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On this blog we will track down the latest Amazon Kindle news. We will keep you up to date with whats hot in the bestsellers section, including books, ebooks and blogs... and we will also bring you great Kindle3 tips and tricks along with reviews for the latest KindleDX accessories.

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March 2011
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Warriors of Light: Medallion – Kindle Edition

Warriors of Light: MedallionJohn Whelan-Curtin, the Irish author of the newly released Warriors of Light: Medallion sent me the copy of his e-book to read, and I am currently in the process of reading it on my Kindle.  Very interesting book so far.  Definitely a break from the mainstream.

Warriors of Light is just $2.99 on the Kindle, and based on the summary, it looks like an exciting and fast paced book.

 

At first glimpse of Warriors of Light, I can certainly tell that Whelan-Curtin has a gift for imagery.  When reading, the reader feels like they can visualize the characters and are right there experiencing what the characters are experiencing.

Here is a snippet of Warriors of Light’s summary on Amazon:

“When Aquador’s people, the beast-race Lutrom, are entirely wiped out by the Arbezian Empire he finds himself on a path to revenge. To follow this path Aquador must carve a path of violence through the world, gathering more like himself to his cause. Inevitably Aquador finds that his nemesis is the god of evil himself.”

In this e-book, the world is at stake.  Can you imagine how huge a burden that would put on the shoulders of Aquador and his people?  This is the battle between good and evil.  The book’s intense nature is also reflected in the dark, ominous traits of the characters.

So, feel free to check out Warriors of Light: Medallion on your Kindle, and tell us what you think.  I look forward to reading future writings by this gifted author.

 

Audible Audiobooks for Kindle Goes Wireless

Most everybody has probably at least heard of Audible at this point.  Amazon(NASDAQ:AMZN) has done a good job of promoting their services both as a general thing and in connection with the Kindle.  Now, to make things even easier for fans of Kindle audio books, users should find themselves able to download their new acquisitions directly over the WiFi connection just like a normal book purchase.  It’s still not available via the 3G, but that should come as little surprise given the size of audio books compared to your average Kindle data transfer.  It doesn’t seem likely Amazon would want to foot the bill for doing that via WhisperNet any time soon, really.

This is a nice change.  While it was hardly a major problem to download and transfer your Audible purchases to the Kindle via the computer, anything that streamlines the process has to be considered an advantage.  Not only does this save users the potential hassle of arranging temporary storage space and such, it means improved mobility for those of us who like the audio book option on occasion.  Not much is more annoying than finding yourself without a book to listen to when you’re not in a position to read but still want to enjoy a book.

For anybody who might be unfamiliar with the Audible service, here’s the gist of how it works.  You can sign up for either a monthly or yearly membership.  Each month or year, you will be charged a set rate and given “credits” as a result.  The basic membership option, for example, will give you one credit every month as your payment is received.  These credits can then be redeemed for the book of your choice.  Not much more to it.  I haven’t run into any interesting books that required more than one credit, but the site does assure users that this is something to be aware of.

If you want to grab Audible books via the Kindle itself, you can link your new Audible account directly to your Amazon account and have all of your existing One-Click Purchasing options simply work.  This is done by signing in through the Audible.com site.  It’s simple.  After you’re linked in, you can head to the Audible section of the Kindle store using your Kindle and look around.  Members can either use their credits at checkout or, if you’re out of them or would rather not use them for whatever option, pay using your usual method.

It’s a bit more expensive per title if you want to purchase these audio books with cash rather than using the credit system, but there are options for multiple credits per month or, as mentioned earlier, a yearly plan that gives you 12 credits all at once and is renewable at any time.  Just in case you get hooked and can listen to more than one or two per month.

At the moment, there are over 50,000 titles available through this service and the basic plan is going for only $7.49 for the first three months.  I recommend giving it a try if you have any interest whatsoever.  The pricing is reasonable and you’ll definitely notice a major difference over the Text-to-Speech option.  There’s even a 30-Day free trial that provides 2 free audio books!

4 More Dictionaries: German, French, Italian and Spanish

You asked and we listened… We are releasing 4 more translation dictionaries for Amazon Kindle:

All dictionaries can be set as Kindle default dictionary, replacing the Oxford dictionary that is installed by default. You can then have words translated by selecting them with 5-way controller. You can use Kindle settings to switch between dictionaries since only one dictionary can be active at any given time. If you need, you can always revert to using the Oxford English dictionary. Please note that iPad/iPhone, Android and other Kindle apps don’t support custom dictionaries such as these.

German-English Kindle DictionaryFrench-English DictionaryItalian-English DictionarySpanish-English Dictionary

If you need to translate from English to another language, you can use one of our previously released dictionaries. See here for complete list.

Nook Color Firmware Update Moves it from Kindle Competitor to iPad Competitor

Recent news regarding the Nook Color‘s new features should go a long way toward illustrating the direction that the mini-tablet is likely to take in the near future.  While many have never viewed it as serious eReader competition for the Kindle, this seemed to be the hope that Barnes & Noble(NYSE:BKS) had for the device.  It seems they’re coming to their senses a bit and realizing the real potential of their affordably priced tablet.

To sum the situation up a bit, a recent offering on the Home Shopping Network let slip certain information about upcoming features for the Nook.  Most notably, it will be the first tablet on the market to include Flash support.  In addition to this, there will finally be support for email, as well as an app store to expand the capabilities of the device.  It seems that a viewer managed to capture the segment and post it on YouTube, which then prompted Barnes & Noble to issue a press release confirming the email, though not yet the Flash.

This definitely seems like a divergence from the previously staunch position that the Nook Color must be seen as a reading device first and foremost.  It makes a lot of sense.  Users seem largely to value the newest Nook incarnation for either its tablet capabilities or its color screen rather than any percieved inherently superior reading performance.  Really, while I’m not a fan of it as an eReader, this should make Barnes & Noble into a major player in the tablet competition.

