The Kindle vs. The Onion

August 7th, 2014

The Onion - Amazon announced Kindle Flare

It’s finally happened. Amazon’s Kindle has become the target of a fake video news report from The Onion! “This week Amazon unveiled The Kindle Flare — the latest model of their popular e-reader,” reports a (fake) newscaster from the Onion News Network.

“The improved device has the ability to loudly and repeatedly announce the title of the book you’re reading so everyone knows how smart you are…”

You can watch the whole video on the Onion’s web site. (For a shortcut, just point your browser to tinyurl.com/KindleFlare — or watch the embedded version… )


New Kindle Helps Readers Show Off By Shouting Title Of Book Loudly And Repeatedly

I especially liked how their story begins with a flashy “Tech Trends” logo — making it seem like a real news story. And they’ve even fabricated a supposed commercial which will advertise the new Amazon device.

“The all new kindle flare — louder than a book cover…”

Like most Onion stories, it’s their straight-faced delivery of the “Kindle Flare” story which makes their parody so funny — including all of its realistic little details. (“Custom Dolby Audio Shouting…”) Their report even lists out some of the supposed advantages of the new Amazon Kindle Flare.

  • Speaker audible to everyone within 30 feet
  • Shield mode shouts ‘Faulkner’ when you play Candy Crush
  • 8-week battery life for long-lasting gloating
  • 15 different confident tones of voice
  • Pronounces French books with a French accent

What makes this even more interesting is you really can subscribe to The Onion on your Kindle. Every week they’ll deliver the newest edition straight to your Kindle — whether it’s a reader, a tablet, or even a Kindle app. And the subscription also includes free delivery of the “AV Club” — another Onion publication which explores “the best and worst of film, television, music, books and games.”

For a shortcut, point your browser to
tinyurl.com/KindleOnion

Interestingly, The Onion has already become Amazon’s #7 best-selling newspaper for the United States. (No joke!) The New York Times is #1, with The Wall Street Journal close behind, and then The Washington Post, USA Today, The Financial Times, and The San Francisco Chronicle. But #7 is “America’s Finest News Source” — The Onion.

As with all satire, there’s a grain of truth in The Onion’s “Kindle Flare” story. The Onion also reports that Apple has released a new version of the iPad — which whispers, over and over again, “I have an iPad.” And The Onion even imagined one more headline for one of Amazon’s competitors.

“Barnes and Noble’s Nook Now Breathlessly Thanks Owners for Buying a Nook…”


The Onion - fake Amazon Kindle Flare ad

Amazon vs. The Daily Show

February 9th, 2014

John Goodman represents Amazon on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

It’s always fun when the Kindle works its way into the public discussion — and Amazon too. Right now Kindle Fire owners can watch a new sitcom starring John Goodman just by going to “Videos” on their Kindle Fire tablets. It’s called Alpha House, and that same show is also available on the web. (For a shortcut, point your web browser to tinyurl.com/GoodmanShow )

The first three episodes are free for anyone, and the whole series is available free to members of Amazon’s “Prime” shipping service. But this all led to a fun conversation that I’d like to stow away in a time capsule. John Goodman appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to promote this Amazon-only series. And it perfectly captures that moment in time when the world realized: wait, Amazon is producing TV shows?!

Jon Stewart was baffled…


JON STEWART: How does this Amazon thing — I didn’t know Amazon did — did, uh, uh, television shows. Is that a…you click on the site? (Audience laughs) Is that — how… Is that how it happens? Can you use —

JOHN GOODMAN: I don’t know! (They both laugh) I don’t know! I’m selling their product…I’m just a cog in their machine of world domination! I just — as long as they out-point Walmart, I’m cool. No, I uh — there’s a gizmo you buy with Amazon, and then you get free TV with it.

STEWART: Oh this is — so it runs only on the Amazon?

GOODMAN: Yes, as far as I know. (Eyes dart nervously. Audience laughs…)


To watch their whole interview online, you can point your web browser to tinyurl.com/AmazonDailyShow. But what’s really interesting is that John Goodman was wrong! You can also watch Amazon Instant Video on the web (where the first three episodes of his show are already available for free)… The first episode even opens with a funny cameo by Bill Murray!

But then the interview gets into an interesting discussion about how the show is created — and the differences between online and broadcast television.


STEWART: Did they — let me ask you a question. If we go on real TV, we gotta bleep all the **** words out. And that’s the only pleasure of doing television these days, let’s just face it.

GOODMAN: It really is.

STEWART: So here’s how you know if it’s real or not. Do they pay you in Amazon points? If they pay you in Amazon points…

GOODMAN: Who doesn’t get paid in Amazon points?

STEWART: How did they — who was the creator of this program? How did this all…

GOODMAN: Garry Trudeau, the creator of Doonesbury

STEWART: (Audience applauds). Tremendous. That’s wonderful.

GOODMAN: He writes these incredible scripts. They’re very funny, and, uh, Jonathan Alter…

STEWART: Oh yeah!

