A Kindle Holiday Wish

December 24, 2010

A happy Christmas tree
Click here to subscribe to this blog on your Kindle! It’s free for the next two weeks — and Amazon has finally slashed its subscription price to just 99 cents a month!

Even if you don’t stay past the first two weeks, I’d still appreciate the show of support. I love my Kindle, and I’m really trying to keep this blog going – but I need to encourage people to become paying subscribers. Without some money coming in, I’m going to have to move on to better-paying projects.

Happy holidays, everyone. If you’ve got a moment, I’d love to see a comment from you below!

And remember: Click here to subscribe to this blog on your Kindle!

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Picture of the new smaller, black $139 Amazon Wi-Fi Kindle

I’d been expecting there’d be a lot of new Kindle owners after Christmas, but now a business news service is backing me up. By the end of the year, Amazon will have sold more than 8 million Kindles, according to new statistics from Bloomberg. And it’s not just a prediction. They’re reporting that number came from “two people who are aware of the company’s sales projections.”

I have to wonder if this is a deliberate leak by Amazon. Amazon’s never shared their sales figures before, until Monday, when they finally revealed they’d sold “millions” of Kindles — just in the previous 73 days! It must’ve been hard keeping that secret, while Apple continued bragging about how fast their were selling their iPads. But in fact, Apple only sold 4.19 million iPads between July and September, and for the rest of the year, Bloomberg’s analyst has predicted that Apple will sell only 5 million more…

I’d like to give a big welcome to all the new Kindle owners. (In a few days, I’ll be publishing a few of my best new tricks for the Kindle!) And if you’re wondering if you should’ve bought an iPad instead — don’t. The selection of books is much smaller in Apple’s store, according to Publisher’s Weekly. “Want an e-book version of the nation’s bestselling nonfiction hardcovers? Don’t bother looking on the iBookstore. Apple still hasn’t struck a deal with Random House, publisher of current hits like George W. Bush’s Decision Points and Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. For now, iPad users who want to get any of Random House’s bestsellers — which also include John Grisham’s The Confession and Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — need to visit Apple’s App Store and download the free application for the Kindle or the Nook.”

Publisher’s Weekly notes that Apple offers just 130,000 books in its iBookstore, vs. the 300,000 applications in its app store — and you can’t even access Apple’s iBookstore from your computer, but only from a mobile device!

Maybe there’s a “stealth revolution” underway, and the Kindle’s popularity is Amazon’s own delicious secret. But if that’s true, then it’s got me curious. What kind of Kindles are people actually buying? I decided to ask a friend who publishes a popular technology site, and they agreed to anonymously share the break-down of their own sales for the last 30 days. They’d sold 90 Kindles — more than $13,000 worth — but eighteen of them were 2nd-generation Kindles. (Which is exactly 20%…) Almost two-thirds of their sales were for the new, cheaper WiFi Kindle — but that’s probably because Wi-Fi Kindles were specifically mentioned in Amazon’s ads. (“The All-New Kindle. Built-in Wi-Fi. Only $139…”) Since they’re only available in the new black color, this suggests we may start seeing fewer people in 2011 who are still carrying around the old-fashioned white Kindles.

Although maybe not. My friend’s web site also sold 15 of the new Kindle model that ships with both Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity — and only three buyers requested the graphite-colored Kindle. With this model there’s a choice of colors, and given a choice, 80% of the shoppers apparently went with a traditional white Kindle. And if you’re a new Kindle owner, remember. If you wrap your Kindle in a rubber “skin” you can change it to other colors, like blue or pink!

Pink Kindle skin gift cover

If I could send one message to all the new Kindle owners, it would be this: that owning a Kindle is a lot of fun. And remember that the Kindle is surprisingly flexible. Besides ebooks there’s also a great selection of games for the Kindle, and you can even use it to read your favorite newspapers and magazines. (Not to mention some great Kindle blogs!) So to all the new Kindle owners: happy holidays

And happy Kindle-ing!

Army helmet
In February, the U.S. Army began outfitting a brigade in Texas with the latest consumer technology — including smartphones and even Kindles — to see whether it improved soldier performance in the field. Their director at the Mission Command complex told Army Times that “We’re looking at everything from iPads to Kindles to Nook readers to mini-projectors.” Some devices were for communication or data storage, but the smart phones even came with apps that can identify the location of friendly troops!

It got me thinking about the soldiers overseas at Christmas-time — and that always reminds me of Operation eBook Drop. (If you know someone in the military, let them know that there’s hundreds of authors back at home who are offering their books for free as a thank-you to the men in uniform.) And recently, my girlfriend interviewed a veteran with his own amazing story to tell. He’d ultimately realized his dream of writing his own first novel — a thriller that combines his love of the great outdoors with a very exciting story — and he’s published it as an ebook.

My girlfriend gives Sleeping Giant — by Matt Kuntz — a very enthusiastic review…


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Do you know someone who is or was in the military? Who loves reading a great thriller? Loves the great outdoors, and using logic and strategy to get out of sticky situations? Likes when into lone moralists work against evil corporations for the common good? Have I got a book for you!

Sleeping Giant mixes all of this and more. Author Matt Kuntz is a veteran, a lawyer, and now Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Montana — and he sells riverboards on the side! In “Sleeping Giant,” Matt has written a book that’s both thrilling and thought-provoking. Drawing us into the Montana wilderness, this well-written novel explores sweeping themes that impact one specific guy in a very personal way. Racing against time, wounds bleeding while ducking hired mercenaries, he finally completes his mission. But does he survive?

Years ago, Matt read that the invention of the stirrup changed the course of civilization. One simple item had changed warfare by allowing knight with armor to ride horses and also gave rise to the middle class, allowing millions to rise out of peasantry. What would be invented today, Matt thought, that could have the same profound effect on the way the world works today? His answer: a new source of energy that’s safe, inexpensive, portable, and re-chargeable. Something that could store enough energy to power a whole town. Now what would corporations who rely on energy and re-selling energy do to prevent such a device from coming to market?

