Apple's Steve Jobs and the iPad vs Amazon's Kindle
It’s one of the most controversial comments ever made. Nearly three years ago, Steve Jobs was asked about the Kindle at the annual Mac World conference, and he made a startling declaration.

“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read any more. Forty percent of the people in the United States read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.”

But not everyone agreed with his cynicism about the business of ebooks, including the technology blog at The New York Times.

“That may well be true, but it doesn’t take into account that a large percentage of the books are bought by a small number of readers…a relatively small number of people…represent a disproportionately large share of profits.”

And of course, Apple’s statistic also proves that 60 percent of Americans do read more than one book each year.

I think Jobs’ comment was motivated by a feeling of fierce competition. But nearly three years later, it still remembered in Amazon’s Kindle discussion forum. When Apple finally unveiled the iPad in January, Steve Jobs reportedly demonstrated its reading capability, and then conceded that Amazon “has done a great job of pioneering this… we’re going to stand on their shoulders for this.” I think that today, it’s become a different question: not whether there’s a market for ebooks, but whether that’s a selling point in the war between tablet-sized devices.

“No matter how cheap or technologically cool the iPad or Kindle are, ebooks will never come close to actual books…” complained one of my readers last week. But almost as soon as the iPad was released, reporters began comparing its screen to the Kindle’s. The rivalry between the devices heated up last week with Amazon’s newest TV ad. It uses two people talking at a swimming pool to demonstrate that sunlight glares off your iPad’s screen if you read it outdoors.

It’s one very specific difference between the devices, but business analysts are already analyzing the message. Yesterday The Motley Fool tracked down Len Edgerly, who is both a former business reporter and very popular Kindle podcaster, and specifically asked him about Amazon’s new ad. It was fun to hear that Edgerly actually does read his Kindle at the beach, and he describes the experience as delightful. “You also have the feeling that you are not taking a computer to the beach…”

Apparently it’s not just that there’s no glare from the sun; it’s that the Kindle is as light as a pair of sandals. At one and a half pounds, the iPad is nearly three times as heavy as the Kindle, with new versions weighing in at just 8.5 ounces. Judging by Edgerly’s experience, this could be a deciding factor for some users in the war between the iPad and the Kindle.

“[A]fter about a half an hour of reading a book, the iPad just seemed to get heavier and heavier and less and less pleasing to hold…”

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Kindle beach ebook ad - I reached across the table but he shrugged
I had to know. What exactly is the story that the woman’s reading in Amazon’s Kindle ad? It appears briefly on the screen before the camera pulls back to reveal the beach. But now I’m almost sorry that I asked…

Last week I interviewed the author who wrote the book, Where the God of Love Hangs Out. And in preparation, I’d read the story itself. It’s “Sleepwalking,” the first in a four-story cycle by Amy Bloom, and the story is actually about a 19-year-old boy who has a sexual encounter with his stepmother. It’s the day after his father’s funeral, and it’s told from the perspective of the grief-stricken widow, Julia. She cries while singing to her younger son, and then staggers through the hours in a daze.


After the funeral was over and the cold turkey and the glazed ham were demolished and some very good jazz was played and some very good musicians went home drunk on bourbon poured in my husband’s honor, it was just me, my mother-in-law, Ruth, and our two boys, Lionel junior from Lionel’s second marriage, and our little boy, Buster.


It’s an incredibly sad story, but it’s also extremely well-written. (Bloom has written stories for The New Yorker, and was nominated for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.) According to Wikipedia, Bloom also worked as a psychotherapist and created a series on The Lifetime Network about psychiatrists called “State of Mind”. Like a clinical psychologist, Bloom writes a story which provides an honest answer to the question of how this could happen, and her story doesn’t flinch from its painful aftermath. “I was already sorrier than I’d ever been in my whole life, sorry enough for this life and the next…”

It’s the stepmother’s story, as she struggles to find a way to make things right — but first she must confront the fact that her son wants to continue the relationship.



“No, honey.”

I reached across the table but he shrugged me off, grabbing my keys and heading out the door…


And that’s the sentence which appears at the top of the Kindle’s screen in Amazon’s ad. That’s what she’s reading at the beach…


I sat for a long time, sipping, watching the sunlight move around the kitchen. When it was almost five, I took the keys from [her husband] Lionel’s side of the dresser and drove his van to soccer camp. [Her other, younger son] Buster felt like being quiet, so we just held hands and listened to the radio. I offered to take him to Burger King, hoping the automated monkeys and video games would be a good substitute for a fully present and competent mother. He was happy and we killed an hour and a half there. Three hours to bedtime.

