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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pink Kindle skin gift cover

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

And happy Kindle-ing!

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EA Monopoly for the Kindle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kindles are everywhere…

The Birth of the Kindle

December 16, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Spy at the Bookstore?

December 14, 2010

Spy vs Spy comic - top secret

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Matte Finish “Her Abstraction” DecalGirl Protective Kindle Skin

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

DecalGirl pink Kindle vinyl protective cover skin

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

DecalGirl Kindle protective vinyl skin Empty Nest

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


Stars & Stripes GelaSkins Protective Kindle Skin

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

Kindle soldier custom American flag case mod vinyl protective skin design

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

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


Genuine Brown Leather Hide Tuff-Luv Western Saddle Case Cover

Leather Kindle saddle cover

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

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


Scatter Dot BUILT Neoprene Kindle Sleeve

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

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


Ikat Choco Canvas Clutch cover by designer Diane von Furstenberg

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

Diane von Furstenberg Kindle purse cover with latch

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


MLB Baseball protective Kindle skins by SkinIt

Major League Baseball sports team logo custom Kindle protective skin

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

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

They’re sold separately, of course…!

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

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

Two boys in Ghana Africa with WorldReader Amazon Kindle

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Amazon Christmas gift certificate pictures for the Kindle or Facebook

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

Amazon Christmas gift certificate pictures for Facebook or the Kindle

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

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

Kate Spade Great Gatsby Kindle book cover

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

Kindle New Yorker magazine case cover

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

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

Pink Kindle skin gift cover

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

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

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


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

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




Kandle reading lamp light for Amazon Kindle

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

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

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

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

Kindles in the Comics

December 1, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kindles for Christmas?

November 16, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Presidents and the Kindle

November 15, 2010

President Abraham Lincoln reading a book
I remember the day when I almost met President Clinton. He was helping a school in my town install the cables for internet access in 1996 — along with Al Gore — and I was covering the event for a local alternative newsweekly. Some of the volunteers that day wore t-shirts that said “I connected our kids to the future.” And in the teacher’s lounge, I’d found the left-behind remains of sandwich from a local deli, with the word “president” written on a plastic cover. (It was left behind under a sign which read “Your mother doesn’t work here, so clean up after yourself!”)

It was a weird moment, when I realized that when there’s a new technology, we’re all “pioneering” our way towards it together. And 14 years later, when that future finally arrived, I feel like we’d ended up doing it again, moving together as an invisible group, this time towards a new reading technology. Shortly after the inauguration of President Obama, CNN reported that former President Bush had returned to Texas, where he was “meeting the neighbors, making trips to the hardware store, and catching up on some reading via a Kindle.” That same month, former vice president Dick Cheney revealed he also had a Kindle, and a few weeks ago, even Laura Bush told an interviewer that she has one too.

But it’s not just that the Kindle is being used by a handful of White House occupants. After receiving a $7 million advance, former president Bush released his new autobiography on Tuesday. By the end of its first day — counting pre-orders — he’d sold 220,000 copies and delivered nearly $4 million in book sales. But the former president also discovered that nearly 23% of his readers were buying it as an ebook!

A new world may be emerging — an accidental community of early adopters — since the publisher’s spokesman said the figures demonstrate the “rapid growth” of the ebook market. (I calculate that that’s over half a million dollars worth of ebooks sold in a single day!) The publisher also revealed that it was their highest one-day sales in six years — since they’d published the autobiography of former president Bill Clinton. But there’s also something significant about the fact that even Clinton’s biography is now available as a Kindle ebook, along with several by Ronald Reagan, and seven books by Jimmy Carter…

And tomorrow even president Obama is releasing a new book — and has also decided to make it available on the Kindle. It’s a children’s book called Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to my Daughters, and it’s got its own perspective on the way America has changed. It looks back to past presidents like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, but also ordinary citizens who made a difference, likeMartin Luther King Jr., Helen Keller, Georgia O’Keefe, and Jackie Robinson. It’s fun to think that this will be the first generation of children who may be reading these classic stories of American history on a Kindle!

The world keeps on changing, both in big ways and in small. (One political blog reported that President Bush now seems more interested in his iPad than his Kindle, and according to his wife Laura, he’s “constantly” playing the Scrabble app.) But 10 years ago, The Washington Post once reported, there was an even bigger challenge confronting ebook author Barack Obama: obscurity! “In the summer of 2000 when he flew from Chicago to Los Angeles for the Democratic convention and no one knew him, his credit card bounced, and he left after a forlorn day hanging out as an unimportant face lost in the power-lusting crowd.”

It all goes to show that a lot can change in 10 years — both for politicians, as well as the rest of us!

Consumer Reports buying guide cover
There’s been some excitement in Amazon’s Kindle forum. Consumer Reports magazine just chose the Kindle as the best e-reader in an early December issue. But I discovered that there’s even more good news for Amazon. At my local bookstore, I scoured the magazine rack, and found an even more positive comparison in the Consumer Reports Electronics Buying Guide!

And the Kindle had already won high marks in their special “Best Products of the Year” issue in November. It was the Kindle — and not the Nook or the iPad — which was listed in a special section called “Great Gifts for $250 and Under.” Consumer Reports wrote enthusiastically that the Kindle “offers crisp text, fine performance, simple controls, and a pleasurable reading experience.” It was just a short blurb — but the Electronics Buying Guide offered a very detailed comparison.

It costs a whopping $10.99 for that special Winter issue — but watch out. There’s a funny typo in its section on digital readers. They warn readers that prices typically range from $1150 to $500. Er, I’ve never seen an e-reader that costs $1150!

The guide starts with a section for people who have never seen a digital reader before, but are considering whether to buy one. (The magazine gave low marks to the experience of browsing the web on all the digital readers, calling them “very limited” and “virtually unusable”.) And they also warn shoppers to “be wary” of a reader which can’t connect to a wireless 3G network. But their biggest negative comment about the Kindle is just about file formats. (“With Kindles…Word documents and photos in JPEG format must be sent to Amazon for conversion before than can be loaded.”)

You have to flip towards the back of the magazine to find their detailed comparison table, where the Kindle was ultimately declared the winner. Consumer Reports named the Kindle DX “Best for Reading Lots of Textbooks with Diagrams,” while the newer Kindle 3G won the other honor — “Best for Most People”. Ultimately the Kindle came up with an overall score of 63 (or 65, for the larger Kindle DX). In fact, the Nook came in #3, racking up a score of just 52. In the number two position was the Sony Reader, which scored a 60, or a 56 for the smaller version. (Also tested were the BeBook, the iRex, and the Alluratek Libre.)

Of all the readers that they compared, only the Kindle received their special endorsements. The Kindle DX was listed as “Recommended,” while the Kindle 3G was awarded a “Best Buy” check mark. The Kindle scored the best for “readability” — receiving the second-highest possible score of “very good” (while the Nook’s readability was a rank lower, rated as “good” — along with every other reader.) The testers defined “readability” as which device is the easiest on your eyes.

In fact, the only two categories where the Nook scored higher than the Kindle were in “file support” and “versatility” (defined as the number of features available).The Kindle also bested the Nook in ease of navigation, page turning, and responsiveness. responsiveness, The Nook’s lowest score was for responsiveness — how quickly the screen becomes functional after powering up or returning from sleep mode. The Nook received the second-lowest possible ranking there, while both versions of the Kindle scored a rank higher — a middle rating of “good.” The reviewers also noted that for some users, the Kindle’s text-to-speech features could also come in handy. (They specifically mention the sight-impaired, but if you’re taking a long car trip, the Kindle could even read to you from the passenger seat!)

It’s a big deal, because Consumer Reports has been around since 1936, and I’ve always thought of it as one of the most well-respect consumer organizations. Their annual budget for testing is $21 million, according to Wikipedia.

But ironically, you still can’t read Consumer Reports on your Kindle!

The Onion mocks the Kindle

November 8, 2010

Last week The Onion made a funny, fake announcement about the president of Amazon. “‘The Kindle Is Easier To Read In Bright Sunlight,’ Amazon CEO Shouts At Customers In Apple Store.” It’s a nod to Amazon’s war with the iPad, but the fake headline got a real rise from Twitter’s assortment of geeks, Apple fans, and Kindle lovers. The headline appeared on The Onion’s Twitter feed, which has over 2.4 million followers — and by Monday, over 100 people had “re-tweeted” the message to their own followers on Twitter.