Thus, a novel is born.

Stone McCafferty is a decorated ex-military guy taking Montana tourists on fly-fishing trips, living the simple life. Frank Galeno, a local fly-fisherman, is found dead in the river of an apparent heart attack. It turns out Frank is a physicist, and he’s left Stone a binder that contains his life’s work. As Stone reads, he begins to realize the implications of this new energy storage device. But when he visits Frank’s home, he finds his workshop has been stripped bare.

Then people around him start getting murdered, one by one, and Stone barely escapes. On the run with just the clothes on his back, he heads to a mountain hideaway to assess the situation. He realizes he’s been followed, grabs as much gear as he can, and evades his trackers using his military training to escape into the Montana wilderness. It’s well-written, with a great story line and just enough science to let you understand the enormity of the invention without making you feel stupid. (I quit science after 10th grade!)

An added bonus? Knowing that you’re supporting an amazing guy. Matt began advocating for the effective treatment of post-traumatic stress syndrome in returning vets after his own step-brother committed suicide after returning from Iraq. Matt’s work culminated in a Senate Bill which requires multiple face-to-face mental health screenings throughout America’s fighting force. Senator Ted Kennedy attached the bill to the Defense Authorization Act of 2010 and it was ultimately signed into law on October 8, 2009. The support system put in place under Matt’s guidance is now considered a model, and it’s being adopted by other states.
It’s not often you get a chance to enjoy a great read while supporting a true hero. Of course, you can also buy one of Matt’s riverboards but it wouldn’t fit in your Kindle!

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Click here to buy a copy of Matt’s ebook, Sleeping Giant

EA Monopoly for the Kindle

It’s a Christmas miracle! Some of the best games for the Kindle have been slashed in price, down 50%, for the next two weeks. And Amazon’s even released a new free game this month for the Kindle — plus a new text adventure — so if you’ve been waiting to try Kindle games, this is the perfect opportunity.

These aren’t just any games — they’re some of the best-known games in the world. For example, Hasbro has licensed both Scrabble and Monopoly to a Kindle game designer, but originally they were both priced at $5.00. (Scrabble was just released in September, and Monopoly is a brand-new Kindle game — just in time for the holidays.) Now both games are just $2.49 — and in addition, there’s also a 50% reduction in the price of Sudoku, Texas Hold ‘Em, and Solitaire, down to just $1.99.

These aren’t just knock-off games. They were created by one of the best known game designers in the industry. Electronic Arts was founded back in 1982, according to Wikipedia, and now earns more than $4 billion a year in revenue. (They’re the home of the famous Sims games, as well as the Command and Conquer series, and even some Harry Potter games.) They’d done a good job with their game designs, and this afternoon, I personally “field tested” both Scrabble and Monopoly. They both feel exactly like the classic board games — except, of course, they’re much smaller, and in black-and-white, and most of the game commands are entered using a five-way controller…

The nicest thing about EA’s “Solitaire” game is it’s really 12 different games in one. There’s the classic “Klondike” version of solitaire (which is the one that ships with Windows) — but there’s also games like FreeCell, Canfield, Yukon, and Baker’s Dozen. And while there’s been other versions of Sudoku for the Kindle, EA did a really nice job with theirs. It includes a feature that lets you write notes on possible numbers for each square — which can sometimes provide valuable clues on where the other numbers go.

You can buy all five games for just $11.00 — and then have them forever on your Kindle. The fifth game is Texas Hold ‘Em (where players create a poker hand by matching their two concealed cards to five face-up cards on the table.) That sounds simple, but EA added lots of extra features, like the “Play Career” version where you have to earn your way up into high-stakes games. And there’s even an in-game advisor — an avatar named Amy — so if you’re not sure what to do, you press a for Amy.

And earlier this month Amazon Digital Services released a brand new, free version of Blackjack. I thought the classic card game would be simple and boring, but they’d included all the extra casino features like buying “insurance” against a dealer 21 or doubling your bet for the next “hit.” I know some people resist games on the Kindle, because they want it to be a dedicated reading device. But for me it’s become an all-around companion that can entertain me if I end up trapped in the lobby of an auto repair shop. If I don’t want to read, I can surf the web, or burn a few minutes playing a game.

I’d been wondering when someone would write an old school “text adventure” for the Kindle — and then discovered that Amazon just released one last Tuesday. It’s a dark superhero/detective game called “Dusk World”. And don’t forget, in October Amazon also released a new, free version of Minesweeper that you can download to your Kindle.

As I tested out all the new Kindle games, I felt like a kid opening up his Christmas presents early. Like any new toy, all the novelty may wear off eventually. But for a least a few minutes, they’ll be my favorite toy in the world…

Celebrate millions with the number 2,000,000
I’ve been waiting for digital readers to reach “a tipping point”. Is this the week that it finally happens? Last week Amazon announced they’d sold millions of Kindles in just the last 73 days. And now Sony just announced they’ve also sold millions of their digital reading devices, too. In fact, they predict it’ll be sold out within just a few days (“before the holidays”), and their more-expensive model is actually outselling the cheaper one.

But I think ebooks reached another important milestone on Sunday. The second-biggest newspaper in America is the Los Angeles Times, and yesterday in its Sunday edition — which is read by over one million people — their book critic had an announcement for the world. “The great debate of the last several years — whether readers would read book-length material onscreen — appears to have been settled with a resounding ‘yes’.” Elsewhere in the newspaper, he published his list of his favorite books this year. But he’d prefaced it by noting the popularity of the Kindle and iPad (plus the launch of Google’s own ebook store), saying each development “points to significant shifts in how we read.”

