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.”

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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’.”

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?

The Best Thanksgiving eBooks

November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving Curious George book and Kindle ebook cover

Thanksgiving’s almost here!

If you’re traveling for the holiday – or just have some extra time to relax — I’ve picked out a few Thanksgiving-related ebooks. With all the excitement around Amazon’s big Black Friday deal — $89 for the Kindle 2 — I’m already feeling grateful… that I own a Kindle already!

Here’s some of the best ebooks — in different categories — that I found for Thanksgiving in Amazon’s Kindle Store.


The Best Romance
“Thanksgiving” by Janet Evanovich

Best-selling author Janet Evanovich wrote several funny mystery novels — but she actually began her career writing romance novels at the age of 45. One of her first books was “Thanksgiving,” written in 1988, describing how overworked Megan Murphy meets a good-looking doctor at historic Williamsburg, Virginia. (Megan’s enjoying a cup of hot cider and two sugar cookies from the Raleigh Tavern Bake Shop when she discovers the doctor’s giant pet rabbit is eating a hole through her skirt!)

According to the book’s description on Amazon, “she meant to give its careless owner a piece of her mind, but Dr. Patrick Hunter was too attractive to stay mad at for long,” and soon “the two are making Thanksgiving dinner for their families.” And 12 different Amazon’s reviewers gave it five-star reviews, including one who wrote that “If you’ve enjoyed Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, you’re going to get a kick out of her stories for the Loveswept Romance imprint…”


The Best Cookbook
Thanksgiving 101 by Rick Rodgers

Perdue Farms sells over $4.6 billion worth of poultry every year, and for eight years, Rick Rodgers was their media spokesman. He traveled the country giving classes, according to Amazon’s description of the book, and delivers “everything, absolutely everything, you would want to know about buying, thawing, prepping, and roasting a turkey.

“You needn’t look any further. There’s a long question-and-answer-style section that anticipates any questions you might have. Then it’s right on to everything from Perfect Roast Turkey with Best-Ever Gravy to Holiday Meatball Lasagna.” And in addition, there’s lots of recipes for stuffings, side dishes, appetizers, and even leftovers. 29 of the book’s 34 reviewers on Amazon gave it five stars, while the other five
awarded it four. It’s a classic — Amazon’s first review of the book was written in 1998 — but even today, it’s become one of Amazon’s best-selling holiday cooking books.


The Best History Book
On Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford

Who better to tell the story of Thanksgiving than the pilgrims who lived through it? (My favorite chapter was the one about the very non-Puritan antics of Thomas Morton…) William Bradford began writing his history of America’s most famous pilgrims back in 1630 (according to my anthology of American literature), and he continued chronicling their life up to 1647. But the invaluable manuscript was never published in his lifetime, and after Bradford’s death, his family passed it down through the generations.

The precious unpublished memoir traveled its own complicated journey, down through Boston’s Old South Church, and eventually even back to England. Finally it was published in 1856 — a full 200 years after it was written. And now today, thanks to the Kindle, we can take peek into the lives of the very pilgrims who first started celebrating Thanksgiving.


The Best Children’s Book
Happy Thanksgiving, Curious George

Just 12 weeks ago, a new Curious George book appeared, and this one has a special surprise. Yes, you may have read other children’s books about the playful and accident-prone monkey… But this one rhymes!


George wakes up in the morning.
Something smells quite nice.
He knows for sure he wants some —
A piece, a smidge, a slice.

He rushes to the kitchen
and there he sees the man —
with yellow hat an apron,
A turkey in the pan.

The turkey’s in the oven.
It takes some time to cook.
But every now and then
George can’t help but take a look….

Uh-oh, I bet there’s going to be trouble.

Hope you have a happy Thanksgiving!

It’s true! Amazon just announced they’ll sell Kindle 2’s for $89 on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving!)

A few minutes ago, they snuck the announcement onto their Facebook page for the Kindle, and confirmed it on their Twitter feed. I’d thought it was just a rumor, but here’s the complete text from Facebook of what Amazon announced!

Black Friday Deal: This Friday, 11/26, you can get our previous generation Kindle for $89!

