Five Special New eBook Releases

November 29th, 2011

Five New Kindle Ebooks

There’s five brand new ebooks in the Kindle store — and each book, in its own way, represents a special milestone.


Fahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury’s classic imagines a future where books are banned

It’s been unavailable as an ebook, even though it was written 58 years ago, and is often cited as one of the best books about books. It describes a future where books have been banned — paper burns at a temperature of Fahrenheit 451 — and the Pulitzer Prize committee gave author Ray Bradbury a special citation in 2007.

Farenheit 451 new edition cover

But surprisingly, Ray Bradbury has never actually been a fan of ebooks (or even the internet). The Associated Press remembers that Bradbury once said that e-books “smelled like burned fuel” and called the internet “a big distraction.” But they report that now at the age of 91, “Ray Bradbury is making peace with the future he helped predict,” and today the book made its first appearance in the Kindle store.


Explosive Eighteen
A new Stephanie Plum novel by Janet Evanovich

She’s flying back to Newark from a vacation in Hawaii, when the popular bounty hunter glimpses a crucial photograph that’s needed by the FBI (plus “a ragtag collection of thugs and psychos,” according to the book’s description on Amazon.) There’s trouble at her bail bond agency — and what exactly happened on that Hawaiian vacation? (“It’s complicated,” Stephanie insists…)

Janet Evanovich - Explosive Eighteen cover

68-year-old author Janet Evanovich released the eighteenth book in her “Stephanie Plum” series just last week, and it’s already become one of the top five best-selling ebooks for the Kindle. (In fact, it’s been in the top 100 for 39 days, spending more than a month on the best-seller list before it was even released thanks to a legion of fans who pre-ordered the title!) She’s been writing the series for 17 years, and in August, Evanovich became only the eighth author ever to sell one million copies of her ebooks. (When Amazon’s publicity department contacted the author with the news, her first reaction was a simple one-word interjection. “Wow!”)


A Little Bit of Everything for Dummies
A free eBook that celebrates the best titles in the popular “…for Dummies” series

Those familiar yellow covers have now been insulting us — or empathizing with us — for 20 years. So to celebrate, the publishers of the series have collected 20 chapters from from 20 different books, honoring “the breadth and depth of the For Dummies series.”

A Little Bit of Everything for Dummies yellow cover

There’s Sex for Dummies — one of their best-sellers — and DOS for Dummies, the 1991 book that launched their empire. There’s some self-help titles (like Meditation for Dummies) and even some titles to improve your social skills (like Dating for Dummies), plus some “international” titles like British History for Dummies (and Rugby Union for Dummies).


Guinness World Records 2012
The famous yearly record book finally comes to the Kindle

It’s become a part of our lives since it was first published in 1951 — and yes, it is related to Guinness beer. (The brewery’s managing director had wanted to create a reference book that could settle bar bets.) Its collection of strange triumphs may inspire you or disgust you, but it’s still a grand and compelling collection of all the things that people can do. (Previously, the only the “gamer’s edition” was available for the Kindle, but last week the complete world record book arrived in Amazon’s Kindle Store.)

Guinness Book of World Records 2012 cover

It may not be the stodgy collection of lists you remember, as one reviewer on Amazon reports, since over the decades the famous annual book has apparently started including include more pictures. They bought it as a gift for their family, and concluded that “There seems to be a lot of new records and there really is something for everyone! ”


The Moonlit Mind
A short “Kindle Single” by suspense novelist Dean Koontz

On Monday, horror author Dean Koontz released a brand new story about a child on the run from his mother and stepfather, who’s travelling with an unusually talented dog . Living on the streets (for several years) he’s haunted by the memories of what he saw in their house, and of course the story finds its way to a final confrontation.

Dean Koontz cover for Moonlit Mind

Koontz released the story Monday for just $2.99 as a Kindle Single, and it’s already become the #2 best-selling Single in the Amazon Kindle store. Amazon’s page quotes a reviewer from People, who wrote simply that Koontz “has the power to scare the daylights out of us.”

Cyber Monday Kindle eBook Deals

Wow! Amazon’s slashed the price on more than 900 Kindle ebooks in a surprise one-day sale which ends at midnight. (“Time Left on Today’s Deal: 0 Days, 14 Hours, 51 Minutes, 23 Seconds…” Amazon warned this morning at the bottom of one page…) Just point your computer’s web browser to
tinyurl.com/CyberMondayEbooks
. Amazon slipped the special announcement onto their “Daily Deals” page, which usually features just one ebook at a special price.

Today’s there’s hundreds of ebooks that have been discounted up to 75% — and they’re spread across seven different categories!

     Mysteries
     Romance
     Literature and Fiction
     Science Fiction
     Biographies
     Nonfiction
     Children’s and Teens

So what kind of books are on sale? In the fiction section, there’s novels by famous authors that I’ve actually heard of, including Leon Uris, Alice Walker, William Styron, and Pat Conroy. (Plus some humorous sixties novels by Terry Christian). Other sale-priced authors include James Jones, John Gardner, and Lawrence Block. But it seems like some categories had more discount books than others.

Over 300 of the discounted books are in Amazon’s “Mysteries and Thrillers” category — but many of them are by best-selling authors. There’s mysteries by James Elroy, Carl Hiassen, and Ellery Queen –
and Amazon’s usually offering discounts on more than one of their books. There’s also mysteries on sale by Stephen Koontz, John Lutz, and Susan Isaacs — plus Patricia Wentworth, Jack Higgins, and Loren D. Estleman.

I was also surprised how many “Children and Teen” books were on sale — more than 200 — though that number is higher because it includes dozens of books from the “Boxcar Children” series. And there’s several interesting memoirs on sale, including many books by Rebecca West and five books by veterinarian James Herriot. There’s also one very unusual best-seller that’s on sale — a parody of children’s picture books called “Go the $#%% to Sleep.” But these 900 bargain-priced books may be only the beginning.

Amazon displayed today’s daily deal next to graphic which announces “Cyber Monday Deals Week”.

Is it possible that there’ll be a new crop of discounted ebooks on Tuesday?