In his last column of 2010, David L. Ulin wrote that ebooks were “the story in publishing this year,” and admits that even he now owns a Kindle. (Although he seems a little ambivalent about it, writing “I have a Kindle but I rarely use it, and I don’t have an iPad, although I covet one…”) But surprisingly, he’s not worried about a threat to the printed book, and he argues instead that “none of these media are in competition. They are complementary.” The book, after all, is just a medium for something more important. “The issue is not what we read on, just as the issue is not what we read. The issue is that we read, that we continue to interact with long-form writing…”

And maybe there’s another secret hint about the future that’s hidden in his list of favorite books. I know at least one of the authors also owns a Kindle: Elif Batuman. “The Kindle is wonderful for drunk people…” she wrote in a British newspaper in October. “Before I first acquired a Kindle, exactly one year ago, I didn’t usually buy books while under the influence of alcohol… Because I am a writer, people sometimes ask me how ebooks have changed the literary landscape. The short answer, for me, is that I have developed a compulsion to drunk-dial Agatha Christie several times a week.”

She’s a book-lover with a sense of humor, and she called her 2010 memoir The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them. Yes, it’s available on the Kindle, offering a semi-serious personal inquiry into the act of reading itself. It just seems to me like everyone’s using Kindles — even the people who write books, about reading books, and the book critics who then criticize those books.

In fact, even that critic’s newspaper — The Los Angeles Times — is available on the Kindle. And the circle doesn’t end there, since tonight my girlfriend will be reading this blog post about that Kindle-using book critic…on her own Kindle!

Kindles are everywhere…

The Birth of the Kindle

December 16, 2010

The original Amazon Kindle
There’s a fascinating article today about how Amazon created the Kindle using an international team of developers. “Amazon’s Kindle was largely developed in the heart of Israel’s high-tech center in the Herzliya Industrial Zone on the central coast,” notes a nonprofit news organization, which tracked down the programmers who helped build it!

Sun Microsystems had a special team in Israel devoted to writing the computer code for handheld devices besides cellphones, and developer Lilach Zipory remembers that four years ago, “Amazon contacted Sun in California and said they wanted a small device that could be used to read e-books.” The first thing the team noticed was the Kindle’s greyscale screen (which was a big switch from the color screens used by most other devices.) They ultimately spent several years working with Amazon until eventually they’d developed the perfect device.

Amazon ordered 100,000 of them, remembers Eran Vanounou, the group’s development director, “and we were frankly skeptical they would sell all of them. But when they sold out a couple of months later, we realized what we were involved with.” Lilach admits that she was equally surprised. “I would never have expected an e-book reader to take off like the Kindle did.”

Though they’ve built many devices, “the Kindle is different, because it’s such a phenomenon,” Vanounou says. Now when he flies on an airplane, he sees other passengers reading a Kindle, and knows it’s a device that they helped to create. Once Vanounou ended up talking to a passenger, who apparently raved about how much she enjoyed using her Kindle. “I didn’t let on how much we in Oracle Herzliya were a part of her experience,” he told the reporters. But finally she told him point blank, “I love my Kindle,” he remembers.

“I could have sworn I felt a tear in my eye.”

Barnes and Noble Nook
Amazon made a stunning announcement Tuesday morning. “In just the first 73 days of this holiday quarter, we’ve already sold millions of our all-new Kindles..”

Kindle owners were the first to get the news, since Amazon quietly posted it online in a forum for Kindle owners. “Thank you, Kindle customers…” the announcement began, adding that “in the last 73 days, readers have purchased more Kindles than we sold during all of 2009.” Their post was just six sentences long, but it seemed bigger in scope — and big on gratitude. Amazon’s Kindle Team said they were “energized” (and grateful) for “the overwhelming customer response,” and the message ended with the words “Thank you for being a Kindle customer.”

It’s fun watching the reactions from skeptical technology sites. “It’s raining Kindles,” wrote The Motley Fool. They’ve complained in the past Amazon never revealed the actual number of Kindles sold, saying it’s “like having a discussion with a kindergartner or a politician. They all tell you what they think you want to hear…but lack the details you really need to know before drawing your own conclusion.”

Even then, Amazon’s announcement Tuesday didn’t completely satisfy the site. “Amazon.com still isn’t coming clean with how many Kindle e-book readers it’s selling, but at least now we know that it will be in the ‘millions’ this holiday quarter alone.” The Motley Fool called Amazon’s sales figure “impressive,” and attributed it to the better deals available. “[I]t really wasn’t until this year’s price war — driving the price of the Kindle to as low as $139 — that it all began coming together. Book lovers that figured it would take several dozens of e-book purchases to cover the cost of the $399 model can now justify the lower break-even point on a $139 reader.”

Information Week supplied some crucial context for Amazon’s announcement. Just last week, Barnes and Noble revealed it was selling its color Nooks at a rate of 18,000 a day. Publisher’s Weekly had declared the company’s CEO as their person of the year, and in a profile, he’d revealed that every four or five days, Barnes and Noble loaded up another 747 aircraft just to fly in more Nooks from China. That would come out to 1,314,000 Nooks if it lasted for 73 days — two Nooks for every three Kindles sold — but the Nook Color has only been available for less than 7 weeks.

It’s been 47 days since its release on October 28, which works out to just 846,000 color Nooks sold so far (assuming their sales rate remained constant). “All this vague one-upmanship, doesn’t answer the question on most analysts’ minds,” complains Information Week, “which is how well the Kindle is selling compared to the Apple iPad.” But at least now we have a number to work with for the number of Kindle owners in the world. We now know that there are at least two million new Kindles firing up out there in the wild.

The devil is in the details, and C|Net found something even more important that I’d missed. Amazon’s CEO is predicting that ebooks won’t start outselling all printed books for a while — saying ebooks won’t even surpass the sales of paperback books until the summer of 2011. And as far as ebooks outselling all printed books, he’s predicting it will finally happen “by 2012.”

A Spy at the Bookstore?

