A crowd of happy people

I love my Kindle — and so do a lot of other people. So one of my favorite things is reading what other Kindle owners have shared about their own experiences. “We greatly value the feedback we receive from our customers,” Amazon writes on the Kindle’s page on Facebook, “and thought we’d share a few of the messages that made us smile!”

You can read the messages at facebook.com/Kindle — but I was delighted to read the story of a unser named Janet K, who said the Kindle even made it easier to eat food! “No more problems trying to read and have dinner at the same time. No more smudged pages due to French Fries.” (Of course, she also recognized other ways in which Kindle-reading was less messy than a pile of printed books. “No more ink-stained fingers. No more trying to jam bulky books into my purse. I love my Kindle…”)

And one of my favorite comments came from a woman named Kathy E. “if I knew how to compose a song about how much I love my Kindle I would!!!”

But Amazon also got an e-mail from “Jason M,” and he identified what I thought was one of the greatest benefits of a Kindle: many of the greatest books of all time are now free! “I’m an avid reader and a big fan of classic literature,” he writes, “much of which Amazon offers for free on the Kindle. The Kindle and the Amazon store combination is like having your own public library in your pocket… This is a bookworm’s dream.”

If you’re looking for more comments about the Kindle, read the reviews left at Amazon.com. The Kindle Fire tablet has received nearly 15,000 different customer-written reviews, and the “Kindle Keyboard” — Amazon’s previous-generation device — has racked up a whopping 35,871 reviews. (“A hesistant buyer rejoices on his choice,” wrote one man in Colorado. “Boy am I glad I made this purchase…. It is much better in person…”) It’s fun to see that “ordinary” users are just as enthusiastic about the Kindle as the professional technology bloggers. For example, Amazon quotes the Gizmodo blog at the top of page for the Kindle Fire tablet. (“The Fire gives me the features I want at a price point that’s less than half of the iPad 2.”) But meanwhile, back in Abilene, Texas, a mother shares an even more enthusiastic review of the device from her children. “The kids are always asking to play on the “Big Phone”. :-) It has really great color and screen resolution and the battery life is really good as well.” (And she notes that even her husband enjoys their new Kindle Fire tablet — for playing Angry Birds !)

One review began brainstorming about some new creative users for the Kindle Fire — for example, as an “exercise companion” to keep you entertained while you’re working out on a treadmill machine. And they also suggested a new potential market: doctors and dentists. “What if your customers in the waiting room were each given Kindle Fires instead of magazines?”

One of the few one-star reviews complained that the Kindle Fire tablet was too attractive — at least, when the delivery man left it on their doorstep without requiring a signature. “The Fire is shipped in a box that advertised on the outside of the box exactly what it is. ‘Hello, you, thief, please come steal me!’”

Remember, if you have your own Kindle story, Amazon would like to hear it, too! “Please send us your own comments at any time,” they remind Kindle owners on the Facebook page, “via Kindle-feedback@Amazon.com .”

Amazon's new Kindle Fire tablet

Amazon “just took the gloves off,” begins an article at C|Net. Only days after Barnes and Noble discounted their color touchscreen tablets — to just $199 — Amazon announced an even cheaper price for their own Kindle Fire tablets. “Save $30 with a Certified Refurbished Kindle Fire,” Amazon now advertises on the device’s web page. “Each Certified Refurbished Kindle Fire is tested, certified, and repackaged like new…

For a shortcut to the special offer, just point your computer’s web browser to tinyurl.com/169KindleFire (“Comes with the same one-year limited warranty as a brand-new Kindle Fire…” Amazon is reminding potential buyers.) “[T]his deal first went live on Saturday,” C|Net‘s reporter notes, “and I’ve been checking all weekend to make sure they’re still in stock.

“As of this morning, they are.”

C}Net’s reporter doesn’t even own a Kindle Fire tablet, but writes that “for $169 I’m extremely tempted — especially considering that Amazon backs it with a full one-year warranty, same as new Fires…For all intents and purposes, this refurbished Fire should be the same as a new one — just $30 less. Who’s in?”

I’ve been intrigued by the extra capabilities in Amazon’s color, touchscreen tablets, and yes, they’re more appealing now that the price is cheaper. But is the discount just a hint at an even more interesting possibility? Just hours after C|Net‘s article, a reporter at PC magazine asked an even more intriguing question. Was the Kindle Fire tablet just a beta release?

