August 30th, 2011
I was stunned when I read it. The ebook was only a few pages long — and nearly all of its text had been cut-and-pasted from somewhere else. Specifically, it came from Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia with a page about nearly everything — and everyone. Someone had looked up a popular celebrity, then transformed their Wikipedia page into a biography that they were selling as a digital ebook. For $18.95…
In my case, the celebrity was Charlie Sheen — but he’s not the only celebrity to be “honored” with a skimpy ebook biography. Amazon’s Kindle Store is filled with millions of wonderful books, but mixed into the virtual bookshelves are also hundreds of “quickies” which barely match the definition of a book. It’s a real shock when you first realize just how bad an ebook can get — and how far an author will go to earn a fast buck. In July, one blogger even discovered an author named George Andersen who’s produced nearly 900 different “derivative” ebooks in a quickie series that’s called “WikiFocus”.
Apparently this author cranked out 887 tiny tomes that were cut-and-pasted from Wikipedia about random topics that they’d hoped would be popular — including celebrities, TV shows, and even comic book characters. There’s small “WikiFocus” ebooks about Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, and Green Lantern — but also separate ebooks about lesser superheros like Supergirl, Catwoman, Aquaman, and the Archie comic strip! (Is the series a strange glimpse into the author’s psyche, or just an intense burst of pop culture paparazzi-ism?) Celebrities also got their own quickie ebooks, including Justin Bieber, Hulk Hogan, Eminem, and Hello Kitty. The author even tried writing a quickie ebook about the Flintstones cartoon series — but spelled “Flintstone” wrong in the ebook’s title!
Of the 887 ebooks, all but 10 earned terrible reviews, averaging one star or less — or received no reviews at all.
“This ‘book’ is just a word for word copy of the wikipedia page…”
“Total waste of money. Much shorter than any WIKI article.”
“It ends after 31/32 percent. The rest is just references.”
“worthless…a half cup of coffee would have been more worthwhile…I cannot prove it, but I seriously believe this is a 5th grader’s book report being peddled as ‘a commentary.'”
And there was even something suspicious about the 10 ebooks which earned positive reviews. Seven of the reviews were written by the same person — who had only written seven reviews, all of them about the WikiFocus series. And most of them were just a few sentences long — all of them enthusiastic, and all of them sounding generic.
“Highly recommended for anyone with an interest…”
“this is absolutley [sic] the book for you. Highly recommended…”
Most of these reviews received very negative ratings from other Amazon users. (“2 of 18 people found the following review helpful,” Amazon warns about one, which gushed that “all of the WikiFocus books I have read have been awesome material…”) That review even drew some nasty follow-up comments from other Amazon reviewers. (“You’re obviously just part of the SPAM machine, pimping out these shoddy publications that are just scrapes of free sources and sold to unsuspecting people. What a sad life you must lead…”) But undaunted, the WikiFocus fan continued leaving more positive reviews for other books in the series. (“I am not sure what the other reviewer was looking at, but this is a GREAT eBook…”)
Almost all of the “ebooks” sell for $1.99, and I was sad when I saw one reviewer who’d written “I wish i could get my money back.” You can get your money back! Amazon’s Kindle Store always let you return any ebook within seven days of purchasing it, according to Amazon’s official “Kindle Return Policies” page.
“Content you purchase from the Kindle Store is eligible for return and refund if we receive your request within 7 days of the date of purchase… To request a refund and return, click the Customer Service button in the Contact Us box in the right-hand column of this page to reach us via phone or e-mail.”
To help dissatisfied readers to reach that page, I’ve created a shorter URL — tinyurl.com/ReturnAnEbook — which should be easier to remember. I remember the reviewer who wrote “This book is a total waste of money.” If you really feel that way — go and get your money back!
If everyone did that, these authors wouldn’t have any reason to keep cranking out these quickie ebooks!
August 29th, 2011
I’m always inspired by the success of crime novelist John Locke. He’d already made millions of dollars in insurance and estate businesses. But he decided that next he’d like to become a best-selling ebook author — and then he did!
And last week, Locke notched another victory, when he signed a deal with Simon and Schuster to distribute print editions of his ebooks. “There are many paths from author to reader,” Locke said in a statement, “and any path that puts the reader first will be successful.” It’s a special moment when a traditional print publisher can join together with an ebook author, and Simon & Schuster’s vice president of client publisher services issued a statement showing the’d recognized that they shared a common goal. “We are very excited that we can now help to expand John’s readership to include those millions of readers who still savor the joys of sitting down for a few hours of entertainment with a traditional paperback book.”
Locke got their attention by becoming only the eighth author to sell one million ebooks in Amazon’s Kindle store in June, and the first one to do it as a self-published author! (“It’s so exciting that self-publishing has allowed John Locke to achieve a milestone like this,” Amazon’s Vice President of Kindle Content announced at the time, adding that they were “proud to welcome him to the Kindle Million Club.”) But I admire Locke just as much for the clever business decisions he’s made both before and after his success. Interestingly, Simon and Schuster is distributing the print editions of the books. But their publisher is going to be…John Locke. Print editions of his books will be be available by February “wherever physical books are sold,” according to last week’s announcement, but the publisher of all those printed editions will all be “John Locke books”!
And that wasn’t his only clever decision. John already had another book ready to go in June when he finally sold his millionth ebook in the Kindle store. It was called “How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months!”, and it’s still one of Amazon’s top 40 best-selling how-to books in the “Health, Mind, and Body” category (and the Self Help/Success category). In fact, it’s currently the #2,636 best-selling item in Amazon’s entire Kindle Store. And since he’s priced it at $4.99 a copy, Locke is earning a lot more than he did on his 99-cent crime novels.
But John also found another way to extend his success: he hired himself an agent. According to last week’s announcement, Locke was represented in the agreement by Jane Dystel of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, a firm whose client list boasts five different Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters, including B. D. Colen, Thomas Finch, and three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Walt Bogdanich. And they also represent actors Richard Dreyfuss and Valerie Harper, plus Yeardley Smith (the voice of Lisa on The Simpsons, TV personality “Judge Judy” — and U.S. President Barack Obama. Now they’ve added John Locke to their list of clients, and lined up an impressive Simon & Schuster distribution deal.
