Amazon Kindle Mother's Day special

Amazon will give you a free $25 gift certificate if you buy a new Kindle during the next 11 days. It’s to encourage you to purchase a Kindle as a Mother’s Day gift — the offer ends at midnight on Mother’s Day, May 8 — and it only applies to the Kindle 3G and the large-screen Kindle DX. Now when you visit the Kindle’s page at Amazon.com, you’ll see the special offer written in pink at the top of the page.

“The Perfect Deal For Mom,” the headline announces…

The offer appears at the left of the page, below Amazon’s usual yellow “Add to Cart” button. Under the heading “Add Kindle Accessories,” there’s a very attractive offer — to “add a $25 Amazon.com Gift Card at no extra cost.” They’re limiting the offer to just one for each customer, and of course, if you return the Kindle, then Amazon will charge you the full cost of the $25 gift card before refunding the price of the Kindle. But you can also use the gift cards at the Amazon-owned fashion site, Endless.com (“Shoes and more,” reads their tagline, since the site also offers jewelry and designer handbags)

Amazon will mail the gift card and Kindle to the address that you provide during the check-out – but that’s just one way that they’re helping shoppers celebrate Mother’s Day. Amazon’s book blog, Omnivoracious, has launched a charming promotion in which they’ll provide personalized book recommendations for the perfect Mother’s Day gift. “If you tell us a bit about your mom’s reading habits — what kinds of books she likes to read, favorite authors, least favorite authors, hobbies… — we’ll get back to you with some books we think she’ll like, and a bit about why we think each one will fit.”

They’re promising to post a new response every day on their blog, urging readers to “ask us, stump us, amuse us!” You can contact the editors of Amazon’s book blog through the blog’s comments page, or by leaving a comment on their web page on Facebook. (And remember, you can subscribe to their blog on your Kindle for free. For an easy shortcut, just point your browser to tinyurl.com/Omnivoracious )

I enjoy reading Omnivoracious, and their blog post even provides a helpful link to Amazon’s own page of Mother’s Day gift ideas.

And of course, Amazon’s Kindle is listed at the very top of the page…

Amazon's Jeff Bezos on the Kindle

If you’d invested money in Amazon’s stock, you’d be a little bit richer today. Amazon’s stock price shot up nearly 8% on Thursday, reaching a new all-time high. (In just 24 hours, Jeff Bezos’ net worth increased by more than $1 billion dollars….) “The shares have risen more than 20% in the last six weeks,” notes an article at Marketwatch. Investors on Wall Street apparently loved Amazon’s latest quarterly report, which show that in just the first 90 days of the year, Amazon sold $2.73 billion more than they did in the same period a year ago!

For the first three months of 2011, Amazon’s net sales had increased a whopping 38%, to $9.86 billion. If you looked at the last 12 months, Amazon’s operating cashflow also increased $250 million from the previous year. But they’ve also spent $420 million more — presumably, to grow their customer base — so Amazon’s total “net income” was 33% lower then the previous year. Still, a majority of brokers remain positive about Amazon, according to Marketwatch, with one reminding clients about Amazon’s commitment to “long-term investments at the expense of short-term margins.”

“Amazon has doubled its business in the past two years,” advised another broker at Deutsche Bank, “and may be on pace to potentially double it again in less than two years.” And citing Amazon’s earnings call, the Associated Press reported Amazon “is seeing ‘tremendous’ growth in demand, and that’s why it’s had to invest money in more warehouses and upgrading the technology that runs its Internet store.”

“We love inventing on behalf of customers,” announced Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, “and have never been more excited about the long-term opportunities.” Then Bezos listed out everything Amazon has accomplished so far this year, “just to call out a few of the things we’ve been working on.” And it sounds really impressive when you lay them all out.

“In the last 90 days, we announced Kindle with Special Offers, Kindle Library Lending, Audible audiobooks on Kindle, Appstore for Android, Amazon for Windows Phone 7, Checkout by Amazon in both Germany and the U.K., a Kindle Store in Germany…”


There was also some interesting trivia about the Kindle buried deeper in the announcement — like the fact that there’s over 900,000 books in the Kindle store, and that 740,000 of them (82%) cost less than $9.99, “including 65 New York Times bestsellers.” Amazon’s press release also noted that there’s millions of free e-books available for the Kindle, and that last month saw the first single e-book to sell one million copies. (Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.) Of course, not all the trivia was about the Kindle. In a letter to shareholders on Wednesday, Bezos also revealed that when Amazon builds a “product detail” page for a customer visiting Amazon.com, “our software calls on between 200 and 300 services to present a highly personalized experience for that customer.”

But here’s my favorite piece of trivia from Amazon’s latest round of earnings information. They revealed that they’re spending $1.6 million dollars a year just on security for CEO Jeff Bezos. Meanwhile, Bezos’s yearly salary is just $81,840 — though he also owns 20% of the company.

Which is why his personal net worth increased by more than $1 billion dollars when Amazon’s stock price shot up nearly 8% on Thursday.

New Amazon Android tablet computer contest

With all these rumors about a tablet-sized version of the Kindle, it’s nice to see that Amazon is also thinking about tablets. Monday they announced a special contest where you could win a tablet computer from Motorola (running the Android operating system). “In celebration of the many ways Amazon Prime members take advantage of FREE Two-Day Shipping on millions of items, we’re giving away some popular Prime-eligible items from A to Z,” a promotional announcement explained.

“This week A is for Android…”

To enter the contest, point your web browser to Facebook.com/Amazon to enter (and then click on the Sweepstakes link). The form asks for your e-mail address, name, and phone number — but of course, there’s a small catch. “If you click ‘Allow”’in the Request for Permission window that appears after you click ‘Enter,’ you will be providing ongoing consent to the Amazon.com Sweepstakes/Contest application, which may offer other sweepstakes and contests in addition to this one,” Amazon explains on the page. It’s not as bad as it sounds, since “You may change this consent at any time through your Facebook privacy settings.”

