It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown Halloween Kindle Fire Android app

Here’s a Halloween surprise! Amazon’s giving away a free app today for both Kindle Fire and Android devices. And it’s a special Halloween app that’s sure to bring back some fond memories of hallowed evenings past. The name of the free app they’re giving away?

“It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”

You can download the free app today in Amazon’s app store. (For a shortcut, just point your web browser to tinyurl.com/freePeanutsHalloween .) It’s an interactive version of the famous TV special that finds Linus spending Halloween night in a pumpkin patch. You can actually poke your fingers into the drawings, to make all the Peanuts characters jiggle around. And it’s narrated by Peter Robbins, who provided the voice for Charlie Brown in the original 1966 TV special!

Because it’s an Android app, you can play it on your Kindle Fire or any Android phone. And I was impressed by the smooth interface, which includes an old vinyl record on the game’s menu page to represent the narration (which you can turn on and off). It’s got all the sequences you remember from the TV special, with some of the artwork laid out like a newspaper comic strip. It was a real thrill to see Charlie Brown’s pile of autumn leaves again — and then to see Linus trying to jump into it while holding a wet lollipop!

If you don’t have a Kindle Fire, there’s still some other Halloween games available at Amazon. Yesterday I wrote about “Futoshiki Halloween Edition, and there’s also a Halloween version of the game Blossom. There’s even a Halloween version of Mahjong Solitaire, and if you’re looking for something scarier, there’s also a text adventure “Choice of the Zombies”.

But I have fond childhood memories of watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”. So if you’ve always wanted a free app that revives this Halloween tradition…there’s a special treat waiting for you tonight in Amazon’s appstore.


Remember, for a shortcut, just point your web browser to tinyurl.com/freePeanutsHalloween

Cover illustration from R. L. Stine's Goosebumps zombie high school ebook

I have a special holiday tradition. Each year around Halloween, I creep up on the Kindle Store, and take a peek at just how many ebooks have zombies in their title. And lately, zombies have started turning up in Kindle games! Last year I even asked in this blog, Are zombies taking over the Kindle? (“If you haven’t been paying attention, you may not have noticed the rising zombie invasion…”)

Amazingly, in September of 2011, there were 1,992 Kindle ebooks with the word “zombie” in their title. But by that Halloween, there were 277 more. And this year? The number of zombie titles has doubled again in less than a year. There are now 4,874 different ebooks in the Kindle Store with zombies in their title.

And there’s also several “Halloween” versions of some popular Kindle games. (As the author of a Kindle word game, it’s really fun for me to see game developers taking their established Kindle titles, and then updating them with special holiday editions.) For example, the makers of Slingo have come up with “Poker of the Dead” — which combines the challenges of the classic “Texas Hold ‘Em” card game with…zombies! It’s a seven-day tournament (with 10 hands per day), with a dramatic backstory adding the complication of an onslaught by the living dead. But fortunately, according to the game’s description, your zombie opponents “have no brains, never fold, and will always call your bet.” The phrase “winner takes all” gets a whole new meaning, but if you defeat all these poker-playing zombies, you’ll live to fight another day.

There’s also a spooky version of the Sudoku-like logic puzzle, Futoshiki. “Futoshiki Halloween Edition takes an eerie twist as witches and zombies take over in a graveyard game board,” warned the game’s page in the Kindle store. There’s a dangerous-looking tree in the background of the game board, and the top of the screen even includes the silhouette of a witch. But somehow, the stark contrast on the Kindle’s black-and-white screen seems to fit the holiday perfectly.

Kindle game Futoshiki - Halloween edition

There’s also a zombie-themed text adventure called “Choice of the Zombies”, plus a Halloween version of the game Blossom. This has always been one of my personal favorite Kindle games, and it’s fun to see it getting a holiday makeover. In the original version, you’d rotate squares in a grid to connect a network of pipes to make some flowers blossom. But in the Halloween edition, those restful flowers have been replaced by jack-o-lanterns — and instead of a watering can, they’re connecting to a black witch’s cauldron!

Kindle game Blossom - Screenshot of Halloween edition

And believe it or not, there’s now even a Halloween version of Mahjong Solitaire. “This game is so fun it’s scary!” reads its description in the Kindle Store, which promises to complement its 13 different layouts with two special Halloween tile sets. Their pictures include pumpkins, tombstones, and even something that looks like a smirking ghost. It usually costs $3.99, but today it’s on sale for just 99 cents. If you like Mahjong Solitaire, this looks like a fun novelty.

But zombies still keep stalking their into the Kindle Store, and it’s been a very strange journey. Last year one of the top 100 free ebooks in the Kindle Store was something called Super Zombie Juice Mega Bomb. But the real message may be that each Halloween, there’s more and more self-published authors who are writing zombie fiction. Even the Library of Congress only has 601 books with the word “zombie” in their title (up from 523 in 2011). Oh my god, run everybody — Amazon’s Kindle store now has eight times as many zombies!!!

They’re not real zombies, but it does suggest the Kindle store’s amateur authors are especially attracted to the zombie genre. Or are they? Sometimes it’s hard to tell the amateurs from the pros. Take a peek at the new titles, and you’ll be startled at just how many zombie ebooks there are. Don’t look now, but the living dead could be shambling up to your Kindle!

Here’s some of the stranger ebooks.


Zombie Girl Invasion
Wesley and the Sex Zombies
Zombie Day Care/A>
The Scarlet Zombie Sketchbook #1

A Girl’s Guide To Falling In Love With A Zombie
Rock And Roll Reform School Zombies
My Life as A White Trash Zombie
The Zombie Attached To My Head

Zombie Lust and The New Flesh
How to Make Love like a Zombie
My Lovesick Zombie Boy Band
Lesbian Zombies Are Taking Over The World!

Trailerpark Zombies
Zombie Road Trip
Jesus vs. the Zombies of Perdition
Texas Biker Zombies From Outer Space


To be fair, “Texas Biker Zombies From Outer Space” is a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, “intentionally designed to give the reader an interactive experience using the advantages over print that E-Books allow.” And Zombie Spaceship Wasteland was written by actor/comedian Patton Oswalt, using the horror movie monsters as a metaphor in a collection of essays “vividly evoking his zombie-like co-worker,” according to Booklist‘s review. Even 71-year-old literary author Joyce Carol Oates — twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize — named her 2009 novel Zombie (P.S.) It’s about a serial killer — named Zombie — who keeps a diary as he pursues his victims.

But yeah, most of the titles in the Kindle Store aren’t as ambitious.


I Kissed a Zombie and I Liked It
Married with Zombies
Zombie Blondes
Zombies Eat Lawyers

Confessions of a Zombie’s Wife
Slow and Sweet: A Love Story, With Zombies
Zombie Erotica: An Undead Anthology
Never Slow Dance with a Zombie

A Cold Dark School with Zombies at the Gates
Zombie Queen of Newbury High
Zombie Fight Song
Jesus Camp Zombie Bloodbath

The Code of the Zombie Pirate
Battle of the Network Zombies
Hungry for Love: An Anthology of Zombie Romance
Diary of a Duct Tape Zombie


I can understand why some of these books aren’t in the Library of Congress. (It’s probably more surprising that there’s any zombie books in the Library of Congress.) But to explore the popularity of stories about the shambling undead, I asked my friend Thomas Roche, a professional writer for more than 15 years, who’s just published his first novel about zombies. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten a quote back.

