April 12th, 2013
I’ve read some books by former Amazon employees, but this one is special. It’s written by one of the founding members of Amazon’s Kindle team, who “wanted to change the world,” according to the book’s first chapter — “and we did!” In fact, Jason Merkoski was actually the program manager for the Kindle on the day that it launched. This week he’s released a fascinating memoir titled “Burning the Page” with some interesting insights into the future of reading. And to celebrate the launch of his book, Jason’s also demonstrating some brand new ways to blur the boundaries between ebooks and the internet!
Merkoski’s describing his book as recollections of “the time I spent working on the front lines of the ebook revolution.” (On his first day on the job, he’d been treated to “an overhead projection of Jeff Bezos’s head welcoming me to work, telling me to have fun and make history.”) When he later ends up waiting for a meeting in Bezos’s office, Merkoski gazes out the window, and tries to imagine the way Amazon’s founder sees the world. (“He had a telescope in his office and pictures of his kids on the wall…”) At one point Merkoski even calls his book “the true story of the ebook revolution”, and there’s some fun details about life inside Amazon.
But he really digs into the meaning of reading. Merkoski writes at one point that “by crossing the chasms of culture and language [through ebooks], humanity itself becomes connected.” Later he even says boldly that “I think there’s really just one book, the book of all human culture,” and then he describes his own vision of a Facebook for Books, “where all books can interact and link to one another. But it’s not just talk, and over the last three days he’s actually put his ideas into action.
On Twitter and Facebook, Merkoski has already revealed some new experimental tricks that his ebook can perform online — part of “the brave new world of what I call ‘Reading 2.0′”. Friday afternoon Merkoski had a big announcement on Twitter. “Amazon dropped the price on my book – get it now for your weekend reading if you’re interested…” In fact, they’ve lowered the price to just $7.69 (a 23% discount). But it was later that I discovered that Merkoski has also found a unique new way to connect Twitter to his book.
At the end of the first chapter of “Burning the Page”, Merkoski included a link to a social app offering his readers a way of connecting to other readers and the author, plus “surprises all along the way.” He promises it’s a combination of a virtual book club, a chance to interact with the book’s author, and “a thoughtful friend who brings you special notes and treats.” Each chapter ends with a new link, and when readers click on it, there’s another new surprise. It could be a link to unannounced bonus chapters, a personalized autograph, or even “unexpected objects falling out from between the ‘pages’ of the book…” And Merkoski promises that when you finish reading his book, you’ll receive a personalized message from the author himself.
“I look forward to talking to you, because the greatest revolutionaries in the ebook revolution are the readers.”
When you click a link in the ebook, it takes you to your Kindle’s web browser, displaying a message about what your next surprise will be!
The book has some fun passages that make the story of the Kindle seem even more colorful. Later in the book he imagines the workshop where Gutenberg published the first book in 1453 as being a lot like the newspaper printing plant where his own father worked. And soon he’s wondering if Amazon’s Kindle project in the 21st century was also its own high-tech version of Gutenberg’s workshop, “an alternate, over-caffeinated, sugar-high universe.” But I think he sums up the whole experience nicely in one wonderful sentence.
“Yes, I did have fun at Amazon, and I made history.”
April 9th, 2013
Another celebrity died on Monday — Annette Funicello — though if you’re past a certain age, you may not remember her. As a teenager in the 1950s, she became famous on Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club, and in the 1960s found new popularity in drive-in comedies like Beach Blanket Bingo. By the 1970s she was probably best-known as the spokesperson for Skippy Peanut Butter, but she still achieved the status of an icon just by symbolizing a more innocent time. And there’s two ways that she’ll always be connected in my mind to the Kindle — and the world of books.
Annette released a fun and inspiring biography in 1994 — called A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes. She describes the picture-perfect life that she’d had growing up, working with Walt Disney himself, and getting to meet all of her favorite teen idols. She actually spent her 16th birthday with the actor who played Zorro, who carved a big ‘Z’ in the frosting of her birthday cake! There’s some funny stories about her family and her grown-up life too, but the sweet surprises turned dramatic when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
As big as the shock was, “the outpouring of love and support was just overwhelming.” Annette said later she was also gratified to hear from others with the same condition that they’d taken strength from the way she’d come forward about her illness. “They’re not embarrassed to use their canes or to be in a wheelchair because if I can do it, they feel they can too,” she says — building up to the big quote that always brings a tear to my eye.
“Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.”
Her biography was never released as a Kindle ebook, but it’s available as an audiobook, which in some ways is even better. It’s remarkable to hear the familiar voice of Annette Funicello coming out of my Kindle and telling the story of her life — especially one day after she died. This audiobook even has some background music, so it’s very well produced. But Annette actually appeared as part of another strange series of books — nearly 40 years before!
Yes, there was the time in the history of publishing when authors cranked out entire novels — often close to 200 pages long — about movie stars, like Shirley Temple, Gregory Peck, and even Lucille Ball. These were fictional stories, usually mysteries, where one of the characters actually was the movie star. (Take a look at some of these titles…)
Betty Grable and the House of Cobwebs
Ginger Rogers and the Riddle of the Scarlet Cloak
Gregory Peck and the Red Box Enigma
Judy Garland and the Hoodoo Costume
Dorothy Lamour and the Haunted Lighthouse
Shirley Temple and the Spirit of Dragonwood
Shirley Temple and the Screaming Specter
Lucy and the Madcap Mystery
Later, there were even books based on TV shows, like The Munsters: The Great Camera Caper and The Monkees: Who’s Got the Button? There was even a comic novel based on Gilligan’s Island. But I think Annette Funicello probably holds the record for appearing in the most celebrity mysteries — and each one was set in an intriguing location like the Arizona desert, the California mountains, or a glamorous estate.
