Is Amazon Conquering the World?

Little Shop of Horrors lost ending

I’m still impressed that Amazon’s stock shot up 16% on Friday. But when they’d announced their amazing results, Amazon also shared some other interesting information about the popularity of the Kindle. For example…

– Amazon’s quietly made the Kindle available in over 175 different countires around the world, and since those launches, it’s also become the best-selling item on Amazon’s web sites in England, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain

– Amazon also boasted that its Kindle app for the iPad “is the #5 free iPad app of all time” (and the #1 free ebooks app), adding that “millions” of iPad owners are already using it.

Whether we notice it or not, I think we’re in the middle of a revolution. Amazon is everywhere — in nearly every country, and on nearly every device. Everyone’s got books in their pocket — or more specifically, Amazon’s books, ebooks formatted specifically for the Kindle, and for Amazon’s Kindle apps. And soon, it won’t be just books. Amazon’s already selling everything from touchscreen apps to digital music, digital movies and digital TV shows — all through Amazon’s giant online store.

The big difference is that now you don’t have to be sitting at your computer in order to buy things from Amazon — and you’d be surprised at just how many different things Amazon is selling. Last Monday, Amazon announced a new web site which sells industrial parts and scientific supplies. There’s centrifuges, replacement tires, and even hydraulics, pneumatics, and even a special plumbing section with “hydraulics and pneumatics.” It’s all available at, and it’s got me wondering if there’s anything that Amazon won’t sell. Or more importantly, if there’s anything that we customers wouldn’t be willing to buy from Amazon?

Will Amazon eventually dominate the supply chain for countless business? Last week, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos bragged to investors that there’s now 130,000 new ebooks that are exclusive to the Kindle Store — “You won’t find then anywhere else” — and that 16% of Amazon’s 100 best-selling titles are available only in the Kindle store. And of course, he couldn’t get through the announcement without a plug for Amazon’s Prime shipping service. (“If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you don’t even need to buy these titles – you can borrow them for free – with no due dates – from our revolutionary Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.”) It’s all great if you’re already buying lots of products from Amazon. But what happens if you’re trying to compete with Amazon?

I don’t know if I should be worried about Amazon’s enormous marketing power — or if I should be celebrating. (After all, I do buy a lot of products from Amazon.) But either way, at least for the next three months, Amazon not expecting it to slow down. At the end of last week’s big announcement, Amazon predicted that their net sales will continue to grow this year, increasing between 20% and 34% over the next three months from where they were in last year. And the last thing Jeff Bezos said in Amazon’s statement was an enthusiastic commitment not only to finding new Kindle customers, but also to Amazon’s expanding selection of ebooks to keep them all happy!

“Kindle is the best-selling e-reader in the world by far, and I assure you we’ll keep working hard so that the Kindle Store remains yet another reason to buy a Kindle!”

Amazon’s Stock Jumps 16% !

Cartoon stock market chart showing Sales are going up

The numbers are in! Thursday afternoon, Amazon finally released their sales figures for the first three months of 2012. And the stock market was absolutely thrilled by Amazon’s newest numbers, sending the price of Amazon’s stock up on Friday by more than 16%! This means that overnight, the portfolio of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos increased by nearly $2.5 billion, and the value of Amazon’s shares increased by more than $10 billion!

Why was Wall Street so excited? After all, it turns out that Amazon increased its operating cash flow, but only by $20 million. (Unfortunately, their “free cash flow” actually dropped by $750 million — though it’s still at a hefty $1.15 billion.) But the big question was whether or not Amazon sold more books than they had the year before — and the answer is yes! In fact, Amazon’s net sales increased by a whopping 34%, to $13.18 billion, for the first three months of 2012. (Last year, Amazon only sold $9.86 billion worth of products during the same period…) Amazon’s gross margins experienced “the largest uptick in 10 years,” according to one stock analyst.

Just in North America, Amazon sales were $7.43 billion — more than 36% more than they were at the same time last year. Still, due to the higher expenses, Amazon’s total net income also dropped quite a bit, down $71 million (to just $130 million) for the first three months of 2012. But even professional stock-pickers were impressed, with at least 11 different firms raising their price-point for buying Amazon’s stock. And Amazon also announced some other very interesting statistics on Thursday.

Their Kindle Fire tablet is now the #1 best-selling item in the Kindle Store — and the #1 most-gifted item in the store! And while Amazon’s not saying how many ebooks, movies, and songs have been downloaded, they did acknowlege that in the first three months of 2012, “Nine out of ten of the top sellers on were digital products – Kindle, Kindle books, movies, music and apps.” Deep in their press release, Amazon also revealed that “worldwide media” sales grew 19% (compared to the first three months of last year), now representing sales of $4.71 billion. (The Christian Science Monitor noted that’s “more than twice as fast as the 8 percent year-over-year gain posted in the quarter through December.”) And “electronics and other general merchandise” sales grew 43%, to $7.97 billion.

