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!

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.

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.

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’.”

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?”

Target store logo

Want to know the dirty secrets of the book publishing industry? Boston Review just published a shocking but very well-researched article that seems to finally lay it all out.

The article starts with some disturbing bookstore history. During the 1970s and the 1980s, new independent bookstores continued appearing, but “this trend came to a halt when chain superstores such as Barnes & Noble and Borders began taking over in the late ’80s.” Over the next 20 years, the number of independent bookstores dropped from 6,000 to 2,200, which the author blames on their ability to negotiate bigger discounts from book publishers. In a fight for the future of the bookstore, the American Bookseller’s Association even filed two lawsuits — one in 1994 and a second one in 1997.

“In 2001 this lawsuit, too, was settled, on the condition that a large amount of the evidence the ABA had collected against the chain stores be destroyed,” the article reports. It seems a little ironic that the chain stores beat the local stores by drastically discounting their books — only to face the threat of even cheaper competition today from the ebooks in Amazon’s Kindle store. But this episode reveals another big way that chain bookstores changed the book industry. Now publishers earmark about 4% of their net revenue to pay for special promotions within chain bookstores, including special price discounts and prime placement at the front of the bookstore (which apparently retails for $20,000 for a two-week display).

Smaller publishers are hurt, since they can’t compete with large promotional budgets — and that’s only the beginning, according to the article. Now large retailers “weigh in on everything from book covers to sample chapters of manuscripts,” and “In some cases, retailers even demand changes.” Am I reading that right? Is Target calling the shots in what’s appearing in our books? The article cites information from an editor at “a major publishing house, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity for fear of employer sanctions.” And he reveals that yes, frequently there’s representatives from Target, Borders, and Barnes and Noble when potential books are discussed.

“Without their buy-in, the publisher is unlikely to go forward with a book,” the article reports. “Ideas that excite [independent book stores] might be scrapped if they don’t get a chain’s stamp of approval.” What’s disturbing about this is that’s ultimately also affecting shoppers at Amazon.com. Amazon can only sell printed books after print publishers make them available. But if Target gets a veto on which books are printed, then Amazon will never get a chance to sell them.

At first it seems like we should be cheering for Amazon’s Kindle Store. Anyone can self-publish an ebook — so isn’t that a positive development? Yes, in the sense that unlike a bookstore, Amazon stocks every book that a publisher sells. The only question now is: what happens when Amazon acquires the same massive negotiating power as the major chain bookstores?

Will they ultimately use their newfound power for good, or for evil?

Turkey reading a book
I’m trying to get into holiday spirit – and I was really touched Monday by a story about a stroke victim who was re-learning how to read using a Kindle…

61-year-old Tom Calteux was a former photo editor at a Milwaukee newspaper, but at the age of 49 — 12 years ago — the stroke took his ability to read. He’s spent over a decade in therapy, and “When he had trouble, you could see tears develop,” remember one of the pathologists. She reports that now using the Kindle has been “uplifting” — both emotionally and psychologically — and an Amazon representative confirms that there are “a number of stories about stroke patients across the country using Kindles to help with their reading.

I guess I felt like I should take a moment this year to be thankful — and to think about all those people, somewhere around us, who are very thankful for their Kindles.

* Thanksgiving always holds a special meaning for the families of soldiers who are stationed overseas. And some of those soldiers are now reading on their Kindles, according to stories being shared on the Kindle online discussion forums. Author Edward C. Patterson organized “Operation eBook Drop” in 2009, in which authors agreed to provide free ebook coupons to “any deployed Coalition Armed Forces member with a Kindle.”

In a little more than a year, they’ve now distributed over 440,000 coupons to the soldiers for at least 2,000 different ebooks which were contributed by over 522 authors. And earlier this month, they received a thank-you e-mail from a medical sergeant named Dakotah Hayes. “This means so very much to myself and my entire team… This is our job and we do it because we enjoy helping others at home and over seas, so to receive even a word of thanks is more than we could ever want. Thank you for your support and your generous gifts.”

* Two optometrists in Texas write a web blog about optometry, and report that Amazon’s Kindle “holds a lot of promise” for people with serious eye conditions, including glaucoma, macular degeneration, and retinitis pigmentosa. Last year one of the eye doctors told Publisher’s Weekly that “Numerous people contact me about it — some are legally blind, some have a hard time seeing…” The Kindle can obviously convert any text into an instant large-print book, but its screen may be even better, because “contrast and brightness are very important for someone with low vision.” In addition, some arthritis or MS patients have trouble even holding a book — and the Kindle’s lighter size is making it easier for them to read.

* Finally, I’ll never forget the story of a concerned mother in North Carolina who wandered into Amazon’s Kindle forum and posted “I could cry…I am so happy.” Her 14-year-old daughter had struggled in school, and never read any books for enjoyment. But one day she picked up the family’s Kindle 2 — and surprised them all by suddenly starting to read. “After hours of reading I asked what the difference was between the regular book and the Kindle. She said she would get very overwhelmed by all the words and the size of the book which would make it difficult for her to stay focused. For whatever reason putting the font size up one notch has done the trick!”

Now somewhere in America, there’s a mother who’s happy because her child finally found a way to enjoy reading, and “She hasn’t put the Kindle down since!”


Just a few hours ago, Amazon activated their new “gifting” feature for ebooks, saying they were “thrilled” to make it even easier to share Amazon’s ebooks. “We’re making this functionality available in time for the holidays to offer an easy, stress free holiday shopping option,” Amazon explained in a press release, adding that the feature was “for anyone – not just Kindle owners.”

If you’re browsing through the Kindle store on the web, you’ll notice there’s now a new button on each book’s page — “Give as a Gift” — which appears to the right of the screen. But strangely, this button doesn’t seem to be appearing now on the book pages when you browse the Kindle Store with your Kindle! On the web, the button appears just below Amazon’s purchasing buttons (like “Buy now with 1-Click”), and clicking the “Gift” button pulls up a screen where you can add a 300-character message. Still, it would be even more useful if it included an option to delay the delivery date — say, until December 25th? — but instead, they’re delivered almost instantly. Amazon explains at the top of the page that gift notifications “are delivered to the recipient via e-mail…typically within 5 minutes.”

There also seems to be an error in the “legalese” which appears at the bottom of the page. “If this title isn’t available for your gift recipient,” it warns in tiny grey letters, “we will exchange your gift for an equivalent value Amazon.com gift card.” Er, but how could a digital ebook suddenly not be available? It’s not like they’re going to run out of copies, and have to wait for a second printing of fresh-off-the-press ebooks!

It seems like Amazon rushed this out in a hurry, to make sure it was available before the start of the holiday shopping season. And all the extra news stories will also keep people thinking about the Kindle —
right as they’re considering their big “Black Friday” purchases. On that massive shopping day after Thanksgiving, Barnes and Noble will be discounting the Nook to just $99 at Best Buy. Maybe Amazon wanted
to try to stir up some extra news coverage for the Kindle!

But mostly it’s just another way to shop in Amazon’s store, especially since you don’t have to own a Kindle in order to give an ebook as a gift — or even, to receive it! (“Kindle ebooks can be given and received by anyone with an e-mail address,” Amazon explains, noting they offer ebook-reading apps for nearly every operating system and smartphone.) In Amazon’s Kindle forum, one user worried about receiving gift ebooks that you’re actually not interested in reading. But if that happens, Amazon has a new procedure in place where you can exchange that unwanted ebook for an Amazon gift card.

From a business perspective, this is a very smart move for Amazon, because they’ve created a whole new way to buy ebooks. And to take advantage of the new enthusiasm, Amazon has already created a special page on the web with the words “Give Kindle Books” in enormous grey and orange letters. (“Choose from over 725,000 books,” it says below the headline. “Give to anyone with an e-mail address!”) They designed the page to make the ebooks as tempting as possible, listing the best Kindle ebooks of 2010 and links to the best-sellers in several other intriguing categories. There’s Mysteries, Biographies, Science Fiction, and Romance — along with “Editor’s Picks,” New York Times bestsellers, religion, and young adult.

I’ve been reading the reactions in Amazon’s Kindle forums, and users were either excited or skeptical. One user appreciated the new features, saying some family members felt that giving a blank gift card was “too generic.” But another user complained that they wanted to disable the intrusive “gift notifications,” saying they’d already contacted Amazon’s customer support requesting the feature. And the biggest complaint is that currently, free ebooks apparently can’t be given as a gift at all. For example, though many classic works of literature are available in both free and paid editions, the “Give as a Gift” button only appears on the paid editions.

Apparently Amazon only wants you to gift those books from which Amazon will be earning a commission!

Stephen King autograph on a Kindle

“Writers will begin signing e-books,” a headline promises at the web site TechEye. Er, wait a minute — then where are the writers going to put the pen?

But it turns out there’s a new technology — and also some other possibilities that I hadn’t thought of. For example, one PR professional suggested that instead of a signature, authors at a book-signing could pose for a digital photograph with all their fans who waited in line. (And yes, you could e-mail that photograph to your Kindle, where you could then access it from your home page.) And the photos could also be uploaded to Facebook or posted on weblogs — or even uploaded to your cell phone, so it’s next to the apps where you’re reading the author’s ebook!

Of course, it’s also possible to use a pen-shaped mouse to draw a digital signature onto the photograph, so the fans could still get their autograph after all. But according to TechEye, there’s an even more interesting possibility. A developer named Tom Waters teamed up with an IT contractor for NASA to create an application called “autography,” which captures a writer’s autograph on a digital blank page so that it can be inserted directly into ebooks! This could spread a new tradition throughout the world of ebooks, according to an insider for the publishing industry who was interviewed by the web site. “Autography has initially been developed as a iPad app which works with the iBookstore, although Waters says the final service will be device and format agnostic…”

This might be a better way to handle ebooks when authors are promoting their new releases at a bookstore. (I’ve already collected several stories about fans who asked the authors to simply sign the outside of their Kindles.) Last year at a Manhattan bookstore, this happened when humorist David Sedaris was promoting a new collection of essays called “When You Are Engulfed in Flames” — and he came up with the perfect inscription. “Mr. Sedaris, in mock horror, wrote, ‘This bespells doom’,” the New York Times reported, adding that the event “may have offered a glimpse of the future.” When the Times contacted Sedaris later, the author revealed that actually, he’d already signed “at least five” different Kindles — as well as “a fair number of iPods…for audio book listeners!”

William Gibson, the famous science fiction author, also experienced the same phenomenon — during a special book-signing at the Microsoft campus. (Gibson acknowledged to the fan that this was a first, and then autographed their Kindle with big, black letters using a permanent marker.) Later, the fan discovered that William Gibson was also talking about the incident on Twitter. “Signed very first Kindle at Microsoft,” Gibson announced to his fans. “Actually, *touched* very first Kindle.

“Appealing unit, IMO,” added the science fiction writer.

Gibson’s new book ultimately became Amazon’s best-selling science fiction book in September, and it’s possible that the extra publicity helped. It’s fun to think about this as two worlds colliding — that it’s the virtual world of ebooks confronting the real-world physicality of printed books (and their authors). But while this ritual may be undergoing simple changes, it could offer hints about something larger.

One fan even confessed to the New York Times that she actually felt embarrassed as she’d approached the author, because “if you’re asking for your Kindle to be signed, you’re taking the bookstore out of the process!”

Kindles for Christmas?

November 16, 2010

Kindle giftwrapped as a Christmas gift
Is the Kindle about to explode in popularity? Yesterday the New York Times reported “great holiday expections” for e-readers. (This year Kindles are available at lower prices than they were last year — and with more places to buy them!) Last month the Kindle began appearing at Staples, and in June they’d already started turning up at Target (where a senior VP said the response was “overwhelmingly positive.”) Plus, now they’re also available at Best Buy, where the senior VP says “there’s no question that e-readers have found their rightful place in today’s digital lifestyle.”

One researcher told the Times that currently one out of every five Kindles were purchased as a gift, and because prices have come down, the Kindle should be even more popular this shopping season. (A new study by Consumer Reports finds that this year, 10% of adults plan to give a digital reader as a gift.) In fact, the Times cites a prediction that over the next six and a half weeks, the number of people who own a Kindle or other digital reading device will increase by 14%! Only nine million people have a digital reader now, according to Forrester Research statistics, but by the end of the year it’s expected to jump to 10.3 million…

Is this the moment when digital readers finally start to achieve “critical mass”? A British web site called PC Advisor has discovered that 32.8% of their audience already own a digital reader — while another 26.5% of them were interested in owning one. With 300,804 registered users, they represent one of Europe’s largest online communities, according to Wikipedia. Yet in February of 2009 (the last time they’d conducted a similar poll) just 5.2% of their audience had said they owned a digital reader, while only 11.6 percent more even said that they’d wanted one. “The combined group of interested voters, then, has rocketed from 16.8 to 59.3 percent…”

But if the the Kindle ultimately becomes the big winner, there’s also going to be a few losers. The Times cites a book researcher who predicts that we’ve finally reached the tipping-point for ebooks — which is bad news for bookstores. And the U.S. Census Bureau confirms the bad news, reporting that this year bookstores sold 7.7% fewer books in September than they’d sold just 12 months earlier — registering their lowest sales for any month in 2010. For August, sales were also lower, but the difference was just 6.5%, suggesting bookstores are continuing to lose even more customers every month. Yet in the larger economy, retail stores actually reported a 7.6% increase in sales for September — suggesting that it’s specifically just bookstores which are having trouble attracting customers!

I’ve been asking myself if the ebook revolution is real — so I tracked down new statistics from an actual book publisher. Between July and October, “Comparable store sales of new books declined 9.3%,” reports Hastings Entertainment, adding that it’s “certainly the case that electronic book readers are impacting new book sales.” I love books, but I love reading even more, so I’m glad to be here to witness this great transition. This next six weeks may prove to be that once-in-a-century change, when a new technology radically transforms our world.

We may have reached that fork in the road when the majority of book-buyers finally switches over to ebooks…

Amazon vs. The Motley Fool

November 11, 2010

The Motley Fool logo

Last week, The Motley Fool site had a harsh message for stock investors. “Is Amazon Lying To You?”

“Reading Amazon’s press releases on Kindle’s greatness is like having a discussion with a kindergartner or a politician. They all tell you what they think you want to hear in glowing superlatives, but lack the details you really need to know before drawing your own conclusion.”

But fortunately, a new study may answer their question…

To this day Amazon has never announced how many ebooks they’ve actually sold, or even how many Kindle devices! So while the Kindle is a wonderful reading device, the investment site was challenging Amazon’s vague substitute claim that their ebook sales “continue to overtake” the sale of printed books. Amazon announced that in October their ebooks outsold print books for all titles in the top 1,000. But the investment site argued Amazon’s statistic is comparing ebooks only to the most expensive of the hardcover-only, new print books. (For example, the new autobiography of President Bush is selling for $18.90 as a hardcover book — but just $9.99 as a Kindle ebook.)

The Motley Fool concludes that Amazon “appears to be trying to mislead you,” though they leave open the possibility that Amazon is even more successful that it’s letting on. “[I]f you’re the best then rest on your laurels…” they advise Amazon. “Come on, Amazon. Show us the numbers!” But in July, one analyst calculated that actually Amazon still sells twice as many printed paperbacks as they do ebooks. (And in September, citing the same analyst, MIT’s technology blog reported that e-book sales “represent ‘only six percent of the total market for new books.'”)

