Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Memo to Jeff Bezos

Dear Jeff,

As 2008 comes to a close I find I'm less of a Kindle advocate than I was earlier in the year. My new iPhone is partially to blame. After all, it's one of the reasons I wrote this critical post on my other blog yesterday. It's not just about the iPhone though. Amazon is uniquely positioned to run away with the e-reader market, but the Kindle appears to be hampered by a lack of strategy and vision.

I'm not talking about the poor physical design; I'm way past the point of being critical there. No, what I'm talking about are five key issues that have caused me to abandon plans for a Kindle 2.0 purchase in 2009 (or whenever it comes out):

1. Proprietary Model -- Come on, Jeff. It's almost 2009 and you're locked in with this non-industry standard content format. Have you asked any publishers how hard it is for them to convert their content to your format, especially the books with illustrations, maps, code, etc.? Would it kill you to support the EPUB format?

2. Lack of an Innovative Content Pricing Model -- This one bugs me the most. OK, you've taken the bold step of offering most titles for $9.99. Hooray. That happened more than a year ago though and it's way past time to come up with some new, creative pricing models. How about a monthly all-you-can-eat program? Or a discount on the device if I promise to buy x books in the first 12 months? Have you considered bundling magazines or newspapers with books? What about all those physical books I've bought from you over the years? Why can't I get a discount on the Kindle editions of those titles? What about bundling Kindle editions with print books? The possibilities are endless but the offerings have been non-existent. Where's the vision here?

3. No Brick-and-Mortar Presence -- Sure, Amazon is the king of online commerce but I think an e-only Kindle approach is killing the Kindle's potential visibility. I can't tell you how many friends and family members I know who've never heard of the Kindle...and I'm talking about people who regularly shop on Amazon! OK, the retort here is that you're out-of-stock, so you don't need any more visibility (see item #5). I hope that's not how you feel though. You've got a product with mass appeal potential but you'll never get there if (a) they don't know about it and (b) they can't touch and test drive it.

4. High Price -- This ties in with #2 above but I think it's important to talk not only about content pricing models but the price of the device itself. You're probably tired of hearing it but you need to think more like the cell phone industry. Once you get those pesky inventory management issues resolved, find a way to sell the product for $100 or less. Strip out some features. That's OK, but as long as the price of entry is $300+ the Kindle will always be positioned as a quirky gadget for people with too much disposable income. And given current economic conditions, how many of your prospective customers would describe themselves as having too much disposable income?

5. Poor Inventory Management
-- I suppose I shouldn't care too much about this one, especially since I already have a Kindle, but I think it's a symptom of a larger problem. How do you manage to go out-of-stock two holiday seasons in a row?! Yeah, I know...Oprah's to blame, but didn't you see that coming? Others have said it was a ploy to flush through the existing inventory and start 2009 with the new version (Kindle 2.0). Whatever. Why is it that when Nintendo runs out of Wii's it generates even more buzz but when Amazon runs out of Kindles it reeks of incompetence?

Jeff, I'm a huge fan of Amazon and I still read from my Kindle each and every day. I have to admit that the iPhone and the rapidly growing number of books and book apps for it are starting to encroach in my "Kindle time" though. Now that I own both an iPhone and a Kindle I couldn't possibly recommend the latter to owners of the former. Why spend $300+ on a limited functionality device, especially with all the major flaws noted above?

I used to think Amazon could take their time and the Kindle could survive any number of missteps. The iPhone has changed the game though and Google's Android as well as a host of other knock-offs will ensure we'll never again be limited to just the apps/features that initially came on the phone. This can only hurt the Kindle's overall appeal. I hope you and your team have something truly remarkable in the works for Kindle 2.0. More of the same just won't cut it.

Thanks for listening to me,
(Yeah, I know Bezos will never see this, but it's New Year's Eve, so let me dream a bit, OK?)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Search Activity: Kindle vs. Sony Reader

Google Trends is one of my favorite analysis tools, and it's totally free. It can tell you how popular a search term is and it's particularly useful when comparing two or more related phrases.

Every so often I like to compare the phrase "Amazon Kindle" with "Sony Reader" to see who's winning the search battle. You can see for yourself by either clicking the image to the left or clicking here to see the full results on Google Trends.

No matter how you look at it, you'll notice two things. First, and it's old news, but the Kindle took an early but short-lived lead in search activity when it first hit the scene 13 months ago. It's been trailing the Reader ever since, but briefly surged back ahead earlier in the fourth calendar quarter, right about the time Oprah went ga-ga over it...which brings me to the second point: as we got further into the holiday shopping season, while Amazon has been out-of-stock, the Reader has opened up a huge lead over the Kindle in search activity.

If this metric is at all meaningful, and I tend to believe it is, Amazon just keeps shooting themselves in the foot with these poorly timed out-of-stock situations. Clearly there's a pretty strong (and growing) interest in the Sony Reader.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Kindles on Craigslist

The Kindle is still sold out on Amazon so where can you go to buy one? eBay and Craigslist, of course. I was poking around on Craigslist this morning and noticed some interesting pricing tendencies...

If you look in my home state of Indiana, you'll find people selling Kindles on Craigslist for $300-$400. That sounds fairly reasonable given the current situation. If you head out to the San Francisco area you'll find more of them available but the typical price goes up to $400-$500. But if you go to the home of the Kindle, Seattle, you'll see more up around $500 and even $600 (with a leather messenger bag).

Funny how the same device is valued at a higher resale price in the more expensive regions of the country. If I were in the market I'd head straight to the Craigslist site for Mississippi and have it shipped to me. Bad example...if you search for "Kindle" in the Gulfport/Biloxi area of Craigslist you come up empty...insert your own joke here... You get the point though.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

New Magazines...But Have You Heard of Them?!

Amazon is up to a whopping total of 20 magazines for the Kindle. 20. The device is more than a year old...all those magazines you see on newsstands and we can only get 20 of them for our Kindle?!

Here's a blog post about the two recent additions to the list. Have you ever heard of either of these? I haven't, and apparently neither have most people...despite their newness to the device, they're currently sitting in last and next-to-last place on the Kindle magazine list. Did I mention they're both priced higher than any of the Kindle edition magazines that typically sit in the top 5 slots (Newsweek, Reader's Digest, Time, MIT's Technology Review and The Atlantic)?

Will we ever see more of the mainstream, highly popular magazines in this service? I let my print BusinessWeek subscription expire with the hope that it would soon appear on the Kindle. I'm starting to lose hope. I just got a subscription offer for 25% less than the earlier offers BusinessWeek had been sending me...maybe it's time to swallow my pride, cough up the $30 and read it on dead trees again. Bummer.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Spanish Titles on the Kindle

I just noticed that the Spanish translation of William Young's wildly successful The Shack is currently #6 on the Kindle books list. #6! The title is La Cabana and sits ahead of blockbusters like American Lion, The Audacity of Hope and even the English language edition of The Shack itself, which is #7 on the same list.

I tend to think of the Kindle as an English-only success story but clearly there are quite a few people out there who prefer to read books in Spanish. This is the first Spanish title I've seen for the Kindle. Given how well it's selling I wonder how long it will take for Amazon to make translations of other bestsellers available...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

"The Kindle is DRM Agnostic"?

That's what Jeff Bezos supposedly said, according to this Medialoper post. This, from the CEO of the company who has built a pretty solid DRM (digital rights management) fortress around the least for Kindle content you buy from Amazon. The post goes on to say that, "publishers have the option of selling DRM-free eBooks for the Kindle and that he (Bezos) believes publishers might do just that once they become comfortable with the idea of digital content distribution."

