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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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April 2014
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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.

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.

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 Prime Kindle Owners’ Lending Library: How, What, and Why

Assuming you have both a Kindle and an active Amazon Prime membership, you now get to make use of Amazon’s latest eBook related service, the Amazon Prime Kindle Owners’ Lending Library!  Aside from having a rather unwieldy name attached to it, this will be a good thing for those who get to take advantage of it.  Of course, aside from being occasionally lucky it might be hard to figure out how to take advantage right off the bat.  We’ll start there.

First off, it is helpful to be aware that you need to do your borrowing from the Kindle itself.  While you might find books that have borrowing enabled while browsing the Kindle Store on another device, in which case you will see “Prime Members: $0.00 (read for free)”, you cannot begin the borrowing until you pull it up on your eReader. If your Kindle software is up to date, the Kindle Storefront will now have a “Kindle Owners’ Lending Library” category to choose when you click on “See all…”.  Look around from there and choose your book!

As far as what is currently available, none of the Big 6 publishing houses are currently taking part in this program.  They have cited concerns that offering something like this will devalue the eBook as a format in the minds of customers.  Strange reasoning, but not much we can do right now.  Among the 5,000+ titles that are available, though, expect to find selections in pretty much every category.  Keep an eye out for things like Vook Classics titles, which will work just fine but encompass titles that most people will get just as much out of when reading for free anyway.  You only get one rental per month under this program, so it’s worthwhile to use it wisely.

That one rental will strike many people as rather little to get for the $79/year Amazon Prime membership, making this an ineffective marketing tool on its own, but it will probably help drive sales of the new Kindle Touch and Kindle Fire eReaders among existing Prime customers.  Amazon is clearly convinced about this since they are once again putting their own money into getting a Kindle program off the ground.  Not all of the books being offered are in the Library by publisher agreement, it seems.  In cases when Amazon is able to grab eBooks through non-Agency Model relationships, they are simply buying at wholesale and then lending to customers, eliminating any publisher participation.  The jury is still out on how long this will last before somebody gets really upset about it.

Reading a book every couple weeks is not at all unreasonable for anybody, and Amazon has said on multiple occasions that their data shows that Kindle owners buy more books than most people.  We have to hope that translates into more books being read as well.  Perhaps the intention here is to keep people interested in continual consumption and draw in those who haven’t yet gotten too invested in their Kindle.  Regardless of the reasoning behind it, there’s no downside if you’re in a position to take advantage.  Enjoy your book.

Inkstone Finds A Way To Compensate For Apple’s Anti-Kindle Stance

The iPad and the Kindle have always had a curious love/hate relationship that can be enough to drive many users nuts.  While they were expected to compete for users from the moment they were both on the market, the iPad depended on the Kindle for iOS app to deliver a great reading experience to potential adopters while the Kindle just didn’t even try to offer the same kind of tablet versatility.  The iPad does lots of things quite well, the Kindle does one thing really well, and users of both devices like to read.  Of course it’s at that point of overlap that problems arose.

Amazon was making money, Apple wanted that money for themselves, and now there’s nobody really making much money.  You can’t buy books through the Kindle app, the iBooks app is still not really something most people have any particular desire to adopt, and getting the Kindle Cloud Reader set up requires users to look outside of the Apple App Store.  eBook acquisition is still perfectly doable, but it is a bit more of a hassle and that means some people just won’t bother.

Enter Inkstone Software with what they hope will be the solution to many peoples’ eBook problems.  The company has claimed that this is their way to help out the community that they have benefited so much from.  Their new free iPhone and iPad app, called simply “eBook Search”, will allow users to peruse over 2 million free titles from all around the internet.  Not only that, the app will allow users to select their reading app of choice and will then acquire their books in a compatible format, ending the hassle of maintaining multiple collections in multiple apps or converting hard to find titles to your preferred format.

The attraction of such an application goes beyond convenience in acquisition of out of copyright “classics”.  The developer claims to have allowed for discovery of free eBooks being offered by indie authors, and even popular fan fiction.  They hope that this will allow readers who do not have a sufficient budget to allow for prolific reading in an environment where eBooks cost as much or more than physical books to indulge with less hesitation.

If this is at all up your alley, it is definitely worth checking out.  Not only will you be getting great literature that can be read on your iPad, Kindle, or whatever else you happen to have, but the more people take advantage of these types of offers the better things start looking for the future of eBooks.  If authors are successful in gaining exposure through free eBook offers, more authors will be inclined to try similar campaigns.  If readers are loathe to purchase high priced eBooks in the Kindle Store because they can find equally good titles without spending the money, maybe publishers will start getting the message. If nothing else, the worst that can happen from giving it a chance is the loss of a few moments of your time.

Kindle Book Recommendations: Classics

One of the biggest advantages of something like a Kindle is supposed to be the amazing savings that one can expect from owning such a device.  Books should be cheaper, according to the vision that many had of what eReading was going to be.  Obviously we have not quite realized that dream, with publishers keeping eBooks at prices similar to hardcover books, but all is not lost!  There are hundreds of authors releasing free or nearly free books every day through the Kindle Direct Publishing system.  So many, in fact, that it is all but impossible to even keep up with a list, let alone read them all. There are plenty of established successes to draw on even now, though, while I try to come up with a decent list of newer authors to pass along to you.  (I would welcome suggestions at [email protected])

The often overlooked, or at least undervalued, source of cheap literature is older titles that have fallen out of copyright.  Sometimes they’ve fallen very far out of copyright.  For a while, it was pretty obnoxious to even try looking through these books in the Kindle Store since anybody who felt like going through the effort could post their own copy in hopes of making a few dollars.  In the past several months they have made a major effort to clean things up and remove duplicate copies.  It’s a mixed blessing since some of the approved ones remaining seem to be bad OCR copies rather than something a person has actually looked over, but suddenly it is a lot easier to find interesting things to read.