Fortunately, there’s some encouraging new statistics on ebook sales from the Association of American Publishers. Wednesday they announced that compared to the previous year, book publishers sold 12.1% fewer printed books this September. The sales of adult hardcover books were down 40.4% in September, while there was a 23.6% drop in the sales of adult “mass market” books. And yet, the sales of ebooks continues to increase, racking up a year-to-date sales figure that’s nearly double what it was one year ago! They’re a trade association representing over 300 publishers, and collectively they’d reported $39.9 million in ebook sales just for the month of September…

At that rate, ebook sales for the next year would come out to a whopping $478.8 million! And there’s a few other conclusions you can draw from these statistics. The Motley Fool may be right in guessing people are more likely to buy ebooks instead of expensive hardcover and mass market books. And Amazon (and Barnes and Noble) have both sold more digital readers, so it’s not surprising that their owners are now buying more ebooks, creating an increase in this year’s ebook sales.

And yet, watch what happens when you calculate the current percentage of ebook sales to all book sales. Here’s the table of all the figures they’d reported in their press release

$180.3 million for hard
$111.5 million adult paperback
$76.6 million for hardcover children’s/young adult books
$67.8 mass market sales
$53.3 million children’s/young adult (paperback)

$39.9 ebook sales

It looks like ebook sales still represent just 7.53% of all book sales. So while ebook sales could reach half a billion dollars over the next 12 years — that’s still a small fraction of the $6.3 billion dollars in total book sales!

Is Amazon misleading us about ebooks outselling printed books
Last week Amazon made another announcement with disturbing implications. Amazon revealed that their Kindle ebook sales “continue to overtake” the sale of print books on Amazon.com. But in the next few sentences, Amazon added some big disclaimers. So the truth is apparently that they’re not selling more ebooks than printed books.

Amazon issued a press release announcing that over the previous 30 days, they’d sold more Kindle ebooks than printed books “for the top 10, 25, 100, and 1,000 bestselling books on Amazon.com.” But it seems like an odd distinction, almost like they’re playing a game with the numbers. In the universe of all books sold, just how small is the piece that’s occupied by this month’s best-sellers? When you walk into a bookstore, how many of the books around you aren’t in the top 1,000? I’d guess it’s an awful lot — at least more than half.

And that points to the biggest quirk in Amazon’s calculation. Wikipedia notes that Amazon’s own list of best-sellers “tends to favor hardcover, more expensive books, where the shipping charge is a smaller percentage of the overall purchase price or is sometimes free, and which tend to be more deeply discounted than paperbacks.” In fact, best-selling books are often new books — which are first available only in hardcover editions. So Amazon isn’t talking about a typical sample of all books that are sold; instead they’re sampling an unusual subset where hardcover books are still very much over-represented.

In the real world, hardcover books represented just 23% of all books sold last year, according to Nielsen’s Bookscan service. But Amazon used this anomaly to announce that ebooks in their Kindle store were outselling all those expensive hardcover books. In July one analyst did some quick calculations based on Amazon’s other public statements, and concluded that over 70% of the books Amazon sells were still printed books. And since Amazon sells more ebooks than just about anybody, he reports that sales still remain very strong for the printed book, with Amazon’s ebook sales only representing “the equivalent of 6% of the total print book market.”

I’d publicized the analyst’s conclusions, and it ended up getting some attention from an MIT technology blog and the popular web site TechDirt. I half-wondered if Amazon’s latest press release was an attempt to address their skepticism by creating a new announcement where ebooks now seem to be finally outselling books — when they actually aren’t. After all, if Amazon really were selling more ebooks than printed books — across the board — obviously they would’ve announced that instead. (And how else could ebook sales “continue to overtake” print book sales? They’ve either passed them, or they haven’t!)

Amazon’s press release quotes Steve Kessel, the Senior Vice President for the Kindle, saying that Amazon’s ebooks “are also outselling print books for the top 25, 100, and 1,000 bestsellers — it’s across the board,” though apparently “across the board” actually means “the small portion of the board which contains expensive and pre-dominantly hardcover best-sellers.” But I also noticed their calculation specified sales to “Amazon customers” rather than “Kindle owners.” This seems to confirm reports earlier this month that 1 in 5 people buying ebooks from Amazon’s Kindle store don’t actually own a Kindle (according to a new technology survey). So Amazon may be selling more ebook versions of (expensive and pre-dominantly hardcover) best-selling books — but a lot of those are only being read on iPads and iPhones.

And Amazon also specified that their statistic was for “the last 30 days” — which could represent a one-time spike in the month after Amazon released the cheapest Kindle ever. I know I’m being cynical, but at least I’m not the only one. A reporter at Barron’s financial blog complained that Amazon’s announcement was “completely lacking in informative quantitative detail.” And a columnist at PC World notes it’s not the first time their statistics have made a strange comparison.


“Amazon has a tradition of playing these stupid mind games with the press… Amazon really took the cake for its silly numbers game last December when the company announced it had sold enough 8 gigabyte iPods during the holiday season to play 422 years of continuous music. The company also claimed it had sold enough Blu-ray disc players during the 2009 holiday sales blitz that if you lined up all the players side-by-side they would stretch for more than 27 miles. Huh?

He suggests that Amazon is guilty of foisting on the public “some random statistic that would be more at home in the Guinness Book of World Records than a quarterly sales announcement. ‘Hey look, we sold more Kindles in Q2 FY2010 than the weight of three pregnant Kenyan elephants.’ Good for you. Oh, did I mention that Amazon said it sold more Kindle books than print books for the top 10, 25, 100, and 1,000 bestselling books on Amazon.com during the past 30 days? Wonder what that actually means?

“Me, too.”

College student cap and gown

Here’s another interesting statistic: 74% of college students still prefer printed books over ebooks.

The National Association of College Stores performed a new study through their “OnCampus Research” division, contacting 627 students during the month of October. 87% of them hadn’t purchased a single ebook within the last three months. And of the ones who did, more than half of them — a whopping 56% — said their main reason was to read material that was required for a course. Plus, the study also found some bad news for the Kindle: 77% of those students who bought an ebook said they read ebooks on their laptop or Netbook. (Followed by another 30% who said they read their ebooks on a desktop computer.)

In fact, only 8% of college students even own a digital reader, according to the study. And when asked, nearly 60% of the remainder said they had no plans to buy one. (Though I guess you could read that as “more than 40% of the students” expected to buy one soon…) “We wanted to cut through all the speculation and put hard numbers to it,” said research manager Elizabeth Riddle. She announced that the college-age students are “definitely a growth opportunity for companies providing digital education products,” adding that the death of the printed book, “at least on campus, has been greatly exaggerated, and that dedicated e-readers have a way to go before they catch on…”

Publisher’s Weekly apparently contacted the authors of the study, since they reported a breakdown of the study’s results in even more detail. It shows that for those students using a dedicated reading device, the second most-popular handheld device is the iPhone, which comes in at 23.9%. But according to their report, the most popular device is still the Kindle, with a 31.4% share, split evenly between the Kindle 3 and the Kindle DX combined. The Nook comes in at 21.6%

In fact, if I’m reading those statistics correctly, there’s been an amazing spike in the popularity of the Kindle. The Kindle 3 has only been on the market for two months, and it’s already claimed as much of the market share as the earlier Kindle DX (which was released more than a year earlier!) Maybe for college students, a lower price brings a huge boost in sales. Or maybe the Kindle has more “buzz” after an extra year on the market.

But this was my favorite line of the study. “A tablet computer, such as an iPad, was the least common reading device used by students, selected by only 4% of respondents.” Out of all the ways to read an ebook, an iPad is one of the most expensive. Maybe college students are passing it over for a stack of used paperback books!

Linda Watanabe McFerrin wrote Dead Love
I’m still excited about the fact that I got meet a real book author, just before her big book-signing at my neighborhood bookstore! And along the way, I got a really fascinating perspective on how the publishing world could be changed by the Kindle…

Linda Wantanabe McFerrin had just published an Anne Rice-style novel called Dead Love, about a half-zombie woman and the lovestruck ghoul who’s pursuing her. In fact, after the book-signing, she was driving down to California’s Central Valley, where the next afternoon she was planning to participate in a “zombie walk”. (Where a bunch of zombie enthusiasts, wearing costumes, collectively celebrate their enthusiasm…) But she had a strange arrangement with the bookstore, because they hadn’t yet actually stocked her book. So they let her come in and sell her own copies – just for the prestige of having an author in town!

Before the book-signing, Linda and her husband were waiting for me and my girlfriend at a local modern “Italian fusion” restaurant. We all talked for over an hour, and then walked the two blocks over to the bookstore. The crowd was moderate but enthusiastic, and they really revved up when she read from her book. Linda started her presentation with a very unusual teaser for the crowd — “Would you like me to read to you about zombie sex?” But afterwards, I got to talk to her publisher — who was also in the crowd — who also had a fascinating idea about the future of ebooks.

He suggested bookstores should install “ebook kiosks,” where their customers could browse and purchase the latest ebooks for the Kindles and other reading devices. Then the bookstores could still claim a commission for every ebook that they’d sold! I’ve given the idea a lot of thought, and I’m not sure exactly what the business model would be. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a great idea.

The truth is, I know people who are already using the bookstore as a way to browse for ebooks — which they’ll eventually go off and buy somewhere else. Sometimes they’re even making their ebook purchases from Amazon while they’re still in the bookstore! Using an iPhone app, they run a price-check in Amazon’s Kindle bookstore — and if the price is lower, the bookstore loses. The ebook kiosks could resemble those Redbox vending machines that let you rent DVDs, except with the ebooks, there’d be nothing to return!

Anyways, it’s the kind of “insider perspective” that you get when you talk to an actual book publisher during a reading by one of his authors. He’d dedicated his life to the distribution of printed stories — and he’d given a lot of thought to the health and future of bookstores. And best of all — he actually has a Kindle too! I enjoyed talking to him — and he didn’t seem curmudgeonly at all about the popularity of digital readers. Plus, I finally got to have the conversation I always wanted to have.

“I saw figures in the New York Times,” I said, “which suggested that publishers actually make more money off ebooks than they do off of printed books, because they don’t have to pay for the shipping and printing costs.”

“I saw that article too,” the publisher replied. “They seemed to be using figures for New York publishers rather than independent publishers.” But he seemed to confirm my general suspicion — that if you’re worried about the future, it’s the bookstores who are more likely to be hurt by the popularity of ebooks.

Looking back on the night, it was much more enjoyable than I thought it would be. (I’d thought I would’ve asked the author for writing tricks or professional advice — but instead, we just all had a wonderfully spontaneous conversation.) Okay, I’d also had a huge mango sangria at the Italian restaurant, so I was probably a little more talkative than usual. But I figured it was a special occasion — because it’s not every day you have drinks with a passing-through author and her publisher!

Click here to buy the zombie novel “Dead Love” as an ebook!

Or click here to read our review.

Amazon 3Q stock chart - third quarter of 2010

It’s a special time of year — when major corporations finally reveal the secret numbers about how their companies performed over the previous 13 weeks. Yesterday Amazon released their own quarterly earnings reports, right in the middle of a week of rumors and predictions about tablet-sized reading devices. Amazon reminded investors that the newest generation of Kindles are “the fastest-selling Kindles of all time.” And they’re also the #1 best-selling product on Amazon — both in America and Britain.

“A sour economy failed to slow down Amazon.com,” reported the New York TImes, “as the company’s net sales climbed 39 percent in the third quarter.” But what’s more interesting is what they didn’t say. A financial analyst in San Francisco believes that this year, Amazon will earn a whopping $2.8 billion from their Kindles and ebook purchases, according to Bloomberg news. And within two years, that number could nearly double, to $5.3 billion in 2012!

That’d break down to the equivalent of 15 million Kindles sold in 2010, and 30 million in 2012 — though some of the profits obviously are coming from ebook sales. But what’s even more interesting is the analyst’s second comment. Kindle users “will not only continue buying more e-books, but also subscriptions, accessories, [and] hardware warranties,” he predicted, saying eventually the devices would be used to deliver music and even full-motion video. Will Amazon eventually open up new stores for Kindle music and Kindle video?

And that’s where the first rumor gets a lot more interesting. While Amazon was announcing their quarterly results, C|Net also reported that this Tuesday, Barnes and Noble will reveal a digital reader with a full-color touch-screen — the “Nook Color,” priced at $249. “It’s a big step ahead, instead of chasing Amazon,” their source explained, adding that it’d be based on Google’s popular Android operating system, and would sell for half the price of Apple’s tablet-sized iPad. It’d ship with a 7-inch color screen — which is a magic dimension size that has already been generating some controversy.

“One naturally thinks that a seven-inch screen would offer 70 percent of the benefits of a 10-inch screen,” Apple’s Steve Jobs told analysts Tuesday when announcing their own quarterly earnings. “Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. The screen measurements are diagonal, so that a seven-inch screen is only 45 percent as large as iPad’s 10-inch screen. You heard me right: just 45 percent as large…
The seven-inch tablets are tweeners: too big to compete with a smartphone, and too small to compete with an iPad.”

Jobs insisted that his comments were based on Apple’s “extensive user testing on touch interfaces over many years…we really understand this stuff.” But the truth probably lurks somewhere between the lines. Reading devices have proven to be so popular, that none of these companies want to get left behind. It’s not just that Amazon’s Kindle-related profits are probably already in the billions of dollars. It’s that selling us millions of Kindles means we’ll keep using Amazon’s store for our future purchases — of e-books today, but maybe also for music-and-video purchases in the future. So while I’m casually reading my e-books, major corporations are already fighting the war of tablet-sized reading devices.

And honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about all this speculation. I just worry that someday we’ll look back with a fond nostalgia to the Kindle 1. “It didn’t offer full-motion color video on high-definition screen,” we’ll say.

“But it was really great for reading books.”

Apple's Steve Jobs and the iPad vs Amazon's Kindle

I’m fascinated by the Kindle’s competition with the iPad — and Apple’s rival approach to the marketing of ebooks. For example, yesterday Apple released a quarterly report showing they’d set new records. Over 92 days, they sold 14.1 million iPhones, 9.05 million iPods, 3.89 million Mac computers, and 4.19 million iPads. Their stock hit an all-time high, giving them a market capitalization of nearly $300 billion. And yet even some of Apple biggest fans still seem disappointed by Apple’s effort to sell ebooks.

One site had even stronger words, calling Apple’s iBookstore “one big failure”. David Winograd has both a PhD and an MBA, and he writes for “The Unofficial Apple Weblog,” where he analyzed the surprisingly small selection of ebooks in Apple’s store. “At launch, it was reported that the iBookstore contained somewhere between 46,000 and 60,000 titles, 30,000 of which came from the Project Gutenberg library of free out-of-copyright books.” Eliminating those “brings the number of titles at launch…to a generous 30,000.” Amazon, meanwhile, boasts that its Kindle bookstore has “over 700,000 ebooks, newspapers, magazines and blogs” — so it seems safe to assume that counting ebooks alone would still give Amazon close to half a million choices.