“Last summer, I was one of the first to write in detail about Amazon’s Kindle Fire, expected in the fall of 2011,” writes Tim Bajarin. “My sources on this were impeccable and early on I got a good idea of what Amazon had up its sleeves. However, during my discussion with my sources on this, one interesting tidbit came up that I have not written about until now…” He reports that even while Amazon was building their 7-inch Kindle tablet, they were already thinking about a much larger tablet, and writes that he now believes “that the larger tablet will be its marquee product and the hopeful cornerstone of its tablet strategy.”

He estimates a larger tablet would cost Amazon around $300 to build, which suggests its ultimate price could come in around $299. Besides the obvious popularity of the iPad, he considers other clues that Amazon’s first tablet device was basically just a trial run. (For example, there’s the odd placement for the on-off switch, and the way that the volume controls are currently available only on the screen of the device.) “In no way was Amazon being dishonest with its customers — rather, the opposite,” writes the reporter. “For a low price, Amazon delivered a solid tablet experience… To be truly fair, many people may never want a screen larger than seven inches because of the associated weight and bulk.”

But his article still left me very excited about the possibility of a larger Kindle Fire tablet. “[U]sers must realize that the Kindle Fire is an important stepping stone for Amazon. It has allowed the company to garner key consumer feedback so it can create an even better product that can compete with the iPad and, in the end, deliver an even better user experience for its customers.

“After all, as industry insiders joke, all first-generation products, whether hardware or software, are really ‘beta’ programs disguised as initial launches.”

And remember: you can still buy my newly-released word game for the Kindle, “Throw in the Vowel,” for just $1.99!

Amazon’s Funny New Kindle Ad

February 23rd, 2012

New Kindle vs iPad sunglasses ad

Amazon’s released a funny new ad for the Kindle. But it’s part of a larger real-world story that makes it even more interesting. In July of 2010, Amazon’s CEO was being interviewed by the New York Times. He was making a point about the Kindle’s low price — at a time when the cheapest Kindle cost $139. “At $139, if you’re going to read by the pool, some people might spend more than that on a swimsuit and sunglasses,” he told the newspaper. And two months later, Amazon released an ad which made the exact same point.

“Excuse me,” says a befuddled young man at a beach resort. He’s trying to read his iPad, and he has a question for the woman next to him, in a bikini. “How are you reading that, in this light?”

“It’s a Kindle,” replies actress Anna Zielinski casually, adding almost as an afterthought: “$139.” She smiles an enormous smile, and then says: “I actually paid more for these sunglasses.”

“Amazon’s New Kindle Ad Attacks the iPad!” I wrote on my blog in September of 2010. And at the time, that was the Kindle’s biggest advantage over an iPad: you could still read your Kindle in the bright sunlight. But now it’s 17 months later, and Amazon’s launched their own color-screen tablet device. (And it costs less than half of what an iPad costs). So two weeks ago, Amazon released a clever sequel to their first ad which updates the poolside conversation, and makes the same point.

“Hey, excuse me — that’s the new Kindle, isn’t it! $79 dollars?”

“Best way to read. Even in sunlight.”

“Yeah, but I mean, if you want to watch movies, or surf the web…”

“I’ve got a Kindle Fire for that.” (The woman nods to where her two children are playing with two Kindle Fire tablets)

“Three Kindles. That’s gotta be expensive.”

“Not really. Together, they’re still less than that.” (The woman in the bikini looks disdainfully at the man’s iPad).

And there’s one more line, just to make sure viewers don’t miss the fact that the iPad-owning man was completely shot down. “Someone sitting here?” he asks the woman in the bikini.

“My husband,” she replies….


You can watch the whole ad on the Kindle’s official page at YouTube (YouTube.com/Kindle ) In fact, soon you may only be able to watch it there, since I’m guessing Amazon may never broadcast that ad again. In fact, years from now it may be remembered only as an artifact in the great war of the tablets. Because Tuesday, Barnes and Noble announced a discounted color, touchscreen Nook which costs $199 — the exact same price as the Kindle Fire tablets. (And they’ve also reduced the price of their older Nook Color devices to just $169.)

Amazon may not want to broadcast an ad about how cheap their tablets are — when their competitor’s just released a new tablet that’s even cheaper!

HAMSTER Habitat screenshot - a free Amazon Kindle game

It’s a real surprise. You launch the game on your Kindle — and see two funny hamsters looking back at you! (They look great on the large screen of my Kindle DX.) And then on the game’s main menu screen, the “selection indicators” are two little hamster icons! The game was released in January, and within a week became one of the top 3 best-selling items in the entire Kindle Store.

In “Hamster Habitat,” there’s a few small squares that represent hamster cages, and every time you nudge your Kindle’s five-way controller, a new tube appears on the screen. You’re trying to connect the hamster cages — and to reach all the hamster treats that are scattered across the screen — but it’s trickier than it looks! Soon you’ll run out of straight tubes (or curvy tubes), so your path has to swerve in another direction!

