December 30th, 2010
I’ve been fighting a cold this week — but it got me remembering some of my favorite blog posts of 2010. I’d been thinking about the way I viewed books not just 10 years ago, but 20 or 30. (Before what historians will eventually call “the digital revolution”.) I remembered being a teenager and watching an old black-and-white horror movie from the 1930s — I think it was The Invisible Man Returns — but what really impressed me was the elderly British inspector in the movie who had his own cozy den that was filled with shelves of books. I remember thinking that when I was a grown-up, I also wanted a luxuriously cozy study just like that — which would also be lined with my favorite books.
And I had the same thought when I saw Bilbo’s hobbit hole in The Fellowship of the Ring…
But now, instead, I have my Kindle, which can probably hold just as many books. And I have an extremely cozy armchair — so if you want to push the metaphor, I can claim that I’ve already realized my dream. But is the luxurious library itself going to become a think of the past? Maybe comfy homes of the future will have a sumptuous “library,” but containing just one single, but very elegant Kindle. It could have a special custom case — marble, maybe, or solid gold. Or maybe books will be still be collected, but as exotic antiquities from a bygone age…
Roger Ebert touched on this in the essay he wrote about how much he treasured the books that he’d loved — as reminders of his experiences while reading them! For example, he once lived at a place called University House.
“It had been built for troops during the war, and now housed graduate students. The water poured down the roof and collected in an exposed gutter which hurried it along somewhere downhill. I have long had this peculiar love of sitting very close to the rain and yet remaining protected — in a cafe, on a porch, next to a window, or there in that room, which had two iron-paned windows and a Dutch door. After a warning from our house mother, I’d gone to the OK Bazaar and purchased a small electric heater.”
I love reading on a rainy day, too, curled up in my cozy chair with a very good…ebook. It’s still a wonderful experience.
So maybe we don’t need the bookshelf-lined private study after all…
I once interviewed Roger Ebert back in 2001. (It happened via a brief e-mail exchange, but I remember him as exceedingly gracious, and I’ve been a huge fan ever since!) He thought a handheld PDA would be too frustrating to use as a newspaper columnist, because “A writer lives through a keyboard.” Now it was 2010, and I’d had to wonder: would Roger Ebert be enthusiastic about a handheld reading device? So I’d done a Google search to see if I could find a recent comment, and found that gloriously rambling essay written by Ebert himself (written just last year) — called Books Do Furnish a Life.
During the course of it, Ebert mentions one book after another that he’s cherished throughout his 67 years of life, and then admits that he still has a home library that’s filled with 3,000 different books. But soon I’d discovered a second link, where Roger Ebert finally shared his own personal feelings about the Kindle. It was in a fairly technical essay where Ebert explained why he prefers seeing films in celluloid prints (vs. newer digital projection systems), titled Why I’m So Conservative.
“In the earliest days of home video, I published an article in The Atlantic calling for a ‘wood-burning cinema.’ In recoil from the picture quality of early tapes, I called for the development of low-cost 16mm projectors for the home. No, this didn’t have the invisible quotation marks of satire around it. Seldom has a bright idea of mine been more excitingly insane…”
It’s hard to argue with his fondness, and the memories that go along with them. And it’s in the essay’s final sentence where he mentions the Kindle — and then brings all these themes together.
“I love silent films. I miss radio drama. In some matters, I feel almost like a reactionary. I love books, for example. Physical books with pages, bindings, tactile qualities and even smell. Once a year I take down my hardbound copy of the works of Ambrose Bierce, purchased for $1.99 by mail order when I was about 11, simply to inhale it. Still as curiously pungent as ever. I summarily reject any opportunity to read a book by digital means, no matter how fervently Andy Ihnatko praises his Kindle. Somehow a Kindle sounds like it would be useful for the wood-burning cinema.”
It’s an argument I’ve heard before, though I’ve never heard it expressed quite so eloquently. The wry resistance of my hero left me a little stunned, until I realized that the two of us also shared a tremendous common ground. After all, maybe Roger Ebert doesn’t love the Kindle. But he definitely loves reading!
December 29th, 2010
About eight million people have apparently received a new Kindle this year. So who are these people?
Fortunately, Amazon’s shared some very interesting stories from Kindle owners on the Kindle’s Facebook page. And one of the most fascinating responses came from Eddie R., who apparently leads a very adventurous life. He’d written to tell Amazon that “I do Third World missionary work, and in the past I had taken anywhere from 25 to 40 pounds of regular books as resource material. That has now been reduced due to my Kindle.”
But Eddie’s adventures with his Kindle were just beginning, since he also told Amazon that “I recently climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa. I took my Kindle with me, reading it all the way to the top, which was equal to carrying 100 books up the mountain with a very different weight factor. One of the real benefits is the length of time the battery stays charged 10-12 hours (without wifi) which enabled me to read every night (with a mountain climbing head lamp on), over a seven-day period. I am a very satisfied user!”
Of course, you don’t have to go to Africa to appreciate the Kindle. Barbie G. has a new baby, and she shared with Amazon that “In the first year with my 2nd Generation Kindle, I read 66 books. That was with two kids and a full-time job. It’s great to be able to read while feeding my baby her bottle…!” And a woman named Deborah A. loved how easy it is to turn pages with her Kindle. “The other day I was on the train and was knitting and reading… With a book I usually have to put down the knitting, turn the page, put something on the book to keep it open, then resume my knitting…and all of that I’d have to do for every couple of pages. The Kindle’s page turn bars/buttons on each side are perfect!”
But one of the most fascinating stories came from Vaughn R, who’d actually been part of one of the major news stories of 2010. “As a ‘survivor’ of the Carnival Splendor ‘cruise to nowhere’ I’d like to thank you for making the Kindle, which really helped turn my’”nightmare’ trip into a pleasure.” On its first day the California cruise ship had experienced a fire in its engine room, leaving the 3,299 passengers stranded on board 55 miles from the coastline without any electricity, air conditioning, or hot water, according to one news report. “While other passengers were haplessly ‘dead in the water’ due to the dead batteries on their iPads, my Kindle easily lasted the entire trip even though I used it nearly all day, every day.
