New Book Explains the Singularity – and Everything Else

Transcendence: The Disinformation Encyclopedia of Transhumanism and the Singularity

It’s described as “mind-stretching and entertaining” — a new book which explains the brain-boggling possibilities of “an international movement” called transhumanism. With science and technology, the movement suggests we can overcome all our human limitations — those so-called “natural” limits which technology melts away. But the most amazing part is that “Some of this is happening now,” the book’s page on Amazon explains. “Some of it is still in the minds of dreamers” — but all of it is absolutely fascinating.

For a shortcut to the book, point your browser to

The complete title for the new book is Transcendence: The Disinformation Encyclopedia of Transhumanism and the Singularity. And to write the book, Jay Cornell teamed with R.U. Sirius, who co-founded one of the most influential magazines about cyberculture, Mondo 2000. Walter Isaacson, who wrote that best-selling biography of Steve Jobs, called it “without doubt the most delightful guide to the radical future.” And after reading the book, one Silicon Valley forecaster (who teaches at Stanford) pronounced that “The future is weird, very weird!”

Super robots? They’re in here, along with more information about exciting tech topics like artificial intelligence and nanotechnology. They discuss virtual reality — and the creation of entire virtual worlds, in a free-wheeling encyclopedia whose entries cover everything from memory-editing drugs to cloning and “designer babies” to something called cyborg feminism. Author Mark Leyner described the book as “fascinating, ridiculously fun to read, and good for you!”

But my favorite review came from Andrei Codrescu, a humorist who contributes essays on NPR’s radio show All Things Considered. “Being of the same energy field as myself, I now throw a sack full of gold dust into the arena and dare anyone to be either funnier or smarter than this R. U. Sirius.” That’s the thing — this book is funny and entertaining, even while it’s tantalizing your brain with its lively and provocative insights into the shape of things to come. There’s even entries about Michael Jackson, sexbots, warbots, and the Mormon Transhumanist Foundation. And of course, there’s also some stunning information about what people are already doing now with 3D printing technology.

I loved reading Amazon’s selection of blurbs about the book, which described it as ” a hilarious breath of fresh air” or “A delicious funcyclopedia… deceptively light treatment of mind-blowing technologies…” But the thing that impressed me most was where those reviews were coming from. No less of an authority than my favorite science fiction web site, io9, called the book “Witty, snide, and incredibly informative.” And one of the writers at promised the book “will put your mind on fire.”

We live in interesting times now — but aren’t you curious what’s coming next?

Remember, for a shortcut to the book, point your browser to

Announcing the Closure of Helium logo

Amazon started in a garage, and grew into an enormous web superstore — and the home of the Kindle. Soon it was attracting amateur authors, and a new world suddenly appeared where everyone could self-publish. But there was another web site offering its own version of the thrill of self-publishing — online.

And last week, they announced that they were going out of business… actually paid its writers in advance — though it was a very small amount. But they also shared any profits earned from online advertising, and guaranteed that however strange your articles were, they would always be read and rated by the other writers at Helium. The best articles for each topic were always listed first, which is where they came up with the name Helium. The very best writing would rise to the top — like a balloon filled with helium.

The thrill of writing was contagious, and several of Helium’s authors ended up publishing (or self-publishing ) Kindle ebooks. And at one point in time, their community included thousands of writers who were earning more than $100 a month. In 2009 Helium’s CEO told a cable news interviewer that Helium could even save the newspaper business. He argued that newspapers could outsource some of their local coverage to Helium’s low-cost community of amateur writers.

It all ended suddenly. “After eight years and well over one million articles, we regret to announce that Helium Publishing will be closing,” they informed their members last week. Google was sending less traffic to the site, and when Helium moved their pages to a new set of domains, it had gotten even worse. Ironically, the founder still made lots of money — by selling his site in 2011 to the big print publisher, R. R. Donnelly. It was rumored that the sale price was $57 million, though they were never able to make the site profitable enough to continue.

Which means that on December 14th, a million articles will instantly vanish from the web.

Four Big Stories About Amazon

Gary Busey promotes Amazon Fire TV

Amazon’s been tinkering for years, and this month they finally revealed some very big new products. It’s blurring the lines between your Kindle Fire tablet, your TV, and even your kitchen. We’re living in a new world — as evidenced by the fact that state attorney generals have now actually procured refunds for customers affected by alleged price-fixing by the publishers of ebooks. Here’s four of the biggest news stories I’ve seen that convinced me thing some very big changes have started happening right now — another collection of my favorite recent Kindle (and Amazon) news stories. And for each one, I’m awarding “cheers” if the story is a genuinely exciting development — and “jeers” if it feels like another funny misstep!

Cheers for Amazon Fire TV

I was stunned when I heard the news. For $99, Amazon would sell you a device that streams Netflix, Hulu, and other video services directly to your TV. “Tiny box, huge specs, tons of content, incredible price,” bragged the CEO of Amazon, and they’ve even optimized it to pre-download the shows it thinks you’ll want to watch next for faster streaming. Plus, you can broadcast video from your tablet or phone directly onto your big-screen TV (as well as your own home movies and photographs), besides renting new movies from Amazon’s own video store, and there’s also free streaming of music from popular music apps like Pandora (and of course, Amazon’s Cloud Player). There’s even a feature that gives you the option of displaying a song’s lyrics while you’re listening to it — and with an optional controller, you can even play popular games on your TV — includine Minecraft and Despicable Me: Minion Rush!

Jeers to Amazon’s Gary Busey Campaign

Amazon’s CEO also pointed out that if you’re looking for a specific show, their Amazon Fire device comes with “Voice search that actually works means no more typing on an alphabet grid!” Fair enough — but they’ve unveiled a truly bizarre ad campaign to promote their new device…starring Gary Busey! (“If you’re like me, you like talking to things. Like, ‘Hello Lamp…’ “) The ad shows the 69-year-old actor — who was nominated for an Oscar in 1978 — as a crazy and volatile, yelling at his TV to “find Gary Busey,” only to reveal that that’s now actually possible with the new Amazon Fire device. It’s a good way to convey Amazon’s point — that “it’s frustrating when things don’t listen. Especially high tech things…” But I have to admit that I was a little uncomfortable with their use of Gary Busey , who really did suffer a serious head injury during a 1988 motorcycle accident.

