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

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Amazon Prime Monthly Option Silently Added in US

While it won’t show up for everybody just yet, some people are beginning to see a new option for Amazon Prime subscriptions.  Instead of the long-running annual fee option, it will now be possible to subscribe to the service for just $7.99 per month.  This might be a premium when you compare the annual total to the more expensive initial investment, but it will be a huge factor in increasing adoption this holiday season.

There has been no official release from Amazon confirming the details about this new subscription plan.  Even seeing the advertisement for it seems to be difficult for some people, though logging out of your Amazon.com account and trying a variety of browsers tends to eventually result in a productive combination.  It is possible that we’re looking at a limited test phase as the company gets ready for a rush of Kindle Fire HD users over the holidays that the company needs to hook on the service as quickly as possible.

Starting…well, whenever this goes more public…the monthly option will put pressure on competing video services like Netflix and Hulu.  While Amazon Prime still lacks the depth of selection that the competing services have available it is still building up a huge library of subscriber-friendly media.  Tie this into the other benefits like the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library and the unlimited free two-day shipping to anywhere in the US and it’s a huge bargain that video-only services can’t equal.

So far we haven’t heard from anybody outside the US who has been able to view the ad that gives us the current pricing.  This could mean that it’s going to be a later rollout or it could mean that the offer will start out as exclusive to the US.  The monthly option does seem to be built as an imitation of Netflix’s pricing scheme and as such might not be considered appropriate in markets where the Prime video selection isn’t as robust yet.

Expect to hear about huge increases in subscription sales in the first quarter of next year.  The Kindle Fire HD is the top Android tablet in its size/price bracket and comes with a free month of Amazon Prime membership.  The formerly daunting $79 subscription fee that comes up after that free trial ends was definitely worth it for anybody who shops the site regularly, but the $7.99 monthly fee will be even harder to argue against.  It might be almost $17 more per year than the annual option, but if you buy at least two things per month from Amazon the math becomes quite easy to follow based on shipping savings alone.

Kindle FreeTime Unlimited: New on the Kindle Fire and Fire HD

Amazon has launched a new service for Kindle Fire and Fire HD owners called Kindle FreeTime Unlimited.  This is an extension of the Kindle Fire feature, Kindle FreeTime, which allows parents to activate parental controls and set time limits on their child’s screen activity.

This service, designed for ages 3-8, provides a pre-sorted selection of TV shows and games from big names such as Disney, Nickelodeon, Marvel, Sesame Street, and more.  Amazon has built up a robust collection of apps and TV shows in their appstore and video library.

Kindle FreeTime Unlimited is a monthly service.  For Prime members it is $2.99 a month for one child, or $6.99 a month for the whole family.  For non Prime members it is just a few dollars more a month.  New Kindle Fire owners get one month for free.

Since the internet is so easily available these days, it is tough to monitor what kids watch or do online.  Kindle FreeTime Unlimited is age-appropriate from the get-go, so there’s no need to worry about your child coming across something they aren’t supposed to be watching.  Individual profiles can also be set up so that every member of the family can have their own content on the same device.

Kindle FreeTime Unlimited will download as part of an upcoming over-the-air Kindle Fire software update.  The best part about the unlimited service is that there’s no need to worry about accidental in-app downloads to run up the monthly bill.  But at the same time, the parents still have the ability to set time limits using the original Kindle FreeTime features.

So, if you have the new Kindle Fire or Fire HD, keep an eye out for this new feature coming out soon. This is something that can be both fun and educational for the whole family to enjoy.

 

Kindle Fire Not Amazon’s Only Instant Video Focus Now With XBox 360 App

Amazon is getting a bit more bold with every passing day, it seems, as they step ever-further into Netflix’s domain.  The most recent such intrusion is their creation of an app for the XBox 360 that allows Amazon Prime subscribers to access the Amazon Prime Instant Video selection and stream directly to their television.  Naturally there is also access for those who prefer to rent or buy in addition to or instead of working with the subscription plan.  It is hard to say whether this works out well for the Kindle Fire.