“I was able to relax comfortably topside, reading in the bright sun, and enjoy my unexpected extended stay in the middle of the Pacific ocean while reading a large ‘stack’ of books which were loaded on my ultra-thin and light Kindle…”
Vaughn’s story got me wondering if anyone’s reading their Kindle while they’re stuck at an airport — and it turns out the answer is a big yes. “I was on that plane stuck for 12 hours on the tarmac at JFK yesterday,” one Kindle owner posted this afternoon in Amazon’s Kindle forum. “Thank goodness I had my Kindle!” And it turns out it’s a fairly common experience. “Recently, while waiting for my flight at the airport, a voice on a loudspeaker informed the passengers that our plane was delayed because of bad weather,” remembered Sandy B. on the Kindle’s Facebook page, “and it might be two hours before our flight departed.
“Two blissful hours of reading my Kindle sounded like a delicious escape from work, laundry, dishes and bookkeeping.” Instead of being upset about the delay, she wrote Amazon to tell them that she was actually happy about it. “Waiting is WONDERFUL with my Kindle!”
Probably my favorite comment came from a woman named Mary L., who e-mailed Amazon with the ultimate compliment about her Kindle: “It has literally ‘re-kindled’ my love of reading.” But another user thought the name had an even spicier origin. “I was on a ferry ride recently and watched with great amusement as a young man used his Kindle, as ‘chick-bait’. He sat near a group of attractive young women and began reading. It didn’t take more than a few seconds before one of them approached him to ask for a closer look. A man with a Kindle is far more interesting than a man with the latest cologne or the flashiest car… No wonder you called it ‘Kindle’”
This Monday Amazon’s CEO finally shared a story of his own, making the point that the Kindle doesn’t necessarily compete with the iPad. “We’re seeing that many of the people who are buying Kindles also own an LCD tablet. Customers report using their LCD tablets for games, movies, and web browsing and their Kindles for reading sessions.” Amazon isn’t feeling threatened by Apple’s products, and even bragged in their announcement about a customer who ordered an Apple Mac Mini on Christmas Eve — Friday, December 24, at 1:41 p.m. — and actually received in the same day, less than seven hours later in Woodinville, Washington. But Amazon is still beating Apple in the war of the ebooks, according to another detail in the announcement. Amazon’s three most popular ebooks over the last five weeks were John Grisham’s The Confession, Decision Points by George Bush, and Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand — all books which are unavailable in Apple’s iBookstore. And Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos still had one more story to tell, with a very happy ending.
“On Christmas Day, more people turned on new Kindles for the first time, downloaded more Kindle Buy Once, Read Everywhere apps, and purchased more Kindle books than on any other day in history!”
December 28th, 2010
I think I’ve finally figured out how many Kindles Amazon has sold. It’s been a closely-guarded secret for years — but it’s possible to calculate a good estimate using the new information Amazon released yesterday.
Monday Amazon announced the Kindle 3 had become the best-selling product ever in Amazon history. That’s even more impressive when you consider that the Kindle 3 has been available for just four months. And two weeks ago, Amazon bragged that they’d already sold “millions” of Kindle 3′s in just the first 73 days since September 1. (That’s pretty much the entire life of the Kindle 3, since it was released just four days earlier, on Saturday, August 27.)
Obviously that confirms that Amazon has sold at least two million Kindles. But you’d think they’d find a way to confirm an even higher number — if in fact they’d actually sold more. And then Monday Amazon’s CEO provided another crucial data point for comparision. He announced coyly that Amazon had sold more Kindle 3′s than they’d sold of the final book in the Harry Potter series.
Interestingly, Amazon once claimed that it didn’t earn any money on the sales of that Harry Potter book. Amazon sold Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at a 50% discount to attract new customers — for just $7.99 — and three years later, it’s still listed on Amazon at that same low price. That book had been the previous best-selling item in Amazon’s history, but ironically, the popular book about the young sorcerer now holds the key to another grand mystery. If we knew how many copies Amazon sold, we’d also know their secret sales figure for the Kindle 3!
But we do know how many copies Amazon sold — at least, judging by a 2007 press release. Amazon announced they’d sold 2.5 million copies of the Harry Potter book in its first 10 weeks of release, according to The New York Times.. But more than 1.6 million copies were pre-ordered, according to an Amazon press release — making the announcement a full 19 days before the book was released. They’d sell just 900,000 more copies over the next 12 weeks, if you combine the information in the two sales figures.
And meanwhile, the book was selling like magic in offline bookstores around the world. In fact, 15 million copies were sold on its first day, according to Forbes magazine. More than a year later, they announced that 44 million copies had finally been sold. Is it possible to calculate Amazon’s share of those sales, thus revealing their sales figures for the Kindle 3?
Note that the sales figures over a year later were just triple the sales figures from the very first day. Applying the same formula to Amazon, you’d expect Amazon to sell 7.5 million copies of the book by the end of 2008. And there’s another way to guess Amazon’s sales figure, which results in a nearly identical number. A business analyst once reported calculations that Amazon sells 19% of all printed books. Using that as a rough guideline, Amazon would’ve sold 9 million copies of the Harry Potter book by the end of 2008.
Of course, they’ve probably sold even more copies since then — especially since last month saw the opening of a movie based on the book. But what’s interesting is this estimate is pretty close to the leaked sales figures that Bloomberg News reported last week. Amazon was expecting to sale 8 million Kindles in 2010, according to “two people who are aware of the company’s sales projections.”
No matter how you estimate it, you seem to come up with the same number – so I feel confident in saying that Amazon has sold close to 8 million Kindle 3 devices in just the last year. Of course, there’s also lots of people who own a Kindle 2 (and even the original Kindle 1), so the number of Kindles in the world is probably much higher. Still, it’s another milestone along the road to the ebook revolution. And Amazon revealed in another interesting piece of trivia from their Monday press release. Saturday more people purchased more Kindle ebooks than on any other day in history.
Ironically, there was one book they weren’t buying: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which is still only available in its print edition!
December 27th, 2010
I’m hoping I’ve discovered some new tricks that will surprise even experienced Kindle users. But first, here’s my favorite tip of all.
Jump to the Kindle Store
The Kindle has a built-in shortcut that will take you straight to the front page of Amazon’s Kindle store. Just press the ALT key and HOME button at the same time — and your Kindle will do the rest!
