Amazon Kindle: getting the content you want

I have recently come in to possession of an Amazon Kindle eBook reader. Amazon have gone out of their way to make it as simple and easy as possible for the purpose of reading books. This device fulfills its purpose perfectly, allowing me to download books from the Amazon store and read them on an electronic ink display that is far closer to real print than it is to a computer screen. I get all the advantages of reading on an electronic device, but I find myself reading blissfully uninterrupted by tweets, emails and messages, and without the tired eyes that I would get from reading on a computer. There are even several thousand free out-of-copyright books available on the Amazon store – just go to the Kindle ebooks section and sort by price to see them. If that isn’t enough, many more out-of-copyright books from Project Gutenberg are available in ebook versions for the Kindle. You can even download them directly from the Kindle by getting hold of The Magic Catalogue available here.

But books are not all that I read.

Like many people, I have a number of websites that I visit on a daily basis. Websites that provide news. Websites that have the latest technical articles. Websites with comics. (I can’t do without my daily Dilbert cartoon!)

The thought occurs to me: I have all these things that I like to read every day. And I have a perfect reading device in my hands. Can I combine the two?

My first thought of using the ‘Experimental’ web browser that is built in to the Kindle was quickly shot down. The browser is a simple affair, and can just about handle a mobile version of most websites but is not adequate for my daily web browsing.

Getting content on to the Kindle

There are three ways that content can be transferred to a Kindle.

The first way is to purchase the material via Amazon’s web store. The Kindle makes this even easier by linking directly to the store from the Kindle device itself. Alongside the books there are newspapers, magazines and even blogs. The upside of this is that if the content that you require is listed here, getting it is a matter of clicking through the store and choosing to subscribe. The downside is that it will cost you. The prices listed for the magazines and daily newspapers are not a bad deal, in my opinion. They will cost you less than the standard printed version, and they will automatically appear on your Kindle as they are published so that, for example, the Independent or the Telegraph can be waiting on your Kindle for you every morning as you sit down to breakfast or get on a train. The blogs, on the other hand, are less of a good deal. For a start, the list is limited to a selection of popular and relatively well known blogs. One that I read regularly is charged at £1 per month. Another is £1.99. Taken individually, these prices are small but they soon add up to a hefty monthly payment for what amounts to retrieving the articles from the websites via the same RSS mechanism that I can use on my PC for free. Even worse, the website owners receive only 30% of the price that Amazon charges.

The second way to get content on the Kindle is to plug it in to a PC and to drop documents on it as though it were a memory stick. The Kindle is actually quite accommodating for this purpose; accepting PDF files, saved HTML web pages and word documents, as well as several other types of file. If you have a word document to review, or a PDF article that you have downloaded, this method works well. If, on the other hand, you would like to read many documents every day, this method is cumbersome and annoying. For a start, by the time you have saved every web page that you wish to read, you might just as well have read them on the computer!

The third way to get content is to email it to the Kindle. Every Kindle has an email address (actually, two of them) and you may send files of any kind that the Kindle will recognise as an attachment by email to yourname@kindle.com and it will appear on your kindle within a few minutes. This method works well, but again is fiddly if you have a lot of articles to read. It could also cost you a little bit. If you have a 3G Kindle, it will retrieve your articles via the 3G mobile phone network, and you will be charged depending on the size of the document that you have sent. The charge can be avoided by sending to the slightly different address of yourname@free.kindle.com although you will have to have WiFi turned on and connected in order for this to work. If your Kindle has only WiFi and no 3G, neither address will be charged.

We have three different methods of getting content on to a Kindle, but still no satisfactory way of transferring daily website content on to it without a lot of hassle. This is where third party tools make their entrance. Over the last few days I have tried Instapaper, RekindleIT and KindleFeeder.com.

Instapaper

Instapaper is not aimed exclusively at Kindle users; it is actually quite a useful tool for just saving articles to read later. Unfortunately it has not been the hit that I would have liked it to be. The principle is quite nice. I placed a bookmark in my bookmarks bar as a button and authorised Instapaper to send documents to my Kindle. (The website will tell you how.) On finding a web page that I wanted to save and read later on my Kindle, I clicked that button and a few seconds later a message informs me that the article was saved.

