Harry Potter as a Kindle ebook

It’s finally happened! All seven of the original Harry Potter books are now available for the Kindle. (You can find them at tinyurl.com/HarryPotterKindle ) “We’re excited that Harry Potter fans worldwide are now able to read J.K. Rowling’s fantastic books on their Kindles and free Kindle reading apps,” announced Amazon’s vice president of Kindle Content. “For years our customers have loved reading Harry Potter books…” he added, noting that it’s the all-time best-selling series on Amazon.com.

They’re available in every country, and they’re priced at just $7.99 — or $9.99 for the last three books in the series — so the discounts should make these ebooks even more popular. In the weeks to come, there’ll even be versions of the ebooks in foreign languages. (Maybe they’ll release an edition in Parseltongue?) But J.K. Rowlings has already sold over 400 million print editions of her Harry Potter novels, and in fact, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — the last book in the series — was the all-time best-selling item on Amazon when it was released in 2007.

Of course, Amazon was selling its print edition for $7.99 — a 50% discount — to attract new customers, and they once claimed they weren’t earning any profits from those sales. Today Amazon is still selling the print edition at a 42% discount — but as of Tuesday morning, there are now also ebook editions available for every book in the series with nearly the same discount! “Muggles rejoice!” Amazon gushed Tuesday in a post on the Kindle’s page on Facebook — and within two hours, more than 2,300 people clicked its “Like” icon. 589 more people re-posted the news on their own Facebook pages, and another 156 left enthusiastic comments.

“Let me just say, I feel $57 for the entire set ($8.14 per book) is very reasonable,” posted one fan. One mother had some trouble online with the new “Pottermore” ebook site where the books are being sold, but was still excited about the big news because “I’ve been waiting to read them to my son from my Kindle.” Another post was directed to the author of the series — “Thank you J.K.Rowling for listening to us fans and providing the Harry Potter series on the Kindle.” And one Kindle fan claimed he’d avoided the series when it was in print, but “I may read them now…”

J.K. Rowling may also publish new material on her Pottermore site – and there’s another reason why this news is significant. According to the American Library Association, the Harry Potter books are one of the more frequent targets for censorship campaigns. But magically, now that they’re available in digital editions, it’ll be much harder to stop them from reaching young readers.

And there’s one more reason why this is a perfect match. Last year Amazon announced that there was one new product which had finally become even more popular than Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

The Kindle!

Amazon's new Kindle Fire tablet

An alternative newsweekly near Silicon Valley just devoted a special edition to “The Trouble with Tablets.” They noted it’s been just two years since the iPad first appeared in the world, and yet nearly a fifth of all Americans now report that they own a tablet. Amazon’s making tablets even more popular with their new color “Kindle Fire” tablets — and the newsweekly also wondered if this meant still more competition for local bookstores. Their reporter even interviewed the owner of Berkeley’s Pegasus bookstores, who said “What a quaint threat chain stores turned out to be!”

I thought the article offered a fresh look at the “gloom and doom” predictions for the future of printed books — and the people who sell them. For example, the article applauded a new program from Google which allows tablet owners to buy an e-book through the web site of their local bookstore. Unfortunately, there’s not a version of that program for Kindle owners, but even then, judging from the article, most local bookstore owners find that they’re not able to sell many e-books to their customers anyways. “As soon as you figure out a way to let customers know we sell e-books, you let me know,” says the owner of Pegasus.

But there was an interesting idea in the article: maybe bookstores could sell a print book that also included a copy of its e-book edition, as a “bundle”. Bookstore customers “might be drawn to the idea of being able to have a hardcover to read in the bathtub or pass onto their children along with having a discounted, lightweight e-book…” Plus, it would finally give bookstores a sure-fire way to sell e-books.

But I thought this was the most telling story of all: one Berkeley book-seller found an innovative way to survive…by selling their printed books on Amazon. The owner of Moe’s Books has discovered she can sell rare and expensive or “collectible” books through Amazons web site, reaching more customers than she ever could through an exclusively local bookstore.

In fact, 20% of the store’s sales are now happening online!

A Free Ebook by Susie Bright

March 25th, 2012

Susie Bright
You can’t pass through Northern California without hearing about Susie Bright. She’s an unapologetic “sex educator” and author, and a cutting-edge liberal who survived the big cultural revolution in the 1970s, then made a career out of analyzing what happened next. Now she’s finally published a tell-all memoir about her life – and at least until midnight on Sunday, it’s available as a free Kindle ebook!

“I have a very scary feeling Susie Bright is not making any of this up,” joked cartoonist Alison Bechdel. The book’s title is “Big Sex, Little Death,” and it’s described on Amazon as a “stunning and courageous coming-of-age story…Susie Bright opens her heart and her life.” Though she started life as a Girl Scout, the book describes the experiences that changed her life, “including her early involvement with notorious high school radicals The Red Tide… Big Sex Little Death is an explosive yet intimate memoir that’s pure Susie: bold, free-spirited, unpredictable—larger than life, yet utterly true to life.”

