Thursday, April 30, 2009

Some Kindle pundits have caught Whine Flu

As you've no doubt heard by now, Amazon recently announced that they will finally begin charging a fee for sending personal documents to your Kindle wirelessly (after giving it away for two years).  Instead of charging by the document, as they had originally planned, they will by the megabyte -- 15 cents per MB rounded up to the nearest megabyte.

Of course Kindle critics see this as one more sign of the Kindle's future downfall. 

One blogger asks "Does this increase lessen the value of the Kindle?", and proceeds to express his displeasure at the pricing change.

My favorite headline so far comes from C-Net:  "Amazon's Kindle: Your fat personal docs aren't cheap." 

Exactly how "fat" do your personal documents have to be before transferring them wirelessly is no longer cheap?

Just for a frame of reference, I visited Project Gutenberg and looked up War and Peace.  Any guess on how much that "fat" txt file will cost to transfer under the new pricing structure?  60 cents.  That still seems like a bargain for document conversion and wireless delivery, especially considering we're paying no monthly fee for wireless service.

Of course PDFs are much larger than text files, but given the dodgy quality of PDF conversions for Kindle I doubt too many Kindle users will be concerned about PDF pricing.

I don't know about you, but I don't have too many Tolstoy-sized personal documents sitting around that I need to transfer to my Kindle.  But if you do, fortunately there's always the free solution of transferring documents to your Kindle manually via USB cable, either after converting them yourself using a program such as Calibre (which we introduced you to earlier), or by using your email address.

I'm certainly no Amazon apologist, but the whole thing seems to be much ado about nothing.  I strongly doubt it will affect future purchase decisions or send any current Kindle users scrambling to eBay to list their device.  Not until Apple unleashes their "Kindle Killer," that is (yawn).  But that's another column.


Currently reading on my Kindle:  Nothing!  I'm reading a real paper book from my local library.  Ugh.  Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-zinn.

Follow me on Twitter @phigginbotham.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The New York Times Laments Forward Progress with the Kindle

The Kindle prevents you from learning more about the stranger sitting next to you on the subway, or so this New York Times article suggests. Gone are the days when you could tell whether that person was into sci-fi, sports or politics, for example. Well how about just knowing they're an early adopter who loves the portability, power and flexibility of an e-reader?!

I've had more people ask me about my Kindle (in airports, conferences, etc.) than I've ever had ask me about the print book I happened to be reading; and don't forget I've had a Kindle for less than a year but I had been reading print books all my life prior to that.

How about this little gem from the article?:

Will they (Kindles) help or hurt book sales and authors’ advances? Cannibalize the industry?
It's called "progress", people, and it's not a bad thing. The same fears probably kept some people from making that scary jump from horses to automobiles 100+ years ago. I'm glad nobody squashed that idea, although current GM shareholders might disagree.

I laughed out loud when I read this excerpt:
Publishers will no longer get the bump that comes when travelers see someone reading, say, the latest James Patterson and say to themselves: “I’ve been meaning to get that. I think I’ll buy a copy at Hudson News before I hop on the train.”
Just how many people does the typical commuter influence like this? And isn't that number kinda tiny when compared to the more modern forms of e-promotions, including e-mail blasts, Twittering, etc.? Maybe this Times columnist is living in the era of horse-and-buggy transportation after all.

I nearly cried though when I read the part about David Rosenthal, EVP and Publisher at Simon & Schuster. Here's a publishing executive who owns a Sony Reader, uses it to read manuscripts but won't read a published book on it. Yeah, you read that right. I wonder if he trusts his computer's spreadsheet to analyze P&L's or if he still insists on doing things the old-fashioned way, with a sliderule, pencil and paper.

Meanwhile, back to the snobbishness of carrying around a book rather than reading it electronically. Maybe there's a market for someone to produce an e-reader cover with a see-through slot in front where you can print out and insert whatever book cover you want to impress everyone with. I'd put a Mad magazine cover on mine, just to be different.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

My Visit to E Ink

Last week I mentioned I was heading to our Cambridge office and had a meeting scheduled with E Ink, the company that makes the Kindle and Sony Reader displays. I wound up spending the better part of an hour with Russ Wilcox, CEO of E Ink, and got to see some very cool stuff.