I think zombies may have actually eaten his brains.

Or maybe he’s just busy reading all the ebooks he’s competing with…


Goddamn Redneck Surfer Zombies
Zombie Dawn Apocalypse
Breaking News: an Autozombiography
Brains For Lunch: A Zombie Novel in Haiku?!

Road Kill: A Zombie Tale
I, Zombie
The Christian Zombie Killer’s Handbook
Zombie Hero #3: “Keep On Truckin”

Zombie Combat Manual
The Zurvivalist – Real Life Solutions to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse
Zombology: A Zombie Anthology
Brains: A Zombie Memoir

Zombie Sniper
You Might Be a Zombie and Other Bad News
Zombie P.I.
Why I Quit Zombie School


That last book is actually the newest book in R. L. Stine’s popular “Goosebumps” series of scary stories for younger readers (which have sold more than 350 million copies. I used its colorful cover at the top of this blog post. It’s easy to laugh at the titles, but they may have tapped into a storyline with some primal universal appeal. Some authors have enjoyed wild success by re-creating our darkest nightmares, and maybe that’s the ultimate irony.

It’s not that the zombies are attracted to our brains. It’s that our brains are attracted to zombies!


Zombies vs Unicorns
Zombies Sold Separately
Zombies and Power Tools
Every Zombie Eats Somebody Sometime: A Book of Zombie Love Songs

Zombie Jamboree
Zombie Safari
Zombies for Jesus
Attack of the Shark-Headed Zombies

Jailbait Zombie
What Do You Do With Dead Zombies?
Zombiestan
Forward, Shamble!: A Bob the Zombie Novel

The Art of War for Zombies – Ancient Chinese Secrets of World Domination, Apocalypse Edition
Superheroes vs Zombies
The Adventures of Zombie Boy
Zombie Butts from Uranus


There’s even zombie Christmas books, believe it or not, including A Zombie Christmas Carol and A Christmas Carol of the Living Dead: a zombie holiday tale. (Plus A Zombie Christmas and “A Christmas Wish: A Zombie Tale for the Holidays.”) If you think that’s confusing, try reading The Christmas Zombie: The story of why zombies celebrate Christmas. And if you’re just looking for holiday cheer, there’s It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies (Christmas carols “composed specifically for…the decomposing).”

Some authors have also tried their hand at creating zombie books for other holidays. (Like Dangerous Hunts: A Zombie Father’s Day Tale.”) And A Very Zombie Holiday even follows a zombie father as he attempts to celebrate every holiday with his living family. If you’re after a classic bedtime story, there’s Snow White and the Seven Dead Dwarves: A Zombie Fairy Tale.” And for educational purposes, there’s also something called Zombie Ed Counts To Twenty, and its sequel, Zombie Ed Loves Halloween. (“Text-to-speech enabled… Finally! A zombie book for children! “)

And — uh-oh. Here comes another wave of more strange zombie ebooks…


Zombies vs. Nazis
Don of the Dead: A Mafia Zombie Novel
The Zombie Cookbook
“Rednecks Who Shoot Zombies, on the Next Geraldo”

501 Things to do with a Zombie
Zombies Wearing Hats
Zombies Hate Vegetables, Too
Grampa’s Zombie BBQ

Frankenstein, The Zombie Hunter
Love in a Time of Zombies
An Inconvenient Amish Zombie Left Behind The Da Vinci Diet Code Truth
Zombies Don’t Play Soccer

Dr. Zombie Lives Next Door
Zombies Ride Motorcycles
Paul Is Undead: The British Zombie Invasion
Zombies at the Bar Mitzvah


I’m not sure what to make of an ebook called James Joyce and the Zombie Priest, though it’s attracted at least one positive review on its web page at Amazon. (“If there is a better zombie version of Araby by James Joyce, it would be news to me!”) This trend probably all started when real-world bookstores started seeing big sales of a 2009 parody novel called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (crediting Jane Austen as a co-author). It rose to #3 on the New York Times best-seller list, according to Wikipedia, apparently spawning a new generation of even stranger zombie novels — and zombie ebooks. There’s even a Garrison Keillor parody called The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten that’s attributed to an author named Harrison Geillor. (“The humor in this parody lies in the simple truth that even a zombie bear with a hatchet in its head won’t faze a Minnesotan,” writes Publisher’s Weekly.)

And there’s zombie parodies of other books — like Zombies of Oz (and The Terrible Zombie of Oz). There’s also The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim and Wuthering Heights and a Werewolf…and a Zombie Too.” Someone’s even written zombie versions of two Sherlock Holmes stories, a book of zombie fairy tales, and a zombie version of The War of the Worlds (“plus Blood, Guts, and Zombies”). And if you liked Great Expectations, you might try Pip and the Zombies, by Charles Dickens and Louis Skipper.

In the two years since Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the concept has apparently festered its way into a full-fledged literary movement. I was surprised to see a book titled simply Zombies for Zombies — until I realized it was a parody of the “For Dummies” book (receiving thirteen 5-star reviews). There’s also The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Zombies, which strangely is not a parody, but an official title in the “Idiot’s Guide” series, which traces the origin of zombie stories with chapters about books, movies, and comic books. But just when it couldn’t get any creepier, I discovered that there’s even some zombie books that are actually about personal investing.


Zombie Economics: A Guide to Personal Finance
How to Prosper During the Coming Zombie Apocalypse
Workplace Of The Living Dead: What Zombies Can Teach Leaders About Engaging Employees
Zombie Project Management


And there’s also some zombie history books. (Which, honestly, throws some doubt over their historical accuracy.)


A Zombie’s History of the United States
A Tale of Zombies in Czarist Russia
A Tale of Zombies in the Old West
Everything My Grandmother Taught Me about Killing Zombies
The Eagle has Re-Animated
Pappy’s Old Time Zombie Radio Show
Zombies Take Manhattan


There’s something strangely inspiring about the sheer number of books that have ultimately been inspired about zombies. It’s nice to see this massive outpouring of new creativity, as people all around the globe start wondering what’s going to happen in their imaginary zombie scenario. In fact, zombies are turning up in a surprising variety of different kinds of books. Though some authors even seem to think that maybe the lonely zombies just need a friend…


Zachary Zombie and the Lost Boy
Jude and the Zombies
Peter Crombie, Teenage Zombie
Nobody Wants to Play With Zombie Jesus

Jasper, the Friendly Zombie
How I met Barbara the Zombie Hunter
The Student from Zombie Island
Zombie Joe and the Pogo Stick legs

Growing Up Zombie
Oh No, Our Best Friend is a Zombie!
Timothy Holbrook and the Zombie Curse
Proper Care and Feeding of Zombies

Zombie Mommy
Phredde and the Zombie Librarian
Day of the Field Trip Zombies
Mom and Dad Aren’t Getting Along (Now That Mom’s a Zombie)



Maybe they were also inspired by the success of the Twilight series of books about a vampire’s teenaged romance. (One ebook author has even written Vampire Among the Zombies.) But I had to laugh when I saw an ebook titled “Where are the Zombies?”

Dude, you’re not paying attention. They’re everywhere!

Amazon Mocks Apple

October 29th, 2012

Apple's iPad Mini will compete with Amazon's Kindle Fire HD

Ouch! I know Amazon wants to beat Apple in “the war of the tablets”. But today Amazon launched a surprisingly aggressive attack against Apple’s newest tablet computer, the iPad Mini. They fired the first shot last Thursday during a conference call announcing their earnings. But today they continued their attack using the front page of Amazon.com!

