Amazon vs the state of California's bear from flag


Amazon’s just closed the “Affiliates” accounts of everyone in California. (These accounts allow bloggers to link to items in Amazon’s store and receive a commission when someone purchases them.) California passed a new bill requiring more online retailers to pay sales tax, and within 24 hours Amazon closed every associates account in the state of California.

“We oppose this bill because it is unconstitutional and counterproductive,” Amazon wrote in their termination notice. “It is supported by big-box retailers, most of which are based outside California, that seek to harm the affiliate advertising programs of their competitors.” Amazon clearly intends to stir political pressure against California’s lawmakers, going so far as to argue that “Similar legislation in other states has led to job and income losses, and little, if any, new tax revenue.” They add that they “deeply regret” the closures, and end with a reminder that Californians can still purchase things from Amazon web sites (“to avoid confusion”).

Blogger Ezra Klein argues that Amazon opposes the bill because “it wipes out a price advantage they currently have against their competitors” — but I feel like Amazon’s position is more nuanced. Amazon says they’re already paying sales tax in a number of U.S. states, according to ZDNet — in Kansas, Kentucky, New York, North Dakota and Washington. Plus, Amazon recently expanded their physical presence into Arizona, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Nevada, so they’ll presumably start paying sales taxes there as well.

“Look closer,” writes ZDNet columnist Violet Blue, “and you’ll see that Amazon is fighting state-by-state battles against increasingly irrational legislation.” In fact, earlier this month Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, specifically addressed the sales tax question during Amazon’s annual shareholder’s meeting. He was asked how he sees retail changing over the next decade, and how he’d resolve this online sales tax issue. Here’s how he answered the question.

“The right solution to sales tax in my view, and certainly this is Amazon’s position, and it’s been consistent. We’ve had this position for 10 years — is that the right place to solve this is federal legislation. There is an initiative called the simplified sales tax initiative. 22 states have already signed on. That legislation needs to get passed. I believe that that will happen in the time frame that you laid out. I hope it might happen much sooner than that. I think it’s the right thing to do, and I think it’d be great for Amazon.

“By the way…on the sales tax issue, keep in mind that in more than half of the geographies where we do business — certain states, as well as Europe and Asia — all together, more than half of our business is in jurisdictions where we already collect sales tax or its equivalent, like the value-added tax. So, you know, we’re very — this issue is — our position on this hasn’t changed. We think our position is a good one.

“And we’ll stick with that.”

Inside the head of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos - what is he thinking

I think I’ve learned a secret about Amazon. On June 7, Amazon held its annual shareholder’s meeting, and I just took a closer look at my notes. They offer a fascinating peek inside the mind of Jeff Bezos. But can they answer the question about what’s in Amazon’s future?

It seemed like the shareholder’s had one question on their mind: is Amazon building an iPad-style tablet? No one asked the question directly, but several seemed to ask it indirectly. For example, one shareholder asked Bezos how Amazon’s online retail business would look in 10 years. And it seemed like Bezos took the bait.

“One thing that I think will change is that we will see way better mobile devices, even than we have today,” he told the crowd. And then he switched to a historical perspective. “If you look back five years — try using the web on a mobile device five years ago. It was an extraordinarily painful experience. “Today it’s still a marginal experience, in many cases,” he said significantly. “If you have a good WiFi connection and a very good, you know, uh, smartphone or tablet, it’s now getting to be a pretty good situation. But with the average phone that people have and the average cellular connection that people have, the mobile browsing experience is still a pretty marginal one.

“That is going to change.”

Maybe he was just talking generally about the progress of handheld devices, since he also predicted that “we’re going to continue to have pervasive wireless bandwidth that’s going to continue to increase. And the form factors of the phones — the displays, the battery life — smart phones are going to get smarter. They’re going to get better. They’re going to be unbelievably good as web browsing devices.” And then he hit on Amazon’s real stake in the creation of better mobile devices. “That is a huge tailwind for Amazon in our retail business, and so we’re very excited about that.”

But sure enough, next he stopped talking about smartphones and started talking about tablets — while still focusing on its impact on Amazon’s retail business. “I feel the same way about tablets. Most of our customers shop with us from laptops or desktop computers. But people have a different posture with tablets — like, lean back on their sofa. And people leaning back on their sofa, buying things from Amazon, is another tailwind for our business. I’m very excited about that.”

There was a similar moment when another shareholder asked a question about Yahoo’s new “cloud” service (where digital music and video are stored online for access through multiple devices). Maybe that’s all Bezos was talking about — but I wondered if he was thinking about the possibility of playing music and video on Amazon tablet devices. Bezos said that “integrating those consumer experiences, those digital media experiences, into the cloud is something that will be very helpful — for consumers.” Whether it’s consumer-facing or developer-facing, “these are big markets that can support lots of winners,” Bezos said. “And so as has been our practice from the very beginning, we will stay heads-down, focus on the customer experience, and…expect that there will be other winners as well.”

I could be seeing what I want to see in everything that Jeff Bezos said — but Amazon’s other shareholders seemed curious too. The next question raised some of the same issues in more general terms, asking simply “Should we think of you as a technology company, an infrastructure company, an e-commerce company?”

Yes,” Bezos replied. And of course, if you’re reading between the lines, it’s easy to see the same pattern in his answer.

“In the last six years, as we’ve built Amazon Web services, we’ve also become a company that provides technology. Now we sell technology, which really we hadn’t done. We’d been users of our own proprietary technology, and now we’re on both sides of that.

“And I like both sides of that….”

Amazon's best e-books of 2011 list

Amazon obviously knows a lot about e-books, and they’ve just released their list of the best Kindle e-books of 2011… “so far”.

“This midyear retrospective highlights the best books released in 2011 between January and June,” Amazon explained in a press release. “Customers looking for great books to read this summer will find an eclectic list, from a faux memoir conceived as an introduction to a long-lost Shakespeare play to one of the most fantastic survival stories of World War II.”

I like the way they’ve filled their “best of 2011″ page with several different lists — nearly a dozen — where Amazon’s selected the best books in different categories. There’s the best novels, the best biographies and memories, the best mystery and thriller e-books, and even the best books on business and investing. And they’ve also selected the best romance e-books of 2011 (so far) — and the best science fiction. Here’s links to all the different categories where Amazon’s chosen this year’s best e-books.

Fiction
Non-Fiction
Biographies and Memoirs
Business and Investing
Mysteries and Thrillers
Romance
Science Fiction
Teens

So what books made the list? #1 is “Lost in Shangri-La,” a non-fiction best-seller which Amazon picked as their favorite e-book for May. (In 1945, 24 airline passengers crashed in a New Guinea jungle, and the three survivors are “caught between man-eating headhunters and enemy Japanese” as they seek sanctuary in tribe of superstitious natives.) And Tina Fey’s humorous autobiography “Bossypants” has also reached the #6 spot on Amazon’s “best of 2011″ list. (Amazon called the memoir it “Short, messy, and impossibly funny.”) Here’s the complete top 10.

Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff
The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips
Bossypants by Tina Fey
22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson
Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson
Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer
Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

But Amazon also noted that Fey’s book was part of surprising trend. “Perhaps surprisingly, half of our favorite books so far this year were written by debut authors.” There’s even a first novel by comedy writer/actor Albert Brooks (who wrote and directed the movie “Defending Your Life” and supplied the voice of the father in Pixar’s “Finding Nemo”). Surprisingly, it turns up on Amazon’s science fiction list — though there’s also a few political jabs about the way America approaches social security, healthcare, and preparedness for natural disasters. Its title? “2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America.”

This list-making is one of Amazon’s favorite activities, according to their Managing Editor of Books. “Our goal with Best of the Year So Far is to go beyond our personal favorites and identify books that transcend genre,” he said in a statement Monday. “The books on our Top 10 list are engrossing reads that you could give to anyone, no matter what their taste.”

Did Amazon get it right? Click here to explore their “best of” lists yourself!

Donovan Creed e-book author John Locke

It’s hard not to find this inspiring. Amazon’s only had seven authors who have ever sold one million e-books in their Kindle store. But last week Amazon announced an eighth author had also achieved that milestone — and this time, it’s a little different. Instead of working through a major publishing house, Amazon’s latest million-seller is a self-published author!

As of last week, John Locke has sold 1,010,370 Kindle books, Amazon announced — and he did it using Amazon’s own Kindle Direct Publishing platform. Locke said (in Amazon’s press release) that the platform “has provided an opportunity for independent authors to compete on a level playing field with the giants of the book selling industry. Calling it “the greatest friend an author can have,” he said “Not only did Kindle Digital Publishing give me a chance, they helped at every turn.”

It’s always exciting to see someone strike it rich, seeing all of their dreams coming true. Last week the Associated Press asked Locke if he’d want to sign a deal with a major publisher, but Locke casually
insisted that no, “It just wouldn’t be fun for me.” Instead he said breezily that he liked the idea “of being able to walk away from writing if it stops being fun.” And he’s just published another e-book offering the secrets to his success — called “How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months!”

Yes, five months — if the book’s title is to be believed. “John Locke has sold more than 1,000,000 eBooks by word of mouth!” reads an announcement on the author’s web site. “All this was achieved PART TIME, without an agent, publicist, and at virtually no marketing expense!” he adds in the description for a new book. And in its introduction, Locke lists out some equally impressive accomplishments.

For example, he’s the first self-published author to reach the #1 spot on Amazon’s best-seller’s list — and the first to hold both #1 and #2 at the same time! In fact, at one point he had four books in the top 10 — and he’s also had seven books in the top 34 simultaneously, and eight books in the top 50. “These numbers are not positions within a category,” John writes in his new book. “They are positions that include all Kindle sales including fiction, non-fiction, magazine subscriptions, and game apps!” Locke writes that by the middle of March, “it had been calculated that ‘every 7 seconds, 24 hours a day, a John Locke novel is downloaded somewhere in the world.'”

Ironically, his book opens with a boilerplate disclaimer. (“Names, characters, places and incidnets are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.”) But it’s an exciting story for anyone who’s ever considered writing an e-book. Between September of 2010 and March of 2011, Locke’s monthly Kindle sales went from 63 e-books…to 369,115. And when he released “Vegas Moon,” it jumped to the #3 spot on Amazon’s best-seller list within just two weeks.

But the numbers aren’t the real story, and it’s even more inspiring to read Locke’s perspective about how the world of book publishing is changing. He describes the publishing industry as “high school on steroids” — where beautiful people hold the upper hand over everyone else. (In this case, through expensive newspaper ads promoting their books, along with in-store book displays and carefully-arranged promotional reviews.) “As a self-published author, I’m boxed out of these marketing opportunities,” he notes. “Worse, I can’t afford to offer my my print books as cheaply as they can…! I’d like to complete, but it’s hard to beat the home team on a playing field that’s hopelessly slanted against you!”

“eBooks allow a guy like me an opportunity to level the playing field.”

Maybe it’s more proof that the world really is changing — already — due to the popularity of the digital readers like the Kindle. It seems like more and more authors are now starting to cross that magic line: one million e-books sold. Three more authors joined the “Kindle Million Club” in just the first week of June, and within two weeks Amazon was announcing that this fourth author had joined them. Maybe there’s just more people this year who are finally able to buy e-books.

Last week, the signs seemed pretty clear. Amazon’s Vice President of Kindle content even issued a statement, saying “It’s so exciting that self-publishing has allowed John Locke to achieve a milestone like this. We’re happy to see Kindle Direct Publishing succeeding for both authors and customers and are proud to welcome him to the Kindle Million Club.” But meanwhile, Locke himself continues writing away on his personal blog on the internet, sharing a peek into the mind of one of the eight most-successful Kindle authors of all time. His latest slogan?

“You only notice the ones who are breaking the rules!”

100 Games for the Kindle!

June 23rd, 2011

100 games for the Kindle
I couldn’t believe it. I checked the best-seller lists at Amazon.com, and discovered that there’s now over 100 games that are available for the Kindle — including eight free ones! Monday two more new games arrived in the Kindle store — including the really attractive “Fortune Teller.” (“Your Fortune Told on Kindle…”) But it’s part of a new trend, as different kinds of “active digital content” start appearing in the Kindle store. I’ve assembled a complete list of everything that’s available in the store’s “games” section — and discovered a few surprises.

For example, there’s now also another “game” that provides daily horoscopes, and one that helps you convert measurements — like miles to kilometers. Wednesday a new “reference title” showed up with recipes for cocktails. Another “game” lists the calories in popular fast food meals, and there’s another one which turns your Kindle into a stopwatch. There’s an appointment/calendar book, and of course the Notepad and “Sticky Notes” applications. There’s even educational flashcards for kids, plus other educational games (including one from the Scripps National Spelling Bee).

Instead of entertainment, these games are offering actual information in an interactve format. (If you’re taking your Kindle on the road, it could really come in handy!) It shows the variety of active content that’s now available in a Kindle-ready format, and it reminds me of hodgepodge of tempting apps that are available in Apple’s app store. In fact, with all these “useful” applications, it’s nice to see new games being released that are still just plain fun.

Kee-Ko’s Quest — also released Monday — has some delightfully simple graphics. There’s a bug-eyed, smiling robot named Kee-ko (who looks more like a toy car) happily traveling down a track at a factory. Players nudge the five-way controller to move Kee-Ko — and the other robots blocking her way — as she tries to reach the right side of each screen to re-unite with her long-lost robot boyfriend (named F4R4W4Y). I really liked how this game involves a character and a story, instead of just numbers and letters and abstract challenges…

But it also proves how quickly new games are arriving Amazon’s Kindle store. Two weeks ago Amazon released a new game called Pirate Stash — less than three weeks after their last new game, Thread Words! And it seems like the new games are also getting more complicated. Pirate Stash has nearly 120 different brain-teaser puzzles, enough to keep you busy for quite a while! (Pirate Stash isn’t free, but Amazon will send you a free sample with the first 15 puzzles.)

“Fortune Teller” is another example of a seemingly-simple idea with a sophisticated implementation. I loved its graphics — though I remain skeptical as to whether it can truly predict the future. The amazing “Hectar” provides one new prediction a day through a crystal ball on each of five topics — love, money, career, life, and friendship. And the game actually comes with three completely different “modes” of fortune telling — including the more traditional fortune cookie. (“Only 3 cookies can be opened a day so choose wisely.”) And there’s also a “Mystic Pyramid” which works like the Magic Eight Ball, promising “you can merely think a question and pressing the enter key…will give you an answer to the question. Ask as many times as you like!”

