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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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September 2014
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Kindle Paperwhite Update Improves Overall User Experience and Comic Reading Specifically

We already know that Amazon intends for the Kindle Paperwhite to set the new standard for eReader hardware in every way they could manage.  Some people might still wish for physical page turn buttons (I certainly do) but other than that it is a clear step ahead of all of the competition right now.  That’s referring entirely to the US markets, of course, which may be a good reason that they have decided to update the Paperwhite firmware with some specific comic-related improvements in mind.

On a November 8th release, the new software improvements were made available for download.  If you have a Paperwhite and haven’t gotten everything automatically delivered to your device at this point, check out the side-loading instructions located here.

Foremost in the advertised improvements is the list of optimized fonts.  Palatino, Baskerville, and Futura have all been made sharper and smoother.  It’s a small thing in many ways, but the change will stand out for anybody who prefers to use these fonts regularly.

The ability to remove Recommended Content from your Paperwhite’s home screen is now also included.  This has become a point of annoyance for many users, but the ability to remove this particular advertising stream was added not long ago to new Kindle Fire models and was inevitable here as well.  A more interesting update would have been producing the same stream for older models on demand, honestly.

The settings menu has been brought to the front of things a bit more as well.  You can now jump straight into this menu directly from the menu while reading a book with no need to return to the home screen.

Perhaps most importantly, given the recent push into Japan, is the improved manga/comic display capability.  A new Fit-to-Screen option will stretch images to fill the entire screen, addressing many situations where small panels were practically unreadable previously.

The Paperwhite is also now able to retain a manga/comic specific setting for page refresh preferences that is completely separate from the same options for book reading.  This makes it easier to choose the proper setting to maximize both battery life and reading quality in two areas with distinctly different visual representation needs.

In preparation for a move beyond Japan into China, Simplified Chinese is now included as a font option.  It’s a small note now, but could be vital in the long run.

The only other really notable change is in book samples.  When picking up the full version of a given book after reading the sample you will now start off at the last position accessed in the sample.  The sample itself will be removed from the library.  Organization will be greatly improved as a result for anybody who regularly samples their books.

Many of these updates are small things, but added together they make for a great update.  There is more than can and likely will be done to improve things, especially with regard to comic-reading.  Now that we’re seeing a much bigger effort to get graphic storytelling into the Kindle marketplace, however, it’s safe to assume that a wider audience will demand attention and genre-specific features that will quickly optimize the eReaders as best a black and white display can be optimized.

DC Comes to Kindle Store & More, Ending Comixology Exclusivity

While DC Entertainment is insisting that the move is not necessarily a switch away from Comixology, the publisher has now made the transition to offering its weekly content directly through the Kindle, Nook, and iBooks stores.  There is now very little reason to expect anybody to continue using the Comixology apps given that their main selling point was exclusive access to DC content.

This change in distribution model comes at a time when digital distribution is up nearly 200% over 2011’s numbers.  For comparison, DC has stated that their physical volume sales are up just 12%.  Given the already comparatively strong sales of the weekly comics in question it is a lot simpler to increase the audience for digital content by an impressive percentage, but this also comes at a time when many publishers are seeing digital distribution begin to overwhelm their traditional sales market.

The plan for rollout is essentially what you would expect.  The new titles, especially those that are part of DC’s “New 52” franchise reboot, will be available immediately as they are released.  Over an as-yet undetermined period of time they will begin issuing the back catalogue.  A DC spokesperson claimed that the only real reason that it would take some time to get to content that wasn’t brand new was the limitation of bandwidth.  The more interest digital content generates, the faster they will get the whole library converted and available through the various stores.

While there is not yet any way to get the DC catalogue in a readable format for a black and white eReader like the Kindle Paperwhite it is possible that this situation may change in the not too distant future.  Representatives of the company are interested in the idea of making their content available to eReader owners and see little reason for that to be prevented if a positive experience with black and white reading can be confirmed.  Senior VP of Digital for DC Hank Kanalz went so far as to explain his position:

“We’re taking a look at whether we like how it looks in the black-and-white space. My attitude is that if you’re stuck on a train, and you only have your Paperwhite or other black-and-white device, you can read it then and see it in color later”

This should go a long way toward both increasing interest in digital comic distribution and proving that an online distribution model will work for such a large publisher of graphic storytelling.  Seventy titles are already present in the Kindle Store and more will be around soon.  Perhaps it’s a matter of personal opinion, but I doubt there will be much concern over the end of Comixology’s reign when it comes to comic content being served to Kindle Fire owners.  It’s only a matter of time now before everybody else catches on.

Nook Services Follow Kindle to Browser-Based eReading App

As was bound to happen eventually, Barnes & Noble has joined Amazon in offering a browser-based reading solution for their Nook customers.  Since last August, the Kindle Cloud Reader has been offering the same capabilities to users of the competing platform.  The current promotion set to launch Nook for Web, as the new application has been dubbed, offers users six free best sellers for giving it a try.  Both the promo and the features make this worth taking a look at.

To try it out for yourself, simply head over to the Nook for Web site.  Currently supported browsers include Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari.  In the preview, you can choose from any of the six selections available in this promotion.  You get the first portion of the book immediately with no need to establish a Barnes & Noble account.  This allows you to check out the features of the web app and see for yourself if it meets a need.  Should you like what you see, these books are available for download through a link at the end of their sample portion.

In terms of features, Nook for Web is definitely competitive with the Kindle Cloud Reader.  You can choose from eight font sizes, eight font styles, and a set of different page layouts.  The default layout will take into account the width of your browser window and decide whether or not you need two columns for an optimal reading experience.  If you don’t like the choice it makes, you can also choose to go with the publisher’s default layout preference or restrict things to a single page no matter the width of the window.  At this time you can’t force a two column view.

Pull-down menus let you access the table of contents on the fly, as well as use the Nook platform’s social networking features and access information about the title you have open.  The whole package fits well in Barnes & Noble’s established eBook platform and you can see where they have made efforts to keep the experience consistent for existing users.  Obviously any books you already own for your Nook will be available to you as soon as you log in.

In some ways B&N has done a great job of meeting the needs of their community here.  The features are sound and compatibility is extensive.  They have even made Nook for Web work in Internet Explorer, which the Kindle Cloud Reader still does not do.  On the other hand, they are missing compatibility with non-desktop browsers and I think that is going to hurt adoption.

The motivation behind the Kindle Cloud Reader was Amazon’s need to get around Apple’s restrictive terms and conditions for in-app sales.  As such, iPad and iPhone owners were the priority in its development.  Launching without letting those users take part in the new service immediately costs Barnes & Noble the chance to pull in some potential converts from the Kindle Platform.  No matter how many people use Internet Explorer, and that isn’t a small number, the percentage of people who read on their mobile device is far higher.

It doesn’t hurt to take advantage of this promo (available through 7/26) even if you’re otherwise a Kindle customer.  A free book is a free book.  To gain access to the complete text of each title, you will need to create an account.  Other than that, there’s no hoop to jump through.  Having tried both, I definitely prefer the Kindle Cloud Reader.  This is a good first step in what could eventually be a really impressive web app, though.

Dozens of Slovoed Dictionaries Come to the Kindle Store

Paragon Software Group, possibly best known for their work in mobile dictionary and reference software, has brought a new set of translation dictionaries to the Kindle Store in an effort to improve the multi-lingual reading experience.  The Slovoed dictionaries, now available, allow users to enjoy a number of interesting features that should come in handy.

The most appealing application is simply a new default dictionary for your Kindle.  By replacing your current dictionary with the Slovoed dictionary for your particular language of choice, you can enjoy pop-up translation of almost any word thanks to the Kindle’s built-in dictionary look-up capabilities.  This comes in especially handy with the Kindle Touch, since just tapping a word on the screen is all that is required.