Apple had announced their new “iPad Mini” just six days ago, priced at $329. It competes directly with Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets, though its color touchscreen has a lower density of pixels (offering just 163 pixels for every inch of screenspace). Even the original Kindle Fire — now priced at $159 — has 169 pixels per inch. And Amazon’s new Kindle HD (priced at $199) now offers 216 pixels per inch.

Apple’s always had a reputation for producing good-but-expensive products. So apparently, Amazon wanted to make sure that everyone noticed that Amazon’s cheaper devices were actually offering more pixels per inch. Somewhere in Seattle, someone came up with a publicity stunt that was sure to get the attention of technology bloggers everywhere. The first thing you see today at the top of Amazon.com is a quote from the technology site Gizmodo.

“…your [Apple's] 7.9 inch tablet has far fewer pixels than the competing 7-inch tablets! You’re cramming a worse screen in there, charging more, and accusing others of compromise? Ballsy.”

Amazon seems anxious to position themselves as the better-and-cheaper option, especially with the Christmas shopping season coming up. (Ironically, Gizmodo.com went offline this afternoon, possibly overwhelmed by all the additional traffic they were now getting from Amazon.com!) Just two days after Apple had launched their newest product last week, a spokesperson for Amazon had also contacted the AllThingsD blog, and bragged that the sales for the Kindle Fire HD had actually increased the day after Apple had announced the iPad Mini. In fact, Amazon sold more Kindle Fire HDs on that day than on any other day since they’d launched the product. Not only that, but Amazon had actually sold three times as many as they’d sold just the week before!

It’s possible that there was a pent-up demand for tablets on that one day. I’m guessing that a lot of shoppers had postponed their purchase just to see what kind of device Apple was going to announce. But apparently a lot of them then decided to go with Amazon’s device, because it was much cheaper and offered a higher density of pixels. And now Amazon’s making sure everyone’s hearing about the difference.

I wanted to ask a hardcore Apple fan what they thought of Amazon’s argument, so I contacted my friend Steve. (He’s been an Apple enthusiast for years, and once wrote a blog post where he jokingly described himself as a freedom-hating Apple fanboy.) “It’s a fair hit…” Steve conceded. “I get that it’s an improvement over the original iPad, in that it’s the same resolution but smaller so the pixel density is higher. But the pixel density is still lower than anything else they sell — or, other than the orignal iPad, anything else that they’ve ever sold!”

My friend Steve also pointed out that the iPad Mini is also going to have to compete with the Kindle, at least in some ways, “and Kindle has this nice, paperlink e-ink surface. As a backlit device, we really need the smoother, crisper screen to be an easy-on-the-eyes experience, and the iPad Mini really doesn’t deliver on that.” Plus, even for a die-hard Apple fan, it’s hard to get past the fact that Apple’s priced their newest device at least $130 higher than the Kindle Fire tablets that Amazon’s aiming at the lower end of the market.

“To market the iPad Mini as a high-end device, I think it really needs more screen resolution.”

The Brothers Grimm

Halloween’s coming up, so it’s a great time for some scary stories. Try the pioneering gothic fiction from American horror author Edgar Allan Poe (including many free editions of his scariest stories). And this Halloween, in a dark corner of the Kindle Store, you can also find free editions of Frankenstein and Dracula. But if you’re looking for a really exotic scare, don’t don’t overlook this forgotten treasure chest: the dark and quirky original stories by the Brothers Grimm.

Household Tales by the Brothers Grimm is a free ebook that collects over 200 gnarly pieces of authentic folklore that the two brothers had carefully collected over their lifetime. The table of contents even supplies the original German titles for the stories (though the collection is written in English), so the tale “Little Snow-White” is also identified as “Sneewittchen.” (And “The Bremen Town Musicians” was originally called “Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten”.)

I’m not kidding about the stories being dark, quirky, and gnarly. One of them is titled “The Girl Without Hands,” and there’s some absolutely horrifying plot twists in “Our Lady’s Child” (“Marienkind”). A mute queen’s three children are kidnapped by the Virgin Mary, and the queen is then burned at the stake because the king’s councilors believe that the queen killed and ate them herself. (Surprisingly, there is a happy ending, but the twists along the way are pretty hair-raising…)

And early in the book is another tale called “The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was.” A man on the road points him to the tree “where seven men have married the ropemaker’s daughter, and are now learning how to fly.”

“Sit down below it, and wait till night comes, and you will soon learn how to shudder…”

But instead, the youth worries about whether they’re cold, as “the wind knocked the hanged men against each other.” So he sets them around his campfire, but “they sat there and did not stir, and the fire caught their clothes…” Soon his fearlessness has led him to take a king’s challenge of spending three nights in a haunted castle, where he’s assaulted by black cats and dogs “from every hole and corner,” all carrying red hot chains. He kills them with his cutting knife, crying “Away with ye, vermin,” and then lies down to sleep in the haunted bed…

The story-telling is very simple, but it’s still a wild and unpredictable experience that I’m sure I’ll never forget. Just remember that while these are authentic fairy tales, they’re not necessarily the cute and colorful legends you might be expecting! So if instead you’re looking for a “cute and cuddly” free fairy tale book this Halloween, there’s also free editions of the tales of Beatrix Potter — which includes the tale of Peter Rabbit!

Playboy republished their interview with a young Jon Stewart as an exclusive Kindle Single
Playboy magazine is re-publishing their interview
with a young Jon Stewart


I was surprised by the big reaction last week to my post about political ebooks for the Kindle. But maybe it’s just because everyone loves a free ebook — so here’s another one I discovered for the Kindle Fire from the University of Chicago. They give away one free ebook each month, and this time it’s a fascinating look at America’s historic debates between presidential candidates, by a man “who was there at the creation of the modern political debate.” And I’ve also found several other fun (and cheap) ebooks on politics that you can download for your Kindle!

Some of the best political content for the Kindle isn’t listed as an ebook in Amazon’s Kindle Store — it’s being delivered as a Kindle Single! Six weeks ago I reported on Playboy magazine, and their efforts to convert their best interviews into Kindle Singles to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the magazine’s first interview with Miles Davis. Since then they’ve uploaded 32 of their 50 best interviews, including some fascinating conversations with everyone from Jon Stewart and Tina Fey to Ayn Rand and even Fidel Castro. There’s a famous interview with Betty Friedan — one of the first feminists — and counter-culture icons like Bob Dylan and Timothy Leary, as well as economist Milton Friedman and cyclist Lance Armstrong. Best of all, you can read the complete text of each interview for just 99 cents in a special anniversary edition. (To browser the complete selection, just point your browser to this special shortcut – tinyurl.com/PlayboyEbooks .)

The free ebook from the Univeristy of Chicago is called Inside the Presidential Debates: Their Improbable Past and Promising Future, and it’s written by a real insider in both politics and broadcasting. President Kennedy appointed Newton N. Minow to be one of seven FCC commissioners back in 1961, and he co-authored this book with Craig L. LaMay, an associate professor of journalism at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. “The riveting first-person stories he and Craig LaMay tell of debates in one election after another take us to the heart of American political life,” gushed Judy Woodruff in a review of the book, saying that ultimately their insider accounts “argue for a continued central role for debates in our electoral process. Their book is must reading for anyone who wants to understand how to ensure that comes about.”

