I’ve been waiting for this one for a while: you can now buy Kindle e-books and give them to friends as gifts through Amazon’s Kindle store. The process seems pretty easy:
- Choose from 1 of over 750,000 e-books available through Amazon’s Kindle Store
- Click the “Give as a Gift” button in the upper right of the screen
- Provide your friend’s email address so he/she can collect their gift
What’s cool is that your friend doesn’t even have to have a Kindle — they can download one of the free Kindle Apps (for Mac, PC, iPhone/iPad, Blackberry, or Android) to read their e-book. Presumably, if I know Amazon, they’ll provide all that information in the email sent to the gift recipient.
It seems this option is available for every book in the Kindle store — it’s enabled for all three of my books, and every other one I checked.
One note: the recipient has the option to accept the e-book gift, or apply the amount to an Amazon gift card instead (which they can use on anything available at Amazon.com, which is, well, pretty much anything). This is what would happen if your recipient already owned the e-book you’re trying to give them, for example.
I think lots of people will be getting a Kindle 3 (or the $139 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi) as gifts this holiday season, and even more people will get a few e-books as gifts to get them started. This is a feature that was long overdue.
I thought this was interesting enough to merit a quick post: Electronic Arts has released a Texas Hold ‘Em poker game for the Kindle. It’s available for download now for $3.99.
I’ve posted before about Kindle apps, but what makes this one so interesting is that it’s one of the few Kindle apps available so far that’s not a word game or strategy game — previous games included Scrabble, Every Word, and Sudoku, although EA also released a Solitaire card game last month.
Texas Hold ‘Em is obviously a hugely popular game, so I think a lot of people would be interested in this. It makes me wonder what else we’ll see on the Kindle, and if it will soon become a full-featured game machine that will get more and more cool apps. I was wondering if Amazon intended to keep the apps and games reading-related, or at least “cerebral.” Well, poker can certainly be cerebral, but this seems like more of a “mainstream” game than Amazon’s first two app offerings, which were both word games that really seemed to “fit” the idea of a Kindle.
Of course, the types of games and apps are limited by the Kindle’s black & white e-Ink screen, but I’ve been impressed so far by each of the Kindle games I’ve seen — the screen wasn’t a hindrance, and the games were easy to play (the Kindle’s full keyboard helps).
Anyway, we’ll see if this starts a trend toward more “casual” or “mainstream” Kindle games. And I’m also keeping my eyes peeled for apps — weather, note pads, a thesaurus or translation app, etc. Kinda cool that this capability didn’t exist when I got my K2, so it’s really come as a bonus (although, sadly, these apps don’t work on the older K1).
The September industry e-book sales statistics are in, and sales have remained strong, coming in very close to July and August’s strong figures. Sales increased a bit from the previous month, hitting $39,900,000 in September 2010. This is down slightly from the record $40.8M sales of July 2010, but well above the pace from the first two quarters of this year.
These numbers constitute a 158.1% increase over last September, and year-to-date e-book sales are up 188.4%. This, amidst print book sales declining 12.1% from last year.
For review, the monthly sales figures so far this year:
- Jan 2010: $31.9 M
- Feb 2010: $28.9 M
- Mar 2010: $28.5 M
- Apr 2010: $27.4 M
- May 2010: $29.3 M
- June 2010: $29.8 M
- July 2010: $40.8 M
- Aug 2010: $39.0 M
- Sep 2010: $39.9 M
After averaging $28,833,333 in sales for April, May, and June, e-book sales have now averaged $39,900,000 for July, August, and September, a 38.4% increase in just 3 months’ time. The $119,700,000 Q3 2010 total easily surpasses the previous record of $89,300,000 in Q1 2010, and it puts e-books on pace to be nearly a half-a-billion-dollar per year industry.
Of note: Q2 2010 marked the only decrease in quarterly e-book sales in at least the past 3 years. Back then, I wondered if the Q2 dip was caused by agency model pricing, and predicted it would be merely a “one-time dip” on an overall upward trajectory. My predictions were confirmed, and then re-confirmed by Amazon. Will it be enough data to convince publishers to abandon the agency model? Or are they hoping to slow the ascension of e-books to protect the printed book as long as they can?
I got my first chance to see a Kindle 3 in person yesterday at Target, and I have to say I was impressed. Even though I’ve talked about the K3 before, and pointed out how it’s 21% smaller and 15% lighter than the K2 that I own, seeing (and feeling) it felt like a bigger difference than the numbers indicate. The K2 is already thinner and lighter than most paperback books (at 10.2 ounces), but the K3 felt feather-light and paper-thin in comparison. Weighing in at only 8.7 ounces (8.5 ounces for the Wi-Fi-only model) and less than 1/3rd of an inch thick, the K3 really felt absurdly easy to carry around and read one-handed. Yet, it still felt solid, not flimsy at all, just the right weight to feel sturdy but not heavy. The rubberized back had a nice feel to it as well.