The press release also emphasizes the importance of the Nook platform’s magazine and children’s book offerings.  Since these are the areas where the color screen really shines, given the shortcomings of a monochrome display for such applications, it definitely makes sense to see the focus turn this way.  I think there’s a lot of future in the marketing of children’s books in particular, things along the lines of NOOK Kids, for the less expensive and versatile tablets on the market today even if they fall short in other areas.  Great for actually getting in the hands of kids.

The effect of these upcoming changes on the Kindle in the end seems destined to be fairly negligible.  There’s a good chance that this will end the direct Kindle vs Nook Color comparisons for many, since it indicates an emphasis on non-book aspects of reading as well as non-reading applications.  That’s something.  Really, though, it feels like this is more an indication of how successful the Kindle has been than anything else.  The rush to a color eReader hasn’t succeeded because it meant a number of compromises that Amazon didn’t make, so they’re moving into a slightly different field.  It could also be that this is meant as a means to get a jump on Amazon in light of the rumors that have been going around about a potential Kindle-related line of tablet PCs.

The software update is supposed to drop in April, by all accounts, so be on the lookout for it.  I believe that this will breathe new life into the Nook Color for existing users as well as bring in a large new audience.

Warrior’s Rise Kindle Edition

Warrior's RiseBased on Amazon’s (NASDAQ: AMZN) description of Warrior’s Rise by LJ DeLeon, it sounds like a fascinating book for the Kindle.  As a former member of the CIA, DeLeon has much more experience on a personal level with panorama and fantasy events than most.  Such experience adds deeper value to the content of her books.  I encourage you to read Warrior’s Rise and tell us what you think.

Deva Morgan transforms from human to warrior on her thirtieth birthday.  She sets out on a quest to defeat the Dark Lord and his demons.  Hmmm, who does this remind you of?

Deva faces the battle against a huge force without much help, which the exception of her friend Padraig O’Neal.  Deva not only has to fight an outward battle, but an inward one because of all of the traumatic changes in her life.

So the big question is, can Deva figure out how to stabilize her new power so that she can save the Earth from being invaded by the Dark Lord and his demons?  The ability to harness newfound power is an important theme in this book.

So, for about five bucks, see what happens in this thriller called Warrior’s Rise, which is the first in an exciting new series for Kindle.  I look forward to seeing what more DeLeon has to offer in the future.

 

LightWedge Products for Kindle

lightLast night as I was riding home on the bus after dark, I thought, man it sure would be nice to have a light for my Kindle, especially while reading a book I particularly liked.

LightWedge has a an excellent booklight option called Verso Clip Light.  It enables you to read in low lighting and even in bed while your spouse or roommate is sleeping.  There are white and graphic version available.

Here is a note from LightWedge about their Verso Clip Light:

“We want our e-reader customers to have a positive reading experience. This product is the solution for readers who frequently read in low-lit areas,” says Jamey Bennett CEO of LightWedge LLC. “The e-ink displays used in most e-reader devices are not backlit, like a laptop computer. So, the Verso Clip On Light provides additional lighting and clips right on to e-readers.” The Verso Clip Lights go for around $15″

LightWedge is also featuring Kindle Covers by Verso:

Kindles are so fragile and slippery, so it is literally a necessity to get a case for it.  LightWedge has a great selection of covers including the Verso Gear Case.  These cases provide a variety of pockets and compartments to store Kindle accessories and charger cable.

“It’s no longer just a cover for the device, our unique designs allow individuals to express their sense of style,” said Bennett. (Source: LightWedge) The Verso line of e-reader accessories range in price from $14.99 to $49.99 and will be available at major retailers nationwide, Amazon as well as the company’s website (www.lightwedge.com).”

LightWedge is featuring their booklights and Kindle covers for Mother’s Day, which is coming up in a couple of months.  How fitting, because according to LightWedge, the e-readers are a big hit for women.  Both the light and the covers are available for the latest generation Kindle.

 

Design Your Own Kindle Cover

I find it highly amusing that the massive wave of gadget shopping produced another branch for shopping – gadget accessories. Not only we like to buy various gadgets to simplify/modernize our lives, but also we are enticed by the idea of dressing up these devices. The gadgets accessories are usually marketed as add-ons to your gadget that either somehow simplify the usage of it, protect it, and/or create a unique look for it.

So, I’m always on the hunt for fun-looking Kindle accessories. I like browsing Etsy for handmade Kindle covers because Etsy sellers consistently come up with fresh and funky-looking ideas.

When I saw M-Edge custom Kindle covers I realized this trend with Kindle covers took one more step further into the market. M-Edge offers a service for you to design your own Kindle 2/Kindle 3 cover.

You have a choice of:
- Uploading your own image;
- Adding a pattern: approximately sixty patterns to choose from;
- Adding color;
- Adding text with a choice of five fonts (Therano Old Style, Collaborate, Andron, Alexandria, and Scriptina); also you can choose the font color.
- And choosing the spine color: only black and brown for now.

Here is the M-Edge Youtube video that illustrates how it works in more details.

The custom Kindle cover costs $40 plus the shipping fee. According to the information posted in FAQ, M-Edge also ships internationally.

Hence, if you are experiencing the creative urge, but do not have time or desire to craft your own Kindle cover, sounds like M-Edge is an interesting option for you.

Karen Kingsbury Kindle Books

leavingBestselling Christian fiction author Karen Kingsbury releases her latest book: Leaving on March 22.  Leaving is the beginning of a new series called the Bailey Flanagan series.  This series includes characters from four other series: Redemption, Firstborn, Sunrise, and Above the Line series.  All of them are so addicting.  There have been some days when I have read a whole book in one sitting.

