The Name “Kindle” — and Other Grammar Games

Amazon's Jeff Bezos on the Kindle

Jeff Bezos doesn’t talk about “the Kindle.” Instead, he seems to say just “Kindle.” I spent an hour listening to the Amazon CEO speaking to shareholders, and I noticed this subtle difference. (“We started working on Kindle almost 7 years ago… When we launched Kindle less than four years ago, we launched Kindle with only 90,000 titles…”) So I went to the Kindle Boards — an online discussion forum about the Kindle — and asked the regulars if it sounded strange to them.

Someone offered a good explanation, that Bezos was referring not just to the device — the Kindle itself — but to Amazon’s entire project. (Like establishing the wireless connections, and creating an Amazon store filled with e-books.) Kindle is a brand — like Volkswagen or Pepsi — so while a single instance could be “my Kindle” (or “my Volkswagen” or “my Pepsi” ), you’re still talking about a larger concept — Volkswagen, Pepsi, and Kindle.

And of course, there were also some other funny responses in the forum.


it’s a great gadget, but it’s not some sort of celestial artifact that can be referred to only as “The Kindle.”

I always refer to it as “My Kindle”. -Just in case anyone gets any ideas about wanting to share

Honestly, around here it’s referred to as “that thing…you know…I read on it…THE THING…”

My Kindle is “Eleanor.”

It’s a question that may come up again. Amazon’s rumored to be building a new tablet-sized color Kindle — and if they do, they’ll have to come up with a good name for it. Today on a blog about Android devices, someone left a comment suggesting that they call it “The KPad.” And that’s probably catchier than if Amazon called it the A-Pad.

Maybe that just illustrates the problems you have trying to make names out of abbreviations. Even the word “blog” is an contraction that’s leftover from the early days of the internet, when online link aggregators were referred to as web logs. I heard that when the word was first coined, someone had joked that if you moved the space, it’d spell “we blog” — and the name stuck! (So does that mean that a Kindle blog is a…..Klog?)

It’s possible to think too much about where names might have come from, and someone once even argued that the name of this blog — “Me and My Kindle” — was terribly ungrammatical. (They posted “My Kindle and I, dummy,” as a comment on this blog’s page at Amazon.com). It took four months, but in April someone finally posted the perfect comeback.

“That depends if he is saying ‘My Kindle and I went shopping together,’ or ‘This blog is about Me and My Kindle!'”

Smiling Kindle with a smile on its face

Three Different Authors Sell One Million E-books

Three authors sell one million Kindle e-books - Michael Connelly, Lee Child and Suzanne Collins

It’s been a big week. Monday Amazon announced two more authors passed the one-million mark for sales of their e-books in the Kindle Store. And then Thursday, another author passed the same milestone!

“As a storyteller it brings me particular fulfillment to know so many readers are receiving my work through the Kindle,” said mystery author Michael Connelly. “Added to that, my name is now on a list of an amazing group of writers. I am very proud of this moment.”

Until this week, only four authors had ever sold more than 1 million e-books in the Kindle Store. The first was the late Stieg Larsson (author of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”), and he didn’t reach his one millionth sale until July of last year. At the time, Amazon announced three more authors had crossed the 500,000-sales line — mystery authors James Patterson and Charlaine Harris, plus romance novelist Nora Roberts. Each of those authors then reached one million sales over the next 10 months.

              Stieg Larsson (July)
              James Patterson (October)
              Nora Roberts (January of 2011)
              Charlaine Harris (May of 2011)

But now there’s three more names to add to the list.

              Lee Child (June)
              Suzanne Collins (June)
              Michael Connelly (June)

Maybe it’s a sign that there’s more people now who own Kindles, so more e-books are getting purchased (meaning more authors join Amazon’s “Kindle Million Club.”) But there’s also a pattern here — something that some of these authors have in common. This April, Stieg Larsson became the only author to ever sell one million copies of a single e- book. (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”) But his famous mystery was just the first book in a complicated (and inter-linked) trilogy. So Larsson could’ve cracked the one-million-sales threshhold with just 333,333 dedicated fans who’d read each of his three books.

The same is also true for the Kindle’s newest million-selling authors. Suzanne Collins is the author of the “Underland Chronicles” — a five-part series of fantasy novels — plus “The Hunger Games,” a three-part series of “young adult” novels set in a pessimistic future. The first book in that series has already sold 1.5 million print copies (according to Wikipedia), and it stayed on the best-seller list of the New York Times for more than 60 weeks in a row. It’s very possible that some fans are purchasing every book in each series — eight different e-books — which would help push her faster towards the one million mark.

Amazon acknowledged this in a press release Monday. “Our Kindle customers are avid readers of series, and we’re excited to welcome Lee Child and Suzanne Collins to the Kindle Million Club,” said Russ Grandinetti, Amazon’s Vice President of Kindle Content. “With Kindle, readers can finish one book and start reading the next one within 60 seconds – a particularly valuable feature when reading a riveting series…”

But there’s another way to enter the “Kindle Million Club”: write a lot of books! James Patterson wrote 56 different books which were best-sellers (according to Wikipedia), and Nora Roberts has written over 200 romance novels (including a series of 40 books written under her pen name, J.D. Robb). In fact, Nora Roberts wrote four of the best-selling e-books in the Kindle store last year, according to Amazon, and in the first month of 2011 they announced that yes, she’d passed the one million mark with 1,170,53 in sales in the Kindle Store. Mystery author Lee Child has written at least 16 different novels, and Michael Connelly has actually written 17 mysteries just about his fictitious detective, Harry Bosch.

Connelly published yet another new mystery in April — and in March finally saw the release of a movie based on one of his novels. Amazon announced today that “With the recent movie adaptation of Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer and the publication of The Fifth Witness, it’s no surprise to see him join the ranks of other writers of popular series in the Million Club.” The statement came from Amazon’s Vice President of Kindle Content, who welcomed Connelly into the Kindle Million Club. And it’s been a lot of fun watching the other authors as they issue thankful quotes to Amazon.

“What a lovely and unexpected honor to be in such wonderful company,” announced Suzanne Collins, “and see my books reaching readers in this exciting new format.” And Lee Child had an even more personal story to tell. “I started writing at the same time Amazon first went live, back in 1995,” he remembers in Amazon’s press release, “and it has been a thrill to move forward together through the years and through the generations of new technology.”

“I’m really delighted to have hit this current milestone, and I look forward to many more together.”

A Peek Inside Amazon’s Shareholder’s Meeting

Amazon logo for shareholder's meeting

It happened this morning — the once-a-year day when Seattle sees a big gathering of the people who hold Amazon’s stock. Amazon also broadcasts it on the web, and this year, I decided to listen in to see if I’d uncover any hidden truths. The event lasted for exactly one hour, and I was rewarded for my efforts by hearing a long presentation from the CEO of Amazon himself, Jeff Bezos.

And of course, he talked about the Kindle.

“Our vision remains the same: every book, ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds.”

Bezos said it’d be “incredibly cool” to achieve his vision of a “universal library,” adding “The team is a team of missionaries, and they’re working very hard on this.” He pointed out that the Kindle store now has almost a million books, showing that the number of e-books available in the store has nearly doubled each year.

            2008: 125,000
            2009: 275,000
            2010: 540,000
            2011: 950,00

I enjoyed the backstory he provided about why those numbers are important. “When we launched Kindle less than four years ago, we launched with only 90,000 titles. And by the way, that was incredibly hard work to get those 90,000 titles into e-book form — huge heavy lifting, working together with publishers to get that done. Three and half years later, we’re now at 950,000 titles.” And then the CEO of Amazon shared his own personal perspective. “For me, I rarely now come across a book that I want to read that isn’t available in Kindle format.”

“And by the way, that 950,000 figure doesn’t even include the millions of free pre-1923 out of copyright books that you can also read on your Kindle.”

He also bragged that e-books are now outselling printed books at Amazon — but there was an even bigger milestone. “One of the things that has happened as a result of that is that our book growth rates are now the greatest that we’ve seen in 10 years.” But the most startling thing about that was that even printed book sales were growing at Amazon. “Our physical book business still continues to grow every year. So we have a fast-growing Kindle business, layered on top of a growing physical book business, which is accelerating the growth rate of that combined business.

In fact, my favorite moment was probably when Jeff Bezos first stepped up to his microphone. “Good morning, everybody. Thank you very much for attending the annual shareholder meeting… It’s very much apperciated, the shareholders who take the time to come. We had 34… (He puts up the wrong slide.) Let’s see… No… Ah ha!”

Amazon annual sales data for 2010

“I think that that slide was worth waiting for.” (Laughter) “We had $34 billion in sales last year, and the unusual thing about that is the growth rate. 40% growth on that base of sales is very unusual.” That number had already been announced earlier in the year, but Bezos was very gracious about using the shareholder’s meeting to acknowledge all the efforts of Amazon’s 33,700 employees.

This is not something that CEOs accomplish. This is something that a broad team of people working very hard for a long number of years accomplishes. It’s not something that that team can even do in the current year. It’s something that that team works on year after year, laying a foundation that allows for that kind of growth at that kind of scale.

It’s difficult operationally. It’s difficult in terms of attracting customers to be able to support that level of scale, and the expansion plans that support it. So anyways, it’s something that I’m very proud of, and I’m very proud on behalf of this big team that made that happen.

