10 New Games for the Kindle!

January 31st, 2011

Brain Bump - New Game for the Kindle

It’s amazing. Last summer there were just two good games you could play on your Kindle — Shuffled Row and Every Word. A couple more trickled in over the winter, including Scrabble and Monopoly. But suddenly there’s a flood of of brand new games appearing in the Kindle. In fact, ten more new games have turned up in just the last eight weeks. And at least two of them are now on sale!

Mahjong Solitaire
It was just last month when this beautiful new game turned up in the Kindle store – and for the next week it’s on sale for half price! It’s now just $1.99 (instead of $3.99), and it features a variety of 10 different game boards, each one below a very attractive grayscale logo. It’s a one-player version of the classic Mahjong tile-removing game, but I think the layout is absolutely gorgeous.

Next
Mahjong Solitaire was produced by Mobigloo, which had released its first game for the Kindle just eight days earlier (on November 22nd). Next is a Tetris-style “matching” game that’s “easy to learn…hard to master,” according to the description on Amazon.com. For $2.99 you get 128 different levels, and you can play them in any order, according to one reviewer at Amazon.com. “You do not have to slowly work your way to the hardest level!”

Blackjack
Amazon also released a new free game for the Kindle in the first week of December: the classic card game Blackjack. It’s currently the 11th best-selling free item in Amazon’s entire Kindle store, and it’s very well-produced. (It’s nice to see a Kindle game with all the functionality of an actual card game in a Vegas casino, like “doubling” your bet for the next card drawn, and even “buying insurance” against the dealer having a 21.) And if you’re not sure whether to hit or stand, there’s even a built-in adviser which reveals your mathematical odds of success in every situation.

Hangman
The day after Amazon released Blackjack, Sonic Boom released a Kindle version of the game Hangman. For just $2.99, you can play the classic letter-guessing game with over 1,000 different words. (And the game lets you swap in three different “victims” that you’re trying to save from the hangman’s noose — a stick figure, a gingerbread man, or even William Shakespeare.) Sometimes the puzzles are “Wheel of Fortune”-style phrases, but the game will always provide you with at least two hints towards the final answer. Right now the game is averaging just three out of five stars among reviewers on Amazon, but the biggest complaint seems to be that if you finally fail to guess the correct word, the game still doesn’t tell you what it was!

Slingo
The reviews were much more positive for Slingo, which is averaging four and a half stars out of 17 different reviews. It’s a variation on Bingo, where you “spin the dial” on the numbers at the bottom of the board, and hope they eventually match all the numbers on your Bingo card. “This Kindle version is a very good adaptation of a classic hand-held and PC game, and I think it is well worth the price,” wrote one reviewer in Arizona. “If Amazon keeps this up, I may have to unload a few books from my Kindle to make room for the games!”


Dusk World - new Amazon Kindle game

Dusk World
This is one of the most interesting new games for the Kindle, created by Amazon Digital Services, and released on December 14. Dusk World is the first game from Amazon which isn’t free — it costs $5.99 — but it’s got some really wonderful graphics. It’s an interactive text adventure with some lavish, noir detective style illustrations, in which you play the character Agent Patriot (described by Amazon as “a super-powered chameleon, reformed mob enforcer, war hero, convict framed for double murder.”) They warn that the game contains content “that may be inappropriate for children,” but it’s exciting that Amazon envisions the game as the first installment in a new “Living Tale” series of digital graphic novels.

Maze A Thon
Just five days before Christmas, another game developer released their very first game for the Kindle: Maze A Thon. You maneuver a cartoon mouse with your four-way controller, trying to navigate all the passages to a very elusive piece of cheese. There’s three maze styles — including wrap-around mazes which scroll off the Kindle’s screen, as well as “cubetastic” mazes (where the paths actually wrap around the six sides of a three-dimensional cube!) The mazes are generated at random, so it’s never the same maze twice, and at 99 cents, it’s already become one of the 50 best-selling items in Amazon’s Kindle Store.

New York Times Crosswords
For $1.99, you can also get a set of 30 easy crossword puzzles from the New York Times. (Or, for $4.99, purchase a larger set of 90 puzzles.) And instead of easy puzzles, you can also purchase a volume of “challenging” puzzles instead, in either a 30- or 90-puzzle set. The first set of games was released on December 21, and some users complained that its interface was a little slow to respond. But there’s also a built-in feature that will offer you hints — something that you’ll never get from a crossword puzzle in the newspaper!

Choice of the Broadsides and Choice of the Dragon
The week before Christmas also saw the launch of two text adventure games — and if you purchase them before midnight on Monday, they’re just 99 cents! (When they were released in December, they cost $4.99 apiece!) “Fire the starboard broadside!” shouts the Caption of the H.M.S. Courageous, as it engages in a fierce cannon battle with an enemy ship. Choice of the Broadsides lets you choose your response at key points in the story — for example, when one of your crew-member’s is wounded and needs medical attention. And in Choice of the Dragon, you’re not the junior commander on a war frigate, but a flying and fire-breathing dragon — so the choices can feel even more personal!

Brain Bump
This is probably the newest of the new games on the Kindle, since it was released just a week ago, on January 21. Brain Bump is a straightforward trivia game, presenting multiple choice questions about books and keeping track of how long you can maintain your “brain streak” of right answers. The questions cover everything from The Lord of the Rings to Shakespeare (though one reviewer on Amazon even complained that too many of the questions were about Lord of the Rings). Like any trivia quiz, you may have trouble if you haven’t read the books in the question. But for what it’s worth, the game costs just 99 cents — and it will always be the first trivia game ever released on the Kindle.