Kingsbury really invests a lot into her characters, and often I forget that they’re not real people.   When her last book in the Above the Line series came out, I downloaded it on my Kindle on midnight of its release day.  Instant gratification at its best!

Bailey Flanagan is a college student and aspiring actress, and her character is loosely modeled on Kingsbury’s daughter Kelsey.  Bailey leaves her hometown of Bloomington, Indiana to pursue acting in New York.  Bailey is also caught between the love of her life, Cody Coleman who leaves to be near his mother who is in prison, and Brandon Paul, a famous actor.

Karen Kingsbury’s books are all tearjerkers, and sometimes are even a little too overly emotional.  She has written on topics such as romance, 9/11, abortion, Down’s Syndrome, drug addiction and many more controversial issues.  Through the suffering though, she offers hope.

Her last book, Unlocked, was a huge hit, and it featured Holden Harris, and his childhood friend, Ella.  The interesting part about Unlocked is that it was originally a fictional book featured in several of Kingsbury’s other books.   Both Holden and Ella are high school seniors, but Holden has autism.  I wrote more about Unlocked on my Accessibility and Technology Blog.  So, check that out if you want to learn more about what Unlocked is about.  This blog also covers the latest trends in assistive technology for people with disabilities.  The Kindle has also recently made strides in providing more accessible features.

Kindle Books and Lending: The Complicated Relationship

Over the course of the eReader race so far, one of the biggest points of contention has been the potential for book lending. For quite a while, this was a major factor in the Nook’s favor when people considered the Kindle vs Nook question. Later, when the Kindle managed to get an equivalent to the long-standing Nook Lend Me feature, it pretty much because a moot point.  Now the focus with regard to lending has shifted in large part from an individual concern to questions of institutional lending.

At the moment, it is significantly easier for somebody to walk into a library and get themselves an eBook loan if they have an EPUB compatible eReader.  This is a pain for Kindle owners, but overall it makes sense given the current state of eBook formatting and such.  It just makes more sense to go with the more widely accepted, more advanced, and more likely to last of the available options when you think about the problem from the point of view of eBook lending system developers.

Putting aside Kindle-specific concerns for a moment, eBooks in general have problems involving the lending concept.  Take the recent issue with HarperCollins.  They’ve decided to put an arbitrary cap of 26 checkouts on their eBooks on the assumption that this is roughly equivalent to the average number of uses a paper book will see before needing to be replaced.  Even assuming this is correct, which seems doubtful, this is nothing short of ridiculous.  It works to highlight an important point, however.

Can we truly expect to treat eBooks the same way we do their paper counterparts?  There are arguments on both sides, but most of the pro-lending ones seem to stem from either the idea that the improved circulation will be inherently good for a given author or that given the long-standing precedent for lending which goes along with books it will be impossible for eBooks to be a comprehensive replacement for many people while lacking this ability.  I admit scepticism.

The fact of the matter is that as eBooks gain popularity, certain changes will have to be accepted.  Among these will be a reinterpretation of the appropriateness of unrestricted lending.  I don’t agree with the publisher reaction on this one, but I do think that you need to either have your books be freely lend-able or remove the option entirely.  It is impossible to productively compare the durability of a paperback to the period over which a purchased license to lend a Kindle book, or any eBook, should retain its value.

The problem I run into is that I can’t think of where to draw a better line.  Time-based licensing is out, because it would force libraries to repeatedly pay to maintain access to books which may never see use. If you’re going to have a checkout-based system, it should obviously account for the inherent lack of publisher expense involved in re-granting a license, but where do you draw the line fairly for consumers while still making sure authors get the money they deserve for their productions?  Overall, more questions than answers, but I think that for now the issue of lending is going to be more trouble than it is worth for everybody while people get over the idea that free book lending is a necessary part of the reading experience.

Kindle Games: $0.99 Sale and Thoughts

Today it appears that Amazon has decided that we need even more reasons to waste time in a given way.  I would be upset, but I’ve been too busy playing games to find the time.  Between now and March 27th, there’s a sale going on wherein twelve of the most popular Kindle games to date are available for a mere $0.99.  This is a pretty good list and I’m finding the games quite well thought out and fun to play across the board so far.  Included in this sale are: Scrabble, Solitaire, Mahjong, Chess, Hangman 4 Kids, Triple Town, Texas Hold ‘em Poker, Sudoku Unbound, and four New York Times Crossword Puzzle Packs (2 Challenging, 2 Easy).

For those willing to give it a chance, and you can’t really go wrong at the price, chances are good that you’ll find the implementations far cleaner than anticipated.  Mahjong, Sudoku, and Triple Town in partcular, in my opinion, stand out as making the best possible use of the display and demonstrate a fair awareness of the capabilities of the Kindle.  There’s no denying that this is a simplistic collection of games that, for the most part, everybody will be familiar with, but that’s not a bad thing.  If you’re like me and carry your Kindle around with you almost all the time anyway, it never hurts to have a few more things to pick up when you’ve got nothing better to do but not enough time to really get into a book.  Can’t always get on the internet, right?

Now, Kindle games are obviously a different animal than you expect to find on most other portable devices.  The emphasis is, of necessity, on games that play with word concepts, number puzzles, and other graphically low-impact implementations.  While this is a shortcoming, as obviously this was not a device for which gaming was considered a necessary concern, it has had a couple interesting effects that I think add interesting options.

The obvious benefit for me is the revival of the text-based adventure game.  This is manifested in both a re-emergence of the old Choose Your Own Adventure type of concept and in interactive adventures like the browser based Zork implementation that made a big splash a while back.  Surprisingly, these have been the least common things to find as well implemented offerings in the Kindle store.  There are definitely quite a few of the former posted that, while fun, are a bit short-lived and seem to not quite meet expectations at the price point.  The latter are, as yet, seemingly non-existent unless you want to go to the effort of either compiling your own Interactive Fiction games and inserting them into your Kindle via a jailbreak or run one of the very rare instances available through a browser.