GOODMAN: Yeah, The great political writer.

STEWART: Writer for Newsweek, and he’s written many different books…

GOODMAN: Yeah, yeah, yeah. He’s a producer, he’s got the political angle on everything, he’s great to have around.

STEWART: That’s awesome. Trudeau is one of those guys, like my heroes, that — growing up and reading Doonesbury and just marvelling at the way he would take these storylines and carry them all the way through with the — you know, the quarterback who’s — working in — all the way through, in Vietnam and everything else. Remarkable guy.

GOODMAN: With the disabled veterans now. It’s an incredible ear. He’s a great writer.

STEWART: Is he on the set? Because I, you always…

GOODMAN: Crossing T’s and dotting I’s!

STEWART: Is he really?!

GOODMAN: Yeah! Yeah… “Well, you left an ‘and’ out of that sentence, John.”

“Hey man, you went to Yale. I don’t argue with that!”


The interview winds down — Goodman says fondly that he went to a state college, and Jon Stewart ends the segment with a burst of enthusiasm. “There you go, brother! John Goodman — never bad in anything.” But maybe because we’re in a unique place in internet history — or because online shopping has become such a phenomenon — they still couldn’t resist making one last joke about Amazon.


STEWART: Alpha House premiers on Amazon.com November 15th, you can watch the first three episodes for free! That’s not a bad deal.

GOODMAN: No!

STEWART: And then, uh, you ultimately end up, uh, ordering a power washer! For no apparent reason.

GOODMAN: But they’re damn good power washers!

David letterman vs. the iPad and Kindle

Do you wonder who’s getting a Kindle for their Christmas present? I always remember this funny story about David Letterman. Nearly three years ago on his late-night talk show, he’d shown off the tablet that he’d just started using. Around the holidays each year I like to revisit that story, because it’s a good reminder about how fast things have changed — and how sometimes the biggest challenge is simply our own stubborn human nature!

Talking to the leader of his band (Paul Shaffer), Letterman at first actually seemed genuinely confused even about whether he’d bought an iPad or a Kindle!


LETTERMAN: For Christmas, I loaded up — I had one of them iPads, and they put a book in it. You know you can do that now?

PAUL SHAFFER: Oh, yeah. Sure…

LETTERMAN: And so I’ve been reading this book in this iPad thing, and I’m reading and I’m reading and I’m reading. And as you know, you don’t turn a page, in — when you’re reading on the — what do they call them, the Kindles or something?

PAUL SHAFFER: Yeah… They’ve got that, too, yeah. (Audience laughs)


Letterman was probably reading with a “Kindle for iPad” app. (Earlier that week, Amazon had pointed out that it’s one of the top 10 best-selling apps among iPad owners.) But as their conversation went on, Paul Shaffer gently tried to correct Letterman’s confusion as he explained how you turn pages.


LETTERMAN:And so you just — you just kind of do this with your finger.

PAUL SHAFFER: You flip that. Yeah.

LETTERMAN:And the thing’ll…

PAUL SHAFFER: On the iPad and the Kindle…


Letterman was playing up his reactions as a technology curmudgeon — but he was building up to a complaint that I’d heard before. The Kindle used to tell you only what percentage of a book you’d finished reading, without telling you how many real-world pages were left in the book. Now, of course, the Kindle can actually report how much time is left before you reach the end of book — or even the end of your current chapter. But back in 2010, this was irritating the late-night talk show host. Although the punch line turned out to be that his bandleader Paul Shaffer had the perfect answer!


LETTERMAN: And I’m reading, and I realize: something’s wrong here. Something’s desperately wrong. There’s no page numbers on my book!

PAUL SHAFFER: Right. No, well, there can’t be. There can’t be, because you can change the font, and if you have a larger font, then you’re going to have fewer pages and therefore you can’t possibly commit to a page number because as you electronically alter the page you number, you are going to have to change as well the number of pages that you have at your disposal…(Audience applauds)

LETTERMAN: Thank you. Thank you, Steve Jobs.


It’s nice to remember that story, as a reminder of how things have changed. (Amazon eventually even found a way to add page numbers to lots of Kindle ebooks, so maybe Letterman is happier now.) But I still always smile when I remember how skeptical he’d been about the iPad — even in earlier shows. When the device was first released, he’d showed one to his audience, then joked “The radiation this thing gives off is incredible. You’re supposed to wear a lead apron when you operate it!”

But it was especially interesting in light of a research study by J.P. Morgan. Back in early 2011, they’d determined that 40% of the people who own an iPad also own a Kindle — and that another 23% of them planned to buy one within the next 12 months!

It’s a hopeful sign that all iPad owners aren’t as confused as David Letterman! But I still would like to drop his comments into a time capsule, to be opened up by later generations. Even if books are all someday replaced by digital readers, it’ll be worth remembering just how uncomfortable some people were with the change.