Our previous generation Kindle uses the old E Ink technology (the same E Ink as in the current Nook). Our all-new Kindle uses the latest generation E Ink (Pearl) for 50% better contrast, and is available at the everyday low price of …$139.

Black Friday Deal: This Friday, 11/26, you can get our previous generation Kindle for $89! Our previous generation Kindle uses the old E Ink technology (the same E Ink as in the current Nook). Our all-new Kindle uses the latest generation E Ink (Pearl) for 50% better contrast, and is available at the everyday low price of ...$139.

Amazon included a link to Amazon’s Kindle page, though it points to the newest $139 Kindle rather than the earlier edition that they’re selling for $89. But within an hour, over 100 people had clicked the Facebook button to indicate that they “Liked” the news — and 47 of them left enthusiastic comments.

And then Amazon added a comment themselves with a crucial “buying window” for their special offer.

“Hi Everyone. This deal will be featured in the Lightning Deals section of our Black Friday page, beginning at 9am PT on 11/26. Here’s a link to the page: http://amzn.to/heVUFX

There’s no Kindle on that page yet, but presumably it will be updated right at 9 a.m. on Friday. Later in the day they actually deleted that comment, but they did add another one to encourage their prospective buyers.

“Please note that all second generation Kindles offered through the Lightning Deal on Black Friday will be new devices – not refurbished.”

And in case you missed it, I’ve also just discovered today that an Amazon blogger has “leaked” a calendar showing exactly when Amazon’s short-term special deals will appear online! I see movies for just $1.99 on Wednesday, including Lord of the Rings and The Bourne Identity. In a post (titled “We’re leaking”), Amazon’s “Armchair Commentary” blog revealed the link, adding that “In addition to the doorbusters below, you’ll find over 2,700 titles at up to 70% off during our Black Friday Week deals…”

Amazon's Black Friday deals

BIG UPDATE: Amazon is selling Kindles for just $89 on Black Friday! The surprise announcement came Tuesday afternoon. It’s been a very big day for Kindle news.

The same day, I discovered that an Amazon blogger has “leaked” a calendar showing exactly when Amazon’s short-term special deals will appear online! I see movies for just $1.99, including Lord of the Rings and The Bourne Identity. In a post (titled “We’re leaking”), Amazon’s “Armchair Commentary” blog revealed the link, adding that “In addition to the doorbusters below, you’ll find over 2,700 titles at up to 70% off during our Black Friday Week deals…”

And here’s more details from my original blog post. Just after midnight on Sunday, Amazon had revealed their special “Black Friday” week web page, trying to lure online shoppers with new tempting holiday deals.”You shouldn’t have to stand in a long line to get a great deal,” the web page suggests. “We’re searching for the best Black Friday deals everywhere — including deals other stores are planning — so we can meet or beat their prices and bring them to you even earlier.”

Amazon warns that there’s a limited supply for many deals, but “we’ll add new ones throughout the day, every day this week, so you can skip the long lines and still save a bundle.” There’s deals in every category — from electronics to books, and from clothes to video games. But surprisingly — at least so far — there aren’t any deals for the Kindle. Not only is the actual device being sold at full price — Amazon isn’t even advertising any special deals on ebooks. (Less than two days later, Amazon announced
their special Black Friday deal: for just $89!

On the web, there’d been hopeful rumors that Amazon might lower the price of the Kindle. Barnes and Noble will sell the Nook on Black Friday for just $99 at Best Buy, so it seemed like Amazon might want to lower the Kindle’s price to compete. (Though the Kindle was apparently selling just fine at its current price of just $139.) And if for some reason you miss their special deal on the Kindle, Amazon will also sell you a 32-inch TV screen for just $249.

There is at least one other special offer on a Kindle. Amazon is giving away a free Kindle every day to one person selected from their fans on Facebook. (Just click the “Like” button on Amazon’s Facebook page, and then supply your phone number to be entered in their giveaway.) You can also start receiving Amazon’s deal announcements on your Facebook page. And there’s also a special Twitter feed called Amazon Tech Deals.