Annette: Sierra Summer
Annette: Desert Inn Mystery
Annette: Mystery of Moonstone Bay
Annette: Mystery at Smuggler’s Cove
Annette: Mystery of Medicine Wheel
The plots are predictable. (Annette has a friend whose parents will lose their hotel unless Annette can discover the legendary lost treasure — or something like that.) “Each book capitalized on the star’s popularity by featuring a colorful picture of her face on the front cover,” one
collector remembers, “along with eight silhouettes of Annette on the inside covers.” The books were published between 1960 and 1965, and I like how the article notes that Annette “played her part in a forgotten era in American book publishing.”
Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful…
April 6th, 2013
I really loved Roger Ebert. I started watching his movie reviews on TV back when I was in high school, and for decades to come I thought he had the greatest job in the world. He’d just watch movies, and then tell people whether he’d liked them! But Roger Ebert was also an excellent writer, and fortunately, he’s left behind some fantastic Kindle ebooks!
In fact, Ebert was a pioneer in Kindle ebooks. Just two days before his death on Thursday, Ebert announced that he was re-launching his popular web site as “Ebert Digital” — and he’d already begun marketing his movie reviews through Amazon’s Kindle Store. He was always “the people’s critic,” and he’d found a clever way to keep his prices low. Ebert started releasing his movie reviews in special smaller collections which he called “Ebert’s Essentials.” Each ebook had a unique theme, which somehow made them that much more appealing.
For example, six months ago Roger released “30 Movies to Get You Through the Holidays”, a 94-page collection reviewing movies “to watch together to celebrate the season or movies to watch alone to survive the season!” And less than a year ago, the theme was “25 Great French Films” — which included a special treat. If you read the ebook using one of Amazon’s Kindle apps on an iPad, iPod, or iPhone, it included video clips from most of the movies (taken from their promotional trailers). And best of all, both of these ebooks cost less than four dollars.
There were other interesting bargain-priced collections too. Ebert titled his collection about film noir “27 Movies from the Dark Side.” If you wanted something more inspirational, there was also “33 Movies to Restore Your Faith in Humanity”. Even if you’d just been dumped by your boyfriend or girlfriend, Roger Ebert had recommendations for you. Last May he released a special collection of reviews which he called “25 Movies to Mend a Broken Heart.”
Of course, my favorite book by Roger Ebert was probably his collection of negative reviews — “Your Movie Sucks” — and there’s a funny story about where that title came from. Comedian Rob Schneider had taken out full-page ads in Hollywood newspapers back in 2005 just to attack movie critic Patrick Goldstein, who had sharply criticized Schneider’s recent movie Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo. Schneider mockingly suggested that Goldstein wasn’t qualified to critique the movie, since his movie reviews had never won a Pulitzer Prize. “As chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize,” Ebert wrote in his own review in the Chicago Sun-Times, “and so I am qualified. Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks.”
I purchased a copy of the ebook, and soon found I was tempted to highlight nearly every single sentence, because each one of them made me laugh out loud. In a forgotten movie called The 51st State, Samuel L. Jackson played a character named Elmo McElroy. Ebert couldn’t resist warning jokingly that “Only eight of the seventy-four movies with characters named Elmo have been any good…” And writing about The Fantastic Four, he asks, “If you could burn at supernova temperatures, would you be able to stop talking about it? I know people who won’t shut up about winning fifty bucks in the lottery!”
But the best thing about Roger Ebert was that he could make me laugh and smile while simultaneously making some very thoughtful points. In one of his last books — a memoir titled “Life Itself” — he wrote a warm and poignant passage with his theory on why dogs beg for food at the table. “I never met a dog that didn’t beg at the table. If there is a dog that doesn’t, it has had all the dog scared out of it. But a dog is not a sneak thief like a cat. It doesn’t snatch and run, except if presented with an irresistible opportunity. It is a dinner companion. It is delighted that you are eating, thinks it’s a jolly good idea, and wants to be sure your food is as delicious as you deserve. You are under a powerful psychological compulsion to give it a taste, particularly when it goes into convulsions of gratitude. Dogs remember every favor you ever do for them and store those events in a memory bank titled Why My Human Is a God.”
Of course, that passage suggests some of the fondness that went into the cookbook he released in 2010 — which represented a new kind of triumph for the film critic. Ebert’s personal web site had also become hugely popular, and in 2008, a post about rice cookers had generated hundreds of comments. So the 68-year-old writer collected together the best recipe suggestions and comments into a charming 128-page book which, according to its description on Amazon, also includes Ebert’s “discerning insights and observations on why and how we cook”. The book was published just two years ago, showing the famous critic could share his enthusiasm about more than just movies. And a writer at Salon also shares a story about the book’s other significance.
