Courtesy of old college friend Naomi Firestone of the awesome Jewish Book Council, here’s an insane blog post that seems too insane/amazing to be true from a fellow North Carolinian on the blog Ocracoke Island Journal:
Some weeks ago I decided that I wanted to read Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Lou Ann loaned me her copy. At more than 1100 pages, reading it in bed required as much strength as balancing a box of bricks in my hands. In my senior years I have developed arthritis in my thumbs, which made the effort not only difficult, but painful.
I had read about half of the novel when I was given the gift of a Nook, the e-reader from Barnes and Noble. Although I am committed to supporting my neighborhood independent book store (Books to be Red), and enjoying honest-to-goodness books, the .99 Nook edition was so lightweight that it has made reading War and Peace a genuine pleasure. For those of you who have not tackled this tome as yet, it is a page-turner.
As I was reading, I came across this sentence: “It was as if a light had been Nookd in a carved and painted lantern….” Thinking this was simply a glitch in the software, I ignored the intrusive word and continued reading. Some pages later I encountered the rogue word again. With my third encounter I decided to retrieve my hard cover book and find the original (well, the translated) text.
For the sentence above I discovered this genuine translation: “It was as if a light had been kindled in a carved and painted lantern….”
Someone at Barnes and Noble (a twenty year old employee? or maybe the CEO?) had substituted every incidence of “kindled” with “Nookd!”
If this story of intrepid word replacement is true, it’s another remarkable example of the. It’s a form of censorship, plain and simple, that takes advantage of EVERYONE . . . it takes advantage of the meaning of the word in a text, the role of the translator, the role of the publisher, the role of the reader, and the role of Barnes & Noble to keep their dirty money-lovin’ fingers out of the e-readers they are providing to the reading public. Want to compete with Amazon? Go for it, I’m all about it. But this isn’t the way to do it, and if Barnes & Noble keeps it up, they will most certainly hear of it with mass market rejection far beyond what they and their peer big-box retailing institutions have suffered. Dammit, I hate any example of anybody making Jeff Bezos look better by comparison.
Now, it’s nothing new for Amazon.com to release sales information without any actual hard numbers (how many Kindles have been sold?), but this announcement in The Bookseller begs a explanation:
Amazon.com customers have bought more Kindle e-books than both hardback and paperback books combined for the top 10, 25, 100 and 1,000 bestselling books on Amazon.com over the last 30 days. [. . .]
Steve Kessel, senior vice-president of Amazon Kindle, said: “For the top 10 bestselling books on Amazon.com, customers are choosing Kindle books over hardcover and paperback books combined at a rate of greater than 2 to 1. Kindle books are also outselling print books for the top 25, 100, and 1,000 bestsellers—it’s across the board.”
As a good friend pointed out last night, with ebook sales making up less than 20% of a publisher’s total sales (probably much less than 20%), this seems not just inaccurate, but basically impossible. And to be honest, it just doesn’t feel right.
Which raises a few questions: Is there any mathematical explanation that could make these statements make sense? And if not, why release something like this?
My math skills are less than amazing, but these two perspectives (Amazon sold more ebooks than print one; Publishers sell four times more print books than e-versions) could be reconciled, if the great majority of print books were being sold by outlets other than Amazon, whereas almost all ebooks are going to the Kindle.
This does make some degree of sense. Since we’re talking about just bestsellers here (Kessel’s 2:1 statement only applies to the top 1,000 bestselling titles), Barnes & Noble, independents, and most crucially, non-bookstores (Costco, Sam’s Club, Target, etc.), will make up a much larger percentage of total print book sales than they would for a typical midlist title.
So, if we pretend for a moment that Amazon’s numbers aren’t bullshit, and that they control approx. 80% of the ebook market, this would mean that their market share for print book sales of bestsellers is less than 10%. (I think. Again, though I like math in theory, that theory is very abstract and far away from my life.)
To make this as concrete as possible, let’s pretend there’s a book that sells 1,000,000 copies total—both print and ebook version. Assuming ebook sales make up 20% of the total, this book sold 800,000 print versions, 200,000 ebook versions. And if Amazon controls 80% of the ebook market, then 160,000 of these ebooks were Kindle editions. And if the ebooks sold at a rate of 2:1 over print versions on Amazon, Amazon only sold 80,000 print editions, which is a pretty small portion of the print book market.
And if publishers are overestimating e-sales, and the real figure is closer to 10%, then Amazon accounts for even less of the print market.