I’m disappointed that there’s not more Kindle offerings, but I have to admit I was fascinated by an unusual new feature on Amazon’s “Black Friday week” page — their special “Black Friday Week lightning deals.” Amazon’s been doing these for a while, but this is the first big week of the holiday shopping season, so I feel they’re going to be a lot more interesting. “Lightning Deals” are only available to a limited number of purchasers, and even then for just a very short period of time. Amazon’s Black Friday page is counting down the seconds until the exact moment when each item is available for purchase. You can choose to see only items that are available now — or only new deals that are coming up — and you can even narrow the display to the specific kinds of products that are being sold.

Some of the items appear to be mystery treasure chests — instead of a picture and a product name, there’s just the words “upcoming deal” and a giant orange question mark. But it looks like Amazon wants you to guess what’s for sale, since it’s usually pretty clear from the descriptions. For example, “The Griswold family goes on vacation over and over again” suggests it just might a DVD pack of Chevy Chase’s “Vacation” movies.

Ironically, if I remember correctly, the Griswold family actually had some pretty miserable holidays. But I’m planning to avoid the holiday shopping stress altogether this Friday — and just curling up with my Kindle!


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!

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!

Amazon smile logo
It’s on everybody’s Kindle — an e-mail address for contacting Amazon’s Kindle team. (It appears as one of the screensavers: “We love to hear your thoughts on the Kindle experience… send us your input at: kindle-feedback@amazon.com) But last week, something very special happened. Amazon’s Kindle team announced on their Facebook page that they’d decided to share “a few of the messages that made us smile.”

I’ve met people who are skeptical of the Kindle’s popularity — but there’s a lot of real excitement and enthusiasm. (“If my house was on fire,” wrote a user named Alberta, “I would grab my purse, my cat, and my Kindle.”) And another user named Jan reported cheerfully that “now I can read and scratch my cat’s head at the same time. I do not have to stop for page turning.” (She adds that Sam — presumably, her cat — “is happy and thinks this is the greatest invention…”)

The positive comments kept coming, although a few cited specific and practical advantages. Someone named A. Y. e-mailed Amazon to tell them that “the Kindle makes me want to read more.” And Brenda B. thanked Amazon for letting her replace printed books with ebooks. “My husband says I’ve saved his retirement fund because of all the money I’ve saved buying my books on Kindle instead of the bookstore.” (She added that without her Kindle, “I am like Linus without his blanket…)

It’s always fun to hear how other people feel about their Kindles. I tried the same experiment once — and discovered just as much enthusiasm. Last month author Elif Batuman wrote a funny article about how the Kindle lets her indulge in the books she considers guilty pleasures. (“The Kindle is wonderful for drunk people…”) All the positive stories made want to say that there’s obviously “a lot of love out there” for the Kindle.

But then I read something that was actually about love itself. Amazon shared a remarkable e-mail from a young man named Scott, telling the story of a very special night when “the Kindle was going to help me pop the question.”


I began writing down ideas and memories of our relationship and all at once, it hit me. I wrote a short story about how we met and highlighted some of the things we’ve done over the last two years. After a few weeks of writing and editing, I had a pretty solid story saved the file as a PDF, loaded in on the Kindle, and waited until our anniversary.

On the night of our two year anniversary, she opened the Kindle’s box, her face lit up and I could immediately tell that I had bought a winning gift. She was so excited to receive the Kindle, and I was so nervous knowing that I was about to propose using said Kindle. I walked her through how to use the device and then opened up the story I had written. She read the story aloud and I waited for the end of the story. As she finished reading the story, I pulled out the engagement ring’s box, opened it, an proposed.

Obviously, since I am writing this story, she said yes! We’re now planning our wedding for 2011 and I could not be happier.”

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!

Author James Patterson
Wednesday Amazon announced that a second author had finally sold more than one million ebooks in Amazon’s Kindle store. (By Tuesday, 63-year-old James Patterson had racked up exactly 1,005,803 in ebook sales.) “[W]e look forward to celebrating the 2 million mark in the future,” Amazon announced in a statement, noting that Amazon’s customers “have been James Patterson fans far longer than ‘Kindle’ was a word in our vernacular.” But it’s not surprising that Patterson became the second author to reach this ebook milestone…

According to Wikipedia, Patterson has already written 56 different books which were best-sellers — which got him listed in the Guinness Book of World Records — so he could conceivably reach the million-book milestone simply by selling 20,000 copies of 50 different books. Sure enough, none of his books are on Amazon’s list of the top 20 best-selling ebooks right now, and in fact, there’s only one in the top 30 — “Don’t Blink” — even though it was released less than a month ago. Looking further, only one other Patterson book made the top 100 — “The Postcard Killers,” which he co-authored with Liza Marklund — even though it was released in mid-August. It’s safe to say that there’s still no single ebook that’s ever sold more than 1,000,000 copies.

