Amy Bloom was the first author to discover that her book was appearing in a Kindle ad. But I was actually a little disappointed when I’d interviewed her last summer. I’d thought she’d be more excited about it!

Q: Did you get any other reactions from people you know?

AMY: Another friend of mine said, “Hey, guess what?”

You know? “I fleetingly saw your page in a Kindle ad!” And that was nice. You know, I’m the dullest person in the world. I say, “Oh, that’s so nice.” And they go, “Yep.”

Q: I guess I was expecting you’d have a bigger reaction to the ads.

AMY: I am notorious for this in my family. I’m pleased by them. I’m flattered by them, but I don’t – they’re not – they’re great. I’m really appreciative and I think its very kind of the Kindle people. I feel very grateful for whoever it was who said, “Hey, how about a page from an Amy Bloom story.” I feel very grateful for whoever that person is.

Q: Will this increase sales of your book?

AMY: You never know. It probably won’t do me any harm.

On the other hand, the other way to look at it is, who cares? I’ve done my job as a writer. I’ve written the best work I know how. And I’m appreciative of the people who read it and care about the work — and that’s pretty much the end of that. Anything else that happens is sometimes nice, and sometimes not so nice, but not really directly relevant…. I think it’s — I am really appreciative, and it’s also sort of in the category of ephemera.

Q:But is there a larger significance?

AMY: If there is a larger significance, it’s going to be someone else who figures out what it is, not me.


Even though she doesn’t own a Kindle herself, she said she was glad that people were reading, saying “it doesn’t matter to me whether people read wax tablets or printed books or handmade books or ebooks. I’m happy that they read!” (And she added, graciously, that “I’m sure when I’m a little old lady, I’m going to be very grateful to have some lightweight thing that contains a lot of books and has big fonts…”) But it was exciting to see her commitment to the craft of writing, and I realized that we both had something in common: a deep love of fiction.

That’s why I was especially delighted when I discovered Amazon had just published a personal “Letter from Amy Bloom” on the web page for one of her books. In it, she describes her philosophy about fiction — offers an insider’s perspective on why it’s so challenging!


The great pleasure for me in writing short stories is the fierce, elegant challenge. Writing short stories requires Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, and some help from Gregory Hines. We are the cat burglars of the business: in and out in a relatively short time, quietly dressed (not for us the grand gaudiness of 600 pages and a riff on our favorite kind of breakfast cereal) to accomplish something shocking — and lasting — without throwing around the furniture.

Flannery O’Connor (a reliable source when appreciating the short story) wrote that short stories deliver “the experience of surprise.” The surprise, I think, is that so few pages can contain so much, that what is taken to be a prism turns out to be not only a window but a door as well.

If you’re an American reader, you can love short stories the way other Americans love baseball; this is our game, people! We have more than two hundred years of know-how and knack, of creativity. Of the folksy and the hip, of traditional yarn-spinning and innovative flourishes. Of men and women, of war and loss and love, with a few ghosts and many roads not taken. And in all of that, you will find some of the funniest and most heartbreaking fiction, ever.

I love Amazon’s Kindle ads. (I’ll be watching TV — muting every single commercial with my remote — when I’ll suddenly shout out “Kindle!”) It’s exciting to see digital readers making the “big time” of network television. But I’ve always been really curious about what kind of message they’re sending…

I always wonder if there’s a clue hidden in the ebooks that Amazon’s displaying on the Kindle’s screen. Or if it’s just Amazon’s way of recommending some good books…


“The Book Lives On”

Screencap of ebook in the Amazon Kindle coffee shop TV ad

In this ad, good-looking young people read their Kindles in the sunlight — in a park, a restaurant — and enjoy lepaing in the sun and walking on fences. But just two seconds in — as one thoughtful youngster strokes his chin — there’s a shot of the Kindle he’s holding over the restaurant’s red tablecloth. And what ebook is it displaying?

“Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand (subtitled “a World War II story of survival, resilience, and redemption.”) It’s only her second book — her first book was Seabiscuit, written 10 years ago, which became the basis for the 2003 film starring Tobey MacQuire. But Unbroken has already received 713 five-star reviews on Amazon.com for its inspiring story of Louis Zamperini, an American Olympic distance runner who joined the Air Force only to become a prisoner of war. The book opens with a description of the day when, as a young boy, he saw an enormous German Zeppelin flying down the California coast.

…typhoon that whisked it over the Pacific at breathtaking speed, toward America. Passengers gazing from the windows saw only the ship’s shadow, following it along the clouds “like a huge shark swimming alongside.” When the clouds parted, the passengers glimpsed giant creatures, turning in the sea, that looked like monsters.

On August 25, the Zeppelin reached San Francisco. After being cheered down the California coast, it slid through sunset, into darkness and silence, and across midnight. As slow as the drifting wind, it passed over Torrance, where its only audience was a scattering of drowsy souls, among them the boy in his pajamas behind the house on Gramercy Avenue.

Standing under the airship, his feet bare in the grass, he was transfixed. It was, he would say, “fearfully beautiful.” He could feel the rumble of the craft’s engines tilling the air but couldn’t make out the silver skin, the sweeping ribs, the finned tail. He could see only the blackness of the space it inhabited. It was not a great presence but a great absence, a geometric ocean of darkness that…


The darkness “seemed to swallow heaven itself,” the next page continues. And that’s the kind of story that’s waiting for you, Amazon seems to be saying, if you buy yourself a Kindle!


Kindle Zest Ad

eBook Screenshot of the Amazon Kindle Zest ad with the Cheerios

This Kindle is everywhere — on a bus, in a jewelry drawer, in your back pocket, getting licked by a dog. But as Cheerios splash across the screen of a Kindle, they’re covering the page of another ebook — this time,
Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella. It’s the sixth book in a series of funny books about life as a shopaholic — this one was just released in September — and in this one she ponders the next generation of shoppers,
starting with her two-year-old daughter Minnie.

The Kindle in the ad has turned to a poignant page where, as her daughter leaves a card for Santa in a wishing well, the narrator remembers leaving her own greedy Christmas letters.


…long and involved, with illustrations and pictures cut out of catalogs, just in case he got confused.

A pair of pink-faced girls of about ten, all giggly and whispery, are posting their wishes, and just the sight of them gives me a rush of nostalgia. It seems wrong not to join in. I might jinx it or something.

Dear Father Christmas, I find myself writing on a card. It’s Becky here again. I pause and think for a bit, and then quickly scribble down a few things.

I mean, only about three. I’m not greedy or anything.

Minnie is drawing earnestly all over her card and has got felt-tip on her hands and her nose.

“I’m sure Father Christmas will understand what you mean,” I say gently, taking it from her….


By the way, you can download the music from this ad for free from Amazon.com as part of a limited-time promotional offer. It’s the song “Lovers’ Cravings” by Bibio.


“What If You Switch?”

Picture of ebook on the iPhone from Amazon Kindle app television ad

Interestingly, a different part of the same book appears in another Kindle ad. It’s the one where a British narrator tells a story about reading ebooks with different phone apps. (“Once upon a time, a woman was reading a Kindle book on her Android phone… One day she decided to switch to an iPhone. Luckily, she’d been buying Kindle books, so she didn’t need to buy her library all over again. She lived happily ever after.”) On her Android phone, she’s reading page 237.