But I discovered it wasn’t the first time the humor site had joked about the Kindle. When Amazon released the Kindle 2, The Onion was there with a quick list of its new features.

– A lot fewer dangling wires
– …is not just a hollow box with a clear plastic window that you insert books into…”

And in January, at the Consumer Electronics Show, they’d also joked that for nostalgic users, the Kindle now “signals a logging crew to cut down 10 trees for every book purchased with the device.”

Bit it’s hard to tell whether they’re making fun of Amazon’s digital reader, or if they’re secretly fans of the Kindle. For example, in July their “American Voices” segment showed the heads of three people, responding to the news that ebook sales were [almost] surpassing sales of printed books. One of them announced that he wasn’t surprised by the popularity of ebooks, because “…if you’re reading a hardcover book, strangers try to start conversations with you. If you’re reading off a Kindle, people just stare at your awesome Kindle.” And the same fake people were also there in March, ready to react to the news that Amazon had temporarily pulled all the books from Macmillan publishing house.

“Publishing house? I thought Stephen Coonts just typed all the books right into Amazon!”

In May, they even offered opinions about Amazon’s foray into the market for college textbooks. “It does make sense for students to keep all the books they’re not going to read in one device, rather than lugging a big heavy bag around.”

But interestingly, you can now buy entire ebooks with humor from The Onion. For $9.99, you can buy Homeland Insecurity: The Onion Complete News Archives, Volume 17. (“This collection features the entire archive from November 2004 to December 2005…”) In print it came out to a whopping 320 pages, but the ebook edition was just released in May — and judging by one review, now its fake news headlines are even more timely. (“Cost of Living Now Outweighs Benefits… Bankrupt U.S. Sold to China.”)

And just last month The Onion released an ebook by their columnist, Jean Teasdale. It’s called A Book of Jean’s Own!: All New Wit, Wisdom, and Wackiness from The Onion’s Beloved Humor Columnist, and it’s a tongue-in-cheek newspaper column that’s apparently written by a cheerful yet secretly unhappy housewife.

I’ve been enjoying The Onion’s skewed take on the news for over 15 years, but I have to admit that they finally got me. Reading through their fake news stories, I discovered their announcement of a new “U2 Edition” of the Kindle, which ships pre-loaded with all of the favorite books by the rock band U2. For half a second, I wondered if Amazon really had released a special Kindle edition, and I actually spent a few minutes frantically searching for it in Amazon’s Kindle store.

Zing!


And remember, you can also subscribe to The Onion on the Kindle for just $1.99.

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.”

Amazon Kindle solitaire game

I was jealous. My friend bragged that in April, Barnes and Noble upgraded the Nook with the ability to play two games — chess and Sudoku. But Amazon was determined not to get left behind, and now games are appearing in Amazon’s Kindle store. In fact, four of the top 15 items on Amazon’s best-selling list are now games — and all four of them are free!

I count a total of eight games on the Kindle store’s top 100 list — there’s three more on the paid list, and a fifth free game ranked #42. And if you search through the Kindle store, it turns out there’s a lot more! Here’s a run-down of some of the best games available for the Kindle – along with some quick reviews, and a little trivia.

Tower of Hanoi
This is a classic math puzzle that was invented in 1883. It’s a very simple game, but the graphics are effective, and it’s a challenging brain teaser. Can you move all eight disks from tower one to one of the other two towers, without ever placing a disk onto one that’s smaller? Once you’ve solved it, you won’t necessarily want to play it again — especially if you know the legend behind it. The story goes that there’s a far-away temple where priests spend their lifetimes trying to find a solution — and on the day that they do, the world will end!

Minesweeper
There’s always been a free version of Minesweeper that’s built into the Kindle. (Just press the Alt and Shift keys, along with the letter M. It even words on a Kindle 1!) But fortunately, three weeks ago Amazon released an improved version of Minesweeper which has already become the second-most popular item in Amazon’s Kindle store (behind only a free novel called Deceit). One review on Amazon perfectly crystallized the dilemma now facing Kindle owners about whether to download Kindle games to appear on their home page. “I really didn’t need this – while not as addictive to me as the Kindle version of Scrabble… after playing it several times I see it as yet another thing that is going to take me away from reading…”

Sudoku
It used to be painful to play Sudoko on the original Kindle, but the five-way controller makes it much easier to enter your guesses. (The word Sudoku roughly translates to “the numbers must occur only once,” since you’re trying to determine the right location for each of the digits between one and nine — in every nine-square row, column and box.) Dell Puzzle magazines (in New York City) claims they actually published the first Sudoku puzzle — under the name “Number Place” — in 1979. According to a British newspaper, it was 1984 when the puzzle “was spotted, imitated and embraced in puzzle-obsessed Japan…where the alphabet is ill-suited to crosswords.” Eventually, an Australian who moved to Hong Kong spotted the puzzle, and then began selling his own version to newspapers in England.

Mathdoku
This variation features a smaller grid, but turns it into a tricky logic puzzle. There’s no numbers filled in, but there’s smaller rectangles which contain a mathematical clue. (For example: all the numbers add up to six.) It’s challenging, but it’s much more rewarding when you finally deduce a number. The game is also called KenKen, and was developed just six years ago by a Japanese math teacher, according to Wikipedia. “The numbers in Sudoku could be replaced with melons and you would still be able to play,” the teacher told one newspaper. “In KenKen the value of the numbers is absolutely central to the solution.”

Shuffled Row
It was released on August 2, and it’s still probably the best game available for the Kindle. (Nine letters gradually appear at the top of the screen, and you score points by selecting letters to form words — the longer the better.) It’s a word game with beat-the-clock excitement — and it’s challenging to try to beat your own high scores, both for individual words or for games. (My best word was jawlines — worth 108 points!) The game goes by fast, though I guess you could always hit the home key if you wanted more time to think. And it goes by even faster if you follow Amazon’s strategy tip: press the space key to make the next letter appear instantly!

Every Word
Released in August, “Every Word” is still #7 on Amazon’s list of “free best-sellers” list. The biggest problem with this game is it includes a lot of obscure words which you’d never be able to guess. (For example, when did “Rick” become an actual word?) This actually got the developers into some trouble, since their dictionary also apparently contained some “inappropriate” slang words. Amazon released a sanitized version on September 15, and it’s been popular ever since.

Word Morph
I was a little disappointed by a game called “Word Morph” — and another reviewer on Amazon’s web site agreed. “Although you can sort of play it on the Kindle using the Notes feature, this is NOT A KINDLE GAME!!!! This is just a puzzle book. It is not interactive in the sense of the other Kindle Games like Scrabble and Shuffled Row.” The game presents two words, and challenges you to make the first word into a new word by changing one letter. Then you continue making new words until you’ve “morphed” the first word into the second word. It turns out there’s many “possible solutions” — so I didn’t always get the satisfaction of coming up with the “right answer.” But it’s currently ranked #42 on Amazon’s list of best-selling free items.

Triple Town
It looks a little like Sim City, but with much simpler graphics. “This is a game that can be played for minutes or hours at a time,” according to the game’s page on Amazon, where it’s received 37 five-star reviews. Released just three weeks ago, it’s already ranked #21 on Amazon’s best-seller list, even though it sells for $2.99. “Overall, the game is a bit basic, which is why I only gave it 4 stars,” noted one reviewer on Amazon. “However, the graphics are quite nice, the tutorial is very clear and detailed. The game is fun and relaxing and works great on Kindle!”

Solitaire and Scrabble
Electronic Arts has been distributing computer games for nearly 30 years, and they’d finally brought their expertise to the Kindle. Solitaire was released just three weeks ago (and is currently #4 in the Kindle store), while Scrabble was released September 23 (and ranks #37). “EA Solitaire” contains 12 different versions of the popular one-player card game, and Scrabble also comes with a one-player option. Using the Kindle is such a new experience, some users may be glad to see some games that they actually recognize!

Note: Among Amazon’s free best-sellers is a book called “Games for Everybody.” It’s currently ranked #62, but it’s just instructions for playing games — and not the games themselves. “This book contains short, simple, and to the point instructions for games that can be played by children, adults and to mark special occasions…” wrote one reviewer, adding “There are also 106 games that adults can play and enjoy an evening rather than sitting around and gossiping or drinking or watching TV.” I’m a little curious about what games are in there — but honestly, I’d rather be reading!