Again, totally pulling these numbers out of my ass, and I’m probably miscalculating all over the place, but in trying to do whatever necessary to reconcile these two statements (ebooks 2:1 over print, ebooks are only 20% of a book’s total sales), Amazon looks a bit weaker than I would’ve expected.
So what does this mean? Well, one possible crack-pot interpretation is that Amazon is cannibalizing its own sales. That it would so much rather people buy the Kindle version (even at a loss), making money off of the device itself. (Digression: I was going to put “making money off of the device itself and complementary sales of other products,” but that’s a weird flaw in the Kindle-as-selling-tool argument. Amazon makes tons of cash off of spontaneous additional purchases: “I want Freedom . . . and a toaster!” But the Kindle is wedded to book purchases only. Interesting.)
And maybe this is a reflection on society itself. We’re so driving by instant satisfaction (I feel frustrated and delayed simply having to sign in to the U of R’s wifi every morning. Can’t this process be automatic so that I don’t have to wait 30 seconds to check my email?) that if we want a book, we want it now, meaning that we’ll buy it on our Kindle if we prefer the e-version, or in the checkout line of Wegmans if we’re print bound. Why wait for Amazon to ship it?
All this scares me deeply. For a Bulgarian novel contest that I’m judging (more on that later), I put a few of the pieces on our office Kindle and read them at home last night. It was fine, but to be honest, I mainly just wanted to check out what other books I could buy for the Kindle. (Especially since our Kindle is tied to Nate’s checking account.) I thought it sucked when the lines in the text were all jacked up, crankily complained via text messages about how this minor flaw made the sample feel even more ephemeral than it already did, etc., etc. In some ways, I feel like I’m all over this digital revolution or whatever, but in others I’m just as cranky and myopic as fricking Andy Rooney and think we should all slow down and spend more time actually reading rather than seeking out our next purchase.
As to the why of Amazon’s timing, that’s pretty obvious. Yesterday B&N announced the new version of the Nook which has a color touchscreen and is being positioned as a “reading tablet.” (Which is somewhere between a Kindle e-reader and an iPad tablet.) It does look pretty cool, and might actually satisfy the needs of a particular group of customers. Rather than compete on products, it does make more sense for Amazon to come out with a bad-ass statement about how many ebooks they’re selling.
Basically, I think they were scared of this super-lame chart from B&N’s presentation:
Rob Walker—author of Buying In, one of the best marketing/business books of the past few years—just found a listing on Etsy for a hardcover copy of Buying In that “has been sealed and cut by hand to fit Amazon’s Kindle 6” Wireless Reading Device.”
Seriously. Here’s the full listing:
Love your Kindle but miss the feel of holding a real book?
Do you get a kick out of seeing objects being used in a way other than their intended purpose?
Then I bet you’ll enjoy carrying your Kindle hidden inside a book.
This hardcover copy of “Buying In” by Rob Walker has been sealed and cut by hand to fit Amazon’s Kindle 6” Wireless Reading Device.
(Please note that the Amazon Kindle seen in the picture is NOT included.)
This is an official Don’t Judge Me# piece.
Granted, this is kind of cool . . . And if it becomes really popular, Rob still gets his royalties . . . but there’s something perverse about having your work carved apart to cloak a Kindle. Although on the other hand, this could be the perfect solution for people who miss the tactile sense of reading a real book, and who want to show off to the world what it is they’re reading . . .
Oh boy, this should be fun. Over the next 10 days, Green Apple Books will be posting short-format, tongue-in-cheek (and maybe a bit over-the-top) videos pitting the Book against The Kindle. Here’s the first one:
The new issue of The New Yorker has a really interesting piece by print-advocate Nicholson Baker about the Kindle. It’s worth reading the whole article—I haven’t read a review of the Kindle quite like this one—but here are a few of the highlights:
It came, via UPS, in a big cardboard box. Inside the box were some puffy clear bladders of plastic, a packing slip with “$359” on it, and another cardboard box. This one said, in spare, lowercase type, “kindle.” On the side of the box was a plastic strip inlaid into the cardboard, which you were meant to pull to tear the package cleanly open. On it were the words “Once upon a time.” I pulled and opened.
Inside was another box, fancier than the first. Black cardboard was printed with a swarm of glossy black letters, and in the middle was, again, the word “kindle.” There was another pull strip on the side, which again said, “Once upon a time.” I’d entered some nesting Italo Calvino folktale world of packaging. (Calvino’s Italian folktales aren’t yet available at the Kindle Store, by the way.) I pulled again and opened. [. . .]
