Amazon’s Black Friday Deals are Already Here

Amazon.com shipping boxes

Amazon’s starting a new tradition that they’re calling “Black Friday Deals Week”. They’re offering big discounts right now of up to 50% on computers and accessories, for example, and even high-demand gift items like laptops and tablets. All the deals appear on a special “Black Friday Sales” web page that used to say “Countdown to Black Friday.” But now (according to Amazon), the magic day is already here!

“You shouldn’t have to stand in a long line to get a great deal,” Amazon explains – and they’re not just discounting their own products. “We’ve been searching for the best Black Friday deals everywhere – including Black Friday deals other stores are planning–so we can bring them to you even earlier.” There may be a limited supply of the discounted items, Amazon warns, “but we’ll add new ones throughout the day, every day, so you can skip the long lines and still save a bundle.” My only question: Does that make this “Black Monday”?

I already see discounts of “up to 50%” on some Panasonic cameras. (For example, there’s a model called the Lumix DMC-GH2KK which normally costs $999, and Amazon’s selling it for just $499.99.) There’s three other Panasonic cameras that have been discounted by $220, and the savings are even bigger in the laptop section. A 15.6 inch ASUS laptop now costs just $399 — a 33% discount from its usual price of $599.

And if you’ve ever wanted ASUS’s high-end “Republic of Gamers” laptop, this is your chance. They normally cost $1,699, but Amazon’s offering them at a $420 discount. Plus, there’s also big discounts on monitors. (For example, a 24-inch widescreen monitor from Viewscreen now costs just $179, a 52% discount from its usual price of $368.)

But the biggest surprise is that Amazon is discounting tablet computers that compete directly with the Kindle Fire. A 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 now costs just $179 — a 28% discount from its usual price of $249 — and even the 10-inch model is being discounted $100 from its usual price of $399. Plus, there’s even a 23% discount on solar keyboard folio for the iPad! Does this make you wonder if Amazon’s holding back a big discount of their own for later in the week?

All year long I’ve been waiting for one specific piece of news: that Amazon’s finally going to offer a big discount on their Kindle Fire tablets during the week of Black Friday. Last year they surprised everyone with a 32% discount on the big-screen Kindle DX on Thanksgiving Day, and then on Black Friday also slashed the price on the “previous generation” of their Kindle Keyboard to just $79. And exactly one year before, in 2010, Amazon also made big cuts in the price of their “previous-generation” Kindle Keyboards to just $89. (This was at a time when the Kindle 3 cost $139.)

It drives me crazy, because I know Amazon’s planning a big “anchor” discount for this year’s Black Friday sales. But will it be a Kindle Fire tablet, a Kindle Paperwhite, or one of the older Kindle keyboards — or another model of the Kindle? I’d be happy if Amazon just brought back the Kindle Touch for one last hurrah.

But all we know for sure is that, according to Amazon, Black Friday “Deals Week” has already begun!


Check out Amazon’sspecial Black Friday Deals Week page at
tinyurl.com/AdvanceBlackFriday

Amazon Announces “Best Books of 2012”

Amazon's List of the Best Books of 2012

The editors at Amazon have just announced their list of the very best books of 2012. They’ve also chosen their Best Book of the Year — and created 24 more “top 10” lists for different categories, including fiction, romance, mystery, and this year’s 10 best Kindle Singles. They’ve even got a list where Stephen King chooses his Top 10 favorite books of the year, along with other famous authors like Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald. Plus, each individual category also has its own a “best book of the year.”

Visit Amazon’s “Best Books of 2012” page at tinyurl.com/BestBooksOf2012

“We are confident that we’ve chosen a list that customers will be excited about,” announced Amazon’s Editorial Director for the Kindle and Books at Amazon.com, Sara Nelson. And on a special web page, Amazon explains that “All year, the Amazon Books editorial team reads voraciously, tracking down and sharing the most fascinating, compelling, enlightening, and entertaining books…” Their pick for the best book of the year was The Round House, about a teenager’s investigation into a family tragedy on a reservation in North Dakota. Here’s Amazon’s complete list of the Top 10 Books of 2012 — and what they had to say about them.


1. The Round House by Louise Erdric
“Likely to be dubbed the Native American To Kill a Mockingbird, Erdrich’s moving, complex and surprisingly uplifting new novel tells of a boy’s coming of age in the wake of a brutal, racist attack on his mother.”

2. The Yellow Birds: A Novel by Kevin Powers
“With this compact and emotional debut novel, Iraq War veteran Powers eyes the casual violence of war with a poet’s precision, moving confidently between scenes of blunt atrocity and almost hallucinatory detachment.”

3. Gone Girl: A Novel by Gillian Flynn
“Masterfully plotted from start to finish, the suspense doesn’t waver for one page. It’s one of those books you will feel the need to discuss immediately after finishing. The ending punches you in the gut.”

4. The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
“As much an homage to literature as to the mother who shared it with him, Schwalbe’s chronicling of his mother’s death to cancer—they wait, they talk, they read together—is nothing less than captivating.”

5. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk: A Novel by Ben Fountain
“Debut novelist Fountain follows a squad of marines as they engage in a ‘victory tour’ in the States. Set mostly during halftime at a Dallas Cowboy’s football game, Fountain skillfully illustrates what it’s like to go to war, and how bizarre and disconcerting it can be for these grunts to return from combat to the country they love.”

6. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo
“This searing portrait of life in a Mumbai slum reads like a novel, but it’s all-too-true. Pulitzer Prize-winner Boo’s writing is superb, and the depth and courage of her reporting from this hidden world is astonishing.”

7. A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers
“Both disturbing and funny, this novel from onetime wunderkind Eggers shows surprising depth. A man’s wayward attempt to find himself and retake his life delivers him to Saudi Arabia but the journey abroad is also internal, and it ends up saying as much about life in America as in the Middle East.”

8. The Middlesteins: A Novel by Jami Attenberg
“A quick read that’s more complex than it seems at first, this story about a Midwestern Jewish family is both recognizable (sometimes uncomfortably so) and entertainingly idiosyncratic.”

9. Mortality by Christopher Hitchens
“Like the late author himself, this book is funny, smart, entertaining and unflinching to the end. Mortality has the power to change ideas that you might have held immutable—which is one of the best things you can say about a book.”

10. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
“This soulful novel originally written for teenagers tackles big subjects – life, death, love – with the perfect blend of levity and heart-swelling emotion.”



There’s a humorous note on the web page where Amazon’s announcing their final list. “Picking the best of anything is always difficult, but this year Sara Nelson and the gang had a different kind of difficulty: an embarrassment of riches. All year long we read and loved so many books that the usually spirited Best of the Year meetings were, well, especially spirited.” I can only imagine what that discussion must’ve looked like, but in the end, Amazon explains, we arrived at a list that we’re proud of, offering something for everyone.

“Enjoy!”

Visit Amazon’s “Best Books of 2012” page at tinyurl.com/BestBooksOf2012

Amazon Celebrates Veterans Day

Amazon Military logo

Veterans Day is this weekend, and there’s a non-profit group called “Operation Homefront” that supports members of the service who have been wounded, as well as their families. Amazon’s just announced that they’re donating 2,000 Kindles to the group, “continuing its commitment to support transitioning military service women and men.”

It’s a good way for Amazon to help out the returning soliders and their families, according to the group’s CEO. “These Kindle devices will greatly enhance their quality of life,” he said in a statement, “as they progress through their challenging recovery process.” But it’s not the only way Amazon is supporting the veterans. They’re also promising to hire at least 1,200 more veterans within the next year.

“Amazon is committed to supporting veterans as they transition from military life to civilian life…” an Amazon executive said in a statement, which also included a comment from a United States Senator — Patty Murray, from Amazon’s home state of Washington. “Many of our service members, who faced challenges abroad, return home to find a whole different set of trials as they work to figure out how their specific military skill set translates into a civilian job.” She applauded Amazon, and other companies like them, “for committing to help our military heroes adjust to being home by ensuring they have access to quality employment.” Amazon already employs hundreds of veterans across the United States in their fulfillment centers, and has a team devoted to hiring more veterans for careers at Amazon.

In fact, for the second year in a row, Amazon’s been named to a list of military-friendly employers, and they were named one of the top 100 companies for recruiting veterans last month (by U.S. Veterans magazine.) Most veterans “want to ensure their work has a continued sense of purpose,” a former enlisted Army soldier explained in Amazon’s press release. He began his Amazon career as a temp at one of Amazon’s fulfillment centers, and worked his way up to a position as general manager, and he’s thankful to Amazon for the opportunity. Amazon’s even put in place a mentoring team made up of veterans, who also offer career support.

There’s one specific program in place at Amazon that I found really touching. In 2011, they created a special “Virtual Contact Center” providing costumer support, which allows employees to work from home. Amazon has actively recruited military spouses for the program, as well as our nation’s wounded warriors. It’s nice to think that Amazon’s philosophy is reflected both in the experience they’re delivering to Kindle owners, and to the policies they have for their employees. According to the veteran they quoted in their press release, whether you’re shopping at Amazon or working there, “Amazon’s commitment to hiring and developing veterans reflects its customer-centric focus…”

Surprise Amazon Announcement: “Early Black Friday” Sales!


Amazon early Black Friday deals
Amazon announces early Black Friday sales on TVs and laptops
“Black Friday isn’t until the day after Thanksgiving,” Amazon explains on a special web page, “but since you’re here already…we got the deals going a little early!

“We’re counting down to Black Friday Deals Week with, yes, even more deals, all day, every day. Black Friday sales, Amazon’s best deals–you’ll find them right here.”

I’ve been hoping that Amazon will announce a discount on the Kindle HD or the Kindle Paperwhite on Black Friday, but there’s already some other great deals that are available now. For a shortcut to their special page, point your web browser to tinyurl.com/AdvanceBlackFriday . “The deals destination will feature a Deal of the Day, along with limited-time, doorbuster-style Lightning Deals,” Amazon explains in a press release, “and other huge savings on the hottest electronics, toys, clothing and more, now through Black Friday weekend.”

So what exactly is Amazon giving away? There’s laptops, cameras, and plasma (and LED) TVs. Here’s some of the specific details that Amazon’s released about deals they’ll have this November.