This seems to me like an opportunity to resurrect some old classic game design principles from the days when graphics were rarely able to provide much more than a vague approximation of what they were meant to represent.  Maybe I’m just pointlessly nostalgic, but I hope we see more of that before eInk style screens catch up to modern AV standards.

Facebook Kindle Sweepstakes

As I was perusing Amazon’s (NASDAQ: AMZN) website, I saw an easy Free Kindle Sweepstakes, and thought you might be interested.  This contest is a token of appreciation for being a fan of the Kindle on Facebook. So, if you are on Facebook, become a fan of the Kindle and enter for a chance to win a Kindle 3G.

How to Enter the Contest

Go to the Kindle Facebook Fan Page, click “like”.  Once you do that, you can enter your name into the sweepstakes via the fan page.  Enter your name, email and phone number, then the site will ask permission to add an Amazon Facebook application.  You can only enter once.  The process is fairly simple.

The contest ends on March 31.

New Math Learning Tools Available for the Kindle

With the addition of games and puzzles, the Kindle has become much more than an e-reader.  Now, you can use the Kindle as a means to learn math as well.

Digi Ronin Games has introduced Flash Cards: Basic Math for Kids and Flash Cards: Fractions for Kids. Digi Ronin Games is a highly interactive game studio that has worked with major companies such as Disney and Nickelodeon.  It is based in the Research Triangle Park in Raleigh, NC.  More information about their company and what awesome content they are creating for the Kindle can be found here

For the Basic Math learning tool, kids can brush up on their addition, subtraction and multiplication skills.  There are five difficulty levels that correlate with common mathematical concepts.  Interestingly enough, children might be using the Kindle for math even before they can read well enough to use it for reading!

The Basic Math tool is a new and exciting way to learn math.  This alone, should entice more children to want to learn, and to become more familiar with the Kindle.  In the past, the e-reader has primarily targeted adults, but I’ve seen more and more children’s books become available.  Both applications can be used as a study guide and gives quality feedback for correct and incorrect answers.

The Fractions learning tool for Kindle is laid out the same way as the Basic Math tool and has four levels of difficulty.  The simple fractions such as ½ are in a lower difficulty level, and the more complex fractions such as 3/7 belong to the more difficult levels.

Both Basic Math and Fractions were release this week, so there aren’t any reviews yet.  I am interested to see how well the Kindle does as an interactive tool.  By that I mean, how it does with filling in blanks for answers, etc.  I hope to see the Kindle and Kindle DX continue to take on a much larger role in education for all ages.

eReaders in the Classroom: Kindle vs iPad vs Nook Color

I spend a lot of time thinking about the potential uses for eReaders beyond the simple enjoyment they are so well suited to providing.  It’s an interesting pursuit, really.  What it always comes back to, however, is that reading is rarely something people do for anything beyond pleasure in the quantities required to justify something like a Kindle.  Except if you’re a student!

See, students will always have more to read in a given week than they will have any interest in carrying around.  Which makes something like a Kindle an advantage.  At the same time, in many disciplines the mediocre PDF display capabilities, small screen, and lack of color do have the ability to hinder the eReader’s usefulness.  Recently, however, we have the iPad and the Nook Color as more expensive but potentially more versatile additions to the student equipment list.  It made me curious: We can theorize all we want about what should or shouldn’t be the most useful in a professional or academic setting, but what do the people actually using the devices in these situations think?  So I asked.

I talked to 43 students who had all used their eReading device for at least three months.  I then went down the list and found the common complaints and praises to share with you all.  Here’s what we got:

Amazon Kindle

Pros:

  • Battery that lasts forever
  • Glare-free screen
  • Storage aplenty
  • Built-in Dictionary
  • Wide selection of books, both academic & pleasurable

Cons:

  • No color for diagrams
  • No functioning microphone
  • No way to easily take notes during class
  • Awkward pagination
  • Slow text searching
  • Hard to read faculty-scanned articles

Barnes & Noble Nook Color

Pros:

  • Color Screen
  • Very Portable
  • Easy to hack
  • Runs Android
  • Can play games and watch video after hacking

Cons:

  • Poor Battery Life with WiFi turned on
  • Can’t read outside
  • Complicated to install things on
  • Underpowered for full tablet use

Apple iPad

Pros:

  • Runs everything
  • Good screen
  • Can take notes with proper keyboard
  • Fast
  • Lots of apps, no hacking needed

Cons:

  • Heavy
  • Feels breakable
  • Expensive
  • Disliked by some instructors
  • Very easy to spend too much money through

Now, I’ll start out by saying here that not one person I talked to lately was unhappy with their current purchase.  A few of the Nook Color owners had iPad envy, but that was about it. I am also not trying to claim that any of the pros and cons listed for one device do not apply to one of the others.  These were just the things that those I talked to felt was important.  Everything listed was mentioned by at least five eReader owners.

Surprisingly, of the 12 Nook owners, 10 had rooted their eReaders to make them more functional and most of them said that they enjoyed the tablet functionality more than using them for reading.  iPad owners were very happy with their devices, but frequently had trouble with instructors who were wary of potential abuse of the tablets during classes(presumably the same instructors would be anti-laptop as well, of course).  Kindle owners were the most satisfied in general but tended to be students in the Humanities, while some of the color tablet owners, in business students, mentioned having been converted away from the Kindle in favor of something that better displayed charts and graphs.

I wouldn’t say we have any clear winners on this one.  It’s all a matter of what you want to do and how much you want to pay.  If you’re a student in the market for an eReader, you might want to look at some reviews and give these factors some consideration.

For any of you I happened to talk to for this, the responses were appreciated!