The problem was not that the screen was in black-and-white; if it had really been black-and-white, that would have been fine. The problem was that the screen was gray. And it wasn’t just gray; it was a greenish, sickly gray. A postmortem gray. The resizable typeface, Monotype Caecilia, appeared as a darker gray. Dark gray on paler greenish gray was the palette of the Amazon Kindle.
Baker’s bit about the graphics—both in terms of illustrated books (like cook books) and papers is particularly relevant . . . and funny:
One more expensive example. The Kindle edition of “Selected Nuclear Materials and Engineering Systems,” an e-book for people who design nuclear power plants, sells for more than eight thousand dollars. Figure 2 is an elaborate chart of a reaction scheme, with many call-outs and chemical equations. It’s totally illegible. “You Save: $1,607.80 (20%),” the Kindle page says. “I’m not going to buy this book until the price comes down,” one stern Amazoner wrote.
And the information about Vizplex (“the trade name of the layered substance that makes up the Kindle’s display) is very interesting as well.
I haven’t tried reading a book on a Kindle or iPhone, but Baker seems to prefer the latter, even though it is a high resolution, backlit reading experience (compared to the “reflective” eInk, which apparently has some issues when you read it outside in the sun):
In print, “The Lincoln Lawyer” swept me up. At night, I switched over to the e-book version on the iPod ($7.99 from the Kindle Store), so that I could carry on in the dark. I began swiping the tiny iPod pages faster and faster.
Then, out of a sense of duty, I forced myself to read the book on the physical Kindle 2. It was like going from a Mini Cooper to a white 1982 Impala with blown shocks.
Although at that point the text itself takes over:
But never mind: at that point, I was locked into the plot and it didn’t matter. Poof, the Kindle disappeared, just as Jeff Bezos had promised it would. I began walking up and down the driveway, reading in the sun. Three distant lawnmowers were going. Someone wearing a salmon-colored shirt was spraying a hose across the street. But I was in the courtroom, listening to the murderer testify. I felt the primitive clawing pressure of wanting to know how things turned out.
The customer rep asked me to send every one of the books in my Amazon library to my iPhone. Most of them gave the message that they were sent but a number of them returned the message “Cannot be sent to selected device”.
“Oh that’s the problem,” he said “if some of the books will download and the others won’t it means that you’ve reached the maximum number of times you can download the book.”
I asked him what that meant since the books I needed to download weren’t currently on any device because I had wiped those devices clean and simply wanted to reinstall. He proceeded to tell me that there is always a limit to the number of times you can download a given book. Sometimes, he said, it’s five or six times but at other times it may only be once or twice. And, here’s the kicker folks, once you reach the cap you need to repurchase the book if you want to download it again.
If:book has a really cool article on something that I hadn’t yet noticed (not having a kindle, a sony reader, or an iphone): all of the text on these devices is fully justified.
if a computer is going to hyphenate something, it needs to know what language the text is in. This is a job for metadata: electronic books could have an indicator of what language they’re in, and the reader application could hyphenate automatically. But that won’t always help: in the text on the Kindle screen, for example, der Depperte isn’t English and wouldn’t be recognized as such. A human compositor could catch that; a computer wouldn’t guess, and would have to default to not breaking it. The same problem will happen with proper names.
I can see why this is the case. It’s a difficult problem to solve, so, in that great tradition of computer programming, a solution becomes the solution because the problem-solvers aren’t end users themselves. I don’t think these e-book readers will take off until someone seriously studies the problems of reading on these things and takes the time and effort to offer some thoughtful solutions.
In case you’re dying for more Kindle news, the New York Times has finally run their review:
But as traditionalists always point out, an e-book reader is a delicate piece of electronics. It can be lost, dropped or fried in the tub. You’d have to buy an awful lot of $10 best sellers to recoup the purchase price. If Amazon goes under or abandons the Kindle, you lose your entire library. And you can’t pass on or sell an e-book after you’ve read it.
Another group of naysayers claims that the Kindle has missed its window. E-book programs are thriving on the far more portable (and far more popular) iPhones and iPod Touches. Surely smartphones, which already serve as cameras, calculators and Web browsers, will become the dominant e-book readers as well.
The point everyone is missing is that in Technoland, nothing ever replaces anything. E-book readers won’t replace books. The iPhone won’t replace e-book readers. Everything just splinters. They will all thrive, serving their respective audiences.
It may be true that everything splinters, but book people are worried about what size their splinter will turn out to be.
