Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Couple of Quick Kindle Tips

Mike Elgan of Computerworld is trying to use the Kindle to help him become less reliant on paper. If you're like Mike and you do a lot of public speaking, why not use your Kindle for your talking points/notes rather than paper? That's a great idea, and since the Kindle has a much smaller footprint than a laptop, it fits nicely on just about any podium.

Today's other tip has to do with a book called 55 Ways to Have Fun with Google, by Philipp Lenssen. You could either buy the paperback edition on Amazon (currently selling for $17.69) or just go to this website where you'll find the PDF edition for free.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The $9.99 Factor

Here's yet another interesting post and follow-up discussion on Kindlekorner, this time, regarding the price of e-books. One publisher felt the wrath of the community by coming out with a Kindle edition that's well over the popular $9.99 price point. The title in question was quickly changed from a price of more than $20 to, you guessed it, $9.99.

Regardless of how Amazon is arriving at and settling on their pricing levels, you've got to believe there will be more and more community discontent every time a new Kindle edition comes out at something higher than $9.99. Amazon's response was swift in this case; it will be interesting to see if that pattern continues, particularly as the Kindle ownership base grows.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Are You Buying a License or the Actual Book?

Besides the format itself, there's a big difference between buying a physical copy of a book and buying an e-book. Plenty of e-book detractors like to point out the fact that you can't just pass an e-book along to your friend like you can a physical book. That's a valid point today but I hope it's not always the case in the future; for example, see this wacky used textbook idea I posted on my Publishing 2020 blog.

Nevertheless, the model is very limited today and it could be quite awhile before that changes. This post on Gizmodo drills a bit deeper into the subject though and points out that you're not actually buying the book for your Kindle but rather a license for the book. This, and my preference to simply rip a CD, are the reasons why I have never bought a 99-cent song online for any of my MP3 players over the years. I expect the terms and language associated with all this will continue to evolve though as more consumers insist on broader rights for their e-content.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Another Kindle Owner's Observations

Amazon's Kindle Forum is a must-read for Kindle owners as well as anyone else considering buying a Kindle. The forum helps you discover new tips, workarounds and hear other customers talk about their Kindle experience. One of the more insightful recent posts is this one by Donald Johnson. He makes some excellent points about the Kindle, even if a few fellow forum members disagree (and they do...just look at the comments!).

He starts off by pointing out that the Kindle does a great job at what it's designed to do, although he mistakenly lumps all current Kindle owners into one bucket, calling them "technologically unsophisticated Amazon customers." The problem here is that many Kindle owners are just like him: early adopters willing to pay a premium for the latest gadget. Most early adopters are as curious about the underlying technology as the product itself, a point made by more than one of the follow-up comments on the forum.

He also points out the common complaint that content for this device is (pretty much) limited to one vendor, Amazon. I'm just not so sure that will always be the case, and as I've said before, the market will dictate the outcome. If enough people are comfortable with one content provider, device and e-book sales levels will rise accordingly and Amazon will never have a reason to open it up to other content providers, period. It's far too early in the Kindle's lifecycle to know which way this will go; the situation is exacerbated by the out-of-stock/limited distribution world the Kindle currently exists in.

Perhaps the most important point made here is this one: "Don't forget that the web browser built into the Kindle is experimental and have you read the Service Agreement clause that states that Amazon reserves the option of charging for accessing non-Amazon sites?" The early adopter road is full of plenty of potential potholes like this. Pricing models can change. Accessibility options can change. The bottom line is this is an e-book reader first and foremost; if you're using it for other tasks (e.g., surfing the web from time to time), keep in mind that those secondary (and frequently undocumented) features might dry up down the road.

