Since it seems that I’m deep into this hobby. I’ve set up a separate astrophotography & astronomy blog that will eventually be extended with astrophotography targets database to simplify selection of targets for your imaging sessions.
As many of you may be aware, the deadline for app developers to comply with Apple’s new competition stifling rules is the end of this month. So far, no changes are evident in either the Amazon Kindle for iOS app or even the Barnes & Noble Nook app. While it would seem odd for this to be the case this close to the deadline, I’m thinking it might be a carefully made decision on Amazon’s part.
We know by now, or at least are overwhelmingly confident, that there will be a Kindle Tablet coming later this year. By releasing something like that, Amazon sets themselves up for a far more justified version of the old Kindle vs iPad debate. They need to set themselves apart as a device company. The way I see it, Android isn’t enough at this point. Too many other people are already working with it. Even having their own on-site app store won’t necessarily wow anybody. Some good publicity would help though.
Assume for a moment that the Kindle for iOS app doesn’t get changed in any way before the June 30th deadline. Apple will then have two choices. They can either follow through on threats to remove apps in violation of the new rules or they can publicly admit that they need what these developers bring to the table. I think it’s likely that banning will occur.
Amazon’s response to this, if planned correctly, could be huge publicity. I would expect something along the lines of a public statement explaining that the Kindle Store simply cannot productively operate under the restrictions that Apple is trying to place on it, but that as a service to their loyal customers the app will be chopped down to comply with the new rules enough so that existing customers can still read what they’ve bought while Amazon examines other solutions. Then, a month or two down the line, a full roll-out of Kindle for the Web that completely bypasses the need for apps.
Yes, under the new rules Amazon could just raise prices of in-app purchases to make up the margin that Apple is demanding. This would bring them nothing but ill will from the average Kindle for iOS user, though. With the new line of Kindle Tablets pending, these are the same customers that Amazon has to be hoping to win away. Probably not the smartest thing to pass on fees to them.
They could also choose to simply announce that all purchases must be done on the website and do away with the in-app purchasing links. I think that’s probably what will happen with the post-banning reboot of the app, should my scenario prove true, but it would cause the loss of impulse buying opportunity for a large portion of the Kindle user base without also providing any sort of good PR. I just don’t see that making sense right now.
We’ll know by the end of the month, of course, but right now there hasn’t been any intention to comply expressed by Amazon. Most likely, they’ll just stand by and watch Apple shoot themselves in the foot while pointing out that the Kindle makes a great, affordable eReader alternative to putting up with that sort of ridiculousness. The Kindle for iOS app doesn’t seem likely to be as profitable for the company under the new guidelines anyway, so they might as well get that preemptive jump on Apple in the public eye.
Among the many advantages to owning a Kindle is the fact that there are thousands of books available cheaply or for free. Even that is an understatement. No matter what your tastes, chances are good that there is something in the Kindle Store that you will enjoy for $2.99 or less. The only question is how to find it. Especially in light of the recently publicized issues with increasing Kindle Store Spam, the question of proper filters becomes important.
Right now, it is easy to find the top selling Kindle Editions, whether they be paid content or free. The algorithm might be a bit odd, but the results are right there on the front page of the Kindle Store. We also get the occasional special promotion and a list of some of the most popular selections from some category in the store. Pretty much what you might expect. Nowhere do we have a list of Kindle Deals or anything similar. I think we need one.
I’m not talking about just a category that lists all of the cheap or free Kindle eBooks, of course. Not only would the sheer size of such a list make it almost as unmanageable as looking through a complete listing of the Store’s content, but it would include the sort of things that we need to filter out. A deal isn’t really a deal unless you’re getting good value for your money. That excludes the spam, plagiarism, and any number of other things that are inherently hard to automatically sort through. So, how does one define a “deals” category?
At the very least, breaking it free from anything in the way of human interaction, it should be simple enough to set it to filter for a set maximum price, minimum number of sales/reviews, and possibly include some method of prioritizing recent price drops. In the end, I don’t think this is the answer, though. What is needed is an actual person, or persons, to make the judgment call. There is a good chance that the Kindle Sunshine Deals experiment was meant in part to test the waters for this very concept. It works because you’ve got affordably priced eBooks that have made it through at least some degree of scrutiny before being included. In the case of Sunshine Deals, they’d passed through the hands of a publisher, but that doesn’t need to be the only channel available for something like this.
Probably, talking about this will turn out to be a moot point. I anticipate at least some shift in perception among publishers once the results of the Kindle Sunshine Deals promotion have been more thoroughly reviewed. More affordably priced eBooks, yes, but also better publicizing of those eBooks that are priced low enough to be noteworthy. It isn’t enough to just throw up a book and price it at $2.99, as many authors new to self-publishing for the Kindle have found. You have to get word out there and make sure that customers know that there are deals to be had and value to be found.
As the Kindle Store is bombarded with countless titles of little or no value to potential purchasers, Amazon has to be wondering what can be done to keep this situation from casting a bad light on the whole Kindle brand. It’s still a great device with an impressive attached store, but who wants to have to look out for scams and malware links when they’re just trying to grab a book? The problem is that there’s a fairly subtle difference between honestly bad books and the pretty much useless content that users of systems like Autopilot Kindle Cash that attempt to exploit the system. How do you tell when an author is putting out something they genuinely expect people to want to have paid money for? I have a couple ideas.
First, I think that it is not unreasonable to restrict the number of book postings that an individual author can make in a day, except by special request. Currently, as far as I can tell, there is little regulation on the process unless you are trying to fit into the Kindle Singles category. Do we really believe that many authors have a genuine need to even consider publishing 10 books in a day, or 100 books in a week? I understand that throwing up the back catalog of an author can involve a lengthy list sometimes and I think that should be possible if they clear it with Amazon Customer Service first, but as a general situation there’s no real need. Why not say that you can only post one book per day, or three per week, and take the easiest means of profiting from these exploitative tactics away?
Perhaps a better way would be to have a way for verified purchasers of Kindle books be able to flag a purchase as spam. Make it work off of a percentage system, wherein any Kindle Edition eBook that is flagged by 30% or more of purchasers (with a minimum of five or so to prevent the most blatant forms of abuse) is either taken down for review or publicly labeled as potentially harmful until it can be reviewed. This would allow Amazon to get away with letting their customers police the system in a manner similar to the existing ratings system and point the finger at bad uploads for removal at the company’s convenience.
