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On e-Reader Tech News we track down the latest e-Reader news. We will keep you up to date with whats hot in the bestsellers section, including books, ebooks and blogs... and we will also bring you great e-reader tips and tricks along with reviews for the latest devices and accessories.

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February 2011
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Can Amazon Sidestep Apple’s App Store Tax?

Given the prominence of the Kindle vs Apple situation in news lately, namely that Apple has decided that all purchases going through their devices via the app store must pay a 30% fee, there’s been some question of whether or not Amazon’s Kindle platform will have much of a future on iOS devices going forward.  Nobody can see Amazon giving up what we all assume to be a significant, even if not a majority, portion of their user base in order to avoid complying with the new terms, but at the same time it seems unlikely that paying the fee on ebooks that must already be selling for very near cost is an option either.  Quite the dilemma.

It occurred to me however, and I’m sure I’m not the only one or even the first, that the solution is already in the works on Amazon’s side.  Around the time of the launch announcement for Google’s eBook store, we had news that the Kindle for the Web service was being expanded into something more than just a means for previewing books pre-purchase.  Not much has been heard since then.  Now, while it is true that Apple can probably manage to enforce a competition reducing policy on their own devices using their app store, in spite of what any rumors about anti-trust investigations might be saying, it is unlikely that they would be audacious enough to start blocking access to Amazon.com on their browsers or those browsers that might be available to users in an app store at any given time.

At last report, the existing Kindle for the Web books read pretty well on the iPad and need only slight tweaks for the iPhone. I do doubt that this was some sort of master plan anticipating the current situation.  Maybe I’m underestimating Amazon’s foresight.  Maybe I’m overestimating Apple’s deviousness.  Whatever the case may be, this seems like a great time to be rolling out a platform independent reading app that just happens to be laying around waiting to be used.

Really, this may well be the way things go in terms of non-dedicated eReaders in the future.  I don’t know how I feel about that.  While it will ensure that no matter what you happen to be holding in your hand at any given time, I can’t imagine that a browser-based solution will bring quite the same immersive reading experience that things like the existing Kindle app manage to provide.  Tablets, and PCs in general, are already at something of a disadvantage compared to the Kindle thanks to the screen differences.  Still, one would have to expect that the ability to avoid app store disputes like this one, added to the already impressive potential ability to run on anything connected to the internet, will make it worth further emphasis for Amazon.  I’m hoping that it doesn’t cause them to give up on their device-specific app line, though. It adds a certain something that gives the Kindle platform an edge over all the rest for many people, even when the comparison doesn’t involve an eReader.

Twilight Series for Kindle: Featuring Eclipse

eclipseThe Edward-Bella-Jacob triangle is in full force in the third installment of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga: Eclipse. Bella and Edward are applying for college and consider marriage. Bella’s interest in Jacob, the werewolf goes to a new level when she discovers she might be in love with him as well.

A major battle erupts in Seattle that leads to a great deal of fighting and bloodshed, and the army is made up of a bunch of newborn vampires. What an image. The battle is fueled by Victoria’s jealousy over Edward and Bella’s relationship. In efforts to avoid spoiling the plot for those of you who haven’t read the book, I will leave it at that. So, grab a copy of Eclipse for your Kindle and Kindle DX and tell us what you think.

One interesting conclusion from the reviews of Eclipse are how varied the reactions. Eclipse got reviews ranging from “major cheesy” and “disturbing” to “a great love story.”

kim h

“I was very hesitant of reading this series since i am not much into the vampire books but wow!! I was wrong on this one. I loved it and I coulnd’t put the book down. I have 2 kids and i was able to ready this series in a very short time and that is really good for me. I am usually a slow ready but this author really captivated you to want to read more and want more. I got lost in the this world of theirs and really wanted more. I wish she would continue to write more about it. The Characters are fun and it brought back memories of being a teenager and the whole love thing. WOW!! It’s a must read!!”

