Kindle: Not Available in Canada, eh?

[This began as a comment on the Globe & Mail story Canada snubbed as Kindle goes global but it got a little out of hand…]

the foundation trilogy Cover Art

The very first time I encountered the e-book concept was in the 1970’s… within the pages of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy.

My son’s high school library (where I first discovered Foundation) doesn’t stock the book any longer.   And sadly our local public library doesn’t provide shelf space for any of Asimov’s fiction.

Fortunately for me I am happy to say that quite a few of those old fashioned rectangular things with Asimov’s name emblazoned on the cover reside in my own home library, which in itself is made up of those old fashioned rectangular things we call books.

Because of this, I was able to lend my kid Foundation, which he wanted to read for a comparative lit assignment.

If I had Foundation on a Kindle, would I be legally able to lend it to my kid? Or would that constitute a copyright infringement?

If I was allowed to lend it to him, and he put it in his backpack and took it to school, how easily it might be damaged. Or lost. Or even stolen.

LOTR trade paperback

When I was in high school myself I borrowed my brother’s single volume trade paperback version of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Awesome book.

The paper was as thin as bible paper but denser. I couldn’t put it down. So I dragged it around with me at school, to be prepared if an opportunity to read it presented itself.

I was only a little way into The Two Towers on the day I accidentally forgot it in the cafeteria. Naturally it was gone when I came back for it.

It was a pretty devastating loss since I had to save enough money to replace my brother’s copy, and then save enough money to get my own since he wouldn’t lend it a second time. Those were the days when the cost of an ordinary paperback was measured in “cents” not dollars. But this copy of Lord of the Rings was priced at well over twenty dollars.

So, the new economical Kindle reader only costs $259.00. That’s a pretty good investment right there. So if its lost or stolen or broken… certainly it would be a hit. But then lets look at one of the selling points: you can store your whole library on the reader. At $10.00 a book, with a 1500 book capacity, the replacement value is now up to $15,259.00.

A fully provisioned Kindle = 1/2 year at U of W
fully provisioned Kindle = half year at U of W

This is a substantial replacement cost for a high school student to shoulder. We’re looking at a sum of money roughly equivalent what it costs to attend the University of Waterloo for maybe a half year.   Perhaps a full year if you’re careful.

In these days of “climate change”, the weather we have is increasingly unpredictable. Twice this year I’ve been caught in a torrential downpour with my digital camera.

The first and worst time it was so beautiful when we headed out for a walk that I didn’t take my camera bag. I was soaked and my camera was drenched in gallons of water before I could deploy the plastic bag I had for the dog.

I was sure the camera was destroyed forever.

the first truly portable literature

Fortunately it wasn’t… but it took weeks to dry out. And there’s still a few things that don’t work quite right. But I’m lucky that the hundreds of dollars invested in my camera weren’t lost.

But what if it had been a Kindle?

Getting drenched in a downpour could wipe out a much larger investment in the blink of an eye. From where I sit, that makes the Kindle a lot less portable.

Oh sure, Gutenberg’s contribution to the world was important, no question, but the REAL revolution was the introduction of the “dime novel” Portability was key. Certainly the price made books affordable to common people for the first time, and that is also why people would carry them around in their pockets.

Because they only cost a dime you wouldn’t end up in the poor house if you lost one. And when prices rose, as prices do, dime novels became more commonly known as pocket books.

reading in a tree

And how many parents would allow their kids to take something so expensive outside to read in a tree? A great deal of my childhood was spent reading out of doors. By the creek, on a beach, in a tent or up a tree.

But the money invested in a Kindle would make the risk far too great. I’d be more inclined NOT to bring it with me.

I love books. I grew up in a reading environment. My family didn’t have a lot of money for books, but we had books anyway.

In those days, if a family wanted to provide a good educational environment for their children, the parents would buy an encyclopedia set.

It might take years to pay off, but many people considered it worth it. (Of course the sales pitch was 40% future success for your kids combined with 60% guilt at how much they’ll suffer if you didn’t buy them.) Of course the families who shelled out hundreds of dollars when the child was in kindergarten were left with a rather obsolete version by the time the children were actually old enough to make use of the things in high school or college.

Instead of buying a set of encyclopedias he couldn’t afford, my Dad taught us the value of reading, first by reading himself and then by reading to us. Probably why we grew up to be readers. Better still, he took us to the library. We learned to find what we needed in those public spaces. And in those days Ontario public schools could actually afford librarians, so students learned how to find what we needed or wanted.