– up to 60% off on popular TV series, including the first two season of The Walking Dead

– up to 60% off on children’s books (including Disney Bedtime Favorites)

– up to 50% off on winter clothing (including accessories and outerwear)

– discounts on both men’s and women’s watches

– a special sale on the Xbox 360 (250 gigabytes, with Kinect)

They’ll also be discounting expensive consumer electronics, including the Panasonic Plasma and LED television sets, and the Samsung Premium Ultrabook (series 9). In fact, Amazon’s vice president of Consumer Electronics specifically promised that for the next 21 days, their page would be featuring “a large selection of the most anticipated products of the season, all for a great price.” But if you visit the page today, Amazon will give you a peek of the “lightning deals” which are coming up later today. If you move fast, you’ll be able to get a great price on a Canon camera, an HP Pavillion laptop, and a giant 72% discount on a paper shredder.

To make it easier to find gifts, Amazon’s even created their own “curated” list of the top-rated and newest items available this shopping season. That’s a screenshot of its logo at the top of this post.

And yes, their newest Kindles are both featured prominently…

Amazon Kindle and Black Friday sales


Check out Amazon’s special “early Black Friday” page at tinyurl.com/AdvanceBlackFriday

My Favorite Memory of Bil Keane

My Favorite Bil Keane Family Circus cartoon

Though he published nearly 100 books, not a single one of them is available for the Kindle. For more than 50 years, cartoonist Bil Keane wrote the one-panel Family Circus comic strips which appeared in 1,500 newspapers around the world. Some readers complained that its sweet familiarity was out of place in the modern world. But when Bil Keane collided with wise guys, both on Amazon.com and on the web, he ultimately proved that he was a very good sport.

I’d like to share that story today, because Bil Keane died Tuesday, less than a year before his 90th birthday. The L.A. Times remembers that he’d seemed almost proud to be old-fashioned when they interviewed him in 1990, and the cartoonist explained that he wasn’t going just for punchlines. “I don’t just try to be funny. Many of my cartoons are not a belly laugh. I go for nostalgia, the lump in the throat, the tear in the eye, the tug in the heart….”

Keane drew those comic strips — and regularly collected them together into books — starting all the way back in 1961. He based the mother in the cartoon family on his own wife — also named Thelma — and the family’s father’s, of course, was named Bil. Even the children in the strip were modeled after Keane’s own five children, according to the L.A. Times. One of his son’s eventually grew up to be an animator at Walt Disney Studios.

But it was Keane’s daily comic strip that made him famous — so much so that after several decades, it became an easy target for other would-be humorists. For example, just a few years after Amazon.com was launched, Keane’s books began receiving some very strange reviews from Amazon customers who seemed to be taking them just a little too seriously. (“Having already taken his place among the company of Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, and Dostoyevsky, with the publication of Daddy’s Cap Is On Backwards Bil Keane now emerges as the master of them all…”) It was one of the first fake reviews that I ever read on Amazon, and its humor rests on everyone’s familiarity with The Family Circus characters — and the fact that the review is obviously describing the wrong plot. “The turning point of the narrative is the episode where Jeffy sells his soul to Mephistopheles for power and knowledge, yet this can be fully understood only in contrast to the many events that precede and follow it — such as the haunting scene where little Billy carries his father out of the burning city on his shoulders, or the passage where PJ, now the viceroy of Egypt, reveals himself to his brothers as the boy whom they sold into servitude years before…”

Soon dozens of fake reviews sprouted up on several of Keane’s Family Circus collections — and I thought Bil Keane handled it like a true gentleman. When he was reached for a comment by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, they reported that Keane laughed and said genially that while some of it was in bad taste — some of it was also funny, and “I assume my readers are intelligent enough to know I didn’t do the bad stuff…”

Keane was also apparently friends with cartoonists who drew some of the ‘hipper” cartoons. According to Wikipedia, Keane once even agreed to draw his characters into a special series of Zippy the Pinhead strips, while their dialogue was provided by its creator, Bill Griffith. And while the Pearls Before Swine strip used to mock The Family Circus, in real life, the two cartoonists behind the strips were good friends. In fact two years ago, Bil Keane even wrote the introduction to a Pearls Before Swine collection.

But the amateur satirists — and the internet — weren’t through with Keane yet. By the 1990s, Keane’s characters were also appearing in a rowdy (and wholly unauthorized) “zine”. (Back before the dawn of ebooks and personal sites on the web, self-publishing authors would just photocopy things they’d written and drawn, circulating them through the mail or at live concerts.) One zine-ster decided to photocopy Keane’s newspaper comic strip, but then type in their own raunchier captions. A MacWorld columnist wrote that sometime back in the 1990s, if you posted your e-mail address in one of the internet newsgroups about comic strips, “this would set into motion a complex and mysterious chain of events that would ultimately result in an unmarked envelope with no return address arriving in your mailbox… and inside you’d find a handmade mini-comic entitled The Dysfunctional Family Circus!”

The zine eventually inspired a similar parody web site, which began inviting its readers to type in their own crazy captions for Keane’s Family Circus cartoons. And by 1995, when that site went down, a 25-year-old webmaster in Chicago had decided to keep the new tradition alive. Amazingly, for the next four years, he presided over the “Dysfunctional Family Circus” web site, and more than 2,500 enthusiastic people submitted crazy new captions for Keane’s cozy newspaper comic strip. (Like “I finally did it! All ten commandments in one day..!”) It proved to be very popular, and ultimately the webmaster and his friends picked through nearly half a million “alternate” captions, publishing dozens and dozens of the best ones (along with Keane’s original cartoon).

And then in a surreal moment, The Family Circus‘s lawyer” showed up, threatening legal action if the site wasn’t taken down. The defiant webmaster pondered a “freedom of speech” defense, and even posted more of Keane’s cartoons online, letting his community weave their own reactions into still more new captions for the strip. But this showdown finally ended in the most unexpected way imaginable. One day the webmaster picked up his phone, and discovered he was receiving a call from cartoonist Bil Keane himself.

Bil Keane was already 77 years old, and for the next 90 minutes, he engaged the 29-year-old webmaster in a long conversation. The webmaster never revealed what they talked about, but “…as we got further into the conversation, I just realized I couldn’t really go on doing what I’m doing,” he wrote later on his web page. Bil Keane had simply surprised him. “He’s actually a nice guy….”

It seems that Bil Keane’s real-life sweetness had won over the wild webmaster. He voluntarily removed all the Family Circus pictures from his site. Bil Keane even sent him a personal thank-you note — on Family Circus stationery that included the “Billy” character from the comic strip. In the end, the webmaster simply scanned that, and posted it in place of the other 500 strips.

I’ll remember that as the day when a moment of Bil Keane’s genuine warmth somehow magically escaped from his comic strip — and found its way out into the real world.

Bil Keane sends a memo about the Dysfunctional Family Circus

Amazon Unveils a Free Ebook Library

Amazon Kindle Owners Lending Library

“Wow! That’s fricking awesome!” my girlfriend said when I told her the news. Amazon’s making thousands of new ebooks available for free to anyone’s who’s subscribed to Amazon’s Prime shipping service. The service offers one year of free two-day shipping for a flat fee of $79 — and as a bonus, it includes free access to Amazon’s online library of movies and TV shows. Now as an added incentive, you’ll also get access to “the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library.”

“Kindle owners can now choose from thousands of books to borrow for free,” Amazon explained today in their press release, “including over 100 current and former New York Times Bestsellers – as frequently as a book a month, with no due dates.” The selection looks very appealing — I see over 5,000 ebooks, and they’re ebooks that I’ve actually heard of, and ebooks I actually want to read. For example, there’s Moneyball Michael Lewis’s exploration of professional baseball (which was recently turned into a movie with Brad Pitt). And this library also includes Lewis’s other more-recent books about Wall Street — The Big Short and Liars’ Poker — plus the entire Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.

And whether or not you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can still can browse the library right now on your Kindle. Just go to front page of the Kindle Store. (One way to do this is by pressing your Kindle’s Alt key and the HOME button at the same time.) Then select the link at the top of the page (in the second column) which says “See all categories”. The link triggers a pop-up menu, and as of today the bottom of that menu is displaying a brand new choice: the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. Click the link, and you’ll see over 5,000 titles to choose from!

Kindle Store Menu with Lending Library link

They’re sorted by which ebooks are the best-selling, which means three of the first four choices are from Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. But there’s a link at the top-right of the page which lets you narrow the selection into 28 categories — like fiction, nonfiction, mystery, humor… “Owning a Kindle just got even better…,” Amazon’s CEO said in a statement today. “Prime Members now have exclusive access to a huge library of books to read on any Kindle device at no additional cost and with no due dates.”

Remember, you can only check out one ebook a month, but at least some Prime members are feeling excited. “I read really fast,” my girlfriend told me, “and if I can read it without having to pay for it and then return it to the lending library — that’s fabulous!” In fact, she belongs to a book club, and at least three of the books they chose to read are already available for free in the new lending library. (There’s Water for Elephants and The Finkler Question.)

So how can Amazon afford to loan the ebooks for free? In some cases, Amazon is purchasing a title each time it is borrowed by a reader…,” their press release explained. Amazon’s getting the cheaper wholesale price, but still covering the cost themselves “as a no-risk trial to demonstrate to publishers the incremental growth and revenue opportunity that this new service presents.” And for “the vast majority” of the library’s ebooks, Amazon’s just negotiated a single flat fee with the publisher for the right to include the book in their lending library.

The bottom line is that now you’ll have a wider selection of free ebooks to choose from. And “Just as with any other Kindle book, your notes, highlights and bookmarks in borrowed books will be saved,” Amazon’s press release adds, “so you’ll have them later.” I feel like this is a news story that speaks for itself, so I’ll give Amazon the last word. On the web page for their lending library, they explain the entire program in just eight words.

Own a Kindle + Prime Membership = Read for free

Will Librarians Revolt Over Amazon’s Kindle Lending Program?

Librarian in Black Sarah Houghton


A California librarian is raising her voice about what she sees as issues in Amazon’s new program for checking out library ebooks on a Kindle. “I’m very, very disturbed about the new Kindle lending practice that Overdrive has implemented,” she explained Tuesday in an impassioned, 10-minute video online. “It’s a new service. It’s something a lot of libraries are very excited about, and with good reason.

“But there’s a lot going on here that I think library staff are not necessarily aware of or have really thought through.”

She’s calling on librarians to complain to their Overdrive reps — and directly to Amazon. (To watch the video, point your computer’s web browser to tinyurl.com/LibraryResponse .) Her basic issue is that librarians should always protect their customers’ reading history, but now Amazon’s getting that data on their own servers (which may even violate California’s newly-passed “Reader Privacy Act.”) And she also notes that many libraries have strict policies against endorsing a particular product, whereas Overdrive’s program actually completes their transactions on Amazon.com, including a pitch that urges library patrons to purchase more books. (And there’s even book-buying plugs in your “due date” reminders.)

