the books are usually significantly cheaper then their paper counterparts. For example a new release book usually costs around $20 to $25. On the Kindle the new releases mostly go for $9.99 or less. Older books can be routinely found on the Kindle for less then $5 with other books going for less then a dollar and some even for free.

However the Kindle does more then just download books, it also allows you to subscribe to newspapers and magazines as well:

Amazon currently offers most of the top newspapers and magazines available such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, The Atlantic, Newsweek, etc. However the Kindle does not have a subscription service for Australian newspapers. I would love to be able to subscribe to The Australian and the Herald-Sun on my Kindle but so far the newspapers are limited to the US and Britain. I’m sure as the popularity of the device increases eventually Australian newspapers will be available. The price for subscribing to these newspapers and magazines is usually less then $2 a month.

The Kindle also allows you to subscribe to blogs as well. For example every morning all the updated postings to Slate.com are wirelessly sent to my Kindle for me to read while eating breakfast:

There are literally hundreds of top blogs that can be subscribed to through the Kindle. Most of the blogs that you can subscribe to cost .99 per month. If you are not willing to pay the .99 cents for wireless download of your favorite newspapers, magazine, and blogs then you can always just go and read them on the Kindle’s free wireless Internet.

Yes that is right, the Internet on the Kindle is free. However, like any wireless Internet there is a load time while browsing through sites and usually these sites are not organized for easy reading like they are on the downloaded versions available for the Kindle. So instead of reading a webpage full of advertisements slowing your Internet load time, the downloaded subscriptions have no ads and are organized with each article one after the other and load they load up instantaneously when clicked on. This is why I pay .99 cents a month to have Slate downloaded every morning on to my Kindle instead of navigating through its webpage.

If you are wondering On-Walkabout can be viewed on the Kindle as well:

My site is not nearly popular enough to be offered as a downloaded blog yet but my webpage loads up just fine, pictures and all, on the Kindle’s web browser. It is even possible to leave comments on the site though of course it is much slower to do so compared to a home computer keyboard. However, the keyboard on the Kindle is much better then trying to type with a PDA or cell phone thus making commenting on blogs much easier compared to other mobile devices. Besides commenting you can check your e-mail with the Kindle as well. I was able to get G-Mail to load up with no issues on the Kindle, but for whatever reason Yahoo Mail would not load up probably because its site is not configurable with the Kindle yet. I expect this to eventually change.

However it is important to remember that the Kindle is primarily an E-Reading device and not a web browser. That is why Amazon says very little about the free wireless Internet available with the Kindle when promoting it. In fact it is called an “Experimental Web Browser” on the Kindle. Before I even bought my Kindle I had no idea how good this wireless Internet service is. It was an added bonus when I bought the device to get this service, especially since it is free.

However, the big question on everyone’s mind is probably how does the screen look? The problem with past E-Readers was that they didn’t look as good as reading a book. Let me tell you that reading the Kindle is in fact as easy on the eyes as reading an actual book. The Kindle does not use an LCD screen, instead it uses electronic ink to write its pages. This electronic ink looks just like real ink in a book. I have had no issues spending long hours reading the Kindle. The only differences between the Kindle and reading a book is that when you turn the page on the Kindle there is a flash that occurs that resets the ink for the next page, which you will eventually get used to. I don’t even notice it any more.

Now back to the topic at hand, which is whether the Kindle is the future of travel guidebooks. I believe it is. Right now the device is still in its infancy because it was released less then a year ago. However, there are travel guides starting to be written for the Kindle. For example there is a travel guide for Hawaii that can be downloaded for $1.99 that covers all of the Hawaiian Islands:

This guidebook is not as good as a Lonely Planet book yet, but is still a good informational text on Hawaii and costs less then $2. Compare that to the paperback version of Lonely Planet Hawaii that costs $14.95 before shipping on Amazon.com and usually over $20 in an actual bookstore. So far Lonely Planet does not offer Kindle versions of their guidebooks; if they did I would be the first to purchase them. On Amazon’s website they have a link that allows users to request that a publisher make certain books available on the Kindle. I have done this with multiple Lonely Planet books, but so far none are available on the Kindle. Could this be because Lonely Planet is reluctant to embrace such an innovative new media?

On Gary’s site he has had travel book writers leave comments scalding him for thinking that electronic media will one day replace the paper travel guidebook. I understand their defensiveness because Gary’s argument is centered around downloading travel information from the Internet which would put guidebook writers out of a job. However, I agree with Gary that one day the travel guidebook will become obsolete but not because of the Internet, but because of the Kindle.

Some commenters on Gary’s site have complained about technology such as the Internet and cell phone signals not working in more remote countries. That is the beauty of the Kindle, you don’t need the Internet or cell phone signals. The Kindle allows you to store guidebooks and information for your trip before you leave. Plus all your books, magazines, and other reading material for the trip are all stored in the same lightweight device as well. So basically this argument is irrelevant. If you are on a trip and need to download a book, how many countries do not have Internet access anyway? The Sprint wireless will not work in a foreign country, but through the included USB cable you can download any reading material you want into the Kindle from Amazon’s online site from countries with Internet access.

For anyone concerned about battery power, the Kindle’s battery if the Whispernet service is turned off lasts for over a week. If the Whispernet is left on the battery lasts about 2-3 days. Most travelers will not be away from a power source for over a week. If you are traveling away from a power source for over a week then simply buy a back up battery. The batteries are small and lightweight like the Kindle itself. For example I have taken my Kindle on multi-day hikes and camping trips with no issues with battery power.