With just five minutes left to go, one shareholder stepped forward with a question about Amazon’s vision for the Kindle. Not the long-term vision, but the now vision — their short-term and intermediate plans for improving the Kindle. “Well, you know,” replied Bezos, “our approach to electronic books, Kindle — it’s very straightforward, and we’ve been clear about our strategy. We want to have the best purpose-built e-reader. We want to have the best e-book store. And we want to have the best ecosystem, so that you can read where you want to.” He talked about how Amazon developed the WhisperSync capability so customers could continue reading their e-books (from right where they’d left off) on any device with a Kindle app. “And that ecosystem approach, we think, is the right one. Because again — we’re very simple-minded about this — it seems like what our customers would want.”

And then it was time for his big finish.

“With that I would like to thank all of you for being supportive shareholders. Thanks for being a part of what we’re doing. We’re excited about continuing our mission to be earth’s most customer-centric company — setting a new standard there — and being a role model for other companies who would like to start with customers and work backwards.”

New 50% discounts at Amazon.com!

50% off

I got a surprise when I visited Amazon.com this weekend. In orange letters, they informed me they were now were offering discounts of up to 50% off on “selected Father’s Day” gifts. (For a shortcut, just point your web browser to tinyurl.com/AmazonFathersDay). Sure enough, there’s gift-friendly categories like Small Appliances and Power Tools (as well as watches, cologne, and wallets). But there were discounts on items I could actually use myself, like a toaster over, a hand-held blender, a coffeemaker and popcorn popper!

Of course, their #1 best-selling gift item is still the Kindle (Amazon explains in big letters at the top of the page.) But there’s also special offers on DVDs and Blu-ray discs. (Another shortcut: tinyurl.com/AmazonBlurayDeals.) For example, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is just $7.99 on a Blu-Ray disc (or $10.49 as a DVD), and The Dark Knight on Blu-Ray is just $10.99 (or $7.47 for a DVD). Twilight: Eclipse is just $7.45. Caddyshack is just $4.99 (or $8.49 on Blu-Ray), and John Wayne’s version of True Grit is just $7.99.

It was like Amazon.com had suddenly become some kind of crazy bargain emporium. They’ve slashed the price on a Coleman Grill from $179.99 to just $111.26. There were 25% off deals on another classic gift item — an electric razor. And then I discovered that you can also save up to 50% every day in your own neighborhood — through a newly-launched service called “AmazonLocal”.

Amazon launched the service on Thursday by offering everyone in Boise a 50% discount on ice cream, and then a 50% discount the next day on go-kart racing! (“[W]e liked the idea of starting in a city that embraces fun,” Amazon told a local newspaper.) If you’d like to try the service yourself, just point your browser to amazon.com/local and then enter your Zip Code. Amazon promises you’ll save “at least 50% on local restaurants, spas, entertainment, and more,” with special offers that are delivered daily to your e-mail address.

Currently there are no offers available for my town, but hopefully Amazon will have some local discounts soon. And maybe someday, they’ll even get around to offering a discount on the Kindle!

Amazon Slashes Prices on E-Books

Chelsea Handler's My Horizontal Life e-book on sale at Amazon

Amazon’s decided to celebrate summer by selling hundreds of e-books at a discount. “We’re kicking off Kindle Sunshine Deals,” they’re announcing now on Amazon.com, “with over 600 titles on sale for $0.99, $1.99, and $2.99 from numerous bestselling and award-winning authors.” There’s 160 different books that are on sale for just 99 cents, and 480 more that are on sale for less than $3.00. (228 e-books are on sale for just $1.99, and 252 e-books now sell for just $2.99.) “A good book and loads of sun — is there a better way to spend a summer day?” asks a post on Amazon’s Kindle blog.

The sale prices last until midnight on June 15th (PDT), though Amazon launched their special on the first day of June. “The books included in Sunshine Deals are all from small- to mid-sized publishers like Candlewick, Bloomsbury, Sourcebooks, and Tyndale House,” notes one article, adding “As far as we can tell, no e-books published by the ‘big six’ U.S. publishers (which use the agency model, setting their own prices for e-books on Amazon…)” They also make an interesting obvservation — that Amazon is also offering lower prices for pre-orders of two romance e-books (Soldier by Grace Burrowes for $2.99 and Wish You Were Here by Philippa Ashley for $1.99.) “Most book publishers have little experience experimenting with e-book pricing or marketing books directly to customers. We’re guessing that this promotion is serving as a test case for them to try out a range of low prices, particularly on older e-books (or, as in the case of the two books above, on books approaching their publication dates).”

Later an Amazon PR manager confirmed to the web site that the program is “an opportunity for publishers to test compelling pricing coupled with on-site merchandising” (adding “We’re excited about the number of publishers who are participating.” And I have to admit that there’s an interesting variety of books throughout these new bargain-priced titles. For example…

Slaughterhouse Five ($2.99)
Kurt Vonnegut’s classic is now available as a bargain-priced e-book (as is another famous Vonnegut book — Cat’s Cradle.)

My Horizontal Life ($1.99)
Chelsea Handler, the racy talkshow host on E!, tells funny stories about various one-night stands

Casino Royale ($2.99)
Ian Fleming’s original James Bond mystery (which for a while had fallen out of print)

Prince of Tides $2.99
Pat Conroy’s 1986 novel about overcoming a dysfunctional family was made into an Academy Award-winning movie

Promised Land ($1.99)
The fourth mystery in Robert B. Parker’s series of Spenser detective novels

A Death in China ($2.99)
In the early 1980s, Carl Hiaasen and William D. Montalbano wrote what one reviewer called a “fast-paced thriller that captures the real China”

Sophie’s Choice ($2.99)
The original William Styron novel which inspired Meryl Streep’s Oscar-winning movie in 1982.

Chaos: Making a New Science ($2.99)
James Gleick’s best-selling study of how science is being revolutionized by the concept of “chaos theory”

Raichlen’s Tailgating! (99 cents)
32 Righteous Recipes for On-the-Go Grilling from Steven Raichlen (the host of PBS’s “Primal Grill” and a former winner on Iron Chef)


In fact, there seems to be a “summer fun” theme running through many of Amazon’s bargain-priced picks. Besides a 99-cent e-book called “Mini Bar: Rum” (and additional 99-cent e-books for Whiskey, Vodka, and Tequila), there’s also a 99-cent e-book called the “Tropical Cocktails Deck” (where each “card” in the deck offers the reader a new drink recipe.) Amazon’s also advertising two books using a similar format — Massage Deck and The Kama Sutra Deck –and there’s even an e-book called XXX Porn for Women by the Cambridge Women’s Pornography Coop, though it’s more of a practical joke. (“Honey, I paid off our mortgage!” reads the caption on one photo of a fully-clothed man — and the book’s sub-title promises female readers that its subjects are not only hunkier, but also “More Helpful Around the House.”) According to the book’s description at Amazon.com, its authors “understand that sometimes a clean kitchen is hotter than a shower scene.” And they’ve also written a second e-book titled Porn for Women of a Certain Age.

There’s also something called Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno by Kazumi Nonaka, which turns out to be a non-fiction study of Japan’s pop culture (described as a “playful and thoroughly researched handbook”)
And surprisingly, Amazon’s list even includes an e-book that’s called Build this Bong: Instruction and Diagrams for 40 Bongs, Pipes, and Hookahs.

But one book I found particularly intriguing was The Official Chuck Norris Fact Book — written by the actor himself. He’s acknowleding a long-standing internet joke, where impossible stunts are attributed to the former action-movie star. (“Chuck Norris counted to infinity twice… Chuck Norris can slam a revolving door… Chuck Norris does not get frostbite; Chuck Norris bites frost!”) “For the past three years, I’ve been asked repeatedly to select my favorite Chuck Norris Facts…” he writes in a prologue. “So, finally, I’m happy to offer the world 101 of my favorite Facts, with my personal reflections on each… They’re sure to provide you with hours of laughter and encouragement.” He’s donating a share of its profits to kick-start.org, his own personal martial arts charity for children. And there’s even an illustration for each one of the 101 facts, followed by Norris’s own response. (Always starting with the words “Let’s be honest…”)

For $2.99, you can finally read Chuck’s own response to story of how he was bitten by a cobra, “and after five days of excruciating pain, the cobra died.”

New Magazines for your Kindle

National Geographic magazine subscription on a Kindle screenshot

I’ve been surprised how many new magazines have suddenly come out with Kindle editions. This spring I noticed the arrival of National Geographic magazine, which you can read on your Kindle for just $1.99 a month. And it’s one of several new magazines sporting a new feature — the ability to read the magazine with color images using a Kindle app on an Android tablet or smartphone!

It’s a sign that Amazon may be striking deals to make color magazine content available for the (still-rumored) release of a color tablet-sized device.

There’s several other magazines in the Kindle store which are now also listed as available on Android devices. Science News — delivered every two weeks — has lavish color images (along with tantalizing tidbits of news). Smithsonian Magazine — delivered monthly — is published by the famous Washington D.C.-based museum, and supplements its exhibits by covering “the arts, environment, sciences and popular culture” (according to its description at Amazon.com). All three of these magazines are available for around $2.00 — and you don’t even have to sign up for a subscription. Each one offers a 14-day free trial — but you can also purchase a single issue.