I actually met Susie Bright once through a friend of a friend. (I remember that I’d told her about my teenaged crush on Annette Funicello, while she told me about the history of San Francisco’s strip clubs!) So I have to admit I was touched when I read this plea on her personal blog. “It’s my birthday this weekend, and nothing would please me more than if you’d cut a piece of cake and downloaded my book!” And according to her blog post, one of her fans is a literary superstar — Tom Perotta, who wrote the best-selling novels Little Children and The Leftovers (as well as “Election”, which was turned into a Matthew Broderick movie in 1999.) He describes her as “a one-woman counterculture, a teenaged socialist revolutionary turned Reagan-era sexual freedom fighter.”

But I think my all-time favorite story is about the time she turned up in some political coverage in Rolling Stone magazine. At one point, their reporter quipped off-handedly that Susie Bright “could not be accused of shutting up.”

Susie Bright liked the quote so much, she later made that the tagline for her personal blog!

War of the Kindle Audiobooks

March 23rd, 2012

Audible Tournment of Audiobooks trophy

Amazon Books shared a surprising announcement this week. On Facebook, they’re publicizing the “5th Annual Tournament of Audiobooks!” It’s a head-to-head competition to determine which audiobook is the most popular — as determined by an online vote. The tournament will be conducted by Audible.com — the audiobook service that Amazon purchased in 2008 — and they’ve structured the competition like the “March madness” playoffs…complete with brackets!

You can check out all the action at audible.com/tournament — but Audible also shared a very interesting announcement about the 32 audiobooks. You can download their first chapters for free!

You can listen to the audiobooks or their sample chapters on any Kindle (except the newest $79 Kindle) — and it’s quite a selection. Audible’s selected the “contending” audiobooks from four different categories — including “customer favorites”, best-sellers, the “critically acclaimed” audiobooks, and their editors’ picks. You can also listen to the audiobooks (or their sample chapters) on Audible apps, which are available for the Android devices, the iPhone, iPod Touch, and Blackberry devices. Here’s a complete list of the 32 audibooks that are competing this year to become “the Champion of Audiobooks.”

Best-Sellers
Bossypants by Tina Fey (narrated by Tina Fey)
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (narrated by Dylan Baker)
11-22-63 by Stephen King (Narrated by Craig Wasson)
The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly (narrated by Peter Giles)
The Litigators by John Grisham (narrated by Dennis Boutsikaris)
Against All Enemies by Tom Clancy (narrated by Steven Weber)
A Dance with Dragons: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Five by George R. R. Martin (narrated by Roy Dotrice)

Dead Reckoning: Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mystery #11 by Charlaine Harris (narrated by Johanna Parker)

Customer Favorites
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (narrated by Wil Wheaton)
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (narrated by Jim Dale)
The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon (narrated by Davina Porter)
Relic: Pendergast, Book 1 by Douglas Preston (narrated by David Colacci)
How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf by Molly Harper (narrated by Amanda Ronconi)

Helter Skelter: the True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry (narrated by Scott Brick)

The Wise man’s Fear: Kingkiller Chronicles, Day 2 by Patrick Rothfuss (narrated by Nick Podehl)

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (narrated by Jennifer Ikeda)

Editor’s Picks
Just Kids by Patti Smith (narrated by Patti Smith)
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (narrated by Hope Davis)
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (narrated by Rebecca Lowman)
My Dog Tulip by J. R. Ackerley (narrated by Ralph Cosham)
Delirium by Lauren Oliver (narrated by Sarah Drew)

Solaris: the Definitive Edition by Stanislaw Lem, Bill Johnson (narrated by Alessandro Juliani)

The Psychopath Test: a Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson (narrated by Jon Ronson)

The Informationist: A Thriller by Taylor Stevens (narrated by Hillary Huber)

Critically Acclaimed
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (narrated by David Pittu)
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (narrated by Richard Morant)
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (narrated by Holter Graham)

Rogue Island by Bruce DeSilva (narrated by Jeff Woodman, Bruce DeSilva)

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (narrated by Allison Hiroto, Marc Vietor, Mark Boyett)

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (narrated by Stephen Greenblatt)

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool (narrated by Jenna Larmia, Cassandar Campbell, Kirby Heyborne)

The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht (narrated by Susan Duerden, Robin Sachs)


And the first round of voting has already begun! Audible created a special web page for the tournament (at audible.com/tournament ) for casting votes, warning participants that the first-round votes must be received by next Monday, March 26th. And to pump up the excitement, they’ve even filmed some funny videos about the online competition. (Watch the videos online at tinyurl.com/AudiobookBrackets

I have to admit, it looks like everyone’s having a lot of fun. Like a real sportscast, it’s got its own flashy intro music with synthesized drums, seguing into the roar of a cheering crowd and two faux sportscasters covering all the action. “This is the Stanley Cup of digital audiobooks,” barks announcer Jake Jacobson. “Every week for the next five weeks, the top audiobooks will face off in single-elimination match-ups, right here at audible.com/tournament…

“And with eight seeds in each region, you can expect non-stop, run-and-gun action.”