Now, a lot of people definitely seem to think that the so-called ‘classics’ are by definition dry and hard to get through.  I certainly wouldn’t recommend Bleak House to a Harlequin fan, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of perfectly approachable titles out there to take a look at.  Here’s a few that I hope you’ll find enjoyable.  Not all are free, mainly in cases where free copies were poorly formatted to the point of being hard to read, but all are under $3.

She by H. Rider Haggard

You’ve got an ancient family mystery dating back thousands of years, a secret society hidden in the heart of the unknown, supernatural powers, and near immortality.  This would be an amazing movie, if only the reaction to certain scenes involving the treatment of death wouldn’t be so extreme.

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

Everybody knows the broad outlines of the story, from movies if nothing else, but you miss a lot without reading the book.  Some of the most hilariously flawed ‘heroes’ that you are ever likely to read about.  You may be surprised by how off base your expectations are, if you’ve never read it before

Sherlock Holmes Collection by Arthur Conan Doyle

Another selection that a surprising number of people have never given a chance to.  This particular collection contains all four of the novels and 46 short stories, which I believe make up the whole out-of-copyright collection.  It’s been said that what fascinates people about Holmes is not the process he uses, but how much fun it is to watch him do it.  Give it a try for yourself.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

This book is a great suspense/mystery book with just a little bit of the fantastic thrown in.  It is really a fun time overall and has quite possibly the best villain ever(who was, coincidentally, modeled physically on the author himself according to many accounts!)  This one would be worth it for that character alone.

Addressing Kindle Platform Lock-In As Formats Evolve

One of the biggest concerns when deciding which eReader to go with is the DRM.  If you get a Kindle, then that means that you can’t read your purchases on a Nook, a Kobo, or pretty much anything else that happens to be competing with Amazon.  The same is true of Barnes & Noble and, to a greater or lesser extent in varying ways, to everybody else.  This isn’t news, and it isn’t necessarily a problem that can be addressed right now.  The only way we’ll see a change is if somebody realizes that DRM-free eBooks are great enough to not cost publishers money.  Not going to hold my breath there.

What happens when the Kindle moves on from its current, already somewhat dated, proprietary eBook format, though?  We have to assume that the technology will evolve, as will the formats available, and that in time Amazon will want to give up on backward compatibility for their eReaders.  Should we just assume that this is another opportunity for retailers to sell us yet another copy of our favorite things?  That sort of logic annoyed me enough over the course of the VHS -> DVD -> BluRay cycle, especially since I got an HD-DVD player as a gift along the way.  It doesn’t really fit with books in my mind. What we buy in an eBook is not necessarily analogous to video or audio.  You don’t have to worry about reproduction quality in a text-based medium, generally.  There is no reason, therefore, that we should have to repurchase our books, having acquired the digital copies once already.

Believing as I do on the topic, I wondered how to avoid the cycle.  DRM is specifically meant to keep you from copying or converting what you purchase, after all.  Theoretically, if your favorite platform dies off, you’re just out of luck.  Realistically, though, why would a company move to a new format and DRM scheme?  Generally, and call it cynical if you must, because the old one does not control customer interaction as well as it used to.  Once the DRM can be casually broken, it isn’t worth using anymore.  This line of thought led to an experiment.

Sure enough, all of the books I purchased from the old Sony Store when I first bought an eReader are still there.  Even Sony doesn’t use BBeB anymore, though.  A quick search provided me with details on how to remove the obsolete DRM and convert my old books into a Kindle compatible format.  There are even scripts available that made the batch of just under 100 eBooks take just a few minutes.  Sure enough, the text is the same as it would be if I bought the book again.

My advice to anybody who genuinely who is worried about their purchases being rendered obsolete is to think the problem through.  Short of a complete end to the use of electronics, it is fairly clear that eReaders and Tablets aren’t going anywhere.  So far none of them, as far as I know, has been audacious enough to suggest that you shouldn’t be able to side-load your own files onto your device.  It probably wouldn’t go over well for whoever tried.  Get yourself a Kindle, a Nook, or whatever suits you best.  Make backups if you are afraid of the service just abruptly disappearing one day.  Don’t worry too much about the end of the line for your chosen platform, though.  There is always another one and it only gets easier to switch as time goes on.

Yes, Harry Potter Is Coming To The Kindle

In recent blogs and reports, a rumor has sprung up that the Harry Potter series being sold through the author’s soon to be opened ‘Pottermore” site will not include direct Kindle compatibility.  As should probably be fairly obvious, this is quite definitely not true.  The popularity of the rumor was such that Amazon even came forward and announced that the popular children’s books will find their way over.

The origin of the whole ruckus seems to have been an article about the Pottermore site teaming up with Google Books.  Probably just a matter of hopeful thinking on Google fans, I would imagine.  The post mentions efforts being made to integrate Pottermore and Google Books, including an agreement wherein Google Checkout is the preferred third party payment platform for the new site.  The phrasing is very positive for Google, which is to be expected on the official Google Books blog.  The only definite claims we have, however, are that there will be sufficient integration to allow buyers to push their new Harry Potter books out into your Google Books “library in the cloud” and that Google Checkout will be available.  No exclusivity is implied, whether it be in terms of eBook platform, payment platform, or anything else.

One of the more interesting spinoffs from that somewhat overblown topic is the idea that the Harry Potter series will in some way be used to force Amazon into adding EPUB compatibility for the Kindle line.  While there has been no official word on this, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that there’s not a chance it will happen.  For one, Rowling is maintaining complete control over her products and has not, to the best of my knowledge, ever expressed a strong inclination to advocate for her favorite file format.  Why would she?  Also, it would make little sense to alienate Amazon in any way give that they currently have the largest customer base in the eReading world.  Given that the Kindle can already read DRM-free MobiPocket eBooks, there is no reason that I can think of for the Pottermore site to try to force the EPUB issue.  What business would want to lose money by failing to spend a minute or less converting a file from one format to another?