Cheers to Amazon Dash

Amazon is still quietly invading our homes — and with more than just Kindles. They’re testing a new handheld device called the Amazon Dash, a small device that lets you scan bar codes in your own home. If you’re in one of the lucky cities that has Amazon’s same-day grocery service, then this device has some truly incredible potential. You swipe it over the bar code of any product that you want to re-order, and it’ll magically appear in your queue of items for delivery! Most of the items will actually arrive the next day, according to Amazon’s promotional video — but it’s not limited to just grocery items. In one case, they show a woman ordering a new set of guitar strings, and promising that it’s “shopping made simple,” Amazon has complemented its functionality with a slick tablet app!

Jeers to My 73-Cent Refund

I’d been excited when I saw the announcement. “In December 2013, a federal court approved legal settlements by publishers Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Penguin in antitrust lawsuits filed by State Attorneys General and Class Plaintiffs about the price of eBooks.” The end result was a refund to customers like me, and we received a credit right in our Amazon accounts to compensate for any financial hardship we’d suffered from illegal price-fixing by ebook publishers. (Click here to see your refund.) That’s all very well and good, but what wasn’t good was the amount of my credit: just 73 cents!

Maybe I can use the credit to go buy myself 73% of 99-cent ebook!

Amazon is Sold Out of Kindle Paperwhites!

Amazon announces shipping delays for new Kindle Paperwhite

I noticed something funny this morning when I went to Amazon to buy a Kindle Paperwhite. I couldn’t do it! Amazon isn’t able to ship the new Kindle Paperwhite any time this week, and is warning customers that if they purchase one, Amazon’s warehouse will actually ship it out “in 7 to 10 days”.

What’s really interesting is the new Kindle Paperwhite has only been available for nine days. But Amazon had been taking pre-orders since September 3rd, when they first announced the next-generation of their popular high-contrast (and glowing) screen. (“World’s best-selling e-reader now even better,” read the headline on Amazon’s press release…) And what’s even stranger is the 10-day delays may actually be an improvement. Friday one technology blog reported that Amazon was warning customers that the new Paperwhites would be shipping from their warehouses “in four to six weeks!”

Amazon prefixed Friday’s warning about a shipping delay with the words “Due to popular demand”, according to the technology blog — a nice way to acknowledge that their newest Kindle has been very popular. But Amazon also put a new restriction on Kindle purchases: “Limited to two per customer.” I no longer see that restriction on the Kindle Paperwhite page today — which is almost even more disturbing. Does this mean that Amazon has suddenly caught up with the initial onslaught of orders, and now has enough Paperwhites to last through a delay that they thought would last three weeks? Or did one of their suppliers suddenly resolve a problem getting the components to build the devices — so they can now start producing them at a faster rate. This is good news for Amazon’s customers — since their “countdown to Kindles” is now much shorter.

Still, you might want to get your order in early if you’re thinking about buying one of Amazon’s newest Kindle Paperwhites. There’s no guarantee that the shipping delay will remain at 7 to 10 days — and the delays could be even longer when more people start purchasing Kindles as a gift for Christmas. Maybe the new Kindle Paperwhite will be this year’s “Cabbage Patch Kid” — a gift so popular that it’s impossible to get, which makes more people want to buy them just so they can re-sell them at a profit. If that actually happened, then the delays get longer and longer — and you’d have a much harder time getting your own Kindle Paperwhite any time before January!

I wondered if Amazon might sell the previous generation of Kindle Paperwhites, but they obviously want to make sure their customers are only getting the very latest technology But what’s more interesting is that even before the new Kindle Paperwhite was released, Amazon was already sold out of the previous model. In fact, I have to applaud the technology site, which reported in August that Amazon was already sold out of the WiFi-only Paperwhites. Because they correctly recognized that this was a sign that Amazon was about to release a new model of the Paperwhite — and that prediction was spot-on, because Amazon did just that, just six days later. (“Get your wallets ready,” had urged their readers….)

And that’s still good advice — especially since supplies may be running out, at least temporarily, for the new Kindle Paperwhite.

More Fun Kindle News

Books inside an Amazon warehouse

Sometimes there’s so much interesting Kindle news, it’s hard to know where to start writing! Here’s a “lightning round” of some of the most interesting new developments in the Kindle world…

Amazon’s Discounting Kindle ebooks if You’ve Already Purchased a Print Edition!

I hadn’t really grasped the full significance of this, until Amazon’s Kindle Content Vice President turned up in an article about the upcoming upgrade to the Kindle Paperwhite. There’s a new service from Amazon called “Matchbook” which will let you buy the Kindle ebook version of print books you’ve bought from Amazon — even if you bought the book sometime long ago over the last 18 years! “If you logged onto your CompuServe account during the Clinton administration and bought a book like Men Are from Mars, Women are from Venus from Amazon, Kindle MatchBook now makes it possible for that purchase—18 years later—to be added to your Kindle library at a very low cost,” explained Russ Grandinetti, Amazon’s vice president of Kindle Content.

What The Kindle Paperwhite Really Means?

Everyone’s speculating on what clues we can learn about Amazon’s future plans from their upgrade to the Kindle Paperwhite. I thought The Huffington Post came up with a fairly skeptical take.. (“The upgraded Paperwhite comes at a time when sales of tablets — from companies like Apple, Samsung, Asus and Amazon itself — have eaten into sales of ereaders. Sales of Kindle ereaders — which make up almost half of ereader sales worldwide — peaked in 2011 and are expected to continue to decline over the next five years, according to IDC. The technology research firm predicts a drop in all ereader sales from a peak of 26.4 million worldwide in 2011 to 11.7 million in 2017.”) Although towards the end of their article, they talked to an analyst who says Amazon underestimated just how popular color tablet computers would become — but that ultimately, this may have just spawned a new strategy for Amazon, of focusing on that “small, voracious reader group” who still prefer a dedicated black-and-white reading device.