…and I could have told her exactly where she went wrong with that last boyfriend of hers. (Because I totally disagree with that columnist in Heat magazine — the split was not inevitable.) And then we could have gone shopping and been snapped by paparazzi and started a whole new trend with scarves or something…


But ironically, when she switches to her iPhone, she’s actually reading an entirely different book. It’s one of the all-time best-selling ebooks on the Kindle — The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.


…don’t know anything about this particular matter, but I do know beyond and doubt that in other situations Wennerstrom has acted dishonestly. The Wennerstrom case has seriously affected Mikael Bloomkvist’s life, and I have an interest in discerning whether there’s anything in your speculation.”

The conversation had taken an unexpected turn, and Armansky was instantly on the alert. What Frode was asking was for Milton Security to poke around in a case that had…”



Kindle Park Ad

Kindle screen in TV ad by stream reading Ralph Ellison ebook Invisible Man

There’s a close-up of the Kindle’s screen, held in front of the stones and grass by a shimmery green stream. The camera rotates to show it’s being held by a woman (with her blonde hair pulled back) sitting next to a curvy stone bridge, and as the camera rises to the sky, she seems calmly engrossed in her Kindle. But the book that’s she’s reading includes harrowing scenes of racism in American in the 1950s. It’s Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.

The page she’s reading in the park is about the eviction of an elderly black couple.


…false hair, a curling iron, a card with silvery letters against a background of dark red velvet, reading “God Bless Our Home”; and scattered across the top of a chiffonier were nuggets of High John the Conqueror, the lucky stone; and as I watched the white men put down a basket in which I saw a whiskey bottle filled with rock candy and camphor a small Ethiopian flag, a faded tintype of Abraham Lincoln, and the smiling image of a Hollywood star torn from a magazine. And on a pillow several badly cracked pieces of delicate china, a commemorative plate celebrating the St. Louis World’s Fair … I stood in a kind of daze looking at an old folded lace fan studded with jet and mother-of-pearl.

The crowd surged as the white men came back, knocking over a drawer that spilled its contents in the snow at my feet. I stooped and started replacing the articles: a bent Masonic emblem, a set of tarnished cuff links, three brass rings, a dime pierced with a nail hole so as to be worn about the ankle on a string for luck, an ornate greeting card with the message “Grandma, I love…



That Kindle at the Beach

This was the first Kindle ad, where the camera gradually pulls back to reveal that the Kindle at the beach is being read by a short-haired woman in a red-and-orange skirt, sitting silently next to a young man who’s also reading his Kindle. (“Man, that couple must hate each other,” someone once joked.)

I actually tracked down the author of the ebook she’s reading — Amy Bloom, who’s both a novelist and a professor at Yale University. She was once nominated for the National Book Award, and the story that appears on the Kindle was actually written in 1993. It was part of a new collection of her stories that was released in 2010, called Where the God of Love Hangs Out. And it’s probably the saddest pages to ever appear in a Kindle ad.

It’s the story of a 19-year-old boy who has a sexual encounter with his stepmother the day after his father’s funeral, told from the perspective of the grief-stricken widow. She struggles to find a way to make things right again – but first she must confront the fact that her son wants to continue the relationship.

“No, honey…”


I reached across the table but he shrugged me off, grabbing my keys and heading out the door. I sat for a long time, sipping, watching the sunlight move around the kitchen. When it was almost five, I took the keys from [her husband] Lionel’s side of the dresser and drove his van to soccer camp. [Her other, younger son] Buster felt like being quiet, so we just held hands and listened to the radio. I offered to take him to Burger King, hoping the automated monkeys and video games would be a good substitute for a fully present and competent mother. He was happy and we killed an hour and a half there. Three hours to bedtime.

We watched some TV, sitting on the couch, his feet in my lap. Every few minutes, I’d look at the clock on the mantel and then promise myself I wouldn’t look until the next commercial. Every time I started to move, I’d get tears in my eyes, so I concentrated on sitting very still, waiting for time to pass. Finally, I got Buster through his…


Bloom has practiced psychotherapy, and she’s also published her psychologically-insightful short stories in The New Yorker. (When I asked her if she thought that couple in the Kindle ad really hated each other, she replied “Well, or it’s comfortable silences. Other people’s marriages are hard to judge…”) But she said that she hadn’t even known about her story appearing in the Kindle ad until shortly before our interview. After she’d watched the ad on YouTube, she just went on with the rest of her day.

“I had a deadline. I was working on something, and I went back to work…”

But I’ll still always remember how excited I was to talk to her, since for me she was the ultimate celebrity by proxy — the author of the page in the ebook on that Kindle in that Kindle ad!

Famous Authors Discuss the Ebook

February 22nd, 2011

The Dark Tower book cover by Stephen King

Newsweek just performed a fascinating experiment. They contacted America’s best-known authors, and asked them how the Kindle and digital readers are affecting the future of reading! (“The transformation of the book industry has reached a tipping point,” they wrote in their introduction. “Electronic books now outsell paperbacks on Amazon, the retailer recently announced. And Borders, the second-largest bookstore chain in the United States, is reportedly considering a bankruptcy filing…”)

I’ve also got my own collection of favorite authors, and the things that they’ve said about ebooks and Kindles. For example, Stephen King actually owns a Kindle, and in an October interview said he uses it now for about half the books that he’s reading.


I think it changes the reading experience, that it’s a little more ephemeral. And it’s tougher if you misplace a character. But I downloaded one 700-page book onto my Kindle that I was using for research. It didn’t have an index, but I was able to search by key words. And that’s something no physical book can do.


The interview was conducted by the Wall Street Journal, who had asked some tough questions about the business of books.


Q: Is the future of publishing all digital?

It’s a hard subject to get a handle on. People like myself who grew up with books have a prejudice towards them. I think a lot of critics would argue that the Kindle is the right place for a lot of books that are disposable, books that are read on the plane. That might include my own books, if not all, then some.

Any drawbacks?

I wonder if one or two atom bombs went off, would electromagnetic pulses erase the world’s reading material from the servers where they are stored?


But Newsweek tracked some even bigger names, including Dave Eggers, the author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Even though he’s 23 years younger than Stephen King, Eggers is more committed to the physical book, perhaps because he’s also the founder of the McSweeney’s publishing house.


EGGERS: I don’t own an e-reader, and I’ve never read a page on an e-reader. I do everything I can to avoid more screen time.

I don’t think e-books have topped 10 percent of the market. My guess is that it will be about 15 to 20 percent of the market, because e-readers are expensive, and they’ll continue to be expensive.

Not to diminish the value of a paperback, when it comes to somebody investing in a hardcover, it’s something you want to keep. Everything from a cloth-case wrap to a leatherette to a foil-stamped cover, heavier paper, better binding, innovative cover design. You have to give readers a choice, between a richer experience with paper and board and cloth, and a more sterile experience through an electronic reader. We just try to make every aspect of the physical book as good as it can possibly be, because that’s our greatest hedge against the dominance of e-books.