And there’s always lots to see on the front page of The Kindle Store. You can browse through Amazon’s list of magazines, newspapers, and blogs — and, of course, ebooks. There’s the New York Times best-seller list, plus Amazon’s featured “New and Noteworthy” ebooks, and even some personalized book recommendations at the bottom of the page. (But here’s Amazon’s dirtiest secret. Sometimes they’re only recommending a book because someone paid them to, according to a long but fascinating new article about bookstores in The Boston Review!)
Improve your Web Browsing with Kinstant
Last week I discovered a free web site called Kinstant — and it makes it much easier to then surf to most other sites on the web. “The Kindle includes a built-in web browser,” Kinstant’s webmaster explains, “but most websites are not easily viewed on the Kindle’s grayscale e-Ink screen. Kinstant helps Kindle owners get more mileage out of their devices: by connecting them to Kindle-compatible websites, and by filtering sites to achieve faster download speeds.”
Once you’re at KInstant.com, you can enter URLs into their text-entry windows — and usually it’ll pull them up with much better than you’d normally see on your Kindle. The site launched just seven weeks ago, but it’s already become my most frequently used bookmark on the Kindle!
Erase Everything You’ve Typed
Whenever you’re typing something into your Kindle, there’s an easy way to erase everything and start over again. Just press the ALT and DEL key! Whether you’re typing a note, a URL, or even some search words, those two keys together will instantly “clear” the text entry field — so you can start over from the beginning!
Get a Free Blog for your Kindle
In many cases, it’s possible to read a blog on your Kindle for a small monthly subscription fee, usually just 99 cents a month. But there’s eight blogs for the Kindle which are absolutely free. The first free blog on the Kindle is the “Amazon Daily” blog — published by Amazon — which highlights interesting products throughout their massive online store. There’s posts about music, movies, food, and toys — plus books, ebooks, and the Kindle. The posts come from seven different blogs that are published by Amazon, and you can also subscribe to any one of those seven blogs individually. To scroll through the list, just point your web browser to tinyurl.com/freekindleblogs
If you’d first like to try a sample of the “Amazon Daily” blog, you can click here to read it on the web! It’s currently the #1 “Arts and Entertainment” blog in Amazon’s store — though for a long time it was the only that was free, so it had an advantage that the other blogs didn’t. (But don’t blame the bloggers if you think their subscription fee is too high. It’s actually Amazon who sets the price of any blog which is available on the Kindle!)
There’s Free Games For the Kindle
You can learn a lot by browsing Amazon’s list of the best-selling titles — especially the “free” section. Here’s a list of some of the great games which are now available for free in Amazon’s Kindle Store.
But last week my friend “MacLifer” sent me a wonderful tip about another free game that you can play on the Kindle — a game that goes back more than 30 years. It’s one of the very first computer games ever — a miniature version of the classic text adventure game Zork. “Use your browser and check out kindlequest.com,” and it’s the adventure game from back in the Apple ][ days of yore; albeit a somewhat stripped down version…”
“It plays fine on the Kindle for those interested in it!”
That’s it for today. But if you’re looking for more information, click here to read “My 10 Best Kindle Tips and Tricks” and “Five MORE of My Best Kindle Tips and Tricks.”
Click here to subscribe to this blog on your Kindle!
December 23rd, 2010
I’d been expecting there was going to be a lot of new Kindle owners after Christmas, but now a business news service is backing me up. By the end of the year, Amazon will have sold more than 8 million Kindles, according to new statistics from Bloomberg. And it’s not just a prediction. They’re reporting that number came from “two people who are aware of the company’s sales projections.”
I have to wonder if this is a deliberate leak by Amazon. Amazon’s never shared their sales figures before, until Monday, when they finally revealed they’d sold “millions” of Kindles — just in the previous 73 days! It must’ve been hard keeping that secret, while Apple continued bragging about how fast their were selling their iPads. But in fact, Apple only sold 4.19 million iPads between July and September, and for the rest of the year, Bloomberg’s analyst has predicted that Apple will sell only 5 million more…
I’d like to give a big welcome to all the new Kindle owners. (In a few days, I’ll be publishing a few of my best new tricks for the Kindle!) And if you’re wondering if you should’ve bought an iPad instead — don’t. The selection of books is much smaller in Apple’s store, according to Publisher’s Weekly. “Want an e-book version of the nation’s bestselling nonfiction hardcovers? Don’t bother looking on the iBookstore. Apple still hasn’t struck a deal with Random House, publisher of current hits like George W. Bush’s Decision Points and Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. For now, iPad users who want to get any of Random House’s bestsellers — which also include John Grisham’s The Confession and Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — need to visit Apple’s App Store and download the free application for the Kindle or the Nook.”
Publisher’s Weekly notes that Apple offers just 130,000 books in its iBookstore, vs. the 300,000 applications in its app store — and you can’t even access Apple’s iBookstore from your computer, but only from a mobile device!
Maybe there’s a “stealth revolution” underway, and the Kindle’s popularity is Amazon’s own delicious secret. But if that’s true, then it’s got me curious. What kind of Kindles are people actually buying? I decided to ask a friend who publishes a popular technology site, and they agreed to anonymously share the break-down of their own sales for the last 30 days. They’d sold 90 Kindles — more than $13,000 worth — but eighteen of them were 2nd-generation Kindles. (Which is exactly 20%…) Almost two-thirds of their sales were for the new, cheaper WiFi Kindle — but that’s probably because Wi-Fi Kindles were specifically mentioned in Amazon’s ads. (“The All-New Kindle. Built-in Wi-Fi. Only $139…”) Since they’re only available in the new black color, this suggests we may start seeing fewer people in 2011 who are still carrying around the old-fashioned white Kindles.
Although maybe not. My friend’s web site also sold 15 of the new Kindle model that ships with both Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity — and only three buyers requested the graphite-colored Kindle. With this model there’s a choice of colors, and given a choice, 80% of the shoppers apparently went with a traditional white Kindle. And if you’re a new Kindle owner, remember. If you wrap your Kindle in a rubber “skin” you can change it to other colors, like blue or pink!
If I could send one message to all the new Kindle owners, it would be this: that owning a Kindle is a lot of fun. And remember that the Kindle is surprisingly flexible. Besides ebooks there’s also a great selection of games for the Kindle, and you can even use it to read your favorite newspapers and magazines. (Not to mention some great Kindle blogs!) So to all the new Kindle owners: happy holidays
And happy Kindle-ing!