The major appeal of the Kindle Fire, for a fairly large portion of the customer group, is its ability to stream video from Amazon with no trouble at a moment’s notice.  Lacking as it does any form of cellular connectivity, the Fire is basically something you are going to be watching video on at home if video is being watched.  It is hard to picture large numbers of people gathering at public WiFi hotspots to watch their favorite films on portable devices.  When Amazon makes a move like this that offers a potentially superior in-home viewing experience, we have to wonder what the overall effect will be.

The major flaw in turning the Kindle Fire into a video streaming device has always been its lack of video output.  Naturally this is not an issue when we’re talking about the XBox.  These game systems are already in several times the number of homes as the Kindle Fire, especially when you factor in the Playstation 3 which got its own Instant Video app back in April.  There is always the chance that Amazon’s expanding media availability will render their hardware somewhat obsolete.

There are some downsides to this new offering that will probably keep it from becoming a prime means of consumption for the majority of users any time soon, however.  For one, users are required to maintain an XBox Gold subscription.  This is a relatively minor expense, but it does in many cases increase the monthly cost of access to Amazon Prime Instant Video in a significant way if users do not already maintain this subscription for other reasons.

There is also no integrated purchasing mechanism.  One of the biggest advantages, and sometimes dangers, of using a Kindle Fire is its quick and easy store integration.  If you want to pick up a copy of the latest big name action flick, you can do it and be watching within seconds.  The XBox app will require users to head to a PC for all of their purchasing before anything goes up on the TV.

If you have a chance, I do recommend giving this one a try.  The interface is reminiscent of the new Netflix application for the XBox and while I can’t say the video selection is as simple to navigate, I have definitely found some surprising and enjoyable titles floating around in the past few days.  I love my Kindle Fire, but the jump from a 7” screen to a 47” screen makes an amazing difference when you’re watching just about anything.

Amazon Signs a Deal With Paramount

Amazon Prime Instant Video has hit a growth spurt again.  This time, the major online retailer has signed a deal with Paramount.  This is huge, because some of the most popular movies of all time come from this production company.

Forrest Gump, one of my favorite movies, is part of the list of newly added selection.  Other well known titles include: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Top Gun, Mission Impossible 3, and Mean Girls. moreMean Girls is another favorite of mine.

The benefits of paying for a separate Netflix plan are shrinking rapidly.  For $79 a year, you can get free two day shipping, check out a book a month on your Kindle, and enjoy unlimited movie streaming.  I take advantage of all three of these services quite frequently.

I’ve found some popular Kindle books such as the Hunger Games Trilogy in the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library.  The downside is that you have to wait a month to get the next book in the trilogy.  I’m okay with that, but I know many Hunger Games fan want to jump in to the following books immediately.

In addition to popular series, there are also a ton of books by independent authors that are fresh discoveries.  Kindle Direct Publishing has opened up a new world of publishing, and has given many authors a chance to excel.  In the past, authors were an elite group.

In the first half of 2012, Amazon Prime Instant Video has grown from roughly 13,000 to 17,000 titles, and is still growing.  Earlier deals include Viacom and Discovery.  These two production companies, along with Paramount bring an eclectic collection of movies that spans across many different genres.

Prime Instant Video is compatible with both PC’s and Mac’s.  If you have a Kindle Fire, you can also enjoy them on there as well, for more portability.

Amazon on Netflix: No Monthly Instant Video Service Planned For Immediate Future

Since just before the official announcement of the Kindle Fire, and clearly in preparation for the anticipated release, Amazon has been making efforts to beef up their Amazon Instant Video selection.  Many of these new acquisitions have even been made part of the Prime Instant Videos library, which allows customers subscribing annually to the Amazon Prime service to stream available content to any compatible device whenever they want with no additional purchase necessary.  More than anything, this is the reason that new Kindle Fire owners find themselves enjoying a month of free Amazon Prime membership.  It works well to get potential subscribers hooked.  More and more, however, people have been viewing the ever-expanding collection of titles as a direct assault on Netflix.

As the most popular video streaming service on the internet today, Netflix caters to over 24 million subscribers and accounted for about a third of all internet bandwidth being used as of last fall.  They have had some issues recently after mishandling the publicizing of rate hikes necessitated by expiring streaming rights deals as well as a poorly thought out attempt to split the company into two separate entities specializing in only one aspect of the physical media and digital video combination that customers have come to expect, but subscriptions have since rebounded and there is little sign that they are in immediate danger.

