The Kindle and the Super Bowl


I’m always fascinated how the Kindle becomes part of our every day life. And I thought it’d be fun to see how Amazon and their Kindle did (and didn’t) play a role in all of the fesitivites during Sunday’s big football showdown. There was an unexpected lull in the second half of the Super Bowl when a partial power outage stopped the game for more than half an hour. With 178 million people watching the half-darkened stadium, I’m sure that somebody, somewhere, must’ve pulled out their Kindle and just started reading!

Super Bowl Football

I say this because right about that time, my friend Richard announced on Facebook that he was in fact spending some quiet time at a real bookstore — drinking coffee, and enjoying some reading. I envy the calm, quiet afternoon he must’ve enjoyed, and he added in his Facebook update that there seemed to be no one else at the store! But even if you’re not a football fan, it’s easy to be affected by the massive spectacle, knowing that it’s captured the attention of a good chunk of the world’s population. I’m impressed that so many aspiring authors cranked out football ebooks specifically targeting readers who were thinking about Sunday’s big football event.

There’s new ebooks with Super Bowl trivia questions and recipes, books about football player controversies, and over a dozen ebooks offering “numerology” analysis for individual players. There’s even a thriller about a Super Bowl referee who’s secretly being extorted by a gang of criminals. And I was intrigued that a few years ago, one author even found a way to combine the Super Bowl with American History — author Don Steinberg , with his Kindle ebook America Bowl: 44 Presidents vs. 44 Super Bowls in the ultimate matchup!. (“Each chapter compares one President to one Super Bowl game,” he explains on the book’s page on Amazon. “It’s a crazy concept…but it turns out to be a really fun way to read about history and football.”)

Of course, not every ebook about the Super Bowl will deliver championship-calibur writing, and there aren’t any ebooks about the Super Bowl that made it into Amazon’s list of the top 100 best-selling ebooks. But I thought it was cool that right in the middle of the game, Amazon posted this on their Faceboook page for digital music.

If you’re curious about which songs are playing during the game tonight, follow us on Twitter. We’ll be live-tweeting links:

So it was fun to visit Amazon’s Music Store and browse through its special web page the next day just to see how many of the songs I remembered. (For a shortcut to their complete list, just point your browser to .) If you have a Kindle Fire, you can even watch all those ads again in your web browser at . I was a little disappointed that Amazon didn’t run an ad for the Kindle during the Super Bowl. But at least their pumped-up songs would still provide good background music for reading on the Kindle — especially for new Kindle ebooks about the Super Bowl!

Amazon Celebrates Veterans Day

Amazon Military logo

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

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

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

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

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

Free 4th of July eBooks

Thomas Jefferson

I have a tradition for the 4th of July – and it involves my Kindle. Every year, I point my web browser to Wikipedia’s web page with the fascinating history of the Declaration of Independence. Now Amazon’s Kindle Store has a free copy of the declaration available for downloading (as well as a free copy of the U. S. Constitution).

Just seven months before the famous document was signed, author Thomas Jefferson had written “there is not in the British empire a man who more cordially loves a union with Great Britain than I do. But, by the God that made me, I will cease to exist before I yield to a connection on such terms as the British Parliament propose; and in this, I think I speak the sentiments of America…”

Wikipedia’s page walks you through all the events that led up to July 4, 1776 — and also provides the complete text of the famous document, along with some good historical context. As the country celebrates the day it declared its independence, I like taking a moment to read some good history – and my Kindle really makes it easy. I think it’s funny that Amazon customers are now leaving reviews of the Declaration of Independence, which currently has a rating of 4.7 stars out of 5. (“As a graduate student in philosophy and history, I heartily recommend this timeless classic to anyone who is interested in political philosophy, and history…”) In comparison, the free version of the Constitution received only four and a half stars. (“Accurate reproduction and free, but does not include any amendments…”)

And because of the Kindle, you don’t have to content yourself with a Wikipedia for your American history fix. When he was 65 years old, another American patriot — Benjamin Franklin — began writing a fascinating autobiography of his own life, and it’s available in the Kindle Store as a free ebook!