It is also possible to do some manual translation.  As with any dictionary, you can open the Slovoed translation volumes directly through the Kindle.  From here it is just a matter of searching for the word you need.  It is well designed for this sort of searching, including the ability to handle most obvious misspellings by giving users a choice of several possibilities from a list after the search field is filled.

You get three choices when acquiring Slovoed dictionaries:

The Compact series contains the basics.  This series takes up the least amount of space on your device’s storage while still offering concise translations for thousands of commonly used words.  It is primarily aimed at people who are just getting started on learning a new language.

The Classic series is more advances.  It is a comprehensive collection of just about everything you could need.  The target audience is travelers, students, and business professionals, so the breath of coverage is as wide as you might expect.  For many people, this is all you will ever need.

The Deluxe series is intended for advanced students, professional linguists, and translators.  It contains everything that the other series offer, but also has far more detailed information.  Everything from examples of proper use to detailed explanations of unusual cases is covered.  You can’t get much more from a product like this.

Coverage is available in dozens of languages and should be able to fit the majority of needs.  The whole selection appears to be available now.

The only customer complaint that seems to come up regularly is the lack of a reciprocal translation option.  In other words, you can go from Catalan to Spanish with a single dictionary, but to go from Spanish to Catalan you will need to get a separate volume.  This can be a problem for some people, especially students, as comprehension sometimes requires the ability to look things up from either direction.

Overall, this is a solid set of products and a plus for any bilingual Kindle reader who has a need for it.  The price is right and installation is as simple as selecting the new dictionary as your default in the Kindle’s settings menu.  It’s hard to argue with simplicity.

Did the Kindle Start a Trend Toward Paperless Living?

A recent survey put out by Gartner looked at portable device usage among five hundred or so participants to see how things like tablet computing were changing the way we live.  One of the more notable results that they came up with was an indication that over 50% of those involved said that they prefer reading on a screen to reading on paper.  This includes newspapers, magazines, and books.

They didn’t specify whether or not the participants logged any of this data based on using a Kindle or other dedicated eReading device, but that matters surprisingly little in this case.  The reading experience on portable devices is becoming comparable to, and sometimes superior to, that of reading on paper.  Who would have thought?

It would be somewhat foolish to claim that this was the result of the Kindle’s impact of consumer impressions.  We’ve been heading toward digital text distribution since the first computers were capable of storing enough text to be useful.  It was only a matter of time for it to reach the reading public.  It was what the Kindle signaled that accelerated the transition.

Sony already had a better eReader on the market when Amazon released the first Kindle.  What they didn’t have was the Kindle Store.  Amazon made it easy for their customers to buy popular books.  They even went the extra mile and made sure that purchasing could be accomplished right from the device itself.  With no more need to find USB cables or memory cards, eReading was finally more convenient than picking up a book from the store.  It was sometimes even easier that picking up a book off the shelf.

Over time, adding devices as they went, Amazon brought their selection to practically any device with a screen.  The Kindle itself was and is still important for many people, but just about anybody who is interested will always have a device within arm’s reach that can load a book for them now.  Convenience has reached an extreme.

Convenience is what the Gartner survey attributes the move away from paper to.  Their participants indicated that they were willing to pick up whichever device lay closest to hand for practically any reading situation, even to the point of excluding print at times.  Since all participants were required to have a media tablet and at least two other similar devices, being out of touch would have been a stretch.

None of this says that the printed book is really going to disappear.  We know that won’t happen any time soon, despite the fact that the death of print has been declared regularly since at least 1984 (extra points for catching the obvious movie reference).  What this means is that print is likely to lose its primary position in the reading world, even for magazine and newspaper readers, before too much time is up.  Tablets used to be toys, now they are becoming household tools.  Prices are dropping, exposure to options like the $79 Kindle is up, and it seems like every day readers get more to choose from.  Publishers can’t even entertain the notion of maintaining their old model unaffected at this point.

Penguin Tentatively Returns eBooks to Libraries, but Not Kindles

By launching a pilot program to bring their publications back to libraries through OverDrive competitor 3M, Penguin has taken a step back toward serving its customers. At least so long as those customers don’t like reading on their Kindle. One of the notable shortcomings of the new system, and likely one reason that it is so appealing to Penguin, is that it completely lacks Kindle compatibility at this time.

The ongoing disputes between Amazon and the Big 6 publishers have provided any number of inconveniences for readers over the years now, but the library system has been hit particularly hard. While demand for eBooks, especially those compatible with the Kindle platform, has been rising at an ever increasing rate, publishers have been doing their best to make sure that eBook borrowing is as inconvenient as possible when it is available at all.

If that sounds horribly over the top, it is. Just not in the way you might think. The appeal of the 3M system for publishers, when it last made big news in library lending, was that it would force customers to both be in the library building to load their eBook and to wait in line as kiosks to get their chance. The OverDrive system, which often allows borrowers to download their titles over WiFi, allows for too little friction. Penguin, along with others, is concerned that if they don’t find some way to make using an eReader less simple and hassle-free then it will result in lost sales.

The argument is simple enough to follow, but seems to demonstrate how thoroughly these publishers understand their customers. By this logic, the only reason that book stores are able to stay in business is that libraries took too much of a drive or had longer lines.

To be fair, 3M has gotten better since those planning stages. Users are now able to browse and borrow from wherever they like, it seems, and there is even a fair selection available. The originally mandatory kiosks have been changed into promotional tools within the library itself and the program now includes branded eReaders meant specifically to be lent out to library patrons. It’s possible this explains why Penguin is only tentatively on board with the whole program even now, as well as why they will only be offering titles that are at least six months old.

Supposedly there will eventually be some degree of Kindle compatibility with the 3M lending network. Reportedly Amazon broke off earlier talks with a request that they resume in June, so at least things are still being discussed. It is unlikely that 3M will allow things to go the same way that OverDrive did, however, in shuffling their users through an Amazon store page. Given the customer base that Amazon already has, as well as the internal Kindle Owners’ Lending Library being used as a promotional tool for the Amazon Prime subscription service, this might become something that takes quite a while to come to terms over. Kindle owners probably shouldn’t be holding their breath waiting for Penguin, 3M, or Amazon to come around.

Kindle vs Nook Competition Gets Absurd With Tolstoy “Nookd” Gaffe

Obviously the last thing that a company like Barnes & Noble wants to do is inadvertently promote their competition by including the name Kindle in eBooks that are converted from Amazon’s platform for distribution to the Nook.  One of the most hilarious stories in eReading news to crop up recently indicates that they may be entirely too much against it.  I can understand not wanting to have Kindle ads in Nook books, but editing out the word “kindle” from Tolstoy is a bit weird.

Basically the situation appears to be the result of either a prank or shoddy quality control.  A blogger names Philip noticed the line “It was as if a light had been Nookd in a carved and painted lantern….” and came to the conclusion that something not quite right was going on in his $0.99 copy of War & Peace for the Nook.  Further inspection revealed that every instance of the word “kindle” had been replaced, introducing large numbers of strange phrasings throughout the novel.  After he reported it on his blog, the entire internet started lighting up with commentary.Picture Credit to Ars Technica

From what I can gather, this was not anything that can be directly attributed to the actions of Barnes &
Noble.  Superior Formatting Publishing, a company that primarily takes public domain titles and cleans them up to releases them on the Kindle, was the one that made the mistake.  Basically they clean up line formatting, set proper chapter breaks, create a table of contents, and do all the little things that make it potentially worth paying a dollar for something you know you can always get off of Project Gutenberg for free.  Apparently branching out to the Nook was an afterthought, or at least not regarded as particularly important, given that this slipped through.

Is it any surprise that a Find/Replace problem occurs from time to time in situations like this?  I would say not particularly.  So long as the company issues a refund and fixes their titles they are probably fine, and even that is between them and their customers.  This event has, however, brought out a crowd that is harping on the easily changed nature of eBooks as a sign that they are flawed.  I find that to be shortsighted.