This review reminds me of my thoughts on Harry Potter.  I usually don’t read fantasy, but somehow those books really sucked me in after I finally sat down to read them.  It is probably because despite the supernatural element of Twilight and Harry Potter, both series contain issues that we deal with in real life.

From the Heart

“I had a great time with this book, mostly because it really twisted everything around in a way I never thought it would go. Edward became so overprotective with the kidnapping and everything, that really stuck with me and made him the villain of this book. I did not see that coming. And the relationship between Bella and Jacob became a great strong-point of the story as well. I loved seeing her stand up for herself.”

A review particularly catered to the Kindle version:

Becs

“Having just finished reading Eclipse on my kindle, and thoroughly enjoying it, I did not encounter any typos or formatting issues, save one minor point; there are no spaces between scene changes within chapters. The lack of spaces that indicate an end of scene did cause me some confusion when reading. I would occassionally come across a paragraph that did not flow as it was not in context with the previous paragraphs, I would then realise that a scene break had just occurred but had not been acknowledged in the spacing. In all other areas I was happy with the formatting of my kindle version of Eclipse.”

Handmade Kindle Covers

Leather Kindle CoverIf you are on a shopping spree and really feeling like dressing up your Kindle, then I’d be pleased to help you out. I find that there is something inexplicably charming, when people dress sup their gadgets in handmade accessories. Perhaps, Etsy really triggered this new fad of getting handmade covers for all sorts of gadgets.

Here are some options for unique handmade Kindle covers available via Etsy.

If you are into fancy-pants, leather covers – here is a beautiful orange Kindle cover, shipped from Hungary for $46 for the cover and $6 for shipping.

Merino Wool Kindle CoverIf soft, floral and quite expensive Kindle cover is your style then here is an option for you. That would cost $65 (holy smokes!) and $4.50 for shipping within USA. The same designer is selling a beautiful giraffe with dreamy eyes for the same (very high) price.

If spending $65 on a Kindle cover seems a bit excessive for you, then there are other fantastic options – such as this clutch style with square leather button Kindle cover for $25 with $4.95 shipping within US.

Also, this completely custom made e-reader cover (you have to specify which e-reader you have) – you can choose a button, the type of fabric on the outside and inside of the cover. This cover goes for $29.99 plus $2.50 for shipping within US.

If floral and giraffe designs is not quite your style, here is a very nice grey Kindle sleeve made from merino wool for $39.99 plus $5.50 for shipping. The same designer has a really nice hand dyed leather Kindle cover for $68.

And if you like to pretend like you are holding a hardcover book, while reading from your Kindle, then you might like this style for Kindle case for $34.99 plus $10 shipping within US.

New Kindle Commercial Seems Rather…Vague?

Kindle advertisements have often been a little odd, in my opinion.  I get that you want to highlight how fun and useful your product is, but when it’s something that facilitates an activity that will almost always take place while the user is immobile and not reacting in any overt fashion, it’s hard to do.  Does that mean that the best course of action is to show people running around and dancing while holding it, in a sort of interpretive dance type representation of the feeling to be achieved through use of a Kindle?

Anyway, once again we are given the most obvious, and most Kindle-favorable, visual comparison between the iPad and the Kindle in the form of a situation involving reading in direct sunlight.  Not the whole of the commercial this time, but it’s in there as a reminder in case there’s anybody who missed it the first time.  Maybe this is a bigger problem than I thought, but do people spend a lot of time reading outside in direct sunlight?  I know I enjoy it myself, but it’s just not something I see often.  There are so many other factors that could be gone into if the commercial was to emphasize the favorable differences.  It’s lighter than the iPad, easier to read on then the iPad, doesn’t have to deal with any ridiculous app store politics like the iPad, etc., etc.  I think the whole Kindle vs iPad competition was resolved a while back for the majority of us and the outcome left the iPad unable to live up to its Kindle Killer hype.  Also, while we’re on the subject, what was the point of the text informing us of the ease of reading in direct sunlight when we have several seconds of the already short commercial devoted to demonstrating this fact?