Amazon's Cyber Monday deal on a Kindle

Amazon’s biggest shopping day of the year isn’t Black Friday. It’s “Cyber Monday” (according to a new announcement from Amazon.) Except it should really be called “Cyber Sunday,” since Amazon’s already announcing big savings today. And Kindles are still on sale — at least, the big Kindle DX tablet, which Amazon’s offering at a 32% discount from the usual price of $379. (Just point your computer’s web browser to TinyURL.com/BlackFridayDX !)

But there’s other big savings too – like a nearly 40% savings on a 42-inch HDTV, and a line of sale-priced ebooks. “Cyber Monday Deals Week Starts Today,” Amazon posted Sunday on a special web page, promising “low prices and sales on electronics, video games, DVDs, and more.” Last year Amazon sold more than 13.7 million things just on Monday, November 29th — which means that on average, every second they were selling 158 items. “Our customers love Cyber Monday,” Amazon said in an enthusiastic statement.

But interestingly, Amazon used that press release to tout their new line of Kindles — at the regular price — before listing the other special deals. “At just $199, Kindle Fire is already the best-selling item across all of Amazon,” reported a senior PR manager at Amazon (adding “Amazon customers have made the Kindle Fire one of their favorite holiday deals already this season.”) And the second sentence of Amazon’s press release stops to acknowledge the whole Kindle line, promising that customers “will find hundreds of great deals with free shipping on millions of eligible items…along with the new $79 Kindle, $99 Kindle Touch, $149 Kindle Touch 3G and $199 Kindle Fire.” And yes, there’s even a special line of Kindle ebooks that are on sale.

“Kindle’s Cyber Monday Deals Week features hundreds of books as low as $0.99,” announced Amazon in an e-mail today. For example, for just $3.99 you can get “Kermit Culture: Critical Perspectives on Jim Henson’s Muppets” or “Def Leppard: The Definitive Visual History. There’s even a funny novel called “How I Stole Johnny Depp’s Alien Girlfriend” (for $3.99), and for $1.99, there’s an Oxford Press biography about the life of Dr. Seuss. And for $2.99, there’s also an illustrated version of Marilyn Monroe’s autobiography, and a collection of “frank” writing by 28 women that was edited by Erica Jong! Browse the whole list of bargain ebooks by pointing your computer’s web browser to /tinyurl.com/CyberMondayBooks .

Even some Kindle games are on sale now. Electronic Arts has slashed the price on all their best-selling Kindle games to just 99 cents, including:

Monopoly
Scrabble
Trivial Pursuit
Yahtzee

Of course, there’s some other non-Kindle items for sale. (For example, all the DVDs in the “Twilight” series are on sale for a special price.) And somewhere in there is a bundle of games for the Microsoft XBox that’s being offered at a $100 discount. It’s the unofficial holiday of bargain shoppers everywhere. So if you’re in the market for some online shopping fun…happy Cyber Monday!

Amazon announces Black Friday sale on Kindle DX

Amazon waited until Thanksgiving Day to announce a big discount on the Kindle DX. The “giant Kindle” with the 9.7-inch screen is now on sale for just $259 — a massive 32% discount from its usual price of $379. (Just point your computer’s web browser to TinyURL.com/BlackFridayDX ) It’s a “while supplies last” deal, which ends on Monday, November 28th. Is this another sign that Amazon is clearing out their inventory of older Kindles?

It’s still more expensive than Amazon’s cheap $79 Kindle, but Amazon seems to have aimed their announcement at true fans of the Kindle. Calling it a “Black Friday Deal (a day early),” Amazon apparently announced the deal only on the Kindle’s page on Facebook.

Black Friday Kindle sale announced on Facebook

And within two hours, it earned 98 “like” votes, and drew 49 comments (like “Love love love my DX” and “GIANT KINDLE!”) In fact, 32 even shared Amazon’s announcement on their own Facebook pages.

But I think Amazon’s trying to sell off their remaining Kindle DX devices. Maybe they’re planning on releasing a DX-sized version of their color Kindle Fire tablet. There’s already rumors that Amazon’s working on larger tablets, and they’ve found their way to the well-respected technology blog, VentureBeat “According to DigiTimes, the Taiwanese blog with deep connections in manufacturer supply chains, Amazon is preparing to release the device in new 8.9-inch and 10.1-inch screen sizes,” they posted Monday.

“The 8.9-inch size is said to be prepping for launch first…”

I love my Kindle DX, and despite the launch of the Kindle Fire (and despite my purchase of a new $79 Kindle), the DX is still my favorite. The e-ink screens are always a joy to read, and with a Kindle DX, ther’es just more of that screen.

And now if you’re interested in trying one, they’re on sale at Amazon at a 32% discount…

Just point your computer’s web browser to tinyurl.com/BlackFridayDX

New Amazon Kindle gift wrapped

It’s on! Amazon’s Kindle is now engaged in a full-fledged price war on Black Friday with both the iPad and the Nook.

Amazon just slashed the price on their tablet-sized Kindle DX
to just $259, offering a massive 32% discount just before Black Friday. (Point your computer’s web browser to tinyurl.com/BlackFridayDX ) But Amazon started this war in September, by creating a new Kindle that they can sell for just $79. Now Barnes and Noble has announced that on Friday, they’ll release a special, limited-edition touchscreen Nook for just $79. That’ll match the price of Amazon’s cheapest Kindle (which does not have a touchscreen). “The Black Friday edition is the same as the regular $99 unit available in Barnes & Noble bookstores and online, except that the Black Friday edition has a white rim,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

And the Kobo is also slashing the prices on its touchscreen readers, to just $99. “That puts it at the same price as the Kindle Touch…” notes
a technology blogger at TechCrunch,
but it’s still more expensive than Friday’s new sales prices for the Nook. “At the normal price, it really is kind of a difficult choice…” writes the blogger, who’s been a big fan of the Kobo. “But would I recommend it over a $79 Nook? I can’t say I would, because the Nook is a solid device too.”

And meanwhile, the iPad is also joining in the competition. Apple’s promising a “one-day Apple Shopping Event” on their web site, but one Apple blogger also received a flyer with the actual prices, according to C|Net. Apple’s apparently cutting the cost of the Ipad 2 by up to $61 (while the iPod Touch will be discounted by up to $41, and MacBooks and iMacs more than $100 ). It seems like Apple’s really feeling the pressure to compete with the low price of Amazon’s $199 Kindle Fire tablets.

Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year in America, and every major shopping site seems to be fighting for a piece of the action. eBay is even creating real-world shopping spots for Black Friday outside major retail destinations in New York, San Francisco, and London, according to the Washington Post. eBay is establishing a “pop-up” presence so customers can buy eBay products while they’re out shopping (by scanning bar codes with their mobile phones!) And as the Washington Post noted, “Amazon opened an online Black Friday deals store on Nov. 1.

“It’s packing the site with offers each day to keep shoppers checking in over the Web, instead of heading to the mall!”

Click here for a 32% discount on the Kindle DX or point your computer’s web browser to tinyurl.com/BlackFridayDX

Click here for all of Amazon’s Kindles (starting at $79!)

Kindle gift-wrapped as a Christmas gift

Everyone’s talking about Amazon’s new 32% discount on the Kindle DX. (Just point your computer’s web browser to
tinyurl.com/BlackFridayDX
) But if you visit Amazon today, you’ll also see big savings on the Kindle Keyboard (which used to be called “the Kindle 3″). Now you can buy one for as little as $79.00!

They’re used Kindles discounted by third-party sellers, and it looks like some Kindle owners may be upgrading to newer models, and then selling their older Kindles as a way to defray the costs! With names like “starving student” and “the Kindle Man,” they’re selling at least 50 different Kindle Keyboards at a discount — both the WiFi-Only version and the one with free 3G wireless connectivity. And at least 200 more are also being sold at a discount — on eBay! In fact, if you’re looking for a “Special Offers” version today, a used Kindle Keyboard may be your only option, since it it looks like Amazon’s sold out!

I’d been wondering if Amazon if Amazon would try to “clear their inventory” of the older Kindles, maybe timing the sale to occur on the “Black Friday” shopping day after Thanksgiving. In 2010, Amazon lowered the price on previous-generation Kindles (the Kindle 2) to just $89. But this year, even a new Kindle is $10 cheaper, at $79, so maybe that’s a hard price to beat. “There are two types of companies: those that work hard to charge customers more, and those that work hard to charge customers less…” Amazon’s CEO said when they announced their new Kindle. “We are firmly in the second camp.”

Plus, by this time last year, Amazon had already announced their special sales prices (on Tuesday afternoon). So if Amazon were planning a Black Friday sales on Kindles, they probably would’ve said something by now. What’s really interesting is that Amazon’s cheap Kindles have now spurred a kind of price war, with Barnes and Noble scrambling to offer an equally low price on Friday for their touch-screen Nook!

Of course, last year I wrote that Amazon probably wouldn’t discount the Kindle on Black Friday — just 24 hours before they did! (“BIG UPDATE…” I’d added later to the post…)

So I haven’t given up hope that this year, Amazon could surprise us again…

I Wrote My First eBook!

November 21st, 2011

Yes, it’s true. After years of blogging about new authors writing exciting new ebooks for the Kindle, I decided I had to write one too. The whole thing is written in rhyme, offering a “Thanksgiving mystery” that’s fun for young readers and grown-ups too.

Point your computer’s web browser to
http://www.TinyURL.com/TurkeyBook

There’s four talking turkeys that are awaiting the farmer’s axe on Thanksgiving Day — but one of them has a plan for escaping! (“For Thanksgiving, try this game. Find the guilty turkey’s name!”) I worked hard, cranking out more than 16 pages of rhymes and including 12 different illustrations. And the next day I discovered that my turkeys had snuck onto Amazon’s list of the best-selling children’s ebooks about animals — and they’d stolen the #73 spot from a book about Curious George!

Curious George ebook


And within an hour, they were in the top six on Amazon’s list of children’s ebooks about birds — appearing right next to one of the very first books that I’d ever read in my life!


Amazon Children's ebook best-seller list

Amazon had surprised me by publishing my book within 12 hours after I’d submitted it to the Kindle Store. (I’d heard estimates of “24 to 48 hours.”) Since it’s a Thanksgiving story, I’d wanted it released this week, but…well, I’ll just quote the e-mail I sent to my friend.


I was almost paralyzed with excitement when I finally saw it for the first time on Amazon! The night before I’d been marveling that there’s sort of a paper-thin wall now between “published” and “unpublished”, and we can walk through it whenever we want to. Now the only barriers are in our own minds…

This summer a guy named John Locke became the first self-published author to sell one million ebooks. (And then he wrote a book about that (called “How I sold one million ebooks.) It was such an inspiring read, but I think he’s really just another excited self-published author, recognizing the thrill of how easy it is to create your own ebook. “The rules have changed. Whee! Look at me! I’m on the other side of the ‘published’ line!”

I should publish my grocery list, just to prove how easy it is. (“Unpublished… Published!”)

Maybe there’s real opportunity here, but whatever’s happening, I felt like I needed to have this experience. I needed to walk away from whatever psychological dings hold us all back from crossing that paper-thin line between “unpublished” and “published.” I even have some things that I’ve always wanted to see in a book, so it really is just a matter of *deciding* that I want them to be ebooks — and then publishing them. I told my girlfriend there’s a big yellow button on Amazon’s Kindle publishing page that just says “Upload Book.”

And you can create that book in Microsoft Word. (Or, heck, any text editor.) You can cross through that paper-thin line just by cutting and pasting!

I love books. And when I read books, I go to a special place. And now I’m *in* that special place — I’m on the other side of the page, so to speak. And that makes me feel somehow like I’ve inherited some of the importance of the other books I usually read. (Now instead of looking at other people’s books at Amazon.com and their thumbnail images, it’s my book, and my thumbnail image…) My excitement really kicked up a notch when I saw how good the illustrations looked. (I’ve really been struck and blind-sided by how easy it was — how it all came together, and how everything I needed was already there.)

I’ve tried to savor this day because it will always be my only first ebook

Anyways, tinyurl.com/TurkeyBook – and tell any friends you have who own Kindles!