There’s a humorous footnote. Minow is also famous for complaining in 1961 that a day’s worth of TV programming is simply a “vast wasteland” — a phrase that’s still quoted today, according to Wikipedia. This provoked a humorous response from Sherwood Schwartz, a TV producer who at the time was creating the show Gilligan’s Island. The classic situation comedy followed seven silly castaways who were shipwrecked on a deserted island — and in honor of the FCC commissioner, he nicknamed their boat the S. S. Minnow.

This book isn’t in the Kindle Store, but it’s still possible to upload it onto your Kindle Fire. For a shortcut to their web page, go to tinyurl.com/FreeDebateEbook. Enter your e-mail address, and they’ll send you a link where you can download a version to read on the Bluefire or Aldiko reading apps. And remember, you can also use your Kindle Fire to watch episodes of Gilligan’s Island in Minow’s honor — and they’re also available online through Amazon’s Instant Video web page. (They’re all free if you’re a subscriber to Amazon Prime.)

Did Amazon discontinue the Kindle Touch

So the Kindle Touch is currently listed as “unavailable” at Amazon.com (as shown in the screenshot above), followed by an even more discouraging notice. “We don’t know when or if this item will be back in stock.” And there’s an article reporting the same message 10 days ago from the British web site Tech Radar. While an Amazon spokesperson told TechRadar their device was still available through other retail “partners”, they also confirmed that it was “no longer available at Amazon.co.uk.”

So it’s looking like it’s “dead for now” — though Amazon could always have a secret plan for reviving the Kindle Touch sometime in the future. But currently Amazon is also no longer showing the Kindle Touch among the strip of all available Kindle models that’s displayed at the top of each Kindle’s web page. And Amazon’s U.S. web page for the Kindle Touch is now simply pointing shoppers to their new touchscreen Kindle Paperwhite devices (officially released just three weeks ago), which Amazon describes as a “newer model of this item.” Unfortunately, the new Paperwhite, with its built-in front lighting, is significantly different from the Kindle Touch, and it’s drawn at least a couple of dissatisfied reviews. 676 users have now given the new Paperwhite an average rating of less than 3 and a half stars on Amazon (out of a possible five), which is lower than any previous model of Amazon’s black-and-white Kindles.

Amazon’s averaged four stars for their Kindle and Kindle DX, and four and a half stars for the Kindle Keyboard. And even though it’s only been available for less than a year, the Kindle Touch already has an average rating of four stars (after racking up 6,471 reviews on its web page at Amazon). To be fair, the new Paperwhite has also received many positive reviews, too. And I still think our Kindle word game still looks absolutely gorgeous on the glowing screens of the Kindle Paperwhite…

But to head off any disappointment, Amazon’s now taken the unusual step of “preemptively disclosing” shortcomings of the Kindle Paperwhite right on its web page, “most likely to get out in front of user complaints,” C|Net reports. Towards the top of the Paperwhite web page, Amazon’s now linking to a web page from “the Kindle Team” which presents three disclaimers. (“Learn more about certain design decisions and changes from prior generations to help make an informed purchase,” the link promises.) On the page, Amazon acknowledges that at the bottom of the screen, the Paperwhite’s built-in light will sometimes provide uneven illumination under certain lighting conditions, and that, unlike the Kindle Touch, it doesn’t have audio or text-to-speech capabilities. And there’s also only 2 gigabytes of on-device storage, half of the storage that was available on the Kindle Touch.

Amazon may be suffering a backlash after high interest in the device, which they’re apparently trying to address before “Black Friday” and the big holiday shopping season. One day after its official release, Amazon had already sold out of their Kindle Paperwhite, with an Amazon executive conceding that pre-orders “have far exceeded our expectations.” But even three weeks later, new orders are still being delayed 4-6 weeks, with Amazon also imposing a new limit on orders of two per customers. Of course, that information also makes more sense now that we have the other piece of the puzzle. If the Kindle Touch really is unavailable now, that could explain the higher-than-expected demand for the new touchscreen Kindle Paperwhite!

But it’s also got me wondering if Amazon might bring back their older Kindle Touch devices — especially if they’re having trouble filling orders for the Kindle Paperwhite during the crucial Christmas shopping season. I wouldn’t be absolutely surprised if Amazon suddenly announced they were bringing back the Kindle Touch for a special a sale on Black Friday. Amazon wants customers to be happy, so it’d make perfect sense to give Kindle them a choice for their touchscreen Kindles.

After all, Amazon’s real goal is to just to sell you a Kindle. They don’t necessarily care which one!

Kindle Paperwhite screenshot of Throw in the Vowel word game

The Kindle Paperwhite has only been available since early October, but there’s already a new game available for it — mine! Wednesday Amazon added our Kindle word game, “Throw in the Vowel,” to their list of games which are now also approved for the Kindle Paperwhite. I released the game with my business partner back in February, and it’s nice to see that our updates have finally paid off. There’s only 110 different games available now for the Kindle Paperwhite, but ours is one of them!

Check out the game at TinyURL.com/ThrowInTheVowel

In two days, “Throw in the Vowel” has already become one of the Kindle Paperwhite’s top 30 best-selling games. (And of course, it’s also available for the Kindle Touch, the new Kindle, the older Kindle 2 and 3 “Kindle Keyboards, and even the Kindle DX.) But I’m excited for another reason. Some things really do look better on the Kindle Paperwhite’s glowing screen.

I’ve always said that one of my favorite things about our game was the way that it looked. Its background images show a magical mystery world where mists are shining, and there’s tantalizing words hovering just out of reach. There’s a glowing moon in the three-dimensional background, and a white light shining behind the name of the game. But now it’s a real glow — the light from the Kindle Paperwhite!

Kindle Paperwhite screenshot of Throw in the Vowel word game menu

We’d had to re-calculate the sizes of the letters too, so we ended up revealing even more of those pretty background images. I tell my friends that it’s almost a dream come true — literally! — since we’d imagined what that world was supposed to look like, and then made it shine out from the screen of the Kindle Paperwhite. Plus, the pixel count is higher on the Kindle Paperwhite, so you can see this little fantasy world in much greater detail. Now there’s even greater clarity for that light that’s shining on the columns, and the shimmering clouds in the sky.

When we released the game last February, we had no idea that Amazon would be releasing even more versions of the Kindle, but I feel like the Kindle Paperwhite is a perfect fit for “Throw in the Vowel”. To be fair, other games also look nicer on the Paperwhite’s glowing screen — and of course, they’re all much easier to play with a touchscreen interface. Our game is available on six different Kindles now — but I honestly feel that this is the best version yet.

It may just be a happy coincidence, but on the Kindle Paperwhite, “Throw in the Vowel” looks fantastic!

Visit the game’s page on Amazon at TinyURL.com/ThrowInTheVowel

Goodbye to the Kindle DX!

October 17th, 2012

Amazon's original Kindle DX

I own six Kindles, one of each kind — but the Kindle DX has always been my favorite. So I was sad to hear Amazon may be discontinuing it. It was one of the Kindle’s very first models — introduced in June of 2009 — but now you can no longer purchase one directly from Amazon. If you go to its web page at Amazon.com, it’s only listed as available from third-party sellers.