It is true that there are potential downsides to eBooks, and that Amazon created part of the mistrust through their handling of the Orwell eBooks debacle in the early days of the Kindle platform.  The idea that this sort of word swapping, introduced after the book was well out of authorial control, is unique to eBooks is absurd.  It is easier to cause, of course, but it is also easier to fix.

I have a copy of Middlemarch sitting on a shelf that holds hundreds of notes made before I got to the last 10% and found that the text had been replaced by 30 or so pages drawn from the middle of a book by another author that I have not been able to place to this day.  There was no fixing it, the publisher apologized but made no effort to fix the problem, and generally I just found myself out of luck.  At least with the Kindle they could have corrected their mistake with little time and effort or, barring that, I could have fixed the problem myself with a bit of effort and some eBook editing resources from the internet.

How the Kindle is Contributing to a New Way of Looking at the World

It is occasionally amazing exactly how far we’ve come over the years.  It’s an inane observation but not, I think, an inaccurate one.  This came to me recently while reading Halting State by Charles Stross.  I enjoyed the book immensely and can’t recommend it enough, but it occurred to me about halfway through that much of the “science fiction” being employed was realistic enough to give me pause.  Augmented reality glasses, arguably the major liberty Stross takes with real life, are hardly unlikely if Google is to be believed.  The idea that technology increasingly mediates our interactions with the world around us brought to mind some thoughts about how the Kindle has changed our perceptions.

The trend toward digitization of print media is ongoing and not isolated to anything Amazon has done.  What they made with the Kindle platform, however, was the first real method for instantly accessing any eBook in circulation at a moment’s notice (acknowledging certain exceptions, of course).  If you saw an interesting ad, you could grab the book from your phone and have it with you the next time you wanted to read.  If somebody recommended a book, you could immediately check the reviews and give it a shot.  If a student forgot their book, they could often fix the problem immediately rather than sitting around bewildered.

The effect has been extensive in obvious ways.  Libraries are having to adapt to the eReader presence, for example.  Not only that, they were in a fair amount of trouble while OverDrive adapted to the Kindle since the vast majority of eReader owners prefer the Kindle platform.  Bookstores are feeling the press as well, being forced to compete, choose sides, or go the way of Borders.

The more subtle effects are more interesting, though.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that many book stores are having trouble unloading “classics” these days.  Where a faux leather cover on a book that was probably never going to be read might have been enough to sell a bargain bin title in the past, customers are increasingly aware that they can have those older titles for free and don’t have the incentive to have them on hand purely on principal anymore.

Reading in public is also becoming more common.  It has never been uncommon, of course, but now the ability to read without openly displaying your book preferences makes the Kindle a smart buy for people with guilty pleasures of a literary nature.  We’ve seen something of a romance novel boom reported as a result.

There are all sorts of little ways that this comes into play.  When you take into account the fact that the Kindle platform is available on any smartphone in circulation at the moment, we’re basically talking about the most wide-spread literary revolution since the move to codex-style books.  Maybe I shouldn’t attribute the whole shift to the Kindle, but if you have to put a name to it then Amazon’s product is the one to spring to mind.

Without trying to sound clichéd, any thoughts on how the Kindle platform and eReading in general has changed our lives?  I was expecting more from the instant Wikipedia access anywhere that Kindle devices offered so early on, but it seems in retrospect that this was the least profound impact of the lot.

Kindle Prices Still Too High!

The Kindle line basically started the digital reading revolution.  They were neither the first nor the best when they appeared, but Kindles were the driving force behind it.  Amazon got too powerful, customers likes affordable eBooks too much, and publishers freaked out to the point of getting involved in what seem to be fairly illegal activities while trying to counter all that.  We’ve been over all that before.  The big question now is “Why are Kindle eBook prices still so ridiculously high?”

I’m not just talking about the results of the DOJ suit against the publishers over their adoption of the Agency Model.  I’m glad that’s happening, and I wish them all the luck in achieving a decisive conviction, but even those publishers who have chosen to settle already will not have had much of an effect just yet.  I’m more concerned with common sense.

The most obvious side of this is the obvious dislike of the format.  Publishers want physical media to be favored because it is more easily controlled.  eBooks are too convenient and most especially too easily pirated, so we have to expect these publishers to try to persuade people to stick to proven methods, right?  Some variation on this argument is likely to come up in any defense of the Big 6.

I’ll be honest, I’m not even going to address it at length here beyond saying that it flat out ignores the facts.  Study after study demonstrates that piracy either increases  or fails to affect overall spending as a trend.  It’s unintuitive, so I don’t blame them for being slow to catch on, but surely somebody employed by these companies could do some research that goes beyond ominous warnings of the dangers of piracy like those thrown around by the MPAA.  Maybe I’ll go into more detail on that another time.

Even assuming that was too hard to grasp, however, there is plenty of easy to understand information about adapting to a market that does away with the concept of limited supply.  The most dramatic example comes from the video game industry where Valve CEO Gabe Newell explained a while back that briefly discounting media by 75% had unexpectedly resulted in sales numbers jumping by a factor of 40.  I’m not saying the two industries are directly analogous, but clearly there are signs that digital distribution needs to be approached a bit differently.

There have been a few signs that publishers were tentatively trying to figure all this out.  Some short-lived discounts have popped up, and last summer’s Kindle Sunshine Deals promo comes to mind as a large effort to feel out the market.  It still seems like the biggest motivator for these publishers is a desire not to change.

They have a good thing going and can basically control the entire publishing landscape when they work together.  The Kindle, along with its eReader competitors, is an unknown.  If it were embraced, somebody else might figure out how to do things better and that would be bad.

I have no idea when this will change, but it can’t come soon enough.  All that publishers have managed to accomplish with this ridiculous behavior is temporarily setting back Amazon by shooting both themselves and their customers in the foot.

Nobody really wants traditional publishing to be completely out of the picture, but lately they’re doing more harm than good.  One of these days they will have to realize this and Kindle owners everywhere will breathe a sigh of relief while stocking their digital libraries.

How to Make Your Kindle Book Successful

I am not a bestselling author, nor do I play one on television.  I do, however, take a great deal of interest in how those who have managed to make it big with their self-published Kindle books have managed to pull it off.  It’s a tough environment and authors don’t have the soft of support system that traditional publishing offers, so there is often a great deal of creativity that needs to come into play.  If you are looking to follow in the footsteps of the KDP success stories that we have seen so far, however, there are a few things that are best kept in mind.

Treat Your Audience Well

You already know that social networking is considered the key to self-publishing success at the moment.  What a surprisingly large number of authors seem to think this means is that you need to send out scores of random connection requests on Facebook and Twitter, then repeatedly advertise your book over and over again.  This is the wrong way to do things.

Anybody who has access to a Kindle will already know that there are more eBooks out there than they can ever hope to read.  Make yourself stand out by doing something besides badgering.  Answer questions, share anecdotes, build up a conversation about your writing process, or just offer the occasional preview of your newest work.  If you treat your readers like people, they will be more interested in what you have to say than any 140-character ad could accomplish.

Be Inclusive

Unlike with traditional publishing, you will not accomplish much on a book tour.  Instead, harness the power of the internet to make your connections as virtual as your Kindle publication.  Set up online gatherings, have a community forum on your personal site, make a Facebook fan page, and generally just keep your options open.  Under no circumstances should you decide to buy into one social network at the expense of all the others.  It doesn’t take much extra effort to at least cross-post news or check comments in a variety of places and you cast a wider net that way.

Build A Network

It is important to go beyond direct advertising as well.  One of the best ways to accomplish this is by developing connections with other authors.  Readers tend to take their favorite authors’ recommendations seriously, so it is definitely possible to form a circle of reliably interconnected readership with your peers.  This is mainly just a way of directing the force that is the customer recommendation, but that can be tricky to get a hold on.