When Netflix CEO Reed Hastings mentioned in a letter to shareholders that he is expecting Amazon to start breaking the Instant Video service away from Amazon Prime in favor of a monthly model more analogous to what Netflix is known for, it was finally enough to elicit comment from Amazon.  Brad Beale, the Head of Video Acquisition for Amazon, made clear in a recent interview that it is not the intent of the company to change the way they’re handling things in the near future.  He seems to have avoided implying that this was something that would never happen, but at least for the moment Netflix is safe.

The logic behind the decision is sound.  Amazon Prime is already less expensive than even the cheapest Netflix subscription.  The video content you get with it is not nearly as extensive at this point as what Netflix offers, but nobody claims that it is.  By subscribing to Amazon’s service though, even if your goal is just to take advantage of the Kindle Fire’s integration with Amazon services, customers also get free 2-day shipping on anything Amazon sells.  The video streaming might not be the biggest money maker in the world, but the associated shipping benefit has a tendency to make impulse purchasing far more appealing.  This translates into more regular profits as well as customer loyalty.

Compared to that, it is hard to imagine a huge desire on Amazon’s part to start attacking Netflix on their own terms.  For the moment, at least, video distribution appears to remain a relatively small part of the company.  The Kindle Fire is obviously meant to change that and it does a good job of showing off the content, but the day when physical goods are less important to the company than digital sales has yet to arrive.

Amazon Prime Kindle Owners’ Lending Library: How, What, and Why

Assuming you have both a Kindle and an active Amazon Prime membership, you now get to make use of Amazon’s latest eBook related service, the Amazon Prime Kindle Owners’ Lending Library!  Aside from having a rather unwieldy name attached to it, this will be a good thing for those who get to take advantage of it.  Of course, aside from being occasionally lucky it might be hard to figure out how to take advantage right off the bat.  We’ll start there.

First off, it is helpful to be aware that you need to do your borrowing from the Kindle itself.  While you might find books that have borrowing enabled while browsing the Kindle Store on another device, in which case you will see “Prime Members: $0.00 (read for free)”, you cannot begin the borrowing until you pull it up on your eReader. If your Kindle software is up to date, the Kindle Storefront will now have a “Kindle Owners’ Lending Library” category to choose when you click on “See all…”.  Look around from there and choose your book!

As far as what is currently available, none of the Big 6 publishing houses are currently taking part in this program.  They have cited concerns that offering something like this will devalue the eBook as a format in the minds of customers.  Strange reasoning, but not much we can do right now.  Among the 5,000+ titles that are available, though, expect to find selections in pretty much every category.  Keep an eye out for things like Vook Classics titles, which will work just fine but encompass titles that most people will get just as much out of when reading for free anyway.  You only get one rental per month under this program, so it’s worthwhile to use it wisely.

That one rental will strike many people as rather little to get for the $79/year Amazon Prime membership, making this an ineffective marketing tool on its own, but it will probably help drive sales of the new Kindle Touch and Kindle Fire eReaders among existing Prime customers.  Amazon is clearly convinced about this since they are once again putting their own money into getting a Kindle program off the ground.  Not all of the books being offered are in the Library by publisher agreement, it seems.  In cases when Amazon is able to grab eBooks through non-Agency Model relationships, they are simply buying at wholesale and then lending to customers, eliminating any publisher participation.  The jury is still out on how long this will last before somebody gets really upset about it.

Reading a book every couple weeks is not at all unreasonable for anybody, and Amazon has said on multiple occasions that their data shows that Kindle owners buy more books than most people.  We have to hope that translates into more books being read as well.  Perhaps the intention here is to keep people interested in continual consumption and draw in those who haven’t yet gotten too invested in their Kindle.  Regardless of the reasoning behind it, there’s no downside if you’re in a position to take advantage.  Enjoy your book.

Amazon Kindle Lending Library Launched For Kindle Owners Only

After some speculation about the possibility a while back, it appears that Amazon has opened up what we can only hope is the earliest stage of its Kindle eBook Lending Library to the public.  It will provide customers with a free book loan from time to time, without due date.  Essentially a Netflix for Kindle Edition eBooks, available for only a select group.  Sadly, this service is far more exclusive than anything else Amazon has put out to date.