The analyst points out, “It also happens that they’re the ones that buy the most books!”

And Amazon insists they’re still committed to their dedicated digital readers, according to USA Today‘s interview with Amazon’s Vice President of Kindle Content, who announces confidently that “based on everything we know today there’ll be many more generations of our e-reading devices from here!”

Amazon’s Still Making TV Shows

There’s still moments of giddy euphoria where it feels like the entire world of media is being re-invented by the biggest technology companies. (It still feels exciting and new for me to watch blockbuster Hollywood movies on my hand-held Kindle Fire tablet — and even episodes of TV shows!) But even then, it still felt weird when Amazon announced last year that they were now producing their own digital TV shows — including one that starred John Goodman. That show was called Alpha House — its first episode had a funny cameo by Bill Murray — and it was one of the most popular shows among online voters when Amazon debuted it last year. And now Amazon’s announced that when they release new episodes — later this year and early next — they’ll be adding even more familiar big-name TV stars to the program. (Specifically, Cynthia Nixon from Sex and the City, Wanda Sykes from Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Amy Sedaris from Strangers with Candy. The show is a political satire written by Garry Trudeau, the cartoonist who created the newspaper comic strip Doonesbury — and I’m impressed by the way it tells a story and gets its laughs without specifically attacking any political targets…other than hypocrisy.

Amazon’s Warehouses Are Still Amazing

This last item isn’t really a news story, but it’s still fascinating. Towards the bottom of their article about the Kindle Paperwhite, The Huffington Post came up with some fascinating photos of the inside of an Amazon warehouse. It made me realize that, while I’ve imagined the stacks and stacks of books, I’ve never actually seen them! And there’s even more there than I’d ever dared to dream.

The future is a wonderful and unpredictable thing. I guess it pays to stop once in a while, and at least appreciate how wonderful the present can be, too!

Amazon Announces a New Kindle Paperwhite!

The new Kindle Paperwhite

Big news! There’s a new version of the Kindle Paperwhite! Amazon’s just revealed all the improvements — and posted an inspiring message about them on the front page of

We believe in the power and importance of reading. We are passionate about books. Books convey knowledge, spread ideas, and can transport you into alternate lives and worlds. It’s why we’re working so hard to help people readm ore and get more out of reading…

Today we’re excited to announce another milestone in our journey — the all-new Kindle Paperwhite.

So what’s new in Amazon’s latest and greatest Kindle Paperwhite? First off, they’ve added some new technology to the display, so the contrast is even higher. And they’re also promising that the built-in glow effect is now coming from a “next generation” light. Inside the Kindle, its computer chips are supposed to be 25% faster, so the pages will turn faster when you’re reading an ebook, and you’ll wait a little bit less when you first open it for the text to appear on your screen. And apparently Amazon has made the touchscreen even more responsive for the new Kindle Paperwhite. According to their press release, its touch grid is now “19% tighter” — making it respond even more accurately, even to very light touches.

“The new Paperwhite is our best ever, with a new higher contrast display…” Amazon promises. And they’ve also added some brand new features…

  • “Page Flip” — a new feature which lets you skip ahead to another chapter (or even to skim through books, page by page…)
  • “Vocabulary Builder” — the new Kindle Paperwhite now keeps track of which words you’ve looked up, and then automatically creates flashcards which you can review later
  • Goodreads Integration — They’re integrating content from so it’s available from your ebooks, so you’ll be able to share your recommendations while you’re thinking about them and interact with other “like-minded readers…and decide what to read next!”
  • “Smart Lookup” – Instead of just giving you a dictionary definition of individual words, Smart Lookup can recognize important topics and phrases, according to Amazon’s press release, and can provide more detailed information information.

    Smart Lookup on Kindle Paperwhite

Amazon ended their note with a reminder that for the last six years, the Kindle has been the best-selling e-reader in the world — and that when it comes to innovation, “No one is investing on behalf of readers or pushing the boundaries of hardware, software, and content for readers like the Kindle team.”

“We hope you enjoy the new Kindle Paperwhite. Happy reading.”

The new Kindle Paperwhites will start shipping this month — on Monday, September 30th — but you can already pre-order them now.

Reading the Kindle Paperwhite at night

The Kindle Touch is Back!

Finger on Kindle Touch

Amazon stopped selling the Kindle Touch version of their e-readers back in October. (If you tried to go to its web page, Amazon would simply send your browser over to their web page for the Kindle Paperwhite.) But in a kind of pre-Easter miracle, the Kindle Touch has come back to life. It’s suddenly re-appeared for sale again at

For a shortcut, just point your browser to

I’m one of the few people who owns of of each kind of Kindle that Amazon has ever released — and the Kindle Touch has always been my favorite. In 2011 I began building a word game for the Kindle with my friend Jeff, and we’d both bought a variety of used Kindles so we could see how our game performed on the different devices! I also discovered that I really liked the jumbo-sized screens on the Kindle DX, but in the end
my favorite feature was the light weight and easy handling of some of Amazon’s later Kindles. And yet strangely, I never warmed up to the Kindle Paperwhite, so for me the best touchscreen Kindle ever made was its 2011 predecessor, the Kindle Touch.

To be fair, the Kindle Paperwhite got some glowing reviews — pun intended — but there were also a few complaints. Back in October, I noted that after 676 reviews, the Paperwhite had earned an average rating of less than 3 and a half stars on Amazon (out of a possible five), a lower rating than any previous model of Amazon’s black-and-white Kindles. Amazon seemed to be positioning it as “version two” of their touchscreen Kindles, but this just made the Kindle Touch seem more like a “lost Kindle” — the fondly remembered device that you just couldn’t buy any more. For example, one technology site remembers that the Kindle Touch was “the last fully functional device the company released that had speakers and support for audiobooks.” (And the Kindle Touch came with much more storage space — 4 gigabytes — which is double the amount of storage that Amazon built into the Paperwhite….)