More Book Deals from Amazon

March 21st, 2012

Monopoly man gets bank error in his favor cash

I knew Amazon featured 100 new ebooks for $3.99 or less at the beginning of each month. But it turns out they’re also running a second concurrent sale on ebooks — called “The Big Deal!” Amazon’s slashed the price on 200 more Kindle ebooks, to just $0.99, $1.99, $2.99, or $3.99. But if you’re interested, you better hurry — because this sale only runs through Sunday (March 25th)

Check out all the ebook discounts at
tinyurl.com/EbookBigDeal

So what ebooks have been discounted? There’s fiction, mysteries, children’s books, science fiction, history, nonfiction, some health/mind/body books, and even some choices from Amazon’s “religion & spirituality” category. 28 of the bargain-priced books are in the fiction section, including some classics that you might not expect. Four of Kurt Vonnegut’s books are on sale for only $2.99 — Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat’s Cradle, Breakfast of Champions, and Welcome to the Monkey House. Also available is Brave New World by Aldous Huxley — as well as Brave New World Revisited, a set of essays written 26 years after his original novel, “in which he meditates on how his fantasy seemed to be becoming a reality and far more quickly than he ever imagined.” And there’s even a collection of Ziggy cartoons — a 35th-anniversary special featuring over 200 cartoons — for just 99 cents!

But in another section, Amazon’s also offering 18 more mystery and thriller ebooks at a discount. There’s Hello Kitty Must Die, a tale of intrigue with a fascinating cultural subtext — and Heaven Preserve Us: A Home Crafting Mystery. (“Sophie Mae Reynolds makes preserves by day and answers a crisis center help referral line by night… But on her very first night, she gets a call from a man who is threatening suicide . . . and her!”) In another section, there’s nine discounted children’s ebooks — including The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook (“From Cauldron Cakes to Knickerbocker Glory–More Than 150 Magical Recipes for Muggles and Wizards”). And the science fiction section has 11 more books at a discount, including the original I am Legend.

Of course, there’s also non-fiction titles available at a discount — 12 of them — plus another 9 discounted ebooks in a separate history section. (And there’s another 10 books in the Health/Body/Mind section.) But surprisingly, the biggest selection of discounted books appears to be in Amazon’s “Religion & Spirituality” section, where there’s over 53 titles available at a discount. “Shop for yourself, or give Kindle books — delivered when you want — to anyone with an email address,” Amazon suggests at the top of the page. “No Kindle required. Books can be read on Kindle or one of our free reading apps.”

There may be “territorial restrictions” — so I can’t guarantee these deals are available outside the U.S. But it’s still an interesting selection of titles! And if that’s not enough, there’s also another way to find cheap ebooks that I’ve just discovered. Every day Amazon offers a “Daily Deal” on one ebook — dropping its price for just 24 hours to as low as 25 cents! My problem was I kept missing the good deals, because I’d forget to check Amazon’s page. But they’ve introduced a new service where you can sign for e-mail reminders about the ebooks — so you’ll never miss a sale! For an easy-to-remember shortcut, point your web browser to tinyurl.com/DailyEmailDeal

And remember, you can check out all the ebook discounts at
tinyurl.com/EbookBigDeal

There’s so many ways to find cheap ebooks on Amazon, sometimes it’s hard to keep track of them all!

A Kindle on the Simpsons

March 19th, 2012

The Simpsons has been on TV for 23 years — and they’ve finally made a joke about the Kindle. Marge Simpson’s birthday is March 19th (according to this episode). So it’s a perfect time to take a look at where exactly the Kindle fits in to their imaginary hometown of Springfield.

It’s the episode where young Bart Simpson becomes a famous grafitti artist — but only to get revenge on his father Homer. In a complicated tit-for-tat, Homer punishes Bart by making him sleep in a tiny metal rabbit cage. (“You can’t strangle a boy on his mother’s birthday,” Homer reasons. “Juries hate that.”) When Bart’s finally released, he goes on a massive grafitti spree around the town, accompanied by his nerdy friend Milhouse. (Because “Every vandalism spree needs an obnoxious laugher.”) They’re drawing disparaging caricatures of Homer — and it’s exactly 10 minutes into the show that the Kindle joke occurs.

It’s in a scene where the two boys are vandalizing a billboard downtown. “Hey you punks! What are you doing?” shouts a former boxing champion named Tatum Roderick. He lives in a nearby building, where he’s keeping a pigeon coop on the roof. “If you wake my pigeons up, they’re going to do their business again.”

“And these days, there’s no newspapers — so I have to put down Amazon Kindles. I’m like — it’s bankrupting me!”