December 14, 2010

Spy vs Spy comic - top secret

I felt guilty. At the back of my local bookstore, the owner’s wife holds a monthly book group. But tonight, as she introduced our next book, I was already planning to purchase it as an ebook. And then the woman next to me revealed the same guilty secret. “Can we read this as an ebook?” she asked the bookstore owner’s wife.

I’d learn many interesting thing in the minutes that followed, as a fierce conversation broke out instantly around the table. In fact, everyone in the room had more to say about ebooks than we’d had about that month’s book selection! There was excitement about Kindles and Nooks – even from the people who didn’t own one. So the first thing I learned is that it’s a very hot topic. But the second thing I learned is you’re much less enthusiastic if you own a bookstore..

I tried to be sympathetic, pointing out that bookstores were cut out when people bought their books as ebooks. But unfortunately, I made the mistake of mentioning that bookstores obviously get a piece of the book’s sales price — prompting another comment about how ebooks are much cheaper than printed books. This made the bookstore owner’s wife look very, very uncomfortable. She pointed out that ebook prices get heavily subsidized — that she believed Amazon was even taking a loss on some ebooks.

“Maybe it’s all a conspiracy, to drive the local bookstores out of business,” someone said. “Amazon has invented a device which only lets you read books you buy from Amazon, and never from your local bookstore, so they can drive all of their competition out of business. Then in the future, if you want a book, you’ll have to buy them all from a single store in Seattle!”

“Or two stores,” the Nook owner said proudly. “You could also buy books from the Barnes and Noble chain.”

But then we got some surprising news from the bookstore owner’s wife. She’s already planning to sell ebooks from the new Google Bookstore. Apparently there’s a way to integrate Google’s ebooks into the web sites of local bookstores. There’s some configuration issues, she’d said, which still have to be worked out, but it gives her customers a way to give some money to their local bookseller.
Unless you own a Kindle, someone pointed out quickly. Because the Google bookstore hasn’t been able to work out a deal with Amazon. Yet…

I felt like I was watching an enormous change as it was happening around the world. Those were the main points of the discussion, but it was fascinating to hear each person’s individual perspective. One 80-year-old woman said most of her reading now was just cheap, used paperback books — and that she could buy hundreds of them for the cost of an Amazon Kindle. And another woman said she liked the tactile feel of a book — and the chance to start a conversation if someone recognizes the cover of your book.

But then someone argued that could also be a disadvantage. After all, one of most popular ebook categories is romance novels — because finally, nobody has to know that you’re reading them! I added that maybe some people buy a book because they secretly want people to see them reading it. In fact, Stephen King buys print copies of books that he’s already read as an ebook — just so he can have it as a conversation piece on his shelf!

Of course, he can afford to do that, because he has more income than most folks, I was thinking. But I was already getting a dirty look from the bookstore owner’s wife. The book group was probably started solely as a way to get people to purchase the store’s books. And to be fair, that’s one of the most unappreciated functions of a local bookstore. It becomes a kind of local support group for actually purchasing and then reading new releases.

The fact that we were having this discussion shows what a bookstore can do for a community. So I’m glad to know that some bookstores may be evolving into re-sellers of digital ebooks. Maybe someday our book group will meet, and no one will have a printed copy of the book.

Because every single one of us will be reading the book on a Kindle.

I had a lot of fun writing about gift ideas for Kindle owners. (There were covers that looked like an old-fashioned book — and some that made your Kindle look like you’re reading The New Yorker.) But this opened my eyes to a new world of Kindle accessories, and with some more research, I discovered some even more spectacular ways to customize and accessorize a Kindle.


Matte Finish “Her Abstraction” DecalGirl Protective Kindle Skin

You can give your Kindle a special “arts and crafts” feel using vinyl skins (backed with adhesive) that you apply to completely cover the outside of your Kindle. This design is called “Her Abstraction”, and its page in the Kindle store promises it can reduce the glare from your Kindle’s hard plastic edges, and also prevent fingerpints (since the vinyl is coated with a special protective layer of matte).

DecalGirl pink Kindle vinyl protective cover skin

It’s created by a manufacturer named “DecalGirl,” who offers several other attractive designs in the Kindle store.. Below is a picture of my second favorite. Just released in August, it’s a design they call “Empty Nest.” (“It’s very pretty…” wrote one reviewer in Amazon’s Kindle store. “But just so people know; it’s just a sticker. It doesn’t protect the kindle in case you drop it, etc…”)

DecalGirl Kindle protective vinyl skin Empty Nest

They also also a retro “leopard skin” pattern – and a stylish black-and-white drawing with a spectacular red heart right in the center…


Stars & Stripes GelaSkins Protective Kindle Skin

On the 4th of July, I read the Declaration of Independence on my Kindle. But imagine how patriotic I’d feel if my Kindle actually looked like an American flag.

Kindle soldier custom American flag case mod vinyl protective skin design

For $19.99, a manufactuer named “GelaSkins” offers a long line of arty “protective skins” for your Kindle, but the main difference is these vinyl skins actually cover your Kindle’s screen. The idea is to protect it from scratches when the Kindle is in transit. (Its description on Amazon.com promises it can be removed and re-applied “with no residue”.) You can change the look of your Kindle again and again by switching from one skin design to another.

One reviewer noted that the pictures are a little misleading, since unless you turn your Kindle all the way off, its screen will revert to a screensaver picture. But I was still impressed by the many arty patterns they have available for the Kindle — including a colorful design with an ocean drawing that they’re calling “The Great Wave.”


Genuine Brown Leather Hide Tuff-Luv Western Saddle Case Cover

Leather Kindle saddle cover

This one comes with a handy stand, so you can prop up your Kindle and enjoy hands-free reading. (One Kindle owner announced in Amazon’s Kindle Discussion Forum that it was perfect for reading cookbooks.) It’s actually hand-made, according to the description in Amazon’s Kindle store. (And yes, that’s actual cow hide that it’s made from, which they describe as both “genuine” and “rugged”.) I like the western design of the case, which seems like it would give a unique, old-fashioned feeling to your Kindle of solid and sturdy craftmanship. (The case’s workmanship comes with a lifetime guarantee.)