I’m a big fan of the Kindle — and ebooks — and to be fair, it sounds like she is too. She bought a Kindle last December, and wrote a blog post soon after titled “Why I am a library traitor and love the Kindle.” At the time she noted her issues with the Kindle as a librarian — that e-book sharing was limited, and that library lending wasn’t available. Those are two areas where Amazon has since made some big improvements, and she honestly went back and updated the blog post. It shows that this reaction is coming from a Kindle lover who feels forced to acknowledge that “in our greedy attempt to get content into our users’ hands, we have failed to uphold the highest principle of our profession, which is intellectual freedom. And that’s not acceptable.”


“Kindle has allowed Amazon to harvest all of this borrowing data. So it’s an instant violation of all of our privacy policies…. [I]f they’re using a Kindle, Amazon’s keeping friggin’ everything. And we haven’t told people that, and we need to tell people that. So one thing here in California, particularly, is that recently a state bill was passed, 602, called the Reader Privacy Act, which states that library use and borrowing habits are protected as are our purchases from bookstores and so forth. Basically, you have the freedom to read what you want, and not be penalized for doing so. And it’s, I’m fairly certain, a very grey area right now that Amazon and Overdrive are in, because Amazon is keeping data on what our customers are borrowing and they’re not really supposed to.

So according to this bill, I might be violating state law simply by putting information out there to people in a format that works with their Kindles. And I haven’t told people this in my library. Because how do you tell people, “Well this great device that works really well, and it’s the smoothest check-out process of any device or format that we offer here in the library — but it violates your privacy, it jeopardizes your intellectual freedom, and, you know, it might kinda be against state law, but I’m not really sure.” How do you say that to people?

But I think it’s important for us as library staff to figure out a way to say it to people, because it’s our job to stand up for their privacy and their reading rights, even when they don’t know when that they’re in jeopardy.

Her video has already drawn some interesting comments — and started a discussion about other issues in Overdrive’s program for lending Kindle ebooks. “Another important problem is that they have not adequately addressed accessibility for screen reader users,” one viewer posted. “Kelly Ford explains some of the problems here: Ensuring non-discriminatory access for library users is just as important as privacy and intellectual freedom.”

And another user noted that library lending faces challenges from some other powerful companies. “Not only is Amazon and Overdrive in control but the publishers should get their share of the blame. If a publisher doesn’t want readers to be able to borrow an ebook, it doesn’t happen. For example, MacMillan and Simon & Schuster have opted out of the lending program. Two of the top six. Of course if you are a self-publisher, good luck even showing on the radar. We know something is up when the top ebook authors are missing from a library catalog: Amanda Hocking, John Locke, and Louise Voss, all top ebook authors are missing from my local library’s catalog.”

I think it’s important to remember that this call to action comes from some who’s committed to reading and to books in some very real world situations. Sarah Houghton — the librarian in the video — is the Assistant Director for the two public libraries in San Rafael, California, and she’s also been writing a blog for eight years called the “Librarian in Black”. Over time, she’s gotten familiar with how a library’s mission can benefit from the arrival of new technologies. She works with state and national library advocacy organizations, and she’s on the ebooks task force for the American Library Association’s Office for Information Technology Policy. Libary Journal even named her as a “mover and shaker’ (in their 2009 “trendspotter” category).

If you want to read a complete transcript of Sarah’s video, click here. There’s a little bit of profanity towards the end when she really lays into Overdrive. “You thought, ‘Well, we can tell them what’s going to happen, and they’re going to get mad. Or we can not tell them what’s going to happen, and we can bank on the fact that most of them aren’t going to notice, and the ones who do are probably not going to say very much or be very loud.’

“Well guess what? I’m getting ******* loud!”

To get Amazon’s response, I tried contacting their Kindle-Feedback address, where I received the following response.


Hello,

Thanks for writing about Amazon’s overdrive library lending program.

And I’m very sorry for any inconvenience in this regard. We take these issues very seriously.

I’ve forwarded your message to the appropriate department. Customer feedback like yours helps us continue to improve the service we provide, and we’re glad you took time to write to us.

We look forward to seeing you again.

Thank you for your recent inquiry. Did I solve your problem?

If yes, please click here…

sarahinred - librarian Sarah Houghton
Image of Sarah Houhgton by Peter Martin Jorgensen

The 10 Biggest Surprises about Amazon’s New Kindles

New Amazon Kindle Touch web browser surprise

There’s been some unexpected discoveries in the details about Amazon’s four newest Kindles. I’ve tried to identify the 10 biggest surprises in the list below — starting with five bad surprises, and then five good.

1. There’s No 3G Web Browsing
“Browsing available only in Wi-Fi mode,” reads the incriminating words on the 3G version of the Kindle Touch. Reportedly over the weekend some Amazon customer service reps incorrectly told customers they could still use Amazon’s 3G network access for web browsing on the upcoming Kindle Touch. “We apologize for the confusion,” reads an official response Sunday night from “The Amazon Kindle team” in an online discussion forum at Amazon.com. “Our new Kindle Touch 3G enables you to connect to the Kindle Store, download books and periodicals, and access Wikipedia – all over 3G or Wi-Fi.” But… “Experimental web browsing (outside of Wikipedia) on Kindle Touch 3G is only available over Wi-Fi.”

2. Power Adapters Not Included
A USB cable is always included with any Kindle that you buy, so presumably you can always charge them just by plugging them into a USB port. But for both the new $79 Kindle and the Kindle Touch, Amazon’s not including a power adapter. (They’re sold separately, for $9.99).

3. One Miserable Keyboard
Originally I’d thought the $79 Kindle shipped with a touchscreen, because there isn’t a keyboard built into its plastic frame — just an on-screen keyboard. But apparently there’s no way to actually type letters into that onscreen keyboard — at least, not using the “touch-typing” that we’re used to with other devices. Instead, Amazon pulls up a picture of a keyboard, then lets you slowly nudge your controller key (up, down, or sideways) to gradually move a highlight across the keyboard — one key at a time — until it’s finally highlighting the next letter you want to type. (And then you press the controller one more time, to select that letter.)

79 Kindle keyboard uses controller instead of touchscreen
If you’re planning to input text to search Amazon’s Kindle Store, Wikipedia, or Google, and you’re buying a $79 Kindle — expect it to be a little awkward and time-consuming!

4. Your Personal Documents are now Stored at Amazon.com
Apparently now even if you e-mail a file to your Kindle, Amazon keeps a copy on their “cloud” servers. On Amazon’s interactive list on the “Manage Your Kindle” page (at Amazon.com/myk), users are now seeing documents listed that they’ve e-mailed directly to their Kindle. They’re listed after selecting the “Personal Documents” choice from a pull-down menu labelled “Your Kindle Library” (along with more menu choices for books, newspapers, magazines, blogs, audible audiobooks, and active content). The only choice for personal documents is deleting the document from your Kindle — but it shows how committed Amazon is to the concept of a “cloud,” a virtual Amazon-controlled space where your documents are always waiting in limbo, for whenever you want to access them again. If the entire document is also stored, this creates an automatic back-up copy, but some privacy-sensitive users might already feel weird if a multi-billion dollar corporation has suddenly started creating lists of their own personal documents and photos.

UPDATE: One of my readers contacted me saying that “your personal documents are only stored online if you choose to do so. By default, the option is turned on, but you can turn it off…”

5. Amazon Prime not Included
You’ll only get a one-month free trial of Amazon’s Prime shipping service when you buy a Kindle Fire tablet. Maybe Amazon’s figuring it’s such an essential part of the tablet experience, most customers will still be willing to pay an extra $79 for a one-year subscription. But I’d thought Amazon would offer a much longer trial to try luring Kindle Fire customers into buying more things from Amazon’s store.


Now here’s five of the biggest good surprises about Amazon’s new upcoming Kindles…


1. Kindle Fire will have a NetFlix App!
Besides watching video from Amazon’s online video store, you can also use a Kindle Fire tablet to watch online videos from NetFlix! (Besides sending DVDs to your home, NetFlix also has a streaming video service that lets customers “Watch Instantly” online.) And one technology blogger noted Amazon was emphasizing this point during their big announcement on Wednesday. “The video service is one of four big developers – along with Pandora, Facebook and Twitter – that should have apps ready for the Kindle Fire at launch, Amazon has said over and over again…”

2. The Kindle Fire Supports Flash
It’s easy to take Flash for granted when you’re surfing the web from a desktop computer – but it’s a big deal to have this capability in a tablet. Apple’s iPad travelled a rocky road while trying to get its own version of Flash, but Amazon’s tablet will have it fron its very first day.

3. The Silk Browser is Incredibly Fast
There’s already been some complaints about how Amazon’s handling privacy in the new web browser they built for their Kindle Fire tablet. But it’s been designed specifically to provide faster web browsing, using Amazon’s servers to pre-format web pages before they even get to your tablet. “That provides a much better user experience,” an Amazon engineer explains in an online video, and another engineer even acknowledges their goal was “to kind of change the whole game, and really re-think how do you do web.” (“It’ll seem like a traditional browser — just a lot better and a lot faster than you’re used to working with.”) That’s a big claim, but there’ll be a lot of happy Kindle Fire owners if Amazon can pull it off. “We were only shown a brief glimpse of the new Silk browser,” reported the technology bloggers at Engadget, “but we must say the thing appears to deliver on its promises.”

4. One Special Offer Can Pay for the Cost of a Kindle.
Amazon knows customers don’t necessarily want ads on their Kindle – but they’ve worked hard to line up some very attractive offers. “[S]pending $114 on the Kindle saved me 20 percent on buying a new Apple MacBook Air,” reported one finance columnist, “a savings of $200.” He notes there’s been other discounts which exceed the original price of a Kindle with Special Offers, including a 20% discount on new LCD television screens. (“Some KSO buyers saved hundreds of dollars on their new TVs,” the columnist notes!)

5. Amazon’s Selling Kindle Fire at a Loss
Amazon’s also spreading around some other big discounts. The day after Amazon announced their new Kindles, their stock dropped more than $7 a share — a whopping 3.16%. It more than wiped out the 2.5% gain from Wednesday when they’d first announced their new Kindles. Amazon’s stock continued dropping on Friday — another 2.79% — but what’s bad for investors is often good for consumers. The stock drop is apparently tied to a report from an influential stock analyst who believes Amazon is selling each Kindle Fire tablet at a $50 loss.

On the big day when the new Kindles were finally announced, CEO Jeff Bezos posted a special message on the front page at Amazon.com. “There are two types of companies: those that work hard to charge customers more, and those that work hard to charge customers less…

“We are firmly in the second camp.”