I realize that both systems come with their own problems, of course, but something needs to be done. Millions of Kindle owners and readers simply deserve better than what’s being thrown at them. Maybe adopt something like these fairly simple ideas, but have a method whereby authors can apply for exemption as needed? It is a complex issue. There are enough obstacles to deal with in the transition away from paper books that we don’t need this to be an ongoing problem, though. It is time for Amazon to make use of the control inherent in having their own platform to change things for the better.
Stephen Peters, a longtime popular culture writer, has a book called Kindle Culture that I think is worth reading. It is a quick read, and has a lighthearted, easygoing writing style. It is interesting to read how the Kindle has changed lives. I was particularly intrigued with the story about how one woman was able to read for the first time in 10 years. The Kindle has done wonders for people with print disabilities, and is much more cost effective than standard assistive technology. I can attest that as a visually impaired Kindle user, the font size adjustments have been a lifesaver.
The Kindle has impacted many aspects of peoples’ lives from increased portability to profitable business ventures. Many individuals and companies have created covers, accessories, and now applications for the Kindle. You will also find a number of forums and blogs that united Kindle lovers from various backgrounds around the world.
I like this reviewer’s point about how it is neat to see the concrete effects that the Kindle has had on people.
“Kindle Culture explores the boards, merch, and groups that have sprung up to worship and to profit from The Kindle. There’s a certain charm in reading about boards you frequent and people you “know.” It’s touching to read how the device has helped disabled people who’ve lost the ability to read traditional books. As a fan of the device, much of this is a vindication, because it’s hard not to be touched when you see concrete proof that your e-reader has the power to change lives.”
I admit that this book is kind of dated. It was published in 2009, but I think it is still relevant because it shows the impact that the e-reader has made in just two short years since release. One of the “questions” that the Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) description of Kindle Culture brings up is the effect that the “kindle killers” will have on the e-reading device. Two years since this book’s release, the Kindle is still the best selling e-reader. So it has definitely held its own among all of the Nooks, iPads, Kobo, Sony e-readers, and other e-readers that are out there.
In theory, Peters could rewrite Kindle Culture about every couple of years due to the rapid changing pace of e-reader technology and competition. The “Kindle Culture” has grown exponentially since this book was written through the price drops, e-reader market competition, upcoming Library Lending program, Kindle applications and many more.
The Kindle has done a lot to bring publishing from fantasy to reality for new authors everywhere. In an industry previously dominated by publishing houses that have a track record of refusing to take risks on new things, it provides an easy way for somebody to get their work out there and let it stand on its own merits. This is not without its issues, however. Under the old system we had some regulation, even if it was ridiculously over-restrictive. Now, we can only hope that the best rises to the top.
The downside of the Kindle and its self-publishing options has generally been seen to be a lack of editorial input. Bad books get published, poorly edited books get published, basically anything that people churn out can hit the digital shelves the day the author hits the Submit button. Unfortunately, that’s not really all we have to worry about. There were always going to be a few less than original titles that were meant purely to get the most cash for the least effort and to hell with the customer, but now a method has been devised for anybody who wants to put in the effort to put out 10-20 new books a day without even bothering to write.
The form that this takes can be anything from republished PLR content (content that the “author” buys the rights to republish under their own name) to the deliberately malicious. The former are interesting in that they at least have the potential to be real, quality works, even if they aren’t exactly originals. A system calling itself “Autopilot Kindle Cash” claims to be able to teach people to publish as many as 20 of these recycled eBooks per day at minimal expense. For the most part, it is a load of worthless writing that offers little enjoyment, advice, or information, but that doesn’t mean that the occasional gem might not appear. I can’t say that I support the idea, but it is the lesser of two evils.
On the more unpleasant side, we have scam links. Some of these will come at the end of PLR content. Others will just be thrown in wherever is convenient. I’ve personally come across several that took me to scam sites promising easy money, but there is no reason to believe that there aren’t quite a few that link even more unpleasant content.
It would be unreasonable to expect Amazon to have every eBook checked out before publication. Given the size of the platform, it just wouldn’t make sense. To be fair, they even respond promptly to complaints by bringing down the offending eBook or author and offering refunds. It seems a little strange to have to deal with this sort of issue while shopping for books, though.
For now, readers might want to watch for vaguely worded product descriptions, books with few or no reviews on them, and authors who seem to put out a lot of books all at once. Most importantly, as with anything that can send you around on the internet, be careful what links you click on. It’s a shame that the Kindle isn’t entirely safe from this sort of abuse, and I hope to see something fix it in the near future, but it’s simple enough to stay safe if you’re cautious.
The idea that print books and the Kindle were in opposition has been around pretty much as long as there’s been a Kindle. In fact, if you go back far enough, you can find people talking about the impending end of the written word pretty much since there was the option to view words on a screen. The Kindle just made it easy and enjoyable enough for people in general to take the “threat” seriously. The transition hasn’t been perfect, nor has it always been smooth. There are always problems with innovations. For the most part, however, it is clear to everybody that eBooks are thriving.
That is, at least, the impression I was under. A recent article by Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Movement, the GNU Project, and general digital freedoms activist, seems to insist not only that this turning point has yet to come, but that we should resist it on principal. His recent article, titled “The Danger of E-books” highlight the shortcomings of digital reading media by comparing point for point across a list of freedoms that can be associated with print books. Emphasis is placed on the value of anonymous purchasing, lack of required proprietary technology or software, resale capabilities, and the differences between ownership and licensing. He makes what could be considered some good points, but that depends on your point of view and priorities.
From what I know of Stallman, anonymity is a major issue for the guy. I can understand the urge for that kind of complete privacy, but at the same time it is increasingly proving more of a daily hassle than it is worth. I’m not claiming that as a good thing, just a fact of life. His argument that a book can be purchased anonymously, where a Kindle or Kindle eBook cannot, really only applies if you are the sort of person who makes no purchases online in the first place, who doesn’t use a credit card, and who avoids all non-cash transactions. This isn’t an eBook problem, it’s a modern commerce problem.
