September 30th, 2011
She finally bought a Kindle! For five months, Amazon’s been running a series of ads where a patient young man talks to a blonde woman about his Kindle. But Wednesday Amazon released a new ad — the fourth in the series — where she finally admits she bought a Kindle for herself!
Within two days, it had already been viewed nearly 100,000 times on YouTube, as Amazon’s announcement about four new Kindles finally intersected the series of ads. “I’m very happy to be a part of them,” the actress posted Wednesday to her Twitter feed (adding “Can’t wait to hear what else they announce.”) And she also posted a funny story about her honeymoon last month in Greece. “Excited 2 find 1 Greek who owns a #kindle & will let me use his charger.
“Tried 2 tell him I kindle girl he said ‘I kindle boy!’ hmm.”
I’ve created a shorter URL where you can watch the ad online, at tinyurl.com/SheBuysAKindle . So what happens in the newest ad? Here’s a transcript. It opens when the young man sees the blonde woman smiling, with a red ribbon wrapped around a new, gray Kindle.
“What’s up, happy pants?”
“I just bought my dad the new Kindle. $79.”
“You?! A Kindle? Really?”
“No. Me, two Kindles. Really…”
“You’re going to give your dad two Kindles?”
“No, of course not.”
“Who could you have possibly have bought the second Kindle for.”
“Okay, it’s for me. It’s only $79.”
“And it reads just like a paper book.”
“It’s better to receive than to give.”
“I don’t think that’s how it goes.”
“Close enough.” (She jiggles the two Kindles…)
“All-new Kindle only $79,” reads the final shot of the ad. And here’s an interesting piece of trivia. Though she seems a little ditzy, the book that the woman is reading on her Kindle’s screen is Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. And in real-life, the actress started college at the age of 13, and at 15 became one of the youngest students ever admitted to UCLA. (Plus — judging from her Twitter feed — she already owns a Kindle.)
Part of me wonders if “What’s up, happy pants” will become a new catchphrase. (“I think that’s a seriously strong double entendre,” says my girlfriend.) But I really enjoyed the ad — and it looks like it’s already getting people excited about the new low cost of a Kindle. “That’s cheap enough for me to consider buying one,” reads a comment posted on YouTube.
September 30th, 2011
Wow! Amazon announced four new Kindles yesterday, including a cheap $79 Kindle. (I’ve spent the last 24 hours studying all the cool new features!) As expected, Amazon announced a color, iPad-style tablet, and they also announced three new versions of their beloved black-and-white, e-ink Kindles. All but one of the new devices come with a touchscreen keyboard (instead of having a keyboard built into the plastic frame), and Amazon will start shipping them to customers on November 21!
The most interesting surprise was that cheap $79 Kindle. It’s a new version of Amazon’s “Special Offers” Kindle, which uses slick advertising images for screensavers (and offers other deals at the bottom of its Home page). The earlier version became Amazon’s best-selling Kindle, due to its low price of just $114. Now the new version is $35 cheaper, though for $30 more, you can get another version without the special offers.
They’re calling this $79 one simply “Kindle” — a plain, bare-bones name for the simplest edition of their expanded “line” of Kindle products. And the older Kindle 3s are now referred to as the “Kindle Keyboard,” to distinguish them from the newer Kindles (which all have only a virtual on-screen keyboard.)
The screen on the new $79 “Kindle” is still six inches (diagonally), though the device is now 18% smaller — just 6.5 inches tall — because Amazon’s replaced the built-in keyboard with a virtual keypad “that appears just when you need it.” It’s also 30% lighter than previous Kindles, weighing less than 6 ounces. (Previously the lightest Kindles were 8.5 ounces – and even the smallest Nook weighs 7.48 ounces!) But the biggest difference is its low price. Remember how exciting it was when refurbished “Special Offers” Kindles appeared for $84? Now the everyday price is even cheaper!
It’s a WiFi-only Kindle — but there’s some things to watch out for. For example, its battery life is half that of the Kindle 3. It’ll still last a long time — one month with the wireless turned off, versus two months for the Kindle 3. The $79 Kindle also got half as much storage space as the other Kindles, with just 2 gigabytes (instead of the 4 that you’d find on the other new e-ink Kindles or even a Kindle 3). And it also doesn’t have any audio capabilities, as far as I can tell. But there’s another new version of the Kindle which sells for $99 called “Kindle Touch.” Amazon describes it as “a new addition to the Kindle family with an easy-to-use touch screen that makes it easier than ever to turn pages, search, shop, and take notes.”
It also ships with the “Special Offers”, and it seems to be very similar to the new $79 Kindle, except its battery life is twice as long. Like the $79 Kindle, the $99 version can also only connect to the Kindle Store and the web through a local WiFi connection, though there’s also a 3G version for just $50 more (which also ships with the “Special Offers”). Ad-free versions of both the 3G and WiFi Kindle Touch are also available for $40 more.
“The new, latest-generation Kindle is for readers who want the lightest, most compact Kindle at an incredible price,” Amazon’s announcement explained yesterday. So what else is new in the Kindle Touch? There’s a special feature called X-Ray which Amazon says will let customers “explore the ‘bones of the book.’” With one tap, it’ll display all the passages in a book which mention characters, places, or historical figures and important ideas (and other topics of interest). “The vision is to have every important phrase in every book,” Amazon explained in their press release. “Amazon built X-Ray using its expertise in language processing and machine learning…and a deep library of book and character information.”
X-Ray will include pointers to each book’s Wikipedia page — and it also displays information from Shelfari, an online book community that Amazon acquired in 2008. (It’s a kind of social networking service for book lovers.) On Shelfari’s web site, users create virtual bookshelves, where they can review and rate books they’ve read, and even tag and discuss them. But on the new Kindle Touch, users can access a book’s plot summaries, quotes, character descriptions and other “fun book factoids”.
I was hoping Amazon was going to announce a big upgrade for the web browsers, but it looks like they saved that for their fourth new Kindle — the color, 7-inch tablet, “Kindle Fire” tablet. Amazon called it “a new class of Kindle that brings the same ease-of-use and deep integration of content that helped Kindle re-invent reading – to movies, TV shows, music, magazines, apps, books, games, and more.” Translation: it can play video, and it makes it easier to shop in the Kindle store.
It lets you shop for over 100,000 movies and TV shows to watch in Amazon’s online video store, and over 17 million songs from Amazon MP3. (And if you’re a member of Amazon’s “Prime” shipping service, over 11,000 movies and TV shows are free!) Amazon will always remember your position in a video if you need to finish watching it later — just like they do for Kindle ebooks. And obviously, the Kindle Fire can also display ebooks, many of which are now in full-color, including “thousands” of bestsellers, children’s books, comic books and cookbooks.
To showcase its color screen, Amazon’s landed the exclusive rights to 100 different graphic novels from D.C. Comics, including Alan Moore’s Watchmen, “which has never before been available in digital format.” Other graphic novels available exclusively on the new Kindle Fire include Batman: Arkham City, Superman: Earth One, and Green Lantern: Secret Origin. And of course, you’ll also be able to read newspapers and magazines in a new full-color layout on the Kindle, including USA Today, Wired, and The New Yorker. And in addition, Amazon has announced that Kindle Fire owners “will enjoy an exclusive free three-month trial to 17 Condé Nast magazines, including Vanity Fair, GQ and Glamour.”