I liked how they described John’s own career on their “clients page. “John Locke attended Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana, went into insurance sales, and broke every company sales record, becoming an Area Vice President of the company by age 21. He moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where he built his own insurance company. At age 35, he purchased Consolidated American Live, changed the name to Freedom Life Insurance Company, and appointed more than 6,700 insurance agents in 34 states. He owns two insurance marketing firms and owns and operates 13 million-dollar-plus real estate entities.” And of course — he also sold one million ebooks in Amazon’s Kindle store.
But as impressive as it seems, remember that other authors have found big success in the world of ebooks. “It’s not the first time a self-published author has entered into a deal with a major publisher,” notes one technology site, citing reports of a $2 million deal for 26-year-old “paranormal romance” novelist Amanda Hocking. I think the real significance of both the Hocking deal and Locke’s own success is that they’ll inspire other authors to enter the world of self-publishing.
And who knows what original ideas we’ll see in the next round of self-published ebooks!
August 26th, 2011
A new financial analysis just reached a startling conclusion: That within five years, there will be 53.87 million Kindles (and other digital readers) in the world. “That’s a lot of e-reader devices,” says the Tech Journal South, a North Carolina magazine which bills itself as “the technology business publication for the Southeast region…” They argue that it’s not just books, but also newspapers and magazines that will soon be re-defining themselves for the coming digital age (plus the aftermath of a bad economy).
Of course, that begs another question that’s even more immediate: how many Kindles are there now? Amazon’s never released the number, but Business Week got an estimate from a research firm called ThinkEquity. They concluded that just last year Amazon may have sold “more than 8 million” Kindles — saying the Kindle probably accounted for 5% of all of Amazon’s 2010 revenue. And in 2009, one technology blog cited “a source close to Amazon” who reported that by December of 2009, Amazon had sold a total of 3 million Kindles.
If those two numbers are correct, then Amazon would have sold more than 11 million Kindles by January of 2011. (Another analyst reached a similar conclusion — estimating that last year Amazon sold 7.1 million Kindles.) But he also predicted that the number of Kindles sold would double by the end of 2011! It was at Barclays — the world’s 10th-largest banking and finance company — where analyst Doug Anmuth made the prediction: that Amazon would sell 12.3 million new Kindles this year. If he’s right, that would soon bring the total number of Kindles up to 23.3 million by the end of this December!
And then I stumbled across what’s probably the most interesting statistic of all. E-book reader sales are tripling every year — according to the chief marketing officer at a company that manufactures the “e-ink” displays (used by digital readers like the Kindle). Speaking at a conference in Silicon Valley, Sriram Peruvemba (of E Ink Holdings) said “This technology has already emerged and it is in the mass market.” He’s got some real statistics to back it up — Last year his company generated sales of $650 million, and this year they’re predicting their revenues will surpass $1 billion. And the market research firm which held the conference even estimated that this year we’d see sales of close to 27 million Kindles and Nooks and other devices with e-ink screens.
I think it’s time to accept the fact that we’re seeing a revolution. (About 12% of the population already has a digital reader, according to an article in Venture Beat, vs. 8% with a tablet computer and 83% with a cellphone.) They also offered at least one tangible technical reasons for the popularity of the e-ink format. A device with an LCD screen expends 26% of its power on its screen — versus just 5% for the display on an e-book reader.
But my favorite part was their predictions for a future where e-ink screens aren’t used just for digital readers. Sriram Peruvemba says they could also be used for digital watches, cellphones, and even perfume bottles. One of the most interesting ideas is an electronic music stand that could display different pages of sheet music. And of course, it’s only a matter of time before even our public schools start thinking about the possibility of digital textbooks.
The Kindle is here to stay – and as time goes on, it’s only going to get even more popular…
August 24th, 2011
Remember how exciting it was? Amazon’s announced a temporary price reduction on a handful of special ebooks at least twice this summer — and now they’re going to do it every single day!
In July, Amazon announced “The Big Deal” — over 900 ebooks with prices between 99 cents and $3.99. And in June, they’d announced “Sunshine Deals” — 600 titles priced between 99 cents and $2.99. But today, Amazon announced that special prices have become an everyday thing at Amazon. “Each day, we’re unveiling one Kindle book at a specially discounted price!”
“Check back daily to see what’s next!”
The deals will appear on a special web page at amazon.com/kindledailydeal. Amazon will also post an announcement about the special deals each day on the Kindle’s Twitter feed, and you’ll also see them mentioned often on the blog of Amazon’s Kindle editors, Kindle Daily Post, as well as on the Kindle’s page on Facebook. The deals “go live at approximately 12:00 a.m. Pacific time,” according to Amazon, and they’ll run for exactly 24 hours. The deals just started today, but they’ve already been creating some excitement.
Within one hour, nearly 300 people on Facebook had already clicked the “Like” icon for Amazon’s announcement of the daily deals on the Kindle’s Facebook page. “Can’t wait to take advantage of some of these deals…” wrote one new Kindle owner in a comment below the announcement. “so happy you’re doing this!” added a student in Massachusetts. And another commenter was so enthusiastic, their biggest question was what took Amazon so long?
“About darned time!” they wrote. “Amazon does Daily Deals for every other department. One for Kindle books seemed like a no-brainer.”
I thought it was sweet that Amazon launched the program with an ebook for young readers — The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. It’s by author Kate Dicamillo, who had already won a Newbery award for Because of Winn-Dixie, her story about a scruffy dog who touched the lives of a family in Florida. Six years later, she wrote this similarly inspirational novel about a porcelain rabbit, floating away from its original owner when it’s lost over the side of a boat. “Along the way, Edward learns to love the people he encounters,” writes the School Library Journal. “He also learns that family members can be cruel to one another; that hobos have family that they love dearly and don’t want to forget; that no matter how much you love someone, she may still die; and that no matter what happens in life, never give up on love.”
“I will not be downloading this book as I don’t want to soak my Kindle with my tears!” one reader posted on the Kindle’s Facebook page. But most of the other comments were very enthusiastic.
“One of my favorite books ever!”