It’s easy to forget about magazine subscriptions when you’re busy reading e-books on your Kindle. But here’s a list of some of the new and interesting magazines that are now available on the Kindle.

E-books are rocking the publishing industry, so they’re a constant presence in Publisher’s Weekly. (The magazine describes itself as “the definitive professional resource covering every aspect of book publishing and book selling.”) It’s a must-read for people in the industry, and for more than 100 years the magazine has compiled an annual list of the best-selling books. It was a bellwether moment when this year, for the first time ever, Publisher’s Weekly began including e-books in theri calculations. A monthly subscription on your Kindle costs $19.99 — though of course, it’s delivered ever week.

Some good magazines about politics are now available on the Kindle. For conservatives, there’s National Review. (I still remember when editor William F. Buckley hosted a talk show on PBS.) For more liberal readers, there’s The New Republic. (One reviewer on Amazon.com said they’d been reading the print version for more than 25 years.) Every two weeks new editions of the magazines are delivered to your Kindle. But if you’re a libertarian — or somewhere in between — there’s also Reason magazine (delivered monthly), which promises “a refreshing alternative to right-wing and left-wing opinion magazines by making a principled case for liberty and individual choice.”

If you’re looking for straight news, the Christian Science Monitor actually publishes a weekly magazine. For business and technology news, there’s Fast Company magazine (available each month on the Kindle for just $2.49) and the Harvard Business Review (delivered monthly for $5.99). Of course, a version of The New Yorker has been available on the Kindle for a while, but there’s other magazines offering news that’s even more specialized. For example, there’s 2600 Magazine: The Hacker Quarterly – and on May 15th, a new magazine appeared in the Kindle Store that was devoted solely to teen idol Justin Bieber. (“Just Justin.”)

Just Justin Bieber magazine on a Kindle

Even if you enjoy reading mystery short stories, the Kindle offers two of the best monthly collections — Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. And if you’re an aspiring writing, there’s Poets and Writers Magazine (as well as The New York Review of Books.)

And who knows? Maybe soon you’ll be able to read these magazines on a new Amazon tablet!

Another Free Game from Amazon

New free Amazon Kindle word game Thread Words

I tried to explain to my friend Len Edgerly last week just how much I enjoyed playing games on the Kindle. It’s fun to do something digital on a screen that isn’t backlit — and I always enjoy spending time with my Kindle. And it turns out that two weeks ago, Amazon released a brand new word game for the Kindle — for free. It’s one of several new games that are available for the Kindle — and most of them cost just 99 cents.

Amazon’s new free game is called “Thread Words”, and it’s sort of a cross between “Every Word” and “Boggle”. (There’s 25 letters in a 5 x 5 grid, and your goal is to create words by using one letter from each column, while only moving up and down by one row.) This marks the eighth free game that Amazon has released. (They’d released their slick version of “Dots and Boxes” just three weeks earlier, plus their own version of the classic number-grid game “Number Slide” on March 31.) I’d describe their latest game as “horizontal Boggle,” since you’re trying to form as many words as possible while still reading from left to right.

But on the same day, a new game company was releasing their very first game for the Kindle. Olmatech Technology has put together a nice version of the classic board game “Chutes and Ladders,” where players take shortcuts through a 100-square board — either traveling up on a ladder, or sliding backwards instead! Surprisingly, the game dates back to ancient India, according to Wikipedia, where its original name was “the ladder to salvation.” (It taught the concept that good deeds are rewarded while bad deeds are punished.) In the Kindle version, there’s a tiny little “Kindle” icon that represents your opponent — and if it slides backwards on the back of a snake, a cute little animation plays in the game’s lower right-hand corner!

There’s also a new kind of crossword puzzle that’s been released by Puzux games. (They’re the company that first brought to the Kindle those Jumble puzzles that you’d see in your Sunday newspaper.) In a mind-boggling twist, the grid is rotated 45 degrees, so the “across” words are formed using squares that only touch at their corners, in what would be a diagonal line in a conventional crossword puzzle. Their game is called Diamond Crossword, of course, and though there’s fewer words than a traditional crossword puzzle, this also means that it won’t take you forever to finally finish a grid!

Kindle Diamond Crossword game screenshot

But those aren’t the only new games for the Kindle. I’ve also been enjoying Strimko from Braintonik games – an interesting variation on Sudoku where all of the digits are connected by a line (instead of appearing in the same box). There’s an easy version (with the digits 1-4) and a trickier version with the digits 1 -7. And if you’d like to try the game before you buy it, just point your web browser to strimko.com/play.htm

But I think I’m most excited to see a new Kindle game called “Peg Solitaire.” I’ve always loved solving brain teasers, and there’s actually 40 different challenges packed into this game. It’s another classic puzzle
that’s finally reached the Kindle. (“Did you know…” the game asks at the bottom of one screen, “the first evidence of the peg solitaire game can be traced back to the court of Louis XIV in the year of 1697.”) I enjoy trying to think out my moves in advance — and even after I’ve solved one of the puzzles, I still get a special thrill if I can solve them again.

Kindle Peg Solitaire game screenshot

Hopefully one of these days, I’ll even be able to convince Len Edgerly to try playing games on his Kindle! ;)

Some Fun Statistics From Amazon

Map of the United States showing cities that read the most books

Amazon just pored through their sales data, and compiled an interesting list of “the 20 Most Well-Read Cities in America.” They included sales data for both printed books and e-books (as well as digital subscriptions to magazines and newspapers), carefully studying the first five months of 2011.

Amazon joked that they were releasing the results “Just in time for the summer reading season,” then revealed which American cities, with a population of more than 100,000, had the most
readers per capita.

 1. Cambridge, Massachusetts
 2. Alexandria, Virginia
 3. Berkeley, California
 4. Ann Arbor, Michigan
 5. Boulder, Colorado
 6. Miami, Florida
 7. Salt Lake City, Utah
 8. Gainesville, Florida
 9. Seattle, Washington
 10. Arlington, Virginia
11. Knoxville, Tennessee
12. Orlando, Florida
13. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
14. Washington, D.C.
15. Bellevue, Washington
16. Columbia, South Carolina
17. St. Louis, Missouri
18. Cincinnati, Ohio
19. Portland, Oregon
20. Atlanta, Georgia

Interestingly, four of the top five cities are “college towns,” including the #1 city — Cambridge, Massachusetts — along with Berkeley (California) at #3, Ann Arbor (Michigan) at #4, and Boulder (Colorado) at #5. I’m sure each of these cities has a campus bookstore, but students may be checking Amazon.com for used text books that are even cheaper. If that’s going to start a trend, it’s yet-another bad sign for the future of bookstores. Amazon’s press release noted that Cambridge — the home of both Harvard and MIT — also ordered more nonfiction books per capita than any other city in America. But Cambridge is also the home of nearly a dozen world-class bookstores (which the students are apparently bypassing), including one of my all-time favorites — a bookstore named “Curious George and Friends.” (It’s an independent, family-owned store founded in 1995 “with the help of our neighbor, Curious George author, Margaret Rey.”)

Amazon reports that the city ordering the most children’s picture books is actually Alexandria, Virginia. It’s just 6 miles from Washington D.C. — though I’m not going to make a joke about the reading level of your average Congressman. It turns out that Alexandria just employs a lot of federal government workers, many of who have presumably started families in the area. Though it’s #2 on Amazon’s list, it’s not a college town — but it is the home of the Department of Defense, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and the Institute for Defense Analyses, according to Wikipedia, which points out that Alexandria is “largely populated by professionals working in the federal civil service, the U.S. military, or for one of the many private companies which contract to provide services to the federal government.” And Arlington, Virginia — which is just 9 miles away — also came in at #10 on Amazon’s list, while Washington D.C. was at #14.

There must also be a lot of readers in Florida, since three different cities made it onto the list — Orlando, Miami, and Gainesville. (Florida is the only state to get three cities into Amazon’s top 20, though both Virginia and the state of Washington ended up with two.)

And college students shopping online may have helped some other cities crack into the top 10, since the next five cities on their list also have major universities. (Miami, Salt Lake City, Gainesville, Seattle, and Arlington). I’m intrigued that Seattle — the home of Amazon.com — only reached the #9 spot on the list of the most well-read cities. Besides having a lot of universities, Seattle also has the highest percentage of college graduates for any major city in America, according to the U.S. census bureau. In fact, 53.8% of the city’s population (over the age of 25) have at least a bachelor’s degree (nearly twice the national average of just 27.4%), while 91.9% have a high school diploma (vs. 84.5% nationally).

Bellevue, Washington — just 10 miles from Seattle — also came in at #15 on the list, so the ranking might’ve been higher for the whole “Seattle Metro Area”. But fortunately, Amazon is still a good sport about their home city falling into the #9 spot on their own “well-read” list. “We hope book lovers across the country enjoy this fun look at where the most voracious readers reside,” Amazon’s book editor announced yesterday, “and that everyone gets the chance to relax with some great summer reads.”

War Erupts Between Kindle and Nook Over Battery Life

Amazon Kindle vs Barnes and Noble Nook Spy vs Spy cartoon

C|Net just received an angry response from the president of Digital Products at Barnes & Noble. I’d linked to C|Net’s story yesterday, so I was surprised that its facts were now being challenged. Barnes and Noble is now claiming that the Nook’s battery actually lasts more than two and a half times longer than a Kindle’s battery — at least under certain conditions.