Four years earlier, Ebert fought a fight against cancer which included the removal of his lower jaw. This left the writer unable to speak or eat, which he wrote about openly, treating it like another life experience which held its own fascination. Writing a cookbook “became an exercise more pure, freed of biological compulsion,” he told Salon’s interviewer in 2008. He added that “I think I was somewhat frustrated by not being able to eat and I wanted to live vicariously” — and she notes that he typed the words into his laptop computer, which then spoke them out loud on his behalf.
ABC News ran an article Thursday which added this too onto Roger Ebert’s list of lifetime achievements. “By showing the ups and downs of cancer over the last decade, Ebert…illustrated that cancer patients can continue with life, even if that life is forever changed, said Dr. Michael Neuss, chief medical officer at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, who was not involved with Ebert’s care.
“I think he broadened our understanding of cancer based on his incredible courage and incredible strength and genuine demeanor through this tough time.
“It has to show people that we do treat cancer patients and that things do happen, but you keep going.”
All of Roger Ebert’s Kindle ebooks are available at tinyurl.com/EbertEbooks
April 3rd, 2013
Here’s a new rumor about a truly amazing possibility, like something straight out of a science fiction story about futuristic new technology. Amazon may be working on a super-light Kindle — which may never, ever need to be charged — and which could even be incorporated into transparent surfaces like the windshield of your car! And crazy as it sounds, at least part of the story has already been confirmed. You can actually read Amazon’s description for this new technology online in a patent application that they’ve filed with the U.S. government.
The magic happens by transforming the Kindles that you’d hold into your hand into a simplified “portable display” device, according to the patent. These lighter hand-held Kindles would just need to communicate with another larger “station” which would handle all the heavy computational tasks (like transmitting the text of your Kindle ebooks). This ultimately means your hand wouldn’t have to hold up all the extra computer circuitry that’s required now for displaying ebooks on your Kindle’s screen. But besides transmitting data to your Kindle, these stations might even be able to transmit electricity to your Kindle, meaning that while it’s receiving the text of an ebook, it’s also receiving the power to display it!
But Amazon may have some even bigger ideas besides making lighter Kindles that never need to be charged. The patent was first discovered by the technology blog GeekWire, which first pointed out another big advantage of moving the extra processing power away from the hand-held Kindle devices. “It goes unmentioned in the filing, but another benefit of this approach would be to drive down device costs and prices – a topic near and dear to the heart of Bezos and Amazon.” There’s still a question about who’d pay for those larger stations that transmit the ebooks and electricity, but Amazon’s patent provides the example of a college with “multiple primary stations” installed, so that all across their campus, students could access digital text books, “and may no longer need to carry multiple, heavy books around campus.”
And there’s some even crazier ideas further down into Amazon’s patent — like transmitting data directly into the windshield of your car! The display would be “at least partially transparent or opaque, such that no portion of the windshield is completely blocked and…complies with local traffic laws.” I’d been thinking Amazon would transmit the text of ebooks to the passenger side of the window, but they’re thinking of other kinds of information, according to their patent, including “caller ID information, the temperature outside the vehicle, traffic alerts or any other appropriate information (e.g., nearest gas station, hotel)…”
Even your eyeglasses could start receiving data transmitted from Amazon’s system, according to their patent application. Having a light, simplified device means that “the user can utilize the glasses as a display screen when desired,” Amazon writes. And since that display is receiving data, Amazon’s imagining more than just ebooks being transmitted, and suggests that their devices could ultimately become “an earpiece that allows a user to hear audio information and/or provide audio input.” That sounds like a new kind of phone/Kindle combination that doesn’t even require a phone or a Kindle. And Amazon points out that the station could also transmit power to these devices — possibly creating a new mutant kind of phone which would never need to be re-charged.
It’s a fascinating reminder of just how quickly our world has been changing. (One technology blog speculates that Kindles might even become “as thin as the paper they replaced”.) But it’s even possible that Kindles might disappear altogether, leaving nothing behind but the words from your ebooks, being transmitted into your eyeglasses, your watch, or the windows of your car. I love these “what if” moments, where you wonder what new technologies might be coming in the future.
And it looks like someone else is wondering very seriously about that too. The multi-billion dollar company that invented the Kindle….
April 1st, 2013
I thought it was an April Fool’s Day joke. But instead I got caught disbelieving three strange stories that were actually true!. It just goes to show you how wonderfully unpredictible our world has become since the invention of the Kindle. The first unusual story even involved the President of the United States.
A friend sent me a link to a video on YouTube, saying that if I clicked on it, I’d hear the president of the United States reading a book called Chicka-chicka boom boom. This seemed really unlikely, especially since it was April Fool’s Day, but when I clicked on the link, there he was. Barack Obama was reading the children’s picture book to entertain kids who’d come to the White House yesterday for the traditional Easter Egg Roll. The president even described it as one of his favorite books!
“A told B and B told C, I’ll meet you at the top of the coconut tree,” the story begins. (“Clearly the alphabet is full of a bunch of trouble-makers,” the president ad libs later, as the rest of the letters crowd into the tree, eventually causing them all to come toppling down.) “Skit skat scootle doot, flip flop flee,” the story continues. But of course, the real message of the day was that it’s important for children to read. “If you know how to read, then the whole world opens up to you,” the president tells the children. “So I want everybody to read hard, okay? Read as many books as you can…”
And sure enough, it turns out that book is available as a Kindle ebook.