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Amazon Considers a NetFlix for Books

NetFlix envelope

For the last few days I’ve been fighting a bad cold — and mulling an article that appeared recently in The Wall Street Journal. “Amazon.com Inc. is talking with book publishers about launching a Netflix Inc.-like service for digital books,” the Journal reported, “in which customers would pay an annual fee to access a library of content…”

The newspaper cites “people familiar with the matter” — though I have to cringe every time I read that. In July, the Journal used the same words to describe the informants who’d said Amazon would release two new versions of the Kindle — one cheaper, and one with a touchscreen — before the end of September. There’s just 10 days left in September, and we still haven’t seen any new Kindles yet. But it’s frustrating because I do trust the Journal’s sources. I think they’re correct about Amazon’s general plans, and just can’t pinpoint every detail with 100% accuracy.

And even if Amazon wants to offer a “NetFlix for books,” it’s not clear that book publishers would agree to the same model. “Several publishing executives said they aren’t enthusiastic about the idea, the Journal reports, “because they believe it could lower the value of books and because it could strain their relationships with other retailers that sell their books.” Amazon’s tried to sweeten the deal by offering publishers a hefty fee for participating. And at least some of the paper’s sources said that Amazon’s program would include a cap on the number of books available for free each month. (It’d be similar to the way NetFlix sends some members a specific number of DVDs each month from the top of their “upcoming” queue.)

It’s an interesting idea – and it’s fun to imagine all the ebooks that I’d read if I didn’t have to pay for them individually. Amazon told publishers they were considering “older titles” for the program, so it
wouldn’t necessarily cannibalize any sales from the publishers’ new releases. In fact, if done properly, a program like this could increase interest in new releases. For example, the newest book in an ongoing
series could only benefit if a NetFlix-like program introduced new readers to the series’ first books.

But of course, this idea will make much more sense if Amazon releases an iPad-style tablet. Obviously Amazon plans to send movies and music to the multimedia tablets — purchased from Amazon’s online store.
(And of course, Amazon has already built another store that sells apps for Android devices.) To make it even more appealing, Amazon’s also created some phone applications, so if you buy your Kindle an audiobook from Audible.com, you can even listen to it on your Android smartphone too. Amazon’s delivering on a trendy new concept — offering an easy-access “cloud” where any kind of content can be easily stored for later retrieval using any device. But I think ultimately Amazon wants people to see them as a one-stop shop for everything — movies, music, audiobooks and, yes, ebooks!

I think their whole long-range plan is to make it easy to buy things from Amazon — and their new tablet would be basically a portable “Amazon shopping device.”

And to sweeten the deal, I’m sure Amazon would love to be able to offer subscribers an all-you-can-eat deal on ebooks!

Another Big Sale on Kindle eBooks

Amazon Kindle 399 ebook sale

Amazon is touting another big sale on ebooks, with 100 priced for $3.99 or less. They’ll be on sale for the entire month of September, and Amazon promises it’s “a diverse offering of deals,” each one personally selected by Amazon’s book editors. But it looks like Amazon’s “$3.99 or less” sales will be continuing past the end of September. Amazon’s describing it as “the newest section of our store” in a promotional e-mail, promising the hand-selected will be updated “each month!”

The bargain ebooks are spread across four pages at Amazon.com. (Just point your web browser to tinyurl.com/399books.) But they’re not the only ebooks that Amazon has on sale. Amazon is also continuing its “Kindle Daily Deals” page, touting special offers on ebooks that last for exactly 24 hours.

Tuesday’s special offer is “Bonhoeffer”, available for the whole day for just $1.99! The page is now in its second week, and Amazon’s already sold some great ebooks at a big discount. In fact, nearly every one of them has crashed into Amazon’s list of the top 100 best-selling ebooks. (I’ll put their current rank in parentheses).

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (#5)
Seth Godin’s “Poke the Box” (#13)
William Styron’s “Darkness Visible”
Hidden in Plain View – a Darryl Billups mystery (#17)
The Lincoln Lawyer (#20)
Food, Inc
Elizabeth Street (#86)
Water for Elephants (#28)
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

I have a theory about the marketing campaign behind both of these sales. I think Amazon’s trying to help established authors by making easier for them to climb up Amazon’s best-seller lists. There’s so many ebooks that are already available at a low price on the Kindle, and I’ve seen a few first-time authors crashing past the expensive new releases with their own low-priced, self-published ebooks. Although maybe Amazon’s just trying to fight the perception that the price of ebooks is too high. (It’s a common complaint in Kindle discussion forums — and at least now Amazon can always point to over 100 interesting ebooks which are on sale for less than $3.99.)

So what ebooks were hand-selected for Amazon’s special month-long September sale? Here’s a few titles that I thought look particularly interesting…

The Black Ice – ($1.99) – Michael Connelly is one of just 10 authors who’s sold more than 1 million ebooks in Amazon’s Kindle store. (One of Connelly’s books — The Lincoln Lawyer — has already reached the top 20 in Amazon’s Kindle Store after it was featured as a Kindle Daily Deal.) But “The Black Ice,” published in 1993, was the author’s second book, and the second installment in his popular Harry Bosch mysteries. (Then-President Bill Clinton was reportedly a fan!) In this story, detective Bosch investigates the suspicious suicide of a narcotics officer in a seedy motel room in Hollywood.

Because of Winn-Dixie ($1.99) – Kate DiCamillo’s award-winning story about a scruffy dog who touches the lives of a family in Florida. (“[A]bsolutely loved it,” posted one grade school librarian on the book’s page at Amazon.com)

The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr. ($1.99) – This book was published just last summer by Coretta Scott King (who wrote a special forward for the collection remembering how she’d first met her husband). There’s about 120 quotes in the book, focusing on inspirational topics like nonviolence, faith and religion, justice and freedom, and racism. And it even includes an excerpt from one of King’s most famous writing, the “I Have a Dream” speech delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Hot Water Music ($2.99) – a fascinating collection of short stories by Charles Bukowski available for just $2.99. (“This collection deals largely with: drinking, women, gambling, and writing,” explains
the book’s product description.)

North Dallas Forty ($2.99) – the classic sports book that, according to the book’s description at Amazon.com, is “widely considered the best football novel of all time.” (It promises “the seedy underbelly of the pro game, chronicling eight days in the life of Phil Elliott, an aging receiver for the Texas team. Running on a mixture of painkillers and cortisone as he tries to keep his fading legs strong, Elliott tries to get every ounce of pleasure out of his last days of glory…”)

There’s even a few fun books for children — like “Dinosaurs Before Dark,” the first book in the “Magic Treehouse” series. (It really does look like there’s something for everybody.) Whatever Amazon’s motivation may be, this is ultimately going to be a big win for readers. There’s finally been a real commitment to regularly offer ebooks at a much friendlier price.

Amazon Launches “Daily Deals” on Kindle Ebooks!

Amazon Kindle Daily Deals on ebooks

Remember how exciting it was? Amazon’s announced a temporary price reduction on a handful of special ebooks at least twice this summer — and now they’re going to do it every single day!

In July, Amazon announced “The Big Deal” — over 900 ebooks with prices between 99 cents and $3.99. And in June, they’d announced “Sunshine Deals” — 600 titles priced between 99 cents and $2.99. But today, Amazon announced that special prices have become an everyday thing at Amazon. “Each day, we’re unveiling one Kindle book at a specially discounted price!”

“Check back daily to see what’s next!”

The deals will appear on a special web page at amazon.com/kindledailydeal. Amazon will also post an announcement about the special deals each day on the Kindle’s Twitter feed, and you’ll also see them mentioned often on the blog of Amazon’s Kindle editors, Kindle Daily Post, as well as on the Kindle’s page on Facebook. The deals “go live at approximately 12:00 a.m. Pacific time,” according to Amazon, and they’ll run for exactly 24 hours. The deals just started today, but they’ve already been creating some excitement.

Within one hour, nearly 300 people on Facebook had already clicked the “Like” icon for Amazon’s announcement of the daily deals on the Kindle’s Facebook page. “Can’t wait to take advantage of some of these deals…” wrote one new Kindle owner in a comment below the announcement. “so happy you’re doing this!” added a student in Massachusetts. And another commenter was so enthusiastic, their biggest question was what took Amazon so long?

“About darned time!” they wrote. “Amazon does Daily Deals for every other department. One for Kindle books seemed like a no-brainer.”

I thought it was sweet that Amazon launched the program with an ebook for young readers — The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. It’s by author Kate Dicamillo, who had already won a Newbery award for Because of Winn-Dixie, her story about a scruffy dog who touched the lives of a family in Florida. Six years later, she wrote this similarly inspirational novel about a porcelain rabbit, floating away from its original owner when it’s lost over the side of a boat. “Along the way, Edward learns to love the people he encounters,” writes the School Library Journal. “He also learns that family members can be cruel to one another; that hobos have family that they love dearly and don’t want to forget; that no matter how much you love someone, she may still die; and that no matter what happens in life, never give up on love.”

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

“I will not be downloading this book as I don’t want to soak my Kindle with my tears!” one reader posted on the Kindle’s Facebook page. But most of the other comments were very enthusiastic.

“One of my favorite books ever!”
“If you have kids get this book!”
“My son read this book in first grade and adored it.”

And one schoolteacher even left a comment which I thought was very compelling. “I have been teaching for 13 years and every year the kids just love this book. I love the lesson of the book, all the characters and her writing style. BUY it and give it her a try.” But if you’re not interested in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, don’t worry.

Because Amazon will have another ebook on sale tomorrow!

Where Can You Buy New Kindles?

AT&T Store (inside)

A funny thing happened when I called my local AT&T store. “AT&T doesn’t carry the Kindle,” their sales clerk told me. (Adding “Sorry about that…”) But he was contradicted by a new press release on AT&T’s web site. Five months ago, in March, Amazon started distributing their 3G Kindle through the thousands of AT&T Stores across America. And yesterday represented another step forward, as AT&T Stores also began carrying the Kindle with Special Offers!

I’m assuming the sales clerk just made a mistake at my local AT&T store. (Even though when I went down to the store, another sales clerk told me the same thing.) She even checked with her manager, and then came back with the same response. “We haven’t heard anything,” she told me. Then she suggested I try Barnes and Noble!

Now I was sure she was confused. But AT&T representative explained that it was just as much my mistake. “That’s an affiliate store,” explained AT&T spokesperson Seth Bloom. While they’re an “authorized retailer,” they’re not necessarily selling every product that you’d find in an official AT&T Store. So while they’re Kindle is available at over 2,200 AT&T Stores around the country – it may not be available if your local store is just an AT&T affiliate.