In The New Atlantis, Christine Rosen has a great article about reading and ‘digital literacy’.
The Kindle will only serve to worsen that concentration deficit, for when you use a Kindle, you are not merely a reader—you are also a consumer. Indeed, everything about the device is intended to keep you in a posture of consumption. As Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has admitted, the Kindle “isn’t a device, it’s a service.”
In this sense it is a metaphor for the experience of reading in the twenty-first century. Like so many things we idolize today, it is extraordinarily convenient, technologically sophisticated, consumption-oriented, sterile, and distracting. The Kindle also encourages a kind of utopianism about instant gratification, and a confusion of needs and wants. Do we really need Dickens on demand? Part of the gratification for first readers of Dickens was rooted in the very anticipation they felt waiting for the next installment of his serialized novels—as illustrated by the story of Americans lining up at the docks in New York to learn the fate of Little Nell. The wait served a purpose: in the interval between finishing one installment and getting the next, readers had time to think about the characters and ponder their motives and actions. They had time to connect to the story.
We are so eager to explore what these new devices do—particularly what they do better than the printed book—that we ignore the more rudimentary but important human questions: the tactile pleasures of the printed page versus the screen; the new risks of distraction posed by a device with a wireless Internet connection; the difference between reading a book in two-page spreads and reading a story on one flashing screen-display after another. Kindle and other e-readers are marvelous technologies of convenience, but they are no replacement for the book.
I still haven’t really organized my thoughts about e-books, digital reading, etc., but the more you read about it the more fundamental, and complex, the debate seems.
If you’re curious about the new Kindle, Engadget has a hand-on photo gallery and some video..
One of the best technology websites around, Ars Technica, takes a look at e-books. What’s most interesting to me about this particular article is that it was written by someone, John Siracusa, who was there at the very beginning of e-books.
I honestly can’t remember the first e-book I read on its 160×160-pixel screen. Like I said, there was no blinding flash, no instant conversion. What happened instead is that I just put another e-book on it when I finished with the first. Because, again, what else was I going to do with it? (Yes, I know, it does other things!)
At a certain point, I realized I’d read my last five or six books on this thing. Without noticing, I’d gone off paper books entirely. Only then did I take the time to examine what had happened. Why was reading off of this tiny PDA not just tolerable, but (apparently) satisfying enough to keep me from returning to paper books?
Here’s what I came up with. First, I was more likely to have my Palm with me than a book. When I had an opportunity to read during the day, my Palm was there, and a paper book, had I been in the middle of one, would not have been. (Incidentally, this also lead to a vast expansion of the definition of “an opportunity to read.”) Second, I could read in the dark next to my sleeping wife without disturbing her with bright lights and page-turning noises. (The tan-on-black reader color theme was affectionally known as “wife mode” at Peanut Press.) Third, I was loathe to give up the ability to tap any word I didn’t understand and get its dictionary definition.
That’s pretty much it. Of all the virtues of e-books, these were the ones that sealed the deal for me, personally. Your list may be different. Or maybe you’ll never be satisfied by reading anything other than a paper book. All I ask is that you give it an honest try.
As someone who is inordinately interested in technology, e-books should be an easy sell for me, and yet I still have yet to read an entire book online, or on an e-book reader, or on a PDA/smartphone. I even had a Handspring Visor for a while, and I used to (if I’m remembering correctly) download articles from the NYTimes to it. I think I even put some e-books on it, but I never did read more than a few screenfuls of text on it.
While I agree with much of what Mr. Siracusa has to say (the success of the e-book is inevitable), he doesn’t seem to think the form factor from these devices is all that important, arguing that people already are accustomed to reading lots of text online in sub-optimal conditions (see the Internets).
I’ll say it again: people will read text off screens. The optical superiority of paper is still very real, but also irrelevant. The minimum quality threshold for extended reading was passed a long, long time ago.
However, I think that THE crucial issue for e-books is the form factor of the device that you’ll be reading the book from and the way the software on that device works. Once that gets sorted out, once people have access to a device that solves the problem of text-presentation as well as physical books do, the rest of the problems that surround e-books—how to make money off of them, DRM, distribution, etc.—will fall away quickly. It wasn’t the MP3, or Napster, or iTunes that spelled the end of the CD and DRM; it was the iPod.
And I’m betting that e-book device won’t be the Kindle Part Deux.