My favorite reaction came when Newsweek spoke to 72-year-old Joyce Carol Oates, who has written three different novels which were nominated for a Pulitzer Prize (including Blonde, a recreation of the life of Marilyn Monroe written in 2000). Her response?


My husband, Charlie, is a neuroscientist, and of course he immediately ordered both the Kindle and iPad. When we travel, we read books and The New York Times on the iPad.

I’d much rather have a book.


I thought Newsweek did a really classy thing, by taking their question all the way to the head librarian at America’s Library of Congress. 81-year-old James H. Billington is only the 13th person to hold that position, and he obviously grew up reading books, as a student at both Princeton and Oxford. So what did he have to say about ebooks?


BILLINGTON: The new immigrants don’t shoot the old inhabitants when they come in. One technology tends to supplement rather than supplant. How you read is not as important as: will you read?

And will you read something that’s a book – the sustained train of thought of one person speaking to another?

Exciting New Kindle TV Ads!

February 21st, 2011

Screenshot from new Amazon Kindle TV ad - The Book Lives On

This is pretty exciting. Amazon just released a new ad for the Kindle — and this one’s in a radically new style! According to YouTube, the ad’s video has been viewed less than 2,000 times, so this is your chance to be one of the first people to see it. To view the ad, point your PC’s web browser to YouTube.com/Kindle.

The ad’s official title is “The Book Lives On,” and it’s clearly aimed at younger audiences. The ad shows young people enjoying their Kindles — in a coffee shop, on the grass, while lying outdoors in the city, or jogging past a lake. It only shows the new graphite-colored Kindle — not the older white ones — and it features a much edgier song by a band called “The New Pornographers”. (They’re a hip, indie band from Canada, and the song — “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk” — is from their newest album, which was just released last May.)

I had to laugh. A technology blog had cheered Amazon’s previous television ad by saying that Amazon “is done with the silly flame war. The latest Kindle ads make no mention of the iPad or any competitor really. Instead, they simply show off the Kindle’s two main selling points – portability and content.” That truce is apparently over, since even in this 30-second montage, Amazon includes several scenes showing that the iPad owner isn’t able to read in bright sunlight — while the Kindle owners can. (“No glare,” Amazon flashes on the screen. “Easy to read in bright sunlight…”) The other selling points are that the Kindle holds
800,000 books, is lighter than a paperback, and has a battery life of up to a month. “The book lives on…” the ad concludes.

By saying “the book lives on,” Amazon seems to be trying to give a positive spin to the worry that digital readers will kill the book. The song’s enthusiastic rock pulse, with its steady electric guitars in the background, suggests excitement and optimism. You could read the ad as a manifesto, announcing that the next generation will continue reading — but they’ll do it using Kindles. But take a closer look, and it looks more like Amazon is really trying to advertise a revolution that hasn’t happened yet.

In November a survey found that the Kindle was least popular among young people. Between the ages of 25 to 34, just 5.8% of the people surveyed had said the owned a Kindle — and just 6.5% of the people between the ages of 18 and 34. (For the 35-44 range, Kindle ownership was at 8.5%, and at 8.3% for the next age range of 45-54 years old.) Surprisingly, the highest percentage of Kindle ownership was people over the age of 65 — at 9.6% — as well as people under the age of 18, at 11.1%. Maybe young people have less disposable cash for an ebook-reader — or they’re more interested in color/touch screens. But whatever the reason, Amazon is clearly trying to address that “enthusiasm” gap with this ad.

But it’s always fascinating to study Amazon’s ad campaigns, and watch them trying to capture the mystique of the Kindle. Once I got to YouTube, I even began watching other Kindle ads that I hadn’t seen yet. There’s one where a little boy tells his grandma what book he wants for a Christmas gift. (“Mayan temples. Or race cars. Or spelunking… Or martians. Or any kind of alien, really…”) And there was another ad for Christmas in the same style as Amazon’s first ads — including a new soft piano-and-vocal song by Little & Ashley, this time with sleighbells. (“Snowflake in my pocket, let’s take a sleigh ride on the ice…”) It’s the same young blonde woman in this ad, but this time the stop-motion animation shows her wearing parkas with her boyfriend, fishing by an igloo, and then dressed us as a ballerina (while her boyfriend is the soldier from the Nutcracker ballet).

Of course, it’s possible to read too much into the commercials. I’ve been a fan for 11 years of the band that did the song in Amazon’s current ad, “The New Pornographers.” But I’ve never been sure what their lyrics are about — and this latest song is no exception. The lyrics from the song snippet that Amazon selected also apply nicely to the Kindle. (“Silhouette, tell me a tall tale, go. Shout it out… Sweet talk, sweet talk…”)

But the rest of the song — well, not so much!


A mistake on the part of nature,
You’re so fair and so fey that you’ll sit anywhere.
I’ve pencil sketched the scene.
It’s feeling Byzantine.

Mistakes on the part of nature,
The living proof of what they’re calling love,
On certain sideway streets
Where things that don’t match meet.

A mistake on the part of nature,
You are a tall glass, a blast from the past.
Yeah, things were simpler then.
You ask exactly when.

A mistake on the part of nature.
It’s forgiven. Move on.
Won’t wear my Sunday suit to walk that street.
That would feel Byzantine.

Silhouette, tell me a tall tale, go,
Shout it out.
Silhouette, shout it from the top,
Sweet talk, sweet talk.
Your sweet talk, sweet talk.

Amnesia becomes ambition.
Ambition becomes a new sort of
Charming simplicity,
Like always, Byzantine.

A mistake on the part of nature.
It’s forgiven. Move on.
Won’t wear my Sunday suit to walk that street.
That would feel Byzantine.

Silhouette, tell me a tall tale, go
Shout it out.
Silhouette, shout it from the top.
Sweet talk, sweet talk.
Your sweet talk, sweet talk…

Silhouette, tell me a tall tale, go
Shout it out.
Silhouette, shout it from the top.
Sweet talk, sweet talk
Your sweet talk, sweet talk.

Does Mary Worth Hate the Kindle?

February 20th, 2011

The Amazon Kindle appears in the Mary Worth newspaper comic strip

In December I started a list of all the newspaper comic strips which had already mentioned the Kindle. Frank and Ernest had swapped the word Kindle into the phrase “book ‘em, Danno,” while Ziggy complained that his Kindle was getting spammed by the public library! I even discovered a whole five-day series where the grumpy bus driver in Crankshaft finally discovers the advantages of Amazon’s reader.

But last month the Kindle turned up in the strangest place of all: the daily soap opera comic strip Mary Worth!

Mary Worth comic strip and Jeff with Kindle

And I think this comic strip actually set a new record for just how long they talked about the Kindle. For eight consecutive strips, I stared in amazement as Mary’s enthusiastic boyfriend (Dr. Jeff Cory) continued thoroughly explaining all the benefits of owning a Kindle.


I love it! It’s light and easy to carry! And buying books is an almost instant process!

Hmm…

I can easily read several books at the same time without anything have to lug around.

What about bookmarking pages?

It does that! See? What do you think? Do you want one?

