We already know that Amazon intends for the Kindle Paperwhite to set the new standard for eReader hardware in every way they could manage. Some people might still wish for physical page turn buttons (I certainly do) but other than that it is a clear step ahead of all of the competition right now. That’s referring entirely to the US markets, of course, which may be a good reason that they have decided to update the Paperwhite firmware with some specific comic-related improvements in mind.
On a November 8th release, the new software improvements were made available for download. If you have a Paperwhite and haven’t gotten everything automatically delivered to your device at this point, check out the side-loading instructions located here.
Foremost in the advertised improvements is the list of optimized fonts. Palatino, Baskerville, and Futura have all been made sharper and smoother. It’s a small thing in many ways, but the change will stand out for anybody who prefers to use these fonts regularly.
The ability to remove Recommended Content from your Paperwhite’s home screen is now also included. This has become a point of annoyance for many users, but the ability to remove this particular advertising stream was added not long ago to new Kindle Fire models and was inevitable here as well. A more interesting update would have been producing the same stream for older models on demand, honestly.
The settings menu has been brought to the front of things a bit more as well. You can now jump straight into this menu directly from the menu while reading a book with no need to return to the home screen.
Perhaps most importantly, given the recent push into Japan, is the improved manga/comic display capability. A new Fit-to-Screen option will stretch images to fill the entire screen, addressing many situations where small panels were practically unreadable previously.
The Paperwhite is also now able to retain a manga/comic specific setting for page refresh preferences that is completely separate from the same options for book reading. This makes it easier to choose the proper setting to maximize both battery life and reading quality in two areas with distinctly different visual representation needs.
In preparation for a move beyond Japan into China, Simplified Chinese is now included as a font option. It’s a small note now, but could be vital in the long run.
The only other really notable change is in book samples. When picking up the full version of a given book after reading the sample you will now start off at the last position accessed in the sample. The sample itself will be removed from the library. Organization will be greatly improved as a result for anybody who regularly samples their books.
Many of these updates are small things, but added together they make for a great update. There is more than can and likely will be done to improve things, especially with regard to comic-reading. Now that we’re seeing a much bigger effort to get graphic storytelling into the Kindle marketplace, however, it’s safe to assume that a wider audience will demand attention and genre-specific features that will quickly optimize the eReaders as best a black and white display can be optimized.
While DC Entertainment is insisting that the move is not necessarily a switch away from Comixology, the publisher has now made the transition to offering its weekly content directly through the Kindle, Nook, and iBooks stores. There is now very little reason to expect anybody to continue using the Comixology apps given that their main selling point was exclusive access to DC content.
This change in distribution model comes at a time when digital distribution is up nearly 200% over 2011’s numbers. For comparison, DC has stated that their physical volume sales are up just 12%. Given the already comparatively strong sales of the weekly comics in question it is a lot simpler to increase the audience for digital content by an impressive percentage, but this also comes at a time when many publishers are seeing digital distribution begin to overwhelm their traditional sales market.
The plan for rollout is essentially what you would expect. The new titles, especially those that are part of DC’s “New 52” franchise reboot, will be available immediately as they are released. Over an as-yet undetermined period of time they will begin issuing the back catalogue. A DC spokesperson claimed that the only real reason that it would take some time to get to content that wasn’t brand new was the limitation of bandwidth. The more interest digital content generates, the faster they will get the whole library converted and available through the various stores.
While there is not yet any way to get the DC catalogue in a readable format for a black and white eReader like the Kindle Paperwhite it is possible that this situation may change in the not too distant future. Representatives of the company are interested in the idea of making their content available to eReader owners and see little reason for that to be prevented if a positive experience with black and white reading can be confirmed. Senior VP of Digital for DC Hank Kanalz went so far as to explain his position:
“We’re taking a look at whether we like how it looks in the black-and-white space. My attitude is that if you’re stuck on a train, and you only have your Paperwhite or other black-and-white device, you can read it then and see it in color later”
This should go a long way toward both increasing interest in digital comic distribution and proving that an online distribution model will work for such a large publisher of graphic storytelling. Seventy titles are already present in the Kindle Store and more will be around soon. Perhaps it’s a matter of personal opinion, but I doubt there will be much concern over the end of Comixology’s reign when it comes to comic content being served to Kindle Fire owners. It’s only a matter of time now before everybody else catches on.
As was bound to happen eventually, Barnes & Noble has joined Amazon in offering a browser-based reading solution for their Nook customers. Since last August, the Kindle Cloud Reader has been offering the same capabilities to users of the competing platform. The current promotion set to launch Nook for Web, as the new application has been dubbed, offers users six free best sellers for giving it a try. Both the promo and the features make this worth taking a look at.