When October rolls around, I would anticipate that it will be as easy for a Kindle user to get their new Harry Potter stuff as it will be for anybody else, even if Amazon is being fairly quiet about their integration efforts right now.  The new eBooks should be available in every format still used today, and quite possibly some truly obsolete ones.  Since there will be no DRM included in the files, even if your favorite is not represented there are always programs like Calibre.  Let’s face it, though, unless you are still using the Sony BBeB out of personal preference or something, there is little chance of being overlooked.  The Pottermore site will be taking care of the fans.

Kindle Book Recommendations: Fantasy

I haven’t had a chance to write down any interesting book recommendations for Kindle fans in a while now, but I figure that since I have a decent list piling up it might be time to share.  It’s been an enjoyable couple months of reading and I’ve got several more modern fantasy offerings that I hope you will enjoy.  I did.  They aren’t the cheapest books I could find, but they are definitely worth the asking price.

Kraken – China Miéville

This is really one of the best books I’ve read all year, even if it isn’t necessarily the best thing ever written by the author.  It is a decently complex fantasy mystery set in a London strangely reminiscent of that in Gaiman’s Neverwhere.  It’s a world of cults, secrecy, underworld politics, and strange powers.  On top of that, there is a magically missing giant squid which seems to be at the heart of a plot that could end the world forever.

I’m honestly a little confused about the mixed reception that Kraken has gotten so far.  It is averaging 3 Stars overall in the Kindle Store, but deserves more.  It worked in most ways, but some people may find it a bit off-putting from what I’m told.  While it might not be for everybody, if you think you would enjoy a complex story that forces you to understand the protagonist’s state of mind during unexpected culture shock then I’d say give it a go.

The Kindle Edition is $11.99

Something From the Nightside – Simon Green

This is the first in a fairly substantial series by Green.  It’s a quick, fun read that I can’t describe much better than Pulp Detective Fiction meets Moorcock’s Multiverse.  The main character is a professional detective with no actual detecting skill besides a “gift” that lets him find anything magically.  The fact that it manages to be a fun read is proof of the concept that it can be more interesting to watch a mystery being solved than to understand the process by which it is solved.

In a lot of ways, this reads like the author’s personal homage to all the things he loves in literature.  You’ll catch references, both overt and subtle, to the existence of things taken from dozens of different major genre works you might have read.  After something as dense and complex as Kraken, it makes a great fun diversion.

The Kindle Edition is $7.99

The Magicians – Lev Grossman

This is sort of a harsh take on Harry Potter with a bunch of CS Lewis thrown in for good measure.  Basically, Magic is real and people learn to use it at secret schools where only the best of the best can get in and learn to manipulate the world to their liking.

Unlike many books with similar concepts, this isn’t an uplifting story of wish fulfillment and overcoming adversity.  The characters are undeniably human and manage to overcome the sort of “nerdy teenager gains superpowers” cliche that you might expect at first.  I found it to be a genuinely interesting, and occasionally troubling, look at what it really means to be offered everything you ever thought you wanted. The outline of the story is familiar, but the execution is beyond excellent.

The Kindle Edition is $12.99

Why Some People Are Annoyed By Kindle Book Sales Numbers

Not too long ago, Amazon(NASDAQ:AMZN) announced that they were finally officially selling more Kindle Edition eBooks than they were print books, even discounting free book downloads.  It was a big deal and, I think, still is.  It indicates changing perceptions of what a book is to a reader at the conceptual level.  I’m not saying that the battle is won or anything, but milestones matter.

Since that time, people have reacted in a number of ways.  Publishers have expressed skepticism, which makes perfect sense given their level of investment in keeping eBook prices as high as possible.  People like me who are fans of the Kindle, its associated platform, and the community building up around it have expressed the obvious enthusiasm.  I’m not claiming a lack of bias on this point.  At least one analyst, a Michael Norris, has publicly called the claim “obnoxious” and expressed the opinion that the whole announcement was a publicity stunt made possible by taking things completely out of context.

Context is indeed what matters here.  Norris goes on to express the opinion that Amazon must be padding their numbers with some apparently astounding sales from the popular Kindle Singles program.  While I’m skeptical of the claim that the Singles are where Amazon is making most of their sales, having looked through the selection more than once, it doesn’t really matter.  The fact that the Kindle Singles are shorter doesn’t make them “not books” in my eyes.  Really, I don’t think it does for this guy either.  I believe what he is objecting to is the fact that a product selling for $0.99 can hold as much weight as a product going for $12.99 when it comes time to compare sales. He comes out and says “Obviously, when you’re selling units so inexpensively, you’re going to sell more of those than, for example, a $14 paperback print book” and thinks he’s making a point against eBooks.

This gets to the heart of the matter, and I think it explains the difference between what customers want to know and what publishers would like them to know.  As a reader and buyer of books, both electronic and otherwise, I am more interested in the number of copies being sold than I am in how much profit somebody is making off of them.  I’m not a stockholder.  If somebody tells me that in spite of 20% of all book sales in a year being eBooks only 5% of a specific publisher’s income came from them, I wonder what that publisher was doing wrong, not what is wrong with eBook loving customers.

What I’m trying to get at is that saying that the numbers are misleading just because they address an aspect of the transition to a new medium that you don’t like is not cool.  Yes, this is a different context from what you may be used to, but it is not out of context.  If anything, it highlights a more relevant piece of information about the new publishing business than most other things I have seen.  Is the announcement a bit self-serving on Amazon’s part?  Of course, or why would they have made it?  It wouldn’t be useful, though if it didn’t tell people something they wanted to know.  The Kindle is doing well, possibly better than anybody could have expected at this point, and whether or not that had to do with Kindle Singles it seems that people were interested enough to take notice.