Last week saw the release of a new variation on Sudoku called Futoshiki, and there’s also a new text-based “choose your adventure” story called “Choice of the Vampire.” But I realized games were finally catching on for the Kindle when I convinced my friend Len Edgerly (who hosts The Kindle Chronicles podcast) to give Monopoly a try. “I have become a fan of Monopoly,” he admitted in last week’s show. (Adding “I don’t know whether to thank you for that or curse you for it.”) But I think he put his finger on exactly why it can be so enjoyable to play a game on the Kindle. “It’s a very pleasing way to take a break from whatever I’m doing — to move my little hat icon around the board…”

I’ve become almost an evangelist for games on the Kindle — and if you’ve never tried one, you’ll always wonder what you’re missing. So to help you try one, I’ve assembled a complete list of all the games currently available on the Kindle — along with their taglines in the Amazon store, and their current price.

Kee-Ko’s QuestA Puzzle for Kindle ($1.99)

“Fortune Teller”Your Fortune Told on Kindle ($1.99)

EA Texas Hold’emPlay the Popular Poker Game ($3.99)

Pirate StashA Puzzle Game for Kindle ($1.99)

Wordoku Unbound #1A Puzzle Collection (99 cents)

ScrabblePlay the Popular Word Game on Kindle ($4.99)

Word SearchA Word Game for Kindle (99 cents)

EA Solitaire12 Card Games to Play on Kindle ($3.99)

NotepadA Note Taking Tool for Kindle (99 cents)

Calendar ProA Schedule Tool for Kindle (99 cents)

CalendarA Schedule Tool for Kindle (99 cents)

Sudoku Unbound #1A Puzzle Collection ($2.99)

Mahjong SolitaireA Matching Game for Kindle ($3.99)

Sticky NotesA Note Taking Tool (99 cents)

Maze A ThonA Game for Kindle (99 cents)

CalculatorA Calculator for Kindle (99 cents)

Snakes and Ladders gameA Game for Kindle (99 cents)

SlingoA Game for Kindle ($3.99)

CheckersA Classic Game for Kindle (99 cents)

CheckersA Classic Game for Kindle (99 cents)

CodeWordCodewords and Cryptograms for Kindle (99 cents)

MonopolyPlay the Popular Board Game on Kindle ($4.99)

ChessA Classic Game for Kindle ($2.99)

Hangman 4 KidsA Kindle Word Game for Children ($1.99)

NY Times Crosswords Vol. 130 World Famous Easy Puzzles ($1.99)

Word Search Volume 2A Word Game for Kindle (99 cents)

EA SudokuPlay Sudoku on Kindle ($3.99)

Easy CalculatorA Calculator for Kindle (99 cents)

Blocked – Rescue the Block! – A Game for Kindle (99 cents)

NY Times Crosswords Vol. 290 World Famous Easy Puzzles) ($4.99)

Next Puzzle GameA Matching Game for Kindle (99 cents)

Stopwatch and TimerA Time Keeping Tool for Kindle (99 cents)

My Yoga StudioA Yoga Partner on Kindle ($1.99)

ConverterEasy Conversions for Kindle (99 cents)

HangmanA Word Game for Kindle ($2.99)

Triple TownA Puzzle Strategy Game for Kindle ($3.99)

CalendarAppointments, Birthdays, Holidays and Sticky Notes – A Schedule Tool for Kindle (99 cents)

Tic Tac ToeA Classic Game for Kindle (99 cents)

Peg SolitaireA Classic Solitaire Game for Kindle (99 cents)

Scripps Spelling Bee: Word GamesA Word Game for Kindle ($2.99)

FutoshikiA Logic Puzzle for Kindle (99 cents)

The Warlock of Firetop MountainA Fighting Fantasy Adventure ($3.99)

Jumble, 200 PuzzlesA Word Scramble Game ($4.99)

Flip It!A Game for Kindle (99 cents)

Choice of the DragonA Text-Based Adventure ($1.99)

Word SoupA Word Game for Kindle - ($1.99)

True BackgammonA Classic Board Game for Kindle ($1.99)

Anywhere AbsA Workout Partner on Kindle ($1.99)

Flash Cards: Basic Math for KidsA Learning Tool for Kindle ($2.99)

StrimkoA Logic Game for Kindle ($2.99)

Panda PoetA Word Game for Kindle ($2.99)

NY Times Crosswords Vol. 330 World Famous Challenging Puzzles ($1.99)

Flash Cards: Fractions for KidsA Learning Tool for Kindle ($2.99)

Fast Food Calories – Calorie CounterA Reference Tool for Kindle ($1.99)

Daily Horoscopes 2011 – 2012Your Daily Horoscope on Kindle ($2.99)

Spelling StarA Learning Game for Kindle ($2.99)

NY Times Crosswords Vol. 530 World Famous Easy Puzzles ($1.99)

Anywhere LegsA Workout Partner on Kindle ($1.99)

24-7 Spanish – VocabularyA Language Trainer ($3.99)

Choice of the VampireA Text-Based Adventure ($2.99)

NY Times Crosswords Vol. 490 World Famous Challenging Puzzles ($4.99)

Peg SolitaireA Puzzle Game for Kindle (99 cents)

Jumble, 50 PuzzlesA Word Scramble Game ($2.49)

Choice of BroadsidesA Text-Based Adventure ($1.99)

24-7 Spanish – Basic PhrasesA Language Trainer ($3.99)

The Citadel of ChaosA Fighting Fantasy Adventure ($3.99)

Ultimate Music QuizA Trivia Game for Kindle ($1.99)

Dusk WorldAn Interactive Fiction Game ($2.99)

Diamond Crosswords – 50 Easy Puzzles – A Word Puzzle for Kindle (99 cents)

Match GeniusA Memory Puzzle Game ($2.99)

Jumble, 20 PuzzlesA Word Scramble Game (99 cents)

Brain Bump LiteratureA Trivia Game for Book Lovers (99 cents)

Rockin ReversiA Classic Game for Kindle ($1.99)

Ultimate Movie QuizA Trivia Game for Kindle ($1.99)

Symdoku Unbound #1A Puzzle Collection ($2.99)

Flash Cards: Alphabet and Spelling for KidsA Learning Tool for Kindle ($1.99)

NY Times Crosswords Vol. 630 World Famous Challenging Puzzles ($1.99)

Reversi DeluxeA Classic Game for Kindle ($1.99)

Letter LandersAn Early Reader Game for Kindle ($2.99)

24-7 German – VocabularyA Language Trainer ($3.99)

24-7 Italian – Basic PhrasesA Language Trainer ($3.99)

24-7 French – Basic PhrasesA Language Trainer ($3.99)

Ultimate Nature QuizA Trivia Game for Kindle ($1.99)

24-7 Italian – VocabularyA Language Trainer ($3.99)

Spelling Star Spanish EditionA Learning Game for Kindle ($3.99)

24-7 French – VocabularyA Language Trainer ($2.99)

24-7 German – Basic PhrasesA Language Trainer ($3.99)