I’m always curious how Amazon’s Kindle Store would compare to other online bookstores, but David Winograd actually performed some real-world research. “I did a search of the New York Times Best Seller List from last Sunday and found that three of the hardcover fiction titles and three non-fiction titles were missing from the iBookstore. Amazon had all of them except for [Jon Stewart’s] Earth (The Book), which has no electronic version…” And there was another big problem with the iBookstore. “Sometimes Apple came out more expensive while Amazon never did.”

This disparity leads the unofficial Apple blogger to his biggest complaint: “The iBookstore is full of holes.” He’d initially been excited about buying ebooks from Apple’s iBookstore, “but I became disappointed at the lack of availability and prices of what I wanted to read… unless Apple takes some giant steps to fix the things that are broken with the iBookstore, it will continue to be a dismal failure.” In August, one author even reported that he’d been selling 6,000 ebooks a month in Amazon’s Kindle store, versus just 100 per month in Apple’s iBookstore.

But to be fair, the iPad is changing reading in other ways — and it won at least one match-up against the Kindle in a small town of 60,000 people. In Northern California, their city council will vote today on whether to replace their bulky agenda packets with digital versions on an iPad! Yuba City “prints 20 full agenda packets for each meeting, creating an average of 68,000 pages per year,” according to a local newspaper. “Five electronic devices for council members, two for the city manager’s office and one for the city clerk would cost $5,240 with an expected annual savings of $2,200 in printing costs!”

They’d also considered delivering the council minutes to a Kindle, but felt it didn’t score as highly in usability, readability, and “available applications.” But it probably would still score higher in its selection of ebooks.

Digital Publishing vs. the Gutenberg press
It’s very simple. As of Friday, Borders joined Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and even Apple in the new self-publishing revolution. They’re all now offering cheap-and-easy ways to self-publish an ebook. In literally seconds, you can now convert the feed for a blog into an ebook with Borders’ new service — and even give it an ISBN number. (“Edit content and drag it into chapters,” explains their web site, “then congratulations … you’re an eBook author!”)

Its slogan is “Blog to ebook in minutes,” and Borders CEO said they were “excited to give new writers and bloggers an opportunity to reach an expanded audience.” They’re launching the service — called “BookBrewer” — next Monday (October 25), and it’s part of an unmistakable trend. Just last week, Amazon announced the launch of “Kindle Singles,” a separate ebook format which is also geared for shorter-than-a-novel texts. And if you want to self-publish your book in Apple’s new iBookStore, there’s a package available at Lulu.com.

But what does this all mean? “In some ways, it’s like the early days of the Gutenberg revolution,” Business Week argued Sunday, “when authors published short manuscripts and ‘chapbooks,’ and everything in between.” The first, obvious change is that more things will get published. (The article seemed to acknowledge that boundaries were shifting, asking in its headline: “When is a Book Not a Book?”)
But inevitably, this will also create more authors.

I mean, there’s a couple of obvious technical changes here. With no need to find an agent or publisher, “The advent of tablets and e-bookstores dramatically lowers the barrier to entry for these kinds of writers….” notes Business Week. And instead of paying a commission to that agent or publisher, they can break into the world of published authors for just a small upfront payment and an ongoing commission. But it’s more exciting to focus on the end result. When I fire up my Kindle, I’ll be seeing a new kind of ebook — and one that was much less likely to exist even a few years before.

It’s ultimately not about what it means for books, or authors, or publishers, but for readers. Yes, I’m pre-supposing that there’s a micro-market for these new authors, but I think the web proves that we’re endlessly fascinated by personal stories. If you take a close look, Facebook and Twitter are really just an endless stream of very short and personal moments. C.S. Lewis once quipped that ultimately the purpose of reading is “to know that we are not alone.”

eCommerce Times found a senior analyst at Simba Information who says major publishers may actually see this as a blessing, since they can scan the best-seller lists for ebooks to determine which authors are worth publishing. (“It’s just another part of the filtering process for them.”) I want to believe that someone will devise something entirely original in these new short-form ebooks, and then find a brand new market for it. I like the way it was explained by the CEO of Borders’ new BookBrewer service. “Everyone has a story to tell, pictures to share or advice to give.

“It turns out that those are exactly the kinds of things people want to buy and read as eBooks.”

Blank Stieg Larsson book cover
I think my girlfriend must be psychic. Two weeks ago she wrote a blog post with suggestions for Amazon’s Kindle store. And then Tuesday, Amazon actually implemented them! The funny thing was, I’d never even published her post. It’s been sitting on my hard drive. But apparently you can change Amazon’s Kindle store if you just think hard enough about it!

Tuesday Amazon created “Kindle Singles” — a new ebook format for books “that are twice the length of a New Yorker feature or as much as a few chapters of a typical book…priced much less than a typical book.” Amazon called their upcoming “Kindle Singles” section “a call to serious writers, thinkers, scientists, business leaders, historians, politicians and publishers to join Amazon in making such works available to readers around the world.”

And here’s the magical blog post my girlfriend wrote which apparently triggered Amazon’s announcement.

                        *                        *                        *

Please, please, please, list the length of the book! Or better yet, change the definition of what constitutes a book. For example, in order to be an e-book, there must be at least 250 pages (or an equivalent number of Locations). Anything less than that should be identified as an e-pamphlet. It’s irritating to spend time in the store looking for interesting titles only to discover that they’re only three dots long. Three dots!!! That’s not a book! It’s barely 10 minutes worth of reading.

These pamphleteers wisely don’t list the equivalent pages, because who would download an e-pamphlet of what would be five or seven printed pages…

I know that many of these ebooks are really samples of longer books. Maybe Amazon could create a separate section for Samples, so they’re not cluttering up the Top 100 list. (Although I’m happy they’re clearly listed as Samples, they shouldn’t be taking up space in the Top 100 Free list!) Actually, I would love to see a huge list of free sample chapters to browse through. And another new section could be “Books under a Buck,” maybe shorter ebooks or ebooks that are on sale for a limited time. What fun!

What I’ve determined is a few publishers of romance and soft porn figured out they can pull the first chapter out of a book, publish it as an “e-book”, put it on Amazon for free and then lure unsuspecting readers. According to reviewers, one publisher pulled out the short epilogue to a series of books and put it up on the Kindle Free section as an “e-book.” Excuse me?!? And yet in these nefarious cases, the reviews in Amazon’s Kindle store are usually reviews of the entire book, not just the actual excerpt that’s being offered for downloading. (How convenient…)

So using the reviews as a guide, I download the “e-book” which turns out to be the first chapter, or perhaps two chapters — which are indeed written as the first two chapters of a novel, setting up characters and a plot line which then shuts down prematurely. To add insult to injury, there are really only two dots worth of actual content; the third dot is marketing material in the form of an author bio and excerpts from other books by the same publisher. Of course, the rest of the novel costs money to download. This is not an e-book, it’s a marketing tool — and as such, should be banned from the Amazon Top 100 Free section. It’s the literary equivalent of premature ejaculation!

If Amazon’s Kindle Store lists the Location Size, this irritating practice will be exposed. At the very least, give us the information we need to make decisions about what to download! I know, with e-books it no longer makes sense to talk about how many ‘pages’ a book is, as there are no actual pages in evidence, and more and more books don’t have printed counterparts. Sometimes, when a book has a printed counterpart, Amazon will list its page count on its Kindle Store page. Sometimes not. But nowhere on the page is “Location Size” listed.

Once a download is complete, you can get a good idea of the length by looking at the line of dots just below the title. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea has 15 dots, which translates to 4274 Locations. (estimated printed length-284 pages). Flowers for Elvis by Julia Schuster is listed with a print length of 248 pages. It has 11 dots, and 3186 locations. The Malacca Conspiracy (reviewed here) has 6554 Locations, and shows up on the Home page with 24 dots. So, a decent-sized novel is over 11 dots.

Here’s how Amazon’s Kindle Team defines locations: “the digital answer to page numbers. Since you can change the text size on Kindle, the page numbers would change too, but with locations, you can be confident that you return to the same place every time regardless of the text size you prefer.” This makes sense, but it’s also why they should add the total “Location Size” to each e-book’s description in the Kindle Store.

Amazon really needs to redesign their Store Pages. I don’t know if this is their official title, but I’m talking about the pages that open when you select a title to see more information and access reviews. I have some major gripes about this page because often it takes me sorting through review after review, or even downloading the entire ebook, before figuring out that it’s definitely not what I want. All this could be eliminated with a few more changes in the store page.

1. List the book’s genre. In a bookstore, I know the book’s genre by where I’m physically standing. If I’m in the Romance aisle, I know that The Big 5-Oh! is a romance novel. It is not always possible to tell by an e-book’s title or description what genre it belongs in. (Hmm, perhaps that is intentional, to trick people who don’t read romance novels?) I got sucked in by that e-book, and was disappointed about one-third of the way through when I realized there would be no plot development, only a story about how these two perfect soul mates would finally get together. Sigh. This is why I don’t read romance novels. And I never would have downloaded it if the genre was listed up front.

2. List the book’s publisher. This goes hand in hand with the genre. I do recognize some publishers and can make choices knowing what kind of books they publish (or don’t publish). Yet, a lot of times the publisher is not listed on the Kindle Store’s page. That would help me avoid e-books from publishers I’m no longer interested in.

                        *                        *                        *

Who knows changes we’ll see next in Amazon’s Kindle store?

And in honor of Amazon’s new magazine article-length format, I’d like to remind you that you can now subscribe to The New Yorker on your Kindle!

The Best Kindle Comments

October 13, 2010

Cartoon megaphone (small)

I love the internet. And one of the best things is it’s constantly delivering new perspectives. Even for today’s very latest Kindle news, someone’s already come up with a fresh insight…

For example, Tuesday Amazon announced they were adding a new section to the Kindle store for shorter (and cheaper) ebooks. Amazon will call the new format “Kindle singles,” saying it will be the equivalent of roughly 30 to 90 printed pages (or 10,000 to 30,000 words). On the web site for Publisher’s Weekly, one author instantly came forward and suggested this opens a new world of untapped potential.


“Some of us have always written works that are a little too short to be economically feasible for traditional print publishing. It’s good that someone in the epublishing world has realized they can publish us too.”


I first became excited about the Kindle when wondering if the book itself might disappear within my lifetime. But as the book-reading world starts its changing, we’ll still be able to hear what ordinary people think about those changes while they’re happening. The internet’s given a megaphone to anyone with a story to share, so even as technology alters our world, it’s also empowering us to have a dialogue about those changes.

Yesterday I wrote a post asking “Is the iPad actually helping the Kindle?” And within a few hours, one of my readers contacted me with their own insights on whether Apple’s recent moves were actually helping Amazon sell more ebooks and even more digital readers.



“Am I a good example? I was never persuaded by e-books until I acquired an iPad. I bought a couple of titles [using both Apple’s iBookstore and using Amazon’s Kindle-store app], and suddenly the penny dropped. I understood the appeal, especially from a convenience perspective. But the iBooks store is like a supermarket with empty shelves, so Amazon got all my subsequent business.

In a final twist, I bought a Kindle 3. The iPad had convinced me that e-books are the future of reading, but it equally convinced me that the iPad is not the device on which to do it. As a Trojan Horse for Amazon, the iPad has therefore been an amazing success if my example is any indication.”



There’s always more to the story — or at least, another way to understand it. Earlier this month, a debate erupted on the geek news site Slashdot. They were discussing the same figures reported here — that currently e-books represent just 6% of the total number of books sold. One user thought the news was receiving the wrong emphasis. “The title should be, ‘Holy crap, an entire 6% of books sold are eBooks.'”



“The vast majority of the reading public doesn’t own an ebook reader. The vast majority of people say things like, ‘I like the feel of a paper book, I wouldn’t want to read a novel on my computer.’ The fact that, despite the relative novelty of the medium, and endemic resistance to ebooks, they’ve already captured a sizeable percentage of the venerable book market says quite a bit about the future. And frankly I’m surprised.”



And his perspective was followed by someone from “a medium-sized book publisher” scrambling to publish ebooks. “Six percent [of total book sales] sounds about right, last year it was 4 and the year before that it was zero. From a publisher’s perspective, we’re still waiting to see how it all pans out.


“The suspicion is that this growth rate won’t maintain itself and that there’s a plateau somewhere. Where that is, no one knows, but no one that I know of in the industry is predicting any sort of e-book takeover in the next decade or two. So yes there’s huge growth but no one’s getting rid of their printers just yet.

“Publishers love e-books: no shipping, no warehousing, and most importantly no returns. Most books are sold to retail outlets on the basis that they can return them for a full refund if they don’t sell. Since getting shelf space can boost sales you often see titles with an over 50% return rate. Also, for very little money you can take titles that are out of print or didn’t sell well and put them out there. Titles once thought dead can now eek out a few extra sales.”



But my favorite comment of all came in response to a political news story. President Barack Obama was appearing in Pennsylvania at a political event when an “over exuberant” author hurtled a copy of his book towards the podium. A secret service spokesperson later explained the incident to CNN: the overzealous author “wrote a book that he wanted the president to read.”

“Yep… I know I would read a book that somebody threw at me…” joked a comment at the political news site Political Wire.



By the way, don’t forget that you can subscribe to Slashdot as a Kindle blog!

Apple iBookstore for the iPad

There’s been some interesting news about the Kindle today. One in five people who buy ebooks from Amazon’s Kindle store don’t actually own a Kindle!

That’s the surprising result from a new report by Cowen and Co., an investment banking company which just released the results of their survey Monday. This spring there were predictions that Apple’s iPad would effectively eliminate Amazon’s Kindle — or at least hurt Amazon’s sales of ebooks with new competition from Apple’s iBookstore. But instead, the analysts concluded that the iPad “is not having a negative impact on Kindle device or e-book sales.” In fact, 31% of iPad owners said they’re still most likely to purchase their ebooks from Amazon’s Kindle store. And the number who prefer Amazon’s Kindle store rises to 44% among “heavy readers” who buy more than 25 books each year.

This leads the report to an unavoidable conclusion: the more iPads that get sold, the more ebooks Amazon will sell. It predicts Amazon will sell over $700 million worth of ebooks in 2010 — triple what Amazon earned from ebooks just last year. And the analysts even dared to venture a prediction for the year 2015. For this year they’re estimating Amazon will grab 76% of the ebook market (versus 5% for Apple). But even five years from now, in 2015, they’re predicting that Apple’s iBookstore will represent just 16% of the ebook market, while Amazon still sells 51% of all ebooks.

Of course, there was another famous prediction about ebooks in the year 2015. Nicholas Negroponte is the futurist who founded both MIT’s Media Lab and the “One Laptop Per Child” association, and he’s projected that the printed book will be dead within five years. It’s important to put his prediction in context, since his association hopes to distribute cheap computers to students in the developing world — and he’s obviously focused on cheap ebooks as part of that effort. Plus, his statement was made in response to sales figures showing that ebooks were outselling printed books — leaving open the possibility that he really meant that ebook sales would just massively outweigh the sales of print books.

I wrote last month about how MIT’s technology blog contradicted him, arguing that “it’s just as likely that as the ranks of the early adopters get saturated, adoption of ebooks will slow.” But I thought it was interesting that the iPad also came up in that discussion. Technology reporter Christopher Mims had noted the praise for the iPad’s crisp, high-resolution screen, with one developer at Microsoft gushing on his blog that it had “moved us out of the Dark Ages.” Mims’ alternate conclusion upon hearing that quote? “Many tech pundit wants books to die.”

