June 26th, 2014
Every month Amazon discounts dozens of Kindle ebooks — to just $3.99 or less! And June is almost over, making this the last week to buy the ebooks at their discounted price. It’s my favorite time to browse for ebooks, and not just because there’s usually a great selection. You can browse all these discounts over the weekend, and then visit the same page on Tuesday (July 1st) to see a whole new selection of more discounted Kindle ebooks!
Here’s some of this month’s most interesting titles…
Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut ($1.99)
It’s one of Kurt Vonnegut’s last novel — and with one of his wildest plots. There’s a cluster of characters shipwrecked on an island who suddenly become the only survivors of a catastrophic epidemic — and the novel looks at the world which results…one million years later! One reviewer called it “the humorous, ironic and sometimes carping decline of the human race”, and at least one of Amazon’s customers described it as one of his favorite Vonnegut novels, applauding its grandiose plot and its sense of humor — concluding “in the end Galapagos is interesting, funny, unconventional, and just a great read.”
Hollywood by Charles Bukowski ($1.99)
It’s the second-to-last novel ever written by Charles Bukowski. Just five years before his death at age 73, Bukowski created this 250-page portrait of one of the most extreme cultures of all — Hollywood! After living a life of drunkenness combined with some great and empathetic writing, Bukowski had been commissioned to write a screenplay about his own life in 1984. That resulted in the movie Barfly, but Bukowski wasn’t through with Hollywood yet. “In this hilarious roman a clef, Bukowski draws on his experiences while writing the script…” explains the book’s description at Amazon, adding that the book’s main character is also penning a screenplay about his early life, “as a barfly and brawler, before he became a famous author.” And you’ll recognize many real-life actors, directors, and other famous personalities — because the characters in this book are drawn straight from real life!
The Return of Little Big Man by Thomas Berger ($1.99)
“Jack Crabb is now 112 years old,” begins the book’s description at Amazon, “and he isn’t done spinning yarns.” Thomas Berger’s original novel explored the life of an 111-year-old man who claimed (among other things) to be the only survivor of Custer’s Last Stand. His fantastic stories about real life in the American west inspired a 1970 movie. But nearly 30 years later, in 1999, 75-year-old Thomas Berger resurrected his own character to deliver even more tall tales. “Crabb claims to have witnessed most of the great historical events of the western frontier,” reads the book’s description at Amazon, “hiding behind a wagon after a drunken Doc Holliday provokes the shootout at the OK Corral; joining Buffalo Bill Cody and Annie Oakley on tour with their international Wild West show; even taking tea with Queen Victoria when she came out of seclusion after a quarter century!” Like the movie, the novel promises to be funny, but according to Amazon, there’s another layer to this historical fantasmagoria, which they ultimately describe as “a sidesplitting novel of surprising emotional depth.”
And the ebook edition includes a special new introduction by the now-89-year-old author!
A Most Wanted Man by John le Carre ($1.99)
John le Carre has been writing spy novels for more than 50 years. But in 2008, at the age of 76, he reached back to his own memories of working as a British spy in Germany. Or did he? The world’s changed a lot since the 1950s, and in le Carre’s novel (also set in Germany), the intrigue surrounds a mysterious young Russian smuggled into Germany, who may or may not be a terrorist. There’s also a strong female attorney defending him against deportation, and according to Amazon, le Carre’s novel quickly becomes “Thrilling, compassionate, peopled with characters the reader never wants to let go.” They called the novel “fiercely compelling”, but more than that, describe its overall effect as “a work of deep humanity and uncommon relevance to our times…”
point your browser to:
June 22nd, 2014
Amazon surprised everyone by announcing a new smart phone last week. “Fire is the only smartphone to put everything you love about Amazon in the palm of your hand,” read the front page of Amazon, in a special letter written by the company’s founder, Jeff Bezos. Of course, he touted all the obvious advantages of the Fire phone — apps, music, movies and TV shows, plus “exclusive features” like a 3-D interface and some cool new software tricks.
But here’s six of the Fire Phone’s biggest hidden surprises…
32 Gigabytes of Storage
Wait, what? It starts at 32 gigabytes of storage — that’s the minimum. And there’s also 64-gigabyte version. My last Android phone boasted that it could be upgraded “up to 32 gigabytes” — followed by the dreaded disclaimer in parentheses: not included. (I’d have to purchase an additional memory card — sold separately….)
And besides the on-device storage, Amazon’s Fire Phone is offering another even better alternative…
Unlimited Photo Storage in the Cloud
My current smartphone keeps running out of memory — I think every smartphone eventually hits a limit. You can try storing your photos in the cloud, but besides Google’s free storage service, even the iPhone has a 5-gigabyte limit (unless you’re willing to pay extra). But not Amazon’s Fire Phone. “Free, unlimited photo storage definitely sets Amazon apart from Dropbox, Apple’s iCloud and Microsoft’s OneDrive,” reports the technology blog Engadget.