Ultimate Sci-Fi QuizA Trivia Game for Kindle ($1.99)

Tower of HanoiKindle Edition (99 cents)

Cat Jump – Interactive Puzzle for Kindle (99 cents)

Cocktail MixerA Reference Title for Kindle ($1.99)

BlossomA Puzzle for Kindle

InheritanceA Text Adventure for Kindle


Free Kindle Games From Amazon

Thread WordsA Free Word Game for Kindle

Dots and BoxesA Free Game for Kindle

Every WordA Free Game for Kindle

BlackjackA Free Game for Kindle

Number SlideA Free Game for Kindle

Shuffled RowA Free Game for Kindle

Video PokerA Free Game for Kindle

MinesweeperA Free Game for Kindle

Is the Amazon Kindle good for the environment

Last week in Seattle, Amazon held their annual shareholder’s meeting, and since it was also being web-cast I decided to sneak a listen. One of the very first things on the agenda was a shareholder’s request that Amazon report on how it’s handling climate change — how Amazon assesses its own impact through the release of greenhouse-gas emissions. And specifically: the environmental impact of the Kindle…

The measure was voted down — the same shareholders have apparently made the same request every year for the last five years — but I was surprised by one of the statistics they cited. “70% of S&P 500 companies and over 80% of Global 500 companies disclose this type of information through the Carbon Disclosure Project, including companies such as Google, eBay, Apple, and Target.” But it turns out Amazon’s CEO had already included some environmental information in his prepared remarks.

Jeff Bezos took the podium, and proudly talked about how Amazon had launched their “frustration-free packaging initiative” just a few years ago, “designed to eliminate wire twist ties, blister packs, and
those clear hard plastic packages that you need a small nuclear device to open. And usually they result in bleeding.” I was surprised, but it turns out he wasn’t kidding about the bleeding. “I use to know the statistic of how many emergency room visits there are per year from people trying to open blister packs.”

But more to the point: “It’s very frustrating as a consumer.”

And then Jeff Bezos schooled the audience, revealing the dirty secrets behind blister packs and elaborate four-color cardboard packaging. “They’re both designed for the traditional physical retail environment. The blister packs are important because you can see the product and seeing the product is part of on-shelf merchandising. And you often see small items in big blister packs. The reason that that’s done is to make shoplifting more difficult.”

“At Amazon we don’t need either of those. We don’t have either of those reasons. We get to separate the physical packaging of the item from the merchandising of the item. And we also don’t have to worry about shoplifting!”

The funny thing is that according to Bezos, it’s actually more expensive for manufacturers to add blister packs — so Amazon is working with manufacturers to create a different set of packaging for online shoppers. (Otherwise, as Bezos points out, “It’s expensive for the manufacturer, it’s inconvenient for the consumer, and it’s also very wasteful from an environmental point of view.”) Since Amazon launched this program in 2008, they’ve gone from just 250,000 items in frustration-free packaging to over 4 million, Bezos told his shareholders. “And this, by the way, does not include Amazon-branded items like the Kindle or our Amazon Basics line, which are also in frustration-free packaging,” he pointed out. “These numbers only represent our efforts working together with third-party manufacturers to get them to adopt our frustration-free packaging standards.”

Of course, Kindle owners probably care more about the answer to a more direct question: How many e-books do I have to read before I’ve saved a tree? Last year it was the subject of an article by Geoffrey Lean, a newspaper reporter identified by the Daily Telegraph as Britain’s longest-serving environmental correspondent. (He’s been reporting on the environment for almost 40 years). Lean reported there’s two theories about whether the Kindle (and other digital readers) are environmentally-friendly.


Gadget-lovers point out that the US printed word causes 125 million trees to be felled every year. The bookish retort that the e-readers take more energy to make, consume electricity, contain more chemicals, and create a greater waste problem when thrown away.

The real answer appears to hinge on how many books you read each year, Lean concludes, with different studies arriving at different answers. “One reckoned that you would have to get through 40 electronically each year to come out ahead, another made that 23, while a third concluded that the carbon produced in making each e-reader would be recovered by the trees it left standing in just 12 months.” His final answer was a little dissatisfying — that the greenest way to read “turns out to be old-fashioned. Get books – from a public library.”

And I’d argue it still remains an open question — since it still depends on how far you’ll drive to get to your public library!

Consumer Reports logo

I’ve been studying a new article by Consumer Reports which just went online Friday. “In a first, a Nook beats the Kindle in our e-book reader Ratings,” they announced in a bold-print headline.

They’re talking about the new touch-screen version of the Nook (which finally went on sale last week). “The Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch Reader is more than merely a worthy competitor to the Kindle…” writes Consumer Reports reviewer, Paul Reynolds. “Now that we’ve tested the device in our labs, it actually scores a few points above the Kindle in our tests.”

Except not really. The article looks like it was changed later by a proofreader, who’s added the phrase “[corrected]” at one point further down the page. And now in brackets, in the third sentence of the article,
there’s a pretty big disclaimer. “[To clarify: The Nook scores one point above the Kindle below it in the 6-to-7-inch category. But it ranges from 4 to 5 points higher than other Kindles.]”

I’m not sure what “other” Kindles they’re talking about, since the only Kindle I know that’s isn’t six inches is the Kindle DX (which hasn’t been updated in almost a year). There’s also the cheaper “Kindle with Special Offers” and the WiFi-only Kindle — but that’s not really a fair comparison. (Obviously consumers already know what trade-offs they’ve made in order to get the lower price.) And of course, Amazon has stopped selling the Kindle 2 and the original Kindle, so there’s not much point in telling today’s consumers how those devices would’ve stacked up. It looks to me this comparison is a tie — especially since Amazon has announced later this year they’ll add the ability to borrow e-books from a library. The Nook was awarded a point for already having this capability, so it’s an advantage which is going to be short-lived.

I was also really intrigued that Consumer Reports didn’t award the Nook any extra points for the supposedly longer battery life that Barnes and Noble had been claiming they’d achieved. “Despite a power struggle between B&N and Amazon over which device runs for longer, we give both equal credit for a claimed battery life of five days or more,” their reviewer writes. In fact, for several criteria, it’s a tie (including battery life), and I’ve heard that the Kindle apparently beat the Nook when the magazine rated the devices on “Versatility”. One person who’s seen the ratings told me the Nook only scored higher for supported file types, and for the way that the Nook handles page turns.

And yet both the Kindle and the Nook received the magazine’s “Best Buy” rating. (Consumer Reports notes the latest version of the Nook “continues the steady improvement in Barnes & Noble’s e-book devices since the company rushed out a glitchy first version…during the holiday season of 2009.”) So now they’re reporting that “Simple Touch” Nook “matches or bests – albeit modestly – its Amazon competitor in almost every aspect of performance. ” This comparison ultimately shows that the Nook hasn’t landed a knock-out punch to Amazon’s Kindle project.

It’s more interesting as a general comparison, a status check on the war that’s raging between these two devices. “B&N has caught up with the Kindle in large part by emulating Amazon’s focus on reading with minimal fuss and extra features,” writes Consumer Reports, noting the new Nook eliminated the color navigation screen below the reading area (as well as the easy access to the Nook’s web browser). “As a result, it (like the Kindle) successfully “gets out of the way and disappears and lets you get on with your reading,” as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in praise of the Kindle during my interview with him last month.” But in the mean time, rumors are flying about the pending release of a new color touchscreen tablet device from Amazon. I’m half-expecting Amazon to announce a new version of the Kindle at the same time — so Consumer Reports may have to perform a new comparison soon.