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!

The Dark Tower book cover by Stephen King
Today the Wall Street Journal ran a fascinating interview with Stephen King, asking him how he feels about the Kindle. “I think it changes the reading experience,” the best-selling author told the Journal, saying that reading on the Kindle is “a little more ephemeral.” But of course, there’s also advantages to a technologically-enhanced reader, as King discovered when he’d downloaded a 700-page book onto his Kindle for research. “It didn’t have an index, but I was able to search by key words. And that’s something no physical book can do…”

He also sees other advantages in reading ebooks. 63-year-old King recently purchased a printed edition of Faceless Killers — a 1997 mystery by Henning Mankell — only to discover that its type was too small for him to read! But he’s still one of those people who loves a physical book, and even after buying an ebook of a new historical fiction novel, he also bought a hard copy just to display it on his shelf. “I want books as objects,” he admits. “It’s crazy, but there are people who collect stamps, too.”

His love of books is understandable, since he’s sold more than 500 million books himself, according to Wikipedia, writing more than 49 different novels. And a week from Tuesday, King will publish a new collection of four stories called “Full Dark, No Stars” (where at least one story is based on a real-life murder case — the story of a woman who discovers she’s married to a serial killer!) It will be available on the Kindle for just $14.99, but King also holds the distinction of having released the first mass-market ebook, over 10 years ago. And recently, he wrote a short story with its own strange twist which was actually about a Kindle-like reading device. “It took three days, and I’ve made about $80,000.”

Click here to download that short story — UR — to your Kindle.

Stephen King is the same age as James Patterson — who just sold his one millionth ebook in Amazon’s Kindle store on Tuesday — but apparently, King’s not a fan. In December of 2008 he’d called Patterson a “terrible writer,” and once described Patterson’s work as “dopey thrillers,” according to Wikipedia — though his remarks had a larger context. King heard J. K. Rowling read his books when she was young, and asked whether that had an influence. He names two authors he’d read himself as a young man — one whose writing had a much bigger impact on his style. But then he gets detoured into discussing which successful authors he would consider to be good authors — comparing J.K. Rowling to Stephenie Meyer, and eventually weighing in on Jodi Picoult, Dean Koontz, and even Perry Mason creator Erle Stanley Gardner.

So when King finally got to James Patterson, he was basically talking in bullet points, saying Patterson “is a terrible writer but he’s very very successful. People are attracted by the stories, by the pace…” And this July, Time magazine got to ask Patterson for his response to “critics like author Stephen King, who say you’re not a great prose stylist.” His answer? “I am not a great prose stylist. I’m a storyteller. There are thousands of people who don’t like what I do. Fortunately, there are millions who do…”

But the literary world continues to evolve and in Friday’s interview, King reveals that now almost half of his reading time is spent on ebooks. But he still adds that it’s hard to predict the future. “People like myself who grew up with books have a prejudice towards them,” he says, suggesting that maybe there’s room for both formats. “I think a lot of critics would argue that the Kindle is the right place for a lot of books that are disposable, books that are read on the plane.

“That might include my own books, if not all, then some.”

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…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or click here to read our review.

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.”

Judd Apatow and other celebrities who love their Kindles

I had to ask. The Kindle had finally turned up in a major Hollywood film — the Steve Carell/Tina Fey comedy Date Night. According to the movie’s summary on Wikipedia, the couple discovers a crucial clue on the drive of an abandoned Kindle. But are real-life celebrities also adopting Amazon’s reading device? I searched the web, and found some surprises…

Whoopi Goldberg
I’d transcribed a discussion on The View a few months ago when Whoopi Goldberg chatted with a celebrity who didn’t want to read her children storybooks from a Kindle. Whoopi loves her Kindle, and responded, “Very few people read the Kindle to their children. Most people still read…here’s the thing. Giant books — think about it… I used to carry 30 books when I travelled… 30 books, yeah, ’cause I read. I go on these long trips… you can carry your library with you if you go somewhere. And so I think people want to be able to do that.”

Matthew Broderick
In the 1980s he was the star of movies like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and successfully launched a second career as a Broadway star. But even though he’s married to Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick confessed to Allure magazine that he actually uses his Kindle to flirt! They’d asked him what his secret was, and Broderick replied that first, “I use self-deprecating humor.

“Then I bring out my Amazon Kindle and show them how it works…”

Demi Moore
It was just six years after her triumphant comeback in Charlie’s Angels II: Full Throttle when Demi Moore turned up on Twitter. And she posting about how much she enjoyed reading on her new Kindle! Back in March of 2009, Demi Moore — using the Twitter handle “Mrs. Kutcher” — posted “I love my kindle..it rocks. I actually read faster on it than in a regular book.”

The Kindle-positive updates kept coming. She later posted “Seriously I have read more in two and a half weeks on my kindle then I have in the past 3 years.” And her love affair was still going strong that August, when around 2 a.m. she posted, “going to go curl up with my kindle for a little bedtime story!”

Brent Spiner
In March of 2009, another Kindle owner also revealed himself: the actor who’d played the android Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Brent Spiner turned up on Twitter, where he posted enthusiastically that “I just got a Kindle. Now I can read 180 books at once. A lifelong dream.”

Cameron Diaz
She’s lounging on a beach chair in Hawaii, wearing big dark glasses and a yellow bikini. She’s draped one hand over the arm of her chair, but the other one’s clearly holding up an Amazon Kindle.

That was in May of 2009, and it confirmed something about Cameron Diaz that geek community had secretly suspected. There was a ripple of excitement when an earlier picture turned up in February of 2009 in which a Kindle was clearly visible. (Along with a MacBook Air laptop.)

Jennifer Anniston
“Who knew Jennifer had such an advanced gadget sense?” wrote the blogger at Crunch Gear, excitedly posting a scan from page 46 of a 2008 edition of Us Weekly. “Or, and I think this the more likely situation, she’s secretly dating a blogger…”

Martha Stewart
When London’s Financial Times interviewed the queen of home-making in February, she revealed that “I have 40 or so books on my Amazon Kindle.”

Stewart even graciously agreed to share her reading list with the interviewer.

Googled: The End of the World As We Know It
Eating Animals
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
The Pixar Touch

Judd Apatow
He’s not your typical trendy Los Angeles personality, since he’s more famous as a director and a producer. But the man behind comedies like Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin has actually bought three different Kindles, according to a March profile in the New York Times. “He offered his third, unopened and in its original shipping materials, to his producer Barry Mendel, who declined it.

“He then offered it to his editor Craig Alpert, who accepted.”

He’s the enthusiastic celebrity who appears in the at the top of this post, and it confirms an observation by the Kindle Culture blog. “It reflects what is going on among Kindle owners everywhere: a need to share the wonders of this device with those around them, even going a step further to assuage the fears of Kindlephobes who often haven’t even seen one!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                        *                        *                        *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                        *                        *                        *

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

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

The Best Kindle Comments

October 13, 2010

Cartoon megaphone (small)

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

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


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


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

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



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

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



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



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



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


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

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



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

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



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

Apple iBookstore for the iPad

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

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

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

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

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

“Really….”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Click here to read their full report.

Elif Batuman

“The Kindle is wonderful for drunk people…” argues author Elif Batuman. “Before I first acquired a Kindle, exactly one year ago, I didn’t usually buy books while under the influence of alcohol…”

I laughed out loud at her funny stories about the life of a Kindle owner, which was published Saturday in a British newspaper. (Though according to Wikipedia, she teaches in America at Stanford University in California, where she spent seven years studying linguistics and comparative literature.) A little wine lowers her inhibitions, and soon she’s slumming with the Agatha Christie novels she’d loved as a child. “…although the detectives, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, were twinkly, grandparental types, nevertheless, everywhere these gentle souls went, someone was killed in hatred.”

“Because I am a writer, people sometimes ask me how ebooks have changed the literary landscape. The short answer, for me, is that I have developed a compulsion to drunk-dial Agatha Christie several times a week.”