“Really….”

It’s fun to look into the future, but I’ve got a statistic of my own. One year ago, you could buy a refurbished version of Amazon’s original Kindle for just $149. Obviously, today you can buy a new Kindle for $139. But how much would it cost you to buy a refurbished original Kindle now? Just $110, according to the latest results in Amazon’s Kindle store.

Maybe we should all just live for today, and grab one while they last!

William Saroyan
Publishers Weekly reports that in July, declines were reported in the print sales for all trade paperbacks, with total sales of around $60 million for nine mass market publishers. But what’s really interesting is that e-book sales for the same period were $40.8 million — representing a big increase from their earlier figures — for the 14 publishers who report ebook sales. For the year, their ebook sales are averaging $31.3 million a month.

In fact, “Sales of printed romance books have fallen for the first time since records began,” according to one technology analyst. Citing data from Nielsen BookScan, they note that certain genres seem more popular in the realm of ebooks. In one 10-week period this summer, science fiction and fantasy books represented 10% of e-book sales, more than triple its market share in the world of printed books. And romance and “saga” books performed even better, accounting for 14% of all ebooks sold in the same period — seven times their market share in the world of printed books. But so far in 2010, sales of printed romance books are down 7.5%, and there’s also been a decline in the sales of printed science fiction and fantasy books.

The New York Daily News described a bookstore that’s “combating the Kindle – with candy.” Sort of. The Union Square bookstore replaced a 40-foot counter below their check-out registers, which had been stocked with used paperback books. But now they’re selling “nostalgic” candies like Charleston Chews and bubblegum cigars, and the store’s 82-year-old co-owner says “We’re selling five times as much candy as we did ‘register books.'” The article also notes that Barnes and Noble now stocks chocolate bars at its cash registers, and even the Borders bookstore at Penn Station “has racks of ‘movie candy’ for shoppers headed to a nearby multiplex.”

One science writer suggests the 2010 Nobel prize for physics could ultimately have an impact on the Kindle. It’s a carbon film — exactly one atom thick — which can be transparent, and could one day replace platinum, iridium, and even the screen of your Kindle! “Atom for atom, graphene turned out to be 100 times stronger than steel…” noted MSNBC, adding that this year, researchers reported that they created a working touch-screen display using graphene.”

Meanwhile, results of a new survey suggest that 44% Kindle owners earn over $80,000 per year, compared to just 39 percent of iPad owners, and 37 percent of iPhone owners. In addition, 27% of Kindle owners have a graduate school degree — either a masters or doctorate degree.

And Starting Sunday, the Kindle will be available at the Staples chain of office supply stores. C|Net reports Best Buy and Target are also featuring the Kindle in their stores – and that the Kindle still remains the #1 best-selling item at Amazon.com

Jules Verne

Sunday was a strange day. My local library is closing for 10 weeks — they’re moving to a new location, and until December they’ll be busy moving the physical books from one location to another. Obviously they wouldn’t be having this problem if all of their texts were ebooks. But what’s even stranger is that dozens of library patrons lined up to exploit a loophole!

I’d asked the obvious question: What happens if we check out a book, and it’s due after October 4th? And they’d replied that we could keep the book — they’d have no place to put it — so we wouldn’t have to return it until more than two months later! Sunday I rushed to the library for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have any book for 10 weeks. And suddenly I noticed that the parking lot was jam-packed — not a single space left — as though all the readers in town had the exact same idea.

It was ominous. The library would be open for just one half hour more. And within minutes the check-out line was huge — backed up halfway across the width of the building, and then turning 90 degrees, where it continued through an entire low shelf in the children’s section. The librarians looked harried, and I estimated there were 50 eager readers, clutching massive armfuls of precious library books. And I got another shock when I finally made my way to the library’s DVD section.

The DVD racks were empty! There were just bare wire shelves where most of the DVDs used to be. I saw a handful of very-unwanted remainders left behind. Later I joked to my girlfriend that it was “library apocalypse” day.

But I was still very I excited, because I could finally have any book I wanted, and I could keep it for 10 weeks! I began looking at the books differently, asking myself which titles I’d score now? My first thought was to check out hard copies of books that I’m reading slowly on the Kindle. Partly it’s an experiment — I want to see what it’s like to switch back to reading a book. But it’s also because my girlfriend and I keep wanting to use the Kindle at the same time!

Unfortunately, in the library, I couldn’t find a printed version of every book that I wanted to read — unlike the Kindle store. But since I’ve been reading a lot of biographies of the American frontier, I checked out “supplementary material.” (What happened to Buffalo Bill after he finished writing his autobiography — and which of his western exploits did historians think he was exaggerating?) I also checked out The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin — which is currently one of the top-selling free ebooks in Amazon’s Kindle store. And it was nice to know I’d also have 10 weeks to enjoy the coffee-table sized book about the life of Ben Franklin, which had some great glossy pictures which, honestly, would look much better in a full-color printed book.

I had to use the card catalog to find a book about Billy the Kid — the other historical figure I’m reading about. And then I swerved over to the Video section to see if I could still find anything left. There were “slim pickings,” but I eventually found a work-out tape. (Maybe with 10 weeks, I’ll finally get out to actually exercising with it at least once). Usually library videos are due in one week, so this felt like a rare treat. And there were a few DVDs left behind that I was actually interested in.

I was like a kid in a candy store, grabbing videos because — hey, why not? And then the library announced over the loudspeakers that they were closing until December 7, and no books would be checked out after 5 p.m. (“Thank you and goodnight.”) In reality, they had to keep the check-out desk open far beyond 5:00 to handle the throng of eager readers trying desperately to stock up on books. For the interim, they assured us, we could also check out books from the library at the local elementary school.

I came home with an enormous stack of books — and a smile on my face. I told myself I was like a Viking pillaging the library, and I was very excited about my treasures. I spent a few minutes showing my girlfriend my new stack of books — which, with all this extra time, I may finally finish reading!

And that night, I began reading them…while my girlfriend continued reading on the Kindle!

Charles Darwin says shhWhat are publishers saying behind our backs? I discovered some startling information from a little-noticed trade association meeting in New York City. The once-a-year meeting of the Book Industry Study Group took place on September 24 — and reading about their event felt like peeking into insider secrets.

What percentage of book sold are ebooks? 5.8%, one presenter announced (matching my own recent back-of-the-envelope calculation). And just 32% of Kindle owners are men, according to their statistics (from April to June of this year). Between January and March of 2009, they’d calculated that 42% of Kindle owners were men — suggesting that this year saw a huge surge in new Kindle purchases by women!

The statistics came from Kelly Gallagher, who’s the Vice President of publishing services at a publishing-industry reference publisher called Bowker. And he’d uncovered another strange anomaly: only 46% of the people who own Kindles and other digital readers actually purchased the device for themselves — while another 47% had received them as gifts. But the industry is definitely growing. He also reported that 44% of the people who are now buying ebooks only acquired their digital reader within the last six months…

In fact, the President of Kaplan Publishing announced results from a startling experiment. Last month they took 95 of their e-books — one-third of their total e-book catalog — and offered them for free for one week in Apple’s iBookstore. The results? Their downloads for that week were 25% of their total print sales for one year. Her conclusion: there’s a big untapped demand for ebooks. (My conclusion? People love free ebooks.)

Kelly Gallagher reached the same conclusion. “[R]eceiving e-books for free is one of the largest motivators for people to pick up and buy e-books,” he told the group, “whether it’s a sample chapter or another promotional approach.” But there’s more to learn besides that it’s easier to sell ebooks when they’re cheaper. The Kaplan publisher argued that there’s “a large population of readers who are almost our customers.” And Kelly’s actual slideshow of statistics turned up elsewhere on the web, showing that free promotional chapters are still what’s most likely to influence someone to buy an ebook — between 34% and 36% of respondents.

But I also learned something else: what the best-selling books were for each generation. For example, among readers born within the last 30 years, the top five best-selling books are all from Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. And even if you’re between the ages of 31 and 42 (the so-called “generation X”), four of the top five best-selling books are still by Stephenie Meyers. (The non-Meyers book is Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol.) For the “Baby Boom” generation — 43 to 61 — there’s just two Stephenie Meyer titles in the top five, plus The Lost Symbol, along with The Shack and Stephen King’s Under the Dome. And for people over the age of 61, the most popular books were The Lost Symbol and The Shack plus John Grisham’s The Associate, and then two political books — Glenn Beck’s Common Sense and Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue.

But the most exciting part of the report was the closing keynote speech from the president of Ingram Content Group. He announced to the assembled audience that “the market for books is not fixed. I believe the whole publishing pie can grow.”

Here’s how his speech was covered by a publishing-industry news site called “Shelf Awareness”.


The print book will coexist with the digital book “for years” and will survive because of its “portability, flexibility and durability,” he maintained… ” Among other qualities, the book has “a limitless power source, can be read in the sun, can be read on a plane on the tarmac, looks good on the shelf,” and more. Many people “are like me and want it both ways,” Prichard said. “I love my iPad, but I still look forward to reading that relic of the past, the good, old-fashioned book.”

He concluded: “Let’s stop looking admiringly to the past, let’s stop handwringing about the present and let’s start creating the future.”

Click here to read their full report.

Banned Books Covers (from ALA)

Saturday is the last day of “Banned Books Week.” Every year the American Library Association publicizes the fight against book censorship, and releases a list of which books were most frequently challenged during the year. Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series made the top 10, with objections about the book’s view on religion and complaints that it was inappropriate for young readers or too sexually explicit. Other “frequently challenged books” include classics like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Color Purple, and The Catcher in the Rye.

But a funny thing happened when I tried to download these books from the Kindle store. 7 of the 10 most-frequently challenged books simply aren’t available on the Kindle. The three you can download are:

1. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
3. Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight books.

But here’s the seven you can’t download.

ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler

As an avid Kindle reader, it’s left me feeling a little left out. This week the American Library Association is urging a celebration of the freedom to read, suggesting a variety of activities, many designed for schools and public libraries. (For example, “Draw a picture of the one book you would save if books were being burned…”) They suggest essay contests and discussions, and even making a poster that celebrates students who dare to read books banned elsewhere in America. But they also urge “Exercise Your First Amendment Rights,” at the bottom of one web page. “Read a Banned Book!”

Fortunately, there’s a lot more banned books to choose from. The American Library Association has cataloged more than 11,000 attempts to ban books over the last 20 years — and over 1,000 different books that have been challenged since 1982. They also believe that there’s many times more, estimating that over 70 to 80 percent of the challenges aren’t even reported. In fact, there have even been attempts to ban 46 of the top 100 Novels of the 20th Century.

But there’s at least one banned book on that list that’s available only in Amazon’s Kindle store: the special 50th Anniversary edition of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. It’s a controversial book about an aging literary scholar who’s sexually obsessed with a 12-year-old girl, though I’m not sure if that’s why it isn’t available elsewhere. When Amazon announced their new $139 Kindles, they touted it as one of “many digital books exclusive to Kindle” (along with UR by Stephen King). And another Kindle store exclusive is Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie — which also appears on Radcliffe Publishing’s list of the top 100 novels of the 20th century.

Apparently right now there’s two reasons why you can’t read a book: because it’s censored – or because it’s not compatible with your chosen brand of e-reader! But digital readers can also help circumvent the censorship. I was excited when a traveler told me how their Kindle let them bypass government censorship of the internet in China! And if a library is pressured into removing a book, it may be available for downloading onto your Kindle.

Now every Kindle is a private, personal library – free from any pressure from your local book-burners…

Maybe this is the right time to think a moment about how we can preserve our “literary heritage”. In 1424, the Cambridge University library only had a total of 122 books in their entire collection, according to one history class I took in college. And in fact, during the first 1,000 years of European history, there were less than 8 million books in existence. At some point in our own lifetime, we may eventually be asked to make a choice about which books we’ll preserve in the new 21st-century formats.

I guess I’m hoping that the answer…is all of them.

Department of Justice eagle logo


I was surprised by this headline: “Kindle spurs DOJ to action.” It’s from a student newspaper in Tennessee, highlighting a new drama for the Kindle. There’s been official communications between college campuses and the United States Department of Justice – and the Kindle-using colleges have now started to react.

The federal government’s Civil Rights Division had issued an advisory specifically about “universities using electronic book readers that are not accessible to students who are blind or have low vision.” (The student newspaper cites civil rights investigations which were launched against four colleges, including Arizona State University and Case Western Reserve University.) “We acted swiftly to respond to complaints we received about the use of the Amazon Kindle,” announced an Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. Though the Kindle DX has a text-to-speech function, the Civil Rights Division noted it didn’t work for the menus or navigation controls.

The four targeted universities agreed “not to purchase, recommend, or promote use of this or other electronic book readers unless the devices are fully accessible…or the universities provide a reasonable modification…” And then the Department of Education’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights co-authored a letter to college presidents across America, also asking them to “voluntarily ensure that their schools refrain from requiring the use of any devices that are not accessible to students who are blind or have low vision.” But what’s ironic about this is some universities may not even want the Kindle. MIT’s technology blog argued Tuesday that “formal trials of the Kindle as a textbook replacement led universities like Princeton and Arizona State University to reject it as inadequate.”

I knew that Arizona halted their Kindle experiment over concerns about its accessbility to the blind. But what happened in the Kindle experiments at Princeton? Fortunately, MIT’s blog had linked to an article which led to a February report from Princeton’s student newspaper which answered my question. “Students and faculty participating in the program said it was difficult to highlight and annotate PDF files and to use the folder structure intended to organize documents… The inability to quickly navigate between documents and view two or more documents at the same time also frustrated users.”

There’s lots of talk about the Kindle in education, but it was fun to hear feedback from actual students. One sophomore had initially been enthusiastic about the program, but reported that “it’s not very helpful in page-turning or note taking, and the annotation software is very poor.” A senior agreed that it was difficult to annotate text, and also had another complaint about the absence of physical pages. “Because there are no page numbers, I also had no conception of how much reading I had to do.” And of course, it was hard to synchronize class discussions when some students were using page numbers, and others were using locations.

I pored over the article carefully, because it seemed like it held clues to the future of the Kindle, but even some of the professors seemed unhappy. An international affairs professor complained that he’d wanted his students to study their texts carefully, ideally by highlighting lots of passages, and he felt that with the Kindle “the annotation function is difficult to use, and the keyboard is very small.” Another professor argued his class included “very traditional reading,” and he felt it was a good match for the Kindle – though he did worry it would make it harder to refer to the readings during class. But on the positive side, one classics professor suggested it was “a great advantage to always have all the texts available without carrying too much around.”

And at least one student felt the Kindle was helpful when writing papers, because highlighted text could be downloaded onto his computer, and then cut-and-pasted directly into his term papers! But almost two-thirds of the study’s participants said they wouldn’t even buy a new reader if they broke the one they’d been given during the study. “But nearly all reported that they would follow the technology’s progress,” the newspaper concluded, and this is my favorite part of the study. “The 53 students who participated in the pilot program were allowed to keep their Kindles after the courses ended.”

Meanwhile, Amazon’s newest Kindles are now finally fully accessible to the blind, according to a history of the controversy in The Washington Examiner. (“While the Justice Department was making demands, and Perez was making speeches, the market was working.”) And back at the Middle Tennessee State University, the director of Disabled Student Services gave their campus a thumbs up for their Kindle policy — mainly because none of the professors were using them yet. “As far as he knows…there aren’t any courses that require students to use electronic readers at MTSU, which has the largest population of students with disabilities in the Southeast.”