“While reading at one page a minute, the all-new Nook battery lasts for 150 hours, where the Kindle battery, using the same page-turn rate, lasts for only 56 hours (both with Wi-Fi off)… In our side-by-side tests, under the exact same conditions, continuous use of the device resulted in more than two times Kindle’s battery life.”

If that’s true, then Barnes and Noble mangled the launch of their touch-screen Nook by botching their description of one of its main selling points. Paul Biba, a Kindle blogger, actually watched the official announcement live at a Barnes & Noble store in downtown New York City. And when the question of battery life came up, Biba reported, their official answer was that it was calculated “based on 1/2 hour reading per day with WiFi off. ”

The next day, Amazon claimed the Kindle could also run for two months on a single battery charge — if you only read it for half an hour a day.

You might wonder if Amazon was inventing new statistics — but apparently it’s the same claim that’s been around for years. In November of 2007, Popular Mechanics was already reporting that the Kindle’s battery would last for 30 hours — which of course breaks down into 60 half hours, or two months of reading just one half hour a day. (Assuming the battery isn’t also draining too much during the time that it’s not being read!)

And another obvious response is: who cares? How often would you need to read more than 30 consecutive hours without stopping to re-charge your Kindle? Obviously you can invent a few scenarios. (“What if I’m back-packing across hundreds of miles of Siberian tundra, and I’m also huddling in my tent each night trying to read War and Peace“?) But the distinction is a signal of a fierce competition between Amazon and Barnes and Noble, C|Net’s reporter points out, and “as these devices become more and more alike, marketing language becomes very significant, especially when it comes to selling points like battery life.”

Another blogger was more blunt. “Barnes and Noble pretty much called Amazon a liar for manipulating the battery life claims,” wrote Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader. But I’m more surprised by what Barnes and Noble was claiming about the Nook on Wednesday — since it’s very different than the performance statistics that they’d cited on Tuesday.

For example, Wednesday Barnes and Noble made an even more incredible claim. “While reading at one page a minute, the all-new Nook battery lasts for 150 hours.” Unless I’m missing something, that would come out to 300 days of usage (at a half hour a day) — which would be a whopping 10 months. I guess the battery must continue draining quite a bit during the 23.5 hours a day when the Nook isn’t running. Especially since the Barnes and Noble official also claims that the new Nook “offers more than 25,000 continuous page turns on a single charge.” But if you’re making just one page turn every minute, then shouldn’t that charge last 416 hours (or 25,000 minutes)? If so, that’d represent 17.36 days of non-stop use — but if you’re using your Nook for just 30 minutes a day, it comes out to 2.2 years.

And if the Nook can really run for 2.2 years on a single battery charge — then why didn’t Barnes and Noble just say so on Tuesday?

How the Kindle “Doubled” Its Battery Life

Kindle 3 vs new touch-screen Nook on battery life

A bright reporter at C|Net made the discovery. Amazon says the Kindle now has a battery life of two months. Wednesday morning Amazon released a new version of the “Kindle with Special Offers” — a 3G version that’s discounted to $164. But instead of promising the usual one month of use without a battery charge, Amazon now says this Kindle’s battery will last two months!

And Amazon’s also doubled the battery life that they’re reporting for the Kindle 3 and Kindle WiFi…

So what’s going on? C|Net’s reporter has it all figured out. On Tuesday Barnes and Noble launched a brand new touch-screen Nook — and then claimed that its two-month battery life was double that of the Kindle (calling it “the longest battery life of any eReader”). “Amazon countered by magically upping the battery life of the Kindle to two months,” reports David Carnoy. But it turns out that Amazon may have had a good reason…

The Nook’s battery life was calculated by assuming just one half hour of reading time each day. “Let the math shell games begin!” joked one user in a Barnes and Noble discussion forum. “Anyone want to lay odds on who will go to 4-month battery life assuming a 15 minutes a day reading habit?”

The CEO of Kobo also took issue with the Nook’s ‘half-hour-a-day” figures, complaining “that’s not a typical usage scenario,” and arguing that the same lofty claim could be made about the battery life of the Kobo.
“It appears that [Amazon] just took issue with how its competitor was calculating and presenting its battery life numbers,” C|Net reports, noting that Amazon also updated their Kindle product descriptions with a full explanation.

“A single charge lasts up to two months with wireless off based upon a half-hour of daily reading time. If you read for one hour a day, you will get battery life of up to one month. Keep wireless always on and it lasts for up to 10 days. Battery life will vary based on wireless usage, such as shopping the Kindle Store, Web browsing, and downloading content. In low-coverage areas or in EDGE/GPRS-only coverage, wireless usage will consume battery power more quickly.”

So the Kindle’s battery hasn’t suddenly become twice as powerful as it was before. And I thought C|Net’s reporter gave this episode the perfect epitaph. “Amazon didn’t have any comment about its number changes, but it clearly shows that the competition is intensifying in the dedicated e-reader space…”

Is Amazon Planning a “Mini” Kindle?

New Amazon small Android tablet Kindle Nano or Mini?

Tuesday the Kindle got some new competition! Barnes and Noble announced a new touch-screen version of the Nook. And there’s also a new touch-screen version of the Kobo ereader.

But is Amazon planning their own surprise for the next generation of the Kindle?

Each digital reader is fighting for an early lead against its competition. (Barnes and Noble announced their new Nook today, even though they won’t actually be able to ship them until June 10.) It’s possible that they’re worried Amazon will steal the market by releasing their own touch-screen tablet device soon. But I wonder if Amazon has another idea.

Today a technology analyst described the reactions you’d have if you held the new Nook. First you’d admire it’s form factor, he said. (Besides the power switch on the back, the device’s only button is a shortcut for reaching the home page — plus a “fast forward” page-turning bar.) And I noticed a few other mild improvements, like the ability to look up definitions just by touching a word. (Though the Nook still doesn’t have a text-to-speech feature.) The new Nook is one inch smaller than the Kindle, and it weighs one ounce less. But inevitably, the analyst notes, you’d start comparing it to the larger, full-featured tablets. And eventually you’d begin thinking that the new touch-screen Nook “shouldn’t really cost a lot because it’s basically an oversized drink coaster!”

The analyst’s conclusion? e-ink readers like the Nook and the Kindle will drop below $99 by the end of the year. But one way to do that, I’m thinking, is by making the Kindle smaller! It’s a possibility that’s at least implied by the latest rumors about Amazon’s plans for a tablet-sized device. Besides a full-sized tablet device, there’s also speculation that Amazon might also be working on a powerful but compact 7-inch version!

But I’d like to see Amazon release a “Kindle Mini” — about the size of a smartphone, but with a fully-functioning e-ink screen. I say this partly because I’ve already seen Amazon’s Kindle app on a smartphone-sized screen — and it works great! A smaller screen must refresh faster than the larger ones, and that also would extend the device’s battery life. And besides e-books, it could also store music and audio files (creating a nice alternative to an Apple iPod).

And the device could also play audiobooks — available through the Amazon-owned web site Audible.com. One technology blogger is already listing the advantages, noting that an even-smaller Kindle could be carried in a shirt pocket. And he’d like to see something like a “Kindle Nano” — modelled after Apple’s smallest music-playing device — which was actually optimized for audiobooks.

I’d had the same idea, but this blogger is so enthusiastic that he’s issued a plea to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. “Jeff, buddy, I know you’re out there. Give us our Kindle Nano.

“Don’t worry, we’ll buy it. You know we will.”

Funny Reactions to Amazon’s Newest Kindle Commercial

Girl and Boy from new Kindle bookstore commercial

It’s one of the fun things about being a Kindle owner: recognizing yourself in Amazon’s Kindle commercials! Last week Amazon released a funny sequel to their commercial about the young woman who doesn’t have a Kindle (while her male friend does). In this commercial, she’s seen rushing off to a bookstore…

“Hey, where you going?”

“I want to get a book that came out today.”

“Me too!”

“Come to the bookstore with me.”

“I’m good. Got it! It takes less than 60 seconds to download a new book on my Kindle…”

“60 sconds? Wow. That’s the book I was going to get!”
           [She stares with delight]

“Weren’t you going to the bookstore?”

“Shh….”

And this commercial struck a familiar cord with a couple in Scotland – at least according to the comment that the husband left on Facebook. “We used to have a Kindle,” he posted in the comments below the video. “Then my wife started using it. Now SHE has a Kindle!” I had to smile, because I experienced the same thing with my own girlfriend. I finally had to buy her a Kindle of her own.

The couple in the video also drew a positive reaction on YouTube, at YouTube.com/Kindle, where one user posted that “These two have great chemistry.” Their verdict on Amazon’s new Kindle commercial? “Even cuter than the last one.”

I first found out about the video from the Kindle’s page on Facebook (at Facebook.com/Kindle). And the page also offered a handy tip if you want the notes in your Kindle e-books to include notes from your friends on Facebook! “When you link your Facebook account to kindle.amazon.com you can see the Public Notes of your Facebook friends in your Kindle books,” Amazon explains, adding that you can also “automatically share your reading activity on your [Facebook] Wall.”

Of course, you’ll never see those notes until you get your Kindle back from that woman who borrows it on her way to the bookstore!

How to Find Amazon’s List of the Best E-Books for May

Book cover for Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff

Here’s something I didn’t know. Amazon actually has a special web page where they share with Kindle owners what they believe to be the “Best Books of May.” It’s got links not only to new e-books — but also some other special lists created by Amazon’s own book editors.