Write Well

This should go without saying, but often needs to be said.  You are writing for an audience.  Whether it is a Kindle eBook or a paperback, that audience expects a certain amount of professionalism from you in return for their money.  This means that you should exercise some care with your work.  Give it an extra

Thoughts on Amazon, the Kindle Platform, and the Anti-Amazon Publisher Defense

The ongoing conversation regarding the DOJ suit against five of the Big 6 publishers and Apple has at times been even more interesting than the case itself in what it says about the publishing industry and those who have a stake in it.  I won’t deny for a moment that I’m a fan of the Kindle or that I regularly enjoy many facets of Amazon’s business, so feel free to call me out for being biased, but I think that there are a few strange assumptions being made in some of the more popular Pro-Publisher arguments lately that need to be addressed.

The most popular justification of the Agency Model by far seems to be that without it Amazon would simply have too much control over prices and undermine competition since they could use books as loss-leaders to sell other products.  The underlying assumption here is that there was literally no other option available to prevent Amazon from offhandedly destroying a whole industry.  This ignores the process that allowed the Agency Model to be imposed on the Kindle Store in the first place, of course.

In early 2010, the publishers dictated their terms to Amazon and a brief conflict ensued.  When Amazon resisted raising their prices, Macmillan pulled their titles.  It worked, and Amazon caved.  Publishers are not, in this case, the helpless bystanders trying to scrape by that they make themselves out to be.  They have the choice to leave at any time, and allow Amazon to find their own way to fill Kindles with eBooks.  This is exactly what happened recently when IPG was unwilling to agree to Amazon’s contract renewal terms.

The problem is that publishers don’t want Amazon out of the game.  Amazon does exactly what they want a retailer to do.  The store makes suggestions, up-sells, promotes, and opens the doors to customers anywhere.  The problem wasn’t the potential for anti-competitive control; it was that publishers were unwilling to lose access to the channel.  It is also why the collusion was necessary.  Without that collusion, Amazon could presumably have done without any member of the Big 6 and they would have been left with only comparably inferior vendors to sell their books through.

The other really fun argument is the devaluation of eBooks.  Basically that by selling Kindle Editions cheaply, Amazon is making customers expect affordable books and publishers will make less money.  This is often tied to the idea that Amazon is trying to sell cheaply enough to get a monopoly, after which they will screw their customers and raise prices.  Personally, I see the arguments as contradictory.

If Amazon’s whole Kindle sales model is designed to lower customer expectations in terms of pricing, publishers retail the previously mentioned option of removing their content.  Unlike with paper books, there is no possibility of a secondary market.  To me this is basically an assertion that the content offered by these publishers is less important to customers than the fact that they can get it on a Kindle.  If that is so, then the need for publisher as gatekeeper is a thing of the past anyway.

Let’s assume that Amazon does accomplish lowering expectations, though.  How would raising prices on eBooks after driving out the competition work to their advantage?  We are talking about digital products, presumably now in a publisher-free world since Amazon ruined them all.  In what way would self-publishing authors have trouble selling outside of the Kindle Store?  And if that were an option, why would customers pay Amazon’s presumably higher prices after having been acclimated to cheap eBooks over the course of years?  I’m not one to say that the free market will solve all your problems, but what incentive does Amazon have to dominate a market and immediately destroy their most profitable approach to it?

Basically, I can’t help but feel that redirecting the issue of Agency Model price fixing to make it appear as if the DOJ is out to appoint Amazon king of publishing is a sign that people know something illegal was done and are now out to justify it.  The Kindle may be the best eReading platform out there, but it is far from the only one.  Publishers had other options they could have gone with; they simply couldn’t see a legal way to get the higher profits they wanted without losing access to customers who love their Kindles.

Kindle Use Up and Still Rising, Pew Study Finds

The Pew Internet and American Life Project has recently published a study about the current trend in electronic reading.  Their findings signal impressive gains for the Kindle and eReading in general over the past year.  It can now be said with some degree of reliability that at least one in five Americans have read a book on a device designed for reading in the past year and nearly 30% of American adults now own an electronic reading device.

There is reason to be excited about this if you’re a fan of the Kindle, but the results should also be taken with a bit of caution.  For example, the definition of “device designed for reading” includes tablets like the iPad.  If all we’re concerned about is eBooks getting read, then that makes no difference whatsoever.  When we look at ownership levels, however, including the iPad or Kindle Fire will necessarily boost the numbers by including people who have no interest in reading on their multi-function tablet.

If we do look at eBook consumption alone, regardless of the device, the numbers are even better.  Pew indicates that 43% of Americans 16 and older have read an either an eBook or some other long-form publication in the past year.  This includes consumption via PC, Tablet, eReader, Cell phone, and anything else with a screen that might have been handy.

Kindle users are also more likely to purchase their books than those sticking to paper.  The report indicates that readers of electronic books are far more likely to buy than borrow, even when libraries are now available, and are generally more likely to say that they prefer book ownership as a rule.

These readers are more likely than their paper-loving counterparts to have read extensively over the past year as well.  Readers who take advantage of options like the Kindle report an average of 24 books read per year compared to the 15 of those who don’t engage with electronic texts.  This may be specific to eReaders like the Kindle, since the report also indicates that a similar disparity did not show up when comparing tablet user reading habits to non-eReader reading.

This is not the end of the printed word, of course.  Print books still account for the overwhelming majority of reading material being consumed.  There have been large enough spikes in Kindle use lately to indicate the comparison might be more equal soon, but print still has its place.  While most people who use eReaders reported that they prefer eBooks for a variety of reasons, print was still the desired format when talking about children’s books and book lending.  The latter point is especially obvious since publishers have forced lending restrictions onto eBooks, but it is a factor nonetheless.

The thing that best sums this up is probably the demographics.  While not specific to the Kindle, eReading was measured as fairly even across the board.  Men and women are roughly equally likely to have read something electronically.  All income groups show at least 20% to the same question.  The only real areas lagging behind in adoption are among those with a high school level education or below and readers over age 65.  Even in those groups the numbers are higher than ever before, which Pew attributes to the low price of the now <$80 Kindle.

Amazon Opens Kindle en Español to US

The coming of the fourth generation of Kindle readers brought us a keyboard-free design.  This promised to, and has proven able to, allow for the expansion of Kindle availability into non-Anglophone markets around the world.  What many might night have predicted is that it would allow for the opening of language-specific Kindle Stores right here in the US.

Amazon has now made available a Spanish Language Kindle Store.  More precisely, looking at the organization of the store page, they have created a category that amounts to such a store.  Clicking on “eBooks Kindle en Español” under the Kindle Store’s main page category listing will take you to the new selection.

Featuring more than 30,000 eBooks already, this store page should open up whole new markets for Amazon.  There are more than 45 million people in the United States who speak Spanish as a first or second language, a significant portion of which have only moderate English comprehension, according to census reports.  Spanish is also by far the most widely taught second language in the country.  There couldn’t be a better way to start expanding the Kindle’s offerings.

Highlights from the Amazon Press Release Include:

• All of the Spanish-language Nielsen best sellers available as eBooks in the United States, and 65 of the top 100 Spanish-language print best sellers from Amazon.com
• The largest representation of Mexican authors, including Jose Emilio Pacheco, Carlos Monsivais and Sergio Pitol
• Kindle Singles in Spanish, including Singles by best-selling authors Kurt Vonnegut and Susan Orlean
• An exclusive selection of Dora the Explorer and Go Diego Go books in Spanish
• Compilations of articles from “El Pais,” including exclusive pieces from Mexican journalists writing about Mexican current affairs
• Subscriptions to 14 leading Latin American newspapers such as El Universal and La Nacion
• Popular English-language books translated into Spanish, such as the Hunger Games series, the Twilight series, “Steve Jobs,” “The Help,” and books by authors Stephen King, Nora Roberts and Joel Osteen

The new store will allow KDP self-publishers to create books specifically for this audience by selecting Spanish in their language options when submitting.  Kindle Owners are able to set their interface to Spanish by changing the language preference option at the Manage Your Kindle screen on Amazon.com.  This last step is not necessary to purchase from this section of the store, but it may be particularly appealing for new potential Kindle buyers.

