July 11th, 2014
It’s a summer special that’s hard to resist! Amazon’s offering big discounts on their Kindle Fire tablets — including their newest high-definition Kindle Fire HDX. It’s now possible to save up to $50 on a new Kindle Fire tablet. And Amazon’s also offering discounts on accessories for your Kindle.
For example, for just $119 you can purchase a Kindle Fire HD — a $20 savings over its usual price of $139. That’s for the 8-gigabyte version, but if you’d like more storage space, Amazon’s also discounting the 16-gigabyte Kindle Fire HD, to just $129. (Normally it retails for $40 more — $169!) They’re described on Amazon’s web page as “Our most affordable Kindle Fire, now in high-definition…”
But of course, Amazon released an even better tablet last year called the Kindle Fire HDX — and they’re also on sale! Right now you can get a Kindle Fire HDX for just $199. That’s a $30 savings — and Amazon will give you the same discount if you purchase a tablet with extra storage space. The cheapest model comes with 16 gigabytes of storage, but for an extra $40 you can upgrade that to the 32-gigabyte version. And even the 64-gigabyte Kindle Fire HDX now costs just $259 — a $50 discount over its usual retail price of $309!
Amazon’s touting the special as a “Back to School” deal (calling their tablets “the perfect gift for students.”) But there’s also some other gift opportunities. If you look carefully at each Kindle’s page, you’ll notice that Amazon’s offering discounted accessories as the right side of the page. You can save up to $15 on a spiffy new case for your Kindle tablet. (My last Kindle had a leather case, and while reading it was really nice to feel that soft leather-y touch.) The joke’s on Amazon, because this September I have absolutely no plans of going back to school whatsoever.
But I’m definitely going to take advantage of this sale!
Remember, for a shortcut to Amazon’s discounted Kindles,
point your browser to
July 8th, 2014
It was a big day in Seattle when the CEO of Amazon stepped forward and announced that in addition to the Kindle, they’d now be producing a smartphone. And he’d wanted to build the excitement — creating a buzz — on the day the new Fire Phone was finally unveiled. So the word went out that some carefully-selected customers of Amazon would be invited to the event. Over 60,000 people applied for an invitation — and Amazon chose 300 of them!
Now you can watch the enthusiastic customers in their own home-made videos, which they’d submitted to Amazon to score their invitation. Amazon included three of them at the very beginning of their Fire Phone event — right before Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos took the stage!
“We’ve got folks from the media, we have developers, and especially exciting for me, we have Amazon customers,” Bezos tells the crowd. (Adding “Give yourself a big round…”) But it was a very smart move, because it guaranteed that when the new product was announced, there would be a big and enthusiastic reaction from the crowd. “I know whatever it is that you’re planning is going to be amazing,” one Amazon customer promised in their introductory video, “and I want to be there in person so I can brag to everyone that I was there, day one, and saw this thing in person!”
That was Adam from Florida, who held up his own Kindle…and then his Kindle Fire. But the videos also drove home an important point: that Amazon was focused on customers, and that real people use the devices that Amazon’s been creating. “I know it’s going to be well thought out,” said another Amazon customer named Jason. “I know it’s going to be well-designed, and most importantly, I know it’s going to put me, the customer first!”
Of course, Amazon’s CEO Bezos knew that he’d be competing with the iPhone now — and with all of the legendary product introductions that Steve Jobs used to make. And the problem is these corporate presentations can seem dry, technical, and ultimately very impersonal. So I have to applaud Amazon for trying to change the tone, and make their event feel more spontaneous, like a gathering of excited people.
“I was born in Seattle,” Jason remembered in his video. “I’ve been here all my life, and it’s been a lot of fun watching Amazon kind of grow and kind of take the world by storm. And I would love nothing more to go to this unveiling…”
“I know the product is going to be awesome!”
July 4th, 2014
Every summer I have a special Kindle tradition. On the fourth of July, I try to read ebooks written by some of America’s greatest authors. It’s a way to try to appreciate the true meaning of our “Independence Day” holiday. And last year I’d discovered some of my all-time favorite American authors now have ebooks available in the Kindle Store — for free!
But first, I’d like to tell you about my special 4th of July…
There’s always a parade down the streets of our town, and last year a friend invited me to ride on his float. So instead of watching the 4th of July parade, I was in the 4th of July parade! (What a rush! The whole town seemed to be smiling and waving at us as we rode by, and everywhere on that hot Thursday afternoon, you saw red, white, and blue.) I was feeling a strange euphoria when I finally got home. And that’s when I started reading on my Kindle…
There’s a book called the U.S. A. Trilogy that reminded me of my favorite author, John Dos Passos. He used a stream-of-consciousness technique to mix together newspaper headlines and lyrics of popular songs with longer descriptions of his characters and the challenges they faced in every day life. The book flashes to the lives of his characters before (and after) World War I, though unfortunately, it’s not available as a Kindle ebook. But that afternoon I discovered something even better in Amazon’s Kindle Store: free editions for each of the author’s first four novels!
