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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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Can the Amazon Kindle eBook Compare to the Endurance of the Printed Word?

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.

Kindle Book Recommendations: Fantasy

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

Amazon Kindle Now Sells More Books Than Print

Long before we had the Kindle to play with, Amazon was still making a big impression in book sales.  They got started over 15 years ago now and in that time managed to become the number one destination for anybody wanting to pick up reading material.  This in itself is an amazing achievement for any company.  Then, 4 years back, they introduced the Kindle.  A good situation got better.  In these four years, Amazon has brought the eBook from a fad to a point where sales of electronic texts exceed those of print books in their entirety.

That’s right, it finally happened.  Since April 1st, Amazon’s Kindle Store has sold 105 Kindle eBooks for every 100 print books they have sold in any format.  We knew it was going to happen eventually, of course.  First they outsold hardcovers last July, then paperbacks six months later, and now this.  The speed of the progression is as impressive as the accomplishment itself.

To put this in the proper perspective, a couple things need to be kept in mind.  For one, all of these milestones I mention were factoring in only paid sales.  The free editions that tend to be the first selection of the new Kindle owner were left out for obvious reasons or else this probably would have happened a while back.  Really, how many people make their way through all their free downloads though?

Also, given the timing, this clearly came prior to and had nothing to do with the introduction of the discounted, ad-supported Kindle w/ Special Offers. This means that you can’t consider this more widely appealing Kindle offering to be part of the trend when Amazon lets us know that their 2011 Kindle Edition sales to date have been more than three times those of 2010.  When you consider than in about a month the Kindle w/ Special Offers has become the best selling member of the Kindle family by far, the trend seems poised to continue.

The Kindle Store is now home to over 950,000 titles, including 109 of 111 current NYT Best Sellers.  The vast majority of these titles are priced under $9.99, including the aforementioned Best Sellers.  Again, these numbers don’t even try to factor in the millions of titles that are available for free due to expired copyrights or the many books available through other sources that can be used on the Kindle.  On top of this, new titles are being added all the time including many from Amazon’s successful self-publishing platform.  Over 175,000 books have been added to the store in 2011 alone.

We’ve known for a long time that the eBook was on the rise.  It was only a matter of time before it became the dominant format.  While this is only citing the success of one retailer, Amazon is leading the way.  They have localized stores in multiple countries, are steadily expanding, and continue to distribute the most popular eReader on the market in spite of steadily increasing competition from tablets and competing eReaders.  Even without the upcoming Kindle Tablets, the Kindle is demonstrating an ability to keep up the momentum.

Free Kindle Textbooks

At first, when I came across this free e-book source, I was suspicious that this website will be our regular free e-book scam full of links that lead to anything, but the e-books. However, after some quality time spent on Open Culture, I was impressed by the textbook section.

To access it, press “Textbooks” on the right top corner. Though, the list of free textbooks is not very extensive, the variety of subjects is pretty nice: Linguistics, Physics, Mathematics, Political Science, Music, History, Biology, Economics & Finance, Engineering, Earth Science etc.

The textbooks are offered in various formats. The reason for this is that the books are hosted on different servers. This is a well selected collection of links that lead to text-books’ locations. For example, A Textbook of the History of Painting by John Charles Van Dyke is actually located on Project Gutenberg site. Hence, there is an option for downloading it in MOBI format for your Kindle. Introduction to Physical Oceanography by Dr. Robert Stewart is hosted by Texas A&M University and it is in PDF format. Calculus by Gilbert Strang is offered by MIT in PDF format.

Also, Open Culture collects the list of the usual classics and links for free audiobooks.

Open Source’s list of textbook perhaps is one of the better lists I’ve seen so far. Hopefully, you kindlized students out there will find this source useful. Happy studying!

Kindle Book Recommendations: Children’s Books

Oddly enough, one of the prerequisites for blogging about the Kindle isn’t a strong rapport with young people.  I’ll admit right off the bat that I don’t know much about kids.  They’re small and high pitched and seem to enjoy climbing on things?  The few I know also seem to really like dogs.  We have that in common!  Anyway, while my practical knowledge of children is lacking I have been encouraged recently, in light of the Harry Potter eBook possibility, to look into some of the children’s lit that is available for the Kindle.  It turns out there is a fair selection out there.

The Giver – Lois Lowry

Chances are good you’ll recognize this one.  The Giver is a classic, after all.  It’s a story about a seemingly “perfect” society where everything is carefully controlled.  Population is limited, careers are carefully selected well in advance for children, there is no crime, no drama, and neither old age nor imperfection have any real place in it.  Naturally this isn’t quite the paradise it seems at a glance.

