Sports Illustrated logo on baseball magazine cover

Today is the first day of baseball season. And perhaps fittingly, CNN’s web site just ran a very strange article complaining about the Kindle and e-books — by a baseball writer for Sports Illustrated.

It headline? “My Bookstore is on Death Row.” Author Jeff Pearlman continues the morbid theme by writing “I just just returned from the morgue… It is dark inside. Smells stale. The walls are decayed, the echo resounding.” But he’s describing a recently-closed bookstore — his local Borders in Scarsdale — which was “adjacent to a Starbucks and a gym and a couple of overpriced clothing shops…”

Even writing later on his personal blog, Pearlman still seems deeply moved. “It’s an odd thing,” he writes in a new blog post. “Five years ago I would have never imagined feeling glum over a Borders or B&N shutting down. Nowadays, however, it symbolizes a shifting tide. Technologically. Culturally.”

“Bummer.”

Pearlman has a special fondness for this particular bookstore, because it was where he wrote his third book, “at a rickety wood table inside the store’s small cafe.” He fondly remembers all the people he met there — like “the clerk with tattoos running down his arm who, one day, left to join the army and fight in Iraq…” But more than that, he remembers the feeling of the bookstore. “Borders was cozy; safe; easy…

“Now, the shop is next up on death row.”

It’s a fairly traditional argument against e-books — though the personal details make it feel more poignant. Flashing forward to the present, Pearlman notes the deep discounts at the closing Borders, where “people pick at the remains like vultures atop a rotting calf.” Then he looks ahead to the future, and writes sadly about the “seemingly inevitable extinction of print.” (” “Look on the bright side,” my sister-in-law recently said. “More people will read. The Kindle books are cheaper, so they’re going to be more widely embraced. This will work in your favor.”)

“I just don’t know. …” Pearlman writes glumly.

“At the risk of sounding like my great aunt, I love books. I love holding books. I love thumbing through books. I love marking up pages, I love perusing bookshelves, I love feeling the paper between my fingers.

As a boy growing up in Mahopac, New York, I used to rush to Waldenbooks at the nearby Jefferson Valley Mall for the start of every sports season. My mission was to pick up “Zander Hollander’s The Complete Handbook of (fill in the league)” annuals. Upon making the $6 purchase, I’d rush home, lie on my bed, stare at the mug shots of Magic Johnson and Joe Montana and Steve Kemp, read the bios, imagine myself one day joining their ranks. Those books — all 27 of them — remain inside my home, yellowed and tattered and beautiful. I turn to them often. For nostalgia. For joy.


He concludes by saying that he’d still prefer a book. But there may be more to the story. It turns out that Pearlman has already written four different printed books over the last six years — three of them about baseball, and two of which became New York Times best-sellers. And all four of them are already available as e-books in Amazon’s Kindle store.


In fact, each one has achieved an impressive rank in one of the Kindle store’s special sub-categories. (For example, “The Bad Boys Won” is the 10th best-selling baseball biography in the sports section, and “Boys Will Be Boys” is the section’s third best-selling football biography.) And meanwhile, Zander Hollander’s “Complete Handbook” series of sports annuals apparently stopped publishing long ago. Even before Amazon invented their Kindle, one beloved childhood book had already fallen a victim to the high costs of traditional printing.

So when Pearlman’s sister-in-law says more e-book readers will simply mean more sales for his book — she’s probably right. (Pearlman’s best response is an ambiguous “I just don’t know…”) I e-mailed Pearlman through his web page to ask how he feels about the new readers he may be finding on the Kindle? (And whether he’s worried he’ll earn less money through e-book sales than he will in print.) But so far, I haven’t heard a response.

I’m a little surprised that Sports Illustrated isn’t available on the Kindle yet — though that’s true for nearly every sports magazine. (In fact, currently there’s only one magazine available in the Sports magazine section of the Kindle Store — “Winding Road Weekly”, a magazine about cars). But maybe it’s also because sports writers prefer a sunny stadium outdoors to exploring all the technical specs of a new electronic gadget. Taking another look at his article, I realized that most of Pearlman’s understanding is based on a sports writer’s gut instinct.

For example, printed books still represent a large majority of all books that are sold, but Pearlman already feels that books are old news. Why? “[J]ust ride a train and glance around. Everyone — everyone — is holding a Kindle. Or a Nook. Or an iPad.” But the biggest “tell” comes from his statement that he’s not interested in a reader like the Kindle because “Come day’s end, I’m tired of staring at a screen. I do it all day, I do it through much of the night.”

I just think he’d change his mind if he’d actually tried reading on the Kindle’s e-ink screen — mainly because I also spend a lot of my day staring at a screen. Once I discovered the Kindle’s screen, it was such a wonderful relief to discover it didn’t have any of the glare that usually comes from a back-lit screen. And for me, the most interesting part of the article was where Pearlman inadvertently revealed that real-world bookstores had their own unique disadvantages. “When nobody was looking, I’d do the ol’ author two-step and relocate my books from the bottom of the sports shelves to the ‘Must Read’ sections,” he writes.

“If you think I’m the only writer who does this, you’re on crack.”

Amazon iPad-sized tablet computer - Kindle DX

“I bet Amazon is developing their own tablet computer.”

That’s what technology columnist Andy Ihnatko wrote in an insightful new article in the Chicago Sun-Times last week. Amazon had just announced their new app store for smartphones and tablet devices running the Android operating system. Was it the first step towards a color, iPad-style multimedia computing device? “I don’t know that they’re doing this,” Ihnatko wrote. “But I do know that Amazon has all of the required pieces in place and that they…are clearly in the best position to challenge Apple and the iPad.”

And here’s some more possible evidence from within the last week.

  • Yesterday Amazon’s older tablet-sized Kindle DX suddenly went on sale at a 20% discount at Best Buy and Staples. Were they selling off their inventory before introducing a better model?

  • Thursday Amazon added a link in the Kindle’s built-in store for downloading audiobook files. Were they encouraging Kindle owners to explore the Kindle’s audio capabilities?

It’s starting to feel like a not-so-secret secret. “Amazon has been working on a multi-touch color device with Wi-Fi since at least early last year,” reported Matt Buchanan of Gizmodo, “if not earlier. It bought a multi-touch company called Touchco, and merged it with Lab126, the subsidiary that works on Kindles. Then it put out calls LCD specialists. Another name for a multi-touch color screen device? A tablet.” Buchanan also suggests that there’s not much money for Amazon to make selling apps — unless they’re really planning to sell a new device that runs them.

It’s a move which seems to make a lot of business sense. Right now the only real competition to the Kindle is the Nook — an Android-based tablet which offers a back-lit color screen. But just Friday Barnes and Noble confirmed big improvements are coming for the NOOK Color in April, which reportedly include e-mail, an app store, and even support for Flash animation and video. They’ve sold millions of the device in the last six months, according to the business magazine Fast Company. Are they pressuring Amazon to come out with their own color multimedia reader?