Ever since the first Kindle came out, Amazon’s position on the line was that users could “Buy Once, Read Everywhere”.  Overall they have done a great job of ensuring this, with apps for most any system and now the Kindle Cloud Reader which when complete will allow users to access their eBooks from any browser on any system.  So far, so good.  While the Kindle Owners Lending Library does not necessarily break this rule, it walks a fairly fine line.  Only people who own physical Kindle eReaders and who subscribe to Amazon Prime will be able to take advantage of the new service.

True, this is not a purchase.  It’s really not even an amazingly useful library yet, featuring just over 5,000 titles with none coming from the largest publishing houses. It does privilege people who use Amazon’s hardware, though, which is going to come as a bit of a shock to people who have become accustomed to receiving great Amazon service when using their Kindle for Android or Kindle for iOS apps.

What would motivate this potentially alienating move?  Partly it fits in with the Kindle Fire‘s launch.  Amazon is able to push their Prime service, which they are clearly hoping to catch a large number of Kindle Fire owners with, as well as offering one more reason for people to switch to a Kindle.  To make a broad generalization, it is fairly safe to assume that people who are used to doing their Kindle reading on an Android or iOS device are used to reading on back-lit LCDs, meaning that they are potential converts with the Kindle Fire’s eReading capabilities.

It is also of major importance to demonstrate to publishers who have not yet bought in to the idea that this can serve customers without devaluing the eBook image.  By only offering the option to owners of Kindle eReaders, it is perhaps possible to maintain the eBook as something with more weight behind it than your average cell phone app.  It’s doubtful that this can make much of an impression on companies clearly predisposed to hate the idea in the first place, but time will tell.

Despite these valid uses for the program, I think Amazon has made a mistake here.  Drawing a line between Kindle owners and app users only serves to push potential customers away.  Given how important Amazon is seeing their digital content distribution to be these days, that is not a smart move to make.  The underlying concept is great and would be a valid way to push Amazon Prime, but as it stands this seems likely to hurt more than it helps.

Kindle Fire to Offer Apps for Pandora, Netflix, and More

As many of you know, Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) has its own Android based app store that offers a free app every day.  The Kindle Fire is set to release on November 15 with a huge selection of popular apps including Pandora, Netflix, Facebook, and games from top gaming companies including Electronic Arts, PopCap and more.

Amazon is set to go with everyone’s favorite apps right out of the gate.  That’s pretty impressive considering how long it took the iPad to get a Facebook app.  But, in Amazon’s case, a precedent has been set in the android market. Whereas the iPad was the first to enter the tablet market, and is the only tablet using Apple’s app store.

EA and PopCap are known for high quality games.  A few favorites include Scrabble, Tetris, and Peggle.  Tetris has been a huge hit since the beginning of gaming systems.  Rovio is also on board, and they’re the makers of the hit game Angry Birds.  What is a tablet without Angry Birds?

Netflix and Pandora are other top apps that are available across tablet and smartphone platforms, so they are a natural addition to the Kindle Fire collection. Amazon also has its own video streaming library for Amazon Prime members set to rival Netflix.  Pandora and Rhapsody are the major players in music apps.

As far as apps go, one niche that Apple has a good hold on is Accessibility.  There are apps for the iPad that serve as decent and much cheaper alternatives to assistive technology.  I just downloaded a magnfying glass and a recorder recently. There are also caption services, and so much more.  I haven’t seen as much of this on Android systems, or on the Kindle in general.  It would be great to see apps that help people with vision, hearing, mobility, and learning disabilities.  Just another way to heat up the competition against Apple.

For more information on what popular apps will be available on the Kindle Fire, check out the latest Amazon press release.

 

 

Amazon Prime: Pros, Cons, & Kindle Implications

For some time now Amazon has been pushing their Amazon Prime service.  For just $79 a year (less if you’re an active college student with a valid .edu email address) you can take advantage of unlimited free two day shipping on eligible items as well as enjoy the perk of a selection of streaming video titles free on demand to any supported device.  While the former has been the major selling point for many so far, the latter is going to be an increasingly big deal with the coming of the Kindle Fire.