In fact, there’s so many places where you can go to buy a Kindle now, that I’m starting to lose track! In the U.S., they’re available in the chains of big “box stores” like Target, Staples, Best Buy, and Radio Shack. In Australia, the same thing is happening, with the Kindle available for purchase in three more big chains — Dick Smith, Big W, and Woolworths. And it was just last August that Amazon finally opened an online store for the U.K.. “Previously, UK Kindle owners had to get their device shipped from the US,” remembers a British newspaper, “with subsequent book purchases retailed in dollars!”

Of course, AT&T has a special stake in the Kindles, since they’re also providing the network coverage for the 3G Kindle. Amazon pays AT&T between $3 and $4 a month for every Kindle that connects to their network, according to an estimate by one New York technology analyst. (And in addition, throughout America, AT&T is also the exclusive network provider for both the Nook and the Sony Reader.) This means that behind the scenes, most of the ebooks that are delivered to digital readers are travelling across AT&T’s network. And they’ve already created a page on the AT&T web site with their own pitch for the Kindle 3G


Read longer, less eye strain
True mobility – Only 8.7 ounces so you can take it anywhere
Long battery life
Kindle eBook store – More than 900,000 books…plus periodicals, blogs, and over 1.8 million free out-of-copyright books
Read to me – New experimental Text-to-Speech feature in selected eBooks reads English language content out loud
Kindle Book lending…


I don’t know why I felt so happy when I heard there’d be more Kindle appearing in my local AT&T store. Maybe it’s because it just makes it easier for more people to join in on the fun of owning a Kindle.

That is, if AT&T can actually get the Kindles into their store!

AT&T Store (sign)

When is Amazon Releasing the Kindle 4?

shh - finger to lips - secret rumor

I think I’ve discovered a secret. The source for a big rumor about Amazon’s next Kindle now appears to have changed their story!

It’s something I stumbled across while reviewing all the articles about what Amazon is planning next for the Kindle. Strong rumors suggest that Amazon is planning to release a new iPad-style tablet — but three weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal also reported two additional rumors. Citing people “familiar with Amazon’s thinking,” the Journal reported that Amazon also planned to release two new versions of the Kindle. One of these Kindles would have a touchscreen (like the newest version of the Nook that was recently released by Barnes and Noble). And the Journal also reported that by the end of September, Amazon would release an “improved and cheaper” version of the Kindle.

But strangely, the second claim is no longer appearing in the Journal’s article!

You can still see that original claim being quoted in articles around the web — even though the Journal has now removed it from its site. (For example, this article from PC Magazine quotes the Journal article as saying Amazon would release “an improved and cheaper adaptation of the current Kindle.”) Does this mean Amazon won’t be releasing a cheaper version of the Kindle along with the touch-screen version? My guess is the newspaper’s source later contacted them with a correction, or with updated information — and the Journal quietly edited their original piece to reflect the new information.

I could be wrong about the significance of this change, so consider it a new rumor about an old rumor. But an even more important question is when will Amazon release the next version of the Kindle. And I also have my own theory about that.

It’s easy to see if you check the dates for when Amazon’s released past upgrades to their Kindle. In November of 2007, Amazon released their first Kindle — and then released a newer version just 15 months later (the Kindle 2). That was in February of 2009, and nearly the same amount of time then elapsed before the release of the Kindle 3 in August of 2010. (The total time between the two Kindles was now 18 months.) Of course, Amazon released a slight upgrade in May of 2011 — the cheaper Kindle with Special Offers. But if Amazon sticks to their original pattern, they’ll release “the Kindle 4” within 15 to 18 months from the time that they released the last Kindle. That would mean we’d seen the Kindle 4 between November and February.

But of course, Amazon would want to release their new Kindle before the big pre-Christmas shopping season. (Once an analyst calculated that 47% of the people who owned a Kindle actually received it as a gift!) So to catch the big wave of shoppers, Amazon would almost certainly move up the release date of the Kindle 4 so it’s available for the big “Black Friday” sales that happen on the day after Thanksgiving. The only real question is whether they’d release the Kindle on that crucial November shopping day — or a few weeks earlier, so that shoppers could hear about it first in a big wave of pre-Thanksgiving publicity. And it turns out that my estimate is within eight weeks of what the Wall Street Journal predicted — that the next version of the Kindle would be released before the end of September.

But then again, the Journal also reported — and then apparently retracted — a claim that Amazon would release a new Kindle which was “improved and cheaper”.

Amazon’s Secret Sale on Kindles?

Amazon special warehouse sale price discount on refurbished Kindle 3

For the last two days, Amazon’s been selling the Kindle 3 at an even lower price than usual. A refurbished Kindle 3 cost just $129.99 — a reduction of more than 31% from its usual sales price of $189.00. And for the WiFi-only version of a refurbished Kindle 3, the price was just $99.99 — also close to a 30% reduction from its usual $139!

This is the lowest price I’ve ever seen for a refurbished Kindle. Back in March, Amazon lowered prices on a refurbished Kindle 3, but only by ten dollars — to $129.99 for the WiFi-only version, and $179.99 for the Kindle 3G. What’s going on here? Maybe Amazon’s getting rid of them, because they’re planning to start selling a newer version of the Kindle soon. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that by the end of September, Amazon will have released two different versions of the Kindle — citing “people familiar with the matter.” (And at least one of the new Kindles will even have a touchscreen, according to the newspaper’s sources.)

It’s a strategy Amazon’s used before. In a Kindle discussion site, one poster remembers buying a cheap Kindle 2 last summer for just $109 — only to discover that a month later Amazon was releasing the new Kindle 3! But it turns out that it’s not just Kindles that Amazon’s selling at a discount. Their “Warehouse Deals” page is also offering big discounts on over 20 different refurbished Kindle jackets and skins. (My favorite was the yellow Kindle skin with the smiling face of Mickey Mouse.)

Mickey Mouse Kindle skin

You can even buy a refurbished Kindle 2 for just $89.99. And Amazon’s special page also promises they’ve checked the quality of all the refurbished items. “Amazon receives a returned product,” explains a flow chart at the top of the page. “Product’s working order is ensured… Product quality level is determined… Product is offered at deep discount.” In fact, the home page for Amazon’s “Warehouse Deals” now features a whole section devoted to the Kindle and Kindle accessories.

So if you’ve ever wanted to shop for another — or for an interesting Kindle jacket — here’s your chance to find one at a discount!

The Kindle Comes to College

Amazon Kindle Textbook ebook rentals

Those poor college students. I was visiting a campus at California State University, and the textbook prices at the student bookstore were expensive! One of the textbooks actually cost $138 (new), and while there was a cheaper used edition, it still cost over a hundred dollars!

But here’s the interesting part. The cheapest option — listed on a tag on the bookshelf — was not buying a printed book at all. College students can now rent their texts in ebook format. “They’re cheaper,” a college student behind the cash register explained to me. “But you only get them for a limited period of time.”

Amazon’s trying to help — or at least, to take advantage of the situation. Last week they launched a new service called “Kindle Texbook Rentals,” now promising savings of up to 80% over the cost of a printed text-book. And there’s an additional advantage that Amazon’s technology will make possible. “Normally, when you sell your print textbook at the end of the semester you lose all the margin notes and highlights you made as you were studying,” explained David Limp, vice president of Amazon’s Kindle department. “We’re extending our Whispersync technology so that you get to keep and access all of your notes and highlighted content in the Amazon Cloud, available anytime, anywhere – even after a rental expires!”

Amazon pro-rates the cost of your e-book based on how long you rent it — for a period that can be anywhere from 30 days to 360. “Tens of thousands of textbooks are available for the 2011 school year…” Amazon promised in their press release. And you don’t even need a Kindle in order to access the ebooks. Amazon will also deliver these ebooks to any of the free Kindle apps that are available — which includes Kindle apps for Mac and PC computers, as well as Apple products like the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch, and even the Windows Phone, Blackberry, and any Android-powered devices.

“Kindle Rental has the best prices,” concluded a textbook-comparison web site — but there were a couple of catches. First, Amazon only offered 18 of the top 100 college textbooks, according to CampusBooks.com. And even among those 18 textbooks, only five were available for the cheapest rental period. “Renting a Kindle book for the advertised 30-day period yielded the highest savings, often in the double-digits…” the web site explained in their press release, “but only five of 100 titles were available for the month-long range.”

“The other 13 titles available had minimum periods of 60 days, and the savings were less.”

And what happens if you wanted to rent your e-book for more than 60 days? “[I]f students were to rent via Kindle for a whole semester (120 days), only half of the time was Kindle Rental cheaper than buying and selling a used book.” Hopefully Amazon’s selection will grow as more students continue using it, but the ultimate judges will be actual students who are shopping for their college textbooks. On Tuesday CampusRentals.com tracked down an actual college student — a senior at Trinity College in Connecticut — who is currently giving Amazon’s new service a mixed review. “It’ll be great once they get more titles,” he told the web site.

“But for now, I’m stuck with other options.”

Surprises in Amazon’s New Quarterly Report?

Amazon 9.9 billion in sales for 2Q 2011

This afternoon, Amazon finally told investors what their sales were for the months from April through June — and they surprised even Wall Street’s analysts. Compared to last year, Amazon’s net sales for the period were 51% higher. It was “the fastest growth we’ve seen in over a decade,” Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos said in a statement — which at times sounded more like a sales pitch for the Kindle.

“Kindle 3G with Special Offers has quickly become our bestselling Kindle at only $139,” Bezos continued, touting the convenience of not having to hunt for a Wi-Fi hotspot. But he also revealed that Kindle sales were increasing — and at a faster rate than they were last year. Of course, there might be a simple explanation for that. Amazon released the cheaper $114 “Kindle with Special Offers” in April, which you’d
expect to increase sales from the three-month lull after Christmas.

But in general, Bezos insisted, Amazon’s sales growth was being driven by “Low prices, expanding selection, fast delivery and innovation…” (It sometimes seems like Amazon is talking in code words, since they never actually reveal specifically how many Kindles they’ve sold.) Fortunately, Bloomberg News talked to an industry analyst instead, who estimated that Amazon may have sold more than 8 million Kindles just in 2010. And more importantly, they estimate that Kindle readers already account for 5% of Amazon’s total sales.

In fact, Amazon’s now approaching more than one million ebooks that are available for sale in their Kindle store (besides the millions of free, out-of-copyright books). “The U.S. Kindle Store now has more than 950,000 books,” Amazon said in a statement today, “including New Releases and 110 of 111 New York Times Bestsellers.” What’s even more remarkable is that more than 800,000 books are available for less than $9.99, “including 65 New York Times Bestsellers.” In a Tuesday conference call, Amazon spoke of a “conversion from physical to digital” in their business, and seemed to hint that those offerings had been very popular with Amazon’s customers. (“We feel very good about those investments in terms of the traction we’re getting from a customer standpoint,” an Amazon official explained.)