It’s a simple but powerful book that many people definitely remember fondly with good reason.  Addresses social issues, quite well in an engrossing kind of way that surely fits the educational requirement many parents have for their kids’ reading.

The Kindle Edition is $6.64

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

I was actually rather shocked to find out that this book/series was for children, given all the adults I heard raving about it.  The premise is a cross between Death Race, Battle Royale, and the Survivor Reality TV show.  While it is a bit violent, I’d say it’s definitely less shocking than your average PG-13 movie, so I doubt there will be many parental concerns overall.

The response to this book, the first in a trilogy, has been overwhelmingly positive in pretty much every age group.  The characters are strong and believable.  The plot deals with interesting, if not entirely original social issues.  There’s really nothing at all that I could find to complain about.

The Kindle Edition is $5.00

The Red Pyramid – Rick Riordan

This is the first book in the second series that Riordan has come up with so far.  The first, the Percy Jackson series, you’ve probably heard of because of the movie that came out of it if nothing else. This series is based on a similar concept, but focused on Egyptian mythology rather than Greek.  The story is presented through the eyes of a brother and sister in the frame of a transcript of the story.  It works to provide a fairly unique multi-view perspective as he switches between the siblings, and allows for some variation in the narrative voice that keeps it interesting.

There is a lot more information presented in this book than in the Percy Jackson series.  It is definitely bigger on educating the reader.  This could be because Riordan simply thought it was more interesting to talk about or because he assumed that there was a greater familiarity that you could assume when dealing with Greek mythology, but either way it fits.

The Kindle Edition is $9.39

Does the Ad-Supported Kindle Go Far Enough?

There have been a wide range of responses to the announcement of Amazon’s new ad-supported Kindle release this past week.  For the most part, people seem to approve.  Amazon made a smart move when they decided to have the ads be unobtrusive and potentially personalized.  This leads me to wonder what the future holds as far as advertising subsidized eReading possibilities.

Let’s face it, it’s impossible to get away from ads on a day to day basis.  They’re all over the net, the roads, buses, walls, shipping containers…I could go on.  How much do we really care anymore, though?  The reason that this was such a great move for Amazon is that people are already so used to seeing ads and simply filtering them out without giving it much thought that this small addition won’t have any major effect.  It isn’t as if they were being placed in such a manner as to interfere with immersion while reading, after all.

I wonder how long it will be before we can get books with the same advantage, though?  Obviously, some people have already caught on to the potential and made a business model out of it (WOWIO).  It is demonstratively possible, therefore, to have an unobtrusive advertising presence in a book.  Not really that much different from your average paperback’s large note that it has recently been made into a movie or television show, when you think about it.  I’m really hoping this becomes a trend for the Kindle.

While I don’t support the inclusion of ads mid-text, I think most people would be willing to glance through one or two as they flip to page one of a new book if that meant that the book was cheaper or even free.  This could definitely work as a way to alter the existing Agency Model pricing scheme that makes eBook purchasing an almost comically overpriced experience from time to time.  Give users the option of the normal book for the usual price, but a copy with ads included for 50% off.  How many people will really turn down that opportunity to save money just because ads are obnoxious?

I’m not advocating the WOWIO model, necessarily.  I see this as having potential as a flag in the downloaded file that turns ads on or off on a case by case basis.  This would allow for the updating of advertisements from time to time and avoid the problem of outdated messages.  What would be the point of a sales announcement if you didn’t get around to seeing it until two months after the fact, right?

Still, the Kindle‘s new pricing due to ad inclusion is a huge step in the right direction.  If, as has often been speculated, Amazon is selling their products at or below cost then something needs to be done to drive the prices further down.  I know we’re all really hoping for those rumored free Kindles toward the end of the year, however unlikely the prospect.

Publishers Claim Credit For Success of Kindle Editions & Other eBooks

Owing perhaps to the impressive holiday sales figures for the Kindle, Nook, and others at the end of 2010, an announcement from the Association of American Publishers has confirmed that February 2011 saw eBooks outselling every other format of book available.  While this isn’t precisely a surprise given the not too far gone announcement from Amazon that Kindle Editions were their bestselling format, it demonstrates that the trend is ever on the rise.