“If you have kids get this book!”
“My son read this book in first grade and adored it.”
And one schoolteacher even left a comment which I thought was very compelling. “I have been teaching for 13 years and every year the kids just love this book. I love the lesson of the book, all the characters and her writing style. BUY it and give it her a try.” But if you’re not interested in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, don’t worry.
Because Amazon will have another ebook on sale tomorrow!
August 22nd, 2011
A funny thing happened when I called my local AT&T store. “AT&T doesn’t carry the Kindle,” their sales clerk told me. (Adding “Sorry about that…”) But he was contradicted by a new press release on AT&T’s web site. Five months ago, in March, Amazon started distributing their 3G Kindle through the thousands of AT&T Stores across America. And yesterday represented another step forward, as AT&T Stores also began carrying the Kindle with Special Offers!
I’m assuming the sales clerk just made a mistake at my local AT&T store. (Even though when I went down to the store, another sales clerk told me the same thing.) She even checked with her manager, and then came back with the same response. “We haven’t heard anything,” she told me. Then she suggested I try Barnes and Noble!
Now I was sure she was confused. But AT&T representative explained that it was just as much my mistake. “That’s an affiliate store,” explained AT&T spokesperson Seth Bloom. While they’re an “authorized retailer,” they’re not necessarily selling every product that you’d find in an official AT&T Store. So while they’re Kindle is available at over 2,200 AT&T Stores around the country – it may not be available if your local store is just an AT&T affiliate.
In fact, there’s so many places where you can go to buy a Kindle now, that I’m starting to lose track! In the U.S., they’re available in the chains of big “box stores” like Target, Staples, Best Buy, and Radio Shack. In Australia, the same thing is happening, with the Kindle available for purchase in three more big chains — Dick Smith, Big W, and Woolworths. And it was just last August that Amazon finally opened an online store for the U.K.. “Previously, UK Kindle owners had to get their device shipped from the US,” remembers a British newspaper, “with subsequent book purchases retailed in dollars!”
Of course, AT&T has a special stake in the Kindles, since they’re also providing the network coverage for the 3G Kindle. Amazon pays AT&T between $3 and $4 a month for every Kindle that connects to their network, according to an estimate by one New York technology analyst. (And in addition, throughout America, AT&T is also the exclusive network provider for both the Nook and the Sony Reader.) This means that behind the scenes, most of the ebooks that are delivered to digital readers are travelling across AT&T’s network. And they’ve already created a page on the AT&T web site with their own pitch for the Kindle 3G
Read longer, less eye strain
True mobility – Only 8.7 ounces so you can take it anywhere
Long battery life
Kindle eBook store – More than 900,000 books…plus periodicals, blogs, and over 1.8 million free out-of-copyright books
Read to me – New experimental Text-to-Speech feature in selected eBooks reads English language content out loud
Kindle Book lending…
I don’t know why I felt so happy when I heard there’d be more Kindle appearing in my local AT&T store. Maybe it’s because it just makes it easier for more people to join in on the fun of owning a Kindle.
That is, if AT&T can actually get the Kindles into their store!
August 19th, 2011
A very funny skit just aired on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Returning from a commercial break, Stewart switched to a cultural news story — the demise of Borders bookstores — in a knowing, affectionate segment with a contrary look at writers and book-sellers.
JON STEWART: Books! You know them as the thing Amazon tells you “You might be interested in…” when you’re buying DVDs. But did you know books used to be available in what were called… “bookstores”? Well they were…
FOX NEWS: The bookstore chain Borders is going out of business.
CBS NEWS: Borders just could not keep up with 21st century technology and trends.
CBS NEWS: The latest brick-and-mortar victim of a digital age…
JON STEWART: Borders! Now where am I going to return all my guests’ books for store credit?!
For more we turn to resident expert John Hodgman! Now let me ask you, how can — how can the beloved bookstore, an institution, compete with downloading and mail order books?
JOHN HODGMAN: Well, Jon, it’s not going to be easy. People have gotten used to the convenience of having books delivered right to them. If bookstores want to compete, they have to give the customer a better home experience than they can get in their own homes.
JON: So you’re saying re-create…
HODGMAN: Exactly, Jon.
JON: I didn’t finish what I was saying. The — the…
HODGMAN: I wasn’t listening.
HODGMAN: What I’m talking about is getting rid of all those old-fashioned bookshelves, and replace them — with beautiful, well-appointed downloading pods. Book-lovers simply seal themselves inside, strip down to their underwear, pick up a cold slice of pizza, and start downloading the great works of literature… It’s all the fun and isolation of home, with the inconvenience of a 20-minute car ride.
JON: There’s stuff bookstores can do…
JON: …that the internet can’t!
HODGMAN: Oh, you mean like shelter the homeless?
JON: I’m talking about having authors visit stores!
HODGMAN: Oh, well now we’re just splitting hairs. The reality is, there’s nothing more depressing than seeing some pasty shut-in author bare his soul in front of a half-filled row of folding chairs. Believe me, I know! (Picture of John Hodgman appearing at a Borders bookstore)
JON: So what — what is the alternative to this?
HODGMAN: Well, instead of hosting readings, why not host exciting live writings? Bring the author in, tie him to a desk, and make him write a novel to order. Customers can shout out their own ideas while pelting the writer with $4.00 scones. It’ll be fun! George R. R. Martin not finishing that new “Game of Thrones” book fast enough for you? Well maybe some hot chai latte down his neck will speed him up. (Picture of angry reader dumping latte on the bearded author)
JON: You know, I’m not sure a lot of authors would agree to that sort of thing.
HODGMAN: Well, Jon, I think you’re underestimating authors’ desire for free chai. And, the occasional human touch.
JON: But see, that brings up an interesting point. What about the human element? Bookstores build a personal relationship with their customers you simply cannot get from a computer. There are, uh, employee interactions, employee recommendations…
HODGMAN: Oh yes, yes. Thank you. Employee picks. Thank you, pudgy neck-beard counter guy, for clueing me in to Philip K. Dick — again. What’s the matter, are you sold out of Confederacy of Dunces this week…? But you do raise a good point, Jon. Bookstores employ a very special class of condescending nerd. These are the types of people who used to work at video stores (before they went under).