Sales of the Kindle and electronic merchandise “are two big drivers for Amazon that continued unabated,” one analyst told Bloomberg News. Despite some pressure from costs, “Amazon is running on all cylinders,” another analyst commented. The dark cloud is the money Amazon’s been spending to achieve all these higher sales — but even there, the Kindle’s proving to be something Amazon officials point to with pride.

“We started investing in our Kindle businesses several years ago…” one Amazon official explained on Tuesday’s call, “and those have gotten great traction…” Amazon’s now opened 15 new distribution centers — which I’m guessing will play a role when Amazon finally releases an iPad-sized tablet, possibly offering free two-day shipping as part of the deal. In Tuesday’s conference call, Amazon used the profitability of the Kindle business as an example of why that’s necessary, saying the profits didn’t happen overnight. “Those are things that have happened over an extended period of time.”

There was a 34-minute question-and-answer period at the end of the call, and somebody finally asked directly whether Amazon planned to release their own multimedia tablet to compete with the iPad. But
while the question was asked, it wasn’t answered. (“We have a longstanding practice of not talking about what we might or might not do,” an Amazon official explained, “and so I can’t — I can’t help you with that question.”

I learned something I didn’t know. More than 45% of Amazon’s sales weren’t even in North America. (Amazon also has sites for Japan, China, France, England, Germany, and Italy.) Amazon’s total sales for just the last three months were $9.9 billion — and professional investors seemed to be positively impressed.

After the stock market closed, “late trading” pushed the company’s shares up a full 6.9%

Over 900 Ebooks On Sale!


Amazon Big Deal 99-cent ebook sale


Better hurry. Amazon’s announced a big sale on ebooks — but it ends Wednesday. “Now through July 27, more than 900 Kindle books are on sale,” they explain on a special web page, “for $0.99, $1.99, $2.99, and $3.99.”

They’re calling the promotion “The Big Deal,” and it’s a nice way to highlight the wide selection of e-books that are now available in Amazon’s Kindle store. Besides fiction, I see celebrity biographies, plus books about cooking, fitness and parenting — and everything from Christian fiction to a satirical e-book called “Stuff Christians Like.” Even if the special prices aren’t available in your country, it’s still a nice way to imagine new things you could be reading on your Kindle. I browsed through the list today, and found some books that I didn’t even know existed!

One of the most-popular ebooks on sale today is “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” — which is billed as an “expanded edition” of Jane Austen’s classic 19th-century romance novel. (“85 percent of the original text has been preserved but fused with ‘ultraviolent zombie mayhem,'” explains the book’s description on Amazon.) “This parody shows that Austen’s novel has remained so powerful over time that even the undead can’t spoil it,” reads another review. But it turns out it’s just one of several strange literary mash-ups that are now available at a reduced in price.

There’s also “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls” — which is billed as a prequel by a new author — as well as his follow-up effort, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dreadfully Ever After”. Through Wednesday each ebook is available for just 99 cents — and you can also purchase a similar ebook titled “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.” Someone’s even attempted a similar re-working of a famous short story by Franz Kafka — The Metamorphosis — by changing its plot so the protagonist turns not into an insect, but a cat. Its title? The Meowmorphosis. (And apparently there’s even a zombie ebook for children, titled “That’s Not Your Mommy Anymore: A Zombie Tale”…)

I’m not the only one who’s excited about the sale. “Just got my Kindle a few days ago, so the timing is perfect…” read one comment on Facebook. In fact, when Amazon announced the special prices, 538 different people indicated that they liked the deal (by pressing Facebook’s “Like” icon) — and another 101 left comments. “At $0.99, it is a perfect opportunity to try new authors,” read another comment, which added “I have found several new authors to read…”

It looks like there’s price discounts on nearly a thousand ebooks. (The best-seller list ends at #972…) But some of the ebooks are just enhanced editions where the text is already available elsewhere as a free e-book. For example, one of the special deals touts the classic Zane Grey western — “Riders of the Purple Sage” — for just $2.99, though the work is now in the public domain, and you can already find a free edition elsewhere in the Kindle store. There’s also an audio/video-enhanced version of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin for $1.99 — though if you’re looking for just the text, a free edition is also available.

I was surprised to find another ebook available for free — an indie biography (with a lot of pictures) called The Beatles: Fifty Fabulous Years by Les Krantz and Robert Rodriguez. But that just goes to show how much fun I had browsing through all of the sale-priced ebooks today. I discovered that even Roger Ebert, the famous film critic, has a funny ebook available at a special sales price, called “Your Movie Sucks” — a collection of his sharpest reviews, now available for just $1.99. And for $1.99, you can also read “Day of the Triffids” – the classic science fiction novel-turned movie that was immortalized forever in the opening song of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

There’s also two food-related books seemed interesting. One was “The I Love Trader Joe’s Cookbook: More than 150 Delicious Recipes Using Only Foods from the World’s Greatest Grocery Store” — specially-priced at just $2.99. And for ketchup lovers, there’s even “H. J. Heinz: A Biography” for only $3.99.

So what other interesting ebooks are on sale today in Amazon’s Kindle Store?

Hey Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland ($2.99)
Kindle 3 For Dummies ($3.99)
The Art of War by Sun Tzu ($2.99)
The Man Who Left Too Soon: The Life and Works of Stieg Larsson (99 cents)
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey ($5.99)
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner ($5.99)
Old Yeller – $1.99
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary ($3.99)
Bermuda Shorts by James Patterson – $4.99
Compromising Positions by Susan Isaacs – $3.79
Wuthering Heights: The Wild and Wanton Edition ($2.99)
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley ($3.99)

Click here for a complete list

Amazon Lowers Prices on Kindle!

Kindle 3G with Special Offers - an Amazon sale discount of 139


“Our best ever Kindle at a new low price!” Amazon announced today on the front page at Amazon.com. For $139, you can now get a Kindle with a 3G wireless internet connection — saving $50 over the usual cost of a Kindle 3G. Of course, it’s the “Kindle with Special Offers,” where the screen savers are slick images advertising the device’s sponsors. But Amazon had been selling this model for $169, so it’s still a new savings of $25.

My theory? Google released their own digital reading device on Monday — and they priced it at $139. It’s a price war — where consumers benefit — and the rivalry between the two companies probably means that we’ll all pay a lot less for our next new Kindle.

In a statement today, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos shared “A big thank you to AT&T for helping to make the new $139 price possible.” (AT&T is the sponsor of the device, and they said today that the Kindle is “by far the fastest-growing connected device on the AT&T network.”) But Amazon’s CEO also revealed some interesting statistics — suggesting that the wireless capability increases sales for both Amazon and AT&T. “Kindle 3G customers read 20 percent more books, and take advantage of twice as many special offers.”

I already know the advantages, and it really is great to have a Kindle that can connect to Amazon’s store anywhere, any time. But it was fun to watch Amazon try to explain it to new customers who might be contemplating a purchase. “There’s no wireless set up, and no paying for or hunting for Wi-Fi hotspots,” they wrote in today’s press release. “Kindle 3G’s always-on global wireless connectivity means that wherever you are – at the beach, on the train, or stuck on the tarmac – no problem, you can download books and periodicals in less than 60 seconds and start reading instantly!”

I didn’t realize the device had its own shortcut at Amazon.com. Just point your browser to amazon.com/kindle3G and Amazon delivers the web page about their top-end Kindle. They shared this URL in their press release, but unfortunately it’s the wrong one! That’s the URL for the ad-free version of the Kindle — while it’s only the Kindle 3G with special offers that’s been reduced in price to just $139.

Fortunately, somewhere in Amazon’s headquarters there’s a geek who’s created another shortcut to send shoppers in the right direction. I discovered this morning that there’s a second URL — amazon.com/kindlespecialoffers — which will take you directly to Amazon’s web page for the new specially-priced Kindle 3G with Special Offers.

Amazon’s Response to the State of California

Amazon vs the state of California's bear from flag


Amazon’s just closed the “Affiliates” accounts of everyone in California. (These accounts allow bloggers to link to items in Amazon’s store and receive a commission when someone purchases them.) California passed a new bill requiring more online retailers to pay sales tax, and within 24 hours Amazon closed every associates account in the state of California.

“We oppose this bill because it is unconstitutional and counterproductive,” Amazon wrote in their termination notice. “It is supported by big-box retailers, most of which are based outside California, that seek to harm the affiliate advertising programs of their competitors.” Amazon clearly intends to stir political pressure against California’s lawmakers, going so far as to argue that “Similar legislation in other states has led to job and income losses, and little, if any, new tax revenue.” They add that they “deeply regret” the closures, and end with a reminder that Californians can still purchase things from Amazon web sites (“to avoid confusion”).

Blogger Ezra Klein argues that Amazon opposes the bill because “it wipes out a price advantage they currently have against their competitors” — but I feel like Amazon’s position is more nuanced. Amazon says they’re already paying sales tax in a number of U.S. states, according to ZDNet — in Kansas, Kentucky, New York, North Dakota and Washington. Plus, Amazon recently expanded their physical presence into Arizona, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Nevada, so they’ll presumably start paying sales taxes there as well.

“Look closer,” writes ZDNet columnist Violet Blue, “and you’ll see that Amazon is fighting state-by-state battles against increasingly irrational legislation.” In fact, earlier this month Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, specifically addressed the sales tax question during Amazon’s annual shareholder’s meeting. He was asked how he sees retail changing over the next decade, and how he’d resolve this online sales tax issue. Here’s how he answered the question.

“The right solution to sales tax in my view, and certainly this is Amazon’s position, and it’s been consistent. We’ve had this position for 10 years — is that the right place to solve this is federal legislation. There is an initiative called the simplified sales tax initiative. 22 states have already signed on. That legislation needs to get passed. I believe that that will happen in the time frame that you laid out. I hope it might happen much sooner than that. I think it’s the right thing to do, and I think it’d be great for Amazon.

“By the way…on the sales tax issue, keep in mind that in more than half of the geographies where we do business — certain states, as well as Europe and Asia — all together, more than half of our business is in jurisdictions where we already collect sales tax or its equivalent, like the value-added tax. So, you know, we’re very — this issue is — our position on this hasn’t changed. We think our position is a good one.

“And we’ll stick with that.”

Inside Jeff Bezos’s Head: Amazon’s Android Tablet?