December 22nd, 2010
In February, the U.S. Army began outfitting a brigade in Texas with the latest consumer technology — including smartphones and even Kindles — to see whether it improved soldier performance in the field. Their director at the Mission Command complex told Army Times that “We’re looking at everything from iPads to Kindles to Nook readers to mini-projectors.” Some devices were for communication or data storage, but the smartphones even came with apps that can identify the location of friendly troops!
It got me thinking about the soldiers overseas at Christmas-time — and that always reminds me of Operation eBook Drop. (If you know someone in the military, let them know that there’s hundreds of authors back at home who are offering their books for free as a thank-you to the men in uniform.) And recently, my girlfriend interviewed a veteran with his own amazing story to tell. He’d ultimately realized his dream of writing his own first novel — a thriller that combines his love of the great outdoors with a very exciting story — and he’s published it as an ebook.
My girlfriend gives Sleeping Giant — by Matt Kuntz — a very enthusiastic review…
* * *
Do you know someone who is or was in the military? Who loves reading a great thriller? Loves the great outdoors, and using logic and strategy to get out of sticky situations? Likes when into lone moralists work against evil corporations for the common good? Have I got a book for you!
Sleeping Giant mixes all of this and more. Author Matt Kuntz is a veteran, a lawyer, and now Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Montana — and he sells riverboards on the side! In “Sleeping Giant,” Matt has written a book that’s both thrilling and thought-provoking. Drawing us into the Montana wilderness, this well-written novel explores sweeping themes that impact one specific guy in a very personal way. Racing against time, wounds bleeding while ducking hired mercenaries, he finally completes his mission. But does he survive?
Years ago, Matt read that the invention of the stirrup changed the course of civilization. One simple item had changed warfare by allowing knight with armor to ride horses and also gave rise to the middle class, allowing millions to rise out of peasantry. What would be invented today, Matt thought, that could have the same profound effect on the way the world works today? His answer: a new source of energy that’s safe, inexpensive, portable, and re-chargeable. Something that could store enough energy to power a whole town. Now what would corporations who rely on energy and re-selling energy do to prevent such a device from coming to market?
Thus, a novel is born.
Stone McCafferty is a decorated ex-military guy taking Montana tourists on fly-fishing trips, living the simple life. Frank Galeno, a local fly-fisherman, is found dead in the river of an apparent heart attack. It turns out Frank is a physicist, and he’s left Stone a binder that contains his life’s work. As Stone reads, he begins to realize the implications of this new energy storage device. But when he visits Frank’s home, he finds his workshop has been stripped bare.
Then people around him start getting murdered, one by one, and Stone barely escapes. On the run with just the clothes on his back, he heads to a mountain hideaway to assess the situation. He realizes he’s been followed, grabs as much gear as he can, and evades his trackers using his military training to escape into the Montana wilderness. It’s well-written, with a great story line and just enough science to let you understand the enormity of the invention without making you feel stupid. (I quit science after 10th grade!)
An added bonus? Knowing that you’re supporting an amazing guy. Matt began advocating for the effective treatment of post-traumatic stress syndrome in returning vets after his own step-brother committed suicide after returning from Iraq. Matt’s work culminated in a Senate Bill which requires multiple face-to-face mental health screenings throughout America’s fighting force. Senator Ted Kennedy attached the bill to the Defense Authorization Act of 2010 and it was ultimately signed into law on October 8, 2009. The support system put in place under Matt’s guidance is now considered a model, and it’s being adopted by other states.
It’s not often you get a chance to enjoy a great read while supporting a true hero. Of course, you can also buy one of Matt’s riverboards but it wouldn’t fit in your Kindle!
* * *
December 21st, 2010
It’s a Christmas miracle! Some of the best games for the Kindle have been slashed in price, down 50%, for the next two weeks. And Amazon’s even released a new free game this month for the Kindle — plus a new text adventure — so if you’ve been waiting to try Kindle games, this is the perfect opportunity.
These aren’t just any games — they’re some of the best-known games in the world. For example, Hasbro has licensed both Scrabble and Monopoly to a Kindle game designer, but originally they were both priced at $5.00. (Scrabble was just released in September, and Monopoly is a brand-new Kindle game — just in time for the holidays.) Now both games are just $2.49 — and in addition, there’s also a 50% reduction in the price of Sudoku, Texas Hold ‘Em, and Solitaire, down to just $1.99.
These aren’t just knock-off games. They were created by one of the best known game designers in the industry. Electronic Arts was founded back in 1982, according to Wikipedia, and now earns more than $4 billion a year in revenue. (They’re the home of the famous Sims games, as well as the Command and Conquer series, and even some Harry Potter games.) They’d done a good job with their game designs, and this afternoon, I personally “field tested” both Scrabble and Monopoly. They both feel exactly like the classic board games — except, of course, they’re much smaller, and in black-and-white, and most of the game commands are entered using a five-way controller…
The nicest thing about EA’s “Solitaire” game is it’s really 12 different games in one. There’s the classic “Klondike” version of solitaire (which is the one that ships with Windows) — but there’s also games like FreeCell, Canfield, Yukon, and Baker’s Dozen. And while there’s been other versions of Sudoku for the Kindle, EA did a really nice job with theirs. It includes a feature that lets you write notes on possible numbers for each square — which can sometimes provide valuable clues on where the other numbers go.
You can buy all five games for just $11.00 — and then have them forever on your Kindle. The fifth game is Texas Hold ‘Em (where players create a poker hand by matching their two concealed cards to five face-up cards on the table.) That sounds simple, but EA added lots of extra features, like the “Play Career” version where you have to earn your way up into high-stakes games. And there’s even an in-game advisor — an avatar named Amy — so if you’re not sure what to do, you press a for Amy.
And earlier this month Amazon Digital Services released a brand new, free version of Blackjack. I thought the classic card game would be simple and boring, but they’d included all the extra casino features like buying “insurance” against a dealer 21 or doubling your bet for the next “hit.” I know some people resist games on the Kindle, because they want it to be a dedicated reading device. But for me it’s become an all-around companion that can entertain me if I end up trapped in the lobby of an auto repair shop. If I don’t want to read, I can surf the web, or burn a few minutes playing a game.