Seven Albert Einstein Books Exclusively for Kindle

In addition to Pi Day, March 14 is also Albert Einstein’s birthday.  How fitting that both math and physics are celebrated on this day for completely different reasons.  There are currently seven ebooks written by Einstein available exclusively for the Kindle.  Known as the father of modern physics, Einstein was a revolutionary figure in the field of science and introduced the theory of relativity.  The Kindle ebooks all includes photos and documents from the Albert Einstein Archives from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Letters on Wave Mechanics provides a unique glimpse into the thoughts of Einstein and other major influential characters in science through their letters.  Wave Mechanics includes letters written by H.A. Lorentz, Max Planck, and Erwin Schrodinger.  This book not only gives insight into their thoughts, but it also allows the reader to understand the state of physics in their day.

Essays in Humanism covers major events in history such as the Great Depression, World War II,  and the Cold War, and is written from a philosophical prospective.  I noticed a quote about how technology and war were shrinking the planet.  If technology was shrinking the planet back then, imagine what Einstein would say about the internet and its global connectivity.

Einstein reveals how he feels about his own influence on modern science, as well as other great scientists who came before him in Essays in Science.  These scientists include Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler and others.  Einstein also gives explanation of his theories and contributions.

Letters to Solovine is the key to Einstein’s most personal thoughts and contains his letters to his close friend, Maurice Solovine.  Letters to Solovine shows the human side of Einstein, in addition to his scientist side.

Out of My Later Years is a collection of essays that explain Einstein’s scientific and philosophical beliefs.  Einstein recognized the rapidly changing world around him and provides positive thoughts on the future.  Science made great leaps and bounds throughout the twentieth century and continues to do so today.

Most everyone knows Einstein for his Theory of Relativity, which is e=mc2.  The Theory of Relativity book goes through this theory and Einstein’s other discoveries step by step.  This is a great resource because many people just know the equation and never really get to learn the meaning behind it.

The World as I See It describes Einstein as a German in the midst of World War II.  It also describes his views on religion and how they compare.  Religion and science are often at great odds, and such a well known figure in the science world talk about religion should be an extremely interesting read.

The Current State of the Agency Model and Why It Matters: The Effect on Kindle Book Publishing

So, we’re back again to the conversation regarding the ever-unpopular Agency Model for pricing of Kindle and other eBooks.  For once we have some actual solid new developments, though not necessarily any major changes as a result yet.

First off we have Random House, the only major holdout up until this point, caving on the issue and joining the other publishers in abandoning the traditional wholesale pricing in favor of setting the price retailers can sell eBooks for directly.  While this isn’t precisely a surprise, it is a little disappointing.  The advantage in the short term is clear for the company, however, since it makes them eligible to sell their books through the semi-popular Kindle competition application, iBooks (more on the Kindle vs iPad situation another time).  The advantage may turn out to be less than useful in the long run, however, and not just because of the impact it will have on customer satisfaction.

This past week, European Union Antitrust regulators raided the offices of a number of publishers (at this time undisclosed) in furtherance of an investigation into potential breach of price fixing regulations by the adoption of the aforementioned Agency Model. Given the high levels of concern the EU has for avoiding restrictions of competition, these companies could be on the hook for enormous fines if they are found in violation.  While at this time there is no indication that anything more than investigation is happening, and certainly no charges are being filed, it has to be making people a bit nervous.

What amuses me most about all this is not the potential penalties that publishers may incur so much as how little I see them mattering in the long run.  See, the overall impact of the model seems to have been nothing more than an increasing interest in self-publishing and eBook piracy.  They’re really not doing themselves any favors.

The main argument in favor of the Agency model that I have heard seems to be directed specifically at Amazon and the Kindle.  Amazon’s known for taking new bestsellers and discounting them to near- or even below-cost and making up the difference on the bulk of other sales.  Given their success, probably good for business.  In order to improve their Kindle platform they were doing something similar with eBooks for a while.  It was just always cheaper to buy an eBook, which makes sense, right?  Publishers came to the conclusion that it was actually devaluing their property.  If customers came to expect eBooks to be cheap, then how could the publishing companies earn as much as they want?  Hence the current situation.

Do people actually pay for books that cost more digitally than they do in a hardcover, though?  Probably some, but you have to think it’s unlikely overall.  It isn’t all that hard to grab a copy of the book you want through alternate means when you feel it’s the only way to get the book you need without being taken advantage of, and I’m informed it’s becoming an increasingly popular choice. I don’t endorse piracy, but you can’t blame customers for this one.  You have to get value for your money, these days more than ever, and if the publisher doesn’t get that, then they’re responsible for costing both themselves and the author the sale.

Quality and Kindle Book Publication

A few weeks ago, I posted some recommendations for Kindle-based reading material.  One of the books I brought up caused some problems for people because, while the book itself was great, the copy on the Kindle Store was overpriced and has some pretty glaring errors that indicate inferior quality control.  This got me thinking about the current arguments for and against self-publishing in the digital world.

One of the things we’ve heard over and over again from publishers is that when you price your ebooks too low, it cuts down on the money they can afford to spend on the typical overhead that goes into book publication.  That is, editors, publicists, etc, all fall away.  This particular book (Dune by Frank Herbert for anybody that’s interested) was clearly not more than a step or two removed from a scan of the paper book run through some OCR software.  Where’s the advantage to paying the extra money in situations like these?  I’ve chosen this book as a good example, but I’ve found that it isn’t uncommon for books originally published pre-ebook to have these errors in them while still being sold for the same price as newer books with proper quality control.

In case you’re unfamiliar with OCR, or Optical Character Recognition, let me explain as briefly as I can.  You start with a scanned image of a page.  Just a picture basically. You then feed it into your OCR software which “looks” at the page and tries to pick out words and formatting to make it into a text-based document.  You need to do this in order to have the resizable text, font choices, text to speech, etc that make the Kindle so neat.  Sometimes the resultant text is nearly pristine, sometimes it is highly flawed.  OCR has come a long way over the years, but even so it’s unlikely for you to ever get a completely perfect scan the first time through.  You need a human, usually with no tool more complex than a basic spell checker, to run through and look for instances when the software mistook an ‘h’ for ‘l n’ and other such near equivalencies, not to mention random brackets and semicolons that for some reason just appear out of nowhere sometimes.