Of course, there’s a reason that Amazon’s upping their specs and giving away cool features for free…customers.
“Users will pay for all the data they use through AT&T as well as being sucked into the two-year service contract through the carrier,” warned one technology blog. With their Kindle Fire tablets, Amazon offered a much cheaper alternative to the high-end tablets that were being produced by Apple. But Amazon’s smartphone costs the same as the other Android smartphones — not just for the intiail purchase, but also in its monthly servic chrages.
But Amazon did come up one more great interesting incentive…customers.
A Free Year of Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime normally costs you $100 — but it’s free for a year when you buy a Fire Phone. (And if you’re already a Prime member, Amazon will extend your current subscription by another 12 months.) And Prime doesn’t just mean you get free two-day shipping (plus a big discount on one-day shipping). Prime subscribers also get access to Amazon’s library of free digital movies and TV shows (which includes some great classic TV shows like the original Star Trek and The Twilight Zone). And there’s also over 500,000 books now in the “Kindle Owners’ Lending Library”, which lets you borrow one popular ebook each month for free. This month Amazon also announced a new streaming music service which is free to all Prime customers.
A 3-D Interface — and a 2-D Interface
Repeat after me: “Dynamic Perspective” is optional. A site called Digital Trends ran a fascinating article called “5 things we’ve learned from people who have fondled the Fire Phone,” And it found lots of enthusiasm for Amazon’s new three-dimensional interface. In fact, I thought it was a little misleading to summarize it with the headline “Dynamic Perspective might get annoying.” Although I’ll admit that that was my first thought, too.
I mean, while it’s cool to see screensavers with real depth, do you really want to see the time of day in a shifting, three-dimensional perspective? But all my concerns vanished when I also read that if you don’t like it, you can turn it off. So it’s a feature — not a permanent gimmick standing between you and your icons!
Ah, and about those icons. On the Fire Phone, the e-mail icon doesn’t just sit there waiting for a tap before it checks up your inbox. It will actually gives you real-time information about what’s in your inbox, before you even tap. It’s similar to the “live tiles” innovation that Microsoft tried with Windows 8 (and their Windows Phone), and it’ll be available for lots of other icons that’ll appear on the home screen of the Fire Phone. For example, the web browser’s icon lets you go straight to recently-accessed web sites. And the app for USA Today shows you headlines — based on your own selections of the kind of headlines you’d prefer…
Check out Amazon’s new smartphone at this shortcut:
June 18th, 2014
Zombies attack… Archie and his pals in Riverdale? It’s a horror comic in the most unlikely of places, and it’s drawing rave reviews. And it’s also proof that there’s a vast variety of reading material available for the Kindle — including Kindle comic books. Right now, Amazon’s even discounting several of them to just 99 cents each.
By the way, Amazon’s really spruced up that comics page. Now you can display comics by a specific author, or from a specific publisher (like “D.C. Comics”). You can even narrow the display to comics from a specific release date — even “Coming Soon”, or “Last 90 days.” But there’s also links that let you view comics available for the Kindle from “the Golden Age (1938-55),” as well as the Silver Age (1959-1969), and the Bronze Age (1970-1983)…all the way up to the present-day. (Plus a link for recent comics which have won industry awards…)
Comic books are available for any touch-screen Kindle — as well as the Kindle reading apps for your smartphone or other tablet devices. Here’s a look at some of the most interesting titles…
Afterlife with Archie ($2.99 per issue)
It started as a joke — then turned horribly, horribly wrong. A comic book artist drew a special cover for the wholesome series “Life with Archie” — with zombies — as a tribute to the classic horror comics of the 1950s. Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa wanted to expand the idea, and created a four-issue series where real zombies are terrorizing the neighborhood of Riverdale – and taking over the brains of all of Archie’s loveable pals. “The first four issues sold out,” reports Wikipedia, noting that Fangoria magazine called it one of the “best horror comics…in a very long time,” while a reviewer at NPR actually called it “terrific,” “a masterpiece,” and “actually scary. And this March, the wild success of the series convinced Archie Comics to choose the author as their chief creative officer!
Harley Quinn comics (99 cents per issue)
Amazon’s discounting over 100 comic books for the Kindle — each one with one of D.C. Comics’ most fascinating characters. “For a limited time, pick up single issue comics featuring The Joker’s favorite gal, Harley Quinn for only $0.99 each,” Amazon announced this week. The strange villain-ess in the harlequin costume appeared in numerous comic series, including Gotham City Sirens, Suicide Squad, Gotham Girls, and of course, her own Harley Quinn series. She was named one of the sexiest women in comic books, according to her page on Wikipedia — even if she is in love with The Joker!