The puzzles all have funny names, like “Big Nose” or “Treats up Top”. And the hamsters actually move! While you’re staring at the screen, the little hamster icon (in its cage) will occasionally decide to sit up, or to lie back down. It reminds me of a famous web site called “the hamster dance.” In 1998, a Canadian woman inserted 392 tiny images of dancing hamsters onto her web page, accompanied by a speeded-up sound clip of the twangy voice of singer Roger Miller. (“Dee dee dee, doo doo, doo doo, doo…”) I once interviewed the woman who created it, who told me at one point her hamsters were receiving nearly a thousand fan letters each day!

Millions of hamsters later, that meme has now somehow resurfaced in a game for Amazon’s Kindle. It’s similar to “Blossom,” a Kindle game from Braintonik where you’re connecting lots of flowers to a central watering can. The hamsters give this new game a funny twist. Even when you select which level to play. each level is represented by a plate with some cheese on it!

This makes the 16th free game that Amazon has released, and there’s 66 different levels to choose from. At first I had trouble recognizing which of the thin lines represented the “opening” of the hamsters’ cages — it’s even thinner than the other lines — but it was easier when I moved the hamsters onto the giant screen of my Kindle DX. Despite the simple hamsters, it’s a real challenge to solve the puzzles, and at one point I realized I was just guessing. (I’d just nudge the five-way contorller to see what happened, since every time I pressed it, a new tube appeared on the screen, lengthening that hamster’s tunnel and moving it closer to the treats!)

I think games must free some extra creativity in the people who build them. What happens in the Land of Play? It’s only limit is your imagination. A friend of mine once created a game that was called “Roshambo Run” with the strangest instructions I’ve ever seen. (“You’re a minature angry nun who loves coffee. Shut up. You just are. Due to your alarmingly small size, you must go around any muffins in your way…”) If you successfully completed a level, you were even rewarded with a quote from the lead singer of Twisted Sister. (You can still see it at Archive.org. Just point your computer’s web browser to tinyurl.com/RoshamboRun )

Maybe games don’t just free up creativity in the game designers, but also in the people who play the games. After all, once you’ve navigated a game board as a minature angry nun, it’s just one small step to connecting hamster cages on your Kindle!

And remember, you can still download my Kindle game too, at TinyURL.com/ThrowInTheVowel

President Abraham Lincoln reading a book
I remember the day when I almost met President Clinton. He was helping a school in my town install the cables for internet access in 1996 — along with Al Gore — and I was covering the event for a local alternative newsweekly. Some of the volunteers that day wore t-shirts that said “I connected our kids to the future.” And in the teacher’s lounge, I’d found the left-behind remains of sandwich from a local deli, with the word “president” written on a plastic cover. (It was left behind under a sign which read “Your mother doesn’t work here, so clean up after yourself!”)

It was a weird moment, when I realized that when there’s a new technology, we’re all “pioneering” our way towards it together. And 14 years later, when that future finally arrived, I feel like we’d ended up doing it again, moving together as an invisible group, this time towards a new reading technology. Shortly after the inauguration of President Obama, CNN reported that former President Bush had returned to Texas, where he was “meeting the neighbors, making trips to the hardware store, and catching up on some reading via a Kindle.” The same article notes that his wife Laura had a Kindle too. And that same month, former vice president Dick Cheney revealed he also had a Kindle.

But it’s not just that the Kindle was being used by a handful of White House occupants. After receiving a $7 million advance, former president Bush soon released his new autobiography. By the end of its first day — counting pre-orders — he’d sold 220,000 copies and delivered nearly $4 million in book sales. But the former president also discovered that nearly 23% of his readers were buying it as an ebook!

A new world may be emerging — an accidental community of early adopters — since the publisher’s spokesman said the figures demonstrated the “rapid growth” of the ebook market. (I calculated that thatwas over half a million dollars worth of ebooks sold in a single day!) The publisher also revealed that at the time, it was their highest one-day sales in six years — since they’d published the autobiography of former president Bill Clinton. But there’s also something significant about the fact that even Clinton’s biography is now available as a Kindle ebook, along with several by Ronald Reagan, and even more by Jimmy Carter…

And in 2011, even president Obama released a new book — and also decided to make it available on the Kindle. It was a children’s book called Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to my Daughters, and it’s got its own perspective on the way America has changed. It looks back to past presidents like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, but also ordinary citizens who made a difference, likeMartin Luther King Jr., Helen Keller, Georgia O’Keefe, and Jackie Robinson. It’s fun to think that this will be the first generation of children who may be reading these classic stories of American history on a Kindle!