“The Early Works of John Dos Passos” is available in the Kindle Store as a 514-page collection of those four novels for just $1.99. Amazon named the collection one of their Best Books of 2013 (So Far), and it’s from a publisher called Halcyon Classics. But there’s also a free edition available for each one of the four books in the collection! Dos Passos was inspired partly by his own experiences in World War I, and he writes vivid and intimate stories for the characters in all four of his early novels.
One Man’s Initiation – 1917
Rosinante to the Road Again
A Pushcart at the Curb
For $1.99, you can even purchase the professionally-narrated audiobook version for each of these ebooks (except A Pushcart to the Curb.) But because of the Kindle, I was also able to enjoy reading reviews of these American classics from new readers who’d recently discovered them on Amazon.com. One reviewer argued that Three Soldiers may be set during the war, but it’s more about one man’s struggle to retain his individuality. (Wikipedia points out that at least one of the soldiers has a military career which is virtually identical to that of John Dos Passos!) And another reader said these four earlier novels really capture the author’s tremendous growth. “It was refreshing to see through this collection how he came to eventually writing the great American classic USA Trilogy and developed a modern style, more complex and textured than any of the other members of the lost generation with the possible exception of James Joyce….”
Of course, I read some other interesting books as part of my all-American afternoon. I flipped through a wonderful postcard-sized print book called Traveling Route 66, which features photographs of highway scenes you might see in the 1950s, from neon signs to various roadside attractions. That book quoted a poem by Walt Whitman called “Song of the Open Road”, which led me to look a free online copy of the complete poem on my Kindle. The poem is also available as a Kindle ebook for 99 cents.
But I couldn’t let the day end without reading at least a few lines of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. What’s forgotten is that poem is part of a larger work – a kind of American version of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, where six different characters each take a turn reciting a poem on a topic that’s dear to their heart. (It’s also available as a free Kindle ebook.) Tales of a Wayside Inn was written in 1862, during the American Civil War, when poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was struggling with his wife’s death and the injuries of his son, who was serving in the Union army. So in the longer poem, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” is referred to as “The Landlord’s Tale”, and after its conclusion, there’s a few more poignant lines that always remind me that holidays are often just a way of remembering, in your own way, all of those who came before you.
The Landlord ended thus his tale,
Then rising took down from its nail
The sword that hung there, dim with dust,
And cleaving to its sheath with rust,
And said, “This sword was in the fight.”
July 1st, 2014
It’s hard to believe, because Amazon’s already doing so many things which no company has ever done. But I took a good look at the details about their newly announced “Fire Phone”, and discovered even more new features to be excited about…
Firefly can Provide Real-Time Trivia For Scenes in a Movie
Amazon’s press release promises something amazing. They’ve watched 245,000 different movies and TV show episodes, and they’re also monitoring 160 different television channels in real-time. And it really works. In a test, a reviewer at Mashable discovered that it didn’t just identify what movie they were watching — it recognized a specific scene, and then acted on that information. Firefly actually reached into the Internet Movie Database, which is somehow integrated now with Amazon’s X-Ray service. The end result is that Firefly can actually share trivia with you about a specific scene in a movie — for example, which actors appear only in this scene.
And according to Amazon’s press release, it can also provide a quick synopsis of the plot — which would be really handle if you’re channel surfing, and landed on the second half of a movie. It can even add TV shows and movies to your watch list — so you can purchase them (from Amazon) and then start watching from the beginning!
Firefly Can Name That Tune
There used to be a game show called “Name That Tune” — but Amazon found a way to cheat. They’ve apparently also analyzed every second of every single popular song, and within a few seconds can match the sound of whatever you’re listening to to its title and artist in their database. (Making it something you can buy from Amazon.)
And you can also even buy concert tickets! When you’re listening to a song, Amazon not only identifies its original artist, but can also look up that performer’s touring schedule, and then offer you tickets to their next local appearance! And it doesn’t end there.
And 70 Million Bar Codes
According to Mashable, Firefly has other superpowers, too. “Thanks to a partnership with My Fitness Pal, I discovered that a box of Nilla Wafers has 120 calories in a serving-size of eight cookies.” That’s because Firefly can actually scan the bar codes on the side of most products you’d buy at a supermarket — and then follow-up with real information that is actually useful and relevant. How many products can Amazon identify? 70 million — so far. That includes DVDs (and music CDs), plus books and video games. But it also includes “household items” (like Nilla Wafers).