Calvin & Hobbes collections ($10.99 each)
It’s one of the greatest newspaper comic strips of all-time — and now it’s available on the Kindle! This November three collections of “Calvin & Hobbes” cartoons suddenly appeared in the graphic novels section of Amazon Kindle Store. These 250-page collections feature all the original strips by Bill Watterson — including his lavish, full-color Sunday strips. Watterson stunned the world this month by anonymously contributing artwork to the Pearls Before Swine comic strip after 20 years of retirement! But it just reminded me of how much I loved the original Calvin & Hobbes comic strip — and it’s nice to know that they’re now available on the Kindle.
Transformers: Regeneration One (99 cents per issue)
It’s another store-wide sale, this one featuring nearly two dozen comics about the Transformer robots. With a summer blockbuster about to hit theatres, it’s a good way for fans to bring the excitement home to their Kindle.
You’ll find words like “epic” in Amazon’s description of the plots — as well as “Cybertron,” “Autobot,” and of course, “Optimus Prime.” “For a limited time, pick up Transformers” Regeneration One single issue comics for only $0.99 each,” Amazon teases on the pages of their other Kindle comic books — adding two more special words of their own.
Remember, for a shortcut to Amazon’s comic page, point your browser to
June 12th, 2014
The founder of Amazon just posted a surprise announcement on the front page of the site. From now on, members of Amazon’s Prime shipping service can also enjoy free music! They’ll get unlimited access to over a million songs — with no commercials — and can even download songs to their phone or tablet for free!
There’s lots of familiar artists — from Bruce Springsteen and Madonna to Daft Punk, Bruno Mars, Blake Shelton, and The Lumineers — and Amazon promises there’s over 10,000 albums to choose from. Amazon promises their selection will grow — which is good, because right now it seems like some artists are represented more than others. Amazon’s “100 Popular Artists” page shows which albums will be available, and it definitely seems like some artists have more albums available than others.
40 Johnny Cash albums
16 Willie Nelson
13 Dave Matthews Band
12 Elvis Presley
11 Kidz Bob Kids
10 Billy Joel
9 Van Morisson
8 Ozzy Osbourne
8 John Denver
8 Talking Heads
But it’s still an impressive service, and Amazon’s doing everything they can to make it easy to use. “We wanted to remove the barriers between you and the music you love,” writes Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, listing out the barriers that are being removed — “cost” and “interruptions”. He also points out that there’s also no limit on how many times you can listen to a song, which is different than other streaming music service I’ve seen. And Amazon is also trying to match their ability to recommend new songs, removing the barrier he describes as “deciding what to listen to.
“Just play any of the hundreds of Prime Playlists our music experts have created for you.”
It’s one more benefit for their already-attractive “Prime” shipping service — which also includes free two-day shipping and free videos from Amazon’s library, plus the ability to “borrow” a new book each month from “the Kindle Lending Library.” And Amazon also provided a clue about just how popular their Prime program is. I’ve never seen them actually reveal the number of subscribers to the service, but today they annouced it has “tens of millions of members”. So that means that, at minimum, there’s at least 20 million people using Amazon’s Prime Service.
Which means 20 million people just got free access to Amazon’s streaming music service!
June 10th, 2014
Holidays are always fun — because Amazon starts offering big discounts on gifts! Father’s Day means big discounts on tablets from Amazon, and also on their new Amazon Fire TV. And there’s even a “bundle” where you can purchase both products and get a 25% discount.
The best deal is a $40 savings on a high-definition Kindle Fire tablet. Amazon’s lowered the price to just $129, but there’s also discounts on their other tablets. You can also get the same high-definition Kindle Fire for just $119 — a $20 savings — if you’ll settle for an 8-gigabyte hard drive instead of one with 16 gigabytes. It’s Amazon’s cheapest tablet, and with these discounts it’s just $50 more than one of Amazon’s black-and-white readers!
But Amazon’s also offering discounts on their fancier tablet, the Kindle Fire HDX. Its screen has an even higher definition — 323 pixels per inch — plus a camera and a built-in microphone, and a whole lot more storage. The Kindle Fire HDX starts with 16 gigabytes of storage, but there’s also versions with 32 gigabytes and even 64 gigabytes. And for Father’s Day, Amazon’s lowering the price of all of them by $30 — to just $199, $239, and $279!
There’s also an intriguing discount on their newest product, the Amazon Fire TV. If you purchase the $99 device for Father’s Day, Amazon will instantly “kick back” a $15 credit for their Instant Video service. It’s an easy way to connect Netflix to your TV — along with Hulu Plus, and Amazon’s own video-rental service. I would like to be able to search for shows just using my voice — and it’s also part of one of Amazon’s most interesting new discounts.