Amazon Kindle Now Sells More Books Than Print

Long before we had the Kindle to play with, Amazon was still making a big impression in book sales.  They got started over 15 years ago now and in that time managed to become the number one destination for anybody wanting to pick up reading material.  This in itself is an amazing achievement for any company.  Then, 4 years back, they introduced the Kindle.  A good situation got better.  In these four years, Amazon has brought the eBook from a fad to a point where sales of electronic texts exceed those of print books in their entirety.

That’s right, it finally happened.  Since April 1st, Amazon’s Kindle Store has sold 105 Kindle eBooks for every 100 print books they have sold in any format.  We knew it was going to happen eventually, of course.  First they outsold hardcovers last July, then paperbacks six months later, and now this.  The speed of the progression is as impressive as the accomplishment itself.

To put this in the proper perspective, a couple things need to be kept in mind.  For one, all of these milestones I mention were factoring in only paid sales.  The free editions that tend to be the first selection of the new Kindle owner were left out for obvious reasons or else this probably would have happened a while back.  Really, how many people make their way through all their free downloads though?

Also, given the timing, this clearly came prior to and had nothing to do with the introduction of the discounted, ad-supported Kindle w/ Special Offers. This means that you can’t consider this more widely appealing Kindle offering to be part of the trend when Amazon lets us know that their 2011 Kindle Edition sales to date have been more than three times those of 2010.  When you consider than in about a month the Kindle w/ Special Offers has become the best selling member of the Kindle family by far, the trend seems poised to continue.

The Kindle Store is now home to over 950,000 titles, including 109 of 111 current NYT Best Sellers.  The vast majority of these titles are priced under $9.99, including the aforementioned Best Sellers.  Again, these numbers don’t even try to factor in the millions of titles that are available for free due to expired copyrights or the many books available through other sources that can be used on the Kindle.  On top of this, new titles are being added all the time including many from Amazon’s successful self-publishing platform.  Over 175,000 books have been added to the store in 2011 alone.

We’ve known for a long time that the eBook was on the rise.  It was only a matter of time before it became the dominant format.  While this is only citing the success of one retailer, Amazon is leading the way.  They have localized stores in multiple countries, are steadily expanding, and continue to distribute the most popular eReader on the market in spite of steadily increasing competition from tablets and competing eReaders.  Even without the upcoming Kindle Tablets, the Kindle is demonstrating an ability to keep up the momentum.

Kindle Book Recommendations: Children’s Books

Oddly enough, one of the prerequisites for blogging about the Kindle isn’t a strong rapport with young people.  I’ll admit right off the bat that I don’t know much about kids.  They’re small and high pitched and seem to enjoy climbing on things?  The few I know also seem to really like dogs.  We have that in common!  Anyway, while my practical knowledge of children is lacking I have been encouraged recently, in light of the Harry Potter eBook possibility, to look into some of the children’s lit that is available for the Kindle.  It turns out there is a fair selection out there.

The Giver – Lois Lowry

Chances are good you’ll recognize this one.  The Giver is a classic, after all.  It’s a story about a seemingly “perfect” society where everything is carefully controlled.  Population is limited, careers are carefully selected well in advance for children, there is no crime, no drama, and neither old age nor imperfection have any real place in it.  Naturally this isn’t quite the paradise it seems at a glance.

It’s a simple but powerful book that many people definitely remember fondly with good reason.  Addresses social issues, quite well in an engrossing kind of way that surely fits the educational requirement many parents have for their kids’ reading.

The Kindle Edition is $6.64

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

I was actually rather shocked to find out that this book/series was for children, given all the adults I heard raving about it.  The premise is a cross between Death Race, Battle Royale, and the Survivor Reality TV show.  While it is a bit violent, I’d say it’s definitely less shocking than your average PG-13 movie, so I doubt there will be many parental concerns overall.

The response to this book, the first in a trilogy, has been overwhelmingly positive in pretty much every age group.  The characters are strong and believable.  The plot deals with interesting, if not entirely original social issues.  There’s really nothing at all that I could find to complain about.

The Kindle Edition is $5.00

The Red Pyramid – Rick Riordan

This is the first book in the second series that Riordan has come up with so far.  The first, the Percy Jackson series, you’ve probably heard of because of the movie that came out of it if nothing else. This series is based on a similar concept, but focused on Egyptian mythology rather than Greek.  The story is presented through the eyes of a brother and sister in the frame of a transcript of the story.  It works to provide a fairly unique multi-view perspective as he switches between the siblings, and allows for some variation in the narrative voice that keeps it interesting.

There is a lot more information presented in this book than in the Percy Jackson series.  It is definitely bigger on educating the reader.  This could be because Riordan simply thought it was more interesting to talk about or because he assumed that there was a greater familiarity that you could assume when dealing with Greek mythology, but either way it fits.

The Kindle Edition is $9.39

Hank Moody Comes to Kindle

God Hates Us AllSo, I was stuck in San Francisco airport: sitting, standing, chilling, staring blankly at my Kindle (trying to look busy). I discovered that my Kindle is full of highly sophisticated literature that I always hope to read. I also discovered that I am completely incapable of reading anything with profound literary meaning and symbolism when I’m stuck in an airport. “Gimmi something brain-numbing” – I thought, as I shook my Kindle. Nothing really fell out from the Kindle because, as we all know, shaking is not exactly the most successful strategy of uploading literature on Kindle.

And then I saw it. I saw “Hank Moody” in the author section. God Hates Us All by Hank Moody! Those who recognize this name perhaps realize how intrigued I felt.

So, I bought it. And yes, I do not think that $11.99 is particularly cheap (oh, wow, and this is the sale price), but I was stuck in the airport desperate for some entertainment – and really, it is very difficult not to be entertained by a book inspired by Californication – the profane TV show full of drugs, sex, and rock-n-roll. How could I abstain from this bundle of joy?

I finished reading God Hates Us All in one sitting. No, it is not really thought-provoking. I did see some people attempting to make this easy-to-read book into something more meaningful by highlighting trivial phrases such as “Don’t let your perceptions of your circumstances limit your possibilities” (p. 54). Seventeen people highlighted “I don’t know what I’m talking about. My brain’s been running low on oxygen from the minute I saw you tonight” (p. 89) – I’m guessing it’s more of a pick-up line to-remember than anything else.

