Winter is getting long this time around, but there are still many benefits and memories to be made.  Feeding the birds, riding a sled, even shoveling the driveway (although that one is better in retrospect).  Some people ski, or snowmobile.  And everybody likes to warm up afterwards, huddled around a fire with a mug of something hot in their hands, or snuggled in a chair with a book.

These days, people are snuggling up with something electronic.  Amazon’s Kindle seems to be catching on real well.  On the bus I ride to work, there are at least three people who regularly read a Kindle instead of a dead-tree book.

I wish I could tell you that Amazon has decided to make the Kindle free, but they still charge $250/500 for their two models.  I can tell you, though, that Amazon has made their Kindle for the PC free.  If you tend towards portable devices, they have the program for the iPhone and the Blackberry as well.  Nothing for the Mac yet.

“So what?”, I hear you ask (my hearing’s pretty good).  It’s not the Kindle reading program as much as it is the Kindle library.  Most of their books are $10, which beats paper on price.  Some books manage to hit the magic price of free.  Right now, the top ten Kindle best-sellers have a price of zero.  Sure, they’re giving away a book to try to get you to buy more from the author.  Just like a greengrocer would give you an apple to get you to buy a bag full.  Nothing wrong with it, and potentially plenty right with it.  NOTE: I’m not vouching for any of the free books.  That best seller list can change daily (indeed, the top nine have only spent two days in the top 100), so choose cautiously.  Amazon also promotes the classics, for free.  Arthur Conan Doyle, Jane Austen, Ben Franklin, and Tolstoy are available at the click of a button.

Kindle also does newspapers and magazines.  The electronic New York Times is $14 a month, vs. about $30 for print delivery.  They caution that

The Kindle Edition of The New York Times contains articles found in the print edition, but will not include some images and tables. Also, some features such as the crossword puzzle, box scores and classifieds are not currently available.

So it’s not exactly apples and oranges.  Kindle has the New Yorker at $3/month, but the paper version has a three-year offer for a hundred bucks.  Close, but paper wins this one.

One other advantage that the Kindle has is the ability to store these things electronically.  The big Kindle can hold 3500 books.  Much easier to carry around something less than a pound.  For the PC reader, it’s just disk space, which is there already.

And if you want to step outside of the Amazon world, Baen’s free library supports the Kindle, as well as many other formats.

Free is good.  People working to improve on what’s free is even better.