And for $29.99, you can also give your Kindle a woven hemp cover. (It even comes with a little flap on the side which you can use for holding a pen!)


Scatter Dot BUILT Neoprene Kindle Sleeve

It’s like a comfy sock for your Kindle. (“Machine wash cold; air dry,” it says in the cover’s description on Amazon.)
Built Kindle protective cushion padded safety holder
The manufacturer is also proud of the slightly curved “hourglass” shape of the sleve, which they argue gives extra protection to the Kindle by creating a kind of cushioning “bumper.” It’s created by a company called “Built,” and they offer several other designs if you’re not interested in “Scatter Dot.” They all offer interesting patterns with arty names — like the black-and-white “Vine,” or the warm oranges and reds of “Nolita Stripe.”

And there’s even one with a series of blue, green, and black bands that’s called “Bowery Stripe and Scuba Blue.”


Ikat Choco Canvas Clutch cover by designer Diane von Furstenberg

She married (and then divorced) a German prince, and re-married a commoner in 2001. But along the way, Diane von Furstenberg built an international reputation as a fashion designer — and in April, she released a line of purse-shaped “clutches” for the Amazon Kindle.

Diane von Furstenberg Kindle purse cover with latch

There’s three patterns — the one above is “Ikat Choco,” though there’s a less-busy pattern that’s called
“Signature,” plus a soft blue one with patches of white that’s called “Spotted Cat.” There’s actually a purse-style clatch that can hold the case shut, and when it folds open, you can hold your Kindle like a book — and there’s even a pouch to hold business cards.


MLB Baseball protective Kindle skins by SkinIt

Major League Baseball sports team logo custom Kindle protective skin

Do you know a fan of major league baseball? Nearly every team has a protective Kindle skin for sale in Amazon’s Kindle store, courtesy of a company called Skinit. There’s the Minnesota Twins (pictured above), the New York Yankees, and of course, this year’s World Series Champions, the San Francisco Giants. Each one adds the familiar red stitches of a major league baseball to the front edges of your Kindle — and adds a team logo to the back, using an easily-removable vinyl skin.

The offerings aren’t just limited to baseball. SkinIt offers vinyl Kindle skins with lots of NFL Football teams, NBA basketball teams, and even NCAAF college football teams. And last month, they even began offering a Kindle skin with pictures of the vampires from Twilight — and another one with Mickey Mouse!
Twilight and Mickey Mouse Kindle picture cover

They’re sold separately, of course…!

Girl in Ghana Africa with WorldReader Amazon Kindle
in 2008, a man took his family on a tour of the world. While visiting an orphanage in South America, he asked what was behind the padlocked doors of a tin building. The answer was disturbing: it was books. In fact, it was the local library. The materials had become outdated, and the library fell into disuse.

And then he had an idea. Throughout the trip his own daughters had been reading ebooks on their digital reader. He got the idea of starting a charity with one simple goal: to use ebook technology to “put a library of books within reach of every family on the planet”. He named it World Reader.org — and today on Facebook, Amazon posted pictures of their successful mission in Africa.

Two boys in Ghana Africa with WorldReader Amazon Kindle

Someday the group hopes to reach out to the entire world, but they’re starting in Africa where they feel they can have the most impact.


If someone asks you to go hand out 440 e-readers, you might think that after, say 100, it could start to feel mundane. On the contrary, every single time we handed a student an e-reader, it was as if we were handing someone raw power…


The 440 Kindles were filled with books of local interest and literary classics, and the workers seem to be filled with new hope. They’d seen how cellphones overcame the need for land lines in the developing world, according to their web page, and now firmly believe that digital readers “will become the easiest, least expensive, and most reliable way to deliver books to under-served areas and under-privileged peoples.” They chose Amazon’s Kindle as the best device for their project (partly because it has global connectivity to a wireless network). And now even children in a remote village in Africa can join in that big global conversation which passes from generation to generation.

Meanwhile, in Seattle, Amazon posted an announcement about it on their Facebook page, and in Georgia, one of the first people to see it posted a response. “Maybe a silly question, but I’m going to ask it anyway — do they have electricity so they can charge them?” But on the internet, the charity workers are already offering up answers on their web page about Africa. “Mobile phones have helped pave the way for electricity even in remote locations, and, happily, e-readers consume relatively little power…”

And where there wasn’t electricity — for example, in a pilot program in Ghana — they’d partner with other organizations to install a solar cell, plus a satellite for internet access. Back on Facebook, another woman in Rhode Island added, “Hope they don’t make it to the black market.” But theft hasn’t been a problem, the web page explains. And the optimism continues.

I love the way that distance starts becoming irrelevant thanks to some simple, everyday technology. The group is thrilled that they can eliminate the cost of shipping these books — and that ebooks are often cheaper than printed books. And back in America, nearly a thousand people clicked Facebook’s “like” icon for the news of their mission, while another 140 left supportive comments.

A Christmas Carol original book cover illustration
Some of the greatest authors in history have written Christmas stories — and they’re all available for free in Amazon’s Kindle store!


The Fir Tree by Hans Christian Andersen

A Charlie Brown Christmas was partly inspired by this fairy tale. Lee Mendelson, who was asked to help write a script for the TV show, remembered the previous Christmas when he’d read this story to his children. It’s the story of Christmas from the tree’s perspective — a little fir tree that “was not happy, it wished so much to be tall like its companions…

“Sometimes the children would bring a large basket of raspberries or strawberries, wreathed on a straw, and seat themselves near the fir-tree, and say, ‘Is it not a pretty little tree?’…”

It’s fun to peek in on a Christmas in 1844 — even as the tree anticipates a long journey from the woods into a celebrating home. Like many fairy tales, there’s a bittersweet ending — but it’s a story you’ll never forget.