I could never get past the glowing screens on the Paperwhite, but that’s probably just because I’m such a fan of Amazon’s e-ink screens. The glow from the Paperwhite just became an annoying reminder that I was still reading on an electronic device, instead of enjoying a book-like page on a naturally-lit, e-ink screen. Again, I know people who love the extra contrast and crispness of the Kindle Paperwhite. (And I still think our Kindle word game still looks absolutely gorgeous on the glowing screens of the Kindle Paperwhite…) But my favorite Kindle — out of all the ones Amazon ever made — was always the Kindle Touch.

And yet, one dark day in October, people began to notice that the Kindle Touch was now listed as “unavailable” at (Along with a warning that “We don’t know when or if this item will be back in stock.”) That seemed like the end of the Kindle Touch — forever.

Which is why I’m so excited that the Kindle Touch is back on sale again at

My Favorite Kindle Stories


There’s so many interesting things happening in the Kindle world, and I want to share as many of them as I can. So here’s another collection of my favorite recent Kindle news stories — awarding “Cheers” to the most exciting and interesting stories for Kindle owners, along with some occasional “Jeers” for at least one funny misstep!

Cheers to Amazon for Discounting Magazines

Looking for something new to read on your Kindle? I was thrilled to see that for the rest of March, Amazon’s offering discounts of up to 87% on more than 20 different magazines. (Just point your web browser to ) For just $7.49, they’re offering a one-year digital subscription to Maxim, Family Circle, or the Ladies’ Home Journal, and Every Day with Rachel Ray is just $4.99. And they’ve also discounted Popular Science, Field & Stream, ESPN Magazine, and 17 other magazines!

Jeers to Amazon’s Auto-Rip

Actually, I was delighted when Amazon announced a new service back in January which brought more music to my Kindle Fire tablet — for free. Whenever you buy a qualifying music CD from Amazon, they now automatically add free digital versions of every song into Amazon’s “Cloud Player”, so you can listen to it on your Kindle Fire tablet (as well as on the web, and in their Amazon MP3 apps.) And to inaugurate this new feature, I discovered, Amazon actually went back in time, and delivered digital versions of all the songs I’d purchased for more than 10 years — which I’m still listening to right now on my Kindle Fire tablet.

So I was really excited about the new feature — but at the technology site Slashdot, one of the commenters wasn’t as enthusiastic, and came up with a good reason to give Amazon some good-natured jeers. “The biggest flaw,” he posted, “is that I now have mp3s for CDs I gave as gifts. Unfortunately, my friends and relatives seem to have different music taste than I do, so now I have the Chicago soundtrack and Hannah Montana mp3s!”

Cheers to Free Comedies coming from Amazon

Amazon’s already letting users watch thousands of videos for free on their Kindle Fire tablets (or through the web) if they’re subscribers to Amazon’s Prime shipping service, including classic TV shows like the original Star Trek and Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. But soon even if you’re not a Prime subscriber, Amazon’s going to have some free videos for you to watch — and in fact, Amazon’s producing it themselves! Amazon recently announced that they’re creating six original comedy series for their members to watch free on Amazon’s Instant Video site — selected from more than 12,000 proposals that were submitted to “Amazon Studios.” . The comedies will include one by Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau — titled Alpha House — which follows four Senators in Washington D.C. who end up living together in the same rented house. And Browsers will be a comedy by Daily Show writer David Javerbaum (directed by Don Scardino from 30 Rock ). Amazon will even be present a new comedy from one of the internet’s oldest comedy sites, The Onion, titled — what else? — The Onion Presents: The News!

Cheers to Photos for Book Lovers

This last link was too beautiful not to share, because let’s face it — we love our Kindles because we love reading. So it was a real delight to see photos of some of the world’s most gorgeous bookshelves. In 2009, someone even created a web site called Bookshelf Porn “showcasing the best bookshelf photos from around the world” — and some of them are absolutely gorgeous. (See the photo at the top of this blog post!) The site has now been featured in articles by book-lovers everywhere (including The New Yorker), and Time magazine even named it one of the best blogs of 2012. I always get a kick out of browsing their gorgeous photos — some submitted by readers — of the most breathtaking bookshelves from around the world.

And for even more fun, they’ve included a link which delivers a randomly-choosen photo from their archive over the last four years at

Changes In Kindle Paperwhite – and a New Kindle Update!

Screenshot of update your Kindle menu choice for new software

People have been asking me what exactly is changing in Amazon’s newest Kindles. It turns out that’s it’s already possible to experience some of the changes today — and the rest are definitely worth waiting for.

In their yet-to-be-released Kindle Paperwhites, “We’ve added 62% more pixels and increased contrast by 25%,” Amazon brags on their web page, “so whites are whiter, and blacks are blacker.” But the Paperwhite also includes a built-in light that can shine down on your Kindle, which Amazon is calling “revolutionary”. It’s supposed to offer the same relaxing effect as reading on a regular Kindle, but without a computer’s back-lighting shining directly in your face. They’re just $119, though there’s also a 3G version for $60 more ($179), which Amazon promotes by saying “Never pay for or hunt for a Wi-Fi hotspot.”

You can order one of Amazon’s new Paperwhite Kindles at But even last year’s model of the Kindle is getting an upgrade! Amazon’s $79 Kindle now costs just $69, and according to Amazon, it now ships “with improved fonts and 15% faster page turns.” The high-contrast fonts are “crisper,” Amazon promises, and there’s also some additional new features in the software, including the ability to read comic books and graphic novels by zooming in on each panel. The new version of Amazon cheapest Kindle will now also include better ways to view images and tables, and there’s even some expanded parental controls, if you want to stop your children from accessing “Archived Items” or Amazon’s Kindle Store.

But if you bought one of those Kindles last year, you can also experience all these new features, just by downloading a software upgrade. Just point your web browser to And there’s some other new features that I wasn’t expecting. Now Amazon will pull up the keyboard automatically in situations where you need to enter text (rather than waiting for readers to first press the keyboard button). And now when you turn off your wireless connectivity, a little airplane icon appears at the top of your Kindle, reminding you that you’ve switched into “Airplane Mode.”