A similar problem applies to his objections to restricted reselling. Pulling an example from another industry, look at the problems that reselling have caused video game production companies. Not only are many consumers more likely to purchase used copies than new ones, but these used copies are a continual drain on their original creators who must maintain any server-side components in spite of the fact that purchasers after the first bring no money to the originating company. A similar problem would arise for a company like Amazon if they were to offer resale Kindle books. Customers come to the platform expecting to have their books available to them on all their devices when they want them. Should Amazon be providing this service to people who work around the system and grab a “used” license that provides no profit to either author or distributor? I suppose a rights-transfer fee might be possible, but that would have its own objectors, especially on already inexpensive eBooks.
Maybe it is a bit cynical but I think that if you leave people free to do what they please, there’s a good chance that they will. Is the current DRM scheme ridiculously restrictive? Yes. No Question. Is the answer to completely do away with DRM and move to a scheme such as the one Stallman suggests, where the only money authors can expect is from pleased readers wanting to anonymously donate to them? I sincerely hope not. It’s a pleasant vision that assumes the best of everybody, but in reality it would almost certainly mean the downfall of the Kindle platform and a move away from digital publishing by pretty much everybody wanting to make a career of writing.
Do you like to travel? I try to go somewhere new every year, and I know that carrying around all of those thick travel books can be annoying at times. There is a new set of travel guides available now for the Kindle called Destination. Northstar Travel Media and RosettaBooks have joined forces to create Kindle only travel guides that are quite inexpensive…only $2.99.
The other cool part is that with the Kindle applications available on so many devices and smartphones, you might as well have a library of travel guides in your pocket.
All of the travel guides include a variety of things to do and places to eat that can fit anyone’s preference.
According to the Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) description, every guide includes these features:
“In every guide you’ll find:
• recommendations for a wide range of sightseeing options
• gems of restaurants, with a special focus on local cuisine
• specialty shops for local crafts, food and gifts
• 3, 4 and 5 star hotel reviews that tell you the whole story, as if you were speaking with a concierge
…and much, much more.”
I’ve always wanted to go to Ireland, so I’m really excited to see that Destination has an Ireland travel guide, specifically for Dublin. You will also find one for Paris and Rome. I hope that they will include one for Switzerland at some point.
Want to go to Russia or Turkey? Check out Destination Moscow or Destination Istanbul.
Then, there are travel guides for many of the best tourist attractions and major cities in the US, such as Las Vegas, Washington DC and Boston. Boston is one of my favorite places to go visit.
Writing this Kindle travel guide post has me itching to travel. Where are some of your favorite places to go?
So, as many of us have observed, the new Nook Simple Touch Reader was recently rated even higher than the long dominant Kindle by Consumer Reports. This is a big deal for B&N since it makes their eReader really stand out as a superior reading device again after a while of being noticeably behind, but it also works out great for the readers since close competition generally means better products and more software updates. What surprised me a bit was the fact that the new Nook seems to be set up with a few unused features in place and ready to go when they next need to bump up the competition. It’s great to see planning for the future like this.
First, we have the unannounced web browsing capabilities. They never advertised it and nobody really expected it, but the Nook has an incredibly basic browser built right in. The problems it has right now make it clear why it wasn’t advertised. It just does not seem ready for significant use. The interface is clunky and the experience is just generally sub-par even compared to other E Ink devices like the Kindle. There are two ways to interpret this. Either B&N rushed out an unfinished product and didn’t bother to disable that part of the firmware, which is possible for all I know, or what people have managed to access is actually the underlying structure of a more functional browser yet to come. I personally don’t think that the release of the new Nook was meant to have a browser at all. It seems like something Barnes & Noble was holding in reserve for the next time they needed something to trump a Kindle update in some way.
Speaking of things held in reserve, we have also learned that the Nook has unannounced and unused Bluetooth capabilities. I don’t know what to really say about this one. At first, it seemed particularly cool. I mean, actual unused hardware capabilities probably meant to be pulled out for something impressive when the situation calls for it. Maybe that’s even really the case. The problem is that I can’t think of many situations where Bluetooth would come in handy in a reading device. Any ideas? Still, it seems like a good idea in theory, I think.
While it is definitely true that the Nook got to the top for the moment simply by imitating the Kindle and dropping the deadweight of its earlier incarnation’s extras, I would say that there is potential for expansion here if customers decide they want more. For now we have a great reading device that simply falls away and lets you read. Everything the Kindle has been pulling off for a long time now. I love mine. I still wouldn’t be surprised to see, at some point, an opening up of the system in a manner similar to what happened with the Nook Color so that apps can be thrown on. I know that some of the same people who found the Nook’s Bluetooth also managed to do things like get the Kindle for Android app running on it, so the potential is there for more than we have so far.
As the weeks go by and the holiday sales season gets ever closer, we get more and more details about the upcoming Kindle Tablets. Yes, their very existence has only been hinted at in anything resembling official Amazon.com communication, but we know it’s coming. It’s only a matter of figuring out in what forms and with what focus. Now we have a bit more of a line on what the higher-end option of what appears to be the initial release group will be.
It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to find out that the Kindle Tablet reportedly codenamed “Hollywood” would have a visual media focus to it. Now, though, we have a bit more to go on than random conjecture based on that name. A recent report note from investment firm Detwiler Fenton indicates that the anticipated tablet will have a 10″ color screen as well as a bundled trial of an Amazon video streaming service such as, or possibly exactly the same as, that offered at the moment as a perk to Amazon Prime members. It will also feature significantly more processing power than the other Kindle Tablet offering or offerings expected to launch around the same time, which when added to the anticipated pricing of around $399 would seem to make it a very real threat to the industry leading iPad.
Now, we know that Amazon has been doing so amazingly well with the existing Kindle line because of their focus on selling content for the whole platform rather than simply a line of physical eReading devices. Rumors go so far as to say that the Kindle itself is being sold near cost. It makes sense, by extension, that they will want to continue this approach in other forms of media if possible. Video makes perfect sense, as does music. They have a presence in the retail market for both, in addition to the app marketplace that we have to assume will work exceptionally well with the new Kindle Tablets. I anticipate an expansion of all of these either in terms of content or functionality before the launch, of course.
If the Kindle ‘Hollywood” Tablet is going to be pointed at the iPad, like many of us are assuming, it will only really have a chance if Amazon can compete successfully against the iTunes store. That means streaming audio and video, cloud storage, and an amazing selection. Nothing less will do. Right now the Amazon Instant Video Store is a decent start, but it only does so much. We are definitely likely to see an expansion of the offerings by the holidays as well as an extended Amazon Prime membership benefit list that takes advantage of it. What else happens will depend in large part on what the other new Kindle offerings are focussed on. A pocket-sized Kindle, perhaps, with a heavy music or audiobook emphasis? There are a bunch of different openings for new media-consumption devices that remain to be exploited. You have to admit, though, video is a great start.