For an author’s perspective on e-books, read this
I wondered when someone would speak out against Oprah’s endorsement of the Kindle. From the Vroman’s Bookstore Blog:
Unless you’ve been living under a rock or, I don’t know, focusing on the election or something, you probably know that Oprah is just crazy about Amazon’s ebook reader the Kindle. It is, in fact, her “new favorite thing in the world.” This is bad news for bookstores, as Amazon uses a special ebook format on the Kindle, one that only they can sell. In the past, Oprah’s book endorsements, in the form of her Oprah’s Book Club picks, have been a boon to bookstores everywhere, raising the profile of the titles and making bestsellers of authors like Dr. Oz and Wally Lamb. Most recently, her endorsement of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle helped boost sales during an otherwise slow month. That could all change with her endorsement of the Kindle. What happens to bookstores if all of Oprah’s fans start buying their books on the Kindle?
Richard Nash pointed this out on Friday, but Business Week ran an interesting article last week by Sara Lacy about how book publishers should learn from Web 2.0 ideas and revitalize their practices.
Publishing is a subject near and dear to me—and not only because for the past two years I have been writing my first book. One of my parents was a philosophy professor and the other taught high school literature. Books were everywhere in my upbringing.
bq, I want to keep it that way. A way to do that is to ensure that publishing learns how to exploit the full benefits of the social media tools now taking hold of the Web. Newspapers dragged their heels and look what’s happening to them. As great as the Kindle is, publishing has a long way to go.
She then goes on to list five lessons for book publishers:
“There has to be a way for Web 2.0—a movement whose raison d’etre is to connect people—to meet the ongoing need for building community around books. Every publisher should at a minimum build a Facebook app. around its titles. The limitation with book clubs is time- and space-related. Not everyone can get their schedules (and geography) to mesh, and not everyone can read a book in the same time frame. But social networking could do for book clubs what Scrabulous did for fans of Scrabble—it let them play games together online, whenever they want.”
“The conventional wisdom in publishing is that book tours no longer work. I agree, insofar as tours are confined to bookstores. The sad truth is that bookstores are declining in relevance. There are exceptions, of course, but even stores that draw big crowds for an author will struggle to reach the wide community of people interested in a particular author.”
“When an author is established, publishers have to do less to make a book sell. So bidding wars start. As a result, even some best-sellers aren’t very profitable.
Instead, publishers should take a page from the handbook of Gawker founder Nick Denton and create stars. Find micro-celebs with a voice, talent, a niche base of readers, and most important—enthusiasm. Then leverage the publisher’s brand (and the techniques I advocate, of course) to blow them out.”
“Publishers would do well to keep the book electronic— even if it’s PDFs of typeset pages. That would help them blast teaser chapters around the world (engaging bloggers and the long tail of the press). Presumably it would help get the book on Kindle and other e-books from day one.”
“Yes, Amazon transformed how we shop for books. But the industry can go much further. Take the titles far beyond Amazon.com—through one-click widgets appended to blogs, Facebook pages, and other sites across the Web. Link these tools directly to PayPal and Google Checkout (GOOG). Think: one-click purchase, not one click takes you to Amazon.”
Most of these things seem pretty basic, yet it’s true that there aren’t many publishers engaging in these kind of activities. At least not many getting a lot of exposure or press. Of course, her reference to low advances, like in the $50,000 range, indicates that the type of publishers she has in mind aren’t your New Directions or Archipelagos or New York Review Books.
Equally interesting though is a mention in the comments section of the recent slew of SEC filings from Amazon. I don’t claim to fully understand (or even partially understand) the stock market, but it does seem suspicious that in the couple weeks following the “leak” of info regarding Kindle sales (a number a lot of people—myself included—find rather suspicious) more Assistant Directors at Amazon sold off stock than at any other time this year. Which may be natural, since the price rose based on the rumors that the Kindle was doing so well . . . still, if the Kindle is about to really take off, and there’s a cool new version coming out in the near future, wouldn’t the stock rise continue to rise? I would think so, unless the sales figures weren’t very accurate . . .
Here’s an interesting take on the idea of social marketing. On Amazon’s site there’s a feature to See a Kindle in Your City:
We’ve heard feedback that many Kindle owners love their Kindle and like showing it off. Some of you even said you have trouble reading Kindle in public because people always ask, “What is that?” We’ve also heard from prospective customers who would love to see a Kindle before they buy one.
We created the “See a Kindle in Your City” area to help prospective owners connect with Kindle owners to get a chance to see the device in person. We started with a selection of cities – find yours or start one for your city. Whether you want to meet at your local coffee shop, a public park, or your favorite watering hole is up to you. We hope you enjoy meeting your fellow Kindlers.