Kindle - white vs graphic (vs a stack of books)

Every once in a while, there’s a moment that reminds us of just how rich Amazon is.

Thursday afternoon, they announced that they’d earned $200 million more in 2010 than they had in the previous year. (“Net sales increased 36% to $12.95 billion in the fourth quarter, compared with $9.52 billion in fourth quarter 2009.”) In fact, it was the first year that Amazon’s sales were more than $10 billion for a single three-month period. Amazon’s CEO said they’d sold “millions” of Kindles in those 13 weeks, and then he dropped an even more stunning peice of information.

“Kindle books have now overtaken paperback books as the most popular format on Amazon.com.”

Amazon had announced last July that they were selling more ebooks than hardcovers. But at the time, I’d complained that was misleading, since hardcovers make up a small percent of total book sales at any store. One analyst had calculated that there’s usually three paperback books sold for every one hardcover book. Combining that information with Amazon’s statistics, it seemed like in July Amazon’s ebook sales were only 54% of their paperback sales.

But not any more. In fact, Amazon explained today that for every 100 paperback books they’ve sold this January, they’re selling 115 ebooks. That’s another way of saying that ebook sales have risen to 115% of Amazon’s paperback sales — that is, nearly double what it was in July. That’s even more impressive than it seems, because paperback sales are actually increasing, according to Amazon’s announcement today. And they’ve sold “three times as many” Kindle ebooks as they have hardcover books, according to today’s announcement. If you graph it all on a pie chart, it looks like this.

Amazon Kindle ebook sales vs print book sales - both hardcover and paperback - pie chart graph

Of course, that still means that Amazon is selling fewer ebooks than they are printed books — if you combine the paperback and hardcover sales. But ebooks now represent more than 45% of all the books that Amazon is selling. If ebooks can just increase their share by 5%, Amazon will finally be able to announce that they’re selling more ebooks than all print books combined. And that day could come sooner than you’d expect. Amazon predicted last summer that ebooks wouldn’t start outselling paperbacks until at least April of this year. They beat their own prediction by at least three months!

Of course, it’s possible that this is a one-time spike. (After all, there were a lot of new Kindles that were activated on Christmas day.) It’d be interesting to see whether ebook sales actually drop below paperback sales again at some time during February or March. But Amazon’s figures are even more impressive when you realize that not every printed book has an ebook edition yet. And to achieve this milestone, Amazon didn’t even count any of the free ebooks that people are downloading, which is presumably an enormous number.

In fact, if just one user downloads a free ebook for every nine paid ebook purchases — then Amazon is already delivering more digital ebooks than they are print editions!

45 rpm vinyl record single

Visit Amazon today, and you’ll see something new: “Kindle Singles.” In its Kindle Store, Amazon is now offering what are basically shorter ebooks — somewhere between 5,000 and 30,000 words. In a press release today, Amazon argued that before Kindle Singles, “Writers often had to choose between making their work short enough for a magazine article or long enough to deliver the ‘heft’ required for book marketing and distribution.” Their hope is that each Kindle Single will “allow a single killer idea…to be expressed at its natural length.”

Throughout today a link to “Kindle Singles” appeared on the front page of Amazon.com — and when you’re using your Kindle, it’s at the very top of the Kindle Store’s front page. There’s currently only 22 titles, but Amazon hopes the selection will grow. Among the “Kindle Single” titles are the first ever books from the popular TED conferences (whose motto is “Ideas Worth Spreading.”) And in their “Kindle Daily Post” blog, Amazon also described some of the other interesting new titles.

For example, they write, “Nowhere else will you find a Hollywood memoir which manages to merge sex clubs, murder, and Mary Tyler Moore.” It’s got a great title — “How to Not Succeed in Show Business By Really Trying” — and it’s already Amazon’s #1 best-seling book in their Business Humor subection. And Amazon’s Kindle blog also talks up The Real Lebowski — “an intimate profile of the Hollhywood icon and Coen brothers inspiration by Vanity Fair contributing editor, Rich Cohen.” Even at $2.99, it’s already one of the top-300 items in the entire Kindle store — and in the Kindle Single store, it’s the #5 best-selling item!)

So who is the real Lebowski? “He wrote the first draft of Apocalypse Now,” Amazon teases on the Kindle Store’s front page. “He discovered Arnold Scharzenegger. He wrote Clint Eastwood’s ‘Go ahead, make my day.’ The Vanity Fair writer and author of Sweet and Low trails tough-guy screenwriter/director John Milius as he fights to find his place in a transformed and unwelcoming movie business.” If you’re interested in Hollywood, it sounds very intriguing. But it also gives a hint about what knd of new, personal perspectives we’ll start seeing with Kindle Singles

I’ve always said ebooks would let more people get their thoughts published, but this new format could give writers yet-another tempting choice. Writer Ian Ayres said the new “Single” format “lets me more quickly and directly speak to the reader unhindered by page numbers or ad space.” And of course, writers want an easy way to tap into the growing market of Kindle owners. (“I love the reach of the Kindle platform,” Ayres says in Amazon’s press release. “Nowadays just about anyone can read a Kindle book on their phone or their laptop, or, of course, just on a Kindle.” )

If you’re using your web browser, the URL is amazon.com/kindlesingles. And if you believe Amazon’s Vice President of Content, you just might discover some exciting new perspectives, according to Amazon’s Vice President of Content. “We think customers will be riveted by these stories that can take them to a Swedish bank heist or to the Mexican border town of Juarez, or to consider a new way to think about happiness. ” And of course, the store also offers an equally riveting opportunity for any new aspiring author.