To read the saved articles there is a choice. I can visit the Instapaper web site where there is a list of all the web pages I have saved for later. From there it is possible to follow the link back to the original web page, or click on a “Text” button which provides a much simplified view of the article for easy reading on the computer screen. This mode of operation is quite useful as a short term bookmark service even if you don’t have a Kindle.

On that same web page there is a heading on the right called “Download” and one of the choices under that is an icon labeled “Kindle.” I can click that icon to download a file which ends in “.mobi” – this is an ebook version of all the articles that I have saved. Once downloaded, I can simply attach the file to an email and send it to my Kindle email address, which can be found on the Amazon web site, and the saved web pages appear in a new book on my Kindle.

Buried deep in the settings of Instapaper there is also an option to send the file to my Kindle automatically once per day. Unfortunately in the week or so that I have been using it I have not been able to make this function work, although the “send now” button in the same area does work occasionally.

RekindleIT

RekindleIT is a powerful tool for reading long articles from the web. It requires a little configuration; I had to sign up to an account, then follow the instructions to create a bookmark button to sit in the browser toolbar and to tell Amazon that the email address used by ReKindleIT is allowed to send things to my Kindle.

Using RekindleIT is easy. On finding a long web page, I first click on the RekindleIT bookmark button. In the window that pops up, I enter my Kindle username (found on the Amazon web site) and then tick the “Reformat Article for Kindle” box if the page is quite complex, and click on “Send this file” to finish. The article is emailed to my Kindle after a short delay.

I have used RekindleIT many times in the last few days. Any time a website article that I am reading is likely to take more than a minute or two to read, I send it to my kindle with RekindleIT. This has been a much more pleasant and focused way to read a lot of articles.

kindlefeeder.com

Most web sites provide what is called an RSS feed. An RSS feed is simply a list of headlines, summaries, and possibly whole articles from a website. Using an RSS reader such as Google Reader, it is possible to list headlines from many websites all together in the one place. Obviously the idea of using the Kindle as an RSS reader is quite appealing.

I found kindlefeeder.com to be something of a disappointment, but that isn’t actually their fault. The service is good. I signed up on the website, and was quickly able to add a number of RSS feeds to my list, both from a huge selection that they already know about, and adding some that were not listed. After choosing the RSS feeds that I wanted, it was simply a matter of clicking a button to have the whole lot delivered as an ebook to my Kindle.

Unfortunately the actual contents of the ebook were disappointing. Most websites, it turns out, do not include the whole article in the RSS feed. Taking the BBC news RSS feed as an example, what I actually got on the Kindle was usually the headline and about 20 words from the article summary, and a link to the article on the website. Although the Kindle has a web browser, it is not very good at all and I saw little point in using kindlefeeder to send what amounted to a set of links to my Kindle.

I also found that kindlefeeder can send regular updates to a Kindle automatically if you pay for the premium version, which is currently $20 per year.

Conclusion

So which options have I ended up using? Well, for a couple of frequently updated websites that I read a lot, I took the easy option and I subscribed via the Amazon store at a cost to me of £1 – £2 per month per site. It works well, and I receive every article from those sites as soon as they are published.

Up until getting my Kindle I have read the BBC news website for my daily news fix but for the first time ever I am regularly reading a daily newspaper which I have subscribed to via the Kindle at a cost of £14 per month.

Any time I come across a long web page that I want to read, I now hit the RekindleIT button, and with a couple of clicks it is sent to my Kindle. I tend to use RekindleIT rather than Instapaper because I am too impatient to wait a few hours to get several documents together, as well as due to the problems I have had with Instapapers automatic delivery.

Where Instapaper has proved useful to me is when reading a series of web pages, or articles or stories that have been spread over several pages. I have taken to sending each page to Instapaper, and then sending the Instapaper to my Kindle as a self contained book about that one subject.

I never did manage to get Dilbert to appear daily on my Kindle. I will let you know if I ever do.

If you would like to know more about the Kindle, Ultimate Kindle is a good place to start. If you don’t own one yet, you can purchase yours here:

Kindle Wireless Reading Device, Wi-Fi, 6″ Display, Graphite – Latest Generation

Kindle 3G Wireless Reading Device, Free 3G + Wi-Fi, 6″ Display, Graphite, 3G Works Globally – Latest Generation