Even though, I’m being purposefully dismissive towards Hank Moody’s creation (I do not want you to have high expectations), the book is enjoyable and entertaining. And it effectively helped me to murder some time. Also, if you are a fan of Californication – come on, Hank Moody wrote it! (wink)

How to Productively Criticize High Kindle Book Prices

I’ve noticed no small number of negative reviews going around for Kindle books that publishers insist on pricing above their corresponding hardcover editions. I wholeheartedly approve!  What makes it worth commenting on at the moment, however, are the ones that come from verified customers.  Seriously, how does that make sense?

Let’s think about this for a moment.  When you buy an eBook, you are making a statement.  You are telling publishers that “yes, this eBook is worth at least as much to me as you are asking me to pay for it.”  If it were not, then you would have kept the money.  I can almost understand where somebody who buys an alternate edition of a given book, say a paperback, can justify popping into the reviews to talk about the fact that they would have rather had an affordably priced eBook, but once again it fails to mean anything to a publisher who is already going out of their way to encourage their customers to avoid eBooks and stick to the traditional paper medium.  The publishers simply will not care about your complaints while they can view them as confirmation of the view that readers are willing to cave to the pressures of the model they have forced on the industry.

But obviously you want to read a good book, right?  Otherwise there really wouldn’t be much of a point in having a Kindle to begin with.  If you don’t purchase something to read, you don’t get to do the reading.  Fortunately, the sheer volume of options available, especially now, should work in your favor.  This is a great chance to indulge in a collection of new authors.  I would say there’s an excellent chance that you’ll be able to find something to your taste among the increasingly prominent crowd of self-publishers, if nothing else. Personally, I also find a great deal of excellent expense-free reading material from sites like Manybooks and the Baen Free Library, although I can understand that some people might be hesitant due to their “limited” selections (Not much in the way of current Bestsellers).

Whether you like the idea of altering your reading habits or not is going to be a personal choice.  I tend to view a reason to go through the wider variety of publications as a positive rather than an inconvenience.  The alternative is to accept that when it comes down to it, the publishers have a point and you simply do value grabbing the newest books at the highest prices to the point where they can get away with continuing on the path they have been.  Complaining isn’t going to do much, as far as I can see, if it’s followed by caving in on the issue.

The Kindle offers a practically unlimited selection of eBooks to choose from.  More than any person could hope to read in a lifetime.  And that’s great, of course.  What brought many people around to the eReader alternative was the promise of less expensive reading material that reflects the lower cost of production.  The desire for, or even necessity of, that change is something that I feel should be made clear to the publishing houses, even if it means putting off grabbing a popular new book or heading to the library to read it there.

Publishers Claim Credit For Success of Kindle Editions & Other eBooks

Owing perhaps to the impressive holiday sales figures for the Kindle, Nook, and others at the end of 2010, an announcement from the Association of American Publishers has confirmed that February 2011 saw eBooks outselling every other format of book available.  While this isn’t precisely a surprise given the not too far gone announcement from Amazon that Kindle Editions were their bestselling format, it demonstrates that the trend is ever on the rise.

According to the same announcement, compared to February 2010 the sales figures for this past February have increased by over 200% for eBooks and sales of print books in all formats combined declined by nearly 25% over a similar period. Downloaded audio books also saw a bit of a boost with over 26% growth from the prior year. Everything digital is getting increasingly acceptable to the average consumer, especially the sorts of things that can fit on a Kindle. What is perhaps the most impressive part of this for me is that judging by the tone of the text, publishers are attempting to pass this off as a demonstration of how great they’re doing at providing readers with what they want.  I’m going to have to say that I disagree.

What we’re seeing now is, in some ways, a bit like the move from audio cassettes to compact discs.  Sure it takes a while to catch on, but most people are eventually at least willing to give it a try and very few people find themselves truly disappointed (and to head off complaints, no I am not trying to extend the metaphor to say that paper books will inevitably cease to exist.  We know that’s not likely to happen).  As people adopt the new format, they go back and grab their favorites.  According to the AAP, there is a trend reported from many publishers where a reader will buy the most recent work of an author and then go back to pick up the entire catalog of that author’s work.  Is the logical assumption really that the reader in question has never read one of this author’s books before and was so impressed that they blew a hundred dollars grabbing the rest?  I’d say it’s more likely that these figures reflect fans picking up old favorites.

For an industry that has resisted what seems to be a logical and inevitable progression to the point of imposing arbitrary format-wide pricing schemes aimed at countering popular adoption, it seems a bit hypocritical to be throwing out quotes like “The February results reflect two core facts: people love books and publishers actively serve readers wherever they are” and “publishers are constantly redefining the timeless concept of ‘books.’”  It’s almost amusing to think of how hard it is going to be in coming years to keep things going the way they are in the face of authors taking advantage of the ability to self-publish for things like the Kindle and still manage to get on bestsellers lists.  These figures aren’t a reflection of how well the publishing industry is adapting to serve its customers, they are demonstrative of the increasing momentum of eReaders in spite of the best efforts of the industry to prevent change.  Not so great for them, but amazing for readers.

Kindle vs Nostalgia: Why Books Aren’t Harmed By eBooks

As somebody who both loves having a Kindle and who is proud of his fairly extensive physical library, it can be infuriating to hear people talk about their perception that eReaders stand in opposition to books.  I will certainly acknowledge that there is a completely different tactile experience that you get when reading a printed book.  I’m not even going to try to make the claim that it isn’t superior to that of the eReader, since that’s obviously a matter of personal preference rather than objective evaluation.  What I promote, however, is the idea that while it may be important in some cases, as a general rule the medium through which a text comes to you should always be secondary to the text itself.