And it turns out that Amazon isn’t going to contact me 26 times, to remind each week about its A to Z contest. (“Come back next week to enter again for your chance to win the next prize,” the sweepstakes page urges when you first enter the contest.) Instead the sweepstakes only goes for eight weeks, with eight different items being given away in alphabetical order. So I don’t mind the extra eight reminders, since apparently it means I could end up with a free Android tablet computer! And during the week of May 16th, the prize is even going to be a free Kindle!

The prizes get even better as the contest winds up in June, with a $797 digital Nikon camera (“P” for photography), and then an X-Box the next week (“V” for video games). And Amazon concludes their alphabetical contest with a “Z” item during the week of June 13th — a $1,000 Amazon gift certificate “for your choice of the ‘zillions’ of things you can find at Amazon.com.” But is this also another hint about Amazon’s plans for the Kindle? It’s not just that they’re trying to get people excited about an Android-powered tablet device. They’re trying even harder to excite people about Amazon’s $79-a-year “Prime” shipping service.

One rumor has it that Amazon plans to lower the price of the Amazon Kindle to anyone willing to pay the Prime program’s yearly fee. And now it looks like Amazon is putting some real muscle into promoting the program. Are they seeing this as a stepping stone to something even bigger? It’s got me wondering if Amazon is planning a big announcement in eight weeks, when their Prime-promoting contest finally ends.

Maybe they’re trying to attention to the Prime shipping program — right before they offer Prime subscribers a new, big discount on Kindles this summer.

Girl in Amazon Kindle vs printed book ad

I always get excited when Amazon releases a new commercial for the Kindle. And this time it’s just one of several interesting new videos that Amazon is making available online!

Their new Kindle ad probably belongs in a time capsule, because it seems to capture the exact moment when the way we read starts to change. In a breezy conversation, a young blonde woman complains that “I only read real books” to a young man holding a Kindle, which starts a conversation about how the printed book doesn’t have any advantages over a Kindle.


“Oh, I’m reading a real book.”

“I can read my book in the sun, where there’s a lot of glare.”

“Well, so can I. See? The screen looks just like a paper book, so it’s great for reading in bright sunlight.”

“But you can’t fold down the page when you want to save your place.”

“My Kindle does that for me.”

“But you don’t get the rewarding feeling of actually folding down the page. [She dramatically reaches her arm forward to bend down the page's corner, and smiles a forced smile] Ahh…


Then there’s an awkward pause where the two exchange significant glances, and then woman asks to borrow the man’s Kindle.


“Wow. The screen looks amazing.”

“Yeah…”

It’s the first ad where Amazon has touted the new lower prices of the ad-supported devices at the end of the commercial. (“The all new Kindle,” reads the ad’s closing shot.”From $114.”) The commercial will be broadcast for the first time on TV tonight, but this morning Amazon slipped a “sneak preview” link onto the Kindle’s official page on Facebook (at Facebook.com/Kindle). Within a few hours, over 1,600 people had clicked the Facebook icon indicated they liked the new ad. (Although one woman in England seemed to be grateful that it was different than an earlier Kindle ad, posting “As long as it hasn’t got a dog licking a kindle…”)

You can watch the new ad at YouTube.com/Kindle – but it turns out it’s not the only new video that Amazon is making available. In a press release this morning, Amazon announced they’d created a new web page called The Backstory. (“Find author interviews,” its tagline promises, “and essays, guest reviews, recipes and much, much more.”) And to give the new page a big launch, Amazon is featuring five video interviews with authors, including celebrity chef Tom Douglas and Gossip Girl producer John Stephens (as well as authors Joshua Foer, Holly Black and Cassandra Clare.) They’re calling the series Author Interviews @ Amazon, and there’s many more authors to come. “New author interviews will be announced via the Amazon.com Books Facebook page,” the company explained in a press release this morning, “and on Omnivoracious.com, the Amazon.com Books blog.”

Remember, you can subscribe to the Omnivoracious blog on your Kindle for free! And to make it easier, I’ve created a special URL — just point your web browser to tinyurl.com/Omnivoracious.

Amazon will even let you post questions for the authors on the Facebook page, or e-mail your questions to authorinterviews@amazon.com. (The final interviews will also be available on the book’s “detail” page at Amazon.com.) “We’re extremely lucky to have fascinating and talented authors gracing our hallways here at Amazon and taking time to chat with us,” Amazon’s Managing Editor of books said this morning.

“We love these conversations so much that we wanted to share them with our customers.”

New Kindle ad -             youtube.com/Kindle
Omnivoracious Blog -  tinyurl.com/Omnivoracious
Author Interviews -     amazon.com/thebackstory


It’s the question that won’t go away – but some technology pundits think they see more clues. Just yesterday Amazon updated its “Kindle for Android” app so it works better on the tablet-shaped computers that compete with Apple’s iPad. “The update adds a new integrated shopping experience designed specifically for tablets,” reported PC Magazine, and Amazon has also added a new tablet-shaped layout for newspapers and magazines, “and other upgrades that take advantage of the larger screen.”

Now another article at PC Magazine asks, “Is Amazon preparing to launch an Android tablet?” And they cite the predictions of Peter Rojas, the co-founder of two of the top technology blogs — Gizmodo and Engadget. “It’s something of an open secret that Amazon is working on an Android tablet,” Rojas writes, “and I am 99% certain they are having Samsung build one for them.” He seems like he could have some inside information, especially since Gizmodo is one of the ten most-popular technology blogs on the Kindle, and one of the Kindle’s top 30 best-selling blogs.

Rojas believes Amazon has assembled everything they need to stock a tablet with popular content, including music downloads, video, and now even an app store. And easy shopping could help Amazon subsidize the costs of their new device, making them even cheaper to sell. “Amazon understands what’s at stake,” Rojas believes, adding “they have shown with the Kindle that they can produce a great product and then expertly tie that product into a content platform.” Rojas estimates that Amazons new tablet-sized device would be released as soon as this summer. “They have all the pieces in place, now we wait to see what they do with them.”