Every Kindle product you buy off Amazon's site today comes tightly wrapped in DRM. I wonder how many people realize you can get DRM-free content for the Kindle from a variety of non-Amazon sources, including some well-known publishers. For example, my employer, O'Reilly Media, Inc., has been selling DRM-free ebook bundles since earlier this year. These bundles allow you to get all the popular formats in one transaction, at one very reasonable price. You say you'd like to buy the PDF version of a book but would also like to have one that looks nice on your Kindle? No problem, and we throw in EPUB format for good measure (at no additional charge). Good luck getting all those options from Amazon.

So if Bezos really feels Amazon should be more open and customer-friendly, why not offer the same model we do at O'Reilly? Wouldn't it be great if the next time you bought a title for your Kindle it also included the PDF and EPUB versions, all without DRM? Let's take it up a notch... The next time you buy a print book from Amazon, why shouldn't that purchase include DRM versions of all these e-formats as well?...

I hope Bezos realizes there are a number of publishers out there like O'Reilly who are already quite comfortable with the idea of digital content distribution. Now we need to eliminate DRM and come up with new, interesting distribution and pricing models to helps expand our industry, not sit around complaining about how the old model is drying up.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Why I'm Cancelling My Kindle Time Magazine Subscription

It only costs me $1.49/month but it bugs me. I'm talking about the Time magazine subscription for my Kindle. I eagerly signed up for it several months ago because I used to have a print subscription and let it lapse. I always enjoyed reading Time but decided it wasn't crucial. But for $1.49/month I figured how could I go wrong?

It's not how I've gone wrong, but rather how Time has gone wrong. Their presentation of the content on the Kindle is embarrassingly poor. Going into it I knew there would be some print content that wouldn't make it into the Kindle edition and I was OK with that. What I wasn't expecting was the awful formatting and complete lack of personality that seems to come through in the Kindle version. It's like trying to read a bad RSS feed. I'm talking about awkward line wraps, figure/image callouts that appear in the wrong place and disrupt the reading experience, etc.

I tried to overlook this at first but I've gotten so tired of it that I haven't even bothered to open the last 4 or 5 issues. I found myself wondering why I should pay anything for something I'm not using and I don't enjoy reading.

This is an important lesson for all magazine publishers considering the Kindle. I want to encourage more Kindle magazine options but please, please, don't force it. Make sure your content ports well to the Kindle format.

Now I'm off to Amazon's site to once again figure out how to cancel a subscription. Could they make it any harder?!

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.)

Monday, October 27, 2008

185K+ Books, But Where are All the Magazines?

I got an e-mail from Amazon today touting the fact that they now offer Kindle editions of "more than 185,000 books, blogs, newspapers and magazines." What it really should have said is they have more than 185,000 books, 26 newspapers and 18 magazines for the Kindle. (I don't focus on their blog offerings since I get all the ones I need for free from Kindlefeeder.)

I'm thrilled that the amount of Kindle content available continues to grow but it's obviously all about books. One could argue that the number of newspapers isn't likely to spike till the Kindle installed base grows dramatically, particularly in areas outside NY, LA, Chicago, etc.; I figure I'm the only Kindle owner in the entire state of Indiana, which probably explains why the Indianapolis Star isn't available yet.

What bothers me most is the thin assortment of magazines for the Kindle. 18?! Where's BusinessWeek? FastCompany? Wired? All of these would be excellent choices for Kindle editions. I currently have paper subscriptions for the latter two and would gladly drop them for the Kindle edition, even at a higher price. I also get Time and MIT's Technology Review on my Kindle and I'd gladly add more.

Given that the Kindle is still in its early adopter phase, why aren't there more technology and other early adopter magazines available for it?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Oprah's Favorite New Gadget

And so it's come to this. I suppose it was unavoidable. Oprah is apparently going to gush about the Kindle on her TV show today, so much so, in fact, that Amazon is offering $50 off the price of a Kindle for Oprah viewers. If you don't want to visit that page, just use the promotional code OPRAHWINFREY at checkout between now and November 1st.

It will be interesting to watch Kindle sales rates over the next few days. Oprah has proven to be extremely influential in the book world and I have no doubt she'll cause Kindle sales to spike. Then again, it's one thing to hype a $20 or $30 book, but will her magic work as well on a $300 dedicated e-reader?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I Want a Kindle with Twitter Built-In

Now that I've reentered the Twittersphere I have a request. Amazon, would you please integrate Twitter with the Kindle? Yes, I know that with enough patience I could Twitter from my Kindle; after all, it has a browser and a web connection already. I'm talking about something more usable.

I can't tell you how many times I've recently had the urge to grab a piece of Kindle content and Twitter it. Some of my recent tweets have been about Kindle content. For example, I'm in the midst of reading Lawrence Lessig's Remix and I've tweeted a number of times when I ran into an interesting point. I would have tweeted even more if it wasn't so cumbersome.

Here's what I'm talking about... Every menu on the Kindle should include a Twitter option. No matter where I am in The New York Times, a magazine or a book, I should be able to click on the Kindle wheel and immediately Twitter the experience. Better yet, Amazon needs to figure out how to incorporate tiny links to all this content. If I want to share an excerpt or a story, give me a tiny url to embed in my tweet.

That's not such a big deal with a newspaper like the Times, which is already accessible online...but what about the content I want to excerpt from a book? Ah, that's where Amazon needs to integrate their "Search Inside" feature with this new functionality I'm describing. I'd love to link to brief excerpts in these various tweets. I don't plan to give the entire book away...just mention a few interesting pieces of it.

This last component will require buy-in from both Amazon and all their publisher partners. Open minds will immediately appreciate all the grass roots marketing this can generate for their content; others will simply get their clocks cleaned by their open-minded competitors!

Come on, Amazon...make my day and fold this into a Kindle software update!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Kindle Web Browser

I just spent the weekend on the road without a PC. The only technology I had was my Kindle and Blackberry. The bottom line is neither of these are worthy replacements for a good old web browser on a computer.

The Blackberry's browser generally worked OK but at painfully slow speeds. I wish that were the only fault of the Kindle's browser. I realize the Kindle browser is still considered "experimental", but I couldn't believe how many times I got errors loading pages.

The conspiracy theorist in me thinks Amazon and Sprint are starting to lock out certain web pages on the Kindle, particularly those that either (a) result in a lot of data traffic and/or (b) replace a paid service Amazon is trying to sell. Because of the browser's experimental state I suppose it's fine for Amazon to do this sort of thing, but they should at least tell customers what they plan to restrict. Then again, maybe it's just me being paranoid...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Kindle myFaves

I was recently in the market for a new Blackberry so I visited a couple of cell phone providers to see what they had to offer. I wound up going with AT&T but the myFaves program at T-Mobile left an impression. I didn't see a use for it on a cell phone but I'd love to see something like it for the Kindle.

With T-Mobile myFaves you get unlimited calling to any five U.S. numbers of your choice, including landlines and cell numbers outside the T-Mobile network. Have you read a Kindle edition that you'd like to pass along to a friend? We do it all the time with print books but it's impossible on the Kindle.

Amazon ought to add a service where you can build a small network of Kindle friends you'd like to share books with. There are a number of ways they could implement this. Charge an annual or monthly fee. Only let the book be active on one device at a time. Better yet, have a couple of plan tiers where the lower rate means the book is active on one device at a time but a higher rate enables multiple active copies.

I'm only scratching the surface but you get the point. The key is to offer more content acquisition models since each one is likely to cast a broader customer net. It might just encourage more reading along the way, and launch a real Kindle social network, which isn't a bad thing either!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Remix, by Lawrence Lessig

I just noticed that Lessig's next book, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, is due out tomorrow. I thoroughly enjoyed one of his earlier books, Free Culture, and couldn't resist the Amazon 1-click pre-order process for should be on my Kindle tomorrow.