Amazon promises fresh ebooks will start appearing in the Kindle Store over the next few weeks to take advantage of all of these new capabilities. I’ve already tested out its comic book-reading capabilities — and it did a nice job of rending a Catwoman graphic novel in a noir-ish black-and-white.

Black and white Catwoman Kindle screenshot image

And ebook authors are also excited about a new feature that’s coming to both the Kindle Paperwhite and the new Kindle Fire tablets. “About the Author gives readers easy access to your photo, biography, and bibliography,” Amazon explained in an e-mail to their self-publishing authors, saying readers “can learn more about you and your other books, which are only 60 seconds away. Readers can tap on any of your books to go to the Kindle Store. Also, any time you update your bio or claim a new book through Author Central, we will update About the Author on Kindle so your readers have access to the most recent information about you.”

I’ve already ordered a Kindle Paperwhite, so now I’m just anxiously waiting until Amazon finally delivers its. Because then I can finally test out all the new features for myself!

Buy a new Kindle Paperwhite at

Amazon (and You) Honor Breakthrough Novelists!

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

Here’s a special announcement. There’s more exciting new ebooks to read on your Kindle! Once a year, Amazon hosts a contest to discover a “breakthrough novelist”. Thousands of new novels were entered this year, but after several rounds of judging, they’ve finally narrowed it down to just six awesome finalists!

“The quality of the entries continues to climb…” one Amazon official announced this week, citing reports from their panels of expert judges. The novels get better every year, making this the most competitive contest yet, and he warns that when it comes time for Amazon’s customers to choose a winner, “they’ll have have a challenge picking a favorite.”

That’s right — you get to pick the winner. Amazon’s collecting votes through a web page at , and they’re keeping things honest with a one-vote-per-account rule. You can also read what the judges have already said about each entry, and there’s even a “Meet the Finalists” page, where you can read each novel’s reviews. And – of course — you can also download a free excerpt for your Kindle.

There’s three finalists each in two different categories — “General Fiction” and “Young Adult.” Here’s the three “breakthrough novels” that made it into the finals in the “general fiction” category.

   The Beautiful Land by Alan Averill
   Grace Humiston and the Vanishing by Charles Kelly
   A Chant of Love and Lamentation by Brian Reeves

And here’s the three “breakthrough novels” that reached the final round in the “Young Adult Fiction” category.

   Dreamcatchers by Casey (Cassandra) Griffin
   Out of Nowhere by Rebecca Phillips
   On Little Wings by Regina Sirois

Two grand prize winners will be selected — one in each category — and each winner will receive not only a publishing contract with Penguin Group, but also a hefty $15,000 advance! Amazon and Penguin teamed up with CreateSpace to deliver this event, and Publisher’s Weekly also played a role, providing reviewers for each novel that reached the semi-finals. And Amazon’s even promoting the creation of “local chapters” supporting new authors and offering events “to cheer each other on as the contest progresses.”

Amazon will announce the winners on June 16th at an awards ceremony in Seattle. (So remember, Amazon has to receive your votes by Wednesday, May 30th.) This is the fifth year that Amazon’s held the event, but it seems like a fun way to discover fresh new talent at the start of their career. I’ve always wondered if self-publishing will change the kind of fiction that authors write.

And if it does, it’s possible that they’ll find their first audiences through Amazon’s breakthrough novel contest!

Amazon Announces Best Books of 2011

Go the #### to Sleep cover illustration

It’s that once-a-year day when Amazon chooses the very best book of 2011. In fact, they’re released their list of the one hundred best books of the year, plus top 10 lists “in more than two dozen categories, from Literature & Fiction to Children’s Picture Books to the new category Kindle Singles.” On that special web page, Amazon’s also also created separate links for “Print editions” and “Kindle books” — which means you’re also be able to see Amazon’s picks for the 100 best ebooks of 2011. (Though the lists seem nearly identical.)

And some books even earned the highest honor, of not just being in the top 100, but but in the top 10.

“There are three first-time novelists among our top 10 picks,” announced Amazon’s senior books editor, noting their #1 pick was a debut novel — about baseball. “The Art of Fielding,” just released in September, is a story of friendship and coming of age, and in the nine weeks since its release its received over 135 reviews on Amazon. Its average rating is three and a half stars on Amazon — but at least one reviewer blamed their one-star review on what they see as a trend among Kindle ebooks.

“Why is it that all Kindle samples start off well? I was lured into buying the book by the sample. Downhill from there…”

But fortunately there’s something for everybody in Amazon’s “best of 2011” list — including a new book by Kurt Vonnegut. (It’s “While Mortals Sleep,” a collection of unpublished short fiction.) Amazon’s top 100 also features some interesting nonfiction titles, including the new biography about Steve Jobs and Tina Fey’s Bossypants, plus biographies about actress Diane Keaton and chess prodigy Bobby Fischer. I’m intrigued by Steven Levy’s new book about Google (titled “In the Plex”). And there’s even a parody of children’s bedtime picture books called, simply, “Go The *** To Sleep”. (It’s available for just $3.99 on the Kindle, and there’s also an audiobook version – read by Samuel L. Jackson that was named one of Amazon’s 10 best audiobooks of the year.)

It looks like Amazon’s fiction choices are equally impressive. Just yesterday Stephen King released a new novel about the Kennedy assassination — titled 11/22/63 — in which Lee Harvey Oswald may ultimately be confronted shortly before his infamous day in American history. Ironically, it’s already racked up three one-star reviews — though two of them are just complaining about the ebook’s price of $18.99. And its third one-star review complained the price included “audio/video for other devices.” There is a cheaper ebook version without them — for just $16.99 — though I’m actually impressed that for just $2.00 more, you get an ebook with supplementary video and audio material!

“With choices from literary masterworks to genre fiction to nonfiction, there’s something for everyone,” gushed Amazon’s senior books editor. And I’l admit I was also intrigued by a new book from Tom Perrotta — The Leftovers, a comedic novel about the Rapture released just 10 weeks ago. It’s fun browsing through Amazon’s lists, just to see what they selected as their “bests” in each category. For example, in the graphics novel category, there’s the yet-to-be-released Batman: The Black Mirror and a collection of new “Love and Rockets” stories by Jaime Hernandez.

