March 30th, 2013
Amazon stopped selling the Kindle Touch version of their e-readers back in October. (If you tried to go to its web page, Amazon would simply send your browser over to their web page for the Kindle Paperwhite.) But in a kind of pre-Easter miracle, the Kindle Touch has come back to life. It’s suddenly re-appeared for sale again at Amazon.com.
I’m one of the few people who owns of of each kind of Kindle that Amazon has ever released — and the Kindle Touch has always been my favorite. In 2011 I began building a word game for the Kindle with my friend Jeff, and we’d both bought a variety of used Kindles so we could see how our game performed on the different devices! I also discovered that I really liked the jumbo-sized screens on the Kindle DX, but in the end
my favorite feature was the light weight and easy handling of some of Amazon’s later Kindles. And yet strangely, I never warmed up to the Kindle Paperwhite, so for me the best touchscreen Kindle ever made was its 2011 predecessor, the Kindle Touch.
To be fair, the Kindle Paperwhite got some glowing reviews — pun intended — but there were also a few complaints. Back in October, I noted that after 676 reviews, the Paperwhite had earned an average rating of less than 3 and a half stars on Amazon (out of a possible five), a lower rating than any previous model of Amazon’s black-and-white Kindles. Amazon seemed to be positioning it as “version two” of their touchscreen Kindles, but this just made the Kindle Touch seem more like a “lost Kindle” — the fondly remembered device that you just couldn’t buy any more. For example, one technology site remembers that the Kindle Touch was “the last fully functional device the company released that had speakers and support for audiobooks.” (And the Kindle Touch came with much more storage space — 4 gigabytes — which is double the amount of storage that Amazon built into the Paperwhite….)
I could never get past the glowing screens on the Paperwhite, but that’s probably just because I’m such a fan of Amazon’s e-ink screens. The glow from the Paperwhite just became an annoying reminder that I was still reading on an electronic device, instead of enjoying a book-like page on a naturally-lit, e-ink screen. Again, I know people who love the extra contrast and crispness of the Kindle Paperwhite. (And I still think our Kindle word game still looks absolutely gorgeous on the glowing screens of the Kindle Paperwhite…) But my favorite Kindle — out of all the ones Amazon ever made — was always the Kindle Touch.
And yet, one dark day in October, people began to notice that the Kindle Touch was now listed as “unavailable” at Amazon.com. (Along with a warning that “We don’t know when or if this item will be back in stock.”) That seemed like the end of the Kindle Touch — forever.
Which is why I’m so excited that the Kindle Touch is back on sale again at Amazon.com.
March 25th, 2013
There’s so many interesting things happening in the Kindle world, and I want to share as many of them as I can. So here’s another collection of my favorite recent Kindle news stories — awarding “Cheers” to the most exciting and interesting stories for Kindle owners, along with some occasional “Jeers” for at least one funny misstep!
Cheers to Amazon for Discounting Magazines
Looking for something new to read on your Kindle? I was thrilled to see that for the rest of March, Amazon’s offering discounts of up to 87% on more than 20 different magazines. (Just point your web browser to tinyurl.com/KindleMagazineDeals ) For just $7.49, they’re offering a one-year digital subscription to Maxim, Family Circle, or the Ladies’ Home Journal, and Every Day with Rachel Ray is just $4.99. And they’ve also discounted Popular Science, Field & Stream, ESPN Magazine, and 17 other magazines!
Jeers to Amazon’s Auto-Rip
Actually, I was delighted when Amazon announced a new service back in January which brought more music to my Kindle Fire tablet — for free. Whenever you buy a qualifying music CD from Amazon, they now automatically add free digital versions of every song into Amazon’s “Cloud Player”, so you can listen to it on your Kindle Fire tablet (as well as on the web, and in their Amazon MP3 apps.) And to inaugurate this new feature, I discovered, Amazon actually went back in time, and delivered digital versions of all the songs I’d purchased for more than 10 years — which I’m still listening to right now on my Kindle Fire tablet.
So I was really excited about the new feature — but at the technology site Slashdot, one of the commenters wasn’t as enthusiastic, and came up with a good reason to give Amazon some good-natured jeers. “The biggest flaw,” he posted, “is that I now have mp3s for CDs I gave as gifts. Unfortunately, my friends and relatives seem to have different music taste than I do, so now I have the Chicago soundtrack and Hannah Montana mp3s!”
Cheers to Free Comedies coming from Amazon
Amazon’s already letting users watch thousands of videos for free on their Kindle Fire tablets (or through the web) if they’re subscribers to Amazon’s Prime shipping service, including classic TV shows like the original Star Trek and Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. But soon even if you’re not a Prime subscriber, Amazon’s going to have some free videos for you to watch — and in fact, Amazon’s producing it themselves! Amazon recently announced that they’re creating six original comedy series for their members to watch free on Amazon’s Instant Video site — selected from more than 12,000 proposals that were submitted to “Amazon Studios.” . The comedies will include one by Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau — titled Alpha House — which follows four Senators in Washington D.C. who end up living together in the same rented house. And Browsers will be a comedy by Daily Show writer David Javerbaum (directed by Don Scardino from 30 Rock ). Amazon will even be present a new comedy from one of the internet’s oldest comedy sites, The Onion, titled — what else? — The Onion Presents: The News!