Btw, this means I just broke a firm Kindle rule I thought I'd abide by forever: It's the first time I've bought a book for more than $9.99. Oh well. I guess we all have favorite authors we're willing to pay a premium for.

Seeing Is Believing...Again

As part of that "See a Kindle in Your City" campaign I wound up connecting with another prospective Kindle customer at a local Starbucks last night. (My wife thinks this is kind of creepy and wonders if I'll get abducted doing it one day...) This guy's eyes lit up when he saw the device in person. In other words, he had the same reaction everyone has had when they first see my Kindle. I told him he should also check out the Sony Reader at the Target across the street. Like others I've mentioned this to, he also had no idea they were being sold at Target.

A week ago I mentioned the idea of Amazon partnering with Starbucks to sell the device in all their coffee shops. My new Kindle buddy thought that was a good idea but figured neither party would want to have all that inventory spread across the zillions of Starbucks around the country. Good point. So why not just have a demo unit or two on display for customers to check out firsthand? Be sure to either configure it or the store registers to allow customers to order one on the spot.

There's no instant gratification in this model, you say? Well, hasn't Amazon fought that battle since day one? Customers won't get their Kindles till the next day, but that's the way every Amazon order already works...and at least with this model more and more people will finally see this excellent device in person.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Wade Roush with Four Improvements for Kindle 2.0

In case you missed it, Xconomy columnist Wade Roush provided thoughts on the four most important improvements Amazon should incorporate in the next generation Kindle. Read the full article for more details, but here's what he's proposing:

1. Include motion activated scrolling and page-turning. This is the feature you see on so many of the newer iPhone 3G commercials. I think it looks cool on TV and it might be a nice feature for iPhone games but I'm not sure it would be a big deal on the Kindle. All you're doing is adding to the manufacturing cost for a gimmicky feature. Why not simply fix the poorly placed next/previous page buttons that already exist?

2. Try different content pricing and distribution models. Amen, brother! Whether it's a subscription model, all-you-can-eat, whatever...just get creative here, learn from other industries and see if there's a way to leverage this approach to lower the device's price.

3. Add brick-and-mortar distribution. Or, as Roush accidentally (?) called it in his article, "brick -and-mortal." Given that one definition of "mortal" is "subject to death", do you suppose that's why Amazon has shied away from them all these years? :-) Roush's typo aside, I totally agree with his point about partnering on this front. People's eyes light up when they see a Kindle and can play around with it.

4. Add a talking book feature. I've talked about this one before as well. My eyes get tired reading regardless of whether the content is on paper or a Kindle screen. Why not create a hybrid product that let's me flip a switch, close my eyes and read the content to me, right where I left off when my eyes tired? We'll get this feature someday I'm sure.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

See a Kindle in Your City

Are you familiar with Amazon's "See a Kindle in Your City" campaign? It's a great idea where Amazon uses Kindle owners to help sell the device to curious prospective customers. I put my name on the list awhile back and have had a few inquiries. My first two meetings are scheduled for next week at one of the local Starbucks.

I'm happy to help Amazon hype the Kindle, but it got me thinking... Starbucks should actually stock and sell the Kindle. Amazon has avoided brick-and-mortar distribution up to now but Starbucks would be a very interesting partner. Here's why:

  • The Kindle and Starbucks both appeal to a wealthier crowd. Given the current economic conditions it seems just as hard to justify buying an overpriced latte as a dedicated e-book reader.
  • Starbucks seems to attract a lot of bookworms. Have you ever noticed how many people are sitting around sipping and reading there?
  • And if they're not reading, they're fiddling with a computer or some other gadget. I'll bet there are a lot of early adopters in that crowd.
  • It's a branding thing. I'm no coffee connoisseur but I don't find Starbucks drinks all that special. In fact, I couldn't tell whether a cup of java is from Starbucks or McDonalds. Seriously. So when I see people walking around with their Starbucks cups, all I can think of is, "yeah, you're trying to show the world you're not afraid to drop five bucks on a 50-cent cup of coffee."
Starbucks is the Apple of beverages. If Apple didn't have their own retail chain they probably would have infiltrated Starbucks by why shouldn't Amazon do just that with the Kindle?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Kindle 2.0 Rumors: The Good, The Bad and The (Still) Ugly

The Kindle 2.0 rumors are picking up steam again. And now there are photos of an actual device floating around. As the picture to the left shows, version 2.0 will apparently be about the same size as 1.0. The photos show they're also changing the chicklet keyboard as well as the scroll wheel (with a joystick).

The overall design still has a very 1980's feel though, so the advantage goes to Sony on the eye candy factor.

Here's what I don't understand: This story says the SD card slot goes away in Kindle 2.0. Why?! I don't care that they're increasing the memory...I put all my music on SD cards and like to swap in and out as the mood suits me. Now I'll always have to load the music on the device? Not a good idea.

If you look at this picture you'll see the back side will have a brushed metal finish. The back panel no longer slides off, meaning the battery probably can't be easily replaced. So the back side will look sleek while the front, well...I guess we're buying Kindles to read with, not show off. I'm not sure a brushed metal backside is worth the loss of the SD slot and replaceable battery. More importantly, will I still be able to get to the paperclip-powered reset button if the back won't come off?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What if you threw a "break-the-Kindle-DRM" party...

...and nobody came? As noted in this post on the GalleyCat blog, a well-known pirate is apparently looking to crack the Kindle's DRM and Napsterize the platform.

The GalleyCat post goes on to quote another Kindle blogger who says that "I really think we are going to see the napster of books - sooner or later." This has already happened with sites like Scribd, for example. What we haven't seen yet though is a bunch of hacked Kindle editions floating around on these sites. I tend to agree with that same Kindle blogger who said that the lower Kindle edition prices (vs. print prices) makes piracy less attractive. IOW, why steal the content when the price is already quite reasonable?

As both a publisher and a Kindle owner I hope this proves to be true. Authors still need to be able to earn an income from their efforts.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What e-Publishers Should Do for Readers

Here's a link to an excellent post on the Dear Author blog. It's the top 10 things e-publishers should do for their readers. To be fair, it's a mix of items for both e-publishers and e-retailers. As a publisher who has been involved in a number of e-projects, I definitely agree with all 10 of these recommendations. That doesn't mean I've always followed them though, unfortunately.

As a consumer, I absolutely love the "buy for a friend" feature that's #3 on the list. Then again, I'm having a hard enough time keeping up with the Kindle content I buy for myself -- I can't imagine how far behind I'd get if others were also buying me books and magazines!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

An Anti-DRM Book Wrapped In...DRM

Lawrence Lessig is a brilliant man and a wonderful author. You can read my review of his book Free Culture here. Free Culture talks about the evils of digital rights management (DRM), so it's ironic that the book is now available for the Kindle, which means it's wrapped ever so tightly with Amazon's DRM. Blogger Paul Glazowski covers the issue in this insightful post.

As both a publisher and a consumer I'm less hung up on this dilemma than Glazowski. Why?

First of all, there's a convenience that comes with having a book like this available on the Kindle. Sure, I could grab a free PDF of the book here and it comes with no DRM, btw. I could then forward that PDF to my Kindle e-mail address, let Amazon convert it to Mobi format and have it wirelessly delivered to my Kindle. I've done that countless times now since I bought my Kindle, but the results are mixed. While all these converted files are readable, few of them come through the conversion process as clean as a native Kindle file.

Secondly, if I'm really hung up on the redistribution rights that come with the book's Creative Commons License, no, I can't just give another Kindle owner my Kindle copy of the book to read. But I can point them to that free PDF version and other free related resources on the book's website.