Speaking of hiking trips, here is an additional travel tip for everyone with a Kindle. What I have done is taken PDF files of various hikes from sites like Backpacker.com and had them converted into files for my Kindle. Amazon gives Kindle owners an email address where you can send for example Word documents or PDF files to so they can be converted into files that can be read on your Kindle. So when I go hiking the directions, maps, and information are all on my Kindle. It is too easy. Another side benefit of this is that if someone wants to send you a file to read for work for example, they can just e-mail it to your Kindle e-mail address and you can read the file straight from your Kindle, even while camping.

I haven’t had any issues yet with my Kindle while camping, but lets suppose that I lose my Kindle while hiking, does that mean all the books I purchased and saved on the Kindle are lost? No it doesn’t because everything you buy for the Kindle is backed up on your own personal site on Amazon.com. If you lose your Kindle you can simply hook up your USB cable and redownload all the material you bought before from Amazon that is saved on the site on the new Kindle you purchased.

I haven’t read an argument yet about how a Kindle is not better then a conventional guidebook. Really the only thing I can see someone arguing is the cost. The Kindle currently costs $359 on Amazon. This is quite expensive for many people, but if you read a lot like I do it is a bargain considering how much you save on purchasing books on a Kindle compared to buying the paper version. Plus the Internet on the Kindle is free. I canceled my own cell phone Internet service that was costing me $15 extra every month on my phone bill because of this. Just the saving of the $15 a month on my cell phone bill will save me $180 over the course of a year. Over two years the savings pays for the Kindle itself, much less the savings in books and other reading material on the Kindle.

I really believe that the travel industry instead of trying to disparage new media it should be embracing technology like the Kindle. It is also important to remember that the Kindle will not put guidebook writers out of a job. I’m sure guidebook writers do the job they do because they love to travel and share their experiences so readers can have a quality experience in the area they are traveling to. However, due to the nature of paper guidebooks, they are often out of date and impossible to update without reprinting an entire book. On the Kindle any updates of the books can be done instantly because of the digital format of the book. Theoretically no travel guidebook should be out of date when someone purchases it on the Kindle if the guidebook company such as Lonely Planet is continuously updating their digital copy of the book.

Additionally the guidebook industry should think of the cost savings of not having to ship bulky books around the world to sell if it can be done wirelessly over the Kindle, not to mention the money saved not having to put ink on paper. Besides these cost savings think of as well the environmental impacts of not having to use so much paper and the carbon emissions saved not shipping heavy books around the world for sale.

Both economically and environmentally, providing digital guidebooks on the Kindle makes sense. Best of all, for frequent travelers like myself it is extremely convenient due to its small and compact size that fits easily in any small carry on bag. The convenience is only increased considering the weight and space saved from the hundreds of books that can be saved on one Kindle memory chip.

I have seen the future and it is without a doubt the Amazon Kindle.

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4 Responses to The Future of Travel Guidebooks: The Amazon Kindle

  1. Gary says:

    Dobbs, thanks for the kind compliment.

    If you read the comments in the thread, you'll notice that the most vocal defenders of guidebooks are the people who write them. The actual consumers of guidebooks seem less excited to say the least. They might buy one, but it is only part of their research, and if they do read one, it might just be in a library.

    Like all old media companies, they have a business model which has worked well for them and the don't want to see the cash cow disappear. They view themselves as being in the business of selling books, not data or information.

    I haven't seen a kindle up close yet. I saw a girl in the Whitsundays with a Sony ebook reader and it looked really cool. When I get back to the US, I might consider getting a kindle as it might save a lot of weight.

    Oprah likes it, so there has to be something to it.

  2. Dobbs says:

    Gary thanks for visiting my humble site.

    It is unfortunate if the travel writers think selling books is more important then providing quality information for travelers. The Kindle gives travel writers the opportunity to provide up to date information, at significantly cheaper prices. There has already been some independent outfits creating travel guides for the Kindle but I really do hope Lonely Planet eventually gets on board.

    I looked at the Sony E-reader before deciding to buy a Kindle and the Kindle is better because it has the entire book inventory of Amazon behind it plus more features such as the wireless Internet and ability to have documents converted to Kindle files.

    This is the first generation Kindle so there are some design issues that still need to be worked out such as the next page button being easy to mistakenly press when first using the device and the strange the positioning of the on/off button on the back to the device.

    Amazon is only advertising the Kindle on their site for now in order to only sell enough Kindles to identify and work out user complaints at this time. I fully expect when they launch Kindle 2.0, that is when they will really mass market this device to a wider audience because by then the design issues identified in the Kindle's initial launch should be worked out.

    Depending on your need for an E-device you may want to wait until Kindle 2.0 which from what I read could be another year before it comes out. I went ahead and bought a Kindle now because I really wanted something to reduce the amount of reading material I carry when traveling. All the extra features I have identified since then has only made the purchase of this device even better for me.

    And yes Oprah does like it so there must indeed be something to like about it. :grin:

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  4. It is the future of book reading this blog introduce wireless E-Reading device,which is very useful for people.It can use very easily by user,we download travel guide,stories and any more by using this book.it work with cell phone network.we can move it easily in travel.

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