“The thieves had a handpicked crew, a stolen helicopter, a cache of explosives, and a plan to rob a $150-million cash repository.” That’s a line from Lifted — the “Swedish bank heist” story that he’s alluding to. But do you have your own a Single-sized idea to express? If so, Amazon apparently wants to hear what you’ve got to offer!

“The call remains open for serious writers, thinkers, scientists, business leaders, historians, politicians and publishers to submit works for Kindle Singles,” they announced at the end of their press release. “To be considered for Kindle Singles, interested parties should contact digital-publications@amazon.com.”

Who knows? Maybe you can be the 23rd person to publish a “Single” in Amazon’s Kindle store…

Microcosm Zine Store trades Kindles for books

(
Detail from an image by Rio Safari)


When I was young, banks would give you a new toaster if you opened up a bank account. But now, a bank in Oklahoma is offering customers something even more enticing.

MidFirst bank in Oklahoma has 52 branches across the state, and until the end of March they’re giving away a free Kindle if you open a new checking and savings account. (Limit: one per household.) The only restriction at MidFirst.com/Kindle appears to be the opening balances on both accounts – $500 for the savings account, and $100 for the checking account. Alternately, customers can instead choose to receive a $125 credit to their accounts – but getting a free Kindle seems much more exciting. And it even comes pre-loaded with a free ebook about personal finance.

But it turns out that this Oklahoma bank isn’t the only business that’s trying to lure new customers with a Kindle give-away. In Portland, an alternative book store is offering to let customers trade their Kindle for their equivalent value in books. “And make sure to bring a friend to help you carry all your loot,” they explained on their blog. Because they also sell used and “remaindered” books (along with zines and other independent small-press books), “most of the store’s books are priced in the $2 – $6 range so a $139 – $189 trade-in…you might be carrying your books out in a fleet of wheelbarrows!”

Of course, they couldn’t announce the offer without taking a few digs at the Kindle on their blog. (“Do you want to trade in your soulless faux-literary technology for its worth in good old fashioned books? Well, friends, Microcosm Publishing’s got your back!”) They even quote a review of the Kindle from Amazon’s own web page, where one users gushes that the Kindle’s screen looks like an absolutely perfect page, without any of a print books grain or pulp. “Well, you know what, Jeremy? We love the and grain and pulp. Long live the grain and pulp! Long live the PAGE.”

It’s not a national trend – but I think it means something. For one thing, obviously, it shows that the Kindle is really popular — so popular that other businesses are using it to lure customers into their own store. But I think the Portland publisher should be cheering for the Kindle, since it’s giving them a new market for their independent authors — in ebooks! John Makinson, the CEO of the Penguin Group publishers, shared his enthusiasm for the future this weekend with an audience at a literary festival in India. “I think this is a wonderful time for books, to enlarge the audience of the book and draw in more readers,” he told the DSC Jaipur Literary Festival. More than 50,000 people attended, and in a panel discussion, the book-industry insider made it very clear that he’s still optimistic about the future. “The idea of the book
dying comes up all the time.

“It’s wrong.”

Globe of the Earth

Is the Kindle changing our world? That’s a question I ask myself every day. But someone’s actually contacted 6,250 frequent book buyers to find out exactly what’s going on. Their research generated some startling statistics – and led to a disturbing prediction about the future. Yes, it’s a picture of our world as it is today – but it already contains the seeds for the world of books tomorrow.

26% of adult book buyers are already reading digital ebooks, according to the survey, while 34% more said they’d be willing to try them. In fact, only 14% swore they would never, ever read an ebook. The biggest thing keeping people away from the Kindle was probably the price, according to their analysis. After Amazon lowered the price of the Kindle, it saw a surge in four different age brackets. The percentage who reported a Kindle doubled between June and November for people between the ages of 18 and 24 (from 3.2% to 6.5%). By November, 8.5% of the adults between the ages of 35 and 44 now reported they owned a Kindle — and 9.6% of the adults older than 65!

But how is that affecting the world of books and the way people buy them? First, how many iPads are there in the world? 15 million (according to Apple). That’s in only nine months, since it was released in April. But ironically, when people buy an ebook for their iPad, 40% of the ebooks are bought through Amazon’s Kindle store! Apple doesn’t have a deal in place with Random House, according to Publisher’s Weekly, which means Apple’s iBookstore can’t offer popular titles like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, John Grisham’s The Confession, or even former president Bush’s autobiography, Decision Points. In fact, iPad owners bought just 29% of their ebooks from Apple’s iBookstore, according to a November survey by a research firm called the Codex Group.

But those researchers discovered an even more amazing statistic. Before buying the Kindle, shoppers bought 14% of their books from Amazon — but after they bought a Kindle, that number jumped to 37%! “It’s the most amazing retail share growth strategy I’ve ever seen,” says Peter Hildick-Smith, the research firm’s president (who previously had developed retail growth strategies for Wal-Mart.) “The increase in market share came entirely from book buyers’ added purchase of e-books,” Publisher’s Weekly noted, and yet amazingly, Amazon barely lost any of its share of the print book market! “While e-book purchases do not appear to be cannibalizing print sales at Amazon, the Kindle store has to be taking sales away from somewhere, and Hildick-Smith believes it is from bricks-and-mortar stores.”

And then he makes a prediction. Currently the vast majority of people discover their next book through a bookstore. (I even know several people who’ve reported browsing through the books at a bookstore — before downloading a digital version to their Kindle or Nook!) But if the Kindle’s popularity continues, it’s going to hurt some local bookstores — and that’s going to make it harder for publishers to advertise their newest books. “What has Hildick-Smith really worried, however, is whether publishers have concrete plans to protect their bookstore base.

“If not, they need to quickly find an alternative primary source for the discovery of new books, especially for nonfiction, debut, and midlist fiction titles that, at present, sell in much fewer numbers as e-books than fiction does….”