The episode was first broadcast just two weeks ago. (And according to Wikipedia, more than 5.17 million people watched it!) Of course, it’s as much a joke about the decline in newspaper sales — but implies that the Kindle is the obvious replacement. You can find the whole episode for free on Hulu, and you can also watch just the 15-second scene on YouTube (where someone has uploaded it with the title “The Simpsons s23e15 – Pidgens Using Amazon Kindle for Newspaper Scene.”)

Ironically, there are aren’t any ebooks about the Simpsons in Amazon’s Kindle store — or any ebooks by Matt Groening. But at least you can watch episodes of the Simpsons TV show on your Kindle Fire tablet. (For the episode with the Kindle joke, go to tinyurl.com/KindleSimpsons )

And here’s an interesting piece of trivia. It’s not the first time one of Fox’s Sunday night cartoons has made a joke about Amazon’s Kindle. One fan described an episode of The Cleveland Show which had young Rollo being sworn in as the kid who takes care of his class’s pet turtle. But the swearing-in ceremony for this important grade school position didn’t involve placing your hand on a Bible. Instead, the teacher announces, “Rollo Tubbs, please place your hand on this Amazon Kindle with the Bible loaded on it!”

At the time, I took it as sign for the future, and it turns out I was right. The first Kindle jokes on TV were just the ominous funny harbingers for more Kindle jokes yet to come. “If the Kindle really is creeping into our everyday lives,” I’d asked, “then shouldn’t we be seeing it in our TV shows?” But I ultimately answered my own question with a yes and a yes.

“On our televisions — and in online discussions — we’re starting to hear about something new: all the TV characters who have Kindles!”

The Kindle on the Cleveland Show

Suzanne Collins

Friday Amazon made a special announcement, to reveal the best-selling Kindle author of all time. It’s Suzanne Collins, the author of the Hunger Games trilogy (and the Underland Chronicles, a fantasy series for children). But she’s achieved some even more amazing milestones in Amazon’s Kindle Store, as Amazon shared more statistics about the author’s massive audience. And it’s all happened extremely fast, since Collins first published The Hunger Games just three and a half years ago!

Her books have been consistently popular ever since. The first two books in the Hunger Games series sold 1.5 million print copies in their first 14 months in print, and The Hunger Games even stayed on the best-seller list of the New York Times for more than 60 weeks in a row! All three books have spent more than a year and a half on Amazon’s list of the top 100 best-selling Kindle ebooks, and Collins also had the #1 and #2 best-selling ebooks this Christmas — The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. And in November, when Amazon first announced their “Kindle Owners Lending Library”, Collins achieved another milestone. Members of Amazon’s Prime shipping program could borrow one ebook each month for free — and three of the top four ebooks came from the Hunger Games trilogy!

In fact, by June of last year, Collins had become one of just seven authors to sell over one million copies of her ebooks on the Kindle — joining other popular authors like Lee Child and Michael Connelly. “What a lovely and unexpected honor to be in such wonderful company,” Collins said in a statement, “and see my books reaching readers in this exciting new format.”

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

Four authors had beaten her to the one-million-ebooks milestone — Stieg Larsson, James Patterson, Nora Roberts, and Charlaine Harris. But within 9 months, she’d overtaken them all, and become the best-selling Kindle ebook author of all time!

But there were even more triumphs waiting for Collins. Last July, I’d discovered Amazon’s list of the 100 most-highlighted passages of all time from Kindle ebooks. At the time, the #1 most-highlighted passage was from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice — but the second and third most-highlighted passages were by Suzanne Collins (who also had a third quote in the top ten).


“It takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart.”


     – from Mockingjay
            Highlighted by 4,390 Kindle users in July
            Highlighted by 8,482 Kindle users Today



“Because sometimes things happen to people and they’re not equipped to deal with them.”

     – from Catching Fire
            Highlighted by 4,001 Kindle users in July
            Highlighted by 13,983 Kindle users Today



“We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction.”

     – from Mockingjay
            Highlighted by 3,206 Kindle users in July
            Highlighted by 6,408 Kindle users today


But just eight month’s later, Jane Austen’s quote from Pride and Prejudice has dropped into the #3 position behind the two Collins quotes. And amazingly, now four more quotes from the Hunger Games trilogy have crashed into the top 10 on Amazon’s list of the most-highlighted passages.


“‘I wish I could freeze this moment, right here, right now, and live in it forever,’ he says.”


     – from Catching Fire
        (Highlighted by 6,418 Kindle users)

“‘I just want to spend every possible minute of the rest of my life with you,’ Peeta replies.”

     – from Catching Fire
            Highlighted by 6,410 Kindle users

“‘Having an eye for beauty isn’t the same thing as a weakness,’ Peeta points out. ‘Except possibly when it comes to you.’”

     – from Catching Fire
        (Highlighted by 6,097 Kindle users)

“Life in District 12 isn’t really so different from life in the arena. At some point, you have to stop running and turn around and face whoever wants you dead.”