To be fair, I’ll admit that there are things I like about the Nook. I was talking to my friend Len Edgerly again this week, and I acknowledged that it’s obviously easier to point at a choice on a menu than to first nudge your controller through each of the other choices above or below it! Although if you’re trying to look up a word, apparently you first get only an intermediate menu when you point at a word on the Nook’s screen, where you then have to indicate again that what you want is the word’s definition. But I also like the two-column layout of the Nook’s home page. (And yes, it does look easier to navigate the device just by touching the screen.)

But I’m still a big fan of my Kindle.

Amazon.com shipping boxes

I really enjoyed listening to Amazon’s shareholder’s meeting last week — mainly because Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, fielded questions from the shareholders. He had an interesting perspective on the Kindle, but I also got a big surprise when one of the shareholders asked Bezos for an update on a new service called Amazon Fresh. “You didn’t mention that,” she said, adding “I see more trucks and more deliveries around town.”

“Amazon Fresh is a test,” Bezos replied. “It’s only in Seattle. And if the customer experience is good, the economics — we’re still tinkering… It’s an expensive service to provide.” My ears perked up as Bezos explained that it’s a similar service to what HomeGrocer and WebVan tried 10 years ago. (If I remember correctly, both those businesses offered home-delivery of fresh groceries!) HomeGrocer was eventually bought by WebVan, and then WebVan was eventually bought…by Amazon. “It’s an expensive service to provide,” Bezos told the shareholders. “So we are — you know, we’re basically working on it here in Seattle, seeing if we can get it to work.”

“We like the idea of it, but we have very — you know, we have a high bar of what we expect in terms of the business economics for something like Amazon Fresh in terms of profitability and return on invested capital. So we continue to think about that.”

I had no idea Amazon was quietly working on a grocery-delivery business – but it proved that behind the scenes, Amazon is always quietly planning more big things. My favorite question came from the shareholder who noted that early in Amazon’s history, “there were several notable missteps, either partnerships or initiatives that just didn’t work out. But lately it seems like Amazon has been executing really well. And so my question is really about risk. Is it still Amazon’s philosophy to make bold bets?

“I would expect that maybe some of them wouldn’t work out, but I just, I’m not seeing that. So my question is where are the losers of the bold bets?”

“In a way,” answered Jeff Bezos, “that’s like the nicest compliment I’ve ever gotten!” Bezos acknowledged that the Kindle (and Amazon Web Services) have both worked out very well, saying some of Amazon’s success was luck, but that Amazon also has a lot of experience and knowledge. “Go back in time. We started working on Kindle almost seven years ago. And that is a very difficult — you know, there you’re just — you have to place a bet. Now these are not — if you place enough of those bets, and if you place them early enough, none of them are ever betting the company. By the time you’re betting the company, it means you haven’t invented for too long.

“If you invent frequently and fail — and are willing to fail, then you never get to that point where you need to bet the whole company.”

He told the audience that “We are planting more seeds right now. And I can guarantee you that everything we do will not work.” But he pointed out that when you stop investing in an idea that isn’t working, the company’s operating margins actually go up. So “My mindset never lets me get in a place where I think we can’t afford to take these bets, because the bad case never seems that bad to me.”

He was really on a roll now, and I found it very inspiring.


I think to have that point of view requires a corporate culture that does a few things. I don’t think every company can take that point of view… A big piece of what the story is we tell ourselves about who we are is that we are willing to invent. We are willing to think long-term. We start with the customer and work backwards. And very importantly, we’re willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time.

And I believe if you don’t have that set of things in your corporate culture, then you can’t do large-scale invention. You can do incremental invention, which is critically important for any company. But I think it’s very difficult if you’re not willing to be misunderstood. People will misunderstand — any time you do something big that’s disruptive – Kindle, Amazon Web Services – there will be critics.

And there will be at least two kinds of critics. There will be well-meaning critics, who genuinely misunderstand what you’re doing, or genuinely have a different opinion. And there will be self-interested critics who have a vested interest in not liking what you’re doing, and they will have reason to misunderstand. And you have to be willing to ignore both types of critics. You listen to them, because you want to see — always testing. Is it possible they’re right? But if you pull back and you say, “No, we believe in this vision.” Then you just stay heads-down, focused, and you build out your vision.

Free two-day holiday shipping on Kindle as a Father's Day gift

For the next two days, Amazon’s offering a special deal on new Kindles — free two-day shipping! They’re hoping to encourage customers to give Kindles as a last-minute Father’s Day gift, and they’ve extended this offer to any new model — the Kindle 3 (both the WiFi and 3G) versions, the cheaper Kindle with Special Offers, and even the Kindle DX. Since it’s an American holiday, the offer applies only in the (continental) United States, and of course it expires at midnight on Friday (Pacific Daylight Time). But it’s just one of several specials that Amazon’s offering for Father’s Day .

I was really impressed by some of the other new things that Amazon’s discounted for their countdown to the big Sunday holiday. For example, this week (through Friday) it’s “High-Def Week” in Amazon’s
“Gold Box” deals area. They’re discounting some great gift items — both high-definition video and related electronics — including HDTVs, video camera, Blu-Ray Players (plus movies and TV shows), and even video games! The free shipping on Kindles was sponsored by DeWalt — the Maryland-based manufacturer of power tools. But Amazon’s got some special offers all their own.

Every day at noon (Seattle time), Amazon reveals another big discount as their “deal of the day.” Monday it was an LCD TV screen, and for Wednesday it’s 28% off on a wearable, wide-angle (and high-definition) camera. On Thursday they’ve even slashed the price on a Blu-Ray box set of the first six Star Trek movies (which includes a bonus “Captain’s Summit” disc where actors William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy meet their counterparts from the “Next Generation” series — Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes).

Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock

And the last deal of the week is a set of tiny high-performance speakers from Mirage…

But I’m also really tempted by some of the other gadgets Amazon’s offering in their special “lightning deals” area. Every day for a few hours, a limited quantity of a certain item is sold at a steep discount — while Amazon tracks exactly how many seconds are left for the offer, and what percentage of the item has already been sold! Wednesday morning they sold an HD Blu-ray disc player for just $99, plus a 160-gigabyte PlayStation 3 for just $199.

It’s really got me wondering what they’re going to put on sale for Thursday and Friday!

Amazon Kindle gift card
It’s Amazon’s big finish. For nearly two months, they’ve been giving away prizes on Facebook — each one an example of something that’s eligible for Amazon’s “Prime” shipping program. The first gift was an Android tablet (made by Motorola), and they’ve also given away an expensive camera, an X-Box, and of course, a Kindle. The prizes were offered in alphabetical order, and this week, they’re up to the Z’s.

So this morning, Amazon announced that Z stood for the “Zillions of things” you can buy at Amazon.com. And the lucky winner of their last Facebook give-away will receive a $1,000 gift card…

To enter, just point your web browser to facebook.com/amazon. (Amazon requests your name, e-mail address, and a phone number.) But no matter who wins, it’s been fun to read the comments people left on Amazon’s Facebook page. “What would you use it for if you won?” Amazon asked. “How would you spend $1,000 on Amazon.com?”