And of course, once it’s identified a product, your Fire Phone can also give you a chance to purchase a product… on Amazon!
More Firefly Tricks
If I’ve learned anything this week, it’s that we shouldn’t underestimate the power of Firefly. If it sees a phone number on a sign, it can bring up your phone to call it. If it sees an e-mail address, it can bring up your mail client to send them a message. If it sees a URL, it can pull up that web page instantly in your browser. And of course, it can also recognized QR codes.
But in the future, Amazon’s Firefly service could get even more amazing. Within the next 6 months, they’re planning to add an upgrade which lets it identify paintings. And by the end of the year, Amazon expects their Firefly service will be able to translate foreign language phrases into English. It will even recognize a bottle of wine by the information on its label!
I’ve been wondering why Amazon chosen the name Firefly, but they seem to be implying there’s an almost magical glow to the information it provides. Their official slogan for Firefly is “Illuminate Your World,” and it looks like they’ve found the holy grail for an online shopping site.
Everything that you love can now make a direct connection to Amazon.
For a shortcut to Amazon’s new smartphone, point your browser to
June 26th, 2014
Every month Amazon discounts dozens of Kindle ebooks — to just $3.99 or less! And June is almost over, making this the last week to buy the ebooks at their discounted price. It’s my favorite time to browse for ebooks, and not just because there’s usually a great selection. You can browse all these discounts over the weekend, and then visit the same page on Tuesday (July 1st) to see a whole new selection of more discounted Kindle ebooks!
Here’s some of this month’s most interesting titles…
Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut ($1.99)
It’s one of Kurt Vonnegut’s last novel — and with one of his wildest plots. There’s a cluster of characters shipwrecked on an island who suddenly become the only survivors of a catastrophic epidemic — and the novel looks at the world which results…one million years later! One reviewer called it “the humorous, ironic and sometimes carping decline of the human race”, and at least one of Amazon’s customers described it as one of his favorite Vonnegut novels, applauding its grandiose plot and its sense of humor — concluding “in the end Galapagos is interesting, funny, unconventional, and just a great read.”
Hollywood by Charles Bukowski ($1.99)
It’s the second-to-last novel ever written by Charles Bukowski. Just five years before his death at age 73, Bukowski created this 250-page portrait of one of the most extreme cultures of all — Hollywood! After living a life of drunkenness combined with some great and empathetic writing, Bukowski had been commissioned to write a screenplay about his own life in 1984. That resulted in the movie Barfly, but Bukowski wasn’t through with Hollywood yet. “In this hilarious roman a clef, Bukowski draws on his experiences while writing the script…” explains the book’s description at Amazon, adding that the book’s main character is also penning a screenplay about his early life, “as a barfly and brawler, before he became a famous author.” And you’ll recognize many real-life actors, directors, and other famous personalities — because the characters in this book are drawn straight from real life!
The Return of Little Big Man by Thomas Berger ($1.99)
“Jack Crabb is now 112 years old,” begins the book’s description at Amazon, “and he isn’t done spinning yarns.” Thomas Berger’s original novel explored the life of an 111-year-old man who claimed (among other things) to be the only survivor of Custer’s Last Stand. His fantastic stories about real life in the American west inspired a 1970 movie. But nearly 30 years later, in 1999, 75-year-old Thomas Berger resurrected his own character to deliver even more tall tales. “Crabb claims to have witnessed most of the great historical events of the western frontier,” reads the book’s description at Amazon, “hiding behind a wagon after a drunken Doc Holliday provokes the shootout at the OK Corral; joining Buffalo Bill Cody and Annie Oakley on tour with their international Wild West show; even taking tea with Queen Victoria when she came out of seclusion after a quarter century!” Like the movie, the novel promises to be funny, but according to Amazon, there’s another layer to this historical fantasmagoria, which they ultimately describe as “a sidesplitting novel of surprising emotional depth.”
And the ebook edition includes a special new introduction by the now-89-year-old author!