And PC Magazine suggests another interesting possibility. Last week Amazon released a cheaper, ad-supported version of the Kindle, even though “Amazon doesn’t need to lure people further; the Kindle is Amazon’s best-selling device of all time.” Their reporter suggests this may be the first stage of a plan to attract advertisers for other devices. “If Amazon subsidized a tablet with advertising, it might be able to sell the device at a cheaper, more competitive price.”

“It’s obvious from Amazon’s most recent moves that the company is moving toward Android,” the magazine concludes, “and everything else the company has done lately matches perfectly with a coming launch of a tablet device…. The tablet’s place is ready; now all Amazon needs is an actual product.”

It’s a theory that’s been echoed by others, including the creator of the bookmarking site InstaPaper. But there’s even support for an Amazon tablet within the community of technology experts. Last month, Forrester Research concluded that it was Amazon which had the best chance of competing with Apple’s iPad. (“[W]e see a market that’s ripe for disruption,” wrote analyst Sarah Rotman Epps, adding “by Amazon in particular.”) Surveys showed that 24% of consumers would consider purchasing an Amazon tablet, versus just 18% who said the same thing about Motorola. And 28% even said they’d prefer to buy a tablet-sized computer from Amazon rather than a phone company.

It an idea that seems to make a lot of sense. (If Apple insists on a cut of any e-book sales that happen on an IPad, Amazon could simply start selling their own competing tablet-sized device!) But it’s hard to predict the future, especially with different pundits offering so many exciting what-if scenarios. For example, Monday eWeek tracked down an analyst at Gartner who said he still prefers an even juicier rumor about how the next Kindle will be sold.

“It is more likely that Amazon will make the Kindle free to Amazon Prime subscribers and then make their money selling ebooks!”

Dilbert and Dogbert

It seems like a rare treat. One Amazon insider has finally released a book called “Inside the Giant Machine,” about what it’s like to work at Amazon.com. Yesterday a press release appeared about its second edition, which promises new details about “the inner workings of Amazon.com and the company’s competition with eBay…”

But it turns out it’s just one of several books by former employees about life at Amazon’s corporate headquarters. And as a Kindle owner, I found that they’re all surprisingly fun to read.


Book cover of Amazonia by Amazon employee James Marcus

Amazonia: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot.Com Juggernaut

James Marcus remembers interviewing for a job in “a low, inauspicious building south of the downtown, next to a barbecue joint whose vinegar-scented fumes I could smell the moment I hit the sidewalk.” Marcus was Amazon employee #55, back when Amazon’s yearly sales were just $16 million a year, and he provides “a captivating, witty account of how the fledgling e-retailer transformed itself,” according to Publisher’s Weekly. At the age of 37, he was the oldest person in the room when he arrived at what he describes as a book warehouse with offices, and the book opens with a fascinating description of how ambitious Jeff Bezos had likeably interviewed him. (“He had none of Bill Gates’s pasty paranoia…”) Marcus even tours the warehouse — snooping on individual customer orders. “Forget heterosexual, plain-vanilla porn (of which there was a great deal)… In cyberspace, I could see, there was no love that dare not speak its name…”

It’s an inspiring read, because even back then he could see that Amazon was intent on changing the world, and “Their sense of having grabbed history by the horns was almost palpable.” Publisher’s Weekly even noted a kind of nostalgia in his book for the early days of Amazon, as Marcus writes about their warehouse across from the world headquarters of Starbucks and the exhiliaration they seemed to feel. “It made them slightly giddy and enormously tired.”

And as he walks his future co-workers back to their offices, “The breeze had shifted and the barbecue fumes were again in evidence.”


Book cover - man with dog bone in mouth - 21 Dog Years - Doing Time at Amazon by employee Mike Daisey

21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ Amazon.com

In 2002, Mike Daisey released a 240-page memoir about his own time at Amazon. In fact, he’d already created a one-man theatrical show in Seattle about his experiences, according to a review by Library Journal, which jokes that Amazon may be haunted by their decision to hire Daisey back in 1998. (Daisey writes that “Amazon and I started in Seattle at about the same time,” and addds that “To give you an idea of how clueless I was, I had originally assumed that Amazon was a lesbian Internet bookstore, owing to the historical origins of the word Amazon along with the company’s reputation for being ‘progressive.’”) Daisey appears to have been one of the first few hundred employees at Amazon, and his book is a fast-paced and funny read, with lots of very entertaining gossip. Here’s how he remembers a presentation for potential new Amazon employees.

“The four Amazonians who came to speak with us had the clearest, cleanest skin that I’d ever seen… I would never see those people again in my entire time at Amazon. I assume they worked for a black-ops section that specialized in providing fake employees who are startlingly sharp, attractive, and painfully fit.

“We settled back and they began to talk about Linux tools and server uptime, and I suddenly realized that these people were geeks. Serious computer geeks who looked and smelled great…from the way the sexy tech workers talked about Amazon.com, it appeared I’d really missed the boat….

“These tech-savvy, attractive, and well-spoken workers appeared blissfully happy… The opportunity to be near them, surrounded by their coolness and learning from them while being paid, sounded like heaven in itself. If I couldn’t be a geek, at least I could be in their company. And what a company! Though I hadn’t known who they were until that day, I was convinced they were making history… I had a vague sense of riches, of future glory…”

But soon he’s talking about his inevitable disillusionment. (“Doing Time @ Amazon.com” was the book’s original subtitle, though it was later apparently changed to “A Cube-Dweller’s Tale.”) Library Journal calls his book “an eye-opening testament as to how truly dysfunctional a dot-com can get,” noting that Daisey describes his work environment as “gothic” and spills the beans on some unusual phone calls that came in to Amazon’s customer service. And they acknowledge that his insider stories about life at Amazon are all “quite funny.”

Interestingly, that book isn’t available as an e-book on Amazon’s Kindle — though you can buy it as an audiobook.