We can’t say for sure that this will extend to more language-specific subsections for eBooks.  Spanish has a special prominence here in the US in numbers that equal those of the next several most popular languages put together.  Should it prove popular, however, there is not any reason for Amazon not to offer such a store.  They have the systems basically in place, and it is hard to imagine that the ability to purchase Gombrowicz’s work in the original Polish would result in a sufficiently large rush to destroy the servers.

Agency Model Set To Fall! Kindle Book Prices Will Follow Suit

Not much is known at this time about what options are being discussed by the publishers under attack by the Justice Department.  We do have good information that there are settlement options on the table and that the Agency Model pricing model currently to blame for high Kindle Edition eBook prices will be on the chopping block regardless.

Reports from unnamed informants close to the matter have indicated that there is reason to expect a settlement within the next several weeks.  Neither Apple nor the publishers have responded to any requests for comment at this time.  The Justice Dept declined to say anything.

Whether this is a sign of consensus among the defendants or merely that one or two are feeling the pressure and wanting to end what they see as a losing battle should not matter much in terms of the outcome.  In the event of one publisher involved in the price fixing scheme reaching a settlement, the terms would undoubtedly involve release of evidence necessary for ensuring a successful prosecution of the rest.

Basically, assuming the news is true, this means that the end of the Agency Model is at hand and that the Kindle has made it through possibly the most harmful barrier to eReader adoption without so far becoming irrelevant.  A return to the wholesale model, even temporarily, will mean more affordable reading material for Kindle owners.  This in turn should spur sales of the eReading line.  Amazon’s willingness to take a loss on bestsellers to promote their product line is what game them over 90% of the eReading market before the Agency Model was imposed and there is no reason to see this practice changing overly much if the Agency Model is destroyed.

The big question will be what comes next.  Settlement or unfavorable ruling aside, publishers are not going to give up on their position that readers have no right to expect inexpensive books.  It is incredibly unlikely that they will all pull out of Amazon in reaction to this, but they’re going to have to find some new way to prevent Kindle customers from being too happy with digital books.

The case at hand is all about how the defendants collaborated to impose the Agency Model on Amazon.  The means to achieve this goal is in question, not the model itself.  Depending on the terms of the settlement, publishers could be permitted to go back to it in time.  They could also turn to something even more unpleasant for potential customers.  It is hard to tell at the moment.

In the short term, the clear winners will be customers.  Prices on eBooks should drop abruptly, especially in the Kindle Store, following official announcement of the deal being made.  In reality, expectations may need to change with regard to how profitable a new bestseller should be per unit sold.  Big 6 publishers will be forced to come to terms with this.  Beyond the immediate benefits to Kindle customers there is little that can be asserted reliably about the effects of this situation.  It will be interesting to see how the situation evolves.  Any thoughts or predictions?

Already Impressive Kindle Singles Lands Vonnegut Exclusive

What began as seemingly little more than an experiment to test whether or not there was a market for intermediate length written works, Amazon’s Kindle Singles program, has succeeded beyond all expectations.  To highlight this fact, they have made a rare exception to the usual policy of never releasing sales numbers to reveal that the 2-millionth sale of a Kindle Single had been made.  Estimates put the company’s revenue from the program at over $1,200,000 in the 14 months since the program launched.

Unlike the larger Kindle Direct Publishing program, Kindle Singles are highly selective and can be extremely difficult to create.  If accepted, however, they tend to be almost guaranteed successes.  Those millions of sales were divided up among fewer than 200 short works.  Considering that this is a form that had completely gone out of fashion and that many felt was at best of marginal interest, it is an amazing accomplishment for Amazon to have come so far with them.

Now things are getting even better, thanks to an exclusive deal with Rosetta Books.  They have arranged for the Kindle Singles program to have exclusive access to a never before published piece by Kurt Vonnegut.  Written in the 1940s, Basic Training is about 20,000 words and was intended to be published under the pseudonym Mark Harvey.  It is a very early work by the author and while likely rejected for a reason at the time it was submitted, hence the never before published status, will be quite interesting for any Vonnegut fan.

In a way this demonstrates how effective it is to have quality control factors involved in determining available selections.  The average title in the Singles program is obviously doing better than the average KDP eBook.  Potential readers know in advance that the whole library of Singles has been screened and approved, which removes some of the uncertainty that has plagued the eBook publishing scene for a while now.  Nobody runs the risk of picking up what looks to be a good book and turns out to be nothing but a five page advertisement for questionable internet pharmaceutical sales sites.

On the other hand, because this is such a narrowly defined category of books, the Kindle Singles do hold a certain special place that might make their example a poor one in terms of wider applicability.  Much of Amazon’s success in the realm of digital publishing is coming as a result of offering any aspiring author to get their work out there in hopes that it can stand on its own merits even without the endorsement of a major publisher.  If they were to seriously undertake gate keeping duties for the Kindle, it would undermine that aspect of the business.

No matter how you personally view the situation, it is safe to say that this is positive information for those who find the quicker, more concise offerings of the Kindle Singles shop enjoyable.  Sometimes it is just nice to be able to read this sort of work without unnecessary cutting or padding to fit more familiar forms.

Check out Basic Training now for $1.99, only at Amazon

Kindle for Android Gets Send to Kindle and KF8 Support

While the news that Amazon had jumped at the chance to update the Kindle for iPad app to take advantage of the new Retina display being included in the iPad 3 was interesting, it didn’t accomplish a whole lot in terms of feature improvement for the end user.  In fact, many complained that they noticed some small but useful options having been taken away quietly in the course of the update.  One might expect that this is an effort to draw slightly more attention to the usefulness of Kindle eReaders, or at least the Kindle Fire, but with their newest release of Kindle for Android Amazon has demonstrated that they are still interested in making sure that users stay satisfied.

The most important feature update by far is the new ability to use Amazon’s Send-to-Kindle application to transfer files between your PC and your Android device’s Kindle app.  Say what you will about the inconvenience of wireless transfers of large quantities of files, it will never be anything but a major advantage to be able to instantly move any compatible file right to the device you want to use it on.  Nobody really likes having to keep track of their data transfer cables or swapping SD cards around, as far as I can tell.

While it will probably come up slightly less, at least right away, the inclusion of Kindle Format 8 compatibility for the Kindle app should make a big difference going forward as well.  This format, announced in October of last year but only released officially back in January, gives the person generating each title far more control over the way their work is displayed than ever before.

This format has met with mixed responses, given that for many the advantage of the eReader will always be its ability to reflow text to meet the demands of the reader in terms of font, text size, spacing, etc., but it does allow Amazon to add some content to the Kindle Store that would otherwise be difficult at best.  Among those titles that Android users will now be able to make use of are thousands of comics, graphic novels, children’s books, and more.  All forms of image heavy composition should benefit from improved use of the newer HTML5 based format.

Kindle news is going to continue to center around the ongoing push to improve the Kindle Fire and its anticipated successor for quite a while, it seems.  This is only natural since it is a huge undertaking that has thus far met with almost unbelievable success for a company so new to hardware development.  It is reassuring to those who bought into the Kindle line as a reading method that this side of things is not being lost in the rush of things.