And naturally, the device will run apps from Amazon’s app store, including popular games like Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies. (To draw customers, Amazon is still continuing their tradition of giving away a new paid app every day for free.) “Amazon designed the Kindle Fire user interface from the ground up to make it easier than ever to purchase, manage, and enjoy your digital content,” Amazon said in a press release Wednesday. “Just like with Kindle e-readers, Kindle Fire comes automatically pre-registered to your Amazon.com account so you can immediately start enjoying your digital content…”
Its screen is one-inch larger than a regular Kindle’s screen, and “the Kindle Fire display is chemically strengthened to be 20 times stiffer and 30 times harder than plastic,” according to Amazon, “which means it is incredibly durable and will stand up to accidental bumps and scrapes.” It displays 16 million colors in high resolution, and will weigh in at 14.6 ounces.
But putting all the technical specifications aside, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos offered a much simpler description, calling it “a beautiful, full-color Kindle for movies, TV shows, music, books, magazines, apps, games, web browsing, and more, for only $199.”
Let the new era of Kindles begin!
September 27th, 2011
It’s “banned books week,” the annual event recognizing that books are still being censored. Every year the American Library Association reports on the most-frequently challenged books all across the country. And every year, I calculate how many of those books are still available on the Kindle…
Surprisingly, it turns out that some of them are even best-sellers in Amazon’s Kindle store! Stephenie Meyer’s popular novel Twilight was also one of the ten most-challenged books last year (and in the year before). Currently it’s one of the Kindle Store’s top-500 best-selling books — even four years after it was published! And Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games also made it onto the list of the year’s ten most-challenged books, even though in Amazon’s Kindle store it’s spent an entire year and a half in the top 100 best-selling ebooks!
It turns out that this year, more than twice as many banned books are available for the Kindle than there were last year. In fact, last year, I’d discovered that you could only download three of the 10 most-challenged books to your Kindle. This year, there’s only three ebooks that you can’t download to your Kindle. Unfortunately, one of them is this year’s most-challenged book — a children’s picture book about two penguins at a zoo at New York. (“And Tango Makes Three” is based on a true story of a same-sex penguin couple who hatch raise a penguin chick.) And the second most-challenged book is also unavailable in the Kindle store. It’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” — a 240-page novel about a teenager who leaves an Indian reservation in Washington to attend a more affluent school.
But seven of the 10 most-challenged books are available on your Kindle — and in some cases, they’re even cheaper than the paperback editions!
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley;
Crank, by Ellen Hopkins;
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins;
Lush, by Natasha Friend;
What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones;
Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich;
Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer
The only other title that’s not available as an ebook is “Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology.” But it’s also tricky to find a print copy. (New ones are priced at $294.95, and and even used copies are selling for $63.04.) I like to think that the availability of all the other titles suggests the Kindle might have a role to play in fighting the censorship of books.
And there’s one more very interesting statistic. Last year there were seven books on the most-challenged list which weren’t available as Kindle ebooks. One year later, five of those seven books are still not available on the Kindle. But two more have come out in Kindle editions — including a sometimes-humorous teen novel called “The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things.” And The Color Purple is also finally available on the Kindle.
Last Wednesday, a Kindle edition became available for the very first time…
September 25th, 2011
People were baffled when Netflix created a separate service for customers who wanted to watch “streaming” movies online. (This week Netflix shifted its core business — where DVDs are mailed to your home in a red Netflix envelope — into a separate subsidiary.) But at least one analyst thinks it’s a smart move that could pay off for the company’s investors — because it makes it easier for Netflix to merge with Amazon!
“If Amazon were to acquire only Netflix’s streaming business, it could triple the size of its content library, and gain traction as an industry leader…” argues Michael Pachter at Wedbush Securities. Originally he’d assigned an “underperform” rating to shares of Netflix, but this week he’s switched that to an “outperform” rating. “Netflix’s financial flexibility is quite limited, while Amazon’s is virtually unlimited,” Pachter argues. With billions of dollars in new money, the Amazon/Netflix hybrid could acquire the rights to stream even more movies and video content online.
But of course, that’s just the beginning. Amazon really wants to stream movies to your Kindle — or at least, to a next-generation Kindle with a color screen that’s been optimized for video. Any day now, Amazon’s expected to announce a fancy iPad-style “tablet” computer, a touchscreen device which displays ebooks (like the original Kindle), but which can also handle movies. A blogger at TechCrunch claims to have seen a prototype, which offers a slick “carousel” interface where you rotate a circle of (color) thumbnail images that represent your movies, apps, mp3s , or books.
It’s a brilliant marketing move, because they’d all be purchased through Amazon.com. And Amazon already has a vast library of “content” available for purchase, including ebooks, music downloads, and online movies. They’d basically create a slick new device for delivering all that content to their customers — and all that content would also help them to first sell the device! (Apple’s iPod was successful because of all the songs available in the iTune store, while the iPad’s received complaints because there aren’t enough ebooks in its iBookstore.)
I think the Kindle convinced Amazon that a great device can create a big wave of new loyal customers, plus a lot of new sales. Amazon has billions of dollars to spend, plus a payroll filled with clever engineers, so they’ve got everything they need to create the next big and exciting gadget. Not everyone’s convinced that they’ll stock their content libraries with Netflix’s streaming movies. (In the comments at ZDNet, someone suggested NetFlix might form a super-company instead with Hulu.com, teaming up to offer an even bigger library of online video!)
But there’s one last piece of information that suggests that Amazon’s planning something big, and that it’s going to happen this Wednesday. “Press invites just went out for an Amazon press conference next Wednesday in New York,” reported a blog about technology at MSNBC.
It could be an announcement that Amazon has acquired Netflix, but the blogger speculates that “doesn’t go to New York for anything but the biggest of product launches anyhow. So we’re going to assume that the long-awaited tablet is finally here.
“And if the rumors are true, boy, will it be an earthshaker.”
September 23rd, 2011
Normally a new wi-fi Kindle costs $139 — and even if you buy one that’s loaded with Amazon’s “Special Offers,” it’s still $114. But today, Amazon advertised a refurbished wi-fi Kindle 3 (with special offers) for just $84.99. The total savings? More than 25%.
Within a few hours, they’d raised the price of a refurbished Kindle 3 (with special offers) — but only to $99.99. (Though that’s still a big discount of over 12%.) Throughout this morning, that big discount then seemed to disappear and re-appear around Amazon.com. At one point on the same page, Amazon warned shoppers page that “We’re sorry. There are currently no Refurbished listings for Kindle, Wi-Fi, 6″ E Ink Pearl Display – includes Special Offers & Sponsored Screensavers.” But when you then visited Amazon’s “Buy a Kindle” page, it was still listed as “In Stock” at the $99.99 price!
And then shortly before noon, all the refurbished Kindles seemed to have disappeared.
What’s going on? I think Amazon’s trying to reduce their inventory of Kindle 3s because they’re planning to release an even newer version of the Kindle in the next few weeks. That’s especially interesting, because I’d heard a rumor that Amazon was only releasing a color, touchscreen version of the Kindle (but not a new black-and-white Kindle with an e-ink screen). But if that rumor were true, it seems odd that Amazon would be reducing their inventory of refurbished Kindle 3s.