They’re selling a bundle which includes both the Fire TV device and a high-definition Kindle tablet. You get both products for just $249, which comes out to a savings of $79 (or 25%). And it’s Amazon’s high-end tablet which they’re including in the bundle — the 323 ppi Kindle Fire HDX.
So if you’re looking for gifts for Father’s Day, Amazon’s got some ideas — and some discounts!
June 7th, 2014
It took a while before I finally noticed that had Amazon started releasing some fun (and very useful) new information. It’s always been possible to check Amazon’s list of their best-selling Kindle ebooks (and print books). But now a new page Amazon also reveals their best-selling authors!
It’s called “Amazon Author Rank,” and it’s updated every hour. (I was really touched to see Maya Angelou rising to the #1 last month, as the news spread about her death…) And each author’s name is followed by a list of their most popular books. It’s a great way to find new books to read — and to discover books that other readers enjoy.
I was really surprised by the variety on the list. Amazon’s most popular authors seemed to be writing in entirely different genres. James Patterson was #6 on Saturday morning — the author of mystery thrillers like Unlucky 13 (in a series he’s named “Women’s Murder Club.”) But right below him was Nora Roberts, the romance novelist, whose most popular books are the three Ireland-themed books in “The Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy”.
And the #1 most-popular author on Amazon was the author of some great literary fiction. John Green wrote The Fault in Our Stars, which Time magazine called the best fiction book of 2012, and last month it was chosen by The Today Show as the pick for their virtual book club. It tells the story of two teenagers who both have cancer, “kindred spirits, sharing an irreverent sense of humor and immense charm,” (according to the book’s description at Amazon). Amazon applauds the book for shwoing them bravely facing two enormous challenges at the same time. “Watching them fall in love even as they face universal questions of the human condition–How will I be remembered? Does my life, and will my death, have meaning?–has a raw honesty that is deeply moving.
Of course, Amazon’s list also features Stephen King, whose most popular book hasn’t even been released yet! (When I checked on Saturday, Amazon was touting his new mystery, Mr. Mercedes — even though its release date was Wednesday, June 3rd!) And it’s nice to see that George R. R. Martin is still popular. His most popular book is the Game of Thrones box set — the whole Song of Ice and Fire Series (available on the Kindle for just $19.99)
I’m always looking for new books to read. And it looks like Amazon’s Author Rank is going to be a fun new way to find them!
June 3rd, 2014
There’s a fun new offer from Amazon — a free issue of People magazine for your Kindle Fire tablet! I always wanted to try magazines on my Kindle Fire, but was never sure how they’d look. This is a great way to read a whole issue — all the pictures, and all the text — and enjoy a taste of the famous magazine’s celebrity and human-interest stories.
This offer expires on Friday, June 6th, so it’s a classic “limited time” promotion. The magazine is normally published every week, so the headlines are surprisingly fresh — and of course, a little dishy. (“Sofia Vergara is back on the market, and wedding planning heats up for George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin…”) There’s also a fun look at which celebrities received (honorary) degrees this spring while giving the commencement address at various colleges. And I have to admit that I really enjoyed their list of the top 10 TV shows of the summer. I’ve lost track of what’s on TV these days — because I spend so much time reading my Kindle!
If you’re on the fence, you can actually get four issues of the magazine for free. Amazon offers a 30-day free trial on the Kindle Fire edition of People magazine — and many other magazines, too. (Every magazine in the Kindle Store is always available for free for at least two weeks, to make it easier to try them out.) “You can cancel at any time during your free period, and you will not be charged,” explains a customer service page, which also points out that some magazines only publish on a monthly schedule (and some are bi-weekly). But you can always go back and read past issues, because Amazon stores them all “in the cloud” — archived on Amazon’s servers so you can always download them again.
I think magazines are an exciting but underused feature of the Kindle Fire tablets. Many have been discounted to less than $20 a year, including Men’s Health and Cosmopolitan. For some other family- and health-oriented magazines — including Family Circle and Eating Well — there’s an even cheaper price. If I’m reading this right, you can get a one-year subscription for just $5.
So if you’ve ever wanted to read magazines on your Kindle Fire tablet, now Amazon’s making it really cheap. And in some cases, it’s even free!
May 31st, 2014
Maya Angelou was a great poet, and a widely-loved author of everything from essays and novels to autobiographical memoirs. And when she died last week — at the age of 86 — Amazon created a special tribute to her on the front page of the Kindle Store. They posted a picture of the author, a short blurb, and a link to her first memoir, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”. But they also linked to a longer summary of her life on one of Amazon’s own literary blogs.
“Born Marguerite Ann Johnson in St. Louis on April 4, 1928, Angelou experienced life fully and uniquely,” remembers Amazon’s post, “working as a young woman in strip clubs, on a cable car, as an actress, and as a journalist….” But it’s even more touching to read the comments that were left by readers. “Maya was one of many angels who has circulated love and goodness with her huge heart and wise mind… Thank you Maya for all that you gave and all that you left us.”