Old Christmas by Washington Irving

He was America’s first internationally popular author, and he wrote two timeless stories — Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. But he also fathered many of our Christmas traditions. At the age of 29, when he was starting his career in 1812, Irving added five nostalgic Christmas stories to a collection of writing, and for one dream sequence, imagined what would happen if St. Nicholas flew over the forests in a flying sleigh. That’s believed to have inspired many of the subsequent stories about Santa Claus and his flying reindeer!

And the stories had an even greater impact. Irving also researched holiday traditions as far back as 1652, and according to Wikipedia, and his popular stories “contributed to the revival and reinterpretation of the Christmas holiday in the United States.” Even Charles Dickens himself said that Irving’s stories influenced his own famous novella, A Christmas Carol.


A Christmas Carol by Charlies Dickens

It’s not just a story about Christmas. It’s partly responsible for the way that way celebrate it. The story by 31-year-old Charles Dickens “was one of the single greatest influences in rejuvenating the old Christmas traditions of England,” according to Wikipedia, which notes it was published just as new customs were established like tree-decorating and Christmas cards. The book helped to popularize these traditions, though ironically, the story was immediately pirated after Dickens published it, and he realized almost no profits from the story himself!

I’ve enjoyed the way Charles Dickens writes, with simple yet very moving stories — and I’m not the only one. On Amazon’s list of the best-selling free ebooks, A Christmas Carol is currently #11. And interestingly, it turns out that Charles Dickens followed this up with even more Christmas stories — including The Cricket on the Hearth, The Chimes, and The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain.

All there stories are available for free in Amazon’s Kindle store.


A Visit From Saint Nicholas by Clement Clark Moore

Here’s something fun to download: the original text of “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” (One historian called it “arguably the best-known verses ever written by an American,” according to Wikipedia.) But you can only find the free ebook if you search on its original title — “A Visit from Saint Nicholas”. If you search for its first line — “Twas the Night Before Christmas” — Amazon’s Kindle Store will only show paid versions

There’s some interesting trivia about this story. In its first printing in 1823, Santa’s reindeer were named “Dunder” and “Blixem,” which are the Dutch words for “thunder” and “lightning.” But over the years their names changed into the more familiar-sounding “Donner” and “Blitzen”!


Christmas Eve by Robert Browning

He’s one of the most famous poets of the 19th century — and he in 1850 wrote a stark but thoughtful poem about visiting St. Peter’s church in Rome. It ultimately turns into a discussion about the nature of faith, but it was the first poem he published after his marriage, according to Wikipedia, and gives rare hints about the famous poet’s own religious views. One reviewer on Amazon described it as “A strange flighty trek in and out of trances and chapels to see rainbows and versions of God.” But another reader complained that they’d found it difficult to even read the poem, because the ebook wasn’t formatted properly.

“Who in their right mind eliminates line breaks and thinks they can get away with it?”

Amazon office building in Seattle

Last week I asked what happens when Amazon acquires the same massive negotiating power as the major chain bookstores? But it turns out we may already know the answer.

I just took a closer look at Boston Review‘s 4,500-word article about “Books after Amazon.” It’s got insider interviews, honest statistics, and the real details of a war that’s been going on for decades. It begins with estimates that 75% of America’s online book purchases now happen through Amazon.com — but then reports that for some publishers, Amazon is actually responsible for more than half of all their sales. “Amazon is indisputably the king of books,” the article notes, before citing an independent book publisher asking a very important question: “what kind of king they’re going to be…”

Kindle owners may be the ones most affected by Amazon’s success — and this article apparently reveals two of Amazon’s dirtiest secrets. “Most customers aren’t aware that the personalized book recommendations they receive are a result of paid promotions, not just purchase-derived data.” And behind-the-scenes, while you’re watching Amazon.com — Amazon’s price tags are also watching you! “Individual customers may get different discounts on the same book depending on their purchase history…”

But there’s also a fascinating discussion about how the prices of books are set. As Amazon grew, it pushed up the chain bookstores’ standard discount to 52–55 percent, “with some as high as 60 percent.” This sounds like a good thing, but there may also be a dark side. The article cites a 2004 article in Publisher’s Weekly that accused Amazon of demanding high discounts from book publishers with the threat of, among other things, making their books less likely to appear in customer searches.

Two publishers even reported that their books did, in fact, disappear altogether from Amazon.com, simply because they’d refused to offer extra discounts when Amazon sold the books! One publisher actually remembers that when he’d told Amazon he couldn’t afford to participate, Amazon’s employees told him he “couldn’t afford not to.” The second publisher’s books eventually returned without agreeing to the discounts — after he threatened to contact The New York Times. “Nonetheless, cases of disappearance continue,” Boston Review reports.

In some cases, a book’s “Buy” button apparently disappears from its web pages at Amazon.com! “In 2008 two huge British publishers — Bloomsbury and Hachette — had their buttons pulled,” the article notes. “That same year, Amazon also removed buy buttons from any print-on-demand publisher that didn’t use Amazon’s on demand printer…a move that led to an antitrust lawsuit in which Amazon agreed to pay a settlement to a competitor, though it admitted no wrongdoing.” And the article also cites an incident last year where Amazon’s ranking system stopped including “hundreds of gay- and lesbian-themed books”.

But the article finally works its way around to the million-dollar question: how is Amazon setting the prices of ebooks? Amazon initially demanded that all publishers price their books at $9.99 — without
consulting them first, choosing simply to “absorb the loss, paying publishers for the price of the equivalent printed book in order to make the deal more appealing. ” But to this day, “Amazon remains in control, using its algorithms to set the price of e-books.” The article also notes the tense negotiation over control of the pricing of Macmillan books, with Amazon temporarily de-listing every Macmillan book from its store. “It and a handful of other large publishers have taken over pricing of their own e-books,” Boston Review points out, “But smaller houses have not been so lucky.”