I don’t know…

“I love Mary’s ‘Hmm…’ in the second panel,” someone noted online. “You just know she’s going to find a way to disapprove of instant books, and someone will wind up having a drunken rant in a library or Barnes & Noble about it…”

But it still felt like a milestone, as the Kindle crashed it’s way into the stodgiest newspaper comic strip of them all. (Mary Worth was first created over 70 years ago, according to Wikipedia, and in Amazon’s Kindle discussion forum, someone suggested that by now her character must be over 140 years old!) Suddenly in local newspapers all across America, one of the most traditional comic strips ever was launching a detailed debate about the pros and cons of reading ebooks on a digital reader. As a Kindle lover, I was delighted to see the Kindle finally getting some new attention!

And by the end, they’d spewed out over 350 words about the Kindle, all spaced into short little bursts throughout the two-panel comic strips…


WEDNESDAY
Sorry, Jeff! A portable reading device is not my cup of tea!

What? Why not?

I like the way a real book feels…holding it in my hands, flipping its pages with my fingers…

You’re just not familiar with this yet!

THURSDAY
I can’t believe you wouldn’t want an e-book reader too! I love it!

That’s great, Jeff! It’s just not the same experience for me!

Maybe you just need to use it for a little while! You can borrow mine if you want!

No. I know myself! I like reading something that doesn’t rely on batteries of electricity!


Fortunately, I found another great way to laugh about it – and without having to read Mary Worth! One of my favorite blogs is now available on the Kindle — and it’s all about newspaper comic strips. “Why is Mary resisting the 21st century so strongly?” teased The Comics Curmudgeon “Does she fear that she might accidentally subscribe to this very blog, read about her adventures, and implode into paradoxical nothingness when she realizes she is fictional, and ridiculous?”

And ironically, I was reading that blog on my Kindle — so I was seeing Mary’s stern face staring back at me, from within the Kindle’s screen — as she looks out over a picture of a Kindle. (I wonder if she’s afraid now?)

Mary Worth comic srip inside a Kindle

Maybe this is another small moment when our culture suddenly makes another tiny shift forward. But if so, it’s really fun to see that moment being dissected by hundreds of funny comments from the blog’s online readers.


“Today in Mary Worth…oh, snap, it’s ON!”

“Go, Mary, go! Save Dr. Jeff from the evils of new technology!”

“Using the e-book reader would require Mary to put down her coffee, and dammit Jeff, that just isn’t going to happen.”

“That night, Mary discovered that the Kindle is, indeed, sturdy enough to bludgeon someone to death…”


What I love about that web site is that it takes ordinary daily comic strips, and gives them a really fresh perspective. And of course, it’s also a place where you watch other comic strip readers as they share their own personal reactions to the strangely old-fashioned funnies page. After a few minutes on the site, it makes me feel like I’m part of an invisible club of smart-allecks who are all reading the newspaper comics page together. It’s one of my favorite things about the internet — and it adds a whole new level of interest to reading Mary Worth’s final speech about the Kindle.


I’m not afraid! I just prefer the traditional method of reading books!… instead of from a screen!

Suit yourself!…your Luddite self!

I am not a Luddite, Jeff! I use a computer!… I have a cell phone!…

Then why not an e-book reader too?

Because I like what I like! And reading regular books works for me! I like manually flipping pages and sticking a bookmark in between them! I like looking at the books lined up on my shelf!

I still think if you gave it a chance you’d love a portable reading device like this!

No thanks, Jeff!


Alas, Mary, resistance is futile…

Mary Worth on the Kindle in a Kindle on a Kindle screen

Subscribe to The Comics Curmudgeon on your Kindle!

How Ebooks Conquered the World

February 17th, 2011

Little Shop of Horrors lost ending

Last May, a competitor emerged for the Kindle. It was called the Kobo, and it was available in Walmart stores, and also Borders. But today the news finally came down that Borders has now, officially, filed for bankruptcy. All their recent moves “failed to make up for sagging book sales in the face of competition from Amazon.com Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc,” Bloomberg News reported today.

It’s interesting that one of Borders’ last desperate moves was trying to sell a digital reader for ebooks. New York Magazine once interviewed the 69-year-old founder of Barnes and Noble, who conceded, they wrote, that “the superstores can serve as platforms for marketing their own replacement technology.” Today as soon as you walk into a Barnes and Noble store, you’re now greeted with a prominent counter dedicated to trying to sell you the Nook. Barnes and Nobles’ new CEO calls that counter “the shrine.”

But today I stumbled across an interesting statistic. An Australian newspaper interviewed the managing e-commerce director at RedGroup Retail, which owns all the Borders stores in Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore. He bragged that they’d sold out of Kobos when they first introduced them, but that over the next nine months, they’d only sold 50,000. That comes out to just 185 a day — for the entire continent of Australia, combined with sales in both Singapore and New Zealand. To put that in perspective, Amazon is estimated to have sold at least 6,000,000 Kindles in the last year. That is, for every Kobo that was sold in those three regions, Amazon sold 120 Kindles. It’s hard to make a dent in your competition when they’re outselling you 120 to 1…

Of course, Australia is only one part of the global market for digital readers — but they offer a unique perspective. “The best predictions are that Australia is probably likely to take up e-books faster than the US and the UK,” according to chief executive of the Australian Publishers’ Association, “but that’s simply because of the population size.” She predicts that within five years, 40% of the books that are sold in
Australia will be ebooks. And that can’t be good for booksellers like Borders…

If we’re seeing a major change, then it’ll eventually reach every part of the globe — and the experience of Australians might be a harbinger of things to come. It was interesting to read the comments that were
left on the newspaper’s web site. “Nothing can replace the tangible feeling of having a physical book in your hands,” wrote one reader who called themselves Bookworm. “However my eyes sadly are not what they used to be so like the surging numbers turning to e-readers I have embraced this new technology. With the size of the text adjustable, it is the perfect device for me to continue my love affair with books which started when I was but a wee lad.” And while Kindle owners are complaining that ebook prices have started rising, in Australia they’ve been complaining about the high cost of printed books! “Australia’s take up of eBooks has less to do with being ‘nimble’,” wrote a woman named Mary, “and more to do with Australians being sick to death of the price gouging by local retailers that sees us pay three times what the rest of the English speaking world pays for the same book. Finally we can fight back.”

But even with that perspective, ebooks still seemed too expensive, according to another comment from JG. “Two-thirds the cost of a physical book is of course still far to expensive for what is essentially a few megabytes of data at most. I am all for authors getting farily paid for their hard work, but since the only costs involved in digital distribution are editing/formatting and hosting services, should the artificially high prices for books we pay in Australia really be the benchmark for e-book prices?”

I was reading the news headlines late last night, so I ended up getting stories from around the globe. But it seems like no matter which country the news came from, there was somebody who was raving about ebooks and the Kindle. One British columnist even headlined his story: Three 3 New Reaons Why My Amazon Kindle Grows in My Esteem. Just like he’d the easy bookmarking, the ease of switching books, and the ability to change font sizes. “When I first got my Amazon Kindle USA,” he wrote, “I was half expecting that it would be a fad that would only last for a short while before I returned to my life-long habit of reading books…

“…but this is not proving to be the case!”