My jaw dropped open. The world’s 10th-largest banking and finance company studied the popularity of Amazon’s Kindle. And then their analyst (Doug Anmuth of Barclays) predicted that the number of new Kindles sold will be nearly triple by the end of 2011!

“Our numbers may be conservative,” he reported, calculating that Amazon has already sold 7.1 million more Kindles in just 2010. Yet for 2011, he predicts they’ll sell another 12.3 million, earning Amazon another $7 billion, and forming a whopping 11% of Amazon’s total earnings for the year! Meanwhile, other researchers are also predicting that demand for digital readers will explode. IDC expects 14.7 million readers will be sold in 2011, up 36% from last year’s sales of just 10.8 million.

And it won’t end there! IDC expects that there’ll be even more Kindles sold in 2012. Though there’ll be at least 25 million digital readers in the world by that point, they’re predicting that another 16.6 million more will be sold in 2012. By that point the prices should be even cheaper, due to competition among the different vendors — and there should be a lot more content that’s available on the Kindle and other devices! (And that’s even before you consider the possibility of new color-screen devices, finally available at a price that makes people want to purchase them…)

I’ve asked myself if the “ebook revolution” is real, but apparently many business professionals are already convinced. An analyst at The Motley Fool wrote Tuesday that “The Kindle could be to books what the Gutenberg press was to printing,” predicting that Amazon will continue to gain market share, as the people who buy books start to gravitate towards the world of ebooks. And that’s got to be good for Amazon’s business model, because “There are no inventory, warehousing, or shipping costs.” Their profit margins should increase because they’re selling a virtual ebook — rather than paying to warehouse and then eventually transport an actual physical book.

But perhaps my favorite analysis came from my friend Richard, who took his new digital reader with him on a trip to Seattle. Yes, he walked into a Borders bookstore, and browsed around until he’d found a book that he wanted. But then he immediately downloaded a digital copy to his reader, and just read it as an ebook during his flight. My conclusion? Bookstores may be in trouble. His conclusion?

“We live in interesting times!”

The Kindle Comes to the Library

January 19th, 2011

A typical public library

Here’s another sign that there’s more Kindle owners and ebook readers in the world. A Chicago newspaper reports that the public libraries in western Cook County have been “deluged” with phone calls about ebooks. “The surge in interest in ebooks has library officials re-examining their policies regarding downloadable books and working to keep up with the demand for information about the newest publishing phenomenon.”

In fact, a survey was conducted last March of the whole North Suburban Library system (encompassing four different counties) — and nine different libraries reported they’d already purchased a Kindle for their patrons! Some were just making it available within the library, so people in the community could try the technology. But at the River Forest Public Library, for example, there’s even an Amazon Kindle with pre-loaded content that the patrons can check out (as well as a Sony Reader). And at the Glencoe Public Library, you can even request that the librarians download a specific ebook to the Kindle before you check it out!

It seems to be happening everywhere. In Groton, Massachusetts, the public library’s endowment purchased two Kindles (and two Nooks), which can be checked out for three weeks — and even renewed — “as long as no one else is waiting for them.” (There is, however, a special check-out agreement which warns users not to return the Kindle in the library’s book drop!) Their late fee is a hefty $5.00 a day, but it’s a sign that public libraries are already adapting to the world of digital ebooks. A quick Google search reveals that in nearby Wisconsin, there’s a River Falls public library which is doing the same thing, and has four pre-loaded Kindles. A copyright specialist at the American Library Association even predicts that someday, libraries will offer local reviews about the library’s ebooks and comments from the people who’ve checked it out!

It’s fun to compare the different policies that the libraries have for their Kindles. (At the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, you can check out a Kindle for one week, and the late fine is $1.00 a day, while at the Barrington Libary it’s a two-week checkout, but the Kindles can’t be renewed…) The Des Plaines Library loans their Kindles for two months, and reports that “we purposely have tried to interest patrons with visual impairment who would greatly benefit by the large type feature.”

It’s a very interesting development, because Amazon currently isn’t supporting the file formats which would allow customers to check out ebooks directly from the public library. I’d always wondered if that was going to leave Amazon at a competitive advantage, and I still think that Amazon will eventually adopt that capability. But it looks like in the mean time, the libraries have come up with the perfect work-around.

Instead of loaning you some ebooks, the libraries will loan you an entire Kindle!

Regis Philbin vs. the eBook

January 18th, 2011

It's a Book by Lane Smith

There was one more great “ebook moment” in 2010. In September, even 79-year-old Regis Philbin began discussing the end of the printed book on his morning daytime television talk show!

Today Regis Philbin announced his retirement, which makes this memory even more poignant. It all began when co-host Kelly Ripa brought out a new children’s picture book titled “It’s a Book.” She’d read its dialogue between a technology-loving jackass, and a monkey who still loves books. The confused jackass watches him reading for a minute, and then asks “How do you scroll down?”

“I don’t. I turn the page. It’s a book.”

“Do you blog with it?”
“No. It’s a book…”
“Can you make the characters fight?”
“Nope. Book.”
“Can it text.”
“No.”
“Tweet?”
“No.”
“Wi-Fi?
“No.”
“Can it do this? ‘Doot’…”
“No. It’s a book.”

But here’s where it gets interesting. It was a brand-new book, and the author had just delivered a very special version to Regis and Kelly. On the book’s inside cover, he’d suggested the book’s characters could be people on their talk show. The book-loving monkey was Regis, while the cute little mouse was Kelly, and the technology-loving donkey was Regis’s producer, a man named Gelman.