There is a reason that the Kindle Fire will be coming with a month worth of Amazon Prime membership.  The device is designed to work as an ideal portable video streamer.  The Amazon Instant Video library has been growing regularly since right around the time the first Kindle Tablet rumors started popping up, and it hasn’t stopped yet.  A significant portion of that is free to Prime members.

Of course, as with any such program, there are issues.  Most significantly is the fact that much of the benefit is restricted to the United States.  Amazon’s other sites mostly have their own versions of Amazon Prime with similar benefits (such as Amazon.co.uk offering free 1 day shipping and evening or weekend delivery discounts in select areas) but as yet none of them seem to involve the video service.  While there are obvious reasons for this, including the complications of international media rights acquisition and local content distribution laws, that doesn’t mean that the problem isn’t there.  It is slightly strange that Amazon would choose to call their program basically the same thing in multiple countries while offering different benefits depending on location.

This is, incidentally, widely believed to relate directly to the Kindle Fire‘s lack of international presence.  Before Amazon can hope to make any money off of such a device, they need to have the media services in place for it to tie into.  No video streaming, no Kindle Fire.

Will this be changing in the future?  I think it is safe to say that most people expect Amazon to be making a move to expand their digital media services internationally in the near future.  The recent expansion of the Kindle eReaders into new markets could even be seen as a way of testing the waters, so to speak.  I don’t think that this will happen soon enough to please most people, though.  Given the time required for Amazon to build a significant library of video content, Prime members are likely to be left on the back burner as far as this goes for some months yet.  More in countries whose Amazon presence is still quite new.

Still, watching for changes in how the Amazon Prime services are handled may be a good way to predict Amazon’s next moves in a given country.  As closely tied into it as the Kindle Fire seems to be, a beefing up of related content seems to be a likely predictor of a local tablet release.  As popular as their new tablet is, I can’t see Amazon stopping at just the US.

Amazon Expands Prime Video Offerings For Kindle Fire Release With PBS Deal

While it does other things as well, in a lot of ways the Kindle Fire seems to be intended to do for internet video what the Kindle eReader line has done for the eBook.  While Amazon hasn’t quite got the content of, say, Netflix, they’re doing a great job of building up the lists in preparation for the launch of the new media tablet.  Deals have been made with the likes of Fox, CBS, and others to offer a selection that will cater to practically any taste.  The big trick is to get people interested in buying.

In order to ease customers into the experience, new Kindle Fire owners will be getting a month of free Amazon Prime membership.  Now, in addition to the well known benefit of free two day shipping on almost anything Amazon.com sells for the duration of a Prime membership, everybody with said membership get to stream a fairly large segment of the Amazon Instant Video library for free any time they want to.  It isn’t the whole collection by any means, but there’s been some good stuff there.

Now there is even more.  Amazon has arranged to make a large selection of popular PBS titles available as part of the Prime package.  This will include Frontline, Antiques Roadshow, Julia Child’s The French Chef, and a great deal more.  All told, over 1,000 new episodes will show up over the next couple months, bringing the general total of this free streaming category to over 12,000.  PBS has declared that this is part of a larger overall strategy to bring their programming to anybody who wants it whenever and wherever they want to experience it.

Obviously this works out well for customers.  Freely available content is nice and it will give people a chance to assess the value of the Amazon Prime program on an individual basis.  For Amazon it’s even more useful since it gives them an opportunity to impress. They’re reportedly selling the Kindle Fire for a slight loss on every unit, which means that money has to be made through other avenues besides hardware.  Amazon Prime membership is one of those.  This means that the company has every incentive to make the service worth the $79 annual fee.  As most people who have used this service come to realize, it tends to be.  It also lets people test out their own situation with streaming video in terms of connectivity and reliability.  Nobody wants to be stuck spending money on video without knowing if they will actually be able to watch it.  The trial is good news for all involved.

It’s likely this won’t be the last we hear about expanded video content in the next few months.  That includes both Prime and regular content, of course, but the service is clearly poised to expand.  With the recent dissatisfaction with Internet Streaming giant Netflix, it’s a good time to be presenting customers with an alternative opportunity.  If you’re a fan of this sort of technology, it’s something to keep an eye on around and immediately following the Kindle Fire launch.