Cheers to Photos for Book Lovers
This last link was too beautiful not to share, because let’s face it — we love our Kindles because we love reading. So it was a real delight to see photos of some of the world’s most gorgeous bookshelves. In 2009, someone even created a web site called Bookshelf Porn “showcasing the best bookshelf photos from around the world” — and some of them are absolutely gorgeous. (See the photo at the top of this blog post!) The site has now been featured in articles by book-lovers everywhere (including The New Yorker), and Time magazine even named it one of the best blogs of 2012. I always get a kick out of browsing their gorgeous photos — some submitted by readers — of the most breathtaking bookshelves from around the world.
And for even more fun, they’ve included a link which delivers a randomly-choosen photo from their archive over the last four years at BookShelfPorn.com/Random.
September 28th, 2012
People have been asking me what exactly is changing in Amazon’s newest Kindles. It turns out that’s it’s already possible to experience some of the changes today — and the rest are definitely worth waiting for.
In their yet-to-be-released Kindle Paperwhites, “We’ve added 62% more pixels and increased contrast by 25%,” Amazon brags on their web page, “so whites are whiter, and blacks are blacker.” But the Paperwhite also includes a built-in light that can shine down on your Kindle, which Amazon is calling “revolutionary”. It’s supposed to offer the same relaxing effect as reading on a regular Kindle, but without a computer’s back-lighting shining directly in your face. They’re just $119, though there’s also a 3G version for $60 more ($179), which Amazon promotes by saying “Never pay for or hunt for a Wi-Fi hotspot.”
You can order one of Amazon’s new Paperwhite Kindles at tinyurl.com/KindlePaperWhite. But even last year’s model of the Kindle is getting an upgrade! Amazon’s $79 Kindle now costs just $69, and according to Amazon, it now ships “with improved fonts and 15% faster page turns.” The high-contrast fonts are “crisper,” Amazon promises, and there’s also some additional new features in the software, including the ability to read comic books and graphic novels by zooming in on each panel. The new version of Amazon cheapest Kindle will now also include better ways to view images and tables, and there’s even some expanded parental controls, if you want to stop your children from accessing “Archived Items” or Amazon’s Kindle Store.
But if you bought one of those Kindles last year, you can also experience all these new features, just by downloading a software upgrade. Just point your web browser to tinyurl.com/KindleSoftwareUpdate. And there’s some other new features that I wasn’t expecting. Now Amazon will pull up the keyboard automatically in situations where you need to enter text (rather than waiting for readers to first press the keyboard button). And now when you turn off your wireless connectivity, a little airplane icon appears at the top of your Kindle, reminding you that you’ve switched into “Airplane Mode.”
Amazon promises fresh ebooks will start appearing in the Kindle Store over the next few weeks to take advantage of all of these new capabilities. I’ve already tested out its comic book-reading capabilities — and it did a nice job of rending a Catwoman graphic novel in a noir-ish black-and-white.
And ebook authors are also excited about a new feature that’s coming to both the Kindle Paperwhite and the new Kindle Fire tablets. “About the Author gives readers easy access to your photo, biography, and bibliography,” Amazon explained in an e-mail to their self-publishing authors, saying readers “can learn more about you and your other books, which are only 60 seconds away. Readers can tap on any of your books to go to the Kindle Store. Also, any time you update your bio or claim a new book through Author Central, we will update About the Author on Kindle so your readers have access to the most recent information about you.”
I’ve already ordered a Kindle Paperwhite, so now I’m just anxiously waiting until Amazon finally delivers its. Because then I can finally test out all the new features for myself!
Buy a new Kindle Paperwhite at
May 27th, 2012
Here’s a special announcement. There’s more exciting new ebooks to read on your Kindle! Once a year, Amazon hosts a contest to discover a “breakthrough novelist”. Thousands of new novels were entered this year, but after several rounds of judging, they’ve finally narrowed it down to just six awesome finalists!
“The quality of the entries continues to climb…” one Amazon official announced this week, citing reports from their panels of expert judges. The novels get better every year, making this the most competitive contest yet, and he warns that when it comes time for Amazon’s customers to choose a winner, “they’ll have have a challenge picking a favorite.”
That’s right — you get to pick the winner. Amazon’s collecting votes through a web page at http://www.amazon.com/abna , and they’re keeping things honest with a one-vote-per-account rule. You can also read what the judges have already said about each entry, and there’s even a “Meet the Finalists” page, where you can read each novel’s reviews. And – of course — you can also download a free excerpt for your Kindle.
There’s three finalists each in two different categories — “General Fiction” and “Young Adult.” Here’s the three “breakthrough novels” that made it into the finals in the “general fiction” category.
The Beautiful Land by Alan Averill
Grace Humiston and the Vanishing by Charles Kelly
A Chant of Love and Lamentation by Brian Reeves
And here’s the three “breakthrough novels” that reached the final round in the “Young Adult Fiction” category.