Inside the Giant Machine - Amazon insider e-book cover

Inside the Giant Machine

“Behind Amazon’s quirky smile logo lurks a cold and calculating giant machine,” claims the book’s description, promising an e-book filled with poetry that “makes us feel the vitality of the Hi-Tech worlds of California and Seattle.” The first section of “Inside the Giant Machine” is an e-mail the author had sent in 2002 to his friends, describing a late-night success at his own startup company. That company’s success leads to a merger, after which “we ended up with two VPs of Technology — which was one too many,” and soon he’s also looking for a new job in Seattle. It feels like this book was inspired (if not modeled) after some of the earlier books by Amazon employees.

In fact, one of his most interesting revelations is that when he was hired Amazon actually mailed him copies of Daisey’s book “21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ Amazon.com” and James Marcus’s
“Amazonia: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot.Com Juggernaut” (along with three books about Seattle). This book was was written using a pseudonym (“Kalpanik S.”),so there’s no way of knowing for sure that it’s really by an Amazon employee. But he does sound like a true “Amazonian” when he writes that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos “sincerely believed that his cult was changing the world and I wanted to be part of this revolution, and change the world!”

It’s a short book — the print edition is just 128 pages, and at times it does feel a little bit skimpy. (The last 10% is just “back matter” — copyrights, “works cited,” a selection of “acclaim” for the book, and a list of the author’s other books (including an excerpt). There’s also a “color interior” paperback edition with “approximately 80 color photographs, including several panoramic shots of Seattle!” But at least one reviewer at Amazon.com noticed the same thing that I did: that the book itself has a higher-than-usual number of typos. (Example?” Amazon’s young, sharp minds still want you prove to yourself to them.”)

I was intrigued by the chapter titles (like “The hacker who loved me” and “things start to fall apart”), and some of his photographs (like the Seattle skyline) look very attractive on the Kindle’s black and white screen. But sometimes it it feels like the author just re-published some of his old e-mails to friends. I asked myself if I should ultimately see that as a bug or a feature. You could argue that it makes the book feel more like one man’s personal story — and it’s genuinely fun to read the moment when the former Amazon employee has a revelation, that “suddenly publishing a book was easily within my reach.

“All I needed to do was combine those various pieces, fill in the gaps, polish the material, and hire an editor!”

There were a few lines that made me laugh out loud, but the author’s first chapter about his startup also rises to a poignant conclusion. “We want to change the world, though, and that is never easy. The world is usually very reluctant to change, especially at the pace startups want it do so.”

And then another future book-author heads off for his fateful two-day job interview at Amazon.com.

Wind in the Willows - Rat and Mole on the River

Today I started reading The Wind in the Willows, a wonderful classic tale about the society of animals that lives along the riverbank — including a mole, a badger, a rat, and a toad. It’s available as a free e-book in Amazon’s Kindle store. But it turns out the book has a fascinating history almost as good a story as the book itself.

Author Kenneth Grahame was the secretary of the Bank of England until the age of 49, according to Wikipedia. He hadn’t written a work of fiction in 10 years, but based the book’s most memorable character, Mr. Toad, on his enthusiastic eight-year-old son, Alastair. The book would become a fondly-remembered classic, mixing its funny story with adult allegories celebrating the joy of springtime and the beauty of the great outdoors. “When I was very young…” remembered one reviewer on Amazon, “our school master used to read to us from Wind in the Willows. The stories had a magical quality and a few weeks ago, as a somewhat older person, I got to wondering whether they would still have that sense of enchantment that held us so captivated all those years ago.

“I was NOT disappointed….”

Later A. A. Milne, the author of Winnie the Pooh, joked that “Reading these delicately lovely visions of childhood, you might have wondered that he could be mixed up with anything so unlovely as a bank; and it may be presumed that at the bank an equal surprise was felt that such a responsible official could be mixed up with beauty.” Grahame was in his mid-60s by the time Milne first published his first Pooh story, though Milne once wrote that “I feel sometimes that it was I who wrote it and recommended it to Kenneth Grahame.” Later, when Grahame was 70 years old, A. A. Milne adapted Grahame’s book into a stage play (called “Toad of Toad Hall”), and one night the two men even shared a theatre box together.


He sat there, an old man now, as eager as any child in the audience, and on the occasions (fortunately not too rare) when he could recognise his own words, his eyes caught his wife’s, and they smiled at each other, and seemed to be saying: ‘I wrote that’ — ‘Yes, dear, you wrote that,’ and they nodded happily at each other, and turned their eyes again to the stage.


Milne later wrote an introduction for the book, remembering that it “was not immediately the success which is should have been.” But he also remembers that almost instantly Grahame had attracted some impressive admirers. In 1909, in one of his last month’s in office, Theodore Roosevelt, the president of the United States, took time to write a personal letter in 1909 thanking Kenneth Grahame for his book. (“I felt I must give myself the pleasure of telling you how much we had all enjoyed your book…”) He’d been a bigger fan of Grahame’s earlier books at first, but wrote that “Mrs. Roosevelt and two of the boys, Kermit and Ted, all quite independently, got hold of The Wind in the Willows and took such a delight in it that I began to feel that I might have to revise my judgment.


“Then Mrs. Roosevelt read it aloud to the younger children, and I listened now and then. Now I have read it and reread it, and have come to accept the characters as old friends… Indeed, I feel about going to Africa very much as the seafaring rat did when he almost made the water rat wish to forsake everything and start wandering.”


Six weeks later, Roosevelt left office — and embarked on a safari of Africa.

Theodore Roosevelt and elephant on African safari

Americans may remember that when Disneyland opened in the 1950s, one of its first rides (“Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”) was inspired by Disney’s cartoon version of Grahame’s book. But what’s less-known is the trouble that Walt Disney had in filming the story. It was intended to be one of his studios first animated movies, just four years after Snow White (their first feature-length cartoon), according to Wikipedia. Unfortunately, the story’s plot violated the Hays Code, the notorious film-production guidelines which covered all American movies.