This is a surprise, because just a few weeks ago, Amazon seemed to suggest they’d keep selling the Kindle DX themselves. In September an Amazon Kindle executive named Jay Marine had surprised a technology site called The Verge with the news that Amazon is “pretty much done” with the Kindle DX. But the executive had also stressed that Amazon wasn’t abandoning it, though it wasn’t clear just what exactly he’d meant by that. The Verge site reported that Marine “did note that there may be a few more DX’s manufactured and it’ll continue to be sold online [my emphasis], before it completely falls off of the face of the earth.”

I guess maybe I’m just having trouble reconciling those two phrases — “continue to be sold online” and “falls completely off the face of the earth.” But Monday, NBC News reported in their technology blog that the Kindle DX would finally go “to e-reader heaven”. Calling it “one of the oldest e-readers offered by Amazon and certainly the largest”, they argued that most consumers seem to prefer devices with a smaller (and cheaper) screen. Although I think it’s worth noting that NBC’s blogger couldn’t get a definite comment from Amazon confirming that the Kindle DX was definitely being discontinued.

Amazon announces Black Friday sale on Kindle DX

I think the Kindle DX turned off some shoppers with its higher-than-usual price tag. Even today in the third-party market, they’re still selling for over $250 – which is more than you’d have to pay for one of Amazon’s color, touchscreen Kindle Fire tablets! In fact, this summer when I’d tried selling off my second Kindle DX on eBay, I had trouble finding anyone who was willing to pay more than $200. Now if you’re trying to get rid of your Kindle DX, Amazon will let you trade yours in for a $90.75 gift card.

But on this day, as we say our possible goodbyes to the Kindle DX, I’d like to take a moment to offer up some appreciation. It was great for reading PDF files, because you could switch the screen’s orientation to “landscape” and then stretch the book’s pages all the way across all 10.4 inches of the screen. (In fact, I ultimately sold my second Kindle DX to a local college student, who looking forward to reading his textbooks on it!) And as one of Amazon’s earliest Kindles, it still came with built-in network connectivity (instead of requiring you to connect to a local WiFi network). I once read my Kindle DX during a camping trip up in the mountains, and it was also great if you found yourself waiting somewhere unexpectedly, like the lobby of a doctor’s office.

Of course, there’s one more thing — the thing that I’ll always love most about my Kindle Dx. There’s only one thing better than an e-ink screen, I’ve always said — and that’s a really big e-ink screen. The Kindle Paperwhite may offer you more contrast with its front-lit screen, but the Kindle DX accomplished the same thing the old-fashioned way: with a bigger screen! I like seeing my ebooks big, 7.2 inches wide by 10.4 inches tall.

But apparently, if Amazon’s moves today are any indication, there just weren’t enough people who felt the same way.

Kindle DX vs books


It’s always exciting when America starts planning to elect its next President. But this year, at least some of the action found its way onto the Kindle.

Two political science professors have teamed up to create a free ebook about the 2012 Presidential Election — and they’re publishing its first four chapters while the election is taking place! “We typically work far too slowly to capitalize on interest in the election among journalists, strategists, and citizens…” they write in the book’s first chapter. But for this book, the team will actually be writing at stops along the campaign trail while also crunching lots of data about everything from polls to the economy and even political ad spending. “The result promises to be the only book about the election that combines on-the-ground reporting, social science, and quantitative data,” according to the book’s description at Amazon, ” in order to look beyond the anecdote, folklore, and conventional wisdom that too often pass for analysis of presidential elections.”

For a shortcut to the book’s web page on Amazon, go to tinyurl.com/Free2012CampaignBook

But Amazon’s also getting in on the political action. In August they launched a “Political Heat Map” of the United States, which calculates whether a state should be displayed in blue (liberal) or red (conservative) based on which political books Amazon is selling there! “Customers can click on any state on the Amazon Election Heat Map to see the percentage of conservative and liberal books sold in that state,” Amazon explained in a press release, “as well as the top 5 best-selling conservative and liberal books per state.”

Amazon political heat map of the USA shows red states and blue states

They’re using Kindle ebook sales (as well as print sales), and it’s currently showing a 45 states which are buying more conservative books than liberal books. “Book sales by geography always have interesting things to say about our states,” notes a senior book editor at Amazon, “and an election season is a particularly good time to use this data to help customers follow the changing political conversation across the country.”

It’s a fun way to start exploring the political books available at Amazon — and they’ve also added some interesting additional calculations. Which presidential candidate is selling more copies of their latest book? It’s Barack Obama, who’s selling six copies of The Audacity of Hope for every four copies that Mitt Romney sells of his own biography, The Case for American Greatness. But it’s exactly the opposite when you compare the book-sale figures for the vice presidential candidates. Democrat Joe Biden published Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics back in 2007, but his books still represent just 31% of the total figure for ebooks sold by all vice presidential candidates — while Amazon awards the remaining 69% to Paul Ryan for the book Young Guns (which he co-authored with Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy).

“Just remember, books aren’t votes,” Amazon warns at the corner of the web page, “so a map of book purchases may reflect curiosity as much as commitment.” But I’ll admit that it got me thinking about some ebooks for my Kindle that I otherwise wouldn’t have considered. Just two weeks, Stephen Colbert published a new funny political book called America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t — and it’s available in both the print and ebook format. That’s made it the #1 and the #2 best-selling liberal book on Amazon — while on the conservative list, the #1 and #3 best-selling books are also two versions of the same book. (Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever.) But ironically, the #2 best-selling book on the conservative list was written more than 50 years ago.

It’s Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand!

Amazon Kindle 399 ebook sale

Amazon’s done it again! They’ve picked 100 ebooks and then slashed the prices in a special sale for October. You can find all 100 ebooks at tinyurl.com/399books This time I recognized at least one or two bargain books that were written by my favorite authors!

Amazon’s discounting books from seven different genres, too, so there’s a really nice variety to choose from. There’s mysteries, thrillers, romance, literature, memoirs and general nonfiction — and even some science fiction titles. Be sure to check the bottom of each of these page, because Amazon seems to have some grouped some more ebooks together in extra categories, like “Top-Rated Reads, Just $2.99″. And there’s even a new category, called “Popular Thrillers with Leading Ladies, $3.99 or Less”

Here’s some of the most interesting titles.


When It Happens to You: A Novel in Stories by Molly Ringwald ($3.99)

This author was a movie star in the 1980s (starring in a string of iconic teen comedies directed by John Hughes, like Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club.) But now that she’s 44, Molly Ringwald “mines the complexities of modern relationships,” according to the book’s description at Amazon, “in this gripping and nuanced collection of interlinked stories.” In this 237-page novel, Ringwald describes a Los Angeles family and their friends, “revealing the deceptions, heartbreak, and vulnerability familiar to us all….” revealing “a startling eye for the universality of loss, love, and the search for connection.” It’s only been available since August, and it’s already racked up 24 five-star reviews.

Beer-Can Chicken by Steven Raichlen ($2.51)

Wait, what? According to this book’s description at Amazon, the author reveals “everything one should ever need to know about roasting a chicken upright on top of a can of beer.” But that’s not all. If you use a 32-ounce can of Foster’s beer, you can actually cook a whole turkey. If you slap on some welder’s gloves, you can even reach right into the flames to turn a stewing hen yourself, and there’s also a receipe for basting a chicken using black-cherry soda. “Raichlen’s goal is to encourage grillers to have fun and use their imagination,” Amazon’s description promises, “and he presents 74 ‘offbeat recipes’ as starting points…” Even if a recipe doesn’t turn out the way you’d hoped, “A chicken straddling a beer can, at the very least, makes a great conversation piece at an outdoor beer bash.”