Story #2 also seemed unlikely. Last week someone claimed that Amazon had thrown around its huge budget, and purchased a book-recommendation web site called GoodReads.com. I’ve used the site — it lets you tell your friends what books you’re reading, and you also suggest books or start discussions about them. Author John Locke even identified it as one of the sites where he promoted his thriller novels — and Locke ultimately became the first self-published author to sell a million books in the Kindle store. (At the time, he was only the 8th author ever to sell one million Kindle ebooks).
I was skeptical that Amazon even knew the site existed — but again, it turns out that I was fooling myself by not believing it. In fact, Amazon had even put out a press release announcing the news just four days before. “Amazon and Goodreads share a passion for reinventing reading…” Amazon’s Vice President of Kindle Content said in the announcement. “Together we intend to build many new ways to delight readers and authors alike.”
I was also dubious of one more story that later turned out to be true — and surprisingly, it came from a site that was actually called Fool.com. I knew that Amazon was rumored to be working on a combination Kindle/smartphone, but it was their headline that really threw me, warning that Amazon might be working on a “Kindle Phablet.” If this were a movie, I would’ve spit coffee all over my screen, blurting out that “Phablet” was the most ridiculous name ever for a new line of products. I know tablets are popular, so every company wants to invent the next generation of tablets, but surely no one would ever merge the words Phone and Tablet, just to imply that a new class of device was absolutely fab-ulous. But it turns out people have been using that term since at least 2012, according to Wikipedia, which even has a whole section with links where technology columnists debate the appropriateness of the word.
Fortunately, I didn’t get them all wrong. When I visited Google today, I noticed they had links not only to Google News, but also to Google NOSE!. (“Google Nose BETA leverages new and existing technologies to offer the sharpest olfactory experience available…”) But don’t worry. My friends assure me that if you fall for an April Fool’s story that turns out to be true, it means that spring will come six weeks earlier this year. Or something like that.
Happy April Fool’s Day, everybody!
March 30th, 2013
Amazon stopped selling the Kindle Touch version of their e-readers back in October. (If you tried to go to its web page, Amazon would simply send your browser over to their web page for the Kindle Paperwhite.) But in a kind of pre-Easter miracle, the Kindle Touch has come back to life. It’s suddenly re-appeared for sale again at Amazon.com.
I’m one of the few people who owns of of each kind of Kindle that Amazon has ever released — and the Kindle Touch has always been my favorite. In 2011 I began building a word game for the Kindle with my friend Jeff, and we’d both bought a variety of used Kindles so we could see how our game performed on the different devices! I also discovered that I really liked the jumbo-sized screens on the Kindle DX, but in the end
my favorite feature was the light weight and easy handling of some of Amazon’s later Kindles. And yet strangely, I never warmed up to the Kindle Paperwhite, so for me the best touchscreen Kindle ever made was its 2011 predecessor, the Kindle Touch.
To be fair, the Kindle Paperwhite got some glowing reviews — pun intended — but there were also a few complaints. Back in October, I noted that after 676 reviews, the Paperwhite had earned an average rating of less than 3 and a half stars on Amazon (out of a possible five), a lower rating than any previous model of Amazon’s black-and-white Kindles. Amazon seemed to be positioning it as “version two” of their touchscreen Kindles, but this just made the Kindle Touch seem more like a “lost Kindle” — the fondly remembered device that you just couldn’t buy any more. For example, one technology site remembers that the Kindle Touch was “the last fully functional device the company released that had speakers and support for audiobooks.” (And the Kindle Touch came with much more storage space — 4 gigabytes — which is double the amount of storage that Amazon built into the Paperwhite….)
I could never get past the glowing screens on the Paperwhite, but that’s probably just because I’m such a fan of Amazon’s e-ink screens. The glow from the Paperwhite just became an annoying reminder that I was still reading on an electronic device, instead of enjoying a book-like page on a naturally-lit, e-ink screen. Again, I know people who love the extra contrast and crispness of the Kindle Paperwhite. (And I still think our Kindle word game still looks absolutely gorgeous on the glowing screens of the Kindle Paperwhite…) But my favorite Kindle — out of all the ones Amazon ever made — was always the Kindle Touch.
And yet, one dark day in October, people began to notice that the Kindle Touch was now listed as “unavailable” at Amazon.com. (Along with a warning that “We don’t know when or if this item will be back in stock.”) That seemed like the end of the Kindle Touch — forever.
Which is why I’m so excited that the Kindle Touch is back on sale again at Amazon.com.
March 27th, 2013
People have been worrying about this for more than a year — ever since Amazon came out with their color, touchscreen Kindle Fire tablets. Amazon’s insisted that they remain commited to their black-and-white Kindles too, but CNN is reporting that other manufacturers of digital readers might not be so lucky. “As tablets boom, e-readers feel the blast,” reads the headline in CNN’s “Games and Gadgets” section. The popularity of tablet devices may be hurting sales of black-and-white “readers”.
They point to the dramatic collapse recently in sales of the Nook. (Barnes and Noble apparently reported that for the last three months of 2012, their Nook division actually earned 26% less than it had the previous year.) At first I’d thought the Nook was just losing its customers to Amazon’s own Kindle readers. But CNN cites some technology analysts who have a different theory.
“It’s not that the Nook failed,” argues one analyst from Forrester Research. “It’s that the world of tablets exploded…” The Kindle Fire and iPad-style tablets have proven more popular than anyone expected, and they’re now becoming a regular part of our lives and the way we use computers — “not just a handy device to consume a bit of media.” It’s strange to remember that the very first iPad was released less than three years ago. But CNN gives Amazon credit for proving that other companies could also successfully sell their own tablets, inspiring even more companies to enter the market.
