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 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

E-Book Sales Have Tripled in the Last Year!

Stack of books graph shows ebook sales

Today the Association of American Publishers finally released their estimated sales statistics for February. It’s conclusion? E-book sales have more than tripled from where they were just one year ago!

I’ve updated this post because originally I hadn’t realized just how much the sales had increased. “According to AAP’s monthly sales estimates, e-book sales jumped 202.3% at the 16 publishers that reported results, hitting $90.3 million,” Publisher’s Weekly reported this morning – and a 200% increase means the sales are triple where they were from the year before. Again, these are the official statistics from the official trade association of the U.S. book publishing industry, which reported that e-book sales “have enjoyed triple-digit percentage growth, 202.3%, vs February 2010.” And they also acknowledged today that people really love to read e-books.

“The public is embracing the breadth and variety of reading choices available to them,” announced the association’s president, adding that while the reading public maintains an interest in printed books, they’ve “made e-books permanent additions to their lifestyle.”

It’s nice to see that book publishers are aware of the changes rocking their industry, and that they’re approaching it with a sense of history. The association’s president noted today that “publishers are constantly redefining the timeless concept of ‘books,'” and identifying new audiences they can serve in new emerging technologies. “Publishers have always strategically expanded into all the markets and formats where readers want to find books,” he added enthusiastically, “whether it was Trade Paperback, Mass Market or now digital.”

But the statistics tell an unusually compelling story. Publishers are selling more e-books than they are books in any other format, according to a larger survey of over 84 different publishing houses. And in fact, nearly every kind of printed book has shown a decline in sales from the sales they reported just last year. For example, in February hardcover sales dropped a massive 43% from the year before, and they’re now earning the publishing houses just $46.2 million.

And mass-market paperbacks didn’t fare much better, dropping 41.5% in February (down to just $29.3 million) from their sales figures a year ago. In fact, combining every category of printed book, you’d still see a drop of 24.8% in their February sales this year. There was only one kind of printed book which showed any increase in sales this year: religious books, which sold 5.5% more in February than they did in February of 2010 (earning $48.5 million). But no matter how you approach these figures, e-books still come out as extremely popular.

So what’s their explanation? E-books apparently got a big boost from the people who received a Kindle (or another digital reader) as a gift this Christmas. There’s not only more reading devices to choose from, but now there’s also more digital titles available, their report noted today. And people may even be reading more once they purchase a digital reader, the report seems to suggest. “Additionally, trade publishing houses cite e-books as generating fresh consumer interest in — and new revenue streams for — ‘backlist’ titles, books that have been in print for at least a year. Many publishers report that e-Book readers who enjoy a newly-released book will frequently buy an author’s full backlist.”

This may be the year that everything changes — when digital texts really start to replace the printed book as we know it.

Amazon adds Audio Books to the Kindle Store!


A few minutes ago, Amazon made a big announcement. If you point your Kindle 3 to Amazon’s Kindle store, you’ll now see a new link at the top of the page — “Audible Audiobooks”. Amazon will now wirelessly deliver audio books — read by a human voice — directly to your Kindle 3 over a Wi-Fi connection! You can now purchase these audiobooks right there on your Kindle, including 3,747 mystery/thriller books, 5,255 children’s books, and 14,449 works of fiction.

“We’re very excited to announce that more than 50,000 Audible Audiobooks are now available for purchase or download on the latest Kindle via Wi-Fi delivery,” Amazon posted in the Kindle’s discussion forum at Amazon.com. And they’ll give you two free audio books — the digital version of a “book on tape” — if you sign up for a 30-day free trial! It’s always been an intriguing way to use your Kindle, and Amazon’s new policy should make it much easier to enjoy a new audio book. Prior to today, “you had to transfer it,” an Audible representative told me this morning. You’d use your web browser to download the audio book to your computer’s hard drive — and then you’d have to connect your USB cable to your Kindle, and manually upload the audio book.

“Now you can do either way,” she explained. Using your Kindle 3’s ability to make a WI-Fi connection to your computer, you can transmit the audio books directly into your Kindle…

Of course, you don’t have to listen to the audio book on a Kindle. You can also listen to the same file on your iPod, iPhone, or Blackberry, or even on an mp3 player. What they’re selling is the convenience of enjoying a book with your ears. “Now you can catch up on books even when you can’t read,” boasts Amazon’s web page, “during your commute, while working out, anytime and anywhere.”

I was surprised by the selection of audio books that are now available. There’s even an audio version of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” and several books which are actually read to you by their author, including two by Jon Stewart and Donald Rumsfeld’s “Known and Unknown.” For the next three months, they’ll let new customers explore Audible’s service at a lower monthly subscription price — just $7.49 a month. (After three months, the cost of the subscription increases to $14.95.) These subscribers get one free audio book each month, plus a 30% discount on any subsequent audiobook purchase. And they’re even throwing in a free daily subscription to audio versions of The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal.

But what’s also interesting is the way Amazon announced this change. They didn’t issue a press release. Instead they quietly slipped the news into Amazon’s Kindle discussion forum at Amazon.com. There was also a post on the official Twitter feed of the Amazon Kindle team. (“The latest Kindle now offers wireless delivery of more than 50,000 Audible Audiobooks via Wi-Fi.”) And of course, Amazon also snuck an announcement onto the Kindle’s official page on Facebook (at Facebook.com/Kindle)

The news created a small frenzy of excitement. (Within an hour more than 250 people had clicked the announcement’s “Like” icon.) And it’s been really fun to read the real-time reactions from Kindle owners. “isn’t the term ‘audible audiobook’ redundant?” someone asked — before being reminded that Audible is the name of the web site! But another user posted enthusiastically that “That is awesome I have been waiting for this option.

“I will be downloading audio tonight!”

Teacher Earns $20,000 in Kindle E-Book Sales

Elisa Lorello author of the e-book Faking It
Image of “Faking It” author Elisa Lorello at work
from The Charlotte Observer


It’s a story that makes you feel good. “Teacher Hits It Big with E-Book,” writes her local newspaper.

“Elisa Lorello of Raleigh had no literary agent, no publisher and nothing to lose when she decided to self-publish her first novel, Faking It, as an e-book for Amazon’s Kindle… Early last year, Faking It hit No. 6 on Kindle’s bestseller list, beating out big-name authors and giant publishing houses.” They report that she’s sold over 52,000 copies of the book and it’s sequel Ordinary World. And last week her amazing success took an even bigger turn, leading Elisa to a unique publishing deal with Amazon.com!

Until today, I’d never even heard of Elisa Lorello. But it turns out the different pieces of her amazing life story are scattered around the web — including a feature on the web site for North Carolina State University.


“Lorello brought along a draft of her first novel, “Faking It,” when she moved from Massachusetts to Raleigh in 2006 to take a job as a full-time lecturer teaching first-year writing in the English department. She spent several years revising the book – a romantic comedy she describes as “When Harry Met Sally crossed with “Sex and the City”… Ultimately, she self-published it in 2008 through Raleigh-based Lulu.com, but sales were slow. “I sold less than 100 copies,” Lorello says. So, in June 2009, she published the book on Kindle through Amazon.com…

There it still sold just 70 copies in its first month, and 10 copies the next. (“Of course, I was ecstatic,” Lorello remembers, since that was more than she’d sold in the self-published print edition.) She lowered the book’s price to just 99 cents, and that’s when the miracle began to happen. Judging from the article, it looks like more than 15% of the author’s sales occurred in a single week. Seven months later, in the last week of January, 2010, Lorello’s e-book suddenly sold 8,000 copies, according to the college’s profile, which reports Faking It finally peaked at the #6 spot on the best-seller list in Amazon’s Kindle store (behind five e-books which were all available for free). By mid-February, total sales had reached 15,000, and in March the book remained one of Amazon’s top 50 best-sellers.

A picture in the newspaper shows Elisa hard at work on her laptop at the “It’s A Grind” coffee shop in Cary, North Carolina. And she seems very committed to the craft of writing good fiction. Even when she was considering a bittersweet sequel, “I was resistant at first because by then I had gotten so close to these characters and didn’t want them to be hurt,” she acknowledged in an interview at Amazon.com. “But when a story or a truth needs to be told, as a writer you have to honor that and get out of its way.”

She’d already published the book’s sequel — Ordinary World — in November of 2009 — and by March of 2010 it had already sold 9,000 copies. The sequel later peaked in the Top 40, according to a profile on the college’s Department of English site, and “Both novels stayed in the Top 100 for about six weeks.” Assuming the sales were split evenly between her two books, Elisa ultimately sold about 26,000 copies of each one. Yet by the end of the year, she’d earned more than $20,000, according to the newspaper profile — a figure that’s much higher than the book advances enjoyed by most print authors. Lorello “counts herself part of a self-publishing revolution that’s upending the book business…” according to the newspaper’s profile. “At stake? The future of the $24 billion publishing industry.”