Watch closely, and it seems like Amazon is already putting into the place the very things that some pundits are recommending. “If a Kindle tablet had a ‘Recommend this thing I’m looking at right now’ button…that one feature would be a force-multiplier for the commercial impact of the whole platform,” Andy Ihnatko wrote. But of course, just recently Amazon added a “Before you go” feature to the Kindle 3. (“When you reach the end of the book, you can immediately…share a message about the book with your social network,” Amazon explained when they announced the upgrade last month.) If Amazon proves it can generate sales for content, “it wouldn’t take much for Amazon to legitimize itself as the friend to independent producers of books and music and video,” Ihnatko writes. Apple needed its iTunes store before people would buy the iPod, and their app store to sell the iPad. But now Amazon could be offering up some real competition.

Of course, maybe Amazon is just trying to spook Apple — to give them some leverage over Apple’s threat to demand royalties off any sales which happen in the apps run on Apple products. But it’s the question that just won’t go away, and it’s fascinating to read the speculation. “The Kindle engineering team has always had a knack for zeroing in on the critical function of the device and then refusing to get precious about anything that isn’t absolutely necessary to that goal…” Ihnatko points out. “Amazon keeps the Kindle on message. Although Amazon isn’t in the business of technological innovation, they have a proven track record for making inexpensive devices that people instinctively like.”

I’m enjoying the what-if scenarios because they brings out some great analysis, and whatever happens, this conversation is helpful for understanding the world today. And I loved how Ihnatko concluded his 2,800-word masterpiece — the last reason he offered for an iPad-style Kindle. “Amazon can succeed like Apple and maybe exceed Apple’s success in many places because it has the single greatest asset that any tech company can possibly have: It’s run by a crazy billionaire… Listen to me: Jeff Bezos has his own space program. I never tire of saying that. This is clearly not a man who’s intimidated by the scale of a project or the expense.

“If there’s a real chance of success, he’s willing to pour in the money, the focus and the motivation that are necessary for his people make it happen.”

A Big Sale on a Big Kindle

March 28th, 2011

Kindle 3 versus a Kindle DX side-by-side

A 20% discount? That’s what people are seeing at their local Staples store — and at Best Buy! It’s for the Kindle DX, Amazon’s big-screen Kindle, which normally retails for $379. Now the two mega-stores are both selling the tablet-sized Kindle for just $300 — and with the right coupon, you may even be able to purchase one for just $269!

Plus, even Amazon.com is lowering their prices on the Kindle DX — sort of. Throughout this weekend I saw Amazon selling refurbished models for just $319.99. (Only nine months ago, it cost a whopping $489 to buy a Kindle DX — until Amazon introduced a newer model with better screen contrast last July.) Amazon lowered the device’s price to just $379, and changed its color from white to graphite. But even at the new price, the Kindle DX was still costing twice as much as the Kindle 3.

The Staples offer appears on page 8 of their weekly deals flier flier, under a black headline announcing “lowest price ever!” (“3G and a 60% bigger screen… Save $80…”) There was even a display at my local Staples store urging “Try it out! Take one home today.” A store clerk explained that Staples has a 14-day return policy with “no questions asked.” The Best Buy offer appears on their web page. But for both stores it’s an “in-store only” offer.

Staples Discount Sale Ad for Kindle DX

Amazon is also offering savings on the Kindle 3 — though they’re not as dramatic. They’re selling a refurbished Wi-Fi Kindle 3 for just $129.99 and a 3G Kindle for $179.99. (When purchased new, the same Kindles each cost $10 more.) And on the Kindle’s page at Amazon.com, they’re also touting a lower price for a Kindle jacket. It’s the M-Edge “Latitude” jacket, with a nylon canvas exterior with zippers and a grey microfleece interior. It’s now selling for $29.99 (instead of the usual $34.99), and it’s available in six different colors. (Black, Navy blue, teal, pink, purple, and red.)

But I’ve always been most excited about the Kindle DX, and the lower prices make it really easy to buy one. An iPad has a screen with a 9.7-inch diameter — which is exactly the size of the screen on the Kindle DX. (The Kindle 3 has a 6-inch-diameter screen.) With that extra screen space, I could finally read those PDF files where the text was too small. And I really like the idea of playing a game where it’s spread out across the larger screen.

Of course, a Kindle DX always weighs twice as much as a “regular” Kindle — it’s 18.9 ounces (versus the 8.7-ounce weight of a Kindle 3). It’s either bulky and hard to hold, or there’s more Kindle to love. I always thought this would be the perfect gift for someone who really loves their Kindle. Give them another Kindle, but one that’s even bigger, so they can finally walk around with the biggest Kindle on the block!

And I’ve also heard rumors of an online coupon that can save you an additional $30 on your purchase at Staples. It’s for purchases of over $150, but I haven’t been able to confirm if the offer is legitimate. But at least two lucky shoppers found an even better deal on their Kindle DX. Saturday Amazon listed a used Kindle DX which was sold for just $275. And the other lucky shopper was the winning bidder in a fast auction on eBay.

They landed their Kindle DX for just $250!

               *                              *                              *


To check for Amazon deals on a refurbished Kindle DX, point your web browser to

      http://tinyurl.com/RefurbishedKindleDX

To check for Amazon deals on a refurbished Kindle 3, go to

      http://tinyurl.com/RefurbishedKindle3


A few minutes ago, Amazon made a big announcement. If you point your Kindle 3 to Amazon’s Kindle store, you’ll now see a new link at the top of the page — “Audible Audiobooks”. Amazon will now wirelessly deliver audio books — read by a human voice — directly to your Kindle 3 over a Wi-Fi connection! You can now purchase these audiobooks right there on your Kindle, including 3,747 mystery/thriller books, 5,255 children’s books, and 14,449 works of fiction.

“We’re very excited to announce that more than 50,000 Audible Audiobooks are now available for purchase or download on the latest Kindle via Wi-Fi delivery,” Amazon posted in the Kindle’s discussion forum at Amazon.com. And they’ll give you two free audio books — the digital version of a “book on tape” — if you sign up for a 30-day free trial! It’s always been an intriguing way to use your Kindle, and Amazon’s new policy should make it much easier to enjoy a new audio book. Prior to today, “you had to transfer it,” an Audible representative told me this morning. You’d use your web browser to download the audio book to your computer’s hard drive — and then you’d have to connect your USB cable to your Kindle, and manually upload the audio book.

“Now you can do either way,” she explained. Using your Kindle 3′s ability to make a WI-Fi connection to your computer, you can transmit the audio books directly into your Kindle…

Of course, you don’t have to listen to the audio book on a Kindle. You can also listen to the same file on your iPod, iPhone, or Blackberry, or even on an mp3 player. What they’re selling is the convenience of enjoying a book with your ears. “Now you can catch up on books even when you can’t read,” boasts Amazon’s web page, “during your commute, while working out, anytime and anywhere.”

I was surprised by the selection of audio books that are now available. There’s even an audio version of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” and several books which are actually read to you by their author, including two by Jon Stewart and Donald Rumsfeld’s “Known and Unknown.” For the next three months, they’ll let new customers explore Audible’s service at a lower monthly subscription price — just $7.49 a month. (After three months, the cost of the subscription increases to $14.95.) These subscribers get one free audio book each month, plus a 30% discount on any subsequent audiobook purchase. And they’re even throwing in a free daily subscription to audio versions of The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal.