But this only confirms the fact that Patterson is one of the most successful writers alive today. Last year Forbes magazine reported he’d sold the rights to his next 17 novels for an estimated $150 million. In less than three years, he’d then write (“or co-write”) eleven books for adults and six for young adults. Although there’s a minor controversy around that statistic — and a very funny story.

The author’s lawyer once told an audience that as soon as that figure was reported, he’d received a phone call from James Patterson, demanding “Where’s my $150 million?” USA Today reported the anecdote, then contacted Patterson themselves to get the real truth. The author replied that the $150 million number “isn’t close” to his actual deal. So was that figure too high, or was it too low? “I’m not saying,” Patterson replied!

It’s important to remember that Patterson’s obviously sold more than one million ebooks, since Amazon is only counting the sales in their own Kindle store. Presumably Barnes and Noble also sold a few Patterson ebooks to their Nook customers. (And in addition, Amazon probably sold some ebooks which were read on the iPad or the Blackberry — instead of on a Kindle.) The one million figure also doesn’t count any additional free editions that may have been given away as a promotion. Amazon specified in their press release that the sales figure “refers to paid Kindle book sales.”

What’s his secret? Exciting stories. The best way to celebrate an author is probably to take a look at their work. So here’s Amazon’s product description for his newest thriller, “Don’t Blink”.

“New York’s Lombardo’s Steak House is famous for three reasons — the menu, the clientele, and now, the gruesome murder of an infamous mob lawyer. Effortlessly, the assassin slips through the police’s fingers, and his absence sparks a blaze of accusations about who ordered the hit… Seated at a nearby table, reporter Nick Daniels is conducting a once-in-a-lifetime interview with a legendary baseball bad-boy. In the chaos, he accidentally captures a key piece of evidence that lands him in the middle of an all-out war between Italian and Russian mafia forces. NYPD captains, district attorneys, mayoral candidates, media kingpins, and one shockingly beautiful magazine editor are all pushing their own agendas — on both sides of the law…”

Big news icon - The New York Times newspaper front page

There’s been a lot of big Kindle news over the weekend. The weirdest thing is, Amazon didn’t announce it in a press release. Instead, the posters in Amazon’s Kindle forum suddenly received a surprise visit from “the Amazon Kindle team.” It created a flurry of excitement, drawing nearly 300 responses within its first 24 hours.

“We wanted to let you know about two new features coming soon,” the post began…and yes, it turns out that it’s very big news.



First, we’re making Kindle newspapers and magazines readable on our free Kindle apps… In the coming weeks, many newspapers and magazines will be available on our Kindle apps for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch, and then we’ll be adding this functionality to Kindle for Android and our other apps down the road…

Second, later this year, we’ll be introducing lending for Kindle, a new feature that lets you loan your Kindle books to other Kindle device or Kindle app users. Each book can be lent once for a loan period of 14-days and the lender cannot read the book during the loan period.


Amazon’s Kindle team cautioned that “not all e-books will be lendable – this is solely up to the publisher or rights holder, who determines which titles are enabled for lending.” And at least one user adopted a wait-and-see approach, arguing that “the success of the Lending feature depends on the percentage of ebooks that can be lent out.” But I was more excited about how Amazon was making a big commitment to other forms of reading materials. “Our vision is Buy Once, Read Everywhere,” they added in their announcement, “and we’re excited to make this possible for Kindle periodicals in the same way that it works now for Kindle books.”

This should help Amazon attract more subscribers to the newspapers, and magazines in the Kindle store, and it might even help them start recruiting more Kindle users. (Their announcement suggested that you could read the periodicals “even if you don’t have your Kindle with you or don’t yet own a Kindle.”) Amazon promised “more details when we launch this in the coming weeks,” but I’m already really excited. I’ve been comparing all the different features on my new Kindle, and it’s got me thinking about the way the devices have evolved.