Still, maybe Amazon expects there’ll be fewer people who want a Kindle 3 when there’s also a new color, touchscreen multimedia tablet. It’s pointless to speculate until Amazon finally makes their move. The bottom line is that if you want to buy a Kindle 3, you can get a good price if you keep your eye on the Amazon store.
And if you keep re-loading the web page, there’s a chance that the prices will change again!
September 21st, 2011
It’s happening! Today Amazon announced that all across America, they’re making Kindle ebooks available for free through local public libraries! (“Libraries are a critical part of our communities,” Amazon said in today’s statement, “and we’re excited to be making Kindle books available at more than 11,000 local libraries around the country!”) Amazon also posted the news on the Kindle’s page on Facebook — and within one hour, nearly 2,000 people had clicked on its “like” icon.
Here’s eight reasons why this is very exciting news.
- You can even read them if you don’t own a Kindle!
The library ebooks are also compatible with Amazon’s free Kindle apps. This means that even people who don’t own a Kindle can still read Kindle ebooks that they’ve checked out from the public library on their iPhone or iPad, and on Windows and Android smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers (as well as on Blackberry devices).
- You can read them in a web browser
Last month Amazon released the Kindle Cloud reader for the Safari and Chrome browsers. It’s a full-color application for reading Kindle ebooks on a desktop computer — or on a tablet (like the iPad). Amazon originally just wanted to create a way for their customers shop in the Kindle store on Apple devices. But now those same customers can also check out Kindle ebooks for free from their public library.
- You can highlight passages in the library’s ebooks
I’d never use a highlighting pen on the library’s only print copy of a book. But when you check out a virtual ebook, you’ll be able to fill it with your own virtual highlights and notes. Amazon will sync
them to your account, so whenever you check out that ebook from the library, you’ll still be able to see your original highlights and notes. And you’ll always be able to access them through Amazon’s special web page for highlights, at kindle.amazon.com.
- 24 Hour Access, From Home
My local library keeps reducing their operating hours — but fortunately, their Kindle ebooks can be checked out using the library’s web site! (After selecting your book, just sign into your Amazon account, which is linked to your Kindle or your Amazon reading apps.) You don’t have to make a trip to the library just to get new ebooks — and you don’t ever have to drive back there again later to return them!
- It Even Works with a WiFi-only Kindle
The ebooks aren’t delivered using Amazon’s WhisperSync technology, so you’ll receive them by making a local WiFi connection. (And they can even be transferred to your Kindle using its USB cord!) Obviously Amazon’s not earning any money when customers check out a Kindle ebook from their public library…but they’d otherwise still have to pay for the cost of every download (since Amazon buys its wireless “bandwidth” from AT&T).
- Long Check-Out Periods
Amazon didn’t put any restrictions on how long the ebooks can be checked out. (On their help page, they stress that you should contact your local library for the length of the check-out period and the availability of specific ebooks.) But Amazon still lets you know when you’re getting close to the end of the library’s check-out period. “Three days before the end of the loan period, we’ll send a courtesy reminder e-mail about the loan expiration,” Amazon explains on their web page. (Adding that “Once the loan period has ended, an additional e-mail notification will be sent.”) Again, the length of the check-out period is set by your local public library. (And thankfully, it looks like there won’t be overdue fines for ebooks!)
- Good Technical Support
Amazon’s created a special web page offering answers to the most frequently-asked questions, and there’s also a dedicated e-mail address just for feedback about the Kindle Library Books (at email@example.com ).
Users can also see how many days are left in their check-out period just by visiting the library’s web page, or on their “Manage Your Kindle” page at amazon.com/myk .
- They’re Everywhere!
Amazon’s offering Kindle ebook check-outs through the OverDrive system, which has already been set up in over 11,000 American public libraries. “We’re thrilled that Amazon is offering such a new approach to library ebooks…” said the librarian at Seattle’s public library, adding that it “enhances the reader experience.”
“This is a welcome day for Kindle users in libraries everywhere and especially our Kindle users here at The Seattle Public Library.”
September 20th, 2011
Time magazine put him on their list of the 100 most influential people in the world. But yesterday, author George R. R. Martin joined an even more exclusive club. He became one of just 11 authors who’ve sold more than one million ebooks in Amazon’s Kindle store!
“Groucho Marx once said, ‘I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member,’” Martin joked when he heard the news, “but even Groucho might have made an exception for the Kindle Million Club.” In a press release from Amazon, Martin acknowledged that “It’s a real thrill to be inducted into this one. There are no dues, no meetings, and I’ll be in some wonderful and exclusive company.” He thanked his editors, his publishers, and Amazon.com, “and most of all, my readers.
“I owe this to everyone who ever read one of my books and recommended it to a friend. Thanks… and keep reading.”
Like many of the Kindle’s other 10 best-selling authors, Martin has written a series of popular books — the “Song of Fire and Ice” series. And the sales for that series are still going strong. (Amazon reported that “A Dance with Dragons,” the series’ fifth book, debuted at #2 on the Kindle best-seller list when it was released in July — and counting its pre-order sales, it’s already racked up more than 100 days in the top 50!) “An elaborate series like this is great on Kindle,” announced Amazon’s vice president for Kindle content, “because you can turn the last page of book three at 10:30 at night, then buy book four, and be on its first page at 10:31!”
It’s a big milestone when an author sells their millionth ebook, but if it feels like happening more often — you’re right. 14 months, only one author had ever sold one million ebooks — Stieg Larssen — but since then Amazon’s presumably sold a lot more Kindles. My guess is that popular authors are finding that their ebook sales are increasing at a faster rate in Amazon’s Kindle store. Here’s a list of the other 10 authors — along with the month when they joined Amazon’s “Kindle Million” club.
10. Kathryn Stockett (August)
9. Suzanne Collins (June)
8. Janet Evanovich (August)
7. John Locke (June)
6. Michael Connelly (June)
5. Lee Child (June)
4. Charlaine Harris (May)
3. Nora Roberts (January)
2. James Patterson (October of 2010)
1. Stieg Larsson (July of 2010)
I tried to dream up a good way to visualize the progression — and I came up with the two grids below. Imagine twelve squares on a calendar (where each square represents a year). Every time there’s a new million-selling author, I put their number in the middle of that month. (Steig Larssen, the first million-selling author, is represented by a big, black 1.) Following that pattern, here’s how the last six months of 2010 would look.
Just two authors joined the Kindle million-sellers club in the last six months of 2010. But then here’s the first nine months of 2011.
At this rate, there’ll be 20 million-selling authors by next spring!
But I have to admit that I have a special affection for this story – and for a strange reason. Just last month, I included a picture of George R. R. Martin in a blog post about the future of bookstores. Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show had done a mock interview on the subject with their correspondent John Hodgman. (You may know Hodgman as the balding man who plays the PC in Apple’s “I’m a Mac” commercials…) In the segment, the correspondent was suggesting ways to help bookstores survive in an ebook-dominated future — and right in the middle of the skit, Martin himself had turned up in a very funny fake picture!
“…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.
