Amazon chief Jeff Bezos

Last year Amazon’s revenue was $74 billion. So it’s fascinating to remember when the company was just 10 people…and a dream. Today I stumbled across a remarkable video on YouTube showing Jeff Bezos — the founder of Amazon — describing its early days, their shared struggles, and the one idea which kept them going.

For a shortcut, point your browser to
http://tinyurl.com/JeffBezosRemembers

The funniest part of the speech is when Jeff Bezos takes the stage, he jokes to the audience that his name is Garth Vegan. “I’m going to be speaking to you about choreography,” he continues, before launching into his story. But it is a different Bezos than we’re used to seeing. The speech was delivered 13 years ago, in 2001 — when the founder of Amazon was still a young man in his 30s…

Jeff remembers when his company wasn’t even called Amazon. Its original name was Cadabra, Inc — as in Abracadabra. But he changed his mind when a lawyer mistook its name for “Cadaver, Inc.” He knew he needed something better — because he was risking his career to take a chance on the promise of online shopping.

His wife was in the audience that day, and Jeff remembered that “She had married a relatively stable person — goofy, but relatively stable — working at a law firm.” When she’d married him, Jeff had a nice steady job at a Wall Street hedge fund, so “This was a hard decision…” In fact, most of Amazon’s original employees kept their day jobs while they spent their nights filling the orders that would come in to the company.

Their first “distribution center” that was just 400 square feet — about the size of a one-car garage — when one of the engineers said “I can’t figure out if this is incredibly optimistic — or hopelessly pathetic.” And Bezos didn’t know. There was no way to know how customers would respond. But I love the way Jeff Bezos ultimately came to his decision, using what he described as a “regret-minimization” framework. You project yourself to the age of 80, and then try to minimize the number of regrets you’ll have when you’re looking back over your life…

“If I go do this thing, and participate in this thing called the internet, that I genuinely believe is going to be a big deal — and if I fail, am I going to regret having tried and failed?” Jeff Bezos knew that the answer was no. And he also knew that he’d always regret it if he didn’t try. “I would always wonder, and it would haunt me…”

As Jeff spoke, he acknowledged that his parents were also in the audience that day — and they were also one of his web site’s very first supporters. He told the crowd they’d invested “a reasonably large fraction” of their life savings — over $300,000 — into their son’s dream. And it was pretty much faith. “My dad’s first question was… What’s the internet?!”

They weren’t betting on any grand vision, Bezos explains. They were betting on their son. And he’d also confessed to them at the time that there was at least a 70% chance that they were going to lose it all. But in the first 30 days, the site got orders from all 50 U.S. states — plus 45 other countries. They couldn’t handle the volume, and expanded quickly — into a 2,000-square-foot basement warehouse.

Its ceiling was only six feet high — and one of their employees was 6′ 2″, so he couldn’t stand in the room without tilting his head to the side! Bezos himself would drive the packages to a UPS shipping facility — tapping on the glass when he was let to beg them to let him drop off his shipment. And they’d package the orders together — on their knees on the cement floor. Bezos remembers his first insight at Amazon was we ought to be wearing knee pads. Although he credits another employee for coming up with an even better idea. What they really needed was packing tables…

Looking back on those early days, Bezos remembers those overloaded weeks as one of the luckiest things that ever happened them. Not the spike in orders, but the challenge itself, which they had to learn to accept. “It formed a culture of customer service — in every department, every single person in the company — because we had to work with our hands so close to the customers, making sure that those orders went out.”

“It really set up a culture that’s served us well, and that is our goal to be earth’s most customer-centric company.”


For a shortcut to the video, point your video to
http://tinyurl.com/JeffBezosRemembers

Free Kindle ebook - Transformations: Stories from Authors, Innovators, and Small Businesses Thriving on Amazon

This is pretty special. People who’ve founded successful digital businesses were all interviewed for a very inspiring new Kindle ebook. It’s published by Amazon, of course — celebrating its role as the home for these self-published authors and small online businesses. But every story comes directly from the words of these way-new entrepreneurs.