By improving the Kindle Apps and further supporting the new Kindle file format, Amazon improves the reading experience for millions of people and attracts even more high quality content for readers to enjoy.  With luck the trend will continue and more effort will be put into improvements across the board in months to come.

Kindle Owners’ Lending Library Hits 100K Milestone; Can It Continue?

Amazon’s controversial Kindle Owners’ Lending Library has proven to be a hit among readers and an appealing option for many self-publishers, but there still remains some question as to how successful it can hope to be as an ongoing project.  The basic organization is simple.  Authors who are willing to make their work available exclusively through the Kindle Store will find themselves with the option to allow lending through the library.  When included, they get a certain share of the money pool being filled in each month by Amazon to keep the service going.  The more popular a book is among borrowers, the larger the share of that pool that goes to the contributing author.  For many self publishers who find they make the majority of their income through the Kindle anyway, going exclusive is not really a big deal in terms of income alteration.  The worst that can happen is that nobody borrows the book, and even then it doesn’t cost anything significant.

Leaving aside the philosophical issues in choosing to contribute to Amazon’s ever-growing list of exclusive content, which is an interesting and complex subject for debate that will probably come up again at greater length in its own post to better do it justice, as the number of participating authors grows we may see a drop in interest among new potential contributors.  The restrictions regarding access to the library play a fairly large part in this.  Each borrower must own a Kindle eReader or Kindle Fire, be an active Amazon Prime member, and remember to make use of their one monthly rental each time around if an author is to get anything.

This is a very specific audience to be targeting with your marketing and may prove to be somewhat hard to pin down.  Add into this the fact that, while the number of Kindle Editions now available through the library has grown past 100,000 titles, the amount of money being competed over has not been increased in any ongoing way and you have a complicated decision presented to self publishers.  A highly limited number of readers needs to be enticed to choose your book from an increasingly large pool of options in an environment where the reward for each individual choice is likely to count for less due to the pre-determined maximum award size and ever-increasing number of Kindle owners.

Can Amazon hope to keep the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library growing at a decent pace?  Chances are good that they can.  Will it continue to be a persuasive reason for new authors to agree to exclusivity?  That might be harder to keep up.  As numbers come out and we learn at least enough about the big success stories to determine how little of the cash pool was available for other authors to divvy up, we should be able to get a clearer picture of how well somebody can expect to do through this program,  After all, even if you were only making $1 per book sold on each of your hypothetical 30 annual sales through Barnes & Noble, that’s better than getting nothing at all from a lending library for Kindle owners.  A clearer picture should emerge as more time passes, but without a new source of big name titles or an increase in funding, Amazon’s Kindle Edition lending effort seems like it might have a limited shelf life.

Amazon Kindle Loses Access to 5,000 Titles in IPG Dispute

In response to some arm twisting by Amazon, the Independent Publishers Group has decided to take a stand and pull all of their titles from the Kindle Store.  While the Kindle is a great device and the Kindle platform is possibly the best on the market for the consumer right now, this is a move that both makes sense and needed to happen.  The only question now is whether or not either side will be willing to explore the options presented by the situation rather than simply holding their ground and waiting to see who blinks first.

Basically, the problem is over pricing.  The Big 6 Publishers have enough clout to force Amazon to accept the Agency Model price scheme with all of their titles.  I’ve gone into why this is not a good thing plenty of times before and will do so again in the future, so it isn’t really worth indulging in today.  Smaller publishers, including the IPG, sell their content to Amazon wholesale.  This means smaller profits on each individual sale and it allows Amazon to exercise more control over the prices offered to readers.  This is also not necessarily a good thing, as in this case when Amazon is using their position as the main supplier of eBooks in the world to force their suppliers to offer more favorable terms than they can afford.

So we have Amazon wanting to lower prices on Kindle Editions and the IPG wanting to maintain their profits at a level roughly similar to what is made off of print books (based on statements taken from the IPG’s main site).  What we really need is not for one side to win over the other so much as a more adaptive model to emerge.  It makes sense for new releases of Kindle books to be priced similarly to their printed counterparts.  There should always be a premium on new media like that, although the savings inherent in using the eBook format should still be reflected in the price for readers.  When it comes to older titles, though, something else needs to be done.  Unlike physical reprinting, there is no ongoing cost of production.  Aside from the author royalties, they are pretty much pure profit for publishers and distributors.  Perhaps a tiered system would make more sense?

Regardless of any proposals for revamping the system, this is probably going to end messily somehow.  While the loss of a mere 5,000 eBooks won’t make a huge dent in the Kindle’s selection, the press surrounding the drama taking place won’t help Amazon any.  They are as likely to be persuaded to offer somewhat better terms just for the PR boost as to ignore the problem entirely.  On the other hand, the IPG is going to be hurting fairly quickly from the lack of Amazon as a channel.  They can’t last forever.  Where this goes will be based on the support they receive and the pressure that can be brought to bear on Amazon.  If you get the chance, lend your support in some way.  They’re going to need it, and Amazon is going to need an overhaul of some sort sooner or later to keep quality content coming in for their Kindle customers.

Amazon Kindle Borrowing Scares Penguin Away From Helping Libraries

Obviously there has often been a bit of strain in the relationship between publishers and libraries, much of the time with arguments along the same lines as those currently used against media piracy, but eBooks have been an especially touchy issue.  To illustrate how serious they are about disliking eBooks in general and the Kindle in particular, with regard to lending at least, Penguin has chosen to abandon eBook availability in libraries entirely for the time being.  This is hardly the first time a major publisher or even Penguin in particular has reacted publicly against eBook lending, but it could be the first time there was anything resembling a sane rationale behind it.

At the moment, the vast majority of libraries in the US offer any eBooks they have available to borrow using the OverDrive service.  As essentially the only major platform that libraries have the option of using, pulling out of OverDrive means pulling out of libraries.  Unfortunately, publishers see the partnership that this service has developed with Amazon to provide Kindle compatibility as being damaging.  Currently when a Kindle owner wants to borrow a library book, they pass through Amazon’s web page.  This allows the retailer an opportunity to offer suggestions or advertisements and thereby potentially monetize library lending.  There is ample evidence that publishers really dislike Amazon and the Kindle platform in general already, and this extra bit of opportunity is even more of a problem than the already distasteful fact that libraries let people read without spending money.

Sadly, this could spur some of the competition for OverDrive into a more prominent position.  3M, for example, is working on ways to take a part of that market for themselves with a new service by giving publishers more of what they want in terms of control.  What do publishers want?  Mostly they want things complicated.  An oft-expressed complaint about eBook lending is that it is too fluid.  Borrowers should be required, they maintain, to be at the library when they borrow at the very least and even that is a minimum standard.  As much friction as possible is desired so that eBooks do not become more convenient than paper books.  The 3M example is particularly relevant since they are discussing offering kiosks that users would be required to use any time they want to borrow an eBook.  While it defeats the point for many people, these publishers would generally prefer them not to borrow in the first place anyway.

Now, pulling out of OverDrive over Amazon’s sales opportunities makes sense in a few ways given the concern about the company’s increasing influence and the fact that other OverDrive partners don’t have similar options.  By offering no alternatives and openly embracing a philosophy of obstruction regarding eReading as a whole, however, Penguin is sending a message to their customers that they just don’t care who gets hurt by their sluggish reaction to new media.  They want to drive people away from the Kindle by making life harder for Kindle users, but really this just damages their own position.  Making a move like this without offering libraries other options was at best premature.

Kindle for Android, Reading Apps & Good E-Reader

Earlier this month the Kindle for Android app got a bit of an update.  While nothing huge, it did finally bring the Real Page Numbers to Android users.  In addition to this, they managed to pare down the size of the download required to use the Kindle platform from 10+mb to a more manageable 8mb.  This might seem rather minor, but considering the lack of space on many Android devices as well as the fact that some users have reported sizes of up to 25mb (can’t reproduce that, but the claim has circulated), this is a definite improvement.