   “DIAPERS!!! About to have a baby in 10 days!!! :)”

   “I’d buy my fiance a tablet & hook our bridal party up w/cute gifts :)”

   “Everything on my amazon wish list that no one else is buying for me”

   “I would buy…my fiance a new guitar, and finally I would get us a couch so we can stop sitting on the floor all the time.”

But a pattern quickly emerged. Even the Facebook user buying the couch also added that “I would buy myself a Kindle and a few ebooks.” In fact, even though Amazon received nearly 1,000 comments since they posted their entry, at least 14% of the comments specifically mentioned the Kindle!

   “Kindle books! Lots and lots of Kindle books….”

   “The possibilities are endless, but it sure would fill up my Kindle fast!!”

   “Kindle books and kitchen stuff! Lol!”

   “Four kindles and running gear”

It’s the ultimate what-if scenario — a shopping spree through Amazon’s endless virtual aisles. But often it was very touching to read the comments that people left. If they won the contest, many of the people hoped to use Amazon’s gift card to buy… gifts, for the other people that they loved.

   “I would buy my wife a wedding ring, since hers no longer fits due to weight loss and the ring is a custom made one that isn’t able to be sized down.”

   “I would gift it to our soup kitchen…”

   “I would get my holiday shopping done early and buy my family nicer presents that I can’t normally afford.

   “Then, of course, I’d treat myself to a Kindle!”

Yes, even as they reached for imaginary gifts in Amazon’s store — the gifts they’d most want to give — it was still the Kindle which kept popping into their minds.

   “a kindle for my friend’s genius kid.”

   “Kindle for my wife and I :)”

   “Kindle for my 8 year old daughter and books. She loves to read…”

   “First, I would get my eldest son a Kindle. After that – who knows!”

   “Kindles for my 3 girls and lots of books. My middle daughter just read 5 books the first week of summer vacation.”

   “I would buy my g-pa the new kindle and MORE BOOKS!”

   “get a kindle for my niece….and lots of books for us both!!!!!!”

   “Kindles for my daughters and books, books, books!!!!!!”

It reminded me of one of my favorite statistics. 47% of the people who own a Kindle say they received it as a gift (according to a study by the vice president of a company which watches the publishing industry). That sentiment was alive and clear in the comments today on Amazon’s Facebook page. A teacher in Kentucky posted she’d use the thousand dollars to buy “Kindles and books for my high school students! I won a grant to buy three Kindles, but an entire classroom set would be AMAZING!”

A woman in Michigan wrote “Kindles for my daughters and grandson, and books for everyone!!! :)”

A woman in Texas vowed she’d buy “Kindles and e-books for the whole family…”

“Books to read over the summer with my son,” posted one mother.”

“books. books, books and more books!” posted a woman in Florida. “oh, and i’d buy my grandma’s birthday gift….which would be a kindle, and some books:)”

Not everyone wanted a Kindle. But ultimately Facebook was still offering small glimpses into people’s lives — and the current state of their dreams.

   “Groceries, times are tough.”

   “Crayons!”

   “…quite possibly this Amazon tablet that I hear may be coming out soon.”

   “STUFF WE LOST WHEN OUR HOUSE BURNT DOWN”

The most poignant comment came from the man who posted that if he won Amazon’s gift card, “I would buy my wife a wedding ring, since hers no longer fits due to weight loss and the ring is a custom made one that isn’t able to be sized down.” But the take-away message from all the comments was that deep down inside, people still spend a lot of time thinking about their Kindles.

   “I would buy a Kindle along with a MOST AMAZING electronic library and my books for the Fall Semester — yes I’m back in school at 50 and loving it! Because I am being all that I can be ! ”

   “I’d finally get a Kindle and buy lots of Agatha Christie!”

   “Kindle Books that I have on my want list.”

   “kindle books and dog food.”

   “A kindle, e-books and a laptop!”

   “A brand new Kindle and a new SLR camera. ”

   “I would purchase another Kindle so that I won’t have to share mind with my grandson…”

   “The possibilities are endless, but it sure would fill up my Kindle fast!!”

Amazon's Jeff Bezos on the Kindle

Jeff Bezos doesn’t talk about “the Kindle.” Instead, he seems to say just “Kindle.” I spent an hour listening to the Amazon CEO speaking to shareholders, and I noticed this subtle difference. (“We started working on Kindle almost 7 years ago… When we launched Kindle less than four years ago, we launched Kindle with only 90,000 titles…”) So I went to the Kindle Boards — an online discussion forum about the Kindle — and asked the regulars if it sounded strange to them.

Someone offered a good explanation, that Bezos was referring not just to the device — the Kindle itself — but to Amazon’s entire project. (Like establishing the wireless connections, and creating an Amazon store filled with e-books.) Kindle is a brand — like Volkswagen or Pepsi — so while a single instance could be “my Kindle” (or “my Volkswagen” or “my Pepsi” ), you’re still talking about a larger concept — Volkswagen, Pepsi, and Kindle.

And of course, there were also some other funny responses in the forum.


it’s a great gadget, but it’s not some sort of celestial artifact that can be referred to only as “The Kindle.”

I always refer to it as “My Kindle”. -Just in case anyone gets any ideas about wanting to share

Honestly, around here it’s referred to as “that thing…you know…I read on it…THE THING…”

My Kindle is “Eleanor.”

It’s a question that may come up again. Amazon’s rumored to be building a new tablet-sized color Kindle — and if they do, they’ll have to come up with a good name for it. Today on a blog about Android devices, someone left a comment suggesting that they call it “The KPad.” And that’s probably catchier than if Amazon called it the A-Pad.

Maybe that just illustrates the problems you have trying to make names out of abbreviations. Even the word “blog” is an contraction that’s leftover from the early days of the internet, when online link aggregators were referred to as web logs. I heard that when the word was first coined, someone had joked that if you moved the space, it’d spell “we blog” — and the name stuck! (So does that mean that a Kindle blog is a…..Klog?)

It’s possible to think too much about where names might have come from, and someone once even argued that the name of this blog — “Me and My Kindle” — was terribly ungrammatical. (They posted “My Kindle and I, dummy,” as a comment on this blog’s page at Amazon.com). It took four months, but in April someone finally posted the perfect comeback.

“That depends if he is saying ‘My Kindle and I went shopping together,’ or ‘This blog is about Me and My Kindle!'”

Smiling Kindle with a smile on its face

Three authors sell one million Kindle e-books - Michael Connelly, Lee Child and Suzanne Collins

It’s been a big week. Monday Amazon announced two more authors passed the one-million mark for sales of their e-books in the Kindle Store. And then Thursday, another author passed the same milestone!

“As a storyteller it brings me particular fulfillment to know so many readers are receiving my work through the Kindle,” said mystery author Michael Connelly. “Added to that, my name is now on a list of an amazing group of writers. I am very proud of this moment.”