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

There’s 79 different stories — the book is over 200 pages long — and each one also features a photograph and inspiring blurb about the story to come. (“For kids in Africa, a new way to learn… Bill and Dinah Vogel can run their thriving business from their son’s hospital room…”) And I especially enjoyed the stories of writers who found new careers by self-publishing their books in the Kindle Store. Ultimately 85,000 people downloaded a new young adult novel that was written by Regina Sirois during its free period. And she was then able to sell another 12,000 copies — and then land a publishing deal with Penguin Group worth another $15,000!

It’s almost more inspiring that these people didn’t become multi-millionaires. They’re just ordinary folk who are paying their rent with the money they’re earning through Amazon. “As one factory worker turned small-business owner said: ‘Take the risks, be passionate, and forget the doubters,'” reads the book’s description at Amazon. And the inspiring stories come from all around the world — from America, the United Kingdom, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Spain.

I like how the book opens with an introduction by Jeff Bezos — the CEO of Amazon. “We are creating powerful self-service platforms that allow thousands of people to boldly experiment and accomplish things…” Bezos writes, emphasizing that’s a key part of its magic. “When a platform is self-service, evne the improbable ideas can get tried, because tehre’s no expert gatekeeper ready to say, ‘That will never work!'” I get the feeling that Bezos really enjoyed writing the introduction — because Amazon also heard “That will never work” for its first years of existence!

The book’s complete title is Transformations: Stories from Authors, Innovators, and Small Businesses Thriving on Amazon., and it’s already become one of Amazon’s top-1000 best-selling free ebooks for the Kindle. But it’s also become the #1 best-seller in Amazon’s “Business & Money” section in two different categories. In both the Management subsection and “”Business Life,” the book has reached the #1 spot on the list of the best-selling motivational Kindle books. And I had to admit that I smiled when I read that Reginia Sirois was “immensely grateful” to us readers — for taking a chance on a brand new authors that we’d never heard of before.

“I hope I left them with something beautiful,” she says in this ebook, “because they certainly gave me something beautiful…”

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

Now even The Huffington Post is talking about last week’s Kindle parody from The Onion. But it’s just the latest in a flood of great Kindle jokes that The Onion has cranked out over the years. In fact, one of my all-time favorite fake news headlines about the Kindle came from The Onion back in 2010 — a funny announcement about the president of Amazon.

“‘The Kindle Is Easier To Read In Bright Sunlight,’ Amazon CEO Shouts At Customers In Apple Store….”

It was a nod to Amazon’s then-ongoing war with the iPad, but that fake headline got a real rise from Twitter’s assortment of geeks, Apple fans, and Kindle lovers. The headline appeared on The Onion’s Twitter feed, which had millions of followers — and within days, over 100 people had “re-tweeted” the message to their own followers on Twitter. But then I discovered it wasn’t the first time the humor site had joked about the Kindle. When Amazon released the Kindle 2, The Onion was there with a quick list of its new features.

- A lot fewer dangling wires
– …is not just a hollow box with a clear plastic window that you insert books into…”

And earlier that year, at the Consumer Electronics Show, The Onion also joked that for nostalgic users, the Kindle now “signals a logging crew to cut down 10 trees for every book purchased with the device.”

Last week The Onion released a larger two-minute video with footage from a (fake) announcement of a new Kindle — one that repeatedly announces the title of the ebook you’re reading, so everyone around you can see how smart you are. But it’s all got me wondering whether The Onion is really making fun of Amazon’s digital reader — or if they’re secretly fans of the Kindle! For example, their “American Voices” segment once showed the heads of three people, responding to the news that ebook sales were [almost] surpassing sales of printed books. One of them announced that he wasn’t surprised by the popularity of ebooks, because “…if you’re reading a hardcover book, strangers try to start conversations with you. If you’re reading off a Kindle, people just stare at your awesome Kindle.” And the same fake people were also there in March, ready to react to the news that Amazon had temporarily pulled all the books from Macmillan publishing house.

