Will Rowling’s ‘Pottermore’ Change Digital Distribution As We Know It?

J.K Rowling, long term eBook holdout, has decided to finally let the Harry Potter series out for the Kindle and into the eReading marketplace in general.  It’s good news for fans of Harry Potter, fans of eReaders, and basically everybody but the publishers.  You see, Rowling has retained her electronic publishing rights and stands to make pretty much pure profit from every sale these electronic releases bring along.  The only question now is what this will mean, if anything, for how eBooks work in general from this point on when it comes to major publications.

First, I should point out that Rowling has voluntarily agreed to pass along a portion of her eBook profits to her publishers, Bloomsbury Publishing and Scholastic.  No word on precisely how much, to the best of my knowledge, but it shows that this isn’t a cutting of ties to the industry.  We also know that Amazon and Barnes & Noble have stated that they are working with the Pottermore site to make sure that the new Harry Potter publications work with the Kindle, Nook, etc. with0ut much trouble.  This last fact could mean anything from simply optimizing the layout to offering some degree of post-purchase integration with the respective platforms.  It is too soon to tell on that.

I’m going to work on the assumption here that Rowling is putting aside any real integration with the Kindle or Nook platforms to avoid giving either Amazon or Barnes & Noble a cut.  They’re likely simply trying to take advantage of the inevitable popularity of the eBooks to promote themselves by association. That’s about the best they can hope to get from it.  For smaller book retailers, however, this is likely going to come as bad news.  Even more so for children’s booksellers.

Even if Pottermore, the site that Rowling will be selling her material through, takes off, will it change things for either publishers or retailers?  I am of the opinion that it will not.  This is a very unique case.  Most publishers make a point of acquiring the eBook rights at the same time as everything else when they sign a new author.  Especially now that the eBook industry has become such a big thing compared to what it was when Rowling got started.  As such, no way for big names to make a move like this after they become big names.  Newer authors, especially self-publishing authors, will not have the resources to push sales to users of the Kindle and Nook while still maintaining their distance from the respective platforms.  Even if they did, it isn’t like Amazon will jump at the chance to work closely with just any author who wants to circumvent their cut of the profits in a creative way.

Honestly, I would say that the only impact this will have is directly on the Harry Potter series.  There isn’t transfer to the rest of the eBook world.  It is too soon to say if the Pottermore site will do well, and most of that will likely have to do with considerations beyond the eBook availability.  Even if it does, the only people to benefit will be the Kindle-owning fans and Rowling herself.  It isn’t a sign that changes are coming.

Kindle Store Success May Indicate Percieved eBook Value Beyond Simple Savings

Something that most early adopters of the Kindle were eager to see was the impressive price drops that eBooks promised to bring.  Compared to the expense of creating, transporting, and retailing a paper book, how could the eBook not make large libraries an inexpensive pursuit?  To a certain extent, of course, we did see this for a while.  Even now, during the reign of the Agency Model of eBook pricing, there are still impressive discounts to be found.  That’s not even taking into consideration the impressive selection of indie authors who have sprung up thanks to the Kindle Store.  Something I think many people miss when talking about this topic is that the price rebound, even if it does involve artificial inflation from the “Big 6”, could not succeed without consumer cooperation.

The easy comparison when talking about eBooks is the print book.  It’s almost too obvious to be worth stating.  Something that people often forget when making that comparison, however, is that comparing and equating are two different things.  A Kindle is not meant to be a cheap substitute for print.  It provides benefits beyond any potential savings that have a chance to provide value equal to the paper copies for many people.  When you buy from the Kindle Store you get instant access to a selection greater than any single physical bookstore could offer in person, faster delivery than any online retailer of paper copies could hope to achieve, portability between all of your Kindle-equipped devices, and a number of other benefits.  The question tends to become what you value in your purchase.

For some people, it makes sense to shop for the lowest price available.  If the eBook is cheaper, as most people expect it to be, then there is little problem.  When the paperback is actually cheaper than the eBook, however, we see problems.  It is certainly true that the paper book provides certain benefits that the eBook doesn’t.  We’ve all been over them before.  It also has any number of shortcomings of its own.  I, personally, would rather have an eBook because my mass market paperbacks keep wearing out on me.  So far, nothing I’ve bought on the Kindle Store has fallen apart.