Amazon Kindle yearly sales figures by Barrons analyst

What do things look like for Amazon — both now, and in the future? Today two technology analysts delivered their verdict: “Amazon is Smoking with Kindle”. That’s the headline at Barrons.com, in their “Hot Research” column, highlighting a report by Stan Velikov and Sandeep Aggarwal. They’re predicting that the number of Kindles Amazon sells in 2012 will be more than double the number of Kindles that they sold just last year — and that for the next 12 months, Amazon’s Kindle sales will increase by more than 50%.

“In our view,” the two analysts write, “Kindle remains the best ebook reader in the market and competition is unable to dent its market share.” They predict that over the next year Amazon will spend more money on Kindle advertising — and they think it’s a good idea, arguing that Amazon is just “strengthening its competitive moats.” They’ve also upgraded their past estimates for Amazon’s sales of the Kindle. For last year they now believe that Amazon sold a whopping 6.1 million Kindles, earning them $3.31 billion in Kindle-related revenues. Yet for this year, Barrons estimates that Amazon will sell more than 50% more Kindles than last year — earning revenues of $5.53 billion by selling another 9.3 million Kindles by the end of the year!

But what’s even more interesting is that comes out to an average of more than $500 per Kindle! I’m not sure what to make of those numbers — even if you remember that the Kindle 2 cost $260 for the first half of 2010. They’re still predicting an even higher average revenue of $594 per Kindle in 2011, when most Kindles will be much cheaper. (The Kindle 3G costs just $189, and there’s also the cheaper $139 model). It seemed like they’re estimating that the average Kindle owner spends at least $300 a year purchasing ebooks — until I remembered remember that the larger Kindle DX costs $379. But even if half the Kindles purchased were the more expensive Kindle DX, Barrons is still estimating that the average Kindle owner spends a lot of money on ebooks — about $240 apiece. I guess that’s possible — that’s $20 a month, or about two $9.99 books every month. And of course, the price of ebooks is also rising, which seems to be reflected in their estimates for the future.

So what happens in 2012? Barrons predicts that 12.5 million Kindles will be sold! (That’s twice as many as in 2010, now earning Amazon another $7.96 billion in revenue.) And these predictions are especially significant, because Barrons is the official newspaper of Dow Jones & Company (which also publishes the Wall Street Journal). In fact, Clarence W. Barron, the man the newspaper is named after, is considered “the founder of modern financial journalism,” according to Wikipedia. Barrons is publishing research from an investment firm, so it’s not the official opinion of Barrons.com.

But it’s still an authoritative prediction that Amazon’s Kindle sales…are smoking!

Amazon yearly Kindle sales (estimate by Barrons)

Symdoku (Sudoku variation) game for Kindle screenshot

It’s time for a big update! Amazon stunned game-lovers over the last 10 days by unveiling Kindle versions for two of the all-time classic board games. The first one was True Backgammon, created by a company called CompuLab — and I’m impressed. I thought I was a pretty good backgammon player, but the game has managed to beat me several times!

And just six days later, Amazon’s Kindle store got a full-featured Kindle version for the game of chess (developed by Oak Systems Leisure Software). I’d been trying to play chess online by pointing my Kindle’s web browser to a special URL that I’d created — tinyurl.com/kchess — which led to a chess-playing application on the web. It’s much nicer having a chess program tucked away on my Kindle, and it even lets you take back your moves if you discover that you’ve made a mistake! (There’s already been a chess game available for the Nook for the last 10 months…so it’s great to see that the Kindle has finally caught up.)

Just two weeks ago I’d written about 10 new games on the Kindle, but checking again, I see now that there’s ten more new games for the Kindle! The very next day 7 Dragons released a brand new game called Flip It. It’s a little bit like the board game Othello, because you’re studying a virtual board of black tiles which you’re trying to flip over to their white side. It’s a game “that starts out simple and gets more challenging as you play,” according to its description on Amazon — and they’re right! I’ve been playing this game since it came out, and while I solved the first few fairly quickly, I’ve reached a couple of levels that have really kept me thinking!

Meanwhile, just 10 days ago, Oak Systems Leisure Software was releasing another game — a nice Kindle version of the familiar Word Search. It let’s you use the five-way controller to draw a pencil line when you’ve spotted a word hidden in the big grid of letters — but the game also includes a lot of extra features, according to its description in the Amazon Kindle store. (“Play at your own pace or against the clock… You can reset each puzzle and try it again as many times as you like.”) I loved solving Word Search puzzles when I was a kid, so I’m glad to see that you can finally puzzle them out on the Kindle!

There’s also a very simple game that’s called simply Cat Jump. There’s 14 cats drawn in 15 squares that are stacked up to form a pyramid. (There’s just one cat in the first row, two in the second row, three in the third row, and four in the fourth.) Your mission? Get rid of all of the cats! (Except one.) You remove a cat from the board by jumping over it — just kind of like a game of cat checkers. It’s simple, but also tricky, like a classic old-fashioned brain teaser…but with cats!

I’ve also discovered a fascinating new variation on Sudoku from a game company called Puzzazz. Instead of numbers, you’re fitting symbols into the nine-square boxes, which transforms the traditional Sudoku game into something much more challenging, which they’re calling Symdoku Unbound. I have to admire the game-maker’s ingenuity, because it’s a game that would be difficult to play with a paper and pen — though it works perfectly on the Kindle! And they’ve even created another version of the game where you’re fitting letters into the nine-square boxes, called Worduko Unbound.

Symdoku (Sudoku variation) game for Kindle screenshot

One of the top manufacturers, Electronic Arts, also has a slick version of the classic Sudoku game that’s just been discounted by 50%. Now it’s available for just $1.49, and it plays just like the classic number game that you’ve seen in your local newspaper. There’s still nine boxes (with nine squares each) where you’re trying to enter the digits 1 through 9. In fact, the Japanese word Sudoku roughly translates to “each number can occur only once” — and I’ve had a lot of fun studying Sudoku boards trying to find my way to the solution!

Plus, Amazon has released another new game for the Kindle that’s absolutely free. The free game is Video Poker, and it’s just like playing the poker slot machines in a Las Vegas casino. There’s a beautiful illustration of a “Jacks or Better” video-game display, and it “deals” you a five-card hand (where you’ll select which cards to keep). Amazon just released this game — three days before the Super Bowl — and it’s already become a huge hit. It became the #1 best-selling item in the Kindle Store’s “free” section, and 10 days later, it’s still holding on to the #2 position.

Triple Town is one of the best new games for the Kindle. Though it was released in October, it’s still one of the top 100 best-sellers in the Kindle store. It’s sort of a cross between Sim City and Tetris, since you’re given a randomly-chosen piece that you try to place on a 6 x 6 grid. Create the right combinations, and you can build castles, cathedrals, or even a floating palace up in the sky. But there’s also troublesome “wizard” pieces flitting across the grid, which can temporarily block the squares that you need to complete your combinations!

Screenshot of Triple Town game on a Kindle

There’s another nicely-designed word game called Panda Poet. How to describe it? The pandas get larger depending on the length of the words you submit! Each round brings you extra letters — giving you even more chances to grow larger and larger pandas. You’ll get more letters to work with than you do in most word games, but it’s still fun to search carefully for the largest possible word. And of course, it’s also fun to see your pandas growing taller and wider…

By the way, here’s a handy tip for how to reach three more free games on Amazon. There’s a special shortcut at Amazon.com that will take you to the first three games ever released for the Kindle. After typing Amazon.com (and a slash), just type out the name of the game (in lowercase letters). The games were Every Word, Shuffled Row and Minesweeper — so here’s what you’d type into your web browser to reach their pages on Amazon.