Google entered the tablet market soon after with the Nexus 7, and CNN believes that the Kindle Fire “likely nudged Apple” into building a smaller iPad Mini. The end result is that there’s a tablet for every budget. But that may also make people less interested in buying a black-and-white reader that’s dedicated mostly just for ebooks, the article concludes — adding “this trend has been particularly unkind to the Nook.”
But could the Kindle suffer the same fate, losing its audience to the fancier color touchscreen tablets? CNN posed the question to another well-respected technology research firm called Gartner, who acknowledged that “It’s a rough market.” But he seemed to think it was rougher for companies which aren’t named Amazon. The iPad dominates the market for high-end tablets, and in the rest of the market, Amazon’s Kindle “brand” has already established itself. If I’m reading this right, he’s saying that the lower demand for black-and-white readers actually helps Amazon, because it makes it harder for new competitors to establish themselves against Amazon.
Of course, not everyone wants a multi-functional device that does more than display ebooks. (My girlfriend refuses to install any games on her Kindle, because she’s worried that she’ll then start endlessly playing those games — instead of reading on her Kindle, which is what she really loves doing!) But on the other hand, sometimes it’s hard for me to even remember what the world was like before the Kindle came along.
Just imagine how much the world could change again over the next five years — especially if people decide to start reading more their ebooks on tablet computers!
March 25th, 2013
There’s so many interesting things happening in the Kindle world, and I want to share as many of them as I can. So here’s another collection of my favorite recent Kindle news stories — awarding “Cheers” to the most exciting and interesting stories for Kindle owners, along with some occasional “Jeers” for at least one funny misstep!
Cheers to Amazon for Discounting Magazines
Looking for something new to read on your Kindle? I was thrilled to see that for the rest of March, Amazon’s offering discounts of up to 87% on more than 20 different magazines. (Just point your web browser to tinyurl.com/KindleMagazineDeals ) For just $7.49, they’re offering a one-year digital subscription to Maxim, Family Circle, or the Ladies’ Home Journal, and Every Day with Rachel Ray is just $4.99. And they’ve also discounted Popular Science, Field & Stream, ESPN Magazine, and 17 other magazines!
Jeers to Amazon’s Auto-Rip
Actually, I was delighted when Amazon announced a new service back in January which brought more music to my Kindle Fire tablet — for free. Whenever you buy a qualifying music CD from Amazon, they now automatically add free digital versions of every song into Amazon’s “Cloud Player”, so you can listen to it on your Kindle Fire tablet (as well as on the web, and in their Amazon MP3 apps.) And to inaugurate this new feature, I discovered, Amazon actually went back in time, and delivered digital versions of all the songs I’d purchased for more than 10 years — which I’m still listening to right now on my Kindle Fire tablet.
So I was really excited about the new feature — but at the technology site Slashdot, one of the commenters wasn’t as enthusiastic, and came up with a good reason to give Amazon some good-natured jeers. “The biggest flaw,” he posted, “is that I now have mp3s for CDs I gave as gifts. Unfortunately, my friends and relatives seem to have different music taste than I do, so now I have the Chicago soundtrack and Hannah Montana mp3s!”
Cheers to Free Comedies coming from Amazon
Amazon’s already letting users watch thousands of videos for free on their Kindle Fire tablets (or through the web) if they’re subscribers to Amazon’s Prime shipping service, including classic TV shows like the original Star Trek and Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. But soon even if you’re not a Prime subscriber, Amazon’s going to have some free videos for you to watch — and in fact, Amazon’s producing it themselves! Amazon recently announced that they’re creating six original comedy series for their members to watch free on Amazon’s Instant Video site — selected from more than 12,000 proposals that were submitted to “Amazon Studios.” . The comedies will include one by Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau — titled Alpha House — which follows four Senators in Washington D.C. who end up living together in the same rented house. And Browsers will be a comedy by Daily Show writer David Javerbaum (directed by Don Scardino from 30 Rock ). Amazon will even be present a new comedy from one of the internet’s oldest comedy sites, The Onion, titled — what else? — The Onion Presents: The News!
Cheers to Photos for Book Lovers
This last link was too beautiful not to share, because let’s face it — we love our Kindles because we love reading. So it was a real delight to see photos of some of the world’s most gorgeous bookshelves. In 2009, someone even created a web site called Bookshelf Porn “showcasing the best bookshelf photos from around the world” — and some of them are absolutely gorgeous. (See the photo at the top of this blog post!) The site has now been featured in articles by book-lovers everywhere (including The New Yorker), and Time magazine even named it one of the best blogs of 2012. I always get a kick out of browsing their gorgeous photos — some submitted by readers — of the most breathtaking bookshelves from around the world.
And for even more fun, they’ve included a link which delivers a randomly-choosen photo from their archive over the last four years at BookShelfPorn.com/Random.
March 21st, 2013
Wow! Wouldn’t it be awesome if you got a color, touchscreen Kindle Fire tablet — with an HD screen — for just $99? And one well-respected technology blog reported just that possibility on Wednesday. “We’re now hearing that a $99 Kindle Fire 7″ tablet is in production, and will be shipping this year,” wrote Sarah Perez at the technology blog TechCrunch.