LETTERMAN: But see, and then you just — you just whisk it away like that, and then — but look. What do you see? Do you see a page number?

PAUL SHAFFER: No….

LETTERMAN: No. You don’t see no page number.

PAUL SHAFFER: No. There isn’t…

LETTERMAN: How do you know when you’re done, is what I want to know? Or if somebody – somebody asks you, are you reading the — the book? And I say yeah. “What page are you on?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know what page I’m on.” For example, this — I’m reading now the Alex Trebeck story, and I have no idea — uh…No, I can’t help you. Sorry!

David letterman vs. the iPad and Kindle

Darryl reads his Kobo with Dwight and Andy at the skating rink on the Office

May 26th saw the broadcast of the very last episode of The Office, an American “workplace comedy” set in Scranton, Pennsylvania. NBC aired one final nostalgic episode that looked back at how things changed for the characters over their eight years together — and it reminded me of an odd episode back in 2011 that had something to say about the Kindle! Later that year, Amazon would release the Kindle Fire, so it was actually possible to watch episodes of The Office on your Kindle. But in January, an episode aired with a discussion about New Year’s resolutions that leads to a plot that’s all about ebooks!

Creepy Dwight Schrute would eventually marry the office’s conservative accountant, Angela, in the show’s final episode. But just two years earlier the couple had broken up, and Dwight was insisting loudly that his goal for 2011 was to “Meet a loose woman”. (And his co-worker Andy agreed…) “You know what you guys should do?” suggests Darryl from the warehouse. “Go to the bookstore at lunch. There’s tons of cuties and it’s easy to talk to them. ‘Hey, what book is that? Cool, let’s hang out tonight. Sex already? Whoa…!'”

Suddenly this strange sitcom was veering towards a visit to the bookstore, and I’ve always suspected that the show’s producers had a “product placement” deal. (it was the first and only episode of the show that featured a digital reader this prominently in the plot.) The episode flashed to a private interview with Darryl, who revealed that he wasn’t really going to the bookstore because he wanted to pick up women. Darryl’s New Year’s resolution was to read more books — and he’d just wanted a ride to the store!

And that’s when the digital reader appears…

Kobo reader with Daryl from The Office

“Well, if you read a lot, you should check out our ereaders,” a sweet, middle-aged cashier tells Darryl at the register, adding…


“They’re really neat.”

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

“Actually, it’s 10,000.”

“Holy ####! What? Let me see it…”

Darryl is impressed. (“It’s so light. Like a croissant.”) But his co-workers are having no luck picking up women, and Dwight announces “This place is kind of tapped out, so let’s roll.” But as they’re leaving the store, it turns out that Darryl is carrying a bag that he doesn’t want his co-workers to see. He claims it contains “A book about oceans,” then later tries to claim that it’s pornography. But later in the episode — as the men somehow end up at a roller-skating rink — Darryl is seen slipping away, to read on his brand new digital reader.

It’s only been two years since it was broadcast, but it’s almost like a time capsule from a far-away past. The store that they’d visited was a
Borders bookstore, the episode makes clear — and just weeks later, Borders went bankrupt. The chain wasn’t even able to find a buyer in the months that followed, according to Wikipedia, and by July it began liquidating its last 399 remaining stores. The reader that Darryl buys in the episode is a Kobo — and in the end, the Kobo has lasted longer than the bookstore where he purchased it! (Maybe the person who should’ve been terrified of it was the bookstore employee who sold it to him!)



Interestingly, all the remaining Borders stores were purchased by Barnes and Noble, who offer their own competitor to the Kindle –the Nook. And judging by today’s headlines, it’s the Nook’s turn to confront the possibility of its own extinction.. (“Is Barnes & Noble Killing the Nook to Save the Stores?” asks a headline at Yahoo! Finance…) USA Today even bluntly asked a publishing industry source if the same fate was ultimately waiting for Barnes and Noble, America’s last national bookstore chain. His answer came in two parts: “Imminently, no…” and “Ultimately, yes.”

Our world is changing fast, and the signs are everywhere. In 2011 I was just delighted to see a digital reader in a television sitcom, and within two years later, we’re watching hundreds of retail bookstores start closing their doors. Sometimes I feel a little like those
workers at The Office — wondering if the people in charge really know what they’re doing. I’ve always said that popular culture is more of a “broken mirror”, reflecting part of the changes in the world, sometimes directly, and sometimes indirectly.

But it does give us one more way to look back at how much things have changed over the years — and not just for people at The Office!

Kindle Comic Strips!

February 20th, 2013

Amazon’s Kindle has turned up again in a newspaper comic strip. This time it’s in Frank and Ernest, and the joke is actually pretty clever. The two characters stand in the back of a classroom while one explains that it’s teaching beginners how to use their e-readers.

“Ah,” says the other character. “Kindle-garten!”