So is this situation a bit awkward? Sure, but there's no reason to criticize Lessig, the book's publisher or Amazon about it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Challenge of Unsubscribing

Have you ever tried to cancel a Kindle subscription? I originally signed up for the AP U.S. News feed as a couple of other Kindle owners told me it's worth the $1.99 per month. (This was before the advent of Kindlefeeder, of course.) I used it for several weeks but because disappointed because much of the "news" it sent me wasn't exactly news.

I figured I'd drop that subscription and switch to the Latest News from The New York Times, also $1.99 per month. Switching to the Times feed was a breeze, of course, but how do you stop an existing feed? You'd think there would be a simple way to cancel a feed right from your Kindle. Nope. As with so many services these days, it's easy to sign up but the provider often makes it difficult to stop. It's not as bad as the old horror stories of canceling an AOL subscription or, more recently, XM Radio, but it's still more of a hassle than it should be.

Here's how it's done: Select the Manage Your Kindle option on Amazon's top nav bar. On the resulting screen scroll down to the heading "Your active Kindle subscriptions." You'll see a "Cancel Subscription" option for each of your active subscriptions. Just click on that link for any subscriptions you want to terminate.

Canceling a subscription is actually pretty simple...assuming you're doing it from your computer. And while it's conceivable to pull up the same screen on your Kindle, that's more of a hassle than it's worth. I think Amazon should just add a "cancel subscription" button inside the feed rather than force you to use a browser.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Kindle Zoom

Have you run across any Kindle books that include the zoom feature for graphics? This seems to be a hit-and-miss option that appears on some books but not many. I discovered it when viewing the sample of Pro LINQ, a programming book from APress.

If you download the Pro LINQ you'll see that many of the code blocks are graphic images, not text. If you scroll to one of them and press the selector wheel you'll see a "Zoom" option in the pop-up menu. Choose "Zoom" and a new pop-up window appears with a larger version of the code image. Better yet, the zoom window is rotated 90 degrees, so now you can see the code in a landscape orientation. This is great because code lines can be quite long and the default portrait orientation on the Kindle makes it tricky to read and understand code lines when they're either cut off or constantly wrapping to the line below.

Code blocks are one nice implementation of the Kindle zoom feature, but what about real graphic images such as maps, pictures, etc.? I think that's where the zoom option could significantly improve the usability factor. Let's hope more and more new titles will incorporate the zoom option.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Kindle Bookmarks

The KindleKorner site continues to be one of my favorite Kindle resources. The main service is the message board, of course, where more than 2,400 members share their Kindle wisdom and experiences with the rest of the community.

I used to think KindleKorner was nothing more than a message board till I poked around a bit on the main page and discovered the Files section. There you'll find a number of useful items including my favorite, a collection of website bookmarks for your Kindle. I'm not talking about replacements for the bookmarks in your computer's browser...this is a file that you download to your Kindle and it offers direct links to dozens of great websites. Many of them are Kindle-related but others are just some of the most popular sites from all the major categories, many of which are optimized for portable devices like the Kindle.

The contents are updated from time to time but once you have them loaded on your Kindle you can refresh them with a couple of quick button clicks. Ever since I downloaded these bookmarks I find I'm doing more Kindle web surfing than ever before. Highly recommended.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I Love KindleFeeder

What's KindleFeeder? It's a free new Kindle service I discovered a few days ago and I'm totally hooked on. KindleFeeder automatically pushes RSS feeds wirelessly to your Kindle. That sounds a lot like Feedbooks, right? It is, but the word "automatically" is the key differentiating factor.

Feedbooks offers a service that lets you manage and read RSS feeds on your Kindle as well, but updating them is a manual (albeit one-click) process. As I've mentioned before, I sometimes forget to do this, usually when I've just heard the announcement to turn off all wireless transmitter devices on an airplane! By then it's too late and I'm stuck with whatever content I managed to download prior to takeoff.

KindleFeeder, on the other hand, let's you decide what time of day you want the service to push the latest feeds to your Kindle. I have mine to hit every morning at 6AM, which means I have the latest and greatest from every feed when I wake up. It all happens with zero intervention from me, the same way The New York Times magically appears every morning on my Kindle.

All your KindleFeeder feeds get lumped into one file each day. That's one advantage Feedbooks has since it offers the option to cluster related feeds into separate "newspapers". KindleFeeder is a relatively new service though and I'm sure new features will be added in the coming months.

I like what I see already though and I recommend KindleFeeder to anyone reading this blog. Blogs were meant to be free and there's no reason to pay for them when services like this make them so easily accessible.

P.S. -- The "free" advantage only exists as long as Amazon continues to delay implementing their 10-cent per e-mail policy...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Kindle Availability of Obama's New Book

I was glad to hear that someone has finally learned how to take advantage of e-book vs. print book availability. Barack Obama's new book, Change We Can Believe In, was available yesterday on the Kindle and is just now in physical bookstores today.

I immediately jumped on the opportunity to get the Kindle edition last night and plan to start reading it this evening. Btw, I'm still leaning towards the Obama/Biden ticket but I want to hear more about their plans to address the economy...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Kindle Covers

Like most Kindle customers I've been underwhelmed by the cover that came with the device. I spent the past couple of weeks test-driving a number of replacement covers and I found a winner: the M-Edge Leather Executive Jacket.

I love this cover for several reasons. First, it securely holds my Kindle in place without the need for a MacGyver-like solution that I implemented with the Amazon case. (If you trust the Amazon case to hold your Kindle you know what I'm talking about...the plastic clip really doesn't work, so I wound up adding a bit of Velcro to keep it from slipping out.) The Executive Jacket has nice, leather wraps on three of the four corners and the Kindle fits snugly in place. The fourth corner has an elastic band that allows for easy insertion and removal from the jacket. The whole package provides a great fit.

Secondly, I appreciate that the Executive Jacket has several sleeves on the inside. I can carry a small tablet of paper, business cards, SD cards and a pen/pencil. Everything fits comfortably inside without creating any bulges. I always worry about a foreign object rubbing against the Kindle screen. While the Amazon cover has a nice padded interior, I think the M-Edge jacket will be just as protective, even with all these items placed in the facing flap.

Lastly, the Executive Jacket just looks great. I don't know what the material is on the outside of the Amazon device, but if it's leather it's nowhere near as nice as the leather in the M-Edge product. Other Kindle owners have noted that the M-Edge doesn't have the padding on the facing flap that the Amazon cover offers; I figure I'm always going to have a tablet of paper in there anyway, so it really doesn't matter.

An honorable mention goes to another M-Edge product, the Leisure Jacket (which, for some reason, sounds like "leisure suit" to me). The Leisure Jacket is designed to solve a different problem. If you're taking your Kindle to the beach or if it will be around a lot of fluids, dust, etc., you ought to consider the Leisure Jacket. It (almost) completely envelops your Kindle and features a clear vinyl front so that you can read from the device without opening the jacket. The jacket wraps all the way around the Kindle but I still found all the buttons easily accessible, even the thumbwheel (thanks to a small cut-out in the vinyl front).

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Kindle Webinar Questions, Part II

As promised, here are some of the other questions I wasn't able to get to during my recent Kindle webinar:

Can you put things on your Kindle that aren't just products from Amazon?

Absolutely, and this is probably one of the most underutilized features of the Kindle. One of the more common complaints is that the Kindle is a closed system and that you have to go to Amazon for content. That's simply not true. For example, Feedbooks is a great source of alternative content and everything I've gotten from Feedbooks is 100% free. That's just one example as there are a variety of other sources out there as well. Also, I put a lot of the Word and PDF files from my day gig as a publisher on my Kindle -- it's better than printing them out and Amazon's free conversion service is very effective.

How secure is the content on a Kindle? Are there any piracy concerns?
The first rule of thumb here is that nothing is truly 100% secure. If enough hackers want to unlock your protected files they'll find a way to do it, period. That said, I haven't heard of any serious issues up to now with Kindle content. Don't forget though that DRM-protected content isn't the only type that's readable on a Kindle. Mobi, PDFs and Word files (the latter two must be converted first) can all be distributed and read on a Kindle with no DRM whatsoever.