As news spread about the death of the poet, something wonderful happened on Amazon. Maya Angelou rose to the #1 spot on Amazon’s list of their most-popular authors. Released recently (and still labeled as “beta”), Amazon Author Rank shows the most popular author each hour, along with their most popular books. Sure enough, Maya’s #1 best-seller was “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”
But readers were also buying The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou, as well as The Collected Autobiographies of Maya Angelou (a massive 1184-page book that gathers together six different memoirs!) And it was touching to see that readers were also buying a special book by the author called Letter to My Daughter. “Dedicated to the daughter she never had but sees all around her, Letter to My Daughter reveals Maya Angelou’s path to living well and living a life with meaning…”
All these books are available on the Kindle — and there’s another wonderful way to remember Maya Angelou. When you purchase their Kindle ebook versions, Amazon’s offering a special price on the audiobook versions of Letter to My Daughter and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which are both read by the author herself! You can hear Maya’s strong, thoughtful voice reading some of her most inspiring writing. “Words mean more than what is set down on paper,” Maya explains in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
“It takes the human voice to infuse them with shades of deeper meaning.”
May 29th, 2014
It feels like the first week of summer, since all across America people just enjoyed a sunny three-day weekend. It’s the last holiday before summer, and it always reminds me that fun times are just around the corner. And whatever you do this summer, Amazon wants to make sure that your Kindle is freshly stocked with new Kindle ebooks. They’ve just created a special “Summer Reading” page — and it’s really fun to browse through Amazon’s list of Summer Reads!
There’s 1,890 books on the list — but Amazon’s broken them down into some interesting categories. There’s recommendations, “books to explore,” young adult beach reads, and “compelling true stories”. And even these categories are broken down further into subcategories. For example, the “Recommended Summer Reads” has an intriguing new section called “Blockbusters”. It’s a page where Amazon’s called out 20 of the most highly-anticipated of the summer — including some new books by some very popular authors!
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
This Tuesday, Stephen King releases a brand new mystery-thriller in which a killer taunts a retired detective who’s still trying to bring him to justice. This 448-page novel delivers all the rich details of Stephen King’s fiction, as well as a complicated game of cat-and-mouse. King actually flashes to the killer’s point of view, and delivers the narration in a “present tense” style which Booklist said makes the story “feel pretty darn fresh. Big, smashing climax, too.” And Amazon notes on the book’s page that Stephen King is already their #1 most popular author not just in the Horror category, but also for writing Contemporary Fiction!
Personal: A Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child
Stephen King once called Jack Reacher “the coolest continuing series character now on offer,” and Reacher is also one of the most popular characters among Kindle readers. The character’s creator, Lee Child, became one of the first five authors to ever sell more than one million ebooks on the Kindle, and according to Amazon, he’s currently their #14 most-popular author. At the end of this summer, he’ll be releasing the newest Jack Reacher novel — and this time, it’s Personal. That’s the name of the book, and it follows an assassination attempt on the President of France. “Only one man could have done it. And Reacher is the one man who can find him…..”
Top Secret Twenty-One: A Stephanie Plum Novel by Janet Evanovich
It’s the 21st novel in this best-selling series of comic mysteries, and this one involves a popular used car dealer who’s out on bail — and missing. There’s dead ends and dead bodies, according to the book’s description at Amazon, and no clues for Joe Morelli (described as “the city’s hottest cop.”) Meanwhile, assassins are targetting bounty hunter Ranger (described as “Stephanie’s greatest temptation“), and somewhere in the mix is a crazy grandmother and a pack of feral Chihuahus. This book will finally be released on June 17th, but it’s already become Amazon’s top 10 best-selling books in their Humorous Fiction category! (And of course, Evanoich has also sold more than one million Kindle ebooks.)
If you just can’t wait until June 17th, Evanovich has also just released a new author co-authored with Lee Goldberg — a “Fox and O’Hare” mystery called The Chase!
Invisible by James Patterson and David Ellis
They thought she was crazy, but Emmy Dockery is convinced that hundreds of unsolved kidnappings and murders are connected. She’s an FBI researcher on a leave of absence — who’s now covering the walls of her bedroom with newspaper clippings about the crimes. Has she found the one piece of evidence that connects them all? More inexplicable murders are piling up in a book that Amazon describes as “James Patterson’s scariest, most chilling stand-alone thriller yet.”
Remember, for a shortcut to Amazon’s page, point your browser to
May 23rd, 2014
I spotted a surprise in Amazon’s app store today. They’re giving away a free $10 credit! Of course, they’re paying you in “Amazon money,” but it’s still a $10 value!