But while researching this story, I discovered that the Daily Show comic is actually a big real-life fan of the author. In fact, when Time magazine selected Martin for their “100 most influential” list, it was Daily Show correspondent Hodgman who wrote Martin’s blurb. In a poignant finish, Hodgman wrote honestly that Martin didn’t need any endorsement from him, but “I’ll still feel compelled, like all those fans of The Wire, to pull you aside and tell you that Tyrion Lannister is the best character in fiction since Stringer Bell and that if you have not read these books, you should be ashamed of yourself.”
It’s always nice to see an author who really connects with his audience, and draws an intense loyalty and a passionate following. And sometimes it feels like the author himself is very aware of the special trust
he’s been given — like he’s trying to live up to it. At the end of Martin’s statement about his millionth-ebook sale, he made a point of telling his loyal audience that “The best is yet to come.”
September 19th, 2011
For the last few days I’ve been fighting a bad cold — and mulling an article that appeared recently in The Wall Street Journal. “Amazon.com Inc. is talking with book publishers about launching a Netflix Inc.-like service for digital books,” the Journal reported, “in which customers would pay an annual fee to access a library of content…”
The newspaper cites “people familiar with the matter” — though I have to cringe every time I read that. In July, the Journal used the same words to describe the informants who’d said Amazon would release two new versions of the Kindle — one cheaper, and one with a touchscreen — before the end of September. There’s just 10 days left in September, and we still haven’t seen any new Kindles yet. But it’s frustrating because I do trust the Journal’s sources. I think they’re correct about Amazon’s general plans, and just can’t pinpoint every detail with 100% accuracy.
And even if Amazon wants to offer a “NetFlix for books,” it’s not clear that book publishers would agree to the same model. “Several publishing executives said they aren’t enthusiastic about the idea, the Journal reports, “because they believe it could lower the value of books and because it could strain their relationships with other retailers that sell their books.” Amazon’s tried to sweeten the deal by offering publishers a hefty fee for participating. And at least some of the paper’s sources said that Amazon’s program would include a cap on the number of books available for free each month. (It’d be similar to the way NetFlix sends some members a specific number of DVDs each month from the top of their “upcoming” queue.)
It’s an interesting idea – and it’s fun to imagine all the ebooks that I’d read if I didn’t have to pay for them individually. Amazon told publishers they were considering “older titles” for the program, so it
wouldn’t necessarily cannibalize any sales from the publishers’ new releases. In fact, if done properly, a program like this could increase interest in new releases. For example, the newest book in an ongoing
series could only benefit if a NetFlix-like program introduced new readers to the series’ first books.
But of course, this idea will make much more sense if Amazon releases an iPad-style tablet. Obviously Amazon plans to send movies and music to the multimedia tablets — purchased from Amazon’s online store.
(And of course, Amazon has already built another store that sells apps for Android devices.) To make it even more appealing, Amazon’s also created some phone applications, so if you buy your Kindle an audiobook from Audible.com, you can even listen to it on your Android smartphone too. Amazon’s delivering on a trendy new concept — offering an easy-access “cloud” where any kind of content can be easily stored for later retrieval using any device. But I think ultimately Amazon wants people to see them as a one-stop shop for everything — movies, music, audiobooks and, yes, ebooks!
I think their whole long-range plan is to make it easy to buy things from Amazon — and their new tablet would be basically a portable “Amazon shopping device.”
And to sweeten the deal, I’m sure Amazon would love to be able to offer subscribers an all-you-can-eat deal on ebooks!
September 14th, 2011
He’s the lead guitarist for the Rolling Stones, and just for today Amazon’s slashed the price on his best-selling autobiography for U.S. customers to just $3.99. (“You Save: $26.00,” Amazon’s web page reminds helpfully, calculating the total savings at 87%.) The 576-page memoir was already on my wish list — and apparently a lot of other people wanted it too, since it’s skyrocketed to the #3 spot on Amazon’s list of the best-selling ebooks!
The U.K. edition is £4.99, and in America it’s already spent 89 days on Amazon’s list of the top 100 best-selling ebooks, as curious readers snatched up the truth behind the legendary life of the 67-year-old rock star. (“For many years I slept, on average, twice a week,” Richards writes in the book. “This means that I have been conscious for at least three lifetimes…”) GQ magazine declared him their writer of the year just last week at the Royal Opera House in London. And at a ceremony for the magazine’s “Men of the Year” awards, Richards revealed that his biography is already being adapted into a movie. (Though Richards also joked that he’s dreading the casting call. “The idea of a succession of Keith Richards coming down is horrifying!”)
But here’s one of the most interesting surprises about his life: Keith Richards loves books! “When you are growing up there are two institutional places that affect you most powerfully,” Richards once said. There’s the church, “which belongs to God and the public library, which belongs to you. The public library is a great equaliser.” A British newspaper remembered the quote when reporting that later in life, Richards even considered professional training in librarian skills, just so he could arrange his vast collection of books using the Dewey decimal system! “He is in fact an avid bookworm who has taken great pride in developing libraries inside his homes in Sussex and Connecticut… The 66-year-old is said to have started painstakingly arranging copies of rare books about the history of early American rock and the Second World War…”
It’s ironic that his biography is the only book by Richards that’s available in Amazon’s Kindle store. (Although there’s also a book called “What Would Keith Richards Do?: Daily Affirmations from a Rock and Roll Survivor,” as well as “Stone Me: The Wit and Wisdom of Keith Richards.”) But it’s only in his recent biography that you get the whole, sprawling life story — and I like how he adopted a mock Charles Dickens style for each chapter’s headings. (“Chapter One: In which I am pulled over by police officers in Arkansas during our 1975 US tour and a standoff ensues…”)
Amazon declared it one of the best books of the month when Richards released it last October, saying Life “captures the rhythm of his voice so effortlessly that reading his tale is like sharing a pint with an old friend — one who happens to be one of the most iconic guitarists of all time.” There’s also some fun pictures of the wild rock star as a young boy, since his book even covers his formative years growing up in Dartford, England. (“Chapter Two… I discover Elvis via Radio Luxemboug… I morph from choirboy to school rebel and get expelled.”) “Why does Keith want to undercut his legend?” asked one reviewer on Amazon.com. “Because he has much better stories to tell. And in the 547-page memoir he wrote with James Fox, he serves them up like his guitar riffs — in your face, nasty, confrontational, rich, smart, and, in the end, unforgettable.”
I like how Amazon’s page for the biography shows you its most-highlighted passages. (“Friendship is a diminishing of distance between people…and to me it’s one of the most important things in the world.”) 177 different people wanted to highlight that observation in their ebook version of Richards’ biography — and 93 more people highlighted a passage about the joy of playing music. “You’re elevated because you’re with a bunch of guys that want to do the same thing as you. And when it works, baby, you’ve got wings…you always want to go back there. It’s flying without a license.”
A reviewer at The Wall Street Journal enjoyed the candor, writing “it’s quite likely that no rock musician has ever written so keenly about the joys of making music.” And in the audiobook version you can actually listen for that passion in Richards own voice, since it’s read by Richards himself, along with Johnny Depp and musician Joe Hurley. (It was voted Amazon’s best audiobook of 2010, according to Wikipedia.) Another reviewer (cited by Wikipedia) even felt that the book belonged in that rare “canon of genuinely great rock literature.” But mostly I’m just delighted that I’ll finally get a chance to purchase this book at a very attractive price.