A Most Wanted Man by John le Carre ($1.99)
John le Carre has been writing spy novels for more than 50 years. But in 2008, at the age of 76, he reached back to his own memories of working as a British spy in Germany. Or did he? The world’s changed a lot since the 1950s, and in le Carre’s novel (also set in Germany), the intrigue surrounds a mysterious young Russian smuggled into Germany, who may or may not be a terrorist. There’s also a strong female attorney defending him against deportation, and according to Amazon, le Carre’s novel quickly becomes “Thrilling, compassionate, peopled with characters the reader never wants to let go.” They called the novel “fiercely compelling”, but more than that, describe its overall effect as “a work of deep humanity and uncommon relevance to our times…”
point your browser to:
June 22nd, 2014
Amazon surprised everyone by announcing a new smart phone last week. “Fire is the only smartphone to put everything you love about Amazon in the palm of your hand,” read the front page of Amazon, in a special letter written by the company’s founder, Jeff Bezos. Of course, he touted all the obvious advantages of the Fire phone — apps, music, movies and TV shows, plus “exclusive features” like a 3-D interface and some cool new software tricks.
But here’s six of the Fire Phone’s biggest hidden surprises…
32 Gigabytes of Storage
Wait, what? It starts at 32 gigabytes of storage — that’s the minimum. And there’s also 64-gigabyte version. My last Android phone boasted that it could be upgraded “up to 32 gigabytes” — followed by the dreaded disclaimer in parentheses: not included. (I’d have to purchase an additional memory card — sold separately….)
And besides the on-device storage, Amazon’s Fire Phone is offering another even better alternative…
Unlimited Photo Storage in the Cloud
My current smartphone keeps running out of memory — I think every smartphone eventually hits a limit. You can try storing your photos in the cloud, but besides Google’s free storage service, even the iPhone has a 5-gigabyte limit (unless you’re willing to pay extra). But not Amazon’s Fire Phone. “Free, unlimited photo storage definitely sets Amazon apart from Dropbox, Apple’s iCloud and Microsoft’s OneDrive,” reports the technology blog Engadget.
Of course, there’s a reason that Amazon’s upping their specs and giving away cool features for free…customers.
“Users will pay for all the data they use through AT&T as well as being sucked into the two-year service contract through the carrier,” warned one technology blog. With their Kindle Fire tablets, Amazon offered a much cheaper alternative to the high-end tablets that were being produced by Apple. But Amazon’s smartphone costs the same as the other Android smartphones — not just for the intiail purchase, but also in its monthly servic chrages.
But Amazon did come up one more great interesting incentive…customers.
A Free Year of Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime normally costs you $100 — but it’s free for a year when you buy a Fire Phone. (And if you’re already a Prime member, Amazon will extend your current subscription by another 12 months.) And Prime doesn’t just mean you get free two-day shipping (plus a big discount on one-day shipping). Prime subscribers also get access to Amazon’s library of free digital movies and TV shows (which includes some great classic TV shows like the original Star Trek and The Twilight Zone). And there’s also over 500,000 books now in the “Kindle Owners’ Lending Library”, which lets you borrow one popular ebook each month for free. This month Amazon also announced a new streaming music service which is free to all Prime customers.
A 3-D Interface — and a 2-D Interface
Repeat after me: “Dynamic Perspective” is optional. A site called Digital Trends ran a fascinating article called “5 things we’ve learned from people who have fondled the Fire Phone,” And it found lots of enthusiasm for Amazon’s new three-dimensional interface. In fact, I thought it was a little misleading to summarize it with the headline “Dynamic Perspective might get annoying.” Although I’ll admit that that was my first thought, too.
I mean, while it’s cool to see screensavers with real depth, do you really want to see the time of day in a shifting, three-dimensional perspective? But all my concerns vanished when I also read that if you don’t like it, you can turn it off. So it’s a feature — not a permanent gimmick standing between you and your icons!
Ah, and about those icons. On the Fire Phone, the e-mail icon doesn’t just sit there waiting for a tap before it checks up your inbox. It will actually gives you real-time information about what’s in your inbox, before you even tap. It’s similar to the “live tiles” innovation that Microsoft tried with Windows 8 (and their Windows Phone), and it’ll be available for lots of other icons that’ll appear on the home screen of the Fire Phone. For example, the web browser’s icon lets you go straight to recently-accessed web sites. And the app for USA Today shows you headlines — based on your own selections of the kind of headlines you’d prefer…
Check out Amazon’s new smartphone at this shortcut:
June 18th, 2014
Zombies attack… Archie and his pals in Riverdale? It’s a horror comic in the most unlikely of places, and it’s drawing rave reviews. And it’s also proof that there’s a vast variety of reading material available for the Kindle — including Kindle comic books. Right now, Amazon’s even discounting several of them to just 99 cents each.