They note that e-books now represent a much larger percentage of the new e-books — 9 percent in 2010, versus just 3 percent in the previous year — and that Amazon is now selling more e-books than they are paperbacks. “Today, if you can use a computer, you can publish your book,” the article concludes, noting that besides the downside of more bad self-published ficition, it’s also unmistakeably creating “a booming self-publishing industry.” But Elia’s story took an even bigger turn, when Amazon itself took notice of her exceptional success.

“Even great books can be overlooked,” Amazon had announced in a 2009 press release when they founded their own e-book publishing company, AmazonEncore “to help readers discover exceptional books from emerging authors.” Amazon studies customer reviews (and other information) to “identify exceptional, overlooked books and authors that show potential for greater sales,” and then “partners with the authors to re-introduce their books to readers through marketing support and distribution into multiple channels and formats, such as the Amazon Books Store, Amazon Kindle Store, Audible.com, and national and independent bookstores via third-party wholesalers.” Eventually Elisa Lorello turned up on their radar. (In a September press release, Amazon describes Lorello’s books as “exceptional” and “compelling”.) And looking back, it seems ironic that Elisa had added her e-book to Amazon’s Kindle store within a few weeks of when Amazon first started their publishing company.

Last week Lorello shared her gratitude in a personal message on her blog. “Tomorrow’s the big day. Faking It launches as an AmazonEncore title with a brand new cover (which I love, by the way) and editing, will be available in select bookstores, and will be available in print and Kindle editions. Who would’ve thought that, back in June 2009 (when I self-pubbed on Kindle–it had already been a Lulu title for six months), I’d be making such an announcement? Seriously, it’s way cool.

“But I’m able to make this announcement thanks to you, my readers…Thank you to every single person who made the 99-cent investment and were kind enough to say that they’d have gladly paid more. Thank you to everyone who told a friend or family member. Thank you to every male reader who wasn’t ashamed to say that they loved what was essentially marketed as a chick book…

“If there’s anyone I left out, please know that in my heart, I am profoundly grateful.”

Magazine Publishes First E-Book List in 100 Years

Publisher's Weekly

It’s a fascinating moment in time. For more than 100 years, Publisher’s Weekly has compiled an annual list of the year’s best-selling books. But for the first time ever, this year they felt that they also had to include e-book sales. “We asked publishers…to submit e-books with sales of more than 10,000 last year,” they reported yesterday. (Though they focused this question only on publishers who’d had a least one best-seller in print that sold more than 100,000 copies.)

Their annual list is an important tradition in the publishing industry, and it looks like this change encountered some resistance. “The response from the houses was mixed,” they noted. “Many declined to share this information, others only submitted selected titles.” In the end they were able to gather statistics about 275 e-books, which they felt were “enough to underscore that the publishing model has indeed changed and that what is available in e-book format is ubiquitous.” In fact, at least two of the year’s best-selling books achieved nearly 30% of their sales in the e-book format!

The first was The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (by Stieg Larsson), which dominated the top of Amazon’s best-selling e-book list for most of 2010, and sold 775,000 e-book editions (vs 1.9 million printed editions). And the second was John Grisham’s new thriller, “The Confession,” which sold 550,000 e-book editions and 1.36 million print editions. Publisher’s Weekly declares them to be the #2 and #3 best-selling books of the year, respectively, when you combine their print and e-book sales, behind only former President Bush’s biography Decision Points. Interestingly, the president’s book sold many more of its copies in print — nearly 90% — with just 10.3% of its sales coming in the e-book format. When you consider only e-book sales, the former president’s book drops down to the #3 position.

But other books ended up with a very small percentage of e-book sales, including Life, the biography of The Rolling Stones’ guitarist, Keith Richards. Its combined sales made it the sixth best-selling book for all of 2010, but just 4% of its sales came in the e-book format — 34,467 copies — compared to print sales of 811,596. And even fewer people bought the e-book edition of Bill O’Reilly’s Pinheads and Patriots. Though it sold 662,950 print copies — making it the #10 best-selling book of 2010 — it sold just 26,290 e-book editions, representing just 3.8% of all its sales.

There were also at least 12 different e-books that were authored (or co-authored) by James Patterson among the best-selling e-books in 2010, according to Publisher’s Weekly. Five of Patterson’s suspense stories even made it onto the more select list of the top 30 best-selling e-books.

I, Alex Cross (#6)
The 9th Judgment (#13)
Private (#16)
The Postcard Killers (#17)
Don’t Blink (#28)

But publishers are even reporting high e-book sales for perennially-popular “back list” titles like The Great Gatsby and Gone with the Wind. So it seems like this once-a-year event has provoked some thoughtful analysis about what lies ahead for the world of publishing — and what lies ahead for the book. Publishers Weekly remembered the day when Stephen King published the first e-book — Riding the Bullet — back in March of 2000. At the time, a spokesperson for Simon & Schuster announced “This could change the model of publishing.”

But then Publisher’s Weekly turned their attention to an insightful blog post by Mike Shatzkin, a consultant and analyst who has more than 50 years of experience in the publishing industry. He likens the new popularity of e-books to the days when publishers first began producing cheap paperback editions shortly after World War II. “Much less expensive editions, combined with access to audiences for authors that couldn’t get past the gatekeepers in the established houses, can create millions of new readers,” Shatzkin writes — and Publisher’s Weekly optimistically admits that now the same thing is true today.

“Anything that creates more readers is a boon for all kinds of publishers.”

New Albert Einstein eBooks – a Kindle Exclusive

Albert Einstein writes an equation on a chalkboard

Monday Amazon announced they’d obtained the exclusive e-book rights to seven books by Albert Einstein. “Albert Einstein is one of our most important thinkers,” Amazon’s Vice President of Kindle Content announced, adding “These books cover everything from the Theory of Relativity to Einstein’s own letters chronicling his thoughts on life.

“We’re excited to make these books available for Kindle device owners and app users, and think readers will enjoy them.”

They’re the officially authorized e-book editions of “a selection of Albert Einstein’s most important writings,” according to the CEO of Open Road Integrated Media LLC (the book’s publisher) — though the rights aren’t entirely exclusive. Amazon’s press release refers to seven e-books, “a portion of which have been available digitally in the public domain.” But while print editions may have already been released, “Open Road has added new photographs and biographical information from experts at the Hebrew University Einstein Archives, introductions written by Neil Berger and new covers to previously published print editions…to create new Albert Einstein Archives Authorized Editions of the works.”

Probably the most touching book is “Letters to Solovine,” which opens with an introduction by Maurice Solovine himself (who became a lifelong friend of the physicist). In 1902, when Einstein was just 23, he’d placed an ad offering to teach physics for three francs an hour, and 27-year-old Solovine responded to the ad (thinking “Perhaps this man could explain theoretical physics to me.”) The two men remained friends for the next 50 years, and Solovine’s introduction is exciting, because it really gives the feeling of what it was like to actually meet Albert Einstein for the very first time. “The hallway was dark and I was struck by the extraordinary radiance of his large eyes… For two hours we talked on about all sorts of questions and felt that we shared the same ideas…we continued the discussion in the street for about half an hour and agreed to meet the following day.”

Albert Einstein was born 132 years ago on this day — March 14 — so it’s nice to see that he’s still remembered, not just for his work but for the good man that he tried to be. Search the Kindle store today for Albert Einstein, and Amazon precedes your search results with their special announcement. (“Exclusive Enhanced Editions of Einstein’s Books on Kindle! Browse seven of Albert Einstein’s books with new photographs, biographical information, and never-before-seen documents, only on Kindle.” ) Here’s their official list of the new Einstein e-books, along with a description of what’s inside.

Essays in Science – Einstein’s tribute to other men and women of science, along with Einstein’s thoughts on his own place in scientific history.

Essays in Humanism – An inspiring collection of Einstein’s view on how quickly the world was changing.

Letters to Solovine 1906-1955 – Einstein’s long-time friend and translator compiled this “provocative” collection of letters revealing “the inner thoughts and daily life of a transformative genius”.

Letters on Wave Mechanics – Amazon describes these as “lively” and “groundbreaking” letters that Einstein sent to other physicists, including Max Planck, and Erwin Schrödinger.

Out of My Later Years – Einstein looks at the world again through the wise eyes of age.

The Theory of Relativity and Other Essays – Einstein’s most famous equation was E=mc2 — and here he actually explains it in his own words.

The World As I See It – Einstein addresses the modern world, including topics like nationalism, life, and religion.


To celebrate Einstein’s birthday, I tracked down a list of some of his most famous quotes. Einstein was an intelligent and thoughtful man, and during his life he said many wonderful things. But if I had to choose one favorite Albert Einstein quote, it would probably be this one. “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent.

“It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.”

Three Funny, Free Ebooks

Funny men laughing cartoon - you want it when

Last week I was fighting a stomach virus — which meant a lot of time in bed reading e-books! I learned to appreciate when an author can make me smile — especially when I’m feeling miserable — but I also discovered a special service from Amazon that makes Kindle reading more fun.