Amazon.com/everyword
Amazon.com/shuffledrow
Amazon.com/minesweeper

All three of these games are free — and at the top of the page, you can click on the author’s name (where it says “by Amazon Digital Service.”) This will take you to a page listing all six of the games released by Amazon, including two more free games — Blackjack and Video Poker. The only game there that isn’t free is Dusk World, Amazon’s special graphic novel-style text adventure. But there’s also a similar shortcut for reaching that game’s page with your web browser — just type Amazon.com/duskworld

It still amazes me. Last summer there were only a handful of good games for the Kindle. But now, there’s a couple dozen!

The New York Times ebook best-seller list

It’s finally happened! I stayed up late Thursday night to watch a very historic moment. The New York Times finally published its first best-seller list which includes ebooks!

They’d spent two full years working on a system to track ebook sales, according to a November article in the Times. “It was clear that e-books were taking a greater and greater share of total sales,” a Times’ editor explained, ” and we wanted to be able to tell our readers which titles were selling and how they fit together with print sales.” In fact, some publishers predicted ebooks would become 25% of their sales within the next two to three years — saying that ebooks already represented 10% of their sales — so the Times really needed to change. “To give the fullest and most accurate possible snapshot of what books are being read at a given moment you have to include as many different formats as possible,” said an editor at the Times’ Book Review, “and e-books have really grown, there’s no question about it.”

But that’s an understatement — at least, judging by the lists, since there’s a remarkable pattern which suggests that ebooks have already become the industry standard. The Times reported the best-selling ebooks as well as the best-selling print books, and then also reported which books sold the most after combining both their print and ebook sales. But it turns out that two of those three lists were identical! Here’s the top five best-selling ebooks.

  1. TICK TOCK, by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  2. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, by Stieg Larsson
  3. THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, by Stieg Larsson
  4. THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST, by Stieg Larsson
  5. WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, by Sara Gruen

But when you calculate the top five overall best-sellers — adding in the print sales to the ebook sales — nothing changes. Adding the print sales had no effect on the ranking of what were the top five best-selling ebooks. (Or even the top seven best-selling ebooks, if you read the Times‘ extended list.)

  1. TICK TOCK, by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  2. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, by Stieg Larsson
  3. THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, by Stieg Larsson
  4. THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST, by Stieg Larsson
  5. WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, by Sara Gruen
  6. THE CONFESSION, by John Grisham
  7. CUTTING FOR STONE, by Abraham Verghese

And the pattern is the same for non-fiction ebooks — at least, for the first four titles on the list. Whether you do or don’t include print books, the rankings are exactly the same.

  1. UNBROKEN, by Laura Hillenbrand
  2. HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent
  3. BATTLE HYMN OF THE TIGER MOTHER, by Amy Chua
  4. DECISION POINTS, by George W. Bush

The only major difference was in the #5 position, suggesting ebook readers have slightly different tastes. The fifth best-selling ebook was $#*! My Dad Says — whereas on the combined print and ebook list, it only reached the #11 spot. And it looks also like a Harlequin romance novel was able to crash its way into the #8 spot on the best-selling fiction list.

What does it all mean? I’ve heard it said that the world changes before we realize that it’s changed. So I’m wondering now if the ebook has already permanently altered the way that we read. In November the Times credited the Kindle (and the iPad) for increasing ebook sales — and noted that ebook sales actually tripled between 2009 and 2010. (“According to the Association of American Publishers, which receives sales data from publishers, e-book sales in the first nine months of 2010 were $304.6 million, up from $105.6 million from the same period in 2009, a nearly 190 percent increase.”) What’s interesting about Friday’s historic event is the Times’ is America’s single largest local newspaper, according to Wikipedia — and each month more than 30 million people visit the Times’ web site. The New York Times best-seller list has always been considered a definitive record of the best-selling books in the country.

And now that definitive list…is including ebooks.

Author blogger Seth Godin drinking a milk cartoon

There’s another new interesting feature coming in the Kindle’s next software upgrade. Amazon already lets you a type a comment next to any passage in your ebooks, but now Amazon’s offering a way to share those notes publicly, with any fans you may have on the web, according to their Kindle blog. “Any Kindle user…can opt-in to share their thoughts on book passages and ideas with friends, family members, colleagues, and the greater Kindle community of people who love to read.” And besides notes, you can also share material in an ebook which you’ve chosen to highlight. “This is a new way for readers to share their excitement and knowledge about books,” Amazon posted on their blog Monday, “and get more from the books they read.”

What’s really interesting is there’s three people who are already using the feature, according to a special list at kindle.amazon.com. There’s blogger/author Seth Godin (pictured above), who offers some clarification on a passage in his own book, All Marketers are Liars. But there’s also a public note from a man named Douglas Preston — a horror novelist who’s currently reading Laura Hillebrand’s Unbroken. (And the third user is a man named Tom Killalea — who I’m pretty sure is actually an employee of Amazon.com.)

Amazon also has a list of the books of which books have received the most public notes so far. (#1 on the list? Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.) It’s fun to see which books people are most interested in sharing on the web. And besides ranking them by the number of public notes, Amazon also identifies which books are receiving the most highlights (public or private) from their users!

1. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (118th most-highlighted book)
2. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (34th most-highlighted book)
3. The New Oxford American Dictionary (232nd most-highlighted book)
4. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (#1 most highlighted book!)
5. Dracula (71st most-highlighted book)
6. The Girl Who Played With Fire (17th most-highlighted book)
7. Gulliver’s Travels (420th most-highlighted book)
8. Treasure Island (323rd most-highlighted book)
9. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (18th most-highlighted book)
10. Kindle User’s Guide (which suprisingly, is the 295723rd most-highlighted, according to Amazon…)

Amazon’s list keeps going and going — currently they’re showing exactly 2097 books which have been publicly highlighted since this feature became available earlier in the week.

There’ll be some other new features in the Kindle’s next upgrade — like the ability to rate a book instantly when you reach its final page (or get recommendations on related books to read). And Amazon has also improved the layout of newspapers and magazines, so when you’re reading them on the Kindle, you’ll be able to see more than a list of headlines! I’m excited about all the new features, so I’m looking forward to the day Amazon finally decides that it’s ready, and downloads it into our Kindles. But apparently some people are even more excited, and they’ve already downloaded the preview version and started using it!

(And remember, if you’re interested in trying the preview version, point your PC’s web browser to tinyurl.com/getpagenumbers )

Free Shipping on Kindles!

February 8th, 2011

Amazon Kindle Valentine's Day free shipping ad

Amazon is now offering free two-day shipping when you order a new Kindle! If you’re buying a Kindle for a Valentine’s Day gift, the two-day shipping will make sure that your present arrives in time. Presumably the offer lasts at least through this Friday (since Amazon explains that it’s limited to two business days). Their ad also notes that the Kindle is the single most-gifted product on all of Amazon.com — and that it’s also got the most 5-star reviews of any product on Amazon. (10,931 different users gave the Kindle a five-star review.)