I am not trying to make the point that eBook prices are right where they should be.  I think everybody is still trying to figure out where things are going to settle with regard to that.  The fact is, though, that the eBook as a format brings more to the table than price drops.  If there weren’t people who would rather have their collections of bestsellers on a Kindle instead of a bookshelf, sales would drop off on those books to the point where even the most stubborn publishers would have to consider changing things around.  Perhaps, rather than talking solely about the sacrifices that are necessary when choosing an eBook over a paper book, it would be more useful to think about what it is that brings you to the eBook as a choice in the first place.  There is obviously something the average Kindle Store customer values beyond the savings.

Kindle Books and Lending: The Complicated Relationship

Over the course of the eReader race so far, one of the biggest points of contention has been the potential for book lending. For quite a while, this was a major factor in the Nook’s favor when people considered the Kindle vs Nook question. Later, when the Kindle managed to get an equivalent to the long-standing Nook Lend Me feature, it pretty much because a moot point.  Now the focus with regard to lending has shifted in large part from an individual concern to questions of institutional lending.

At the moment, it is significantly easier for somebody to walk into a library and get themselves an eBook loan if they have an EPUB compatible eReader.  This is a pain for Kindle owners, but overall it makes sense given the current state of eBook formatting and such.  It just makes more sense to go with the more widely accepted, more advanced, and more likely to last of the available options when you think about the problem from the point of view of eBook lending system developers.

Putting aside Kindle-specific concerns for a moment, eBooks in general have problems involving the lending concept.  Take the recent issue with HarperCollins.  They’ve decided to put an arbitrary cap of 26 checkouts on their eBooks on the assumption that this is roughly equivalent to the average number of uses a paper book will see before needing to be replaced.  Even assuming this is correct, which seems doubtful, this is nothing short of ridiculous.  It works to highlight an important point, however.

Can we truly expect to treat eBooks the same way we do their paper counterparts?  There are arguments on both sides, but most of the pro-lending ones seem to stem from either the idea that the improved circulation will be inherently good for a given author or that given the long-standing precedent for lending which goes along with books it will be impossible for eBooks to be a comprehensive replacement for many people while lacking this ability.  I admit scepticism.

The fact of the matter is that as eBooks gain popularity, certain changes will have to be accepted.  Among these will be a reinterpretation of the appropriateness of unrestricted lending.  I don’t agree with the publisher reaction on this one, but I do think that you need to either have your books be freely lend-able or remove the option entirely.  It is impossible to productively compare the durability of a paperback to the period over which a purchased license to lend a Kindle book, or any eBook, should retain its value.

The problem I run into is that I can’t think of where to draw a better line.  Time-based licensing is out, because it would force libraries to repeatedly pay to maintain access to books which may never see use. If you’re going to have a checkout-based system, it should obviously account for the inherent lack of publisher expense involved in re-granting a license, but where do you draw the line fairly for consumers while still making sure authors get the money they deserve for their productions?  Overall, more questions than answers, but I think that for now the issue of lending is going to be more trouble than it is worth for everybody while people get over the idea that free book lending is a necessary part of the reading experience.

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.

Free Kindle Books on Open Library

Open Library is an amazing non-profit project (partially funded by California State Library). It is trying to catalog book (and e-book) titles and their locations, thus creating a gigantic library. As Open Library owners describe, “One web page for every book ever published”. The idea is to be able to find any book’s location – be it in a store, library, or in electronic version. Open Library is an open project. Anyone can (and is encouraged to) participate: adding book titles, editing the existing catalogue, fixing typos. Also, their software and documentation are also open. There is no registration required for downloading free e-books. However, you need to register on Open Library if you want to participate in the project.

KindleI have to warn you: finding where to download a free e-book is not really intuitive in Open Library. To find a free e-book, you need to type the book title/author’s name in the search bar (there is also an advanced search option, where you can also look for a book by ISBN, subject, place, person, or publisher); check “Only show e-books”. On the results’ page the list of books will have one of three icons – borrow, DAISY, or read.  All the available e-books have the “read” icon beside the book title.  Press “read”.  It should open the book in read-online mode.  Press the icon “i” on the top right corner, next to the “play” option.  It will open a menu with available e-book formats: PDF, Plain Text, DAISY, ePub, and finally, my favorite, “Send to Kindle” option.  Ta-da!