Today I also wanted to share three funny, free ebooks that I discovered — and each author swears that his story is true! “Follow the author on his numerous Hollywood adventures,” reads one book’s description, “watching as he glides smoothly from forgery to pornography to crashing the Academy Awards under the alias of a nominated screenwriter, and eventually stumbles into acting in the highest-grossing movie of all time, Titanic.” The author is Emmett James, and he played a steward in Titanic — in the movie’s credits, there’s 60 different people whose name appears before his. But he’s written a fascinating memoir of his life as a film fan — first watching movies as a young teenager, and then appearing in them as an adult. (“Admit One: My Life in Film” is available as a free e-book in Amazon’s Kindle store — it’s still one of the site’s best-selling free ebooks, and it’s currently the store’s #1 best-selling actor memoir.)

But while I was reading this book, I learned about special services Amazon makes available for Kindle owners at Kindle.Amazon.com. For example, there’s a “flashcard”-type game which displays clippings from an e-book you’ve read on your Kindle. (It’s a fun way to see if you can remember what you’ve read — and to review your favorite passages from the book.) You can also pull up a big list with all the passages that you’ve highlighted in all of your e-books — and an interactive list that shows which e-books you’re currently reading now. Plus, Amazon even shares a list of the most-highlighted e-book passages of all time. (#3 is a witty observation from Jane Austen. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife…”)

Reviewing my highlights, I remembered another funny free e-book that I hadn’t read for a while — and again, the author swears that his story is entirely true. “I was young and ignorant,” Mark Twain wrote about the first time he came to the American west at the age of 26. “I little thought that I would not see the end of that three-month pleasure excursion for six or seven uncommonly long years!”

Roughing It was the second book Mark Twain ever wrote — in 1870, at the age of 35, looking fondly back at the wild experiences that launched his career. His older brother (Orion Clemens) had been appointed the Territorial Secretary of Nevada for the three years before it became a U.S. state in 1864, and Mark Twain tagged along on the stagecoach ride out west. He remembers being amused that “My brother, the Secretary, took along about four pounds of United States statutes and six pounds of Unabridged Dictionary” — only to discover later that it would’ve been much easier to have copies mailed to Nevada. But mostly I love the book’s friendly spirit, remembering those moments on the trail when “we smoked a final pipe, and swapped a final yarn,” or the campfires “around which the most impossible reminiscences sound plausible, instructive, and profoundly entertaining.”

The brothers sleep in a stagecoach packed with mail sacks, often removing everything but their underwear to stay cool in the frontier heat. And at night as the stagecoach crosses through shallow streams, it tosses its sleeping passengers back and forth while traveling the steep hills on the river’s bank.


“First we would all be down in a pile at the forward end of the stage, nearly in a sitting posture, and in a second we would shoot to the other end, and stand on our heads. And we would sprawl and kick, too, and ward off ends and corners of mail- bags that came lumbering over us and about us; and as the dust rose from the tumult, we would all sneeze in chorus, and the majority of us would grumble, and probably say some hasty thing, like: “Take your elbow out of my ribs! — can’t you quit crowding?”

“Every time we avalanched from one end of the stage to the other, the Unabridged Dictionary would come too; and every time it came it damaged somebody…”


Ironically, it was because of Monty Python that I discovered the third funny free e-book. In 1975, Monty Python’s Michael Palin appeared in a TV adaptation of the humorous travelogue “Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog),” with Tim Curry playing the part of the book’s author, Jerome K. Jerome. The adapted script was written by Tom Stoppard, the famous author who 20 years later would win an Academy Award for his screenplay for Shakespeare in Love. “Three Men in a Boat” is a great, classic piece of British humor, available for free at gutenberg.org or for 99 cents in Amazon’s Kindle store. Even though it was written in 1889, the book still reads like a long comedy monologue, and even today it can always makes me laugh.

Here’s how Jerome K. Jerome describes how rainy weather can really spoil your boating expedition.


It is evening. You are wet through, and there is a good two inches of water in the boat, and all the things are damp. You find a place on the banks that is not quite so puddly as other places you have seen, and you land and lug out the tent, and two of you proceed to fix it.

It is soaked and heavy, and it flops about, and tumbles down on you, and clings round your head and makes you mad. The rain is pouring steadily down all the time. It is difficult enough to fix a tent in dry weather: in wet, the task becomes herculean. Instead of helping you, it seems to you that the other man is simply playing the fool. Just as you get your side beautifully fixed, he gives it a hoist from his end, and spoils it all.

“Here! what are you up to?” you call out.

“What are you up to?” he retorts; “leggo, can’t you…?”


I guess it’s just always fun to laugh at someone else’s troubles — especially when you’re sick in bed with troubles of your own!

Are Publishers Illegally Fixing the Prices of Ebooks?

Dr Evil vs the European Union and European Commission

A startling announcement came out of Brussels last week. The European Commission suddenly issued a statement that they’d “initiated unannounced inspections at the premises of companies that are active in the e-book publishing sector in several [European] Member States.” They’re “searching for evidence that they had acted illegally to keep prices high in the nascent electronic-book market,” the Wall Street Journal explains — and it’s not the only such investigation.

In both Texas and Connecticut, state officials have been investigating e-book pricing, and there’s also a new investigation that began in England earlier this year. “The U.K and the Connecticut investigations center on pricing arrangements between publishers and the retailers who sell electronic books,” the Journal reported earlier, adding that Connecticut “has said it is looking at Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc.” In Europe, the commission’s officials inspected the publishing premises accompanied by “competition authorities” from the appropriate nation, according to their press release. And they made a point of adding that “The Commission has reason to believe that the companies concerned may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and other restrictive business practices…”

Of course, it’s important to remember that this is just an investigation, and “The fact that the Commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour,” they warned in their press release, “nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself.” But there’s still been a lot of activity and excitement. The investigators “descended like cowboys,” according to one publishing company’s president. Another Journal article quotes his interview with a French technology site, where he also reportedly alleged that “This operation is masterminded by Amazon.” (That seems unlikely, but the investigation is definitely making some big headlines in the European business press.) And when the stakes are this high, maybe there’s enough pressure to go around.

So who’s being investigated? Not Random House (according to the Wall Street Journal.) Their reporter actually contacted the top publishing houses in Europe, and a Random House spokesman indicate that they had not been approached by the commission. Several other publishing houses declined to comment (Flammarion and Albin Michel) or didn’t return the call (Gallimard SA). But interestingly, one company did confirm that they’d been contacted by investigators: Hachette Livre. What’s fascinating is that Hachette Livre is a publishing house that goes all the way back to 1826.

They’ve published everything from Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” to Catcher in the Rye, according to their web site, and even Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight books (which have now sold 85 million copies in 40 countries). They’ve also publish Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and even the famous children’s picture book, Babar the Elephant. “In more than 170 years, the publishing houses that now make up Hachette Livre have produced many a masterpiece…” their site brags.

“They have entered Hachette Livre’s ‘hall of fame’ and serve as a constant reminder of the standards Hachette Livre publishers are expected to live up to, today and in the future.”

Famous Authors Discuss the Ebook

The Dark Tower book cover by Stephen King

Newsweek just performed a fascinating experiment. They contacted America’s best-known authors, and asked them how the Kindle and digital readers are affecting the future of reading! (“The transformation of the book industry has reached a tipping point,” they wrote in their introduction. “Electronic books now outsell paperbacks on Amazon, the retailer recently announced. And Borders, the second-largest bookstore chain in the United States, is reportedly considering a bankruptcy filing…”)

I’ve also got my own collection of favorite authors, and the things that they’ve said about ebooks and Kindles. For example, Stephen King actually owns a Kindle, and in an October interview said he uses it now for about half the books that he’s reading.


I think it changes the reading experience, that it’s a little more ephemeral. And it’s tougher if you misplace a character. But I downloaded one 700-page book onto my Kindle that I was using for research. It didn’t have an index, but I was able to search by key words. And that’s something no physical book can do.


The interview was conducted by the Wall Street Journal, who had asked some tough questions about the business of books.


Q: Is the future of publishing all digital?

It’s a hard subject to get a handle on. People like myself who grew up with books have a prejudice towards them. I think a lot of critics would argue that the Kindle is the right place for a lot of books that are disposable, books that are read on the plane. That might include my own books, if not all, then some.

Any drawbacks?

I wonder if one or two atom bombs went off, would electromagnetic pulses erase the world’s reading material from the servers where they are stored?


But Newsweek tracked some even bigger names, including Dave Eggers, the author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Even though he’s 23 years younger than Stephen King, Eggers is more committed to the physical book, perhaps because he’s also the founder of the McSweeney’s publishing house.


EGGERS: I don’t own an e-reader, and I’ve never read a page on an e-reader. I do everything I can to avoid more screen time.

I don’t think e-books have topped 10 percent of the market. My guess is that it will be about 15 to 20 percent of the market, because e-readers are expensive, and they’ll continue to be expensive.