But just hours later, a business news blog was reporting that Amazon had already issued an official denial of that report. “It’s not happening,” BusinessInsider quotes Amazon as saying. “We are already at the lowest price points possible for that hardware.” Of course, BusinessInsider had already run their own story about the possibility of a $99 high-definition Kindle Fire Tablet — citing as their source that first blog post which appeared on TechCrunch. It now appears below Amazon’s official denial, and BusinessInsider is probably glad they’d added a few skeptical sentences (noting, for example, that TechCrunch had called the story a “rumor” that she was “hearing”.)
It’s a really fun idea, though, so I enjoyed reading the rest of the analysis from BusinessInsider. (“It’s a stunning price point, but it’s not totally crazy from Amazon…”) They note that TechCrunch reported Amazon may have gotten a discount on the chips for their tablets, and adds that “it’s not hard to envision Amazon selling a Kindle Fire tablet at or just below its manufacturing cost.” BusinessInsider‘s best estimates are that Amazon spends $174 to build the 7-inch version of their tablets, but their reporter also notes that Amazon’s CEO “says he wants to make money when people use a Kindle, not when they buy one.
“This makes Amazon completely different than Apple, which makes money on hardware, and picks up some additional revenue from apps and content…”
It’s almost obligatory for articles like this to ask who wins and who loses. Microsoft and Google would both be threatened by a $99 tablet, BusinessInsider concludes, because neither company has significant traction yet in the market for selling tablets. Apple wouldn’t be threatened now, but “In the long run, like in five years, it will be a problem for Apple because the price of an Amazon tablet isn’t going up. The software and hardware aren’t going to get worse, they’re only getting better.” And what’s fascinating is that all of that is absolutely true, even if Amazon isn’t releasing a $99 version of their high-definition Kindle Fire tablets.
Inevitably, reporters have to play these elaborate games of “What if…?”, because it’s all part of sorting out whether the rumor really is plausible. But it’s also a fun exercise on its own, reminding us that we do indeed living in interesting times, where you really never know what’s coming next. Wow! Wouldn’t it be awesome if you got a color, touchscreen Kindle Fire tablet — with an HD screen — for just $99?
Yes, it would….
March 20th, 2013
You’ve found an interesting web page, and you want to read it on your Kindle. There’s been tricks in the past that could make that happen — but Amazon’s just relased their own slick, official solution. Now any web site on the internet can just add a “Send to Kindle” icon right to their pages. Clicking that icon brings up a window with a preview of the article, along with a big yellow “Send” button that will deliver it straight to your Kindle!
You can try out the new icons on the web pages at Time magazine’s site (Time.com). But that’s just the beginning, because Amazon’s also created some other fun ways to send web pages to your Kindle, as well as documents off your own hard drive, and even documents on your smartphone! So even if a web site hasn’t included “Send to Kindle” icons, Amazon’s also offering some other options. Amazon’s collected them all together into a special “Send To Kindle” web page.
For example, Amazon’s created a special “extension” for two of the most popular web browsers — Firefox and Chrome — with promises that they’re also working on a third extension for Apple’s Safari browser. “We just send the content you want, and not the distractions,” Amazon brags — meaning that they’ve eliminated most of the banner ads that usually accompany web pages (along with at least some of the images that are part of the article). And I like how the articles are formatted like a book instead of a web page (Meaning you flick your finger to the right to advance to the next page, rather than swiping it down to move lower on one single continuous page.)
The best thing about the browser extension is it’s easy to use. It just puts a cute little “K” icon to the right of the search window, and you click that to bring up a window which will either send or preview the web page first. If you have more than one Kindle, Amazon gives you checkboxes where you can select which Kindles should receive the web page. And there’s even a checkbox to select whether you also want the web page to be stored in your Kindle’s “Archive” collection.
But Amazon has more some fun options, if you want to send your Kindle even more things to read. Their “Send To Kindle” web page reminds you that it’s always been possible to e-mail a document to your Kindle, just by finding its e-mail address as Amazon.com/MYK. Even PDF files and Microsoft Word documents will be converted into a Kindle-friendly format. (I had a lot of fun sending cute pictures of my dog to the Kindle, just to see how he’d look when the pictures were converted into black and white.) And Amazon’s even got a way to send documents to your Kindle from your smartphone or tablet! As long as it’s running the Android operating system, Amazon’s app can convert those documents into a Kindle-ready format and deliver them to your Kindle’s home page.
You don’t even need a Kindle to read the documents, since you can also pull them up on your Kindle App. I was disappointed that “Send to App” wasn’t one of the choices that Amazon gave me in the settings for their Send-To browser extension. But if you select the checkbox that stores the article in your Kindle’s “Archive” collection, it should still be accessible from the Kindle Apps. And on their web page, Amazon makes a point of reminding users that you can even use Kindle apps on an iPad, an iPhone, or an iPod Touch.
“Reading your documents and web content on Kindle is now easier than ever,” Amazon brags at the top of their web page, and they’ve come up with a catchy four-word slogan that sums it all up.
“Send Once, Read Everywhere!”
March 18th, 2013
I love my Kindle — but there’s now of fascinating rumors about new ebook-reading devices that will be coming from Amazon. We’ve already heard how Apple might be building a watch with an iPhone-like interface. But now there’s reports that seem to confirm that Amazon’s building its very own smartphone!