Do you ever think Amazon will ever sell the Kindle in retail spaces? For example, what about an airport vending machine like the Sony Reader?
I think the retailer hole is one of the biggest problems preventing the Kindle from really taking off. So many people I've spoken with have never even heard of the Kindle let alone seen or touched one. And I'm talking about a group that consists mostly of Amazon customers, so clearly the promotional work Amazon is doing for the Kindle on their website isn't all that effective. I'm not sure if Amazon will ever put the Kindle in retail outlets but I think they ought to.

Have you used the Kindle overseas, meaning have you been able to download files when outside the U.S.?
I haven't been outside the U.S. since I got my Kindle earlier this year, so I have no experience on this front. Others have though and I talked a bit about one solution in this earlier post.

How would you effectively use the Kindle for viral marketing?
Great question! If I were running a PR department I'd do my best to gather as many names of Kindle owners as possible. Grab 'em off Amazon pages. Use Google to see who the top bloggers are. Run a publicity campaign to give any Kindle owner a free copy of one of my books if they'll provide their e-mail address. Once I have a great list I'd start refining it, finding out what genres each person is interested in. I'd then use that list to start sending out preview information, sample content, entire free books, etc., to generate buzz for my list.

The more I think about it, this is probably an excellent opportunity for a third-party to start up and sell as a service to all publishers... It takes the review/galley copy program to a whole new level, but without all the cost of printing and shipping. Imagine if you could get every Kindle owner to register for this free program; many wouldn't take part, but the ones that did could create some very exciting buzz for all sorts of new publications.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Kindle Classroom Interview with Teacher Chris Edwards

I mentioned this story in an earlier post and I'm thrilled that Chris Edwards, teacher of World History at Fishers High School, agreed to the following blog interview about his experience so far with Kindles in the classroom.

JW: What's your vision for how you want to utilize the Kindle in your classroom?

CE: For right now, I just have five Kindles so the only way I can really utilize them is by setting the classroom up in stations. The students go to one of three stations and they have 10-15 minutes to complete whatever activity I have set up there and then we rotate. Normally, I use the Kindle Web feature because it is very easy for me to find a relevant current events topic that ties in with whatever we are studying.

The reason I like to use the Kindles is because it is a constant reminder of one of the main themes of the class and that is that the compilation of human knowledge has been a key feature in world history. Every time knowledge was translated into a single language and stored in one space the culture that had access to it took a great leap forward. This occurred at the library at Alexandria for the Hellenes, at the House of Wisdom in Iraq for the Arabs, and in Latin speaking Western Europe for the Christian monks.

The language that the world's information was translated into then was Greek, Arabic, and Latin. Now, remarkably, through Amazon and Google, the world's knowledge is being translated into binary code (1, by the way was invented by the Sumerians, and 0 by the Indians in Gupta dynasty, so that's historically related) and is cheap and accessible.

I believe that by using the Kindle we're not just playing with a toy but are reinforcing the idea that we are a part of an historical story that is still unfolding.

JW: You've undoubtedly been using a Kindle both in and out of the classroom for a bit now. What sort of content are you reading on it?

CE: The Kindle is very versatile. I like to read international news so I subscribe to the International Herald Tribune and read it every day. I also take advantage of the audiobook download feature and listen to books, mostly shorter nonfiction works, on my commute.

The Kindle has not taken the place of my traditional book reading, but it has allowed me to do more reading. I don't read history on it because I like to be able to flip back and forth with paper pages and make pen marks. Right now I have some nonfiction books on it and a couple of spy novels.

JW: What's been the reaction of the kids in your class to the Kindle? Are they pretty comfortable with it?

CE: The students really seem to be reacting well to the Kindles. This generation is used to dealing with new technologies and I think they see the value in learning to work with something like this. They also respond well to the station techniques because they know that every 10 or 15 minutes there will be a transition where they can stand up and stretch. Besides, let's face it, there's something very Harry Potterish about the Kindle. I mean, we're pulling information out of the air and it just sort of appears. That's pretty cool.

JW: There's been a lot of talk about the Kindle (or some other e-book device) becoming a huge hit for textbook reading and storage. With the functionality you see on the Kindle today, do you feel that's a viable short term solution? Are there any features you feel would need to be added to the Kindle to better enable classroom use like this?

CE: This is a really interesting question because no school district is going to want to make a heavy investment in something that is going to become obsolete. I mean, if the Kindle takes off, this is going to make some school districts who have invested in laptops for their students feel a little foolish.

Practically speaking, there is no way that any district 10 years from now is going to be able to resist buying a $200 Kindle for their students at the beginning of their 7th grade year and then simply buying textbook updates as the student progresses. The money saved and hassle avoided will be tremendous.

I look at the Kindle as a kind of transitional species. Certainly textbook downloading is going to be an important feature for the Kindle, but I actually don't think that it will be necessary to buy textbooks with them. I really think that humanity is quickly moving toward compiling a kind of Comprehensive Human Memory (CHM) that will exist in binary code form and will, metaphorically, just kind of float above us. This is kind of the case now. We're simply realizing how to access it. It is very likely that in 20 years we will all be carrying blue-tooth type devices that will access this CHM and bring us whatever facts we need on command.

If I had a class set of Kindles with Internet access I would not, strictly speaking, need a textbook. I could simply access sites that have the historical information I'm looking for and use my state standards as a road map. Textbook companies will, of course, evolve with this. If they are going to compete they are going to have to figure out how to make Kindle books accessible and cheap.

I actually think the issue with the Kindle will not be that there will be a temptation to add too many features. A Kindle is not a computer; it's a reader. It needs to stay that way for classroom use. If it had email or video games that distracts from the reading and as a teacher, I wouldn't want it.

If you'll allow me to get a little Sci-fi for a moment, it seems to me that even though the world's knowledge is accumulating, we've got a huge bottleneck when it comes to actually getting that knowledge into the brain. We still have to listen and read, etc. We have to be educated. We have seen a huge leap recently in how we can compile and access information, but at some point somebody is going to focus on how to speed up the "brain download" process. The brain, essentially, is a synthesizing machine. It can see patterns and think across disciplines. We don't have good memories. Computers are the opposite of this. At some point we'll bridge the gap and when that happens the Kindle will be looked upon as part of that process in the same way that Diderot's encyclopedia or Sumerian writing is.

JW: What advice can you offer other teachers out there who are considering using the Kindle in their classrooms?

CE: Be enthusiastic about the Kindle. Explain that it's not just a new piece of technology but that it is a part of an expanding aspect of human history. Students are, amazingly, pulling information out of thin air on command. I try to imagine what the ancient Greeks would have made of it. You know, people used to have to get permission to touch a scroll in a library. Just a few centuries ago very few people were literate and when reading was done it was only done out loud, for announcements! Books have been burned and banned etc. but now information is accessible, cheap, and floating through the air!

Have fun with the Kindles, but be appreciative of what they are and what they mean would be my advice.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Kindles in the Classroom

A tip of the hat to my former colleague Steve Pool for this one. Steve, btw, is Director of Content Management and Production at VitalSource Technologies, An Ingram company.

Steve recently sent me an e-mail to tell me a quick story about his son, a freshman at a local high school, and the Kindle. His son explained how "his World History teacher at Fishers High School, Chris Edwards, told the class to put away the textbooks for the day. He was tired of teaching from the book. Then he surprised the class by unveiling five Kindles the school had purchased. He was told that his is the first school to order and use them in the classroom. They read an article about India from the National Geographic. But it wasn't India he was talking about when he got home. It was the Kindle."