“There’s something beautifully friendly and elevating about a bunch of guys playing music together,” Richards writes at one point. “This wonderful little world that is unassailable. It’s really teamwork, one guy supporting the others, and it’s all for one purpose, and there’s no flies in the ointment, for a while…
“It’s really jazz – that’s the big secret. Rock and roll ain’t nothing but jazz with a hard backbeat.”
September 12th, 2011
It’s only been a month since I wrote about games available on the Kindle — but during that month, 19 new Kindle games were released! On August 23rd, Amazon even released another new free word game
called Jigsaw Words. And there’s 12 more Kindle games that have been reduced in price, to just 99 cents! (Although today is last day of the sale – your last chance to buy any one of the following 12 Kindle games for just 99 cents…)
So what are the 19 new games available for the Kindle? At least seven of them were released within the last week… In fact, last Tuesday saw the launch of five different Kindle Games.
It was originally a card game — and I even remember a TV game show version — but it’s always had the same fun rules. You’ll reveal what’s hidden on the bottom of the cards (or tiles) — two at a time — while you try to find a matching pair. As you peak under more of the tiles, you’ll have to remember where you last saw it’s match! And to make things even more interesting, this Kindle version gradually increases the number of tiles to choose from!
The King of Shreds and Patches
Welcome to 17th-century London! It’s 1603 in this “interactive fiction” game, which promises to let you interact with both historical and fictional characters, “and thwart an occult conspiracy that threatens to bring down the entire city — or worse.” It’s billed as “a novel-length work…in which your choices control how successfully you navigate the story.” There’s puzzles along the way — plus a hint system (described as “elaborate”) in case you get stuck somewhere along the way!
Japanese Puzzles Volume 1
Sudoku is probably the most famous Japanese logic puzzle in this set — but is also offers you four more! There’s also Katkuro, which offers mathematical clues about which digits should be used to fill in the squares. Another game — “Number Island” — involves choosing the right shades for the squares which surround different “islands” of numbers. “Picture Cross” sounds a little like “Pixel Perfect Puzzles,” in which there’s clues about the number of shaded pixels for both the rows and columns of a grid. And Hitori is like Sudoku in reverse, where your goal is to black out some of the numbered squares to eliminate all the duplicate digits in a row or column!
My First Slider Puzzle
“The art is designed to appeal to kids,” explains this game’s description, ” and “there is a variety of challenges for everyone.” It’s like Amazon’s “Number Slide” puzzle — where you re-arrange the squares in a grid by moving them either horizontally or vertically, one square at a time. But in this game, you’re trying to reassemble the squares into a kid-friendly picture. (And the size of the grids is smaller, from 2 x 3 at the easiest level to 4 x 4 at the hardest level.)
There’s a classic game called “Connect 4″, and this looks like the Kindle version of it. You virtually drop a black (or white) checker down one of seven columns, and you try to line up four of them in a row. But the Kindle also gets a turn, dropping in checkers of the opposite color, so to win, you’ll have to “outflank” them somehow. The game also offers a “pass and play” mode, where instead of the Kindle’s built-in AI, you’re just passing the Kindle to one of your friends so they can enter their moves. (The game’s description promises that it’s “far more engaging than Tic-Tac-Toe!”)
And on Wednesday, another interesting new game was released — called Timothy Parker’s Family Crossword Games. He’s the editor of crossword puzzles for USA Today, and he’s created a set of puzzles that includes a few that are specially designed for kids. (“Spend time with your little future puzzle masters in a fun, educational way,” suggests the game’s description at Amazon.com.) There’s already some other crossword puzzle games on Amazon, but I like the “art deco” style of Timothy’s graphics.
Amd then Thursday, a company called 7 Dragons released Tips for Kindle, which dispenses one of over 100 Kindle-related tips every time you open it — and lets you browse through them to learn more about your Kindle. (And there’s also a “slideshow” mode, which flashes through the tips automatically.)
So that’s seven new Kindle games, but that’s not even half of them.
Flight from the Dark (A Lone Wolf Adventure)
It was actually 27 years ago that this game was first created by Dungeons and Dragon’s fan Joe Dever. A print edition of the “gamebook” sold over 100,000 copies in its first month in 1984, according to Wikipedia, and now a slick new version has finally been created for the Kindle. “In a devastating attack the Darklords have destroyed the monastery where you were learning the skills of the Kai Lords…” explains the game’s description on Amazon — and it looks like the game has some interesting graphics! But mostly it’s just a good old-fashioned text adventure, offering lots of magical, medieval fun. “You swear revenge,” the description continues. “But first you must reach Holmgard to warn the King of Sommerlund of the gathering evil…”
Cluemaster Mini Sudoku Volume 1 ($1.99)
It’s regular Sudoku puzzles using 2 x 3 boxes — “but that doesn’t mean that they’re all easy!” But I’ve find that it’s sometimes more enjoyable to solve Sudoku puzzles when you’re only working with the digits between 1 and 6! This game was created by the Cluemaster, the same company that supplies newspaper puzzles to the Chicago Tribune and the Daily Telegraph, and their Kindle version offers 100 different puzzles with four different difficulty levels. (There’s Gentle, Moderate, Tough…and then Diabolical!) And Cluemaster is also offering a collection of 100 original Sudoku puzzles, plus two other 100-puzzle Kindle games offering more variations
Cluemaster Jigsaw Volume 1
It’s like regular Sudoku — with a twist! The nine digit-boxes aren’t arranged in squares. Instead, they’re clustered together into different “irregular shapes!”
Cluemaster Kakuro Volume 1
There’s some missing digits in the grid, along with mathematical clues about what the total would be if you added all the digits together!
Meanwhile, another company called “16 Hands” has released Doodle for Kindle is one of the most original new games that I’ve seen. You use the Kindle’s controller to sketch a line across the screen — so it’s basically a drawing application! “This reminded me of Etch A Sketch,” wrote one reviewer on Amazon. “With the 5-way, you can move a pixel around on the screen to make a sketch…” And there’s also another new Kindle game with “Doodle” in its title – called Doodle Fit — which is more of a conventional game. In Doodle Fit, you arrange different-sized blocks until they’ve create the target pattern that’s been supplied (as a “doodle.”) And until midnight on Monday, it’s on sale for just 99 cents!
Don’t forget about Jigsaw Words, the new free word game that Amazon released in August. I’d describe it as a “refrigerator magnet” game, where there’s parts of words scattered across different “puzzle pieces,” and you match them up to create a complete set of words, united by a single theme. (For example: birthday parties.) The game starts out easy, but according to at least one five-star review on Amazon, “Some really are a challenge for adults!”
I think the most interesting title for a new Kindle game is Ghostboy and the Nameless Grave. It describes itself as “An Interactive Children’s Book for Kindle,” and I’m really impressed by its funny, elegant graphics. (The size of the game file is 4.6 megabytes). On his birthday, a little boy named Tristan is haunted by a little ghost girl, and the game’s description on Amazon promises that as its four-part story unfolds, “your child explores a town full of mysteries on the night before Halloween.”