What’s really interesting is it’s not the first time that there’s been a Kindle joke in the Frank and Ernest comic strip. Back in 2010, another strip showed the two characters sitting on a couch watching Hawaii 5-0. One of them complained that they didn’t like the way the show’s catchphrase had been updated. Now when the police investigator arrested a crook, he didn’t tell his partner to “Book ‘em, Danno”. He’d say “Kindle ‘em, Danno!”

Whatever you think of the jokes, it feels like an exciting milestone when the Kindle finally starts appearing in old, traditional media. (Frank and Ernest has been running in daily newspapers for over 40 years, according to Wikipedia.) In fact, in 2006 the original artist died, and his son took over writing the daily comic strip. As he looked around at the world that his generation inherited, maybe he decided now it was time to start making puns about the Kindle.

I’ve been reading comic strips since I was a kid, so I love seeing this newspaper institution finally acknowledging the Kindle. There was a Ziggy comic strip more than two years ago where a Kindle was getting spammed by the public library! And sometimes it’s not just one comic strip, but an entire series of strips. The Crankshaft comic spent five days on a story where the strip’s grumpy bus driver starts to warm up to the idea of reading his beloved Tarzan novels as ebooks on the Kindle he received as a gift.

But two years ago the Kindle made what was possibly its strangest appearance ever in a newspaper comic strip: it turned up in one of the melodramatic storylines in Mary Worth. For entire week, the grey-haired do-gooder ended up arguing with her younger neighbor about whether or not she should be reading her books on a Kindle.

“The Kindle crashed it’s way into the stodgiest newspaper comic strip of them all,” I wrote at the time. (Mary Worth was first created over 70 years ago, according to Wikipedia, and in Amazon’s Kindle discussion forum, someone suggested that by now her character must be over 140 years old!)

But it’s still really nice to see an American institution like Mary Worth acknowledging that there’s something new and exciting that’s come into our world.

David letterman vs. the iPad and Kindle

I was wondering who’d gotten a new Kindle as a Christmas present. And then I remembered a funny story about David Letterman. Nearly two years ago, he showed off his tablet on his late-night talk show — and he seemed confused about whether he’d bought an iPad or a Kindle!


LETTERMAN: For Christmas, I loaded up — I had one of them iPads, and they put a book in it. You know you can do that now?

PAUL SHAFFER: Oh, yeah. Sure…

LETTERMAN: And so I’ve been reading this book in this iPad thing, and I’m reading and I’m reading and I’m reading. And as you know, you don’t turn a page, in — when you’re reading on the — what do they call them, the Kindles or something?

PAUL SHAFFER: Yeah… They’ve got that, too, yeah. (Audience laughs)


Letterman was probably reading with a “Kindle for iPad” app. (Earlier that week, Amazon had pointed out that it’s one of the top 10 best-selling apps among iPad owners.) But as their conversation went on, Paul Shaffer (who conduct’s the show’s band) gently tried to correct Letterman’s confusion as he explained how you turn pages.


LETTERMAN:And so you just — you just kind of do this with your finger.

PAUL SHAFFER: You flip that. Yeah.

LETTERMAN:And the thing’ll…

PAUL SHAFFER: On the iPad and the Kindle…


Letterman was playing up his reactions as a technology curmudgeon — but he was building up to a complaint that I’ve heard before. But the punch line of the bit turned out to be that it was bandleader Paul Shaffer who had the perfect answer


LETTERMAN: And I’m reading, and I realize: something’s wrong here. Something’s desperately wrong. There’s no page numbers on my book!

PAUL SHAFFER: Right. No, well, there can’t be. There can’t be, because you can change the font, and if you have a larger font, then you’re going to have fewer pages and therefore you can’t possibly commit to a page number because as you electronically alter the page you number, you are going to have to change as well the number of pages that you have at your disposal…(Audience applauds)

LETTERMAN: Thank you. Thank you, Steve Jobs.


It’s nice to remember that story, as a reminder of how things have changed. (Amazon eventually found a way to add page numbers to Kindle ebooks, so maybe Letterman is happier now.) But I still always smile when I remember how skeptical he’d been about the iPad — even in earlier shows. When the device was first released, he’d showed one to his audience, then joked “The radiation this thing gives off is incredible. You’re supposed to wear a lead apron when you operate it.”

But it was especially interesting in light of a research study by J.P. Morgan. Back in early 2011, they determined that 40% of the people who own an iPad also own a Kindle — and that another 23% of them plan to buy one within the next 12 months!

It’s a hopeful sign that all iPad owners aren’t as confused as David Letterman! But I still would like to drop his comments into a time capsule. Even if books are all someday replaced by digital readers, it’ll be worth remembering just how uncomfortable some people were with the change.


LETTERMAN: But see, and then you just — you just whisk it away like that, and then — but look. What do you see? Do you see a page number?

PAUL SHAFFER: No….

LETTERMAN: No. You don’t see no page number.