This article inspired me to investigate Amazon’s Kindle store, where I discovered they’re currently offering a complete Agatha Christie mystery novel as a free ebook. Thanks to Kindle blogger Mike Cane, who discovered this article (adding “This is absolutely hilarious! Don’t drink and eBook, kids!”) Her funny observations were the perfect way to start Monday morning, and I think I’ll always remember Elif’s advice — that the Hercule Poirot mysteries are “perfect for a drunk reader with a decreased attention span.” And she hints at how easy it is to splurge on the purchases of ebooks — especially since, unlike a real-life book-buying binge, there’s “no physical book to reproach me the morning after!”

But for all the jokes, I think she really appreciates the joy of being able to curl up and read with a good ebook. “…at the end of the day, when I uncorked a $7 bottle of Viognier and turned on the Kindle, a wave of well-being washed over me.”

It’s funny, because in April this Kindle-loving author had also published a long book about studying the great Russian novelists. (She’d named her book after a Dostoyevsky novel — The Possessed — giving it the subtitle “Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them.”) I’d thought that was going to be a more scholarly work, but it turns out it’s a book filled with more terrific personal anecdotes, which also gradually explain how she came to love Russian novels. One reviewer called her “A Comedian in the Academy,” asking “Who knew studying Russian literature could be so funny?”

It’s a wonderful book — and yes, it’s also available on the Kindle. Though Elif Batuman is 23, she uses her smarts to weaves together her life experiences with all the things that she’s learned in her studies. She remembers the unpredictable Russian violin teacher she’d had as a teenager, and riffs on the “multitude of sad adventures” that’s cryptically promised to a character in “Eugene Onegin” (in a strange manual of dream intrepretation). She remembers being a freshman loving a senior (who’d once lived behind the Iron Curtain) — which somehow leads her to a summer job teaching English in Hungary. And then there’s a surreal experience at a children’s summer camp, when all the gym teachers suddenly approach her.


“The American girl will judge the leg contest!” they announced. I was still hoping that I had misunderstood them, even as German techno music was turned on and all the boys in the camp, ages eight to fourteen, were paraded out behind a screen that hid their bodies from the waist up; identifying numbers had been pinned to their shorts. I was given a clipboard with a form on which to rate their legs on a scale from one to ten. Gripped by panic, I stared at the clipboard. Nothing in either my life experience or my studies had prepared me to judge an adolescent boys’ leg contest…”


NPR published a small excerpt from this section, though it’s also available in the book’s free sample on the Kindle.

But click here if you’d rather try reading a free Agatha Christie mystery novel ebook while drunk!

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.

Sharp Galapagos Reader to compete with the iPad and Kindle
Today Japan’s electronics giant Sharp announced they’ll be releasing two fancy Android-based e-readers in December, to compete with the Kindle and iPad. They’re targetting 1 million in sales for the tablet-sized reading devices in their first year, according to IDG News Service, and they’re calling them Galapagos (after the exotic islands where Charles Darwin studied numerous species). Sharp sees the name as “a symbol of the ‘evolution’ of services” (and devices) “that constantly bring fresh, new experiences to the user.”

It’s an allusion to the fact that (besides updates to its software), the device can periodically refresh its content. Sharp’s press release emphasized its “Automatic Scheduled Delivery Service” for newspapers and magazines, though “The first models have Wi-Fi but don’t come equipped with 3G wireless,” notes IDG. And they also report that while there’s some Android apps pre-installed, “users might not be able to download additional apps.” In fact, a careful study of the press release reveals many shortcomings.

1. Sharp promises a total of just 30,000 newpapers, magazines, and ebooks. (Whereas Amazon’s Kindle Store offers 700,000).

2. Sharp didn’t announce its price.

3. It’s got a standard LCD display, rather than the more comfortable e-ink.

But most importantly, Sharp’s press release promises “a network service and device specifically designed for the Japanese market.” This means that it fully supports Japanese characters, but the device is based on the XMDF document format, according to IDG, “a format developed by Sharp and largely confined to Japan”. I think it’s significant that the device comes pre-installed with a “social network service” for sharing comments and lists of ebooks. Text messaging is extremely popular in Japan, but it’s not necessarily a must-have feature for a digital reader.

There’s two models – one the size of a Kindle, and one the size of an iPad — and the cases come in two colors, red and silver. (Though the larger models are only available in black).


Sharp Galapagos Reader to compete with iPad


But ultimately, I have the same reaction that I did when Apple released the iPad. It just shows that all around the world, people are still very excited about the reader market!

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…”

Stephen King Kindle horror story ebook - UR
Stephen King lived his own amazing story. He travelled back in time to the year 2000 in order to write the first massively successful ebook. Or something like that. I just discovered Stephen King actually released the first mass-market ebook over 10 years ago, and within 24 hours he’d achieved an amazing 400,000 downloads!

In the story, a young man has a strange adventure while hitchhiking to the hospital bed of his sick mother. (Fans may remember the novella, which was called Riding the Bullet, and is still available as a Kindle ebook.) Stephen King’s profits may not have set a record, since according to Business Week more than 90% of those readers downloaded that book for free. But Stephen King still remained a pioneer in ebooks, and nearly three years ago, he finally read his first book using the Kindle.


“The advance publicity says it looks like a paperback book, but it really doesn’t. It’s a panel of white plastic with a screen in the middle and one of those annoying teeny-tiny keyboards most suited to the fingers of Keebler elves. Full disclosure: I have not yet used the teeny-tiny keyboard, and really see no need for it. Keyboards are for writing. The Kindle is for reading…”


I really like the way Stephen King described WhisperNet as “the electronic ether, where even now a million books are flying overhead, like paper angels without the paper, if you know what I mean.” And soon King had decided to write his own spooky story that was about the Kindle itself! After writing the article Amazon had asked his agent if King wanted to write an original story for the release of the Kindle 2. “I decided I would like to write a story for the Kindle, but only if I could do one about the Kindle. Gadgets fascinate me, particularly if I can think of a way they might get weird.”

That story is called Ur (and you can still download it to your Kindle for just $3.19.) “At the time the Amazon request came in, I’d been playing with an idea about a guy who starts getting e-mails from the dead,” King wrote in Entertainment Weekly. “The story I wrote, Ur, was about an e-reader that can access books and newspapers from alternate worlds.

“I realized I might get trashed in some of the literary blogs, where I would be accused of shilling for Jeff Bezos & Co., but that didn’t bother me much; in my career, I have been trashed by experts, and I’m still standing.”



Click here to download UR

And if you want to travel back in time to 2000, Riding the Bullet also appeared in a King collection called “Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales.”

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.

United States President Barack Obama and George Washington
There’s a new children’s book author in town, and his name is Barack Obama.

Today the President of the United States announced he’ll be publishing “Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters.” The book won’t be released until November 16, but Amazon is already selling pre-orders of the book at a 45% discount. The book won’t be available on the Kindle, so Amazon urges shoppers to “Tell the Publisher! I’d like to read this book on Kindle…” But poking around Amazon, I discovered another Barack Obama text that’s already available, for free, and another one written by his predecessor, George Bush.

For Barack Obama, it’s the presidential inaugural address, and whether you love or hate the President, it’s interesting to look back on the day that his presidency started, and remember just how different the world was in January of 2009. You can also download a free version of George Bush’s 2006 State of the Union address, or Ronald Reagan’s from 1982, so your Kindle is giving equal time to both political parties. But by exploring Amazon a little further, I discovered an even more fascinating historical document. It’s actually possible to download every inaugural address given by every previous U.S. President, all collected together into a single ebook!

There’s President Nixon, President Ford, President Clinton, and President Reagan, of course. But you can also point your time machine back towards the 1700s, reading the inaugural addresses of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, in 1789 and 1801, respectively. President Harrison, the 9th President of the United States, insisted on reading his entire two-hour inauguration speech — the longest in U.S. history — during a cold and rainy day in Washington D.C. He refused to wear a hat or coat, possibly trying to remind the audience that he was still the tough military general that had served in the War of 1812, but ironically, he died three weeks later after catching pneumonia.

Wikipedia insists that long speech was unrelated to Harrison’s death, but it’s still fun to sneak a peek at the hopes he held for the four years he never got to see. Every famous president from American history has their own inauguration speech — President Kennedy, President Truman, and one especially poetic address by Abraham Lincoln. And it was during his inaugural speech that Franklin Roosevelt made one of his most famous statements.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

It was just 28 years later that President Kennedy was inaugurated, and that speech is also in the collection, featuring an optimistic call to duty. (“My fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”) I’m looking forward to reading all the speeches, and it’ll be fun to flit around from century to century.