I almost ran into a similar problem with my XM radio online firmware update reduces the FM transmitter's capability, thereby limiting the device's use at home and in the car. My solution: I've had the device for almost two years and I've never done the online firmware upgrade. I might be missing out on a product patch or two, but the built-in FM transmitter works better than any third-party one I've tried!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Mobipocket for Blackberry

Are you a Blackberry user who's been thinking about taking the $400 plunge on a Kindle? Before you do so, you might want to consider the Mobipocket Reader for the Blackberry. Assuming you're using a Blackberry you've already got the device, thereby saving yourself $400. The downside includes the fact that there's no eInk display on your Blackberry and fewer titles are available (40K+ for Mobipocket vs. Kindle's 100K+). But hey, did I mention you'll save $400? I've got to try it out just to see what the reading experience is like.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

USA Today Says No eInk Display Shortages?

USA Today featured this brief article about ongoing Kindle availability issues. Although it sounded like more of the same, this particular sentence jumped out at me:

There are no apparent shortages in the display technologies that go into e-book readers, says Vinita Jakhanwal, a principal analyst for mobile displays at iSuppli.
I've read it several times now and even after studying the sentence before and after, I'm still having trouble understanding what this means. On the surface, it sounds like the eInk components aren't the bottleneck causing the out-of-stock situation. If not, what is?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Mike Elgan Wonders About Kindle Numbers

My colleague Jason M. forwarded me a link to this blog post by Computerworld's Mike Elgan. On the surface, it sounds like the same old banter about Amazon and why aren't they telling us how many Kindle's they've sold so far. In fact, at least one person who commented on the post ("HeavyG") calls Elgan out for piling on like this. HeavyG goes on to suggest that Amazon should continue to keep this a secret just to see "how many folks get their panties in a bunch." HeavyG is a Kindle owner and doesn't care whether the number of units sold is "10,000 or 100,000 or 1,00,000." Well said, sort of...

For HeavyG's sake, I hope the number is on the high end, not the low end. After all, if HeavyG really likes the Kindle, a small base will be the kiss of death for it in the long run. How long do you think Amazon (or any other company, for that matter) would continue touting and producing this device if the base were to remain in the thousands? Not very long.

But back to the Elgan post... He makes a good point about why Amazon would want to continue stoking demand with premium, front-and-center placement of it on their home page, particularly when supply can't keep up with demand as it is. Why not ease off the throttle a bit till there's an abundant supply of the devices on-hand and then dial up the on-site promotional efforts again. One reason might be that this step would cause even more conspiracy theorists (like myself) to speculate that Amazon is backing off the device and not as excited about it as they once were. That would probably be more damaging to momentum than the out-of-stock situation they've endured since day one, I suppose.

Four months into this now, I still have the same question Elgan has: How many are out there? What's the harm in saying? Apple, one of the most secretive tech companies on the planet, seems to be quite comfortable stating the numbers of iPods they've sold and iTunes songs that have been downloaded. Of course, those numbers are enormous and it's probably fun to announce them, particularly when you're the market share king. That point alone probably says a lot about the reason for the Kindle number silence...

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Publishing with Amazon's Digital Text Platform (DTP)

Have you ever thought about publishing for the Kindle platform? If so, author April L. Hamilton has prepared an excellent, free resource for you. It's a 15-page PDF file called IndieAuthor Guide to Publishing with Amazon's Digital Text Platform. April covers all the aspects of DTP, including why to use it, how it works, what rights do you give up when using it and much, much more. Highly recommended.

Monday, March 3, 2008

New York Times Speculates on Apple's "Safari Pad"

John Markoff provides this interesting article about a possible Kindle knock-off from Apple called the "Safari Pad." Could Apple pull this off? Absolutely. There's no doubt a Jobs-inspired e-book device would be much sexier looking than the Kindle, but it's not all about look and feel now, is it? Well, actually, I suppose it is all about sexiness in the digital music device market, but I'm not sure that will carry over into e-books.

IMHO, Amazon has a couple of distinct advantages here that Apple simply doesn't: Experience and a well-known brand name in the category. Let's face it. Amazon is one of the most trusted brand names when it comes to book retailing. They're still a relative newcomer when compared to their brick-and-mortar competitors, but they are the 800-pound gorilla when it comes to books online.

Then again, Apple had zero experience in music prior to the iPod and they've always had a strong, well-respected brand name. Come to think of it, maybe it would be a good idea to see if the domain is available...