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
May 2nd, 2014
Last year they made a movie about trying to land a job at a high-tech company, just to enjoy all of its amazing perks. But this week Amazon’s CEO revealed some of their own employee benefits, and they’re absolutely mind-boggling. What’s it like working at Amazon? They’ll give you money for taking classes that can help you get a better job somewhere else, and when you finally quit, they’ll give you thousands of dollars more!
And there’s also some very strange perks that could only happen on a Kindle…
Here’s Amazon’s original list of employee perks. But it was just last Thursday when Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, shared some wild new stories about how Amazon’s been “empowering” their employees. In a detailed letter to shareholders, Bezos revealed that now Amazon will actually pay 95% of an employees tuition for classes in high-demand fields like nursing or airplance mechanics. Wait a minute — are those skills even relevant to careers at Amazon? No! That’s what’s so stunning about this program. “The goal is to enable choice,” Bezos explains, since for some employees Amazon’s just going to be a stepping stone to a job somewhere else, and “If the right training can make the difference, we want to help.”
But there’s an even more drastic program which takes this philosophy to the extreme. The name of the program is “Pay to Quit,” and it’s exactly what it sounds like. “Once a year, we offer to pay our associates to quit,” Bezos explains. First it’s $2,000, and then the next year it’s $3,000, and then $4,000 the next year — all the way up to $5,000. “The headline on the offer is ‘Please Don’t Take This Offer’,” Bezos explains, but it encourages employees to really think about what they’re wanting from their careers. “In the long-run, an employee staying somewhere they don’t want to be isn’t healthy for the employee or the company.”
And to keep employees even more happy, Amazon let’s many of them work from their homes. For example, if you’re calling Amazon’s Kindle support line, they may end up answering your call from their own apartment! “This flexibility is ideal for many employees…” Bezos points out, either because they have young children, or just because they prefer working from home! Just keep that in mind the next time you press the Mayday button on your Kindle Fire HDX — because you may be seeing video of an Amazon support staffer from their very own home!
In fact, that led to the strangest stories in Bezos’s letter — about some of those only-on-a-Kindle moments. Imagine being the Amazon employee who answers a customer’s call for help, only to discover that their question is: Will you marry me? This has happened 35 different times, according to Bezos. And another 648 times, Amazon employees have answered a Mayday call, only to discover that the caller wanted to sing them a song!
And sometimes the request is even stranger: Can you read me a bedtime story? “Pretty cool,” says Bezos — who points out that that’s happened at least 3 different times. Will you sing me “Happy Birthday”? That’s happened at least 44 times. I don’t know what’s stranger — the fact that customers are making these strange requests, or that Amazon is counting the number of times that it happens. According to Bezos, there have been 109 different times when a customer’s contacted Amazon’s Mayday support line to ask: “Can you help me order a pizza?”
And Bezos points out that — by a very slim margin — customers prefer ordering from Pizza Hut instead of Domino’s.
April 28th, 2014
Today I took another look at Amazon’s discounted ebooks for the month of April — and I was stunned by how many more ebooks were on sale that I actually wanted to read! Yes, Amazon chooses over 100 ebooks each month to discount to “$3.99 or less”. But this month’s selection just seemed unusually good!
Here’s some of the titles that I thought were especially intriguing…
Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies by J.B. West ($1.99)
For 28 years, J.B. West worked at the White House — a witty and discreet man who coordinated all the day-to-day details for the presidents, their first ladies, and the rest of their families. Jackie Onassis called him “one of the most extraordinary men I have ever met,” and when he finally published a memoir, it sold millions of copies and became a New York Times bestseller. Now available as a Kindle ebook, this 381-page classic begins with stories about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, as well as Harry and Bess Truman and Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower. It’s nice to get a personal glimpse at the lives of the people in power, and West remained in the White House through 1969, so his book also contains some very dramatic stories about the end of the Kennedy administration, as well as the transition to president Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife Lady Bird (and ends with the arrival of president Richard M. Nixon). “Mr. West takes the high road, and we get to enjoy the view with him,” writes one reviewer on Amazon. “Well done, Mr. Chief Usher!”