In the public park? Or watering hole? This sort of sounds like a Craigslist hook-up scheme for Kindle owners. . . . There’s one photo included in this section, although I’m really not sure how this relates to finding a Kindle . . .
The discussion board can’t be searched, but in pages 1-5 (of 35!) there’s no listing for Rochester, NY. I just might have to start one . . .
In a bigger picture sense, I’m sure the idea of creating a “Kindle Community” was discussed at a number of marketing meetings. It’s not a terrible idea, although this discussion board doesn’t quite seem to be the best way to make this happen. And based on what others are saying about the elusiveness of seeing a Kindle in the wild, it’s almost a Zune-like experience. (That Rob Walker column is awesome if for no other reason than the reference to the term “rocket up your Zunehole.”)
From Levi Asher:
If 240,000 units have really sold, then I am flat out wrong. Nobody, not even me, can argue with $75 million in revenue for an innovative tech product’s first year. I do find this figure slightly incredible (especially since I live in New York City and have never yet seen anybody walking around with a Kindle), but I also believe TechCrunch to be a reputable source of information, so I’m not sure what to think.
From Shelf Awareness:
Tom Allen, general manager of Stacey’s Bookstore, San Francisco, Calif., wrote: “I would assume that a significant share [of Kindle sales] would have been purchased in the Bay Area. However, I find it odd that I have yet to see one in action. I ride BART to and from work five days a week and see dozens (hundreds?) of iPods every week and a laptop or two or three every day, but nary a Kindle. Who has them and where are they? Wouldn’t reading one while commuting be a primary use?”
And Rob Dougherty, manager of the Clinton Book Shop, Clinton, N.J., said, “To date, only three individuals who have come into the shop have even mentioned having or having had the Kindle. I say ‘having had’ because one individual lost their Kindle. We talked about how it is so much easier to replace a $6.99 paperback as opposed to a little box they paid hundreds for.”
And as I quoted yesterday, Ed Nawotka had similar sentiments about not seeing a single Kindle in Houston. This seems like a weird buzz moment—everyone seems to be talking about the Kindle and it’s possible impact on the world of books, but no one seems to have one (except for Hannah of Literary Rapture) despite solid sales—solid in some people’s opinion, just not Ed Champion who states “240,000 units doesn’t represent a paradigm shift.” I might be wrong about this, but in contrast to what happened with the iPod (or iPhone) where people really wanted to see and play with one, and were all impressed with how slick and cool it was, that doesn’t seem to be the feeling with the Kindle.
And speaking of the iPhone, I think the Kindle is about to get some very serious competition (from PW):
Stephen Pendergast, cofounder of Fictionwise, told PW Daily that in the month since Apple released the new 3G iPhone on July 11, Fictionwise’s eReader software for the iPhone and iPod Touch has been installed on 130,000 devices. In addition, out of that group, about 35,000 have purchased e-books for the reader from Fictionwise.com. “That’s about one in four or five. We’re pleased,” said Pendergast. [. . .]
The new eReader 1.1 upgrade will allow users to download books from any site that sells or offers e-books in the eReader format, rather than just from Fictionwise. [. . .]
eReader format titles can be found at sites like Manybooks.net and Diesel-ebooks, which offer thousands of free public-domain and purchasable e-book titles optimized for the iPhone. Other new features of eReader 1.1 include reverse-video (white text on black background) for night reading; better sorting for the eReader library; the ability to lock screen orientation (for people who read in bed on their sides, said Pendergast); the ability to switch between “tap” and “swipe” page turning; uploading personal content in the PBD format; and other new features.
Although the book sales are no where near as impressive as what’s happened with Amazon, being on 130,000 phones ain’t all that far behind the 240,000 Kindles sold so far . . .
The 240,000 Kindle sales figure has been written about quite a bit over the past few weeks, with everyone speculating on whether this number is strong enough to make the Kindle the next iPod.
According to Silicon Alley Insider,- Citi’s Mark Mahaney has doubled his estimate of Kindle sales to 378,000 for this year. And if his projection that Amazon will sell 150,000 units in the fourth quarter comes true, that really could be the proverbial “tipping point” for ebooks and the Kindle.