These are not difficult problems to address.  Your average underpaid intern could manage to get through most novels in an afternoon or two.  Maybe a little more for books like Dune that make up a lot of dictionary-unfriendly words and force you to pay attention, but the point stands.  If all the fuss over pricing really stems from the value present in a professionally published eBook rather than a potentially poorly edited self publisher, then why aren’t we getting finished products?

I didn’t mind these sorts of things when ebooks were still basically a hobbyist thing that people on the internet did for fun.  We’re a good long way beyond that, though.  No, it doesn’t make a book unreadable most of the time, but it shows a distinct lack of interest in real customer satisfaction.  Like I said, so far it seems to me to primarily apply to older books, but some people do still enjoy books more than five years old.  Wasn’t the point of an Kindle that I would be able to carry my whole library in a pocket?  The device lives up to it, I just want the publishers to do so as well.

Kindle vs Nook: Why I Switched to the Kindle

When I started writing for this blog, I was on my fourth eReader and had pretty much settled on the Nook as my preference.  The Kindle was great, but the shortcomings were just a little bit too much to deal with compared to the Nook.  I’ll admit, my perception was better than many when it came to the Barnes & Noble offering since I waited a couple months after it came around and missed out on some of the bugs and general issues, but it was just a better product.  That was a while ago now. Two things changed my mind.  The Third Generation Kindle and the Nook Color.  I have both, out of necessity.  The only one that sees any regular use is the obvious.

This isn’t to say that everything I wanted taken care of has been addressed.  The current state of the Kindle has a couple small(or large) flaws that people should stay aware of.  The most glaring, for me, is the lack of EPUB support.  While the MOBI gets things done and it reads just fine, it is based on an outdated standard and can’t really be picked up in many places besides the Amazon.com Kindle Store.  Good for Amazon, not really ideal for the users.  Even if you respect the motives as a business move, it reduces the appeal.

There’s also the little quirks like the closed screensaver collection, the inability to grab library books(and admittedly that one might be a bigger deal for many people than I’ve found it to be given the recent library eBook craze), limited PDF support, etc. For the most part, however, we’re hoping that these can be addressed through software updates eventually whereas we know that the format issue is just another control on behalf of Amazon.  Even acknowledging that, however, with the release of the Kindle 3 we got an improved screen, greatly improved refresh rates, amazing battery life beyond anything coming from anybody in the competition, the neat case with built in light(yeah, it’s fun and I consider it a feature!), all in addition to the existing superior 3G browsing and huge store library.

I don’t want to say for a second that I don’t hope for a Nook comeback.  As I’ve mentioned before, if nothing else I consider the competition essential for the improvement of the Kindle and from time to time the Nook has managed to stay a step or two ahead in terms of features.  The fact that it’s built on Android, supports EPUB, and comes complete with an impressive local presence that allows users to stop in and read as much of any book as they want while drinking free coffee is enough to keep it in the game.  Free coffee is good!  All of this would seem to blend together to give B&N the best possible chance, of anybody around at this point besides Amazon, to compete for the lead position. Then they came out with the Nook Color instead of updating their existing device hardware.  It’s a neat little budget tablet and all, but it didn’t do it for me as a pure reading device.  Maybe next time, when there’s a better screen available.  Not saying it’s a bad device, just not ideal for reading in my experience.

It’s all anecdotal, of course, but I know there are some people out there wondering which way to go and whether the Kindle is worth the money.  Thought I’d explain my choice and hopefully help you make yours.

Free Kindle Giveaway!

BitDefender, an antivirus and internet security software company, is currently hosting a giveaway series that includes a chance to win 2 free Amazon Kindles.  Other prizes include tablets, laptops, smartphones and many other gadgets.  The grand prize is a BMW 3 Series.  Entering into one contest puts your name in for the grand prize.

Here’s how to enter the contest:

Access the Facebook Application: BitDefender fun4fans.and the contest asks that you connect a set of paragraphs to complete a story.  The application does a good job of explaining how to complete the contests.  From February 18-May 29, there will be weekly draws to win gadgets including the Kindle.  Each week has a different theme.

And yes, I know Facebook applications can be annoying, but this one might just get you a fun gadget to play with.

 

Kindle Book Recommendations: Fantasy

Today I’ve got some fantasy novels for you that you may or may not have heard of.  I figure that at this point it would be a little silly to be throwing out the Lord of the Rings Trilogy or something like that, so I was aiming for Kindle Edition authors that caught me by surprise.  As always, you may be more in touch with the current state of this particular genre than I am and therefore see these as old news!  In that case, feel free to let me know what else to look into for next time.

I suppose if you wanted to, you could call the focus here non-Tolkienesque Fantasy.  There’re so many varieties these days, after all, and the elves and dwarves sometimes get a little overdone.  Also, random thought, but has anybody else noticed that these books tend to come in threes?

The Way of Shadows – Brent Weeks

This is the first book in a trilogy focusing on the not-uncommon theme of a down and out kid with nothing special about him to begin with growing into the role of a hero.  Pretty much, at least.  What makes this stand out above that almost cliched theme is the amazingly accessible writing and compelling characters.  While the world building is somewhat forced at times, leaving you to wish that Weeks had dialed it back and concentrate on his main characters, in general it’s hard not to sympathize with the situations of the protagonist as he moves deeper into the physically and morally demanding life that he has chosen for himself.

While this first book touches on issues of a vague “talent” that goes beyond human abilities, future books in the trilogy elaborate on the concept  of magic significantly and bring it to the front of the conflicts.  For some this will be a good thing, for others a deal-breaker.  Just putting it out there.