Where I do like the effort was in terms of demonstrating options beyond reading in a corner.  I think it does a fair job of implying utility in terms of accessing reference material on the fly.  At least, that’s all I could come up with when it came to what the actors were doing with their Kindles at any given time as they cavorted. Wouldn’t it have been more effective if that were what was being highlighted in the brief text interjections, though?

That’s all just my rant on the topic though.  Honestly, probably the best ad we’ve gotten for the Kindle in a while.  I know it got the message across a bit better than the old swimming pool scenario or the Kindle hiding in the random drawer from the last couple I recall. Word is that Amazon has purchased some ad time during the upcoming Oscars, so it’s entirely possible that this one will be airing in a great slot.  I only wish that it seemed more likely to get across the features that the Kindle brings to the table.  Then again, maybe I’m completely off base on this one.  Any thoughts on it?

Kindle Piracy Thoughts

The Kindle platform, along with several other similar pushes into the emerging eBook industry, has improved availability of books significantly.  If nothing else, there’s no longer even the possibility of a book going “out of print” and being unavailable to an interested reader.  Even when publishers attempt to create an artificial scarcity, it’s just not going to happen in the face of a truly interested audience.  Of course, not every effect of going digital will be so positive.

The situation I referenced there is an extreme case where most people would find little fault finding your book through alternate channels.  After all, the publisher has chosen to deny you the opportunity to hand over money for the product.  For the most part, when piracy comes up, this isn’t the case at all.  There are two major camps in the dispute, from what I have experienced.  On the side of the piracy objectors, there tends to be an equating of illegal downloads with lost sales.  On the piracy supporting side, people often speak encouragingly about the free press and word of mouth that open distribution can bring.  Both arguments have merit, as far as they go.

Research into music piracy has often tended to consider each download a lost sale.  I’ve heard of similar arguments in eBooks.  I hope we can all see the flaw in this.  While there will be lost sales, the numbers aren’t precisely directly correlated to the number of illegal downloads.  For many people, the entire motivation for piracy seems to be a limited budget that would have prevented the sale anyway, or a limited amount of initial interest in the title that would have made expenditure less than appealing.

That said, excusing piracy based on “I wasn’t going to buy it anyway, so I’m entitled to it for free” is just ridiculous.  I would like to be generous and say that most people who do grab books without paying for them are probably aware of this. While I don’t, however, believe that the college student who downloaded the equivalent of a small lending library to his Kindle would have paid face value for each of the books he read, no matter how interesting or appreciated they were, it’s fairly safe to say that the two or three top picks of the year at least would have been sales under other circumstances.

The main complication in dealing with this situation involves striking the proper balance.  No matter how much effort you put into protecting the items you sell, the internet is a big place full of very crafty people, many of whom will go out of their way to break protection on things even when they have no need of what is being protected, just on principal. There’s always the Baen solution, which involves releasing all sorts of eBooks for free from time to time for the Kindle and any other device you might have handy and hoping that the sample encourages purchases.  Most publishers might find that a little too much of a gamble though.

As much as I’d like to come down squarely on one side of this debate, I can’t.  Piracy is a problem if it gets too big, there’s no denying that.  It can sharply reduce the incentive to produce quality work.  But at what point do the measures taken to protect something make it more of a pain for the legitimate buyer than the illegal downloader?  Already we have some pretty ridiculously restricted platforms to deal with, especially when you don’t want to be locked to one seller.  All I can really hope for is that this doesn’t end up escalating and causing the sort of drama the music industry has had over MP3s.

Borders Bankruptcy Details

I know I mentioned this the other day in passing, when it was just an incredibly probable rumor I believe, but Borders(NYSE:BGP) is officially filing for Bankruptcy.  As one might expect, they’re not about to just disappear, but it seems the Kindle is having its effect on the local book store ever more visibly.