We watched some TV, sitting on the couch, his feet in my lap. Every few minutes, I’d look at the clock on the mantel and then promise myself I wouldn’t look until the next commercial. Every time I started to move, I’d get tears in my eyes, so I concentrated on sitting very still, waiting for time to pass. Finally, I got Buster through his…


Amy Bloom actually wrote that short story in 1993, when she was 40 years old. Over the years she wrote two more stories about the family — with the son returning for the family Thanksgiving dinner with a girlfriend 10 years later. It’s told first from the son’s perspective, and then from the mother’s — but last year, Bloom produced a final story which reveals how things finally ended up. She’d published the two Thanksgiving stories in a 2000 collection, A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You. But it’s in her newest collection, published in January, where readers get the final word about Lionel and Julia.

I asked Amy Bloom if she would ever write another story about the characters — if there would ever be more stories about the family. “There might be,” she replied. “I’m not sure. Not at this point. I’m done with these characters now. I’m on to this novel, and I’m sure that it’s — if the next generation makes themselves known to me, I’ll probably go back and write a few more stories.” I also asked what she thought of Amazon’s choice of the story for their Kindle ad. “I wasn’t embarrassed,” she replied circumspectly (repeating “I didn’t think this was embarrassing,” when it came up again later).

And then I remembered the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Norman Mailer, who was once asked if he’d had a favorite of his stories. He’d said it was like being asked if he had a favorite among his children. I decided maybe it wasn’t the right question to ask the story’s author. But 17 years after the original story was written, a page from it still flickers across millions of TV screens. And each day dozens of people then feel compelled to go into Google and type in this mysterious sentence.

“I reached across the table but he shrugged me off, grabbing my keys and heading out the door…”


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Click here to buy Where the God of Love Hangs Out.

New Kindle vs iPad sun glasses ad

Amazon’s just released a new TV ad that makes fun of Apple’s iPad. At a glamorous pool (surrounded by palm trees), a befuddled young man is shown trying to read his iPad, as the sun’s glare is reflected off his screen. “Excuse me,” he says to the woman next to him, in a bikini. “How are you reading that, in this light?”

“It’s a Kindle,” she replies casually, adding almost as an afterthought: “$139.” She smiles an enormous smile, and then says: “I actually paid more for these sunglasses.”

There’s a secret history to the ad. In July, the New York Times interviewed Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, and he’d demonstrated the Kindle’s low price by telling an almost identical story. (“At $139, if you’re going to read by the pool, some people might spend more than that on a swimsuit and sunglasses.”) I wonder if he phoned the ad agency the same day, demanding that they start working on this commercial!

The ad’s already provoking some interesting reactions on the web. “This is a good ad,” posted one reader at Electronista. “If you just want to read, the Kindle is a far better device. If you want a multipurpose device, the iPad beats it, just not in bright sunlight.” And another viewer spotted another advantage, which they’d posted in the comments at a site called The Next Web.

“Also note that she is using the Kindle one-handed, while the iPad guy has to rest it on his beer gut…”

When the ad ends, Amazon proudly displays its final message on the screen. “The all new Kindle. Only $139.” And the ad drew an enthusiastic response in the Kindle discussion forum at Amazon.com. “I have not seen an iPad yet,” posted one user, “and when it showed it I thought, OMG what is that ugly thing? I actually rewound the DVR to see if I could see what it was… Might as well carry around a hippopotamus!”

Over at Electronista, one user didn’t question the attack on the iPad, but did pan the quality of the ad itself. “The acting is forced and the tail music is jarring. Did Amazon really pay for this?”

But in Amazon’s Kindle forum, one viewer applauded the ad for both its valuable message — and for its messenger. “You can not read Apple products outside in the sunlight. I have an iPhone and it is useless in the sunlight.

“Plus the chick is hot!”

Amy Bloom book in the Kindle beach ad

I just got off the phone with Amy Bloom. She’s the author whose book actually appears on the Kindle’s screen during the beginning of that ad at the beach. Amy has published short stories in The New Yorker, and was nominated for the National Book Award — and even that woman in the Kindle ad is now reading her most recent book, Where the God of Love Hangs Out. I was very excited, because I was finally going to get to ask her: how does it feel to find your book featured in an ad for the Kindle?

I tracked down her contact information, and she graciously agreed to answer a few questions. We spoke for 15 minutes on Wednesday — after I’d spent the previous week reading all of her books!