“I’ve seen students using them,” noted the adaptive technology coordinator, “but I don’t think they’re part of their curriculum…”

Globe of the Earth
There’s three Kindle stories today, and together they paint a picture of how the Kindle is changing our world. First, 8% of Americans now own a Kindle or some other digital reading device, according to a newly-released poll. It discovered that 92% of Americans don’t own a digital reader, so “any real changes may take a while to detect, but some small ones are noticeable now.” Harris Interactive had surveyed 2,775 adults last month, and concluded that people who own digital readers end up reading more books.

I had to laugh, because yesterday I’d reported on a 2008 comment by Steve Jobs. The Apple CEO told an audience that “40% of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year… people don’t read any more.” But according to the new Harris poll, now it’s only 25% of Americans who read one book or less each year. (Plus, there’s apparently another 40% of Americans who every year read at least 11 books.) And the percentages are even higher for people who own a digital reader: each year a full 62% of them read at least 11 books, while 26% of them are reading more than 20 books!

“People seem to be reading more if they have an eReader,” the researchers concluded, “which is something the publishing industry, which has been in decline over recent years, is sure to celebrate.” But the same day, there was an interesting counterpoint coming from one of America’s top technology colleges. Last week I reported figures challenging whether the ebook was really outselling the printed book. Today those figures drew a response from the Technology Review blog at MIT.

“The death of the book has been greatly exaggerated…” wrote Christopher Mims. “I’m calling the peak of inflated expectations now.” He’d heard predictions that the printed book would be dead within five years, but “it’s just as likely that as the ranks of the early adopters get saturated, adoption of ebooks will slow… Get ready for the next phase of the hype cycle – the trough of disillusionment. The signs of a hype bubble are all around us.”

Fortunately, the pollsters also asked whether people planned on buying a digital reader over the next six months. 80% of them said they were “not likely” to, and 59% even described themselves emphatically as “not at all likely.” Another eight percent said they weren’t sure, leaving 12% who said they were likely. But even among that 12%, for every one person who said they were “very likely,” there were three who were only “somewhat likely.”

But there’s a wild third perspective coming from a bus driver in Oregon. The 40-year-old bus driver was caught reading his Kindle while driving the bus. It was 7:15 in the morning on a fateful drive towards downtown Portland, and his reckless driving was captured by another handheld piece of technology — a cellphone movie. In one amazing frame, he’s actually steering the bus with just one elbow on its steering wheel, holding his chin in his hand while he points his head down towards the Kindle resting on the driver-sider dashboard. “At one point he also appears to ‘turn’ a page,” noted one Oregon TV report.

I know it’s only one anecdote, but I think it says more than any statistics ever could about how much the Kindle is creeping into our world…

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…”

Amazon sales print book vs ebook
It’s been bothering me for a while. My friend Patrick said he didn’t believe ebooks were outselling printed books. In July, Amazon announced they’d sold 180 Kindle books for every 100 hardcover books, but my friend insisted Amazon must’ve been including all the free ebooks they give away every day.

He was wrong about that. I tracked down Amazon’s original press release, where they specifically said they hadn’t used free Kindle books in their figures, and if they had, obviously, their reported number for downloaded ebooks would be much, much higher. But then I discovered a business analyst who’d found an even bigger problem with Amazon’s statistic. According to the Nielsen Bookscan service, hardcover books accounted for just 23% of all books sold in the previous year.

So what happens if you ask how many “printed books” Amazon sold, instead of using the smaller number of “hardcover books”? Following the same ratio, Amazon would be selling approximately 334 paperbacks for every 100 hardcover books — or a total of 434 printed books for every 180 ebooks. That would mean over 70% of the books Amazon sells are still printed books — 180 out of 614 — with ebooks accounting for just 29.3% of all the books that Amazon sells.

And there’s another important statistic to consider. Amazon sells a whopping 90% of all the ebooks that are sold, according to one analysis in February. There’s thousands of other bookstores in America which sell only printed books — and no ebooks, and even major chains like Barnes and Noble are still new to the ebook-selling business. Amazon’s ebook sales are much higher than other retailers in the country. And yet even Amazon seems to be selling far more printed books — hardcovers and paperbacks — than ebooks.

So what happens if you compare Amazon’s ebook sales to that of the entire printed book industry? “Amazon is estimated to have 19% of the book market,” notes Jay Yarrow, an editor at The Business Insider, “which implies the company sold 15.6 million hardcover books so far this year… If we use the ratio from the last quarter, it implies Amazon has sold around 22 million Kindle books so far this year. That’s just the equivalent of 6% of the total print book market, which remains tiny.”

I’m disturbed at this new statistic. Morning talk shows seem to be informing their audiences that the book is already dying — Regis Philbin is talking about it, and even Whoopi Goldberg on The View. Obviously, the general public doesn’t know that hardcover sales represent a tiny portion of the overall number of books sold — though it’s a crucial piece of context — but Amazon must know this already. So it seems almost irresponsible to announce that ebooks are outselling hardcover books, without explaining that that’s an almost meaningless statistic.

This is what motivated my post last week comparing the print sales vs. ebook sales for popular authors. PC World came up with statistics for the ebook sales of five authors, which were tiny when compared to the print sales reported on Wikipedia. For example:

Nora Roberts
Print sales: 280,000,000
eBook sales:       500,000 ( 0.17%)

According to Amazon’s own figures, no ebook has ever sold more than one million copies. (Though Stieg Larsson’s three ebooks, added together, total one million in sales — an average of just 333,333 per book.) PC World reports Stephenie Meyer is close to selling one million ebooks — though she’s sold over 100 million printed books.

To be fair to Amazon, it’s possible that they’re still delivering many more free ebooks — which they aren’t reporting in their figures. So their total ebook downloads could, in fact, outnumber their total printed book sales. But so far, Amazon hasn’t actually made that claim.

And until they do, there’s no evidence that the ebook is actually outselling the printed book.

This was too good not to share. “I had an interesting/amusing experience today at the mall,” writes my friend Mike in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.

“Went into a Borders Express to see if I could find some titles that aren’t available for Kindle yet. I noticed that there was only one Leisure Horror title available. The cashier and I got to talking and she started complaining about e-books and how they were killing off the bookstores. I was the only one in the store. As I walked out, I noticed she went back to reading whatever book she was reading — on her Kobo.

“I was chuckling as I walked out of the store…”

Mike posted his comment in a Kindle discussion forum, where it drew an even funnier reaction from Andrew E. Kaufman, author of the ebook While the Savage Sleeps. What did he think of the employee at Borders?

“A clear case of e-denial.”

In his personal blog, Andrew also makes an interesting comment about the sales of print books. “Regardless of all the gloom and doom we hear about the publishing industry, there are still some authors who are ten feet tall and bulletproof.” (James Patterson, for example, was paid $100 million for the rights to his next 17 novels, and Stephenie Meyer will earn $40 million this year…) And according to Amazon’s own figures, no Kindle ebook has ever sold more than one million copies. (Stieg Larsson has sold a total of one million ebooks, but that’s for all of his titles combined, according to Amazon’s recent press release.)

PC World reported that Nora Roberts is just now closing in on 500,000 total ebook sales, though she’s already sold over 280 million print editions of her books (according to Wikipedia). And in the same article, PC World suggests Stephenie Meyer must be close to selling one million ebooks, though she’s sold over 100 million printed books. J.K. Rowlings has sold over 400 million print editions of her Harry Potter novels, and Robert Ludlum has sold more than 290 million books. Even the Goosebumps series has sold more than 300 million print editions — and they aren’t even the best-selling authors of all time.

Wikipedia offers an amazing rough list of the best-selling fiction authors of all time. Agatha Christie is tied with William Shakespeare for the #1 spot, with at least 2 billion books sold. Harold Robbins has sold 750 million novels, and romance novelist Barbara Cartland is somewhere between half a billion and an even billion. It’s a staggering amount of printed books, especially when you consider that for ebook sales, there’s only one author who has ever squeaked out of the six-figure range.

I’ve started to become skeptical of Amazon’s claim that the ebook is outselling the printed book. I’ll share more data in a few days, but it’s always exciting to hear stories from the actual bookstores. Maybe it’s the “front line” in the war between printed books and ebooks.

And if so, this next year will be very interesting!

Playing the Dulcimer
It all started when I’d asked, “Do You Listen to Music on Your Kindle?” A surprising number of people said no. Some were just storing their music on a different device instead. But some people didn’t like to listen to background music at all, preferring instead to read in quiet.

Is there a perfect song that you can play in the background? I was determined to find out what other people were listening to. I asked some more Kindle users, and got some surprising answers. The consensus seemed to be “something mellow,” but people had different ways to avoid disturbing their reading experience…

A woman named Emily discovered that “I’m better off listening to music I’m not familiar with. Any music I know ends up being a distraction for me.” She’s very fussy about what plays in the background, and prefers a specific selection for a quiet night of reading. “The best music I’ve found for my reading is the New Age type music that I don’t listen to any other time… It’s mostly low-key music so it doesn’t get in the way of my reading concentration.”

58-year-old Chris Moyer uses similar music, but for a very different reason. “When I want to read and it is noisy, for example at a hair salon, I put on my headphones and listen to the nature sounds while reading.” She describes herself as a “very happy Kindle owner,” and likes the tracks from a special CD that she’d received after a facial. But she uses some of the same words to describe the music that she listens to: “very new age with nature sounds.”

My favorite response came from a Kindle owner named Don Freeman. “I’ve got some very mellow hammer dulcimer music on my Kindle 2 that works great for background music.” But besides being an exotic form of music, the dulcimer music has another advantage. “It also helps block out those twits on the commuter train that have their iPods up so loud that they don’t even need to wear the earplugs.”

So how would I answer the question? When I first bought my Kindle, I began reading lots of 19th-century novels and American history, so I started out with three inspiring orchestral pieces by Aaron Copland. But then I’d wanted something more contemporary, and added some soft songs by Aimee Mann. Eventually I asked myself what you’d hear in a coffee house, and decided on the hip, retro vocals from the Frank Sinatra era. (There’s a 1965 CD of Sammy Davis Jr. that was recorded with a jazz combo at 2 a.m. in Las Vegas, and it’s got the perfect tinkly late-night piano.) And finally I added in the softest female jazz vocalist I know — Blossom Dearie. (If you remember “Schoolhouse Rock,” she’d sung the “Figure Eight” song, and the one about how she “Unpacked My Adjectives.”)

But sometimes, even I prefer reading in silence.

Barnes and Noble store with Nook department

As the Kindle soars in popularity, at least one bookstore is already in trouble. Barnes and Noble put itself up for sale, and New York Magazine just ran a touching profile of the company’s founder,
69-year-old Leonard Riggio.


“I still like books,” he said, though it didn’t really need saying. All around him, in a conference room that evoked an elegant old library, were shelves lined with hardbound classics. Books had made Riggio a fortune… Books had been very good to him, and now they were dissolving into the ether…

Riggio wanted to say something, but he couldn’t quite find the words, so he burst out of his chair and charged over to one wall. “I don’t know how you can intellectualize this,” he said, “but a book is …” To continue his thought, he pulled down a copy of ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’, shook it, felt its substance. “This bound volume of Dumas is content. We have to understand people want to own this content. They want this. It’s very important.”


The magazine’s reporter visited the million-square-foot warehouse in New Jersey where Barnes and Nobles has its East coast distribution hub. (It’s “long enough to fit the Empire State Building sideways,” and stocks at least two copies of every single title that’s in print.) The article makes an interesting point: that bookstores earn more money on book sales than the publishers do. (Though Riggio once argued that “People in the world of literature tend to look down on people who make a profit.”)

Yet today, the hardware-based Kindle is Amazon’s best-selling product, and the Nook is also Barnes and Nobles’ best-selling product. “As [their new CEO] sees it, the superstores can serve as platforms for marketing their own replacement technology,” the magazine notes. “Walk into any Barnes & Noble, and the first thing you’ll see is what Lynch calls the ‘shrine’ — a counter where salespeople introduce the Nook. ”

But at the middle of this historic change is a 69-year-old man who founded a chain of bookstores. Now he’s left with a tablet-sized piece of electronics in his hand, and New York Magazine seems to
catch him showing some ambivalence.


“You know, I’m going through a thing — the record shows how old I am,” he said. “I’m going through, you know, like, ‘Oh my God, do I need this? At this period in time, to be as busy as I am…?'”

“If this was a Nook,” Riggio said as he flipped through the pages of The Count of Monte Cristo, “I just look at is as, well, here are the pages, and we magically erase the pages and another book appears.” As a business strategy, he was wagering that this convenience would inspire readers to spend more. But personally, Riggio remains unswayed. He doesn’t use his own Nook. “I like to hold the book instead of the device,” he said. “I would rather own multiple books than a single book that carries everything.”

And there you have it: The head of the company that sells the Nook doesn’t actually want to use a Nook. As New York Magazine puts it, “for all his newfound enthusiasm, he still can’t imagine a world in which the bookstore — or what he likes to call the ‘cultural piazza’ — is replicated by a piece of plastic…”

Thanks to Mike Cane for the link.

And click here to get The Count of Monte Cristo as a free Kindle ebook!

Pinocchio is lying - when he lies his nose grows
Last week the Wall Street Journal ran a controversial opinion piece about ebooks. A former book editor and a business professor argued that publishers needed to sell advertisements in ebooks in order to offset their shrinking profit margins. “[A] digital book is far less profitable than its hardcover cousin priced at $25,” their article argued. But according to responses on the web, there’s a problem with that argument. It isn’t true.

“Baen, a publishing house that specializes in fantasy and sci-fi, mostly with a militaristic bent, says that they’ve found that e-books significantly increase profits,” responded one commenter at a technology web site, even though that publisher sells DRM-free versions of their ebooks “for substantially less than they sell dead-tree versions.” And then another commenter backed up their skepticism with actual data provided by the New York Times.

Publisher’s Profits Before Overhead
On a $26 hardcover: $4.05
On a $12.99 ebook: $4.56 – $5.54
On a $ 9.99 ebook: $3.51 – $4.26

This isn’t speculation. The Times based their statistics “on interviews with several publishers and consultants who work with the publishing industry.” eBooks eliminate many of the costs associated with stacks of hardcover books, including printing costs, storage fees, and the cost of shipping books (and then shipping back the unsold copies).

“That, obviously, is exactly what logic would tell you,” one commenter concluded. And the Times article suggested the publishers’ real motive might be simple self-preservation — they’re trying to keep up the demand for printed books. In a future with even more digital readers, lower ebook prices would mean “print booksellers like Barnes & Noble, Borders and independents across the country would be unable to compete… if the e-books are priced much lower than the print editions, no one but the aficionados and collectors will want to buy paper books.”

One publisher’s consultant even tells the newspaper point-blank that “If you want bookstores to stay alive, then you want to slow down this movement to e-books. The simplest way to slow down e-books is not to make them too cheap.”

So are publishers being honest about the costs of publishing a book? It’s a hotly-debated mystery, even to those people who are most affected by it: the authors who are actually writing the books! At the end of their article, the New York Times tracked down best-selling author Anne Rice, who admits that “None of us know what books cost. None of us know what kind of profits hardcover or paperback publishers make.”