JON: Where were they before that?
HODGMAN: Record stores, obviously. It’s been a tough couple of years for condescending nerds. And if bookstores fall, Jon, America will be inundated with a wandering, snarky underclass of unemployable purveyors of useless and arcane esoterica.
JON: I’m not sure I understand.
HODGMAN: No, well you wouldn’t.
JON: You seem to hate bookstore employees.
HODGMAN: Oh, I loathe them, Jon. They shelved my books under “Humor”, Jon! Not “Witticism”, as I asked! I ask you, do I look like Marmaduke to you?
JON: (Laughing stupidly) Marm– Marmaduke is a very big dog. Hee hee hee hee hee! Hee hee! Ahh! Ahh…
HODGMAN: Pathetic. We have to face facts, Jon. The big-box bookstore has passed into history. And that’s something we should embrace and be proud of. By preserving Borders as a popular historical attraction.
JON: Like, uh, colonial Williamsburg?
HODGMAN: Well yeah, exactly! Bring the kids down to Ye Olde Borders Towne! Let them see what it felt like to paw through a clearance bin of Word-a-Day calendars. Or sneak a peek at pornography printed on actual paper! Right there on the giant rack of weird magazines you’ve never heard of. Including my personal favorite, Bookstore Magazine Rack Aficionado magazine.
JON: You know, I think a bookstore preserve might appeal to a — a very small market.
HODGMAN: Well, it can’t be smaller than the market of people who buy books anyway! This is what it’ll be like. (Puts on a colonial hat) “Hey! Gather round, young ‘uns, and come see how we used to sell this here itty bitty book light. Because in the One-nine-eighties, pages didn’t glow, and eyestrain was a sign of wealth!
JON: Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll be right back.
August 18th, 2011
Someone asked me what’s the best place to find free e-books for the Kindle. And I always say Amazon has their own page filled with links to the biggest free e-book sites around the web! “We wanted to make it easier to find these collections, which today represent nearly 2 million titles,” Amazon explains on the web page. (I’ve created a shortcut to the page — just point your web browser to amzn.to/oy4b9F.)
But the page also offers Amazon’s list of “special” ebook offers — all those ebooks which are “temporarily free” or reduced in price as part of a limited-time promotion. You can sort this list by price — from lowest to highest — so only its free ebooks are all listed at the top. I’m always impressed by the variety of ebooks available on the site. (Just browsing through it today, I found three more that I couldn’t resist buying!)
And of course, there’s another way to browse for free ebooks. Amazon also offers their own list of the Top 100 best-selling free ebooks. I’ve made another short URL so it’s easier to remember — tinyurl.com/100freekindlebooks. Of course, you can also access Amazon’s free ebook list on your Kindle. (Just select “Shop in the Kindle store,” and on its front page choose “Kindle Top Sellers.” By default Amazon lists the top 100 paid ebooks, but if you click on the link at the upper-right of your screen, you can switch to Amazon’s list of the “Kindle Top 100 Free!”)
Here’s a quick sampling of some of the great free ebooks that are available today.
Bruce Willis launched his career starring in an ’80s TV series called Moonlighting. But in 2000 his sexy co-star, Cybill Shepherd, finally told her own wild life story. (“Nobody kisses and tells like Cybill Shepherd,” gushed the New York Daily News.) Her memoir tells tales about Elvis Presley, Hollywood, and of course, Bruce Willis. But the book triggered an especially convincing response from a reviewer on Amazon, who wrote simply “I truly loved this book. I laughed out loud many times…”
Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith #1: Precipice
This intriguing sci-fi book takes place in the world of the Star Wars trilogy — and judging from the book’s description on Amazon.com, it’s just as complicated. (The novel promises “the untold story of the FATE OF THE JEDI’s forgotten Sith castaways, their battle to survive, and their quest to re-conquer the galaxy!”) It’s the first book in a series — in fact, book seven was just released four weeks ago. But best of all, every single novel in this series is entirely free.
Hunting bin Laden
War correspondent Rob Schultheis remembers his first encounter with al-Qaeda back in 1984 — “an encounter that came within a split second of costing me my life.” A full 24 years later, he explored the story of why the U.S. wasn’t able to capture their most-wanted terrorist. Schultheis writes for the top American news magazines, including Time, The New York Times Magazine, and Smithsonian (as well as The Washington Post), so he approaches his story with the zeal of a real investigative journalist. The book was published in 2008, but it’s fascinating to read the conclusion he reached: that Osama bin Laden was receiving sanctuary from the nation of Pakistan.
Letters to President Obama
What’s most fascinating about this book is that it was published in April of 2009 — just months after the euphoria that surrounded Barack Obama’s inauguration. The publishers hailed their book as “a symbol of this exciting moment in history,” promising “the range of emotions and aspirations Americans are willing to share…” There’s over 400 letters “from Americans of all walks of life,” and regardless of how you feel about the President, it’s an interesting peek back into time with perfect 20/20 hindsight. The book is really more about the Americans who chose to share their thoughts in the first months of the new Presidency, and Publisher’s Weekly ultimately called it “a fitting tribute to the thoughts, dreams and efforts of the populace.”
Escape from the World Trade Center
It’s been nearly 10 years since the World Trade Center collapsed — but it’s a day that’s remembered intensenly by someone who was there. “The former insurance executive shares what she saw and endured as she struggled down 36 floors in a doomed and dying building and away from a life focused on perks, prestige, and power,” reads the book’s description. It was published just two weeks ago, but Amazon already lists this book as their #1 best-seller in the nonfiction subcategory for “Religion and Spirituality,” since (according to the book’s description) it touches on “God’s compassionate presence in the midst of inscrutable tragedy.” One reader who reviewed the book on Amazon called it “Heart Wrenching and Mesmerizing at the same time.”
Sometimes Amazon’s free ebooks are an unpredictable grab bag of new and older ebooks, written by both amateur and professional writers. For example, today I noticed there was even a free Harlequin romance (called “Once Upon a Cowboy”) plus several titles that look like flat-out adult erotica by a newer class of writers. There’s a lot of books on Amazon’s “free ebook” lists that I’d never want to read, but it still makes me smile to see them all out there, each one struggling bravely to find their own audience. I guess it just affirms my sense that when you own a Kindle, there really is something for everybody to read.