Until this week, only four authors had ever sold more than 1 million e-books in the Kindle Store. The first was the late Stieg Larsson (author of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”), and he didn’t reach his one millionth sale until July of last year. At the time, Amazon announced three more authors had crossed the 500,000-sales line — mystery authors James Patterson and Charlaine Harris, plus romance novelist Nora Roberts. Each of those authors then reached one million sales over the next 10 months.

              Stieg Larsson (July)
              James Patterson (October)
              Nora Roberts (January of 2011)
              Charlaine Harris (May of 2011)

But now there’s three more names to add to the list.

              Lee Child (June)
              Suzanne Collins (June)
              Michael Connelly (June)

Maybe it’s a sign that there’s more people now who own Kindles, so more e-books are getting purchased (meaning more authors join Amazon’s “Kindle Million Club.”) But there’s also a pattern here — something that some of these authors have in common. This April, Stieg Larsson became the only author to ever sell one million copies of a single e- book. (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”) But his famous mystery was just the first book in a complicated (and inter-linked) trilogy. So Larsson could’ve cracked the one-million-sales threshhold with just 333,333 dedicated fans who’d read each of his three books.

The same is also true for the Kindle’s newest million-selling authors. Suzanne Collins is the author of the “Underland Chronicles” — a five-part series of fantasy novels — plus “The Hunger Games,” a three-part series of “young adult” novels set in a pessimistic future. The first book in that series has already sold 1.5 million print copies (according to Wikipedia), and it stayed on the best-seller list of the New York Times for more than 60 weeks in a row. It’s very possible that some fans are purchasing every book in each series — eight different e-books — which would help push her faster towards the one million mark.

Amazon acknowledged this in a press release Monday. “Our Kindle customers are avid readers of series, and we’re excited to welcome Lee Child and Suzanne Collins to the Kindle Million Club,” said Russ Grandinetti, Amazon’s Vice President of Kindle Content. “With Kindle, readers can finish one book and start reading the next one within 60 seconds – a particularly valuable feature when reading a riveting series…”

But there’s another way to enter the “Kindle Million Club”: write a lot of books! James Patterson wrote 56 different books which were best-sellers (according to Wikipedia), and Nora Roberts has written over 200 romance novels (including a series of 40 books written under her pen name, J.D. Robb). In fact, Nora Roberts wrote four of the best-selling e-books in the Kindle store last year, according to Amazon, and in the first month of 2011 they announced that yes, she’d passed the one million mark with 1,170,53 in sales in the Kindle Store. Mystery author Lee Child has written at least 16 different novels, and Michael Connelly has actually written 17 mysteries just about his fictitious detective, Harry Bosch.

Connelly published yet another new mystery in April — and in March finally saw the release of a movie based on one of his novels. Amazon announced today that “With the recent movie adaptation of Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer and the publication of The Fifth Witness, it’s no surprise to see him join the ranks of other writers of popular series in the Million Club.” The statement came from Amazon’s Vice President of Kindle Content, who welcomed Connelly into the Kindle Million Club. And it’s been a lot of fun watching the other authors as they issue thankful quotes to Amazon.

“What a lovely and unexpected honor to be in such wonderful company,” announced Suzanne Collins, “and see my books reaching readers in this exciting new format.” And Lee Child had an even more personal story to tell. “I started writing at the same time Amazon first went live, back in 1995,” he remembers in Amazon’s press release, “and it has been a thrill to move forward together through the years and through the generations of new technology.”

“I’m really delighted to have hit this current milestone, and I look forward to many more together.”

Amazon logo for shareholder's meeting

It happened this morning — the once-a-year day when Seattle sees a big gathering of the people who hold Amazon’s stock. Amazon also broadcasts it on the web, and this year, I decided to listen in to see if I’d uncover any hidden truths. The event lasted for exactly one hour, and I was rewarded for my efforts by hearing a long presentation from the CEO of Amazon himself, Jeff Bezos.

And of course, he talked about the Kindle.

“Our vision remains the same: every book, ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds.”

Bezos said it’d be “incredibly cool” to achieve his vision of a “universal library,” adding “The team is a team of missionaries, and they’re working very hard on this.” He pointed out that the Kindle store now has almost a million books, showing that the number of e-books available in the store has nearly doubled each year.

            2008: 125,000
            2009: 275,000
            2010: 540,000
            2011: 950,00

I enjoyed the backstory he provided about why those numbers are important. “When we launched Kindle less than four years ago, we launched with only 90,000 titles. And by the way, that was incredibly hard work to get those 90,000 titles into e-book form — huge heavy lifting, working together with publishers to get that done. Three and half years later, we’re now at 950,000 titles.” And then the CEO of Amazon shared his own personal perspective. “For me, I rarely now come across a book that I want to read that isn’t available in Kindle format.”

“And by the way, that 950,000 figure doesn’t even include the millions of free pre-1923 out of copyright books that you can also read on your Kindle.”

He also bragged that e-books are now outselling printed books at Amazon — but there was an even bigger milestone. “One of the things that has happened as a result of that is that our book growth rates are now the greatest that we’ve seen in 10 years.” But the most startling thing about that was that even printed book sales were growing at Amazon. “Our physical book business still continues to grow every year. So we have a fast-growing Kindle business, layered on top of a growing physical book business, which is accelerating the growth rate of that combined business.

In fact, my favorite moment was probably when Jeff Bezos first stepped up to his microphone. “Good morning, everybody. Thank you very much for attending the annual shareholder meeting… It’s very much apperciated, the shareholders who take the time to come. We had 34… (He puts up the wrong slide.) Let’s see… No… Ah ha!”

Amazon annual sales data for 2010

“I think that that slide was worth waiting for.” (Laughter) “We had $34 billion in sales last year, and the unusual thing about that is the growth rate. 40% growth on that base of sales is very unusual.” That number had already been announced earlier in the year, but Bezos was very gracious about using the shareholder’s meeting to acknowledge all the efforts of Amazon’s 33,700 employees.

This is not something that CEOs accomplish. This is something that a broad team of people working very hard for a long number of years accomplishes. It’s not something that that team can even do in the current year. It’s something that that team works on year after year, laying a foundation that allows for that kind of growth at that kind of scale.

It’s difficult operationally. It’s difficult in terms of attracting customers to be able to support that level of scale, and the expansion plans that support it. So anyways, it’s something that I’m very proud of, and I’m very proud on behalf of this big team that made that happen.

With just five minutes left to go, one shareholder stepped forward with a question about Amazon’s vision for the Kindle. Not the long-term vision, but the now vision — their short-term and intermediate plans for improving the Kindle. “Well, you know,” replied Bezos, “our approach to electronic books, Kindle — it’s very straightforward, and we’ve been clear about our strategy. We want to have the best purpose-built e-reader. We want to have the best e-book store. And we want to have the best ecosystem, so that you can read where you want to.” He talked about how Amazon developed the WhisperSync capability so customers could continue reading their e-books (from right where they’d left off) on any device with a Kindle app. “And that ecosystem approach, we think, is the right one. Because again — we’re very simple-minded about this — it seems like what our customers would want.”

And then it was time for his big finish.

“With that I would like to thank all of you for being supportive shareholders. Thanks for being a part of what we’re doing. We’re excited about continuing our mission to be earth’s most customer-centric company — setting a new standard there — and being a role model for other companies who would like to start with customers and work backwards.”