Dreamcatchers by Casey (Cassandra) Griffin
Out of Nowhere by Rebecca Phillips
On Little Wings by Regina Sirois
Two grand prize winners will be selected — one in each category — and each winner will receive not only a publishing contract with Penguin Group, but also a hefty $15,000 advance! Amazon and Penguin teamed up with CreateSpace to deliver this event, and Publisher’s Weekly also played a role, providing reviewers for each novel that reached the semi-finals. And Amazon’s even promoting the creation of “local chapters” supporting new authors and offering events “to cheer each other on as the contest progresses.”
Amazon will announce the winners on June 16th at an awards ceremony in Seattle. (So remember, Amazon has to receive your votes by Wednesday, May 30th.) This is the fifth year that Amazon’s held the event, but it seems like a fun way to discover fresh new talent at the start of their career. I’ve always wondered if self-publishing will change the kind of fiction that authors write.
And if it does, it’s possible that they’ll find their first audiences through Amazon’s breakthrough novel contest!
November 9th, 2011
It’s that once-a-year day when Amazon chooses the very best book of 2011. In fact, they’re released their list of the one hundred best books of the year, plus top 10 lists “in more than two dozen categories, from Literature & Fiction to Children’s Picture Books to the new category Kindle Singles.” On that special web page, Amazon’s also also created separate links for “Print editions” and “Kindle books” — which means you’re also be able to see Amazon’s picks for the 100 best ebooks of 2011. (Though the lists seem nearly identical.)
And some books even earned the highest honor, of not just being in the top 100, but but in the top 10.
“There are three first-time novelists among our top 10 picks,” announced Amazon’s senior books editor, noting their #1 pick was a debut novel — about baseball. “The Art of Fielding,” just released in September, is a story of friendship and coming of age, and in the nine weeks since its release its received over 135 reviews on Amazon. Its average rating is three and a half stars on Amazon — but at least one reviewer blamed their one-star review on what they see as a trend among Kindle ebooks.
“Why is it that all Kindle samples start off well? I was lured into buying the book by the sample. Downhill from there…”
But fortunately there’s something for everybody in Amazon’s “best of 2011″ list — including a new book by Kurt Vonnegut. (It’s “While Mortals Sleep,” a collection of unpublished short fiction.) Amazon’s top 100 also features some interesting nonfiction titles, including the new biography about Steve Jobs and Tina Fey’s Bossypants, plus biographies about actress Diane Keaton and chess prodigy Bobby Fischer. I’m intrigued by Steven Levy’s new book about Google (titled “In the Plex”). And there’s even a parody of children’s bedtime picture books called, simply, “Go The *** To Sleep”. (It’s available for just $3.99 on the Kindle, and there’s also an audiobook version – read by Samuel L. Jackson that was named one of Amazon’s 10 best audiobooks of the year.)
It looks like Amazon’s fiction choices are equally impressive. Just yesterday Stephen King released a new novel about the Kennedy assassination — titled 11/22/63 — in which Lee Harvey Oswald may ultimately be confronted shortly before his infamous day in American history. Ironically, it’s already racked up three one-star reviews — though two of them are just complaining about the ebook’s price of $18.99. And its third one-star review complained the price included “audio/video for other devices.” There is a cheaper ebook version without them — for just $16.99 — though I’m actually impressed that for just $2.00 more, you get an ebook with supplementary video and audio material!
“With choices from literary masterworks to genre fiction to nonfiction, there’s something for everyone,” gushed Amazon’s senior books editor. And I’l admit I was also intrigued by a new book from Tom Perrotta — The Leftovers, a comedic novel about the Rapture released just 10 weeks ago. It’s fun browsing through Amazon’s lists, just to see what they selected as their “bests” in each category. For example, in the graphics novel category, there’s the yet-to-be-released Batman: The Black Mirror and a collection of new “Love and Rockets” stories by Jaime Hernandez.
Unfortunately, these graphic novels aren’t available yet for the Kindle. But I’m hoping that will change very soon, since Amazon struck a deal with D.C. Comics to make digital versions of 100 graphic novels available exclusively on the Kindle Fire. They’ll include popular superhero titles like Watchmen, Batman: Arkham City, and Green Lantern: Secret Origin — as well a MAD magazine collection and, 13 volumes of Sandman by Neil Gaiman. It touched off a minor controversy, with Barnes and Noble protesting the exclusivity by pulling the print editions off their shelves.
Amazon’s list ultimately doubles as a reminder that this year not every book will be available for the Kindle. For example, Amazon’s “Best of 2011″ page also includes their selection of the top 10 best book covers of the year — print editions only. I was surprised that the cover of the new Steve Jobs’ biography made in onto their list — which is available as a Kindle ebook. But the list also includes a breath-taking coffee table book, a print-only edition whose cover is a black-and-white photo showing sunshine on a snowfield, titled “The Lost Photographs of Captain Scott: Unseen Images from the Legendary Antarctic Expedition”.
October 14th, 2011
I’ve been studying Amazon’s best-seller lists, trying to figure out which Amazon products are the most popular. Each hour, Amazon updates the lists for each category — including the “Electronics” department, where all their Kindles are listed. I realized today that it’s a great source of information about the new Kindles. And it seems to offer a definitive answer to the question: which of Amazon’s new Kindles is the most popular?