There’s five free apps at that URL — but for each one that you download, Amazon will add a $2 credit to your account. (The credit comes in the form of “Amazon Coins”, the virtual currency Amazon issues for in-app purchases, which can also be redeemed when buying an app). One “Amazon Coin” equals one penny, and if you download all five of these apps, Amazon will give you 1,000 of ‘em. But ignore that extra layer of “abstraction” and just focus on the bottom line. If you download the apps, you get a $10 credit.
One of the five free apps is actually from the Food Network. It offers thousands of recipes, and lets you search based on a specific ingredient you want to use — or even for your favorite chef! And I was really intrigued by the second free app — which is called iHeartRadio. It lets you listen to radio stations live on your Kindle Fire or Android smartphone!
But why are they issuing these credits in Amazon coins? The strategy is to make it seem less like you’re spending real money and more like it’s just fun play pretend money. Forcing people to do this conversion in their head — from Amazon money to real money — makes it harder for people to remember their budget! But if you just download these five free apps, you’re already starting out ahead.
And you’ll end up with $10 worth of free credits to spend in Amazon’s Android app store!
May 21st, 2014
Amazon started in a garage, and grew into an enormous web superstore — and the home of the Kindle. Soon it was attracting amateur authors, and a new world suddenly appeared where everyone could self-publish. But there was another web site offering its own version of the thrill of self-publishing — online.
And last week, they announced that they were going out of business…
Helium.com actually paid its writers in advance — though it was a very small amount. But they also shared any profits earned from online advertising, and guaranteed that however strange your articles were, they would always be read and rated by the other writers at Helium. The best articles for each topic were always listed first, which is where they came up with the name Helium. The very best writing would rise to the top — like a balloon filled with helium.
The thrill of writing was contagious, and several of Helium’s authors ended up publishing (or self-publishing ) Kindle ebooks. And at one point in time, their community included thousands of writers who were earning more than $100 a month. In 2009 Helium’s CEO told a cable news interviewer that Helium could even save the newspaper business. He argued that newspapers could outsource some of their local coverage to Helium’s low-cost community of amateur writers.
It all ended suddenly. “After eight years and well over one million articles, we regret to announce that Helium Publishing will be closing,” they informed their members last week. Google was sending less traffic to the site, and when Helium moved their pages to a new set of domains, it had gotten even worse. Ironically, the founder still made lots of money — by selling his site in 2011 to the big print publisher, R. R. Donnelly. It was rumored that the sale price was $57 million, though they were never able to make the site profitable enough to continue.
Which means that on December 14th, a million articles will instantly vanish from the web.
May 14th, 2014
It took Forbes magazine to track down the head of Amazon’s in-house video production department. But he revealed Amazon’s part in a new trend that’s silently changing the world. Right now Amazon is producing more new TV shows each year than any of the TV networks. And they even have the money to fund the same high-quality productions that you’d find on a premium cable channel like HBO!
It’s just not the same as network TV — and that’s one of the big new changes, according to the producer of Amazon’s Betas. “Creatively, Amazon has left us to our own devices…” he told one technology blog. “[T]hey really wanted us to go for it, which is refreshing without any network shackles of storytelling!” It’s good for viewers — but the mind-boggling thing is this was all willed into existence by one giant shopping web site!
At the center of it all is a poor Amazon executive who has to keep shuttling from Seattle to Los Angeles. (“If you want to make TV shows, you gotta go to L.A.,” he tells Forbes, joking that Alaska Airlines has given him their “MVP Gold” status.) Their profile is fascinating, noting that he started out at Amazon more than 9 years ago, when their video section was just a place for buying DVDs. “I can remember one studio head saying to me… ‘No one is ever going to download one of our movies.’
“And you know, eight months later you have a deal with them…”
It’s a new world now, with streaming video allowing people to watch anything, any time — and sometimes even any where! Price points out that now viewers have a lot of new choices, and “You need to really want to watch the show in modern TV… It’s not about changing the channel anywhere, or just seeing what’s on…” I like how he identifies the specific difference in strategy that these new shows will have to adopt. “A while ago you had to focus more on breadth of enthusiasm rather than depth of enthusiasm…There are shows in the past that were not as distinctive but universally palatable that would have been valuable, but today for us would not be valuable.”
It’s a good time for creative television now — original, high-quality shows with “distinctive” new ideas. And Amazon is even “crowdsourcing” some of that creativity – letting us viewers choose which shows we want to see more of. It makes sense, argues Amazon’s studio director, because that’s how you find the loyal viewers who will care enough about a show to track it down online — and keep coming back to it. And over time, Price predicts, while there may be some show taht fail, a lot of them ” will find something that is distinctive and worth saying and has an audience.”