The world keeps on changing, both in big ways and in small. (One political blog reported that President Bush now seems more interested in his iPad than his Kindle, and according to his wife Laura, he’s “constantly” playing the Scrabble app.) But 10 years ago, The Washington Post once reported, there was an even bigger challenge confronting ebook author Barack Obama: obscurity! “In the summer of 2000 when he flew from Chicago to Los Angeles for the Democratic convention and no one knew him, his credit card bounced, and he left after a forlorn day hanging out as an unimportant face lost in the power-lusting crowd.”

It all goes to show that a lot can change in 10 years — both for politicians, as well as the rest of us!

Throw in the Vowel - a Kindle word game

I wrote a game for the Kindle! We’ve actually fussed over this game’s big concept, on and off, for over six years, so this really feels like a dream that’s finally come true. After more than a year (of preparing it for the Kindle), we’ve finally released “Throw in the Vowel,” our original new word game, in Amazon’s Kindle Store!

Download it at tinyurl.com/Throwinthevowel

I almost wept the day our graphic designer showed us the beautiful background illustration they’d created for the game, showing shining tall columns, draped with vines, surrounding a detailed tiled floor. We’ve created a beautiful, magical place, where mist glows around virtual columns, and letters hover — hiding in “clue boxes”, highlighted by you, as you nudge your Kindle’s controller. It’s a gentle game of hide-and-seek with words — or as my girlfriend put it, “a love letter to the English language.”

Throw in the Vowel Kindle game screenshot

I created this game with an old friend who’s actually had this dream even longer than I have! I first met Jeffrey Prince in 1991, working together at a start-up in Northern California — and even back then, I remember him telling me that he’d always wanted to create a new challenging game to share with the world. Now Jeffrey’s in his sixties, but in 2005 he’d suggested that we finally make this dream come true. I’d mocked up a prototype of the game he’d described, but then we’d kept on fiddling with it. And we spent the next five years cheerfully trying to stump each other with new variations on our puzzles, until eventually we’d created several hundred of them.

But in 2010, Jeffrey resurrected his original 2005 idea, and we realized that this concept was really special. We’ve searched for exotic patterns of vowels — like four O’s in a row, or three U’s — and provided the consonants which will turn them all into words. (But where that match won’t immediately be obvious!) There’s always 10 choices, but can you find the right match among the nine other clue boxes? (Can you “Throw in the Vowel?”) It offers the thrill of creating meaning itself — turning arbitrary patterns into words. In one puzzle, the “clue box” even has five S’s!

For the last year I’ve been telling Jeffrey that he may have invented the world’s next, great word game. “The excitement increases” (as we explain on the game’s page on Amazon) as “a tower of words grows higher.” Each puzzle gets easier as you go along, and there’s an extra-special puzzle at the very end. When we added it, I smiled to myself, wondering if anyone else will love these words just as much as I do…

For each list of 10 words in “Throw in the Vowel”, Jeffrey or I spent nearly an hour considering hundreds of possibilities. And each set required nearly 30 million automated checks against a dictionary, to make sure it was perfectly unique — that there was always only one correct match for every set of letters in each one of our puzzles. It was an intense “labor of love,” and now I feel like I’ve somehow touched the inside of the Kindle Store. And maybe even the Kindle itself, traveling across invisible connections to the screens of hundreds of different Kindles…

Levels are played, scores are kept, highlights move up and down, and players get cheered on with 54 different encouraging comments from Jeffrey and me. (“You rock!” “You’re on fire!” “You found it!” “Keep going…”) I’m excited, and a little proud — and hopeful. (And happy…) But I’m also just amazed, that somehow we’ve crashed through the gate into game-land. We’ve found the secret place where all the words are hiding.

And we’ve joined that family of invisible game-makers who are always out there, somewhere, trying to bring some fun into the world.

Come and play!

tinyurl.com/Throwinthevowel

Throw in the Vowel - a Kindle word game

A Very Big Announcement

February 16th, 2012

shh - finger to lips - secret rumor

I’m making a big, secret announcement here — on Friday! Watch for that special blog post at noon (west-coast time, or 3:00 east-coast time). I’ve been preparing for that big day all week…

So in honor of “my big announcement day”, I’ve tracked down the very first e-mail that I’d ever sent to anybody about Amazon’s Kindle. It was before I’d even bought one, towards the end of 2009, but I’d sent an e-mail to some friends on a mailing list that we’d set up for discussion random things. Barnes and Noble had just announced a brand new e-reader that they were about to release, called…the Nook. “It comes out at the end of November,” I wrote, “and looks a lot like Amazon’s Kindle, except it’s got a virtual ‘touch’ keyboard instead of an actual keyboard — along with a touch screen.”