Or click the funny turkey to see the ebook on Amazon…

The Ghost Who Liked the Kindle

November 21st, 2011

John Pospisil

I have a personal story. My friend John Pospisil passed away last week. And yet an hour after I’d heard the news, I discovered that he’d posted a new link to Twitter — about Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets….

John was the editor of a technology blog, and his Twitter account was synched to the blog’s headline feed, so every time one of his reporters published a new story, its headline would appear as a Twitter “status update” from John. Eventually I figured out what was happening, but it was a big shock to see one more message appearing from John himself on the day after he’d died. “Kindle Fire: Comparing an Apple, an orange and a bit of a lemon,” the message read — under a smiling picture of John…

John Pospisil (big)

John jerry-rigged an empire out of old-fashioned ambition. He’d recruited technology reporters from Craigslist — including at least one who’d written for the Wall Street Journal‘s site. Whenever something new and exciting happened, John already had a reporter on the story, and they’d deliver quick blog posts filled with information and insight. Everyone wants to make money on the internet, but John was the only guy I ever knew who’d actually found a legitimate way to do it. Amazingly, his simple site seemed to earn him enough money to support both his wife and his two kids.

Search his site today for the word Kindle, and you’ll find 3346 matches.

Kindle Fire is cool, but the rollout was masterful

Kindle Fire selling like hotcakes

Amazon losing small, winning big on new Kindle

Amazon Kindle Lending Library line-up

John had recruited a multi-national team of reporters, including writers in England, America, and Australia, so they never missed a good story. They all converged on a single blogging site, and John watched over the whole thing from his home in Australia. In fact, I’d once thought about asking John if he’d like me to create a new section for his site that was all just about the Kindle.

We’d shared our ideas about the future and the web, and I felt like John understood that we lived in an exciting time. And there was always an implicit “we” — that we were both watching the world as it changed, hoping we’d find a way to make good things happen. The news came in the week that I’d decided to write an ebook — to take my first plunge into the world of self-publishing on the Kindle. I guess I felt my own special kind of sadness when I realized that he’ll never get his shot at 2012.

“Don’t miss any updates from John Pospisil,” Twitter urges at the top of his page, in an ad encouraging readers to create an account. (Strange and marvelous things keep happening on the web…) I always say that technology blogging is like being the first reporter on Venus, because every day you’ll see something amazing that no one’s ever seen before. Sunday I thought about the “we” that we’d once been, watching for more amazing changes, and I knew what I wanted to do next.

I hit the “publish” button for my very first e-book — a funny Thanksgiving short story that was written in rhyme for children.

And I dedicated that ebook to John….

Conde Nast Magazine covers on the Kindle Fire tablet

Amazon’s new tablets just got a little more interesting. Amazon’s announced that if you buy a Kindle Fire tablet before March 1, it’ll include digital versions of 17 different magazines for a free three-month trial!

Amazon didn’t release an official list of all 17 magazines, but they’re clearly visible in a promotional photograph that’s appearing on the Kindle Fire’s web site.

The New Yorker
Wired
Details
Vanity Fair
GQ
Bon Appetit
Architectural Digest
Brides
Glamour
Self
Golf Digest
Self
Allure
Lucky
Teen Vogue

A Conde Nast executive said they were pleased to be “getting our content to an even wider audience,” and it highlights what I think is an overlooked feature of Amazon’s new color tablet. “Kindle Fire Newsstand customers will be able to enjoy their favorite magazines in rich, glossy, full-color,” Amazon explained in a press release, promising magazines not just from Condé Nast, but also major publishers like Hearst and Meredith. And for some magazines, there’s even going to be “interactive editions” with built-in video and audio — including Allure, Self, and Better Homes & Gardens.

It’s a nice perk, though when I’d first heard about the tablets, I’d assumed Amazon would be including a free subscription to their Prime shipping service. (They did, but only for the first month.) It’s important, because a Prime subscription qualifies those owners for lots of free “Instant Videos” on their tablet — along with access to a Kindle “lending library” where a new ebook can be “checked out” for free every month. But that Amazon Prime’s free one-month trial won’t even be available if you’ve already used Amazon’s Prime instant videos over the past year.

So if you’re worried about the cost of those online videos on your new Kindle Fire tablet, you might take a look at the online magazines available in the Kindle Newsstand. Every subscription begins with a free two-week trial, and nearly every major magazine is available. Browsing through the selection today, I also see Consumer Reports, Reader’s Digest, O (the Oprah Magazine), Maxim, Popular Mechanics, Cosmopolitan, The New Republic, and Elle.

And now 17 of those magazines are available for free for the first three months!

Magazine covers on the Amazon Kindle Fire tablet

Could Amazon Add a New Sales Tax?

November 16th, 2011

sales_tax

Amazon always enjoys a blizzard of online sales during “Black Friday” — but they don’t collect any state sales tax. And yet surprisingly, Amazon’s just issued a press release saying they support a new law which creates a national system allowing states to collect their usual taxes from purchases made online. “It’s a win-win resolution,” an Amazon vice president said in the press release, promising that Amazon “will work with Congress, retailers, and the states to get this bi-partisan legislation passed.”

Five Republican Senators and five Democrats have co-sponsored the “Marketplace Fairness Act,” and even anti-tax conservative groups are supporting the legislation, reports the Los Angeles Times, because it includes a state-by-state implementation rather than a single national solution. (“The law would allow states to become part of a group of 24 states that have adopted a streamlined system to reduce the complications for retailers in figuring out a customer’s exact sales tax.”) And states could even impose their own unique taxes if they meet some basic requirements about simplicity. “I think we’ve finally found the sweet spot,” said one Senator from Illinois.

Small businesses are exempt if their annual sales are less than $500,000, and the Senators seem confident that the new legislation will be passed. “If I were president of an online retailer…I would look at this week in Washington, D.C.,” said a Senator for Tennesse, “and I’d make my plans to start collecting sales taxes wherever I sold things in the United States.” It’s good news for state governments, which could receive a total of $23 billion in new tax revenue, according to one Senator. “It’s about closing a tax loophole,” said another lawmaker. “It’s about stopping the subsidization of some businesses over others.”