But what’s also interesting is the way Amazon announced this change. They didn’t issue a press release. Instead they quietly slipped the news into Amazon’s Kindle discussion forum at Amazon.com. There was also a post on the official Twitter feed of the Amazon Kindle team. (“The latest Kindle now offers wireless delivery of more than 50,000 Audible Audiobooks via Wi-Fi.”) And of course, Amazon also snuck an announcement onto the Kindle’s official page on Facebook (at Facebook.com/Kindle)

The news created a small frenzy of excitement. (Within an hour more than 250 people had clicked the announcement’s “Like” icon.) And it’s been really fun to read the real-time reactions from Kindle owners. “isn’t the term ‘audible audiobook’ redundant?” someone asked — before being reminded that Audible is the name of the web site! But another user posted enthusiastically that “That is awesome I have been waiting for this option.

“I will be downloading audio tonight!”

Amazon Android Store Angry Birds Rio app

Today Amazon opened a new app store for Android smartphones and tablet devices! And it’s also raising questions about whether Amazon is preparing to release their own iPad-sized Kindle that runs the Android operating system.

Amazon “did not respond to requests for comment” when contacted by the Wall Street Journal. But today the newspaper reported that industry observers “widely expect” Amazon to release a multimedia Kindle “that may run on Android.” And whatever they do next, Amazon has just entered into a high-stakes war with the largest players in the entire technology industry — including Apple, Google, and Microsoft. With or without an Android-based Kindle, at least one stock analyst already predicts that Amazon could be “a leader” here, based on how powerful they’ve already become in online shopping.

Amazon “has a key advantage over Google,” the Wall Street Journal reports — “untold millions of paying customers who have already provided critical credit-card information.” And Amazon attacked Google directly in their press release today when they announced the U.S. launch of their app store, the Journal observed. “In a thinly-veiled swipe at Google, Amazon noted that it will test all Android apps before they’re made available to consumers in its app store.” There’s over 150,000 apps in Google’s own store, the Journal notes, which makes it more difficult to test the apps individually, “a policy that came back to bite Google earlier this month when it was forced to remove dozens of malicious apps from its market.”

Obviously all these fun and useful “app”-style programs won’t run on the current-generation Kindles, but Amazon’s new store can sell its apps for all the current smartphones and tablets that run the Android operating system. And “the Amazon Appstore for Android” is already drawing some very positive reviews. Compared to Google’s “Android Market,” Amazon’s store “is much more pleasurable to navigate,” PC World reported, “immediately presenting you with a long list of popular free and paid apps.” They also point out that Amazon’s store has nearly 4,000 apps available on its very first day, and “What Amazon loses in quantity, it gains in quality…this is obvious when you run a search for popular apps like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja. Clones, spam apps and irrelevant results abound in the Android Market, but Amazon’s store returns exactly what you’re looking for–and nothing more.”

“Our customers have told us that the sheer number of apps available can make it hard to find apps that are high quality and relevant to them,” Amazon announced today in their press release. And they’ve also added a special new feature called “Test Drive,” which actually lets you preview an app on your PC before downloading it to your phone.

The launch of the Android-phone app store has already provoked Apple into action. Friday Apple even filed a lawsuit against Amazon, trying to force them to stop using the term “app store.” It seems to me Apple is worried that an iPad-sized Kindle — complete with its own app store — could create some unwanted competition. (“We’ve asked Amazon not to copy the App Store name because it will confuse and mislead customers,” an Apple spokeswoman told Bloomberg News.) Friday Apple actually filed an official complaint in a federal courthouse in California, citing both “trademark infringement” and unfair trade practices (and requesting both an injunction on the use of the phrase “app store” and a legal award of damages.) Apple claims the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had already approved an application for a trademark on the phrase “app store”.

But the approval of an application isn’t necessarily an approval of the trademark itself. Apple’s trademark application remains in an “opposition period” where other players in the industry — including Microsoft –
now file legal arguments for or against the granting of an official trademark. It looks like it’s going to be a brutal and intense legal struggle. On March 11, Microsoft even complained that Apple was cheating by using a smaller font to cram more words into their 31-page response. (“Under the rules, Apple’s brief cannot exceed 25 pages in its entirety…and must be printed in at least 11-point font…”)

All the legal and economic arguments are really just a distraction from the giddy fun of the launch of a new app store. You can access it at these shorter URLs

amazon.com/apps
amazon.com/appstore

And there seems to be a lot of excitement. This afternoon when I tried to install the Amazon Appstore on my smartphone, I received a “server busy” message for nearly half an hour! Amazon is giving away “Angry Birds Rio,” the newest version of a popular bird-shooting game for smartphones. (“Birds away!” reads Amazon’s description, promising “you’ll unleash an arsenal of angry bird artillery through 60 levels of cage-busting vengeance.”) They’re advertising it as an Amazon appstore exclusive, and it’s already the best-selling item in Amazon’s app store — but it’s not the only free game in the store. In fact, there’s hundreds of free apps in the store today, including free versions of all the following classic games.

Backgammon
Blackjack
Checkers
Chess
Connect 4
Solitaire
FreeCell
Go
Reversi
Sudoku
Word Search
Texas Hold ‘Em,
Tic Tac Toe

There’s even two more free Angry Birds games, plus Guitar Hero 5. (And there’s even a version of Pac-Man.) Of course, there’s non-game applications, like Oprah Mobile, E! Online, and Zagat to Go. But the most interesting feature is Amazon’s promise of very aggressive pricing if you’ll keep visiting their app store. The store’s current tagline?

“Get a great paid app for free every day.”

Elisa Lorello author of the e-book Faking It
Image of “Faking It” author Elisa Lorello at work
from The Charlotte Observer


It’s a story that makes you feel good. “Teacher Hits It Big with E-Book,” writes her local newspaper.

“Elisa Lorello of Raleigh had no literary agent, no publisher and nothing to lose when she decided to self-publish her first novel, Faking It, as an e-book for Amazon’s Kindle… Early last year, Faking It hit No. 6 on Kindle’s bestseller list, beating out big-name authors and giant publishing houses.” They report that she’s sold over 52,000 copies of the book and it’s sequel Ordinary World. And last week her amazing success took an even bigger turn, leading Elisa to a unique publishing deal with Amazon.com!

Until today, I’d never even heard of Elisa Lorello. But it turns out the different pieces of her amazing life story are scattered around the web — including a feature on the web site for North Carolina State University.


“Lorello brought along a draft of her first novel, “Faking It,” when she moved from Massachusetts to Raleigh in 2006 to take a job as a full-time lecturer teaching first-year writing in the English department. She spent several years revising the book – a romantic comedy she describes as “When Harry Met Sally crossed with “Sex and the City”… Ultimately, she self-published it in 2008 through Raleigh-based Lulu.com, but sales were slow. “I sold less than 100 copies,” Lorello says. So, in June 2009, she published the book on Kindle through Amazon.com…

There it still sold just 70 copies in its first month, and 10 copies the next. (“Of course, I was ecstatic,” Lorello remembers, since that was more than she’d sold in the self-published print edition.) She lowered the book’s price to just 99 cents, and that’s when the miracle began to happen. Judging from the article, it looks like more than 15% of the author’s sales occurred in a single week. Seven months later, in the last week of January, 2010, Lorello’s e-book suddenly sold 8,000 copies, according to the college’s profile, which reports Faking It finally peaked at the #6 spot on the best-seller list in Amazon’s Kindle store (behind five e-books which were all available for free). By mid-February, total sales had reached 15,000, and in March the book remained one of Amazon’s top 50 best-sellers.