In the book, Mr. Toad ultimately steals (and crashes) a motor car. And while he goes to jail, he escapes, and remains a misguided but sympathetic character throughout the story. “The sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin,” the Hays Code insisted. Disney’s version ultimately had to be re-written so that Mr. Toad was instead wrongfully framed of stealing the motor car.

Unfortunately, World War II then interrupted the film’s production (as many of Disney’s animators were drafted into the military), while also putting a strain on the studio’s finances. In the end, it took eight years until a shorter version of the cartoon was released instead, with Mr. Toad’s adventures bundled with the animated version of another classic story — The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Mr Toad from cartoon

The seventh chapter of Grahame’s book — “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” — proved to be especially popular. It describes the mole and rat searching for a lost animal, and instead having an almost religious experience when, off in the woods, they hear the distant music of Pan. It was the favorite chapter of A. A. Milne’s wife, remembers his son Christopher, who wrote that she “read to me again and again with always, towards the end, the catch in the voice and the long pause to find her handkerchief and blow her nose…” And 60 years later, in 1967, the rock band Pink Floyd used its title as the name of their debut album.

But here’s the most lovely piece of trivia about the book. Apparently because of his books’ popularity, Grahame was eventually able to retire to the countryside by the River Thames.

And he was finally able to enjoy the idyllic county life that he’d described so lovingly for his own characters.

Wind and the Willows - Ratty and Mole on the river


Visit http://tinyurl.com/MrToadEbook for
the free e-book version
or click here


Oprah last favorite things - Kindle

Oprah gives audience Kindles

Oprah Winfrey may just have committed the strangest promotional give-away ever. She just tracked down the 352 audience members from a show she’d taped two and a half years ago — and then gave all of them a Kindle.

It’s part of the count-down to Oprah’s final show, which airs May 25 (in just six weeks). After 24 years and 5,000 episodes, Oprah’s been looking back on her legacy. And there was one particular audience that she felt had been short-changed.

“You know the saying that it’s the thought that counts?” Oprah said in an introduction. “Depends on what the thought was.” Calling it a “holiday oopsie gone wrong,” she remembered the day in November of 2008, when her audience entered the studio, and noticed that her set was decorated with enormous props shaped like Christmas presents. Each Christmas, Oprah taped a show where each audience member received a lavish gift package, each containing a complete set of “Oprah’s favorite things”. “Could it be? they wondered. Could they have scored the hottest ticket in television…”

Thursday, in a special episode titled “Oprah’s Bloopers, Blunders and Funniest ‘What Were We Thinking?’ Moments,” Oprah described that audience’s reaction as she then informed them that this year’s show was going to be different. “We thought that since we were in the throes of the recession, instead of favorite things, we should do a show about how to have a thrifty holiday.” Oprah had wanted to emphasize the real meaning of the holidays, saying that bringing that back would be her favorite thing this year. “So instead of walking away with bags full of fabulous gifts, this audience got tips on what we thought would be the perfect present that year: an empty box.”

Oprah audience members who didn't get Oprah's Favorite Things
[The show's camera then panned across the
faces of horrified members of the audience...]

During yesterday’s show, Oprah remembered her audience’s reaction. “I went back into the control room, which is behind that wall, during that show, and I go, ‘I think they’re mad at me! Everybody’s looking real mad!’” Yesterday she even flew in two people who’d been in her audience for that ill-fated show, just to have them describe the emotional roller-coaster. “We thought, ‘Oh my god! We made it! We’re here!” one woman remembered. “It’s the Favorite Things show!” And then the other woman jokingly added what she thought the Christmas show had meant.

“We’re going to see Santa!”

“Yeah, I could feel y’all turning on me…” Oprah joked. “It has now been three years, and my producers still feel badly about disappointing everybody in that audience. So we made a few calls, and the FedEx Elves agreed to make a special delivery to you both. Elves?” (Two FedEx deliverymen then entered carrying two boxes.)

Each box contained a tote bag from Land’s End, some spring wedges from Ugg boots, a Flip video camera, and, yes, a Kindle 3G. (The audience’s cheers actually surged loudly when Oprah announced that the gift packages included Kindles.) “And of course, for everybody in today’s studio audience? You get the same!”

And then the audience rose to their feet and cheered wildly as more FedEx deliverymen — dressed in elf hats — entered with hundreds of gift packages from the back of the studio.

Oprah gives Kindles to her audience

Stack of books graph shows ebook sales

Today the Association of American Publishers finally released their estimated sales statistics for February. It’s conclusion? E-book sales have more than tripled from where they were just one year ago!

I’ve updated this post because originally I hadn’t realized just how much the sales had increased. “According to AAP’s monthly sales estimates, e-book sales jumped 202.3% at the 16 publishers that reported results, hitting $90.3 million,” Publisher’s Weekly reported this morning – and a 200% increase means the sales are triple where they were from the year before. Again, these are the official statistics from the official trade association of the U.S. book publishing industry, which reported that e-book sales “have enjoyed triple-digit percentage growth, 202.3%, vs February 2010.” And they also acknowledged today that people really love to read e-books.

“The public is embracing the breadth and variety of reading choices available to them,” announced the association’s president, adding that while the reading public maintains an interest in printed books, they’ve “made e-books permanent additions to their lifestyle.”

It’s nice to see that book publishers are aware of the changes rocking their industry, and that they’re approaching it with a sense of history. The association’s president noted today that “publishers are constantly redefining the timeless concept of ‘books,’” and identifying new audiences they can serve in new emerging technologies. “Publishers have always strategically expanded into all the markets and formats where readers want to find books,” he added enthusiastically, “whether it was Trade Paperback, Mass Market or now digital.”

But the statistics tell an unusually compelling story. Publishers are selling more e-books than they are books in any other format, according to a larger survey of over 84 different publishing houses. And in fact, nearly every kind of printed book has shown a decline in sales from the sales they reported just last year. For example, in February hardcover sales dropped a massive 43% from the year before, and they’re now earning the publishing houses just $46.2 million.