The two-day shipping costs will be fully deducted from the cost of your order on the final check-out screen — but it’s not the only way to get free shipping on a Kindle. In fact, you can get free shipping every day of the year on Amazon if you’re a college student, if you’re willing to provide Amazon with the name of your school and your major. Just register for the “Amazon student” program, which provides a full year of free two-day shipping. It’s an extended trial of the “Amazon Prime” service — so during that year, you can upgrade to one-day shipping for just $3.99. And if you’re not a college student, you can still qualify for the same cheap shipping rates — but Amazon will only give you a one-month free trial of the program, instead of one year. After that, the Amazon Prime membership costs $79 a year — but if you’re paying Amazon for a lot of expedited shipping, it could still save you some money!

Amazon also gave a special gift today to everyone who owns a Kindle — page numbers! “Our customers have told us they want real page numbers that match the page numbers in print books,”
Amazon announced, “so they can easily reference and cite passages, and read alongside others in a book club or class… We’ve already added real page numbers to tens of thousands of Kindle books, including the top 100 bestselling books in the Kindle Store that have matching print editions and thousands more of the most popular books!”

Right now it’s available if you download a “preview” of the Kindle’s next software update. (I made an easy-to-remember URL: tinyurl.com/getpagenumbers ) But eventually, “All latest generation Kindle and Kindle 3G customers will receive this software update automatically via Wi-Fi once it becomes available,” Amazon announced. Along with the location numbers at the bottom of your screen, soon your Kindle will also be displaying what the page number would be if you were reading the same text in a printed book — along with the total number of pages in the book!

Those page numbers will only appear when you press the menu button, and “Not all Kindle books include page numbers,” Amazon’s web page explained. But if it book does have page numbers, Amazon will indicate a “page number source” on the book’s web page at Amazon.com (listed under “product details”). Amazon will calculate the page number using the first word on your screen — so technically you could end up also reading part of the next page (as it appears in the printed book) on the same screen. But clicking your “Next Page” button would then refresh your page number on the next screen. And of course, your Kindle will also still calculates the percentage of the book that you’ve finished reading (at the lower left side of the screen).

One study actually estimated that 47% of the people who own a Kindle received it as a gift — so Amazon obviously hopes people will think of the Kindle as a present for Valentine’s Day. I’m feeling a little left out, since my girlfriend and I both have Kindles already.

So I’ve been trying to think about the upcoming page numbers as Amazon’s special gift to us…!

Borders bookstore closing

I’ve been wondering if the Kindle will one day lead to the end of the printed book. But maybe first, we should be worrying about the future of the bookstore! The picture above shows a Borders bookstore that closed in September. But now the entire Borders Group chain “may file for protection from creditors”, Bloomberg News reported last Tuesday — citing three different people who were “familiar with the matter.”

The three sources predicted that the filing could come as soon as this week, and one of them added that as many as 30% of the chain’s bookstores could close! (There’s over 500 Borders bookstores across America…) Ironically, last month Borders bookstores appeared in an episode of NBC’s “The Office” — while in real life the chain was stopping (or “delaying”) their payments to the publishers of the books Borders sells! Borders itself seems to acknowledge big changes are coming, announcing two weeks ago they’d received over half a billion dollars in funding to “provide Borders with the financial flexibility and an appropriate level of liquidity to move forward…” But further down in the press release a disclaimer noted it was contingent on “Borders’ finalization of a store closure program” to identify under-performing stores “that will be closed as soon as practicable…”

Ironically, for Barnes and Noble, that’s good news, and their stock price actually jumped up 7.4% last Tuesday. But Friday Borders stock closed at 39 cents a share — and then Monday even dropped two cents lower, down to just 35 cents a share. (Though that two cents represented 5.3% of the stock’s total value.) In fact, Borders stock may be de-listed from the New York Stock Exchange, which has a rule that every stock must be worth at least $1.00 a share. If their stock price doesn’t improve within six months, it can’t be listed on the exchange.

In the middle of the meltdown The Washington Post actually tracked down Mr. Borders himself — Louis Borders, one of the two brothers who co-founded the chain back in 1971 — at his home in Silicon Valley. (“Louis Borders declined to discuss his namesake’s problems or even whatever fondness he may hold for what’s left of his first big idea. ‘I’ve been away from the company for a while, and I just don’t want to talk about it,’ he said, before quickly hanging up.”) But they also uncovered the real story behind the closure. “Whatever progress publishers and Borders make toward a temporary deal, analysts and industry observers say the larger problem is much more daunting: There are just too many big bookstores selling a product fewer and fewer people want, at least in printed form… For many in the industry – and for this group of Borders regulars – the question is not whether the chain will go under, but when.”

Inevitably the article points at least one finger towards the popularity of new digital reading devices like the Kindle. (In the same article, the founder of Barnes and Noble jokes, “Sometimes I want to shoot
myself in the morning.”) And though the bookstore refused to talk to the newspaper’s reporter, he still looks for a reason tries to understand why. The Post notes that now Borders “confronts the limitless, more efficient supply chain of Amazon’s online emporium.” But he also looks for an answer buried deep in the company’s history.

Ironically, the company was started in 1971 because the Borders brothers had developed a new technology for booksellers! Originally the two brothers planned to license a software that they’d developed which helped predict the best-selling titles. But when they couldn’t interest the bookstores, they opened new stores themselves, and along with Barnes and Noble, created the phenomenon of superstore book-selling. “Readers rushed in for the latest Oprah Book Club pick. John Grisham became very wealthy, with one bestseller and movie after another…”

But technology continued marching forward, the Post notes. (“As the two book mega-stores clobbered each other in their battle for market share, the chains, and especially Borders, missed the next big cultural shift, analysts say.”) In fact, Borders eventually had to partner with Amazon for their web presence! By the end of the story, Amazon had developed the Kindle, Barnes and Noble created the Nook, and Borders had…nothing. “These trends were not a secret,” explains a retail expert at the Harvard Business School.

“They should have seen them coming…”

Borders Kobo Reader on the Office

It’s not just the Kindle. Other TV shows are also featuring digital readers — and sometimes, in a big way. In January, NBC’s The Office built an entire episode around the Kobo ereader, suggesting that there may even have been a product placement deal — that is, that the writers were paid to work it into the plot!

I’m just fascinated by these little moments of pop culture that show how the Kindle and other readers are working their way into the popular imagination. They’re appearing in stories that would never have occurred to anyone in even five years ago. This episode opened with Michael Scott (Steve Carrell), who plays the boss at the Scranton branch of the Dunder-Mifflin paper company. “January 23, 2011,” he says into the camera. “A day which will live in famously.”

He’s not the one using the digital reader. (He’s just worried that his former girlfriend had gotten engaged – although he does add that “If she’s engaged, I’m going to go crazy and I’m going to start attacking people.”) But back among the workers, there’s a lively discussion about New Year’s resolutions, with creepy Dwight Schrute teasing his former girlfriend that his goal for 2011 is “Meet a loose woman”. (And his co-worker Andy agrees.) “You know what you guys should do?” suggests Darryl from the warehouse. “Go to the bookstore at lunch. There’s tons of cuties and it’s easy to talk to them. ‘Hey, what book is that? Cool, let’s hang out tonight. Sex already? Whoa…!'”