The Kindle Edition is $7.99

Mistborn – Brian Sanderson

Picture a world in the aftermath of a typical epic fantasy struggle, except this time the bad guys won. While Sanderson has gotten loads of press for being chosen as the one to pick up the pieces of Robert Jordan’s epic following the author’s passing, before that he had already created his own amazing trilogy.

While many will note that the characterizations are a little flat, with the main characters basically being defined almost solely by their specific magical “attribute”, the work as a whole is compelling.  The world itself becomes a character of sorts, and Sanderson actually manages to make the evil emperor menacing after giving him the ridiculous name of “Lord Ruler”!  The exposition is a little heavy, but this is a real page turner with nothing I can think of to say against it that would weigh against the fun you’ll have reading it and it only gets better as you move further into the trilogy.

The Kindle Edition is $7.99

His Majesty’s Dragon – Naomi Novik

The first book in what I understand was originally intended to be a trilogy about an alternate history of the world wherein dragons are a reality of everyday life.  Novik demonstrates an impressive sense of the Napoleonic Wars and provides readers with characters that are both completely believable within their specific niches and able to demonstrate a certain larger than life character.

The basics that you should know going into things are that dragons are real, fairly intelligent, and domesticated enough to make aerial warfare a possibility earlier than it really could have been.  The main character captures a rare egg and is forced to give up a life in the navy to care for it, whether he’s happy about it or not. This was actually one of the first books I grabbed when I switched over to the Kindle and I have gone back to it more than once.

The Kindle Edition is $6.99

Can the Kindle Compete With Apple’s iPad 2?

This week saw the much-awaited reveal for the next generation of the Apple iPad.  Needless to say, much excitement seems to abound all over the internet, along with a few groans from people who bought their iPads just a little bit too long ago to manage returns.  There’s a bit to be excited about, especially for fans of the existing product.  The new one is going to be faster, lighter, have a couple cameras, involve absolutely no price increase over existing models, and will be in stores almost immediately.

Given that part of the event surrounding the announcement was a look at how great they are doing with iBooks, highlighting the recent Random House events involving their becoming a part of the Apple book store, I was rather hoping to find some information on how this would be a better reading device than the existing one or even better than the Kindle if they got really ambitious. When it came down to it though, it was mostly peripheral to the launch.

The advantages over the old model that I believe pertain to my concerns, specifically reading and the experience thereof and disregarding any other advantages that a tablet PC might carry with it, are slight.  The improved weight is nice, even if it was only .2lbs of reduction.  The extra slimming (a 30% reduction in the total depth of the device) might be nice if you prefer that, but I’m already personally one of those people who needs a decently bulky cover on my Kindle to really feel right when I read so it doesn’t help me much.  The fact that the battery life stayed good for a Tablet PC is nice, I suppose?

While I prefer the Kindle for reading at the moment, had Apple been able to come up with something impressive to woo me I would have been willing to listen.  I still think that the $500 minimum price on them is a bit high for something that I would probably primarily use for reading, but the best experience is sometimes expensive.  Anyway, seems to not really be an issue on this one.

So, as far as providing added levels of competition to the Kindle-dominated eReader marketplace, I’m going to say it’s not particularly an issue.  While the iPad was, and the iPad 2 will be, a viable alternative eReader for people who want to use it primarily for the sake of its versatility, the reading experience for most has not been enough to justify that as its primary purpose.  This hasn’t changed, even if a couple of very minor convenience changes were made that might be useful along the way.

This upgrade seems much more interested in emphasizing the AV capabilities of the device.  Nothing wrong with that.  I’ve found iPads quite convenient as portable movie players, myself, and the HDMI out will be a welcome addition. The Kindle vs iPad competition just doesn’t seem to be an issue, however.  Possibly an implication that Apple is aware of the limitations it’s working with?  That’s probably just my POV coming out, though.  For those who are interested, look for the new iPad in any retailer currently carrying the product line as of March 11th.

Kurt Vonnegut for Kindle

I’m the one who always has a book or Kindle in hand.  I always devoured books and enjoy escaping into an different world.  My brother was the opposite.  It was like pulling teeth to get him to read.

But, even nonreaders can find their niche.  My brother did with Kurt Vonnegut.  The author’s books can be described as absurd and certainly didn’t fit into the mainstream.  Vonnegut’s most famous work is Slaughterhouse Five, a harrowing account of his experiences as a prisoner in Germany and the bombing of Dresden.

Slaughterhouse Five tells the story of Billy Pilgrim, a prisoner in Slaughterhouse Five in Germany during World War II, just as Vonnegut was.  The twist, however, is that Pilgrim was abducted by aliens and time traveled.  He went off to different areas of time and comes back the present, where he is prisoner.  In a sense, this what prisoners had to do with their minds to remain sane.  I’ve read books where the prisoners would imagine that they are eating their mother’s cooking, or done something they loved to escape the misery.

I really liked what Andyrew had to say about Slaughterhouse Five:

“One of the major themes of the book is fate. The prayer of serenity appears twice in the book stating that we need to change the things we can and be wise enough to know which things we cannot change. Also the Tralfamadorians speak of fate. They say they know how the universe is going to end, but they do nothing to stop it. Vonnegut seems to say that yes, war is one of those things we cannot avoid, but we need to change the things we can about it, like the atrocious bombing of Dresden.”

I am currently reading Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle on my Kindle, and I have to admit it veers away from my typical reading material.  But, so far I find it pretty funny.  The narrator, Jonah, sets off to find out more about the atomic bomb that was dropped on Japan to end World War II.  Throughout his journey to learn more about the bomb and the person who invented it, the reader encounters some major themes dealing with science, religion and politics.  Cat’s Cradle manages to provide great insight on these hot topics while integrating quite a bit of dry humor.