The other thing I was impressed with was the new page turn buttons and 5-way controller. Some people have complained about the thinner page turn buttons on each side of the K3, and how they depress toward the edge of the device. But I thought they felt great: quiet, just the right amount of resistance, and easy to press while holding it one-handed. Similarly, I was concerned about the new controller pad, which replaces the little 5-way joystick knob on the K2 — the K3’s control pad has 4 directional buttons surrounding a center button, and it looks like you could accidentally press one when you meant to hit the other. But I found that not to be the case, and I never accidentally hit the wrong button or any of the adjacent buttons. In fact, in my limited testing, it felt a little better than the K2’s joystick, which can (rarely) be accidentally pressed in when you mean to move it in one of the 4 directions.
Unfortunately, the units at Target are just demo units that aren’t fully functional, so I couldn’t play around with the functionality much or read on it or comment too much on the new e-Ink Pearl screen. Next time, I’ll bring my K2 to compare side-by-side.
The only downside: it made me want a K3 again, after I had nearly convinced myself that I’m fine with my perfectly-functioning K2.
UPDATE: I visited a different Target and, after resetting the frozen demo Kindle by holding the bottom slider to the right for several seconds, it went into a demo mode where it cycled through 10-15 different screens of info. It also invited me to “Press any button to stop demo,” after which it takes you to the home screen and lets you select and start reading some books, adjust the font size, and generally play around with it. That’s a big improvement from the un-interruptable demo cycle of the K2. Oh, the e-Ink Pearl screen looked very impressive: I still need to bring my K2 for a side-by-side comparison, but the improvement in sharpness and contrast seemed significant.
I guess the above headline kinda says it all, but Amazon just surpassed three quarters of a million e-book titles available for purchase on the Amazon Kindle store — up to 750,814 as of today. (This is in addition to the millions of free public domain e-books available at Project Gutenberg and other places that can be read on a Kindle or any other e-book reader.) Amazon has the most in-copyright, new release, and best-selling e-book titles available (compare it to the Apple iBook store, which only boasts 30,000 paid titles). And they’ve steadily added to their total, more than doubling the number of titles since a year ago — adding about 1,000 titles a day. Check out this handy list, courtesy of the excellent I Love My Kindle Blog:
November 1, 2010: 743,692
October 1, 2010: 714,663
September 1, 2010: 687,246
August 1, 2010: 659,479
July 1, 2010: 627,343
June 1, 2010: 596,300
May 1, 2010: 509,229
April 1, 2010: 476,653
March 1, 2010: 450,625
February 1, 2010: 415,100
January 1, 2010: 401,773
December 1, 2009: 385,484
November 1, 2009: 368,813
October 1, 2009: 342,865
September 21, 2009: 355,805
July 28, 2009: 332,813
May 16, 2009: 284,491
Bottom line: sure, some e-book titles still aren’t available (like the Harry Potter series), but I’m never short of something to read on my Kindle.
Hi all, just a quick plea asking you to take a quick detour to the Red Adept Eulogy Contest to vote on this week’s entries (I am slightly partial to Entry #5!).
Voting is free and quick (no registration or anything), and the eulogies are pretty entertaining. You can read the entries (and read about the Twiller’s tragic accident) and vote here:
This contest is pretty important, since the winner gets some great advertising on Red Adept’s very popular book review blog.
I’m currently in second place, so I can definitely use your help! Voting ends this Sunday, November 14.
One aspect of e-books that can be confusing is the question of which e-books can be read on which e-reader device. E-books from Amazon, B&N, and other vendors can come in different file formats, and Kindles, Nooks, Sony Readers, Kobos, and other e-readers may each read certain e-book formats and not others. It’s a mess that’s similar to where digital music was 5 or 10 years ago, with various confusing file formats (thankfully, music has pretty much standardized on the MP3 file format now).
There are three major e-book formats: PDF, ePub, and MOBI, along with a host of minor ones.
PDF is a file format you may already be familiar with; it’s not specific to e-books, but was designed by Adobe as a “Portable Document Format” that retains formatting and can be read on many different kinds of computers or other devices. It’s useful because PDFs can be read on almost any computer or e-book reader, and because the formatting and any pictures or charts should be well preserved. However, it’s not an ideal format for e-books because it doesn’t normally allow for re-flowable text: a PDF is like a photograph of a printed book page, so you can’t adjust the font size or style.
ePub is the closest we have to an industry standard e-book format, as it’s used by Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, Apple, and others — pretty much everyone other than Amazon. ePub is based on HTML, and allows for re-flowable text (so you can increase or decrease the font size, which is an important feature for e-book readers) and other e-book features.
MOBI is the other big e-book file format, and may be the most popular of all since it’s the format used by Amazon and read by the Kindle — the most popular e-book platform. MOBI, also called PRC, is quite similar to ePub, as it’s also based on HTML and has many of the same features, like re-flowable text. (There’s really no advantage or disadvantage to ePub vs. MOBI, they’re essentially the same.)
There are a few other minor formats, like LRF (the old Sony Readers used this), PDB (Palm Pilot format), and regular old TXT (plain text) or RTF (rich text) formats — like you might see on your computer.