So why is Amazon excited about paying state sales taxes? If you ask Amazon’s Vice President of Global Public Policy, he’d tell you that they’ll still remain competitive on price. (“As analysts have noted, Amazon offers customers the best prices with or without sales tax,” he said in a statement.) But that hints at a larger loophole that Amazon may be able to exploit. The reason they offer the best prices is their massive size, which allows them to pressure book publishers (and other retailers) for the cheapest possible discounts — and they may be able to exert the same pressure on the individual states who want to tax them.

I think it’s the Kindle that may actually have been responsible for Amazon’s change of heart. Amazon says they’re now building “millions more” of the new Kindle Fire tablets than they’d expected, and they’ll presumably end up offering unlimited two-day shipping (and cheaper one-day shipping) to hundreds of thousands of new customers. And the best way to reduce those shipping costs is to have fulfillment centers in lots of different states. But this obviously makes it harder for Amazon to avoid state sales taxes by then claiming, as they have in the past, that Amazon doesn’t have a “physical presence” in a state. Maybe Amazon’s just going to rely on a new tactic: the ability to pressure those states individually. Instead of a national sales tax, these new taxes will only be imposed at the individual discretion of each separate state legislature.

And that’s an area where multi-billion dollar companies like Amazon can still exert a lot of pressure…

Amazon's new Kindle Fire tablet

The wait is almost over. The Kindle Fire tablet “will start arriving on customers’ doorsteps one day early,” according to a new statement released by Amazon. And Amazon also announced that its Kindle Touch will begin shipping out on Tuesday.

“We’re thrilled to be able to ship Kindle Fire to our customers earlier than we expected,” added an Amazon executive. Calling the tablet “a premium product at the non-premium price of only $199,” he noted that the demand has surprised Amazon, and they’re now “building millions more than we planned.”

But there’s a bigger question: whether people will love Amazon’s new color touchscreen tablets the way that they loved the black-and-white Kindles. The stakes are very high, as Amazon acknowledged with a quote from Fortune magazine. “The culmination of 17 years of work, the Kindle Fire is the missing piece of the company’s vast corporate puzzle, bringing into harmony nearly every discordant service the company has built since CEO Jeff Bezos first set up shop in his garage in 1994.”

Of course, the complete article included some caveats. (“It’s not what many expected exactly, but that doesn’t mean it’s not Amazon’s most important product ever,” reads the tagline.) Fortune notes that the Kindle Fire tablet “isn’t a revolutionary device,” but ultimately concludes that it’s most significant feature is the tablet’s integration with Amazon’s “cloud” of downloadable media and other services. “More than any other Kindle before it, the Fire is an initiation into an ecosystem where nearly every service is provided by Amazon.” Saying it’s often “a not-so-subtle initiation,” the article notes how the video library, for example, includes very prominent reminders that many “Instant Videos” are free to Amazon Prime members.

I’ve always seen the Kindle Fire tablets as a device that lets you buy more things from Amazon — not just ebooks, but also movies, music files, and games and other applications. Of course Amazon wants it to be cheap — because they’re assuming they’ll earn even more money when Kindle Fire owners begin shopping heavily in Amazon’s store. So the real question is whether the device can deliver a “compelling experience,” one that actually gets customers excited about making all those new purchases from Amazon. And according to Fortune‘s reporter, at least when reading a color magazine on the Kindle Fire tablet, “photos and other art pop.”

But how does it compare to Apple’s iPad? After testing Amazon’s new Silk web browser, the reporter concluded it’s “a hair quicker, but the difference was negligible.” And the Kindle Fire also seemed to require a
re-charge after 6.5 hours of use, which the reporter calls “acceptable, but not exceptional when compared to the iPad 2′s 10 hours with WiFi on or the Nook Tablet’s touted 11.5 hours with WiFi off.” And remember those ads last year, showing a Kindle being read in bright sunlight while the iPad suffered from a bright glare? With the new Kindle Fire, “just like the iPad, Nook Color, and other tablets, you may have trouble reading outdoors thanks to the device’s color screen…”

Of course, Amazon’s tablet is also $300 cheaper than the iPad, which is the biggest clue to Amazon’s strategy. They want the tablet to be affordable, because they’re not expecting profits just from the sales of the device itself. They’re hoping to earn a lot more when those Kindle Fire tablets finally start arriving — so their owners start shopping! Will Amazon’s strategy work?

In just a few days, they’re going to find out….

Amazon Kindle game Picture Perfect Holiday Puzzles menu screenshot

I’m always amazed at how many new games keep coming to the Kindle Store. Now there’s another free game from Amazon designed especially for the upcoming holiday season. “We were going to wait to start talking about the holidays, but this new free game for Kindle is getting us in the spirit a little early,” read an announcement on the Kindle’s page on Facebook. “Check it out for yourself, but don’t blame us if you suddenly get the urge to start stringing lights and singing carols.”

The new game is “Picture Perfect Holiday Puzzles,” and within four hours of the announcement, it had already earned 208 “Like” votes and drawn 35 enthusiastic comments. (Like the woman in Minnesota who posted “OMG! OMG! OMG! This is my all time FAVORITE Kindle game, I’ve been waiting for a Part 2 forever!! YESSSS!!!!!!!”) This makes the 14th free game that Amazon has released, and it’s a “sequel” to a free game Amazon released in July called simply “Picture Perfect Puzzles”. In both those games, users try to form a picture by darkening all the correct squares in a grid, making logical deductions from clues showing the number of squares that need darkening in each row and column.

The July version had 50 different picture grids — but now Amazon’s created 35 more puzzles, and each picture has a fun holiday theme. (The puzzles are grouped into six categories: Winter Begins, Hanukkah, Christmas, Winter Continues, Kwanzaa, and New Years.) “This is just as addictive as the original Pixel Perfect,” reads one review of the game at Amazon.com. “I decided to pace myself so I could stretch the fun over a few days. That lasted 3 days. Oh well.”

“With reset, the pictures are erased and I can work through the puzzles again. Maybe, I can stretch the fun to last for a week!”