Much as I like the Kindle app however, and I do, there are some things that I would like to be able to do that it does not provide.  Real Page Numbers are nice, but situational at best given that they still only exist in a fraction of the available Kindle Editions.  Now, I have posted here before about the ability to download and install the Nook app through non-Amazon sources and this works quite well.  Sadly I believe that the specific method I mentioned several months ago has been blocked off, though.  This difficulty became a non-issue thanks to Good E-Reader being kind enough to open up their own free app store.

While you can find a fair selection of general purpose apps present that they felt were worth keeping around for people, the folks over at Good E-Reader are concentrating mostly on reading.  This covers books, magazines, comics, and all such things along those lines.  There are only free apps, but this allows the site to operate without adding in any of the inconvenient restrictions that currently plague locked-in Android device owners wishing to pick up something useful. It is definitely worth checking out.

In terms of reading on your Kindle Fire, for example, some people find it more convenient to have access to the Nook app’s extra level of brightness control than to be able to simply invert the contrast of the page.  Others will appreciate the level of social media integration offered by the Kobo app.  In either case, at least you will be able to open EPUB formatted eBooks, which the Kindle Fire lacks any form of native support for at the moment.  You won’t have luck with everything (Google Books, for example is still not working in my experience) but for the most part they’re doing a good job of making the latest popular selections available without all the hassle.

Overall Amazon has done a good job of giving customers what they want, both in terms of the software they provide and the hardware they sell.  I can understand the urge to retain control over what gets installed on Kindle Fire devices, especially since if anything goes wrong it is likely to be Amazon’s Customer Service that gets the call.  They have left the door pretty wide open to install most things, though, provided you know how to find them.  In some cases, it’s more than worth the effort it takes to get the most out of your experience.  Kindle Fire software updates do not remove any apps when they occur, so it shouldn’t be an ongoing hassle.

The Amazon Kindle, eBooks, and Piracy

While it is hardly the only place that media piracy is coming up these days, eBook piracy is very much on the minds of publishers and booksellers.  There has been some informed speculation made that possibly as many as 20% of all eBooks currently loaded into devices like the Kindle are pirated rather than purchased.  The number is almost shockingly high for some and seems to demand a response.  The big question is what action could and should be successful.

Since I’m assuming that this reaches a relatively well informed and reasoning audience, I don’t need to spend much time on the fallacy of assuming that every eBook loaded onto a Kindle thanks to piracy is a lost sale.  Naturally this is not the case as studies have shown repeatedly when looking into music, movie, and video game piracy.  Most of these same studies have shown that piracy does not have any strong negative effect on sales at all, but let’s assume for the moment that at the very least it allows the market trends to shift based on where customers see the most value to be gained for their money.

This is where the piracy “problem” gets relevant.  Publishers wish to control the perceived value of their product.  It is problematic for them if customers are able to get the same quality of experience from a $3.99 eBook that they do from a $17.99 hardcover, as this has an adverse effect on a mainstay of traditional publishing.  Unfortunately, this sort of control can only be exercised in a situation where the publishers can regulate the flow of new work being made available to customers.  eBooks naturally render this impossible, especially given how simple it is to choose self publishing these days thanks to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and others.

Do I agree with the idea that books should lose value in an environment where there are too many of them to possibly read?  Not entirely, but that’s just the way things work.  If you have two similar titles being offered for wildly different prices then the cheaper one is likely to win out, barring dramatically successful marketing efforts.  The only way that piracy really plays into this is in allowing readers to still have access to their favorite authors in situations where they would feel unable to justify paying now-outrageous prices.  This is not necessarily a view of the emotional or philosophical “rightness” of the act, just an awareness of the psychology at work.

When it comes right down to it, you can’t stop piracy.  No matter how restrictive the DRM, there are always more people interested in breaking it than maintaining it.  What you can do is adapt to the market and respect your customers.  Publishers who insist that if they can just shut down piracy sites and force Amazon to set high prices for Kindle books then all will be well are deluded.  The only way to control piracy is to make legal acquisition affordable enough and simple enough that the alternative is too much of a hassle to be considered.  The problem is not that the Kindle allows readers to access files they pick up from anywhere on the net, it’s things like the Big 6/Apple Agency Model implementation that try to freeze an entire form of media into an economic model that no longer functions.

Franzen Dislikes Kindle, Gives Voice To Misconceptions About eBooks

Jonathan Franzen, author of such wildly popular titles as The Corrections and Freedom has recently made a bit of an impact on the eReading community by coming out against electronic media.  Apparently the Kindle is ushering in the end of the book, which normally we would agree is a bad thing that we need to be aware of.  Sadly, rather than leading us all to a new understanding of the book as a format that happens to rule out safe transition to digital forms, his arguments against eReading are somewhat misleading and represent a person more interested in rationalizing a knee-jerk reaction to new technology than in understanding what he’s talking about.

Probably the biggest, and certainly the most publicized, aspect of Franzen’s argument centers on his perception of the supposed permanence of the printed word.  This makes sense, as after all once something has made it to print it can never be altered.  Of course it also completely ignores the facts of multiple book editions, author revisions, and abominations like the 2011 release of censored copies of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

His assertion that “A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around” and therefore “for a literature-crazed person like me, it’s just not permanent enough” is entirely based on the obvious misperception that digital copies are somehow fluid.  If you are talking about your personal copy of a book, it is far easier to drop, rip, stain, or otherwise destroy a paper copy than it is to break open the Kindle Edition and make your own changes.  Assuming he is talking about the master copy of each book, as in the one that is stored centrally by Amazon, then it would be hard to argue that the printed edition is significantly different in that regard as there have historically been scores of authors with a tendency to re-write later editions of their books.  One of Franzen’s own books involved a recall to accomplish exactly this, in fact.  I’m fairly hopeful that he didn’t mean to imply that anybody besides the author was likely to go in there and start playing around with the text on a wide scale, but even if that were the case it is not worth addressing here.

It is one thing to claim that you have a strong preference for paper books.  There is nothing wrong with that and any number of people would agree with you (myself included depending on the situation).  To try to talk others into agreeing with you through groundless arguments is a shame though, especially from somebody in a position to reach such a large number of readers.

Maybe this was all a publicity stunt meant to draw attention to the smaller point he made regarding the dangers of a society obsessed with instant gratification, but if so then he strongly undermined his own credibility by opening with such ridiculous assertions.  I won’t even go into the irony of these comments having been made by somebody who has done extremely well in terms of Kindle book sales, but even without that you have to wonder what he was thinking.

Amazon vs B&N Conflict May Mean More Kindle Exclusives

In what is just the latest point of conflict between Amazon and Barnes & Noble over their relative positions in book sales, B&N has announced that they are unwilling to stock any Amazon published works in their stores.  It is clearly an informed decision that responds to multiple pressures coming from Amazon.com and online retailers in general, but it also raises the question of whether the Brick & Mortar chain can make such a bold move without drawing customer attention to the value of owning a Kindle.

The stated reason behind this decision is that Amazon has been increasingly successful in arranging exclusivity agreements with major publishers and authors that have prevented the competition from being able to provide the best possible service to their Nook customers.  A fair point, and not one that many people would disagree with.  Amazon is definitely fond of throwing their weight around.  At the same time, however, it is a general admission that the Nook is unable to manage to compete on equal terms against the Kindle as things stand right now and possibly not the best way to reassure customers and investors of the long term viability of the product line.

This also relates to the extremely controversial practice of “showrooming” that has made headlines regularly ever since Amazon released their price check app for iOS and Android smartphones.  Since Amazon’s structure allows them to save a great deal of money on things like local stores, they can offer lower prices on a wide variety of things.  This is especially the case with paper books, where it is extremely unusual to fail to catch a deal compared to any local retailer.  A company that relies on their overt physical presence as much as Barnes & Noble does will obviously be negatively affected by such instant access to price comparisons since it deters impulse buying and turns their stores into profitless showcases for another company.  By refusing to carry the physical copies of Amazon’s new publications, they clearly hope to demonstrate to those lured into exclusivity agreements that the Brick & Mortar is still vital to success.

