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Entries in ebooks (8)

Monday
Dec262011

You Give a Kid a Kindle - Then What?

My son loves to read, so my wife and I decided to get him a Kindle Touch for Christmas.

He recently turned nine and we think that he's responsible enough to care for an eReader - and what better way to demonstrate our confidence in him than to surprise him on Christmas day?

The problem that we had (as do many parents of young children) is the lack of parental controls on Kindle devices.

Kindles have gotten cheap enough that they can serve as suitable replacements for kid's books without breaking the bank (or a kid's back) but they're still designed with adults in mind: one-click purchases for books, games, apps, movies, music and audiobooks. (Sorry, Amazon, but that doesn't work in our house.)

So, I set about figuring out how to handle this with our son.

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Sep152011

Kindle "Enhanced eBook" FAIL

I just purchased a "Kindle eBook with Audio & Video" for the iPad and every frame of the introductory video looks like this:

Click to activate the embiggenator

Friday
Apr092010

Another Flaw in the eBook Agency Model

Some major book publishers (HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster) have opted for Amazon's "Agency Model" to sell their eBooks. Simply put, this means that the publisher sets the price and Amazon sells then delivers it at that price.

However, it also means that Amazon is not the seller anymore, and they've gone through the trouble to let you know that they have no control over the pricing of a particular title.

This also has tax implications. 

Amazon is very careful about where it keeps distribution centers and any other physical presences in the United States. That's partly because once the company has a physical presence in a state, they have to collect state sales tax.

However, since Amazon is not the seller of the eBook I recently purchased and HarperCollins has a physical presence in the state where I live, Amazon must collect tax on their behalf.

 

So even though I may no longer be paying for shipping on a physical book, I now have to pay sales tax on it, depending on the publisher.

Thanks, HarperCollins.

Monday
Oct052009

[Review] Vook: Books and Videos come together - but is that a good thing?

I've been following Vook (the company) for awhile and was excited to see that they've wasted no time releasing their first Vook (the product). For a customer and reviewer, the nomenclature and lack of distinction between the company and the product can be a real PITA.

As for the product, here's a description from Vook.com:

A vook is a new innovation in reading that blends a well-written book, high-quality video and the power of the Internet into a single, complete story.

Given current trends - the challenges of the book publishing industry, the adoption of ebooks, the use of the iPhone and other portable devices becoming more pervasive, near ubiquitous wireless broadband - I found the concept of Vook (the product) intriguing. This review is based on a thriller entitled The Embassy by Robert Doetsch.

There are two types of Vooks:

  1. Those that are sold as iPhone apps
  2. Those that are browser based

Each share the same basic premise - mixing text with complementary video - but with slightly different approaches. Here I review both types.

Click to read more ...

Monday
Aug032009

Does Amazon want to be in the Hardware Business?

I found this post at iReaderReview about the need for the next generation of the Kindle (what the author calls the "Kindle 3") to have "Killer Features" in order to compete with the new threats to the Kindle's market success.

While it's an interesting analysis, there are some key points that the author fails to address - and others that probably don't need addressing at all.

Some of the "Killer Features" cited in the post include things like a Touchscreen, support for the ePub standard and better support for PDF's. Some of the more outlandish features include Speech-to-Text Transcription for note-taking, GPS and Google Maps and Social Networking.

Whoa! Slow down, cowboy!

The Kindle is an eBook Reader - it's not a computer, an iPod, an "iTablet" or transcription device. It does its job well - better than any other device that's been brought to market before.

Sure, social networking features might be a valuable benefit for readers (and Amazon, as it reduces friction in recommending books) but these services only add to the complexity of the device and the user experience.

That said, the reason for Kindle's groundbreaking success is not specifically about the hardware. The Kindle is a success thanks to: 

  • Great hardware at a reasonable price point with all the promised benefits of an eBook reader (lots of portable content, etc.)
  • Demand fulfillment from anywhere there's a Sprint wireless connection (Sprint powers Whispernet)
  • The backing of major publishers, small publishers and even self-publishers

With all that said, why does Amazon necessarily have to or want to be in the hardware business?

Let's look at Audible.com (now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Amazon) as an analog to the Kindle eBook business.

When Audible launched, to consumers it promised a large selection of audiobooks and lower prices thanks to digital delivery. To publishers it promised to grow the market for audiobooks and protect the publishers' intellectual property using Audible's proprietary file format (".aa") and DRM .

Customers were supposed to purchase the audiobooks, download the files, then listen to them on their computer or burn them to a CD for portable use. Neither of these consumption options was very practical. Listening on your computer require that you remain in close proximity to your computer and even with a laptop, wasn't practical for the car where most audiobooks are consumed.

Burning CD's in the late 90's still took an inordinate amount of time due to write speeds of most CD-R drives and the general speed of computers.

To improve on this relatively poor consumption experience, Audible produced a great (for its time) little MP3 player called the Otis that played both MP3 and Audible's proprietary file format. (I still have mine, somewhere. It still works.)

The debut of this device coincided with the AudibleListener subscription program. In exchange for committing to a year of the program, you received a free Otis player.

Over time, Audible licensed its software to other device manufacturers so that they could enable playback of .aa files on their portable media devices. The first was the Diamond Rio. Hundreds of others followed, including the big Kahuna, Apple, whose iPods and iPhones all play the .aa format.