Of course, Peter Kafka points out a couple of the obstacles for the Kindle to really take off:
But we still think that there’s a fundamental difference between the Kindle and the iPod that will slow adoption: iPod users immediately had access to thousands of songs they already owned the minute they synced their machines to their computers. And they could get anything else they wanted for free (if they chose to steal). Kindle users, however, are pretty much forced to pay $9.99 each time they want a new title. That’s a substantial discount to hardcover prices. But given that they have to lay out that much on top of buying a $350 machine, we think that makes it a different proposition.
The price point is interesting, since $10 seems reasonable to me. It’s still less than a paperback, and it’s the same as the cost of an album on iTunes, but Kassia Krozser brings this up as well at Booksquare:
This coincides with an email discussion about the price of ebooks. Nobody knows the optimal price, but then I wonder how much of the conversation is sheer academics versus real life experience. I loaded up the Kindle before my journey, and, as I browsed for a good variety of titles, found myself price shopping (for books! I know.). I mean, even I look at the relative value of bits and bytes versus a product I can’t, for lack of a better term, recycle. This is a conversation that needs to be had on a serious level, involving real readers. Anyone ever ask us about ebook prices?
Then she mentions a side-industry that is helping fuel the ebook market:
Here’s a truth: ebooks sell far better than numbers from traditional publishers indicate. This is because there’s a huge market for erotica out there. Women buy erotic ebooks instead of purchasing physical books because, well, if you’re female and over thirty, you’ve been taught that good girls don’t go there. Actually, good girls do. They just do it under the radar. This is good and bad for the ebook industry.
Which is funny, since something similar (at least according to a couple people I met in Tokyo) has been happening in Japan over the past few years with a lot of women reading erotica on their cellphones while riding the train.
Over at Beyond Hall 8 Edward Nawotka isn’t sold on the 240K number or its significance:
I read in today’s news TechCrunch as reporting 240,000 units have sold; and the number of customer reviews have passed 4,000 on Amazon.com’s Web site. And now I’m told that Amazon could sell 380,000 units in 2008.
Well, that just sounds like hyperbole to me and I’ll tell you why: I have not yet met a single person who owns one – and I live in a city of about six million people, regularly fraternize with book lovers, and travel frequently. I’ve seen more exotic cars in the past ten months — Ferraris, Bentleys, Lamborghinis — than Kindles.
This is a valid and interesting point—for a trend to really take off, people have to desire a particular product, and generally that includes seeing a peer group you respect/emulate with that product. Which makes me wonder who the main audience for the Kindle is/will be? Who is the hip literary crowd that could drive such a trend?
Based on the selections of books available via Amazon, I have a hard time imagining a lot of literary readers buying a Kindle. At least not now. In addition to making a device that’s way more sleek and sexy, Amazon should heavily recruit content providers. Otherwise some other outlet—such as Apple—could come along and win the ebook race so to speak, not just with a better device, but by providing the audience that could make this scene explode with the type of books they want to read.
From Financial Times (free registration required—why does anyone do this anymore?):
Sony launched the Reader in October 2006 with quite a fanfare. It is a light, book-sized gadget with a screen made by a technology company called E-Ink that is easier and more restful to read than a computer’s and needs no backlight. You can download books to a computer from Sony’s eBook Store, which has 45,000 titles, and transfer them to the Reader.
Sony did a better job with the Reader than with the Walkman of linking the device to the content and it gained respectful reviews. Sir Howard singled out the Reader as the sort of device that the new Sony wanted to make: both innovative and well-connected.
Then, a year later, Amazon launched the Kindle. It looks quite similar and has an E-Ink screen but there are two differences.
First, the Kindle links to Amazon’s online store and there are now 145,000 titles available to download. As well as books, readers can subscribe to daily newspapers and even blogs, which makes the Kindle a more useful device in everyday life.
Second, Amazon came up with a clever way of linking the Kindle to its content. Each Kindle is connected to a 3G mobile network, so books and newspapers can be downloaded within a minute. If you subscribe to The New York Times, for example, it arrives wirelessly in the night, ready to read on the morning commute.
This enhances the usefulness of the Kindle. “The real change is that you can buy a book any time and anywhere. It is like having an airport book stall with you 24 hours a day,” says Mark Mahaney, a Citigroup internet analyst.
Poor Sony. According to this article, they’re “open” to developing a wireless component to the device, but man, that’s probably going to be too little too late. The other week E.J. posted the TechCrunch numbers that Amazon had sold 240,000 Kindles in the first nine months. Personally, I thought that seemed a bit low, and I still feel that something has to happen (a huge new group of books available for download? a second version that’s way sexier and allows some sort of note-taking? a upsurge in use by college students for textbooks?) to really make this “tip,” or whatever.