I just wonder if we’ll ever have a President who actually enjoys reading on the Kindle…

New Kindle vs iPad sun glasses ad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Plus the chick is hot!”

Amy Bloom book in the Kindle beach ad

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

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

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

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

Q: And have you watched the ad?

AMY: Somebody sent me a link.

Q: So what was your reaction?

AMY: I thought, “Oh. How nice.”

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

Q: And then you went on about your day?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Will this increase sales of your book?

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

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

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

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

Q: But is there a larger significance?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AMY: Well, there is that…

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

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

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

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

Q: So where will we see you next?

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

Mostly I keep my head down!


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

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

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

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

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

“A clear case of e-denial.”

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

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

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

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

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


I didn’t know this was possible, but Google offers an interactive map of the world which shows the location of other Kindle users. Sort of…

A computer consultant in Croatia created the “Kindler’s Pincushion,” a collaborative version of Google Maps where other Kindle users can add a blue pin to show where they’re located. Nearly 600 proud Kindle owners have come forward so far, some adding funny extra comments.

      “A five-Kindle family!”
      “love mysteries and chocolate cake.”
      “Me and my Kindle and my cat live here!”
      “Tengo un Kindle DX”

The fun began in January of 2010, when a young man named Dragi Raos entered Amazon’s Kindle forum and announced his project’s humble beginning. (“We have four pins on three continents…”) But soon other Kindle owners had caught his enthusiasm, and were leaving comments of support.

      “First Dane on the map!”
      “Kansas on the map now.”
      “It will be fun to watch the pins overtake the world…!”

There’s now pushpins marking Kindle owners in Europe and Australia, as well Africa, Asia, and both North and South America. There’s pushpins in Venezuela, Panama, Mexico, and Canada, as well as Alaska, Hawaii, and most of the states in America. I even recognized the names of two of the Kindle users — Bufo Calvin and Mrs. Wizard — who are both authors of blogs about the Kindle. “It’s a fun visual,” Calvin wrote when the project was announced, “and you can add your own pin!”

Ironically, I can’t view the map on my Kindle! (I’m still using my original Kindle 1, and it’s always had trouble with Google Maps.) To test it, I converted its complicated web URL into an “alias” that was easier to type — http://tinyurl.com/kindlemap. Fortunately, that URL is also easier to remember, if you want to test the “Kindler’s Pincushion” in a PC-based web browser. If you’ve set up a “Google Account,” you can even log into the map as an editor.

And then you can even add in a pincushion for your own location — along with your own funny comments!

Number five on a billiards ball
I went looking for more Kindle tips and tricks — and discovered the mother lode. When the Kindle was first released, a hacker named Igor Skochinsky poked around through the Kindle’s hardware, and discovered some undocumented features. For example, he posted instructions on how to create a book on your home page which is actually a set of your favorite pictures. (When you e-mail pictures to your Kindle, each picture appears as a separate ebook, but Skochinsky appears to have found an unsupported way to pull up a special “Picture Viewer,” which can also re-size pictures to fit the Kindle screen, adjust their dithering, and even select one of them as the Kindle’s screen saver.)

Confession: I didn’t actually try that tip, because I was afraid it might void my Kindle’s warranty. But I can pass along five of the other tricks which worked great on my Kindle 1.


1. Automatic Page-Turning with “Slideshow” Mode

You can teach your Kindle to turn the pages for you! When you’re reading an ebook, just press Alt-0 to “enable” the special slideshow mode. Then pressing Alt-1 will start the automatic page-turning — and Alt-2 will stop it. It seems to have only one speed, but it’s easy to keep up with if you increase your text’s font size, which reduces the number of words on each page. And pressing Alt-0 again will “toggle off” this special functionality.

“Slideshow mode” can also be used like one of those educational tools that they use to teach speed readers to read faster…

2. Display the Current Time

If you’re reading an ebook, pressing Alt-T will actually spell out the current time, in letters, in the lower-left corner of the screen (where the Kindle usually displays your current location in the ebook).

If you’re on your Kindle’s home page, pressing Alt-T will display the current time, in numbers, in the same lower-left corner.

And entering @time as a search will also display the complete time, including the month and day!

3. Switch to a Different Song

If you’re playing an mp3, pressing Alt-P will stop (and re-start) the Kindle’s music player. But if you want to continue playing music, and just switch over to a different song, then press Alt-F to go Forward to the next song in your Kindle directory.

4. Find Out How Many Hours You’ve Used Your Kindle

On a phone you’d dial 411 to call information. On the “Settings,” screen, you type 411 to get information about your Kindle. It’s a diagnostics page, with mostly cryptic technical information like “Kindle Version: Linux version 2.6.10-lab126.”

But it’s kind of fun to see your Kindle’s “awake time” and “sleep time” statistics.

5. Find Nearby Restaurants on Google Maps

If you’re using the web browser, try typing Alt-3. This automatically brings up Google Maps with a page listing restaurants near your current location. (And Alt-2 brings up nearby gas stations, while Alt-1 shows your current location.)

Note: I’ve had some erratic results using this feature. It seems like now, Google simply displays “Not Avail, Not Avail” for my city and state — and then performs the search using the last city that I’d accessed through Google Maps. But that’s still a pretty handy feature….

Click here for an earlier article, My 10 Best Kindle Tips and Tricks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But sometimes, even I prefer reading in silence.

Amazon Kindle beach ad - screenshot screengrab of the ebook
She’s reading an ebook on her Kindle, and then the camera pans back to reveal she’s reading it at the beach. (“Silver moons and paper chains,” the background music sings. “Faded maps and shiny things…)” The camera pulls back before you can read the whole page, as though Amazon’s trying to tease you. But one day, I decided I finally had to find out: exactly what ebook is that?

Google provided me with the answer — and a link to a web page with the complete text of the page she’s reading! (“I reached across the table but he shrugged me off, grabbing my keys and heading out the door….”) I should’ve noticed that the woman’s Kindle was displaying its title at the top of the page — “Where the God of Love Hangs Out.” It’s a collection of short stories by Amy Bloom, and Amazon will even send you one complete story as a free sample if you go to the book’s Amazon web page. (It’s a funny, sexy story called “Your Borders, Your Rivers, Your Tiny Villages” — about committing adultery while watching CNN!)

UPDATE: I’ve just discovered that I’m now Google’s #1 match for the phrase, “I reached across the table but he shrugged me off.” But who exactly is Amy Bloom? She once worked as a psychotherapist, according to Wikipedia, but now lectures on creative writing at Yale University’s English department. She wrote the TV show “State of Mind” for the Lifetime Network, but was also nominated for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. And it turns out that a sample of her short story isn’t the only thing that Amazon’s giving away for free…

I’d begun investigating the next logical question: Okay, who’s singing that song that’s playing in the background? The singer’s name is Annie Little, and Amazon is giving away one of her songs for free in their “mp3 downloads” store. It’s the song that appeared in Amazon’s second Kindle ad — a duet that Annie recorded with her fiance, Marcus Ashley, called “Stole My Heart.”

“Once upon a time, I saw you
walk along a moonbeam. What a
lovely girl. I followed you around the world.
Uh-uh oh, I love you. Don’t you see?
You stole my heart in one, two, three.
I love you. Yes it’s true.
You stole my heart, and I’m gonna steal yours too.”

I remembered Annie’s story. Amazon held a contest for the best home-made ad for the Kindle, and Annie’s song appeared in the winning entry — a cool stop-motion animation video suggesting all the stories you could read on your Kindle. (While in the background, Annie sang “Fly Me Away.”) You can also download “Fly Me Away” — the song which plays in the background of Amazon’s Kindle commercials — but they’re now charging 99 cents for it. And in addition, the couple has recorded two more songs, and they’re selling all four together as an EP for just $2.97.

1. Stole My Heart
2. Telegrams to Mars
3. Fly Me Away
4. Still Missing You

With a little more research, I discovered a few more secrets. The complete versions of the songs are longer than what’s aired in the commercial, so click here if you want to read all of the lyrics for “Stole My Heart” or “Fly Me Away”. (They’ve been transcribed on the couple’s web site.) I guess the last thing I discovered is that it’s hard to resist the couple’s charm — and their endearing message that true love…is a little bit like reading your Kindle.