And mass-market paperbacks didn’t fare much better, dropping 41.5% in February (down to just $29.3 million) from their sales figures a year ago. In fact, combining every category of printed book, you’d still see a drop of 24.8% in their February sales this year. There was only one kind of printed book which showed any increase in sales this year: religious books, which sold 5.5% more in February than they did in February of 2010 (earning $48.5 million). But no matter how you approach these figures, e-books still come out as extremely popular.

So what’s their explanation? E-books apparently got a big boost from the people who received a Kindle (or another digital reader) as a gift this Christmas. There’s not only more reading devices to choose from, but now there’s also more digital titles available, their report noted today. And people may even be reading more once they purchase a digital reader, the report seems to suggest. “Additionally, trade publishing houses cite e-books as generating fresh consumer interest in — and new revenue streams for — ‘backlist’ titles, books that have been in print for at least a year. Many publishers report that e-Book readers who enjoy a newly-released book will frequently buy an author’s full backlist.”

This may be the year that everything changes — when digital texts really start to replace the printed book as we know it.

114 Kindle Visa screensaver ad

“Good News,” Amazon posted on their web page yesterday. “You now have the option to get Kindle for $25 less — only $114.”

But there’s a catch…

It’s the Kindle “with special offers,” showing sophisticated advertisements in the screensavers, along with shopping discounts which display at the bottom of the home screen.

Visa,

The first screensaver ads for the new Kindles have already been purchased by Visa, Procter & Gamble, Buick, and Chase Banks, and Amazon’s announcement Monday noted that the ads have been specially designed for the Kindle’s high-contrast, 16-color screens. I have to admit that I was impressed by the quality of the images in these screensaver advertisements. And Amazon’s even created a free Kindle app and a web site (both of which they’re hoping to release soon) where “anyone who’s interested” can preview the upcoming screensaver ads and vote on which images are most attractive.

“Our goal is to display sponsored screensavers that you want to see…” Amazon explains on the new Kindle’s web page, and they’ll even let individual Kindle owners indicate their preference from a special menu that’s built into their Kindle (under the “Manage Your Kindle” menu choice). “For example, you can indicate that you’d like to see more or fewer screensavers that include elements such as landscapes and scenery, architecture, travel images, photography, and illustrations.”

The app (and the web site) are named AdMash — and Amazon is offering some pretty attractive deals to entice customers to the new format. Some examples?

* $10 for a $20 Amazon.com Gift Card
* $6 for six Audible Books ( $68 value)
* $1 for an album in the Amazon MP3 Store
     (from a selection of over 1 million albums)
* $10 for $30 of products in the Amazon’s Denim or Swim Shops
* 50% off a Roku Streaming Player (normally $99)

Amazon will update your Kindle with new screensavers and offers, and “To make sure you don’t miss any of the offers, a full list of active offers is available from the menu of Kindle…at any time.” But if the ads still sound annoying, remember that it also means the Kindle’s sold at a $25 discount. “We’re working hard to make sure that anyone who wants a Kindle can afford one,” Amazon’s CEO said in Monday’s announcement.
“Companies sponsor the screensavers, you pay less for your Kindle,” Amazon explained on their home page. “Plus, you receive offers directly on your Kindle that can save you more money…”

Of course, I have to wonder if it’s Amazon’s way of quickly selling off their remaining Kindle 3 devices — so they can then launch a new Kindle 4. But I may just be indulging in wishful thinking. I’m still hoping that Amazon will lower the price of their next Kindle to just $99. At least this seems like a step in the right direction.

The $114 Kindles won’t actually ship out for another three weeks — not until May 3. But if you’re interested in buying one, you can pre-order them here.

Or just point your web browser to http://tinyurl.com/114Kindle

Sale for 99 on a sign

“A Kindle priced below $100 seems almost a sure thing.”

That’s the opinion of Chad Skelton, who’s both an investigative reporter and blogger for the Vancouver Sun. He predicts that Amazon’s going to make big cuts in the cost of a new Kindle — because it will bring them more customers. “Amazon has already shown a willingness to make deep price cuts on the Kindle,” Skelton writes, documenting the drops from its original $399 price to just $139. He does disagree with the prediction that Amazon may give away a free Kindle (and then try to earn back their money on e-book sales). But he notes that “there are likely a bunch of customers who Amazon can bring into the market once they drop the price down to two digits.”

“The only question is when. If I was a betting man, I’d figure Amazon would drop the Kindle’s price to $99 in time for the holiday shopping season.”

He isn’t the first person to predict Amazon will keep lowering the Kindle’s price. Last August, a technology columnist at Slate argued that Amazon would drop the price of a Kindle to $99 before Christmas of 2010! They didn’t — but it’s still a fascinating article, because it broke down the actual cost Amazon paid for the parts of a Kindle. Over a year ago, E-Ink collaborated with a silicon chip manufacturer to create a way to run the Kindle with a much cheaper semiconductor. And in addition, at least one Amazon’s competitor unveiled a $99 digital reader last July.

“All of these trends likely guarantee that Amazon will release a $99 e-reader someday,” Slate‘s columnist concluded. (And he compared Amazon’s pricing to that of an aggressive salesman in a TV ad, joking that Amazon’s CEO was “the Crazy Eddie of the e-book business: Every time a rival gets close to the Kindle’s prices, Bezos goes even lower. He will not be undersold!”) But there’s already been research into how consumers would react to a $99 Kindle, Slate‘s reporter also notes. While less than 20% of the adults in America would consider a reader costing more< than $100, “nearly 65 percent said they would consider one” if the price were below $100, “and almost 40 percent said they’d buy it within six months!”

Imagine what that would mean for Amazon. Suddenly there’d be three times as many people who wanted to buy the newest Kindle. Presumably they’d triple the sales of e-books in Amazon’s Kindle store. This would give Amazon even more leverage with publishers — though I don’t know whether it would ultimately result in lower e-book prices.