The current plan appears to be a reorganization involving the closing of between 200 and 275 stores, thirty percent or more of the total chain, with the final number being dependent on what sort of concessions are able to be attained from the leaseholders on the 75 stores in limbo at this time.  These 200+ stores are doing poorly enough right now that they are costing the company millions of dollars every week with little chance that number would have been able to turn around in the immediate future.

As much as it’s a bit disconcerting to get a reminder once again that the local book store you can just walk into whenever you want may soon be a memory, there’s a certain amount of irony in the reminder when you consider how recently people lamented the failure of the locally-owned book store in the face of big name megastores springing up all over the country.  Borders was one of the driving forces behind that move and now they can’t keep up either.  Something of a failure to adapt, perhaps.

What this means for your average Kindle fan or user is, perhaps unsurprisingly enough, not much.  Borders has been a retailer for a number of eReader devices over the past few years, including the fairly popular Kobo eReader, and was in fact a big factor for a short time when they brought the Kobo to the US and provided the then-expensive Kindle with a competitively priced counterpart that could be seen right in a store. In spite of this, however, the Kobo is not and has never been a Borders controlled device or platform.

This may be the big factor in the Borders downfall, when it comes right down to it.  Barnes & Noble(NYSE:BKS) hasn’t been doing amazingly in the past few years, but their Nook has been nothing but helpful and the Nook Color has an impressive following.  The Kindle is obviously not so much connected directly to any brick & mortar book store, but its widespread availability and the robust platform behind it has pretty much defined the eBook industry as we see it today.  For Borders to think to get by in this newest stage of the book industry riding on the innovations and productions of other companies while offering little to no cohesive core to bind them all together may have been a bit unrealistic.

If you happen to find yourself near one of the Borders stores being shut down, be on the lookout for fliers and posters because it appears that there will be stock liquidation sales at any number of locations as the restructuring moves forward.  Grab what you can while it’s there and cheap!  Should you find yourself book store free following the closings, hopefully a Nook or Kindle will hold you over until something better comes along in your neighborhood.

Reactions to Free E-books

Lately, I can’t help myself but notice a new emerging movement of free e-books haters. Mind you, I’m not talking about the pirated free e-books haters. That emotional response to copyright infringement is congruent. I mean a group of people, who dislikes the fact that:

1) free e-books exist;

2) free e-books are popular among readers.

direct publishingWhere do I see these people? Well, they tend to hang out around Kindle-related websites leaving vehement anti-free e-books comments here and there. You probably know what I’m talking about.

To my astonishment, I discovered a common trait among the free e-book haters (how about I just call them FEH): they tend to be authors themselves. So, why would the wise writers be so against the fact that their fellow writer decided to offer his/hers work for free?

It appears that FEH perceive readers as ungrateful, evil crocodiles who only want to consume free stuff and never pay for the literary labor. Well, that’s just silly! A thankful reader, who enjoyed a freebie will always go looking for more books by the author he/she enjoyed.

So, I have a theory. You see, FEH usually are recently sprouted authors with one e-published work, with some useless subject matter, say How to Choose Your Paper Mate Pen Wisely: a Very Thorough Guide (sponsored by Paper Mate). So, if they put their sole literary child out there for free, then how would they make their first billion? And that’s how we get “Free e-books spoil people! Let’s close all the public libraries!” (© imaginary FEH).

Of course, this theory relies on a completely hypothetical situation, which is most likely absurdly inaccurate. However, the point is that Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) influenced publishing towards making it more accessible. As a result, the modern literary world not only expanded, but also became more commercialized. There are many emerging authors, who write not for the love of writing, but for the chance to “win” a lottery in publishing business. And the concept of free books is just standing in their way.

I hope I’m wrong about it. Although, if I’m somewhere close to the truth – dear FEH, your chances to make a fortune on a useless guide will come true only in case if a million of e-book shoppers will stumble and fall on “buy this guide” button. Or, it might be one unfortunate shopper – stumbling and falling a million times. Perhaps, you might need to reconsider changing a profession from a pure business person to a business person, who writes well. And very possibly, the hostility toward free e-books will somewhat diminish in its proportions.