Not to diminish the value of a paperback, when it comes to somebody investing in a hardcover, it’s something you want to keep. Everything from a cloth-case wrap to a leatherette to a foil-stamped cover, heavier paper, better binding, innovative cover design. You have to give readers a choice, between a richer experience with paper and board and cloth, and a more sterile experience through an electronic reader. We just try to make every aspect of the physical book as good as it can possibly be, because that’s our greatest hedge against the dominance of e-books.


My favorite reaction came when Newsweek spoke to 72-year-old Joyce Carol Oates, who has written three different novels which were nominated for a Pulitzer Prize (including Blonde, a recreation of the life of Marilyn Monroe written in 2000). Her response?


My husband, Charlie, is a neuroscientist, and of course he immediately ordered both the Kindle and iPad. When we travel, we read books and The New York Times on the iPad.

I’d much rather have a book.


I thought Newsweek did a really classy thing, by taking their question all the way to the head librarian at America’s Library of Congress. 81-year-old James H. Billington is only the 13th person to hold that position, and he obviously grew up reading books, as a student at both Princeton and Oxford. So what did he have to say about ebooks?


BILLINGTON: The new immigrants don’t shoot the old inhabitants when they come in. One technology tends to supplement rather than supplant. How you read is not as important as: will you read?

And will you read something that’s a book – the sustained train of thought of one person speaking to another?

New York Times Announces the Best-Selling Ebooks

The New York Times ebook best-seller list

It’s finally happened! I stayed up late Thursday night to watch a very historic moment. The New York Times finally published its first best-seller list which includes ebooks!

They’d spent two full years working on a system to track ebook sales, according to a November article in the Times. “It was clear that e-books were taking a greater and greater share of total sales,” a Times’ editor explained, ” and we wanted to be able to tell our readers which titles were selling and how they fit together with print sales.” In fact, some publishers predicted ebooks would become 25% of their sales within the next two to three years — saying that ebooks already represented 10% of their sales — so the Times really needed to change. “To give the fullest and most accurate possible snapshot of what books are being read at a given moment you have to include as many different formats as possible,” said an editor at the Times’ Book Review, “and e-books have really grown, there’s no question about it.”

But that’s an understatement — at least, judging by the lists, since there’s a remarkable pattern which suggests that ebooks have already become the industry standard. The Times reported the best-selling ebooks as well as the best-selling print books, and then also reported which books sold the most after combining both their print and ebook sales. But it turns out that two of those three lists were identical! Here’s the top five best-selling ebooks.

  1. TICK TOCK, by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  2. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, by Stieg Larsson
  3. THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, by Stieg Larsson
  4. THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST, by Stieg Larsson
  5. WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, by Sara Gruen

But when you calculate the top five overall best-sellers — adding in the print sales to the ebook sales — nothing changes. Adding the print sales had no effect on the ranking of what were the top five best-selling ebooks. (Or even the top seven best-selling ebooks, if you read the Times‘ extended list.)

  1. TICK TOCK, by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  2. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, by Stieg Larsson
  3. THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, by Stieg Larsson
  4. THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST, by Stieg Larsson
  5. WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, by Sara Gruen
  6. THE CONFESSION, by John Grisham
  7. CUTTING FOR STONE, by Abraham Verghese

And the pattern is the same for non-fiction ebooks — at least, for the first four titles on the list. Whether you do or don’t include print books, the rankings are exactly the same.

  1. UNBROKEN, by Laura Hillenbrand
  2. HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent
  3. BATTLE HYMN OF THE TIGER MOTHER, by Amy Chua
  4. DECISION POINTS, by George W. Bush

The only major difference was in the #5 position, suggesting ebook readers have slightly different tastes. The fifth best-selling ebook was $#*! My Dad Says — whereas on the combined print and ebook list, it only reached the #11 spot. And it looks also like a Harlequin romance novel was able to crash its way into the #8 spot on the best-selling fiction list.

What does it all mean? I’ve heard it said that the world changes before we realize that it’s changed. So I’m wondering now if the ebook has already permanently altered the way that we read. In November the Times credited the Kindle (and the iPad) for increasing ebook sales — and noted that ebook sales actually tripled between 2009 and 2010. (“According to the Association of American Publishers, which receives sales data from publishers, e-book sales in the first nine months of 2010 were $304.6 million, up from $105.6 million from the same period in 2009, a nearly 190 percent increase.”) What’s interesting about Friday’s historic event is the Times’ is America’s single largest local newspaper, according to Wikipedia — and each month more than 30 million people visit the Times’ web site. The New York Times best-seller list has always been considered a definitive record of the best-selling books in the country.

And now that definitive list…is including ebooks.

Who’s Sharing Their Highlights?

Author blogger Seth Godin drinking a milk cartoon

There’s another new interesting feature coming in the Kindle’s next software upgrade. Amazon already lets you a type a comment next to any passage in your ebooks, but now Amazon’s offering a way to share those notes publicly, with any fans you may have on the web, according to their Kindle blog. “Any Kindle user…can opt-in to share their thoughts on book passages and ideas with friends, family members, colleagues, and the greater Kindle community of people who love to read.” And besides notes, you can also share material in an ebook which you’ve chosen to highlight. “This is a new way for readers to share their excitement and knowledge about books,” Amazon posted on their blog Monday, “and get more from the books they read.”

What’s really interesting is there’s three people who are already using the feature, according to a special list at kindle.amazon.com. There’s blogger/author Seth Godin (pictured above), who offers some clarification on a passage in his own book, All Marketers are Liars. But there’s also a public note from a man named Douglas Preston — a horror novelist who’s currently reading Laura Hillebrand’s Unbroken. (And the third user is a man named Tom Killalea — who I’m pretty sure is actually an employee of Amazon.com.)

Amazon also has a list of the books of which books have received the most public notes so far. (#1 on the list? Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.) It’s fun to see which books people are most interested in sharing on the web. And besides ranking them by the number of public notes, Amazon also identifies which books are receiving the most highlights (public or private) from their users!

1. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (118th most-highlighted book)
2. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (34th most-highlighted book)
3. The New Oxford American Dictionary (232nd most-highlighted book)
4. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (#1 most highlighted book!)
5. Dracula (71st most-highlighted book)
6. The Girl Who Played With Fire (17th most-highlighted book)
7. Gulliver’s Travels (420th most-highlighted book)
8. Treasure Island (323rd most-highlighted book)
9. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (18th most-highlighted book)
10. Kindle User’s Guide (which suprisingly, is the 295723rd most-highlighted, according to Amazon…)

Amazon’s list keeps going and going — currently they’re showing exactly 2097 books which have been publicly highlighted since this feature became available earlier in the week.

There’ll be some other new features in the Kindle’s next upgrade — like the ability to rate a book instantly when you reach its final page (or get recommendations on related books to read). And Amazon has also improved the layout of newspapers and magazines, so when you’re reading them on the Kindle, you’ll be able to see more than a list of headlines! I’m excited about all the new features, so I’m looking forward to the day Amazon finally decides that it’s ready, and downloads it into our Kindles. But apparently some people are even more excited, and they’ve already downloaded the preview version and started using it!

(And remember, if you’re interested in trying the preview version, point your PC’s web browser to tinyurl.com/getpagenumbers )

Borders, the Kobo and The Office

Borders Kobo Reader on the Office

It’s not just the Kindle. Other TV shows are also featuring digital readers — and sometimes, in a big way. In January, NBC’s The Office built an entire episode around the Kobo ereader, suggesting that there may even have been a product placement deal — that is, that the writers were paid to work it into the plot!

I’m just fascinated by these little moments of pop culture that show how the Kindle and other readers are working their way into the popular imagination. They’re appearing in stories that would never have occurred to anyone in even five years ago. This episode opened with Michael Scott (Steve Carrell), who plays the boss at the Scranton branch of the Dunder-Mifflin paper company. “January 23, 2011,” he says into the camera. “A day which will live in famously.”

He’s not the one using the digital reader. (He’s just worried that his former girlfriend had gotten engaged – although he does add that “If she’s engaged, I’m going to go crazy and I’m going to start attacking people.”) But back among the workers, there’s a lively discussion about New Year’s resolutions, with creepy Dwight Schrute teasing his former girlfriend that his goal for 2011 is “Meet a loose woman”. (And his co-worker Andy agrees.) “You know what you guys should do?” suggests Darryl from the warehouse. “Go to the bookstore at lunch. There’s tons of cuties and it’s easy to talk to them. ‘Hey, what book is that? Cool, let’s hang out tonight. Sex already? Whoa…!'”

Suddenly this strange sitcom is veering towards a visit to the bookstore. And it’s really because digital reading devices are a hot consumer trend in 2011. The writers, based on whatever motivation, now find themselves leading their characters into a Borders bookstore. They cut away to a private interview with Darryl, where he reveals that he isn’t really going there to pick up women. Darryl’s New Year’s resolution was to read more books — and he’d really just wanted a ride to the store!