Anyway, it works. To the surprise of sceptics about e-book readers, the Kindle is a hit. Amazon has not released figures but TechCrunch, the technology website, reported last week that it has sold 240,000 units, putting it on track to match iPod first-year sales of 360,000 in 2001.
Meanwhile, Kindle sales make up 12 per cent of the total for book titles available both in digital and physical form on Amazon, which is far from trivial.
I’m still a firm believer that the physical book has a long life left to live, but the digital book future seems much closer than it did last summer . . . I’ve always felt that the distribution aspect was going to be the big draw to consumers—being able to download a book instantaneously after someone mentions it at dinner appeals to some base drive in my brain (and I suspect others). It’s why I like downloading audiobooks from the NYPL, and I can see myself buying into this idea if the type of books I read were all available in cheap Kindle versions. I still prefer the book itself, and the 145,000 titles available seem pretty mainstream, but if all New Directions books of NYRB books were available there, I’d be awfully tempted . . .
Amazon has been keeping a lid on the number of Kindles they’ve sold since it launched, but apparently somebody has finally spilled the beans:
Ever since Amazon launched the Kindle last November, we’ve been wondering about just how successful it’s been. The electronic book initially sold out and supplies have been tight. The Kindle is such a small part of Amazon’s overall business that the company does not break out how many it’s sold. But we found out anyway: 240,000 Kindles have been shipped since November, according to a source close to Amazon with direct knowledge of the numbers.
It’s hard to say whether that’s a good number or a bad one, but it’s more than I would have guessed anyway.
Some of the ‘Acts’ are a little meh, and I’m particularly sick of everyone comparing everything to 1984, but there are some goodies about Amazon’s new Kindle, which I expect to have completely forgotten in 6 months time.
Act I: The act of buying
When someone buys a book, they are also buying the right to resell that book, to loan it out, or to even give it away if they want. Everyone understands this.
Jeff Bezos, Open letter to Author’s Guild, 2002
You may not sell, rent, lease, distribute, broadcast, sublicense or otherwise assign any rights to the Digital Content or any portion of it to any third party, and you may not remove any proprietary notices or labels on the Digital Content. In addition, you may not, and you will not encourage, assist or authorize any other person to, bypass, modify, defeat or circumvent security features that protect the Digital Content.
Amazon, Kindle Terms of Service, 2007
Apropos of the link, I’m starting to get the feeling that 1984 is like palm reading or a horoscope: if you want to see a point of comparison between your day and your horoscope (or between 1984 and…anything), you just need to look hard enough.
via Daring Fireball.
Newsweek was nice enough to allow them to advertise their Kindle on its cover this week, if you want to read about it. I was following the live blog of the launch event on Endgaget and some of the things Mr. Bezos said in launching the device were nearly the same as the quotes attributed to him in the Newsweek article.
The last five days of the eleventh-century Icelandic politician, writer of sagas, and famous murder victim Snorri Sturleleson (the Norwegian spelling, Snorre, is preserved in the book) make up Thorvald Steen’s most recently translated historical fiction, The Little Horse. Murdered. . .
We all know Paris, or at least we think we know it. The Eiffel Tower. The Latin Quarter. The Champs-Élysées. The touristy stuff. In Dominique Fabre’s novel, Guys Like Me, we’re shown a different side of Paris: a gray, decaying. . .
One hundred pages into Birth of a Bridge, the prize-winning novel from French writer Maylis de Kerangal, the narrator describes how starting in November, birds come to nest in the wetlands of the fictional city of Coca, California, for three. . .
At 30, the Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli is already gathering her rosebuds. Faces in the Crowd, her poised debut novel, was published by Coffee House Press, along with her Brodsky-infused essay collection, Sidewalks. The essays stand as a theoretical map. . .
Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia (narrated by Julio Cortázar) is, not disappointingly, as wild a book as its title suggests. It is a half-novella half-graphic novel story about . . . what, exactly? A European tribunal, Latin. . .
Marie NDiaye has created a tiny, psychological masterpiece with her Self-Portrait in Green. In it she explores how our private fears and insecurities can distort what we believe to be real and can cause us to sabotage our intimate relationships.. . .
Reading a genre book—whether fantasy, science fiction, crime, thriller, etc.—which begins to seem excessively, stereotypically bad, I have to make sure to ask myself: is this parodying the flaws of the genre? Usually, this questioning takes its time coming. In. . .