A picture in the newspaper shows Elisa hard at work on her laptop at the “It’s A Grind” coffee shop in Cary, North Carolina. And she seems very committed to the craft of writing good fiction. Even when she was considering a bittersweet sequel, “I was resistant at first because by then I had gotten so close to these characters and didn’t want them to be hurt,” she acknowledged in an interview at Amazon.com. “But when a story or a truth needs to be told, as a writer you have to honor that and get out of its way.”

She’d already published the book’s sequel — Ordinary World — in November of 2009 — and by March of 2010 it had already sold 9,000 copies. The sequel later peaked in the Top 40, according to a profile on the college’s Department of English site, and “Both novels stayed in the Top 100 for about six weeks.” Assuming the sales were split evenly between her two books, Elisa ultimately sold about 26,000 copies of each one. Yet by the end of the year, she’d earned more than $20,000, according to the newspaper profile — a figure that’s much higher than the book advances enjoyed by most print authors. Lorello “counts herself part of a self-publishing revolution that’s upending the book business…” according to the newspaper’s profile. “At stake? The future of the $24 billion publishing industry.”

They note that e-books now represent a much larger percentage of the new e-books — 9 percent in 2010, versus just 3 percent in the previous year — and that Amazon is now selling more e-books than they are paperbacks. “Today, if you can use a computer, you can publish your book,” the article concludes, noting that besides the downside of more bad self-published ficition, it’s also unmistakeably creating “a booming self-publishing industry.” But Elia’s story took an even bigger turn, when Amazon itself took notice of her exceptional success.

“Even great books can be overlooked,” Amazon had announced in a 2009 press release when they founded their own e-book publishing company, AmazonEncore “to help readers discover exceptional books from emerging authors.” Amazon studies customer reviews (and other information) to “identify exceptional, overlooked books and authors that show potential for greater sales,” and then “partners with the authors to re-introduce their books to readers through marketing support and distribution into multiple channels and formats, such as the Amazon Books Store, Amazon Kindle Store, Audible.com, and national and independent bookstores via third-party wholesalers.” Eventually Elisa Lorello turned up on their radar. (In a September press release, Amazon describes Lorello’s books as “exceptional” and “compelling”.) And looking back, it seems ironic that Elisa had added her e-book to Amazon’s Kindle store within a few weeks of when Amazon first started their publishing company.

Last week Lorello shared her gratitude in a personal message on her blog. “Tomorrow’s the big day. Faking It launches as an AmazonEncore title with a brand new cover (which I love, by the way) and editing, will be available in select bookstores, and will be available in print and Kindle editions. Who would’ve thought that, back in June 2009 (when I self-pubbed on Kindle–it had already been a Lulu title for six months), I’d be making such an announcement? Seriously, it’s way cool.

“But I’m able to make this announcement thanks to you, my readers…Thank you to every single person who made the 99-cent investment and were kind enough to say that they’d have gladly paid more. Thank you to everyone who told a friend or family member. Thank you to every male reader who wasn’t ashamed to say that they loved what was essentially marketed as a chick book…

“If there’s anyone I left out, please know that in my heart, I am profoundly grateful.”

Publisher's Weekly

It’s a fascinating moment in time. For more than 100 years, Publisher’s Weekly has compiled an annual list of the year’s best-selling books. But for the first time ever, this year they felt that they also had to include e-book sales. “We asked publishers…to submit e-books with sales of more than 10,000 last year,” they reported yesterday. (Though they focused this question only on publishers who’d had a least one best-seller in print that sold more than 100,000 copies.)

Their annual list is an important tradition in the publishing industry, and it looks like this change encountered some resistance. “The response from the houses was mixed,” they noted. “Many declined to share this information, others only submitted selected titles.” In the end they were able to gather statistics about 275 e-books, which they felt were “enough to underscore that the publishing model has indeed changed and that what is available in e-book format is ubiquitous.” In fact, at least two of the year’s best-selling books achieved nearly 30% of their sales in the e-book format!

The first was The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (by Stieg Larsson), which dominated the top of Amazon’s best-selling e-book list for most of 2010, and sold 775,000 e-book editions (vs 1.9 million printed editions). And the second was John Grisham’s new thriller, “The Confession,” which sold 550,000 e-book editions and 1.36 million print editions. Publisher’s Weekly declares them to be the #2 and #3 best-selling books of the year, respectively, when you combine their print and e-book sales, behind only former President Bush’s biography Decision Points. Interestingly, the president’s book sold many more of its copies in print — nearly 90% — with just 10.3% of its sales coming in the e-book format. When you consider only e-book sales, the former president’s book drops down to the #3 position.

But other books ended up with a very small percentage of e-book sales, including Life, the biography of The Rolling Stones’ guitarist, Keith Richards. Its combined sales made it the sixth best-selling book for all of 2010, but just 4% of its sales came in the e-book format — 34,467 copies — compared to print sales of 811,596. And even fewer people bought the e-book edition of Bill O’Reilly’s Pinheads and Patriots. Though it sold 662,950 print copies — making it the #10 best-selling book of 2010 — it sold just 26,290 e-book editions, representing just 3.8% of all its sales.

There were also at least 12 different e-books that were authored (or co-authored) by James Patterson among the best-selling e-books in 2010, according to Publisher’s Weekly. Five of Patterson’s suspense stories even made it onto the more select list of the top 30 best-selling e-books.

I, Alex Cross (#6)
The 9th Judgment (#13)
Private (#16)
The Postcard Killers (#17)
Don’t Blink (#28)

But publishers are even reporting high e-book sales for perennially-popular “back list” titles like The Great Gatsby and Gone with the Wind. So it seems like this once-a-year event has provoked some thoughtful analysis about what lies ahead for the world of publishing — and what lies ahead for the book. Publishers Weekly remembered the day when Stephen King published the first e-book — Riding the Bullet — back in March of 2000. At the time, a spokesperson for Simon & Schuster announced “This could change the model of publishing.”

But then Publisher’s Weekly turned their attention to an insightful blog post by Mike Shatzkin, a consultant and analyst who has more than 50 years of experience in the publishing industry. He likens the new popularity of e-books to the days when publishers first began producing cheap paperback editions shortly after World War II. “Much less expensive editions, combined with access to audiences for authors that couldn’t get past the gatekeepers in the established houses, can create millions of new readers,” Shatzkin writes — and Publisher’s Weekly optimistically admits that now the same thing is true today.

“Anything that creates more readers is a boon for all kinds of publishers.”

Cheap Kindle Games on Sale at Amazon for 99 cents

Amazon’s just announced a special deal. “For a limited time, customers’ favorite Kindle games — including Scrabble, Mahjong Solitaire and NY Times Crosswords — are on sale for just $0.99 each.”

Here’s a complete list of the games available at the special 99-cent price.