By the way, Amazon’s really spruced up that comics page. Now you can display comics by a specific author, or from a specific publisher (like “D.C. Comics”). You can even narrow the display to comics from a specific release date — even “Coming Soon”, or “Last 90 days.” But there’s also links that let you view comics available for the Kindle from “the Golden Age (1938-55),” as well as the Silver Age (1959-1969), and the Bronze Age (1970-1983)…all the way up to the present-day. (Plus a link for recent comics which have won industry awards…)
Comic books are available for any touch-screen Kindle — as well as the Kindle reading apps for your smartphone or other tablet devices. Here’s a look at some of the most interesting titles…
Afterlife with Archie ($2.99 per issue)
It started as a joke — then turned horribly, horribly wrong. A comic book artist drew a special cover for the wholesome series “Life with Archie” — with zombies — as a tribute to the classic horror comics of the 1950s. Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa wanted to expand the idea, and created a four-issue series where real zombies are terrorizing the neighborhood of Riverdale – and taking over the brains of all of Archie’s loveable pals. “The first four issues sold out,” reports Wikipedia, noting that Fangoria magazine called it one of the “best horror comics…in a very long time,” while a reviewer at NPR actually called it “terrific,” “a masterpiece,” and “actually scary. And this March, the wild success of the series convinced Archie Comics to choose the author as their chief creative officer!
Harley Quinn comics (99 cents per issue)
Amazon’s discounting over 100 comic books for the Kindle — each one with one of D.C. Comics’ most fascinating characters. “For a limited time, pick up single issue comics featuring The Joker’s favorite gal, Harley Quinn for only $0.99 each,” Amazon announced this week. The strange villain-ess in the harlequin costume appeared in numerous comic series, including Gotham City Sirens, Suicide Squad, Gotham Girls, and of course, her own Harley Quinn series. She was named one of the sexiest women in comic books, according to her page on Wikipedia — even if she is in love with The Joker!
Calvin & Hobbes collections ($10.99 each)
It’s one of the greatest newspaper comic strips of all-time — and now it’s available on the Kindle! This November three collections of “Calvin & Hobbes” cartoons suddenly appeared in the graphic novels section of Amazon Kindle Store. These 250-page collections feature all the original strips by Bill Watterson — including his lavish, full-color Sunday strips. Watterson stunned the world this month by anonymously contributing artwork to the Pearls Before Swine comic strip after 20 years of retirement! But it just reminded me of how much I loved the original Calvin & Hobbes comic strip — and it’s nice to know that they’re now available on the Kindle.
Transformers: Regeneration One (99 cents per issue)
It’s another store-wide sale, this one featuring nearly two dozen comics about the Transformer robots. With a summer blockbuster about to hit theatres, it’s a good way for fans to bring the excitement home to their Kindle.
You’ll find words like “epic” in Amazon’s description of the plots — as well as “Cybertron,” “Autobot,” and of course, “Optimus Prime.” “For a limited time, pick up Transformers” Regeneration One single issue comics for only $0.99 each,” Amazon teases on the pages of their other Kindle comic books — adding two more special words of their own.
Remember, for a shortcut to Amazon’s comic page, point your browser to
June 12th, 2014
The founder of Amazon just posted a surprise announcement on the front page of the site. From now on, members of Amazon’s Prime shipping service can also enjoy free music! They’ll get unlimited access to over a million songs — with no commercials — and can even download songs to their phone or tablet for free!
There’s lots of familiar artists — from Bruce Springsteen and Madonna to Daft Punk, Bruno Mars, Blake Shelton, and The Lumineers — and Amazon promises there’s over 10,000 albums to choose from. Amazon promises their selection will grow — which is good, because right now it seems like some artists are represented more than others. Amazon’s “100 Popular Artists” page shows which albums will be available, and it definitely seems like some artists have more albums available than others.
40 Johnny Cash albums
16 Willie Nelson
13 Dave Matthews Band
12 Elvis Presley
11 Kidz Bob Kids
10 Billy Joel
9 Van Morisson
8 Ozzy Osbourne
8 John Denver
8 Talking Heads
But it’s still an impressive service, and Amazon’s doing everything they can to make it easy to use. “We wanted to remove the barriers between you and the music you love,” writes Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, listing out the barriers that are being removed — “cost” and “interruptions”. He also points out that there’s also no limit on how many times you can listen to a song, which is different than other streaming music service I’ve seen. And Amazon is also trying to match their ability to recommend new songs, removing the barrier he describes as “deciding what to listen to.
“Just play any of the hundreds of Prime Playlists our music experts have created for you.”
It’s one more benefit for their already-attractive “Prime” shipping service — which also includes free two-day shipping and free videos from Amazon’s library, plus the ability to “borrow” a new book each month from “the Kindle Lending Library.” And Amazon also provided a clue about just how popular their Prime program is. I’ve never seen them actually reveal the number of subscribers to the service, but today they annouced it has “tens of millions of members”. So that means that, at minimum, there’s at least 20 million people using Amazon’s Prime Service.