“You’re my favorite one-man show,
a million different ways to go.

Will you fly me away?
Take me away with you, my love.”

The Count of Monte Cristo original illustration
My girlfriend just finished reading a massive novel on the Kindle, and wanted to share what she’d learned from the experience.

                        *                        *                        *

So a couple of weeks ago I mentioned reading The Count of Monte Cristo at a tender young age, and then there, before my eyes, in the Kindle Top 100 Free section, is the book itself! I remembered the basic plot line. A young man with a bright future gets taken down by jealousy and political maneuvering. He plots his revenge against the three men who caused his torturous imprisonment, then returns incognito as a count, wealthy beyond all imagining (how convenient).

I wondered if I would have a richer reading experience now that I’m a adult. Boy! The things I missed the first time around.

And the things I learned reading this book on the Kindle…

This is a two-part post; this week I’ll talk about the things I learned using the Kindle. Later, I’ll talk about the book itself and the surprise lesbian storyline. (She’s the daughter of one of the bad guys…. But I digress).

The first thing I learned is that The Count of Monte Cristo is llllloooooonnnnnnggggg. Like a-real-novel-that-you-check-out-of-the-library long. The end came at location 24681. (The Malacca Conspiracy, the free action thriller I reviewed here previously, is 6554 locations and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is 4274 locations by comparison). Obviously back in 1844, when the book was written there was no TV, no radio, no electric lights, and no Wii — so there was lots of time to read a good book. The novel as an art form was still pretty new at that time and Dumas is a master of the craft. The book moved along briskly, and kept me intrigued at every step.

I found the “Locations” tracking at the bottom of our original Kindle’s screen, in the dark gray area, to the left of the Menu button and the battery life and signal strength indicators. (As you probably already know, the numbers change as you read, allowing you to track where you are in the book.) But the trick is playing with the line directly above that gray bar — the one with all the dots. If you move your cursor one click above the Menu button, it’s placed directly across from this line of dots. When you press the scroll button, the bar highlights and you see little boxes with numbers. These are almost like the chapters in a printed book, and allow you to move through the book without using the “Go To Location” function on the Menu screen.

The next thing I learned is that I’m completely addicted to the Lookup Function! I yearned for this capability while I was growing up, reading voraciously. (You can even use Lookup if you don’t know what “voraciously” means — sooooo easy!). I knew that when I ran across a word I didn’t know, I should get up, go get the dictionary to find its meaning, and fully understand the novelist’s intention. Did I do this? Hardly ever. Yet, now, at my fingertips, I have that ability — and I rejoice!

However, there are two important caveats. The first caveat is that the Kindle doesn’t always provide definitions for foreign phrases or words. For example, “rouleau” was defined, but several other words of French origin were not. Being as Dumas wrote in French, this was a slight drawback for me with this specific novel. Still, it was a fun gamble using the Look Up feature during reading The Count of Monte Cristo. My other caveat is the Lookup Function provides you with every single word in the sentence. Every. Single. Word. I want to Look Up “rouleau” and get the definitions for “eye,” “hundred,” “hand,” and “rose” as well.

The third thing is I became adept as using the Highlight feature (just below LookUp on the menu that pops up when you scroll to a specific row. And you can use the same technique to add a note to yourself just by picking “Add Note” instead of “Add Highlight.”) Magic, indeed, to a reader who spent years thumbing through books looking for favorite passages!

                        *                        *                        *

We love my Kindle, and she loved The Count of Monte Cristo. Click here to read it as a free ebook!

Vintage phonography gramophone record player

In Amazon’s discussion forum, I’d asked a simple question: Do you listen to music on your Kindle? But the answers surprised me — and shed new light on how people are using their Kindles.


“wow, you can listen to music on your kindle!!!???? okay, so I read that I had that capability somewhere in my manual, but just glossed over it since, I prefer to read in silence.”


It turns out that, while the Kindle can play music, people often think of other devices. One user made this clear when I’d asked what specific music they liked to listen to on the Kindle?


“Nothing. I got an ipod where I can choose which song to listen to.”


And another user quickly agreed.


“That was my reaction… I would probably use my iPhone for that anyway, but I don’t listen to music while I read.”


I’d been curious about what songs people stored on their Kindles, but now I was having trouble finding people who’d even bothered. For the people who wanted background music, there were already several established music players — many by Apple — which offered better features and better storage.


“…the limited storage space on the Kindle 2 prevented me from loading a lot of music. I read a lot so I was listening to the same tracks over and over. In the end I stopped loading music on the K2. I just listen to music on my iPhone where I have my entire music library.

“When I read on my iPad, it’s really great — I can listen to any music I want and I have created several playlists to listen to music based on the type of book I am reading. I think Amazon should put more storage on the Kindle and enhance the music capabilities since they also sell music.”

Another user reported a similar experience. (“I have an iPod Classic with over 13,000 songs on it as well as an iPod Touch with music and the Kindle app.”) But it was nice to hear occasionally they still used the Kindle’s built-in mp3 player.


“Especially when I’m reading on the patio and about to doze off, I’m sometimes too lazy to go get another device and it’s nice to already have some music choices on the reader.

I actually prefer quiet while reading though, so when I do play music, it’s usually to minimize someone else’s noise, such as from the jerk neighbor who thinks he can play the drums.”


So finally, I could get back to my original question. What were they listening to on their Kindle? “My favorite reading music is classic, usually something not terribly climactic. Rachmaninov usually works.” And at the end of the discussion, I was glad to hear that at least one of these Kindle owner shared my enthusiasm for the Kindle’s mp3 player.


“I am not big on big on adding non-ebook features to the Kindle but listening to music while reading seems so natural.”

Mark Twain writes a play with Bret Harte
Mark Twain once co-authored a play with another forgotten writer named Bret Harte. Their legendary meeting was even depicted in an advertisement for Old Crow whiskey (above). Here’s how Twain himself described it.

“Well, Bret came down to Hartford and we talked it over, and then Bret wrote it while I played billiards, but of course I had to go over it to get the dialect right. Bret never did know anything about dialect…”


In fact, “They both worked on the play, and worked hard,” according to Twain’s literary executor. One night Harte apparently even stayed up until dawn at Twain’s house to write a different short story for another publisher. (“He asked that an open fire might be made in his room and a bottle of whiskey sent up, in case he needed something to keep him awake… At breakfast-time he appeared, fresh, rosy, and elate, with the announcement that his story was complete.”) I was delighted to discover that 134 years later, that story was still available on the Kindle, “a tale which Mark Twain always regarded as one of Harte’s very best.”

Bret Harte’s short story (as a Kindle ebook)
Biography of Mark Twain by his executor (Kindle ebook)

Harte’s career had already touched another famous writer — Charles Dickens. Before his death, 58-year-old Dickens had sent a letter inviting Bret Harte for a visit in England. But ironically, that letter didn’t arrive until after young Harte had already written a eulogy marking Dickens’ death. (It was a poem called “Dickens in Camp,” suggesting that to the English oaks by Dickens’ grave, they should also add a spray of western pine for his fans in the lost frontier mining towns of California.)

But two of Harte’s famous short stories had already captured Dickens’ attention — “The Outcasts of Poker Flat” and “The Luck of Roaring Camp.” John Forster, who was Dickens’ biographer, remembers that “he had found such subtle strokes of character as he had not anywhere else in later years discovered… I have rarely known him more honestly moved.” In fact, Dickens even felt that Harte’s style was similar to his own, “the manner resembling himself but the matter fresh to a degree that had surprised him.”


“Dickens in Camp” as a free Kindle ebook
The Outcasts of Poker Flat as a Kindle ebook
The Luck of Roaring Camp and other stories
Forster’s Life of Charles Dickens (Kindle ebook)


So last year I’d finally pulled down a dusty volume of Bret Harte stories from my local public library. I’d had an emotional reaction to “The Outcasts of Poker Flats” — and an equally intense response to “The Luck of Roaring Camp.” But Harte’s career had peaked early, and it seems like he spent his remaining decades just trying to recapture his early success. (“His last letters are full of his worries over money,” notes The Anthology of American Literature, along with “self-pitying complaints about his health, and a grieving awareness of a wasted talent.”) Even in the 20th century, his earliest stories still remained popular as a source of frontier fiction — several were later adapted into western movies. But Harte never really achieved a hallowed place at the top of the literary canon.