PAUL SHAFFER: No. There isn’t…

LETTERMAN: How do you know when you’re done, is what I want to know? Or if somebody – somebody asks you, are you reading the — the book? And I say yeah. “What page are you on?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know what page I’m on.” For example, this — I’m reading now the Alex Trebeck story, and I have no idea — uh…No, I can’t help you. Sorry.

David letterman vs. the iPad and Kindle

Owen Smith - BART Call of the Wild book poster

Something very special happened this morning on a commuter train in to San Francisco. I was reading my Kindle, but I looked up to see a surprising poster on the walls of the train station. It was a painting of someone who was reading on a commuter train in to San Francisco. And the characters from the book were riding along on the train with them!

It’s a great series of art posters that was commissioned by the administrators for San Francisco’s BART trains, and it apparently celebrates the joy of reading during your commute. A spokesperson says they’d asked the artist to consider what was special about the experience of riding the trains — “and then bring to it their own interests.” And in a small island town in the San Francisco bay, artist Owen Smith had a very personal idea. That “You can spend your time reading…whether it’s a book or on your Kindle or iPad.”

I love the way his paintings imply that we’re all somehow magically together. While a woman reads The Joy Luck Club, she’s sitting right in front of the older Chinese mother from the book, who’s watching over the daughter who appears in the foreground. The 1989 novel was set in San Francisco (and author Amy was from the Bay Area), so if its characters were here today, they’d probably be riding along with us on the train. Plus, the novel also told it’s story through the perspective of several different generations. It’s almost like the artist’s choice is suggesting that somehow, we can even transcend time itself — while commuting in to work!

Owen Smith - BART Joy Luck Club book painting

A Kindle can definitely brighten up your commute — and it’s something I noticed on my last visit to San Francisco. I’d worked there in the last 1990s, and as I’d looked around during my morning commutes back then, I’d seen lots of people reading newspapers. Today you notice a big difference: now almost no one is rustling around through a newspaper, trying desperately to find the right section. But there’s lots and lots of handheld devices — lots of Kindles, a few tablets, an occasional Nook, and even people reading on their cellphones!

But there’s something more to it than that, since we’re all still sitting there together, in a spontaneous moment of community. I feel like the artist understood that feeling, and just took it in another direction. Because while we’re silently sharing a space, we’re also sharing it with those unseen people who wrote the books that we love the most. Somehow on the train, your personal space fills up with all the characters from their stories…

For example, in another poster the artist celebrates Dashiell Hammett, who wrote the gritty detective novel The Maltese Falcon. Hammett lived in the city himself, and in the novel his detective conducts an investigation throughout the city stress of San Francisco. But on the poster, that detective is riding on the commuter train, looking alertly over his shoulder at a suspicious femme fatale who’s sitting by the train’s doors. Through the window, you can even see a neon sign for John’s Grill — a real San Francisco restaurant which also appears in the novel.

BART Maltese Falcon book poster by Owen Smith

In a way, there’s one more person who’s sharing our space on the train – the artist who created these posters. Artist Owen Smith didn’t try to add any more overt message, saying “If it’s a little mysterious, that’s OK…” But he’s reminding us of the precious things we can experience while riding a train. Even when we’re reading quietly to ourselves, we’re still connected to lots of people – both real and imaginary!

More Kindles on TV

April 12th, 2012

Borders Kobo Reader on the Office

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

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

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

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

“Actually, it’s 10,000.”

“Holy ####! What? Let me see it…”

Kobo reader with Daryl from The Office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Kindle on the Simpsons

March 19th, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kindle on the Cleveland Show

The Kindle killed a minister?

January 27th, 2012

It was almost two years ago that I heard a strange mention of the Kindle on the radio. There’s a news quiz show called Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! (Three stories are read to the contestants — one true but unexpected, and two which are outright lies.) And that week, the category was “technology disasters.”

The first concerned Apps-berger’s syndrome — a newly-discovered medical syndrome in which people use cell phone apps obsessively to perform tasks they could just as easily do by themselves. (I was pretty sure that story was false!) And story #2 concerned a guy who insisted to his girlfriend that the sexy text messages she’d found on his cell phone had actually been pre-loaded on the phone when he’d bought it.

So was story #3 true or false?

It concerned a minister who bought a Kindle. Actually, not just a Kindle. Late in life, the minister become a raging technophile, while also helping elderly members in his congregation learn how to use technology themselves. (And at one point, he even placed a bet on the exact date of the Apocalypse.) He bought himself a pocket-sized Kindle, to which he downloaded the Holy Bible, and he always carried it with him in his jacket’s vest pocket.

One day while hunting, a gun accidentally fires a shot. The bullet rips through his jacket – and rips through his Kindle – before passing through the minister’s is body and then out his back. Two nearby hunters heard the shots, and rushed to the aid of the fallen minister. Looking down at the scene, one of the hunters said…

“Where the hell is your pocket bible? That would’ve stopped the bullet clean!”