There’s also a prophetic description of a 2009 price war between Amazon, Walmart, and Target, in which hardcover best-sellers — generally sold for between $25 and $35 — were sold for less than $9.00 Eventually the U.S. Department of Justice received an angry letter from the American Bookseller’s Association over “illegal predatory pricing,” and it included a dire warning from author John Grisham’s agent. “If readers come to believe that the value of a new book is $10, publishing as we know it is over.” But the Justice Department never issued a formal reply.

Coincidentally, $10 is now Amazon’s standard price for a new ebook. But one San Francisco book publisher tells Boston Review that Amazon can’t continue to sell these ebooks at a loss, warning “Eventually, they’re going to change their minds on this…” And at that point, it may not be Kindle owners who take a hit — but the publishers who are trying to sell their books at Amazon.com

“They’re going to keep that e-book price where it is. They’re going to turn around and say to the publishers, ‘Tough’.”

I’ve given this a lot of thought. Someone in your life loves their Kindle — and now it’s that special time of year when you want to give them a gift. Unfortunately, this year’s popular gift item is the Kindle — and they have one already! What can you give them besides a Kindle that will make their eyes light with excitement?

For starters, how about a big stack of Kindle ebooks?

Gift Cards and Gift Certificates
Amazon sells pre-paid gift cards for Kindle purchases — and you can even get one with a holiday picture!

More Amazon Christmas gift certificate pictures for the Kindle or Facebook

There’s also card designs that say Happy New Years or Happy Holidays — plus over 100 other designs for special occasions throughout the year.

Amazon Christmas gift certificate pictures for Facebook or the Kindle

For last-minute gifts, you can even e-mail an official Amazon gift certificate instead. (Or, if you’ve got a Facebook account, send it as a Facebook e-mail instead…)

Decorative Covers
Some of these are really gorgeous. There’s a whole line by fashion design Kate Spade — including some stitched canvas covers that make your Kindle look like an actual book! (You even hold it in your hands like a book, folding open its top cover to reveal the Kindle’s screen…)

Kate Spade Great Gatsby Kindle book cover

And M-Edge has created a line of three different covers designed to look like The New Yorker magazine.

Kindle New Yorker magazine case cover

Or for a more practical gift, M-Edge also sell a Kindle “Guardian Case” which is waterproof. According to the product’s description, it will even float on the surface of the water, finally making it possible to read your Kindle in the bathtub, and one reviewer posted about reading their Kindle while relaxing in a swimming pool. (“I daresay I even used it as paddle on one occasion when my raft drifted too far from the boat!”)

Rubber Protectors
Of course, there’s lots of other decorative skins. Just five weeks ago, a new Marware product line appeared in Amazon’s Kindle Accessories Store: colorful rubber “skins” that wrap around a Kindle. The sturdy padding is technically referred to as a “fitted silicone case,” and it protects your Kindle from chipping if it falls to a hard surface. And, according to at least one reviewer on Amazon, it can also make your Kindle easier to grip.

Pink Kindle skin gift cover

There’s seven different colors to choose from, including black, white, and graphite — matching the colors of Kindles — but also pink, red, blue, and “frosted”. And best of all, they’re all available for under $20.

Of course, if you want to offer someone the ultimate protection for their Kindle — buy their Kindle a two-year extended warranty!

Reading Light
They own a Kindle — but do they own a Kandle? These cute, battery-powered reading lamps fit over the top of a Kindle. It’s currently Amazon’s best-selling reading light for the Kindle — but perhaps the best testimonial comes from an Amazon reviewer who’d been keeping his bedroom lamp on to read his Kindle — only to discover this was infuriating his wife!


“I’m going to smash your new toy!” she growled one morning with the force of crossed gods and dying suns. A chill swept over the planet. Birds stopped singing. Children paused in playgrounds.

“Enter the Kandle. Now I can read in bed (my favorite place in the house) with barely any light spilling over onto my wife’s eyelids… No more threats against the Kindle or me.”




Kandle reading lamp light for Amazon Kindle

Ebooks
In November, Amazon introduced a brand new feature for the Kindle: the ability to “gift” someone with the book of your choice. Unfortunately, the ebook doesn’t actually appear on their Kindle — Amazon just sends along an e-mail announcing that the ebook’s now available and that it’s already been pre-purchased — so this only works as a Christmas gift if your intended recipient is checking their e-mail on Christmas Day. But I still think it’s an exciting gift, because it’s a completely new way that you can surprise the Kindle lover in your life.

Joke Gifts
I’ve always thought this was a great idea. Why not gift a Kindle owner with an ebook that they don’t want. When the Kindle lover in your life declines the ebook, Amazon automatically credits their account with that ebook’s original purchase price — meaning that it’s really just an ebook gift certificate, in the form of a very unappreciated book! My suggestion for the gag gift? A Kindle ebook that’s all about the Nook — like “Nook Survival Guide – Step-by-Step User Guide for the Nook eReader.”

And of course, don’t overlook the most spectacular gift idea of all for your Kindle-loving friends. If you’ve got the money, you could always buy them another Kindle! If they’ve got the Kindle 3G, get them a $139 Kindle WiFi, so they can enjoy their reading on a Kindle that’s even lighter. Or, buy them an international Kindle Dx, so that they can enjoy its even bigger 9.7-inch screen.

After all, if they’ve already got a Kindle — then you know it’s a gift that they’ll really enjoy…

Digital Publishing vs. the Gutenberg press

I remember a fascinating article. Three years ago, a legendary magazine editor tracked down 10 professional authors, and asked them a simple question: “Is the net good for writers?”

