Sunday, November 30, 2008

More Thoughts on Audible on the Kindle

I got through my first Audible book on the Kindle and overall it was a decent experience. It's nice to be able to switch to an audio book when your eyes are tired at the end of the day. And while I was pleasantly surprised by the various controls the Kindle offers for Audible books, they need to take it a step further.

Being able to go forward/backward by 30 seconds or hop to the next/previous section simply isn't enough. The controls need to let you go anywhere in the recording. Anywhere.

This problem was exacerbated by the Kindle's often delayed display for the roller wheel. Have you run into that before? You go to the home screen, select a title and press the wheel in, but the display was actually still being updated and it opens the wrong item. This situation is a bummer with standard content but it's a major hassle with an Audible title. I had stopped in the middle of a section, thought I was pressing "Play" but it turned out the screen was refreshing so what I actually pressed was "Next Section". Argh. I spent the next 5 minutes pressing "Back 30 seconds" till I found my place.

Amazon, please fix this via a software update!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

One Author's (Beta) Novel Experience on the Kindle

Thanks to Kindleville reader Francis H. for passing this one along to me. It's one author's story of using the Kindle as a beta book platform and the lessons he learned along the way.

I especially liked the point he made about the lack of customer feedback on the book's product page. It makes you wonder if Amazon should try do do a better job allowing (and encouraging) customer comments within the Kindle book interface itself. How about a "Post comment" option from the main menu within a book? Even if the Whispernet switch is turned off the device could hold your comment and push it to Amazon as soon as you reconnect. That might encourage more customer feedback...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Full Color Book on the Kindle?

I was surprised to see a book like Scott Kelby's The Digital Photography Book, Volume I ranked so highly on the latest Kindle bestseller list (#76 for all products). Kelby's got a fantastic brand name in this space and his print books always do exceptionally well, but what kind of user experience can you expect for a full color book on the black-and-white Kindle, particularly since the book is loaded with lots of rich color photos?

I got curious and downloaded the free sample. Unfortunately, I still have no idea what the user experience is like. The sample showed up but it ended before I even got through the table of contents -- what good is that?! Seriously, Amazon, you guys need to rethink the whole sample process. Don't just take the first x% or x% of the book...give us something meaty that makes us comfortable forking over our ten bucks for the whole book.

I still can't see how customers would be as happy with the Kindle edition of this book as they'd be for the print version. The former is only $2 less than the latter and there's no way the black-and-white rendering of all those color photos brings the usability anywhere near the level of the print book.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ian Freed, Amazon's VP for Kindle, Interviewed in TechFlash

Despite the Kindle's success to date, interviews about it with senior level Amazon execs seem few and far between. That's why I was delighted to see this recent Q&A with Ian Freed, Amazon's VP for Kindle, on the TechFlash site.

Here are some of my own comments on what Freed had to say:

The notion of discovering a book and getting it in under a minute remains one of the killer features for the Kindle, IMHO. I'm still amazed that Sony hasn't implemented a wireless option. Heck, the Kindle has been available for almost a year and there are still no signs of a wireless competitor! I benefited from this again last Friday. My wife e-mailed me the title of a book she thought I'd like and I saw it as I was hopping aboard a 2-hour flight home. I managed to buy and download the book in the time between buckling my seatbelt and hearing the announcement to turn off all electronic devices. Let's see you do that with a Sony Reader!

Interesting that he notes the unexpected success of the periodical products. If that's true, why the heck can't they add more magazines to the list? I just checked again this morning and they still only have 18 to choose from. My guess is Amazon has been unable to get the big magazine players to agree to their terms. Bummer.

Freed also claims blogs are working well on the Kindle. That's surprising, given how low the blog product rankings are. Also, I'll never understand why anyone would pay for a blog feed on their Kindle when a totally free wireless service like Kindlefeeder works just fine.

Don't hold your breath waiting for Amazon to open the platform up to third-party developers. Freed talks about how "supporting a wider ecosystem for applications is nontrivial", but he also notes that Amazon might be open to it down the road.
Be sure to read the entire interview. It offers a rare glimpse behind the scenes of a device we've all come to know and love.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Kindle and

When Amazon bought Audible awhile back I didn't think too much about it. I figured the deal made sense because Amazon strives to be the leading book retailer, regardless of what format the content is delivered in.

For as long as I've owned my Kindle I've thought about how it too should be a device that delivers content in multiple formats. The written word is the most obvious example for the Kindle, but it also has a headphone jack and is capable of playing MP3 files, for example. If you've ever played around with this "experimental" support of audio you probably had the same impression as me: it's nice but I'd like more control rather than just letting the device randomly play the next track.

Because of this experience I automatically assumed an audio book would be almost impossible to use on the Kindle. How could you listen to a book in random chapter order?!

Fortunately for me I finally wound up trying Audible on my Kindle. And because it's not the same as loading MP3's on your Kindle it's a much better experience. In fact, it's opened my eyes to Audible as an alternate content purchase solution for me.

I tested Audible only because they recently launched a Facebook campaign where they let you download a free audio copy of Seth Godin's latest book, Tribes. (This promo was a smart move by Audible since it undoubtedly opened the eyes of a lot of other Kindle owners.) Once I created an Audible account it was a snap to download their content manager app and grab the free book. Then it's a simple drag-and-drop from my computer to my Kindle, which was connected via USB cable.

Once the book is loaded it appears on your Kindle like any other type of content (e.g., book, magazine, newspaper, etc.) The only difference is you'll see a little speaker icon next to the title, noting that item is in audio format. Open it up and a nice audio interface is displayed where you can start from the beginning or go forwards/backwards by either 30 seconds or to the previous/next section.

The listening experience is what you'd expect and it's nice to be able to rest my eyes while still using my Kindle. Be forewarned that the audio files can be rather large, much more so than you're used to with print format. In fact, I had to clear a bunch of older stuff off my Kindle in order to fit this one audio book on it; IOW, you won't be carrying dozens of audio books around unless you've got a boatload of SD cards.

Audible has been an excellent experience overall. If you haven't tried it you ought to give it a shot. Now if they'd just fully integrate it so that I can buy a book and it's available to me in both the written and audio format, all for one price...

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Book Samples Expire?!

Every time I see an interesting book I think I might like to read I immediately check to see if it's available on the Kindle. If it is, I always download the sample even if I if I can't get to it for a bit. I figure it's a good way to build a list of books I might like to read in the future. I never bothered to check whether these samples have an expiration date. After all, time-bombing samples would be silly, right?

Wrong. I recently discovered that some Kindle samples do indeed time-out. I downloaded the sample content for Pro LINQ a month or so ago and blogged earlier about the interesting zoom feature it includes. Imagine my surprise when I went to show this zoom feature to a colleague and was greeted by the following message:

End of this sample Kindle book. Enjoy the sample? Buy now or see details for this book in the Kindle Store.
At first I assumed it was a nag screen and I figured that's fair. I don't mind a gentle nudge in sample content, but it wasn't just a nag screen. I can no longer access the book's sample content. Worse, despite a couple of attempts now I can't even re-download the sample material. Stupid feature, very stupid.

Amazon, I have two questions for you. First, do you really think providing unlimited access to sample content will hurt Kindle edition sales? Second, do you also honestly believe you'll sell more Kindle content by time-bombing samples like this? (The answer to both questions is "no", btw.)