And at least in Amazon’s free ebook section — you really can’t complain about the price!
August 16th, 2011
Amazon announced today that two more authors had crossed the “one million mark” for their ebooks sales in the Kindle Store. But this time it’s different — for a couple of reasons — and there’s also two fascinating stories about the authors who earned the honor.
Amazon’s newest million-selling author is 68-year-old Janet Evanovich — who’s been writing the popular “Stephanie Plum” series of novels for more than 17 years. The world of digital information had barely existed when Evanovich published her first “Plum” book back in 1994 (when she was 51), but it already represented a big change in her career. She’d started her career seven years earlier, publishing her first novel — a romance — back in 1987. But according to Wikipedia, “After finishing her twelfth romance, however, Evanovich realized that she was more interested in writing the action sequences in her novels rather than the sex scenes.”
Looking around for inspiration, Evanovich ultimately based Stephanie Plum on the bounty hunter played by Robert De Niro in the 1988 comedy Midnight Run, and even followed some real-life bounty hunters to learn about their jobs. (Interestingly, Robert De Niro had also followed real-life bounty hunters to prepare for his role — and 22 years later, was preparing a sequel!) And Hollywood is also finally working on a film adaptation of Evanovich’s own Stephanie Plum novels, staring actress Katherine Heigl (from Grey’s Anatomy) in the title role.
“My books have pizza and cussing and sexy guys,” Evanovich later joked about her formula — and it’s earned her a huge audience of loyal followers. Each of the last 11 books in her series debuted at the #1 spot on the New York Times best-seller list, according to Wikipedia. In fact, according to Amazon’s press release, Evanovich’s latest Plum novel, Smokin’ Seventeen, spent over 100 days on the Kindle Best Seller list — even though it was released just 56 days ago! Before the book was even available, Evanovich’s loyal readers had pre-ordered so many copies, the she obtained “best-seller” status for a full 44 days before the book was even released!
When she heard the news about the million-ebook club, Evanovich made sure to thank her readers, saying she was grateful “and looking forward to reaching more milestones with them and with Amazon in the years to come.” And she added that it was a very exciting distinction, saying “I’m thrilled to join such a talented group of writers who’ve also reached this million-copy milestone.” But when Amazon tracked her down for their press release her first reaction was a simple one-word interjection. “Wow!”
Of course, it’s easier to join the million-sellers club when you’ve written a lot of books — but author Kathryn Stockett did it the hard way. She published her first and only book, The Help, just two years ago — and 30 months later, she’d already sold over a million copies in the Kindle Store. “Kathryn Stockett is the first debut novelist to join the Million Club,” announced Amazon’s Vice President of Kindle Content, saying Kindle customers “were highly engaged with her book right from its publication.”
There’s also another interesting statistic about Stockett’s novel: it’s sold around 5 million copies (according to an article published Thursday in an Atlanta newsweekly). That means that Kindle ebooks accounted for almost 20% of her sales! “It’s as exciting to see Kindle readers propel a new author’s career as it is to see them add to the success of a long-time Amazon best-selling author like Janet Evanovich,” noted Amazon’s Vice President of Kindle Content. And it’s an even more inspiring story, since her book’s manuscript was originally rejected more than 50 times.
“After graduating from the University of Alabama with a degree in English and Creative Writing, she moved to New York City where she worked in magazine publishing and marketing for nine years,” Amazon explained in their press release. But there’s another story behind her novel about the maids in a household in Jackson, Mississippi. “I was born in Jackson, Mississippi,” Stockett remembered in an autobiographical article in the Daily Mail, “in 1969, in a time and place where no one was saying, ‘Look how far we’ve come,’ because we hadn’t come very far.” It was just days before her novel was finally published, and she acknowledged her fond memories of the housekeeper who’d looked after her as a child, then writes “I am ashamed to admit that it took me 20 years to realise the irony of that relationship. I’m sure that’s why I wrote my novel, The Help – to find answers to my questions, to soothe my own mind about Demetrie…”
Her story instantly touched the hearts of millions of readers around the world — and her life has been a whirlwind ever since. Last week a movie adaptation of book (starring Emma Stone) appeared in theaters all across America.
And it’s currently the #1 best-selling book in Amazon’s Kindle store.
August 15th, 2011
Amazon just released a special “Fall Books Preview” page, highlighting the best upcoming books “In anticipation of a season of blockbuster authors and dazzling new voices…” You can pre-order all of them now, and it looks like a pretty impressive list! I don’t normally get excited about new releases, these are authors that I’ve actually heard of — including Stephen King, Michael Lewis, and Neal Stephenson! And there’s also some tantalizing new mystery/thriller books coming out from authors like John Grisham, Janet Evanovich, and Sue Grafton…
“We hope our customers are as excited about our Fall Books Preview list as we are…” said Chris Schluep, one of the senior book editors at Amazon — and I couldn’t help noticing their “upcoming” highlights include some of the best-selling authors on the Kindle. This fall will see new books by Nora Roberts, Michael Connelly, and Lee Child, which is significant. They’re three of only eight authors who have already sold more than one million ebooks in Amazon’s Kindle Store!
Michael Connelly is releasing a new “Harry Bosch” mystery on November 28 called The Drop — and thanks to pre-order sales, it’s already become one of the top-400 best-selling books on Amazon! (The Kindle edition will cost the same as the hardcover edition — $14.98 — and the audiobook version will cost nearly $20!) And Lee Child will also release a new novel about her own detective, Jack Reacher, this one called “The Affair” (available September 27). At this moment, it’s the #71 best-selling book on Amazon — again, due entirely to pre-orders.
But Nora Robert is actually releasing two new books this fall — under two different names! She’ll release The Next Always (the first book in her “Inn BoonsBoro” trilogy) on November 1, and its own pre-order sales have already pushed it to the #214 spot on Amazon’s list of the best-selling books. If you just can’t wait, she’s also publishing a thriller under her pseudoynum, J.D. Robb. It’s called New York to Dallas (In Death), and it’ll be released on September 13th. (Right now it’s ranked at #280 on Amazon’s list of the best-selling books, thanks again to pre-orders!)