     – from Catching Fire
            Highlighted by 6,000 Kindle users

In fact, 29 of the top 100 most-highlighted passages in Kindle ebooks now all come from Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. (Back in July, Collins’s books had just 13 of the top 100 most-highlighted passages on Amazon’s list.) And there’s an even more stunning statistic if you visit Amazon’s list of the most-recently highlighted passages. On that list, Suzanne Collins has written every single one of the 10 most-highlighted passages — and 17 of the 20 most-highlighted!

The three non-Collins books include The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and the text of Apple’s “Think Different” ad campaign from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. (“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers…”)

Ironically, the #18 most-highlighted passage came from Amazon’s Kindle User’s Guide — its instructions on how to highlight a passage! (“Press and hold, then drag your finger across text to select it…”)

This represents another triumph for Collins, since last year The Hunger Games was also one of the 10 most-frequently challenged books, according to the American Library Association. I always say that the ready availability of those titles in a digital format suggests that the Kindle might someday play a role in fighting the censorship of books.

For even more information, Amazon also calculated the 20 cities in America which purchased the most copies of Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. I plotted the cities on a map of the United States, to look for a recognizable pattern.

Where Suzanne Collins books are most popular

Sunnyvale, California
Salt Lake City, Utah
Tallahassee, Florida
Seattle, Washington
Orlando, Florida
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
St. Louis, Missouri
Provo, Utah
San Francisco, California
Naperville, Illinois
Washington, D.C.
Richmond, Virginia
Scottsdale, Arizona
Wilmington, North Carolina
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Vancouver, Washington
Portland, Oregon
Tampa, Florida
Overland Park, Kansas
Norman, Oklahome

The first thing you notice is that Amazon’s list includes three different cities in Florida. I’ve heard there’s a lot of retirees in Florida — so maybe they’re reading a lot. (Maybe Amazon was even reaching out to specifically them with those ads about reading on a Kindle at the beach!) And there’s two different cities that are very near Silicon Valley — including the #1 city, Sunnyvale, California. Maybe those towns are full of affluent geeks and other early adopters of technology — or at least, lots of fans of good science fiction books!

“There’s no denying that The Hunger Games has become a worldwide phenomenon,” announced Amazon’s editor for young adult book. She added, “we love that it all started with a great book…and you can see from our Top 20 list they’re captivating readers across the whole country.”

One of the most interesting facts about Suzanne Collins is she used to be a writer for Nickelodeon, the cable TV channel for children. (According to Wikipedia, she worked on “Clarissa Explains it All,” and was the head writer for “Clifford’s Puppy Days.”) Now she’s penned a best-selling trilogy that’s also about child performers — except in this trilogy, they fight to the death!

Maybe after writing all those sweet stories for Nickelodeon, she was ready for something darker!


She’s the author of Peter Rabbit, and a delightful collection of other classic children’s book about animals. Beatrix Potter illustrated nearly all of the books herself, and I was delighted to discover they’re available for the Kindle, including all of her wonderful pictures. (Just point your computer’s web browser to tinyurl.com/BeatrixPotterKindle .) You can even find free editions of her stories in Amazon’s Kindle Store – though many of them don’t seem to include the illustrations. (I’d remembered staring in fascination at the tiny print editions when I was young — with their soft grey covers and those fancy, colorful illustrations.) But it turns out that Beatrix Potter that during her lifetime, Beatrix Potter was really a publishing pioneer!

Since March is “Women’s History Month,” I thought I’d re-visit one of my favorite stories about the famous children’s book author. In 1906 she’d actually tried a new format for delivering her famous fairy tales – and according to Wikipedia, it didn’t even involve a book!

Intended for babies and tots, the story was originally published on a strip of paper that was folded into a wallet, closed with a flap, and tied with a ribbon.

The format was unpopular with booksellers and within a few years of the book’s release it was reprinted in the standard small book format of the Peter Rabbit library.

Click here to see a picture of the book’s original format!

Only two of Potter’s shorter stories were published in the “panorama” format – The Story of Miss Moppet and The Story of a Fierce, Bad Rabbit. (Yes, that really was its title.) It just seems especially appropriate that they’ve escaped the book format once again, and 100 years later – you can buy them on your Kindle.

When I originally published my discovery online, over 20,000 people eventually read my article. “But I think my problems started in 1902,” I’d joked at the time. That was when Beatrix Potter first published The Tale of Peter Rabbit, but I’d added as an afterthought that I thought Beatrix Potter would’ve liked the Kindle. (In 1906, she was already experimenting with that new non-book format for her books, though with the absence of digital technology, her best idea was still just a long, folded piece of paper that could be carried in a wallet.) The big geek web site, Slashdot had linked to my article – where not everyone agreed with my premise! But it ultimately led to a very interesting discussion.

There were nearly 100 lively comments on their site about everything from color screens, copyrights, and the iPad to the reading habits of infants. But in the middle of all the debate, someone argued that ebooks themselves were just a trendy fad. They’d panned the “buzz” around the Kindle vs. “a content delivery system which has been proven over the course of centuries.”