Unfortunately, these graphic novels aren’t available yet for the Kindle. But I’m hoping that will change very soon, since Amazon struck a deal with D.C. Comics to make digital versions of 100 graphic novels available exclusively on the Kindle Fire. They’ll include popular superhero titles like Watchmen, Batman: Arkham City, and Green Lantern: Secret Origin — as well a MAD magazine collection and, 13 volumes of Sandman by Neil Gaiman. It touched off a minor controversy, with Barnes and Noble protesting the exclusivity by pulling the print editions off their shelves.

Amazon’s list ultimately doubles as a reminder that this year not every book will be available for the Kindle. For example, Amazon’s “Best of 2011” page also includes their selection of the top 10 best book covers of the year — print editions only. I was surprised that the cover of the new Steve Jobs’ biography made in onto their list — which is available as a Kindle ebook. But the list also includes a breath-taking coffee table book, a print-only edition whose cover is a black-and-white photo showing sunshine on a snowfield, titled “The Lost Photographs of Captain Scott: Unseen Images from the Legendary Antarctic Expedition”.

To see all of Amazon’s “Best of 2011” lists, point your web browser to

What’s Amazon’s Most Popular Kindle?

Most Popular Version of Amazon's Kindle

I’ve been studying Amazon’s best-seller lists, trying to figure out which Amazon products are the most popular. Each hour, Amazon updates the lists for each category — including the “Electronics” department, where all their Kindles are listed. I realized today that it’s a great source of information about the new Kindles. And it seems to offer a definitive answer to the question: which of Amazon’s new Kindles is the most popular?

It’s their full-color touchscreen Kindle Fire tablet. In fact, it’s the #1 best-seller in Amazon’s entire electronics section — even though it’s also one of Amazon’s most expensive Kindles ever. But the #2 best-selling Kindle — both last week and this week — is Amazon’s least expensive Kindle ever. It’s the $79 Kindle, which ships with sponsored screensavers and “Special Offers”, and it seems to settle the question as to whether customers would accept ads on their Kindles in order to get a cheaper price.

In fact, the next four Kindles on the best-seller list also all include the special offers and sponsored screensavers. The third best-selling Kindle is Amazon’s other new model, the Kindle Touch, and again, consumers are opting for the cheapest one — the WiFi-only version that ships with advertising for $99. And surprisingly, the next best-selling Kindle is the old Kindle 3 — now called the “Kindle Keyboard”. (But again, it’s the cheaper $99 WiFi-only version which ships with “Special Offers.”)

This isn’t just a temporary phenomenon. I checked this list one week ago, and its rankings were exactly the same for the top four best-selling Kindles. In fact, since they were released 17 days ago, all Amazon’s new Kindles have stayed on their list of the top 100 best-selling electronics products. But it gets more interesting when you realize how many other versions there are of the new Kindles — and watch how they’ve fluctuated up and down on the list.

#5 is now the 3G version of the Kindle Touch (with Special Offers). Apparently even consumers who were willing to pay a little more for 3G connectivity still wanted to save money by buying the Special Offers version. Even a week ago, it was still in the #7 spot, and you’ll see the same trend in the #6 best-selling Kindle. It’s the 3G version of the Kindle Keyboard with advertising, proving that even consumers who were willing to pay a little more for 3G connectivity still wanted to save money by buying the Special Offers version.

But the #7 spot went to the international version of the WiFi-only basic Kindle without advertisements. And last week, it was in the #5 spot — so there’s still a few bargain hunters who just won’t buy a Kindle if it’s got advertising. Confirming that trend, the #8 spot — both this week and last week — is the cheaper WiFi-only version of the Kindle Keyboard without advertisements. Some shoppers were willing to forgo 3G connectivity — but not the ability to own a Kindle without advertising. In fact, the #11 best-selling Kindle this week is also the ad-free version of the WiFi-only basic Kindle (for $109) — the non-international version. But the ad-hating consumers seem to represent a smaller piece of the Kindle market. Proving this, I see that one Kindle has dropped out of the top ten altogether. The #9 best-selling Kindle used to be the ad-free, 3G version of the Kindle Keyboard at $189. This week, it’s fallen all the way to the #12 spot.

And I had to laugh when I saw which product claimed the last two slots in top 10. Apple’s iPod touch has now claimed both those spots — #9 for the 8-gigabyte version, and #10 for the 32-gigabyte version. I’ve been writing about Apple’s fight for dominance in the tablet market , and it looks like on Amazon’s best-seller list, you can watch it happening in real time. Last week, there was only only non-Kindle product in the top 10 — and it wasn’t from Apple. Instead, the #10 spot went to Garmin’s 5-Inch Portable GPS Navigator (whic this week is #13).

Of course, the lists can’t tell you how many Kindles have been sold — but it’s still a fun source of other trivia. For example, I think it’s amazing that the Kindle Keyboard has now racked up reviews from over 32,990 people!

I wonder how many reviews the Kindle Fire tablets will have one year from today?

Where Can You Buy New Kindles?

AT&T Store (inside)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AT&T Store (sign)

The Kindle 4 Will Be Released within 10 Weeks!

Dog licking a Kindle from Amazon TV ad

Some time in the next 10 weeks, Amazon will release two new versions of the Kindle. That’s according to The Wall Street Journal, which cites “people familiar with the matter.”

And the even bigger news is their sources confirmed what everybody already suspected. Amazon’s also going to release an iPad-style color touchscreen device, and it’s going to happen before the end of September!

One new Kindle will have a touch-screen, according to the article — while the other Kindle will be “improved and cheaper,” according to the Journal‘s sources. Neither one of the two Kindles will have a color screen, which is kind of a relief. They’ll both still have the familiar e-ink screens that we’ve all gotten so comfortable with.