But will they be profitable? Will advertisers support the shows, or will viewers simply pay to watch them? The whole concept is still in flux, but Amazon Studios’ director seems to think that there’s an answer that will fall into place. “I have no doubt we’ll see a lot of experimentation and artistic success. And then we’ll figure out the business side…”
Of course, there’s a third business model. Amazon’s TV shows are free if you sign up for their “Prime” delivery service. It offers a year of free two-day shipping (and a discount on one-day shipping), but Amazon’s sweetening the deal with a free ebook once a month — plus a library of free video titles. Their original shows are just one more way to lure customers into the one-year program — although Amazon’s studio director see it as creating a stronger bond. “[I]‘s all about providing value for customers, making the service feel unique and distinctive, and having a relationship with customers where they are coming back … Part of the purpose of original content is to get people to really engage with the service.
You can check out Amazon’s TV shows even if your not a Prime subscriber, since the first few episodes of each series are always available online. You can even watch them on the web, if you’re not already watching them on your Kindle Fire tablet. The way that we watch TV is already changing, and we’re headed into an entirely new world. But in the end, it’s a change that we all have a role in. Because the people who get to decide whether Amazon’s video programs are really worth watching are…us!
May 9th, 2014
Kindle means variety — there’s always so many ebooks to choose from. And Amazon surprised me last week with with some of their choices for their “Big Deal” discount event. They’d discounted over 400 Kindle ebooks — and at least a few of their selections were sexy literary classics!
The G-String Murders by Gypsy Rose Lee ($3.99)
Yes, the famous stripper wrote a murder mystery “set in the underworld of burlesque theatre,” according to this Kindle ebook’s description at Amazon. “The G-String Murders was penned in 1941 by the legendary queen of the stripteasers — the witty and wisecracking Gypsy Rose Lee…” The story’s full of twists (and a double murder), as Lolita LaVerne teams up with comic Biff Brannigan and Siggy the g-string salesman, squaring off against corrupt policemen…. It’s part of a special series called Femmes Fatales that’s resurrecting pulp fiction and hard-boiled noir detective tales for a new audience of ebook readers in the 21st century. And through May 11th they’re also discounting another Gypsy Rose Lee murder mystery — called Mother Finds a Body!”
The Graduate by Charles Webb ($1.99)
At the age of 24, Charles Web published the ground-breaking novel which became the legendary movie chronicling a young man’s affair with the predatory Mrs. Robinson. But both the movie and the book were really about alienation, which comes through even more clearly in Webb’s original novel. While it’s laugh-out-loud funny, there’s also real angst, according to one review, as Webb “savors that that tension throughout the book, devoting large sections to rambling dialogue showing Ben’s failure to connect.” It’s fun to see scenes where this dialogue was faithfully recreated in the 1967 movie — as well as the tantalizing additional scenes that were left out!
The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos ($1.99)
This novel won the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for fiction — and when it appeared on the Kindle this November, it included a new afterword by the author! It became a movie and an international best-seller, but I was even more impresed with how one editor at Wikipedia condensed the entire novel into a few juicy sentences. “It tells the story of Cesar Castillo, an aged musician who once had a small amount of fame when he and his brother appeared on an episode of I Love Lucy in the 1950s. The book chronicles Cesar’s last hours as he sits in a seedy hotel room, drinking and listening to recordings made by his band, the Mambo Kings…” And if you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can even read this book for free!
Spider-Man: Big Time by Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos ($1.99)
If you like stories about superheroes, this is one of the best collections of Spider-Man stories I’ve ever read. But there’s some fun looks at Spider-Man’s personal life — including his relationship with a sexy jewel thief named The Black Cat! This graphic novel opens with a great story starring all of the Avengers, but it’s not just Dr. Octopus who’s attacking New York — soon there’s a high-powered new version of the Hobgoblin! (And there’s also a new character who I’d swear was modeled after Steve Jobs.) All 144 pages of this collection appear in full-color on your Kindle Fire tablet — but for many of the new e-ink Kindles, it’s also available in black and white!
May 7th, 2014
I found some funny Kindle ebooks that would make a great gift for Mother’s Day — and a few that definitely wouldn’t! But it got me browsing through Amazon, where I also found some special deals for the upcoming holiday. And Amazon’s also offering discounts of up to $40 on their high-definition Kindles! If you hurry, you can still buy a last-minute gift — especially since for some of them, Amazon is offering free one-day shipping!
For a shortcut to Amazon’s discounted Kindles, point your browser to
tinyurl.com/MothersDayKindle . Amazon’s discounting the Kindle Fire HD to just $119. But if you’re interested in the larger 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDX, Amazon’s reduced its price a full $40, to $339. And for “a limited time,” you can also get the Kindle Fire HDX for just $199 — a $30 savings!