I’d been wondering when someone would write an old school “text adventure” for the Kindle — and then discovered that Amazon just released one last Tuesday. It’s a dark superhero/detective game called “Dusk World”. And don’t forget, in October Amazon also released a new, free version of Minesweeper that you can download to your Kindle.
As I tested out all the new Kindle games, I felt like a kid opening up his Christmas presents early. Like any new toy, all the novelty may wear off eventually. But for a least a few minutes, they’ll be my favorite toy in the world…
December 20th, 2010
I’ve been waiting for digital readers to reach “a tipping point”. Is this the week that it finally happens? Last week Amazon announced they’d sold millions of Kindles in just the last 73 days. And now Sony just announced they’ve also sold millions of their digital reading devices, too. In fact, they predict it’ll be sold out within just a few days (“before the holidays”), and their more-expensive model is actually outselling the cheaper one.
But I think ebooks reached another important milestone on Sunday. The second-biggest newspaper in America is the Los Angeles Times, and yesterday in its Sunday edition — which is read by over one million people — their book critic had an announcement for the world. “The great debate of the last several years — whether readers would read book-length material onscreen — appears to have been settled with a resounding ‘yes’.” Elsewhere in the newspaper, he published his list of his favorite books this year. But he’d prefaced it by noting the popularity of the Kindle and iPad (plus the launch of Google’s own ebook store), saying each development “points to significant shifts in how we read.”
In his last column of 2010, David L. Ulin wrote that ebooks were “the story in publishing this year,” and admits that even he now owns a Kindle. (Although he seems a little ambivalent about it, writing “I have a Kindle but I rarely use it, and I don’t have an iPad, although I covet one…”) But surprisingly, he’s not worried about a threat to the printed book, and he argues instead that “none of these media are in competition. They are complementary.” The book, after all, is just a medium for something more important. “The issue is not what we read on, just as the issue is not what we read. The issue is that we read, that we continue to interact with long-form writing…”
And maybe there’s another secret hint about the future that’s hidden in his list of favorite books. I know at least one of the authors also owns a Kindle: Elif Batuman. “The Kindle is wonderful for drunk people…” she wrote in a British newspaper in October. “Before I first acquired a Kindle, exactly one year ago, I didn’t usually buy books while under the influence of alcohol… Because I am a writer, people sometimes ask me how ebooks have changed the literary landscape. The short answer, for me, is that I have developed a compulsion to drunk-dial Agatha Christie several times a week.”
She’s a book-lover with a sense of humor, and she called her 2010 memoir The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them. Yes, it’s available on the Kindle, offering a semi-serious personal inquiry into the act of reading itself. It just seems to me like everyone’s using Kindles — even the people who write books, about reading books, and the book critics who then criticize those books.
In fact, even that critic’s newspaper — The Los Angeles Times — is available on the Kindle. And the circle doesn’t end there, since tonight my girlfriend will be reading this blog post about that Kindle-using book critic…on her own Kindle!
Kindles are everywhere…
December 16th, 2010
There’s a fascinating article today about how Amazon created the Kindle using an international team of developers. “Amazon’s Kindle was largely developed in the heart of Israel’s high-tech center in the Herzliya Industrial Zone on the central coast,” notes a nonprofit news organization, which tracked down the programmers who helped build it!
Sun Microsystems had a special team in Israel devoted to writing the computer code for handheld devices besides cellphones, and developer Lilach Zipory remembers that four years ago, “Amazon contacted Sun in California and said they wanted a small device that could be used to read e-books.” The first thing the team noticed was the Kindle’s greyscale screen (which was a big switch from the color screens used by most other devices.) They ultimately spent several years working with Amazon until eventually they’d developed the perfect device.
Amazon ordered 100,000 of them, remembers Eran Vanounou, the group’s development director, “and we were frankly skeptical they would sell all of them. But when they sold out a couple of months later, we realized what we were involved with.” Lilach admits that she was equally surprised. “I would never have expected an e-book reader to take off like the Kindle did.”
Though they’ve built many devices, “the Kindle is different, because it’s such a phenomenon,” Vanounou says. Now when he flies on an airplane, he sees other passengers reading a Kindle, and knows it’s a device that they helped to create. Once Vanounou ended up talking to a passenger, who apparently raved about how much she enjoyed using her Kindle. “I didn’t let on how much we in Oracle Herzliya were a part of her experience,” he told the reporters. But finally she told him point blank, “I love my Kindle,” he remembers.
“I could have sworn I felt a tear in my eye.”
December 15th, 2010
Amazon made a stunning announcement Tuesday morning. “In just the first 73 days of this holiday quarter, we’ve already sold millions of our all-new Kindles..”
Kindle owners were the first to get the news, since Amazon quietly posted it online in a forum for Kindle owners. “Thank you, Kindle customers…” the announcement began, adding that “in the last 73 days, readers have purchased more Kindles than we sold during all of 2009.” Their post was just six sentences long, but it seemed bigger in scope — and big on gratitude. Amazon’s Kindle Team said they were “energized” (and grateful) for “the overwhelming customer response,” and the message ended with the words “Thank you for being a Kindle customer.”
It’s fun watching the reactions from skeptical technology sites. “It’s raining Kindles,” wrote The Motley Fool. They’ve complained in the past Amazon never revealed the actual number of Kindles sold, saying it’s “like having a discussion with a kindergartner or a politician. They all tell you what they think you want to hear…but lack the details you really need to know before drawing your own conclusion.”
Even then, Amazon’s announcement Tuesday didn’t completely satisfy the site. “Amazon.com still isn’t coming clean with how many Kindle e-book readers it’s selling, but at least now we know that it will be in the ‘millions’ this holiday quarter alone.” The Motley Fool called Amazon’s sales figure “impressive,” and attributed it to the better deals available. “[I]t really wasn’t until this year’s price war — driving the price of the Kindle to as low as $139 — that it all began coming together. Book lovers that figured it would take several dozens of e-book purchases to cover the cost of the $399 model can now justify the lower break-even point on a $139 reader.”