“Publishing house? I thought Stephen Coonts just typed all the books right into Amazon!”

And The Onion even offered opinions about Amazon’s foray into the market for college textbooks. “It does make sense for students to keep all the books they’re not going to read in one device, rather than lugging a big heavy bag around.”

Although right now, I’m wondering if The Onion really is at war with Amazon. Three years ago, you could buy entire ebooks filled with humor from The Onion — like Homeland Insecurity: The Onion Complete News Archives, Volume 17. (“This collection features the entire archive from November 2004 to December 2005…”) In print it came out to a whopping 320 pages, but the ebook edition released in May of 2010 has mysteriously since disappeared from Amazon’s site!

But you can still buy an ebook by written by The Onion’s columnist, Jean Teasdale. It’s called A Book of Jean’s Own!: All New Wit, Wisdom, and Wackiness from The Onion’s Beloved Humor Columnist, and it’s a tongue-in-cheek newspaper column that’s apparently written by a cheerful yet secretly unhappy housewife.

I’ve been enjoying The Onion’s skewed take on the news for over 15 years, but I have to admit that they finally got me. Reading through their fake news stories, I discovered their announcement of a new “U2 Edition” of the Kindle, which ships pre-loaded with all of the favorite books by the rock band U2. For half a second, I wondered if Amazon really had released a special Kindle edition, and I actually spent a few minutes frantically searching for it in Amazon’s Kindle store.

Zing!


And remember, you can also subscribe to The Onion on the Kindle for just $1.99.

Guardians of the Galaxy - Volume 1The Big Four - a Hercule Poirot mystery by Agatha Christie

More Stories from The Twilight Zone by Rod SerlingSlash by Slash

A lot of great ebooks are on sale at Amazon — but only for the next two weeks! It’s their special “Big Deal” sale — “up to 85% off on more than 400 Kindle ebooks” — and through August 24th, they’re offering an incredible variety of choices.

Check out the selection! Point your browser to
tinyURL.com/TheBigEbookDeal

Here’s some of the most exciting ebooks…


Guardians of the Galaxy - Volume 1

Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 1 ($3.99)

It’s six issues of the Marvel comic book — 152 pages — bound together into a full-color Kindle ebook! See Peter Quill (a.k.a. “Star-Lord”), plus Drax the Destroyer, and Gamora — the “deadliest woman alive”. (And of course, Rocket Racoon…) You can read this cosmic comic book on any touch-screen Kindle — as well as the Kindle apps for smartphones and tablets — and it’s a good way to explore the strange characters from this summer’s big blockbuster movie. “Two words sum up this book: Action and Humor,” writes one reviewer on Amazon. “If you like either you should definitely pick it up.”


More Stories from The Twilight Zone by Rod Serling
More Stories from The Twilight Zone by Rod Serling ($1.99)

Are you ready for another eerie journey into a dimension of sight and sound — and the mind? Rod Serling promised TV viewers “the middle ground between science and superstition…the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge” — but the award-winning writer also delivered those same thrills in print! Serling adapated his favorite TV scripts into chilling short stories which are drawing wildly positive reviews from fans of the series. (” fantastically written…wonderful descriptions and wordsmithing.”) There’s even an introduction by Rod Serling’s daughter — and the whole ebook is free if you’ve subscribed to Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service. (And if you’re a member of Amazon Prime, you can also watch all of the original Twilight Zone episodes for free…)


The Big Four - a Hercule Poirot mystery by Agatha Christie

The Big Four (a Hercule Poirot Mystery) by Agatha Christie ($1.99)

Agatha Christie’s famous Belgian detective — accompanied by his friend Captain Hastings — is enjoying a boat trip to South America. But suddenly a strange man appears (covered in mud and dust) scrawling the number 4 over and over again, delivering a crucial clue in yet another murder investigation. Or is it international intrigue — and potentially a sinister cabal of crooked criminals waiting to be brought to justice? One Amazon reviewer described this brilliant piece of detective fiction as “absolutely one of Agatha Christie’s best Hercule Poirot mysteries.”