It was a special edition of the show — later, Gelman would try to teach 79-year-old Regis how to use a computer. (Regis is a notorious technophobe, possibly because he was born in 1931, back when Herbert Hoover was still President.) And yet in their conversation, Regis seemed to sense that his world had finally reached a turning point.

                        *                        *                        *
REGIS: It’s too bad about books, because just recently Barnes and Noble…

KELLY: Oh, I — they’re going to sell Barnes and Noble.

REGIS: — you know, just can’t do it any more. Isn’t that a shame, those bookstores slowly going out of business?

KELLY: I mean it’s like, to me there’s nothing better, also, than going in a library and smelling all the books and hearing the — the crinkling of the plastic covering on the b- –

REGIS: Yeah, exactly.

KELLY: I mean it’s just, I hope that we haven’t taken it too far.

REGIS: Our kids missed the big internet age when they were small, you know, and it was still books. And boy, I’ll never forget when we brought the girls here to New York, how Joanna loved these bookstores. And it was a thrill for her. I was taking — “Wanna go see a movie or something?”

“No, I wanna go to this book store.” Barnes and Noble on 5th Avenue, and all those stores.

KELLY: Now she’s an author. Now she writes.

REGIS: And now she’s an author. Yeah.

KELLY: It’s funny. My son just got his, well, not just, but over the summer, his seventh grade reading list. And it’s still books! So I’m happy to say that they’re still using books.

REGIS: Yeah. I guess there’s room for both internet and books, you know. But unfortunately…

                        *                        *                        *

Ironically, Regis Philbin has written two autobiographies — neither of which is available on the Kindle!

But click here to buy “It’s a Book!”

Chef Tom Douglas cooks in Seattle

“I got the Kindle WiFi for Christmas, and if I ever lose it, I will sell a kidney to get it back.”

That’s a real comment that Amazon just shared on the Kindle’s Facebook page. And what’s even more interesting is that new Kindle owner only had one kidney. He told Amazon that when it comes to his Kindle, “I love it that much…”

Christmas apparently created a lot of happy new Kindle owners — I’d estimate several million Kindles were given as gifts — and all around the world, they’re already making their presence felt. I was curious when USA Today reported that for the first week of 2011, ebooks were outselling printed books for more than a third of the titles on their best-seller list. But would it happen again the next week? It turns out the answer is yes!

Thursday USA Today announced that for 36% of the books on their best-seller list, the ebook version was still outselling the printed edition. (That’s 18 of the top 50 books!) It’s good news for companies that sell ebooks, but it probably also means that drastic changes are coming soon if a store’s survival depends on the sale of printed books. Ironically, I know of two employees at Borders bookstores who already secretly prefer reading ebooks. In September, my friend Mike even chatted with a Borders cashier who “started complaining about e-books and how they were killing off the bookstores… As I walked out, I noticed she went back to reading whatever book she was reading – on her Kobo!”

At a newspaper in Alabama, the book editor shared his own unique perspective. In an interesting editorial on Saturday, he reported that apparently people are reading more now that they own a digital reader. “No need to drive to the mall, browse crowded shelves or call a clerk – simply tap a few keys and in mere seconds you’ve got it.” And he also reported that Kindles are especially handy for travelers, as one man in his mid-60s explained. “All my friends swear by the Kindle for trips. One buddy and his wife went to Spain recently, and they were able to download a dozen guidebooks onto their Kindle. That’s a serious weight savings on an international flight.”

But that’s about to get even better, since Amazon just launched their own original ebook series of restaurant/tour guidebooks for travelers, starting with the city where Amazon has its headquarters: Seattle. Amazon’s Vice President of Kindle content said the ebook guides “allow for a little extra space in your bag for local specialties like coffee or wild salmon,” and for Chef Walks: Seattle they tapped the award-winning chef Tom Douglas (pictured above), who’s also a one-time winner on Iron Chef America! The book is already available in Amazon’s Kindle store, and one reviewer is already applauding the ebook for “A great idea, well executed, and hopefully the start of a great series of Kindle publications.”

But as the ebook revolution continues, there’s an even more interesting story in North Carolina. According to a local newspaper, the Rowan County Public Library has 12 Amazon Kindles now that it’s checking out to its patrons, just like books! “[A]ccording to librarian Betty Moore, demand has been exceptional, with 68 people on the waiting list late last week… The library’s devices contain about 80 titles, and if you want a specific book that is not already on the Kindle, you may request one book and the Library will purchase that title to put onto the e-reader.”

I keep asking if this is the year when we’ll see humankind take a leap to an entirely new way of reading. But apparently, that transition won’t happen without a few bumps! Back in Alabama, the book editor reported a funny conversation when his wife tried to help his elderly mother set up her new Kindle. They charged it, checked its instructions, registered it, and then downloaded a John Grisham book.

But then she complained that “I’m too exhausted now to read it!”

Best-selling romance ebook author Nora Roberts

Amazon just announced that author Nora Roberts has sold her one millionth ebook from Amazon’s Kindle store. “As of yesterday, Nora Roberts has sold 1,170,539 Kindle books…” Amazon wrote in their press release. But I’d already seen the signs. Last week Amazon had revealed the best-selling ebooks of 2010 — and four of them were written by Nora Roberts! “Nora Roberts has been a bestseller at Amazon for 15 years,” Amazon’s vice president of Kindle Content announced, “so this accomplishment is no surprise.”

The New Yorker calls her “America’s favorite novelist,” according to Amazon’s press release, and she’ll now join what Amazon calls the “Kindle Million Club.” She’s only the third author to ever sell this many ebooks from the Kindle store, since it was only July when Amazon announced that their Kindle store had its first million-selling author. (Ironically, the author was already dead, since the late Stieg Larsson’s “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” trilogy had unexpectedly turned into three posthumous best-sellers). And it wasn’t until October that a second author achieved the same success — James Patterson — though that was probably inevitable. Wikipedia noted that he’d written 56 different books which were all best-sellers (which got him listed in the Guinness Book of World Records).