Steve went on to say that, "my son knows I have been working in digital publishing for years and I keep telling him 'print is dead' but he has resisted the notion of reading text from a screen. This coming from a so called digital native. But today when I asked him how was the experience he had to admit, 'it was pretty cool'. And then, 'where can we buy one?'"

Very cool! I'm curious to hear more about this and so I've got an e-mail message in to Mr. Edwards to see if he'd be willing to do a quick blog interview. I hope to be back soon with the interview...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Kindle Webinar Questions

Book Business Magazine hosted my Kindle webinar last Thursday and I had a lot of fun with the presentation. If you missed it you can still watch it via this archive link which also lets you download my slide deck.

We received quite a few questions from attendees and I wasn't able to address them all during the session so I thought I'd try to tackle a few via a blog post. Here are some of the ones I didn't get to during the webinar:

Do you think Sony has lost?
Wow, what a loaded question! I think the Kindle's wireless connectivity is a game-changing feature and represents a huge disadvantage for Sony. Amazon's stellar reputation as a bookseller means more challenges for Sony as well. That said, Sony could easily introduce their own wireless model down the road and it's unclear how much they might benefit from their recent announcement to support EPUB format. It's still way too early in this game to say who's won and who's lost, but the fact that I bought a Kindle and not a Sony Reader says something about who I think is best positioned for the future.

Doesn't Amazon have to convert Mobi files for the Kindle, or can you upload them directly to the Kindle from your computer?
You can load Mobi files directly from your computer to your Kindle. There's no need to go through Amazon for this.

Do you think people will start to read on the iPhone?
Absolutely. If someone already owns an iPhone there's less of an incentive for them to buy a Kindle. The key will be seeing how much content will be made available for the iPhone reader app. If Amazon can maintain a solid lead in the number of titles available the Kindle will always be a tempting consideration, even for iPhone owners.

Do you see self-published authors being able to use the Kindle?
Yes, in fact it's already happening. My favorite example is Stephen Windwalker and his Complete User's Guide to the Amazing Amazon Kindle. Btw, Stephen has also set up a 2-Books-in-1 deal with this book and his Complete Step-by-Step Guide to Publishing for the Kindle. This link takes you to the 2-Books-in-1 deal where you can get both for only $9.99.

You mentioned your belief that Amazon has established a psychological pricing ceiling of $9.99 for e-books. Do you see any exceptions to this?
See this post that I wrote earlier today on my Publishing 2020 blog. The short answer is, "yes."

Is it possible to send Kindle-ready files directly to reviewers without having to go through Amazon?
Definitely. The easist way is to convert your content to Mobi format. It's unprotected, so you'll need to be comfortable sending it out without DRM, but it's an effective way of getting it into the hands of Kindle reviewers directly.

Isn't the fact that the Kindle relies on having Sprint service a major problem?
I'm assuming the question has to do with areas of the country where Sprint service is unavailable. If so, yes, that's a problem for anyone living or visiting these locations. I've been on the road quite a bit with my Kindle though and have had zero connectivity issues to date.

I'm running out of time today and I see I still have quite a few questions to answer. Let's consider this "Part One" of the webinar Q&A follow-up and I'll work on a Part Two over the next few days.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Amazon/Chase $100 Kindle Discount Deal

The blogosphere is buzzing about this one. Amazon has teamed up with Chase on a Visa card deal that nets customers a $100 savings when buying a Kindle. That means the $359 price I paid drops all the way down to $259 for those of you who decided you didn't want to be an early adopter. (Btw, if you feel bad for me overpaying like I did, buy your Kindle through this link and at least I'll get an affiliate fee on your transaction!)

Of course, you may save a few bucks by waiting, but buying now doesn't guarantee that your device won't be considered an older generation fairly soon. There are all sorts of rumors out there about a possible Kindle 2.0 before the end of the year, some speculating it might arrive as early as next month. As a result, this blogger feels the Chase deal is nothing more than a ploy to exhaust as much current inventory as possible before the next generation device arrives.

So it's like many other tough gadget purchases where you have to weigh the pros and cons. Amazon could make everyone feel a bit more comfortable about it though if they'd let all us Kindle 1.0 owners (and prospective buyers) know whether we'll be able to do software upgrades to any new features that find their way into Kindle 2.0...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Kindle Chronicles

Here's something to look forward to on Friday's: Len Edgerly runs The Kindle Chronicles, which is subtitled "A Friday Podcast All About the Kindle." Len interviewed me recently and here are the mp4 and mp3 versions. Len has also done some other very insightful interviews with Bill Bulger and Stephen Windwalker.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Check Out "The Kindle Reader" Blog

The Kindle Reader is a blog I need to pay more attention to. I was going through my RSS feeds tonight and noticed a couple of great posts over there. First there's this one about the 10 essential add-ons to enhance the Kindle reading experience. I've already used a few of them (e.g., Feedbooks downloader and Mobipocket Creator) but I see a few others I need to test drive; a couple of the recommendations are for Kindle covers...I desperately need something other than the one that came with the device! Then there's this post about Quotidiana and all the fantastic content that's available there.

Jan Zlendich is the brains behind The Kindle Reader. Jan, keep up the great work!

P.S. -- Be sure to check out the huge list of book/content resource links down the right side of Jan's blog.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Lessons Learned from the Kindle

Here's an excellent Kindle article from Elizabeth Blackwell on The various quotes from me are the result of a conversation Elizabeth and I had recently. I wasn't sure what direction she was taking this story in but I think she nailed it with her three key points:

Think User-Friendly -- Sure, the physical design is weak but it still resulted in a device that ranks high on convenience (even though I'm trying to use mine as more of a print replacement than most other Kindle owners).

Make Buying Easy -- I don't think the model could be any better than Amazon's one-click purchase and fast, wireless download. In fact, plenty of Kindle owners are complaining that it's too easy!

Price it Right -- OK, we're talking about the books/content pricing model, not the price of the device! $350 is still way too high a price for wide adoption but if those 250K-300K first-year device sales estimates are accurate I'll bet Amazon is quite happy with these early adopter results.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Feedbooks Newspapers are Replacing My RSS Reader

I've been using Feedbooks RSS feed service for my Kindle for a few weeks now and I love it. Up to this point though I've been doing each feed individually though, which means I have to manually update each feed on my Kindle to get the latest and greatest content. I heard of the feed clustering service Feedbooks offered, called Newspapers, but I hadn't played with it before this weekend.

Now that I've spent some time creating my own newspaper I'm hooked. I took a few of my favorite technology-related feeds and put them into a single feed called Joe's Newspaper. If you look at the page the previous link leads you to you'll see Joe's Newspaper includes feeds from O'Reilly Radar, Hack a Day, CNET Top Tech News, Slashdot and Wired Top Stories. I used to have a separate Feedbooks feed for each of these 5 items which meant I had to remember to update all of them individually; by using Joe's Newspaper I just do one update and get them all.

Actually, I need to tweak this one a bit. Partial feeds really stink in this service. I don't like them in general but it's even worse if you're trying to use something like Feedbooks Newspapers in an offline environment (e.g., on a plane). There's nothing quite like seeing the first few words of the post and then being forced to click through to the source website for the rest of the article. So while O'Reilly's feed features the entire article, CNET and Wired's do not, so I'll be dumping both of them shortly. There are far too many great (and complete!) feeds out there to suffer with partial ones like this.

I'll probably change the name of this to Joe's Tech Newspaper and then create other ones such as Joe's Book Publishing Newspaper and Joe's Sports Newspaper. I'll group my favorite feeds together and just do one update for each. Maybe Feedbooks will take this to the next level and allow me to do a catalog of newspapers that only require one update click and automatically pull down all the newspapers in my list...that would be nice.