To try it out for yourself, simply head over to the Nook for Web site. Currently supported browsers include Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. In the preview, you can choose from any of the six selections available in this promotion. You get the first portion of the book immediately with no need to establish a Barnes & Noble account. This allows you to check out the features of the web app and see for yourself if it meets a need. Should you like what you see, these books are available for download through a link at the end of their sample portion.
In terms of features, Nook for Web is definitely competitive with the Kindle Cloud Reader. You can choose from eight font sizes, eight font styles, and a set of different page layouts. The default layout will take into account the width of your browser window and decide whether or not you need two columns for an optimal reading experience. If you don’t like the choice it makes, you can also choose to go with the publisher’s default layout preference or restrict things to a single page no matter the width of the window. At this time you can’t force a two column view.
Pull-down menus let you access the table of contents on the fly, as well as use the Nook platform’s social networking features and access information about the title you have open. The whole package fits well in Barnes & Noble’s established eBook platform and you can see where they have made efforts to keep the experience consistent for existing users. Obviously any books you already own for your Nook will be available to you as soon as you log in.
In some ways B&N has done a great job of meeting the needs of their community here. The features are sound and compatibility is extensive. They have even made Nook for Web work in Internet Explorer, which the Kindle Cloud Reader still does not do. On the other hand, they are missing compatibility with non-desktop browsers and I think that is going to hurt adoption.
The motivation behind the Kindle Cloud Reader was Amazon’s need to get around Apple’s restrictive terms and conditions for in-app sales. As such, iPad and iPhone owners were the priority in its development. Launching without letting those users take part in the new service immediately costs Barnes & Noble the chance to pull in some potential converts from the Kindle Platform. No matter how many people use Internet Explorer, and that isn’t a small number, the percentage of people who read on their mobile device is far higher.
It doesn’t hurt to take advantage of this promo (available through 7/26) even if you’re otherwise a Kindle customer. A free book is a free book. To gain access to the complete text of each title, you will need to create an account. Other than that, there’s no hoop to jump through. Having tried both, I definitely prefer the Kindle Cloud Reader. This is a good first step in what could eventually be a really impressive web app, though.
Paragon Software Group, possibly best known for their work in mobile dictionary and reference software, has brought a new set of translation dictionaries to the Kindle Store in an effort to improve the multi-lingual reading experience. The Slovoed dictionaries, now available, allow users to enjoy a number of interesting features that should come in handy.
The most appealing application is simply a new default dictionary for your Kindle. By replacing your current dictionary with the Slovoed dictionary for your particular language of choice, you can enjoy pop-up translation of almost any word thanks to the Kindle’s built-in dictionary look-up capabilities. This comes in especially handy with the Kindle Touch, since just tapping a word on the screen is all that is required.
It is also possible to do some manual translation. As with any dictionary, you can open the Slovoed translation volumes directly through the Kindle. From here it is just a matter of searching for the word you need. It is well designed for this sort of searching, including the ability to handle most obvious misspellings by giving users a choice of several possibilities from a list after the search field is filled.
You get three choices when acquiring Slovoed dictionaries:
The Compact series contains the basics. This series takes up the least amount of space on your device’s storage while still offering concise translations for thousands of commonly used words. It is primarily aimed at people who are just getting started on learning a new language.
The Classic series is more advances. It is a comprehensive collection of just about everything you could need. The target audience is travelers, students, and business professionals, so the breath of coverage is as wide as you might expect. For many people, this is all you will ever need.
The Deluxe series is intended for advanced students, professional linguists, and translators. It contains everything that the other series offer, but also has far more detailed information. Everything from examples of proper use to detailed explanations of unusual cases is covered. You can’t get much more from a product like this.
Coverage is available in dozens of languages and should be able to fit the majority of needs. The whole selection appears to be available now.
The only customer complaint that seems to come up regularly is the lack of a reciprocal translation option. In other words, you can go from Catalan to Spanish with a single dictionary, but to go from Spanish to Catalan you will need to get a separate volume. This can be a problem for some people, especially students, as comprehension sometimes requires the ability to look things up from either direction.
Overall, this is a solid set of products and a plus for any bilingual Kindle reader who has a need for it. The price is right and installation is as simple as selecting the new dictionary as your default in the Kindle’s settings menu. It’s hard to argue with simplicity.
A recent survey put out by Gartner looked at portable device usage among five hundred or so participants to see how things like tablet computing were changing the way we live. One of the more notable results that they came up with was an indication that over 50% of those involved said that they prefer reading on a screen to reading on paper. This includes newspapers, magazines, and books.