Most of Rice’s books are available on the Kindle — though not her most famous book, Interview with the Vampire But as the publishing industry faces historic changes, it was nice to see that Anne Rice still remains firmly committed to the future of the ebook. “The only thing I think is a mistake is people trying to hold back e-books or Kindle and trying to head off this revolution by building a dam.

“It’s not going to work.”

A vintage print magazine ad for Campbells soup. Are ads coming to ebooks?
It’s a horrible thought, but the Wall Street Journal suggests that ads in ebooks “are coming soon to a book near you.”

It’s an opinion piece, rather than a piece of technology reporting, so the evidence is a bit skimpy. For example, the article notes Google already displays advertisements beside the results of searches on Google books. (“It’s a small step to imagine Google including advertisements within books.”) But they also note that last year Amazon filed a patent for advertisements on the Kindle. The article is written by a former book editor at Houghton Mifflin (William Vincent), who’s presumably given a lot of thought to the future profitability of the book-publishing industry. And his co-author, Ron Adner, is a professor at the School of Business at Dartmouth College.

They focus on the future, arguing that the ads-in-ebooks model just makes sense. One suggestion is to include ads in an ebook’s free sample chapters. (“Because not every consumer who reads a sample chapter will buy the book, it’s reasonable for the publisher to extract some additional value.”) Another suggestion: offer a book without advertisements — for a price. “Seeing ads in the sample may also convince a reader to pay for a premium, non-ad version of the full-length book.” I’m envisioning a massive boycott of the first book that attempts to include advertising — but there could be one silver lining. If the publishers earn enough money on the advertising in a book, they might consider reducing the book’s price, or even giving away new books for free!

In fact, Amazon used to sell ebooks at a loss, according to one analyst, earning its profits by selling the Kindle. But now Apple’s new iBookstore lets publishers sell their books at a higher mark-up. The competition pressured Amazon into offering offer their own publishers the same leeway, and ironically, Apple “has now forced Amazon to turn an estimated 30 percent profit on each book it sells.” It seems like Amazon prefers selling their ebooks at a much cheaper price, and the publishers are the ones who are resisting. But publishers might be willing to finally lower their ebook prices dramatically — if they could make up the difference on advertising.

Ironically, then publishers then have an interest in whether the reader finishes the book. “[W]ith advertising in the mix, a book downloaded 100,000 times but never read…may be worth less than one downloaded 50,000 times and read cover-to-cover.” Suddenly an author who writes an irresistible page-turner is more valuable than the author of a massive tome that takes forever to finish, the article argues, suggesting that in a future where there’s ads in ebooks, “Unread books suddenly become less profitable to a publisher.”

But it’s not clear to me who earns the profit in this scenario — the publisher of the ebook, or the digital bookstore who sells it. After all, advertisers would be thrilled for a chance to “target” their ads to readers of a specific kind of book — and would probably be willing to pay extra for this. But as a technology company, Amazon seems much more likely to deliver these customized ads than, for example, Houghton Mifflin. And hypothetically, Amazon could keep updating the advertisements displayed in your ebooks whenever you sync to their server. Advertisers would love the idea of delivering same-day announcements — so Amazon could charge a high premium for their in-book advertisements.

It’s may all come down to a single question. Would you accept advertising in your ebooks if it meant that the ebooks were free?

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson Kindle cover

My friend Patrick is a professional writer, and over the last 10 years he’s lovingly crafted several special and unusual stories which were eventually included in print-book collections. He’s settled into a cozy life of reading and writing, and he now eyes the Kindle very suspiciously. When Amazon announced their ebooks were outselling print books, Patrick was skeptical.

“Yeah, but those ebooks are all free,” he’d said quickly — maybe just a little too quickly. “All that proves is that Amazon gives away millions of free ebooks every day. And then they claim that that somehow proves their popularity over hardcover-format books…which you still have to pay for!” Patrick was very emphatic, and kept coming up with more challenges to the sales figures for ebooks. “Amazon’s statistics are rigged!” he continued. “Amazon deliberately leaves out paperback books for their calculations!”

I re-visited Amazon’s press release, which specifies that “Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the number even higher… Over the past month, for every 100 hardcover books Amazon.com has sold, it has sold 180 Kindle books.” But I still had to wonder. Did Amazon artificially lower the number of print-edition books that were sold, in order to claim ebooks were enjoying a greater popularity? I love my Kindle, so I’d had to ask myself: did I latch onto that statistic to justify my own excitement about this new way of reading? Or had Patrick rejected the statistic to justify his own personal biases? Your perspective is probably different if you’ve spent the last 10 years selling your own writing in printed books…

But the day we had that conversation, I discovered the Kindle had reached a milestone. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo had sold one million copies — the first ebook ever to do so. That’s not a free ebook. It retails for $7.14, and was an international best-seller. They’re even making a movie adaptation starring Daniel Craig (the actor who plays James Bond) as protagonist Mikael Blomkvist, after considering George Clooney, Johnny Depp, and Brad Pitt. I’d like to ask the book’s author, Stieg Larsson, what he thought of his new success — but unfortunately he died nearly six years ago. Ironically, he never saw a Kindle, and probably never even read an ebook.

But it turns out that Stieg’s Millenium Trilogy isn’t the only ebook that’s enjoying huge (paid) sales. PC World notes that two more authors “are quickly closing in” on the Kindle’s “million club” — Twilight author Stephenie Meyer, and James Patterson. Two other authors have already passed the 500,000 mark for sales — Charlaine Harris and Nora Roberts. And PC World speculates that actually, the first ebook with one million downloads may have been the free edition of a Sherlock Holmes mystery by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

But best of all, there’s another author who’s joined them in selling their ebooks — Patrick. Even though he’s skeptical about Amazon’s sales figures, my friend discovered that digital publishing surprisingly easy, so he’s decided to give it a try.

It all reminds me of one of my all-time favorite stories about the Kindle. Author David Sedaris was appearing at a New York City bookstore to read from his new book, “When You Are Engulfed in Flames.” The audience enjoyed the reading, and lined up afterwards for the traditional book-signing ritual. But one man, waiting patiently, had a surprise for Mr. Sedaris. The author looked up to see a smiling man named Marty, who wanted the author to autograph…his Kindle.

Sedaris thought for a moment, then smiled and took up his pen, and added a clever inscription.

“This bespells doom.”


Though I see now that even the book that Sedaris was promoting is available on the Kindle.

And click here if you’d like to read Stieg Larsson’s million-selling ebook, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Or buy The Complete Sherlock Holmes for 99 cents.

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

If you want to buy Amazon’s new $139 Kindle, click here!

Amazon lowered the price for the Kindle Wednesday — for a newer model with only Wi-Fi access to the Kindle store (and with only Wi-Fi surfing when using the Kindle’s web browser). All the other Kindle models still have their built-in access to the online world, so they’re always ready to surf the web and shop for books — anywhere and any time. But this new Kindle has other advantages — like running for up to one month on a single battery charge. And it weighs just 8.5 ounces — “less than a paperback,” Amazon argues — making it 17% lighter than even the smallest of the original Kindles.

There’s also twice as much storage space — holding up to 3,500 books — and Amazon promises the new screens can display pages 20% faster, and offer “50% better contrast than any other e-reader.” But best of all, this settles any question about whether Amazon might give up on selling the Kindle, and focus solely on selling ebooks. “The hardware business for us has been so successful that we’re going to continue,” Amazon’s CEO told the New York Times.

Wednesday they’d contacted Jeff Bezos at Amazon headquarters, and heard his strong commitment to continuing Kindle sales. “I predict there will be a 10th-generation and a 20th-generation Kindle,” Bezos announced. “We’re well-situated to be experts in purpose-built reading devices.” And while touting the lower price, he also found a way to highlight the fact that — unlike the iPad — the Kindle is perfect for reading outdoors. “At $139, if you’re going to read by the pool, some people might spend more than that on a swimsuit and sunglasses…”

I think Amazon will also attract people who are curious about the Kindle, but don’t want to risk a lot of money. (In a few months, the prices should drop even lower if you’re purchasing a wi-fi Kindle that’s used or refurbished.) And of course, it will make a perfect birthday gift. (I wonder if you can purchase it pre-loaded with gift books!) In fact, Amazon is already describing the Kindle as “the most-wished-for, most-gifted” item in their vast online store, and they’ve revealed that the Kindle “has the most 5-star reviews of any product on Amazon.”

But hearing the news today, I’d remembered a blog post I read in June. “Don’t worry about touchscreens or color or even always available internet to download new books,” argued marketing guru Seth Godin. “Make a $49 Kindle. Not so hard if you use available wi-fi and simplify the device…” Amazon may not have lowered their prices to $49, but they definitely swapped in the cheaper Wi-fi connectivity, and the lower prices should attract even more readers to the Kindle.

In fact, there’s fierce competition now in the market for digital readers, and the Kindle’s survival might depend on how cheap they can get! “You either become the best and only platform for consuming books worth buying or you fail,” argues Godin’s blog post. “And the only way to create that footprint in the face of an iPad is to make it so cheap to buy and use it’s irresistible. I saw a two-year old kid (in diapers, in a stroller), using an iPod Touch today. Not just looking at it, but browsing menus and interacting. This is a revolution, guys.”

But as every age group starts to embrace the arrival of electronic readers, Amazon is still fighting hard to be perceived as the best deal in town.

Interested? If you want to buy Amazon’s new $139 Kindle, click here!

Newsweek just published what’s almost a rebuttal to my last article. My headline: “Will the iPad Kill the Kindle?” Newsweek’s headline: “Why the iPad Hasn’t Killed the Kindle…”

It’s a good article, but what I really liked is the way that it answered an even bigger question. A few analysts had raised a darker possibility:that Amazon will kill the Kindle. What if Amazon decides it just doesn’t want to compete with the iPad, and then shifts all of its resources into marketing Kindle ebooks (to all the non-Kindle devices, like the iPad, the Blackberry, and the Droid)? But apparently Newsweek’s reporter broached that topic with Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos when the Kindle first began confronting the possible threat from the iPad last fall.

“I suggested to Bezos that maybe Amazon didn’t care about selling Kindle machines, that maybe the device wasn’t important. He said that wasn’t the case, but that ‘our goal with the Kindle device is separate from the Kindle bookstore.’

“Bezos insisted there is a market for ‘a purpose-built reading device,’ as he calls it. ‘It’s not a Swiss Army knife. It’s not going to do a bunch of different things. We believe reading deserves a dedicated device.'”


Of course, you can read what you want into that quote. (After all, separating the Kindle from the ebook would be the first step towards eventually abandoning the Kindle altogether.) But here’s how I understand what Amazon’s CEO is saying.

1. Amazon doesn’t need to sell Kindles in order to sell ebooks.

2. Amazon would still like to sell both Kindles and ebooks…

Amazon's Jeff Bezos on the Kindle
There was some controversy when Amazon’s Jeff Bezos announced a new book-reading Kindle application for the iPad. “Is Amazon Killing the Kindle?” asked The Motley Fool, noting that Amazon offered extra video and audio features in their Kindle applications for both the iPad and iPhone.

It’s possible to embed multimedia clips directly into the ebooks, so they can then be played back in the Kindle applications for these devices – though not, ironically, on a Kindle. The Motley Fool noted that Amazon was making an effort to support Kindle applications not only on Apple’s mobile devices, but also on Google’s Android platform and Droid phones. (And there’s also a Kindle app available for the Blackberry.) “But will that support come at the expense of the Kindle itself?” Noting that Amazon is now “putting out a better product for the non-Kindle owning crowd,” they wondered if Amazon was refocusing its energy on the sale of ebooks — rather than on their own ebook-reading device!

For an answer, let’s go to Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos. Interviewed by Fortune magazine, he was first asked point-blank about the iPad, and, basically, whether Amazon felt doomed by Apple’s entry into the marketplace for tablet-sized reading devices. Was the threat of competition what pushed Amazon into dramatically lowering the Kindle’s price last month?

“No. The iPad… It’s really a different product category. The Kindle is for readers.”


But the interview also offers an interesting statistic — last year, 80% of all ebook sales came through Amazon’s store. (Bezos jokes that “It’s hard even for us to remember internally that we only launched Kindle a little over 30 months ago.”) So it still stands to reason that Amazon is just as interested in protecting their book-selling business as they are in their secondary business of selling Kindles. That’s the secret subtext when Bezos answers a question about whether Amazon can hang onto its share of the ebook market.


“We want people to be able to read their books anywhere they want to read them. That’s the PC, that’s the Macintosh. It’s the iPad, it’s the iPhone. It’s the Kindle. So you have this whole multitude of devices and whatever’s most convenient for you at the moment.

“We think of it as a mission. I strongly believe that missionaries make better products. They care more. For a missionary, it’s not just about the business. There has to be a business, and the business has to make sense, but that’s not why you do it. You do it because you have something meaningful that motivates you.”


It’s a fascinating interview, because you get the idea that Bezos really, really loves books. At the same time, he also admits that “I think the definition of a book is changing.” He defines that change specifically in areas where the Kindle is strong, saying that the book is now “getting more convenient. Now you can get a book in less than 60 seconds.” But in the end, he still never answers the big question of whether Amazon sees its future in the sale of Kindles — or in the sale of ebooks, to all devices.

Fortunately, there’s one more piece of data. You may have seen Amazon’s new television ad, where they emphasize that you can read your Kindle at the beach, in direct sunlight. (Which would obviously be nearly impossible with the back-lit screen of an iPad.) If Amazon were surrendering to the iPad, then they wouldn’t be wasting their money on an expensive TV ad campaign. To me, this strongly suggests that Amazon is still serious about staying the market for tablet-shaped devices.

But ironically, back in January — before the iPad had even been released — I’d already written an article asking Could Apple’s iPad Kill the Kindle? Maybe it’s ultimately just a perpetually trendy question — and an indicator that Kindle users feel overly protective of their beloved device!

Kindle Cookbook Recipes for Entertaining - Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker


What happens when you try to use the Kindle to read a cookbook?

I asked my girlfriend to test it out, and she shared her surprising results…

                        *                        *                        *

I remember when my boyfriend first started letting me use his Kindle (thus showing that a new level of trust had been reached in our relationship). I’d browsed through Amazon’s free ebook section, and discovered Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker: Recipes for Entertaining, by Beth Hensberger and Julie Kaufmann.

I was intrigued, since I’d recently purchased a slow cooker. Interestingly, I’d downloaded a free copy, which lists the author as Julie Kaufmann, but when I looked it up to make sure it’s still free, I found it’s now selling for $9.99 and lists Beth Hensberger along with Julie Kaufmann.

In reading the cookbook, I also discovered the exciting world of font sizes. My boyfriend likes large font sizes, but they make reading recipies difficult. So I was delighted when I figured out that I could shrink the font (duh!), and thus get a lot more text on each page!

I like reading cookbooks, and have been enjoying this book. It has a wide range of interesting recipies and entertaining menu selections, including some which are elegant enough for entertaining. Unlike other slow cooker books I read, this book includes appetizers, drinks and desserts as well as the more traditional soups, stews and fondues. Some of my favorites include Steamed Chocolate Pudding, Honey BBQ Pork Ribs, Chicken Mole Enchelada Casserole, and Curry Mixed Nuts.