Scrabble
Chess
Sudoku Unbound
Solitaire
Mahjong Solitaire
Texas Hold ‘Em
New York Times Crossword Puzzles
   (Two sets of easy and two sets of “challenging” puzzles)
Hangman for Kids
Triple Town


View the web page at tinyurl.com/KindleGameSale

The offer ends March 27 — a week from Sunday. The sale is apparently designed to encourage Kindle owners to buy these games over the next 10 days, so the games will start appearing on Amazon’s best-seller lists. And it’s working. Instantly Scrabble shot into the #1 spot on the Kindle best-sellers list, and Solitaire became the #2 best-selling item in the Kindle store.

In fact, six of the 10 best-selling items in the Kindle store are now games. (Mahjong Solitaire is currently #4, Sudoku Unbound is #5, and a New York Times Crosswords collection is #10.) Interestingly, even the new Word Search game (released February 3) is now #8 — though it’s not even one of the games that’s being touted in Amazon’s special promotion. It’s been in the top 100 since the day it was released, and for some reason, it’s also listed on Amazon’s Nonfiction best-sellers list, where it’s #2 — behind Sudoku Unbound.

Every game in this special promotion is now among the top 100 best-sellers — and there’s at least three more 99-cent games that have also crashed into the top 100. (There’s Slingo — which used to retail for $3.99 — as well as Flip It and Maze A Thon!) That means 13 of the top 100 best-sellers in the Kindle store are all games. Besides the six
top-10 titles listed above, here’s a list of the remaining seven.


Slingo (#16)
Hangman for Kids (#19)
Chess (#22)
Triple Town (#44)
Texas Hold ‘Em (#45)
FlipIt (#60)
Maze A Thon (#65)


Amazon sent out an e-mail Tuesday touting these games to Kindle owners who’d requested special promotional announcements. (“Check out these bestsellers that customers describe as fun, addictive, and a great way to take a break from reading.”) And I was surprised to see that there’s still more new games in the Kindle store — or at least, some games that I hadn’t seen before.

For example, there’s The Warlock of Firetop Mountain — a sort of one-player Dungeons and Dragon’s game based on the “Fighting Fantasy” series of game books. It’s a text adventure with some nice black-and-white illustrations, and even the rolling dice get adorned with some very fancy graphics.

Screenshot from the Kindle game Warlock of Firetop Mountain

And I have to admit that I’m intrigued by a new word game called “Word Soup.” There’s over 125 different letters displayed on a grid, and the object is to build words out of the adjacent letter blocks. But when you create a word, all its letters disappear from the grid, while the remaining letters drop down a row. There’s at least 13 different rows, so it gets pretty complicated — but it looks like a lot of fun. Even at $2.99, it’s already one of the top 200 best-selling items in Amazon’s Kindle store.

But for the next 10 days, it’s going to have a lot of competition from all the 99-cent games!

Albert Einstein writes an equation on a chalkboard

Monday Amazon announced they’d obtained the exclusive e-book rights to seven books by Albert Einstein. “Albert Einstein is one of our most important thinkers,” Amazon’s Vice President of Kindle Content announced, adding “These books cover everything from the Theory of Relativity to Einstein’s own letters chronicling his thoughts on life.

“We’re excited to make these books available for Kindle device owners and app users, and think readers will enjoy them.”

They’re the officially authorized e-book editions of “a selection of Albert Einstein’s most important writings,” according to the CEO of Open Road Integrated Media LLC (the book’s publisher) — though the rights aren’t entirely exclusive. Amazon’s press release refers to seven e-books, “a portion of which have been available digitally in the public domain.” But while print editions may have already been released, “Open Road has added new photographs and biographical information from experts at the Hebrew University Einstein Archives, introductions written by Neil Berger and new covers to previously published print editions…to create new Albert Einstein Archives Authorized Editions of the works.”

Probably the most touching book is “Letters to Solovine,” which opens with an introduction by Maurice Solovine himself (who became a lifelong friend of the physicist). In 1902, when Einstein was just 23, he’d placed an ad offering to teach physics for three francs an hour, and 27-year-old Solovine responded to the ad (thinking “Perhaps this man could explain theoretical physics to me.”) The two men remained friends for the next 50 years, and Solovine’s introduction is exciting, because it really gives the feeling of what it was like to actually meet Albert Einstein for the very first time. “The hallway was dark and I was struck by the extraordinary radiance of his large eyes… For two hours we talked on about all sorts of questions and felt that we shared the same ideas…we continued the discussion in the street for about half an hour and agreed to meet the following day.”

Albert Einstein was born 132 years ago on this day — March 14 — so it’s nice to see that he’s still remembered, not just for his work but for the good man that he tried to be. Search the Kindle store today for Albert Einstein, and Amazon precedes your search results with their special announcement. (“Exclusive Enhanced Editions of Einstein’s Books on Kindle! Browse seven of Albert Einstein’s books with new photographs, biographical information, and never-before-seen documents, only on Kindle.” ) Here’s their official list of the new Einstein e-books, along with a description of what’s inside.

Essays in Science – Einstein’s tribute to other men and women of science, along with Einstein’s thoughts on his own place in scientific history.

Essays in Humanism – An inspiring collection of Einstein’s view on how quickly the world was changing.

Letters to Solovine 1906-1955 – Einstein’s long-time friend and translator compiled this “provocative” collection of letters revealing “the inner thoughts and daily life of a transformative genius”.

Letters on Wave Mechanics – Amazon describes these as “lively” and “groundbreaking” letters that Einstein sent to other physicists, including Max Planck, and Erwin Schrödinger.

Out of My Later Years – Einstein looks at the world again through the wise eyes of age.

The Theory of Relativity and Other Essays – Einstein’s most famous equation was E=mc2 — and here he actually explains it in his own words.

The World As I See It – Einstein addresses the modern world, including topics like nationalism, life, and religion.


To celebrate Einstein’s birthday, I tracked down a list of some of his most famous quotes. Einstein was an intelligent and thoughtful man, and during his life he said many wonderful things. But if I had to choose one favorite Albert Einstein quote, it would probably be this one. “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent.

“It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.”

matsumoto-castle-japan

I was really touched by a story about a survivor of Japan’s 8.9-magnitude earthquake. Monday morning — just after midnight — a new voice appeared in Amazon’s online discussion forum for the Kindle. “I just wanted to thank Amazon,” wrote a Virginia man named Christopher Roberts, “for including 3G in the Kindle.”


“I was in Japan during the huge 8.9 earthquake. It was an extremely scary situation – all power, land lines, and cell phone voice calls went down completely.

“The only communication with the outside world was my wife’s Kindle that had a 3G signal. I was able to slowly login in to Gmail and send an email to my family that I was okay.

“It was incredible that the only thing that worked was my Kindle. Thank you Amazon – It was definitely a life saver.”



There was a lot of bad news in the world this weekend, so it’s nice to take a moment to feel grateful for those who made it through safely.

The best thing about technology is that it connects us to other people. It can be the voice of the author who wrote an ebook, or it can be an e-mail from a friend we haven’t seen in a while. It can be an unexpected message telling us that someone survived a natural disaster, and even the story of a stranger can feel inspiring and touching.