And that’s when the Kobo appears.

Kobo reader with Daryl from The Office

“Well, if you read a lot, you should check out our ereaders,” a sweet, middle-aged cashier tells Darryl at the register, adding…



“They’re really neat.”

“I work at a paper company. Those things terrify me. They could put us out of business. I heard those things hold like 10 books at once.”

“Actually, it’s 10,000.”

“Holy ####! What? Let me see it…”


Darryl is impressed. (“It’s so light. Like a croissant.”) But his co-workers are having no luck picking up women, and Dwight announces “This place is kind of tapped out, so let’s roll.” But as they’re leaving the store, it turns out that Darryl is carrying a bag that he doesn’t want his co-workers to see. He claims it contains “A book about oceans,” then later tries to claim that it’s pornography. But later in the episode — as the men somehow end up at a roller-skating rink — Darryl is seen slipping away, to read on his brand new Kobo.

Darryl reads his Kobo with Dwight and Andy at the skating rink on the Office

In a way, I feel bad for the Kobo, though. On their Facebook page, they announced a contest to celebrate the episode — asking “What are you reading at the Office.” You didn’t even have to own a Kindle to enter the contest — the prize was 10 free ebooks or a Kobo eReader — but the response was underwhelming. They received just 40 photographs from people entering the contests. You could also enter just by leaving a comment on their web page, but the total number of comments was just 218. (Although to be fair, you could also enter the contest just by clicking the “Like” button the Kobo’s Facebook page, and there’s now 15,712 people who have done so.)

Maybe they would’ve gotten a larger response if they’d given away a Kindle!

New Florida School Rule: eBooks Required

Clearwater Florida high school uses Kindles
Image detail from the Tampa Bay Times

There’s a new rule coming from Florida’s state board of education. Within three years, all school districts will be required to spend half their textbook money on ebooks! “Students ‘cracking the books’ to study for a class or exam could be a thing of the past someday,” joked one Florida newspaper. And when an educational publisher submits their textbook to the board for review — it will have to be an ebook!

One Florida school already spent nearly $400,000 in September to buy 2,200 Kindles — enough for each student to get their own. Each Kindle cost $177.60, but a typical English textbook will be $15 cheaper if it’s delivered in a digital format. And the Kindle may create an extra enthusiasm in the classroom. “Kids love their technology,” the school’s principal told one reporter. “We wanted to tap into that.”

One student actually predicted that he’d study more, because “You want to play with your Kindle…” And another said she liked the lighter weight of ebooks! “I don’t really have the strength to carry around five or six textbooks every day.” The textbooks are also easier to update, which could even make the information more accurate. For example, one teacher’s science textbook — now six years out of date — still lists nine planets in the solar system, though Pluto was re-classified as a dwarf planet in 2006.

“I think books are pretty much obsolete by the time they go to print,” joked one Florida parent. And she also thinks the students will be more comfortable with digital texts, because “My kids are lugging around 40 pounds of books!” At a local community college, the vice president noted that there’s even been pilot programs at a couple state colleges which are using nothing but ebooks in most of the classes. The hardest part is getting the text in the format that works for all devices — on Kindles, Nooks, Kobos, and other digital readers.

He also believes color screens are important. (“We are just waiting for the technology to develop so that we really can move in that direction to where our students can benefit from it.”) So while the ebooks may be required by Florida’s board of education, it’s not clear which digital reader they’ll be purchasing. And if you’re heard horror stories about school boards demanding changes in text books — just imagine what they’d do with the power to change ebooks!

I still remember when I learned how to read — but apparently, grade school is changing now. One elementary school teacher explained to a reporter that for every book in his class, every student already has a password and username! “Most of them don’t take their books home because they can go online, where they can get their reading book,” he told the newspaper as he headed into a technology conference.

“Or they can get their math book and their science book and so forth…”

TV Shows with Kindles

The Kindle on the Cleveland Show

I’ve been watching for signs. If the Kindle really is creeping into our everyday lives, then shouldn’t we be seeing it in our TV shows? Now it turns out the answer is yes, and yes. On our televisions — and in online discussions — we’re starting to hear about something new: all the TV characters who have Kindles.

“I mean, it was only shown on screen about 17,000 times last night,” complained one blogger who’d watched an episode of The Big Bang Theory. (“We get it writers and advertisers, the characters on the show are nerds and probably have gadgets…”) In later episodes it becomes clear that the Kindle belongs to the nerdy character Sheldon, and that he really loves it a lot. “When he was acting like a dictator during the Arctic expedition,” remembers a fan page, ” the other guys toyed with crazy ideas of ways to kill him. One idea was the throw his Kindle out the door of the science station, and when he went out to get it, lock the doors and let him freeze to death!”

Even one of Fox’s animated shows — The Cleveland Show — recently included a shout-out to the Kindle. “I was watching The Cleveland Show and this week’s episode had Rollo being sworn in as the kid to take care of the class’s turtle,” remembered one fan, in Amazon’s Kindle discussion forum. But the swearing-in ceremony for this important grade school position didn’t involve placing your hand on a Bible. Instead, the teacher announces, “Rollo Tubbs, please place your hand on this Amazon Kindle with the Bible loaded on it!”

Another poster remembered the Kindle turning up on a fittingly-titled series: Modern Family. (Interestingly, the character who owned the Kindle is played by Ed O’Neil — the actor who used to play Al Bundy, the very unhappy husband on Married With Children.) In this series, his character (Jay) goes on vacation with his “e-reader thing,” and proudly announces that he’s loaded it up with eight different thrillers by Robert Ludlum. “He doesn’t say Kindle, but when he holds it up it looks like a Kindle 2,” the poster remembers — but apparently Jay also leaves the Kindle on a beach chair. “Later when he is poolside and his stepson sits down, Jay shouts, ‘My Ludlums!'”

One week ago, even President Obama — in the annual State of the Union Address — mentioned the future possibility of “a student who can take classes with a digital textbook.” But the Kindle’s strangest appearance was probably in a line of dialogue on Joss Whedon’s sci-fi thriller series, Dollhouse. It’s set in the future, and Patton Oswalt warns a character about what are now some very serious legal complications. But instead of saying “They’ll throw the book at you,” he warns that “They’ll throw the Kindle at you!” One fan called it “a line that only Joss Whedon would try or could pull off.”

The Kindle has also appeared briefly on other TV shows, including Brothers and Sisters and even Chuck. But it’s all enough to make you wonder what’s coming up in the future? Maybe on other shows we’ll soon discover that there’s other characters who also own Kindles.

And maybe we just haven’t seen them yet…

Are eBooks Finally Outselling Printed Books?

Kindle - white vs graphic (vs a stack of books)

Every once in a while, there’s a moment that reminds us of just how rich Amazon is.

Thursday afternoon, they announced that they’d earned $200 million more in 2010 than they had in the previous year. (“Net sales increased 36% to $12.95 billion in the fourth quarter, compared with $9.52 billion in fourth quarter 2009.”) In fact, it was the first year that Amazon’s sales were more than $10 billion for a single three-month period. Amazon’s CEO said they’d sold “millions” of Kindles in those 13 weeks, and then he dropped an even more stunning peice of information.

“Kindle books have now overtaken paperback books as the most popular format on Amazon.com.”

Amazon had announced last July that they were selling more ebooks than hardcovers. But at the time, I’d complained that was misleading, since hardcovers make up a small percent of total book sales at any store. One analyst had calculated that there’s usually three paperback books sold for every one hardcover book. Combining that information with Amazon’s statistics, it seemed like in July Amazon’s ebook sales were only 54% of their paperback sales.

But not any more. In fact, Amazon explained today that for every 100 paperback books they’ve sold this January, they’re selling 115 ebooks. That’s another way of saying that ebook sales have risen to 115% of Amazon’s paperback sales — that is, nearly double what it was in July. That’s even more impressive than it seems, because paperback sales are actually increasing, according to Amazon’s announcement today. And they’ve sold “three times as many” Kindle ebooks as they have hardcover books, according to today’s announcement. If you graph it all on a pie chart, it looks like this.

Amazon Kindle ebook sales vs print book sales - both hardcover and paperback - pie chart graph

Of course, that still means that Amazon is selling fewer ebooks than they are printed books — if you combine the paperback and hardcover sales. But ebooks now represent more than 45% of all the books that Amazon is selling. If ebooks can just increase their share by 5%, Amazon will finally be able to announce that they’re selling more ebooks than all print books combined. And that day could come sooner than you’d expect. Amazon predicted last summer that ebooks wouldn’t start outselling paperbacks until at least April of this year. They beat their own prediction by at least three months!