Slash by Slash

Slash by Slash ($1.99)

The guitarist for Guns N’ Rose delivers a memoir “that redefines sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll,” according to this book’s description on Amazon. Sharing “intensely personal” stories about a life of unlimited debauchery (from riots to rehab), Slash reveals the path from a rock-and-roll salvation to his own evolution and triumph, in a book which was surprisingly well-reviewed. (“Funny, honest, inspiring, jaw-dropping . . . and, in a word, excessive,” reads its description on Amazon — and the British newspaper The Observer calls it “The most insane rock n’ roll autobiography you’ll ever read…”)


Remember, for a shortcut point your browser to
tinyURL.com/TheBigEbookDeal

The Kindle vs. The Onion

August 7th, 2014

The Onion - Amazon announced Kindle Flare

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Onion - fake Amazon Kindle Flare ad

30 Free Android APps

Over 30 high-quality Android apps are now free at Amazon! It’s to welcome customers to Amazon’s new Fire Phone — but the apps work on any Android device. That means they’re available for Kindle Fire tablets, but also for Android smartphone and tablets (when purchased through the Amazon Appstore).

For a shortcut to the 30 free apps, point your browser to
tinyurl.com/30FreeAmazonApps

“Over $100 in Essential Apps,” reads the banner on the front page of Amazon today — but with an important disclaimer. “Free Thursday and Friday Only.” Fortunately, they’re all on display at Amazon’s web page. Here’s a look at some of the most interesting apps.

Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing
Yes, Sega of America is giving away a free Sonic the Hedgehog game promising “the ultimate party racing showdown.” There’s 16 different race courses to choose from — and 13 different Sega characters — plus lots of other fun ways to play. (“Rev up your skills with 25 missions then outrun the competition in four Grand Prix Cups or take on other racers in dueling Battle Mode!”)

Carcassonne
It’s one of the most popular new board games of the last ten years — and in 2012 they finally created a version for Android devices. The app version was actually named “Mobile Game of the Year” by one gaming site, and it’s actually been one of my favorite board games since 2005. (“Create a landscape by placing tiles with roads, cities, fields, and cloisters…” explains the game’s web page — and now you can even compete against the game’s built-in opponent!)

Instapaper
Send any web page to your Android phone, where it’s waiting for you on this handy app. It works a lot like Amazon’s “Send to Kindle” feature — except now you don’t even have to have a Kindle! It’s already racked up millions of users, according to the app’s web page at Wikipedia. Best of all, it strips away most of the ads and other extraneous “layout” elements from the web pages, so you end up getting the parts that you want — without having to download all the other parts that you don’t!

White Noise
I have a friend who swears by this app. It offers more than 40 sounds (on a perpetual loop) designed to block out noise to help you sleep — or at least, to relax. You can even mix the sounds together to create a new “ambience”, according to the app’s web page, and there’s also a special feature that lets you add an “alarm” effect, where the volume gradually increases to wake-me-up levels at whatever time you choose. The app could even help mask tinnitus, according to its page, along with soothing migraine headaches, and even helping to pacify crying babies — which ends with one more tantalizing promise. “Find out why the world is sleeping better with White Noise!”


Remember, for a shortcut to the 30 free apps, point your browser to
tinyurl.com/30FreeAmazonApps

Amazon 3-D printer makes custom personalized bobblehead

It’s like something from a science fiction story: Amazon’s just announced a web page offering real “3-D printing”. I wasn’t even sure what that meant — but it’s a revolutionary new way to buy things that haven’t even been created yet…and a real glimpse into the future.

For a shortcut to Amazon’s 3-D printing store, point your browser to
tinyurl.com/AmazonPrints3D

Here’s a four-sentence summary of the way the process works. We live in a world where technology now makes it possible to print more than just ink on a piece of paper. Technology now can also print out substances, using a computer-controlled machine, following a very precise pattern. The pattern is specified by the user, allowing lots of ways to customize a product before it’s even been built. It’s only when you hit the “print” button that your desired product springs into existence!