According to the same announcement, compared to February 2010 the sales figures for this past February have increased by over 200% for eBooks and sales of print books in all formats combined declined by nearly 25% over a similar period. Downloaded audio books also saw a bit of a boost with over 26% growth from the prior year. Everything digital is getting increasingly acceptable to the average consumer, especially the sorts of things that can fit on a Kindle. What is perhaps the most impressive part of this for me is that judging by the tone of the text, publishers are attempting to pass this off as a demonstration of how great they’re doing at providing readers with what they want.  I’m going to have to say that I disagree.

What we’re seeing now is, in some ways, a bit like the move from audio cassettes to compact discs.  Sure it takes a while to catch on, but most people are eventually at least willing to give it a try and very few people find themselves truly disappointed (and to head off complaints, no I am not trying to extend the metaphor to say that paper books will inevitably cease to exist.  We know that’s not likely to happen).  As people adopt the new format, they go back and grab their favorites.  According to the AAP, there is a trend reported from many publishers where a reader will buy the most recent work of an author and then go back to pick up the entire catalog of that author’s work.  Is the logical assumption really that the reader in question has never read one of this author’s books before and was so impressed that they blew a hundred dollars grabbing the rest?  I’d say it’s more likely that these figures reflect fans picking up old favorites.

For an industry that has resisted what seems to be a logical and inevitable progression to the point of imposing arbitrary format-wide pricing schemes aimed at countering popular adoption, it seems a bit hypocritical to be throwing out quotes like “The February results reflect two core facts: people love books and publishers actively serve readers wherever they are” and “publishers are constantly redefining the timeless concept of ‘books.’”  It’s almost amusing to think of how hard it is going to be in coming years to keep things going the way they are in the face of authors taking advantage of the ability to self-publish for things like the Kindle and still manage to get on bestsellers lists.  These figures aren’t a reflection of how well the publishing industry is adapting to serve its customers, they are demonstrative of the increasing momentum of eReaders in spite of the best efforts of the industry to prevent change.  Not so great for them, but amazing for readers.

Kindle vs Nostalgia: Why Books Aren’t Harmed By eBooks

As somebody who both loves having a Kindle and who is proud of his fairly extensive physical library, it can be infuriating to hear people talk about their perception that eReaders stand in opposition to books.  I will certainly acknowledge that there is a completely different tactile experience that you get when reading a printed book.  I’m not even going to try to make the claim that it isn’t superior to that of the eReader, since that’s obviously a matter of personal preference rather than objective evaluation.  What I promote, however, is the idea that while it may be important in some cases, as a general rule the medium through which a text comes to you should always be secondary to the text itself.

When I buy a book, speaking solely for myself, I buy it because I want something to read.  When there’s something I particularly like, or when there’s an edition that adds something that can’t be found elsewhere, I grab a copy for the bookshelf.  This keeps it available, visible, easily referenced, and has a certain aesthetically pleasing effect.  In no situation that I can think of, however, would I grab a book that I have no interest in reading.  What would be the point?  Now, assuming you’re still with me to this point, it only stands to reason that eReaders like the Kindle make a book-lover’s life a little easier.

Even if you leave aside the issue of bulk and transportation when it comes to a paper book, there’s a big advantage to having books available electronically.  Availability.  An eBook never runs out at the local store, never goes out of print, and theoretically will never wear out.  While there is a certain nostalgia in picking up a well-loved old book that is just coming apart at the seams, I’d rather than a copy that is as readable the tenth time as it was the first.  And if I want to go back and read the author’s earlier works because I liked it so much, I don’t want to have to worry about the book being out of print or on weeks of back-order at the local book store.  In either of those cases, I’d be more likely to put the idea of reading what I want aside because it would be more hassle than enjoyment.  Thanks to the Kindle, no worries.

It should go without saying that this only serves to enhance the existing system rather than detract from it.  There will always be situations where you want a paper copy, whether it is to fill a book shelf, doodle in the margins, run a highlighter over, or what have you.  In the end, however, it’s better to have the text available.  That is the primary concern on which everything else rests, and the service that the Kindle provides.  One way or another, if an eBook has existed then it is highly unlikely that it will fail to be available should you need it.  This cannot be a bad thing, when what you truly care about is experiencing the text of a book.

How Much Value Do Kindle Singles Bring to the Table?

Kindle Singles have been something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.  They occupy a strange space in the eBook marketplace.  While there’s obviously a place for good short fiction in any library, perhaps even more so now that Kindles make it so simple to index large collections, we run into issues of perceived value in book purchasing.  So I guess the question is that of what role this category fills going forward.