Where's the Otis today? In the Smithsonian. (Literally. They have one as a part of their collection.) That's to say that Audible no longer makes the Otis.

Once portable media players took off as a product category, Audible no longer needed to expend its resources on producing its own - that was one part of the ecosystem that the market assumed on its own.

Let's return to the Kindle and Amazon's eBook business.

What's to stop Amazon from giving you a free Kindle in exchange for your commitment to a one or two year subscription plan? That would be a game changer even before Barnes & Noble/Plastic Logic got a toehold in the market.

For that matter, if you're Amazon, why manufacturer the Kindle at all? Amazon wants any manufacturer to play in their eBook ecosystem. The release of the Kindle source code and the Kindle App for the iPhone both support this theory completely.

As the market for eBooks gets bigger, Amazon benefits whether or not they continue to produce a reader. I hope they continue as I love my Kindle and expect the company to innovate for years to come, but when Amazon is satisfied that another manufacturer can produce an experience as good or better than they can themselves, I could envision them divesting themselves of their hardware business altogether and focus on content and services.

Tuesday
May122009

The Whispersync That Will Be

With the introduction of the Kindle 2 and the Kindle for iPhone application came Whispersync: the ability to sync the current place in your book between devices. Amazon also introduced text-to-speech capability, allowing you to listen to your books aloud while still maintaining said place within your book. This, gentle reader, is but a temporary method to integrate text and audio.

Remember Amazon's acquisition of Audible.com?

Once Audible is fully-integrated with the Amazon Digital Services platform, I'll bet that Kindlers will be given the ability to read and listen to the same book and never have to fumble for the place where they left off.

Of course, publishers are not going to just give away two copies of the same work for which they normally charge full-price, but I envision some sort of bundle where the combined cost of the Kindle text and the Audible audio will be sold at a 25% - 50% discount vs. purchasing each of them separately.

Of course, device support will likely be limited to those that are networked and allow third-party applications. At the moment, that means the iPhone/iPod Touch, BlackBerry, Android, Palm Treo, Palm Pre, Windows Mobile, etc. although it's certainly possible to accomplish this feat with a desktop application acting as an intermediary. Audible has done this for years - when you sync your portable media device to your desktop, it notes your playback position, allowing you to listen where you left off using your desktop media player.

When might we see this?

That's unclear, but it will begin the day Audible customers receive an email that says something like, "Dear Audible Customer, you'll now be getting your audiobooks through Amazon.com..."

I'd say, look for it within a year to eighteen months.

Thursday
Dec182008

"Like Crack for your Kindle"

Or should that be "Krack?" ;)

Sarah Cofer introduced me to FeedBooks, a site with thousands of free ebooks that you can read on your Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader, iPhone/iPod Touch, Cybook Gen3, iRex iLiad and other smartphones/PDA's.

There's a good mix of classics along with copyright-lapsed, public domain books, but also a bunch of newer works licensed under Creative Commons from Cory Doctorow, Lawrence Lessig and others.

I downloaded a bunch of Cory's science fiction and Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" and have them queued up for reading over the holidays.

Another interesting feature is the ability to "create your own newspaper" based on tags that you enter into the FeedBooks system. Like the books, your "newspaper" can be downloaded to your computer and copied to your device. You can subscribe to your newspaper using any RSS reader that supports enclosures. (iTunes will work for this.)

I'm in the process of setting up my newspaper, but I doubt it will replace Google Reader on my desktop, netbook or iPhone. More to come on this.

Visit FeedBooks and create an account, then share your recommendations and newspapers with me. I'm gadgetboy. (of course.)

Wednesday
Dec172008

Amazon Kindle PDF Support

The Kindle doesn't natively support PDF documents, which was a real disappointment for me. I wanted to be able to take the many PDF's that I receive on a daily basis and read them on my Kindle - and save a few trees in the process.

As it turns out, PDF support is considered experimental on the Kindle and the documents can be loaded onto the device if you use Amazon's document conversion service.

Here's a perfect example:

Today, I discovered that the authors of Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty and Happiness after the Digital Explosion are making a version of the book available for download under a Creative Commons license from their web site. While this is certainly great news, I wasn't about to print the PDF, nor read it on my computer screen.

Enter Amazon's document conversion service. Each Kindle comes with an email address. If you send a document that you'd like converted and loaded onto your Kindle, to this address, you're pretty much done. Depending on the complexity of the document's formatting, it should be available on your Kindle no later than twenty minutes from when it's received.

Because the PDF for Blown to Bits is so large - about 22 megabytes - I first had to overcome a delivery challenge: Gmail won't allow me to send attachments larger than 20 megabytes.

Apple to the rescue.

I opened the document in Preview on my MacBook, selected "Save As..." and was given the option to save the document with a reduced file size. When the process was complete, the resulting PDF was only 6.3 megabytes. Cool.

I then emailed the document to Amazon and waited. About 15 minutes later, it was ready for loading onto my Kindle.

Other than some funky formatting of the table fo contents, the formatting of the book is nearly perfect (although I haven't encountered any diagrams or exhibits, yet).

I'm going to try this with some longer blog posts soon, too. That said, HTML is supported natively so I should be able to just copy a document to the device using a USB cable and avoid the 10 cent fee that Amazon charges for using the document conversion service.