Inside the head of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos - what is he thinking

I think I’ve learned a secret about Amazon. On June 7, Amazon held its annual shareholder’s meeting, and I just took a closer look at my notes. They offer a fascinating peek inside the mind of Jeff Bezos. But can they answer the question about what’s in Amazon’s future?

It seemed like the shareholder’s had one question on their mind: is Amazon building an iPad-style tablet? No one asked the question directly, but several seemed to ask it indirectly. For example, one shareholder asked Bezos how Amazon’s online retail business would look in 10 years. And it seemed like Bezos took the bait.

“One thing that I think will change is that we will see way better mobile devices, even than we have today,” he told the crowd. And then he switched to a historical perspective. “If you look back five years — try using the web on a mobile device five years ago. It was an extraordinarily painful experience. “Today it’s still a marginal experience, in many cases,” he said significantly. “If you have a good WiFi connection and a very good, you know, uh, smartphone or tablet, it’s now getting to be a pretty good situation. But with the average phone that people have and the average cellular connection that people have, the mobile browsing experience is still a pretty marginal one.

“That is going to change.”

Maybe he was just talking generally about the progress of handheld devices, since he also predicted that “we’re going to continue to have pervasive wireless bandwidth that’s going to continue to increase. And the form factors of the phones — the displays, the battery life — smart phones are going to get smarter. They’re going to get better. They’re going to be unbelievably good as web browsing devices.” And then he hit on Amazon’s real stake in the creation of better mobile devices. “That is a huge tailwind for Amazon in our retail business, and so we’re very excited about that.”

But sure enough, next he stopped talking about smartphones and started talking about tablets — while still focusing on its impact on Amazon’s retail business. “I feel the same way about tablets. Most of our customers shop with us from laptops or desktop computers. But people have a different posture with tablets — like, lean back on their sofa. And people leaning back on their sofa, buying things from Amazon, is another tailwind for our business. I’m very excited about that.”

There was a similar moment when another shareholder asked a question about Yahoo’s new “cloud” service (where digital music and video are stored online for access through multiple devices). Maybe that’s all Bezos was talking about — but I wondered if he was thinking about the possibility of playing music and video on Amazon tablet devices. Bezos said that “integrating those consumer experiences, those digital media experiences, into the cloud is something that will be very helpful — for consumers.” Whether it’s consumer-facing or developer-facing, “these are big markets that can support lots of winners,” Bezos said. “And so as has been our practice from the very beginning, we will stay heads-down, focus on the customer experience, and…expect that there will be other winners as well.”

I could be seeing what I want to see in everything that Jeff Bezos said — but Amazon’s other shareholders seemed curious too. The next question raised some of the same issues in more general terms, asking simply “Should we think of you as a technology company, an infrastructure company, an e-commerce company?”

Yes,” Bezos replied. And of course, if you’re reading between the lines, it’s easy to see the same pattern in his answer.

“In the last six years, as we’ve built Amazon Web services, we’ve also become a company that provides technology. Now we sell technology, which really we hadn’t done. We’d been users of our own proprietary technology, and now we’re on both sides of that.

“And I like both sides of that….”

Is the Kindle Good for the Environment?

Is the Amazon Kindle good for the environment

Last week in Seattle, Amazon held their annual shareholder’s meeting, and since it was also being web-cast I decided to sneak a listen. One of the very first things on the agenda was a shareholder’s request that Amazon report on how it’s handling climate change — how Amazon assesses its own impact through the release of greenhouse-gas emissions. And specifically: the environmental impact of the Kindle…

The measure was voted down — the same shareholders have apparently made the same request every year for the last five years — but I was surprised by one of the statistics they cited. “70% of S&P 500 companies and over 80% of Global 500 companies disclose this type of information through the Carbon Disclosure Project, including companies such as Google, eBay, Apple, and Target.” But it turns out Amazon’s CEO had already included some environmental information in his prepared remarks.

Jeff Bezos took the podium, and proudly talked about how Amazon had launched their “frustration-free packaging initiative” just a few years ago, “designed to eliminate wire twist ties, blister packs, and
those clear hard plastic packages that you need a small nuclear device to open. And usually they result in bleeding.” I was surprised, but it turns out he wasn’t kidding about the bleeding. “I use to know the statistic of how many emergency room visits there are per year from people trying to open blister packs.”

But more to the point: “It’s very frustrating as a consumer.”

And then Jeff Bezos schooled the audience, revealing the dirty secrets behind blister packs and elaborate four-color cardboard packaging. “They’re both designed for the traditional physical retail environment. The blister packs are important because you can see the product and seeing the product is part of on-shelf merchandising. And you often see small items in big blister packs. The reason that that’s done is to make shoplifting more difficult.”

“At Amazon we don’t need either of those. We don’t have either of those reasons. We get to separate the physical packaging of the item from the merchandising of the item. And we also don’t have to worry about shoplifting!”

The funny thing is that according to Bezos, it’s actually more expensive for manufacturers to add blister packs — so Amazon is working with manufacturers to create a different set of packaging for online shoppers. (Otherwise, as Bezos points out, “It’s expensive for the manufacturer, it’s inconvenient for the consumer, and it’s also very wasteful from an environmental point of view.”) Since Amazon launched this program in 2008, they’ve gone from just 250,000 items in frustration-free packaging to over 4 million, Bezos told his shareholders. “And this, by the way, does not include Amazon-branded items like the Kindle or our Amazon Basics line, which are also in frustration-free packaging,” he pointed out. “These numbers only represent our efforts working together with third-party manufacturers to get them to adopt our frustration-free packaging standards.”

Of course, Kindle owners probably care more about the answer to a more direct question: How many e-books do I have to read before I’ve saved a tree? Last year it was the subject of an article by Geoffrey Lean, a newspaper reporter identified by the Daily Telegraph as Britain’s longest-serving environmental correspondent. (He’s been reporting on the environment for almost 40 years). Lean reported there’s two theories about whether the Kindle (and other digital readers) are environmentally-friendly.


Gadget-lovers point out that the US printed word causes 125 million trees to be felled every year. The bookish retort that the e-readers take more energy to make, consume electricity, contain more chemicals, and create a greater waste problem when thrown away.

The real answer appears to hinge on how many books you read each year, Lean concludes, with different studies arriving at different answers. “One reckoned that you would have to get through 40 electronically each year to come out ahead, another made that 23, while a third concluded that the carbon produced in making each e-reader would be recovered by the trees it left standing in just 12 months.” His final answer was a little dissatisfying — that the greenest way to read “turns out to be old-fashioned. Get books – from a public library.”

And I’d argue it still remains an open question — since it still depends on how far you’ll drive to get to your public library!

Nook vs Kindle: Did Consumer Reports Make a Mistake?

Consumer Reports logo

I’ve been studying a new article by Consumer Reports which just went online Friday. “In a first, a Nook beats the Kindle in our e-book reader Ratings,” they announced in a bold-print headline.

They’re talking about the new touch-screen version of the Nook (which finally went on sale last week). “The Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch Reader is more than merely a worthy competitor to the Kindle…” writes Consumer Reports reviewer, Paul Reynolds. “Now that we’ve tested the device in our labs, it actually scores a few points above the Kindle in our tests.”

Except not really. The article looks like it was changed later by a proofreader, who’s added the phrase “[corrected]” at one point further down the page. And now in brackets, in the third sentence of the article,
there’s a pretty big disclaimer. “[To clarify: The Nook scores one point above the Kindle below it in the 6-to-7-inch category. But it ranges from 4 to 5 points higher than other Kindles.]”

I’m not sure what “other” Kindles they’re talking about, since the only Kindle I know that’s isn’t six inches is the Kindle DX (which hasn’t been updated in almost a year). There’s also the cheaper “Kindle with Special Offers” and the WiFi-only Kindle — but that’s not really a fair comparison. (Obviously consumers already know what trade-offs they’ve made in order to get the lower price.) And of course, Amazon has stopped selling the Kindle 2 and the original Kindle, so there’s not much point in telling today’s consumers how those devices would’ve stacked up. It looks to me this comparison is a tie — especially since Amazon has announced later this year they’ll add the ability to borrow e-books from a library. The Nook was awarded a point for already having this capability, so it’s an advantage which is going to be short-lived.

I was also really intrigued that Consumer Reports didn’t award the Nook any extra points for the supposedly longer battery life that Barnes and Noble had been claiming they’d achieved. “Despite a power struggle between B&N and Amazon over which device runs for longer, we give both equal credit for a claimed battery life of five days or more,” their reviewer writes. In fact, for several criteria, it’s a tie (including battery life), and I’ve heard that the Kindle apparently beat the Nook when the magazine rated the devices on “Versatility”. One person who’s seen the ratings told me the Nook only scored higher for supported file types, and for the way that the Nook handles page turns.

And yet both the Kindle and the Nook received the magazine’s “Best Buy” rating. (Consumer Reports notes the latest version of the Nook “continues the steady improvement in Barnes & Noble’s e-book devices since the company rushed out a glitchy first version…during the holiday season of 2009.”) So now they’re reporting that “Simple Touch” Nook “matches or bests – albeit modestly – its Amazon competitor in almost every aspect of performance. ” This comparison ultimately shows that the Nook hasn’t landed a knock-out punch to Amazon’s Kindle project.

It’s more interesting as a general comparison, a status check on the war that’s raging between these two devices. “B&N has caught up with the Kindle in large part by emulating Amazon’s focus on reading with minimal fuss and extra features,” writes Consumer Reports, noting the new Nook eliminated the color navigation screen below the reading area (as well as the easy access to the Nook’s web browser). “As a result, it (like the Kindle) successfully “gets out of the way and disappears and lets you get on with your reading,” as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in praise of the Kindle during my interview with him last month.” But in the mean time, rumors are flying about the pending release of a new color touchscreen tablet device from Amazon. I’m half-expecting Amazon to announce a new version of the Kindle at the same time — so Consumer Reports may have to perform a new comparison soon.

To be fair, I’ll admit that there are things I like about the Nook. I was talking to my friend Len Edgerly again this week, and I acknowledged that it’s obviously easier to point at a choice on a menu than to first nudge your controller through each of the other choices above or below it! Although if you’re trying to look up a word, apparently you first get only an intermediate menu when you point at a word on the Nook’s screen, where you then have to indicate again that what you want is the word’s definition. But I also like the two-column layout of the Nook’s home page. (And yes, it does look easier to navigate the device just by touching the screen.)

But I’m still a big fan of my Kindle.