Of course, it’s possible that this is a one-time spike. (After all, there were a lot of new Kindles that were activated on Christmas day.) It’d be interesting to see whether ebook sales actually drop below paperback sales again at some time during February or March. But Amazon’s figures are even more impressive when you realize that not every printed book has an ebook edition yet. And to achieve this milestone, Amazon didn’t even count any of the free ebooks that people are downloading, which is presumably an enormous number.

In fact, if just one user downloads a free ebook for every nine paid ebook purchases — then Amazon is already delivering more digital ebooks than they are print editions!

Amazon’s Big News: the Kindle Single

45 rpm vinyl record single

Visit Amazon today, and you’ll see something new: “Kindle Singles.” In its Kindle Store, Amazon is now offering what are basically shorter ebooks — somewhere between 5,000 and 30,000 words. In a press release today, Amazon argued that before Kindle Singles, “Writers often had to choose between making their work short enough for a magazine article or long enough to deliver the ‘heft’ required for book marketing and distribution.” Their hope is that each Kindle Single will “allow a single killer idea…to be expressed at its natural length.”

Throughout today a link to “Kindle Singles” appeared on the front page of Amazon.com — and when you’re using your Kindle, it’s at the very top of the Kindle Store’s front page. There’s currently only 22 titles, but Amazon hopes the selection will grow. Among the “Kindle Single” titles are the first ever books from the popular TED conferences (whose motto is “Ideas Worth Spreading.”) And in their “Kindle Daily Post” blog, Amazon also described some of the other interesting new titles.

For example, they write, “Nowhere else will you find a Hollywood memoir which manages to merge sex clubs, murder, and Mary Tyler Moore.” It’s got a great title — “How to Not Succeed in Show Business By Really Trying” — and it’s already Amazon’s #1 best-seling book in their Business Humor subection. And Amazon’s Kindle blog also talks up The Real Lebowski — “an intimate profile of the Hollhywood icon and Coen brothers inspiration by Vanity Fair contributing editor, Rich Cohen.” Even at $2.99, it’s already one of the top-300 items in the entire Kindle store — and in the Kindle Single store, it’s the #5 best-selling item!)

So who is the real Lebowski? “He wrote the first draft of Apocalypse Now,” Amazon teases on the Kindle Store’s front page. “He discovered Arnold Scharzenegger. He wrote Clint Eastwood’s ‘Go ahead, make my day.’ The Vanity Fair writer and author of Sweet and Low trails tough-guy screenwriter/director John Milius as he fights to find his place in a transformed and unwelcoming movie business.” If you’re interested in Hollywood, it sounds very intriguing. But it also gives a hint about what knd of new, personal perspectives we’ll start seeing with Kindle Singles

I’ve always said ebooks would let more people get their thoughts published, but this new format could give writers yet-another tempting choice. Writer Ian Ayres said the new “Single” format “lets me more quickly and directly speak to the reader unhindered by page numbers or ad space.” And of course, writers want an easy way to tap into the growing market of Kindle owners. (“I love the reach of the Kindle platform,” Ayres says in Amazon’s press release. “Nowadays just about anyone can read a Kindle book on their phone or their laptop, or, of course, just on a Kindle.” )

If you’re using your web browser, the URL is amazon.com/kindlesingles. And if you believe Amazon’s Vice President of Content, you just might discover some exciting new perspectives, according to Amazon’s Vice President of Content. “We think customers will be riveted by these stories that can take them to a Swedish bank heist or to the Mexican border town of Juarez, or to consider a new way to think about happiness. ” And of course, the store also offers an equally riveting opportunity for any new aspiring author.

“The thieves had a handpicked crew, a stolen helicopter, a cache of explosives, and a plan to rob a $150-million cash repository.” That’s a line from Lifted — the “Swedish bank heist” story that he’s alluding to. But do you have your own a Single-sized idea to express? If so, Amazon apparently wants to hear what you’ve got to offer!

“The call remains open for serious writers, thinkers, scientists, business leaders, historians, politicians and publishers to submit works for Kindle Singles,” they announced at the end of their press release. “To be considered for Kindle Singles, interested parties should contact digital-publications@amazon.com.”

Who knows? Maybe you can be the 23rd person to publish a “Single” in Amazon’s Kindle store…

The Kindle, the iPad, and the future of ebooks!

Globe of the Earth

Is the Kindle changing our world? That’s a question I ask myself every day. But someone’s actually contacted 6,250 frequent book buyers to find out exactly what’s going on. Their research generated some startling statistics – and led to a disturbing prediction about the future. Yes, it’s a picture of our world as it is today – but it already contains the seeds for the world of books tomorrow.

26% of adult book buyers are already reading digital ebooks, according to the survey, while 34% more said they’d be willing to try them. In fact, only 14% swore they would never, ever read an ebook. The biggest thing keeping people away from the Kindle was probably the price, according to their analysis. After Amazon lowered the price of the Kindle, it saw a surge in four different age brackets. The percentage who reported a Kindle doubled between June and November for people between the ages of 18 and 24 (from 3.2% to 6.5%). By November, 8.5% of the adults between the ages of 35 and 44 now reported they owned a Kindle — and 9.6% of the adults older than 65!

But how is that affecting the world of books and the way people buy them? First, how many iPads are there in the world? 15 million (according to Apple). That’s in only nine months, since it was released in April. But ironically, when people buy an ebook for their iPad, 40% of the ebooks are bought through Amazon’s Kindle store! Apple doesn’t have a deal in place with Random House, according to Publisher’s Weekly, which means Apple’s iBookstore can’t offer popular titles like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, John Grisham’s The Confession, or even former president Bush’s autobiography, Decision Points. In fact, iPad owners bought just 29% of their ebooks from Apple’s iBookstore, according to a November survey by a research firm called the Codex Group.

But those researchers discovered an even more amazing statistic. Before buying the Kindle, shoppers bought 14% of their books from Amazon — but after they bought a Kindle, that number jumped to 37%! “It’s the most amazing retail share growth strategy I’ve ever seen,” says Peter Hildick-Smith, the research firm’s president (who previously had developed retail growth strategies for Wal-Mart.) “The increase in market share came entirely from book buyers’ added purchase of e-books,” Publisher’s Weekly noted, and yet amazingly, Amazon barely lost any of its share of the print book market! “While e-book purchases do not appear to be cannibalizing print sales at Amazon, the Kindle store has to be taking sales away from somewhere, and Hildick-Smith believes it is from bricks-and-mortar stores.”

And then he makes a prediction. Currently the vast majority of people discover their next book through a bookstore. (I even know several people who’ve reported browsing through the books at a bookstore — before downloading a digital version to their Kindle or Nook!) But if the Kindle’s popularity continues, it’s going to hurt some local bookstores — and that’s going to make it harder for publishers to advertise their newest books. “What has Hildick-Smith really worried, however, is whether publishers have concrete plans to protect their bookstore base.

“If not, they need to quickly find an alternative primary source for the discovery of new books, especially for nonfiction, debut, and midlist fiction titles that, at present, sell in much fewer numbers as e-books than fiction does….”

Will Kindle Sales Triple in 2011?

My jaw dropped open. The world’s 10th-largest banking and finance company studied the popularity of Amazon’s Kindle. And then their analyst (Doug Anmuth of Barclays) predicted that the number of new Kindles sold will be nearly triple by the end of 2011!

“Our numbers may be conservative,” he reported, calculating that Amazon has already sold 7.1 million more Kindles in just 2010. Yet for 2011, he predicts they’ll sell another 12.3 million, earning Amazon another $7 billion, and forming a whopping 11% of Amazon’s total earnings for the year! Meanwhile, other researchers are also predicting that demand for digital readers will explode. IDC expects 14.7 million readers will be sold in 2011, up 36% from last year’s sales of just 10.8 million.

And it won’t end there! IDC expects that there’ll be even more Kindles sold in 2012. Though there’ll be at least 25 million digital readers in the world by that point, they’re predicting that another 16.6 million more will be sold in 2012. By that point the prices should be even cheaper, due to competition among the different vendors — and there should be a lot more content that’s available on the Kindle and other devices! (And that’s even before you consider the possibility of new color-screen devices, finally available at a price that makes people want to purchase them…)

I’ve asked myself if the “ebook revolution” is real, but apparently many business professionals are already convinced. An analyst at The Motley Fool wrote Tuesday that “The Kindle could be to books what the Gutenberg press was to printing,” predicting that Amazon will continue to gain market share, as the people who buy books start to gravitate towards the world of ebooks. And that’s got to be good for Amazon’s business model, because “There are no inventory, warehousing, or shipping costs.” Their profit margins should increase because they’re selling a virtual ebook — rather than paying to warehouse and then eventually transport an actual physical book.

But perhaps my favorite analysis came from my friend Richard, who took his new digital reader with him on a trip to Seattle. Yes, he walked into a Borders bookstore, and browsed around until he’d found a book that he wanted. But then he immediately downloaded a digital copy to his reader, and just read it as an ebook during his flight. My conclusion? Bookstores may be in trouble. His conclusion?

“We live in interesting times!”