Information Week supplied some crucial context for Amazon’s announcement. Just last week, Barnes and Noble revealed it was selling its color Nooks at a rate of 18,000 a day. Publisher’s Weekly had declared the company’s CEO as their person of the year, and in a profile, he’d revealed that every four or five days, Barnes and Noble loaded up another 747 aircraft just to fly in more Nooks from China. That would come out to 1,314,000 Nooks if it lasted for 73 days — two Nooks for every three Kindles sold — but the Nook Color has only been available for less than 7 weeks.
It’s been 47 days since its release on October 28, which works out to just 846,000 color Nooks sold so far (assuming their sales rate remained constant). “All this vague one-upmanship, doesn’t answer the question on most analysts’ minds,” complains Information Week, “which is how well the Kindle is selling compared to the Apple iPad.” But at least now we have a number to work with for the number of Kindle owners in the world. We now know that there are at least two million new Kindles firing up out there in the wild.
The devil is in the details, and C|Net found something even more important that I’d missed. Amazon’s CEO is predicting that ebooks won’t start outselling all printed books for a while — saying ebooks won’t even surpass the sales of paperback books until the summer of 2011. And as far as ebooks outselling all printed books, he’s predicting it will finally happen “by 2012.”
December 14th, 2010
I felt guilty. At the back of my local bookstore, the owner’s wife holds a monthly book group. But tonight, as she introduced our next book, I was already planning to purchase it as an ebook. And then the woman next to me revealed the same guilty secret. “Can we read this as an ebook?” she asked the bookstore owner’s wife.
I’d learn many interesting thing in the minutes that followed, as a fierce conversation broke out instantly around the table. In fact, everyone in the room had more to say about ebooks than we’d had about that month’s book selection! There was excitement about Kindles and Nooks – even from the people who didn’t own one. So the first thing I learned is that it’s a very hot topic. But the second thing I learned is you’re much less enthusiastic if you own a bookstore..
I tried to be sympathetic, pointing out that bookstores were cut out when people bought their books as ebooks. But unfortunately, I made the mistake of mentioning that bookstores obviously get a piece of the book’s sales price — prompting another comment about how ebooks are much cheaper than printed books. This made the bookstore owner’s wife look very, very uncomfortable. She pointed out that ebook prices get heavily subsidized — that she believed Amazon was even taking a loss on some ebooks.
“Maybe it’s all a conspiracy, to drive the local bookstores out of business,” someone said. “Amazon has invented a device which only lets you read books you buy from Amazon, and never from your local bookstore, so they can drive all of their competition out of business. Then in the future, if you want a book, you’ll have to buy them all from a single store in Seattle!”
“Or two stores,” the Nook owner said proudly. “You could also buy books from the Barnes and Noble chain.”
But then we got some surprising news from the bookstore owner’s wife. She’s already planning to sell ebooks from the new Google Bookstore. Apparently there’s a way to integrate Google’s ebooks into the web sites of local bookstores. There’s some configuration issues, she’d said, which still have to be worked out, but it gives her customers a way to give some money to their local bookseller.
Unless you own a Kindle, someone pointed out quickly. Because the Google bookstore hasn’t been able to work out a deal with Amazon. Yet…
I felt like I was watching an enormous change as it was happening around the world. Those were the main points of the discussion, but it was fascinating to hear each person’s individual perspective. One 80-year-old woman said most of her reading now was just cheap, used paperback books — and that she could buy hundreds of them for the cost of an Amazon Kindle. And another woman said she liked the tactile feel of a book — and the chance to start a conversation if someone recognizes the cover of your book.
But then someone argued that could also be a disadvantage. After all, one of most popular ebook categories is romance novels — because finally, nobody has to know that you’re reading them! I added that maybe some people buy a book because they secretly want people to see them reading it. In fact, Stephen King buys print copies of books that he’s already read as an ebook — just so he can have it as a conversation piece on his shelf!
Of course, he can afford to do that, because he has more income than most folks, I was thinking. But I was already getting a dirty look from the bookstore owner’s wife. The book group was probably started solely as a way to get people to purchase the store’s books. And to be fair, that’s one of the most unappreciated functions of a local bookstore. It becomes a kind of local support group for actually purchasing and then reading new releases.
The fact that we were having this discussion shows what a bookstore can do for a community. So I’m glad to know that some bookstores may be evolving into re-sellers of digital ebooks. Maybe someday our book group will meet, and no one will have a printed copy of the book.
Because every single one of us will be reading the book on a Kindle.
December 12th, 2010
I had a lot of fun writing about gift ideas for Kindle owners. (There were covers that looked like an old-fashioned book — and some that made your Kindle look like you’re reading The New Yorker.) But this opened my eyes to a new world of Kindle accessories, and with some more research, I discovered some even more spectacular ways to customize and accessorize a Kindle.
Matte Finish “Her Abstraction” DecalGirl Protective Kindle Skin
You can give your Kindle a special “arts and crafts” feel using vinyl skins (backed with adhesive) that you apply to completely cover the outside of your Kindle. This design is called “Her Abstraction”, and its page in the Kindle store promises it can reduce the glare from your Kindle’s hard plastic edges, and also prevent fingerpints (since the vinyl is coated with a special protective layer of matte).
It’s created by a manufacturer named “DecalGirl,” who offers several other attractive designs in the Kindle store.. Below is a picture of my second favorite. Just released in August, it’s a design they call “Empty Nest.” (“It’s very pretty…” wrote one reviewer in Amazon’s Kindle store. “But just so people know; it’s just a sticker. It doesn’t protect the kindle in case you drop it, etc…”)
Stars & Stripes GelaSkins Protective Kindle Skin
On the 4th of July, I read the Declaration of Independence on my Kindle. But imagine how patriotic I’d feel if my Kindle actually looked like an American flag.
For $19.99, a manufactuer named “GelaSkins” offers a long line of arty “protective skins” for your Kindle, but the main difference is these vinyl skins actually cover your Kindle’s screen. The idea is to protect it from scratches when the Kindle is in transit. (Its description on Amazon.com promises it can be removed and re-applied “with no residue”.) You can change the look of your Kindle again and again by switching from one skin design to another.
One reviewer noted that the pictures are a little misleading, since unless you turn your Kindle all the way off, its screen will revert to a screensaver picture. But I was still impressed by the many arty patterns they have available for the Kindle — including a colorful design with an ocean drawing that they’re calling “The Great Wave.”