It’s their full-color touchscreen Kindle Fire tablet. In fact, it’s the #1 best-seller in Amazon’s entire electronics section — even though it’s also one of Amazon’s most expensive Kindles ever. But the #2 best-selling Kindle — both last week and this week — is Amazon’s least expensive Kindle ever. It’s the $79 Kindle, which ships with sponsored screensavers and “Special Offers”, and it seems to settle the question as to whether customers would accept ads on their Kindles in order to get a cheaper price.
In fact, the next four Kindles on the best-seller list also all include the special offers and sponsored screensavers. The third best-selling Kindle is Amazon’s other new model, the Kindle Touch, and again, consumers are opting for the cheapest one — the WiFi-only version that ships with advertising for $99. And surprisingly, the next best-selling Kindle is the old Kindle 3 — now called the “Kindle Keyboard”. (But again, it’s the cheaper $99 WiFi-only version which ships with “Special Offers.”)
This isn’t just a temporary phenomenon. I checked this list one week ago, and its rankings were exactly the same for the top four best-selling Kindles. In fact, since they were released 17 days ago, all Amazon’s new Kindles have stayed on their list of the top 100 best-selling electronics products. But it gets more interesting when you realize how many other versions there are of the new Kindles — and watch how they’ve fluctuated up and down on the list.
#5 is now the 3G version of the Kindle Touch (with Special Offers). Apparently even consumers who were willing to pay a little more for 3G connectivity still wanted to save money by buying the Special Offers version. Even a week ago, it was still in the #7 spot, and you’ll see the same trend in the #6 best-selling Kindle. It’s the 3G version of the Kindle Keyboard with advertising, proving that even consumers who were willing to pay a little more for 3G connectivity still wanted to save money by buying the Special Offers version.
But the #7 spot went to the international version of the WiFi-only basic Kindle without advertisements. And last week, it was in the #5 spot — so there’s still a few bargain hunters who just won’t buy a Kindle if it’s got advertising. Confirming that trend, the #8 spot — both this week and last week — is the cheaper WiFi-only version of the Kindle Keyboard without advertisements. Some shoppers were willing to forgo 3G connectivity — but not the ability to own a Kindle without advertising. In fact, the #11 best-selling Kindle this week is also the ad-free version of the WiFi-only basic Kindle (for $109) — the non-international version. But the ad-hating consumers seem to represent a smaller piece of the Kindle market. Proving this, I see that one Kindle has dropped out of the top ten altogether. The #9 best-selling Kindle used to be the ad-free, 3G version of the Kindle Keyboard at $189. This week, it’s fallen all the way to the #12 spot.
And I had to laugh when I saw which product claimed the last two slots in top 10. Apple’s iPod touch has now claimed both those spots — #9 for the 8-gigabyte version, and #10 for the 32-gigabyte version. I’ve been writing about Apple’s fight for dominance in the tablet market , and it looks like on Amazon’s best-seller list, you can watch it happening in real time. Last week, there was only only non-Kindle product in the top 10 — and it wasn’t from Apple. Instead, the #10 spot went to Garmin’s 5-Inch Portable GPS Navigator (whic this week is #13).
Of course, the lists can’t tell you how many Kindles have been sold — but it’s still a fun source of other trivia. For example, I think it’s amazing that the Kindle Keyboard has now racked up reviews from over 32,990 people!
I wonder how many reviews the Kindle Fire tablets will have one year from today?
August 22nd, 2011
A funny thing happened when I called my local AT&T store. “AT&T doesn’t carry the Kindle,” their sales clerk told me. (Adding “Sorry about that…”) But he was contradicted by a new press release on AT&T’s web site. Five months ago, in March, Amazon started distributing their 3G Kindle through the thousands of AT&T Stores across America. And yesterday represented another step forward, as AT&T Stores also began carrying the Kindle with Special Offers!
I’m assuming the sales clerk just made a mistake at my local AT&T store. (Even though when I went down to the store, another sales clerk told me the same thing.) She even checked with her manager, and then came back with the same response. “We haven’t heard anything,” she told me. Then she suggested I try Barnes and Noble!
Now I was sure she was confused. But AT&T representative explained that it was just as much my mistake. “That’s an affiliate store,” explained AT&T spokesperson Seth Bloom. While they’re an “authorized retailer,” they’re not necessarily selling every product that you’d find in an official AT&T Store. So while they’re Kindle is available at over 2,200 AT&T Stores around the country – it may not be available if your local store is just an AT&T affiliate.
In fact, there’s so many places where you can go to buy a Kindle now, that I’m starting to lose track! In the U.S., they’re available in the chains of big “box stores” like Target, Staples, Best Buy, and Radio Shack. In Australia, the same thing is happening, with the Kindle available for purchase in three more big chains — Dick Smith, Big W, and Woolworths. And it was just last August that Amazon finally opened an online store for the U.K.. “Previously, UK Kindle owners had to get their device shipped from the US,” remembers a British newspaper, “with subsequent book purchases retailed in dollars!”