They didn’t specify whether or not the participants logged any of this data based on using a Kindle or other dedicated eReading device, but that matters surprisingly little in this case. The reading experience on portable devices is becoming comparable to, and sometimes superior to, that of reading on paper. Who would have thought?
It would be somewhat foolish to claim that this was the result of the Kindle’s impact of consumer impressions. We’ve been heading toward digital text distribution since the first computers were capable of storing enough text to be useful. It was only a matter of time for it to reach the reading public. It was what the Kindle signaled that accelerated the transition.
Sony already had a better eReader on the market when Amazon released the first Kindle. What they didn’t have was the Kindle Store. Amazon made it easy for their customers to buy popular books. They even went the extra mile and made sure that purchasing could be accomplished right from the device itself. With no more need to find USB cables or memory cards, eReading was finally more convenient than picking up a book from the store. It was sometimes even easier that picking up a book off the shelf.
Over time, adding devices as they went, Amazon brought their selection to practically any device with a screen. The Kindle itself was and is still important for many people, but just about anybody who is interested will always have a device within arm’s reach that can load a book for them now. Convenience has reached an extreme.
Convenience is what the Gartner survey attributes the move away from paper to. Their participants indicated that they were willing to pick up whichever device lay closest to hand for practically any reading situation, even to the point of excluding print at times. Since all participants were required to have a media tablet and at least two other similar devices, being out of touch would have been a stretch.
None of this says that the printed book is really going to disappear. We know that won’t happen any time soon, despite the fact that the death of print has been declared regularly since at least 1984 (extra points for catching the obvious movie reference). What this means is that print is likely to lose its primary position in the reading world, even for magazine and newspaper readers, before too much time is up. Tablets used to be toys, now they are becoming household tools. Prices are dropping, exposure to options like the $79 Kindle is up, and it seems like every day readers get more to choose from. Publishers can’t even entertain the notion of maintaining their old model unaffected at this point.
By launching a pilot program to bring their publications back to libraries through OverDrive competitor 3M, Penguin has taken a step back toward serving its customers. At least so long as those customers don’t like reading on their Kindle. One of the notable shortcomings of the new system, and likely one reason that it is so appealing to Penguin, is that it completely lacks Kindle compatibility at this time.
The ongoing disputes between Amazon and the Big 6 publishers have provided any number of inconveniences for readers over the years now, but the library system has been hit particularly hard. While demand for eBooks, especially those compatible with the Kindle platform, has been rising at an ever increasing rate, publishers have been doing their best to make sure that eBook borrowing is as inconvenient as possible when it is available at all.
If that sounds horribly over the top, it is. Just not in the way you might think. The appeal of the 3M system for publishers, when it last made big news in library lending, was that it would force customers to both be in the library building to load their eBook and to wait in line as kiosks to get their chance. The OverDrive system, which often allows borrowers to download their titles over WiFi, allows for too little friction. Penguin, along with others, is concerned that if they don’t find some way to make using an eReader less simple and hassle-free then it will result in lost sales.
The argument is simple enough to follow, but seems to demonstrate how thoroughly these publishers understand their customers. By this logic, the only reason that book stores are able to stay in business is that libraries took too much of a drive or had longer lines.
To be fair, 3M has gotten better since those planning stages. Users are now able to browse and borrow from wherever they like, it seems, and there is even a fair selection available. The originally mandatory kiosks have been changed into promotional tools within the library itself and the program now includes branded eReaders meant specifically to be lent out to library patrons. It’s possible this explains why Penguin is only tentatively on board with the whole program even now, as well as why they will only be offering titles that are at least six months old.
Supposedly there will eventually be some degree of Kindle compatibility with the 3M lending network. Reportedly Amazon broke off earlier talks with a request that they resume in June, so at least things are still being discussed. It is unlikely that 3M will allow things to go the same way that OverDrive did, however, in shuffling their users through an Amazon store page. Given the customer base that Amazon already has, as well as the internal Kindle Owners’ Lending Library being used as a promotional tool for the Amazon Prime subscription service, this might become something that takes quite a while to come to terms over. Kindle owners probably shouldn’t be holding their breath waiting for Penguin, 3M, or Amazon to come around.
Obviously the last thing that a company like Barnes & Noble wants to do is inadvertently promote their competition by including the name Kindle in eBooks that are converted from Amazon’s platform for distribution to the Nook. One of the most hilarious stories in eReading news to crop up recently indicates that they may be entirely too much against it. I can understand not wanting to have Kindle ads in Nook books, but editing out the word “kindle” from Tolstoy is a bit weird.