I've found that I'm falling further and further behind with all the RSS feeds I subscribe to. I'm hoping that maybe by selecting only my favorites for this Feedbooks/Kindle service I'll at least be able to keep up with the key ones. Either way, I know I'll get more out of RSS feeds because of this excellent Feedbooks service.

P.S. -- I see Feedbooks now has a USB-based update option where the content is pushed automatically once you're connected to your computer. I'll have to try this one next since my Kindle gets connected to my laptop almost every day (to test new Kindle file samples).

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What's On Your Kindle?

That's a question I've heard a lot lately. Kindle owners and non-Kindle owners are curious to hear what's loaded on my device. Here's a quick rundown of the content currently on my Kindle:

The New York Times -- I finally got around to deleting older papers but I still have the last 4 days worth.

The Shack -- I finished reading this one a couple of weeks ago but I can't bring myself to delete it. Am I the only one who has a hard time deleting books after they've been read?... Btw, I was so engrossed in this book that I wound up buying it for my Kindle despite the fact that the publisher sent me a free review copy to read. Why? I forgot to bring it with me on a recent business trip and didn't want to wait till I got home to finish it. Ah, the power of the $9.99 price point!

The Bible -- My very first purchase. I chose the NASB edition because so many other Kindle readers recommended it over all the others.

Time magazine -- My one and only magazine subscription. It's not as enjoyable a read as the print version but it's close enough.

AP US News feed -- For a couple of bucks a month I get all the latest news stories pushed to me throughout the day. Great bargain.

Mitch Albom's Commencement Speech -- Again, I can't seem to delete things I've already read...

Animal Farm -- One of the freebie books I downloaded from Feedbooks, I believe.

Samples from 22 books -- Yes, that's right...22 different book samples. I'm a sampling freak. I love it that I can test drive just enough of the content before paying a penny. It's also saved me from buying a few duds along the way.

8 different Feedbook RSS feeds -- What a fantastic (free) service. If you're not using this one you need to.

At least a dozen different work-related documents -- I also love Amazon's free .doc and .pdf conversion service. I work with a lot of Word and Acrobat files throughout the day and it's wonderful having access to them on the Kindle.

There are a few more test files and other odds and ends on my Kindle, so many, in fact, that I have to navigate through six full screens of homepage content to see it all. I'm using about half the available memory and I have a 2 Gig SD card inserted that's full of classical music. There's nothing like a bit of Strauss when you're reading the latest news.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Improving Kindle's Lookup Feature

One of the many things I love about the Kindle is that I can quickly look up a word whose meaning I might not know. It doesn't matter what I'm reading (book, magazine, etc.), I press a couple of buttons and get the definition from Kindle's built-in dictionary. What's not to like?

First off, I'd love to see this expanded to offer a Wikipedia lookup option as well. Yes, that requires an Internet connection but why not take advantage of the Whispernet service that already exists on every Kindle? I sometimes turn the wireless switch off to conserve battery life (or because I'm on a plane) but 95% of the time it's on and ready for use. The other reason why Amazon probably didn't include this initially is an agreement with Sprint on the likely amount of data going back and forth over Sprint's wireless system. This feature would increase that load but probably not by much. It would be so great to have one-click access to a Wikipedia lookup within every book, magazine, and newspaper, on the Kindle...heck, if it's really a financial/load issue, maybe Amazon could consider offering it as a paid service for something like $2/month. I'd sign up and pay for this convenience. (Btw, yes, I realize you can get to the Wikipedia on your Kindle. I'm talking about Amazon creating a more effective and direct lookup function within the content, not through the browser.)

Secondly, can the existing dictionary lookup be any slower or awkward? Seriously, the first few times I tried this I thought my Kindle had frozen. And why are we forced to do a lookup on every word in the line when I really only care about one? Amazon, please, can you fix this with a software update so that I can choose the word or phrase I want to look up? As an added bonus, maybe the results will display faster if the device is only looking up one word (instead of the entire line)...

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Yet Another Shortsighted Kindle Perspective

The media never seems to tire of these articles. The latest one is from Liz Gunnison and I came across it here on Wired's site. If you trust in what she has to say, Amazon is wasting their time on this Kindle initiative. In fact, she closes the article by saying, "designing the game-changing e-reader, it seems, is more like designing the game-changing harpsichord than the iPod."

Ah, the ever-present iPod reference. I continue to tip my hat to Steve Jobs & Co. for the incredible work they've done with the iPod platform (including iPods, iPhones, iTunes, etc.) As I've said before, Jobs has converted Apple from a computer company into an enormously successful consumer brand. That's pretty hard to do. Just ask Microsoft. I'm sure they'd love to pull off the same trick.

But back to the iPod comparison... Yes, the iPod and Kindle are not on the same scales when it comes to unit sales. It's not even close. But does that mean the Kindle will never be a huge success?

Anyone who was around in the '70's and '80's probably remembers the dawn of the VCR. The first one I saw was in the late '70's at my high school. They were big, bulky and incredibly expensive, but worth the investment for a school. Shortly thereafter the prices came down to the sub-$1,000 level. That's when I noticed a neighbor or two splurging on them for home use. I bought my first VCR in 1983 for $500. Five hundred bucks! I'd hate to see what that works out to in today's dollars after adjusting for inflation.

It seems like 1983 or 1984 was when VCRs really started to take off, even in the $300-$500 price range. But that was at least 3 or 4 years after they were first available to the general public. I don't know how many hundreds of millions have been sold since, but I'll bet everyone would agree that the platform was a huge hit (desipte the fact that it's given way to DVDs and DVRs).

My point? I think the Kindle is likely to follow the VCR adoption curve. Early adopters have jumped aboard and 240,000 units to date, if that number is valid, isn't anything to be ashamed of. But that's for a $350 device, similar to the days of $1,000 VCRs. I can't wait to see how this market evolves when Amazon introduces new devices at more mass market pricing levels. In the mean time, let's enjoy the VHS vs. Beta debate (Amazon vs. Sony) and look forward to the day when millions of these are in use around the globe.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Don't Miss My Free Kindle Webinar on 8/21

Book Business magazine has asked me to present a Kindle webinar later this month. It's called Leveraging the Kindle -- How to maximize the Kindle's benefits to your readers and your business. As you can tell from the title, the webinar is mostly intended for book/content publishers, but I think Kindle owners and anyone considering a Kindle will get something out of it as well. The best part: It's totally free.

The link above provides more information about the event and includes a registration form. The webinar is scheduled for 2PM ET on Thursday, August 21st and includes a Q&A session at the end. I'm looking forward to this session and I hope you're able to attend.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

What Are Kindle Owners Buying?

The Kindle is largely known as an "e-book reader" but it's really a gateway to all sorts of non-book content including magazines, newspapers and blogs. I got curious to see how my Kindle content buying habits match up against the Kindle community at large. The only way to gauge something like that is to look at Amazon's rankings of books, magazines, newspapers and blogs. Granted, this is highly unscientific, but here's what I recently found...

It's just a snapshot in time, but here are the overall Amazon Kindle rankings for the top 5 newspapers:

1. The New York Times, Amazon ranking: #15
2. The Wall Street Journal, Amazon ranking: #19
3. The Washington Post, Amazon ranking: #132
4. The International Herald Tribune, Amazon ranking: #185
The Los Angeles Times, Amazon ranking: #223
IOW, out of all the products Amazon sells for the Kindle, only 2 newspapers make the top 100.

Compare this to how the top 5 magazines fared in the rankings:
1. Newsweek, Amazon ranking: #60
2. Time, Amazon ranking: #108
3. The Atlantic, Amazon ranking: #113
4. Reader's Digest, Amazon ranking: #182
U.S. News & World Report, Amazon ranking: #183
These look similar to the top 5 newspapers where you have a couple at or near the top 100 and most of the 5 are in the top 200.