But the idea could change our world, transforming the way that everything gets made — and then sold. (“Shop the Future!” reads the slogan on the front page of Amazon’s store.) Amazon’s announcement notes that 3-D printing allows vendors to sell “a potentially infinite number of products” — each one customized by the purchaser — and all at very reasonable prices. Mixee Labs (one of Amazon’s partners) calls this “the app store for the physical world”, since you’re not buying digital products, but things! And you can choose the material for your purchase before it’s even been produced, as well as its color, its size, whatever text or image you want to include…

Print your initials on steel cuff links! Make a dog tag personalized with the name of your own dog! “Customization gives customers the power to remix their world,” explains the co-founder of Mixee Labs, “and we want to change the way people shop online.” But it’s gone from being a theoretical concept to something you can utilize today.

For example, imagine buying a bobblehead that’s been customized so it looks like you! You can choose the bobblehead’s eye color, hair color, and hairstyle, and even add eyeglasses. (Even the spring inside the bobblehead is generated by the printer, and it’s only when the bobblehead is produced.) “Turn yourself, friends, family, and coworkers into bobble heads,” reads the product’s description on Amazon — which suggests it as the ultimate personalized gift.

“The age of 3D printing is just beginning and you can experience it first hand!” reads another Amazon web page. It’s offering an iPhone case with a pattern of plastic that’s described as “rivulets of blood.” Besides red, it’s also available in black, blue, and white… But like any fashion accessory, part of the thrill is the rarity of this accessory. It’s not mass produced; there are only as many in existence as there are customers who ordered them. And you’ll always know that they were built from scratch — automatically! — using a 3-D printer….

Amazon 3-D printed iPhone case

Amazon’s 3-D Print Store offers more than 200 products to choose from. But none of them exist — yet — until you actually click the yellow “Add to Cart” button. Then behind the scenes, Amazon and their partners will go to work assembling your chosen substance, molecule by molecule, into the appropriate pattern. It could change everything — the way all products are created and then sold — and it’s just started happening at Amazon.

For a shortcut to Amazon’s 3-D printing store, point your browser to
tinyurl.com/AmazonPrints3D

Free Kindle Batman Comic BOok

If this were Gotham City, I’d suspect it’s a crime. But there’s no strings attached — Amazon’s giving away a free Kindle edition of a new Batman comic book. It’s to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Batman – and it’s just one of several free Kindle comic books!

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

The comic books are available for any touch-screen Kindle — as well as the Kindle reading apps for your smartphone or other tablet devices. (The offer’s good through August 3rd — so a week from Sunday.) It’s a newly-launched series that begins with a showdown between Commissioner Gordon and a new supervillain. But elsewhere in Amazon’s Kindle Store, there’s already a big selection of more free comic books…

Also available is for free is the very first Batman comic book ever. It’s issue #27 of Detective Comic — first published in 1939! And of course, it’s also the first appearance of Bruce Wayne, and the original Commissioner Gordon.

To see all the free comic books, select “Price: Low to High” at
the bottom of Amazon’s comic page:

tinyurl.com/KindleComicBooks

If you’re not interested in Batman, one of the other free comic books is The Powerpuff Girls. Yes, the pre-school superhero characters from the famous Cartoon Network show finally have their own comic book. Issue #1 brings you the new adventures of Bubbles, Blossom, and Buttercup — and all their friends in the city of Townsville. (“What fiendish secret is Mojo Jojo hiding?” asks the book’s description at Amazon…)

Powerpuff Girls comics

The entire comic book industry celebrates “Free Comic Book Day” in May, and Amazon’s still giving away free Kindle editions of some of the titles. There’s “The New 52: Futures End,” (a free comic book day “Special Edition.”) And if you’re looking for more Batman titles, there’s Legends of the Dark Knight #1 and Flashpoint: Batman – Knight of Vengeance.

I wonder if it will still be free 75 years from now — on Batman’s 150th anniversary?

