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.