Yours truly,

– one (e-)book(/guide) author

More on Apple vs Kindle for iOS devices

So, Apple vs the Amazon Kindle platform.  I brought this topic up a few days ago, I know, but it bears repeating now that representatives from Apple have come out to clarify their position and put an end to the speculation based mainly around the rejection of Sony’s Reader app submission to the Apple app store.

For those who haven’t been following the situation, Apple has apparently decided to start enforcing some of the rules regarding in-app purchasing that they have seemed uninterested in until this point.  As a result of this, Sony was unable to get its iOS Reader app published, and Amazon’s Kindle app, along with all the other eBook readers out there linked to a store, may be in some pretty serious trouble.  Up until now, the way things work has been for the Kindle app to send you to the Amazon.com website whenever you want to pick up something new to read.  It results in convenience for users and neatly bypasses the need to work within the app store infrastructure.  That part, I doubt Apple minds.  What they are objecting to is the fact that these sales, going through the website as they do, fail to make Apple any money.  So, new restrictions. Now, since Apple wants a 30% cut and Amazon is making as little as a 30% cut as it is on many sales (specifically those coming from its self-publishing authors), many people are foreseeing a problem.

Heading off many of the potential solutions that Amazon could have used to address the new restrictions, Apple reps have made clear that there can be no linking to outside stores from inside an app anymore, and definitely no marking up of in-app sales to dissuade their use.  Basically, anything you’re selling to users of your app had better be available through the app so that Apple can get its cut and it must cost the same or less than in any other store you operate.  Not good news for the Kindle platform.

It remains to be seen how Amazon is going to respond to this.  There really seem to be very few options.  The question may come down to a matter of how much of Amazon’s eBook sale numbers comes through Apple devices.  I would imagine it would have to be a large percentage to persuade them to raise prices across the board for eBooks, which is what would have to happen for Apple’s percentage to be accounted for.  But it is also highly unlikely that the numbers could be so low as to make pulling the app completely a viable option.  Simply forgoing their own percentage of the price on a product that many believe is already being sold at cost or below is the least likely scenario of all, in my opinion.  Short of withdrawing the app, it seems like any compromise in favor of Apple will have a negative impact on users of Amazon’s own Kindle owners and that seems like a silly choice to make unless it’s overwhelmingly necessary.

Maybe this is a move intended to bolster Apple’s unimpressive efforts to take over the eBook industry’s distribution network the way they have that of the music industry, but if so then at best this will be an uphill battle that will earn them no small amount of ill will.  With the eReader capabilities of the iPad in particular being a selling point for many people, all Apple may be accomplishing here is diminishing the value of their devices by causing problems with one of the most popular apps they have seen to date.

Thinking about the Kindle Update Features Academically

Something I didn’t consider at first, but probably should have, when I saw the details of the Kindle 3.1 software update this week was that it seems to introduce features highly applicable to improved use in classrooms.  Admittedly, there are a variety of different ways to use all of these things, but this one stands out.  Bear with me for a second.

The most highly publicized feature, the “Real Page Numbers”, isn’t exactly as natural a thing as it seems.  There’s not really such a thing as standardized pagination between editions of a book.  If you grab a paperback and a hardcover of the same title, you can’t exactly expect to see page correlation.  It’s actually more shocking when it’s there.  The same can be true of two paperbacks purchased years apart.  Where you need to have that consistency, though, is in a large group all actively discussing the same book.  Usually that means a classroom.  Besides the occasional book club, there simply aren’t that many non-academic reasons where you would need an actual corresponding page number.  Now, I’m not talking about how nice it is or how enjoyable it is to users.  That’s another discussion.  But this is definitely one place where it will be extremely functional.

