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.