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk: a Novel by Ben Fountain ($2.99)

Amazon’s editors picked this novel as one of the best new books of May, so it’s a real treat that it’s now been discounted to just $2.99. In his first novel, author Ben Fountain describes eight American soldiers who survive an intense firefight in Iraq, only to be honored with a guest appearance beside the Dallas Cowboys during a Thanksgiving halftime show. There they meet a wild cast of characters, according to the book’s description on Amazon, and “Over the course of this day, Billy will begin to understand difficult truths about himself, his country, his struggling family, and his brothers-in-arms – soldiers both dead and alive. In the final few hours before returning to Iraq, Billy will drink and brawl, yearn for home and mourn those missing, face a heart-wrenching decision, and discover pure love and a bitter wisdom far beyond his years.”

Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates ($1.99)

She’s been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize three separate times, and won the National Book Award in 1969. But in 2009, at the age of 72, Joyce Carol Oates wrote a novel about “the most believable and thoroughly terrifying sexual psychopath and killer ever to be brought to life in fiction,” according to Amazon’s description of Zombie. Oates has already written more than 50 novels, but at the age of 72 she sat down to create “a dazzling work of art that extends the borders of the novel into the darkest heart of truth.” Two years later, it’s still one of Amazon’s top 5 best-selling psychological thrillers. Amazon calls it “her boldest and most brilliant triumph yet,” and on the book’s page it’s already racked up 36 different five-star reviews.


Remember, you can find all 100 ebooks at
tinyurl.com/399books

More Audiobook Fun From Amazon

October 9th, 2012

Free Kindle Audiobooks from Amazon and Audible

Last week I wrote about a new audiobook feature that Amazon introduced, making it easier to switch from the text version of an ebook to its professionally-narrated audiobook version. But in the same announcement, Amazon also revealed a new feature that’s available in its new versions of the Kindle Fire tablet. “Immersion Reading” promises “evolutionary multisensory reading experience that intensifies the power of great stories and helps readers retain more of what they read,” Amazon explains in a press release. Translation: you’ll be able to listen to a professionally-narrated audiobook at the same time that you’re also reading along with the text yourself!

“Immersion Reading on the new Kindle Fire family sets a new standard for deep reading,” Amazon’s CEO explained in a press release, “by engaging the eye and the ear simultaneously with beautifully narrated audiobooks.” I was skeptical about audiobooks, until I heard some of the beautiful voices that the audibooks were using for reading the text. And “Immersion Reading” is now already available for nearly 15,000 different Kindle ebook/audiobook combinations, Amazon’s announced in their press release, “across a wide array of categories and genres.” It’s a feature that’s exclusively available on the new versions of their Kindle Fire tablets, and Amazon just revealed it in their September 6th press conference.

And Amazon will let you try the feature with 20 free ebook/audiobook combinations of some classic books. They’re the same books I wrote about last week — some read by professional actors like Kenneth Branagh, Anne Hathaway, or David Hyde Pierce — at tinyurl.com/FreeKindleAudiobooks . In general if you see an ebook listed in the Kindle Store with “Whispersync for Voice” capabilities, you can also listen to its audiobook version while you follow along with the text for an “Immersion Reading” experience. There’s automatic page turns, and Amazon will even highlight the text as its being read, which they believe will offer offer a more compelling experience that helps both new readers and long-time fans of books.

Unfortunately, you need one of the new Kindle Fire tablets to try out this capability. And the big 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD won’t be shipping until November, though you can try it out now on the newest version of Amazon’s 7-inch Kindle Fire tablet (which is shipping now, and costs $159). And you can still download the 20 audiobooks that Amazon’s giving away to encourage people to try out the new features. Judging by the footage I’ve seen of the new tablets in action, Amazon’s planning on putting a lot more focus onto audiobooks. On the main Home page of the new Kindle Fire HD, Amazon’s added a brand new choice to its menu at the top of the screen.

“Audiobooks.”


Below is my list of the 20 ebook/audiobook combinations which Amazon’s giving away for free “for a limited time.” Only 18 of them are listed at tinyurl.com/FreeKindleAudiobooks. The other two free combinations are The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (narrated by Simon Prebble) and The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (which T.S. Eliot described as “the first and greatest of English detective novels”). But the 18 ebooks below are all available for free (with a free audiobook narration) at tinyurl.com/FreeKindleAudiobooks

Dracula by Bram Stoker with a list of narrators that includes Tim Curry (As well as Alan Cumming, Simon Vance, Katherine Kellgren, Susan Duerden, John Lee, Graeme Malcolm, Steven Crossley, and James Adams)

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (narrated by David Suchet, who played Hercule Perot on public television’s Mystery Theatre)

The Sign of the Four, a Sherlock Holmes mystery by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (narrated by Patrick Tull)

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (narrated by Anne Hathaway)
Gulliver’s Travels (narrated by David Hyde Pierce)
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (narrated by Kenneth Branagh)
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (narrated by Simon Vance)
Moby Dick by Herman Melville (narrated by Frank Muller)
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (narrated by John Lee)
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (narrated by Elijah Wood)
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (narrated by Simon Vance)
David Copperfield (narrated by Simon Vance)
The Wind in the Willows (narrated by Shelly Frasier
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (narrated by Nathaniel Parker)
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (narrated by John Lee)
House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (narrated by Wanda McCaddon)
Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe (narrated by Davina Porter)
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (narrated by Scott Brick)
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (narrated by James Langton)
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (narrated by Simon Prebble)

Amazon front page tribute after death of Steve Jobs

Exactly one year ago, Amazon was posting a memorial to Steve Jobs on the front page of Amazon.com. It read simply: Steve Jobs 1955 – 2011. When you clicked on the link, it went to Apple.com, which had posted the same words beside a picture of their co-founder. All across the web, people were remembering the man who’d helped to change their lives. And as I’d sat down to write about Steve Jobs on my desktop computer — I’d realized that he’d actually helped invent the desktop computer.

Friday saw people marking the one-year anniversary of Steve’s death, so I thought I’d take a moment to remember what I’d felt on that day. I’d say that it’s a legend in Silicon Valley which is probably worth remembering today. 36 years ago, at the age of 21, Steve Jobs teamed up with Steve Wozniak to sell home-built personal computers from Jobs’ garage.

Jobs didn’t design those first computers, but his personality helped launch the personal computer revolution. When he was 29 years old, he’d tried to lure Pepsi’s senior vice president of marketing to Apple. Unfortunately, the VP had already decided against accepting Jobs’ offer before he’d even sat down for their lunch. But he’d changed his mind after hearing a speech from the passionate young visionary. Jobs argued, “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?”

Most people know the highlights of Jobs’ life. (That year was 1983, and the next year Apple would release their legendary Super Bowl commercial arguing that the new Macintosh computers would show people “why 1984 won’t be like [George Orwell's] 1984.”) But by building Apple into a successful brand, Apple helped legitimize personal computers, proving there’s a market for “consumer technology.” And under Jobs’ leadership, they proved it again two decades later with new mobile products, which ultimately helped to pave the way for Amazon’s Kindle.