At the top of the page? A real-life thriller called “Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II.” In May of 1945, an airplane carrying 24 tourists crashed in the jungles of New Guinea, leaving behind just three stunned and wounded survivors. “Caught between man-eating headhunters and enemy Japanese, the wounded passengers endured a harrowing hike down the mountainside,” according to the book’s description on Amazon.com, “a journey into the unknown that would lead them straight into a primitive tribe of superstitious natives who had never before seen a white man – or woman.”

The book’s author pulled out all the stops to research this book — including declassified military documents and even one of the survivor’s diaries — and at one point even returned to the jungle in New Guinea to track down any natives in the villages who might remember the day 65 years ago when strangers fell from the sky. It sounds fascinating, but it’s a book I wouldn’t have known about without Amazon’s “Best Books of May” page. And the page offers a nice variety of reading choices. There’s several novels, a couple of thrillers, a short story collection, and even a history book.

But there’s also some specialized categories — like the “Best Books for Young Adults” or “Best Books for Middle-Grade Readers”. (I have to complement one of the authors on a very clever title. “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making!”) And my favorite list is a fascinating hybrid, showing which of the editor’s picks are currently also best-sellers in Amazon’s Kindle store.

At the top of the list is Tina Fey’s Bossypants, and of course Stieg Larsson’s trilogy (including “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) is still going strong in the top 10. But the list keeps on going, ultimately offering 100 different recommendations. It’s got a great variety of authors, featuring books by everyone from Stephen King to Keith Richards. (And there’s even a new book by Mark Twain — a new edition of his autobiography.) I’ve noticed that my Kindle makes me want to set aside more time for reading.

And now Amazon’s “Best of May” web page makes it easier to find something to read!

What’s Behind Amazon’s New Hiring Spree?

help_wanted sign

Amazon is suddenly hiring new employees for customer service centers in six different states. Is this yet-another clue that Amazon’s planning to release a tablet-sized computer soon?

Just Wednesday Amazon announced they were building a new customer fulfillment center in Washington — 500,000-square-foot facility creating “several hundred” new full-time jobs. But last week Amazon also tucked six different press releases onto their web site, each one advertising a new hiring campaign at Amazon’s order fulfillment centers in one of six different states. (“Candidates should be highly motivated with drive, ambition and a passion for providing customers a first-class shopping experience.”) The press releases cite new hiring in each of the following regions.

Phoenix, Arizona
Goodyear Arizona
Coffeyville, Kansas
New Castle, Delaware
Fernley, Nevada
Las Vegas, Nevada
Kentucky
Pennyslvania

The press releases are identical, except that there’s no mention of any technical support openings in the press release for Kentucky. And in addition, according to the Seattle Times “Amazon is looking for hundreds of additional technology workers for its expanding headquarters complex in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood.

It’s hard to imagine why Amazon suddenly needs so many new employees all across the country — unless they’re anticipating a sudden spike in purchasing. And it seems to me that that “trigger” could be the release of a tablet-sized computing device. Amazon would pre-load the devices with a slick shopping application, and would probably offer ways to connect the devices into their discount shipping program. If Amazon were planning the release of such a device, they’d definitely want to build up their ability to fulfill the extra orders!

And there’s one reason why Amazon would need service centers all across the country. Amazon’s “Prime” shipping program specifically promises free two-day shipping on orders — and a discount on the even speedier one-day shipping. Maybe Amazon anticipates a flood of new tablet owners signing up for the Prime” program, making it even more important to fill orders from a nearby state, ensuring the speedy delivery times while reducing Amazon’s own shipping costs.

Of course, it’s possible that Amazon.com is just expanding beyond its current capability. “Many years ago, Amazon’s requirements reached a point where many of our systems could no longer be served by any commercial solution,” Jeff Bezos revealed Wednesday in a letter to shareholders, because “our key data services store many petabytes of data and handle millions of requests per second.” Maybe he’s learned a lesson — especially since this year Amazon’s sales have been 38% higher than they were for the same period a year ago. But it’s also possible that he’s learned a different lesson from Amazon’s experience with the Kindle.

Namely, the value of selling consumers a really cool device which lets them buy things from Amazon.com.

The Kindle Teams Up With Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart

“Starting this week, Kindle will be available in over 3,200 Walmart stores nationwide,” Amazon announced Tuesday. But instead of formally announcing the news in Amazon press release number KS7N87PRB8G6 they quietly tucked the news onto the Kindle’s page on Facebook at Facebook.com/Kindle — linking to a story on Amazon’s Kindle blog, The Daily Post.

“Most stores will have a Kindle on display so you can check out all the features before you buy,” the blog explained, noting that Wal-Mart isn’t the only chain store where you’ll now be able to purchase Amazon’s latest digital readers. “Walmart is the latest in a growing list of retailers offering Kindle, including Target, Best Buy, and Staples, among others.” (Since February, the Kindle has also been also available at the chain of 125 Fred Meyer stores.)

I had to smile when I read the news, because Wal-Mart had already worked the Kindle into a heart-warming community re-investment program. Since late 2010, In 100 different cities across America, Wal-Mart has been making donations to a charity dedicated to teenagers. (“Boys & Girls Clubs of America Getting Teens Excited About Reading,” read their official press release.) Walmart’s been giving $10,000 grants to 100 local chapters of the “Boys and Girls Club of America” — and some of them are using the money to buy Kindles!

The “Bright Spot” program was designed to launch a new reading initiative to get teenagers more interested in reading. (For example, in Stanton, California, the money will be used to help create a reading center, to train its staff, and encourage “intercommunity relationships.”) But in Central Arkansas, they’re also making Kindles available to the children — along with magazines and music. And the same thing is happening at a Boys and Girls club for teenagers in Lodi, New Jersey.

“Our goal is to make them avid readers,” the club’s executive director told a local newspaper, “which of course, leads to other things like higher learning,” His is one of three clubs in New Jersey receiving grant money, and they’ve used Wal-Mart’s donation to buy five different Amazon Kindles, plus a slew of printed (and teen-appropriate) books. The club is also using the money to fund fields trips — like to the New York Public Library — and to hire mentors for their program. (They’ve already got 66 middle school- or high school-age teenagers in their program.)

But I know that Wal-Mart was the world’s single largest public corporation last year — and that they’ve got 8,500 stores, in 15 countries (according to Wikipedia.) Their annual sales are actually close to half a trillion dollars, coming in at over $408 billion last year.

But it’s still nice to think that some of that money is going to encourage teenagers to read by buying new Kindles.

Jeff Bezos speaks!


CEO of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos


Here’s the most interesting Kindle-related thing that happened last week. When Amazon announced their quarterly earnings, CEO Jeff Bezos also issued a five-page personal letter addressed to Amazon’s investors. Its headline? “Why I, Jeff Bezos, Keep Spending Billions On Amazon R&D.”

In just the first three months of 2011, Amazon spent $579 million on “technology and content” costs, an increase of more 58% over the same period one year ago, according to Amazon’s quarterly report. But Bezos addressed that issue head-on, in a strongly-worded letter that felt confident and even a little boastful. “Walk into certain Amazon meetings, and you may momentarily think you’ve stumbled into a computer science lecture,” Jeff Bezos wrote, saying Amazon’s engineers are taking computer science beyond anything that’s taught in colleges todays. “Many of the problems we face have no textbook solutions, and so we — happily — invent new approaches.”

The letter was so positive, the Seattle Times even theorized that Bezos was trying to entice new technology workers towards the new job openings Amazon’s headquarters. But I liked seeing Bezos’s personal pride in his company as he argued that Amazon’s highly specialized technology “is deeply integrated into everything we do.” And the example he supplied? The Kindle — specifically, its Whispersync service, which now even serves Android phones, as well as Kindles which can go for weeks without connecting to Amazon’s network. Bezos proudly explained its complexity, describing Whispersync’s mission as insuring that “everywhere you go, no matter what devices you have with you, you can access your reading library and all of your highlights, notes, and bookmarks, all in sync across your Kindle devices and mobile apps.”


“The technical challenge is making this a reality for millions of Kindle owners, with hundreds of millions of books, and hundreds of device types, living in over 100 countries around the world – at 24 x 7 reliability… As a Kindle customer, of course, we hide all this technology from you. So when you open your Kindle, it’s in sync and on the right page. To paraphrase Arthur C. Clarke, like any sufficiently advanced technology, it’s indistinguishable from magic.

The letter offered a fun peek into the head of the man who runs Amazon — and it shows that he’s still got great confidence in Amazon’s futures. But my favorite part was how Bezos concluded his testimonial by republishing a letter that he’d written to investors in 1997, saying “Our approach remains the same, and it’s still Day 1.” Re-publishing it has apparently become a yearly tradition for Bezos, and it’s amazing
just how much of it remains absolutely applicable to the year 2011. And even 14 years later, it’s still an exciting read.

Here’s my favorite parts…


To our shareholders:

Amazon.com passed many milestones in 1997: by year-end, we had served more than 1.5 million customers, yielding 838% revenue growth to $147.8 million, and extended our market leadership despite aggressive competitive entry.