Basically the situation appears to be the result of either a prank or shoddy quality control. A blogger names Philip noticed the line “It was as if a light had been Nookd in a carved and painted lantern….” and came to the conclusion that something not quite right was going on in his $0.99 copy of War & Peace for the Nook. Further inspection revealed that every instance of the word “kindle” had been replaced, introducing large numbers of strange phrasings throughout the novel. After he reported it on his blog, the entire internet started lighting up with commentary.
From what I can gather, this was not anything that can be directly attributed to the actions of Barnes &
Noble. Superior Formatting Publishing, a company that primarily takes public domain titles and cleans them up to releases them on the Kindle, was the one that made the mistake. Basically they clean up line formatting, set proper chapter breaks, create a table of contents, and do all the little things that make it potentially worth paying a dollar for something you know you can always get off of Project Gutenberg for free. Apparently branching out to the Nook was an afterthought, or at least not regarded as particularly important, given that this slipped through.
Is it any surprise that a Find/Replace problem occurs from time to time in situations like this? I would say not particularly. So long as the company issues a refund and fixes their titles they are probably fine, and even that is between them and their customers. This event has, however, brought out a crowd that is harping on the easily changed nature of eBooks as a sign that they are flawed. I find that to be shortsighted.
It is true that there are potential downsides to eBooks, and that Amazon created part of the mistrust through their handling of the Orwell eBooks debacle in the early days of the Kindle platform. The idea that this sort of word swapping, introduced after the book was well out of authorial control, is unique to eBooks is absurd. It is easier to cause, of course, but it is also easier to fix.
I have a copy of Middlemarch sitting on a shelf that holds hundreds of notes made before I got to the last 10% and found that the text had been replaced by 30 or so pages drawn from the middle of a book by another author that I have not been able to place to this day. There was no fixing it, the publisher apologized but made no effort to fix the problem, and generally I just found myself out of luck. At least with the Kindle they could have corrected their mistake with little time and effort or, barring that, I could have fixed the problem myself with a bit of effort and some eBook editing resources from the internet.
It is occasionally amazing exactly how far we’ve come over the years. It’s an inane observation but not, I think, an inaccurate one. This came to me recently while reading Halting State by Charles Stross. I enjoyed the book immensely and can’t recommend it enough, but it occurred to me about halfway through that much of the “science fiction” being employed was realistic enough to give me pause. Augmented reality glasses, arguably the major liberty Stross takes with real life, are hardly unlikely if Google is to be believed. The idea that technology increasingly mediates our interactions with the world around us brought to mind some thoughts about how the Kindle has changed our perceptions.
The trend toward digitization of print media is ongoing and not isolated to anything Amazon has done. What they made with the Kindle platform, however, was the first real method for instantly accessing any eBook in circulation at a moment’s notice (acknowledging certain exceptions, of course). If you saw an interesting ad, you could grab the book from your phone and have it with you the next time you wanted to read. If somebody recommended a book, you could immediately check the reviews and give it a shot. If a student forgot their book, they could often fix the problem immediately rather than sitting around bewildered.
The effect has been extensive in obvious ways. Libraries are having to adapt to the eReader presence, for example. Not only that, they were in a fair amount of trouble while OverDrive adapted to the Kindle since the vast majority of eReader owners prefer the Kindle platform. Bookstores are feeling the press as well, being forced to compete, choose sides, or go the way of Borders.
The more subtle effects are more interesting, though. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many book stores are having trouble unloading “classics” these days. Where a faux leather cover on a book that was probably never going to be read might have been enough to sell a bargain bin title in the past, customers are increasingly aware that they can have those older titles for free and don’t have the incentive to have them on hand purely on principal anymore.
Reading in public is also becoming more common. It has never been uncommon, of course, but now the ability to read without openly displaying your book preferences makes the Kindle a smart buy for people with guilty pleasures of a literary nature. We’ve seen something of a romance novel boom reported as a result.
There are all sorts of little ways that this comes into play. When you take into account the fact that the Kindle platform is available on any smartphone in circulation at the moment, we’re basically talking about the most wide-spread literary revolution since the move to codex-style books. Maybe I shouldn’t attribute the whole shift to the Kindle, but if you have to put a name to it then Amazon’s product is the one to spring to mind.
Without trying to sound clichéd, any thoughts on how the Kindle platform and eReading in general has changed our lives? I was expecting more from the instant Wikipedia access anywhere that Kindle devices offered so early on, but it seems in retrospect that this was the least profound impact of the lot.