The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice by Jennifer Paynter ($1.99)
Another fresh twist on Pride and Prejudice tells the story of Elizabeth’s younger sister, “marginalized by her mother, and ridiculed by her father.” You may remember the quiet and “plain” who just wanted to read books, but in this new 440-page novel, author Jennifer Paynter imagines Mary finding her own intense feelings — for an impoverished young local fiddle player. Amazon’s description calls this book “elegant” and “graceful”, offering its own new look at Jane Austen’s familiar themes. “It is only after her sisters tease her about her ‘beau with the bow’ that Mary is forced to examine her real feelings and confront her own brand of pride and prejudice…”
Ball Four by Jim Bouton ($1.99)
This rollicking memoir by baseball player Jim Bouton became the best-selling sports book of all-time for its wild and funny stories about the major leagues — though it was extremely controversial when it was first published in 1970. (Bouton remembers when the San Diego Padres “burned the book and left the charred remains for me to find in the visitors clubhouse…” adding that “All that hollering and screaming sure sold books!”) Bouton describes Ball Four as “the kinds of stories an observant next-door neighbor might come home and tell if he ever spent some time with a major-league team,” and one of his teammates described Bouton as “the first fan to make it to the major leagues”. Bouton went from pitching in the World Series with the New York Yankees to Seattle’s forgotten expansion team (the Seattle Pilots ) before being traded to the Houston Astros — but he collects together all the lore and the secret taboos of professional baseball in what Time magazine once called one of the 100 greatest non-fiction books ever published.
The New Avengers, Vol. 1: Breakout by Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch ($1.99)
What would happen if every comic book super-villain broke out of prison at the same time? Spider-Man is about to find out, along with Captain America, Iron Man, Wolverine, Luke Cage, and Spider-Woman. It’s six issues of The New Avengers, presented in full color on Kindle Fire tablets (and any Amazon Kindle app), and also in black-and-white for the Kindle Touch and Kindle Paperwhite. And one reviewer notes one of the best things about this collection: “it is funny. Laugh out loud funny!”
you can always point your browser to:
April 26th, 2014
“See what happens after you click buy,” teases a new web page at Amazon. At six different fulfillment centers across the United States, you can now take a tour!
The tours happen on the first and third Tuesday of every month, between 10 a.m and 2 p.m. (“Come see the magic…” urges Amazon on web page.) On Thursday, Amazon surprised the world by announcing the new tours during their standard quarterly earnings call. You can now visit Amazon facilities in California, Virginia, Arizona, Tennessee, Delaware, and Indiana…
The tours take approximately 60 minutes (though spots are limited, and you’re required to claim your spot with an online form). And if you’re thinking of arranging a field trip, Amazon suggests that the “optimal” size for a tour group is 30, though “we can accommodate larger groups, if needed.” If you’re bringing your children, Amazon requires all visitors to be over the age of 6. And if you’re wondering what to wear, here’s Amazon’s official response. “We ask guests to wear closed-toe shoes without heels…”
Imagine tromping around the warehouse where Amazon ships out all their goodies. (It’s almost like visiting Santa’s workshop, since this is where most Christmas gifts really come from…!) But it’s also a strong push by Amazon to win the hearts of America’s consumers. They’re transforming themselves from a giant, faceless corporation into a good neighbor in your community who employs folks just like you!
“Our fulfillment network hired more than 20,000 full-time employees last year,” reads the headline on Amazon’s tours page, “creating jobs and opportunities across the United States.” Another infographic points out that working in one of their fulfillment centers is “Safer than a department store.” (The number of illnesses and injuries reported at Amazon’s warehouses is 51% lower than at a general warehouse, and 33% lower than at a department store.) And Amazon wants you to know that they actively recruit U.S. veterans, and give grants to community organizations…
Amazon may become the most powerful company in the world, conquering the supply chains for virtually every single consumer product, and displacing every store in your local community. Not just retail stores, but also grocery stores, and even pet food stores, movie theaters, and of course, bookstores. “We continue to create jobs across the country,” Amazon says cheerily — and a little defensively — on their tours page. But whether you love them or hate them, either way it’s now possible to at least take a peek behind the curtain and see what’s happening for yourself.
The tours are already proving to be very popular. “An attempt Thursday to book a visit resulted in initial slots in September,” notes one reporter in San Bernardino, “and a follow-up e-mail indicated the dates requested were no longer available.” He then contacted a spokesperson at AMazon who told him that “We’ve had a great response from the community in San Bernardino.
“We’re excited for customers to be able to come see firsthand what happens after they click buy on Amazon…”
April 22nd, 2014
Amazon’s been tinkering for years, and this month they finally revealed some very big new products. It’s blurring the lines between your Kindle Fire tablet, your TV, and even your kitchen. We’re living in a new world — as evidenced by the fact that state attorney generals have now actually procured refunds for customers affected by alleged price-fixing by the publishers of ebooks. Here’s four of the biggest news stories I’ve seen that convinced me thing some very big changes have started happening right now — another collection of my favorite recent Kindle (and Amazon) news stories. And for each one, I’m awarding “cheers” if the story is a genuinely exciting development — and “jeers” if it feels like another funny misstep!