Which means 20 million people just got free access to Amazon’s streaming music service!
June 10th, 2014
Holidays are always fun — because Amazon starts offering big discounts on gifts! Father’s Day means big discounts on tablets from Amazon, and also on their new Amazon Fire TV. And there’s even a “bundle” where you can purchase both products and get a 25% discount.
The best deal is a $40 savings on a high-definition Kindle Fire tablet. Amazon’s lowered the price to just $129, but there’s also discounts on their other tablets. You can also get the same high-definition Kindle Fire for just $119 — a $20 savings — if you’ll settle for an 8-gigabyte hard drive instead of one with 16 gigabytes. It’s Amazon’s cheapest tablet, and with these discounts it’s just $50 more than one of Amazon’s black-and-white readers!
But Amazon’s also offering discounts on their fancier tablet, the Kindle Fire HDX. Its screen has an even higher definition — 323 pixels per inch — plus a camera and a built-in microphone, and a whole lot more storage. The Kindle Fire HDX starts with 16 gigabytes of storage, but there’s also versions with 32 gigabytes and even 64 gigabytes. And for Father’s Day, Amazon’s lowering the price of all of them by $30 — to just $199, $239, and $279!
There’s also an intriguing discount on their newest product, the Amazon Fire TV. If you purchase the $99 device for Father’s Day, Amazon will instantly “kick back” a $15 credit for their Instant Video service. It’s an easy way to connect Netflix to your TV — along with Hulu Plus, and Amazon’s own video-rental service. I would like to be able to search for shows just using my voice — and it’s also part of one of Amazon’s most interesting new discounts.
They’re selling a bundle which includes both the Fire TV device and a high-definition Kindle tablet. You get both products for just $249, which comes out to a savings of $79 (or 25%). And it’s Amazon’s high-end tablet which they’re including in the bundle — the 323 ppi Kindle Fire HDX.
So if you’re looking for gifts for Father’s Day, Amazon’s got some ideas — and some discounts!
June 7th, 2014
It took a while before I finally noticed that had Amazon started releasing some fun (and very useful) new information. It’s always been possible to check Amazon’s list of their best-selling Kindle ebooks (and print books). But now a new page Amazon also reveals their best-selling authors!
It’s called “Amazon Author Rank,” and it’s updated every hour. (I was really touched to see Maya Angelou rising to the #1 last month, as the news spread about her death…) And each author’s name is followed by a list of their most popular books. It’s a great way to find new books to read — and to discover books that other readers enjoy.
I was really surprised by the variety on the list. Amazon’s most popular authors seemed to be writing in entirely different genres. James Patterson was #6 on Saturday morning — the author of mystery thrillers like Unlucky 13 (in a series he’s named “Women’s Murder Club.”) But right below him was Nora Roberts, the romance novelist, whose most popular books are the three Ireland-themed books in “The Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy”.
And the #1 most-popular author on Amazon was the author of some great literary fiction. John Green wrote The Fault in Our Stars, which Time magazine called the best fiction book of 2012, and last month it was chosen by The Today Show as the pick for their virtual book club. It tells the story of two teenagers who both have cancer, “kindred spirits, sharing an irreverent sense of humor and immense charm,” (according to the book’s description at Amazon). Amazon applauds the book for shwoing them bravely facing two enormous challenges at the same time. “Watching them fall in love even as they face universal questions of the human condition–How will I be remembered? Does my life, and will my death, have meaning?–has a raw honesty that is deeply moving.
Of course, Amazon’s list also features Stephen King, whose most popular book hasn’t even been released yet! (When I checked on Saturday, Amazon was touting his new mystery, Mr. Mercedes — even though its release date was Wednesday, June 3rd!) And it’s nice to see that George R. R. Martin is still popular. His most popular book is the Game of Thrones box set — the whole Song of Ice and Fire Series (available on the Kindle for just $19.99)
I’m always looking for new books to read. And it looks like Amazon’s Author Rank is going to be a fun new way to find them!
June 3rd, 2014
There’s a fun new offer from Amazon — a free issue of People magazine for your Kindle Fire tablet! I always wanted to try magazines on my Kindle Fire, but was never sure how they’d look. This is a great way to read a whole issue — all the pictures, and all the text — and enjoy a taste of the famous magazine’s celebrity and human-interest stories.