It is fitting that I am reading about the atomic bomb, because I also just finished Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling novel, Unbroken, which chronicles the life and experiences of an American POW in Japan.  That one is particularly riveting and I highly recommend reading it.

Vonnegut also wrote many other books, including Breakfast of Champions that are certainly worth checking out.  However, not all are available on Kindle yet.  But hopefully they will be soon.

Twilight Series for Kindle: Featuring Breaking Dawn

At last, we reach the final installment of the Twilight series for the Kindle: Breaking Dawn.  Bella and Edward get married, and we hear a good bit of the story from Jacob’s point of view.  It appears that Breaking Dawn was written for a more mature audience considering the more graphic depictions of certain events in the novel.

The reviews for Breaking Dawn were all over the place.  Some say it is the worst book in the whole series, and others say it is awesome.  So, it really is just a matter of personal preference I guess.

CallanShea

“Book four of the series, Breaking Dawn was an interesting turn of events. I found myself being surprised in some occasions, and I felt like it was an overall good book. I know that it catches a lot of flak, but the book is good. It is interesting, well-written, and has a developed plot.”

Here is a review that pointed out an issue that was brought up multiple times in other posts, which is the fact that about half of Breaking Dawn was written from Jacob’s perspective instead of Bella’s.

Kelly3202

“I could not put the books down. I read all four in a month. The only thing that i don’t like is the wolf thing and how the fourth book focuses on Jacob. Given what it was about, i feel she should have had something in there from Edward’s point-of-view. Overall, love them!!!”

This reviewer brought up a good point.  This series is meant to be fiction, and often in life, things don’t turn out the way we want them to, but fiction gives us a means of escape.  It also fuels our imagination.

Fysher

“I was a little worried about the second part being told from Jacob’s perspective, but suprisingly it was very good. I know in life you don’t always get what you want, but that’s why this is fantasy/fiction. Bella got everything she wanted.”

So for those of you who have read Breaking Dawn, do you think it provided a good ending for the series?  If not, what would you change about the ending?

Jodi Picoult’s Sing You Home is Released

New York Times Bestselling author Jodi Picoult released her latest novel, Sing You Home, on March 1st.  The cool part about the Kindle version of Sing You Home is that it includes a set of folk songs written by Picoult and sung by Ellen Wilber that apply to Zoe, the main character’s life.

True to form, Picoult hits a controversial issue head on, and this time it is gay rights.  She has written about high school shooting, the death penalty, sexual abuse, Asperger’s, and many others.  Zoe, a music therapist who desires a large family, finds love with another woman and tries to have a baby, but ends up in a legal battle over embryos with her ex husband.

It is fitting that she tackle’s the gay rights issue, especially with the recent recognition of legal unions in Hawaii and that it is a hot topic across the country with heavy debates on both sides.

Sing You Home is about identity, love, marriage, and parenthood. It’s about people wanting to do the right thing for the greater good, even as they work to fulfill their own personal desires and dreams. And it’s about what happens when the outside world brutally calls into question the very thing closest to our hearts: family.

Jodi Picoult has an uncanny ability to provide a series of plots and weave them together.  She also writes from different character’s “voices.”  In some of her novels, even the text is different to portray that particular character’s personality.  She is “real’ and really cares about her readers and the subject matters she uses, which is reflected in her writing.

I also wrote another post on Jodi Picoult’s recently published short story, Leaving Home, and about her earlier novels that you should check out if you are interested.

So, with that said, I think I’ll go grab my Kindle and get to reading.

Kindle Coming to AT&T Stores & Free Kindle Rumors

Kindle Comes to AT&T Stores

Beginning on Sunday, March 6th, customers at AT&T owned stores nation-wide should be seeing something new on the shelves.  The Kindle 3G, yes only the $189 model at this point since it is a cellular store, will be on display and available for customers wanting to grab on the spot or compare side by side with something like the iPad.  Heck, it’ll probably even be on the same wall for some easy reference.

The advantage of having the Kindle available to customers through these stores is clear.  Not terribly impressive at this point, but clear.  This makes one more place for people wanting to test drive a Kindle to stop in at.  That’s all.  I suppose it might be convenient for some people, but other than that there are no real incentives for people shopping at AT&T.

Wow.  That was short.  Ok, guess we have room for more news!

Free Kindles in Our Future?

There’s been talk lately about the possibility of free Kindle devices coming to us as early as November of this year.  Now, take this with a grain of salt, but I wouldn’t entirely discount it.  The rumor stems from an examination of the price drops that the Kindle has experienced since it first came on the market.  Apparently they’ve been pretty steadily linear so far.  So much so that it looks as if we can predict precisely when the price will hit zero.  When this was mentioned to Jeff Bezos last year, he is reported to have said “Oh, you noticed that!” with a smile and left it at that.

Recent speculation has involved a couple different ways that such a free Kindle could manifest.  While some people think it could end up being incentive in some promotion (i.e. Buy 30 eBooks, get your Kindle Free!), I consider the most likely scenario to be the Amazon Prime option.  While there are already a number of benefits to being a Prime member including free 2-day shipping on everything and, more recently, free streaming movies, wouldn’t it be that much more tempting to holdout customers if they got a free Kindle in the deal?

This would go that one step further toward making the Kindle, and Amazon in general, the first stop for any consumer purchase.  I know, having had a Prime membership for a while now, that I’m willing to choose Amazon over other retailers for no other reason than the quick shipping on most things already.  If they beef up their movie selection, I can see it replacing my Netflix account too.

Now, I know that I’m not one to talk, having already expressed my own eReader preferences, but if they sent a Kindle to my house even back when I was fully in the Nook camp and I didn’t have to pay a thing for it, the convenience might well have been enough to win me over.  Maybe that’s what the plan is?  An insidious plot to gain our business by giving good value for the money would be novel, I suppose!