It looks Amazon’s already starting to see a fantastic pay-off from the big bet they’d placed on Kindle Fire touchscreen tablets!

Are Fewer People Buying Kindles?

Thursday is a big day. Amazon is going to announce their first earnings report for 2012 — and hopefully, some statistics about the popularity of their new Kindles. Obviously a lot of people received a Kindle Fire tablet for Christmas (or a new $79 Kindle, or a Kindle Touch) — but those sales were all counted as part of 2011. So it’s this report which could reveal not only whether Amazon’s selling a lot more digital movies and music downloads now — but also, whether even more people are still buying Kindles!

But at least one analyst thinks they’re not. “[W]e cut our 2012 Kindle e-reader unit sales forecasts to 12.3 million from 24.0 million due to weak demand,” Chad Bartley announced last week. He’s a senior research analyst at Pacific Crest Securities, an investment bank that focuses exclusively on technology. And he’s not just concerned about the Kindle Fire tablets, but even Amazon’s sales prospects for their black-and-white e-ink readers.

The firm conducted its quarterly “consumer technology” survey — and they noticed a big drop in the number of people who wanted a Kindle. “[O]nly 5% of respondents intend to purchase a Kindle e-reader in the next 12 months,” he explained in a note released last week, “which is well below the 10% reported in our last survey.” Of course, the problem could be that the Kindle is already very popular — and maybe there’s just fewer people left who don’t own a Kindle. “We attribute weakening demand to the large install base of Kindle e-readers…” writes Bartley, estimating that over 28 million people now have a Kindle! Digital readers have also “matured,” with lots of new competition.

But the Kindle is also facing competition from apps, which let people read ebooks without ever buying a Kindle. (Bartley’s note specifically cites a recent study by Pew Internet Research, which found that just 41% of e-book readers are actually using a Kindle-like device, “while 42% read them on a computer, 29% on a cell phone and 23% on a tablet!”) In an odd coindence, I found this article on a web site called Business Insider — just a few days after they ran another article proclaiming “The Death of the Printed Book”

That article cited a remarkable statistic: that 21% of Americans now say they’ve read an e-book within the last year — a big jump from the number two months earlier, when only 17% of Americans said they’d read an e-book. And when given a list of typical reading situations, a majority still said they preferred ebooks over printed books in nearly every one! (For example, reading in bed, or reading books while traveling…) So while the e-book is clearly gaining in popularity over the printed book — people may not be reading those e-books on a Kindle! Still, not everyone’s convinced that Amazon’s in trouble.

After all, Amazon sells books as well as Kindles — and in the comments on the article, there’s a least a few people who won’t blindly trust a business insider. “I think I’ll take what the ‘experts’ say with a grain of salt,” posted a user named Dan Delgado. “If I recall correctly (and I think I do), ‘Experts’ said Amazon and Kindle were ‘in trouble’ when Apple launched the iPad and colluded with book publishers. Apple (they said) would take over the ebook business.

“A couple years later, Apple has 10% of the ebook market and is being sued by the Justice Department for price fixing!”

Welcome to “World Book Night”

Montage of 30 books for World Book Night

It’s tonight! Monday April 23rd, is World Book Night, “an annual celebration designed to spread a love of reading and books,” in which more than 25,000 volunteers will be handing out free print books (according to USA Today). It’s “like intellectual Halloween,” novelist Anna Quindlen joked to the newspaper, “only better!”

I’m excited partly because we’re seeing the birth of a brand new tradition. The event was started just last year by the managing director of a publishing house in Scotland, according to MSNBC, so this is the first year it’s also being held in the U.S. “One of the things I love is how this isn’t just happening in New York and California,” noted the event’s U.S. executive director. “The whole country is involved!” And I love how MSNBC’s article painted a picture of the event — as a series of smaller personal events being held around the country.

Stores from Oswego, N.Y., to Hilo, Hawaii, will be helping out, but World Book Night will reach well beyond traditional channels, into military bases, prisons, ballparks and ferries. A church in Denver will give copies of Ann Patchett’s “Bel Canto” to a nearby magnet school for refugees and immigrants. Vernon Legakis, a surfer in Santa Cruz, Calif., will seal copies of Patti Smith’s “Just Kids” inside Ziplocs and hand them out at Monterey Bay. Attendees of a “Hunger Games” screening at Windsor Theatre in Hampton, Iowa, will receive editions of Collins’ million-selling novel….