But this is Day 1 for the Internet and, if we execute well, for Amazon.com. Today, online commerce saves customers money and precious time. Tomorrow, through personalization, online commerce will accelerate the very process of discovery…

We have a window of opportunity as larger players marshal the resources to pursue the online opportunity and as customers, new to purchasing online, are receptive to forming new relationships…Our goal is to move quickly to solidify and extend our current position while we begin to pursue the online commerce opportunities in other areas. We see substantial opportunity in the large markets we are targeting. This strategy is not without risk: it requires serious investment and crisp execution against established franchise leaders.

We believe that a fundamental measure of our success will be the shareholder value we create over the long term. This value will be a direct result of our ability to extend and solidify our current market leadership position…

  • We will continue to focus relentlessly on our customers.
  • We will continue to make investment decisions in light of long-term market leadership considerations rather than short-term profitability considerations or short-term Wall Street reactions.

  • We will continue to measure our programs and the effectiveness of our investments analytically, to jettison those that do not provide acceptable returns, and to step up our investment in those that work best. We will continue to learn from both our successes and our failures.

  • We will make bold rather than timid investment decisions where we see a sufficient probability of gaining market leadership advantages. Some of these investments will pay off, others will not, and we will have learned another valuable lesson in either case…

  • At this stage, we choose to prioritize growth because we believe that scale is central to achieving the potential of our business model…


The past year’s success is the product of a talented, smart, hard-working group, and I take great pride in being a part of this team. Setting the bar high in our approach to hiring has been, and will continue to be, the single most important element of Amazon.com’s success… we are working to build something important, something that matters to our customers, something that we can all tell our grandchildren about. Such things aren’t meant to be easy.

We are incredibly fortunate to have this group of dedicated employees whose sacrifices and passion build Amazon.com…

Amazon’s Special Kindle Sale for Mother’s Day

Amazon Kindle Mother's Day special

Amazon will give you a free $25 gift certificate if you buy a new Kindle during the next 11 days. It’s to encourage you to purchase a Kindle as a Mother’s Day gift — the offer ends at midnight on Mother’s Day, May 8 — and it only applies to the Kindle 3G and the large-screen Kindle DX. Now when you visit the Kindle’s page at Amazon.com, you’ll see the special offer written in pink at the top of the page.

“The Perfect Deal For Mom,” the headline announces…

The offer appears at the left of the page, below Amazon’s usual yellow “Add to Cart” button. Under the heading “Add Kindle Accessories,” there’s a very attractive offer — to “add a $25 Amazon.com Gift Card at no extra cost.” They’re limiting the offer to just one for each customer, and of course, if you return the Kindle, then Amazon will charge you the full cost of the $25 gift card before refunding the price of the Kindle. But you can also use the gift cards at the Amazon-owned fashion site, Endless.com (“Shoes and more,” reads their tagline, since the site also offers jewelry and designer handbags)

Amazon will mail the gift card and Kindle to the address that you provide during the check-out – but that’s just one way that they’re helping shoppers celebrate Mother’s Day. Amazon’s book blog, Omnivoracious, has launched a charming promotion in which they’ll provide personalized book recommendations for the perfect Mother’s Day gift. “If you tell us a bit about your mom’s reading habits — what kinds of books she likes to read, favorite authors, least favorite authors, hobbies… — we’ll get back to you with some books we think she’ll like, and a bit about why we think each one will fit.”

They’re promising to post a new response every day on their blog, urging readers to “ask us, stump us, amuse us!” You can contact the editors of Amazon’s book blog through the blog’s comments page, or by leaving a comment on their web page on Facebook. (And remember, you can subscribe to their blog on your Kindle for free. For an easy shortcut, just point your browser to tinyurl.com/Omnivoracious )

I enjoy reading Omnivoracious, and their blog post even provides a helpful link to Amazon’s own page of Mother’s Day gift ideas.

And of course, Amazon’s Kindle is listed at the very top of the page…

How Jeff Bezos earned $1 billion in one day

Amazon's Jeff Bezos on the Kindle

If you’d invested money in Amazon’s stock, you’d be a little bit richer today. Amazon’s stock price shot up nearly 8% on Thursday, reaching a new all-time high. (In just 24 hours, Jeff Bezos’ net worth increased by more than $1 billion dollars….) “The shares have risen more than 20% in the last six weeks,” notes an article at Marketwatch. Investors on Wall Street apparently loved Amazon’s latest quarterly report, which show that in just the first 90 days of the year, Amazon sold $2.73 billion more than they did in the same period a year ago!

For the first three months of 2011, Amazon’s net sales had increased a whopping 38%, to $9.86 billion. If you looked at the last 12 months, Amazon’s operating cashflow also increased $250 million from the previous year. But they’ve also spent $420 million more — presumably, to grow their customer base — so Amazon’s total “net income” was 33% lower then the previous year. Still, a majority of brokers remain positive about Amazon, according to Marketwatch, with one reminding clients about Amazon’s commitment to “long-term investments at the expense of short-term margins.”

“Amazon has doubled its business in the past two years,” advised another broker at Deutsche Bank, “and may be on pace to potentially double it again in less than two years.” And citing Amazon’s earnings call, the Associated Press reported Amazon “is seeing ‘tremendous’ growth in demand, and that’s why it’s had to invest money in more warehouses and upgrading the technology that runs its Internet store.”

“We love inventing on behalf of customers,” announced Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, “and have never been more excited about the long-term opportunities.” Then Bezos listed out everything Amazon has accomplished so far this year, “just to call out a few of the things we’ve been working on.” And it sounds really impressive when you lay them all out.

“In the last 90 days, we announced Kindle with Special Offers, Kindle Library Lending, Audible audiobooks on Kindle, Appstore for Android, Amazon for Windows Phone 7, Checkout by Amazon in both Germany and the U.K., a Kindle Store in Germany…”


There was also some interesting trivia about the Kindle buried deeper in the announcement — like the fact that there’s over 900,000 books in the Kindle store, and that 740,000 of them (82%) cost less than $9.99, “including 65 New York Times bestsellers.” Amazon’s press release also noted that there’s millions of free e-books available for the Kindle, and that last month saw the first single e-book to sell one million copies. (Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.) Of course, not all the trivia was about the Kindle. In a letter to shareholders on Wednesday, Bezos also revealed that when Amazon builds a “product detail” page for a customer visiting Amazon.com, “our software calls on between 200 and 300 services to present a highly personalized experience for that customer.”

But here’s my favorite piece of trivia from Amazon’s latest round of earnings information. They revealed that they’re spending $1.6 million dollars a year just on security for CEO Jeff Bezos. Meanwhile, Bezos’s yearly salary is just $81,840 — though he also owns 20% of the company.

Which is why his personal net worth increased by more than $1 billion dollars when Amazon’s stock price shot up nearly 8% on Thursday.

Win A Free Tablet from Amazon!

New Amazon Android tablet computer contest

With all these rumors about a tablet-sized version of the Kindle, it’s nice to see that Amazon is also thinking about tablets. Monday they announced a special contest where you could win a tablet computer from Motorola (running the Android operating system). “In celebration of the many ways Amazon Prime members take advantage of FREE Two-Day Shipping on millions of items, we’re giving away some popular Prime-eligible items from A to Z,” a promotional announcement explained.

“This week A is for Android…”

To enter the contest, point your web browser to Facebook.com/Amazon to enter (and then click on the Sweepstakes link). The form asks for your e-mail address, name, and phone number — but of course, there’s a small catch. “If you click ‘Allow”’in the Request for Permission window that appears after you click ‘Enter,’ you will be providing ongoing consent to the Amazon.com Sweepstakes/Contest application, which may offer other sweepstakes and contests in addition to this one,” Amazon explains on the page. It’s not as bad as it sounds, since “You may change this consent at any time through your Facebook privacy settings.”

And it turns out that Amazon isn’t going to contact me 26 times, to remind each week about its A to Z contest. (“Come back next week to enter again for your chance to win the next prize,” the sweepstakes page urges when you first enter the contest.) Instead the sweepstakes only goes for eight weeks, with eight different items being given away in alphabetical order. So I don’t mind the extra eight reminders, since apparently it means I could end up with a free Android tablet computer! And during the week of May 16th, the prize is even going to be a free Kindle!

The prizes get even better as the contest winds up in June, with a $797 digital Nikon camera (“P” for photography), and then an X-Box the next week (“V” for video games). And Amazon concludes their alphabetical contest with a “Z” item during the week of June 13th — a $1,000 Amazon gift certificate “for your choice of the ‘zillions’ of things you can find at Amazon.com.” But is this also another hint about Amazon’s plans for the Kindle? It’s not just that they’re trying to get people excited about an Android-powered tablet device. They’re trying even harder to excite people about Amazon’s $79-a-year “Prime” shipping service.

One rumor has it that Amazon plans to lower the price of the Amazon Kindle to anyone willing to pay the Prime program’s yearly fee. And now it looks like Amazon is putting some real muscle into promoting the program. Are they seeing this as a stepping stone to something even bigger? It’s got me wondering if Amazon is planning a big announcement in eight weeks, when their Prime-promoting contest finally ends.

Maybe they’re trying to attention to the Prime shipping program — right before they offer Prime subscribers a new, big discount on Kindles this summer.

Amazon releases a new Kindle commercial – and more!

Girl in Amazon Kindle vs printed book ad

I always get excited when Amazon releases a new commercial for the Kindle. And this time it’s just one of several interesting new videos that Amazon is making available online!