For the first time ever, the Kindle is not quite in the lead among eReaders, according to Consumer Reports. Even though it is only a very closely held lead, it’s definitely a good sign for Barnes & Noble’s Nook line. They’ve released a new product and come out on top, just a bit.
The Consumer Reports article makes the point that for the most part the new Nook succeeds by emulating the Kindle so well. Rather than throwing everything possible at the reader in hopes that some feature will make it stand out, the Nook Simple Touch is all about the books. No official web browser, no games, no second screen, just a means to read your book. This is exactly what the Kindle has always tried rather successfully pushed for, of course, but with all of the fuss over potential competition with the iPad, it’s easy to see why companies like B&N felt the need to emphasize their diverse potential in the previous generation of devices.
Not surprisingly, the excitement over differing battery life claims between the two devices failed to catch on for this scoring. Consumer Reports gives anything over 5 days the same score. The screens also seem to have come in at a tie, being the same E Ink Pearl displays. Price obviously wasn’t an issue either. Really, the factor that pushed the Nook into the lead was completely separate from the hardware considerations.
The big advantage for the Nook, or at least what seems to have pushed it over the edge, is the library eBook compatibility. It’s clearly a valued and desirable feature among consumers that will give the Nook the advantage until the Kindle gains Overdrive Library support later this year. According to the reviewer, this alone could put the Kindle back on top if it is properly implemented. Given that we know Amazon is pushing for a bit more by allowing in-book annotation on borrowed texts, there might be slightly more to consider than even the ease of use.
The takeaway from this is not, in my opinion, that the Nook is the better eReader or that it is just now belatedly rejoining the Kindle vs Nook competition in a serious way. It isn’t even about Kindle vs Nook anymore. We have at least two great eReaders on the market again, between which there is no clear and obvious advantage. Where the first generation Nook was starting to look rather antiquated by comparison to the Kindle 3, we now have active competition again. Competition is good. Choices are even better.
If you’re in the market, this is a great time to grab an eReader. Check them both out, either on the web or in person at one of the many stores they’re sold at, and figure out which one feels better. If you have a distinct preference, great, because there aren’t really any downsides to either left. If not, give some thought to which company you’d rather be working with. Thanks to the Agency Model of eBook pricing, you’re not going to get a noticeably better price on the Nook than the Kindle or the other way around for most of your purchases. The customer service experience is slightly better with Amazon, in my opinion, but at the same time B&N offers perks if you happen to be able to get to their stores in person. It kinda evens out, I think. Isn’t it great when these are the biggest things we have to worry about when choosing our next eReader?
There’s been a fair amount of interest lately in Apple’s recently announced iCloud service that brings greater attention to the cloud based storage options available to consumers today. So far so good. It doesn’t really seem much like innovation when Amazon has effectively been doing it with the Kindle on a small scale for a few years now though. What new and exciting thing are they bringing to the table for their portable devices that isn’t available anywhere else?
The vision that we are given for the Apple iCloud is a service that just works. It knows what you own, makes sure it is available on every device you own at all times, and generally makes your life better. The focus is on music, of course. On these points, I think a comparison with the Whispernet situation is relevant. Your Amazon account will keep track of all your books, make sure that every registered device can access them (and thanks to the many Kindle apps, that means almost anything you own with a screen on it regardless of who makes it), and keep everything nice and consistent during transitions. It’s the same concept in a lot of ways.
The one point where we have to give Apple loads of credit is on their iTunes Matching idea. They actually found a way to make people want to pay money to listen to things they already either own or have pirated. It’s impressive. Your whole library is available whenever you want it so long as you keep up with your annual fee. In spite of this, I don’t think they quite thought it through enough. Sure, people will be willing to sync their music, but to really set themselves apart a streaming solution would have worked a lot better. As it is, you end up having to download every song you own to every device you might want to listen to it on. You might as well be just plugging in your iOS devices and syncing to a computer at that point. It isn’t that the iCloud is a bad idea, just that it doesn’t really do anything all that exciting for the money they are asking.
Amazon offers a similar cloud-based media service that also fails to offer streaming for now. It doesn’t have the matching ability that Apple offers, but it does have a smaller sized free account option and pretty much everything else that the iCloud brings to the table. If I had to guess, I would say that between the Amazon Cloud Drive and their Android App Store Amazon is getting into a position to do for their upcoming Kindle Tablet line, which will likely eventually compete with Apple in most slots including an iPod Touch equivalent, what the iCloud does for iOS. The only differences would seem to be that Amazon doesn’t have Apple’s history of multiple failed efforts to push cloud storage and they do have at least one market specific experience with how to do it right, thanks to the Kindle.
The Amazon Kindle is great and all, but for many lovers of the printed word there is something still lacking. The History. We can download the newest books to our Kindles and forget about them. We can collect and delete and have no real need to take them seriously because they have no substance anyway. They’re just data. Real paper books on the other hand have survived for centuries. You can pick up a paper book from a hundred years ago and still turn the pages and read the words that somebody enjoyed long before you were born. Can you say the same about Kindle eBooks? The problem with this argument is, of course, that it is thoroughly ridiculous.
The virtue of an old book, to your average reader, is not necessarily its age. The value is the information it contains. You don’t just grab a 200 year old manuscript off the shelves for some pleasure reading. I’m not going to say that there is nothing to be gained from a direct study of old physical texts, because there is, but for you and me it is probably more useful to pick up a brand new copy of the Commedia or Beowulf. If we are to stipulate that the value of the book is in the information it contains, which I think is fair, then the eBook on the most basic level is just a distillation of the book concept. This on its own does not mean that the format has any particular value in the long term, though.
I think that at the core of this argument is the question of what one believes that the future will bring. Whether or not we have faith in the potential for progress. It is true that the paper book requires no batteries, wires, accounts, or anything else. It can also degrade to the point of uselessness or easily be destroyed. The Kindle requires many or all of these things, but a Kindle eBook exists independently of the physical device you hold in your hand. It is not only here, or even on the server, but also on thousands of computers all over the world. Even if 90% of the existing copies are destroyed, it is the work of minutes or hours to replace them should the demand grow enough. So long as the ability to read eBook files remains, and that seems to not be going away, these books are safe and the best loved will always be around. Unless you somehow believe that computers and the internet are a temporary thing, it just makes sense.