True to their mission, the volunteers will be handing out some great and engaging reads, as a way to encourage a love of reading. They’ll be distributing everything from Stephen King’s The Stand to Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. There’s heartwarming popular titles like Because of Winn Dixie, and Dave Eggers’ gritty non-fiction novel about New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, Zeitoun. Besides The Hunger Games, they’ll also be distributing Orson Scott Card’s classic science fiction novel, Ender’s Game. All the authors have agreed to waive their royalties for the books,

Here’s a complete list of the 30 different books being distributed for “World Book Night”

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Friday Night Lights
Ender’s Game
Little Bee
The Hunger Games
Blood Work
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Because of Winn Dixie
Peace Like a River
A Reliable Wife
Q is for Quarry
A Prayer for Owen Meany
The Kite Runner
The Stand
The Poisonwood Bible
The History of Love
The Namesake
The Things They Carried
Bel Canto
My Sister’s Keeper
The Lovely Bones
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Just Kids
The Glass Castle
The Book Thief

It’s a cheerful event, but I wondered if it was started partly as a reaction to the popularity of the Kindle. The books will be distributed in special paperback editions created just for the event, with the costs being covered by publishers, printers, and paper companies, according to another article USA Today. The event’s official page notes it will promote not just the value of reading, but also “of printed books, and of bookstores and libraries to everyone year-round.” Riffing on that theme, a cheeky editor at the New York Daily News headlined their story: “It’s World Book Night, but Amazon isn’t invited to the party.”

They note that the event “is being sponsored by Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble, the last two remaining bricks-in-mortar giants” — and, that Amazon was not also asked to participate. They cite a quote from the event’s founder that “the philosophy behind World Book Night has been about physical books in physical places, handed out person to person.” But that may change next year – at least, if Amazon has its way.

A spokeswoman for Amazon told the newspaper, “We look forward to talking to the organizers of World Book Night about future opportunities…!”

Behind the Scenes with Amazon’s Kindle Actress

Amy Rutberg and Boy from new Kindle bookstore commercial

Amazon’s released at least four different ads where actress Amy Rutberg plays a woman who resists her friend’s gentle suggestions about the advantages of a Kindle. But in real life, she’s a big fan of the Kindle — and gave away over half a dozen of them as a gift this Christmas! She’s been posting some funny updates on Twitter about how her life has changed since she became “the Kindle girl”. And she’s also receiving a few funny messages herself – from other enthusiastic Kindle owners!

“got my 1st Kindle (Touch) last week, and I’m already addicted,” someone messaged her on Twitter in December, adding “It’s ALL your fault ;)” And just last month, an accountant sent her another message with the obvious question. “Do you really use a Kindle? My grand daughter got one for Christmas but it’s already broken!”

“I’m sorry to hear about your granddaughter’s #kindle,” Amy responded sweetly (adding “Yes, I really use my kindle. I’m obsessed!”) But there’s apparently an extra sense of responsibility that comes from being the star of a national ad campaign. Amy pre-ordered an ebook in September, according to one Twitter post, but was startled when it was finally released three months later, and it was time to actually make the payment. “Got a suprise notice that I owed #amazonkindle for an ebook I ordered in Sept,” she wrote. “would b pretty embarrassed if I had a delinquent account!”

I felt a little bit like the Kindle ad paparazzi reading her Twitter posts – but she’s looking for more followers, so I figured she’d appreciate the publicity. And it was refreshing to learn that in real life, the actress from Amazon’s commercials is already an enthusiastic Kindle user herself – and that she’s got a lively sense of humor. (A few months ago she re-posted a silly Twitter update posted by Family Guy writer Alec Sulkin. “Just bought a Ken doll. I don’t know what everyone’s talking about, you can’t read books on this thing!”)

It must be a lot of fun being the woman from the Kindle ad — and then being able to show up with Kindles for all your friends. That’s what Amy did when Christmas rolled around this year, posting in early December, “Just bought 7 $79 kindles as gifts, and it felt gooood….

“and no, I don’t get a discount.”

She even bought her dad a Kindle for Christmas — then posted a picture of it up on Twitter. She joked that the sexy ad it was displaying for a T-Mobile 4G “hotspot” was “So wrong on so many levels :)”

Amazon Kindle image aboug 4G Mobile Hotspot

100 New ebooks on Sale!

Every month Amazon picks 100 Kindle ebooks to feature at a discounted price — between 99 cents and $3.99. You can browse them all at – and April’s selection seems especially appropriate for this time of year. There’s lots of fun ebooks in the mix, but there’s also several books each on a couple of springtime-specific topics. This month, Amazon is featuring discounts on some good ebooks about history, cooking, sports, and the environment.