This offer expires on Friday, June 6th, so it’s a classic “limited time” promotion. The magazine is normally published every week, so the headlines are surprisingly fresh — and of course, a little dishy. (“Sofia Vergara is back on the market, and wedding planning heats up for George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin…”) There’s also a fun look at which celebrities received (honorary) degrees this spring while giving the commencement address at various colleges. And I have to admit that I really enjoyed their list of the top 10 TV shows of the summer. I’ve lost track of what’s on TV these days — because I spend so much time reading my Kindle!
If you’re on the fence, you can actually get four issues of the magazine for free. Amazon offers a 30-day free trial on the Kindle Fire edition of People magazine — and many other magazines, too. (Every magazine in the Kindle Store is always available for free for at least two weeks, to make it easier to try them out.) “You can cancel at any time during your free period, and you will not be charged,” explains a customer service page, which also points out that some magazines only publish on a monthly schedule (and some are bi-weekly). But you can always go back and read past issues, because Amazon stores them all “in the cloud” — archived on Amazon’s servers so you can always download them again.
I think magazines are an exciting but underused feature of the Kindle Fire tablets. Many have been discounted to less than $20 a year, including Men’s Health and Cosmopolitan. For some other family- and health-oriented magazines — including Family Circle and Eating Well — there’s an even cheaper price. If I’m reading this right, you can get a one-year subscription for just $5.
So if you’ve ever wanted to read magazines on your Kindle Fire tablet, now Amazon’s making it really cheap. And in some cases, it’s even free!
May 31st, 2014
Maya Angelou was a great poet, and a widely-loved author of everything from essays and novels to autobiographical memoirs. And when she died last week — at the age of 86 — Amazon created a special tribute to her on the front page of the Kindle Store. They posted a picture of the author, a short blurb, and a link to her first memoir, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”. But they also linked to a longer summary of her life on one of Amazon’s own literary blogs.
“Born Marguerite Ann Johnson in St. Louis on April 4, 1928, Angelou experienced life fully and uniquely,” remembers Amazon’s post, “working as a young woman in strip clubs, on a cable car, as an actress, and as a journalist….” But it’s even more touching to read the comments that were left by readers. “Maya was one of many angels who has circulated love and goodness with her huge heart and wise mind… Thank you Maya for all that you gave and all that you left us.”
As news spread about the death of the poet, something wonderful happened on Amazon. Maya Angelou rose to the #1 spot on Amazon’s list of their most-popular authors. Released recently (and still labeled as “beta”), Amazon Author Rank shows the most popular author each hour, along with their most popular books. Sure enough, Maya’s #1 best-seller was “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”
But readers were also buying The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou, as well as The Collected Autobiographies of Maya Angelou (a massive 1184-page book that gathers together six different memoirs!) And it was touching to see that readers were also buying a special book by the author called Letter to My Daughter. “Dedicated to the daughter she never had but sees all around her, Letter to My Daughter reveals Maya Angelou’s path to living well and living a life with meaning…”
All these books are available on the Kindle — and there’s another wonderful way to remember Maya Angelou. When you purchase their Kindle ebook versions, Amazon’s offering a special price on the audiobook versions of Letter to My Daughter and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which are both read by the author herself! You can hear Maya’s strong, thoughtful voice reading some of her most inspiring writing. “Words mean more than what is set down on paper,” Maya explains in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
“It takes the human voice to infuse them with shades of deeper meaning.”
May 29th, 2014
It feels like the first week of summer, since all across America people just enjoyed a sunny three-day weekend. It’s the last holiday before summer, and it always reminds me that fun times are just around the corner. And whatever you do this summer, Amazon wants to make sure that your Kindle is freshly stocked with new Kindle ebooks. They’ve just created a special “Summer Reading” page — and it’s really fun to browse through Amazon’s list of Summer Reads!
There’s 1,890 books on the list — but Amazon’s broken them down into some interesting categories. There’s recommendations, “books to explore,” young adult beach reads, and “compelling true stories”. And even these categories are broken down further into subcategories. For example, the “Recommended Summer Reads” has an intriguing new section called “Blockbusters”. It’s a page where Amazon’s called out 20 of the most highly-anticipated of the summer — including some new books by some very popular authors!
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
This Tuesday, Stephen King releases a brand new mystery-thriller in which a killer taunts a retired detective who’s still trying to bring him to justice. This 448-page novel delivers all the rich details of Stephen King’s fiction, as well as a complicated game of cat-and-mouse. King actually flashes to the killer’s point of view, and delivers the narration in a “present tense” style which Booklist said makes the story “feel pretty darn fresh. Big, smashing climax, too.” And Amazon notes on the book’s page that Stephen King is already their #1 most popular author not just in the Horror category, but also for writing Contemporary Fiction!