Of course, AT&T has a special stake in the Kindles, since they’re also providing the network coverage for the 3G Kindle. Amazon pays AT&T between $3 and $4 a month for every Kindle that connects to their network, according to an estimate by one New York technology analyst. (And in addition, throughout America, AT&T is also the exclusive network provider for both the Nook and the Sony Reader.) This means that behind the scenes, most of the ebooks that are delivered to digital readers are travelling across AT&T’s network. And they’ve already created a page on the AT&T web site with their own pitch for the Kindle 3G
Read longer, less eye strain
True mobility – Only 8.7 ounces so you can take it anywhere
Long battery life
Kindle eBook store – More than 900,000 books…plus periodicals, blogs, and over 1.8 million free out-of-copyright books
Read to me – New experimental Text-to-Speech feature in selected eBooks reads English language content out loud
Kindle Book lending…
I don’t know why I felt so happy when I heard there’d be more Kindle appearing in my local AT&T store. Maybe it’s because it just makes it easier for more people to join in on the fun of owning a Kindle.
That is, if AT&T can actually get the Kindles into their store!
July 14th, 2011
Some time in the next 10 weeks, Amazon will release two new versions of the Kindle. That’s according to The Wall Street Journal, which cites “people familiar with the matter.”
And the even bigger news is their sources confirmed what everybody already suspected. Amazon’s also going to release an iPad-style color touchscreen device, and it’s going to happen before the end of September!
One new Kindle will have a touch-screen, according to the article — while the other Kindle will be “improved and cheaper,” according to the Journal‘s sources. Neither one of the two Kindles will have a color screen, which is kind of a relief. They’ll both still have the familiar e-ink screens that we’ve all gotten so comfortable with.
The tablet will have a nine-inch screen — smaller than the iPad — and I’m assuming it will run the apps that Amazon’s selling in their Android app store. The tablet won’t have a camera, but it will be optimized for the content you can buy at Amazon — like music files, movies and video downloads, and, of course, e-books from the Kindle store. Without a camera, someone suggested in the comments on the article, the device will probably be much cheaper.
“…if i were to guess it feels like Amazon is trying to strip it down and bring it in at the lowest cost possible. They’re more concerned with their core businesses (e-books, video, and a web store) than they are with creating a video chat tool.
The Wall Street Journal didn’t have any more details, but it’s still very exciting news. And I think that excitement bodes well for the prospects for this new Android tablet. I’m not the only one who thinks so, judging by the comments on the article.
“If Amazon can streamline the device and bring it in under $300, I think it’ll sell like hotcakes.”
in a free two-week trial!
June 8th, 2011
It happened this morning — the once-a-year day when Seattle sees a big gathering of the people who hold Amazon’s stock. Amazon also broadcasts it on the web, and this year, I decided to listen in to see if I’d uncover any hidden truths. The event lasted for exactly one hour, and I was rewarded for my efforts by hearing a long presentation from the CEO of Amazon himself, Jeff Bezos.
And of course, he talked about the Kindle.
“Our vision remains the same: every book, ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds.”
Bezos said it’d be “incredibly cool” to achieve his vision of a “universal library,” adding “The team is a team of missionaries, and they’re working very hard on this.” He pointed out that the Kindle store now has almost a million books, showing that the number of e-books available in the store has nearly doubled each year.
I enjoyed the backstory he provided about why those numbers are important. “When we launched Kindle less than four years ago, we launched with only 90,000 titles. And by the way, that was incredibly hard work to get those 90,000 titles into e-book form — huge heavy lifting, working together with publishers to get that done. Three and half years later, we’re now at 950,000 titles.” And then the CEO of Amazon shared his own personal perspective. “For me, I rarely now come across a book that I want to read that isn’t available in Kindle format.”
“And by the way, that 950,000 figure doesn’t even include the millions of free pre-1923 out of copyright books that you can also read on your Kindle.”
He also bragged that e-books are now outselling printed books at Amazon — but there was an even bigger milestone. “One of the things that has happened as a result of that is that our book growth rates are now the greatest that we’ve seen in 10 years.” But the most startling thing about that was that even printed book sales were growing at Amazon. “Our physical book business still continues to grow every year. So we have a fast-growing Kindle business, layered on top of a growing physical book business, which is accelerating the growth rate of that combined business.
In fact, my favorite moment was probably when Jeff Bezos first stepped up to his microphone. “Good morning, everybody. Thank you very much for attending the annual shareholder meeting… It’s very much apperciated, the shareholders who take the time to come. We had 34… (He puts up the wrong slide.) Let’s see… No… Ah ha!”
“I think that that slide was worth waiting for.” (Laughter) “We had $34 billion in sales last year, and the unusual thing about that is the growth rate. 40% growth on that base of sales is very unusual.” That number had already been announced earlier in the year, but Bezos was very gracious about using the shareholder’s meeting to acknowledge all the efforts of Amazon’s 33,700 employees.
This is not something that CEOs accomplish. This is something that a broad team of people working very hard for a long number of years accomplishes. It’s not something that that team can even do in the current year. It’s something that that team works on year after year, laying a foundation that allows for that kind of growth at that kind of scale.
It’s difficult operationally. It’s difficult in terms of attracting customers to be able to support that level of scale, and the expansion plans that support it. So anyways, it’s something that I’m very proud of, and I’m very proud on behalf of this big team that made that happen.