It’s hard to predict the future — as Slate’s columnist found out when he started writing that “tech companies usually ramp up production and lower their prices for the holidays.” But maybe he was right about everything except which holiday Amazon. It’s still possible that Amazon will roll out a $99 Kindle for Christmas.

But instead of Christmas of 2010, it could be Christmas of 2011.

EA's Monopoly for the Kindle

It’s another special sale. Monopoly — the classic dice-rolling, property-buying board game — is now available on the Kindle for just 99 cents! (First released in December, the game normally sells for $4.99.) It’s a special promotion (which ends Sunday night), but it’s also part of a larger publicity stunt by the game’s manufacturers. “April 7th is Global MONOPOLY Day,” announces Electronic Arts in the game’s product description at Amazon.com. “Join the fun and play MONOPOLY on Kindle for just $0.99…”

And there were more strange details in their official press release yesterday. Hasbro, the original makers of Monopoly, and Electronic Arts (the maker of several digital variations) formally declared Thursday to be “Global Monopoly Day” — but only on Facebook. “MONOPOLY fans around the world are invited to play MONOPOLY Millionaires on Facebook,” they announced in a press release, “to win more than $20,000 in prizes and participate in an attempt to set a new Guinness World Records title.” They’re giving away exactly $20,580 in prizes — the dollar amount that’s in the bank in the board game version of Monopoly — and the prizes include a free Kindle, a Macbook Pro, or an iPad 2. (They’re also giving away versions of Monopoly for the iPhone and Android smartphone, as well as $500 Visa gift cards, and $5,000 in cash.)

“Does this mean we get a day off work to play Monopoly?” joked one game blogger. (Adding “No? Dammit!”) But dig deeper into the press release, and you’ll realize two dirty secrets. First, “Monopoly Day” has nothing to do with the Kindle version of the game. And second, the game they’re celebrating isn’t really Monopoly.

EA Monopoly Millionaires logo (from Global Monopoly Day on Facebook)


Instead, the companies are trying to set the world record for the most simultaneous players for an entirely different (but equally complicated) game on Facebook. “Monopoly Millionaires” strands each player alone on their own individual Monopoly board, where they’re already the owner of all the colored properties. But at timed intervals, they can make a temporary visit to another player’s board, where they’ll have a chance to earn money or win extra upgrades to their own board’s properties. Unfortunately, the extra upgrades are only awarded at random through a Three-Card Monte-style game that’s triggered by landing on any colored property square.


Screenshot of EA Facebook game Monopoly Millionaires


Confused? I sure was. Especially when the game asked for my credit card number so I could buy more play Monopoly money using real money from my Mastercard. And while you’re playing the game, you’ll see pop-up advertisements urging you to visit the Facebook page for the real Charles Schwab investment brokers. While it’s free to play the game, “Monopoly Millionaries” apparently still earns money for its creator in other ways — and several times, it’ll ask you to lure your friends into playing the game too.

Screenshot from EA Monopoly Millionaires


It feels much more like a Facebook game — for example, Farmville — than the classic board game of Monopoly. (Although it’s already racked up 5,880,579 active users just this month, according to statistics on its Facebook page.) Electronic Arts claims Monopoly Millionaires has now reached an audience of “tens of millions of people on Facebook.” Though maybe this is just their way of making you want to play the original classic version of Monopoly on your Kindle!

In fact, by yesterday Monopoly had become one of the top 10 best-selling items in the entire Kindle Store. (34 days ago it wasn’t even in the top 100, presumably because buyers were discouraged by its higher $4.99 price tag.) “I bought this because it was a buck,” joked one reviewer this morning on the game’s page at Amazon.com, “but then remembered that I hate the game.” But other responses were more positive, including one reviewer who posted today that “I bought it for a dollar, and my husband and I just started playing and couldn’t stop. If you like Monopoly, this is an excellent and easy to use version.”

Though she also added that when playing it on her Kindle, “I do miss the pretty colors…”

M-Edge MyEdge customized Kindle covers

Yesterday M-Edge slashed prices on their Kindle 2 covers — but later that day, they delivered some even bigger news. Tuesday they launched a new service that lets you design your own custom jacket for
your Kindle 2 or 3!

A web interface lets you upload an image from your computer, then position it and crop it in an online simulation of your Kindle’s jacket. Within two weeks, you’ll be holding an actual Kindle jacket with your
image printed on it, according to Tuesday’s announcement. And you can also print your own text on the jacket, select a background pattern, and even choose the jacket’s color. “MyEdge turns you into the designer,” the new web site promises.

Screenshot of MyEdge Kindle iPad jacket interface


You can choose from either the black or mocha-colored leather spine and stitching, and the final jacket is given a coat of protective Scotchgard. Best of all, it all costs just $40. “Our goal is to offer high-quality and unique accessories at affordable prices,” the company’s CFO said in a press release, “and we’re proud that MyEdge will give our customers another option to convey their one-of-a-kind style to the world.”

There’s also a “style library” where you can choose from existing designs, and even browse through the jackets that were designed by other users. It’s already offering over 313 different styles to choose from, including what looks like photos of pet cats and dogs, and one design that apparently even features a couple’s wedding photo. The Style Library also features the official NCAA-licensed logos for several colleges, including the Universities of Virginia, Washington, Maryland, “for students and alumni looking to showcase their school spirit.” But there’s also some fascinating Kindle jackets that are displaying the covers from vintage print editions of classic books (like Slaughterhouse 5, Naked Lunch, and even The Lord of the Flies).

It’s the result of a unique partnership with a clothing company called “Out of Print,” which has also been printing the classic covers on a line of t-shirts. “For each shirt we sell,” they explain on their web site, “one book is donated to a community in need through our partner Books For Africa…” The web site describes how they’re ultimately motivated by a deep love of books. “It’s unclear what the role of the book cover will be in this new era, but we feel it’s more important than ever to reflect on our own individual experiences with great literary art before it’s forever changed.”