Most of the differences are minor — you’ll be able to read entire ebooks (or “browse” them) if you bring it into a Barnes & Noble, and you’ll be able to “loan” ebooks to your friends for two weeks. I’ve been skeptical about the whole concept of a techno-gizmo-logical “reading device,” even though several blogs that I read were raving about them. But they’ve got some capabilities I didn’t know about…

* Free, always-on internet access. It’s kind of minimal, I’ve heard, partly because the screens are black and white, but the price is right. The idea is that if you can go online whenever you want, you can also browse their book-buying catalogs whenever the whim strikes you. (One user told a story about hearing NPR describe a new book — and deciding to purchase it then and there on their Kindle. Within seconds, it had been beamed down to his device, and he was off reading its first chapter…) But beyond purchasing copies: it’s also a cheap back-up internet device.

* You can subscribe to newspapers — even out-of-state newspapers — and for less than their print editions cost.

Plus, I had two experiences that made me start thinking seriously about it. I discovered Project Gutenberg’s free online library had an entire collection of short fiction (by Bret Harte) that’s set in California’s gold country. I’d been to four bookstores, none of which actually had any of his books, so score one for digital books. (And Project Gutenberg has other cool obscure texts. For example, in 1914, some guy in California took a walking tour “Through Bret Harte Country,” and described what every city was like.)

More importantly, I’ve been reading the stories on my computer screen — and thinking that maybe a low-glare reader might make it more feasible to read longer digital works. (For that matter, you can also read blogs on these things — so maybe I could also just cut down on my monitor-based web browsing.) But the most compelling argument I saw for digital readers were from people who said that after they bought them, they read more. You’d never lug 20 books to the dentist’s office or while you’re riding on a bus — but your Kindle (or Nook) can carry them all, so you can pick out something that fits your mood. And maybe because it’s a new experience, it also makes reading feel exciting and new and geeky.

But also, people said that they were now reading more literature — because it was free. Or they’re reading obscure pulp fiction and mystery novels from the 1920s whose copyright had expired. And digital publishers also give away the first chapter for free (to try to entice you to buy the whole thing) — so I’ve heard people say they try more different kinds of books now, and it widens what they’re eventually reading.

Maybe — dare I say it? — it’s actually an improvement on reading a book, since maybe it’s lighter and easier to hold. And if you want to look up a word, you don’t have to fumble around for your dictionary. There’s even a built-in text-to-speech feature.

Granted, it may be that the only people you hear talking about the Kindle are the people who are deeply in love with it. But I wonder if this is going to catch on and really change our world in a major way? (One tech site even claimed the Kindle already had a faster adoption rate than the iPhone.)

Anyone have any thoughts on these new-fangled digital reading devices?

You know the rest. A few friends said they’d also been skeptical of the Kindle, until they bought one, and then they loved them. So I eventually bought a Kindle for myself, then started a blog about the Kindle…and the rest is history. And now there’s a new milestone coming up — Friday, at noon (PST).

Check this blog tomorrow to hear the big news!

Kindle Fire cover

Promising “a sweet deal” for Valentine’s Day, Amazon’s reduced the price on many Kindle accessories by 30%. The deal ends Tuesday (February 14th), but there’s still time to place an “overnight” order if you need a quick gift. And Amazon’s offering bigger discounts elsewhere on their site for some other traditional gift items. On some pieces of jewelry, Amazon’s even announced up to 70% discounts — and free one-day shipping!

But I was more intrigued by the bargain-priced Kindle accessories. For example, you can dress your Kindle Fire tablet in a genuine leather case for just $48.99. (Normally the Versa Marrakesh cover sells for $69.) And for the new Kindle (and other models), there’s also a wide selection of sleeves and cases. Even the Kindle power adapter is reduced in price, to just $14.99 (though you can also buy used adapters for as little as $2.00.)

Amazon promises these accessories make a great gift “for yourself or your favorite Kindle owner this Valentine’s day.” But they’re also offering big savings on “classic” Valentine’s Day gifts like chocolate, fragrances, watches, and clothing. There’s even gifts for men in categories like sports and recreation, fitness, and gear for sports fans. (Amazon promises that “Whether your leading man is a gadget guy, outdoor enthusiast, avid golfer, or devoted sports fan, we’ve got the perfect gifts to express your love.”) You can browse through all the discounted gifts in a special page Amazon’s created as a “Valentine’s Day store”.