With just five minutes left to go, one shareholder stepped forward with a question about Amazon’s vision for the Kindle. Not the long-term vision, but the now vision — their short-term and intermediate plans for improving the Kindle. “Well, you know,” replied Bezos, “our approach to electronic books, Kindle — it’s very straightforward, and we’ve been clear about our strategy. We want to have the best purpose-built e-reader. We want to have the best e-book store. And we want to have the best ecosystem, so that you can read where you want to.” He talked about how Amazon developed the WhisperSync capability so customers could continue reading their e-books (from right where they’d left off) on any device with a Kindle app. “And that ecosystem approach, we think, is the right one. Because again — we’re very simple-minded about this — it seems like what our customers would want.”
And then it was time for his big finish.
“With that I would like to thank all of you for being supportive shareholders. Thanks for being a part of what we’re doing. We’re excited about continuing our mission to be earth’s most customer-centric company — setting a new standard there — and being a role model for other companies who would like to start with customers and work backwards.”
May 25th, 2011
A bright reporter at C|Net made the discovery. Amazon says the Kindle now has a battery life of two months. Wednesday morning Amazon released a new version of the “Kindle with Special Offers” — a 3G version that’s discounted to $164. But instead of promising the usual one month of use without a battery charge, Amazon now says this Kindle’s battery will last two months!
And Amazon’s also doubled the battery life that they’re reporting for the Kindle 3 and Kindle WiFi…
So what’s going on? C|Net’s reporter has it all figured out. On Tuesday Barnes and Noble launched a brand new touch-screen Nook — and then claimed that its two-month battery life was double that of the Kindle (calling it “the longest battery life of any eReader”). “Amazon countered by magically upping the battery life of the Kindle to two months,” reports David Carnoy. But it turns out that Amazon may have had a good reason…
The Nook’s battery life was calculated by assuming just one half hour of reading time each day. “Let the math shell games begin!” joked one user in a Barnes and Noble discussion forum. “Anyone want to lay odds on who will go to 4-month battery life assuming a 15 minutes a day reading habit?”
The CEO of Kobo also took issue with the Nook’s ‘half-hour-a-day” figures, complaining “that’s not a typical usage scenario,” and arguing that the same lofty claim could be made about the battery life of the Kobo.
“It appears that [Amazon] just took issue with how its competitor was calculating and presenting its battery life numbers,” C|Net reports, noting that Amazon also updated their Kindle product descriptions with a full explanation.
“A single charge lasts up to two months with wireless off based upon a half-hour of daily reading time. If you read for one hour a day, you will get battery life of up to one month. Keep wireless always on and it lasts for up to 10 days. Battery life will vary based on wireless usage, such as shopping the Kindle Store, Web browsing, and downloading content. In low-coverage areas or in EDGE/GPRS-only coverage, wireless usage will consume battery power more quickly.”
So the Kindle’s battery hasn’t suddenly become twice as powerful as it was before. And I thought C|Net’s reporter gave this episode the perfect epitaph. “Amazon didn’t have any comment about its number changes, but it clearly shows that the competition is intensifying in the dedicated e-reader space…”
May 4th, 2011
“Starting this week, Kindle will be available in over 3,200 Walmart stores nationwide,” Amazon announced Tuesday. But instead of formally announcing the news in Amazon press release number KS7N87PRB8G6 they quietly tucked the news onto the Kindle’s page on Facebook at Facebook.com/Kindle — linking to a story on Amazon’s Kindle blog, The Daily Post.
“Most stores will have a Kindle on display so you can check out all the features before you buy,” the blog explained, noting that Wal-Mart isn’t the only chain store where you’ll now be able to purchase Amazon’s latest digital readers. “Walmart is the latest in a growing list of retailers offering Kindle, including Target, Best Buy, and Staples, among others.” (Since February, the Kindle has also been also available at the chain of 125 Fred Meyer stores.)
I had to smile when I read the news, because Wal-Mart had already worked the Kindle into a heart-warming community re-investment program. Since late 2010, In 100 different cities across America, Wal-Mart has been making donations to a charity dedicated to teenagers. (“Boys & Girls Clubs of America Getting Teens Excited About Reading,” read their official press release.) Walmart’s been giving $10,000 grants to 100 local chapters of the “Boys and Girls Club of America” — and some of them are using the money to buy Kindles!
The “Bright Spot” program was designed to launch a new reading initiative to get teenagers more interested in reading. (For example, in Stanton, California, the money will be used to help create a reading center, to train its staff, and encourage “intercommunity relationships.”) But in Central Arkansas, they’re also making Kindles available to the children — along with magazines and music. And the same thing is happening at a Boys and Girls club for teenagers in Lodi, New Jersey.
“Our goal is to make them avid readers,” the club’s executive director told a local newspaper, “which of course, leads to other things like higher learning,” His is one of three clubs in New Jersey receiving grant money, and they’ve used Wal-Mart’s donation to buy five different Amazon Kindles, plus a slew of printed (and teen-appropriate) books. The club is also using the money to fund fields trips — like to the New York Public Library — and to hire mentors for their program. (They’ve already got 66 middle school- or high school-age teenagers in their program.)
But I know that Wal-Mart was the world’s single largest public corporation last year — and that they’ve got 8,500 stores, in 15 countries (according to Wikipedia.) Their annual sales are actually close to half a trillion dollars, coming in at over $408 billion last year.
But it’s still nice to think that some of that money is going to encourage teenagers to read by buying new Kindles.