As you might have noticed, other than “read”, there are two more icons appearing in the Open Library search results: “borrow” and “DAISY”. “Borrow” finds the book in the closest to your current location library (it searches by zip-code); and DAISY is a format for vision-impaired readers. According to Open Library, DAISY offers “the benefits of regular audiobooks, with navigation within the book, to chapters or specific pages.” You can find out more about DAISY on their official website.  As far as I understand, DAISY format is not that easily accessible.  One needs to get a key issued by the Library of Congress NLS program.

Quite frankly, I think I’m very impressed with Open Library’s book catalogue idea and its execution.

Free Kindle Books on Feedbooks

Feedbooks is a book store, selling books and e-books with an unpredictable price deviation in comparison the Kindle Books on Amazon.  Some books are cheaper and some books are more expensive than Amazon’s selection.  So, before buying a book from Amazon, perhaps, you would want to check it out on Feedbooks first.  You might save a dollar, or two.  Or not.

FitzgeraldHowever, e-books are being sold all over the internet.  Finding places where to buy e-books is not that challenging any more.  So, from this point of view, Feedbooks’ selection of priced books is not much of an interest for me.  I’m on the quest of finding free e-book libraries for your Kindle.  And if you click on “Public Domain” section, Feedbooks provides a limited, but still worthy of checking out selection of free e-books.  The registration for downloading the free e-books is optional.

ForsterOnce you found that special book for your solitary enjoyment, do not press “download” immediately.  It will automatically download the e-book in EPuB format.  Click on the book’s title and then you will have a choice of downloading the book in PDF or “Kindle” format, which is actually .MOBI.

As I already said, by all means, it is not a large free e-book library.  However, you can still find Fitzgerald’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which is not available on Amazon for free (the prices vary from $0.95 to $11.99).  Also, there is Cory Doctorow’s I, Robot available for free (not available in Kindle Books on Amazon).  And those, who complained about free Kindle Edition of E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View (missing passages and such), give it a try to this version on Feedbooks, maybe it is better.

Happy reading.

Tolstoy and Kindle

The Elegance of the HedgehogAs I was reading Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog (which I quite enjoyed, by the way), I could not help myself but notice that the author emblematizes intelligence and erudition in one particular author, Leo Tolstoy. I found it a little amusing and curious – in order to demonstrate the concierge’s intellectuality, Barbery keeps mentioning Tolstoy as her favorite author. The hilarious part, of course, is that she names her cat Leo and that is supposedly what highly intelligent people do. Tolstoy, in fact, becomes the reason why the concierge befriends one of the wealthy and highly educated residents, Mr. Ozu. He is also a fan of Tolstoy, and also gives his cats Tolstoy-related names – Kitty and Levin, from Anna Karenina (which by the way, is free in Kindle edition). And do not question his intelligence! Of course, he is a bookworm – he read Tolstoy!

War and PeaceIt is not the first time, when I see Tolstoy’s name being dropped here and there as a symbol of individual’s high education. I do not want to dwell upon the thought, whether I agree or disagree with such choice of symbol for erudition. However, Tolstoy’s novels do look intimidating just by looking at the size of the paperback, and even worse – hardcover books. I remember, when I was reading War and Peace, I think, I developed an unusual group of muscles – right around my wrists, just by holding the heavy tome of War and Peace. Also, snuggling with such book in bed is not as comfortable due to the weight of the volumes. And I’m not even going to begin discussing the pains of carrying such book around and reading it in public transportation or in the office, while you wait for the appointment. I mean, it’s not only that you look hilarious behind a gigantic book – almost like Harry Potter behind an encyclopedia of magic spells. It’s just simply impossible to carry such enormous weight around.

The beauty with Kindle is the readily available collections of Tolstoy’s novels for sale. And, also one would not feel intimidated by the ginormous size of Tolstoy’s books. If you considered reading Tolstoy, went to the bookstore, flipped through the pages and ran away scared of the amount of pages, then seriously consider giving Tolstoy another chance – try reading his works in Kindle. Yes, you can still see how many pages there are. However, the beauty with e-books is that they conceal the intimidating part – the physicality of big volumes. You start reading, get into the plot, and you would not even notice until you are through with the novel. War and Peace around is priceless.

Ina Garten Kindle Books

As Thanksgiving is almost here, Google has displayed one of their special Google Doodle logos about Thanksgiving recipes. The doodle specifically highlights chef Ina Garten. I took a quick look in the Kindle store and lo and behold – none of the 13 books Ina Garten has published is available on Kindle. Wouldn’t it have been great if some one like me, having learned about her books on such a short notice could get these books “in under 60 seconds” on my Kindle and surprise my guests tomorrow with something special?