Cheers for Amazon Fire TV
I was stunned when I heard the news. For $99, Amazon would sell you a device that streams Netflix, Hulu, and other video services directly to your TV. “Tiny box, huge specs, tons of content, incredible price,” bragged the CEO of Amazon, and they’ve even optimized it to pre-download the shows it thinks you’ll want to watch next for faster streaming. Plus, you can broadcast video from your tablet or phone directly onto your big-screen TV (as well as your own home movies and photographs), besides renting new movies from Amazon’s own video store, and there’s also free streaming of music from popular music apps like Pandora (and of course, Amazon’s Cloud Player). There’s even a feature that gives you the option of displaying a song’s lyrics while you’re listening to it — and with an optional controller, you can even play popular games on your TV — includine Minecraft and Despicable Me: Minion Rush!
Jeers to Amazon’s Gary Busey Campaign
Amazon’s CEO also pointed out that if you’re looking for a specific show, their Amazon Fire device comes with “Voice search that actually works means no more typing on an alphabet grid!” Fair enough — but they’ve unveiled a truly bizarre ad campaign to promote their new device…starring Gary Busey! (“If you’re like me, you like talking to things. Like, ‘Hello Lamp…’ “) The ad shows the 69-year-old actor — who was nominated for an Oscar in 1978 — as a crazy and volatile, yelling at his TV to “find Gary Busey,” only to reveal that that’s now actually possible with the new Amazon Fire device. It’s a good way to convey Amazon’s point — that “it’s frustrating when things don’t listen. Especially high tech things…” But I have to admit that I was a little uncomfortable with their use of Gary Busey , who really did suffer a serious head injury during a 1988 motorcycle accident.
Cheers to Amazon Dash
Amazon is still quietly invading our homes — and with more than just Kindles. They’re testing a new handheld device called the Amazon Dash, a small device that lets you scan bar codes in your own home. If you’re in one of the lucky cities that has Amazon’s same-day grocery service, then this device has some truly incredible potential. You swipe it over the bar code of any product that you want to re-order, and it’ll magically appear in your queue of items for delivery! Most of the items will actually arrive the next day, according to Amazon’s promotional video — but it’s not limited to just grocery items. In one case, they show a woman ordering a new set of guitar strings, and promising that it’s “shopping made simple,” Amazon has complemented its functionality with a slick tablet app!
Jeers to My 73-Cent Refund
I’d been excited when I saw the announcement. “In December 2013, a federal court approved legal settlements by publishers Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Penguin in antitrust lawsuits filed by State Attorneys General and Class Plaintiffs about the price of eBooks.” The end result was a refund to customers like me, and we received a credit right in our Amazon accounts to compensate for any financial hardship we’d suffered from illegal price-fixing by ebook publishers. (Click here to see your refund.) That’s all very well and good, but what wasn’t good was the amount of my credit: just 73 cents!
Maybe I can use the credit to go buy myself 73% of 99-cent ebook!
April 18th, 2014
Surprise! Amazon’s offering more discounts on their Kindle Fire tablets. This week, to mark the Easter holiday, they’ve lowered the price on their color, high-definition Kindle Fire HD tablets to just $119! And they’re also offering big discounts on their newer Kindle Fire HDX — both the 7-inch and 8.9-inch models!
I guess when you’re Amazon, the word holiday is pronounced “limited-time offer”. But apparently Amazon can’t decide how much money to let you keep. Below the Kindles, they describe the offers like this.
Kindle Fire HDX 8.9″ from
Kindle Fire HDX from
Kindle Fire HD 16 GB from
But the final price is actually $10 cheaper for the Kindle Fire HD if you’re willing to settle for the 8-gigabyte model. That’s just $119 — while the higher price tag ($129) is only for the 16-gigabyte version of the Kindle Fire HD. And it’s only $70 more to try Amazon’s newest version of a multimedia tablet, the Kindle Fire HD. The low Easter prices tempted me into doing a head-to-head comparison of the devices!
So what’s the difference between a Kindle Fire HD and a Kindle HDX? Well, there’s 50% more pixels per inch in a Kindle Fire HDX, for one thing — so their picture should be even sharper! The Kindle Fire HDX also ships with a faster quad-core processor (versus the dual-core processor on the regular Kindle Fire HD) — though I imagine you need a fast processor just to handle all those extra pixels. With the Kindle Fire HDX, you also get a front-facing camera (and a built-in microphone) for video chats — and the larger 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDX also comes equipped with a rear-facing camera. When you put them all together, you end up with very high-resolution images that you can broadcast in real-time using your Kindle Fire HDX — and it’s even equipped with 4G capabilities, so you can use the latest high-speed mobile networks.
So if you get tired of hunting for Easter eggs this weekend, you can treat yourself to a high-tech gift. Maybe it’s Amazon’s way of saying… Happy Easter!