Now, I don’t blame people for their skepticism on this. On a personal level it can seem a little bit off. A Kindle book is certainly more easily forgotten or lost than a paper book. In both cases, though, we’re talking about a single instance of the “book” as a collection of information. Which is going to persist: a file that can be copied and replaced on demand, or a printing with a set number of units? If we’re really talking about the long term benefits of books, then this matters more than most things in my opinion.
I acknowledge that this is a narrow kind of argument that fails to take into account the benefits of having multiple formats and a wide network of distribution, but I’ve heard enough talk about how long books have survived over the years as a way of pointing out the newness and untried nature of the Kindle that it seemed worth pointing out. Take what you will from it, but try to keep in mind that just as what is new isn’t always good it also isn’t always bad either.
While you can definitely grab whatever eBooks you might be interested in reading directly through your Kindle‘s connection to Amazon.com, there is no denying that you can get all the information you need about a potential buy more easily by pulling it up on your computer’s web browser. Part of that is the E Ink screen, with its associated monochrome display and slow refresh rate. Apparently this is a big problem across the board with mobile devices, however. Research has been done that indicates that the majority of shopping is done from desktop computers or laptops rather than more portable devices. Those tend to be a less successful avenue for sales efforts so far.
This is part of why the Kindle Tablet seems to be such an integral part to the future of Amazon and other online retailers. While the trend is likely to take a long while, there are indications that we are moving into something of a post-PC marketplace. At least as far as daily home use is concerned. If you’re on a computer, you tend to be at the computer with a significant portion of your attention directed at it. With a tablet or a smartphone, you can simply be on the internet while doing something completely unrelated. Plenty of people already have trouble going anywhere without being connected.
It is hard to pin down precisely why the online shopping experience hasn’t quite kept up for people, but Jeff Bezos had some comments on the subject a short time ago. He said, among other things, that at present browsing on a smartphone tends to be “a marginal experience in many cases”. This is a temporary thing, of course. As smartphones and tablets advance, they get more powerful, more versatile, and generally more enjoyable in every way. At the same time, web developers are learning more ways to accommodate these browsers and the many non-PC features that they bring to the browsing experience.
The acknowledgement of the situation is important in understanding the potential for the Kindle Tablet. Yes, it is likely to be placed as something extending the Kindle eReader line. More important, however, is its extension of the Amazon.com website. Call it a bridge between the Kindle and Amazon.com, maybe. There is going to be a huge advantage for Amazon in that they will not only be controlling their own app ecosystem in the form of the Amazon Android App Store, but also offering their entire website in a form that is perfectly compatible with the tablet people are browsing on. After all, the company itself is involved as every stage at this point so they can make sure it all works smoothly. They know what the device, or devices, can do. They know what changes need to be made to make everything show up smoothly. There is even the possibility of a customized front end specifically for tablet user browsers. Even leaving aside considerations of a Kindle Phone or any Kindle Tablet option with 3G access and the advantage that Amazon would gain by connecting their users to the site 24/7, this looks good.
For all of you word nerds out there, you might be interested in Mardy Grothe’s latest quotation book, Neverisms. I have a few of my own favorite quotes that I like to keep in the back of my mind for when the right circumstances come up for them.
I laughed out loud when I read some of the quotes from the book such as “never take a laxative and a sleeping pill at the same time” or “never ruin an apology with an excuse.” I’ve found that whenever I say I’m “never” going to do something, I end up doing exactly what I said I’d never do. Glad to know there are some things that you just really should never do.
Neverisms is a well researched collection that includes quotes spanning a variety of topics: sports, love and others. The quotes come from a lot of different famous people, magazines and TV shows. It isn’t really a book you would read straight through, but you can use the Kindle’s menus to navigate through different chapters. So, you can enjoy small chunks of it over time.
As I read the reviews of Neverisms, I learned a lot about how much depth can be packed into just one little phrase.
“Quotes help us give words to things we feel but we have never quite put together in thoughts that are succinct, clever and inspirational or just outright funny. These quotes often reveal layers of complexity in just a few words. They are little packets of wisdom and humor. The older I get, the more I love quotes, for they help put words to things I have learned. Never miss a chance to thank someone for changing our mundane life into something better. Thanks Dr. Grothe.”
The Culture Buzz
“As with previous marvels of Mardy, “Neverisms” lets us not only see the forest for the trees, but appreciate each tree within the forest. He captures the obvious foundation – many well-known quotes beginning with “never” – blends in additional quotes, then liberally seasons all with captivating back stories, history and relevance. The result is the aforementioned feast, presented with a very grand, 18-course (chapters) flair.”
Another great book of quotes that Grothe has written is called Ifferisms. Both books are packed full of fun reading. Great book for the Kindle because you can just whip it out wherever and find a quote that fits your fancy.
There is a new, really cool digital book set available solely for Kindle called Booksurfers. The author is David Gatward and they were just released on June 14. Booksurfers is about four children who are kidnapped and forced to find artifacts from different childhood classics. Who knew that reading for school could be so exciting…and terrifying?
Right now, there are two classics available: Treasure Island and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The children: Jake, Ryan, Becca, and Harriet get tossed into the action of Treasure Island and the Land of Oz, and have to bring back items to Dr. Crookshanks. Their parents’ lives are at stake if they don’t fulfill Crookshanks’ instructions. This is a really cool way to get kids engaged in classics and provides a much more hands on, interactive experience. It is also a good way to get them to try out the Kindle too.
In Treasure Island, the kids must bring back the actual treasure map. They risk their lives and experience the adventures the famous classic holds.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is structured the same way. The kids become the characters in the book and have to find Dorothy’s ruby slippers, or lose their parents.
One aspects of both of these books that makes them so interactive, is that you can click into the part of the actual book that Jake, Ryan, Becca, and Harriet are experiencing. So, this is the closest you get to being a character in the book yourself. The writing style is very conversational and modern, so is should be easy reading for all ages. Whether you are in school, or an adult who wants to revisit the famous books of your childhood.