Their harshest line? “I may be a luddite but at least my books will still function after the collapse of civilization.”

And then someone posted this response, titled: “Sorry you are a luddite.”

The new digital world is pervasive and more permanent than you could ever imagine. In a world of 6 plus billion people, the only way for everyone to have access to books, literature, everything written down by the humans for the past 10,000 years is through digital form. This is the future. A single paperback book costs on average, $20 today. A near future netbook/ereader will cost around $100 and will have access to millions of works via a cheap connection to the internet. You can’t compete with that with your lump of soggy paper.

And sorry to say, the first thing the mobs do when civilization ends is burn the libraries to the ground, along with all the book hoarders. For any printed book, there may be thousands, or even tens of thousands of copies, but for a digital book, there can be an infinite number of perfect copies.

Beatrix Potter was a populist who wanted to make her books accessible to all segments of society. She would surely see the advent of digitalization as a GOOD THING.

And then, just to leave things on a lighter note, he ended his post with a joke.

“You may now go back to admiring and dusting your book collection.”

Girl in Amazon's Kindle ad

This is the sweetest Kindle commercial I’ve ever seen. A little girl peeking through a flower-colored curtains watches a mail truck arrive at her house. And her eyebrows go up as she spots a postman trotting up her steps, delivering a package from Amazon — as a voice-over begins.

“For years, we’ve been placing the things you love at your doorstep. Now, we’re placing them at your fingertips…”

You watch this ad — and all Amazon’s Kindle ads — at youtube.com/Kindle . The little girl rushes down the stairs — and hops over the family dog — while her dad, reading the newspaper, hears the excited footsteps and signs for the package. The little girl opens the package at the bottom of the staircase, and lifts out a Kindle Fire, while her father joins her and starts flipping through the tablet’s family-friendly choices, like a “Dora the Explorer” book or the movie “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

“Introducing Kindle Fire, a Kindle for movies, music, web browsing, apps, games, and of course, reading….”

In the last shot, the little girl seems fascinated by the Kindle Fire. (Though I’d wanted to believe that it was her new tablet device, it looks like her dad’s going to keep hogging it for himself!) Maybe the commercial’s real message is, “If the mailman delivers something cool to your house, your parents will just take it away from you…” Of course, it addresses an even bigger concern from the last Amazon ad about the Kindle Fire. The mailman in that ad simply left Amazon’s package behind on a woman’s front doorstep! (“People in America must really trust their neighbors,” joked one commenter on YouTube.)

That ad was released in November, when most people were still waiting for their tablets to arrive, so Amazon apparently wanted to remind them how happy they’d be when it arrived. (You can watch that ad at tinyurl.com/DoorstepAd .) What’s really interesting is that both ads use the exact same voice-over.

“For years, we’ve been placing the things you love at your doorstep. Now, we’re placing them at your fingertips…”

Amazon’s calling this new commercial “Dad and Daughter”, and it’s another fun look at the way Amazon is “positioning” their Kindles for the consumer market. But there’s also a small “continuity” error, if you watch closely. It looks like the mailman who finally delivers the Kindle is a different actor than the one that the little girl saw through her window. (The man trotting up her stairs had darker hair, plus a white t-shirt on under his uniform that went up to his neck!)

By the way, I also learned something new about Amazons other Kindle commercial. I’d watch a “friends” commercial online, where the blonde woman complains in surprise that the new Kindle costs less than her jeans or her haircut. I’d never seen it on TV, and wondered if I was just watching an “outtake” that Amazon had ultimately decided not to broadcast. Some of my wonderful readers contacted me to say that they’d seen it on TV — more than once! — and a third reader had the same reaction that I did. “I remember thinking it was weird, since it did seem to air after the one where she bought a Kindle for herself and her dad.” But then there was that same blonde woman again, now telling her friend “You know I can’t afford a Kindle….”

Girl in Amazon Kindle vs printed book ad

Apparently…now she can afford a Kindle!

Ty Cobb

Amazon’s offered some great “Daily Deals” in the past — but I’m really excited about today’s. Usually they’ll lower the price of an ebook to just 99 cents, but for Thursday they’ve slashed the price even further for the modern radical novel, “Fight Club” — to just 25 cents!

You can always find the “daily deal” at tinyurl.com/DailyKindleDeal. But Amazon’s also slashed the price on over 100 more ebooks to just $3.99 or less for the month of March. (Browse the selection at tinyurl.com/399books, or — if you’re in England — at tinyurl.com/399booksEngland ) There’s always a new selection on the first day of the month, and I’m really excited about some of these discounted books, too. It looks like Amazon’s really put some thought into what’s happening that’s special this month.