Their new Kindle ad probably belongs in a time capsule, because it seems to capture the exact moment when the way we read starts to change. In a breezy conversation, a young blonde woman complains that “I only read real books” to a young man holding a Kindle, which starts a conversation about how the printed book doesn’t have any advantages over a Kindle.


“Oh, I’m reading a real book.”

“I can read my book in the sun, where there’s a lot of glare.”

“Well, so can I. See? The screen looks just like a paper book, so it’s great for reading in bright sunlight.”

“But you can’t fold down the page when you want to save your place.”

“My Kindle does that for me.”

“But you don’t get the rewarding feeling of actually folding down the page. [She dramatically reaches her arm forward to bend down the page’s corner, and smiles a forced smile] Ahh…


Then there’s an awkward pause where the two exchange significant glances, and then woman asks to borrow the man’s Kindle.


“Wow. The screen looks amazing.”

“Yeah…”

It’s the first ad where Amazon has touted the new lower prices of the ad-supported devices at the end of the commercial. (“The all new Kindle,” reads the ad’s closing shot.”From $114.”) The commercial will be broadcast for the first time on TV tonight, but this morning Amazon slipped a “sneak preview” link onto the Kindle’s official page on Facebook (at Facebook.com/Kindle). Within a few hours, over 1,600 people had clicked the Facebook icon indicated they liked the new ad. (Although one woman in England seemed to be grateful that it was different than an earlier Kindle ad, posting “As long as it hasn’t got a dog licking a kindle…”)

You can watch the new ad at YouTube.com/Kindle – but it turns out it’s not the only new video that Amazon is making available. In a press release this morning, Amazon announced they’d created a new web page called The Backstory. (“Find author interviews,” its tagline promises, “and essays, guest reviews, recipes and much, much more.”) And to give the new page a big launch, Amazon is featuring five video interviews with authors, including celebrity chef Tom Douglas and Gossip Girl producer John Stephens (as well as authors Joshua Foer, Holly Black and Cassandra Clare.) They’re calling the series Author Interviews @ Amazon, and there’s many more authors to come. “New author interviews will be announced via the Amazon.com Books Facebook page,” the company explained in a press release this morning, “and on Omnivoracious.com, the Amazon.com Books blog.”

Remember, you can subscribe to the Omnivoracious blog on your Kindle for free! And to make it easier, I’ve created a special URL — just point your web browser to tinyurl.com/Omnivoracious.

Amazon will even let you post questions for the authors on the Facebook page, or e-mail your questions to authorinterviews@amazon.com. (The final interviews will also be available on the book’s “detail” page at Amazon.com.) “We’re extremely lucky to have fascinating and talented authors gracing our hallways here at Amazon and taking time to chat with us,” Amazon’s Managing Editor of books said this morning.

“We love these conversations so much that we wanted to share them with our customers.”

New Kindle ad –             youtube.com/Kindle
Omnivoracious Blog –  tinyurl.com/Omnivoracious
Author Interviews –     amazon.com/thebackstory

More Clues That Amazon is Building a Tablet


It’s the question that won’t go away – but some technology pundits think they see more clues. Just yesterday Amazon updated its “Kindle for Android” app so it works better on the tablet-shaped computers that compete with Apple’s iPad. “The update adds a new integrated shopping experience designed specifically for tablets,” reported PC Magazine, and Amazon has also added a new tablet-shaped layout for newspapers and magazines, “and other upgrades that take advantage of the larger screen.”

Now another article at PC Magazine asks, “Is Amazon preparing to launch an Android tablet?” And they cite the predictions of Peter Rojas, the co-founder of two of the top technology blogs — Gizmodo and Engadget. “It’s something of an open secret that Amazon is working on an Android tablet,” Rojas writes, “and I am 99% certain they are having Samsung build one for them.” He seems like he could have some inside information, especially since Gizmodo is one of the ten most-popular technology blogs on the Kindle, and one of the Kindle’s top 30 best-selling blogs.

Rojas believes Amazon has assembled everything they need to stock a tablet with popular content, including music downloads, video, and now even an app store. And easy shopping could help Amazon subsidize the costs of their new device, making them even cheaper to sell. “Amazon understands what’s at stake,” Rojas believes, adding “they have shown with the Kindle that they can produce a great product and then expertly tie that product into a content platform.” Rojas estimates that Amazons new tablet-sized device would be released as soon as this summer. “They have all the pieces in place, now we wait to see what they do with them.”

And PC Magazine suggests another interesting possibility. Last week Amazon released a cheaper, ad-supported version of the Kindle, even though “Amazon doesn’t need to lure people further; the Kindle is Amazon’s best-selling device of all time.” Their reporter suggests this may be the first stage of a plan to attract advertisers for other devices. “If Amazon subsidized a tablet with advertising, it might be able to sell the device at a cheaper, more competitive price.”

“It’s obvious from Amazon’s most recent moves that the company is moving toward Android,” the magazine concludes, “and everything else the company has done lately matches perfectly with a coming launch of a tablet device…. The tablet’s place is ready; now all Amazon needs is an actual product.”

It’s a theory that’s been echoed by others, including the creator of the bookmarking site InstaPaper. But there’s even support for an Amazon tablet within the community of technology experts. Last month, Forrester Research concluded that it was Amazon which had the best chance of competing with Apple’s iPad. (“[W]e see a market that’s ripe for disruption,” wrote analyst Sarah Rotman Epps, adding “by Amazon in particular.”) Surveys showed that 24% of consumers would consider purchasing an Amazon tablet, versus just 18% who said the same thing about Motorola. And 28% even said they’d prefer to buy a tablet-sized computer from Amazon rather than a phone company.

It an idea that seems to make a lot of sense. (If Apple insists on a cut of any e-book sales that happen on an IPad, Amazon could simply start selling their own competing tablet-sized device!) But it’s hard to predict the future, especially with different pundits offering so many exciting what-if scenarios. For example, Monday eWeek tracked down an analyst at Gartner who said he still prefers an even juicier rumor about how the next Kindle will be sold.

“It is more likely that Amazon will make the Kindle free to Amazon Prime subscribers and then make their money selling ebooks!”

Will Amazon release a $99 Kindle?

Sale for 99 on a sign

“A Kindle priced below $100 seems almost a sure thing.”

That’s the opinion of Chad Skelton, who’s both an investigative reporter and blogger for the Vancouver Sun. He predicts that Amazon’s going to make big cuts in the cost of a new Kindle — because it will bring them more customers. “Amazon has already shown a willingness to make deep price cuts on the Kindle,” Skelton writes, documenting the drops from its original $399 price to just $139. He does disagree with the prediction that Amazon may give away a free Kindle (and then try to earn back their money on e-book sales). But he notes that “there are likely a bunch of customers who Amazon can bring into the market once they drop the price down to two digits.”

“The only question is when. If I was a betting man, I’d figure Amazon would drop the Kindle’s price to $99 in time for the holiday shopping season.”

He isn’t the first person to predict Amazon will keep lowering the Kindle’s price. Last August, a technology columnist at Slate argued that Amazon would drop the price of a Kindle to $99 before Christmas of 2010! They didn’t — but it’s still a fascinating article, because it broke down the actual cost Amazon paid for the parts of a Kindle. Over a year ago, E-Ink collaborated with a silicon chip manufacturer to create a way to run the Kindle with a much cheaper semiconductor. And in addition, at least one Amazon’s competitor unveiled a $99 digital reader last July.

“All of these trends likely guarantee that Amazon will release a $99 e-reader someday,” Slate‘s columnist concluded. (And he compared Amazon’s pricing to that of an aggressive salesman in a TV ad, joking that Amazon’s CEO was “the Crazy Eddie of the e-book business: Every time a rival gets close to the Kindle’s prices, Bezos goes even lower. He will not be undersold!”) But there’s already been research into how consumers would react to a $99 Kindle, Slate‘s reporter also notes. While less than 20% of the adults in America would consider a reader costing more< than $100, “nearly 65 percent said they would consider one” if the price were below $100, “and almost 40 percent said they’d buy it within six months!”

Imagine what that would mean for Amazon. Suddenly there’d be three times as many people who wanted to buy the newest Kindle. Presumably they’d triple the sales of e-books in Amazon’s Kindle store. This would give Amazon even more leverage with publishers — though I don’t know whether it would ultimately result in lower e-book prices.

It’s hard to predict the future — as Slate’s columnist found out when he started writing that “tech companies usually ramp up production and lower their prices for the holidays.” But maybe he was right about everything except which holiday Amazon. It’s still possible that Amazon will roll out a $99 Kindle for Christmas.

But instead of Christmas of 2010, it could be Christmas of 2011.

Amazon Releases a New Free Game

Free Amazon Kindle Game Number Slide screenshot

It sounds like an April Fool’s Day joke — but it’s not! Amazon’s just released a brand-new free game for the Kindle. It’s a beautiful rendition of the classic “number slider” puzzle — this time with a couple of twists.

To start with, there’s just one empty square on a grid of numbered titles, which makes it possible to slide just one tile at a time, either up, down, or sideways. “Your goal is to use the empty space to slide the numbered tiles until they are in order,” Amazon’s instructions explain. “When the tiles are in order with the empty space in the bottom right, you win!”