The original “Kindle 1” was a wonderful reading experience, but it was almost impossible to use it to play games. But now the Kindle is becoming a real full-featured app for other portable devices — while even the Kindle itself is getting its own games and apps! I was thinking about this when reading a review at the unofficial Kindle site, “Blog Kindle”. Electronic Arts is one of the biggest manufacturers of cool video games, and they’ve just released a slick new version of Solitaire for the Kindle.

“The quality of the game is definitely worth the money,” the blog notes, since there’s actually 12 different card games in one. According to the game’s description on Amazon, it includes “the Klondike game you know and love, as well as 11 other variants: Pyramid, Yukon, Golf, Freecell, Wasp, Peaks, Canfield, Spiderette, Eliminator, Easthaven, and Baker’s Dozen.” It’s already the best-selling game on Amazon, and in fact, it’s outselling everything in Amazon’s Kindle store. (Except a new Lee Child thriller called “Worth Dying For.”)

Along with Amazon’s announcements, it all just made me feel like the Kindle is getting even better. Amazon is adding new features, while game-makers are scurrying to develop Kindle games, and lots of unexpectedly good things have suddenly started to happen.

We’re living in interesting times…

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!

What’s New in the Kindle 3?

September 30, 2010

New Amazon Kindle 3 Wifi Wireless

Everyone’s excited about Amazon’s new Kindle 3. It’s smaller, lighter, and cheaper, and its battery seems to last forever. (According to Amazon, it runs without a recharge for up to a month if you turn off the wireless receiver.)

But what’s new about it? What can you actually do with a Kindle 3 that you couldn’t do before? Here’s a handy list.

1. The new Kindle feels different. Not only is it lighter and thinner. It’s now got a textured back which Amazon describes as “soft touch”.

2. There’s a new screen, which Amazon boasts offers a “50% better contrast.”

3. There’s been several changes to the font menu. There’s now eight font sizes to choose from — more than the six that were available on the original Kindle — but now there’s even a choice of font styles, according to Amazon’s Kindle page. (There’s “our standard Caecilia font, a condensed version of Caecilia, and a sans serif option.”) The new Kindle even supports different kinds of letters. It can now display Cyrillic (Russian) characters, as well as Japanese, Korean, and Chinese characters (both traditional and simplified) — along with Latin and Greek script.

4. Amazon claims the new pages display 20% faster.

5. The newest font menu also lets you change the line spacing — small, medium, or large. (Though last month the “KindleLove” blog reported this was also available as a special hidden feature on the Kindle 2. Just type a number between 1 and 9 while holding down both the Shift and Alt keys!)

5. The web browser has been improved on the Kindle 3, and now includes a special capability called “Article Mode,” according to Wired News. Complicated web pages with lots of graphics can be simplified, so that “Instantly the web page will be laid out in an easy-to-read text column…”

6. Amazon beefed up the PDF reader, and its native support even lets you zoom in (up to 300%) and then pan across the page. It’s also possible to adjust the contrast on PDF files, with five settings from “lightest” to “darkest”. And of course, there’s an easy way to convert your PDF files into the native Kindle format (which then allows you to change font sizes using the Kindle’s menus, or use other Kindle features like text-to-speech or annotation). Just e-mail the PDF to your Kindle e-mail address with the word “convert” as the subject line.

7. Text-to-speech capability has been added to the menus. It’s always been fun using Amazon’s text-to-speech features, but they only worked for the actual ebooks, and not when when trying to navigate around the Kindle. This got Amazon in trouble with the Department of Justice, which worried that the Kindle wasn’t fully accessible to blind students who might want to use the Kindle at a university. Fortunately, the Kindle 3 now extends its text-to-speech features to the navigation menus. (This “Voice Guide” feature is located on page two of the “Settings” page.)

8. There’s now password protection. If James Bond lost his Kindle in the desert, would his enemies be able to read all his ebooks? Not if he was using a Kindle 3, since it’s now possible to “lock” a Kindle with your own personal password. This is more important than it seems, since many people also carry personal files on their Kindle – so it’s possible that a Kindle could be storing documents that are highly confidential.