March 14th, 2011
I was really touched by a story about a survivor of Japan’s 8.9-magnitude earthquake. Monday morning — just after midnight — a new voice appeared in Amazon’s online discussion forum for the Kindle. “I just wanted to thank Amazon,” wrote a Virginia man named Christopher Roberts, “for including 3G in the Kindle.”
“I was in Japan during the huge 8.9 earthquake. It was an extremely scary situation – all power, land lines, and cell phone voice calls went down completely.
“The only communication with the outside world was my wife’s Kindle that had a 3G signal. I was able to slowly login in to Gmail and send an email to my family that I was okay.
“It was incredible that the only thing that worked was my Kindle. Thank you Amazon – It was definitely a life saver.”
There was a lot of bad news in the world this weekend, so it’s nice to take a moment to feel grateful for those who made it through safely.
The best thing about technology is that it connects us to other people. It can be the voice of the author who wrote an ebook, or it can be an e-mail from a friend we haven’t seen in a while. It can be an unexpected message telling us that someone survived a natural disaster, and even the story of a stranger can feel inspiring and touching.
Amazon understands this, I think, because they’ve collected together some of the most touching stories from Kindle users on their Facebook page for the Kindle. Even though I don’t know these Kindle owners, I still find their stories give me a positive feeling. It almost makes it feel like we’re all part of a movement – and each little story is one more step towards a future where ordinary anonymous individuals face their day-to-day lives with a Kindle.
“I am now a new mother, and I find myself especially grateful to be able to read my Kindle while I hold my two-month-old daughter. I can hold the Kindle and turn the pages with one hand, which I cannot do with paper books or magazines. When she is fussy and insists upon being held while she sleeps, I am not limited to watching bad daytime TV. Instead, I can hold her and read books on my Kindle!”
It’s these quiet moments that make me feel like the Kindle is slowly but surely becoming a part of our lives. And there were two more comments that seemed almost remarkable just for capturing two more honest moments of enthusiasm.
“Michigan winters suck,” wrote Arvis F, “if you are no longer a skier. There’s no getting around that. Nonetheless, with my Kindle I am making it through these cold days of limited daylight far better than in the past. Thank you for making such a fine piece of equipment.”
But my favorite comment of all came from a woman named Lauren P.
“I used to resent that my husband watched basketball in the evenings – then I got my Kindle! Now I wish basketball had double-headers!”
March 7th, 2011
A startling announcement came out of Brussels last week. The European Commission suddenly issued a statement that they’d “initiated unannounced inspections at the premises of companies that are active in the e-book publishing sector in several [European] Member States.” They’re “searching for evidence that they had acted illegally to keep prices high in the nascent electronic-book market,” the Wall Street Journal explains — and it’s not the only such investigation.
In both Texas and Connecticut, state officials have been investigating e-book pricing, and there’s also a new investigation that began in England earlier this year. “The U.K and the Connecticut investigations center on pricing arrangements between publishers and the retailers who sell electronic books,” the Journal reported earlier, adding that Connecticut “has said it is looking at Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc.” In Europe, the commission’s officials inspected the publishing premises accompanied by “competition authorities” from the appropriate nation, according to their press release. And they made a point of adding that “The Commission has reason to believe that the companies concerned may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and other restrictive business practices…”
Of course, it’s important to remember that this is just an investigation, and “The fact that the Commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour,” they warned in their press release, “nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself.” But there’s still been a lot of activity and excitement. The investigators “descended like cowboys,” according to one publishing company’s president. Another Journal article quotes his interview with a French technology site, where he also reportedly alleged that “This operation is masterminded by Amazon.” (That seems unlikely, but the investigation is definitely making some big headlines in the European business press.) And when the stakes are this high, maybe there’s enough pressure to go around.
So who’s being investigated? Not Random House (according to the Wall Street Journal.) Their reporter actually contacted the top publishing houses in Europe, and a Random House spokesman indicate that they had not been approached by the commission. Several other publishing houses declined to comment (Flammarion and Albin Michel) or didn’t return the call (Gallimard SA). But interestingly, one company did confirm that they’d been contacted by investigators: Hachette Livre. What’s fascinating is that Hachette Livre is a publishing house that goes all the way back to 1826.
They’ve published everything from Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” to Catcher in the Rye, according to their web site, and even Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight books (which have now sold 85 million copies in 40 countries). They’ve also publish Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and even the famous children’s picture book, Babar the Elephant. “In more than 170 years, the publishing houses that now make up Hachette Livre have produced many a masterpiece…” their site brags.
“They have entered Hachette Livre’s ‘hall of fame’ and serve as a constant reminder of the standards Hachette Livre publishers are expected to live up to, today and in the future.”
February 11th, 2011
It’s finally happened! I stayed up late Thursday night to watch a very historic moment. The New York Times finally published its first best-seller list which includes ebooks!
They’d spent two full years working on a system to track ebook sales, according to a November article in the Times. “It was clear that e-books were taking a greater and greater share of total sales,” a Times’ editor explained, ” and we wanted to be able to tell our readers which titles were selling and how they fit together with print sales.” In fact, some publishers predicted ebooks would become 25% of their sales within the next two to three years — saying that ebooks already represented 10% of their sales — so the Times really needed to change. “To give the fullest and most accurate possible snapshot of what books are being read at a given moment you have to include as many different formats as possible,” said an editor at the Times’ Book Review, “and e-books have really grown, there’s no question about it.”