Under the March Sun – the Story of Spring Training – $1.99
Baseball season starts at the end of March — but this is a fascinating story about that crazy other tradition that pumps money into forgotten cities where the superstars hide for their pre-season spring training. One newspaper called it “that rare baseball book that also serves as a cultural history,” even as it’s capturing the happy atmosphere of today’s super fans travelling to out-of-the-way stadiums to catch their favorite players in relaxed moments. The author, Charles Fountain, is a journalism professor, and presumably a baseball fan, and the president of the L.A. Dodgers even commended his book in a blurb, saying it “brings to life this most enjoyable time of year for every baseball fan.”


Ty Cobb – $1.99
Baseball seems to cherish its memories of past “greats,” which adds even more intrigue to this biography of Ty Cobb. (One reviewer called him simply “the most interesting baseball player of all time.”) Cobb maintained a ridiculously high batting average of .366 for over 22 years, playing mostly for the Detroit Tigers (and the Athletics, back when they were still in Philadelphia). and though he retired in 1928, that record has never been broken. But this book puts Cobb’s life into the context of the time in which he lived — and his own complicated personality, driven by an intense rivalry with Babe Ruth as well as external pressures, like the hazing he took from the Yankees over his southern upbringing. “Three weeks after his mother killed his father, Cobb debuted in center field for the Detroit Tigers,” Wikipedia notes — so his biography should be pretty interesting!


This is Getting Old: Zen Thoughts on Aging with Humor and Dignity – $2.99
Susan Moon, the aging editor of a Buddhist magazine, offers an “intimate and funny collection of essays on the sometimes confusing, sometimes poignant, sometimes hilarious condition of being a woman over sixty,” according to the book’s description on Amazon, adding that the author “keeps her sense of humor and…keeps her reader fully engaged.” It’s a serious topic handled lightly but skillfully, and “Her best writing occurs when memory, emotion, and spirit coalesce,” according to Publisher’s Weekly, “as she recovers parts of herself left behind in childhood or comes to terms with solitude.” Or, as the New York Review of Books put it, “Moon is like a Buddhist Anne Lamott–confronting her life bravely and unapologetically.”


Frank Was a Monster Who Wanted to Dance – $2.99
Of all 100 ebooks that are on sale in March, this one has my favorite title. It’s about “a zombie’s big break in showbiz,” according to Publisher’s Weekly., and it’s written by an animator for Nickeloden named Keith Graves. It’s a children’s book with an adult twist, since as Frank starts to dance, his zombie-fied body parts absolutely horrify the audience. I bet its color pictures look absolutely amazing on the Kindle Fire tablet, and it looks like good, silly fun. “Frank was a monster who wanted to dance. So he put on his hat, and his shoes made in France… and opened a jar and put ants in his pants…”


Hey Buddy: In Pursuit of Buddy Holly, My New Buddy John, and My Lost Decade of Music – $1.99
Don McLean sang of “The Day the Music Died” — the infamous 1959 plane crash that killed the rock and roll pioneer (along with Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper) at the age of 22. But author Gary W. Moore says that Buddy Holly reached out to him from a stage, according to he book’s description on Amazon, seizing his heart and his soul “through a song. Not a song written or performed by Buddy, but a song about Buddy performed by musician extraordinaire John Mueller. Even Buddy’s closest friends say John is Buddy reincarnated, and his resemblance and music will take your breath away.”

In this book, the author tries to understand Buddy Holly’s world, interviewing people who’d known the singer, and “Their unique and intimate stories will make you laugh, smile, cry, and think, all the while wondering ‘what if.’ What if Buddy had lived instead of perished in that terrible plane crash in Clear Lake, Iowa, on that winter night in 1959? What if Buddy had continued to write music into the 1960s and 70s? What if…”


Find all these books at tinyurl.com/399books

And don’t forget, for today only, you can also get Fight Club for just 25 cents at tinyurl.com/DailyKindleDeal

A trophy

A funny thing happened when I found Reader’s Digest‘s list of the “Best Reads of 2011.” A post from my blog was #4 on the list!

Woody Allen wrote the #3 article on the list, and Roseanne Barr wrote the #13 article. (And I also recognized the names Christopher Hitchens and David Brooks). The editors of Reader’s Digest had selected “the most unforgettable articles” for the entire year from newspapers, magazines, and from the internet, but it still took me a while to fully accept what had happened. The “best reads” of the year came from The New York Times, Vanity Fair magazine, The Atlantic, National Geographic, and — from this blog!

I write this blog under a pseudonym — and I’d also used another pseudonym when I published a “short picture scrapbook” about my girlfriend’s dog. It’s kind of funny that the Reader’s Digest list apparently just used the dog book’s pseudonym for their list, which meant that the honor of authoring the #4 ‘best read’ of the year went to ‘Moe Zilla’, the non-existent persona I’d created for writing funny children’s picture books like “The Turkey Mystery Rhyme”. I was too shy to ask Reader’s Digest to correct the name — so I’m just changing this blog’s byline to “Moe Zilla” from now on. :)

The post they’d selected was about the cartoonist who drew the Family Circus comic strip. I’d started out lamenting how he’d published nearly 100 paperback collections of his newspaper comic strip — and yet none of them were available on the Kindle. But soon I was reminiscing about “my favorite memory” of cartoonist Bil Keane — and the day when a piece of kindness somehow magically escaped from his comic strip and found its way into the real world. (The editor of Reader’s Digest’s “Select Editions” called it “the touching story of a real and honorable gentleman.”)