50% off

I got a surprise when I visited Amazon.com this weekend. In orange letters, they informed me they were now were offering discounts of up to 50% off on “selected Father’s Day” gifts. (For a shortcut, just point your web browser to tinyurl.com/AmazonFathersDay). Sure enough, there’s gift-friendly categories like Small Appliances and Power Tools (as well as watches, cologne, and wallets). But there were discounts on items I could actually use myself, like a toaster over, a hand-held blender, a coffeemaker and popcorn popper!

Of course, their #1 best-selling gift item is still the Kindle (Amazon explains in big letters at the top of the page.) But there’s also special offers on DVDs and Blu-ray discs. (Another shortcut: tinyurl.com/AmazonBlurayDeals.) For example, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is just $7.99 on a Blu-Ray disc (or $10.49 as a DVD), and The Dark Knight on Blu-Ray is just $10.99 (or $7.47 for a DVD). Twilight: Eclipse is just $7.45. Caddyshack is just $4.99 (or $8.49 on Blu-Ray), and John Wayne’s version of True Grit is just $7.99.

It was like Amazon.com had suddenly become some kind of crazy bargain emporium. They’ve slashed the price on a Coleman Grill from $179.99 to just $111.26. There were 25% off deals on another classic gift item — an electric razor. And then I discovered that you can also save up to 50% every day in your own neighborhood — through a newly-launched service called “AmazonLocal”.

Amazon launched the service on Thursday by offering everyone in Boise a 50% discount on ice cream, and then a 50% discount the next day on go-kart racing! (“[W]e liked the idea of starting in a city that embraces fun,” Amazon told a local newspaper.) If you’d like to try the service yourself, just point your browser to amazon.com/local and then enter your Zip Code. Amazon promises you’ll save “at least 50% on local restaurants, spas, entertainment, and more,” with special offers that are delivered daily to your e-mail address.

Currently there are no offers available for my town, but hopefully Amazon will have some local discounts soon. And maybe someday, they’ll even get around to offering a discount on the Kindle!

Chelsea Handler's My Horizontal Life e-book on sale at Amazon

Amazon’s decided to celebrate summer by selling hundreds of e-books at a discount. “We’re kicking off Kindle Sunshine Deals,” they’re announcing now on Amazon.com, “with over 600 titles on sale for $0.99, $1.99, and $2.99 from numerous bestselling and award-winning authors.” There’s 160 different books that are on sale for just 99 cents, and 480 more that are on sale for less than $3.00. (228 e-books are on sale for just $1.99, and 252 e-books now sell for just $2.99.) “A good book and loads of sun — is there a better way to spend a summer day?” asks a post on Amazon’s Kindle blog.

The sale prices last until midnight on June 15th (PDT), though Amazon launched their special on the first day of June. “The books included in Sunshine Deals are all from small- to mid-sized publishers like Candlewick, Bloomsbury, Sourcebooks, and Tyndale House,” notes one article, adding “As far as we can tell, no e-books published by the ‘big six’ U.S. publishers (which use the agency model, setting their own prices for e-books on Amazon…)” They also make an interesting obvservation — that Amazon is also offering lower prices for pre-orders of two romance e-books (Soldier by Grace Burrowes for $2.99 and Wish You Were Here by Philippa Ashley for $1.99.) “Most book publishers have little experience experimenting with e-book pricing or marketing books directly to customers. We’re guessing that this promotion is serving as a test case for them to try out a range of low prices, particularly on older e-books (or, as in the case of the two books above, on books approaching their publication dates).”

Later an Amazon PR manager confirmed to the web site that the program is “an opportunity for publishers to test compelling pricing coupled with on-site merchandising” (adding “We’re excited about the number of publishers who are participating.” And I have to admit that there’s an interesting variety of books throughout these new bargain-priced titles. For example…

Slaughterhouse Five ($2.99)
Kurt Vonnegut’s classic is now available as a bargain-priced e-book (as is another famous Vonnegut book — Cat’s Cradle.)

My Horizontal Life ($1.99)
Chelsea Handler, the racy talkshow host on E!, tells funny stories about various one-night stands

Casino Royale ($2.99)
Ian Fleming’s original James Bond mystery (which for a while had fallen out of print)

Prince of Tides $2.99
Pat Conroy’s 1986 novel about overcoming a dysfunctional family was made into an Academy Award-winning movie

Promised Land ($1.99)
The fourth mystery in Robert B. Parker’s series of Spenser detective novels

A Death in China ($2.99)
In the early 1980s, Carl Hiaasen and William D. Montalbano wrote what one reviewer called a “fast-paced thriller that captures the real China”

Sophie’s Choice ($2.99)
The original William Styron novel which inspired Meryl Streep’s Oscar-winning movie in 1982.

Chaos: Making a New Science ($2.99)
James Gleick’s best-selling study of how science is being revolutionized by the concept of “chaos theory”

Raichlen’s Tailgating! (99 cents)
32 Righteous Recipes for On-the-Go Grilling from Steven Raichlen (the host of PBS’s “Primal Grill” and a former winner on Iron Chef)


In fact, there seems to be a “summer fun” theme running through many of Amazon’s bargain-priced picks. Besides a 99-cent e-book called “Mini Bar: Rum” (and additional 99-cent e-books for Whiskey, Vodka, and Tequila), there’s also a 99-cent e-book called the “Tropical Cocktails Deck” (where each “card” in the deck offers the reader a new drink recipe.) Amazon’s also advertising two books using a similar format — Massage Deck and The Kama Sutra Deck –and there’s even an e-book called XXX Porn for Women by the Cambridge Women’s Pornography Coop, though it’s more of a practical joke. (“Honey, I paid off our mortgage!” reads the caption on one photo of a fully-clothed man — and the book’s sub-title promises female readers that its subjects are not only hunkier, but also “More Helpful Around the House.”) According to the book’s description at Amazon.com, its authors “understand that sometimes a clean kitchen is hotter than a shower scene.” And they’ve also written a second e-book titled Porn for Women of a Certain Age.

There’s also something called Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno by Kazumi Nonaka, which turns out to be a non-fiction study of Japan’s pop culture (described as a “playful and thoroughly researched handbook”)
And surprisingly, Amazon’s list even includes an e-book that’s called Build this Bong: Instruction and Diagrams for 40 Bongs, Pipes, and Hookahs.

But one book I found particularly intriguing was The Official Chuck Norris Fact Book — written by the actor himself. He’s acknowleding a long-standing internet joke, where impossible stunts are attributed to the former action-movie star. (“Chuck Norris counted to infinity twice… Chuck Norris can slam a revolving door… Chuck Norris does not get frostbite; Chuck Norris bites frost!”) “For the past three years, I’ve been asked repeatedly to select my favorite Chuck Norris Facts…” he writes in a prologue. “So, finally, I’m happy to offer the world 101 of my favorite Facts, with my personal reflections on each… They’re sure to provide you with hours of laughter and encouragement.” He’s donating a share of its profits to kick-start.org, his own personal martial arts charity for children. And there’s even an illustration for each one of the 101 facts, followed by Norris’s own response. (Always starting with the words “Let’s be honest…”)

For $2.99, you can finally read Chuck’s own response to story of how he was bitten by a cobra, “and after five days of excruciating pain, the cobra died.”