Amazon promises that you can return any Kindle within 30 days for a full refund — but there’s also more Kindle-related deals. Through Sunday, Amazon’s also discounting the accessories for Kindle Fire tablets. “For a limited time, save on covers, screen protectors, and more,” reads a promotion that Amazon’s slipped into the middle of their Kindle Fire pages. For example, a leather standing case for the tablets now costs just $39.99 — a savings of $20.
But Amazon’s come up with a clever way for you to give your mother a last-minute gift. If you order a gift card, they’ll give you free one-day shipping. If your gift card is for $50 or more, they’ll even deliver the card in an attractive (and attractively-wrapped) gift box! And for smaller gift cards, Amazon will deliver them in a pretty card, so you’ll still end up with a nice present.
Of course, Amazon’s also offering free one-day shipping on other Mother’s Day items — like jewelry and watches. But even if you’ve wait until the weekend, Amazon can still get you a gift to give to your mother. They’re offering specially-designed gift cards with a Mother’s Day theme that you can print out (today!) as a gift!
And for some of the cards, they’ll even let you include your own picture in the card. But for an even fancier twist, they’ll let you deliver your digital message gift certificate online — and one of their choices is a full-motion “Video Starring You”. You upload photos of yourself (or your mother) to, in Amazon’s words, star in your own hilarious JibJab video. There’s a rapping mother, a “Drill Sergeant Mom”, and even one offering the “untold story” in which your mother plays the electric guitar, slam-dunks a basketball, and wins the Revolutionary War!
For me, the perfect way to celebrate a holiday is still just reading on my Kindle. But if you’re shopping for a last-minute gift, there’s still time to get one from Amazon!
May 5th, 2014
It’s one of the great things about owning a Kindle: there’s so many things to read! And for the next week, Amazon’s making it even easier, with an event called “The Big Deal”. More than 400 different Kindle ebooks have been discounted through May 11th, so everybody should be able to find something.
I spent at least a half an hour browsing through the entire selection, and here’s some of the ebooks that looked especially interesting…
How Life Imitates Chess by Garry Kasparov ($1.99)
For 20 years he ruled the chess world with some of the highest ratings of any Grandmaster. But in 2007, as he approached middle age, Kasparov turned his mind to a book which “distills the lessons he learned over a lifetime…” according to Amazon, “to offer a primer on successful decision-making: how to evaluate opportunities, anticipate the future, devise winning strategies.” Amazon describes Kasparov’s style as “lively” and “insightful” which touches on memory, intuition, and even the fine art of fantasy. And best of all, you can also pair this ebook with an audiobook partly narrated by Kasparov himself — and then sync the audiobook to the ebook. This let’s you switch from one to the other without losing your place — or to read along while you’re listening to the professional narration!
Bluebeard: The Autobiography of Rabo Karabekian (1916-1988) by Kurt Vonnegut ($1.99)
This isn’t like other Kurt Vonnegut novels. It was published in 1987, shortly before Vonnegut’s 65th birthday, and the introspective novel explores the life of a strange 71-year-old painter. (“I promised you an autobiography,” the painter apologizes in the first chapter, “but something went wrong in the kitchen…”) Amazon describes the book as Vonnegut’s “meditation on art, artists, surrealism, and disaster,” and it’s actually his second novel with his character of the eccentric painter. “Rabo Karabekian” also appeared 14 years earlier in a brief scene in Breakfast of Champions. And through May 11, Amazon is discounting both books to just $1.99 — as well as the Vonnegut novel Deadeye Dick. And there’s also discounts on two fun collections of Vonnegut’s short stories — Welcome to the Monkey-House and Bagombo Snuff Box!
Defining Moments: Stories of Character, Courage and Leadership by Gordon Zacks ($1.99)
One reviewer described these as “Masterpiece snapshots of leadership with mind-blowing take-home value” by an author who “walked the halls of power with the greatest…” At the age of 73, author/activist Gordon Zacks took a look back at the inspiring people he’d worked with over his life. “These stories are first-hand accounts of how people — some famous, some not — followed their passion, lived their purpose, and aspired to be part of something greater than their selves. These people had the courage to seize their moment and make the world a better place, revealing valuable lessons on the path to a more rewarding life.”
The Case of the Moth-Eaten Mink by Erle Stanley Gardner (99 cents!)
It’s a Perry Mason mystery — one of the original novels which formed the basis for Raymond Burr’s classic TV show. Through May 11th, five different Perry Mason mysteries are on sale for just 99 cents. Amazon also discounting The Case of the Velvet Claws, The Case of the Perjured Parrot, The Case of the Foot-Loose Doll, and The Case of the Runaway Corpse. I was surprised to discover that each of the original mysteries were nearly 400 pages long. But each one grapples with one of Perry Mason’s trademark mysteries wrapped in questions of law, like “Did Wealthy Fremont Sabin divorce his wife before his untimely death….?”
Remember, to see all 427 discounted Kindle ebooks, point your browser to