Regis Philbin vs. the eBook

It's a Book by Lane Smith

There was one more great “ebook moment” in 2010. In September, even 79-year-old Regis Philbin began discussing the end of the printed book on his morning daytime television talk show!

Today Regis Philbin announced his retirement, which makes this memory even more poignant. It all began when co-host Kelly Ripa brought out a new children’s picture book titled “It’s a Book.” She’d read its dialogue between a technology-loving jackass, and a monkey who still loves books. The confused jackass watches him reading for a minute, and then asks “How do you scroll down?”

“I don’t. I turn the page. It’s a book.”

“Do you blog with it?”
“No. It’s a book…”
“Can you make the characters fight?”
“Nope. Book.”
“Can it text.”
“No.”
“Tweet?”
“No.”
“Wi-Fi?
“No.”
“Can it do this? ‘Doot’…”
“No. It’s a book.”

But here’s where it gets interesting. It was a brand-new book, and the author had just delivered a very special version to Regis and Kelly. On the book’s inside cover, he’d suggested the book’s characters could be people on their talk show. The book-loving monkey was Regis, while the cute little mouse was Kelly, and the technology-loving donkey was Regis’s producer, a man named Gelman.

It was a special edition of the show — later, Gelman would try to teach 79-year-old Regis how to use a computer. (Regis is a notorious technophobe, possibly because he was born in 1931, back when Herbert Hoover was still President.) And yet in their conversation, Regis seemed to sense that his world had finally reached a turning point.

                        *                        *                        *
REGIS: It’s too bad about books, because just recently Barnes and Noble…

KELLY: Oh, I — they’re going to sell Barnes and Noble.

REGIS: — you know, just can’t do it any more. Isn’t that a shame, those bookstores slowly going out of business?

KELLY: I mean it’s like, to me there’s nothing better, also, than going in a library and smelling all the books and hearing the — the crinkling of the plastic covering on the b- —

REGIS: Yeah, exactly.

KELLY: I mean it’s just, I hope that we haven’t taken it too far.

REGIS: Our kids missed the big internet age when they were small, you know, and it was still books. And boy, I’ll never forget when we brought the girls here to New York, how Joanna loved these bookstores. And it was a thrill for her. I was taking — “Wanna go see a movie or something?”

“No, I wanna go to this book store.” Barnes and Noble on 5th Avenue, and all those stores.

KELLY: Now she’s an author. Now she writes.

REGIS: And now she’s an author. Yeah.

KELLY: It’s funny. My son just got his, well, not just, but over the summer, his seventh grade reading list. And it’s still books! So I’m happy to say that they’re still using books.

REGIS: Yeah. I guess there’s room for both internet and books, you know. But unfortunately…

                        *                        *                        *

Ironically, Regis Philbin has written two autobiographies — neither of which is available on the Kindle!

But click here to buy “It’s a Book!”

Scenes from the eBook Revolution

Chef Tom Douglas cooks in Seattle

“I got the Kindle WiFi for Christmas, and if I ever lose it, I will sell a kidney to get it back.”

That’s a real comment that Amazon just shared on the Kindle’s Facebook page. And what’s even more interesting is that new Kindle owner only had one kidney. He told Amazon that when it comes to his Kindle, “I love it that much…”

Christmas apparently created a lot of happy new Kindle owners — I’d estimate several million Kindles were given as gifts — and all around the world, they’re already making their presence felt. I was curious when USA Today reported that for the first week of 2011, ebooks were outselling printed books for more than a third of the titles on their best-seller list. But would it happen again the next week? It turns out the answer is yes!

Thursday USA Today announced that for 36% of the books on their best-seller list, the ebook version was still outselling the printed edition. (That’s 18 of the top 50 books!) It’s good news for companies that sell ebooks, but it probably also means that drastic changes are coming soon if a store’s survival depends on the sale of printed books. Ironically, I know of two employees at Borders bookstores who already secretly prefer reading ebooks. In September, my friend Mike even chatted with a Borders cashier who “started complaining about e-books and how they were killing off the bookstores… As I walked out, I noticed she went back to reading whatever book she was reading – on her Kobo!”

At a newspaper in Alabama, the book editor shared his own unique perspective. In an interesting editorial on Saturday, he reported that apparently people are reading more now that they own a digital reader. “No need to drive to the mall, browse crowded shelves or call a clerk – simply tap a few keys and in mere seconds you’ve got it.” And he also reported that Kindles are especially handy for travelers, as one man in his mid-60s explained. “All my friends swear by the Kindle for trips. One buddy and his wife went to Spain recently, and they were able to download a dozen guidebooks onto their Kindle. That’s a serious weight savings on an international flight.”

But that’s about to get even better, since Amazon just launched their own original ebook series of restaurant/tour guidebooks for travelers, starting with the city where Amazon has its headquarters: Seattle. Amazon’s Vice President of Kindle content said the ebook guides “allow for a little extra space in your bag for local specialties like coffee or wild salmon,” and for Chef Walks: Seattle they tapped the award-winning chef Tom Douglas (pictured above), who’s also a one-time winner on Iron Chef America! The book is already available in Amazon’s Kindle store, and one reviewer is already applauding the ebook for “A great idea, well executed, and hopefully the start of a great series of Kindle publications.”

But as the ebook revolution continues, there’s an even more interesting story in North Carolina. According to a local newspaper, the Rowan County Public Library has 12 Amazon Kindles now that it’s checking out to its patrons, just like books! “[A]ccording to librarian Betty Moore, demand has been exceptional, with 68 people on the waiting list late last week… The library’s devices contain about 80 titles, and if you want a specific book that is not already on the Kindle, you may request one book and the Library will purchase that title to put onto the e-reader.”

I keep asking if this is the year when we’ll see humankind take a leap to an entirely new way of reading. But apparently, that transition won’t happen without a few bumps! Back in Alabama, the book editor reported a funny conversation when his wife tried to help his elderly mother set up her new Kindle. They charged it, checked its instructions, registered it, and then downloaded a John Grisham book.

But then she complained that “I’m too exhausted now to read it!”

One million ebooks! Congratulations, Nora Roberts

Best-selling romance ebook author Nora Roberts

Amazon just announced that author Nora Roberts has sold her one millionth ebook from Amazon’s Kindle store. “As of yesterday, Nora Roberts has sold 1,170,539 Kindle books…” Amazon wrote in their press release. But I’d already seen the signs. Last week Amazon had revealed the best-selling ebooks of 2010 — and four of them were written by Nora Roberts! “Nora Roberts has been a bestseller at Amazon for 15 years,” Amazon’s vice president of Kindle Content announced, “so this accomplishment is no surprise.”

The New Yorker calls her “America’s favorite novelist,” according to Amazon’s press release, and she’ll now join what Amazon calls the “Kindle Million Club.” She’s only the third author to ever sell this many ebooks from the Kindle store, since it was only July when Amazon announced that their Kindle store had its first million-selling author. (Ironically, the author was already dead, since the late Stieg Larsson’s “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” trilogy had unexpectedly turned into three posthumous best-sellers). And it wasn’t until October that a second author achieved the same success — James Patterson — though that was probably inevitable. Wikipedia noted that he’d written 56 different books which were all best-sellers (which got him listed in the Guinness Book of World Records).

At the time I wondered if Patterson reached his million-book milestone simply by selling 20,000 copies of 50 different books — and now I’m wondering if Roberts had a similar advantage. To get to the one-million figure, Amazon included books which Roberts wrote under her pseudonym, J.D. Robb — which include a sprawling, 40-book series in which every title ends with the words “in Death.” (Naked in Death, Glory in Death…) In fact, Roberts has written more than 200 novels, according to Amazon’s press release. Even if she sold just 5,000 copies of each one, she’d still be able to pass the one-million sales milestone.

I’d also wondered if they included any free ebook downloads in their figures, but Amazon insists they’re only counting copies which were actually purchased. So this announcement may be just what it seems: still more proof of the tremendous popularity of ebooks. In November Amazon said that ebooks always outsell the printed books for the top 1,000 best-selling titles on the site. And earlier this month, USA Today announced that ebooks were also outselling the print editions for 19 of the top 50 books on their own best-seller list. (“It’s the first time the top-50 list has had more than two titles in which the e-version outsold print,” they reported last week.)

Of course, Roberts had already sold more than 280 million print editions of her books already, according to Wikipedia, spending a combined total of more than 660 weeks on the New York Times best-seller lists. And Roberts’ ebooks may have gotten a special boost from the Kindle, according to another new article in USA Today. They reported that romance novels accounted for 12% of all the best-selling books of 2010, theorizing that “Readers who wouldn’t be caught dead with risque covers in public enjoyed the privacy of reading romantic e-books!”

And what were Nora Roberts most popular ebooks of 2010?