More books and adventures to come. I wish these were offered when I was in school. What classics would you like to see made into an interactive adventure book? I think Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn would be good candidates.
Lisa See, the author of one of my favorite books: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, has released a new book that available for Kindle called Dreams of Joy. See’s latest book is said to be her best yet, and is one of the best books of June, 2011.
Dreams of Joy is the sequel to Shanghai Girls, and follows the lives of sisters Pearl and May, and Pearl’s daughter Joy. Joy sets off to find her birth father, and the reader gets thrown into the midst of a poignant tale of tremendous love and suffering in the new Red China. Joy sets off for China after hearing of the new “utopian” society that has set in, only to be completely disappointed when she discovers the truth.
I was shocked at some of the things that were confiscated under Mao’s rule. The regime felt that bras were oppressive and they were highly frowned upon. Which is quite ironic considering the foot binding that women are required to undergo. See describes the foot binding in great detail in Snow Flower.
The reviews capture the essence of the story Dreams of Joy quite well.
Julia A. Andrews
“This is a powerfully written, multi-dimensional story about love. A mother’s unbreakable love for a child. Patriotic love for one’s country. The multitude of forms love can take in a family. The love of a man and woman.”
“This story is also about family secrets and all types of relationships. The characters come alive for the reader. You follow a young woman as she matures learning from her decisions, a man grow into a father, a father trying to make up for past mistakes, a mother trying to be patient while her daughter forgives her,the true meaning of family, and once in a lifetime love. It’s all in this story and it is beautifully written.”
My Yoga Studio…who would have thought that the Kindle could be used as a fitness and exercise tool? The app is a step by step guide to each yoga pose, and includes a stop watch to time the poses.
The yoga app has 3 routines with 25 poses. In addition to the 3 default routines, you can create your own by choosing from the list of poses. Yoga is such a great meditation exercise and you can do it anywhere without expensive exercise equipment. Personally, I’d really like to also see a Pilates app for the Kindle because that is one of my favorite exercises.
My Yoga Studio has good reviews overall. One improvement that would make this app so much better is to include text to speech and another is to include a beep when it is time to switch poses. That way, you can just listen to instructions without having to look at the Kindle.
“This is a great idea, and the pictures are well-designed for the B&W Kindle. There’s even a timer to allow you so many seconds in each pose, plus the ability to create your own practice. The downside is that it is not text to speech enabled, so you have to keep looking at the kindle, thus the reason for the three rating.”
Good point in this next review. By doing all of this reading, we do a lot of sitting and lying around. My Yoga Studio is a quick and easy way to get moving, or destress.
“After reading so many books on the kindle, you sometimes need to get moving. This app is perfect for that. A newbie to yoga, I found the instructions are fabulous and the timer perect for knowing when to stop. The text to speech feature would be a wonderful addition, but in the mean time I am just propping my kindle. Buy this for a great push to sneak some yoga into your day – even just five minutes. Hey, it is quicker than running to the gym, and certainly more portable.”
Good to see that the game is easy to use and has good graphics. That in itself is one of the most important aspects to have.
There has been an observable trend of declining Kindle prices ever since the first incarnation of Amazon’s popular eReader in 2007. It has actually been surprisingly steady and at one point led to rumors that there will be a free Kindle arriving in 2011 or 2012. I’m not going to say that there won’t be a free Kindle at some point. There very well might, especially if Amazon finds enough advertisers willing to buy into their Kindle w/ Special Offers scheme. For now, however, I think that the more realistic hope would be a version of the same priced at, or simply a price cut to, less than $100.
For many people, this number has become emblematic. It is the point at which eReaders become “worth it”, for whatever reason. Even with the release of the recent ad-supported Kindle at just $115, people have still been expressing disappointment and outrage over that last fifteen dollars. Now, we have to assume that Amazon is aware of this. I don’t know how large a group of people it represents, but it is definitely a vocal one. I can see two major reasons why they might have chosen, up until now, to avoid giving in to these pressures.
The most obvious is simply production costs. Many reports have estimated that Amazon is almost certainly selling the Kindle at or below the cost of manufacture. If this is the case, then even with Kindle book sales on the rise I could definitely understand a certain hesitation on the part of Amazon to accept a loss of fifteen dollars per unit on millions of units per year. Not only would I call this scenario likely, I would say that the release of a Kindle supported by advertising is evidence of Amazon’s need to find creative ways to bring costs down. As the trend catches on and advertisers buy into the idea, it should be possible for prices to drop even more.
The other explanation, which is not exclusive of the first by any means, is that Amazon wanted to catch people’s attention with a price drop early in the year but still have something in reserve for the holiday season. Let’s face it, the time to be launching an ad campaign highlighting your newly affordable piece of portable electronics is right before the holiday season. By holding off for a bit, it gives them room to time the all important move into impulse buy pricing.
There have been chances to grab eReaders for less than $100 before, including refurbished Kindles and Nooks that I’ve seen for as low as $80, but this would be the first regularly available, new, full featured, current generation eReader to hit that level as far as I know. We can be sure that the Nook will follow suit as soon as B&N figures out how to afford it, but this would be an even bigger advantage for the Kindle than it has at present. It would also do a great deal to set the product apart even further from any Tablet PC offerings that Amazon may or may not be releasing this year, which seems vital if they are following through with the plan to continue offering a dedicated eReader indefinitely.
I haven’t had a chance to write down any interesting book recommendations for Kindle fans in a while now, but I figure that since I have a decent list piling up it might be time to share. It’s been an enjoyable couple months of reading and I’ve got several more modern fantasy offerings that I hope you will enjoy. I did. They aren’t the cheapest books I could find, but they are definitely worth the asking price.
Kraken – China Miéville
This is really one of the best books I’ve read all year, even if it isn’t necessarily the best thing ever written by the author. It is a decently complex fantasy mystery set in a London strangely reminiscent of that in Gaiman’s Neverwhere. It’s a world of cults, secrecy, underworld politics, and strange powers. On top of that, there is a magically missing giant squid which seems to be at the heart of a plot that could end the world forever.
I’m honestly a little confused about the mixed reception that Kraken has gotten so far. It is averaging 3 Stars overall in the Kindle Store, but deserves more. It worked in most ways, but some people may find it a bit off-putting from what I’m told. While it might not be for everybody, if you think you would enjoy a complex story that forces you to understand the protagonist’s state of mind during unexpected culture shock then I’d say give it a go.