The name of the news quiz was “You were supposed to make me happy!” And it turns out the true story was… #2. (The pre-loaded cell phone text messages — which was my guess. It reminded me of a similar true story about a cellphone that was pre-loaded with someone else’s pornography!) Still, it’s worth noticing that the Kindle was also included in this pageant of technology folk tales.

It shows digital readers are now becoming part of the popular consciousness. The same year I’d been watching Wheel of Fortune, and as Vanna White flipped the letters, it turned out that the contestants were trying to guess the phrase:

Digital Book

Somewhere inside, I decided that we’d past an invisible milestone. I’d turned to the mass media — and I’d seen people talking about the Kindle!

Mark Cuban on Shark Tank
Mark Cuban published his own ebook in 2012

I’m always watching for Kindle references on TV, especially talk about how ebooks might take the place of books. But the last place I ever expected to hear that was on the season premiere of “Shark Tank.”

If you haven’t seen the show, five rich investors listen to pitches from start-up business owners who are hoping to earn some venture capital (in exchange for a stake in their company). But Friday night, the business was simply a ghost writer — and he believed he could make millions by writing and publishing the biographies of businessmen. It sounded crazy, until he revealed that he’d already written something like 100 “vanity” books. And he was charging up to $35,000 for each book (which included a run of printed copies).

The books looked slick, and investor Daymond John asked an interesting question: why aren’t you marketing this service to ordinary people? (“Because ordinary people don’t have $35,000 to spend on a book!” screamed my girlfriend at the TV!) The writer gave an answer that was much more nuanced, but essentially making the same point — that not everyone has the quality for a book. I think he danced around the specifics, but as I remember it, he said that he didn’t feel he could produce a good book for just $10,000. And that he was telling his customers that instead of expecting profits from the sales of their book, they should use them as a marketing tool, to promote their other businesses.

The presenter had a good patter, and the investors all seemed to like him, but one by one, they’d started dropping out of the bidding. Soon there was just one left — the newest panelist, the unpredictable billionaire Mark Cuban (who owns the Dallas Maverick’s basketball team, as well as the Landmark Theatre movie chain). He seemed genuinely intrigued, but then he raised a devastating critique. You haven’t mentioned the way the book industry is changing — meaning specifically the Kindle, or ebooks, or the self-publishing revolution.

It was a poignant moment. Ghost writer Michael Levin had already proven his success in the world of printed books. (According to his web site, he’s ghost-written the biographies of sports commentator Pat Summerall and Dave Winfield, a former outfielder who’s now the vice president of the San Diego Padres.) And at one point, the panel pointed out that the writer was doing what nearly every other writer had dreamed of but failed to do: he was actually making a ton of money. But unfortunately for the ghost writer, Mark Cuban had just published his own ebook — which was called “How to Win at the Sport of Business: If I Can Do It, You Can Do It.” So he was going to be skeptical about investing in a company which produces nothing but books in print.

Now the ghost writer was called out on nationwide TV, in front of a panel of cynical investors. (“If this was 1995, I would’ve said yes,” explained Mark Cuban.) As his moment of glory turned to unanimous rejection, the ghost writer came up with one more clever — or desperate — last hurrah. I saw him as an unheralded giant — an invisible kingpin — in the dying world of printed books. And maybe he just didn’t want to admit that the world was really changing. Instead, he told the panel that ebooks would only increase the relevance of his business model. Since then printed books would become even more of a curiosity — a quaint and intriguing artifact that businesses would want even more!

And the last word seemed to belong to those same ordinary people who could never afford his ghost-writing services anyways.

“Dude was clueless as hell…” posted one viewer on Twitter. And another tweeted a condensed version of Cuban’s reason for declining the investment opportunity: “no future in a hard copy book, like a weightlifting snowman.” (Which means that no matter how impressive it is, it’ll still vanish before you know it!) And ultimately, soon even Mark Cuban himself had turned up on Twitter, confirming that that’s why he’d left behind the world of printed books.

“exactly why i publish my book as an ebook.”


Check out Mark Cuban’s Kindle ebook, “How to Win at the Sport of Business: If I Can Do It, You Can Do It!”

Ellen Degeneres' 12 Days Giveaway is a Kindle Fire tablet

Ellen Degeneres surprised her studio audience Friday during her daytime talk show — by giving every one of them a new Kindle Fire tablet! In a daily segment called “12 Days of Giveaways,” she’s been treating her audience each day to a big bundle of Christmas presents. Friday’s bundle was worth over $2,000 , but she saved the Kindle Fire tablets for last! As her audience cheered with excitement, she smiled and said “Have a wonderful weekend…”

But I liked the way Ellen teased the audience first. She’d introduced an a capella singing group to perform the song “Silver Bells” — but after several false starts, they just couldn’t find the right key. Suddenly a real bell went off — the signal for Ellen’s gift giveway — and a giant dancing Christmas wreath appeared on the stage. The audience cheered as an Andy Williams song played in the background — “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” — as stagehands came out dressed in candy-cane pin strips and elfish-green skirts, and Ellen danced with the wreath.