I need to preface this by saying that the E Ink technologies I got a peek at are still a ways off. Don't look for them in a new Kindle version anytime soon. IOW, if you're thinking about buying a Kindle today but wondering if a new version is about to arrive with any of these display capabilities, forget about it! You're better off buying a Kindle 2 today, not waiting for this stuff to arrive.

First up, I saw a display that supports animations. You probably know your Kindle can't show anything other than static text/photos. A prototype I saw allowed for simple animations. I say "simple" because I'm talking about animated line-art, not video like you see on YouTube. Nevertheless, it was implemented in a manner that lends itself nicely to simple, motion-filled ad blocks on a portion of the display. Although the Kindle's content is currently ad-free, I'd like to see Amazon enable ad support so that publishers/authors will have a new way to monetize their content.

I saw several prototypes and all of them offered crisper renderings of text and graphics than what I've seen on either Kindle 1 or Kindle 2. And it's important to note that the animations described above were done without the need for the annoying reverse-out (and ghosting) effect we've all grown accustomed to on first- and second-generation Kindles.

Most importantly, I'm here to tell you I've seen a color display and it was very attractive. The colors were a little washed out but the clarity was excellent...and don't forget E Ink has plenty of time to address the colorization before a device ever ships. Like today's E Ink displays, the color prototype had no backlighting. As a result, I can see where it too will be much easier on the eyes than staring at my backlit LCD laptop all day.

So for anyone wondering whether progress is being made on color displays for e-readers, I'm pleased to report the answer is "yes." And don't be surprised if you see a post-2 Kindle display that's still monochrome but has more bells and whistles than today's model. Just don't look for it anytime soon!

New KindleFeeder Feature

How cool is this? I'm catching up on my KindleFeeder RSS feeds last night and I had an idea to improve the service. My feeds are automatically delivered every morning at 6AM. I could choose a different time but I like to get the latest as early in the morning as possible. But what about those times when I'm about to hop on a plane and I'd like any updates that have hit since 6AM?

If time permits (and it never does) I could boot my computer, head to and have it push an update to me. But it would be even better if I could request the update from my Kindle, within the KindleFeeder file/feed itself.

I sent this idea to Dan Choi, the guy behind KindleFeeder, and he implemented it overnight. So now there's an extra link on the first KindleFeeder screen that says, "Trigger a new wireless delivery". I just tried it and it works perfectly. The next time I board a plane I'll just pull out my Kindle, click that link and I'll have all the latest feeds before I even take my seat. Very slick!

I've said it before but I'll say it again: If you're not using KindleFeeder you're missing out. I use it every day and totally love the service. Btw, if you want to follow Dan Choi on Twitter you'll find him here.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

What Would You Like to Tell/Ask E Ink?

I'm back on the road this week and one of my stops is at the offices of E Ink in Cambridge, MA. If you're not familiar with E Ink you're not paying attention... They're the company who created the ultra cool display in your Kindle. They also produce the displays for the Sony Reader and a number of other devices.

I've been told I'll get a glimpse at some next-generation technologies. It's not clear whether I'll be able to share all the information I gather on this visit, but I'll tell you what I can.

I've got a number of questions for the E Ink team and I thought it would be a good idea to ask Kindleville readers if they have some as well. So here's your chance to use me as a messenger. Is there anything you'd like the folks at E Ink to hear about your experience with their display technology? Do you have any questions you'd like me to ask them while I'm there?

If so, you can either send them as a comment to this post or email them to me at jwikert[at]

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Kindle Swiss Army knife

I've recently been playing with an e-book management program called Calibre. Now I don't see how I lived without it.

Calibre is an open-source, cross platform program that lets you manage your e-library, convert documents and e-books to different formats, download news feeds, and sync everything with your Kindle.

As if dragging and dropping files to your Kindle's "Documents" folder weren't already easy enough, Calibre makes it even easier, even giving you a choice of sending a document to your Kindle memory or your SD card (for K1 users only, obviously). It makes conversion a snap too for those documents not already in Mobi format.