The Kindle line basically started the digital reading revolution. They were neither the first nor the best when they appeared, but Kindles were the driving force behind it. Amazon got too powerful, customers likes affordable eBooks too much, and publishers freaked out to the point of getting involved in what seem to be fairly illegal activities while trying to counter all that. We’ve been over all that before. The big question now is “Why are Kindle eBook prices still so ridiculously high?”
I’m not just talking about the results of the DOJ suit against the publishers over their adoption of the Agency Model. I’m glad that’s happening, and I wish them all the luck in achieving a decisive conviction, but even those publishers who have chosen to settle already will not have had much of an effect just yet. I’m more concerned with common sense.
The most obvious side of this is the obvious dislike of the format. Publishers want physical media to be favored because it is more easily controlled. eBooks are too convenient and most especially too easily pirated, so we have to expect these publishers to try to persuade people to stick to proven methods, right? Some variation on this argument is likely to come up in any defense of the Big 6.
I’ll be honest, I’m not even going to address it at length here beyond saying that it flat out ignores the facts. Study after study demonstrates that piracy either increases or fails to affect overall spending as a trend. It’s unintuitive, so I don’t blame them for being slow to catch on, but surely somebody employed by these companies could do some research that goes beyond ominous warnings of the dangers of piracy like those thrown around by the MPAA. Maybe I’ll go into more detail on that another time.
Even assuming that was too hard to grasp, however, there is plenty of easy to understand information about adapting to a market that does away with the concept of limited supply. The most dramatic example comes from the video game industry where Valve CEO Gabe Newell explained a while back that briefly discounting media by 75% had unexpectedly resulted in sales numbers jumping by a factor of 40. I’m not saying the two industries are directly analogous, but clearly there are signs that digital distribution needs to be approached a bit differently.
There have been a few signs that publishers were tentatively trying to figure all this out. Some short-lived discounts have popped up, and last summer’s Kindle Sunshine Deals promo comes to mind as a large effort to feel out the market. It still seems like the biggest motivator for these publishers is a desire not to change.
They have a good thing going and can basically control the entire publishing landscape when they work together. The Kindle, along with its eReader competitors, is an unknown. If it were embraced, somebody else might figure out how to do things better and that would be bad.
I have no idea when this will change, but it can’t come soon enough. All that publishers have managed to accomplish with this ridiculous behavior is temporarily setting back Amazon by shooting both themselves and their customers in the foot.
Nobody really wants traditional publishing to be completely out of the picture, but lately they’re doing more harm than good. One of these days they will have to realize this and Kindle owners everywhere will breathe a sigh of relief while stocking their digital libraries.
I am not a bestselling author, nor do I play one on television. I do, however, take a great deal of interest in how those who have managed to make it big with their self-published Kindle books have managed to pull it off. It’s a tough environment and authors don’t have the soft of support system that traditional publishing offers, so there is often a great deal of creativity that needs to come into play. If you are looking to follow in the footsteps of the KDP success stories that we have seen so far, however, there are a few things that are best kept in mind.
Treat Your Audience Well
You already know that social networking is considered the key to self-publishing success at the moment. What a surprisingly large number of authors seem to think this means is that you need to send out scores of random connection requests on Facebook and Twitter, then repeatedly advertise your book over and over again. This is the wrong way to do things.
Anybody who has access to a Kindle will already know that there are more eBooks out there than they can ever hope to read. Make yourself stand out by doing something besides badgering. Answer questions, share anecdotes, build up a conversation about your writing process, or just offer the occasional preview of your newest work. If you treat your readers like people, they will be more interested in what you have to say than any 140-character ad could accomplish.
Unlike with traditional publishing, you will not accomplish much on a book tour. Instead, harness the power of the internet to make your connections as virtual as your Kindle publication. Set up online gatherings, have a community forum on your personal site, make a Facebook fan page, and generally just keep your options open. Under no circumstances should you decide to buy into one social network at the expense of all the others. It doesn’t take much extra effort to at least cross-post news or check comments in a variety of places and you cast a wider net that way.
Build A Network
It is important to go beyond direct advertising as well. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by developing connections with other authors. Readers tend to take their favorite authors’ recommendations seriously, so it is definitely possible to form a circle of reliably interconnected readership with your peers. This is mainly just a way of directing the force that is the customer recommendation, but that can be tricky to get a hold on.
This should go without saying, but often needs to be said. You are writing for an audience. Whether it is a Kindle eBook or a paperback, that audience expects a certain amount of professionalism from you in return for their money. This means that you should exercise some care with your work. Give it an extra