Remember, to see all the free comic books, select “Price: Low to High” at
the bottom of Amazon’s comic page:

tinyurl.com/KindleComicBooks

Books With Buzz

There’s a fun new section on Amazon where they’re touting exciting new and interesting Kindle ebooks — called Books with Buzz! “Discover books that have created buzz, excitement, anticipation…” teases a paragraph at the bottom of the page, “and have garnered great customer and critical reviews alike!”

For a shortcut to Amazon’s new page, point your browser to
tinyurl.com/BooksWithBuzz

For example, when I visited the page, I was stunned to discover that there’s a new book called The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee. A journalist moved to a small Southern town that’s the home of the aging, reclusive author. “Underneath the plain, clear language of The Mockingbird Next Door is an enchanting, atmospheric portrait of two sisters and the southern town they inhabit…” reads the book’s description at Amazon. “The book is compelling and charming,” writes Amazon editor Chris Schluep, “and it brings Harper Lee and her world, both past and present, to full life.”

And there’s a huge variety of interesting titles on the “Books with Buzz” page, as though Amazon’s really trying to find something for everybody. “From mysteries and literary novels to biographies and more, you’ll find highlights of recent and upcoming books that you’ll want to dive into,” they explain. “Our 2013 Books with Buzz titles include Bad Monkey by Carl Hiassen, Night Film by Marisha Pessl, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, The Returned by Jason Mott (now an ABC series Resurrection), The Eternal Wonder by Pearl S. Buck, and a Johnny Carson biography by Henry Bushkin.” (Yes, that was the lawyer that Carson used to mockingly refer to as “bombastic Bushkin”. ) But what I like most is that some of Amazon’s “books with buzz” are new — while others are exciting books that I somehow missed!

It’s also nice that their selection isn’t overwhelming huge, like some of Amazon’s ebook sale pages. If I’m reading this right, there’s just 11 special books that Amazon’s desginated as “books with buzz.” “In 2014 so far, the Books with Buzz selections include The Painter by Peter Heller, Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch, and the upcoming Landline by Rainbow Rowell. Some of them are thrillers and some of them are poignant and heart-warming novels. But they all seem different than your typical Kindle ebook – -because Amazon’s selected them for this special honor — and it’s a really fun way to browse for new things to read!


For a shortcut to Amazon’s Books With Buzz page, point your browser to
tinyurl.com/BooksWithBuzz

Kindle Unlimited

Amazon’s just announced a surprising new deal! Now you can subscribe to their “all you can read” service for just $9.99 a month! This lets you read any ebook from their special selection of more than 600,000 titles.

For a shortcut to Amazon’s new offer, point your browser to
tinyurl.com/UnlimitedKindle

And the service isn’t limited to just Kindle ebooks. Amazon’s also including thousands of audiobooks as part of the package. “With Kindle Unlimited, you won’t have to think twice before you try a new author or genre,” points out an Amazon Kindle executive. “You can just start reading and listening!”

And Amazon also lets you “sync” your audiobooks with your ebooks, so you can switch over to a hands-free/listening mode whenever you need to — and then switch back to continue reading at that new location in your ebook! (Amazon calls this “allowing the story to continue even when your eyes are busy.”) It’s a feature that’s been enabled on thousands of the ebooks available in their “Unlimited” subscription service. Just look for this “Whispersync for Voice” logo on the book’s page at Amazon.

WhisperSync for Voice

There’s even a free 30-day trial, so you can feel what it’s like to have all of these ebooks available without having to worry about price. (Plus a free three-month subscription for every single audiobook available at Audible.com). And yes, this subscription service also includes Amazon’s “Kindle Singles”, so you can also read the shorter new works by authors like Stephen King. Amazon’s even got some exclusive ebooks — titles which haven’t even been released yet, but which are available a month early to Kindle customers…

It’s interesting to speculate about why Amazon’s offering a subscription service. But maybe it’s because people really were shopping around for the cheapest titles. It’s hard for Amazon to make any money if people keep choosing their ebooks from Amazon’s “free” section. With this new program, Amazon will at least get $120 a year from every subscriber.

And Kindle owners will get to read as many ebooks as they want!