In fact, the Kindle Fire almost got lost in the excitement, since Ellen handed out so many other gifts. She’d already told the audience that each of them would receive a $200 gift card for coffee brewers, tickets to a new Cirque du Soleil show, a GPS system, and a trip to a new resort spa that’s opening in Carlsbad, California. And then she told that audiece that, finally, they’d be getting a copy of her book. (“I might be biased, but if there’s one book you should read this holiday season, or year, or really ever, it should be my book…”) But of course, she still had one more gift…

“Now, how would you like access to over 18 million movies, TV shows, music, magazines, apps, games — and especially my book? Now you can have it all on this season’s hottest e-reader, the Kindle Fire, everybody!”
(The audience cheers)

I have to wonder if Ellen is secretly a fan of the Kindle, or if the bit give-away was Amazon’s idea? I know Oprah Winfrey was always a fan of the Kindle, and she’d made a point of giving them away to her audience. In one show, Oprah even tracked down the audience for a show she’d taped two and a half years earlier — because she felt like they’d been disappointed because she hadn’t given them enough gifts. Now that Oprah has retired, maybe Ellen’s just trying to continue that Kindle-giving tradition.

Ellen seems to have a good relationship with Amazon, since she wrote a “guest blog post” on Amazon’s Kindle blog back in October to promote her new book. Amazon later named it one of their “best books of 2011l,”
and even two months later, it’s still ranked #236 on Amazon’s list of the best-selling items in the Kindle Store. The title of Ellen’s book?

“Seriously… I’m Kidding!”

Jon Stewart Mocks Bookstores

August 19th, 2011

Jon Stewart shouts over The Daily Show logo

A very funny skit just aired on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Returning from a commercial break, Stewart switched to a cultural news story — the demise of Borders bookstores — in a knowing, affectionate segment with a contrary look at writers and book-sellers.

(You can watch video of the six-minute segment at tinyurl.com/StewartBorders)

                        *                        *                        *

JON STEWART: Books! You know them as the thing Amazon tells you “You might be interested in…” when you’re buying DVDs. But did you know books used to be available in what were called… “bookstores”? Well they were…

FOX NEWS: The bookstore chain Borders is going out of business.

CBS NEWS: Borders just could not keep up with 21st century technology and trends.

CBS NEWS: The latest brick-and-mortar victim of a digital age…

JON STEWART: Borders! Now where am I going to return all my guests’ books for store credit?!

For more we turn to resident expert John Hodgman! Now let me ask you, how can — how can the beloved bookstore, an institution, compete with downloading and mail order books?

JOHN HODGMAN: Well, Jon, it’s not going to be easy. People have gotten used to the convenience of having books delivered right to them. If bookstores want to compete, they have to give the customer a better home experience than they can get in their own homes.

JON: So you’re saying re-create…

HODGMAN: Exactly, Jon.

JON: I didn’t finish what I was saying. The — the…

HODGMAN: I wasn’t listening.

Jon Stewart and John Hodgman on the Daily Show

HODGMAN: What I’m talking about is getting rid of all those old-fashioned bookshelves, and replace them — with beautiful, well-appointed downloading pods. Book-lovers simply seal themselves inside, strip down to their underwear, pick up a cold slice of pizza, and start downloading the great works of literature… It’s all the fun and isolation of home, with the inconvenience of a 20-minute car ride.

JON: There’s stuff bookstores can do…

HODGMAN: Uh-huh.

JON: …that the internet can’t!

HODGMAN: Oh, you mean like shelter the homeless?

JON: I’m talking about having authors visit stores!

HODGMAN: Oh, well now we’re just splitting hairs. The reality is, there’s nothing more depressing than seeing some pasty shut-in author bare his soul in front of a half-filled row of folding chairs. Believe me, I know! (Picture of John Hodgman appearing at a Borders bookstore)

Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman at Borders bookstore

JON: So what — what is the alternative to this?

HODGMAN: Well, instead of hosting readings, why not host exciting live writings? Bring the author in, tie him to a desk, and make him write a novel to order. Customers can shout out their own ideas while pelting the writer with $4.00 scones. It’ll be fun! George R. R. Martin not finishing that new “Game of Thrones” book fast enough for you? Well maybe some hot chai latte down his neck will speed him up. (Picture of angry reader dumping latte on the bearded author)

Coffee dumped on George R R Martin at a bookstore (Daily Show)

JON: You know, I’m not sure a lot of authors would agree to that sort of thing.

HODGMAN: Well, Jon, I think you’re underestimating authors’ desire for free chai. And, the occasional human touch.