When I buy a book, speaking solely for myself, I buy it because I want something to read.  When there’s something I particularly like, or when there’s an edition that adds something that can’t be found elsewhere, I grab a copy for the bookshelf.  This keeps it available, visible, easily referenced, and has a certain aesthetically pleasing effect.  In no situation that I can think of, however, would I grab a book that I have no interest in reading.  What would be the point?  Now, assuming you’re still with me to this point, it only stands to reason that eReaders like the Kindle make a book-lover’s life a little easier.

Even if you leave aside the issue of bulk and transportation when it comes to a paper book, there’s a big advantage to having books available electronically.  Availability.  An eBook never runs out at the local store, never goes out of print, and theoretically will never wear out.  While there is a certain nostalgia in picking up a well-loved old book that is just coming apart at the seams, I’d rather than a copy that is as readable the tenth time as it was the first.  And if I want to go back and read the author’s earlier works because I liked it so much, I don’t want to have to worry about the book being out of print or on weeks of back-order at the local book store.  In either of those cases, I’d be more likely to put the idea of reading what I want aside because it would be more hassle than enjoyment.  Thanks to the Kindle, no worries.

It should go without saying that this only serves to enhance the existing system rather than detract from it.  There will always be situations where you want a paper copy, whether it is to fill a book shelf, doodle in the margins, run a highlighter over, or what have you.  In the end, however, it’s better to have the text available.  That is the primary concern on which everything else rests, and the service that the Kindle provides.  One way or another, if an eBook has existed then it is highly unlikely that it will fail to be available should you need it.  This cannot be a bad thing, when what you truly care about is experiencing the text of a book.

Kindle Book Recommendations: Romance

The theme of the day is Romance books for the Kindle!  Specifically, romance books revolving around crazy supernatural types of things.  I understand that’s the big thing these days, after all, and I had to narrow it down somewhere.  Can you imagine trying to pick three unique Harlequin Romances to throw up?  Anyway, being fairly new to the genre I’ve gone with a couple of what I understand are fairly big names. This was a surprisingly fun list to go through, though, and I heartily recommend a browse even to people who aren’t normally wild about this particular theme in their reading.  I’m leaving out Hocking on purpose, since she seems to fit better into a niche for younger readers.

Halfway to the Grave – Jeaniene Frost

Catherine Crawfield has very simple ambitions in life: working hard in her grandparents’ cherry orchard, trying to keep her mother from diving into the bottle one more time, and trying to kill the undead monster that fathered her. This is the first book in a series that seems more than a little clichéd at first, but build up enough momentum as the plot and relationships develop to be worth sticking it out for.

While I can’t say anything about the later books in the series, you can tell that there’s potential and the writing is definitely good enough to make it tempting to keep on going with it.  If nothing else, this doesn’t seem like something that’s heading downhill.

The Kindle Edition is $7.99

Shadow Game – Christine Feehan

When Dr. Whitney, the scientist in charge of the experiment he volunteered for, goes missing, Captain Ryland Miller finds himself in a high security mansion with Lily Whitney where he begins to think that maybe the psychic powers brought on by this experiment aren’t his only concern.

The plot is thin.  There’s no denying that.  The flamboyant characterizations serve as a decent way to offset that, though. The real redeeming aspect, for me at least, was the amazing sense that the author knows exactly how far-fetched the scenarios she has come up with really are and is choosing to go with it anyway.  There are some real stretches and no small number of amazingly overextended metaphors.  This was a blast for me, if perhaps not in the same way that I would imagine some fans would prefer for it to have been.  Not at all an intended insult to the author.  This was pure fun if you can avoid taking it too seriously.

The Kindle Edition is $7.99

Guilty Pleasures – Laurell K. Hamilton

It’s my understanding that there’s some controversy over this author.  Looking through the list of her works, it definitely seems she’s gone a bit downhill over the years.  That said, she apparently started out well.  This one is the first book in an ongoing series set in what is now an almost cliched world of human/supernatural coexistence.  Looking back, it seems to me that she got in on that early enough that it’s excusable.

The writing is strong, the plot is fairly compelling, and the characters are believable if not necessarily deep.  What surprised me here was the lack of emphasis on graphic scenes, given what I’d heard about the series.  Overall, definitely something I would recommend even to those who aren’t romance fans.

The Kindle Edition is $7.99

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With this one, I’ve come to the end of my easily categorizable list of recommendations from readers.  Feel free to send along some more to spread the word to fellow Kindle book lovers by emailing me!

Kindle Book Recommendations: Health

While presenting these recommendations, I’ve gotten a lot of responses about non-literary Kindle books.  Admittedly, I’ve questioned throwing anything like that up here, but I figure that since people are sending me links it’s likely that at least some of you would be interested!  Today, we have some self-help style books that claim to offer advise on just generally feeling better through basic, cheap methods.  Now, unless we’re talking about a bear who just looooves picnic baskets, my experiences with things like yogis are limited at best.  In order to bring the best input possible, I consulted somebody who knows a bit more.  Here’s what we came up with.

How To Meditate: A Step-by Step Guide to the Art and Science of Meditation

If you’re interested in this sort of thing, you can’t really go wrong with an informative title that costs as little as this.  The attraction of this particular title stems from the treatment.  It is informative without preaching or attempting to do much in the way of selling readers on a personal philosophy.  It’s also quite focused, which seems unusual for such a book.  Novak presents easily understood instructions on body positioning, breathing patterns, and all that fun stuff, all with accompanying illustration for those who might need it (though these illustrations don’t look quite as good on the Kindle as on paper). Even if you don’t buy into the underlying philosophy, I think it’s probably useful as a general relaxation technique, and who couldn’t use something like that these days?