For a shortcut to Amazon’s new offer, point your browser to
tinyurl.com/UnlimitedKindle

Little Bee book cover     Ella Enchanted book cover

Murder in the Ball Park     A Dog Named Slugger


It’s one of my favorite things about owning a Kindle. “Each month we unveil a new collection of Kindle books for $3.99 or less,” Amazon explains on a special web page. It always feels like a special event, and if I don’t check out the new selection, I always feels like I’m missing something!

For a shortcut to Amazon’s discounted Kindle ebooks, point your browser to:
tinyurl.com/399KindleEbooks

Here’s some of the most interesting titles…


LIttle Bee book cover

Little Bee by Chris Cleave ($1.99)

It’s impossible not to be intrigued by this novel’s description at Amazon. (“The lives of a sixteen-year-old Nigerian orphan and a well-off British woman collide in this page-turning #1 New York Times bestseller…”) But then they suddenly turn coy, adding “We don’t want to tell you too much about this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it… It is extremely funny, but the African beach scene is horrific. The story starts there, but the book doesn’t.

“And it’s what happens afterward that is most important…”


Murder in the Ball Park

Murder in the Ball Park (The Nero Wolfe Mysteries) by Robert Goldsborough ($1.99)

It’s a brand new mystery starring the famous “armchair detective,” Nero Wolfe — and there’s a fascinating story behind this story. The wealthy New York City detective first appeared in a novel in 1934, according to Wikipedia, and continued delighting mystery readers for the next 40 years. And then a new author took over the series in 1986 — publishing another 11 novels over the next 28 years that continued the detective’s investigations. Amazingly, the most recent Nero Wolfe story was published in 2014, and it looks like an exciting case. “Wolfe earns a big league call-up after a senator gets taken out at the ball game,” reads the mystery’s description at Amazon. (And in an ironic touch, the story opens with a baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers versus the New York Giants — two teams which have long since left Wolfe’s beloved New York City for California!)


A Dog Named Slugger

A Dog Named Slugger by Leigh Brill ($1.99)

It’s a true and heart-warming story about a “struggling college student and the Labrador with ‘a coat like sunshine’,” according to the book’s description at Amazon, “and a tail that never stopped wagging…” The student has cerebral palsy, but when she’s matched up with a service dog, “Together, they transformed a challenge into a triumph” — and also inspired everybody that they met. I love a good dog book, and this one has already become Amazon’s #1 best-seller in their category “Animal Care and Pet Essays”. Plus, it’s also drawing rave reviews from Booklist, which call it “a touching memoir”, and “a sweet story about a woman and her dog.”


Ella Enchanted book cover

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine ($1.99)

Before it was made into an Anne Hathaway movie, this charming young adult novel won a prestigious Newbery honor back in 1998. It’s 240-page twist on the Cinderella story, according to the book’s description at Amazon. (“Instead of a demure heroine patiently awaiting a prince who will carry her off, this Ella is a feisty ball of fire with the courage and ambition to take matters into her own hands…”) But there’s one catch: an enchantment forces her to obey any orders that are given to her. It’s quite a premise, and at least one satisfied Amazon customer described it as “the best book I’ve ever read in my entire life.”


Remember, for a shortcut to Amazon’s discounted Kindle ebooks,
point your browser to:

tinyurl.com/399KindleEbooks

Amazon Discounts Kindle Fire HDX for Cyber Monday

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 a shortcut to Amazon’s discounted Kindles, point your browser to
tinyurl.com/KindleSummerSale

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
tinyurl.com/KindleSummerSale

A Fun Video From Amazon

July 8th, 2014

Jeff Bezos introduces the Amazon Fire PhoneAmazon Customer at Fire Phone event

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!

For a shortcut to the video, point your browser to
tinyurl.com/FirePhoneVideos

“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!”

Remember, for a shortcut to the video, point your browser to
tinyurl.com/FirePhoneVideos

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…

4th of July parade

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
Three Soldiers
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.”

The Firefly button Amazon's Fire Phone

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
tinyurl.com/TryAFirePhone