History eBooks
Amazon has discounted several books about World War II this month, including The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and The Nuremberg Trial. And there’s also a biography of the man who invented the atomic bomb which ended the war, titled simply J. Robert Oppenheimer : A Life. Other discounted history ebooks offer a look at America’s conflicts in the 1960s, including Kennedy’s Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam. and Friendly Fire : American Images of the Vietnam War.

Plus, there’s also a new biography about the life of Beethoven in the 19th century

Food and Cooking ebooks
Amazon’s discounted a lot of cookbooks for the Kindle this month — plus some other ebooks that offer an interesting perspective on food. For example, there’s Don’t Try This at Home: Culinary Catastrophes from the World’s Greatest Chefs, which shares 40 horror stories from professionals like Anthony Bourdain. And Teresa Giudice – from The Real Housewives of New Jersey — has co-authored a special cookbook called Skinny Italian: Eat It and Enjoy It – Live La Bella Vita and Look Great, Too! Also discounted this month is Make It Fast, Cook It Slow: The Big Book of Everyday Slow Cooking (plus its sequel, which promises “200 Brand-New, Budget-Friendly, Slow-Cooker Recipes.”) And if you’re a parent, there’s even Toddler Cafe, which promises simple, fun recipes, along with tips for how to engage your children in healthy eating! And there’s at least three other cookbooks that have been discounted this month.

In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite: 150 Recipes and Stories About the Food You Love

Cook Yourself Thin Faster: Have Your Cake and Eat It Too with Over 75 New Recipes You Can Make in a Flash!

Cook This Now: 120 Easy and Delectable Dishes You Can’t Wait to Make

Sports eBooks
Baseball season has officially begun, and Amazon’s celebrating with a selection of discounted baseball ebooks. There’s Working at the Ballpark, a fun collection of interviews with 51 different people you’d find working in a stadium, from the players and managers down to the umpires, ballboys, and even the food vendors (with an introduction by Nolan Ryan). Amazon’s also discounted The Gigantic Book of Baseball Quotations, plus a memoir of a childhood baseball fanatic called Once Removed: When Baseball Was All the World to Me. One author even uncovers the story that’s hiding in the new “sabermetric” statistics about baseball — made famous by the movie Moneyball — by using them for a cutting-edge review of the entire history of professional baseball. (See Wizardry: Baseball’s All-Time Greatest Fielders Revealed. )

But if you’re more interested in golf, there’s also a biography of Payne Stewart by his wife Tracey. And Dream On offers “the hilarious and inspiring ” true story of a weekend golfer’s quest to complete the local course in less than 100 strokes – within one year!

Environment eBooks
Earth Day will be celebrated next Sunday, on April 22nd. And it looks like Amazon had that in mind when they discounted a few ebooks this month with an environmental theme. Rachel Carson’s first book, ‘Under the Sea Wind,” was about the animals that live in the ocean, and “one of the reasons why I became so conscious of the environment and so involved with environmental issues,” according to a review by Al Gore. And there’s even a funny novel about radicals who try to defend their beloved desert from developers, called The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey (plus a biography he wrote about his own time in Utah, called Desert Solitaire.)

You can find all these ebooks – -and browse all of Amazon’s other discounted ebooks for April — at

Amazon Challenged on Prime Video Numbers

The Might Morphing Power Rangers

Since September, Amazon’s been touting the ability to watch videos on their Kindle Fire tablets. And a smaller free video library is also available, both on Kindle Fires and online, for subscribers to Amazon’s Prime shipping service, which offers faster deliveries from Amazon for just $79 a year. But on Thursday, a business magazine looked closely at Amazon’s claim that that free library included “more than 17,000 movies and TV shows.” Their conclusion?

“Only 1,745 movies are available to stream on the company’s Prime service, and just roughly 150 TV series.”