The Search (her most popular ebook of the year)
Savor the Moment
Fantasy in Death (as J.D. Robb)
Happy Ever After

The Kindle Comes to Fifth Grade


I once told someone that when I got my Kindle, I’d re-discovered the joy of reading. It was almost like when I’d first learned how to read books for the first time as a small child. But what happens when our schools try teaching a child how to read using a Kindle? And what happens if the teachers are using Kindles for an entire classroom full of fifth graders?

“We have several quotes from them, and it always ends with ‘And now I love reading,'” the fifth grade teacher told a local news crew.

In upstate New York, just a few miles from Lake Ontario, Ms. Sayles has her students reading on eight different Kindles, and she thinks it’s working great. “They didn’t use to love reading class,” she explains to the reporters — before a cute fifth grade girl tells them the same thing. “I like how the Kindle makes reading more fun,” says Madelyn, “and it’s making me look forward to reading and school. It makes it more interesting…”

There’s eight Kindles that they’re sharing in the classroom, and because they’re all registered to one account, each ebook can appear on six different Kindles. That will ultimately save money for the school district, the teacher believes, especially since she’s sharing all the Kindles and ebooks with a special education teacher. The school district has a foundation which awarded a grant to the two teachers last June. They’re using the money to purchase the Kindles — and they’re finding it also has other advantages.

It seems to work as equalizer for the students’ books, since with printed books, they might have felt intimidated by the book’s weight and the large number of printed pages. (“Usually I don’t go near big books,” young Madelyn explained. “But you can’t really tell, and it goes by faster!”) Struggling readers might also have been embarrassed to be seen with the skinnier remedial books, but on the Kindle, no one can tell the difference. And when the students come to a word that they don’t understand, they can look-up the word in the Kindle’s built-in dictionary! “It’s great for vocabulary,” says Ms. Sayles.

Some students even use the text-to-speech feature as they follow along in the text. And if there’s a student with a vision problem, the Kindle’s font sized can be increased. “The biggest thing is that it’s gotten kids excited about reading,” says Ms. Sayles, adding another prediction. “This is the technology that’s going to be in their future. So why not start them at this age.”

The fifth grade teacher also made another good point: kids today already seem to be living in a “technology screen world.” So I had to wonder if she had mixed feelings about giving the kids yet another screen to focus on when they’re already saturated in that screen-oriented lifestyle. “I’m not sure if it will move them away from it,” Ms. Sayles told the newspaper, “but I think if it can get them to read then it’s OK….

“If we can get them excited about reading at this age, it creates a lifelong reader.”

Has Amazon Sold Out of the Kindle?


The Kindle is enjoying a huge spike in its popularity. And it’s gotten so popular, that now Amazon can’t even send you one! If you go to buy the 3G version of the Kindle, it’s still listed as “in stock”. But if you’re looking to buy a Wi-Fi only Kindle, its page at Amazon.com comes with a new warning. “Expected to ship in 8 to 9 days.”

That’s a 9-day wait before it even ships, before you can even start worrying about the additional days of waiting for the actual delivery to take place! Obviously Amazon would prefer to ship their 3G Kindles as soon as a customer orders them, so the fact that they’ve delayed their shipping date by nine days can mean only one thing: they’re out of those Kindles!

And there’s more evidence that the Kindle enjoyed a big holiday spike in its popularity. Today USA Today announced that ebooks outsold printed books on their best-seller list for the six titles at the top of the list — and for 13 more books in the top 50. “It’s the first time the top-50 list has had more than two titles in which the e-version outsold print,” the newspaper pointed out. But this week, ebooks outsold the printed books for a full 38% of the titles in the top 50.

USA Today tracked down the publisher for the top three titles — which were all written by Stieg Larsson — and the publisher revealed that in the last week they’d sold a total of 165,000 ebook versions, versus just 155,000 print versions. Interestingly, last year Amazon announced that Larsson had become the first author to sell one million ebooks in the Amazon store. It looks like he increased his ebook sales by quite a bit in just the last week!

But it averages out to sales of just 55,000 for each ebook in Larsson’s trilogy — and it may be a one-time fluke. I’d imagine that book sales are unusually low in that week after Christmas — while ebook sales would obviously experience a sudden spike, from all the people who received a Kindle as a Christmas present! “What’s most interesting is what happens next week or over the next month,” says the editor of a digital newsletter called Publishers Lunch. He pointed out to USA Today that “About 3 million to 5 million e-readers were activated last week. Will the people who got them keep downloading e-books, and at what rate?”

And the newspaper also interviewed another analyst who was even more skeptical of that spike in ebook sales. Kelly Gallagher (from the publishing research firm Bowker) told USA Today that the spike wasn’t a “sustainable trend.” Currently ebook sales account for just 9% of the total book market, if you believe the figures in this article, although Gallagher predicts that in 2011, ebook sales could still be twice as high as they were in 2010.

It’s going to be an interesting year!

The Most Frequently-Asked Questions about the Kindle


I know a lot of people are hungry for more Kindle tips and tricks, especially the millions of new Kindle owners who received one as a gift for Christmas! So to start the new year right, here’s the answers to some of the most frequently-asked questions people have about their Kindles.


Can I lend the books on my Kindle?

You can now! Just last week Amazon announced many ebooks can now be “loaned” to other users — so they can try them without having to buy them first! “Eligible Kindle books can be loaned once for a period of 14 days,” Amazon explained on their web site, adding that you could even read the ebooks without owning a Kindle, using one of Amazon’s free Kindle reading applications like the Kindle for iPhone app or Kindle for Mac. “Not all books are lendable,” Amazon explained (saying it was up to the publishers). On your PC, go to Amazon’s web site and find the page for any ebook that you’ve already purchased. Many ebooks will now say “Lending Enabled” in their “product details” section, which means the book is eligible for lending!

Amazon warns users that they won’t be able to read their ebooks during the period when the ebooks are “on loan” to another user. But to actually lend the ebook, go to the “Manage Your Kindle” page at the URL Amazon.com/myk. Enter the name and e-mail address of the lucky person who’s receiving your loaned ebook — and you’re ready to go.

And one webmaster has already created a new web site called booksformykindle.com which hopes to attract Kindle owners who’d be willing to loan you their ebooks!


Where can I find free ebooks?

The best place to start is Amazon’s list of the Top 100 free ebooks. It’s available online — and I’ve even made a shorter URL so it’s easier to remember.

     tinyurl.com/100freekindlebooks

But you can also access Amazon’s free ebook list on your Kindle. Just select “Shop in the Kindle store,” and on its front page choose “Kindle Top Sellers.” By default Amazon lists the top 100 paid ebooks, but if you click on the link at the upper-right of your screen, you can switch to Amazon’s list of the “Kindle Top 100 Free.”

(And remember, you can also go straight to the Kindle store just by pressing the ALT key and the HOME button at the same time.)

You can also download more than 34,000 free ebooks — mostly great novels and classic literature — from a web site called Project Gutenberg. Just download these ebooks to your PC, and then transfer them to your Kindle with your USB cable or over your WiFi connection — or e-mail them to your Kindle’s e-mail address.


How do I find the e-mail address for my Kindle?

Remember, Amazon has that special page where you (m)anage (y)our (K)kindle — at the URL Amazon.com/myk. The first thing they list on that web page is the e-mail address for sending documents and files to your Kindle. Note that there’s a small delivery charge of a few extra pennies — but it’s a very convenient way to send your personal documents and files to your Kindle!


Can I put my own pictures on the Kindle?

Yes! Just attach them to an e-mail and send them to your Kindle’s e-mail address. They’ll appear as a choice on your Kindle’s home page, displaying the file’s name instead of an ebook title. Highlight and click on the files name, and you’ll see it displayed on the screen of your Kindle!


Why doesn’t Amazon support the epub file format, so I can download ebooks from my public library?

UPDATE: In May of 2011, Amazon announced that they’d soon start supporting the ePub format on the Kindle.

But as recently as December, the Los Angeles Times asked Amazon’s VP of content why Amazon insisted on using a “proprietary” file format – and received this answer.

“We chose a format that we felt would give us better performance and superior ease of use. It’s the reason why the Kindle has faster page turns than some of the other devices. Because we control our own standard, we can develop applications that let customers read Kindle books on the iPhone, Android tablet, iPad, BlackBerrys and PC.”


When I delete an ebook, it just goes into my archive. How can I permanently delete an ebook?

Go to amazon.com/myk and find the ebook in the “Your Orders” section. Then click the “+” icon, and then click the “Delete this title” button.


How can I contact Amazon’s customer service?

I’ve created a “custom URL” that will take you straight to Amazon’s “Customer Support” page.

      tinyurl.com/kindle-cs

The “contact support” link lists their toll-free support number — 1-866-321-8851 — as well as other landlines if you’re trying to call Amazon from outside of the U.S.


Is Amazon selling more ebooks than printed books?

No. But they are selling more ebooks than printed books if you’re just looking at the top 1,000 best-selling titles, according to an October press release from Amazon.

And in December, Amazon’s Vice President of Content also said that the day when ebooks finally start outselling printed books “is not too far off!”