Stephen King’s new book is called “11/22/1963,” and I like the way Amazon described it. “King has killed a lot of people in his novels. In this one, he sends a man back in time to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy…” (It will be released, fittingly, in November…) And the new book by Neal Stephenson is called Reamde: A Novel, which Amazon describes as “a high-stakes espionage thriller about a wealthy tech entrepreneur caught in the very real crossfire of his own online fantasy war game!” (It’s available on September 20th.)
I’m really impressed with the way these books have stormed Amazon’s best-seller list — several months before they’ve even been released! On November 22nd, Janet Evanovich is publishing a new Stephanie Plum mystery called Explosive Eighteen, but it’s already one of the top 80 books on Amazon’s best-seller list. John Grisham’s also released a new legal thriller called The Litigator, and it’s currently in the #113 spot. Even Sue Grafton has a new Kinsey Millhone mystery coming out in November, called V is for Vengeance. There’s a lot to choose from!
“We love connecting readers with books we hope they’ll love,” Amazon said in a statement, “whether it’s a masterly literary debut, the perfect holiday cookbook, or the latest page-turner for those first chilly autumn nights.” The selections were made by the book editors at Amazon.com, who claim they’ve identified “the best fall titles for readers of all tastes across literature, mysteries, science fiction, nonfiction, children’s books and more.”
August 11th, 2011
I’ve become a fan of Amy Rutberg — the blonde actress who appears in Amazon’s newest Kindle ads. But I was curious to see what she’s done besides those 30-second Kindle commercials. And then I discovered a surprisingly candid video she’d filmed of herself backstage during a performance in a New York theatre! (Point your web browser to http://tinyurl.com/AmyRutberg ). Watching it, I felt a little like the Kindle ad paparazzi. But I guess it’s all part of the job…
When she was chosen for Amazon’s Kindle ad, Amy Rutberg was a stage actress. (Though according to the Los Angeles Times, years ago she’d considered going to law school after college…) And even before the Kindle ad, she’d already had an interesting career. She appeared in an L.A. theatre production of “Man of La Mancha” which started Robert Goulet, as well as a Los Angeles production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and she once did a scene with Jeff Goldblum on an episode of Law and Order. And once she even played Helen Keller in a parody of bad Broadway musicals!
But this fall, Amy appeared in a New York stage play billed as a “holy outrageous new comedy” called “The Divine Sister.” One site described it as an “outrageous comic homage to nearly every Hollywood film involving nuns: The Song of Bernadette, The Bells of St. Mary’s, The Singing Nun and Agnes of God.” A convent’s Mother Superior was played in drag by Charles Busch — who also wrote the play’s script. His other plays include “Psycho Beach Party” and “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom” — and Amy Rutberg played a character named “postulant Agnes”.
The play had caught the attention of Playbill — an influential monthly magazine that’s passed out at most major theatre productions (with a special inset providing the cast of each play). And last November, they gave Amy a flip camera just so that she could film a backstage tour of the production for their web site! “Hi Playbill!” she says, sounding exactly like her character in the Kindle commercial. Talking fast and enthusiastically, Amy holds the camera just a little too close to her face, and announces “Welcome to The Divine Sister! I’m Amy Rutberg, and I play Agnes. So come on in! I’m going to show you what it’s like to have a typical Thursday…”
Four months later, in March, the play closed after 253 performances and an eight-month run in a 199-seat theatre. But The New York Times had called Amy’s performance in the play “delightful”, and Backstage magazine said she gave her character “an appropriately off-kilter spin.” In an apparent parody of Meg Tilly’s role in “Agnes of God,” Amy played a postulant “possessed by visions and voices,” and Curtain Up magazine hinted that her character ultimately “develops something of a Jeckyll and Hyde persona…” And in this video, Amy’s preserved that magical moment in time when the play was in the middle of its run — and at least part of the video was shot backstage during an actual performance! (To watch part 2 of the video, point your web browser to http://tinyurl.com/AmyRutberg2 ).
It all feels very authentic, especially before the production when Amy carries the camera to show the view that the actors are seeing from the stage. “I mean, we can’t really see people in the audience because it is, um, pretty dark, but we can see these lucky audience members who are in our pews,” she says — though as part of the production, the first row of comfortable theatre seats were actually replaced with authentic wooden pews. “I don’t know if you can tell, but they’re only a foot and a half in front of us. So the good news is, you know, they get to see it all up close and personal,” Amy jokes. “But the bad news is, I bet they get spit on quite a bit!”
I don’t know if Amazon discovered Amy through this play — or even because of this video. But it’s fun to watch the actress just months before she appeared in a major TV ad campaign. The cast greets Tyler Furgeon (from the TV show “Modern Family”) who’d been out in the audience that night. And at the end of the video, Amy tells the camera at the end that it was “A special night because it was my birthday. We’re just having a great time.”
And then she’s seen blowing out candles and making a wish…
August 10th, 2011
It seemed like a big announcement. “For over two years, Amazon has been offering a wide selection of free Kindle reading apps that enable customers to ‘Buy Once, Read Everywhere’…” Amazon explained in a press release. “Today, Amazon.com announced Kindle Cloud Reader, its latest Kindle reading application that…enables customers to read Kindle books instantly using only their web browser – online or offline – with no downloading or installation required!”
But I discovered a big surprise when I tried to download it — I couldn’t! “Your web browser isn’t supported yet,” read a warning at read.amazon.com. I was using the Firefox web browser, but I got the same message when I tried accessing the page using Internet Explorer. “Download Chrome or Safari below,” Amazon’s web page suggested. And that’s when I realized exactly what Amazon was up to…
Their new application only works with three browsers — Apple’s Safari browser for the iPad, and Apple’s Safari browser for the Mac (and PC), plus the Chrome browser from Google, which works with both Mac and PC systems (and Linux and Chromebook). And as Amazon points out on the web site for their new “cloud reader,” the Safari browser is even built into the iPad’s operating system already!