“Over a billion people can deliver their text to a very broad public,” he wrote at the time — but how does it affect those people who actually sell their writing for a living? “Writing as a special talent became obsolete in the 19th century,” one writer had told him in 2002. “The bottleneck was publishing…”

With the popularity of the Kindle, it’s an even better question, since writers are not just competing with the internet, but with the self-published ebooks of amateurs. Author Erik Davis (also a writer for Wired, Bookforum, and The Village Voice) had remembered that in the mid-90s, “I got paid pretty good for a youngster — generally much better than I get paid now, when my career sometimes looks more and more like a hobby…” But he also noted that his career is “less driven by external measures of what a ‘successful’ writing career looks like,” and he’d enjoyed spending his time writing about off-beat topics like mystical and counter-cultural threads in both technology and the media.

But he also thinks technology is changing the kinds of things we end up reading, creating a bigger demand for smaller articles — and a much bigger market for “opinion”. And author Mark Dery, author of Cyberculture at the End of the Century, also seemed to agree about the shorter article sizes, complaining that today, “information overload and time famine encourage a sort of flat, depthless style, indebted to online blurblets, that’s spreading like kudzu across the landscape of American prose.” Yes, things are more democratic now, Dery believes, but that’s brought good changes as well as bad.

“Skimming reader comments on Amazon, I never cease to be amazed by the arcane expertise lurking in the crowd; somebody, somewhere, knows everything about something, no matter how mind-twistingly obscure. But this sea change — and it’s an extraordinary one — is counterbalanced by the unhappy fact that off-the-shelf blogware and the comment thread make everyone a critic or, more accurately, make everyone think they’re a critic, to a minus effect.

We’re drowning in yak, and it’s getting harder and harder to hear the insightful voices through all the media cacophony. Oscar Wilde would be just another forlorn blogger out on the media asteroid belt in our day, constantly checking his SiteMeter’s Average Hits Per Day and Average Visit Length.”

Dery’s ultimate conclusion? In these complicated and chaotic times, “the future of writing and reading is deeply uncertain.” And some of his thoughts were echoed by Adam Parfrey, the publisher at Feral House books (and the author of Apocalypse Culture). “I like the internet and computers for their ability to make writers of nearly everyone,” Parfrey writes. “I don’t like the internet and computers for their ability to make sloppy and thoughtless writers of nearly everyone.”

But at the end of the day, Parfrey seems to reach a more positive view. “Overall, it’s an exciting world,” he writes. “I’m glad to be alive at this time.”

If I could, I’d print out the article and send it in a time capsule to the year 2110 — since each author had an interesting but subtly different perspective. Douglas Rushkoff wrote that “The book industry isn’t what it used to be, but I don’t blame that on the internet. It’s really the fault of media conglomeration. Authors are no longer respected in the same way, books are treated more like magazines with firm expiration dates, and writers who simply write really well don’t get deals as quickly as disgraced celebrities or get-rich-quick gurus…”

And John Shirley, author of The Eclipse Trilogy, noted that in today’s book publishing industry, “Editors are no longer permitted to make decisions on their own. They must consult marketing departments before buying a book. Book production has become ever more like television production: subordinate to trendiness, and the anxiety of executives.”

But Shirley also added that “in my opinion this is partly because a generation intellectually concussed by the impact of the internet and other hyperactive, attention-deficit media, is assumed, probably rightly, to want superficial reading.” And he wasn’t the only author who had unkind thoughts for technology itself. Michael Simmons, a former editor for The National Lampoon, wrote “We’re a planet of marks getting our bank accounts skimmed by Bill Gates and Steven Jobs… Furthermore, I get nauseous thinking of the days, weeks, months I’ve spent on the phone with tech support.”

It’s one of the meatiest articles I’ve ever read about writing, publishing, and the state of the modern author. But having said that, I still thought that Edward Champion had perhaps the ultimate comeback.

“If the internet was committing some kind of cultural genocide for any piece of writing that was over twenty pages, why then has the number of books published increased over the past fifteen years?”

Kindles in the Comics

December 1, 2010

Newspaper comic strip characters Frank and Ernest react to the Amazon Kindle

In October, the Kindle actually appeared in a newspaper comic strip — the one-panel classic “Ziggy”. (A bewildered Ziggy complains that his Kindle is now receiving spam advertisements — from the public library.) It was a milestone — of sorts. But it turns out that the Kindle has also appeared in several other newspaper comic strips.

In fact, just four weeks ago, the Kindle turned up in “Frank and Ernest”. The pair is watching Hawaii Five-O, but since it’s the new version, detective McGarrett’s trademark line has been changed from “Book ’em, Danno,” to… “Kindle ’em, Danno.”

And the Kindle actually appeared for a whole week in the comic strip “Crankshaft.” (At first the curmudgeonly bus driver misunderstands the name Kindle, and says “You shouldn’t have wasted your money… I still haven’t burned all the pine cones yet.”) But in touching a moment, his girlfriend explains that he can finally read all the Tarzan books that he never got to read as a kid. And apparently his Kindle has a magical feature that’s apparently available only in the comic book universe. His girlfriend explains that “If you press here while you’re reading your Tarzan books, it emits a musty book smell.”

There is one mistake in the comic strip. The series end with Crankshaft announcing later that he’s downloading 60 years worth of Reader’s Digest. Then he says “Don’t wait up” — and heads into the bathroom.
In real life, it’s not possible to download back issues of Reader’s Digest, as far as I can tell (though it is possible to subscribe to the magazine). But one part of the comic strip is gloriously true. Not only can you read the original Tarzan books on your Kindle — every single one of them is absolutely free.

Tarzan of the Apes
Return of Tarzan
`Beasts of Tarzan
Tarzan the Terrible
Son of Tarzan
Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar
Jungle Tales of Tarzan

Bloggers were impressed that even the cranky bus driver was enjoying his Kindle. “It’s mainstream now for sure,” wrote a blogger at BookChase — though he immediately received a follow-up comment that wondered whether the bus driver had really overcome his technophobia.

“And then he discovers that the battery occasionally needs to be recharged, and that’ll be the end of that.”