Now compare this to the top 5 blogs:
1. Amazon Daily, Amazon ranking: #70
2. Gawker, Amazon ranking: #111
3. The New York Times Latest News, Amazon ranking: #209
4. Huffington Post, Amazon ranking: #418
The Onion, Amazon ranking: #429
OK, Amazon Daily has a respectable ranking at #70, but let's not forget it's the only totally free product on any of these lists! Zero cost, and yet there are 69 other non-free products ranked ahead of it. Either Kindle owners don't know about this one or they just don't care.

The blog rankings really start to fall off after Gawker. You can see that with numbers 4 and 5 above but it gets even worse after the top 5. To tell you the truth though, I don't understand why anyone would pay for a blog subscription on the Kindle. Even though they're fairly inexpensive, Feedbooks offers free alternatives that are just as good and much more extensive.

It's also important to note that the vast majority of the magazines Amazon offers are priced at lower rates than the blogs. So although the magazine rankings are generally better than the blogs, there’s apparently not a lot of excitement on the magazine front either, which might explain why Amazon has been unable to get more magazines into the mix (they currently only offer 16 magazines). Before looking at these numbers I would have thought the well-known and trusted brand names like “Newsweek” and “Time” would have been top 10-20 overall rankings, particularly since they’re only $1.49/month each, or less than half the price of most Starbucks drinks!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Kindle Use Outside the United States

Several people have e-mailed me about the use of a Kindle outside the U.S. I haven't made any overseas trips since I got mine but obviously the wireless capability disappears once you leave America. Amazon covers this in one of their FAQs and asks customers outside the U.S. to be patient.

There are, of course, workarounds to the situation. This post on the Nerdgirl site does an excellent job providing a step-by-step solution. It involves the use of an Amazon Gift Card although you still need to provide a valid credit card during the setup process. The trick is you must enter a U.S. address for the credit card, even if that's not really your address. Amazon apparently doesn't confirm the credit card billing address unless you actually use it to buy a book...for now.

I think it's great that workarounds like this exist, but it's important to note that Amazon could change their registration policy at any time and then you'd be hosed...until someone else comes up with a new strategy!

Honestly, knowing how great the reading experience is, if I lived in another country I too would be using any workaround I could find to use my Kindle outside the U.S.!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Mitch Albom's Commencement Speech

Have you heard about Mitch Albom's commencement speech at his nephew's recent high school graduation? It's a 99-cent Kindle title and worth much, much more. My favorite quote is:

...taking chance is not really about risk; it's about avoiding complacency.
Well said.

And while the entire speech is both entertaining and inspiring, it's the product concept itself that gets me most excited. In the pre-Kindle days we probably wouldn't have access to this sort of short length work. It's too small for a print book and it's unlikely it would have appeared in a magazine. Thanks to the Kindle though, content length doesn't matter and prices can be as low as 99 cents, making these works irresistible, especially when the author is a big name like Mitch Albom.

Do yourself a favor and go buy Albom's speech. It's low risk and all the author's proceeds go to a charity for the homeless in Detroit, so your purchase will also help provide some lift for the needy.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Free Kindle Sci-Fi from Tor Books

It's times like this when I really wish I was a big sci-fi fan. If you're a sci-fi fan and you own a Kindle you need to head straight to for what they're referring to as their "Freebies Bonanza." As of today they're offering 24 of their titles absolutely free in a variety of formats including Mobi, which can be loaded to your Kindle. Even if you don't own a Kindle you might be interested in the PDF and HTML formats of the same 24 freebies.

Without trying to sound like a late night cable pitchman...hurry, don't wait...the Tor deal expires this Sunday, 7/27!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Please Take the "Kindle Screen Breakage" Survey

David Rothman over on the TeleRead blog is taking a survey every Kindle owner should be interested in. Regardless of whether you've had screen problems, if you're a Kindle owner please stop by and answer this 1-question survey. 63 people (including myself) have responded so far and the highly unscientific results to date are good as 92% are reporting no problems (see results below). My screen has been fine so far but I also admit I'm extremely careful with it. I worry every time I toss the Kindle in my bag despite the fact that it's always in the case.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Time's Josh Quittner is Feeling the Kindle Love

I guess you could call him a convert. In a recent article Time's Josh Quittner talks about how he initially gave up on the Kindle but recently (re)discovered its virtues. Btw, I still get a kick out of all the people who constantly gripe about the Kindle's supposedly poor battery life. Am I the only person on the planet who routinely plugs my devices in almost every night? Sure, I could let it go another day or two, but why? All my chargers are lined up on one powerstrip at home so recharging is a daily habit I'd find hard to break.

Quittner also talks about the one Kindle feature that I think is the most underappreciated and underutilized: Amazon's free document conversion service. I can't tell you how many times I've forwarded a Word or PDF file to my e-mail address and within minutes the document is converted and wirelessly sent to my device. It's totally changed my approach to document management and printing.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Boy, Was I Wrong About The New York Times...

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about how I was going to give The New York Times a test drive on my Kindle. As a charter member of the Tightwad's Club I was also griping about the rather pricey $13.99 monthly subscription rate. Regardless, I figured I might as well use the free two-week trial that's offered to all Kindle owners.

Two weeks and two business trips later, I'm here to tell you that this subscription is worth every penny of the $13.99/month. How many times have you struggled to read a newspaper on a flight? Whether it's folding it up, knocking things over or just getting all that nasty ink on your hands, I've never found it convenient to read a paper on an airplane. The Kindle newspaper experience is, of course, a breeze by comparison.

I especially loved it that no matter where I was in the country I knew when I woke up the latest edition was waiting for me. Then there's the quality of the content. Sorry, Indianapolis Star editorial team, but I can't believe the quality OpEd material I've been missing out on. Thomas Friedman alone is probably worth the $13.99 monthly fee. In fact, I'm now struggling with whether I should bother maintaining a subscription to the Indianapolis Star. The only thing that's standing between me and cancellation is my wife; she enjoys reading it, particularly since she doesn't get regular access to the Times on my Kindle.

Are there drawbacks? Sure. The "Back" button doesn't always take me where I think it should. I've also had a couple more Kindle lockups while reading the Times. And although it's kind of nice to read a paper with no ads, it feels odd. A work colleague was showing me his new 3G iPhone the other day and mentioned that The New York Times is completely free on it. As I tried it out I noticed subtle ads at the bottom of each screen. I'm not sure if that's how Apple is funding free access to the Times but Amazon should explore the same option, even if it's only to lower the price further and bring in a much larger audience.

The other thing that still feels strange is how this service straddles the fence between static and dynamic content. All you're getting is an image of each day's newspaper, which is fine, but since I have a live connection why not offer periodic updates throughout the day? The Times website offers breaking news from time to time, so why not push that out to Kindle subscribers as well? For example, here's an article from the Times website which first appeared 38 minutes ago and says it was published on 7/22, which is tomorrow!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"Reset at 30,000 Feet"

It sounds like a new action-packed, high-flying drama. I recently lived out "reset at 30,000 feet" and it did feel a little dramatic... The other day I found myself on a 4-hour flight at 30,000 feet or so with a locked-up Kindle. This is at least the 5th time I've had to reset my Kindle but this one was a bit trickier. It's amazing how hard it is to find a paperclip when you're up in the friendly skies. I checked my bag. No go. Even my handy folder full of various business papers came up empty. Fortunately I was sitting next to a guy who had one and he let me borrow it for the job.

As I removed the back cover to resurrect my lifeless e-reader I had an idea: Why not just tape a small paperclip in the recess of the back of the device, under the removable cover? It looks like there's enough clearance for this and it would save me the headache of looking for yet another paperclip the next time my Kindle freezes. I'm going to give it a shot as soon as I get home tonight.