Theoretically, this is an ideal place to open up a set of texts that your average reader might not have had access to previously.  Not many things make it to printing in the 5,000 to 30,000 word range, traditionally, unless they happen to make it into an anthology of some sort.  One problem that I’m seeing, however, is that these less extensive works have a bit of trouble edging into the field of view of your average eBook reader.

You’ve got thousands of freebies on the one side, including hundreds of the best books ever written historically and at least as many new writers trying to break into the marketplace by offering at least first volumes without charge, and on the other there are successful authors making amazing work and selling it for anywhere from $0.99 – $2.99 through Amazon.  We all live in a world where you have to get the most for your money.  Now, clearly it is hard to quantify the value of a book. There are far too many variables to narrow it down in any way and the value for one person might well be completely different from that for another.  What do we have to compare with?  The number of stars in a review and the number of pages in the text are basically the only applicable quantities.  The question about the applicability of ratings is best left for another time.  The inherent subjectivity and bias in the existing system have come up before and will again. Page numbers are a matter of real concern though.

Objectively, I know that good writing can be found in any number of styles and lengths.  There’s no reason that $2 spent on a Kindle Single wouldn’t be better spent than on a similarly well reviewed Kindle Edition from any other category in the store.  There’s this little voice in the back of my head when I think about it, however, that reminds me that even if it’s great, the book will be over far too soon.  As such, I’m pushed back toward traditional length works.  Definitely a dilemma.

For the moment, Kindle Singles are focused on Journalism, Biography, and various other things that can best be presented in their relative completeness without using too many words.  There’s so much potential in the short fiction market though.  I just have no idea how to bring it to the table in a competitive way when larger-scale works are going so cheaply.  Anybody have a decent take on this that they’ve seen somewhere or come up with on their own?  Even aware as I am of the problems of equating quantity with quality, this is something I’m having trouble wrapping my head around.

Kindle Book Recommendations: Health

While presenting these recommendations, I’ve gotten a lot of responses about non-literary Kindle books.  Admittedly, I’ve questioned throwing anything like that up here, but I figure that since people are sending me links it’s likely that at least some of you would be interested!  Today, we have some self-help style books that claim to offer advise on just generally feeling better through basic, cheap methods.  Now, unless we’re talking about a bear who just looooves picnic baskets, my experiences with things like yogis are limited at best.  In order to bring the best input possible, I consulted somebody who knows a bit more.  Here’s what we came up with.

How To Meditate: A Step-by Step Guide to the Art and Science of Meditation

If you’re interested in this sort of thing, you can’t really go wrong with an informative title that costs as little as this.  The attraction of this particular title stems from the treatment.  It is informative without preaching or attempting to do much in the way of selling readers on a personal philosophy.  It’s also quite focused, which seems unusual for such a book.  Novak presents easily understood instructions on body positioning, breathing patterns, and all that fun stuff, all with accompanying illustration for those who might need it (though these illustrations don’t look quite as good on the Kindle as on paper). Even if you don’t buy into the underlying philosophy, I think it’s probably useful as a general relaxation technique, and who couldn’t use something like that these days?

The Kindle Edition is $4.00

Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing

There is no shortage when it comes to yoga books.  Most of them toss out a variety of poses, name them, and leave it at that.  Probably useful for some people, but a more instructive approach is nice.  This one instructs and accounts for a variety of different fitness levels.  Great for anybody who doesn’t know what they’re doing so far.  The author also spends a lot of time on, as the title implies, medical applications of yoga.  While some of the claims seem a little stretched to me personally, I’m don’t feel that my background is sufficient to judge medical matters.  If that’s your thing, check it out and maybe learn something.  Even if you don’t, it’s easy to take this as a low-impact fitness guide that just about anybody can handle in comfort. The portability of the Kindle is a plus compared to the often-bulky yoga books that many people will be used to as well.

The Kindle Edition is $15.99

the Moment: 141 Mindful Practices to Overcome Overeating One Meal at a Time

It’s no secret that overeating is a big deal for a lot of people.  It’s a lot easier to get into bad habits than it is to break them.  This book seems to have a somewhat different approach than the usual Diet + Willpower equation that fails people so regularly.  The author promotes awareness of the situations that cause you to eat, thinking about what brings on cravings, and knowing how to avoid things like habitual or depressed eating.  Admittedly, some of the advice is a bit intuitive and seems weird to have to be elaborated, but bringing this sort of thing out into the open might help you out if you’ve had to deal with failed diets a time or two in the past or just want to improve on some bad habits.

The Kindle Edition is $9.99