According to Fast Company magazine, Amazon’s counting each episode of a TV show as a separate show. “For example, Amazon does not count 24 as one TV show; rather, it counts every episode in all eight seasons toward its [free] library of 17,000 movies and television shows. So, according to Amazon’s logic, Kiefer Sutherland stars in 192 TV shows. Amazon counts The X-Files more than 200 times and Grey’s Anatomy 170 times.” And because so many different TV shows were based on the “Power Ranger” characters, “Power Rangers-related episodes are counted as about 715 shows in its streaming library — that is, 4.2% of the 17,000 movies and television shows Amazon says it offers. ”

It’s important to recognize that this is the smaller free library of videos available to Amazon Prime subscribers. There’s seven times as many videos available for Kindle Fire owners in Amazon’s “Instant Video” library – more than 120,000 – and all those videos can also be watched online. (And starting 10 days ago, all those videos are now even available on a PlayStation 3). Of course, you have to wonder if Amazon is also counting individual episodes in those figures as well. Even Netflix, which offers a competing service that “streams” videos for online viewing, has just 9,500 movies available online, and 3,500 different TV series, according to an industry watcher who was interviewed by Fast Company.

But its apparently been very difficult for Amazon to find free content for its Prime video library. As recently as one month ago, that library offered just 5,000 “titles”, according to one press release. Amazon was only able to add 12,000 more titles after a deal with Discovery Communications to add programs from their cable channels — like Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel — and even then, only episodes from past seasons. These non-fiction shows apparently now account for 70% of Amazon’s video library – shows like Say Yes to the Dress and Animal Planet’s Whale Wars.

It feels a little sneaky that Amazon counted individual episodes as “titles” – so I decided to see just what was available, by scanning Amazon’s list of their most popular Prime videos. After Downton Abbey, its most-popular TV shows were SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer, and there were three more children’s shows in the top 12. Four more of the top shows looked like non-fiction shows from Amazon’s “Discovery” deal – Mythbusters Deadliest Catch, Man vs. Wild, and Toddlers and Tiaras. But their “Editor’s Pick” section had some intriguing additional shows, including British classics like Dr. Who and Monty Python’s Flying Circus, plus classic American shows like NYPD Blue, Cheers, Better Off Ted, and the original Hawaii Five-O. But the #2 slot on most-popular free movie list went to Zombie Strippers, a horror comedy starring former porn actress Jenna Jameson and “Nightmare on Elm Street” star Robert Englund.

I guess the lesson here is simple. If you’re signing up for Amazon Prime just to use its video service, do some research first to make sure it’s got the videos you want to see!

More Kindles on TV

Borders Kobo Reader on the Office

I wrote earlier about how the Kindle had finally appeared on an episode of The Simpsons. I really enjoy collecting examples of the Kindle’s appearances throughout our “popular culture”, and it feels a little bit like magic whenever my favorite gadget starts turning up in imaginary stories on television. In fact, over a year ago, there were actually complaints about just how often the Kindle was appearing on The Big Bang Theory

“I mean, it was only shown on screen about 17,000 times last night,” complained a blogger who’d watched an episode, and spotted a Kindle conspicuously propped in the background throughout an entire scene. (“We get it writers and advertisers, the characters on the show are nerds and probably have gadgets…”) In later episodes it becomes clear that the Kindle belongs to the nerdy character Sheldon – and that he really loves it a lot. “When he was acting like a dictator during the Arctic expedition,” remembers a fan page, ” the other guys toyed with crazy ideas of ways to kill him. One idea was the throw his Kindle out the door of the science station, and when he went out to get it, lock the doors and let him freeze to death!”

Of course, the Kindle has also been used as a give-away by daytime talk show hosts like Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres. (And when Charlie Sheen videotaped himself bragging about his plans after leaving Two and a Half Men, he eventually captured footage of himself telling a friend on the phone, “Yeah, let’s — let’s do the Kindle thing with, uh, Apocalypse Me: the Jaws of Life. Best title ever. Best book ever…!”) And while they didn’t use a Kindle, The Office included an episode where three men from the paper-sales company visited a Border bookstore, with warehouse-worker Daryl confessing to the sweet lady behind the counter that he’s scared to death of digital readers.

“Those things terrify me. They could put us out of business. I heard those things hold like 10 books at once.”

“Actually, it’s 10,000.”

“Holy ####! What? Let me see it…”

Kobo reader with Daryl from The Office

By the end of the episode, he’s secretly purchased a digital reader for himself, and he’s trying to hide it from his co-workers by pretending that he bought something less embarrassing — pornography!

But by now, it’s almost impossible to keep track of every single appearance by the Kindle in a TV show. In Amazon’s Kindle forum, another poster once remembered the Kindle turning up on a fittingly-titled series: Modern Family. (Interestingly, the character who’d owned the Kindle was played by Ed O’Neil — the actor who used to play Al Bundy, the unhappy husband on Married With Children.) In this series his character (Jay) goes on vacation with his “e-reader thing,” and proudly announces that he’s loaded it up with eight different thrillers by Robert Ludlum. “He doesn’t say Kindle, but when he holds it up it looks like a Kindle 2,” the poster remembered — but apparently Jay also left that Kindle on a beach chair. “Later when he is poolside and his stepson sits down, Jay shouts out, ‘My Ludlums!'”