At the time I wondered if Patterson reached his million-book milestone simply by selling 20,000 copies of 50 different books — and now I’m wondering if Roberts had a similar advantage. To get to the one-million figure, Amazon included books which Roberts wrote under her pseudonym, J.D. Robb — which include a sprawling, 40-book series in which every title ends with the words “in Death.” (Naked in Death, Glory in Death…) In fact, Roberts has written more than 200 novels, according to Amazon’s press release. Even if she sold just 5,000 copies of each one, she’d still be able to pass the one-million sales milestone.

I’d also wondered if they included any free ebook downloads in their figures, but Amazon insists they’re only counting copies which were actually purchased. So this announcement may be just what it seems: still more proof of the tremendous popularity of ebooks. In November Amazon said that ebooks always outsell the printed books for the top 1,000 best-selling titles on the site. And earlier this month, USA Today announced that ebooks were also outselling the print editions for 19 of the top 50 books on their own best-seller list. (“It’s the first time the top-50 list has had more than two titles in which the e-version outsold print,” they reported last week.)

Of course, Roberts had already sold more than 280 million print editions of her books already, according to Wikipedia, spending a combined total of more than 660 weeks on the New York Times best-seller lists. And Roberts’ ebooks may have gotten a special boost from the Kindle, according to another new article in USA Today. They reported that romance novels accounted for 12% of all the best-selling books of 2010, theorizing that “Readers who wouldn’t be caught dead with risque covers in public enjoyed the privacy of reading romantic e-books!”

And what were Nora Roberts most popular ebooks of 2010?

The Search (her most popular ebook of the year)
Savor the Moment
Fantasy in Death (as J.D. Robb)
Happy Ever After

The Kindle Comes to Fifth Grade

January 12th, 2011


I once told someone that when I got my Kindle, I’d re-discovered the joy of reading. It was almost like when I’d first learned how to read books for the first time as a small child. But what happens when our schools try teaching a child how to read using a Kindle? And what happens if the teachers are using Kindles for an entire classroom full of fifth graders?

“We have several quotes from them, and it always ends with ‘And now I love reading,’” the fifth grade teacher told a local news crew.

In upstate New York, just a few miles from Lake Ontario, Ms. Sayles has her students reading on eight different Kindles, and she thinks it’s working great. “They didn’t use to love reading class,” she explains to the reporters — before a cute fifth grade girl tells them the same thing. “I like how the Kindle makes reading more fun,” says Madelyn, “and it’s making me look forward to reading and school. It makes it more interesting…”

There’s eight Kindles that they’re sharing in the classroom, and because they’re all registered to one account, each ebook can appear on six different Kindles. That will ultimately save money for the school district, the teacher believes, especially since she’s sharing all the Kindles and ebooks with a special education teacher. The school district has a foundation which awarded a grant to the two teachers last June. They’re using the money to purchase the Kindles — and they’re finding it also has other advantages.

It seems to work as equalizer for the students’ books, since with printed books, they might have felt intimidated by the book’s weight and the large number of printed pages. (“Usually I don’t go near big books,” young Madelyn explained. “But you can’t really tell, and it goes by faster!”) Struggling readers might also have been embarrassed to be seen with the skinnier remedial books, but on the Kindle, no one can tell the difference. And when the students come to a word that they don’t understand, they can look-up the word in the Kindle’s built-in dictionary! “It’s great for vocabulary,” says Ms. Sayles.

Some students even use the text-to-speech feature as they follow along in the text. And if there’s a student with a vision problem, the Kindle’s font sized can be increased. “The biggest thing is that it’s gotten kids excited about reading,” says Ms. Sayles, adding another prediction. “This is the technology that’s going to be in their future. So why not start them at this age.”

The fifth grade teacher also made another good point: kids today already seem to be living in a “technology screen world.” So I had to wonder if she had mixed feelings about giving the kids yet another screen to focus on when they’re already saturated in that screen-oriented lifestyle. “I’m not sure if it will move them away from it,” Ms. Sayles told the newspaper, “but I think if it can get them to read then it’s OK….

“If we can get them excited about reading at this age, it creates a lifelong reader.”

The cast of The View with Whoopi Goldberg

David Letterman isn’t the only celebrity who’s talking about the Kindle. In July there was a long discussion about the Kindle and the future of the book on the daytime television talk show, The View.

It was one of my favorite Kindle moments of 2010. Whoopi Goldberg is a big fan of the Kindle, and it sounded like co-host Barbara Walters was trying to understand it. But the show’s other hosts — both mothers with young children — worried about whether a digital reader might impinge on the time they spend reading to their children. Here’s a complete transcript of the discussion between the four women.

(The other two hosts are sitcom star Sherri Shepherd and reality TV star Bethenny Frankel…)


                        *                        *                        *

WHOOPI: According to Amazon.com, sales of ebooks are outpacing the sales of actual hardcover books. So is the book on the way out?

BARBARA: I guess so.

BETHENNY: I don’t want to read The Runaway Bunny to Brin on a Kindle.

BARBARA: Why not?

BETHENNY: I just, you know, I…

SHERRI: It’s not the same.

BETHENNY: I like the turning of page and the colors and all that.