There’s barbarians, potions, and a magical ring of wishes in this new “Fighting Fantasy” adventure. (The game was created by Worldweaver, who also produced The Citadel of Chaos and Warlock on Firetop Mountain.) Like the other games, it was based on a popular series of books from the 1980s, and the Kindle version “is totally faithful to the original,” according to one review on Amazon. (“So if you liked the original, including the illustrations, it’s exquisitely reproduced, leaving nothing out.”) It looks like fun, at least judging by the game’s description on Amazon. “In Deathtrap Dungeon, you adventure in the medieval fantasy land of Allansia, where a twisted Baron has set up a great contest which consists primarily of trying to survive the diabolical traps and vicious monsters in the deadly labyrinth, Deathtrap Dungeon. So far, none have survived to lay claim to the prize, but that was before you came along.”
And there’s also two new “application” offerings that were released last month for the Kindle. TakeNote is basically a memo pad for your Kindle, which (according to its description) “lets you jot down whatever is on your mind quickly and easily.” And Finance Manager offers a financial calendar with alerts about bills which are coming due — plus 12 different “financial calculators” that can crunch the numbers on mortgages, the rates for long-term loans (using both compounding and simple interest), and even one for calculating your credit card payments!
Back in June I’d written that there were now over 100 games available for the Kindle. And then 10 more new games came along in July. So we’re up to at least 129 games for the Kindle now. In facst, there’s so many more new games, I’m wondering how long it will be before there’s finally 200 games available for the Kindle!
September 11th, 2011
I’m amazed that they even exist. They’re printed books, each with a happy, colorful cover, that transform real-life celebrities into characters in a book! Nearly 60 years ago, a magical thing happened to Shirley Temple, Judy Garland, Betty Grable, and Annette Funicello. Each of them turned up in their own fictitious adventures in a series of Hollywood-themed books!
I remember similar books. The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family were two TV sitcoms about families that aired in the 1970s — and both of them were adapted into mystery books using all the characters from the TV shows. It’s apparently been happening since the 1940s, but it’s easier to find these books now that we’re in the age of technology. Instead of hoping to stumble across one in a used bookstore, you can finally track them all down online!
I’d thought about these books when I wrote my post about “the worst Kindle eBooks ever written”. (One author had created hundreds of short “quickie” ebooks about celebrities which were all apparently cut-and-pasted from the online biographies at Wikipedia.) I guess I was stunned by how little effort went into creating those celebrity-themed ebooks. In the past, authors cranked out entire novels about movie stars — each of them more than a hundred pages long!
Take a look at some of these titles.
Betty Grable and the House of Cobwebs
Ginger Rogers and the Riddle of the Scarlet Cloak
Gregory Peck and the Red Box Enigma
Judy Garland and the Hoodoo Costume
Dorothy Lamour and the Haunted Lighthouse
Shirley Temple and the Spirit of Dragonwood
Shirley Temple and the Screaming Specter
Lucy and the Madcap Mystery
Yes, that’s Lucille Ball in the last book — the star of the classic ’50s sitcom I Love Lucy. “The story takes Lucy Carmichael and Vivian Bagley and their children (the characters from The Lucy Show, of course) on a camping trip,” remembers one collector of Lucy-related memorabilia, “during which all sorts of events occur, including the gang getting mixed up with the military and the FBI!” And it turns out it’s not the only print book to be based on a TV comedy. There’s also print books based on some of the silliest sitcoms ever written, like The Munsters (a TV show about a suburban family that resembles the characters from a horror movie) and even Gilligan’s Island!
The Munsters: The Great Camera Caper
The Munsters: The Last Resort
The Monkees: Who’s Got the Button?
Patty Duke and the Adventure of the Chinese Junk
Patty Duke and the Mystery Mansion
Gilligan’s Island (by William Johnson)
And some of the stories are even stranger then you’d expect! For example, here’s how one book collector’s site summarizes the plot of
Judy Garland and the Hoodoo Costume.
Judy Garland agrees to return a misplaced dress to the owner, but what should have been an easy errand becomes a lengthy ordeal, almost as though the dress has brought a curse upon Judy. Judy first traces Frederica Hammond to her boarding house and finally to the home of a sick relative.
Judy travels to the home of Myrta Mattis where she discovers that Frederica is held a prisoner by Myrta’s relatives, who appear to be attempting to poison Myrta. Frederica insists that Judy will be held a prisoner as well if her presence becomes known. Judy devises a plan of escape for herself through the basement and plans to go for help.
Judy’s escape is cut short after a servant mistakes her as a spirit that has risen from the nearby lake. Judy is then forced by a spirit swindler into performing as a spirit for his clients. It is only by a stroke of good luck that help arrives for Judy, and Frederica is saved from her prison.
I have to mention one more book that has a very strange history. In 1892, author Janette Sebring Lowrey was born — and 50 years later she wrote the best-selling children’s picture book of all time. (The Pokey Little Puppy — one of the first twelve books in Simon & Schuster’s series, “Little Golden Books”.) Lowrey actually wrote dozens of books, including a sensitive 1950 story about a teenaged girl who moves to the city to live with her aunt and uncle. That book was originally called “Margaret”, but Walt Disney bought the rights for a TV adaptation.
During The Mickey Mouse Club, Disney broadcast short 10-minute episodes in a “serialized” adaptation of Lowrey’s book. It starred Annette Funicello — Disney even changed the main character’s name to Annette — and it proved to be extremely popular. Soon another writer had been hired, to create a series of books based on the popular Disney segment. The original characters went from a book, to a TV show, and then back into an entirely different book — that was written by a different author!
I think Annette Funicello probably holds the record for appearing in the most celebrity mysteries – each one set in an intriguing location like the Arizona desert, the California mountains, or a glamorous estate.
Annette: Sierra Summer
Annette: Desert Inn Mystery
Annette: Mystery of Moonstone Bay
Annette: Mystery at Smuggler’s Cove
Annette: Mystery of Medicine Wheel
“In one a boy’s father has been wrongly sent to prison, and in another her friend’s parents will lose their inn unless they can discover hidden money,” one collector remembers. “Annette is sympathetic (and polite), and eventually she and her friends stumble into a key discovery that invariably set things right. But the stories always begin with a leisurely and enthusiastic introduction of the characters and their settings.”
To my knowledge, none of these books are available on the Kindle — and they probably never will be. Collectors mostly want to cherish the colorful covers of the print editions. (And it would also be a nightmare to track down the owner of the original copyrights.) They’ve already become forgotten artifacts from a different generation, and in the age of digital ebooks, they’ll be even further away from the bright lights of our collective memory.
I guess I wanted to take one more moment to remember these fondly-written books, before they finally fall away into obscurity…
September 8th, 2011
Amazon is advertising a big sale in the Kindle store for 18 novels by Kurt Vonnegut! For the next four weeks, you can buy each one as an ebook for just $3.99. For Slaughterhouse Five, that represents a 50% discount from the regular price of $7.99. “You guys really know how to empty out our pockets,” joked one Kindle owner, posting their reaction on Facebook.
In fact, within 15 hours of the announcement, 288 people had clicked its “like” icon on the Kindle’s page on Facebook. “Quite possibly my favorite author,” posted another user, adding excitedly that it was the “DEAL OF THE CENTURY”. Three different women posted an identical reaction: “love my Kindle.” And another Vonnegut fan joked that they wouldn’t need to buy any of the ebooks, because “I already have them all memorized!”