Unfortunately, I came across several problems when I started cooking my first meal. For one thing, it’s extremely annoying to try to arrange the recipe so it starts at the top of the page. This means that every recipe I’ve worked with is split across two pages, with part of the ingredients and instructions on one page and part on the next. This is very inconvenient when cooking. It means having to stop every so often and page back and forth to keep on track.

Another issue I found was when the book references itself. For example, it called for a barbecue sauce whose recipe was “on page 101.” Well, the Kindle doesn’t have a page 101. I did figure out I could do a search on that phrase, but other recipies also called for the same barbecue sauce, so it took some scrolling around to get to where I wanted to go. Also, I found looking through the table of contents rather tedious. Chicken recipes were on the 9th page of the table of contents section; pork recipes on the 11th. The table of contents ran through 14 pages, and every time I picked up the Kindle I had to start over on its first page. Boring.

So, I made the Honey Pork BBQ Ribs, which were delicious (and boyfriend-approved!). I wouldn’t have tried this book without the Kindle, so I’m glad I downloaded it. But I was too frustrated by the Kindle’s limited screen space to use it again. I like the book enough to order the paperback copy on Amazon because I want to try other recipes out. OMG! The Kindle isn’t perfect. Bummer.

                        *                        *                        *

But in the Kindle’s defense…

The honey pork barbecue ribs were delicious!

Amazingly, yesterday there was a long discussion about the Kindle and the future of the book on the daytime television talk show, The View.

Whoopi Goldberg is a big fan of the Kindle, and it sounded like co-host Barbara Walters was trying to understand it. But the show’s other hosts — both mothers with young children — worried about whether a digital reader might impinge on the time they spend reading to their children. Here’s a complete transcript of the discussion between the four women.

(The other two hosts are sitcom star Sherri Shepherd and reality TV star Bethenny Frankel…)


                        *                        *                        *

WHOOPI: According to Amazon.com, sales of ebooks are outpacing the sales of actual hardcover books. So is the book on the way out?

BARBARA: I guess so.

BETHENNY: I don’t want to read The Runaway Bunny to Brin on a Kindle.

BARBARA: Why not?

BETHENNY: I just, you know, I…

SHERRI: It’s not the same.

BETHENNY: I like the turning of page and the colors and all that.

SHERRI: When Jeffrey and I — we do — it’s a bonding moment. At night, he knows, “turn off the TV, mommy.” He goes to get a book. We sit in the rocking chair. He likes to turn the pages. He likes to point. It’s the pictures. I think you lose that as a child. We’re so viral with the Twitter. We don’t pick up the phone any more. We’re texting. And you kind of lose that personal touch, when you don’t have the musty books and the yellow pages…

WHOOPI: Very few people —

SHERRI: Yeah.

WHOOPI: — read the Kindle to their children. Most people still read —

BETHENNY: But that’s where we’ll go.

WHOOPI: No we won’t.

SHERRI: It just seems like —

WHOOPI: And here’s the thing. Giant books — think about it. Well, maybe this isn’t your experience. I love to read, as you know.

SHERRI: Yeah.

WHOOPI: I used to carry 30 books when I travelled. And so I’d have — and I bought bags — leather bags. 30 books, yeah, ’cause I read. I go on these long trips…

BARBARA: Well, she was on a long trip on a bus.

WHOOPI: I go on these long trips, ’cause I — you know, I don’t generally fly.

BETHENNY: Well, it takes me a month to read a book, so —

WHOOPI: So I — I eat books. I love them.

SHERRI: And you know, I think another reason why it’s outselling — the Kindle — is because a book — if you go on Amazon now, a book is sixteen bucks. And if you get it on Kindle, it’s eight. So you know, I think the price, as well…

WHOOPI: And also, I think you can carry your library with you if you go somewhere. And so I think people want to be able to do that. Books will never go out of — out of —

BARBARA: No, because there is a place for them in your home.

WHOOPI: Absolutely.

BARBARA: Books look beautiful. They feel good. That’s the great thing.

WHOOPI: Unless you decide to do it — unless you decide to buy it for children.

SHERRI: We were talking about young babies and toddlers. What about for kids who are maybe preteens and teenagers — that experience of having a book. You remember going to the library? The Dewey decimal system? That whole —

WHOOPI: Let me explain to you about books. You see these kids, how many books they’re carrying?

SHERRI: Yeah. They got a big —

WHOOPI: Do you see what they’re carrying on their backs?

BETHENNY: It’s going to be expensive to buy the devices.

WHOOPI: Actually it’s not, if the schools can get behind it. Because, what you can do is you can download your textbooks. And you can have all the books that you need. It would be great for young people. And real books — I mean, as long as kids are reading Twilight, they’re not going to want to read it on the Kindle. They want —

BETHENNY: Is the bookmark over? Is that’s what’s going to happen now? The whole bookmark industry?

WHOOPI: No. You have a different bookmark for the Kindle or the iBook or whatever you’re reading. But the greatest thing is people are still reading! That’s the most wonderful…

[APPLAUSE]

SHERRI: I remember our — my dad, the salesman came, and we had an entire shelf of the Encyclopedia Britannica. And that was the thing. We loved it when we got a new Britannica.

BETHENNY: You can look smart, too. You can have all these books at your house, and people think you’re really literary when you’re not.

WHOOPI: That’s why this guy — I wonder if this — that’s why this guy got into trouble. What do you think, Bill? I mean — did you hear about this Amish teenager who, uh — who crashed his horse and buggy during a police chase?

BETHENNY: Is this The Flintstones? What are we talking about?

WHOOPI: No! He’s facing charges of alcohol possession, and second degree reckless endangerment, and overdriving an animal after leading the police on a chase that ended when the teen crashed his horse and buggy! Come on…

SHERRI: He was Amish?

WHOOPI: He was Amish. And we’re worried about where the book is going?! Pooh! “Come on, now. Come on! Come on! He’s gaining on us! Come on, Christa, come on!”

                        *                        *                        *

And of course, Barbara Walters put it all into perspective. Not only is she okay with the Kindle — she’s not even worried about the police pulling over the Amish horse and buggy for drunk driving.

“Unless the horse was drunk, I don’t see what’s the big deal…”

Dr. Larry Rosen wrote an interesting article for Psychology Today. His blog is called “Rewired: The Psychology of Technology,” and Monday he confronted the argument that nonlinear reading “is changing our brain and moving us away from deep thought into more shallow thinking.”

By non-linear technology, Rosen’s referring mostly to the hyperlinked discussions which happen online, where it’s almost too easy to flit away to a new web page or a new activity (like checking your e-mail or answering instant messages). But author Nicholas Carr predicts that even reading books will soon enter this universe of “interruption” technologies, in which we’re not just reading but also simultaneously participating in a distracted online dialogue related to that same book. Nicholas Carr is the author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. But fortunately, yesterday he received a rebuttal from Rosen, a professor of psychology at California State University — who’s also an avid Kindle user!

“I bought a Kindle when they first came out in late 2007…” he remembers in his blog post, “and delighted in using it on airplane trips instead of bringing along two or three paperback books.” And Rosen ultimately sees the hyperlinking of online discussions as a good thing. (“As C.S. Lewis said, ‘We read to know we are not alone.'”) “What better way to read a book than to be able to share it as we are reading? Isn’t that what book clubs are all about?

“The difference here is that people will be able to read what other people think about the book as they read. They can even discuss the book live while they are reading it, not when they have read the final page…”

I have to agree. And even without joining an online discussion, I’ve been reading some free history ebooks on my Kindle, and sometimes I’ll get inspired to dig deeper into some especially intriguing details. (“Wait a minute — the re-supply ship to the Jamestown colony in 1609 actually crashed instead in Bermuda? And they only made it to America because they built two new ships while shipwrecked? And that may have inspired Shakespeare to write The Tempest?“) I think one of the best things a book can do is pique your curiosity. And now it’s easier to act on that curiosity with a Kindle, since it lets you look up any word in a dictionary, and look up any topic in Wikipedia with its always-available wireless connection.

That’s ultimately going to make us smarter, not shallower. And I think this whole debate can be summed up by two brilliant sentences from author David Weinberger. “Perhaps the web isn’t shortening our attention span,” he wrote in 2002. “Perhaps the world is just getting more interesting…”

I don’t know if this is an ironic twist, but I actually read Weinberger’s defense of the web in an old-fashioned printed book. (Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory Of The Web.) It was written five years before the Kindle even existed, but there’s now a neat Kindle version of his mind-boggling insights. And yesterday Dr. Rosen’s blog post seemed to make a similar argument.

Sure, teenagers may someday be participating in online discussions while they’re reading a book, but “This is way better than seeing students read the Cliff Notes or not even reading at all.” And ultimately he puts the whole debate into perspective. “As Dr. Gary Small, director of the Center on Aging at UCLA and author of iBrain said discussing online reading, ‘People tend to ask whether this is good or bad.

‘My response is that the tech train is out of the station and it’s impossible to stop.'”


Click here for the Kindle version of Dr. Rosen’s book, Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn.

Click here for the Kindle version of Dr. Small’s book, iBrain: Surving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind

Click here for the Kindle version of Nicholas Carr’s book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

Click here for the Kindle version of David Weinberger’s book, Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory Of The Web

Ebooks and Rainy Days

July 19, 2010

I’ve been thinking about the way I viewed books not just 10 years ago, but 20 or 30. (Before what historians will eventually call “the digital revolution”.) I remembered being a teenager and watching an old black-and-white horror movie from the 1930s — I think it was The Invisible Man Returns — but what really impressed me was the elderly British inspector in the movie who had his own cozy den that was filled with shelves of books. I remember thinking that when I was a grown-up, I also wanted a luxuriously cozy study just like that — which would also be lined with my favorite books.

And I had the same thought when I saw Bilbo’s hobbit hole in the Shire in The Fellowship of the Ring

But now, instead, I have my Kindle, which can probably hold just as many books. And I have an extremely cozy armchair — so if you want to push the metaphor, I can claim that I’ve already realized my dream. But is the luxurious library itself going to become a think of the past? Maybe comfy homes of the future will have a sumptuous “library,” but containing just one single, but very elegant Kindle. It could have a special custom case — marble, maybe, or solid gold. Or maybe books will be still be collected, but as exotic antiquities from a bygone age…

Roger Ebert touched on this in the essay he wrote about how much he treasured the books he’d loved — as reminders of his experiences reading them. For example, he once lived at a place called University House.



“It had been built for troops during the war, and now housed graduate students. The water poured down the roof and collected in an exposed gutter which hurried it along somewhere downhill. I have long had this peculiar love of sitting very close to the rain and yet remaining protected — in a cafe, on a porch, next to a window, or there in that room, which had two iron-paned windows and a Dutch door. After a warning from our house mother, I’d gone to the OK Bazaar and purchased a small electric heater.”


I love reading on a rainy day, too, curled up in my cozy chair with a very good…ebook. It’s still a wonderful experience.

So maybe we don’t need the bookshelf-lined private study after all.

Kindlerama is one of Amazon’s 50 top technology blogs — and last month they delivered an important message.

“Dear Ellora’s Cave, publisher of low quality erotica: please stop.”

I’d been wondering myself what strange thing was happening with the list of Amazon’s top 100 free ebooks — and in the form of an open letter, Kindlerama revealed the answer.

“You essentially drove up to the Kindle store in a big dumptruck, and then you dumped about sixteen tons of tripe onto it, and then –oh ho, here’s where you got sneaky! – you asked your staff, and your authors, and your author’s friends to all download copies of the titles so they’d overtake the Top 100 Free list. “

It’s a very funny blog post, but it also makes a serious point. “[Y]ou also just broke the store for everyone else; until your little tantrum of ‘look at me’ publicity subsides, we all have to sit around wondering what other titles are out there. Although my ire this morning is focused on Ellora’s Cave, it’s not the only publisher to engage in shady marketing nonsense…”

And that’s really what I’m worried about. I’ve found a lot of great free stuff by browsing Amazon’s list of the top 100 free ebooks. And Amazon has a thriving community of Kindle users sharing information in their Kindle discussion forums. I guess I’ve been thinking of those as part of the whole Kindle experience — so it’s startling when someone deliberately tries to feeds bad information into the system.

I guess I’d just like to join the warning issued by Kindlerama to the spammers who’d hijacked Amazon’s list of best-selling ebooks.

“Dear Ellora’s Cave, publisher of low quality erotica: please stop.”

Roger Ebert
I once interviewed Roger Ebert back in 2001. (It happened via a brief e-mail exchange, I remember him as exceedingly gracious, and I’ve been a huge fan of his ever since.) But I also remember asking specifically — nine years ago — whether he had a “dream PDA” that he’d like to see someday? After all, he was a newsman (and a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist.) Wouldn’t he like to read newspapers on a special tablet-sized reading device?

And his answer surprised me.


“For my news I still prefer the voluptuous combination of newsprint and coffee in the morning.”

Spoken like a newsman. Although to be fair, Ebert has always spent a lot of time surfing the web, and acknowledged that those tiny 2001 screens (and tinier keyboards) were also driving him crazy. And he was even more sensitive to the keyboard problems because — guess what? — he’s a professional writer. “A writer lives through a keyboard,” Ebert e-mailed me. “Palm Pilots are useful for people who don’t write a lot and need phone numbers, a calendar, etc.”

So now it’s 2010, and I had to wonder: had Ebert changed his mind when he heard about the Kindle?

I did a Google search to see if I could find a recent comment, and found two Ebert links that didn’t answer my question and one that did. But first I’d found a touching essay from a blogger who’s an even bigger fan of Roger Ebert fan than I am. (When his oldest son got married, the blogger wanted to present his son with a very special gift, and finally settled on: a copy of Roger Ebert’s The Great Movies. Plus two other books…) “The more I read from his keyboard, the more I understand why he won a Pulitzer and is considered America’s best pundit,” the blogger wrote.

“His love for books is obvious. And, of course, his love for books helps explain the depth of his thinking and his writing.

This is a blog primarily about business books. But underlying it is a simple love of books. Roger Ebert has given us a great read to remind us about our own love for books.”

So naturally, I followed the link…

And there I read a gloriously rambling essay by Roger Ebert himself (written just eight months ago) called Books Do Furnish a Life. During the course of it, Ebert mentions one book after another that he’s cherished through his 67 years of life, and then admits that he still has a home library that’s filled with 3,000 different books. “Of course I cannot do without a single one of these possessions,” he writes, including more or less “every book I have owned since I was seven, starting with Huckleberry Finn.” He has trouble throwing away any of the treasured reminders of great reading experiences, and in a sweet conclusion, considers whether what he really needs is just a cozy private place where he can sit and read his favorites. Except that then he’d miss his wife.

And his other 3,000 books.

I was a little confused by the format of the blog post, but at the end Ebert seemed to approvingly quote a 22-year-old reader in Arizona who had a humorous observation of her own. “I love how the kindle is marketed as a ‘wireless reading device’ – isn’t that what a book is?” And soon I’d discovered the third link, where Roger Ebert finally shared his own personal feelings about the Kindle….

It was in a fairly technical essay where Ebert explained why he prefers seeing films in celluloid prints (vs. newer digital projection systems), titled Why I’m So Conservative.