Finally, a blog called “Kindle Minds” offers another tip that changes the sorting on the home page. He’d wanted his collections to appear at the top of the home page, before all of the individual books. To accomplish this, he re-named every collection so they started with a high-priority character — like ~ or the number 0 or a hyphen.

“Now my collections sort to the top again,” he wrote, “and life is good… now I’m using the hyphen plus a space, which gives them a sort of bullet-list look.”

Click here for Amazon’s page about the new Kindle 3

Or click here to buy Kindle Shortcuts, Hidden Features, Kindle-Friendly Websites, Free eBooks & Email From Kindle: Concise User Guide

William Gibson vs. the Kindle

September 28, 2010

Author William Gibson
Science fiction fans have a special affection for William Gibson. The 62-year-old author coined the term “cyberspace” nearly 30 years ago, and, according to Wikipedia, later popularized the idea in his 1984 breakthrough cyberpunk novel, “Neuromancer.” In 2007 he finally reached the mainstream best-seller lists with a science fiction novel called “Spook Country.” That novel was continuing a contemporary, post-9/11 storyline which finally culminated in the book “Zero History” — a brand new novel that Gibson released just a few weeks ago.

It’s currently the Kindle’s #1 best-selling science fiction ebook — though there’s no evidence that Gibson himself has ever used an e-reader. But something very strange happened last week at a book signing in Washington…

At the headquarters of Microsoft’s campus at Redmond, Gibson was asked how he felt about signing printed books in what may be a new age of virtual books and tablet-sized digital reading devices. Gibson told the audience he could always etch his signature into the back of a device, by using an industrial-strength carbide tip. (The man who asked the question, Dave Ohara, described the historic event on his blog.) Gibson later discovered that his questioner was also the second person in line for a book-signing. And instead of bringing a book, they’d downloaded an ebook of the latest Gibson novel — and now wanted the author to sign the back of their Kindle!

Gibson acknowledged it was the first time he’d ever signed a Kindle, and then, using a black magic marker, autographed it in big, curvy letters. Later, Gibson’s fans discovered he’d commemorated the moment on Twitter. He’d “tweeted” a status update which announced, “Signed very first Kindle at Microsoft. Actually, *touched* very first Kindle. Appealing unit, IMO.”

“Is this a trend yet…?” joked another blog. “It certainly offers an interesting work around to the inability to get author signatures in the front covers of eBooks.” In fact, last year in Manhattan someone requested an autograph on their Kindle from humor writer David Sedaris. “In mock horror,” The New York Times reported, Sedaris signed their Kindle with the perfect epitaph.

“This bespells doom.”

But I think it’s even more interesting when the device is presented to the visionary science fiction author who first popularized the “cyberspace” concept. Gibson’s original story defined cyberspace as “A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation… Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.”

Now we’re living in a world where there’s a second invisible ether that’s also always around us, and always being accessed for its virtual repository of 700,000 ebooks.

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…”

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

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


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


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

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



“No, honey.”

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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


                        *                       *                       *

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

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.

New Kindle vs iPad sun glasses ad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Plus the chick is hot!”

Picture of Stieg Larsson - ebook author of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

He’s written Amazon’s #1 best-selling ebook — and its #2 and #3 best-selling ebooks! In fact, he became one of the best-selling authors in the world — two years after his death — and he wrote the first ebook ever to sell one million copies. Yet apparently there’s another strange twist to his story.

There’s now two biographies about author Stieg Larsson — one very good, and one very bad. At least that’s the fierce opinion of one Amazon reviewer who downloaded STIEG LARSSON BIOGRAPHY: The Man Behind Lisbeth Salander. “I am disappointed that Amazon would offer this as a ‘book’ selection,” the reviewer wrote…


“I loved the Millennium series and wanted to know more about the wonderful author who penned them, so I was happy to see a biography offered. However, it is nothing more than what could be gleaned from the Internet in a short Google search. It consists of Kindle locations 1 – 94 which takes about three minutes to read. Certainly not worth the $3.99 charged for less than 6 pages of very generalized text.”