Here’s a list of the Kurt Vonnegut novels which are now available as $3.99 ebooks.
Breakfast of Champions
The Sirens of Titan
Welcome to the Monkey House
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
Fates Worse Than Death
Bagombo Snuff Box
I know a lot of my friends will be excited too, because Kurt Vonnegut has always been one of their favorite novelists. But I feel a special connection to the author, because of a precious experience I enjoyed during a visit to Los Angeles. The Paley Center for Media preserves recordings of old and rare programs in a museum in Beverly Hills. In 2006, I paid them a visit to watch the only television broadcast whose script was actually co-authored by Kurt Vonnegut himself.
It was an adaptation of a story which Vonnegut would later publish in “Welcome to the Monkey House,” though in 1953 the only place it published was the Ladies Home Journal. Five years later, Vonnegut’s sister died, within a few days of her husband, and as he adopted their children, Vonnegut wondered — at the age of 36 — whether he should give up writing altogether. But somehow in that same dark year, his name ended up on the teleplay of a very dramatic episode of G.E. Theatre.
It was hosted by Ronald Reagan, and starred a young Sammy Davis Jr. in the story of a black soldier whose troop passes by a German orphanage shortly after World War II. (One online review calls it “one of the great moments in television history,” since it was one of the first starring roles ever for a black actor on TV.) A black boy in the orphanage mistakes the lonely soldier for his father, and “Private Spider Johnson” soon has to make a very difficult choice. Reportedly even the production crew cried during the broadcast’s final scene, when the solider collapsed to his knees, sobbing.
It’s never been released as a DVD, but I watched on a viewing station at the museum. It’s impossible not to be deeply moved by the story of the orphans left behind by the war. (“Had the children not been kept there…they might have wandered off the edges of the earth,” Vonnegut wrote, “searching for parents who had long ago stopped searching for them.”) The story’s title is D.P., which stands for “Displaced Persons” — the technical military term for the desperate children.
And it’s because of this story that my favorite Kurt Vonnegut book has always been “Welcome to the Monkey House”.
September 6th, 2011
It’s something I’ve never seen before. In two weeks, ABC will broadcast the premiere of a new TV series called “Revenge”. But Thursday they released the entire script of its pilot episode as a free Kindle ebook!
“What goes around comes around,” reads the tagline on its cover…
I wish they’d also included a picture – but obviously it was written before the show had even been produced! The ebook is identified as the “Final Network Draft,” dated January 25, but its copyrighted 2010. (“This material is the exclusive property of ABC Studios and is intended solely for the use of its personnel,” reads the official warning at the beginning of the script – which makes it feel even more official.) The table of contents has links to its five “chapters”, each without a title. (“ACT ONE, ACT TWO, ACT THREE…”) And it’s fun to see a TV show converted into words.
1 EXT. ATLANTIC OCEAN – NIGHT
A BLOOD RED HARVEST MOON rises high above the dark waters of the North Atlantic. Bands of crimson moonlight cradle deep rolling swells as they push their way towards the flickering lights of a distant shoreline…
And there’s another interesting twist: You can also watch the whole first episode on the internet. “[T]he free Kindle version of the script includes a link to the full-length pilot…” notes a review of the ebook on Amazon. “The most interesting thing about reading the script…is checking out the differences between what was originally scripted and what was actually put on film!” I even followed along with the script while I watched the finished product online, and sure enough, there’s lots of fascinating little differences. “Some were very minor…” notes the Amazon review, like “changing the name of Emily’s former friend Ben Porter to Jack Porter, or the name of her dog from Jake to Sam… Some were more integral (such as the decision to connect Emily’s father’s arrest to a terrorist act, or to suggest that Emily herself had spent years in prison – neither were part of the original script).”
I enjoyed script so much that I decided I’d like to read the whole thing as a Kindle ebook. It preserves some of the mystery of the story, which I think gets lost when you actually try to film it. “I downloaded a copy of ABC’s ‘Revenge’…” wrote one TV columnist. “My download quit about halfway through, and I didn’t try to reboot in order to view the rest of it, so that may give you some idea of the show, which seemed trite and melodramatic, a soap opera in the ‘Dynasty’ or ‘Dallas’ sense, but without the fun.” It’s possible that he would’ve enjoyed it more if he’d been reading the original script!
It’s a fun glimpse into the way a TV show actually gets produced, seeing how all of the on-screen details were first set down into words, and recognizing all the careful thought that went into creating the final show! “We hope you enjoyed your first taste of Revenge,” ABC teases on the ebook’s last page, trying to lead readers seamlessly to the actual broadcast version. “Now that you know Emily’s secret, we’d like to reveal more of her story to you. Visit www.abc.com/revengescreening and use the passcode MN3JozZrq to watch the Full First Episode of Revenge for free! When you’re done, feel free to share with your friends, but only the ones you trust….
“But be warned,” they add on the web page. “This is not a story about forgiveness…”
If nothing else, it’s a very interesting new use for the Kindle. The Kindle can hold any text file, not just the text of a full-length book, and right now clever people are already thinking up new ways to offer fun things for your Kindle. But it’s also really remarkable when you think about the journey that this particular story has taken. The plot of the TV series is loosely taken from The Count of Monte Cristo, a classic action-adventure novel written in 1844 by Alexandre Dumas!
And a full 166 years later, in 2010, that novel enjoyed a very special moment as a poignant symbol of the way that books were being changed by the introduction of digital readers. The founder of Barnes and Noble’s founder, Len Riggio, was being interviewed by a reporter for New York Magazine, and in a touching moment, the 69-year-old executive — born in an age before television — seemed to be struggling to make sense of the popularity of ebooks.
“I still like books,” he said, though it didn’t really need saying. All around him, in a conference room that evoked an elegant old library, were shelves lined with hardbound classics. Books had made Riggio a fortune… Books had been very good to him, and now they were dissolving into the ether…
Riggio wanted to say something, but he couldn’t quite find the words, so he burst out of his chair and charged over to one wall. “I don’t know how you can intellectualize this,” he said, “but a book is …” To continue his thought, he pulled down a copy of ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’, shook it, felt its substance. “This bound volume of Dumas is content. We have to understand people want to own this content. They want this. It’s very important.”
Now, thanks to the Kindle, you can download the script of a slick network TV series that’s based on that novel as a free ebook!
September 3rd, 2011
Amazon is touting another big sale on ebooks, with 100 priced for $3.99 or less. They’ll be on sale for the entire month of September, and Amazon promises it’s “a diverse offering of deals,” each one personally selected by Amazon’s book editors. But it looks like Amazon’s “$3.99 or less” sales will be continuing past the end of September. Amazon’s describing it as “the newest section of our store” in a promotional e-mail, promising the hand-selected will be updated “each month!”
The bargain ebooks are spread across four pages at Amazon.com. (Just point your web browser to tinyurl.com/399books.) But they’re not the only ebooks that Amazon has on sale. Amazon is also continuing its “Kindle Daily Deals” page, touting special offers on ebooks that last for exactly 24 hours.
Tuesday’s special offer is “Bonhoeffer”, available for the whole day for just $1.99! The page is now in its second week, and Amazon’s already sold some great ebooks at a big discount. In fact, nearly every one of them has crashed into Amazon’s list of the top 100 best-selling ebooks. (I’ll put their current rank in parentheses).