But several more new games have also been released for the Kindle in just the last month. In October Electronic Arts unveiled a Kindle version of the popular “Trivial Pursuit” game. (When the board game version was first released in the early 1980s, it sold over 20 million copies in just one year, according to Wikipedia.) The new $4.99 Kindle version — called “Trivial Pursuit: Master Edition” — still has the same familiar board design (a six-spoked wheel), and your score is still tracked using the wedges of a pie. Some Amazon reviewers are complaining that there’s too many “Entertainment” questions that have slipped into other categories — but the game’s description on Amazon promises there’s 1,500 new questions — and you can play the game by yourself, or with others using the “pass and play” mode.

Of course, there’s competing trivia games already available on the Kindle, including Triviac (a quiz game released in Oct 18) and It’s All About Sports — a brand new game that was just released on November 8. And offering a new twist, there’s also trivia game that seems to alternate trick questions with easier questions — called Moron-o-meter. “A clever blend of serious, not-at-all serious and downright tricky questions will be asked,” warns the game’s description at Amazon.com, “in an attempt to bamboozle you into thinking you might be a moron.”

And besides games, there’s also been a couple useful new applications that have been released for the Kindle — including two spreadsheet programs. Anywhere Spreadsheet was released on Oct 4, and less than a month later, another company released EFRAC spreadsheet. And there’s also a new Day Planner and Calendar app that was released for the Kindle in September, along with a similar app that’s called “Task List professional.” September saw the release of an Address Book app, plus another one called Contacts. And if you’d like to look up nutritional information, there’s even a new app called “MyFood.”

I’m guessing there must be close to 200 games now available on the Kindle — and it seems like more and more are released every month. If you’d like to check for any new games that you might’ve missed, Amazon’s created a special web page where they’re announcing all the new games as they’re released. (Just point your computer’s web browser to tinyurl.com/TopKindleGames )

I’ve always thought of the holidays as the perfect time to take some time off and play. And now it’s finally possible to do some of that playing on a Kindle!

My Favorite Memory of Bil Keane

November 10th, 2011

My Favorite Bil Keane Family Circus cartoon

Though he published nearly 100 books, not a single one of them is available for the Kindle. For more than 50 years, cartoonist Bil Keane wrote the one-panel Family Circus comic strips which appeared in 1,500 newspapers around the world. Some readers complained that its sweet familiarity was out of place in the modern world. But when Bil Keane collided with wise guys, both on Amazon.com and on the web, he ultimately proved that he was a very good sport.

I’d like to share that story today, because Bil Keane died Tuesday, less than a year before his 90th birthday. The L.A. Times remembers that he’d seemed almost proud to be old-fashioned when they interviewed him in 1990, and the cartoonist explained that he wasn’t going just for punchlines. “I don’t just try to be funny. Many of my cartoons are not a belly laugh. I go for nostalgia, the lump in the throat, the tear in the eye, the tug in the heart….”

Keane drew those comic strips — and regularly collected them together into books — starting all the way back in 1961. He based the mother in the cartoon family on his own wife — also named Thelma — and the family’s father’s, of course, was named Bil. Even the children in the strip were modeled after Keane’s own five children, according to the L.A. Times. One of his son’s eventually grew up to be an animator at Walt Disney Studios.

But it was Keane’s daily comic strip that made him famous — so much so that after several decades, it became an easy target for other would-be humorists. For example, just a few years after Amazon.com was launched, Keane’s books began receiving some very strange reviews from Amazon customers who seemed to be taking them just a little too seriously. (“Having already taken his place among the company of Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, and Dostoyevsky, with the publication of Daddy’s Cap Is On Backwards Bil Keane now emerges as the master of them all…”) It was one of the first fake reviews that I ever read on Amazon, and its humor rests on everyone’s familiarity with The Family Circus characters — and the fact that the review is obviously describing the wrong plot. “The turning point of the narrative is the episode where Jeffy sells his soul to Mephistopheles for power and knowledge, yet this can be fully understood only in contrast to the many events that precede and follow it — such as the haunting scene where little Billy carries his father out of the burning city on his shoulders, or the passage where PJ, now the viceroy of Egypt, reveals himself to his brothers as the boy whom they sold into servitude years before…”

Soon dozens of fake reviews sprouted up on several of Keane’s Family Circus collections — and I thought Bil Keane handled it like a true gentleman. When he was reached for a comment by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, they reported that Keane laughed and said genially that while some of it was in bad taste — some of it was also funny, and “I assume my readers are intelligent enough to know I didn’t do the bad stuff…”

Keane was also apparently friends with cartoonists who drew some of the ‘hipper” cartoons. According to Wikipedia, Keane once even agreed to draw his characters into a special series of Zippy the Pinhead strips, while their dialogue was provided by its creator, Bill Griffith. And while the Pearls Before Swine strip used to mock The Family Circus, in real life, the two cartoonists behind the strips were good friends. In fact two years ago, Bil Keane even wrote the introduction to a Pearls Before Swine collection.

But the amateur satirists — and the internet — weren’t through with Keane yet. By the 1990s, Keane’s characters were also appearing in a rowdy (and wholly unauthorized) “zine”. (Back before the dawn of ebooks and personal sites on the web, self-publishing authors would just photocopy things they’d written and drawn, circulating them through the mail or at live concerts.) One zine-ster decided to photocopy Keane’s newspaper comic strip, but then type in their own raunchier captions. A MacWorld columnist wrote that sometime back in the 1990s, if you posted your e-mail address in one of the internet newsgroups about comic strips, “this would set into motion a complex and mysterious chain of events that would ultimately result in an unmarked envelope with no return address arriving in your mailbox… and inside you’d find a handmade mini-comic entitled The Dysfunctional Family Circus!”

The zine eventually inspired a similar parody web site, which began inviting its readers to type in their own crazy captions for Keane’s Family Circus cartoons. And by 1995, when that site went down, a 25-year-old webmaster in Chicago had decided to keep the new tradition alive. Amazingly, for the next four years, he presided over the “Dysfunctional Family Circus” web site, and more than 2,500 enthusiastic people submitted crazy new captions for Keane’s cozy newspaper comic strip. (Like “I finally did it! All ten commandments in one day..!”) It proved to be very popular, and ultimately the webmaster and his friends picked through nearly half a million “alternate” captions, publishing dozens and dozens of the best ones (along with Keane’s original cartoon).