On the day that Steve Jobs died, even my friends who used a PC were still sharing fond and grateful thoughts — along with nearly everybody else — and you could really see signs everywhere of an almost global response. The best-selling book on Amazon was Steve Jobs — which at the time was a yet-to-be released biography by Walter Isaacson (a former CNN chairman and the managing editor of Time magazine) which Amazon later declared was one of the 100 best books of 2011. On that day, it also became the third best-selling ebook in Amazon’s Kindle Store (and, presumably, it was also available in Apple’s iBookStore.) The founder of Facebook even posted a personal statement about Steve. “Thanks for showing that what you build can change the world.” One year later, more than half a million Facebook users have clicked the “Like” icon to show they agreed.

In fact all across Facebook, nearly all my friends were posting their own reaction. “I tend to think of him as ‘Uncle Steve’,” wrote a friend of mine who worked at Pixar. “That is what at lot of us called him at Pixar while I was there, because Uncle Steve took care of us. And when I did see him around Pixar, more often than not he was smiling and seemed happy… Good job Uncle Steve.” My friend Tom — a motorcycling enthusiast — shared one of his favorite photos of Jobs riding a motorcycle. “Ride on, Steve,” Tom posted. “You’ll be missed…”

Steve Jobs on a motorcycle

But there’s a forgotten legend about Jobs — the “wilderness” period between 1985 and 1997 when he’d parted ways with Apple to start his own computer company. “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice,” Jobs once said. “And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Job was determined to import the “garage start-up” feel to his new company, Next Computer. “He abandoned conventional corporate structures, instead making a ‘community’ with ‘members’ instead of employees,” remembers Wikipedia. Besides the open floor plans, everyone received exactly the same salary when they started — with regular raises and performance reviews — and “to foster openness, all employees had full access to the payroll.” Everyone at Next was paid a month in advance, and in one building the company even hosted temporary art exhibitions using an in-house curator!

Jobs later said his time outside of Apple was the best thing that happened to him — “The heaviness of being successful…replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.” If you ask a geek, they’ll tell you that Next Computer helped to popularize the “object-oriented programming” style of designing software which has since become an industry standard. But in the popular imagination, it’s Jobs’ excited ambition that you think of when you imagine the head of a cutting-edge technology company.

He gave good tradeshow, I told my girlfriend — and of course, Mac enthusiasts fondly remember Jobs’ return to Apple. Much of the technology developed at Next found its way into Apple’s computers, and
Apple’s sales increased as the company introduced a series of new devices like the iMac, the iPod, and the iPhone. The week that Jobs died, I’d been writing a post about how Apple would respond to Amazon’s new Kindle Fire tablet. But Jobs had already been thinking about the answer for at least 15 years.

I believe Steve Jobs recognized that desktop computers were just the “first generation” of devices. If there’s a pattern after his return to Apple, it’s a focus on smaller and smaller devices. Jobs recognized that technology was going mobile, and he was already positioning his company for the future. “Don’t you see what’s happening?” argues one technology site. “PC’s are 1990, man! Handheld devices are approaching the processing power of PCs – and everyone has at least one… It’s like Microsoft just cornered the market on Univacs.” And by 2007, Apple was already selling just as much recorded music as the entire chain of Target stores — and more recorded music than Amazon.

On Facebook, my friend Joab had shared his favorite comment from the technology web site, Slashdot. “Bill Gates put a computer on every desk; Steve Jobs put a computer in every pocket, and in every purse.” But one of the most moving photos I saw showed a San Francisco memorial service where a mourner held a picture of Steve Jobs…on their iPhone.

Steve Jobs on an iPhone

And my friend Jonathan posted a link to a new memorial in Boston. “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me…” reads the inscribed quote from Jobs himself. “Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful…that’s what matters to me.”

Commuting woman in Amazon Audible audiobook ad showing WhisperSync for voice

This is pretty exciting. Amazon’s giving away free audiobook versions of 20 different books. There’s an Agatha Christie mystery, the original Dracula (and Frankenstein), plus audiobook versions of 17 more classic books. You can find links to the audiobooks when you browse their free ebook versions at tinyurl.com/FreeKindleAudiobooks

And the readers for these books aren’t just professional audiobook narrators. Some of them are actually Hollywood movie actors! For example, the audiobook version of Heart of Darkness is performed by Kenneth Branagh, who’s been nominated for an Academy Award five different times. And there’s also an audiobook version of Agatha Christie’s first novel with her character Hercule Poirot — narrated by David Suchet, the actor who actually played Hercule Perot on public television’s Mystery Theatre!

Amazon’s even giving away a free version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz read by Anne Hathaway, an actress who’s appeared in everything from The Princess Diaries to The Devil Wears Prada. There’s also a free audiobook version of Gulliver’s Travels read by David Hyde Pierce, who’s won four Emmys for his performance as Niles Crane on the TV show Frasier. With Halloween coming up, you might also want to download the free audiobook version of Dracula by Bram Stoker. It’s read by a long list of narrators that includes Tim Curry — who played the lurking evil in the TV adaptation of Stephen King’s It, and starred as the crazed libertine scientist in the The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Why is Amazon doing this? To show off a brand new feature they’re making available for audiobooks that’s called “Whispersync for Voice”. Now if you’re reading the text of an ebook on any Kindle, you can instantly switch over to its audiobook version on your Kindle tablet (or in a Kindle app). And the audiobook’s narrator will continue reading right where you left off!

“Most people I know believe that if they only had more time to read, they would be more imaginative, more interesting, and more successful,” the founder of Audible.com said in a press release. “Whispersync for Voice directly addresses that need. The ability to seamlessly switch back and forth between reading text on any Kindle and listening to the same title in audio on your smartphone [or on your Kindle Fire tablet]– and always pick up where you left off — means that the story can continue during those times of the day when you cannot look at a screen.” It’s a feature that’s exclusively available on the Kindle, with specially-enabled ebooks that are sold through Amazon’s Kindle Store.

On the Audible web site, there’s a video showing a young woman enjoying The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, and then continuing to listen to it on her headphones as she commutes in to work. (You can watch the video at audible.com/wsv, which also includes a demonstration of the technology using The Hunger Games.) This new Whispersync for Voice feature is now already available for nearly 15,000 different Kindle ebook/audiobook combinations on Amazon.com, according to their press release, and Audible’s founder drove home the point that it’ll make life easier for Kindle owners. “We think that Whispersync for Voice can help us all enjoy more books, which is good news indeed.”

And Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s own founder and CEO, added “Anyone who wants more time to read, or never wants to put a great book down because it’s time to drive to work or exercise, will love Whispersync for Voice – it offers our customers the profound gift of more time to read.”

 Below is a list of the 20 ebook/audiobook combinations which Amazon’s giving away for free “for a limited time.” Only 18 of them are listed at tinyurl.com/FreeKindleAudiobooks. The other two free combinations are The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (narrated by Simon Prebble) and The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (which T.S. Eliot described as “the first and greatest of English detective novels”).