The Kindle Edition is $11.99
Something From the Nightside – Simon Green
This is the first in a fairly substantial series by Green. It’s a quick, fun read that I can’t describe much better than Pulp Detective Fiction meets Moorcock’s Multiverse. The main character is a professional detective with no actual detecting skill besides a “gift” that lets him find anything magically. The fact that it manages to be a fun read is proof of the concept that it can be more interesting to watch a mystery being solved than to understand the process by which it is solved.
In a lot of ways, this reads like the author’s personal homage to all the things he loves in literature. You’ll catch references, both overt and subtle, to the existence of things taken from dozens of different major genre works you might have read. After something as dense and complex as Kraken, it makes a great fun diversion.
The Kindle Edition is $7.99
The Magicians – Lev Grossman
This is sort of a harsh take on Harry Potter with a bunch of CS Lewis thrown in for good measure. Basically, Magic is real and people learn to use it at secret schools where only the best of the best can get in and learn to manipulate the world to their liking.
Unlike many books with similar concepts, this isn’t an uplifting story of wish fulfillment and overcoming adversity. The characters are undeniably human and manage to overcome the sort of “nerdy teenager gains superpowers” cliche that you might expect at first. I found it to be a genuinely interesting, and occasionally troubling, look at what it really means to be offered everything you ever thought you wanted. The outline of the story is familiar, but the execution is beyond excellent.
The Kindle Edition is $12.99
It seems that Amazon’s Kindle is poised to hit something of a milestone in terms of its influence on the company as a whole. A recently released Citi analysis has come to the conclusion that the Kindle now accounts for just short of 10% of Amazon’s total revenue, if you take into account all hardware and media. While this would be a big deal in any case, it apparently merits recognition by Citi because of a rule they have which states that any segment of a particular company must achieve 10% of its total business before it can impact the growth rate of the company. Surprisingly enough, this is not the only bit of interesting information on the report.
We all know by now that Amazon has been selling more eBooks than print books recently. It seems to be the start of a trend. When commenting on this development, the report also states that “We believe that industry-wide, eBooks will surpass Print books in terms of sales within 2-3 years.” Apparently this has held up in the UK as well, where the Kindle has experienced even more rapid adoption than in the US, with Kindle books already outselling hardcovers at a rate of 2-1. They also make note of the fact that Kindle book sales have managed to triple in the past year and show no sign of tapering off any time soon. This year over 310 million Kindle books will have been sold and next year we are looking at perhaps as many as 751.5 million. That’s a combined total of $3.8 billion from Kindles this year alone and as much as $6.1 billion next year.
Aside from numbers, what does this mean for the Kindle line? Well, estimates have been favorably improved recently. Amazon is now projected to sell 17.5 million Kindles this year and perhaps 26 million in 2012. In addition, the success of the Kindle w/ Special Offers, which has managed to become Amazon’s best selling eReader so far in the short time it has been available, lends merit to the idea that we may see a Kindle priced under $100 by the end of this year. According to many analysts, this is the tipping point whereat the Kindle can feasibly become an impulse buy for customers rather than an investment, giving it that much more influence over the eReading and Publishing marketplaces.
Interestingly, none of the Citi analysis’s predictions for the remainder of 2011 or 2012 make any note of the potential merits of the upcoming Kindle Tablet. While it has not been officially confirmed, which may well be the reason for the exclusion, it is hard to do research on Amazon at the moment without finding some information pointing out what’s coming. Given Citi’s use of actual numbers in their sales figures and projections, something that they certainly didn’t get from the notoriously tight-lipped Amazon, it is clear that they go more than a bit beyond press releases and PR interviews. It could have been interesting to see what their take was.
The status of the iOS Kindle App has been in question for a while now, after Apple’s announcement that they were going to begin enforcing some highly restrictive app store regulations. eBook retailers would have been forced to offer all products that could be accessed through their app as a purchase through the same app and at the same price that these eBooks were sold elsewhere. Bad news for companies like Amazon that often only make 30% on a given eBook sale, since Apple gets 30% of everything sold through their app store. It was beginning to look like it would not be worth their time to continue maintaining an iOS presence. Fortunately for lovers of the Kindle for iOS, Apple had an incredibly small and clearly grudging change of heart.
It is all in the phrasing of the rules. The original cause for concern:
11.13 Apps can read or play approved content (magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, video) that is sold outside of the app, for which Apple will not receive any portion of the revenues, provided that the same content is also offered in the app using IAP [in-app purchase] at the same price or less than it is offered outside the app. This applies to both purchased content and subscriptions.
The slightly revised rules:
Apps that link to external mechanisms for purchases or subscriptions to be used in the app, such as a “buy” button that goes to a web site to purchase a digital book, will be rejected.
11.14 Apps can read or play approved content (specifically magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, and video) that is subscribed to or purchased outside of the app, as long as there is no button or external link in the app to purchase the approved content. Apple will not receive any portion of the revenues for approved content that is subscribed to or purchased outside of the app.
Essentially, Amazon and the rest of the eReading crowd can continue to let users read their books and shop through the website so long as they don’t have a direct link away from the app to make sales. Sadly, this comes too late and does far too little for some app providers. A number of apps, including the popular iFlow eReader, felt compelled to shut down after Apple essentially destroyed the viability of their business. This was clearly supposed to be a way for Apple to take all of the customers who came to their devices at least in part for their eReader usability and cut them off from their providers of choice, thereby increasing the user base of the less than successful iBooks store.
If it had come a year ago, I think it might even have managed to go through. Right now, though, we have Kindles and Nooks that are affordable enough to supplement an iPhone or iPad. Google’s Android is taking off and tablet choices are increasingly plentiful. Most importantly, people are becoming more aware of the restrictive nature of Apple’s business practices. They would have lost customers over the move. It isn’t a big change in the rules, and it still gets in the way, but at least it shows that Apple can’t completely disregard the opinions and demands of their customers and developers without backlash.
There’s been a certain degree of controversy arising from competing claims about the battery life of the Kindle vs the new Nook. I’m finding it a little bit silly overall, so I thought perhaps it would help to outline the situation and explain what is really going on. Here’s what we’ve got.