In fact, more than 200 years later, it’s now become one of Amazon’s best-selling e-books. Franklin had continued working on his biography over the last 20 years of his life, until his death at age 84 in 1790 — noting wryly that “the Affairs of the Revolution occasion’d the Interruption…” It’s especially poignant that Benjamin Franklin began writing it in 1770 as a loving letter to his son. But soon Franklin’s son had sided with the British druing the American Revolution, and Wikipedia notes that they were hopelessly estranged by the time Franklin sat down to write part two in 1784. Now he was 78, and laying down his thoughts in the year 1784 about his the ideas for…a public library. And in part three — written in 1788 at the age of 82 — Franklin also remembered inventing his famous Franklin stove…and then declining to patent the invention because he’d created it for “the good of the people.”

It’s a great way to answer the question: What kind of men launched the American Revolution? And it just goes to show you that with a little research, the Kindle can give you an almost magical glimpse into the realities of our past… But there’s also a fascinating story about how the Declaration of Independence first came to be online. 40 years ago, a student at the University of Illinois launched a mission to make the great works of literature available for free to the general public. Remembering the man who’d revolutionized the world of reading by inventing the first mechanical printing press, he named his collection “Project Gutenberg”. By 2009, they’d created over 30,000 free e-texts, according to Wikipedia. And it’s a cause that’s near and dear to the hearts of a lot of geeks online.

But here’s my favorite part of the story. He’d launched this lifelong campaign back in 1971, anticipating all the great literature that he’d be sharing with the entire world, and even making available for new generations to come. So on that first day, 40 years ago, which great work of literature did he choose as the very first one?

The Declaration of Independence.

Will Suzanne Collins Battle Stephenie Meyer?

Suzanne Collins vs Stephenie Meyer - Hunger Games-Twilight battle

Suzanne Collins is the all-time best-selling author on the Kindle. But can she defeat Stephenie Meyer – the author of the Twilight series – in a mixed martial arts cage match?

That question may be settled soon, if the World Wrestling Entertainment has its way. They’ve issued a formal invitation to both authors in an ambitious campaign to improve the image of their events, hoping to shake the stigma that’s traditionally surrounded professional wrestling by reserving a special spot for the two heavy-weight authors in WrestleMania XXVIII. WWE chairman Vince McMahon has presided over some crazy publicity stunts, but this one seems tied to the release of the Hunger Games movie (which opened last weekend).

“Suzanne Collins is #1 in the hearts of fans — and in the sales of her books through Amazon’s Kindle store,” Mr. McMahon said in a statement today from Florida. “So we’re issuing a formal challenge to her on behalf of her rival author, Stephenie Meyer. And to Miss Meyer we say, come and listen to the cheers from a real crowd. Leave your desk behind, taste the springtime air here in Miami Gardens, and come to defend your title out here in the real world.”

“And you can bring along as many of your vampire friends as you want.”

In a promotional video segment, “Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson” was photographed holding printed copies of all the Twilight-series books, and also copies of each of Collins’ Hunger Games books, which he smashed together to hopefully pump up the anticipation. “We professional wrestlers all know how to read,” Johnson said in a pre-taped segment. “But do you have what it takes to wrestle? There’s a ring with your name on it at Sun Life Stadium, Stephenie Meyer.”

It may not be a fight to the death — like the staged tournaments in Collins’ Hunger Games books — but McMahon alluded to that excitement while urging both authors to accept the challenge by using a quote from the newly-released movie. “They just want a good show, that’s all they want,” McMahon said, standing near a mock-up of a promotional poster for the event in the back of his broadcasting booth in Florida. But then he looked directly at the camera, and added ominously, “But only one comes out.”