But the 18 ebooks below are all also available for free (with free narration) at tinyurl.com/FreeKindleAudiobooks

Dracula by Bram Stoker with a list of narrators that includes Tim Curry (As well as Alan Cumming, Simon Vance, Katherine Kellgren, Susan Duerden, John Lee, Graeme Malcolm, Steven Crossley, and James Adams)

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (narrated by David Suchet, who played Hercule Perot on public television’s Mystery Theatre)

The Sign of the Four, a Sherlock Holmes mystery by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (narrated by Patrick Tull)

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (narrated by Anne Hathaway)
Gulliver’s Travels (narrated by David Hyde Pierce)
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (narrated by Kenneth Branagh)
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (narrated by Simon Vance)
Moby Dick by Herman Melville (narrated by Frank Muller)
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (narrated by John Lee)
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (narrated by Elijah Wood)
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (narrated by Simon Vance)
David Copperfield (narrated by Simon Vance)
The Wind in the Willows (narrated by Shelly Frasier
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (narrated by Nathaniel Parker)
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (narrated by John Lee)
House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (narrated by Wanda McCaddon)
Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe (narrated by Davina Porter)
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (narrated by Scott Brick)
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (narrated by James Langton)
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (narrated by Simon Prebble)

Amazon Picture of Kindle Paperwhite

If you’re trying to buy the new Kindle Paperwhite, there’s a surprising message today on Amazon.com. “Due to popular demand, orders placed today are expected to ship in 4 to 6 weeks.” Apparently one day after its official release, Amazon had already burned through their whole inventory of the new Kindle Paperwhite. Plus, for now, they’re limiting new orders to just two Kinde Paperwhites per customer.

When will the Kindle Paperwhite Not be Sold Out on Amazon

It was just Monday that a Kindle executive acknowledged that pre-orders for their newest version of the Kindle “have far exceeded our expectations.” Amazon didn’t reveal how many they’ve actually sold, but their press release did include some excerpts from positive reviews of their newest Kindle. Time magazine called it “the best e-reader yet,” for example, and the technology site Gizmodo adds “Forget everything else, this Is the e-reader you want.”

At first I’d wondered whether Amazon had just manufactured their first batch of Kindle Paperwhites in a smaller-than-usual quantity. This would help create the perception that their new device has already become so wildly popular that it was selling out – when in fact, Amazon just hadn’t built that many of them in the first place. But I had to admit that the Kindle Paperwhite has been getting a lot of genuinely positive reviews from some high-credibility technology sites. A headline at CNN even declared Monday that the Kindle Paperwhite “is king of the e-readers.”

And the technology site Engadget called the Kindle Paperwhite simply “the best e-reader out there,”

So what’s the big deal? I thought the best explanation came in this review from The Huffington Post. “A luminescent e-reader screen is one of those new technologies, like HDTV or the bidet, that spoils you so badly, and so thoroughly changes your preferences and expectations, you won’t want to go back to a device without it once you’ve tried… ” They do note that Barnes and Noble has already released their own digital reader with a built-in light for the screen — more than five months ago — but then goes on to say that Amazon’s is better, spreading the light much more evenly across the entire screen.

Maybe that explains why the Kindle Paperwhite is getting such positive reviews. The Technology and Science Editor at NBC News Digital notes that it’s about more than just built-in lighting. The glowing screen increases the contrast between the black letters on the screen and their background, which is now a glowing white. That’s a big improvement, and he ultimately gave the Kindle Paperwhite one of it most emphatic endorsements.

“It can be declared hands down the best e-reader yet, without any need for qualifiers.”

Pre-order a Kindle Paperwhite for just $119 at tinyurl.com/KindlePaperwhite

Cover illustration from Amazon Kindle Paperwhite Guide

Hooray! Amazon’s started shipping today for their new Kindle Paperwhite. “Pre-orders have far exceeded our expectations,” an Amazon Kindle executive said this morning in a statement, “and we’re excited to start shipping Kindle Paperwhite to customers today.”

But even before they’ve arrived, you can still find out a lot about them — at least, if you know where to look. Over on the “Kindle Boards” discussion forum, someone’s posted the URL for an official Amazon document about their hotly-awaited new Kindle– its 28-page users guide! You can read the whole thing (in its PDF format) at tinyurl.com/PaperwhiteUserGuide. Here’s the most interesting things I learned from reading the manual…

First, there’s no home button on the Kindle Paperwhite– at least, not one that’s built into the black frame of the device. But instead, there’s a “virtual” Home choice in the menu bar at the top of the page. And it’s one of two new choices in that menu bar. There’s also another new icon — a light bulb, which you can tap to turn off the Paperwhite’s glow (or adjust its brightness up or down). “Slide your finger along the scale to adjust the screen brightness,” Amazon explains in their user manual. “Press and hold the – button to turn off the light. Tap and hold the + button to turn the light on at maximum brightness.”

But sometimes there’s even two more new choices at the top of a Kindle Paperwhite, and they suggest magazines are about to become even more important in Amazon’s Kindle Store. When you’re reading a magazine on the Kindle, there’s a grid-shaped “periodicals” icon, which pulls up a list of highlights that are available in this issue. Beside it, there’s also an icon that looks like a printed page, which will give you a full “hierarchical” list of all the sections and articles in the magazine. (Amazon must’ve been rushing to pull this user’s manual together, because they actually spelled “hierarchical” wrong!)

Plus, I’ve always enjoyed saving highlights from the books I’m reading — and now Amazon’s letting you include excerpts from magazines! When you’re reading a periodical, the secondary toolbar includes a “Clip this Article” choice, which will apparently add a complete copy of the article that you’re currently reading into your “My Clippings” file of notes and highlights.There’s also a tantalizing new feature on the Kindle Paperwhite — at least, according to this new user’s manual. When you press the Menu button from the Home screen, one of its choices is now apparently “list or cover view“.

I’ve always loved seeing the covers of my ebooks whenever I’m browsing for something new to read in my Kindle apps (or on my Kindle Touch). But It’s only really workable with a touchscreen device where you can flick through them all quickly. I don’t remember seeing this on the Kindle Touch, though, so I’m glad Amazon’s going to implement it for the Kindle Paperwhite. The “cover view” will be turned on by default, but the menu gives you the option to return your Kindle to what Amazon describes as its “traditional list view.” And it’s not the only menu that’s getting a new look.The very next page of the User’s Manual talks about a new “secondary toolbar” with more icons which appears below the first row of six icons at the top of the screen.

Icons from Kindle Paperwhite Toolbar

Most of the choices are the same ones you’d find if you opened the toolbar on a Kindle Touch. (There’s a choice for changing the text, going to a specific part of the book, or pulling up Amazon’s “X-Ray feature” for plot summaries, quotes, and other interesting information.) But on the Kindle Touch, these choices all appear at the bottom of the screen, whereas the Kindle Paperwhite appears to put them all just below the first row of icons in the toolbar. And Amazon’s also moved the “Share” choice into this second toolbar. On the Kindle Touch, instead you had to pull up that first toolbar, and then press its Menu button to get its larger list of choices (which included “Share”).

There’s also some nice smaller changes in the Kindle Paperwhite. For example, one of the choices on the font menu is “publisher font.” In the past when you’ve bought the Kindle edition of a new book, you got all the words, but not the exact same professional “look” that was decided on by the ebook’s publisher. I’m guessing that ebook publishers will now be able to specify which Kindle font they’d envisioned when they originally published the ebook.

And Amazon’s worked hard to make sure that the Kindle Paperwhite has some very attractive fonts. “All six fonts on Kindle Paperwhite have been hand-tuned at the pixel level,” Amazon explains on the Paperwhite’s web page, “for maximum readability and comfort. Higher resolution allows for unprecedented sharpness. The new high-resolution display allows for elegant typeface options including Baskerville and Palatino.” All I know is these pretty descriptions are making me even more impatient for Amazon to hurry up and finish shipping my Kindle Paperwhite!

Remember, you can order one of Amazon’s new Paperwhite Kindles
at tinyurl.com/KindlePaperWhite