SHERRI: When Jeffrey and I — we do — it’s a bonding moment. At night, he knows, “turn off the TV, mommy.” He goes to get a book. We sit in the rocking chair. He likes to turn the pages. He likes to point. It’s the pictures. I think you lose that as a child. We’re so viral with the Twitter. We don’t pick up the phone any more. We’re texting. And you kind of lose that personal touch, when you don’t have the musty books and the yellow pages…

WHOOPI: Very few people –

SHERRI: Yeah.

WHOOPI: — read the Kindle to their children. Most people still read –

BETHENNY: But that’s where we’ll go.

WHOOPI: No we won’t.

SHERRI: It just seems like —

WHOOPI: And here’s the thing. Giant books — think about it. Well, maybe this isn’t your experience. I love to read, as you know.

SHERRI: Yeah.

WHOOPI: I used to carry 30 books when I travelled. And so I’d have — and I bought bags — leather bags. 30 books, yeah, ’cause I read. I go on these long trips…

BARBARA: Well, she was on a long trip on a bus.

WHOOPI: I go on these long trips, ’cause I — you know, I don’t generally fly.

BETHENNY: Well, it takes me a month to read a book, so –

WHOOPI: So I — I eat books. I love them.

SHERRI: And you know, I think another reason why it’s outselling — the Kindle — is because a book — if you go on Amazon now, a book is sixteen bucks. And if you get it on Kindle, it’s eight. So you know, I think the price, as well…

WHOOPI: And also, I think you can carry your library with you if you go somewhere. And so I think people want to be able to do that. Books will never go out of — out of –

BARBARA: No, because there is a place for them in your home.

WHOOPI: Absolutely.

BARBARA: Books look beautiful. They feel good. That’s the great thing.

WHOOPI: Unless you decide to do it — unless you decide to buy it for children.

SHERRI: We were talking about young babies and toddlers. What about for kids who are maybe preteens and teenagers — that experience of having a book. You remember going to the library? The Dewey decimal system? That whole –

WHOOPI: Let me explain to you about books. You see these kids, how many books they’re carrying?

SHERRI: Yeah. They got a big –

WHOOPI: Do you see what they’re carrying on their backs?

BETHENNY: It’s going to be expensive to buy the devices.

WHOOPI: Actually it’s not, if the schools can get behind it. Because, what you can do is you can download your textbooks. And you can have all the books that you need. It would be great for young people. And real books — I mean, as long as kids are reading Twilight, they’re not going to want to read it on the Kindle. They want –

BETHENNY: Is the bookmark over? Is that’s what’s going to happen now? The whole bookmark industry?

WHOOPI: No. You have a different bookmark for the Kindle or the iBook or whatever you’re reading. But the greatest thing is people are still reading! That’s the most wonderful…

[APPLAUSE]

SHERRI: I remember our — my dad, the salesman came, and we had an entire shelf of the Encyclopedia Britannica. And that was the thing. We loved it when we got a new Britannica.

BETHENNY: You can look smart, too. You can have all these books at your house, and people think you’re really literary when you’re not.

WHOOPI: That’s why this guy — I wonder if this — that’s why this guy got into trouble. What do you think, Bill? I mean — did you hear about this Amish teenager who, uh — who crashed his horse and buggy during a police chase?

BETHENNY: Is this The Flintstones? What are we talking about?

WHOOPI: No! He’s facing charges of alcohol possession, and second degree reckless endangerment, and overdriving an animal after leading the police on a chase that ended when the teen crashed his horse and buggy! Come on…

SHERRI: He was Amish?

WHOOPI: He was Amish. And we’re worried about where the book is going?! Pooh! “Come on, now. Come on! Come on! He’s gaining on us! Come on, Christa, come on!”

                        *                        *                        *

And of course, Barbara Walters put it all into perspective. Not only is she okay with the Kindle — she’s not even worried about the police pulling over the Amish horse and buggy for drunk driving.

“Unless the horse was drunk, I don’t see what’s the big deal…”

David letterman vs. the iPad and Kindle

I had to laugh. David Letterman showed off his new tablet-sized reading device on last night’s show — and he seemed confused about whether he’d bought an iPad or a Kindle!


LETTERMAN: For Christmas, I loaded up — I had one of them iPads, and they put a book in it. You know you can do that now?

PAUL SHAFFER: Oh, yeah. Sure…

LETTERMAN: And so I’ve been reading this book in this iPad thing, and I’m reading and I’m reading and I’m reading. And as you know, you don’t turn a page, in — when you’re reading on the — what do they call them, the Kindles or something?

PAUL SHAFFER: Yeah… They’ve got that, too, yeah. (Audience laughs)


Letterman was probably reading with a “Kindle for iPad” app. (Earlier this week, Amazon pointed out that it’s one of the top 10 best-selling apps among iPad owners.) But as their conversation went on, Paul Shaffer (who conduct’s the show’s band) gently tried to correct Letterman’s confusion as he explained how you turn pages.


LETTERMAN:And so you just — you just kind of do this with your finger.

PAUL SHAFFER: You flip that. Yeah.

LETTERMAN:And the thing’ll…

PAUL SHAFFER: On the iPad and the Kindle…


Letterman was playing up his reactions as a technology curmudgeon — but he was building up to a complaint that I’ve heard before. But the punch line of the bit turned out to be that it was bandleader Paul Shaffer who had the perfect answer


LETTERMAN: And I’m reading, and I realize: something’s wrong here. Something’s desperately wrong. There’s no page numbers on my book!

PAUL SHAFFER: Right. No, well, there can’t be. There can’t be, because you can change the font, and if you have a larger font, then you’re going to have fewer pages and therefore you can’t possibly commit to a page number because as you electronically alter the page you number, you are going to have to change as well the number of pages that you have at your disposal…(Audience applauds)

LETTERMAN: Thank you. Thank you, Steve Jobs.