To reach the page, point your web browser to tinyurl.com/AmazonValentines

Amazon’s even got a gift for Kindle lovers that you can purchase on February 14th. They’re offering “instant delivery” on an Amazon gift card via e-mail. (And I’m guessing the graphics are very attractive.) The selection includes “Kindle-branded” gift cards, so you can send a store credit that’s announced by the silhouette of a reader sitting happily under a tree. And you can really surprise your valentine on Tuesday by delivering your gift card as a Facebook “wall post”. (Amazon reminds you that besides ebooks, they’re also redeemable for “millions of other items at Amazon.”)

But best of all, you can even order a bouquet of flowers from Amazon, from companies like 1-800-Flowers and Proflowers!

Screenshot from new Amazon Kindle TV ad - The Book Lives On

A while back I put out a call to a journalist’s network, asking Kindle users to answer one simple question: what’s your own favorite story about using the Kindle? The answers poured in from all across America, but each person seemed to have a very positive experience that was also very unique! For example, Patrick Kerley, an account supervisor for a PR firm in Washington, D.C., remembered a great Kindle story about his mother. “She and my father were traveling between North Carolina and southern Florida when they blew a tire. The Kindle’s web browser helped them locate a replacement!”

I thought about that story today, because Amazon this fall Amazon didn’t included the free 3G service for web browsing with their new Kindle Touch (and the new $79 Kindle). So the experience of owning a Kindle is a little different today — though of course, it’s also made the new Kindles cheaper. And for Kindle Touch owner’s, Amazon’s still making free 3G service available for browsing in the Kindle Store. So it’s still going to possible for Kindle owners to stumble into their own unique experiences of using their Kindles in unexpected real-life situations.

For example, the free wireless internet access once played an even bigger role for Sophia Chiang, a San Francisco entrepreneur on an extended trip through China. She reported that the Kindle was a great way to buy “uncensored English magazines like Newsweek, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Atlantic Monthly.” Amazon’s Whispernet network actually allowed her to circumvent the Chinese government’s ongoing news censorship.

Her Kindle also let Sophia beam down travel guidebooks that were written in English. “We went on a last minute trip to a more remote part of China and we got our Lonely Planet guide immediately on the Kindle.” Without the Kindle, she reported on her blog, the only alternative would’ve been scrambling around trying to find a Chinese bookstore, and then hoping that they’d have a travel guidebook, in stock, that was written in English!

Because it was a long trip, Sophia was also glad that her Kindle could last for over a week without a recharge. But her last reason was one of the most exciting. Even though I’ve written a lot about children’s books on the Kindle, Sophia is the first person I know who’s actually using the Kindle to buy ebooks for her children. (“Our kids loved the Kindle and loved being able to buy Magic Tree House, ABC Mysteries series even in the middle of the Middle Kingdom.”)

And speaking of kids, I think my all-time personal favorite response probably came from Marc Pittman, who runs a fundraising-education business in Maine. At the time, he described himself as a “proud owner” of an original Kindle 1, and says “I think my happiest moment so far happened at the playground last week. I was using my iPad (*gasp*) when a 5 year old kid ran past, stopped, and shouted ‘Cool Kindle!’

“Kids know where the real innovation is!”

I’d also heard from Andrea McKinnon, a publicist in Burbank who was “an avid book lover, reader and saver” — until her husband dared to give her a Kindle in May as a Mother’s Day gift… Within seven days, Andrea was assigned a 250-page manuscript, and she’d had to read the entire thing before passing it on to a publisher. “My choices? Read 250 pages on my laptop or print out 250 pages.” But wait! There was a third choice — uploading the document to the Kindle, and then reading it as an ebook! And — to cut to the end of the story — Andrea soon began describing herself as “a new Kindle convert.”

“I was also traveling at the time, so along it came with me, to read on the plane and in the hotel, along with the novel I was reading at the time. One small Kindle, two giant tomes en route for work and pleasure!”

And meanwhile, on the opposite coast, a woman named Elaine Bloom was also enjoying her Kindle for an entirely different reason. Elaine described herself as a LinkedIn Strategist, but unfortunately, she also had a broken left leg. (“I fell on ice in a diner parking lot at the beginning of March…”) It was painful, and her foot was constantly kept elevated — which made it difficult to read in different positions, or even turn the pages of a conventional book. But fortunately, with the Kindle “I could easily read it while I was lying down in bed. I could hold it in one hand and use that same hand to hit the button to advance the page. It would have been difficult for me to hold a book and no way I could read and turn the pages with one hand.” The grateful New Jersey woman reported that the Kindle “saved my sanity….I was able to do a lot of reading when I couldn’t do anything else.