Calibre's best feature is "Fetch news," which lets you download popular news feeds and then transfer them to your Kindle. There are a lot of fantastic feeds available, such as The New York Times (registration required), The Economist, and Wired magazine, but with a little work you can add your own custom feeds as well.

You can schedule automatic downloads of your favorite news feeds, but for that to work you have to leave your computer on and Calibre running. I prefer launching Calibre and manually downloading the feeds when I want them.

So far I've downloaded issues of the NYT and The Economist for my Kindle and they look great.

The program is easy to use but there is a manual on the website in case you get stuck. The one roadblock I ran into initially was not noticing that Calibre has the preferred e-book format set to EPUB by default, which sadly doesn't work with Kindle. So I when I tried to transfer my first batch of news to my Kindle I got an error saying no valid device was connected. Once I realized my mistake and switched the preferred format to Mobi it worked like a charm.

I can't recommend the program enough for Kindle owners. It's a fantastic way to get news to your Kindle -- for free -- and an all-around good tool for managing your e-library.

Calibre is free but they accept donations.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Why Isn't Amazon the 800-Pound Gorilla of eReaders?

OK, the Kindle is pretty darned successful. Amazon ran out of stock twice in the first year so maybe they don't need to worry about selling more units. That sounds like a rationalization to me though and I keep wondering why Amazon hasn't tried to turn the Kindle into a much bigger hit.

Other than the Kindle you own, how many have you seen in the wild? For me, the answer to that question is...drum roll please...2. I've been on at least 30 different flights since the original Kindle arrived in November of 2007 and I think I've seen one other person using one on a plane. It's an unfair comparison, but I couldn't even tally the number of iPhones I've seen on those same flights.

As much as we've all assumed Sony's initiative has failed, have you checked Google Trends lately? This is one of my favorite tools and it's quite useful for comparing search popularity between two or more terms. In this case, I'm comparing "Amazon Kindle" with "Sony Reader." Sony has had a lead on the Kindle since shortly after the latter was first released. That gap kept increasing till Kindle 2 arrived earlier this year. But look at how Kindle search activity has died back down and the Sony Reader searches are again comfortably ahead.

Critics have complained that Google Trends isn't an effective tool for this sort of comparison. They say "nobody needs to search for the Kindle since it's right there, front and center on Amazon's home page." Perhaps, but if that were the case, how come so many of my friends and relatives who are loyal Amazon customers have still never heard of the Kindle?!

Amazon is the king of online book sales and yet I feel like they've left the door wide open for a competitor to come in and crush them in the e-reader space. The barrier to entry isn't exactly low but Amazon simply doesn't have the momentum I would have expected by this point.

It seems every time I turn around someone else is announcing plans for a new reader. Why do I get the impression Amazon isn't hungry and aggressive enough to dominate this space? They seem perfectly content to take the slow and steady path, focusing more on customers with the most disposable income and not the mass market.

Here's a link to a story about Rupert Murdoch and speculation about what he wants to do on the e-reader front. Btw, Amazon might not be the hungriest of competitors here, but do you think the newspaper industry is a tad bit starved these days? You have to wonder if they'll awaken and do something really exciting and innovative...or maybe not.

How about this recent NY Times article about Or this upcoming, "next generation reader," called txtr? Amazon's Whispernet connectivity has always been its key competitive advantage, but how long will it be before someone comes out with something even more powerful at a much better price?

I admit I'm down on Amazon right now. I feel like I spent $360 on a Kindle 1 and although I use it every day I don't see growth potential or an upgrade path for it. My iPhone, on the other hand, features a slew of new apps every week, making it even more appealing today than it was yesterday...and who knows about tomorrow? How long will it be before someone creates an e-reader with that sort of sex appeal? Or does it already exist and it's called "the iPhone"?

P.S. -- I'm heading to Cambridge next week and, among other things, I'm scheduled to meet with the folks at E Ink, the company that makes the displays for the Kindle and Sony Reader. I'm told I'll get to see some next generation display technologies. Assuming I'm not tied to an NDA for the visit I'll be sure to report back on any of the cool stuff they show me.