Kindling

Amazon’s Kindle ereader device went on sale today, with a big article in Newsweek to boost it off the launch pad. There’s been some high-level discussion about its hardware design, and John Gruber has complaints about its fonts, page layout, and DRM.

What interests me is the initial selection of books. I have no intention of buying a Kindle, but if I did I’d see it mainly as a compact way of carrying reference books with me when I travel for work (with some space saved for pleasure books for the flights). So I looked in the science and math sections of the Kindle bookstore to see what’s available. Surprisingly, the top book in the Science>Physics>Mechanics section is Roark’s Formulas for Stress and Strain (yes, the original author’s name has become part of the title), a very common reference book for people in my discipline. And just a bit further down the list is a volume in Zienkiewicz and Taylor’s classic finite element omnibus. I can’t think of a time when I’ve been on the road and needed my copy of Zienkiewicz, but it’s kind of cool that I could have it.

But the cool factor fades quickly. You don’t have to go too deep into the Mechanics section before you run into New Approaches to Problems in Liquid State Theory Inhomogeneities and Phase Separation in Simple, Complex and Quantum Fluids, which is clearly a collection of papers from some conference. I’m not making fun of such a book--I have plenty of bound conference proceedings with titles that are just as specific and just as goofy-sounding to people outside the field--but its extremely specialized, even within a specialized field. I appreciate the long tail, but should this be one of the first 90,000 books available? And it’s hardly unique in it’s selective appeal. Still in Mechanics, we find:

And so on.

The science section seems to be dominated by the kind of books that are mostly bought by university libraries and are being supplied by the publishers as cheap filler. It probably costs Springer, for example, next to nothing to make these titles Kindle-ready, and Amazon can then advertise an inflated number of available Kindle titles. Overall, I’m not impressed.

Still, that anisotropic elasticity book looks pretty sweet.

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