Yet “The Luck of Roaring Camp” was the first ebook I’d ordered on my Kindle. I’d checked for print editions but hadn’t found a single one at either Borders, Barnes and Noble, or a local chain called Bookstores, Inc. Days later, I’d decided to try my public library, where I discovered a whole shelf of the overlooked novelist (including an obscure later novel called The Story of a Mine). And that’s when I noticed the date that the library had stamped on its inside cover.

“SEP 21 1905.”

Bret Harte library book - checked out in 1905Close-up of library check-out date for Bret Harte book

I felt like I was holding history in my hand. The book was published just three years after Harte’s death in 1902, and there was an old-fashioned card, in a plastic pocket glued to the inside cover, which showed some of the past check-out dates, including FEB 12 1923 and APR 8 1923.

Bret Harte library book - old check-out datesCheck-out dates for old library book

More than a century later, my local librarians had tagged this ancient book with an RFID chip so you could check it out automatically just by running it across a scanner. A computerized printer spit out a receipt, making sure that the book wouldn’t remotely trigger their electronic security alarm when it was carried past the library’s anti-theft security gates.

I hope that somewhere, that makes Bret Harte happy.

XKCD cartoonist talks about his comic strip on Amazon's Kindle

I’m a fan of the comic strip XKCD. So I was delighted when the cartoonist did a special edition that was all about the Kindle.

“Even if I spend months broke and drunk in a strange city, I’ll still be able to use Wikipedia and Wikitravel to learn about anything I need…”

Ironically, it’s very hard to read that comic on your Kindle (though its dialogue is almost legible if you surf straight to the image.) But, to give away the punchline, the female character decides there’s something suspiciously familiar about the idea of being able to learn anything anywhere. And when she examines the Kindle more closely, she makes a startling discovery: it’s actually The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

For those of you who haven’t read the book, it describes a near-magical, all-knowing guidebook that would be crucial if, say, your home planet Earth was destroyed, and you had to navigate through all the other strange alien civilizations. It’s the perfect metaphor for the Kindle’s unlimited (and free) internet access, though I first read that cartoon before I’d even purchased my Kindle. But I still remember it every time I switch to Wikipedia to look up crucial context for the classic books I’m reading. (“Was this book popular in its time? How old was its author…?”)

I even added this capability to yesterday’s list of my favorite Kindle tips and tricks. (It’s possible to instantly search Wikipedia for any topic just by typing @wiki after hitting the Search button.) But the cartoonist’s joke has a special resonance for me, because I’d interviewed Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, just a few weeks before his death in 2001. He’d lived long enough to see a wonderful sight — his six-year-old daughter, pushing her doll’s baby stroller while mimicking the voice of the GPS system in her daddy’s car. And I sometimes wonder what he would’ve thought of the Kindle. “Anything that’s invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things,” Adams had joked, while introducing, of course, a contradicting corollary. “Anything that’s in the world when you’re born is considered ordinary and normal.”

I’ve always assumed that Adams would eventually come around to the idea of using a digital reader. But regardless of Adams’ opinion, the magic of the internet at least lets us peek into the thoughts of the cartoonist who draws XKCD. If you hold your mouse over his cartoons, you’ll discover that the cartoonist leaves behind an extra personal statement for every cartoon. (For example, “Now that the Apple Store is getting rid of DRM, Cory Doctorow will get rid of his Steve Jobs voodoo doll…”) So what was his message for his Kindle cartoon?

“I’m happy with my Kindle 2 so far, but if they cut off the free Wikipedia browsing, I plan to show up drunk on Jeff Bezos’s lawn and refuse to leave!”

Visit Amazon’s Page of Douglas Adams Kindle books.

Or check out the Kindle version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

10 Kindle Tips and Tricks
This week I’ve been writing more about my favorite authors — instead of about the Kindle itself. So here’s the 10 best tricks I’ve learned so far for enjoying the Kindle…


MY FAVORITE TIPS


1. Instantly Clear a Note or Search

I discovered this tip by accident. If you hold down the Alt key while hitting the backspace button, your Kindle automatically erases everything you’ve typed into a note or search field!

And it’s also possible to simply change the cursor’s position. (I discovered this while playing Minesweeper on the Kindle, which uses similar navigation keys.) Typing Alt-H will always move your cursor back one space, positioning you to backspace over characters that you’ve already typed earlier (or to insert new letters). Typing Alt-J then moves your cursor forward, if you want to return towards the end of the line.

2. Justify Your Kindle’s Text

This appears to be a hidden feature on the original Kindle 1 that was secretly added into the Kindle’s font menu. Press the font key, and the Kindle displays its usual six choices for your font size. But if you then type the letter J, the Kindle suddenly presents you with two more choices. There’s “Full Justification” and “Left Justification,” and it dramatically changes the way your ebooks will look!

3. Skim Faster

On the original Kindle, holding down the Alt Key while pressing the “Next Page” or “Previous Page” bar also lets you skip forward much more quickly, jumping past several pages each time you press the key.

 
4. View Your Own Photos on the Kindle

I only recently discovered you can send your own pictures to your Kindle. The file name appears as a separate entry among the ebook titles on your home page. (Just click on the file name, and that picture magically appears!) The pictures are displayed in black-and-white, of course, but it’s still fun to see a familiar image that’s all your own.

Amazon can support almost every format for image files, including .gif, .png., .bmp, .jpeg, and .jpg.The secret is e-mailing the image to your Kindle’s e-mail address, as an attachment. (If you’ve never done this before, just remember that your Kindle’s e-mail address appears on Amazon’s “Manage Your Kindle” page, which has a URL that’s very easy to remember.)

               Amazon.com/manageyourkindle

On my original Kindle, I also finally discovered that it was possible to zoom in on any image. Using the scrollbar, I could always scroll up and click to “select” an image — which would expand it to fill the entire screen!


FUN ON YOUR HOME PAGE


5. Skip Instantly To a Different Page of Titles

I’ve always been jealous of people who could jump to a title by typing its first letter. (This is only possible if you’ve sorted your titles alphabetically, which allows skipping instantly through the list to arrive at “the first item that begins with that letter”.)

But it turns out there’s also a skipping trick for people who haven’t sorted their titles alphabetically. Even if your titles are sorted by Author (or by which title is “Most Recently Read”), it’s still possible to skip quickly from one page of titles to the next. Type in the number of your desired page of titles, and the Home Page will automatically refresh to display the titles appearing on that page!

6. Only Show Periodicals and Blogs

This is handy if you’re one of those people who’s actually reading lots of magazines or blogs on your Kindle. The “Show and Sort” menu at the top of the home page will let you zoom in to a smaller listing that shows just your books (without blogs and magazines cluttering up the list) — or, to show only the periodicals and blogs, without clogging the listings with books!

7. View Your Own Documents On Your Kindle

Besides pictures, it’s also possible to send text documents to your Kindle. (It’s something I didn’t even think about for several months, because I was so excited to be reading digital ebooks!) But Amazon’s “approved file types” for e-mailing include all the basic file formats for documents, including Microsoft Word’s .doc format and .rtf , as well as .html and .htm, and recently, even .pdf

8. See Your Reading Progress on the Home Page

Here’s something I didn’t know until I read the Kindle User’s Guide. I actually thought Amazon was just displaying a decorative dotted line below the titles of my books — until I realized it was those heavy dots at the beginning of the line that were indicating how much of the book I’d read! (“Your place in the book is indicated by the progress indicator beneath the book title,” Amazon explains in the user’s guide…)


GETTING WHAT YOU WANT


9. Edit Your Highlights

I’d always get annoyed when I’d try to highlight a single sentence, and Amazon insisted on including a few words from the previous sentence, or the sentence that came after it. But after syncing the Kindle to my PC, I realized Amazon stored them all in a single text file called “My Clippings” in the “Documents” folder. All I had to do was pull them up in a text editor, and I could chop out the extraneous words!

When highlighting a clipping, you can also highlight more words on a single page — just by selecting a smaller font size!

10. Searching Has Shortcuts

By default Amazon searches through the documents on your Kindle, and also offers to run a search on the same words in its Kindle store. But if you prefix your search with special codewords, Amazon will conduct the search in a different location. @store searches the Kindle store, while @web runs the search words through Google. But the most useful code is probably @wiki, which will automatically take you to your search term’s page on Wikipedia!