More Secrets from Amazon’s Shareholder’s Meeting

Amazon.com shipping boxes

I really enjoyed listening to Amazon’s shareholder’s meeting last week — mainly because Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, fielded questions from the shareholders. He had an interesting perspective on the Kindle, but I also got a big surprise when one of the shareholders asked Bezos for an update on a new service called Amazon Fresh. “You didn’t mention that,” she said, adding “I see more trucks and more deliveries around town.”

“Amazon Fresh is a test,” Bezos replied. “It’s only in Seattle. And if the customer experience is good, the economics — we’re still tinkering… It’s an expensive service to provide.” My ears perked up as Bezos explained that it’s a similar service to what HomeGrocer and WebVan tried 10 years ago. (If I remember correctly, both those businesses offered home-delivery of fresh groceries!) HomeGrocer was eventually bought by WebVan, and then WebVan was eventually bought…by Amazon. “It’s an expensive service to provide,” Bezos told the shareholders. “So we are — you know, we’re basically working on it here in Seattle, seeing if we can get it to work.”

“We like the idea of it, but we have very — you know, we have a high bar of what we expect in terms of the business economics for something like Amazon Fresh in terms of profitability and return on invested capital. So we continue to think about that.”

I had no idea Amazon was quietly working on a grocery-delivery business – but it proved that behind the scenes, Amazon is always quietly planning more big things. My favorite question came from the shareholder who noted that early in Amazon’s history, “there were several notable missteps, either partnerships or initiatives that just didn’t work out. But lately it seems like Amazon has been executing really well. And so my question is really about risk. Is it still Amazon’s philosophy to make bold bets?

“I would expect that maybe some of them wouldn’t work out, but I just, I’m not seeing that. So my question is where are the losers of the bold bets?”

“In a way,” answered Jeff Bezos, “that’s like the nicest compliment I’ve ever gotten!” Bezos acknowledged that the Kindle (and Amazon Web Services) have both worked out very well, saying some of Amazon’s success was luck, but that Amazon also has a lot of experience and knowledge. “Go back in time. We started working on Kindle almost seven years ago. And that is a very difficult — you know, there you’re just — you have to place a bet. Now these are not — if you place enough of those bets, and if you place them early enough, none of them are ever betting the company. By the time you’re betting the company, it means you haven’t invented for too long.

“If you invent frequently and fail — and are willing to fail, then you never get to that point where you need to bet the whole company.”

He told the audience that “We are planting more seeds right now. And I can guarantee you that everything we do will not work.” But he pointed out that when you stop investing in an idea that isn’t working, the company’s operating margins actually go up. So “My mindset never lets me get in a place where I think we can’t afford to take these bets, because the bad case never seems that bad to me.”

He was really on a roll now, and I found it very inspiring.


I think to have that point of view requires a corporate culture that does a few things. I don’t think every company can take that point of view… A big piece of what the story is we tell ourselves about who we are is that we are willing to invent. We are willing to think long-term. We start with the customer and work backwards. And very importantly, we’re willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time.

And I believe if you don’t have that set of things in your corporate culture, then you can’t do large-scale invention. You can do incremental invention, which is critically important for any company. But I think it’s very difficult if you’re not willing to be misunderstood. People will misunderstand — any time you do something big that’s disruptive – Kindle, Amazon Web Services – there will be critics.

And there will be at least two kinds of critics. There will be well-meaning critics, who genuinely misunderstand what you’re doing, or genuinely have a different opinion. And there will be self-interested critics who have a vested interest in not liking what you’re doing, and they will have reason to misunderstand. And you have to be willing to ignore both types of critics. You listen to them, because you want to see — always testing. Is it possible they’re right? But if you pull back and you say, “No, we believe in this vision.” Then you just stay heads-down, focused, and you build out your vision.

Free Shipping on Kindles – and Other Father’s Day Deals!

Free two-day holiday shipping on Kindle as a Father's Day gift

For the next two days, Amazon’s offering a special deal on new Kindles — free two-day shipping! They’re hoping to encourage customers to give Kindles as a last-minute Father’s Day gift, and they’ve extended this offer to any new model — the Kindle 3 (both the WiFi and 3G) versions, the cheaper Kindle with Special Offers, and even the Kindle DX. Since it’s an American holiday, the offer applies only in the (continental) United States, and of course it expires at midnight on Friday (Pacific Daylight Time). But it’s just one of several specials that Amazon’s offering for Father’s Day .

I was really impressed by some of the other new things that Amazon’s discounted for their countdown to the big Sunday holiday. For example, this week (through Friday) it’s “High-Def Week” in Amazon’s
“Gold Box” deals area. They’re discounting some great gift items — both high-definition video and related electronics — including HDTVs, video camera, Blu-Ray Players (plus movies and TV shows), and even video games! The free shipping on Kindles was sponsored by DeWalt — the Maryland-based manufacturer of power tools. But Amazon’s got some special offers all their own.

Every day at noon (Seattle time), Amazon reveals another big discount as their “deal of the day.” Monday it was an LCD TV screen, and for Wednesday it’s 28% off on a wearable, wide-angle (and high-definition) camera. On Thursday they’ve even slashed the price on a Blu-Ray box set of the first six Star Trek movies (which includes a bonus “Captain’s Summit” disc where actors William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy meet their counterparts from the “Next Generation” series — Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes).

Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock

And the last deal of the week is a set of tiny high-performance speakers from Mirage…

But I’m also really tempted by some of the other gadgets Amazon’s offering in their special “lightning deals” area. Every day for a few hours, a limited quantity of a certain item is sold at a steep discount — while Amazon tracks exactly how many seconds are left for the offer, and what percentage of the item has already been sold! Wednesday morning they sold an HD Blu-ray disc player for just $99, plus a 160-gigabyte PlayStation 3 for just $199.

It’s really got me wondering what they’re going to put on sale for Thursday and Friday!

Amazon’s Giving Away a $1,000 Gift Card!

Amazon Kindle gift card
It’s Amazon’s big finish. For nearly two months, they’ve been giving away prizes on Facebook — each one an example of something that’s eligible for Amazon’s “Prime” shipping program. The first gift was an Android tablet (made by Motorola), and they’ve also given away an expensive camera, an X-Box, and of course, a Kindle. The prizes were offered in alphabetical order, and this week, they’re up to the Z’s.

So this morning, Amazon announced that Z stood for the “Zillions of things” you can buy at Amazon.com. And the lucky winner of their last Facebook give-away will receive a $1,000 gift card…

To enter, just point your web browser to facebook.com/amazon. (Amazon requests your name, e-mail address, and a phone number.) But no matter who wins, it’s been fun to read the comments people left on Amazon’s Facebook page. “What would you use it for if you won?” Amazon asked. “How would you spend $1,000 on Amazon.com?”

   “DIAPERS!!! About to have a baby in 10 days!!! :)”

   “I’d buy my fiance a tablet & hook our bridal party up w/cute gifts :)”

   “Everything on my amazon wish list that no one else is buying for me”

   “I would buy…my fiance a new guitar, and finally I would get us a couch so we can stop sitting on the floor all the time.”

But a pattern quickly emerged. Even the Facebook user buying the couch also added that “I would buy myself a Kindle and a few ebooks.” In fact, even though Amazon received nearly 1,000 comments since they posted their entry, at least 14% of the comments specifically mentioned the Kindle!

   “Kindle books! Lots and lots of Kindle books….”

   “The possibilities are endless, but it sure would fill up my Kindle fast!!”

   “Kindle books and kitchen stuff! Lol!”

   “Four kindles and running gear”

It’s the ultimate what-if scenario — a shopping spree through Amazon’s endless virtual aisles. But often it was very touching to read the comments that people left. If they won the contest, many of the people hoped to use Amazon’s gift card to buy… gifts, for the other people that they loved.

   “I would buy my wife a wedding ring, since hers no longer fits due to weight loss and the ring is a custom made one that isn’t able to be sized down.”

   “I would gift it to our soup kitchen…”

   “I would get my holiday shopping done early and buy my family nicer presents that I can’t normally afford.

   “Then, of course, I’d treat myself to a Kindle!”

Yes, even as they reached for imaginary gifts in Amazon’s store — the gifts they’d most want to give — it was still the Kindle which kept popping into their minds.

   “a kindle for my friend’s genius kid.”

   “Kindle for my wife and I :)”

   “Kindle for my 8 year old daughter and books. She loves to read…”

   “First, I would get my eldest son a Kindle. After that – who knows!”

   “Kindles for my 3 girls and lots of books. My middle daughter just read 5 books the first week of summer vacation.”

   “I would buy my g-pa the new kindle and MORE BOOKS!”

   “get a kindle for my niece….and lots of books for us both!!!!!!”

   “Kindles for my daughters and books, books, books!!!!!!”

It reminded me of one of my favorite statistics. 47% of the people who own a Kindle say they received it as a gift (according to a study by the vice president of a company which watches the publishing industry). That sentiment was alive and clear in the comments today on Amazon’s Facebook page. A teacher in Kentucky posted she’d use the thousand dollars to buy “Kindles and books for my high school students! I won a grant to buy three Kindles, but an entire classroom set would be AMAZING!”

A woman in Michigan wrote “Kindles for my daughters and grandson, and books for everyone!!! :)”

A woman in Texas vowed she’d buy “Kindles and e-books for the whole family…”

“Books to read over the summer with my son,” posted one mother.”

“books. books, books and more books!” posted a woman in Florida. “oh, and i’d buy my grandma’s birthday gift….which would be a kindle, and some books:)”

Not everyone wanted a Kindle. But ultimately Facebook was still offering small glimpses into people’s lives — and the current state of their dreams.

   “Groceries, times are tough.”

   “Crayons!”

   “…quite possibly this Amazon tablet that I hear may be coming out soon.”

   “STUFF WE LOST WHEN OUR HOUSE BURNT DOWN”

The most poignant comment came from the man who posted that if he won Amazon’s gift card, “I would buy my wife a wedding ring, since hers no longer fits due to weight loss and the ring is a custom made one that isn’t able to be sized down.” But the take-away message from all the comments was that deep down inside, people still spend a lot of time thinking about their Kindles.

   “I would buy a Kindle along with a MOST AMAZING electronic library and my books for the Fall Semester — yes I’m back in school at 50 and loving it! Because I am being all that I can be ! ”

   “I’d finally get a Kindle and buy lots of Agatha Christie!”

   “Kindle Books that I have on my want list.”

   “kindle books and dog food.”

   “A kindle, e-books and a laptop!”

   “A brand new Kindle and a new SLR camera. ”

   “I would purchase another Kindle so that I won’t have to share mind with my grandson…”

   “The possibilities are endless, but it sure would fill up my Kindle fast!!”