“The only other thing I could do was watch daytime television — which could drive you crazy!”

Amazon office building in Seattle

Your local mall might be getting a new tenant — a Kindle Store, filled with Kindles, accessories and the most popular books in print (including books published exclusively by Amazon). At least, that’s the new rumor which found its way to Publisher’s Weekly.

On their Twitter feed, the industry magazine shared the juicy headline (from a story by the Financial Post). “Is Amazon bringing a bookstore to a mall near you?” it asks, citing a report from the blog “Good E-Reader.” Within the next few months, according to the story, Amazon will try opening a real-world store to sell books and Kindles in Seattle, as “a test to gauge the market and see if a chain of stores would be profitable”! They cite multiple sources at Amazon “close to the situation,” and predict the store will open before next Christmas, and maybe even towards the fall, when Amazon officially launches their own line of books, or when Amazon releases the next version of their Kindle Fire tablet.

My first thought was: Maybe it’s because of the Kindle. Maybe ebooks have become so popular that Amazon now needs a new way to get rid of all their printed books! But then I remembered a bitter fight that Amazon’s been having with Barnes and Noble. Amazon announced they’d start publishing their own line of printed books, and then Barnes and Noble announced that they wouldn’t sell them! And they’re not the only bookstore planning to freeze out Amazon’s books, according to a columnist at Publisher’s Weekly. “I asked a number of independent booksellers in my beat (the South) whether they’d be stocking Amazon-published books. Answers ranged from ‘No’ to ‘Hell, no.’ ”

It’s an interesting column, because it points out that Barnes and Noble acquired a publishing house of their own in 2003 — after which other big book-sellers (including Borders and Costco) announced they’d
they stop carrying books from that publisher. “It’s easy to forget, in the age of monolithic publishing houses and ubiquitous big-box retailers, that the bookstore-as-publisher tradition goes way back – as pointed out in a recent Salon article, Shakespeare & Company published Ulysses, and City Lights published Howl.” But it still feels like an aggressive move, with Amazon launching both a publishing house for print books and a line of stores for selling them.

Of course, their real target may be Apple. Maybe Amazon’s decided they need their own stores at the mall where people can buy a Kindle Fire tablet, to keep competing with Apple’s iPad. Maybe Amazon wants to be able to offer same-day customer support, where you can bring in a defective Kindle, and receive a replacement Kindle the same day! And in the long-run, Amazon can keep benefiting from any new customers that their stores would bring in. After all, once a customer buys a Kindle, they’ll start buying all of their ebooks from Amazon!

It’s stories like this convince me that our world is changing — and fast! Last year, we were debating whether Amazon would destroy local bookstores. Now instead, we’re wondering whether Amazon will become our local bookstore!

Dr. Larry Rosen once wrote an interesting article for Psychology Today. His blog is called “Rewired: The Psychology of Technology,” and he ultimately confronted a new argument against digital readers – that non-linear reading “is changing our brain and moving us away from deep thought into more shallow thinking”!

By non-linear technology, Rosen’s referring mostly to the hyperlinked discussions which happen online, where it’s almost too easy to flit away to a new web page or a new activity (like checking your e-mail or answering instant messages). But author Nicholas Carr predicts that even reading books will soon enter this universe of “interruption” technologies, in which we’re not just reading but also simultaneously participating in a distracted online dialogue related to that same book. Nicholas Carr is the author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. But fortunately, he received a strong rebuttal from Rosen, a professor of psychology at California State University — who’s also an avid Kindle user!

“I bought a Kindle when they first came out in late 2007…” he remembers in his blog post, “and delighted in using it on airplane trips instead of bringing along two or three paperback books.” And Rosen ultimately sees the hyperlinking of online discussions as a good thing. (“As C.S. Lewis said, ‘We read to know we are not alone.’”) “What better way to read a book than to be able to share it as we are reading? Isn’t that what book clubs are all about?

“The difference here is that people will be able to read what other people think about the book as they read. They can even discuss the book live while they are reading it, not when they have read the final page…”

I have to agree. And even without joining an online discussion, I’ve been reading some free history ebooks on my Kindle, and sometimes I’ll get inspired to dig deeper into some especially intriguing details. (“Wait a minute — the re-supply ship to the Jamestown colony in 1609 actually crashed instead in Bermuda? And they only made it to America because they built two new ships while shipwrecked? And that may have inspired Shakespeare to write The Tempest?“) I think one of the best things a book can do is pique your curiosity. And now it’s easier to act on that curiosity with a Kindle, since it lets you look up any word in a dictionary, and look up any topic in Wikipedia with its always-available wireless connection.