In December Amazon had already placed orders for 5 million Kindle-branded smartphones, according to one technology blog. It could be as cheap as $100, and no more than $200, according to the report — so you could get a Kindle-branded phone for about the cost of one of Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets. And it’s being developed by the same people who have been producing Amazon’s Kindle e-readers (and their Kindle Fire tablets). That’s the good news — but unfortunately, Amazon “may not be able to release its first smartphone in the second quarter of 2013 as originally scheduled” (according to sources within the supply chain for Amazon’s electronic parts).
Right now they’re conducting “engineering verification testing” to work out some issues — which at least one hardware blog concludes must be related to porting the Kindle operating system to a phone. The theory is that Amazon is adapting the same version of the Android operating system that they’ve been using with their Kindle Fire tablets. Amazon’s smartphone is one of those in-demand products which has never actually been released. “The device was expected to be among the latest batch of Kindle Fire tablet refreshes last fall,” notes the hardware blog, “but that never happened.” In fact, Amazon may be less worried about Apple, and more about Microsoft. The blogger reports the general presumption at the time was that Amazon “was waiting to tackle Microsoft’s own Surface-branded offering until the first report of delays began to surface.”
Here’s my favorite part of his story. He notes that Amazon has never, ever actually said that they’re building a smartphone — “but it hasn’t denied its existence either.” In fact, on a recent interview on the Charlie Rose talk show, Amazon’s CEO was asked point-blank whether the rumors were true, and a he gave a less than convincing denial. “I agree that there are a bunch of rumors that we might do a phone,” Jeff Bezos replied.
“You’ll just have to wait and see.”
March 14th, 2013
Amazon’s just lowered the price on their large-screen Kindle Fire HD tablets! Now the 8.9-inch tablets are just $269 (for the Wi-Fi only version), and $399 for the version with built-in connectivity to Amazon’s 4G wireless network. Len Edgerly, who does the Kindle Chronicles podcast, described it as “big developments for Amazon’s biggest Kindle Fire HD model”. And Amazon’s also announced that these large-screen tablets will now also be available in England, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Japan.
Amazon calls the 8.9-inch tablets “our highest resolution, largest high-definition display”, and in a press release Wednesday they bragged that it’s “perfect for web, apps, movies, games and magazines.” My girlfriend complains that the 7-inch version of the Kindle Fire tablet is too small for enjoying a big-budget Hollywood movie, but these larger tablets also have dual stereo speakers with Dolby audio, which according to Amazon will deliver a “crisp, rich sound”. There’s even a front-facing camera for taking high-definition photos and making video phone calls. And there’s an extra significance in the way Amazon is now releasing these high-def tablets to the rest of the world.
Less than two months ago, a research firm noted that the Kindle Fire “practicaly doesn’t exist” outside the United States. Localytics had determined that 89% of all of Amazon’s tablets where in America, with most of the rest were in the United Kingdom, “After those two, no other country has even one percent of worldwide Kindle Fires,” their report concluded. But where Amazon had made their tablet available, it had been a big success — for example, in America, where Amazon’s Kindle Fire made up one-third of the entire market for Android tablets.
Based on that, the researchers concluded that if Amazon comes up with a good plan for distributing their tablets globally, Amazon “could quickly dominate the Android tablet market worldwide!“
March 12th, 2013
There’s a fascinating new rumor about Amazon’s plans for the Kindle. One of the top technology sites argues that now that Amazon has brought their ebook-reading technology to the world of tablets and smartphones, “The car is the logical next step, considering how much time people spend their automobiles on their daily commutes and simply running errand.” Writing for the blog GigaOm Kevin Fitchard makes the point that it’s not just readers who would be excited about the technology. In the competitive world of car-selling, “The automakers would fall all over themselves lining up to support it!”
It’s not as far-fetched as it seems. Less than two months ago, Amazon integrated its music-playing capability into the dashboards on new Ford cars. It’s the same “Amazon Cloud Player” technology that already lets your Kindle Fire tablet play any music purchased digitally from Amazon’s store. (And because the music is stored on Amazon’s servers, you can also listen to that same music through Amazon’s web site, as well as on their Amazon Mp3 smartphone apps.) “Recognizing that the car is a perfect vehicle for mobile apps, Ford launched a new developer program…” reported GigaOm in January, “and announced nine new smartphone apps for its Ford Sync platform.” Besides Amazon’s Cloud Player, the voice-controlled apps included three broadcast and internet radio services — Rhapsody, Aha Radio, and Greater Media — plus on-demand audio programming from The Wall Street Journal and USA Today, plus a selection of magazine articles from a service called Kaliki.
Of course, no one should be reading ebooks while they’re driving, but Amazon is already well-positioned to deliver those same ebooks as audiobooks. They own Audible.com, of course, but more importantly, they’ve also introduced a special audiobook feature called WhisperSync for Voice. Now if you’re reading the text of an ebook on any Kindle, you can instantly switch over to its audiobook version in a Kindle app, and the audiobook’s narrator will continue reading right where you left off! Since Amazon has already created this service, “It would be cinch for Amazon to integrate that technology into the car,” writes the blogger at GigaOm.