But the truth is, I was sharing an actual memory of my own about the early days of the internet. Back in 1999, I was still caught up in all the excitement about the very first years of the web. And I’d laughed hysterically — till tears rolled down my cheeks — at some of the crazy new web sites that were springing up in my web browser. And yes, that included that very rowdy web site where anonymous strangers submitted “alternate” captions for Bil Keane’s Family Circus cartoons. But in a strange way, there was a real innocence to it. Pesky concepts like copyright infringement simply hadn’t occurred to a lot of people back in 1999.

An invisible community slowly started to grow around the act of re-captioning someone else’s cartoons. At one point, I’d heard that a handful of people even flew in to Chicago from all across the country — just to share that connection in real-life. (Before it was over, someone played a VHS tape of an animated Family Circus holiday TV special, and they’d all joked about it together.) I’m not sure any of them understood it as having a larger significance — beyond “It was really fun.” But I wonder sometimes if it was something special — a once-in-a-lifetime happening, the near-spontaneous formation of a massive grass roots comedy collective, united only by their strange, shared belief that this needed to happen.

After four years, there was almost a sense of tradition about it. (And to this day, there’s a rumor that all 50,000 of their captions are still being secretly passed around, preserved like a sacred text from the ancient 1990s.) That’s the forgotten piece of history that I think ultimately was left out of my story. That there was a very strong sense of community on that day when a lawyer showed up in their virtual village — and demanded that they all stop.

It was a “wild west” moment — but I mean that in the best possible way. In this strange new frontier, the villagers then gathered together to try to work out what was fair and what was right. There was some fretting and some chest-thumping, but there were also some very earnest and absolutely sincere discussions about the right to freedom of speech, and for their legally-protected right to create a satire. But it was a frontier moment in another way, because beyond all that high talk about powerful institutions — about a “body of intellectual property”, and the law firms defending it — were people.

“This showdown finally ended in the most unexpected way imaginable,” I wrote in my blog post. “One day the webmaster picked up his phone, and discovered he was receiving a call from cartoonist Bil Keane himself.”


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….”


Their 90-minute phone conversation may have disappeared into the mists of internet history. But maybe Reader’s Digest is right. Maybe it’s worth taking a moment to remember that 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.

I was studying Amazon’s recently-released ads — and I found one that I hadn’t even seen! In fact, I’m guessing that almost no one has, since according to YouTube, it’s been viewed less than 8,000 times. (By comparison, Amazon’s racked up more than half a million views for its latest Kindle ad — the one which argues that an iPad is still more expensive than two Kindle Fire tablets and a new Kindle!)

Last summer, Amazon launched a series of ads about two friends – a blonde woman who didn’t own a Kindle, and a young man who did. But in December, Amazon uploaded the strangest one of all to YouTube. (You can view all of Amazon’s Kindle ads online at YouTube.com/Kindle .) I’ve never seen this one on TV — and it’s got me wondering if it’s an “outtake” that Amazon ultimately decided not to broadcast! Maybe the advertising agency created it, but Amazon rejected it because it made that blonde woman look a little too silly. But it does offer a deeper glimpse into the lives of the two friends.

“Hey! Check out this new Kindle,” the young man says.

“I wish,” the blonde woman replies. “You know I can’t afford a Kindle.”

“Yes you can. It’s only $79 dollar.”

“What? That can’t be right. That’s less than I paid for these jeans.”

“I know.”

“That’s less than my cable bill.”

“I know!”

“That’s less than I spent on this haircut.”

“I know.”

“That’s less than I spent on your birthday present.”

“I know…”

“How do you know how much I spend on everything?”

(Pause) “I read a lot.”


That’s one thing I love about Amazon’s TV ads. Each one has something exciting to say about the Kindle — but each one is also completely different! But here’s why I think this ad is an outtake. Amazon had already released an ad where the blonde woman triumphantly tells her friend that she’s finally purchased a Kindle for herself. (You can watch it online at tinyurl.com/SheBuysAKindle ). I first saw it in late September, and by now it’s been viewed just on YouTube more than 168,000 times.

“What’s up, happy pants?”

“I just bought my dad the new Kindle. $79.”

“You?! A Kindle? Really?”

“No. Me, two Kindles. Really…”

“You’re going to give your dad two Kindles?”

“No, of course not.”

“Who could you have possibly have bought the second Kindle for.”

“Okay, it’s for me. It’s only $79.”

“And?”

“And it reads just like a paper book.”

“And…?”

“It’s better to receive than to give.”

“I don’t think that’s how it goes.”

“Close enough.” (She jiggles her two Kindles…)