It’s a way to sell ebooks directly to iPad owners, instead of having them make their purchases from Apple’s iBookstore. “Kindle Cloud Reader will be available on additional web browsers,” Amazon promised in their announcement today, “including Internet Explorer, Firefox, the BlackBerry PlayBook browser, and other mobile browsers, in the coming months.” But there’s obviously a good reason why Amazon started with the Apple products first.
“Apple wants companies to sell their content through its iTunes system, where it gets a 30 percent cut,” reports an article at ABC News. So new services like the Kindle Cloud Reader let Amazon sell directly to iPad owners. PC World called it an “uprising” against the Apple App Store, and it turns out Amazon’s not the only company using this tactic. “Other developers and publishers, such as The Financial Times, have chosen to abandon (or at least cripple) their iOS apps in order to keep more money from their sales and not split it with Apple.”
It’s easier to offer a web-based alternative when you’re a big retailer with lots of customers who’ve already given you their credit card information. For example, Wal-Mart wanted to offer online movies through a web site named Vudu, but they also discovered taht they weren’t able to send them to the iPad. The movies were being sent in the Flash format, which isn’t supported by Apple’s iPad. So today, like Amazon, Wal-Mart unveiled their own web-based application…for watching movies!
I loaded up Amazon’s cloud reader so I could take a screenshot, and it does look like it offers a nice reading experience.
Amazon claims the book-purchasing capability in their new cloud reader is “To make it easy and seamless to discover new books.” But of course, it also makes it easier to buy those books, which is what Amazon’s really interested in!
August 9th, 2011
I just got a message from the woman in Amazon’s Kindle commercial! I’d told her that I finally saw her third Kindle commercial for the first time on Friday night – and it almost made me want to buy a second Kindle! She wrote back, “happy to hear that, and next time buy that second kindle.
“You can keep it in your other pocket!”
It all started with a simple question. “Who’s that woman in Amazon’s newest Kindle commercial?” I’ve been asked this a few times, so I finally searched the web for an answer. The name of “that blonde woman” is Amy Rutberg, and it turns out there’s some surprising and funny stories online about her life before the Kindle ad.
Plus as far as I can tell, in real life she’s already using a Kindle!
On March 18th — before Amazon’s first ad even aired — Amy mentioned her Kindle in a status update on Twitter. (“It’s so nice outside, taking my kindle and playing hooky! Will return from my staycation by 7:30. #nicetobeanactress #springfever”) More than a month later, on April 25th, she tweeted nervously while waiting for the broadcast of that first Kindle commercial. “1st person to let me know what channel they see it on wins a prize…not a knidle sadly…”
Amy is 29 years old, a professional actress who recently moved back to Los Angeles from New York. (And two weeks from this Wednesday, she’s leaving on her honeymoon in Rome!) She may seem a bit ditzy on that Kindle ad, but in real life, she’s surprisingly intelligent. Amy actually started college at the age of 13, according to one online profile, and by the age of 15 she’d transferred to UCLA as a junior, making her one of the youngest students ever accepted to the college!
“When not performing on stage I can be found playing poker, not finishing a screenplay, shopping for the perfect pair of boots or reading my Kindle ;-)” she jokes on her Twitter feed. But when that famous Kindle ad finally aired, her mother stumbled across a blog post where her daughter was described as “hot but 2 skinny”. According to another funny Twitter update, Amy remembers that her mother said “they must have u mistaken 4 tmobile girl”. Amy then added a very special Twitter tag at the end of her post — #thanksmom.
Amy was a little ditzy when she was a little girl back in the early 1980s — at least according to a funny profile in the Los Angeles Times. They remember that “At 3, she said, she had to be carried away screaming after a production of ‘Peter Pan’ because she was certain Peter would be back to fly her to Neverland.” At the age of 16, she was cast as Eliza Doolittle in a production of “My Fair Lady” at L.A.’s prestigious Pacific Coast Civic Light Opera. But at the age of 6, “she directed her classmates in playground vignettes and broke an ankle while ‘flying,’ Pan-like, from a second-story landing…”
If you’d like to see more of “that Kindle girl’s” work, you can check out her professional blog at amyrutberg.com, which features a “reel” of short clips from her appearances on different TV shows. Last year Amy appeared on an episode of “Law and Order,” and she did another episode just two years earlier (plus an episode of “Law and Order: Criminal Intent”.) In 2006 she played a nurse on an episode of “As The World Turns”, and she even starred in an episode of the TLC reality show about shopping for a wedding gown — “Say Yes to the Dress”.
But she’s been doing lots of live theatre, so Amazon’s TV ad was a big moment. Amy’s Twitter feed captures a fun moment in the life of a rising actress — seeing you’re own work while you’re casually watching TV. “Kindle commercial on @snl… Love it!” she tweeted on April 30th). And by May 13th, she’d sent a shout-out to some friends on Twitter who’d spotted her in the ad. “Thanks for all the kindle love peeps!
“Proud 2 b peddling it!”
August 8th, 2011
How much has Amazon spent on TV ads for the Kindle? Just last year, they spent over $82 million, according to an article in Ad Week magazine. That’s more than four times what they’d spent the year before — just $19 million, according to the magazine. And Amazon’s apparently spending plenty of money in 2011, too, since I just saw the third ad in that series where two friends discover the advantages of owning a Kindle — a young woman and a young man.
“That is a giant purse.”
“This can hold two books, two newspapers, three magazines. Pretty great, huh?”
“Yeah. My Kindle holds up to 3,500 books. (Stacks of book begin appearing.) Magazines, newspapers — and it only weighs eight and a half ounces.”
“Yeah, but… Then I wouldn’t get to carry my giant purse. (He looks at her dubiously.) Can I see that?”
You can watch the new ad, plus all of Amazon’s other Kindle ads, at the Kindle’s page on YouTube (at youtube.com/Kindle ). It’s a funny ad — but it’s even funnier if you read the comments that people have left below the video!
“I guess the Kindle gave up on competing with the IPad, and decided to take on purses.”