Suddenly this strange sitcom is veering towards a visit to the bookstore. And it’s really because digital reading devices are a hot consumer trend in 2011. The writers, based on whatever motivation, now find themselves leading their characters into a Borders bookstore. They cut away to a private interview with Darryl, where he reveals that he isn’t really going there to pick up women. Darryl’s New Year’s resolution was to read more books — and he’d really just wanted a ride to the store!

And that’s when the Kobo appears.

Kobo reader with Daryl from The Office

“Well, if you read a lot, you should check out our ereaders,” a sweet, middle-aged cashier tells Darryl at the register, adding…



“They’re really neat.”

“I work at a paper company. Those things terrify me. They could put us out of business. I heard those things hold like 10 books at once.”

“Actually, it’s 10,000.”

“Holy ####! What? Let me see it…”


Darryl is impressed. (“It’s so light. Like a croissant.”) But his co-workers are having no luck picking up women, and Dwight announces “This place is kind of tapped out, so let’s roll.” But as they’re leaving the store, it turns out that Darryl is carrying a bag that he doesn’t want his co-workers to see. He claims it contains “A book about oceans,” then later tries to claim that it’s pornography. But later in the episode — as the men somehow end up at a roller-skating rink — Darryl is seen slipping away, to read on his brand new Kobo.

Darryl reads his Kobo with Dwight and Andy at the skating rink on the Office

In a way, I feel bad for the Kobo, though. On their Facebook page, they announced a contest to celebrate the episode — asking “What are you reading at the Office.” You didn’t even have to own a Kindle to enter the contest — the prize was 10 free ebooks or a Kobo eReader — but the response was underwhelming. They received just 40 photographs from people entering the contests. You could also enter just by leaving a comment on their web page, but the total number of comments was just 218. (Although to be fair, you could also enter the contest just by clicking the “Like” button the Kobo’s Facebook page, and there’s now 15,712 people who have done so.)

Maybe they would’ve gotten a larger response if they’d given away a Kindle!

Clearwater Florida high school uses Kindles
Image detail from the Tampa Bay Times

There’s a new rule coming from Florida’s state board of education. Within three years, all school districts will be required to spend half their textbook money on ebooks! “Students ‘cracking the books’ to study for a class or exam could be a thing of the past someday,” joked one Florida newspaper. And when an educational publisher submits their textbook to the board for review — it will have to be an ebook!

One Florida school already spent nearly $400,000 in September to buy 2,200 Kindles — enough for each student to get their own. Each Kindle cost $177.60, but a typical English textbook will be $15 cheaper if it’s delivered in a digital format. And the Kindle may create an extra enthusiasm in the classroom. “Kids love their technology,” the school’s principal told one reporter. “We wanted to tap into that.”

One student actually predicted that he’d study more, because “You want to play with your Kindle…” And another said she liked the lighter weight of ebooks! “I don’t really have the strength to carry around five or six textbooks every day.” The textbooks are also easier to update, which could even make the information more accurate. For example, one teacher’s science textbook — now six years out of date — still lists nine planets in the solar system, though Pluto was re-classified as a dwarf planet in 2006.

“I think books are pretty much obsolete by the time they go to print,” joked one Florida parent. And she also thinks the students will be more comfortable with digital texts, because “My kids are lugging around 40 pounds of books!” At a local community college, the vice president noted that there’s even been pilot programs at a couple state colleges which are using nothing but ebooks in most of the classes. The hardest part is getting the text in the format that works for all devices — on Kindles, Nooks, Kobos, and other digital readers.

He also believes color screens are important. (“We are just waiting for the technology to develop so that we really can move in that direction to where our students can benefit from it.”) So while the ebooks may be required by Florida’s board of education, it’s not clear which digital reader they’ll be purchasing. And if you’re heard horror stories about school boards demanding changes in text books — just imagine what they’d do with the power to change ebooks!

I still remember when I learned how to read — but apparently, grade school is changing now. One elementary school teacher explained to a reporter that for every book in his class, every student already has a password and username! “Most of them don’t take their books home because they can go online, where they can get their reading book,” he told the newspaper as he headed into a technology conference.

“Or they can get their math book and their science book and so forth…”

TV Shows with Kindles

February 1st, 2011

The Kindle on the Cleveland Show

I’ve been watching for signs. If the Kindle really is creeping into our everyday lives, then shouldn’t we be seeing it in our TV shows? Now it turns out the answer is yes, and yes. On our televisions — and in online discussions — we’re starting to hear about something new: all the TV characters who have Kindles.

“I mean, it was only shown on screen about 17,000 times last night,” complained one blogger who’d watched an episode of The Big Bang Theory. (“We get it writers and advertisers, the characters on the show are nerds and probably have gadgets…”) In later episodes it becomes clear that the Kindle belongs to the nerdy character Sheldon, and that he really loves it a lot. “When he was acting like a dictator during the Arctic expedition,” remembers a fan page, ” the other guys toyed with crazy ideas of ways to kill him. One idea was the throw his Kindle out the door of the science station, and when he went out to get it, lock the doors and let him freeze to death!”

Even one of Fox’s animated shows — The Cleveland Show — recently included a shout-out to the Kindle. “I was watching The Cleveland Show and this week’s episode had Rollo being sworn in as the kid to take care of the class’s turtle,” remembered one fan, in Amazon’s Kindle discussion forum. But the swearing-in ceremony for this important grade school position didn’t involve placing your hand on a Bible. Instead, the teacher announces, “Rollo Tubbs, please place your hand on this Amazon Kindle with the Bible loaded on it!”

Another poster remembered the Kindle turning up on a fittingly-titled series: Modern Family. (Interestingly, the character who owned the Kindle is played by Ed O’Neil — the actor who used to play Al Bundy, the very unhappy husband on Married With Children.) In this series, his character (Jay) goes on vacation with his “e-reader thing,” and proudly announces that he’s loaded it up with eight different thrillers by Robert Ludlum. “He doesn’t say Kindle, but when he holds it up it looks like a Kindle 2,” the poster remembers — but apparently Jay also leaves the Kindle on a beach chair. “Later when he is poolside and his stepson sits down, Jay shouts, ‘My Ludlums!'”

One week ago, even President Obama — in the annual State of the Union Address — mentioned the future possibility of “a student who can take classes with a digital textbook.” But the Kindle’s strangest appearance was probably in a line of dialogue on Joss Whedon’s sci-fi thriller series, Dollhouse. It’s set in the future, and Patton Oswalt warns a character about what are now some very serious legal complications. But instead of saying “They’ll throw the book at you,” he warns that “They’ll throw the Kindle at you!” One fan called it “a line that only Joss Whedon would try or could pull off.”

The Kindle has also appeared briefly on other TV shows, including Brothers and Sisters and even Chuck. But it’s all enough to make you wonder what’s coming up in the future? Maybe on other shows we’ll soon discover that there’s other characters who also own Kindles.

And maybe we just haven’t seen them yet…