And then in a surreal moment, The Family Circus‘s lawyer” showed up, threatening legal action if the site wasn’t taken down. The defiant webmaster pondered a “freedom of speech” defense, and even posted more of Keane’s cartoons online, letting his community weave their own reactions into still more new captions for the strip. But this showdown finally ended in the most unexpected way imaginable. One day the webmaster picked up his phone, and discovered he was receiving a call from cartoonist Bil Keane himself.

Bil Keane was already 77 years old, and for the next 90 minutes, he engaged the 29-year-old webmaster in a long conversation. The webmaster never revealed what they talked about, but “…as we got further into the conversation, I just realized I couldn’t really go on doing what I’m doing,” he wrote later on his web page. Bil Keane had simply surprised him. “He’s actually a nice guy….”

It seems that Bil Keane’s real-life sweetness had won over the wild webmaster. He voluntarily removed all the Family Circus pictures from his site. Bil Keane even sent him a personal thank-you note — on Family Circus stationery that included the “Billy” character from the comic strip. In the end, the webmaster simply scanned that, and posted it in place of the other 500 strips.

I’ll remember that as the day when a moment of Bil Keane’s genuine warmth somehow magically escaped from his comic strip — and found its way out into the real world.

Bil Keane sends a memo about the Dysfunctional Family Circus

Go the #### to Sleep cover illustration

It’s that once-a-year day when Amazon chooses the very best book of 2011. In fact, they’re released their list of the one hundred best books of the year, plus top 10 lists “in more than two dozen categories, from Literature & Fiction to Children’s Picture Books to the new category Kindle Singles.” On that special web page, Amazon’s also also created separate links for “Print editions” and “Kindle books” — which means you’re also be able to see Amazon’s picks for the 100 best ebooks of 2011. (Though the lists seem nearly identical.)

And some books even earned the highest honor, of not just being in the top 100, but but in the top 10.

“There are three first-time novelists among our top 10 picks,” announced Amazon’s senior books editor, noting their #1 pick was a debut novel — about baseball. “The Art of Fielding,” just released in September, is a story of friendship and coming of age, and in the nine weeks since its release its received over 135 reviews on Amazon. Its average rating is three and a half stars on Amazon — but at least one reviewer blamed their one-star review on what they see as a trend among Kindle ebooks.

“Why is it that all Kindle samples start off well? I was lured into buying the book by the sample. Downhill from there…”

But fortunately there’s something for everybody in Amazon’s “best of 2011″ list — including a new book by Kurt Vonnegut. (It’s “While Mortals Sleep,” a collection of unpublished short fiction.) Amazon’s top 100 also features some interesting nonfiction titles, including the new biography about Steve Jobs and Tina Fey’s Bossypants, plus biographies about actress Diane Keaton and chess prodigy Bobby Fischer. I’m intrigued by Steven Levy’s new book about Google (titled “In the Plex”). And there’s even a parody of children’s bedtime picture books called, simply, “Go The *** To Sleep”. (It’s available for just $3.99 on the Kindle, and there’s also an audiobook version – read by Samuel L. Jackson that was named one of Amazon’s 10 best audiobooks of the year.)

It looks like Amazon’s fiction choices are equally impressive. Just yesterday Stephen King released a new novel about the Kennedy assassination — titled 11/22/63 — in which Lee Harvey Oswald may ultimately be confronted shortly before his infamous day in American history. Ironically, it’s already racked up three one-star reviews — though two of them are just complaining about the ebook’s price of $18.99. And its third one-star review complained the price included “audio/video for other devices.” There is a cheaper ebook version without them — for just $16.99 — though I’m actually impressed that for just $2.00 more, you get an ebook with supplementary video and audio material!

“With choices from literary masterworks to genre fiction to nonfiction, there’s something for everyone,” gushed Amazon’s senior books editor. And I’l admit I was also intrigued by a new book from Tom Perrotta — The Leftovers, a comedic novel about the Rapture released just 10 weeks ago. It’s fun browsing through Amazon’s lists, just to see what they selected as their “bests” in each category. For example, in the graphics novel category, there’s the yet-to-be-released Batman: The Black Mirror and a collection of new “Love and Rockets” stories by Jaime Hernandez.

Unfortunately, these graphic novels aren’t available yet for the Kindle. But I’m hoping that will change very soon, since Amazon struck a deal with D.C. Comics to make digital versions of 100 graphic novels available exclusively on the Kindle Fire. They’ll include popular superhero titles like Watchmen, Batman: Arkham City, and Green Lantern: Secret Origin — as well a MAD magazine collection and, 13 volumes of Sandman by Neil Gaiman. It touched off a minor controversy, with Barnes and Noble protesting the exclusivity by pulling the print editions off their shelves.

Amazon’s list ultimately doubles as a reminder that this year not every book will be available for the Kindle. For example, Amazon’s “Best of 2011″ page also includes their selection of the top 10 best book covers of the year — print editions only. I was surprised that the cover of the new Steve Jobs’ biography made in onto their list — which is available as a Kindle ebook. But the list also includes a breath-taking coffee table book, a print-only edition whose cover is a black-and-white photo showing sunshine on a snowfield, titled “The Lost Photographs of Captain Scott: Unseen Images from the Legendary Antarctic Expedition”.

To see all of Amazon’s “Best of 2011″ lists, point your web browser to amazon.com/bestbooks2011.

Evan Prodromou sends a funny letter to Jeff Bezos about books for dogs and the Kindle

My friend Evan Prodromou’s a funny guy. Nearly ten years ago, Amazon sent him a promotional e-mail that was written in the voice of Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO. (“We’re doing an important test at Amazon.com that we wanted you to know about. Starting today, as a long-term test, you can get Free Super Saver Shipping on orders over $49…”) They even sent it from an e-mail address that made it look like a personal e-mail — JeffB@Amazon.com

So Evan took it on himself to write back!

“Cool! I appreciate your time and effort in personally overseeing this project and making sure I’m kept abreast of the situation. Others may say you’re getting too big for your britches, Jeff, but us here on the ground, where the action is, we know you’re Amazon.com, heart and soul. True blue, baby!”