It’s not clear whether the massive popularity of the Kindle can translate into bigger ticket sales for a staged wrestling event between the authors of two popular ebooks. But it’s not the first time that the WWE has tried to attract celebrities into carefully-prepared professional wrestling matches. (Famously in 2004, Vince McMahon successfully lured Lucy Lawless — the original Xena the Warrior Princess — into a staged wrestling match against Sarah Michelle Gellar, who’d played Buffy the Vampire Slayer). McMahon gamely joked that if there’s enough interest in this year’s “War of the Writers,” they might even duplicate the event in 2013.

“Maybe we’ll get J. K. Rowling to wrestle Anne Rice!”

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UPDATE: Okay, while it turns out that WrestleMania 28 is a real event that’s being staged on April 1, apparently it is not going to feature an appearance this year by Suzanne Collins in a mixed-martial-arts, cage-match fight to the death with rival author Stephenie Meyer. I’ve confirmed this with a source who has direct knowledge about the event — me — because…well, I made this whole thing up, because I just really wanted to celebrate April Fool’s Day this year! :)

I promise that I’ve never, ever made up a blog post before, and that I’ll never, ever do it again.

Er, except maybe for April Fool’s Day of 2013. :D

Celebrate President’s Day with Your Kindle

President Abraham Lincoln reading a book
I remember the day when I almost met President Clinton. He was helping a school in my town install the cables for internet access in 1996 — along with Al Gore — and I was covering the event for a local alternative newsweekly. Some of the volunteers that day wore t-shirts that said “I connected our kids to the future.” And in the teacher’s lounge, I’d found the left-behind remains of sandwich from a local deli, with the word “president” written on a plastic cover. (It was left behind under a sign which read “Your mother doesn’t work here, so clean up after yourself!”)

It was a weird moment, when I realized that when there’s a new technology, we’re all “pioneering” our way towards it together. And 14 years later, when that future finally arrived, I feel like we’d ended up doing it again, moving together as an invisible group, this time towards a new reading technology. Shortly after the inauguration of President Obama, CNN reported that former President Bush had returned to Texas, where he was “meeting the neighbors, making trips to the hardware store, and catching up on some reading via a Kindle.” The same article notes that his wife Laura had a Kindle too. And that same month, former vice president Dick Cheney revealed he also had a Kindle.

But it’s not just that the Kindle was being used by a handful of White House occupants. After receiving a $7 million advance, former president Bush soon released his new autobiography. By the end of its first day — counting pre-orders — he’d sold 220,000 copies and delivered nearly $4 million in book sales. But the former president also discovered that nearly 23% of his readers were buying it as an ebook!

A new world may be emerging — an accidental community of early adopters — since the publisher’s spokesman said the figures demonstrated the “rapid growth” of the ebook market. (I calculated that thatwas over half a million dollars worth of ebooks sold in a single day!) The publisher also revealed that at the time, it was their highest one-day sales in six years — since they’d published the autobiography of former president Bill Clinton. But there’s also something significant about the fact that even Clinton’s biography is now available as a Kindle ebook, along with several by Ronald Reagan, and even more by Jimmy Carter…

And in 2011, even president Obama released a new book — and also decided to make it available on the Kindle. It was a children’s book called Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to my Daughters, and it’s got its own perspective on the way America has changed. It looks back to past presidents like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, but also ordinary citizens who made a difference, likeMartin Luther King Jr., Helen Keller, Georgia O’Keefe, and Jackie Robinson. It’s fun to think that this will be the first generation of children who may be reading these classic stories of American history on a Kindle!

The world keeps on changing, both in big ways and in small. (One political blog reported that President Bush now seems more interested in his iPad than his Kindle, and according to his wife Laura, he’s “constantly” playing the Scrabble app.) But 10 years ago, The Washington Post once reported, there was an even bigger challenge confronting ebook author Barack Obama: obscurity! “In the summer of 2000 when he flew from Chicago to Los Angeles for the Democratic convention and no one knew him, his credit card bounced, and he left after a forlorn day hanging out as an unimportant face lost in the power-lusting crowd.”

It all goes to show that a lot can change in 10 years — both for politicians, as well as the rest of us!