That’s ultimately going to make us smarter, not shallower. And I think this whole debate can be summed up by two brilliant sentences from author David Weinberger. “Perhaps the web isn’t shortening our attention span,” he wrote in 2002. “Perhaps the world is just getting more interesting…”

I don’t know if this is an ironic twist, but I actually read Weinberger’s defense of the web in an old-fashioned printed book. (Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory Of The Web.) It was written five years before the Kindle even existed, but there’s now a neat Kindle version of his mind-boggling insights. And yesterday Dr. Rosen’s blog post seemed to make a similar argument.

Sure, teenagers may someday be participating in online discussions while they’re reading a book, but “This is way better than seeing students read the Cliff Notes or not even reading at all.” And ultimately he puts the whole debate into perspective. “As Dr. Gary Small, director of the Center on Aging at UCLA and author of iBrain said discussing online reading, ‘People tend to ask whether this is good or bad.

‘My response is that the tech train is out of the station and it’s impossible to stop.’”

Amazon Kindle 399 ebook sale

It’s a special tradition. Every month, Amazon picks 100 ebooks to offer at a discount of $3.99 or less. There’s always a new selection on the first day of the month, and I’m pretty excited about the discounted ebooks for February. To see the selection, point your computer’s web browser to tinyurl.com/399books

So which 100 ebooks did Amazon choose for their big discount this month??


God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut ($2.99)

One of Vonnegut’s favorite novels tells the story of a U.S. Senator’s eccentric son, a millionaire who becomes a wandering philanthropist. Vonnegut’s next novel was Slaughter-house Five, and the New York Times Book Review says this book shows the author “at his wildest best.” But in researching this story, I discovered there’s also two free Vonnegut ebooks in the Kindle Store — both short stories. (There’s “The Big Trip Up Yonder” and “2 B R 0 2 B”). And according to Wikipedia, that second story is actually referenced in the novel “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater,” attributed to Vonnegut’s own fictitious character, a science-fiction author named Kilgore Trout.


The Borrowers by Mary Norton ($1.99)

It was one of the 10 most important children’s novels of the last 70 years, according to the judges of a Carnegie Medal awards program. In a grand English manor, a tiny family is secretly living in the floorboards of the kitchen. They “borrow” what they need for their homestead, until one day disaster strikes, and the father is seen by a little boy. The culture of the “big people” confronts the question of the existence of the little people, and the change in perspective makes this story unforgettable. “Like all great books for the young, The Borrowers can be read as an enthralling story of adventure,” writes one reviewer on Amazon, “but also contains many layers of meaning…”


The Door into Summer by Robert A. Heinlein ($2.99)

The master of science fiction wrote this novel in 1957 — in which a hard-drinking inventor travels forward through time to the year…2000. There he discovers that the robots he’d been building in the 1950s have become a popular fixture in society — and tracks down a relative of the business partner who’d double-crossed him. It’s often been voted one of the 50 best science fiction novels of all time — and I love this explanation of the book’s title. According to Wikipedia, it came from a joke by the author’s wife about a cat that was refusing to leave its house through any of numerous doors, because it saw snow on the ground. “He is looking for The Door into Summer….”


What Would Keith Richards Do?: Daily Affirmations from a Rock and Roll Survivor by Jessica Pallington West ($1.99)

“To me, the main thing about living on this planet is to know who the hell you are and to be real about it…” So says the hard-living guitarist for the Rolling Stones, who became both a legend and a punchline after surviving a wild life of rock and roll. This 256-page collection offers a fun alternative to other self-help advice books, with quotes and analysis about what we all can learned from the life of Keith Richards himself. “I’m here because I’ve taken the trouble to find out who I am,” Richards says at one point — echoing the advice he gave to Captain Jack Sparrow in that Pirates of the Caribbean movie. (“It’s not whether you can live forever. It’s whether you can live with yourself.”) And I enjoyed how the advice was grouped into chapters with clever titles, like “Keith and Nietzsche” or “Keithisms: The 26 Ten Commandments of Keith Richards.”


Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded by Ann VanderMeer ($2.99)

This 431-page anthology offers some of the best “steampunk” science fiction around – including a short story by William Gibson, and another by “original” steampunk author, H.G. Wells. “Steampunk” is a trendy fiction genre that a lot of my friends love, a kind of reaction to our technology-saturated times (and the popularity of edgy “cyberpunk” science fiction stories.) Steampunk science fiction is often set in the Victorian era, where the most powerful technology available is a steam-powered engine!