And last year even President Obama — in the annual State of the Union Address — mentioned the future possibility of “a student who can take classes with a digital textbook.” But the Kindle’s strangest appearance of all was probably in a line of dialogue on Joss Whedon’s sci-fi thriller series, Dollhouse. It’s set in the future, and Patton Oswalt warns a character about what are now some very serious legal complications. One fan called it “a line that only Joss Whedon would try or could pull off.”

Instead of saying “They’ll throw the book at you,” he warns that “They’ll throw the Kindle at you!”

A New War Between Libraries and Publishers?

A typical public library

I remember when you couldn’t check out library books on your Kindle. But now many libraries have Kindle e-books that their patrons can check out — and it’s creating some brand new controversies. Last month, a special edition of a Bay Area newsweekly examined how tablets like the Kindle are changing our world. And they included a special article about libraries that provided something most articles don’t: actual statistics!

In Alameda County — which includes major cities like Berkeley and Oakland — more than 2,364 e-books were checked out in just one day. (And 50% more e-books were also waiting to be checked out, having been placed on hold.) But then the article analyzes an emerging battle between publishers and libraries over how much to charge for the library’s copy of an e-book — and why the publishers are pushing for new rules. “Unlike e-books, publishers think getting a print book from a library is already enough of a hassle and so it won’t hurt sales at bookstores online,” the reporter notes.

“After all, checking out a library book requires a trip to the library, and usually some scavenger hunting.”

But the reporter makes an interesting observation: e-book sales are still going strong, even though libraries are already offering more library editions of e-books that their patrons can check out for free. Nonetheless, some publishers are pulling their e-books from libraries altogether, or charging the libraries more for a lend-able copy. For a librarian’s perspective, the reporter interviewed Sarah Houghton, the celebrity “Librarian in Black” who’s been blogging about this and other issues in the digital age. (And yes, she does own a Kindle!) “I think public outrage may engender a change in corporate policy — if it’s strong enough,” Houghton argues. “It may take a lawsuit, or legislation, but change will occur.”

Sadly, many libraries have reduced their hours — and digital lending seems to offer an attractive solution. (“Now people can use the library whenever they need to,” one local librarian tells the newsweekly.) And the librarian also believes that small publishers may also benefit from library e-book lending, because it gives new customers an easy way to find their books. That’s especially true if the larger publishers refuse to participate in the libraries’ e-book lending programs.

But the article also raised the possibility that some library patrons may feel left behind. A library in Rockford, Illinois is spending 25% of its book budget on e-books, while one California librarian expects to spend 30% of their budget on e-books in the years to come. Ultimately the article suggests a question which never occurred to me.

Does that mean fewer books will be available for those patrons who can’t afford a digital reader?

Get a Kindle Fire for Only $169!

Amazon's new Kindle Fire tablet

It’s true! Amazon’s selling Kindle Fire tablets today in the U.S. for just $169. Just point your browser to (Click on the link in the “Save $30” section…)

They’re refurbished Kindle Fire tablets – meaning they were previously owned, but they’ve all since been tested by Amazon, so they’ll still come with a full one-year warranty, just like a new Kindle Fire tablet! And remember, the Kindle Fire was only released on November 15th, so none of them are more than four and a half months old!

Normally the Kindle Fire tablets cost $199, so it’s a nice way to save some money. And if that’s still too much money, Amazon’s giving away 10 more Kindle Fire tablets in a special contest. I normally don’t enter sweepstakes, but this one was actually a lot of fun. Amazon’s helping to pick the best magazine covers of 2011, so they’re displaying photos of the very best magazine covers, and asking us to vote on which ones we like best. There’s nearly 50 great covers each in 10 different categories, including “Technology & Business” and “Entertainment and Celebrities.” There’s even a “Most Delicious” category!

To check out the covers — and to enter yourself for a chance at a free Kindle Fire tablet — go to For every category that you vote in, Amazon will credit you with another entry in their sweepstakes. It’s all courtesy of Amazon’s magazine team, and apparently there’s even more fun ahead. On April 22nd, the best covers in each category will finally be revealed — after which there’s a final round where the very best cover “overall” will be chosen from those 10 finalists! Amazon’s promising that if you also vote in that final round, it will count as another entry in the contest.

It’s all a subtle reminder that you can read magazines on a Kindle Fire tablet — in full color, flicking the pages just like a real magazine by using your finger on their touchscreen. Of course, you can also watch movies and TV shows — or listen to music. Maybe Amazon’s that these magazines will be the last incentive customers need to rush out and buy a Kindle Fire!