Again, I can’t help but feel that this is a big gamble.  If Amazon were not already well ahead in book sales then this would not be a problem in the first place.  The Kindle has, thanks to their huge investments and the very exclusivity arrangements that B&N is unhappy with, built up the most substantial library and user base in the eReading world.  It will take something drastic to knock them back down to a manageable level, but the idea that Barnes & Noble showrooms can have that kind of influence is questionable.

This feels like something that will end up turning major authors into Kindle exclusives whether they intended to be or not, further devaluing the selection at Barnes & Noble.  While they have also declared that these books would still be available through web services, it will take a lot of customer loyalty for that to be a viable purchasing option compared to Amazon.com.

Thoughts on Kindle Publishing

When it comes to publishing an indie book, the Kindle Direct Publishing program has done wonders for new authors all over the place.  Some, like John Locke and Amanda Hocking, have manages to hit it big as a result.  In spite of these examples though, it is impossible to deny that for the most part people don’t take most self published works too seriously at first glance.  There are a few big factors that I believe play into this.

The first would be, as sad as it is, poorly designed cover art.  Even if you are writing for the Kindle, the first thing people are going to see will be the cover you have chosen to represent your work.  A piece of clip art or quick Photoshop-ed photo will only serve to indicate that you couldn’t be bothered with quality control.  Nobody will deny that marketing is the most important of making an indie book take off and your cover is the most basic piece of marketing.

Second, and somewhat more intuitive, is editing.  If you get comments in reviews about having a poorly edited book, that will work against you.  Nobody really likes to read badly written prose even when it tells an amazing story.  It can completely destroy immersion at key moments.  Now, obviously nobody is perfect and even the best books slip through to print with errors, but that doesn’t mean there is any excuse for failing to triple-check your work and find somebody else to look over it for you too.  You’re expecting people to pay money for this in the end, so it should be worth a little extra effort.

Third and finally, is the quick release schedule.  While it has become almost commonplace to hear the advice that Kindle publishing requires you to release a book every 6-12 months to retain reader interest, this should be considered very carefully.  While you will definitely start making money faster the more of a back catalogue you have going for you, it is more important to make sure that the best possible product is going out.  Five poorly reviewed books will not only earn you less money than two well reviewed books in the same time period, they will pull you down even if later works improve dramatically.  When you write you are building your name into a brand.  Keep in mind how you want that brand to be perceived.

Naturally this is all fairly general and there are a few reasons that all of these points, especially the last one, can be less important for certain projects.  There is significant potential in self publishing these days thanks to the Kindle though, and it is painful to see potentially great authors being ignored thanks to missteps made in the rush to get a piece of the readership.  Just remember that readers are going to keep reading.  The Kindle is more popular all the time and unlikely to fall away as the most widely used eReader in the world any time soon.  Take your time and make something you can be proud of.

Apple Attacks Kindle Publishing With iBooks Author, Drama Ensues

We are well aware now what the big Apple announcement for January was: their new iBooks Author program.  It is a program that allows for easy creation of books, most notably textbooks, for free.  iBooks might have failed to kill the Kindle platform, even given the whole Agency Model collusion with publishers (the legality of which we’ll have to wait and see about), but that doesn’t mean they’re ready to give up.  After some experimentation with the new program I find myself conflicted.  I wanted it to be mediocre, but it’s not.  And therein lies the problem.

You see, there is a bit of a problem with the program’s EULA.  It won’t be a deal breaker for just anybody, but there is definitely important information to be aware of.  By using the iBooks Author program, you are agreeing that not only will anything you sell be available in Apple’s eBook store but also will never never be sold for the Kindle, Nook, or any other non-Apple device.

Before going into the subtleties of the wording, and there are a few arguments with varying degrees of merit that have been made toward the harmlessness of this clause, consider that this can definitely be read as a response to the recent Amazon effort to gain author exclusivity.  The only difference is that Amazon brings in authors with a chance at more money while Apple just quietly restricts their distribution rights with a clause that users not only never explicitly accept, but don’t even see unless they go out of their way.

That said, there are a few situations where I think this will be an extremely valuable thing to have.  If you are planning to create and distribute your work permanently free of charge, I have yet to find a more intuitive, affordable tool for making textbooks or manuals.  If your book was always intended to be marketed primarily to users of the iBooks store, this probably won’t have much of an impact on you.

Now, let’s acknowledge some ambiguities in the wording and clarify some of the many common points of contention:

Restrictions Only Apply To iBook Format:  FALSE

The definition of “Work” used in the EULA clearly indicates that anything generated using the software counts.  It does not matter if you export to PDF, for example.

Apple Is Stealing Author Copyrights:  FALSE

Anything you create is yours from the moment you create it unless you explicitly hand over permission.  What Apple is doing is telling you where you can sell it.  Using iBooks Author allows them to restrict distribution of your work, but otherwise seems to offer them no rights to it.

All This Applies To Is The Formatted Product, Not The Content:  AMBIGUOUS

Leaving aside the textbook for a moment and assuming we are talking about a book that is completely text based.  If you want to release a Kindle version, it would seem possible to just copy the text and reformat.  The wording of the EULA describes “Work” recursively as “any book or other work you generate using this software”.  This can, and hopefully would be, read to mean that only the final, fully formatted output is affected, but the ambiguity is troubling.

It Is Free Software, They Have A Right To Expect A Return:  TRUE-ISH

Nobody is forcing you to use this program.  It is being provided free of charge by Apple and provides far greater functionality than any other free program out there for the same purposes.  Most such restrictions are aimed toward restriction the active use of the software rather than restricting how a creator can manage their own work, though.  Neither illegal nor unprecedented, but odd and somewhat troubling.

Not A Consumer Targeted Software Anyway:  FALSE

This one comes up a lot.  Despite the large number of advertisements being done involving the cooperation of such publishers as Pearson and McGraw Hill in the iBooks Textbook initiative, there has been no indication that they are contributing work under the same agreement.  This is free software pointed at teachers and authors in the advertising (particularly the promo video).  It has bundled templates to simplify the work, a simple drag and drop interface, and tons of automation.  There is depth for those who need it, but definitely not aimed solely at experienced professional textbook publishers.

Apple Can Prevent A Finished Book From Ever Being Sold:  TRUE

All that is required for a book to be covered by these restrictions is that it be a product of iBooks Author.  Publication is neither automated nor guaranteed, and just because Apple turns you down does not mean that you are free to market your work through another platform or sell through your own means.

Apple Offers Better/Worse Royalties Than The Competition Anyway:  FALSE

Apple is effectively offering the same cut of all sales to authors as the vast majority of authors receive when selling for the Kindle and nearly the same (within 5%) as that offered to Nook sellers.

Now, I’m not about to claim that this is the most horrible thing ever done to authors or even that it is deliberately malicious.  Some have claimed that just as this is a 1.0 software, so is the EULA in early versions too and ambiguity will inevitably be removed.  If so, and there was no intent to deceive or control, so be it.  It is already a complicated enough process to get anything out of your eBooks that authors should be aware of what they are getting into, though.  I, for one, wouldn’t want to be locked out of the Kindle platform by accident when that’s where all the readers are.

This is good software.  Possibly great software.  But the limitations aren’t the same as you get when publishing a Kindle Edition, where all you need to worry about is not selling things cheaper elsewhere.  Under the current wording it seems to literally stop you from reaching an audience.  That’s just unpleasant, and something that people need to be aware of when deciding whether or not iBooks Author is for them.