My favorite part of his article was when the blogger tried to confirm the rumor with Amazon. “While an Amazon spokesperson confirmed that the company today has the technology to seamlessly switch between book formats, Amazon wouldn’t comment on any future connected car plans.” That’s the classic spokesperson response — neither confirming nor denying — and the spokesperson even spelled that out specifically, saying that “as a matter of policy Amazon doesn’t comment on future product plans.”
But the blogger also notes that Honda’s cars already include a library of audiobooks, and the automakers have been quick to add lots of other audio services to their “connected” car dashboards. So it may not be long before you really will start seeing a Kindle in your car dashboard.
March 10th, 2013
I couldn’t believe it. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins includes three of Amazon’s top 100 best-selling Kindle ebooks. And suddenly, bloggers noticed this week that the entire trilogy had been discounted to just $5.00!
In print, all three books would normally cost you $53.97, Amazon points out on their web page — and even the three ebooks would cost $48.97 — so this represents a savings of over 91%. I don’t know how long this sale is going to last, but it’s been going on since Thursday. In fact, The Hunger Games Trilogy has now become the #1 best-selling ebook in the Kindle Store.
Individually, the three ebooks in the trilogy “have been on the best seller list for over 900 days,” notes a bargins blogger at MyFrugalAdventures.com, “which is just nuts!” Though she wasn’t sure she’d like the futuristic fantasy about teenagers who fight to the death, “I read all 3 of these books in one week which is crazy. I literally couldn’t put them down!” And the series has also been especially popular with Kindle owners. In 2011, their author — Suzanne Collins — became only the sixth author to ever sell more than one million ebooks in Amazon’s Kindle Store.
Later that year, I discoved that she’d also become the most-highlighted author in the Kindle Store, with three of 10 most-highlighted passages. (In fact, she also wrote 13 of the 100 most-highlighted passages.) And on a second list Amazon had created showing the most-highlighted passages from the recent past, Collins was the undisputed champ, with quotes from her books claiming six of the top 10 spots! Over the next 12 months, her series became even more popular with the release of a Hunger Games movie, and it was almost exactly one year ago that Amazon made a special announcement: Suzanne Collins had become the Kindle’s all-time best-selling author.
And now you can buy her entire for just $5.00!
For a shortcut to the discounted ebooks, just point your browser to tinyurl.com/HungerGamesEbooks.
March 7th, 2013
I see alot of interesting stories about Amazon’s Kindle, and it seemed like it’d be fun to do a special “lightning round”, taking quick note of both the best and the worst stories from the last few weeks. There’s at least one heart-warming story, one provokative developments, and at least a few people who are definitely deserving of some jeers. In fact, I wanted to make this list partly just so I could give a special jeer to all of the authors cited in this story in the Wall Street Journal.
Jeers to the “Authors Who Buy Their Way Onto Best-Seller Lists
About 10 days ago, the Journal published a startling expose of a company called ResultsSource, which promises authors that it can deliver specific sales milestones, including “over 100,000 copies sold” or even an appearance on the best-seller list. The article cites publishing industry insiders who are worried that “bulk purchases are being made to appear like single sales to qualify for inclusion in best-seller lists,” and even when the books drop off the best-seller list, it still becomes a credential that the authors can tout as they hunt for speaking and consulting gigs. For one business book, more copies were later returned in a single week than were sold in that same week, which was still a win for the author since he’d already reached the best-seller list. At least one author admitted he’d paid between $20,000 and $30,0000 for an artifical boost to his book sales — though I should probably also award Cheers here to Amazon, who told the Journal that they were no longer willing to do any business with ResultSource. But…
Jeers to Amazon for deleting eBooks from their App
Amazon had just wanted to update the Kindle app they’d created for Apple’s iOS — but for a short time last week, a bug apparently actually deleted the ebooks which had already been downloaded into the app. “Now I have to upload over 130 books from the cloud,” one user complained to the technology blog Mashable, which also reports that Amazon eventually updated their update to fix the problematic behavior.
Cheers to Uma Thurman
I didn’t want to let the week go by without acknowledging one of my favorite, heart-warming stories. Last Friday movie actress Uma Thurman read The Cat in the Hat to more than 250 schoolchildren — many of whom were wearing special red and white-striped hats just like the cat in Dr. Seuss’s book. It was all part of “Read Across America” Day, which boasts 45 million participants, as a partnership between the Random House, the National Educationa Association, and Dr. Seuss Enterprises. (Each child in Manhattan got a free copy of The Cat in the Hat.) But there’s some fun footage of the event on the NEA’s web site (at NEA.org ) which includes a clip from Manhattan’s public library showing Thurman delivering an especially dramatic rendition of the children’s classic.
“I saw there with Sally, we sat there we too, and I said, ‘How I wish we had something to do…’”
Cheers for the funny “Kindle at the beach” ad.
I love Amazon’s TV ads for the Kindle, and when I first saw this one on TV, it felt like another one I’d already seen before, where a man and a woman at the beach discuss how it’s still possible to read on a Kindle in the sun. It’s a shot at the iPad (and other tablets), which reflect the glare of the sun when you’re trying to read at the beach — but this ad ends with a surprising twist. The man buys himself a Kindle, and then turns to the woman and says “We should celebrate.”
My husband’s bringing me a drink right now,” she tells him.
“So’s mine!” the man replies.
You can watch the whole thing at YouTube.com/Kindle, along with all of Amazon’s other Kindle ads — including another 30-second ad with no dialogue at all — just 30 seconds of people reading their Kindles at the beach!