The other big point, at least as far as I’m choosing to prioritize the new features, is the Public Notes option.  Now, I love being able to share notes with friends.  It’s even amazing to have the option of such an interesting mode of author/reader interaction.  But where I see the potential is in professional annotation.  One of the biggest problems I’ve heard of over and over again on college campuses, with eReaders in general and the Kindle in particular, was the inability to make use of scholarly editions of popular texts from Norton and the like.  This would open up the ability to do something like that, probably with the option to toggle such notes on and off, and even let it be dynamically updated should the need arise.  Accomodating, to say the least.

Also related, though I doubt it was so much as a consideration in the formation, is the revised magazine formatting.  It’s definitely easier to navigate things now that the quickie snapshot is available for moving around with.  Since the screen doesn’t exactly lend itself to advertising anyway, I’ve always felt that the potential was greater for journal publications than popular magazines anyway.  This just makes it that much better.  Do I see anybody falling all over themselves to adopt the new format?  Not really.  That doesn’t make it a bad idea though, and I’d like more publishers to see the potential.

Now, after looking at it a lot i really don’t think that any of this besides maybe the page numbering could be said to be directed specifically at the usefulness of the Kindle in schools.  That doesn’t make it any less applicable though.  Moves like these will make a lot of progress for Amazon when they try once again to break into the Academic scene.

Kindle Book Recommendations: Science Fiction Staples

This shouldn’t come across as much of a surprise to anybody, given my admitted love of high tech reading and the tools associated with it, but I’m a fan of the SF genre.  Yeah, I know, I’m playing to a stereotype by implying you can make the assumption there, but I don’t care. Now, having made that declaration, on to the Kindle-related stuff.  That’s what we’re here for, right?  Here are a few things I’ve picked up recently on my Kindle that I can honestly suggest you also grab when you get a chance.

Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson

This one won’t come as a surprise for many people.  From what I know, it’s one of the most popular Science Fiction titles ever written.  I finally picked it up, with high hopes after having loved Cryptonomicon for years, and I was not disappointed.

Without giving too much away, it’s an adventure in a dystopic America in the near future after the collapse of the dollar, and the government with it.  You’ve got sword fights, social commentary, impressively nuts religious leaders, an intriguing early view of the potential embodied by the internet as a stage for social interaction, and much more.  Most of all, it’s one of those books that you have so much fun reading that you lose track of time.  To me, that’s the best mark of a great title.  Did I mention that it’s got a main character named “Hiro Protagonist”?

The Kindle Edition is $8.10

Dune – Frank Herbert

You’ve heard of Dune.  Ok, I can’t be 100% sure of that, but let’s face it…you’re heard of Dune.  Between the movie of the same name, the mini-series, and the countless sequels (both those made by the original Herbert and the many horrible new ones his son keeps coming up with), it would be more than a little surprising for somebody to have never at least heard the name.

How many people have read it recently, though, if they ever have at all?  This is a genuinely great SF novel that has held up perfectly.  Besides the story being genuinely interesting in its own right, it’s good food for thought.  On the one hand, I can’t really think of much I could say that isn’t right on the Amazon page without giving away details.  On the other hand, I couldn’t describe it in ten times as much space as I have to work with.  Really, if you like good serious SF reads, grab it.  Heck, even if you’ve read it before, I’ll bet it’s been a while!  Give it another go.

The Kindle Edition is $15.99

You know, I have more that I want to recommend here that I don’t have anything I can usefully say beyond “Here, check these out!”  For the most part they’re so enmeshed in the genre that there’s nothing I could add productively to the discussion anyway.

Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card Kindle Edition: $5.99

The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams Kindle Edition: $9.99

Hyperion – Dan Simmons Kindle Edition: $6.39

Really, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, of course.  I hope you all enjoy as much as I do and have.  As always, feel free to send me suggestions for future recommendations.  That’s where this idea came from and it’s always a good time.  It’s times like these, going through what I consider some of the basic components of my library that I most love having made the move to the Kindle.  Never have to worry about finding that paperback you put down ten years ago and haven’t seen since!