Amazon understands this, I think, because they’ve collected together some of the most touching stories from Kindle users on their Facebook page for the Kindle. Even though I don’t know these Kindle owners, I still find their stories give me a positive feeling. It almost makes it feel like we’re all part of a movement – and each little story is one more step towards a future where ordinary anonymous individuals face their day-to-day lives with a Kindle.

For example…


“I am now a new mother, and I find myself especially grateful to be able to read my Kindle while I hold my two-month-old daughter. I can hold the Kindle and turn the pages with one hand, which I cannot do with paper books or magazines. When she is fussy and insists upon being held while she sleeps, I am not limited to watching bad daytime TV. Instead, I can hold her and read books on my Kindle!”



It’s these quiet moments that make me feel like the Kindle is slowly but surely becoming a part of our lives. And there were two more comments that seemed almost remarkable just for capturing two more honest moments of enthusiasm.

“Michigan winters suck,” wrote Arvis F, “if you are no longer a skier. There’s no getting around that. Nonetheless, with my Kindle I am making it through these cold days of limited daylight far better than in the past. Thank you for making such a fine piece of equipment.”

But my favorite comment of all came from a woman named Lauren P.

“I used to resent that my husband watched basketball in the evenings – then I got my Kindle! Now I wish basketball had double-headers!”

Charlie Sheen vs. the Kindle

March 10th, 2011

Charlie Sheen screenshot from Charlie's Korner video blog Kindle episode, still winning


I was searching for the next big story about the Kindle — and it turns out that’s all Charlie Sheen wants to talk about. Monday the Two and a Half Men star apparently fired up a home-recorder, and taped a 10-minute video blog of himself for YouTube, talking to a friend named Bob Moran who’s traveling in Rome.

Sheen’s been pumped up about his success — and the media attention he’s been getting — and he titled his new video segment “Still Winning.” (“Torpedoes of Truth, Part 2.”) Wearing a blue New York Yankees pull-over, Sheen wanders through a very candid phone call where he suddenly begins talking about the Kindle.

*                                          *                                          *

BOB MORAN: Life’s loving you.

CHARLIE SHEEN: Yeah. You know, it’s about time… Hey, I’m going to roll out an infomercial for my poetry book, “A Piece of My Mind,” illustrated by Ralph Steadman — I mean Adam Rifkin — and, uh… I think it’s, the problem — not the problem, the solution — is it was 20 years ahead of its time, Babaloo. And now it is — it is its time.

Now everybody’s 20 years in the past behind my book, catching up saying, “My gosh? Where was all this brilliance?” And I’m saying, “It was right there! You had the poetry in your magic fingertips the entire time, to flip my perfect pages and read my perfect words. But — but — you didn’t go there! Because you judged me! You condemned me! You discarded me!” Well, not any more. WINNING!

Hold on. Stupid plane with noise attached…

I’m going to reach out to, uh — who’s the founder of Amazon? Jeff Bezos? Is that his name?

BOB MORAN: Yep.

CHARLIE SHEEN: Yeah, I’m going to reach out to him. Because I think we should do my book — incidentally, the title? Best title of all time. “Apocalypse Me: The Jaws of Life.”

BOB MORAN: Should we get Bezos on the phone?

CHARLIE SHEEN: (Acting it out) “Apocalypse Me: The Jaws of Life.” That was brilliant. You should see the images.

Yeah. Get him to call me today, because I’m going to sell this thing through Amazon. And through Kindle. That way we save a bunch of trees, because they give us our oxygen — face it, right?

And we love trees. Must keep as many around as we can. Must maybe even marry a tree. Marry a tree because, you know, the other type of marriage for me didn’t work, so I’m just going to marry a tree.

People keep calling me and interrupting our conversation. Don’t they know — don’t they know that we are in — we are in the cyber-pocket of greatness…? Yeah, let’s — let’s do the Kindle thing with, uh, “Apocalypse Me: the Jaws of Life.” Best title ever. Best book ever…

BOB MORAN: Love it…

CHARLIE SHEEN: “Apocalypse Me: the Jaws of Life.” (Lights a cigarette). C’mon, if you see that cover, and of course it’ll be brilliant and colorful and incorporate all of those elements — if you see that, you’re going to buy it! You’re going to buy 10 copies. If you buy 10 copies….I get one free. That’s how we roll.

BOB MORAN: That’s how you roll?

CHARLIE SHEEN:Yeah, man. You buy 10, I get one free. You buy 11? You get them all. Every! Body! Wins! (Turns off camera).

*                                          *                                          *

You can watch the whole thing at tinyurl.com/CharlieSheenKindle. (It’s at about the eight-minute mark that Sheen first starts talking about “Apocalypse Me”.) With messy hair, looking like he just woke up, the unshaven celebrity actually affirms a new truth. Even the highest-paid performer on television wants to self-publish an e-book on the Kindle, just like everybody else.

But apparently there’s at least two authors who have already beaten Charlie Sheen in the race to Amazon’s Kindle Store. Several months ago, someone released an e-book titled The Charlie Sheen Handbook. (For just $18.38, you too can be reading text that the author admits was all cut-and-pasted from Wikipedia – and several months before anything interesting happened.) And a second author is also attempting the exact same trick, copying word-for-word Wikipedia’s entry into something that he’s titled “Charlie Sheen (The Kindle Book of).”

But there’s at least one original act of Sheen-sploitation – an e-book titled The Thirteen Haikus: Charlie Sheen of Malibu. Author Kenny Dill describes it as “A baker’s dozen of painstakingly crafted poems recounting the methods and madness of Charlie Sheen of Malibu…composed entirely from actual Charlie Sheen quotations (the man is clearly a poet), refactored to fit the form of haiku, then linked together creating a classical Japanese renga.” It’s a sequel (of sorts) to his two earlier collections — The Twelve Haikus: Muammar al Gaddafi of Libya” and “The Twelve Haikus: Steve Jobs of Apple Computer.” But this morning his Charlie Sheen book was actually ranked #71 in the Kindle’s section for poetry criticism and theory — and it’s still #82 in the Kindle store’s special section for the biographies and memoirs of the rich and famous.

I can’t tell if he’s laughing at Charlie Sheen or laughing with him – but this may ultimately be the strangest Kindle news story that I’ve ever seen. It’s as though, just when it couldn’t get any weirder, the tabloid fascination with TV star Charlie Sheen suddenly jumped the rails, and then crashed into my backyard.


There was big news today. Amazon quietly revealed that they’re now offering Kindle owners eight different blogs that you can subscribe to on your Kindle…for free!

For a complete list — or to sign up for the free blogs — point your web browser to tinyurl.com/freekindleblogs

In the past, there was only one free blog subscription available on the Kindle — the sprawling “Amazon Daily” blog. It rolled together posts from all of Amazon’s in-house blogs, like “Car Lust” (their blog for auto enthusiasts), and “Al Dente,” a blog about food and fine dining. (“Serious gastronomy meets culinary calamity”) In the mix were a few posts from the “Kindle Daily” blog, and more posts about books from Amazon’s “Omnivoracious” blog. All of the blog editors were very knowledgeble, and their posts were surprisingly interesting.

But Amazon finally realized something: Kindle owners might enjoy different things. And some Kindle owners didn’t want to read every single post from each of Amazon’s different blogs. So today Amazon is making seven of those blogs available separately — and they’re all still absolutely free. Here’s a quick list of what Amazon’s making available.