A Kindle Success Story

Bob Mayer book cover art - Body of Lies

There was an inspiring story in Amazon’s newsletter for self-published authors. (You may remember that for a birthday present, I published a short ebook for my girlfriend with pictures of her dog!) But
in a section of the newsletter called “Your Voice,” Amazon lets one of their self-published authors share a big success story. And this month, that author is Bob Mayer, who sold nearly half a million ebooks in 2011!

He was born in the Bronx, according to his biography on Wikipedia, and he’s published over 33 novels (under his own name, and four different pen names!) Mixed in with the action adventures are some thrillers and sci-fi stories that build on his Special Forces experiences, including a popular series called Area 51 I found his story inspiring — and very compelling!

Bob Mayer shares his experiences with Kindle Direct Publishing….

I am a former Green Beret having served with 3-11-2012 10-43-17 PM 2 recon and Special Forces teams. I then went on to serve as a writer and instructor at the JFK Special Warfare Center & School at Fort Bragg. Needless to say I didn’t have the typical writer background, but my military background inspired the content of my future writing. 

I started writing all the way back in 1989 and I bounced around between the big six as a mid-list author, selling well enough to not be dropped but yet not relevant enough to be important to them even when I hit the NY Times Bestseller List. I’ve come a long way since then, and started a small publishing company in 2010, but was still with a Big 6 publisher. I made a decision that I was going to go 100% Indie in January 2011 and it really took off once I jumped in.  From 347 eBooks sold that month, I ended the year with over 400,000 sold!

I have published over 50 titles under my name and my Robert Doherty pen name and have sold over 6 million books (most since going to eBook).  However, self-publishing is not as easy as it seems: It requires your devotion and attention. In my opinion it’s a full time job. Besides the writing, it takes a tremendous amount of time to do the promotion, marketing and technical aspects. I’ve got a few other authors that I’m working with to get out there because they have to focus on the writing and we take care of the business aspects. I have Jen Talty to help me with all the formatting — in fact we even published a book about how we are doing this:  The ShelfLess Book: The Complete Digital Author.

I interact with the author community through Kindle Boards and with the readers through Twitter, my blog, appearances and go to other people’s blogs making comments. Joe Konrath and I post on each other’s blogs; we try to build a community of readers. I think the most effective way of marketing my books has been linkage. To give you an example, I had a series (Atlantis) that was similar to the show ‘Lost’ so I linked to the ‘Lost’ page and blogs in a relevant manner and that helped my page’s relevance tremendously from an organic search perspective. I try to link my books to something in media or something in history as I write Factual Fiction’stories based in history and facts with a fictional element thrown in.

I have nothing but good things to say about KDP and Amazon. They have dramatically changed the world of publishing.  No longer is distribution controlled by a select few.  Readers Rule!  I’ve seen Amazon sell motorcycles!  I wouldn’t be surprised if they started selling other things no one would have expected, soon. And that’s the key:  they’ll figure out how to do it, because Amazon is active rather than reactive.  Amazon was founded in 1994 and went online in 1995.  Only 17 years online.  I ask myself how much had I changed my business model in 17 years.  Truly not much until January 2011 when I went 100% indie and committed to the eBook.

Amazon’s “Kindle Girl” plays a new joke!

Amy Rutberg, the girl in Amazon's Kindle vs printed book TV commercial

Remember this blonde actress from Amazon’s TV commercial? (She the one who insists that she prefers folding down pages in a real book to reading on a Kindle…) In real life, she’s actress Amy Rutberg, and I’ve been reading the funny messages that she sometimes posts on Twitter. But Sunday she shared a link to a very unusual news story about the Kindle!

There’d already been some strange news reports last month about a Broadway theatre offering “Tweet seats” for a performance of the musical Godspell. Eighteen theatre-goers were selected to send Twitter updates about the performance, and a woman named Caryn Savitz was one of the people who “live-tweeted the Biblical action,” according to an article in Macleans. And apparently there’s also other theatres around the country which are arranging for some audience members to send live “status updates” about the shows to Twitter from their seats.

But will live theatrical performances eventually start offering “Kindle seats”?

That’s what Broadway World reported on Sunday, noting that the success of “Tweet seats” had inspired the producer of Godspell to announce Broadway’s first Kindle Night. “Our Tweet Seat night proved that we can expand the Broadway audience to include those who lack the attention span to watch a full act of a musical…” he’s quoted as saying. “So we’re using this knowledge to see if we can attract the kind of people who would rather read a book than attend a Broadway musical.