The good news is that “Tell the publisher!” button is back on Amazon.com. So you can do just as I did – go to all 13 book pages pages and press the button to let the publisher know that I want this book on my Kindle.

Barefoot Contessa How Easy Is That?: Fabulous Recipes & Easy Tips

Barefoot Contessa How Easy Is That?: Fabulous Recipes & Easy Tips

Barefoot Contessa How Easy Is That?: Fabulous Recipes & Easy Tips by Ina Garten

The focus is on creating simpler yet appetizing dishes that save time and minimize stress in the kitchen in bestselling author (Barefoot Contessa Cookbook) and Food Network guru Garten’s latest. She showcases recipes that utilize fewer ingredients, limited to those easily found in supermarkets or specialty food stores. She also stays away from time-consuming cooking techniques, instead making unusually good use of her oven for everything from easy parmesan risotto and French toast bread pudding to spicy turkey meatballs. Despite the relative simplicity of these dishes, they are still elegant enough to be served at dinner parties, especially the roasted figs and prosciutto, fresh salmon tartare, and the mouthwatering, easy Provençal lamb. Garten’s vegetable dishes are particularly appealing and varied, including scalloped tomatoes, garlic-roasted cauliflower, and potato basil purée, and her desserts are equally strong, with easy cranberry and apple cake and fleur de sel caramels. Full-color photos accompany each recipe and are enough to send any hungry soul immediately into the kitchen. True to her trademark style, Garten once again shows that delicious food can be prepared with a minimum of fuss, even with guests on the way.



Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics: Fabulous Flavor from Simple Ingredients

Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics: Fabulous Flavor from Simple Ingredients

Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics: Fabulous Flavor from Simple Ingredients by Ina Garten

Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics is the essential Ina Garten cookbook, focusing on the techniques behind her elegant food and easy entertaining style, and offering nearly a hundred brand-new recipes that will become trusted favorites.
Ina Garten’s bestselling cookbooks have consistently provided accessible, subtly sophisticated recipes ranging from French classics made easy to delicious, simple home cooking. In Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, Ina truly breaks down her ideas on flavor, examining the ingredients and techniques that are the foundation of her easy, refined style.
Here Ina covers the essentials, from ten ways to boost the flavors of your ingredients to ten things not to serve at a party, as well as professional tips that make successful baking, cooking, and entertaining a breeze. The recipes–crowd-pleasers like Lobster Corn Chowder, Tuscan Lemon Chicken, and Easy Sticky Buns–demonstrate Ina’s talent for transforming fresh, easy-to-find ingredients into elegant meals you can make without stress.
For longtime fans, Ina delivers new insights into her simple techniques; for newcomers she provides a thorough master class on the basics of Barefoot Contessa cooking plus a Q&A section with answers to the questions people ask her all the time. With full-color photographs and invaluable cooking tips, Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics is an essential addition to the cherished library of Barefoot Contessa cookbooks.

Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics is the essential Ina Garten cookbook, focusing on the techniques behind her elegant food and easy entertaining style, and offering nearly a hundred brand-new recipes that will become trusted favorites.Ina Garten’s bestselling cookbooks have consistently provided accessible, subtly sophisticated recipes ranging from French classics made easy to delicious, simple home cooking. In Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, Ina truly breaks down her ideas on flavor, examining the ingredients and techniques that are the foundation of her easy, refined style.
Here Ina covers the essentials, from ten ways to boost the flavors of your ingredients to ten things not to serve at a party, as well as professional tips that make successful baking, cooking, and entertaining a breeze. The recipes–crowd-pleasers like Lobster Corn Chowder, Tuscan Lemon Chicken, and Easy Sticky Buns–demonstrate Ina’s talent for transforming fresh, easy-to-find ingredients into elegant meals you can make without stress.
For longtime fans, Ina delivers new insights into her simple techniques; for newcomers she provides a thorough master class on the basics of Barefoot Contessa cooking plus a Q&A section with answers to the questions people ask her all the time. With full-color photographs and invaluable cooking tips, Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics is an essential addition to the cherished library of Barefoot Contessa cookbooks.


The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten

Lauren Bacall gets cranky when Barefoot Contessa, an East Hampton specialty food store/institution for more than 20 years, is sold out of Indonesian Ginger Chicken. She can now thank her lucky stars that exuberant owner Ina Garten has written The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook and included this recipe. Ms. Bacall is sure to be pleased to discover how easy it is to achieve such fantastic flavor. Simplicity is something of a bottom line at Barefoot Contessa. “Food is not about impressing people,” Ina Garten says. “It’s about making them feel comfortable.”