Letterman has expressed skepticism about the iPad before. When the device was first released in April, he showed one to his audience, then joked “The radiation this thing gives off is incredible. You’re supposed to wear a lead apron when you operate it.” But it’s especially interesting in light of a new research study by J.P. Morgan. They determined that 40% of the people who own an iPad also own a Kindle — and that another 23% of them plan to buy one within the next 12 months!

The iPad won’t destroy the market for the Kindle — though I hope that all iPad owners aren’t as confused as David Letterman! But I would like to drop his comments into a time capsule. If books are someday replaced by digital readers, it’ll be worth remembering just how uncomfortable some people were with the change.


LETTERMAN: But see, and then you just — you just whisk it away like that, and then — but look. What do you see? Do you see a page number?

PAUL SHAFFER: No….

LETTERMAN: No. You don’t see no page number.

PAUL SHAFFER: No. There isn’t…

LETTERMAN: How do you know when you’re done, is what I want to know? Or if somebody – somebody asks you, are you reading the — the book? And I say yeah. “What page are you on?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know what page I’m on.” For example, this — I’m reading now the Alex Trebeck story, and I have no idea — uh…No, I can’t help you. Sorry.

David letterman vs. the iPad and Kindle


The Kindle is enjoying a huge spike in its popularity. And it’s gotten so popular, that now Amazon can’t even send you one! If you go to buy the 3G version of the Kindle, it’s still listed as “in stock”. But if you’re looking to buy a Wi-Fi only Kindle, its page at Amazon.com comes with a new warning. “Expected to ship in 8 to 9 days.”

That’s a 9-day wait before it even ships, before you can even start worrying about the additional days of waiting for the actual delivery to take place! Obviously Amazon would prefer to ship their 3G Kindles as soon as a customer orders them, so the fact that they’ve delayed their shipping date by nine days can mean only one thing: they’re out of those Kindles!

And there’s more evidence that the Kindle enjoyed a big holiday spike in its popularity. Today USA Today announced that ebooks outsold printed books on their best-seller list for the six titles at the top of the list — and for 13 more books in the top 50. “It’s the first time the top-50 list has had more than two titles in which the e-version outsold print,” the newspaper pointed out. But this week, ebooks outsold the printed books for a full 38% of the titles in the top 50.

USA Today tracked down the publisher for the top three titles — which were all written by Stieg Larsson — and the publisher revealed that in the last week they’d sold a total of 165,000 ebook versions, versus just 155,000 print versions. Interestingly, last year Amazon announced that Larsson had become the first author to sell one million ebooks in the Amazon store. It looks like he increased his ebook sales by quite a bit in just the last week!

But it averages out to sales of just 55,000 for each ebook in Larsson’s trilogy — and it may be a one-time fluke. I’d imagine that book sales are unusually low in that week after Christmas — while ebook sales would obviously experience a sudden spike, from all the people who received a Kindle as a Christmas present! “What’s most interesting is what happens next week or over the next month,” says the editor of a digital newsletter called Publishers Lunch. He pointed out to USA Today that “About 3 million to 5 million e-readers were activated last week. Will the people who got them keep downloading e-books, and at what rate?”

And the newspaper also interviewed another analyst who was even more skeptical of that spike in ebook sales. Kelly Gallagher (from the publishing research firm Bowker) told USA Today that the spike wasn’t a “sustainable trend.” Currently ebook sales account for just 9% of the total book market, if you believe the figures in this article, although Gallagher predicts that in 2011, ebook sales could still be twice as high as they were in 2010.

It’s going to be an interesting year!


Yesterday I linked to Amazon’s list of the top 100 best-selling free ebooks. But Amazon also has a special web page that points to many more collections of free ebooks!

“We wanted to make it easier to find these collections,” Amazon’s page explains, noting that there’s nearly 2 million more free ebooks out there, since “the Internet is huge and there are lots of older, out-of-copyright, pre-1923 books online.” There’s free ebooks for the Kindle available at three major web sites — Archive.org, OpenLibrary.org, and ManyBooks.net — and on this “Free book collections” page, Amazon offers careful instructions about how to download them all. Their last step in the instructions is always: “Open the ebook from your Kindle’s home screen and enjoy.” But it turns out there’s also a couple of more ways to get free Kindle ebooks.

Right now there’s also 147 current books for the Kindle which are available for free in Amazon’s Kindle store. They’re special short-term promotional offers, and the free ebooks are available in lots of different genres, from romance and erotica, to two different free versions of the bible. There’s even a book called the Acupressure Guide For Relieving Hangovers, plus a series of Star Wars science fiction/fantasy novels called “Lost Tribe of the Sith.” (Click here for the first, second and third book in the series…)

But Amazon also offers a list of all the free classic ebooks that are available in their Kindle store — and it turns out there’s over 16,480 of them! Right now their top best-selling classic ebooks are The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Alice in Wonderland, and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice — but if you’re a horror fan you can also read the original Dracula, Frankenstein, or even The Complete Poems of Edgar Allen Poe. I’ve had a lot of fun reading Jules Verne’s original novels about 19th-century expeditions, and autobiographies of some fascinating American lives by Benjamin Franklin and Buffalo Bill Cody. If you keep browsing, you’re bound to find something entertaining. And you’ve got to love their price: zero dollars and zero cents!

In fact, this may ultimately change the world, according to John Sutherland of the London University College. “We are now creating an immense public library without walls,” he told the Sunday Times. Many people have worried that the Kindle might somehow stop people from books, but Sutherland believes that the opposite is true, with free classic works of literature becoming the “saviour of book reading, not its death.”

It’s like a dream come true. Thousands and thousands of the greatest books of all time are now all absolutely free!