The Kindle Edition is $4.00

Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing

There is no shortage when it comes to yoga books.  Most of them toss out a variety of poses, name them, and leave it at that.  Probably useful for some people, but a more instructive approach is nice.  This one instructs and accounts for a variety of different fitness levels.  Great for anybody who doesn’t know what they’re doing so far.  The author also spends a lot of time on, as the title implies, medical applications of yoga.  While some of the claims seem a little stretched to me personally, I’m don’t feel that my background is sufficient to judge medical matters.  If that’s your thing, check it out and maybe learn something.  Even if you don’t, it’s easy to take this as a low-impact fitness guide that just about anybody can handle in comfort. The portability of the Kindle is a plus compared to the often-bulky yoga books that many people will be used to as well.

The Kindle Edition is $15.99

the Moment: 141 Mindful Practices to Overcome Overeating One Meal at a Time

It’s no secret that overeating is a big deal for a lot of people.  It’s a lot easier to get into bad habits than it is to break them.  This book seems to have a somewhat different approach than the usual Diet + Willpower equation that fails people so regularly.  The author promotes awareness of the situations that cause you to eat, thinking about what brings on cravings, and knowing how to avoid things like habitual or depressed eating.  Admittedly, some of the advice is a bit intuitive and seems weird to have to be elaborated, but bringing this sort of thing out into the open might help you out if you’ve had to deal with failed diets a time or two in the past or just want to improve on some bad habits.

The Kindle Edition is $9.99

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 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

Kindle Piracy Thoughts

The Kindle platform, along with several other similar pushes into the emerging eBook industry, has improved availability of books significantly.  If nothing else, there’s no longer even the possibility of a book going “out of print” and being unavailable to an interested reader.  Even when publishers attempt to create an artificial scarcity, it’s just not going to happen in the face of a truly interested audience.  Of course, not every effect of going digital will be so positive.

The situation I referenced there is an extreme case where most people would find little fault finding your book through alternate channels.  After all, the publisher has chosen to deny you the opportunity to hand over money for the product.  For the most part, when piracy comes up, this isn’t the case at all.  There are two major camps in the dispute, from what I have experienced.  On the side of the piracy objectors, there tends to be an equating of illegal downloads with lost sales.  On the piracy supporting side, people often speak encouragingly about the free press and word of mouth that open distribution can bring.  Both arguments have merit, as far as they go.

Research into music piracy has often tended to consider each download a lost sale.  I’ve heard of similar arguments in eBooks.  I hope we can all see the flaw in this.  While there will be lost sales, the numbers aren’t precisely directly correlated to the number of illegal downloads.  For many people, the entire motivation for piracy seems to be a limited budget that would have prevented the sale anyway, or a limited amount of initial interest in the title that would have made expenditure less than appealing.

That said, excusing piracy based on “I wasn’t going to buy it anyway, so I’m entitled to it for free” is just ridiculous.  I would like to be generous and say that most people who do grab books without paying for them are probably aware of this. While I don’t, however, believe that the college student who downloaded the equivalent of a small lending library to his Kindle would have paid face value for each of the books he read, no matter how interesting or appreciated they were, it’s fairly safe to say that the two or three top picks of the year at least would have been sales under other circumstances.

The main complication in dealing with this situation involves striking the proper balance.  No matter how much effort you put into protecting the items you sell, the internet is a big place full of very crafty people, many of whom will go out of their way to break protection on things even when they have no need of what is being protected, just on principal. There’s always the Baen solution, which involves releasing all sorts of eBooks for free from time to time for the Kindle and any other device you might have handy and hoping that the sample encourages purchases.  Most publishers might find that a little too much of a gamble though.

As much as I’d like to come down squarely on one side of this debate, I can’t.  Piracy is a problem if it gets too big, there’s no denying that.  It can sharply reduce the incentive to produce quality work.  But at what point do the measures taken to protect something make it more of a pain for the legitimate buyer than the illegal downloader?  Already we have some pretty ridiculously restricted platforms to deal with, especially when you don’t want to be locked to one seller.  All I can really hope for is that this doesn’t end up escalating and causing the sort of drama the music industry has had over MP3s.

Kindle Book Recommendations: Science Fiction Staples

This shouldn’t come across as much of a surprise to anybody, given my admitted love of high tech reading and the tools associated with it, but I’m a fan of the SF genre.  Yeah, I know, I’m playing to a stereotype by implying you can make the assumption there, but I don’t care. Now, having made that declaration, on to the Kindle-related stuff.  That’s what we’re here for, right?  Here are a few things I’ve picked up recently on my Kindle that I can honestly suggest you also grab when you get a chance.

Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson

This one won’t come as a surprise for many people.  From what I know, it’s one of the most popular Science Fiction titles ever written.  I finally picked it up, with high hopes after having loved Cryptonomicon for years, and I was not disappointed.

Without giving too much away, it’s an adventure in a dystopic America in the near future after the collapse of the dollar, and the government with it.  You’ve got sword fights, social commentary, impressively nuts religious leaders, an intriguing early view of the potential embodied by the internet as a stage for social interaction, and much more.  Most of all, it’s one of those books that you have so much fun reading that you lose track of time.  To me, that’s the best mark of a great title.  Did I mention that it’s got a main character named “Hiro Protagonist”?

The Kindle Edition is $8.10

Dune – Frank Herbert

You’ve heard of Dune.  Ok, I can’t be 100% sure of that, but let’s face it…you’re heard of Dune.  Between the movie of the same name, the mini-series, and the countless sequels (both those made by the original Herbert and the many horrible new ones his son keeps coming up with), it would be more than a little surprising for somebody to have never at least heard the name.

How many people have read it recently, though, if they ever have at all?  This is a genuinely great SF novel that has held up perfectly.  Besides the story being genuinely interesting in its own right, it’s good food for thought.  On the one hand, I can’t really think of much I could say that isn’t right on the Amazon page without giving away details.  On the other hand, I couldn’t describe it in ten times as much space as I have to work with.  Really, if you like good serious SF reads, grab it.  Heck, even if you’ve read it before, I’ll bet it’s been a while!  Give it another go.