But that’s an understatement — at least, judging by the lists, since there’s a remarkable pattern which suggests that ebooks have already become the industry standard. The Times reported the best-selling ebooks as well as the best-selling print books, and then also reported which books sold the most after combining both their print and ebook sales. But it turns out that two of those three lists were identical! Here’s the top five best-selling ebooks.
1. TICK TOCK, by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
2. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, by Stieg Larsson
3. THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, by Stieg Larsson
4. THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST, by Stieg Larsson
5. WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, by Sara Gruen
But when you calculate the top five overall best-sellers — adding in the print sales to the ebook sales — nothing changes. Adding the print sales had no effect on the ranking of what were the top five best-selling ebooks. (Or even the top seven best-selling ebooks, if you read the Times‘ extended list.)
1. TICK TOCK, by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
2. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, by Stieg Larsson
3. THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, by Stieg Larsson
4. THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST, by Stieg Larsson
5. WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, by Sara Gruen
6. THE CONFESSION, by John Grisham
7. CUTTING FOR STONE, by Abraham Verghese
And the pattern is the same for non-fiction ebooks — at least, for the first four titles on the list. Whether you do or don’t include print books, the rankings are exactly the same.
1. UNBROKEN, by Laura Hillenbrand
2. HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent
3. BATTLE HYMN OF THE TIGER MOTHER, by Amy Chua
4. DECISION POINTS, by George W. Bush
The only major difference was in the #5 position, suggesting ebook readers have slightly different tastes. The fifth best-selling ebook was $#*! My Dad Says — whereas on the combined print and ebook list, it only reached the #11 spot. And it looks also like a Harlequin romance novel was able to crash its way into the #8 spot on the best-selling fiction list.
What does it all mean? I’ve heard it said that the world changes before we realize that it’s changed. So I’m wondering now if the ebook has already permanently altered the way that we read. In November the Times credited the Kindle (and the iPad) for increasing ebook sales — and noted that ebook sales actually tripled between 2009 and 2010. (“According to the Association of American Publishers, which receives sales data from publishers, e-book sales in the first nine months of 2010 were $304.6 million, up from $105.6 million from the same period in 2009, a nearly 190 percent increase.”) What’s interesting about Friday’s historic event is the Times’ is America’s single largest local newspaper, according to Wikipedia — and each month more than 30 million people visit the Times’ web site. The New York Times best-seller list has always been considered a definitive record of the best-selling books in the country.
And now that definitive list…is including ebooks.
February 9th, 2011
There’s another new interesting feature coming in the Kindle’s next software upgrade. Amazon already lets you a type a comment next to any passage in your ebooks, but now Amazon’s offering a way to share those notes publicly, with any fans you may have on the web, according to their Kindle blog. “Any Kindle user…can opt-in to share their thoughts on book passages and ideas with friends, family members, colleagues, and the greater Kindle community of people who love to read.” And besides notes, you can also share material in an ebook which you’ve chosen to highlight. “This is a new way for readers to share their excitement and knowledge about books,” Amazon posted on their blog Monday, “and get more from the books they read.”
What’s really interesting is there’s three people who are already using the feature, according to a special list at kindle.amazon.com. There’s blogger/author Seth Godin (pictured above), who offers some clarification on a passage in his own book, All Marketers are Liars. But there’s also a public note from a man named Douglas Preston — a horror novelist who’s currently reading Laura Hillebrand’s Unbroken. (And the third user is a man named Tom Killalea — who I’m pretty sure is actually an employee of Amazon.com.)
Amazon also has a list of the books of which books have received the most public notes so far. (#1 on the list? Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.) It’s fun to see which books people are most interested in sharing on the web. And besides ranking them by the number of public notes, Amazon also identifies which books are receiving the most highlights (public or private) from their users!
1. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (118th most-highlighted book)
2. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (34th most-highlighted book)
3. The New Oxford American Dictionary (232nd most-highlighted book)
4. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (#1 most highlighted book!)
5. Dracula (71st most-highlighted book)
6. The Girl Who Played With Fire (17th most-highlighted book)
7. Gulliver’s Travels (420th most-highlighted book)
8. Treasure Island (323rd most-highlighted book)
9. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (18th most-highlighted book)
10. Kindle User’s Guide (which suprisingly, is the 295723rd most-highlighted, according to Amazon…)
Amazon’s list keeps going and going — currently they’re showing exactly 2097 books which have been publicly highlighted since this feature became available earlier in the week.
There’ll be some other new features in the Kindle’s next upgrade — like the ability to rate a book instantly when you reach its final page (or get recommendations on related books to read). And Amazon has also improved the layout of newspapers and magazines, so when you’re reading them on the Kindle, you’ll be able to see more than a list of headlines! I’m excited about all the new features, so I’m looking forward to the day Amazon finally decides that it’s ready, and downloads it into our Kindles. But apparently some people are even more excited, and they’ve already downloaded the preview version and started using it!
(And remember, if you’re interested in trying the preview version, point your PC’s web browser to tinyurl.com/getpagenumbers )