“Our research shows there is a significant potential audience that would be more willing to buy tickets to Broadway shows if they knew that they could just take out their Kindles and catch up on their reading if they got bored. We’ve also noticed a great interest in the idea among Broadway fans looking for a date night option when their partners have no interest in seeing the show. We’re even making up special Godspell reading lights and ear plugs for them!”

There was a stunned look on my face as I read the article — until I remembered what day it was. And then it dawned on me: the actress from Amazon’s Kindle TV ad had actually played an April Fool’s Day prank on anyone reading her posts on Twitter! She’d posted an enthusiastic response to the article, writing “I like it!”, and after the headline and the URL, adding ” #kindle girl approves!” And in another message on Twitter, she took the joke even further, asking, “Any book tips for the show?”

The truth is, Amy Rutberg is a dedicated stage actress. (Before appearing in the Kindle commercial, she’d starred in a New York theatre comedy called The Divine Sister, and even did a special video for the theatre magazine Backstage.) So I’m sure she appreciated the very real message of support that came through in the fake article about “Kindle Night”. “[W]hat is extremely important,” the producer says at one point, “is that we can do it without disturbing the enjoyment of those who wish to give their undivided attention to the artists who work so hard at creating the magic of live theatre at every performance.”

But I was just happy to see the Kindle being used as part of the joke!

Will Suzanne Collins Battle Stephenie Meyer?

Suzanne Collins vs Stephenie Meyer - Hunger Games-Twilight battle

Suzanne Collins is the all-time best-selling author on the Kindle. But can she defeat Stephenie Meyer – the author of the Twilight series – in a mixed martial arts cage match?

That question may be settled soon, if the World Wrestling Entertainment has its way. They’ve issued a formal invitation to both authors in an ambitious campaign to improve the image of their events, hoping to shake the stigma that’s traditionally surrounded professional wrestling by reserving a special spot for the two heavy-weight authors in WrestleMania XXVIII. WWE chairman Vince McMahon has presided over some crazy publicity stunts, but this one seems tied to the release of the Hunger Games movie (which opened last weekend).

“Suzanne Collins is #1 in the hearts of fans — and in the sales of her books through Amazon’s Kindle store,” Mr. McMahon said in a statement today from Florida. “So we’re issuing a formal challenge to her on behalf of her rival author, Stephenie Meyer. And to Miss Meyer we say, come and listen to the cheers from a real crowd. Leave your desk behind, taste the springtime air here in Miami Gardens, and come to defend your title out here in the real world.”

“And you can bring along as many of your vampire friends as you want.”

In a promotional video segment, “Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson” was photographed holding printed copies of all the Twilight-series books, and also copies of each of Collins’ Hunger Games books, which he smashed together to hopefully pump up the anticipation. “We professional wrestlers all know how to read,” Johnson said in a pre-taped segment. “But do you have what it takes to wrestle? There’s a ring with your name on it at Sun Life Stadium, Stephenie Meyer.”

It may not be a fight to the death — like the staged tournaments in Collins’ Hunger Games books — but McMahon alluded to that excitement while urging both authors to accept the challenge by using a quote from the newly-released movie. “They just want a good show, that’s all they want,” McMahon said, standing near a mock-up of a promotional poster for the event in the back of his broadcasting booth in Florida. But then he looked directly at the camera, and added ominously, “But only one comes out.”

It’s not clear whether the massive popularity of the Kindle can translate into bigger ticket sales for a staged wrestling event between the authors of two popular ebooks. But it’s not the first time that the WWE has tried to attract celebrities into carefully-prepared professional wrestling matches. (Famously in 2004, Vince McMahon successfully lured Lucy Lawless — the original Xena the Warrior Princess — into a staged wrestling match against Sarah Michelle Gellar, who’d played Buffy the Vampire Slayer). McMahon gamely joked that if there’s enough interest in this year’s “War of the Writers,” they might even duplicate the event in 2013.

“Maybe we’ll get J. K. Rowling to wrestle Anne Rice!”

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UPDATE: Okay, while it turns out that WrestleMania 28 is a real event that’s being staged on April 1, apparently it is not going to feature an appearance this year by Suzanne Collins in a mixed-martial-arts, cage-match fight to the death with rival author Stephenie Meyer. I’ve confirmed this with a source who has direct knowledge about the event — me — because…well, I made this whole thing up, because I just really wanted to celebrate April Fool’s Day this year! :)

I promise that I’ve never, ever made up a blog post before, and that I’ll never, ever do it again.

Er, except maybe for April Fool’s Day of 2013. :D