Today I went back and re-read that e-mail, and I had to laugh, because part of Evan’s e-mail seemed to foreshadow the invention of the Kindle! One of Evan’s suggestions — all the way back in 2002 — was for Amazon to develop “a way to teleport books directly into customers’ laps!” It was his way of teasing Amazon that they should be thinking bigger than just “free super saver shipping”.

    JB> It may be the most important experiment
    JB> we’ve done to date.

Holy crap! The most important experiment to date!!!! Perhaps it’s anti-gravity books? Or CD-in-a-pill? Personal Amazon moon-car?

    JB> Starting today, as a long-term test, you can
    JB> get Free Super Saver Shipping on orders
    JB> over $49. Previously, only orders over $99
    JB> qualified.

WHA…?! That’s the MOST IMPORTANT EXPERIMENT TO DATE? A $50 drop in the qualifying price for free shipping?

I dunno what the hell’s going on there at Amazon.com Laboratories, Jeff, but, DUDE, you’re paying those eggheads TOO MUCH. From any angle you look at it, this is a STUPID experiment…

That’s not how you get to be Time’s Man of the Year two years running, Jeff. C’mon.

I guess I’m just trying to give you some friendly advice, Jeff, since you took the time to write me this personal email. Let me be blunt, Jeff: you are betting on the WRONG HORSE. I can think of like 50 experiments that are better than this experiment. 500! EASY! What about…

* TELEPORTING books directly to customers’ laps?


Okay, there were also some other suggestions (at least a few of which involved pornography). But I feel like this e-mail really preserved a moment in time. It was June of 2002, and just six months after the day Amazon announced their very first profits. Now they were making a big push to expand their sales — starting with lower shipping costs.

But meanwhile, geeks like Evan had just lived the “dotcom boom,” and all the excitement — not just of a sudden explosion in e-commerce, but also of self-publishing personal web sites. If nothing else, this made it easier than ever to tease the CEO of a major corporation. Especially when he sent you his e-mail address!


I mean, the list goes on and on. These are EXPERIMENTS, Jeff. I think what you’re describing is more like a “trial balloon.” And you know what? NO DOT-COM has ever won the Nobel Prize for TRIAL BALLOONS. Look it up, you’ll see I’m right.

    JB> This past January, we launched everyday,
    JB> 365-days-a-year, Free Super Saver Shipping
    JB> on orders over $99, and it’s been
    JB> successful. Customers have adopted it
    JB> in large numbers (it takes 3-5 days longer
    JB> than our standard shipping, but it’s
    JB> free), and its proven economically
    JB> sustainable for us as well.

Blah blah blah. Jeff, it looks like you bought this load of baloney hook, line and sinker. LISTEN TO YOURSELF. Just stop for a second and listen to yourself. Do you believe ANY of this…?

Dude, I know it was with personal feelings that you sent me this email and stuff, and I’m trying to slog through it, but I have to tell you that you’re boring me to tears. You sound like a marketing wonk! You do! Really!

And that’s not the Jeff Bezos I know! That’s not the Jeff Bezos who solicits my personal opinion on things. The Jeff Bezos *I* know is a VISIONARY. He’s the ONE-EYED MAN, baby! He doesn’t get caught up in this mincy-prancy N-months M-dollars hoohaw. That’s for the LITTLE PEOPLE. That’s for the functionaries and the sawdust people.

I mean, the Jeff Bezos I know, he’d be in a meeting with some balding weirdo beancounters with green visors and arm-bands, who are droning on and on to him about the niggling details of this so-called experiment, and he’d be pretending to listen to them, and then he’d stand up and say,

“BOOKS FOR DOGS!”

And the little people, they’d get all agitated and confused, because they don’t understand VISION, Jeff, you have to show it to them, but Jeff Bezos, he’d continue,

“Books for dogs! There are what, 380 million dogs in America today? Maybe 8-9 billion worldwide? North American pet-product sales — what is it, $4 trillion per annum? We need a piece of that pie! And what better way than to sell BOOKS for DOGS to READ! YOU, STANLEY! Yes, you! Run with this idea! You’ve got my full authority to make it happen — community canine literacy programs, drool-proof paper, get some celebrity dog writers like Rin Tin Tin and Benji. THE WORKS. Report to me in three weeks! And I want an Amazon.com product next to every dog bowl in this country when you get back!”


“See, that’s the kind of thing Jeff Bezos does,” Evan concluded. And it’s fun to imagine whether the real Jeff Bezos ever actually read Evan’s reply. If he did, he was probably laughing hysterically. But I also wonder if that’s the reason Amazon eventually stopped sending out e-mails that seemed “personally” written by Jeff Bezos. To avoid the earnestly mocking responses from people like Evan who actually wrote back….


Dude, listen: I’m here for you. I’ll continue to buy books from Amazon.com, and if this “experiment” doesn’t work out, you’re welcome to come stay at my place for a few weeks till you get back on your feet.

Also, listen: it was a good idea for you to run this concept past me before announcing it to the general public. I hope I’ve convinced you to really give it long hard look-over. At the very least, consider some way to work in lasers to the equation. Some science stuff, you know…?

    JB> Sincerely,

    JB> Jeff Bezos Founder & CEO Amazon.com

Hey, so, I hope you don’t mind if I just call you “Jeff”, OK? You can call me “Evan” or even “Ev” or “The Evster” or whatever. Just feel free…

Stick with me, man! We’ll go far.

Sincerely,

~ESP


It’s been almost ten years, and I had to find out what happened. Evan was always equal parts enterpreneur and computer programmer, and he eventually co-founded a popular travel web site called WikiTravel. Later he founded identi.ca, an open-source site for status updates (like Twitter), and became the lead developer at StatusNet, which promotes open and standardized status updates which can be easily distributed across different microblogging communities.

But all these years later, I still felt like I had to ask Evan about his crazy 2002 e-mail — because after all, Amazon did implement one of his suggestions. With a Kindle, it now really is possible to teleport an e-book directly into customers’ laps. So what does he think now about the visionary thinking of Jeff Bezos? I asked Evan, and he answered with a single sentence.

“I’m still waiting for Books for Dogs.”