Omnivoracious
This is Amazon’s book blog, written by “the book editors at Amazon.com.” (I like this blog’s slogan — “Hungry for the next book?”) It’s available online at Omnivoracious.com, but it’s probably more fun to read it on your Kindle. “We aim to share our passion for the written word through news, reviews, interviews, and more,” the blog’s editors explain — and it’s currently the most-popular of all of the new free Kindle blogs.

EndUser
This is Amazon’s technology and “gadgets” blog. (“We editors get to spend a lot of time around cool toys,” reads the blog’s description at Amazon.com.) It covers “portable electronics you can hold in your hand such as iPods, GPS, cell phones, etc.” (though “we’re also branching out to cover new things like home audio, computers and software, and more. Basically, anything with a current in it is fair game.”) The editors say it boils down to “stuff that makes us excited about electronics.” Their motto? “We read the manuals.”

Toy Whimsy
This sounds like a fun one: “Explore the joys of toys.” It’s currently Amazon’s best-selling Culture/Lifestyle blog and also their best-selling sports blog too. “We’re all just a bunch of big kids,” explains the blog’s page at Amazon.com. “Former teachers, copy writers, parents, and long time toy industry experts, what we all have in common is a love of toys. We’re here to bring you the best of what’s new, toy reviews by parents and kids, and information on playthings of all types.”

Chordstrike
The Music Editors at Amazon.com also offer what they’re describing as “A minor blog for major music lovers.” Promising that they’re music lovers just like you, they’re offering “a regular dose of musical commentary” — hot issues, under-the-radar musical gems, and occasionally even a live streaming concert. (Which, unfortunately, you won’t be able to watch on your Kindle.)

Car Lust
“Interesting cars meet irrational emotion.” This blog promises “a deeply personal exploration of the hidden gems of the automotive world,” exploring “a broader universe that lies beneath the new, the flashy, and the trendy represented in the car magazines.” I’ve been surprised at just how intriguing these blog posts can be, offering a straightforward look at both cars and the culture that creates them.

Armchair Commentary
You wouldn’t know it from the blog’s title, but this one is actually about movies and TV. (“Sit. Watch. Discuss,” reads the blog’s tagline in Amazon’s Kindle store.) “We’re here to share the latest news and observations about film and television, show you cool things in the DVD and Unbox stores and riff on things we like.” And yes, they’ve done a blog post about Charlie Sheen — asking which actor would be best to replace him!

Al Dente
Uh-oh, watch out for these guys. “We’re an unruly bunch of Amazon.com editors who love to cook, decorate, garden, and most importantly…eat!” It’s a fun blog that’s all about food, and I really enjoyed their suggestions on what to serve at your Super Bowl party. I think deep down inside, everyone likes eating good food — and it’s fun to read blog posts written by people who are really passionate about it.

What’s the eighth free blog for your Kindle? It’s all the blogs above, rolled together into one, a compendium blog called Amazon Daily. But it also includes entries from two more Amazon blogs which aren’t yet available separately. One of them is called Green — “Making every day earth day” — but it also includes all the posts from Amazon’s Kindle blog, the “Kindle Daily Post.” I’m a little disappointed that it’s not available on the Kindle, though of course, you can always read it by pointing your Kindle to Amazon’s Kindle store. A link to the blog’s posts appear halfway down the store’s front page — a page you can reach just by pressing the HOME
button and the ALT key on your Kindle at the same time.

And of course, you can also still read the Kindle Daily Post online at kindlepost.com.

Interested in subscribing to Amazon’s free Kindle blogs? Point your web browser to tinyurl.com/freekindleblogs

Three Funny, Free Ebooks

March 8th, 2011

Funny men laughing cartoon - you want it when

Last week I was fighting a stomach virus — which meant a lot of time in bed reading e-books! I learned to appreciate when an author can make me smile — especially when I’m feeling miserable — but I also discovered a special service from Amazon that makes Kindle reading more fun.

Today I also wanted to share three funny, free ebooks that I discovered — and each author swears that his story is true! “Follow the author on his numerous Hollywood adventures,” reads one book’s description, “watching as he glides smoothly from forgery to pornography to crashing the Academy Awards under the alias of a nominated screenwriter, and eventually stumbles into acting in the highest-grossing movie of all time, Titanic.” The author is Emmett James, and he played a steward in Titanic — in the movie’s credits, there’s 60 different people whose name appears before his. But he’s written a fascinating memoir of his life as a film fan — first watching movies as a young teenager, and then appearing in them as an adult. (“Admit One: My Life in Film” is available as a free e-book in Amazon’s Kindle store — it’s still one of the site’s best-selling free ebooks, and it’s currently the store’s #1 best-selling actor memoir.)

But while I was reading this book, I learned about special services Amazon makes available for Kindle owners at Kindle.Amazon.com. For example, there’s a “flashcard”-type game which displays clippings from an e-book you’ve read on your Kindle. (It’s a fun way to see if you can remember what you’ve read — and to review your favorite passages from the book.) You can also pull up a big list with all the passages that you’ve highlighted in all of your e-books — and an interactive list that shows which e-books you’re currently reading now. Plus, Amazon even shares a list of the most-highlighted e-book passages of all time. (#3 is a witty observation from Jane Austen. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife…”)

Reviewing my highlights, I remembered another funny free e-book that I hadn’t read for a while — and again, the author swears that his story is entirely true. “I was young and ignorant,” Mark Twain wrote about the first time he came to the American west at the age of 26. “I little thought that I would not see the end of that three-month pleasure excursion for six or seven uncommonly long years!”

Roughing It was the second book Mark Twain ever wrote — in 1870, at the age of 35, looking fondly back at the wild experiences that launched his career. His older brother (Orion Clemens) had been appointed the Territorial Secretary of Nevada for the three years before it became a U.S. state in 1864, and Mark Twain tagged along on the stagecoach ride out west. He remembers being amused that “My brother, the Secretary, took along about four pounds of United States statutes and six pounds of Unabridged Dictionary” — only to discover later that it would’ve been much easier to have copies mailed to Nevada. But mostly I love the book’s friendly spirit, remembering those moments on the trail when “we smoked a final pipe, and swapped a final yarn,” or the campfires “around which the most impossible reminiscences sound plausible, instructive, and profoundly entertaining.”

The brothers sleep in a stagecoach packed with mail sacks, often removing everything but their underwear to stay cool in the frontier heat. And at night as the stagecoach crosses through shallow streams, it tosses its sleeping passengers back and forth while traveling the steep hills on the river’s bank.


“First we would all be down in a pile at the forward end of the stage, nearly in a sitting posture, and in a second we would shoot to the other end, and stand on our heads. And we would sprawl and kick, too, and ward off ends and corners of mail- bags that came lumbering over us and about us; and as the dust rose from the tumult, we would all sneeze in chorus, and the majority of us would grumble, and probably say some hasty thing, like: “Take your elbow out of my ribs! — can’t you quit crowding?”

