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.”

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!

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.”

Barnes and Noble store with Nook department

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Thanks to Mike Cane for the link.

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

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now you can play them on your Kindle!

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


“Little bit scary in fact. Too easy!

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

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

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

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

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

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