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.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Why No Subfolders?!

My documents list on my Kindle is getting extremely cluttered. I'd like to have folders to move related files into. For example, I'd love to have a series of subfolders within the "documents" folder. I can create one and move files into it (via File Manager in Windows) but it has no effect whatsoever on the Kindle itself; all those files in subfolders simply show up in the "documents" view and not within the named subfolders. In fact, the subfolder names themselves never even show up on the Kindle even though Windows sees them that way.

I'm stunned that Amazon didn't even think about a simple subfolder architecture like this. Heck, it's been a function of every major operating system for 30+ years!

Let's hope a software or firmware update is offered soon to address this embarrassing Kindle flaw. In the mean time, we'll all be wasting way too much time pressing "Next Page" and "Prev Page" looking for that critical book or document in a sea of downloads.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Join the Kindle Social Network!

"Kindle Your Social Life" That's the tag-line for a new social network that focuses on the Kindle. It's called the Social Network for Book Lovers Kindle Owners and Authors. What a great idea...why didn't I think of that?!

For more information on it, see this blog post by Abhi Singh, the brains behind this site. I'm going to join the network right now.

PDFs and Free Conversions

PDF is typically considered a 4-letter world in the land of Kindle. When my Kindle arrived awhile back I remember thinking about converting all the PDFs I print/read throughout the day and loading them on the device instead. Wrong. In fact, I made a mistake early on and tried to use Amazon's free service to convert a PDF -- I was greeted by a short reply saying PDFs aren't supported. In fact, if you search for "PDF" in Amazon's Kindle User's Guide (version 1.1) you'll find the only occurrence of the phrase is when the guide tells you about itself; IOW, you can't read a PDF on the Kindle, you can't convert a PDF for a Kindle, but Amazon tells you how to use the Kindle via a PDF file. Ironic, no?

Apparently something has recently changed on this front. I remember reading a blog post a couple of days ago about how to use Amazon's service to convert PDFs for the Kindle. I immediately thought, "no, this person obviously never tried doesn't work!" I got curious though and e-mailed a small PDF to my Kindle address. Sure enough, a couple of minutes later, there it was on my device! No error message. No rejection. Very cool.

Now that I see it actually works I've been sending myself all sorts of simple PDFs for conversion. This is way better than printing them out or trying to read them on my computer. If you've got a bunch of PDFs to convert, just zip them together and send them as one file; Amazon's service will split them up and deliver them individually to your Kindle. And btw, I also recall reading about two different ways to convert files for the Kindle. One method would cost 10 cents per conversion and would all take place wirelessly. I talked with Amazon's customer support and they said they decided to not charge for this service after all, at least not for now. So all you need to do is e-mail your files to (where "yourname" matches the account ID for your Kindle service registration) and you can start enjoying free wireless conversion services too! Let's just hope Amazon doesn't rethink that 10 cents per conversion fee...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Feedbooks News

Have you heard of the Feedbooks News service? If you own a Kindle you need to try it out ASAP. This extremely cool service shoots RSS feeds directly to your Kindle, completely free of charge. Over lunch today I grabbed several feeds including slashdot, the NY Times homepage and Wired's Top Stories. And hey, if you're looking for either of my blogs on the go, grab the feed for Publishing 2020 here and Kindleville here.

Once you have the initial Feedbooks files on your Kindle you'll find that you need to go to the cover of each one and select "Update this feed" to get the latest and greatest content. I didn't see a way to automate this step but I'm hoping Feedbooks adds that option soon; I'd hate to think I forgot to press "Update this feed" for all my subscriptions before I jump on a plane! I sent a message to Feedbooks asking if an auto-update feature is on the drawing board for service enhancements...I'll let you know what I hear. In the mean time, give Feedbooks News a shot. You won't regret it.

UPDATE: I spoke with Hadrien Gardeur of Feedbooks and he told me that "only Amazon can provide auto-updates on the Kindle. But as long as you're within EVDO range you can easily update (1 click)." I'm in my second day of using this service and although I wish it offered auto-updates like I described I find it quite usable as is.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

One of the Best Kindle 2.0 Ideas I've Heard So Far

This one seems so simple and obvious but isn't that often the foundation of a great idea? I'm talking about this suggestion Lorrie Blackburn (see her blog here) made over on my Publishing 2020 blog. She wants Amazon to figure out how to take one of the greatest features of a physical book, the ability to pass it along to a friend when you're finished with it, and apply it to the Kindle platform. So once I finish reading The Greatest Generation on my Kindle, I could pass the rights to my copy along to another Kindle owner. As Lorrie notes, it's "something we've always been able to do with the dead tree version."


Sunday, July 6, 2008

Test Driving The New York Times

Wireless delivery of timely content like a newspaper is one of the Kindle's competitive advantages. Now that I've had mine for a bit I decided to try out The New York Times. I have to admit that the $13.99 monthly rate seems steep to me, and apparently I'm not alone. Here's an excerpt from an excellent review of the Times on the Kindle from Capt'n Bob:

But...I'm afraid it won't succeed at this price. And that concerns me because I really want these Kindle subscriptions to be wild successes and stoke the Kindle experience itself. (Which is why I'm taking the time and trouble to write this review.)

The price point needs to be $9.95, or even $5.95 to get significant traction. People who will subscribe are not choosing between print and electronic, they are choosing between Kindle and free (web or PDA) electronic alternatives.
I enjoyed the Sunday edition on a flight earlier today and it was a pleasure. There's nothing quite like reading a newspaper on a crowded plane without having to deal with all the awkward turning of pages and folding of paper. I'm only 2 days into the 14-day free trial and my inner tightwad is already dreading that first $13.99 charge. Capt'n Bob is right. Amazon got the book pricing model right (sub-$10) so I'm hoping they'll eventually work something out with the Times and offer a more attractive monthly rate.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

We're All Kindle Salespeople

What a great model Amazon is building: No advertising other than their own website and an army of Kindle enthusiasts out there helping them hype the product. I think we should be on Amazon's payroll...sort of.

I say this because last night I found myself in yet another situation where I was basically hand-selling another Kindle for Jeff Bezos & Co. I was talking with a friend and happened to have my Kindle handy. I showed it to him as he oohed and aahed. I have no doubt he went straight home and ordered one last night.

Btw, this was yet another example of the awareness problem Amazon faces with the Kindle. He too is a regular Amazon customer but has never noticed any of the Kindle ads on Amazon's home page. Never. Ever. He had no idea what the name Kindle referred to; a "Kindle" could be a new type of chair for all he knew. I asked him about that and he said he's "always on a mission" when he goes to Amazon. "I head right to that search box, type in what I'm looking for and never bother to look at anything else on their home page." Interesting.

Back to my payroll suggestion... Why doesn't Amazon have a simple little order-taking application we can all run on our Kindles? Even something as bare-bones as one screen with a couple of text-entry boxes where we can put the prospective buyer's name and e-mail address would do the trick; thanks to the magic of Whispernet the info would go right to Amazon and they could then send the prospect a message with more info on the Kindle. They could also track you or I as the lead originator, so if an order results, we'd get credit for it.

What sort of credit am I suggesting? The affiliate fee is nice and all, but how about a free Kindle book or two? Turn it into a competition. Have a leaderboard showing the top 10 originators. There would be a lot of friendly competition to hit the #1 slot!

I'm on the road a bit over the next couple of weeks and I'm anticipating plenty of questions from fellow airline passengers as I read my Kindle. Amazon has an excellent opportunity to turn these little readers into order-takers as well!