But Amazon also lets you select a new difficulty level for the puzzle, offering grids that are either “small, medium, or large.” (That is, you can slide the numbers in a small three-by-three grid, a trickier four-by-four grid, or an even more challenging five-by-five grid.) And if you choose the “automatic” setting, a tile will move as soon as you highlight it, so you don’t even have to press in the select button. (And if you instead you choose the “manual” setting, you can cursor past several tiles, and then move them all at once by selecting the one that’s farthest away!)

“You know, the last thing I need is yet another addictive game on my Kindle!” complained blogger Michael P. Gallagher. This morning he posted the game’s first review on its page in the Kindle store, writing that “The graphics are very crisp and the response time is very fast on my Kindle 3 as compared to the slowness I saw on the free Kindle poker game…”

“Now, if I can just find time to read on my darn Kindle….”

This game is part of an unacknowledged trend, since gradually all of the classic games are starting to become available on the Kindle. Just yesterday Oak Systems Leisure Software released Codewords and Cryptograms for Kindle. It’s the familiar cryptograms that appear in your daily newspaper, where a quote from a famous person is hidden with a “substitution” code where different letters are swapped in to represent every letter. (And they’ve also bundled in a fascinating variation on the classic crossword puzzles, called “Codewords,” where you try to perform the same de-ciphering in a crossword puzzle grid!)

That company also released the first Kindle version of Chess in February (as well as a Word Search game). And if you’re looking for traditional crossword puzzles, The New York Times has released six different volumes. One week ago, two different companies even released two different Kindle versions of the board game checkers on the exact same day. And just Tuesday, the same thing happened again, when two companies released competing versions of the disk-flipping game Reversi.

In February, a company named 7 Dragons released a Kindle version of the game Tic Tac Toe (as well as a new game called Flip It) — but two weeks ago, they even unveiled a Kindle version of the classic text-document application, “Notepad.” And there were already two competing versions of the software. So game development is definitely starting to happen on the Kindle platform.

I agree with Michael Gallagher — all these games are cutting into the time that I’d normally spend reading on my Kindle. Number Slide marks the sixth free game that Amazon has released. Below is a complete list of all Amazon’s free Kindle games — in case you’re looking for more fun ways to spend this year’s April Fool’s Day.

MineSweeper
Video Poker
Shuffled Row
Every Word
Black Jack
Number Slide

Is Amazon building a new tablet-size Kindle?

Amazon iPad-sized tablet computer - Kindle DX

“I bet Amazon is developing their own tablet computer.”

That’s what technology columnist Andy Ihnatko wrote in an insightful new article in the Chicago Sun-Times last week. Amazon had just announced their new app store for smartphones and tablet devices running the Android operating system. Was it the first step towards a color, iPad-style multimedia computing device? “I don’t know that they’re doing this,” Ihnatko wrote. “But I do know that Amazon has all of the required pieces in place and that they…are clearly in the best position to challenge Apple and the iPad.”

And here’s some more possible evidence from within the last week.

  • Yesterday Amazon’s older tablet-sized Kindle DX suddenly went on sale at a 20% discount at Best Buy and Staples. Were they selling off their inventory before introducing a better model?

  • Thursday Amazon added a link in the Kindle’s built-in store for downloading audiobook files. Were they encouraging Kindle owners to explore the Kindle’s audio capabilities?

It’s starting to feel like a not-so-secret secret. “Amazon has been working on a multi-touch color device with Wi-Fi since at least early last year,” reported Matt Buchanan of Gizmodo, “if not earlier. It bought a multi-touch company called Touchco, and merged it with Lab126, the subsidiary that works on Kindles. Then it put out calls LCD specialists. Another name for a multi-touch color screen device? A tablet.” Buchanan also suggests that there’s not much money for Amazon to make selling apps — unless they’re really planning to sell a new device that runs them.

It’s a move which seems to make a lot of business sense. Right now the only real competition to the Kindle is the Nook — an Android-based tablet which offers a back-lit color screen. But just Friday Barnes and Noble confirmed big improvements are coming for the NOOK Color in April, which reportedly include e-mail, an app store, and even support for Flash animation and video. They’ve sold millions of the device in the last six months, according to the business magazine Fast Company. Are they pressuring Amazon to come out with their own color multimedia reader?

Watch closely, and it seems like Amazon is already putting into the place the very things that some pundits are recommending. “If a Kindle tablet had a ‘Recommend this thing I’m looking at right now’ button…that one feature would be a force-multiplier for the commercial impact of the whole platform,” Andy Ihnatko wrote. But of course, just recently Amazon added a “Before you go” feature to the Kindle 3. (“When you reach the end of the book, you can immediately…share a message about the book with your social network,” Amazon explained when they announced the upgrade last month.) If Amazon proves it can generate sales for content, “it wouldn’t take much for Amazon to legitimize itself as the friend to independent producers of books and music and video,” Ihnatko writes. Apple needed its iTunes store before people would buy the iPod, and their app store to sell the iPad. But now Amazon could be offering up some real competition.

Of course, maybe Amazon is just trying to spook Apple — to give them some leverage over Apple’s threat to demand royalties off any sales which happen in the apps run on Apple products. But it’s the question that just won’t go away, and it’s fascinating to read the speculation. “The Kindle engineering team has always had a knack for zeroing in on the critical function of the device and then refusing to get precious about anything that isn’t absolutely necessary to that goal…” Ihnatko points out. “Amazon keeps the Kindle on message. Although Amazon isn’t in the business of technological innovation, they have a proven track record for making inexpensive devices that people instinctively like.”

I’m enjoying the what-if scenarios because they brings out some great analysis, and whatever happens, this conversation is helpful for understanding the world today. And I loved how Ihnatko concluded his 2,800-word masterpiece — the last reason he offered for an iPad-style Kindle. “Amazon can succeed like Apple and maybe exceed Apple’s success in many places because it has the single greatest asset that any tech company can possibly have: It’s run by a crazy billionaire… Listen to me: Jeff Bezos has his own space program. I never tire of saying that. This is clearly not a man who’s intimidated by the scale of a project or the expense.

“If there’s a real chance of success, he’s willing to pour in the money, the focus and the motivation that are necessary for his people make it happen.”

A Big Sale on a Big Kindle

Kindle 3 versus a Kindle DX side-by-side

A 20% discount? That’s what people are seeing at their local Staples store — and at Best Buy! It’s for the Kindle DX, Amazon’s big-screen Kindle, which normally retails for $379. Now the two mega-stores are both selling the tablet-sized Kindle for just $300 — and with the right coupon, you may even be able to purchase one for just $269!

Plus, even Amazon.com is lowering their prices on the Kindle DX — sort of. Throughout this weekend I saw Amazon selling refurbished models for just $319.99. (Only nine months ago, it cost a whopping $489 to buy a Kindle DX — until Amazon introduced a newer model with better screen contrast last July.) Amazon lowered the device’s price to just $379, and changed its color from white to graphite. But even at the new price, the Kindle DX was still costing twice as much as the Kindle 3.

The Staples offer appears on page 8 of their weekly deals flier flier, under a black headline announcing “lowest price ever!” (“3G and a 60% bigger screen… Save $80…”) There was even a display at my local Staples store urging “Try it out! Take one home today.” A store clerk explained that Staples has a 14-day return policy with “no questions asked.” The Best Buy offer appears on their web page. But for both stores it’s an “in-store only” offer.

Staples Discount Sale Ad for Kindle DX

Amazon is also offering savings on the Kindle 3 — though they’re not as dramatic. They’re selling a refurbished Wi-Fi Kindle 3 for just $129.99 and a 3G Kindle for $179.99. (When purchased new, the same Kindles each cost $10 more.) And on the Kindle’s page at Amazon.com, they’re also touting a lower price for a Kindle jacket. It’s the M-Edge “Latitude” jacket, with a nylon canvas exterior with zippers and a grey microfleece interior. It’s now selling for $29.99 (instead of the usual $34.99), and it’s available in six different colors. (Black, Navy blue, teal, pink, purple, and red.)

But I’ve always been most excited about the Kindle DX, and the lower prices make it really easy to buy one. An iPad has a screen with a 9.7-inch diameter — which is exactly the size of the screen on the Kindle DX. (The Kindle 3 has a 6-inch-diameter screen.) With that extra screen space, I could finally read those PDF files where the text was too small. And I really like the idea of playing a game where it’s spread out across the larger screen.

Of course, a Kindle DX always weighs twice as much as a “regular” Kindle — it’s 18.9 ounces (versus the 8.7-ounce weight of a Kindle 3). It’s either bulky and hard to hold, or there’s more Kindle to love. I always thought this would be the perfect gift for someone who really loves their Kindle. Give them another Kindle, but one that’s even bigger, so they can finally walk around with the biggest Kindle on the block!

And I’ve also heard rumors of an online coupon that can save you an additional $30 on your purchase at Staples. It’s for purchases of over $150, but I haven’t been able to confirm if the offer is legitimate. But at least two lucky shoppers found an even better deal on their Kindle DX. Saturday Amazon listed a used Kindle DX which was sold for just $275. And the other lucky shopper was the winning bidder in a fast auction on eBay.

They landed their Kindle DX for just $250!

               *                              *                              *


To check for Amazon deals on a refurbished Kindle DX, point your web browser to

      http://tinyurl.com/RefurbishedKindleDX

To check for Amazon deals on a refurbished Kindle 3, go to

      http://tinyurl.com/RefurbishedKindle3