Another viewer was skeptical of the ad — but for an entirely different reason. (“I’m asking myself if that’s actually 3.500 books that they put up there…”) And several commenters had apparently located Amazon’s Kindle video just to ask questions about its production. “YO KINDLE,” posted one user, “Every single one of your ‘Friends’ ads has the same song as well as the ‘Pool’ ad. And on every single video, you’ve got tons of people dying to know the name of the song. Just tell us already!!!”
I’m assuming it’s original song — played on a xylophone — that was written just for Amazon’s Kindle ad. But at least three other commenters had an even more burning question.
“PLEASE tell me who that josh duhamel look alike is.”
“I don’t like eReaders, but what I’m more focused on is that dude.”
“I have such a crush on that guy ;)”
At least one comment was directed towards the other actor. (“i want a kindle because she’s hot…”) But overall, it’s a fun collection of different reactions to Amazon’s ad. Of course, not every one of them was positive. (“So last-year. And Apple-ish. But good. Shame….”) And another viewer also detected the resemblance to the “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” ads — posting “Nice homage to the old Apple ads.”
But his bigger issue was just more of a general suggestion for the publishing industry. When you buy a printed book, he argued, the publisher should bundle the ebook with it — for example, with a “download code” that you could enter to activate the complimentary digital version on your Kindle!
And yet there was at least one commenter who made it clear that they absolutely loved their Kindle. After watching Amazon’s ad, they’d asked one simple question. “How many times does he have to tell her how AWESOME a Kindle is before she finally gets one for herself !!?!!”
“I have the Kindle app for my phone and it is 10x better than the Nook app. I’ll read books on my break at work and just buy a new one when I’m finished with the last one, instaed of having to wait until I get home to pick out a new book.
“LOVE IT !!!!”
August 5th, 2011
I think I’ve discovered a secret. The source for a big rumor about Amazon’s next Kindle now appears to have changed their story!
It’s something I stumbled across while reviewing all the articles about what Amazon is planning next for the Kindle. Strong rumors suggest that Amazon is planning to release a new iPad-style tablet — but three weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal also reported two additional rumors. Citing people “familiar with Amazon’s thinking,” the Journal reported that Amazon also planned to release two new versions of the Kindle. One of these Kindles would have a touchscreen (like the newest version of the Nook that was recently released by Barnes and Noble). And the Journal also reported that by the end of September, Amazon would release an “improved and cheaper” version of the Kindle.
But strangely, the second claim is no longer appearing in the Journal’s article!
You can still see that original claim being quoted in articles around the web — even though the Journal has now removed it from its site. (For example, this article from PC Magazine quotes the Journal article as saying Amazon would release “an improved and cheaper adaptation of the current Kindle.”) Does this mean Amazon won’t be releasing a cheaper version of the Kindle along with the touch-screen version? My guess is the newspaper’s source later contacted them with a correction, or with updated information — and the Journal quietly edited their original piece to reflect the new information.
I could be wrong about the significance of this change, so consider it a new rumor about an old rumor. But an even more important question is when will Amazon release the next version of the Kindle. And I also have my own theory about that.
It’s easy to see if you check the dates for when Amazon’s released past upgrades to their Kindle. In November of 2007, Amazon released their first Kindle — and then released a newer version just 15 months later (the Kindle 2). That was in February of 2009, and nearly the same amount of time then elapsed before the release of the Kindle 3 in August of 2010. (The total time between the two Kindles was now 18 months.) Of course, Amazon released a slight upgrade in May of 2011 — the cheaper Kindle with Special Offers. But if Amazon sticks to their original pattern, they’ll release “the Kindle 4″ within 15 to 18 months from the time that they released the last Kindle. That would mean we’d seen the Kindle 4 between November and February.
But of course, Amazon would want to release their new Kindle before the big pre-Christmas shopping season. (Once an analyst calculated that 47% of the people who owned a Kindle actually received it as a gift!) So to catch the big wave of shoppers, Amazon would almost certainly move up the release date of the Kindle 4 so it’s available for the big “Black Friday” sales that happen on the day after Thanksgiving. The only real question is whether they’d release the Kindle on that crucial November shopping day — or a few weeks earlier, so that shoppers could hear about it first in a big wave of pre-Thanksgiving publicity. And it turns out that my estimate is within eight weeks of what the Wall Street Journal predicted — that the next version of the Kindle would be released before the end of September.
But then again, the Journal also reported — and then apparently retracted — a claim that Amazon would release a new Kindle which was “improved and cheaper”.
August 4th, 2011
For the last two days, Amazon’s been selling the Kindle 3 at an even lower price than usual. A refurbished Kindle 3 cost just $129.99 — a reduction of more than 31% from its usual sales price of $189.00. And for the WiFi-only version of a refurbished Kindle 3, the price was just $99.99 — also close to a 30% reduction from its usual $139!
This is the lowest price I’ve ever seen for a refurbished Kindle. Back in March, Amazon lowered prices on a refurbished Kindle 3, but only by ten dollars — to $129.99 for the WiFi-only version, and $179.99 for the Kindle 3G. What’s going on here? Maybe Amazon’s getting rid of them, because they’re planning to start selling a newer version of the Kindle soon. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that by the end of September, Amazon will have released two different versions of the Kindle — citing “people familiar with the matter.” (And at least one of the new Kindles will even have a touchscreen, according to the newspaper’s sources.)
It’s a strategy Amazon’s used before. In a Kindle discussion site, one poster remembers buying a cheap Kindle 2 last summer for just $109 — only to discover that a month later Amazon was releasing the new Kindle 3! But it turns out that it’s not just Kindles that Amazon’s selling at a discount. Their “Warehouse Deals” page is also offering big discounts on over 20 different refurbished Kindle jackets and skins. (My favorite was the yellow Kindle skin with the smiling face of Mickey Mouse.)
You can even buy a refurbished Kindle 2 for just $89.99. And Amazon’s special page also promises they’ve checked the quality of all the refurbished items. “Amazon receives a returned product,” explains a flow chart at the top of the page. “Product’s working order is ensured… Product quality level is determined… Product is offered at deep discount.” In fact, the home page for Amazon’s “Warehouse Deals” now features a whole section devoted to the Kindle and Kindle accessories.
So if you’ve ever wanted to shop for another — or for an interesting Kindle jacket — here’s your chance to find one at a discount!