Genuine Brown Leather Hide Tuff-Luv Western Saddle Case Cover
This one comes with a handy stand, so you can prop up your Kindle and enjoy hands-free reading. (One Kindle owner announced in Amazon’s Kindle Discussion Forum that it was perfect for reading cookbooks.) It’s actually hand-made, according to the description in Amazon’s Kindle store. (And yes, that’s actual cow hide that it’s made from, which they describe as both “genuine” and “rugged”.) I like the western design of the case, which seems like it would give a unique, old-fashioned feeling to your Kindle of solid and sturdy craftmanship. (The case’s workmanship comes with a lifetime guarantee.)
And for $29.99, you can also give your Kindle a woven hemp cover. (It even comes with a little flap on the side which you can use for holding a pen!)
Scatter Dot BUILT Neoprene Kindle Sleeve
It’s like a comfy sock for your Kindle. (“Machine wash cold; air dry,” it says in the cover’s description on Amazon.)
The manufacturer is also proud of the slightly curved “hourglass” shape of the sleve, which they argue gives extra protection to the Kindle by creating a kind of cushioning “bumper.” It’s created by a company called “Built,” and they offer several other designs if you’re not interested in “Scatter Dot.” They all offer interesting patterns with arty names — like the black-and-white “Vine,” or the warm oranges and reds of “Nolita Stripe.”
And there’s even one with a series of blue, green, and black bands that’s called “Bowery Stripe and Scuba Blue.”
Ikat Choco Canvas Clutch cover by designer Diane von Furstenberg
She married (and then divorced) a German prince, and re-married a commoner in 2001. But along the way, Diane von Furstenberg built an international reputation as a fashion designer — and in April, she released a line of purse-shaped “clutches” for the Amazon Kindle.
There’s three patterns — the one above is “Ikat Choco,” though there’s a less-busy pattern that’s called
“Signature,” plus a soft blue one with patches of white that’s called “Spotted Cat.” There’s actually a purse-style clatch that can hold the case shut, and when it folds open, you can hold your Kindle like a book — and there’s even a pouch to hold business cards.
MLB Baseball protective Kindle skins by SkinIt
Do you know a fan of major league baseball? Nearly every team has a protective Kindle skin for sale in Amazon’s Kindle store, courtesy of a company called Skinit. There’s the Minnesota Twins (pictured above), the New York Yankees, and of course, this year’s World Series Champions, the San Francisco Giants. Each one adds the familiar red stitches of a major league baseball to the front edges of your Kindle — and adds a team logo to the back, using an easily-removable vinyl skin.
The offerings aren’t just limited to baseball. SkinIt offers vinyl Kindle skins with lots of NFL Football teams, NBA basketball teams, and even NCAAF college football teams. And last month, they even began offering a Kindle skin with pictures of the vampires from Twilight — and another one with Mickey Mouse!
They’re sold separately, of course…!
December 9th, 2010
in 2008, a man took his family on a tour of the world. While visiting an orphanage in South America, he asked what was behind the padlocked doors of a tin building. The answer was disturbing: it was books. In fact, it was the local library. The materials had become outdated, and the library fell into disuse.
And then he had an idea. Throughout the trip his own daughters had been reading ebooks on their digital reader. He got the idea of starting a charity with one simple goal: to use ebook technology to “put a library of books within reach of every family on the planet”. He named it World Reader.org — and today on Facebook, Amazon posted pictures of their successful mission in Africa.
Someday the group hopes to reach out to the entire world, but they’re starting in Africa where they feel they can have the most impact.
If someone asks you to go hand out 440 e-readers, you might think that after, say 100, it could start to feel mundane. On the contrary, every single time we handed a student an e-reader, it was as if we were handing someone raw power…
The 440 Kindles were filled with books of local interest and literary classics, and the workers seem to be filled with new hope. They’d seen how cellphones overcame the need for land lines in the developing world, according to their web page, and now firmly believe that digital readers “will become the easiest, least expensive, and most reliable way to deliver books to under-served areas and under-privileged peoples.” They chose Amazon’s Kindle as the best device for their project (partly because it has global connectivity to a wireless network). And now even children in a remote village in Africa can join in that big global conversation which passes from generation to generation.
Meanwhile, in Seattle, Amazon posted an announcement about it on their Facebook page, and in Georgia, one of the first people to see it posted a response. “Maybe a silly question, but I’m going to ask it anyway — do they have electricity so they can charge them?” But on the internet, the charity workers are already offering up answers on their web page about Africa. “Mobile phones have helped pave the way for electricity even in remote locations, and, happily, e-readers consume relatively little power…”
And where there wasn’t electricity — for example, in a pilot program in Ghana — they’d partner with other organizations to install a solar cell, plus a satellite for internet access. Back on Facebook, another woman in Rhode Island added, “Hope they don’t make it to the black market.” But theft hasn’t been a problem, the web page explains. And the optimism continues.
I love the way that distance starts becoming irrelevant thanks to some simple, everyday technology. The group is thrilled that they can eliminate the cost of shipping these books — and that ebooks are often cheaper than printed books. And back in America, nearly a thousand people clicked Facebook’s “like” icon for the news of their mission, while another 140 left supportive comments.
December 8th, 2010
A Charlie Brown Christmas was partly inspired by this fairy tale. Lee Mendelson, who was asked to help write a script for the TV show, remembered the previous Christmas when he’d read this story to his children. It’s the story of Christmas from the tree’s perspective — a little fir tree that “was not happy, it wished so much to be tall like its companions…
“Sometimes the children would bring a large basket of raspberries or strawberries, wreathed on a straw, and seat themselves near the fir-tree, and say, ‘Is it not a pretty little tree?’…”
It’s fun to peek in on a Christmas in 1844 — even as the tree anticipates a long journey from the woods into a celebrating home. Like many fairy tales, there’s a bittersweet ending — but it’s a story you’ll never forget.
He was America’s first internationally popular author, and he wrote two timeless stories — Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. But he also fathered many of our Christmas traditions. At the age of 29, when he was starting his career in 1812, Irving added five nostalgic Christmas stories to a collection of writing, and for one dream sequence, imagined what would happen if St. Nicholas flew over the forests in a flying sleigh. That’s believed to have inspired many of the subsequent stories about Santa Claus and his flying reindeer!