UPDATE: It turns out I’m now Google’s #1 match for the phrase “Kindle tips and Tricks”. So be sure to click here for “Five MORE of My Best Kindle Tips and Tricks.”

Click here to subscribe to this blog on your Kindle!

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

Last week three different Kindle users shared their favorite stories about life with the Kindle. But I’d also heard from Andrea McKinnon, a publicist in Burbank who was “an avid book lover, reader and saver” — until her husband dared to give her a Kindle in May as a Mother’s Day gift…

Within seven days, Andrea was assigned a 250-page manuscript, and she’d had to read the entire thing before passing it on to a publisher. “My choices? Read 250 pages on my laptop or print out 250 pages.” But wait! There was a third choice — uploading the document to the Kindle, and then reading it as an ebook! And — to cut to the end of the story — Andrea now describes herself as “a new Kindle convert.”

“I was also traveling at the time, so along it came with me, to read on the plane and in the hotel, along with the novel I was reading at the time. One small Kindle, two giant tomes en route for work and pleasure!”

And meanwhile, on the opposite coast, a woman named Elaine Bloom was also enjoying her Kindle for an entirely different reason. Elaine describes herself as a LinkedIn Strategist, but unfortunately, she also had a broken left leg. (“I fell on ice in a diner parking lot at the beginning of March…”) It was painful, and her foot was constantly kept elevated — which made it difficult to read in different positions, or even turn the pages of a conventional book. But fortunately, with the Kindle “I could easily read it while I was lying down in bed. I could hold it in one hand and use that same hand to hit the button to advance the page. It would have been difficult for me to hold a book and no way I could read and turn the pages with one hand.” Today the grateful New Jersey woman says the Kindle “saved my sanity….I was able to do a lot of reading when I couldn’t do anything else.

“The only other thing I could do was watch daytime television — which could drive you crazy!”

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!

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

I put out a call to a journalist’s network last week, asking Kindle users to answer one simple question: what’s your own favorite story about using the Kindle? The answers poured in from across America, but each person seemed to have a very positive experience that was also very unique.

Patrick Kerley, an account supervisor for a PR firm in Washington, D.C., remembered a great Kindle story about his mother. “She and my father were traveling between North Carolina and southern Florida when they blew a tire. The Kindle’s web browser helped them locate a replacement!”

And the free wireless internet access played an even bigger role for Sophia Chiang, a San Francisco entrepreneur on an extended trip through China. She reports the Kindle was a great way to buy “uncensored English magazines like Newsweek, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Atlantic Monthly.” Amazon’s Whispernet network actually allowed her to circumvent the Chinese government’s ongoing news censorship.

Her Kindle also let Sophia beam down travel guidebooks that were written in English. “We went on a last minute trip to a more remote part of China and we got our Lonely Planet guide immediately on the Kindle.” Without the Kindle, she reports on her blog, the only alternative would’ve been scrambling around trying to find a Chinese bookstore, and then hoping that they’d have a travel guidebook, in stock, that was written in English!

Because it was a long trip, Sophia was also glad that her Kindle could last for over a week without a recharge. But her last reason was one of the most exciting. Even though I’ve written a lot about children’s books on the Kindle, Sophia is the first person I know who’s actually using the Kindle to buy ebooks for her children. (“Our kids loved the Kindle and loved being able to buy Magic Tree House, ABC Mysteries series even in the middle of the Middle Kingdom.”)

I’ll have more of the responses from other Kindle users over the next week, but I just want to say that my favorite response probably came from Marc Pittman, who runs a fundraising-education business in Maine. He describes himself as a “proud owner” of an original Kindle 1, and says “I think my happiest moment so far happened at the playground last week. I was using my iPad (*gasp*) when a 5 year old kid ran past, stopped, and shouted ‘Cool Kindle!’

“Kids know where the real innovation is!”

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

                        *                        *                        *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                        *                        *                        *

But in the Kindle’s defense…

The honey pork barbecue ribs were delicious!

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

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

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


                        *                        *                        *

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

BARBARA: I guess so.

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

BARBARA: Why not?

BETHENNY: I just, you know, I…

SHERRI: It’s not the same.

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

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

WHOOPI: Very few people —

SHERRI: Yeah.

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

BETHENNY: But that’s where we’ll go.

WHOOPI: No we won’t.

SHERRI: It just seems like —

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

SHERRI: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHOOPI: Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

SHERRI: Yeah. They got a big —

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

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

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

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

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

[APPLAUSE]

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

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

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

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

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

SHERRI: He was Amish?

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

                        *                        *                        *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

An original Sherlock Holmes illustration
Amazon’s most popular free mystery ebook — currently #5 on their best-seller list — is also one that my girlfriend read as part of a very strange Christmas — and a secret crime all her own…

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The year I was 12, my brother received The Complete Sherlock Holmes for Christmas — and I received a bunch of Camp Fire Girls stuff and a copy of the Bobbsey Twins mysteries. Ick! Luckily for me, my brother didn’t really like Sherlock Holmes, any more than I wanted to read the Bobbsy Twins. (O.k., I liked them when I was 7 or 8, but really. By then my reading level had advanced to the point where I was reading real novels like The Count of Monte Cristo…)

But my brother wouldn’t give up control of his book. He hid it in his room which was, of course, completely off limits to his little sister. I am now able to confess this crime — I went into the forbidden room,
found the concealed Sherlock Holmes collection — and pilfered it! Luckily for me, he didn’t want the book, just control over it, so I read through the entire collection without him knowing it was gone. What joy!

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a great writer and crafter of stories. Intricate, detailed situations with flawed characters, gripping plot lines and very surprising endings. And Doyle himself led a very intriguing life. He studied medicine at the University of Edinborough, then signed on as a ship’s doctor on a boat traveling to the West African coast.
Upon his return, he opened a doctor’s office in a small English town, but building a practice in a strange town takes time.
So while he waited for his patients, he wrote his first mysteries.

The first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, was published in 1887. Mr. Holmes was modeled after one of Doyle’s university professors. The likeness was so good that Wikipedia says Robert Louis Stevenson (another Scotsman, then living in Samoa) recognized the professor and mentioned it in his letter of congratulations to Sir Doyle.
I’ve since become a great fan of mystery novels, soaking them up like water after a surgery and long convelescense several years ago.

But Sherlock Holmes set the standard by which I’ve judged all others. I used to think I wasn’t smart enough to solve the mysteries and just read them for the pure entertainment value. Then I started reading other mystery novels and found I could solve them as I read along. Then I rediscovered Sherlock Holmes on my Kindle!

I was originally worried that maybe my joy of reading the Sherlock Holmes stories is thus overlayed with the guilty pleasure of forbidden reading — the same joy I’d get by reading by flashlight under my covers when I was supposed to be asleep. But there they all were — The Hound of the Baskervilles (MUCH better than the movie), The Red Headed League, The Adventure of the Speckled Band, The Five Orange Pips, and so many more. (There are over 50 Holmes stories). There was the wonderful writing, the fascinating plots, the twisting and turning, and such a wonderful read every time. And his friend Dr. Watson was always sharing my cluelessness.

I found that I remembered the stories, but often not the ending and as I read. I recognized things as clues but still couldn’t solve the crimes by the end. (How frustrating!) I had been excited to approach these stories with my new adult mystery-solving abilites. Then I realized there is no way to solve a Sherlock Holmes crime! I’d read carefully, finding clues, making guesses, working hard at figuring out the crime, then Bam! Mr. Holmes comes up with some puzzle piece so completely out of left field that could never have figured it out.

It was the specific type of cigar ash, Watson. Surely you’ve read my monograph on different types of tobacco from all over the world and the ash each one produces. Oh, oops, silly me for forgetting the monograph!
(Which, by the way, was never available to us non-fictitious mortals….) Note to Sir A. Conon Doyle: Write the damn monograph or quit using it as the only way to solve the mystery!

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Don’t worry, my girlfriend says she still loves all of the Sherlock Holmes books. Click here if you’d like to read a free Sherlock Holmes mystery for yourself!

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.”

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

“Hmmmm, smut!”

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

The discussion eventually gravitated towards a more nuanced position.

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

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

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

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

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