The Kindle Edition is $15.99

You know, I have more that I want to recommend here that I don’t have anything I can usefully say beyond “Here, check these out!”  For the most part they’re so enmeshed in the genre that there’s nothing I could add productively to the discussion anyway.

Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card Kindle Edition: $5.99

The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams Kindle Edition: $9.99

Hyperion – Dan Simmons Kindle Edition: $6.39

Really, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, of course.  I hope you all enjoy as much as I do and have.  As always, feel free to send me suggestions for future recommendations.  That’s where this idea came from and it’s always a good time.  It’s times like these, going through what I consider some of the basic components of my library that I most love having made the move to the Kindle.  Never have to worry about finding that paperback you put down ten years ago and haven’t seen since!

Kindle Edition Gift Recommendations: Vampires

Continuing in my efforts to bring out some good popular fiction ideas in time for that last minute Kindle gift giving, I’ve made it through another batch of surprisingly good books I’d never heard of before.  In what I can only assume is a completely bizarre connection to the holiday season that I was previously unaware of, I was urged by enthusiastic readers to highlight the following recommendations!  It’s clearly still one of the hottest trends in popular fiction, so today I present you with a Vampire-themed gift collection:

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – Seth Grahame-Smith

This is the second work by the author of the popular Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  As with that one, it’s impressive how well he managed to mix the new supernatural additions with the period-specific information and tone.  I was impressed to the point of grabbing myself a dead-tree copy too.

If you’ve ever found yourself wondering what it would be like if one of our favorite presidents was actually an axe-wielding defender of humanity with motives for gaining the presidency beyond simple politics(and really, who doesn’t wonder that from time to time?), then this one will fit quite well.  It’s subtly done, shows a great deal of historical research, and doesn’t go over the top in the slightest.  Strongly recommended.

The Kindle Edition is $9.99

Night Pleasures – Sherrilyn Kenyon

This is an early installment, if not the first, in Kenyon’s popular supernatural romance series.  The underlying conceit is that vampires are real, originating in a conflict among the greek deities, and that some of the greatest (and most handsome) heroes in history have been recruited to be the super-powered immortal protectors of humanity against them.

Once these heroes agree, their jobs are their lives until such time as they manage to find true love.  Seems like a great deal at the time, I’m sure, but after a few hundred years it gets old, setting the stage for all sorts of action, romance, and drama.

The Kindle Edition is $7.99

Dracula – Bram Stoker

I questioned adding this one to the list at first.  Not because it isn’t a great idea, but because it is free and therefore un-giftable in the usual sense.  That said, I think it’s worth pointing out as something worth grabbing, especially when buying for a kid who finds the usual “classics” to be more than a little but boring or unapproachable.

Let’s face it, this is where it all started as far as the Vampire craze.  Everybody has heard of it, but how many people have gone further than seeing the movies?  It’s a good read, even today, and will provide an interesting counterpoint to the popular conception of everybody’s favorite form of undead monster.

The Kindle Edition is FREE

Hopefully this opens up some ideas for you in time to do some good!  Kindle lovers definitely provide some great opportunities for last minute buying that don’t involve driving all over town.  I know it’s made my life easier, and with luck I’m not the only one.  Remember, the person you’re buying for doesn’t have to be a Kindle owner since the apps are everywhere these days!  As always, if you have any recommendations you want to share, let me know and I’ll see what I can do!

Kindle Edition Gift Suggestions

Once again, we have some last minute gift suggestions for the Kindle lover in your life.  We’ve got some old favorite, some new ones I’d never heard of before, and a good time all around.  Here you go, and I hope you find them both useful and enjoyable!

The Autobiography of Santa Claus – Jeff Guinn

This is a somewhat interesting holiday read bringing some history, some myth, and some imagination together to make an account of Santa’s “life” so far.  There are some criticisms that I can see the validity of when it comes to the exclusively Christian bent on the whole Santa thing, but to get really upset you’d have to be taking it seriously.  Taking fictional autobiographies seriously is bad, right?

Anyway, doing my best to avoid giving away the story, readers can expect reindeer, an impressive array of historic figures, lots of magic, some information about the usefulness of chimneys, and much more.  If you like a fairly light read, perhaps with the kids, I’d say you can’t really go too far wrong here.  The history seemed just a little bit spotty, personally, but it’s loads of fun.

The Kindle Edition is $10.99

World of Warcraft: The Shattering – Christie Golden

Normally, I’m not a fan of novelizations of games and movies.  They just tend to feel…half-baked somehow.  This one comes across as a little bit of a surprise, though.  I won’t claim that it’s among the best books I’ve ever read, as a book, but it was impressively thorough and well written.

Now, what makes this really stand out is the World of Warcraft association.  This is the most popular video game…well, ever, I suppose?  Chances are good that you, like me, know at least a few people who play at least as a guilty pleasure from time to time, if not regularly!  I’m told that the storylines in this add impressive depth to the new and amazingly popular expansion pack to the big game that really make it worth the investment.

The Kindle Edition is $12.99

Dead Until Dark – Charlaine Harris

This one actually got multiple hits on my recommendation request, so I jumped on it and read it right away.  I think that it might be an acquired taste?  Seriously, though, it’s a vampire romance book.  If that combination of words works for you, this is the book you want.  Same goes for if you or somebody you know is a fan of HBO’s True Blood series, since it is based rather closely on these books in the first place.  I’ll admit, it would never have occurred to me to name a vampire Bill, so it’s got that going for it!

It’s the story of a down to earth, but somewhat unusual, woman living in a version of the United States that has just started legally recognizing vampires as citizens, and her adventures. It’s also the start to a fairly long and popular series that I’m told only gets better as you keep going.  Definitely seems like a good one for the romance lover you’re buying for.

The Kindle Edition is $6.99

That’s what I’ve got so far!  Keep ‘em coming and I’ll try to keep up.  Hopefully, this will give some ideas to help make the most of the shipping-free gifting option that the Kindle makes possible.