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (#5)
Seth Godin’s “Poke the Box” (#13)
William Styron’s “Darkness Visible”
Hidden in Plain View – a Darryl Billups mystery (#17)
The Lincoln Lawyer (#20)
Elizabeth Street (#86)
Water for Elephants (#28)
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
I have a theory about the marketing campaign behind both of these sales. I think Amazon’s trying to help established authors by making easier for them to climb up Amazon’s best-seller lists. There’s so many ebooks that are already available at a low price on the Kindle, and I’ve seen a few first-time authors crashing past the expensive new releases with their own low-priced, self-published ebooks. Although maybe Amazon’s just trying to fight the perception that the price of ebooks is too high. (It’s a common complaint in Kindle discussion forums — and at least now Amazon can always point to over 100 interesting ebooks which are on sale for less than $3.99.)
So what ebooks were hand-selected for Amazon’s special month-long September sale? Here’s a few titles that I thought look particularly interesting…
The Black Ice – ($1.99) – Michael Connelly is one of just 10 authors who’s sold more than 1 million ebooks in Amazon’s Kindle store. (One of Connelly’s books — The Lincoln Lawyer — has already reached the top 20 in Amazon’s Kindle Store after it was featured as a Kindle Daily Deal.) But “The Black Ice,” published in 1993, was the author’s second book, and the second installment in his popular Harry Bosch mysteries. (Then-President Bill Clinton was reportedly a fan!) In this story, detective Bosch investigates the suspicious suicide of a narcotics officer in a seedy motel room in Hollywood.
Because of Winn-Dixie ($1.99) – Kate DiCamillo’s award-winning story about a scruffy dog who touches the lives of a family in Florida. (“[A]bsolutely loved it,” posted one grade school librarian on the book’s page at Amazon.com)
The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr. ($1.99) – This book was published just last summer by Coretta Scott King (who wrote a special forward for the collection remembering how she’d first met her husband). There’s about 120 quotes in the book, focusing on inspirational topics like nonviolence, faith and religion, justice and freedom, and racism. And it even includes an excerpt from one of King’s most famous writing, the “I Have a Dream” speech delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Hot Water Music ($2.99) – a fascinating collection of short stories by Charles Bukowski available for just $2.99. (“This collection deals largely with: drinking, women, gambling, and writing,” explains
the book’s product description.)
North Dallas Forty ($2.99) – the classic sports book that, according to the book’s description at Amazon.com, is “widely considered the best football novel of all time.” (It promises “the seedy underbelly of the pro game, chronicling eight days in the life of Phil Elliott, an aging receiver for the Texas team. Running on a mixture of painkillers and cortisone as he tries to keep his fading legs strong, Elliott tries to get every ounce of pleasure out of his last days of glory…”)
There’s even a few fun books for children — like “Dinosaurs Before Dark,” the first book in the “Magic Treehouse” series. (It really does look like there’s something for everybody.) Whatever Amazon’s motivation may be, this is ultimately going to be a big win for readers. There’s finally been a real commitment to regularly offer ebooks at a much friendlier price.
September 1st, 2011
HarperCollins is giving away a great mystery ebook for free. It’s a 380-page novel by Agatha Christie — the first mystery novel that she ever wrote with her famous detective character, Miss Marple. And it’s one of three other Agatha Christie mysteries which have turned up for free in Amazon’s Kindle Store.
But this one is different. The Murder at the Vicarage isn’t an old, early effort that’s inadvertently slipped into the public domain. Harper Collins just published a new paperback edition of the novel in April, and normally its ebook edition would sell for $6.99. The publishing house even commissioned a fun new cover illustration, displaying the book’s title on a tombstone, with Christie’s name appearing as a handwritten signature (under the words “The Queen of Mystery.”) “[A] dead body in a clergyman’s study proves to Miss Marple that no place, holy or otherwise, is a sanctuary from homicide,” they tease in the book’s description.
It’s being sold at a temporary discount, presumably to publicize the new edition, so if you’re interested in reading the book, download it now before the price goes up! I like how Amazon’s page automatically performs the math on the discount, helpfully explaining to anyone confused that “You save: $6.99 (100%).” And if you need more information about the book’s plot, here’s how they described it on the Harper Collins web site.
“Anyone who murdered Colonel Protheroe,” declared the parson, brandishing a carving knife above a joint of roast beef, “would be doing the world at large a favor!”
It was a careless remark for a man of the cloth. And one which was to come back and haunt the clergyman just a few hours later – when the Colonel is found shot dead in the clergyman’s study. But as Miss Marple soon discovers, the whole village seems to have had a motive to kill Colonel Protheroe…
There are two other Christie novels which have fallen into the public domain (at least, in the United States). One of them is Christie’s first published novel ever — The Mysterious Affair at Styles — which is also her first story about detective Hercule Poirot. (At a mysterious estate, a wealthy woman is poisoned shortly after drawing up a new will, and Poirot is asked to investigate.) And I’ve actually started reading the other free Agatha Christie novel. Secret Adversary opens on the Lusitania — a British mail ship that was sunk during World War I. “The Lusitania had been struck by two torpedoes in succession,” Christie writes in an exciting prologue that opens the book, “and was sinking rapidly, while the boats were being launched with all possible speed…”
This feels like a big event, because Agatha Christie is acknowledged as the best-selling novelist of all time, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. (In fact, according to Wikipedia, even outside the novel-writing genre, Christie’s tied for the title of best-selling author of all time with one other author…William Shakespeare.) In fact, there’s now over two billion copies of Christie novels scattered around the world — and she’s also earned another very important distinction. She’s one of a handful of authors who you’ll see in a screensaver image on the Kindle!
And Agatha Christie also had a cameo appearance in one of my all-time favorite articles about the Kindle. “Before I first acquired a Kindle, exactly one year ago, I didn’t usually buy books while under the influence of alcohol…” confessed author Elif Batuman. But a couple of glasses of wine lowers her inhibitions, opening up a whole new world. (“Until technology empowered me to order books while drunk, I didn’t realise the scope and diversity of literature that I wasn’t reading purely out of embarrassment.”)
A few months ago, my drunk reading tendencies converged upon a single author. The Kindle actually made the suggestion itself, in the form of one of its standard issue author screensavers: a portrait of Agatha Christie that I found staring up at me, half-obscured by a pile of bills. She was represented, as always, as elderly, wearing a scarf with a brooch, her gray perm etched in meticulous detail. Beneath remarkably heavy brows, her eyes were shrewd and weary, as with the knowledge of countless unravelled mysteries.
The last time I had read Christie novels with any regularity was between the ages of 10 and 13, when I used to borrow them from my mother’s little sister, the most beautiful and lively person in my family, then in her 20s. I read them obsessively, one after another, either despite or because of how much they frightened me. Although the style was simple and readable, not unlike that of the Baby-sitter’s Club books, and although the detectives, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, were twinkly, grandparental types, nevertheless, everywhere these gentle souls went, someone was killed in hatred.
Suddenly I was seized by a desire to revisit Poirot, the charming Belgian with his weird moustaches. Thirty seconds later, I had clicked on “Buy now”…and there would be no physical book to reproach me the morning after.