Q: When was the first time you realized it was a page from your book that was featured in the Kindle ad?

AMY BLOOM: A day or two ago. The day that you emailed me. I had a nice note from an agent…

Q: And have you watched the ad?

AMY: Somebody sent me a link.

Q: So what was your reaction?

AMY: I thought, “Oh. How nice.”

I have to say, I can’t imagine that most people looking at the ad — the thing that stays with them is just that fleeting moment of print. But you never know. I suppose somebody… I’m afraid this is my nature. What I felt was, “Oh, that’s so nice. Thank you, Kindle people.”

Q: And then you went on about your day?

AMY: I did. I had a deadline. I was working on something, and I went back to work.

Q: Did you get any other reactions from people you know?

AMY: Another friend of mine said, “Hey, guess what…”

You know? “I fleetingly saw your page in a Kindle ad!” And that was nice. You know, I’m the dullest person in the world. I say, “Oh, that’s so nice.” And they go, “Yep.”

Q: I guess I was expecting you’d have a bigger reaction to the ads.

AMY: I am notorious for this in my family. I’m pleased by them. I’m flattered by them, but I don’t — they’re not — they’re great. I’m really appreciative and I think its very kind of the Kindle people. I feel very grateful for whoever it was who said, “Hey, how about a page from an Amy Bloom story.” I feel very grateful for whoever that person is.

Q: Will this increase sales of your book?

AMY: You never know. It probably won’t do me any harm.

On the other hand, the other way to look at it is, who cares? I’ve done my job as a writer. I’ve written the best work I know how. And I’m appreciative of the people who read it and care about the work — and that’s pretty much the end of that. Anything else that happens is sometimes nice, and sometimes not so nice, but not really directly relevant.

Q: Still, for more than two months they’ve been broadcasting a page from your book into millions of homes, and over and over again.

AMY: It’s very nice. But on the other hand, I’m sure there are far more people who are like Snooki and The Situation, than have gone, “Ooh, look. An Amy Bloom short story.” Again, I think it’s — I am really appreciative, and it’s also sort of in the category of ephemera.

Q: But is there a larger significance?

AMY: If there is a larger significance, it’s going to be someone else who figures out what it is, not me.

Q: Are you one of those authors of print books who has a secret distrust of ebooks and digital readers?

AMY: I don’t have anything against them sort of, qua objects. I think, from people who find them more comfortable or more useful — you know, it doesn’t matter to me whether people read wax tablets or printed books or handmade books or ebooks. I’m happy that they read.

And I have to say, I don’t really have a sense as to how the presence of Kindles and ebooks is going to change two of the things I like most in the world — which are bookstores and libraries. It’s already clear that the tiny independent bookstores are not going to be proliferating. On the other hand, somebody told me that three had opened in New York City. So there you go. And so I think it’ll be like my dad used to say. “May you live in interesting times.” We’ll see what happens next.

Q: Do you use a Kindle, or another digital reader?

AMY: I don’t. But I’m sure when I’m a little old lady, I’m going to be very grateful to have a — some lightweight thing that contains a lot of books and has big fonts.

Q: Do you have any friends who are using a Kindle or one of the other digital readers?

AMY: I do know a couple of people who use them. They seem to like them quite a bit…

Q: I guess I’m comparing you to the woman in the Kindle ad. Do you at least read books at the beach?

AMY: I do read at the beach, although not — you know, usually not the “technologically advanced” versions.

Q: And you’re not reading Where the God of Love Hangs Out.

AMY: Well no, because I was familiar with the book.

Q: A few people who’ve watched the ad have said, “Man, that couple must hate each other.”

AMY: Well, or it’s comfortable silences. Other people’s marriages are hard to judge.

Q: And for that matter, the other comment is that the two of them are at that gorgeous beach — with their noses stuck in a book.

AMY: Well, there is that…

Q: I’ve been trying to figure out how your book was chosen for the ad. Maybe the ad was filmed when the hardcover version was first released?

AMY: I think it had nothing to do with updates. It had to do with whoever designed this particular ad — and God bless them.

Q: Do you anticipate pages from your book starring in other ads?

AMY: I don’t see my work — or my person — starring in any commercials any time soon.

Q: So where will we see you next?

AMY: I’m working on a novel. I’m working on a couple of TV projects, and mostly that’s what I do.

Mostly I keep my head down!


Click here to buy your own Kindle ebook version of
Where the God of Love Hangs Out
.