The tablet will have a nine-inch screen — smaller than the iPad — and I’m assuming it will run the apps that Amazon’s selling in their Android app store. The tablet won’t have a camera, but it will be optimized for the content you can buy at Amazon — like music files, movies and video downloads, and, of course, e-books from the Kindle store. Without a camera, someone suggested in the comments on the article, the device will probably be much cheaper.

“…if i were to guess it feels like Amazon is trying to strip it down and bring it in at the lowest cost possible. They’re more concerned with their core businesses (e-books, video, and a web store) than they are with creating a video chat tool.

The Wall Street Journal didn’t have any more details, but it’s still very exciting news. And I think that excitement bodes well for the prospects for this new Android tablet. I’m not the only one who thinks so, judging by the comments on the article.

“If Amazon can streamline the device and bring it in under $300, I think it’ll sell like hotcakes.”

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A Peek Inside Amazon’s Shareholder’s Meeting

Amazon logo for shareholder's meeting

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

And of course, he talked about the Kindle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon annual sales data for 2010

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

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

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

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

And then it was time for his big finish.

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

How the Kindle “Doubled” Its Battery Life

Kindle 3 vs new touch-screen Nook on battery life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kindle Teams Up With Wal-Mart


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Japan’s Earthquake and the Kindle


I was really touched by a story about a survivor of Japan’s 8.9-magnitude earthquake. Monday morning — just after midnight — a new voice appeared in Amazon’s online discussion forum for the Kindle. “I just wanted to thank Amazon,” wrote a Virginia man named Christopher Roberts, “for including 3G in the Kindle.”

“I was in Japan during the huge 8.9 earthquake. It was an extremely scary situation – all power, land lines, and cell phone voice calls went down completely.

“The only communication with the outside world was my wife’s Kindle that had a 3G signal. I was able to slowly login in to Gmail and send an email to my family that I was okay.

“It was incredible that the only thing that worked was my Kindle. Thank you Amazon – It was definitely a life saver.”

There was a lot of bad news in the world this weekend, so it’s nice to take a moment to feel grateful for those who made it through safely.

The best thing about technology is that it connects us to other people. It can be the voice of the author who wrote an ebook, or it can be an e-mail from a friend we haven’t seen in a while. It can be an unexpected message telling us that someone survived a natural disaster, and even the story of a stranger can feel inspiring and touching.

Amazon understands this, I think, because they’ve collected together some of the most touching stories from Kindle users on their Facebook page for the Kindle. Even though I don’t know these Kindle owners, I still find their stories give me a positive feeling. It almost makes it feel like we’re all part of a movement – and each little story is one more step towards a future where ordinary anonymous individuals face their day-to-day lives with a Kindle.

For example…

“I am now a new mother, and I find myself especially grateful to be able to read my Kindle while I hold my two-month-old daughter. I can hold the Kindle and turn the pages with one hand, which I cannot do with paper books or magazines. When she is fussy and insists upon being held while she sleeps, I am not limited to watching bad daytime TV. Instead, I can hold her and read books on my Kindle!”

It’s these quiet moments that make me feel like the Kindle is slowly but surely becoming a part of our lives. And there were two more comments that seemed almost remarkable just for capturing two more honest moments of enthusiasm.

“Michigan winters suck,” wrote Arvis F, “if you are no longer a skier. There’s no getting around that. Nonetheless, with my Kindle I am making it through these cold days of limited daylight far better than in the past. Thank you for making such a fine piece of equipment.”

But my favorite comment of all came from a woman named Lauren P.

“I used to resent that my husband watched basketball in the evenings – then I got my Kindle! Now I wish basketball had double-headers!”

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 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.”

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
  3. THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, 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
  3. THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, 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
  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 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 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 )

Free Shipping on Kindles!

Amazon Kindle Valentine's Day free shipping ad

Amazon is now offering free two-day shipping when you order a new Kindle! If you’re buying a Kindle for a Valentine’s Day gift, the two-day shipping will make sure that your present arrives in time. Presumably the offer lasts at least through this Friday (since Amazon explains that it’s limited to two business days). Their ad also notes that the Kindle is the single most-gifted product on all of — and that it’s also got the most 5-star reviews of any product on Amazon. (10,931 different users gave the Kindle a five-star review.)

The two-day shipping costs will be fully deducted from the cost of your order on the final check-out screen — but it’s not the only way to get free shipping on a Kindle. In fact, you can get free shipping every day of the year on Amazon if you’re a college student, if you’re willing to provide Amazon with the name of your school and your major. Just register for the “Amazon student” program, which provides a full year of free two-day shipping. It’s an extended trial of the “Amazon Prime” service — so during that year, you can upgrade to one-day shipping for just $3.99. And if you’re not a college student, you can still qualify for the same cheap shipping rates — but Amazon will only give you a one-month free trial of the program, instead of one year. After that, the Amazon Prime membership costs $79 a year — but if you’re paying Amazon for a lot of expedited shipping, it could still save you some money!

Amazon also gave a special gift today to everyone who owns a Kindle — page numbers! “Our customers have told us they want real page numbers that match the page numbers in print books,”
Amazon announced, “so they can easily reference and cite passages, and read alongside others in a book club or class… We’ve already added real page numbers to tens of thousands of Kindle books, including the top 100 bestselling books in the Kindle Store that have matching print editions and thousands more of the most popular books!”

Right now it’s available if you download a “preview” of the Kindle’s next software update. (I made an easy-to-remember URL: ) But eventually, “All latest generation Kindle and Kindle 3G customers will receive this software update automatically via Wi-Fi once it becomes available,” Amazon announced. Along with the location numbers at the bottom of your screen, soon your Kindle will also be displaying what the page number would be if you were reading the same text in a printed book — along with the total number of pages in the book!

Those page numbers will only appear when you press the menu button, and “Not all Kindle books include page numbers,” Amazon’s web page explained. But if it book does have page numbers, Amazon will indicate a “page number source” on the book’s web page at (listed under “product details”). Amazon will calculate the page number using the first word on your screen — so technically you could end up also reading part of the next page (as it appears in the printed book) on the same screen. But clicking your “Next Page” button would then refresh your page number on the next screen. And of course, your Kindle will also still calculates the percentage of the book that you’ve finished reading (at the lower left side of the screen).