2009 Elora Book Sale line up
2009 Elora Book Sale line up

Books are as important to me as food. I borrow books, and lend books. I’ve bought additional copies of good books to donate to schools or as gifts. One reason I can afford to buy new hardcover books (and help support the writers I read) is because I also buy lots of books at used book stores or book sales. Like most of these sales, The Elora Used Book Sale is a fundraiser, and they accept donations all year long. Because volunteers price the books, and what doesn’t sell this year will be back on sale next year, the pricing is erratic and entertaining, ranging from about five dollars for hardcover fiction to a paperback mystery I paid a dime for. Is that Irony or what?

Used book sales allow me to economically replace books I’ve loaned out and not gotten back. They help me fill the holes in my collection. Sometimes I’ll buy a “lending” copy of a favorite in paperback, so I don’t have to risk losing my hardcover copy of The Nature of the Beast or Shibumi. A lot of the books I love are long out of print and very hard to find. I’m getting close to having all the Nero Wolfe books, but most are only available in paperback.

Lining up in the drizzle;  more of the book sale line
Lining up in the drizzle; more of the book sale line

Thanks to the absurd length of American copyright term, most of these books written before I was born will only enter the public domain after I’m gone, so they aren’t likely to be reprinted or end up on a Kindle. Many of these are likely to be lost entirely to future generations. But not to my family. We’ll still have books.

Probably the most compelling reason to not trust all my books to an electronic device like a Kindle is the fact that I don’t trust Amazon to support the Kindle forever. The only way you can be sure that your electronic data won’t evaporate or decay is to back everything up. I’m pretty sure that the only way to back up a Kindle is to have two of them. Having heard horror stories about a legal challenge resulting in a released e-book being sucked off the e-book reader, well … if I was halfway through reading a book and they pulled it…. I can’t even THINK about that one.

I’m tired of having to buy the same things over and over again (Betamax… vhs… DVD… hddvd…   78… LP… 8 track… cassette… CD…  MS DOS and then too many versions of windows to count and living in fear of the day when my now unsupported XP won’t run and I have to switch to VISTA…)

So I am not willing to pay even a few hundred dollars to buy an electronic reader that may or may not work next year, or that may or may not remove the book I’m reading on it due to a legal challenge, and that may or may not result in the Canadian Copyright Police breaking down my door if I lend a book (and therefore the kindle) to my friend to read.


There are so many reasons why I would never get a Kindle… and yet.

Just because I don’t want one doesn’t mean that everyone else feels the same way. Canadians deserve a choice. There has been a lot of speculation as to why Amazon is willing to market the Kindle in the Congo, but not in Canada.

A Kindle is nothing by itself, like a DVD player with no DVDs. The kindle must be able to access the Amazon collection in order to download content. Kindles need internet access. Since the carriers have a virtual monopoly (Bell/Telus/Rogers control the wire) and since our regulatory body is allowing the carriers to control the content, my best guess is that Big 3 want a piece of the action that Amazon believes is too high.

So the Canadians who want the Kindle can’t get it. This is just a small indication of what can happen when the carrier is allowed to control the content.

I don’t believe that Amazon has snubbed Canada, I think it is much more likely that Canada has snubbed Amazon.

P.S. The Kindle is now available in Canada. Complete with DRM. So sad.


6 thoughts on “Kindle: Not Available in Canada, eh?

  1. You’re SO right Y!

    You could go sign the petition:

    I understand that you aren’t with Bell, but if what competition we have goes away it will be bad for us all. (Unlike the crtc I do not think that phone giant vs cable giant = competition)

  2. yeah no kidding. i read the “amazon snubs canada” thing and was like, “give me a break”. we all know its canada’s wireless tyrants being just as greedy as they always have been. when it comes to cell phones and internet, canada is little better than the third world. i sell verizon wireless cell phone service, qwest internet, and directv satellite, and every time some american calls in complaining about something its so hard to be sympathetic because all i want to do is say “aw, you’re having trouble with so-and-so wicked service and/or feature i would kill to have today and you’re angry you can’t figure it out? try having rogers like i do, you spoiled little man, and then you will know REAL crap.”

  3. Hi Laurel. This is Mary from Rogers. Great article above, I really enjoyed reading your perspective. I just wanted to add that Rogers would love to partner with Amazon to bring the Kindle to Canada.


  4. Yes! Very good examples of why we should be concerned about Digital Rights Management. We have the ability to share everything now, all of our culture, but many copyright holders would like to lock it down more tightly than ever.

    (Love that “Lord of the Rings” book cover.)

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