JON: But see, that brings up an interesting point. What about the human element? Bookstores build a personal relationship with their customers you simply cannot get from a computer. There are, uh, employee interactions, employee recommendations…

HODGMAN: Oh yes, yes. Thank you. Employee picks. Thank you, pudgy neck-beard counter guy, for clueing me in to Philip K. Dick — again. What’s the matter, are you sold out of Confederacy of Dunces this week…? But you do raise a good point, Jon. Bookstores employ a very special class of condescending nerd. These are the types of people who used to work at video stores (before they went under).

JON: Where were they before that?

HODGMAN: Record stores, obviously. It’s been a tough couple of years for condescending nerds. And if bookstores fall, Jon, America will be inundated with a wandering, snarky underclass of unemployable purveyors of useless and arcane esoterica.

JON: I’m not sure I understand.

HODGMAN: No, well you wouldn’t.

JON: You seem to hate bookstore employees.

HODGMAN: Oh, I loathe them, Jon. They shelved my books under “Humor”, Jon! Not “Witticism”, as I asked! I ask you, do I look like Marmaduke to you?

JON: (Laughing stupidly) Marm– Marmaduke is a very big dog. Hee hee hee hee hee! Hee hee! Ahh! Ahh…

HODGMAN: Pathetic. We have to face facts, Jon. The big-box bookstore has passed into history. And that’s something we should embrace and be proud of. By preserving Borders as a popular historical attraction.

JON: Like, uh, colonial Williamsburg?

HODGMAN: Well yeah, exactly! Bring the kids down to Ye Olde Borders Towne! Let them see what it felt like to paw through a clearance bin of Word-a-Day calendars. Or sneak a peek at pornography printed on actual paper! Right there on the giant rack of weird magazines you’ve never heard of. Including my personal favorite, Bookstore Magazine Rack Aficionado magazine.

JON: You know, I think a bookstore preserve might appeal to a — a very small market.

HODGMAN: Well, it can’t be smaller than the market of people who buy books anyway! This is what it’ll be like. (Puts on a colonial hat) “Hey! Gather round, young ‘uns, and come see how we used to sell this here itty bitty book light. Because in the One-nine-eighties, pages didn’t glow, and eyestrain was a sign of wealth!

JON: Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll be right back.


Oprah last favorite things - Kindle

Oprah gives audience Kindles

Oprah Winfrey may just have committed the strangest promotional give-away ever. She just tracked down the 352 audience members from a show she’d taped two and a half years ago — and then gave all of them a Kindle.

It’s part of the count-down to Oprah’s final show, which airs May 25 (in just six weeks). After 24 years and 5,000 episodes, Oprah’s been looking back on her legacy. And there was one particular audience that she felt had been short-changed.

“You know the saying that it’s the thought that counts?” Oprah said in an introduction. “Depends on what the thought was.” Calling it a “holiday oopsie gone wrong,” she remembered the day in November of 2008, when her audience entered the studio, and noticed that her set was decorated with enormous props shaped like Christmas presents. Each Christmas, Oprah taped a show where each audience member received a lavish gift package, each containing a complete set of “Oprah’s favorite things”. “Could it be? they wondered. Could they have scored the hottest ticket in television…”

Thursday, in a special episode titled “Oprah’s Bloopers, Blunders and Funniest ‘What Were We Thinking?’ Moments,” Oprah described that audience’s reaction as she then informed them that this year’s show was going to be different. “We thought that since we were in the throes of the recession, instead of favorite things, we should do a show about how to have a thrifty holiday.” Oprah had wanted to emphasize the real meaning of the holidays, saying that bringing that back would be her favorite thing this year. “So instead of walking away with bags full of fabulous gifts, this audience got tips on what we thought would be the perfect present that year: an empty box.”

Oprah audience members who didn't get Oprah's Favorite Things
[The show's camera then panned across the
faces of horrified members of the audience...]

During yesterday’s show, Oprah remembered her audience’s reaction. “I went back into the control room, which is behind that wall, during that show, and I go, ‘I think they’re mad at me! Everybody’s looking real mad!'” Yesterday she even flew in two people who’d been in her audience for that ill-fated show, just to have them describe the emotional roller-coaster. “We thought, ‘Oh my god! We made it! We’re here!” one woman remembered. “It’s the Favorite Things show!” And then the other woman jokingly added what she thought the Christmas show had meant.

“We’re going to see Santa!”

“Yeah, I could feel y’all turning on me…” Oprah joked. “It has now been three years, and my producers still feel badly about disappointing everybody in that audience. So we made a few calls, and the FedEx Elves agreed to make a special delivery to you both. Elves?” (Two FedEx deliverymen then entered carrying two boxes.)

Each box contained a tote bag from Land’s End, some spring wedges from Ugg boots, a Flip video camera, and, yes, a Kindle 3G. (The audience’s cheers actually surged loudly when Oprah announced that the gift packages included Kindles.) “And of course, for everybody in today’s studio audience? You get the same!”

And then the audience rose to their feet and cheered wildly as more FedEx deliverymen — dressed in elf hats — entered with hundreds of gift packages from the back of the studio.

Oprah gives Kindles to her audience