And the stories had an even greater impact. Irving also researched holiday traditions as far back as 1652, and according to Wikipedia, and his popular stories “contributed to the revival and reinterpretation of the Christmas holiday in the United States.” Even Charles Dickens himself said that Irving’s stories influenced his own famous novella, A Christmas Carol.
It’s not just a story about Christmas. It’s partly responsible for the way that way celebrate it. The story by 31-year-old Charles Dickens “was one of the single greatest influences in rejuvenating the old Christmas traditions of England,” according to Wikipedia, which notes it was published just as new customs were established like tree-decorating and Christmas cards. The book helped to popularize these traditions, though ironically, the story was immediately pirated after Dickens published it, and he realized almost no profits from the story himself!
I’ve enjoyed the way Charles Dickens writes, with simple yet very moving stories — and I’m not the only one. On Amazon’s list of the best-selling free ebooks, A Christmas Carol is currently #11. And interestingly, it turns out that Charles Dickens followed this up with even more Christmas stories — including The Cricket on the Hearth, The Chimes, and The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain.
All there stories are available for free in Amazon’s Kindle store.
Here’s something fun to download: the original text of “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” (One historian called it “arguably the best-known verses ever written by an American,” according to Wikipedia.) But you can only find the free ebook if you search on its original title — “A Visit from Saint Nicholas”. If you search for its first line — “Twas the Night Before Christmas” — Amazon’s Kindle Store will only show paid versions
There’s some interesting trivia about this story. In its first printing in 1823, Santa’s reindeer were named “Dunder” and “Blixem,” which are the Dutch words for “thunder” and “lightning.” But over the years their names changed into the more familiar-sounding “Donner” and “Blitzen”!
He’s one of the most famous poets of the 19th century — and he in 1850 wrote a stark but thoughtful poem about visiting St. Peter’s church in Rome. It ultimately turns into a discussion about the nature of faith, but it was the first poem he published after his marriage, according to Wikipedia, and gives rare hints about the famous poet’s own religious views. One reviewer on Amazon described it as “A strange flighty trek in and out of trances and chapels to see rainbows and versions of God.” But another reader complained that they’d found it difficult to even read the poem, because the ebook wasn’t formatted properly.
“Who in their right mind eliminates line breaks and thinks they can get away with it?”
December 7th, 2010
Last week I asked what happens when Amazon acquires the same massive negotiating power as the major chain bookstores? But it turns out we may already know the answer.
I just took a closer look at Boston Review‘s 4,500-word article about “Books after Amazon.” It’s got insider interviews, honest statistics, and the real details of a war that’s been going on for decades. It begins with estimates that 75% of America’s online book purchases now happen through Amazon.com — but then reports that for some publishers, Amazon is actually responsible for more than half of all their sales. “Amazon is indisputably the king of books,” the article notes, before citing an independent book publisher asking a very important question: “what kind of king they’re going to be…”
Kindle owners may be the ones most affected by Amazon’s success — and this article apparently reveals two of Amazon’s dirtiest secrets. “Most customers aren’t aware that the personalized book recommendations they receive are a result of paid promotions, not just purchase-derived data.” And behind-the-scenes, while you’re watching Amazon.com — Amazon’s price tags are also watching you! “Individual customers may get different discounts on the same book depending on their purchase history…”
But there’s also a fascinating discussion about how the prices of books are set. As Amazon grew, it pushed up the chain bookstores’ standard discount to 52–55 percent, “with some as high as 60 percent.” This sounds like a good thing, but there may also be a dark side. The article cites a 2004 article in Publisher’s Weekly that accused Amazon of demanding high discounts from book publishers with the threat of, among other things, making their books less likely to appear in customer searches.
Two publishers even reported that their books did, in fact, disappear altogether from Amazon.com, simply because they’d refused to offer extra discounts when Amazon sold the books! One publisher actually remembers that when he’d told Amazon he couldn’t afford to participate, Amazon’s employees told him he “couldn’t afford not to.” The second publisher’s books eventually returned without agreeing to the discounts — after he threatened to contact The New York Times. “Nonetheless, cases of disappearance continue,” Boston Review reports.
In some cases, a book’s “Buy” button apparently disappears from its web pages at Amazon.com! “In 2008 two huge British publishers — Bloomsbury and Hachette — had their buttons pulled,” the article notes. “That same year, Amazon also removed buy buttons from any print-on-demand publisher that didn’t use Amazon’s on demand printer…a move that led to an antitrust lawsuit in which Amazon agreed to pay a settlement to a competitor, though it admitted no wrongdoing.” And the article also cites an incident last year where Amazon’s ranking system stopped including “hundreds of gay- and lesbian-themed books”.
But the article finally works its way around to the million-dollar question: how is Amazon setting the prices of ebooks? Amazon initially demanded that all publishers price their books at $9.99 — without
consulting them first, choosing simply to “absorb the loss, paying publishers for the price of the equivalent printed book in order to make the deal more appealing. ” But to this day, “Amazon remains in control, using its algorithms to set the price of e-books.” The article also notes the tense negotiation over control of the pricing of Macmillan books, with Amazon temporarily de-listing every Macmillan book from its store. “It and a handful of other large publishers have taken over pricing of their own e-books,” Boston Review points out, “But smaller houses have not been so lucky.”
There’s also a prophetic description of a 2009 price war between Amazon, Walmart, and Target, in which hardcover best-sellers — generally sold for between $25 and $35 — were sold for less than $9.00 Eventually the U.S. Department of Justice received an angry letter from the American Bookseller’s Association over “illegal predatory pricing,” and it included a dire warning from author John Grisham’s agent. “If readers come to believe that the value of a new book is $10, publishing as we know it is over.” But the Justice Department never issued a formal reply.
Coincidentally, $10 is now Amazon’s standard price for a new ebook. But one San Francisco book publisher tells Boston Review that Amazon can’t continue to sell these ebooks at a loss, warning “Eventually, they’re going to change their minds on this…” And at that point, it may not be Kindle owners who take a hit — but the publishers who are trying to sell their books at Amazon.com
“They’re going to keep that e-book price where it is. They’re going to turn around and say to the publishers, ‘Tough’.”