He condensed his position in his review’s title — “Caution: NOT a book” — and advises readers to “Save your money since there is more information in Wikipedia…”

But there’s also more information in a new 294-page hardcover biography about the life of Stieg Larsson, which was just published a few weeks ago. As an expert on crime fiction, Barry Forshaw looks deeper into the author’s whole career, according to Amazon’s description, and he concludes that Larsson’s life “would be remembered as truly extraordinary even had his trilogy never been published. Larrson was a workaholic: a political activist, photographer, graphic designer, a respected journalist, and the editor of numerous science fiction magazines.

“At night, to relax, he wrote crime novels…”

Larsson died at the age of 50, prompting Forshaw to title his biography “The Man Who Left Too Soon.” (Larsson died a full six years before his book became the first ebook ever to sell more than one million copies.)
While it’s ironic that after his death, Larsson drew so much attention from the publishing world, at least he’ll always be remembered for achieving that historic milestone. But it’s even more ironic that the first biography of his life isn’t yet available in the ebook format!

In September a young man named Kurdo Baksi will also publish another biography of Larsson’s life — titled “Stieg Larsson, My Friend.” (Though apparently it’s also available only in the hardcover format.) Still, it’s nice to see that in the middle of the book-publishing feeding frenzy, the author himself is receiving some genuine appreciation from the people who knew and remembered him. And now his loyal fans are discovering that Stieg Larsson has also led them into some new unexpected experiences.

I checked out the sample chapter of the short ebook biography, and was startled by the low quality of the writing. (“Starting in the late 1970’s, he combined his work as a graphic designer with holding lectures on right-wing extremism for the Scotland Yard.”) The sample seems to end in mid-sentence, and it was written by somebody named “SpaceLoops.” (Though it’s currently ranked #7,707 on Amazon’s list of paid ebooks — and #12 on Amazon’s list of journalist biographies, behind the autobiography of Barbara Walters.) But ultimately, at least the skimpy book led one reader to a good experience with Amazon’s customer service.

“Right after I posted the review above, I emailed Amazon customer service about my displeasure that this is offered as a legitimate Kindle selection and requested a refund which they promptly processed. Great service, Amazon!”

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?

Amazon has announced even more new-and-exciting features that are coming up for the Kindle.

* When can you give an ebook as a gift? That’s the question bothering a reporter at PC World — and he took it straight to Amazon. They’d organized a press event which included executives from Amazon, and “Since I had Russ Grandinetti, Amazon’s vice president of Kindle Content, in the room, I decided to get to the bottom of this…”

Amazons’ response? “Stay tuned. We know gifting is important. We have a long experience with trying to make people’s holidays really good…” And then he’d added that Amazon is, in fact, working on making this year’s holidays good.

“He wouldn’t get into detail on how this might work,” the reporter notes, “but I think it’s a good bet that gifting novels will become a reality this year.” And he predicts that when Amazon does it — Barnes and Noble will offer the same feature for the Nook almost immediately!

* Is Amazon building a Kindle App store? Back in January, Amazon announced plans for a kind of Kindle “app store” like the one that’s currently selling fun third-party software for Apple’s iPhones. Amazon had already lined up top-notch developers, and promised there’d even be some free applications (plus apps with a one-time fee, and some requiring a regular monthly subscription). But in the six months since, Amazon hadn’t said a word.

Fortunately, BusinessInsider magazine didn’t forget, and a few days ago they phoned Amazon demanding an update. Amazon’s response? “We’re working on it. We have some great developers in the beta…”

* Are the Kindle’s competitors doomed? There’s a dire prediction from another reporter at PC World — that Amazon’s new $139 Kindle “spells disaster for other e-reader makers, who have either relied on prices or features to hold some kind of edge on the Kindle.” The argument goes that it’s almost impossible to compete…now that there’s a cheaper and multi-featured new version of the Kindle. The article then goes on to list four digital readers “whose future is now in jeopardy” — Sony’s Reader, the Kobo from Borders, plus Plastic Logic Que and Spring Design Alex.

* And finally, there’s a professional football whose name is Sergio Kindle. This has nothing to do with Amazon’s book-reading device whatsoever, but some people apparently haven’t figured that out. I swear I’ve seen feeds on Twitter which seem to automatically share the URL for any news article that mentions Amazon’s device — but that are only searching on the word “Kindle.” So sometimes instead of learning about Amazon’s ebook reader — you end up reading news articles about an NFL linebacker!

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!

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!

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.”