“In the earliest days of home video, I published an article in The Atlantic calling for a ‘wood-burning cinema.” In recoil from the picture quality of early tapes, I called for the development of low-cost 16mm projectors for the home. No, this didn’t have the invisible quotation marks of satire around it. Seldom has a bright idea of mine been more excitingly insane…”


It’s hard to argue with his fondness, and the memories that go along with them. And it’s in the essay’s final sentence where he mentions the Kindle — and then brings all these themes together.


“I love silent films. I miss radio drama. In some matters, I feel almost like a reactionary. I love books, for example. Physical books with pages, bindings, tactile qualities and even smell. Once a year I take down my hardbound copy of the works of Ambrose Bierce, purchased for $1.99 by mail order when I was about 11, simply to inhale it. Still as curiously pungent as ever. I summarily reject any opportunity to read a book by digital means, no matter how fervently Andy Ihnatko praises his Kindle. Somehow a Kindle sounds like it would be useful for the wood-burning cinema.”


It’s an argument I’ve heard before, though I’ve never heard it expressed quite so eloquently. The wry resistance of my hero left me a little stunned, until I realized that the two of us also shared a tremendous common ground. After all, maybe Roger Ebert doesn’t love the Kindle.

But he definitely loves reading…

Is free porn a problem on the Kindle?
Today someone in the Kindle discussion forum complained that “the Kindle community homepage seems dominated by adult content.”

I think if anything that’s a glitch with Amazon’s automated layout. They’re generating a list for the web page of all the new products which were recently tagged with the word “Kindle”, and it’s the adult content that’s receiving that tag most often! Either the erotica fans are really conscientious about tagging these books as “Kindle,” or it’s a brilliant marketing campaign where the tag gets added repeatedly until the books leap onto Amazon’s “Kindle Community” front page!

Either way, the tags were all added recently by Amazon users, which ironically means these dirty book covers now appear under the headline “What’s Happening in the Community.”

Memorable MMF Threesome
The Cherry Cheerleaders
Confessions of a Deathmaiden
Adult Erotic Fantasies
The Disturbing Tale of Michelle and Bryce

(And the two titles below, which have since been removed from Amazon’s Kindle store…
Naughty Lesbians: Prescription for Pleasure
Nicole – Naked Twister

“I would think the community should be a ‘family friendly’ guide to Kindle,” complained one user in Amazon’s discussion forum, “but it seems that it’s more oriented toward pornographic and erotic content.” They’d contacted Amazon’s feedback address “with no response,” and encouraged more users to make their voices heard with the home page’s “send feedback” button “so that others are not inadvertently exposed to objectionable content.” But in another thread, one user reports that they received an official response from Amazon.



I’m sorry if you were offended by the contents of a tag on our website.

We understand your concern, but the tag doesn’t fall outside of our guidelines. Therefore, we cannot remove the items from the Kindle Community tag from our site. I apologize if this causes you any frustration.

We want our feature to be something that all our customers find useful…

One user even revealed that they’d found full frontal nudity in an unexpected place — on the cover of Mary Shelley’s 1818 horror classic, Frankenstein. But apparently earlier this week a bunch of erotic novels were released for free, which gave them a surge of popularity and helped them start appearing in the automatically generated lists. It’s not clear how troubling this is to most users. (“That’s the first time I’ve ever visited that page,” one user responded in Amazon’s forum, “and I don’t know that I’ll visit it in the future.”) And another poster reported the same experience: “I just don’t go to the homepage. That’s why I never saw it.” (Though they acknowledged that “Memorable MMF Threesome” was “not what I want to see either.”) One user suggested the auto-generated list didn’t need to be censored. “Well it’s not in my genre, but if Amazon sells it, there’s no reason it can’t be discussed…”

But the original poster responded that “Both the titles and covers of many of these works are overly explicit,” clarifying that their issue wasn’t with the books themselves. “I’m not suggesting Amazon shouldn’t sell this content but that it shouldn’t be included in the general Kindle Community where individuals (especially minors) can be inadvertently exposed to overt adult content.” And then one user in California hopelessly muddled the discussion by posting two words of apparent support.

“Hmmmm, smut!”

He followed up later, noting that Naughty Lesbians “is ranked 60,314 in the Kindle store. Which puts in the top ten percent. If you ask me, that’s a clear indication of what the Kindle community thinks about Naughty Lesbians: Prescription for Pleasure. Apparently, it’s better than 90% of the other Kindle books. Doesn’t sound to me like most people are offended by Kindle porn.” One novelist even suggested that the discussion was simply making more Kindle owners aware of the adult content that’s available for the Kindle. Another poster noted that “Romance readers were strong early adopters of the Kindle and buy huge amounts of content, just about all of which is probably ‘smut’ by SOMEONE’S definition.”

The discussion eventually gravitated towards a more nuanced position.

FWIW, Amazon is not “family friendly” – there’s all kinds of naughty stuff available here – and they don’t strictly moderate the forums/community areas of the site.
It’s just too daunting a task and not one they want to do… if the items in question are not breaking Amazon rules, then they may show up and Amazon is not going to stop them.

Another user even argued that protecting the impressionable was best left to the users themselves.

Like most other etailers, Amazon’s terms of service state that accounts are for those 18 and above. Children are only supposed to be accessing Amazon under parental guidance. If people follow the terms, children only see what adults allow them to see. If they don’t follow the terms, that’s not really Amazon’s fault, is it?

But for at least one Kindle owner, the incident made their day.

“I have to say, the thought of so many Kindles running around with ‘Naughty Nooners’ and other erotica on them makes me smile….”

The Kindle in Iraq

June 29, 2010

Kindle military camouflage cover“I took my Kindle with me to Iraq…”

So I’ve finally started reading Amazon’s discussion forums for the Kindle, and just discovered a fascinating post titled “Kindle and the Navy,” where one female soldier from Maryland reports, “I loved having my Kindle with me on deployment.”

“I used to carry around bags of books,” she remembers, adding that in fact, “my last deployment on the ship I ended up having close to $800 worth of books sent to me — only about half of which I kept because I ran out of room!” The thread was started when a another soldier’s mother and sister asked whether the Kindle would make a good gift, and they received an enthusiastic response. “If he is a vicarious reader, I would say go for it!”

“I would have LOVED a kindle back in the day when I was deployed…” added another soldier. “This is a GREAT idea for deployed people!!”

Another gift idea was a sturdy carrying case to protect the Kindle, and someone even found a a carrying case with a Navy camouflage pattern (though other posters recommended the even sturdier waterproof cases from M-Edge). There’s even a campaign called Operation ebook Drop, in which some authors give service members free copies of their ebooks!

I’d never thought about whether the Kindle would be used in the military, but it seems like a natural fit. (My friend in the Navy once complained that some days fell into the category of “Hurry up and wait.”) And it does seem like it’d make a nice gift for a soldier. At least while you were stationed far from home…you could always have something to read!

A Very Funny Typo?

June 28, 2010

I love the poem at the beginning of “The Jungle Book.” But there appeared to be a dreadful (and funny) typo in the best-selling free Kindle edition. See if you can find it…


          NIGHT-SONG OF THE JUNGLE

Now Rann the Kite brings home the night
     That Mang the Bat sets free —
The herds are shut in byre and hut
     For loosed till dawn are we.

This is the hour of pride and power,
     Talon and tush and claw.
Oh, hear the call! — Good hunting all
     That keep the Jungle Law!


See what looks like an out-of-place word? If not, let me help you out. Here’s how the site Urban Dictionary defines the word “tush”.

1. Rear-end, butt, behind
She had a nice tush.

2. what ZZ Top looks for downtown


I didn’t think the animals in Rudyard Kipling’s jungle were hunting with their tushes…

It seems obvious from the context that the word is “tusk.” (And that’s the word that appears in some online editions of the book.)

This is the hour of pride and power,
     Talon and tusk and claw…


But what’s even more interesting is the “tush” version now appears 2,500 times in a Google search – while the “tusk” version appears just 266 times. (That is, almost 90% of the online editions are using the word “tush”.) Even the Encyclopedia Britannica site republished Kipling’s poem with the word “tush”, along with several universities. In fact, according to Google thousands of people are now fondly quoting that version of the poem, including Ask.com, San Diego State University, The Wild India Guide, and a site called The Poetry Lovers Page. My favorite was a medical facility that performs “world-class research in Alzheimer’s disease”. A misguided human resources document quoted the “tush” version of the poem – then added it “could very well be a guide in defining and understanding organizations.” (Tush-friendly organizations are described by the HR document as places that include “unwritten codes and culture,” and adhering to them “determines one’s chances of survival…”)

What’s going on? My friend Andy Baio pointed me to the Oxford English Dictionary, explaining that tush “is another name for the elephant’s early tusk.” And then I felt like kind of a jackass (no pun intended), because as Amazon points out, the free etext was created by “a community of volunteers”, and here I was trying to second-guess their work.

But I’d already noticed some valid complaints about some free Kindle editions of Kipling. And I was a little miffed when I downloaded a free collection of Kipling poetry, and discovered that every single poem appeared without any linebreaks (including classic Kipling poems like “Gunga Din” and “Mandolay”).

But I’d argue that what’s really going on is a quiet triumph for the Kindle – and for the community of volunteers preparing the free texts. Their free version of The Jungle Book is now one of the top 100 best-selling free books in the Kindle store. That’s how I found it, which added me to the pool of people watching for typos.

We can then notify the community of volunteers to make fixes, in a kind of “spontaneous collaboration” to preserve stories that were written more than 100 years ago. It ultimately shows that they’ve already succeeded tremendously in popularizing classic literature to a new world of digital readers — and that those readers, in turn, can help improve the quality of future digital editions.

Yes, it is possible to play games on your Kindle. Click here for my updated list of the 10 best games for your Kindle.

But when I first got my Kindle 1, it wasn’t nearly this easy to play games. Here’s my original post – written about my Kindle 1 – so you can see how much better things have gotten!

                        *                        *                        *

It turns out you can play Sudoku on your Kindle – and some other games too!

I was feeling a little jealous because Barnes and Noble had upgraded the Nook so it offered users the ability to play Sudoku. And then I discovered that it’s also possible to play Sudoku on your Kindle! That link leads to several interactive Sudoku puzzle books that you can download, and they’re played using the Kindle’s wireless web connection. Use your menu to select the row where you’ll enter a number, and then choose the appropriate square within that row.

I ordered a sample from several of these Sudoku books, and ended up with a nice collection of free Sudoku puzzles for my Kindle. Having said that, it was still a horribly clunky way to play Sudoku. (It takes almost 10 seconds to enter every number.) And on my original edition Kindle, the squares were simply labeled “Input Field”. I had to count each separate “Input Field” until I’d figured out which square I was looking for!

It’s also possible to play Tic Tac Toe on your Kindle — if you order the appropriate “book” from the Kindle Store. Tic Tac Toe (Kindle Edition) uses the same format, letting you select the row for your move with the menu — and then selecting the appropriate square. It was also a little clunky. On my original Kindle, the menu would still say “Zoom Image” if a square already had an X or O in it — while the empty squares were labeled “Follow Link” in the menu. Yes, it’s possible to play a game of Tic Tac Toe using this book. But what’s hardest about winning the game is simply navigating the menus!

And finally, it’s also possible to play Minesweeper on the Kindle. This is a free game that I’d just assumed was a hidden “Easter Egg” — a secret feature that was pre-installed, just to make users feel special when they discovered it. Hold down the Alt key and the shift key directly above it while also typing M at the same time, and a grey 8 by 10 grid appears on the screen. You use the keys on the keyboard to navigate to the square for your next guess, and the space key reveals whether that square contains a number or an exploding mine! Like the other games, it’s a little clunky.

And to tell you the truth, I’d rather use my Kindle for reading!

UPDATE: Ironically, I just discovered this blog post has become one of Google’s top matches for the phrase: “Can I play Sudoku on a Kindle!” But it turns out there’s an even more famous game that you can play on the Kindle: Jumble puzzles!

I’m sure you’ve seen these “scrambled word” puzzles in your daily newspaper. (Circles in the squares mark all the letters which appear in the final set of scrambled words — which is usually the punchline to a question asked in the cartoon.) I’ve always loved doing Jumble puzzles (which I’ve also seen called “the Junior Jumble”).

And now you can play them on your Kindle!

My friend just perfectly summarized what’s so exciting about a digital reader. I’d written to him about what I like – that “It’s just so cool that you can think of a book, and then have it beamed down to your lap within seconds!” And he wrote back…


“Little bit scary in fact. Too easy!

In the bookstore I tend to wander around and think about if I *really* need a book. On the Nook, it is a few clicks away!”

Yes, he bought a Nook instead of a Kindle. But ultimately we both discovered another advantage that the Kindle has over the Nook – and as his next e-mail explained, it’s exactly the opposite problem!

Something I don’t like about the Nook: In order to delete some Barnes and Noble content, you have to do it on their website!

When the Nook synchronizes with the website, it will archive the materials. Seems complicated, mostly because it is a little complicated. You can delete files via the USB connection…but it would be easier to have a “get rid of this” or “archive” button on the user interface.

How’s that for ironic? Both of these digital readers can download books instantly. The Kindle’s advantage is that it can make them go away instantly!

(Just open the menu when you’re reading any item, and select “Delete This Item”. Or go to the Home Page and select “Content Manager” to check off ebooks to be deleted as a group…)

Over 20,000 people read my blog post from Wednesday. But I think my problems started in 1902…

That was when Beatrix Potter first published The Tale of Peter Rabbit (which eventually I read when I was a kid). So when the Kindle came along, I was excited there were finally digital illustrated editions of Potter’s books, including slick black-and-white versions of her fairy tales’ watercolors.

Last week I’d blogged about it, adding as an afterthought that I thought Beatrix Potter would’ve liked the Kindle. (In 1906, she was already experimenting with a new non-book format for her books, though with the absence of digital technology, her idea was a long, folded piece of paper that could be carried in a wallet.) Sunday the big wave of traffic came when my post got linked by the great geek web site, Slashdot – though not everyone agreed with my premise.

There were nearly 100 lively comments on their site about everything from color screens, copyrights, and the iPad to the reading habits of infants. But in the middle of the discussion, someone argued that ebooks themselves were just a trendy fad. They panned the “buzz” around the Kindle vs. “a content delivery system which has been proven over the course of centuries.”

Their harshest line? “I may be a luddite but at least my books will still function after the collapse of civilization.”

And then someone posted this response, titled: “Sorry you are a luddite.”

The new digital world is pervasive and more permanent than you could ever imagine. In a world of 6 plus billion people, the only way for everyone to have access to books, literature, everything written down by the humans for the past 10,000 years is through digital form. This is the future. A single paperback book costs on average, $20 today. A near future netbook/ereader will cost around $100 and will have access to millions of works via a cheap connection to the internet. You can’t compete with that with your lump of soggy paper.

And sorry to say, the first thing the mobs do when civilization ends is burn the libraries to the ground, along with all the book hoarders. For any printed book, there may be thousands, or even tens of thousands of copies, but for a digital book, there can be an infinite number of perfect copies.

Beatrix Potter was a populist who wanted to make her books accessible to all segments of society. She would surely see the advent of digitalization as a GOOD THING.

And then, just to leave things on a lighter note, he ended his post with a joke.

“You may now go back to admiring and dusting your book collection.”