Aimed at the cook who intends to entertain, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook draws on Garten’s experience as a caterer, as well as her knowledge of what customers really want to eat when they arrive at her shop. She has culled her favorite recipes and has included timesaving tips, always striving for ease and simplicity. Neither cooking nor entertaining should be a chore, according to Ina Garten, and her lovely cookbook is a case in point.

This is an intensely illustrated cookbook that shows the foods to best advantage (and makes it a lovely gift book). Presentation counts for a great deal, and Garten’s food styling adds to any food platter. But just as relevant are photos that bring in the spirit of fresh, locally grown produce. There’s the local poultry producer proudly holding a laying hen in case anyone should wonder where the eggs come from.

Amazon Announces Lending Feature for Kindle

Kindle 3 vs Barnes and Noble Nook side by side

Kindle 3 vs Barnes and Noble Nook side by side

The moment we have all been waiting for has finally arrived.  Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) has finally announced plans to allow Kindle book sharing among Kindle users.  Like the Nook, the Kindle book can only be shared one time, and will have a 14 day lending period.  The book will not be available on your Kindle while it is on loan to another person.  This feature should be available by the end of this year.

I will admit, as much as I love my Kindle, the fact that I couldn’t share books with people was a real disappointment for me.  Part of what makes reading so enjoyable is the ability to share and discuss books with people close to you.  I bought The Help, a bestseller by Kathryn Stockett, and knowing that several others wanted to read it, I had to buy the hardback version.

This new development is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t quite allow the lending freedom we’ve all hoped for. Lending rights will be up to the publishers, or whoever holds the rights to the particular book.  Considering the war over e-book prices, it will be interesting to see how strict publishers are about allowing lending capabilities.

Speaking of lending books, I would like to see more headway in allowing Kindle e-books to be checked out in libraries.  Contrary to popular belief, libraries are at the forefront of emerging technology and digitization trends.  Many libraries are purchasing Kindles to loan to their patrons to use, and that system has shown signs of success.  As of now, since the Kindle has its own copyrighted e-book format, it cannot be used.  Other e-readers have open book formats that allow their e-books to work in libraries.

If Kindle books were available to check out in libraries, I think that would boost sales of the device itself.  It would also reach out to an even wider variety of readers who may not have had the opportunity to learn or explore the idea of using an e-reader.

Hunger Games Trilogy Kindle Edition

Mockingjay, the final book in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series has been all the rage recently.  At the moment it holds the #5 spot on Amazon.com’s Kindle and Kindle DX bestseller list.

So, for a little background, the Hunger Games Trilogy consists of The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay.  The setting of the trilogy is a futuristic country called Panem that is separated into 12 different districts. Two young teenagers from each district are drafted to participate in The Hunger Games each year.  Out of the 24 contestants, only one will live.  This country is a result of the collapse of the United States, and plays off of reality show culture.

The first book in the series, The Hunger Games, introduces Katniss, the main character of the series.  She takes her sister Prim’s place in the Games along with Peeta, the other representative in District 12.  They are out to woo their audience while outlasting their competitors, literally.  One reviewer quoted the movie “Jaws” when describing the nature of the torture this book:

“you don’t actually need to SEE the shark in order for it to be terrifying. Sometimes not seeing the shark is even worse.”

Catching Fire explores Panem’s political structure, and the rebellion that comes from the results of the previous year’s Hunger Games.  Katniss takes on more of a leadership role and the novel provides a great lead in for the final book in the series.

Mockingjay is a war story.  Panem is at war, and Katniss has to fight the battles while facing the ghosts that have cropped up after three years of relentless brutality.  The lives of her family and friends are at stake.  All of this has come from the government and the evil President Snow.  I have friends who have said that this book is a real thriller, and that they couldn’t put it down.

There is a bit of romance in this trilogy and physical violence of course, considering it is about fighting for survival. The mind torture is what makes the trilogy a hit with adults in what appears to be strictly young adult reading material.  The reviews are awesome.  Collins manages to take an idea that is not so new and adds a fresh spin to it.  She also adds a bit of humor to provide comic relief.  One Amazon.com book reviewer claims this is the first series that they’ve had such a strong connection with since Harry Potter.