One study actually estimated that 47% of the people who own a Kindle received it as a gift — so Amazon obviously hopes people will think of the Kindle as a present for Valentine’s Day. I’m feeling a little left out, since my girlfriend and I both have Kindles already.

So I’ve been trying to think about the upcoming page numbers as Amazon’s special gift to us…!

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 — 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 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”

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

Amazon announces $89 Kindle Black Friday deal!

It’s true! Amazon just announced they’ll sell Kindle 2’s for $89 on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving!)

A few minutes ago, they snuck the announcement onto their Facebook page for the Kindle, and confirmed it on their Twitter feed. I’d thought it was just a rumor, but here’s the complete text from Facebook of what Amazon announced!

Black Friday Deal: This Friday, 11/26, you can get our previous generation Kindle for $89!

Our previous generation Kindle uses the old E Ink technology (the same E Ink as in the current Nook). Our all-new Kindle uses the latest generation E Ink (Pearl) for 50% better contrast, and is available at the everyday low price of …$139.

Black Friday Deal: This Friday, 11/26, you can get our previous generation Kindle for $89! Our previous generation Kindle uses the old E Ink technology (the same E Ink as in the current Nook). Our all-new Kindle uses the latest generation E Ink (Pearl) for 50% better contrast, and is available at the everyday low price of ...$139.

Amazon included a link to Amazon’s Kindle page, though it points to the newest $139 Kindle rather than the earlier edition that they’re selling for $89. But within an hour, over 100 people had clicked the Facebook button to indicate that they “Liked” the news — and 47 of them left enthusiastic comments.

And then Amazon added a comment themselves with a crucial “buying window” for their special offer.

“Hi Everyone. This deal will be featured in the Lightning Deals section of our Black Friday page, beginning at 9am PT on 11/26. Here’s a link to the page:

There’s no Kindle on that page yet, but presumably it will be updated right at 9 a.m. on Friday. Later in the day they actually deleted that comment, but they did add another one to encourage their prospective buyers.

“Please note that all second generation Kindles offered through the Lightning Deal on Black Friday will be new devices – not refurbished.”

And in case you missed it, I’ve also just discovered today that an Amazon blogger has “leaked” a calendar showing exactly when Amazon’s short-term special deals will appear online! I see movies for just $1.99 on Wednesday, including Lord of the Rings and The Bourne Identity. In a post (titled “We’re leaking”), Amazon’s “Armchair Commentary” blog revealed the link, adding that “In addition to the doorbusters below, you’ll find over 2,700 titles at up to 70% off during our Black Friday Week deals…”

Amazon's "Black Friday" deals announced!

Amazon's Black Friday deals

BIG UPDATE: Amazon is selling Kindles for just $89 on Black Friday! The surprise announcement came Tuesday afternoon. It’s been a very big day for Kindle news.

The same day, I discovered that an Amazon blogger has “leaked” a calendar showing exactly when Amazon’s short-term special deals will appear online! I see movies for just $1.99, including Lord of the Rings and The Bourne Identity. In a post (titled “We’re leaking”), Amazon’s “Armchair Commentary” blog revealed the link, adding that “In addition to the doorbusters below, you’ll find over 2,700 titles at up to 70% off during our Black Friday Week deals…”

And here’s more details from my original blog post. Just after midnight on Sunday, Amazon had revealed their special “Black Friday” week web page, trying to lure online shoppers with new tempting holiday deals.”You shouldn’t have to stand in a long line to get a great deal,” the web page suggests. “We’re searching for the best Black Friday deals everywhere — including deals other stores are planning — so we can meet or beat their prices and bring them to you even earlier.”

Amazon warns that there’s a limited supply for many deals, but “we’ll add new ones throughout the day, every day this week, so you can skip the long lines and still save a bundle.” There’s deals in every category — from electronics to books, and from clothes to video games. But surprisingly — at least so far — there aren’t any deals for the Kindle. Not only is the actual device being sold at full price — Amazon isn’t even advertising any special deals on ebooks. (Less than two days later, Amazon announced
their special Black Friday deal: for just $89!

On the web, there’d been hopeful rumors that Amazon might lower the price of the Kindle. Barnes and Noble will sell the Nook on Black Friday for just $99 at Best Buy, so it seemed like Amazon might want to lower the Kindle’s price to compete. (Though the Kindle was apparently selling just fine at its current price of just $139.) And if for some reason you miss their special deal on the Kindle, Amazon will also sell you a 32-inch TV screen for just $249.

There is at least one other special offer on a Kindle. Amazon is giving away a free Kindle every day to one person selected from their fans on Facebook. (Just click the “Like” button on Amazon’s Facebook page, and then supply your phone number to be entered in their giveaway.) You can also start receiving Amazon’s deal announcements on your Facebook page. And there’s also a special Twitter feed called Amazon Tech Deals.

I’m disappointed that there’s not more Kindle offerings, but I have to admit I was fascinated by an unusual new feature on Amazon’s “Black Friday week” page — their special “Black Friday Week lightning deals.” Amazon’s been doing these for a while, but this is the first big week of the holiday shopping season, so I feel they’re going to be a lot more interesting. “Lightning Deals” are only available to a limited number of purchasers, and even then for just a very short period of time. Amazon’s Black Friday page is counting down the seconds until the exact moment when each item is available for purchase. You can choose to see only items that are available now — or only new deals that are coming up — and you can even narrow the display to the specific kinds of products that are being sold.

Some of the items appear to be mystery treasure chests — instead of a picture and a product name, there’s just the words “upcoming deal” and a giant orange question mark. But it looks like Amazon wants you to guess what’s for sale, since it’s usually pretty clear from the descriptions. For example, “The Griswold family goes on vacation over and over again” suggests it just might a DVD pack of Chevy Chase’s “Vacation” movies.

Ironically, if I remember correctly, the Griswold family actually had some pretty miserable holidays. But I’m planning to avoid the holiday shopping stress altogether this Friday — and just curling up with my Kindle!