I’ve always said that the Kindle’s huge popularity could be a moment of history that’s happening right before our eyes. But it’s refreshing that the two companies are having fun with it, using cutting-edge manufacturing techniques to reproduce some very old-fashioned printed book covers. It’s like they’re successfully standing in both eras, acknowledging a heritage while creating something new for Kindle owners. “For those who love the new reading technology but miss the feeling of holding a traditional hardcover in their hands,” the jacket-maker explained in their press release, “MyEdge is the ultimate opportunity to put a little of the book back into the e-reader.”

M-Edge leather Kindle jacket

I’ve never seen savings like this. They’re authentic leather jackets from M-Edge for the Kindle 2 — and they’re on sale for just $14.99!

Normally they’d cost between $39.99 and $54.99, but a special sale started today at a store called Tuesday Morning. Ten times a year — on the first Tuesday of each month — they’ll announce their biggest new specials on brand-name merchandise. It’s a chain of 842 stores in 47 different states, according to Wikipedia, and it’s “known for its deep discounts on gifts and accessories seen in more upscale department stores.” (Find your local branch here.) I didn’t see any Kindle 3 jackets, but for the Kindle 2 there’s lots of different colors available. This afternoon I saw red, purple, tan, and cream at my local store — and the cashier said the supply should last.

In fact, she also said that she hadn’t sold any all day — and it’s not hard to guess why they’ve been discounted. These M-Edge jackets have built-in straps to hold your Kindle in place, but they’ll only fit around an 8-inch Kindle 2 — and not the newer Kindle 3 (which is 7.5 inches tall). Amazon stopped selling the Kindle 2 in August, so the market for these jackets has to be dwindling. The store’s corporate profile notes they provide “upscale closeout” items, and sure enough, many of the jackets are currently listed as “unavailable” on Amazon.com.

But they’ve received dozens of favorable reviews from customers, and it’s really a nice Kindle jacket. Tuesday Morning is offering discounts on their “Latitude” jacket, which offers a built-in zipper, as well as the “Go!” jacket. (“Selection will vary by store,” their newspaper ad explains.) But both versions offer a slot where you can insert the tiny e-Luminator booklight, and the Go! jacket even doubles as stand, so you can prop up your Kindle and read it with no hands!

Kindle e-illuminator book light by M-Edge

It comes with a package insert promising the product is “Amazon approved,” and their slogan is “Everything EReader.” It’s my very first leather Kindle jacket, and I love the way it feels under my fingertips. Instead of touching cold, white plastic — I’m finally touching real leather. It’s a beautiful cream color, with a tan, saddle-stitched strap, and the interior is a super-soft microfiber. (“Soft, plush interiors protect e-Reader from damage,” the ad explained.) It’s even easier to hang onto — since it adds some extra thickness around the Kindle, which makes it easier to grip.

For me it feels like a whole new way of enjoying the Kindle. (And according to the store’s newspaper ad, the jackets are available “in a wide variety of colors and styles.”) You can view the ad online by pointing your browser to tinyurl.com/TuesdayMorningAd — and then flipping to page 5.

Tuesday Morning April newspaper ad for M-Edge Kindle leather jacket


And if you can’t find your way to a Tuesday morning store, there’s still a few jackets that are available online.

Free Amazon Kindle Game Number Slide screenshot

It sounds like an April Fool’s Day joke — but it’s not! Amazon’s just released a brand-new free game for the Kindle. It’s a beautiful rendition of the classic “number slider” puzzle — this time with a couple of twists.

To start with, there’s just one empty square on a grid of numbered titles, which makes it possible to slide just one tile at a time, either up, down, or sideways. “Your goal is to use the empty space to slide the numbered tiles until they are in order,” Amazon’s instructions explain. “When the tiles are in order with the empty space in the bottom right, you win!”

But Amazon also lets you select a new difficulty level for the puzzle, offering grids that are either “small, medium, or large.” (That is, you can slide the numbers in a small three-by-three grid, a trickier four-by-four grid, or an even more challenging five-by-five grid.) And if you choose the “automatic” setting, a tile will move as soon as you highlight it, so you don’t even have to press in the select button. (And if you instead you choose the “manual” setting, you can cursor past several tiles, and then move them all at once by selecting the one that’s farthest away!)

“You know, the last thing I need is yet another addictive game on my Kindle!” complained blogger Michael P. Gallagher. This morning he posted the game’s first review on its page in the Kindle store, writing that “The graphics are very crisp and the response time is very fast on my Kindle 3 as compared to the slowness I saw on the free Kindle poker game…”

“Now, if I can just find time to read on my darn Kindle….”

This game is part of an unacknowledged trend, since gradually all of the classic games are starting to become available on the Kindle. Just yesterday Oak Systems Leisure Software released Codewords and Cryptograms for Kindle. It’s the familiar cryptograms that appear in your daily newspaper, where a quote from a famous person is hidden with a “substitution” code where different letters are swapped in to represent every letter. (And they’ve also bundled in a fascinating variation on the classic crossword puzzles, called “Codewords,” where you try to perform the same de-ciphering in a crossword puzzle grid!)

That company also released the first Kindle version of Chess in February (as well as a Word Search game). And if you’re looking for traditional crossword puzzles, The New York Times has released six different volumes. One week ago, two different companies even released two different Kindle versions of the board game checkers on the exact same day. And just Tuesday, the same thing happened again, when two companies released competing versions of the disk-flipping game Reversi.

In February, a company named 7 Dragons released a Kindle version of the game Tic Tac Toe (as well as a new game called Flip It) — but two weeks ago, they even unveiled a Kindle version of the classic text-document application, “Notepad.” And there were already two competing versions of the software. So game development is definitely starting to happen on the Kindle platform.

I agree with Michael Gallagher — all these games are cutting into the time that I’d normally spend reading on my Kindle. Number Slide marks the sixth free game that Amazon has released. Below is a complete list of all Amazon’s free Kindle games — in case you’re looking for more fun ways to spend this year’s April Fool’s Day.

MineSweeper
Video Poker
Shuffled Row
Every Word
Black Jack
Number Slide