A fairly short while ago, Barnes & Noble(NYSE:BKS) announced the pending release of their new touchscreen Nook eReader. It would have a better screen than the old Nook, a whole new interface, and basically all the essentials that you would expect from an eReader hoping to compete with the Kindle. Among these was a battery life measured at an impressive 2 Months.
Amazon(NASDAQ:AMZN) responded to this claim based on the information available at the time. The Nook Spec Sheet indicated that they had derived this estimate based on 30 minutes of reading time per day on average. Since up until now the Kindle had been estimating its battery life based on 60 minutes of reading per day (I guess they assume that their customers like books more?), it was a simple enough matter to change the metric a bit and display the same claim. No fanfare that I saw, just a quiet change of the product page.
Barnes & Noble didn’t like this, of course, and released a detailed report explaining how they performed the testing side by side with a Kindle. In their testing, the Kindle came out with 56 hours of reading time while the new Nook managed an impressive 150 hours. Both of these involved the WiFi being off, of course. These numbers are impressive, it must be admitted. Even the Kindle performed far better than Amazon had claimed at any point. Now, I don’t have information specifically indicating that they took into account battery discharge while the devices were either off or on standby, but it seems fair to assume and hardly matters in the grand scheme.
What’s happened here is that Barnes & Noble has allowed the focus to fall away from the feature that really makes their new Nook stand out to potential customers, the touchscreen, and focused on a comparatively minor point. Really, when your charging schedule on these things has reached a point where it is better measured on the scale of a calendar than a clock there isn’t going to be a lot of issue anymore. I can understand why it would be important to them to emphasize this, having actually managed to run through a full charge of the original Nook in 2 days before, but it really isn’t the big deal it is being made out to be.
I don’t know if this is some kind of effort to draw attention away from the fact that their great new product was somewhat anticipated by the earlier release of the eerily similar new Kobo eReader, or if they have simply got different priorities than those that make sense to me, but I’ll admit I don’t get it. I love the Kindle‘s long battery life. When it comes time to charge, I’ve usually known I was getting close for about a week. Will it be nice to see the same happen to the Nook? Of course. When it comes right down to it, though, I don’t think many people care enough to count the days. There’s just no room for either pride or outrage on this matter. So why does it keep coming up?
Not too long ago, Amazon(NASDAQ:AMZN) announced that they were finally officially selling more Kindle Edition eBooks than they were print books, even discounting free book downloads. It was a big deal and, I think, still is. It indicates changing perceptions of what a book is to a reader at the conceptual level. I’m not saying that the battle is won or anything, but milestones matter.
Since that time, people have reacted in a number of ways. Publishers have expressed skepticism, which makes perfect sense given their level of investment in keeping eBook prices as high as possible. People like me who are fans of the Kindle, its associated platform, and the community building up around it have expressed the obvious enthusiasm. I’m not claiming a lack of bias on this point. At least one analyst, a Michael Norris, has publicly called the claim “obnoxious” and expressed the opinion that the whole announcement was a publicity stunt made possible by taking things completely out of context.
Context is indeed what matters here. Norris goes on to express the opinion that Amazon must be padding their numbers with some apparently astounding sales from the popular Kindle Singles program. While I’m skeptical of the claim that the Singles are where Amazon is making most of their sales, having looked through the selection more than once, it doesn’t really matter. The fact that the Kindle Singles are shorter doesn’t make them “not books” in my eyes. Really, I don’t think it does for this guy either. I believe what he is objecting to is the fact that a product selling for $0.99 can hold as much weight as a product going for $12.99 when it comes time to compare sales. He comes out and says “Obviously, when you’re selling units so inexpensively, you’re going to sell more of those than, for example, a $14 paperback print book” and thinks he’s making a point against eBooks.
This gets to the heart of the matter, and I think it explains the difference between what customers want to know and what publishers would like them to know. As a reader and buyer of books, both electronic and otherwise, I am more interested in the number of copies being sold than I am in how much profit somebody is making off of them. I’m not a stockholder. If somebody tells me that in spite of 20% of all book sales in a year being eBooks only 5% of a specific publisher’s income came from them, I wonder what that publisher was doing wrong, not what is wrong with eBook loving customers.
What I’m trying to get at is that saying that the numbers are misleading just because they address an aspect of the transition to a new medium that you don’t like is not cool. Yes, this is a different context from what you may be used to, but it is not out of context. If anything, it highlights a more relevant piece of information about the new publishing business than most other things I have seen. Is the announcement a bit self-serving on Amazon’s part? Of course, or why would they have made it? It wouldn’t be useful, though if it didn’t tell people something they wanted to know. The Kindle is doing well, possibly better than anybody could have expected at this point, and whether or not that had to do with Kindle Singles it seems that people were interested enough to take notice.
I wrote a post on a Kindle $3.99 or less sale recently, but now the sale is even better with some great Kindle books going for $.99, $1.99, and $2.99. The sale on over 600 books ends on June 15.
Just going on the books I’ve read out of this list, I highly recommend Choosing to SEE by Mary Beth Chapman, The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy, Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, and According to Jane by Marilyn Brant.
Choosing to SEE is an emotional autobiography written by Mary Beth Chapman, the wife of famous Christian singer, Steven Curtis Chapman. It covers the beginning of their marriage, adoptions, and covers a great deal of the grief surrounding the accident that killed their daughter Maria.
The Prince of Tides is of course full of Conroy’s usual humor, violence and relationship drama. One thing that really amazes me about his books are how he can make situations so hilarious, but also terrifying at the same time.
I am currently working on reading Cat’s Cradle. Vonnegut’s style is pretty dark, yet I found myself laughing out loud at his dry sense of humor. Cat’s Cradle is about a writer who is doing research on the atomic bomb. The novel is one of love, lies, and self destruction, as well as science fiction. When I searched for this book, there is another edition for $11.99, so make sure you go through the sales page to get this particular version. There are other Vonnegut books on the list as well.
According to Jane was a free book on the Kindle for a brief time, and I managed to snatch it. I am not a big Jane Austen fan overall, but really enjoyed Brant’s easygoing writing style and the interactions between the main character and Jane. Jane comes to visit Ellie in her subconscious and they become fast friends. Ellie is a modern day Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice and the this story takes the reader through many twists and turns until she finally meets her Mr. Darcy.
There are a number of other great books to choose from in fiction and literature, mystery and thriller, health and beauty, and nonfiction. Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) does a great job of featuring the best rated books and the editors’ picks.