Personal: A Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child
Stephen King once called Jack Reacher “the coolest continuing series character now on offer,” and Reacher is also one of the most popular characters among Kindle readers. The character’s creator, Lee Child, became one of the first five authors to ever sell more than one million ebooks on the Kindle, and according to Amazon, he’s currently their #14 most-popular author. At the end of this summer, he’ll be releasing the newest Jack Reacher novel — and this time, it’s Personal. That’s the name of the book, and it follows an assassination attempt on the President of France. “Only one man could have done it. And Reacher is the one man who can find him…..”
Top Secret Twenty-One: A Stephanie Plum Novel by Janet Evanovich
It’s the 21st novel in this best-selling series of comic mysteries, and this one involves a popular used car dealer who’s out on bail — and missing. There’s dead ends and dead bodies, according to the book’s description at Amazon, and no clues for Joe Morelli (described as “the city’s hottest cop.”) Meanwhile, assassins are targetting bounty hunter Ranger (described as “Stephanie’s greatest temptation“), and somewhere in the mix is a crazy grandmother and a pack of feral Chihuahus. This book will finally be released on June 17th, but it’s already become Amazon’s top 10 best-selling books in their Humorous Fiction category! (And of course, Evanoich has also sold more than one million Kindle ebooks.)
If you just can’t wait until June 17th, Evanovich has also just released a new author co-authored with Lee Goldberg — a “Fox and O’Hare” mystery called The Chase!
Invisible by James Patterson and David Ellis
They thought she was crazy, but Emmy Dockery is convinced that hundreds of unsolved kidnappings and murders are connected. She’s an FBI researcher on a leave of absence — who’s now covering the walls of her bedroom with newspaper clippings about the crimes. Has she found the one piece of evidence that connects them all? More inexplicable murders are piling up in a book that Amazon describes as “James Patterson’s scariest, most chilling stand-alone thriller yet.”
Remember, for a shortcut to Amazon’s page, point your browser to
May 23rd, 2014
I spotted a surprise in Amazon’s app store today. They’re giving away a free $10 credit! Of course, they’re paying you in “Amazon money,” but it’s still a $10 value!
There’s five free apps at that URL — but for each one that you download, Amazon will add a $2 credit to your account. (The credit comes in the form of “Amazon Coins”, the virtual currency Amazon issues for in-app purchases, which can also be redeemed when buying an app). One “Amazon Coin” equals one penny, and if you download all five of these apps, Amazon will give you 1,000 of ‘em. But ignore that extra layer of “abstraction” and just focus on the bottom line. If you download the apps, you get a $10 credit.
One of the five free apps is actually from the Food Network. It offers thousands of recipes, and lets you search based on a specific ingredient you want to use — or even for your favorite chef! And I was really intrigued by the second free app — which is called iHeartRadio. It lets you listen to radio stations live on your Kindle Fire or Android smartphone!
But why are they issuing these credits in Amazon coins? The strategy is to make it seem less like you’re spending real money and more like it’s just fun play pretend money. Forcing people to do this conversion in their head — from Amazon money to real money — makes it harder for people to remember their budget! But if you just download these five free apps, you’re already starting out ahead.
And you’ll end up with $10 worth of free credits to spend in Amazon’s Android app store!
May 21st, 2014
Amazon started in a garage, and grew into an enormous web superstore — and the home of the Kindle. Soon it was attracting amateur authors, and a new world suddenly appeared where everyone could self-publish. But there was another web site offering its own version of the thrill of self-publishing — online.
And last week, they announced that they were going out of business…
Helium.com actually paid its writers in advance — though it was a very small amount. But they also shared any profits earned from online advertising, and guaranteed that however strange your articles were, they would always be read and rated by the other writers at Helium. The best articles for each topic were always listed first, which is where they came up with the name Helium. The very best writing would rise to the top — like a balloon filled with helium.
The thrill of writing was contagious, and several of Helium’s authors ended up publishing (or self-publishing ) Kindle ebooks. And at one point in time, their community included thousands of writers who were earning more than $100 a month. In 2009 Helium’s CEO told a cable news interviewer that Helium could even save the newspaper business. He argued that newspapers could outsource some of their local coverage to Helium’s low-cost community of amateur writers.
It all ended suddenly. “After eight years and well over one million articles, we regret to announce that Helium Publishing will be closing,” they informed their members last week. Google was sending less traffic to the site, and when Helium moved their pages to a new set of domains, it had gotten even worse. Ironically, the founder still made lots of money — by selling his site in 2011 to the big print publisher, R. R. Donnelly. It was rumored that the sale price was $57 million, though they were never able to make the site profitable enough to continue.
Which means that on December 14th, a million articles will instantly vanish from the web.