“Every time we avalanched from one end of the stage to the other, the Unabridged Dictionary would come too; and every time it came it damaged somebody…”


Ironically, it was because of Monty Python that I discovered the third funny free e-book. In 1975, Monty Python’s Michael Palin appeared in a TV adaptation of the humorous travelogue “Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog),” with Tim Curry playing the part of the book’s author, Jerome K. Jerome. The adapted script was written by Tom Stoppard, the famous author who 20 years later would win an Academy Award for his screenplay for Shakespeare in Love. “Three Men in a Boat” is a great, classic piece of British humor, available for free at gutenberg.org or for 99 cents in Amazon’s Kindle store. Even though it was written in 1889, the book still reads like a long comedy monologue, and even today it can always makes me laugh.

Here’s how Jerome K. Jerome describes how rainy weather can really spoil your boating expedition.


It is evening. You are wet through, and there is a good two inches of water in the boat, and all the things are damp. You find a place on the banks that is not quite so puddly as other places you have seen, and you land and lug out the tent, and two of you proceed to fix it.

It is soaked and heavy, and it flops about, and tumbles down on you, and clings round your head and makes you mad. The rain is pouring steadily down all the time. It is difficult enough to fix a tent in dry weather: in wet, the task becomes herculean. Instead of helping you, it seems to you that the other man is simply playing the fool. Just as you get your side beautifully fixed, he gives it a hoist from his end, and spoils it all.

“Here! what are you up to?” you call out.

“What are you up to?” he retorts; “leggo, can’t you…?”


I guess it’s just always fun to laugh at someone else’s troubles — especially when you’re sick in bed with troubles of your own!

Dr Evil vs the European Union and European Commission

A startling announcement came out of Brussels last week. The European Commission suddenly issued a statement that they’d “initiated unannounced inspections at the premises of companies that are active in the e-book publishing sector in several [European] Member States.” They’re “searching for evidence that they had acted illegally to keep prices high in the nascent electronic-book market,” the Wall Street Journal explains — and it’s not the only such investigation.

In both Texas and Connecticut, state officials have been investigating e-book pricing, and there’s also a new investigation that began in England earlier this year. “The U.K and the Connecticut investigations center on pricing arrangements between publishers and the retailers who sell electronic books,” the Journal reported earlier, adding that Connecticut “has said it is looking at Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc.” In Europe, the commission’s officials inspected the publishing premises accompanied by “competition authorities” from the appropriate nation, according to their press release. And they made a point of adding that “The Commission has reason to believe that the companies concerned may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and other restrictive business practices…”

Of course, it’s important to remember that this is just an investigation, and “The fact that the Commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour,” they warned in their press release, “nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself.” But there’s still been a lot of activity and excitement. The investigators “descended like cowboys,” according to one publishing company’s president. Another Journal article quotes his interview with a French technology site, where he also reportedly alleged that “This operation is masterminded by Amazon.” (That seems unlikely, but the investigation is definitely making some big headlines in the European business press.) And when the stakes are this high, maybe there’s enough pressure to go around.

So who’s being investigated? Not Random House (according to the Wall Street Journal.) Their reporter actually contacted the top publishing houses in Europe, and a Random House spokesman indicate that they had not been approached by the commission. Several other publishing houses declined to comment (Flammarion and Albin Michel) or didn’t return the call (Gallimard SA). But interestingly, one company did confirm that they’d been contacted by investigators: Hachette Livre. What’s fascinating is that Hachette Livre is a publishing house that goes all the way back to 1826.

They’ve published everything from Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” to Catcher in the Rye, according to their web site, and even Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight books (which have now sold 85 million copies in 40 countries). They’ve also publish Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and even the famous children’s picture book, Babar the Elephant. “In more than 170 years, the publishing houses that now make up Hachette Livre have produced many a masterpiece…” their site brags.

“They have entered Hachette Livre’s ‘hall of fame’ and serve as a constant reminder of the standards Hachette Livre publishers are expected to live up to, today and in the future.”

Monopoly Man with Hat and Moustache Community Chest Card parody

It sounds too good to be true, but some pundits are at least considering the possibility that in 9 months, Amazon will start giving away Kindles for free.

It started in October of 2009. Author John Walkenbach noted on his blog that the price of the Kindle dropped from $359 to $299 to $259 — and of course, it dropped again to $189 with the release of the Kindle 3. But Walkenbach also noticed that the Kindle’s price “was falling at a consistent rate,” observed another blog, “lowering almost on a schedule. By June 2010, the rate was so unwavering that he could easily forecast the date at which the Kindle would be free: November 2011.”

Free Amazon Kindle November 2011 Price Forecast

“In August, 2010 I had the chance to point it out to Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. He merely smiled and said, ‘Oh, you noticed that!’ And then smiled again.”

I’d laugh this off, if it weren’t for the impressive credentials of the blogger reporting on his conversation with Jeff Bezos — Kevin Kelly. He was the co-founder of Wired magazine, and has also written for some of the most-respected publications, including The Economist, Esquire, The New York Times, and Time magazine (as well as GQ). He even was a founding board member for The WELL, one of the first online communities in 1985, well before the dawn of the big commercial internet service providers. According to Wikipedia, even the producers of The Matrix required the movie’s stars to read Kelly’s 1995 book, Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World.

Of course, there’s a few caveats. If you go back and read the original post, Walkenbach had actually said “If this price trend continues, it will be free by June, 2011.” (And not November.) Walkenbach had added “I’m actually serious about this. At some point, the Kindle will be free. It will probably be before June, 2011.” But Friday Kelly’s site had updated Walkenbach’s graph to include the most-recent price drop to $189, and then re-calculated the trend to conclude that the Kindle’s price would reach $0 by November.

And the other caveat is more serious. 13 months ago, the TechCrunch blog reported “Amazon wants to give a free Kindle to every Amazon Prime subscriber.” That’s not particularly far-fetched, since
the program (which offers discounts on shipping from Amazon) already costs $79 a year. Amazon would throw in the Kindle for just $60 more — presumably hoping that they’d earn back the cost of the discount when the recipients started ordering more ebooks from Amazon. The previous month Amazon had even tested a unique program where they’d ship Kindles to carefully-selected customers — and the customers didn’t even have to pay Amazon. “If you don’t love it, we’ll refund your money AND you can keep the Kindle,” Amazon’s offer explained.

This all seems to suggest that Amazon has been considering a free Kindle for a while, and has even test-marketed the program (presumably to see if it’s cost-effective). But Kevin Kelly misread the date on the
coverage of that limited program, and assumed it was from February of this year — just two weeks ago — instead of February of 2010. Then he’d concluded that “It brilliantly feeds into Bezo’s long-term strategy of nurturing extreme customer satisfaction… If the past is any indication of future events, expect an as-if-free Kindle this fall in time for the holidays. Brilliant indeed!”

It’s hard to think straight about this possibility — because it’d be so ridiculously exciting if Amazon suddenly started handing out free Kindles to everybody. It does make me think that Amazon probably will continue dropping the prices on a Kindle. After all, they’ve obviously calculated how much more money they’ll earn when each new Kindle owner starts purchasing all their ebooks from Amazon’s Kindle store. I’m not a stock analyst, but it’s worth noting that the people who’ve studied the technology industry are taking this possibility seriously.

“I don’t know if this is Amazon’s plan,” Kelly wrote on his blog, “but it should be!”