While all of that sounds confusing, the part most people don’t realize is that the format doesn’t really matter. There are plenty of free computer programs that will quickly and easily convert one file format to another (my e-book file format conversion / organization program of choice is called Calibre, and it’s free). So, if you can convert ePubs to MOBI and PDFs to LRFs, what’s the problem? (Sure, it’s an extra step and a bit of a hassle, but really not that big of a deal.)
The problem lies in another acronym altogether: DRM. DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, and it’s a type of copy protection that many publishers and retailers add to e-books in order to prevent piracy (unauthorized copying and distribution). DRM has plenty of plusses and minuses I’ve discussed before and won’t get into right now, but publishers are pretty enamored with it for the moment, so the fact is that most best-selling e-books from most retailers have DRM attached.
When DRM is added to an e-book, it prevents that e-book from being converted from one file format to another. So, if it has DRM, you’d be blocked from converting a MOBI e-book you bought from Amazon to the ePub format to read on a Nook (and vice versa).
Even worse, it also prevents e-books from being read on a different e-book reader — even one that reads the same format! So, while Nooks and Sony eReaders both read the ePub file format, an e-book bought from B&N that has DRM attached can not be read on the Sony eReaders! There are a few exceptions (I believe Sony e-books can currently be read on Nooks but not vice versa), but generally e-books with DRM attached that are bought from one retailer can only be read by that retailer’s corresponding e-book device:
- Amazon.com e-book store: Kindle e-reader
- BarnesandNoble.com e-book store: Nook e-reader
- Sony eReader Store: Sony eReaders
- Kobo.com e-book store (also Borders.com): Kobo e-reader
- Apple iBook Store (currently only available through iDevices): Apple iPad, iPhone, & iPod
Wait, it gets even better. You can’t read a DRMed, ePub-formatted e-book purchased from B&N on your Sony e-reader … even though both e-readers (the Nook and Sony) both read ePub files … and both use the same type of DRM by Adobe. But B&N uses a newer version of the Adobe DRM that the Kobo doesn’t support, so you’re out of luck. It’s madness.
Now, I’ve probably made clear my stance on DRM (if it’s this confusing and restrictive for legitimate, paying customers, I can’t be a huge fan of it), but one important thing I hope you get from this article is that it turns out the e-book format isn’t really important: it’s easy to convert any e-book format to any other e-book format with the right free software. But books with DRM attached — no matter what format and no matter where you buy them — can cause issues if you try to read them on a different device than they were originally intended for. That means, for most e-books sold by large publishers, you’re stuck in one e-book “ecosystem.”*
* Note: Amazon, B&N, and Kobo each make e-reading apps that allow you to read their e-books on various devices, including Macs, PCs, Android phones, and iDevices, so this alleviates the problem somewhat.
There is some good news here. As I said, most best-sellers from large publishers have DRM attached. But there are literally millions of e-books out there without DRM attached — which means that, no matter what format you find them in, you can easily convert them to any format you need, even years later if you get a new e-book reader. (Of course, since it’s so easy, most DRM-free e-books will already come in multiple formats, and you can just pick the one you need anyway.) So, where can you find DRM-free e-books?
- Project Gutenberg. They have hundreds of thousands of public domain titles — books that were written before 1923 and are no longer under copyright. This includes many of the greatest works of literature of all time, including Pride & Prejudice, Sherlock Holmes, The Odyssey, The Count of Monte Cristo, all of Shakespeare’s works, and many more.
- Smashwords. Looking for something a bit more modern? Notice how I said earlier that most books from large publishers have DRM attached. Many smaller publishers and independent authors decide not to attach DRM to their e-books. Smashwords specializes in inexpensive, DRM-free e-books (in multiple formats) from independent authors.
- Amazon and B&N allow independent authors to upload their own e-books for sale — and they give us the option to use DRM or not. I’ve chosen to release my books in both places without DRM, so you can buy my e-books from Amazon and convert them to read on your Nook or wherever you want. (Hint: if the e-book says “Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited” on Amazon.com, it’s DRM-free.)
- Directly from authors. I, and several other independent authors, will sell e-books directly through our own websites in multiple formats, with no DRM attached. (A Google search of your favorite indie author’s name should pull up their website.) With books bought directly from me, I’ll not only send you whatever format you need, but you can always email me down the road if you end up needing another format and don’t want to fuss with converting it yourself.
There are many other places to find legal, DRM-free e-books (both free public domain books and paid newer releases), these are just a few to get you started. Of course, if you’re sure you’re going to stick with one e-book / e-reader “ecosystem” (maybe you love Amazon and your Kindle and plan to stay with them forever), then DRM might not matter to you. But hopefully you’re now more aware of the interaction between e-book file formats and DRM, and what you can and can’t do with the e-books you purchase.
Well, B&N’s big announcement today turned out to be as expected (since it was leaked a few days ago): the Nook Color, a tablet computer with a 7″ LCD touchscreen display. As I’ve said many times before (also here and here), backlit LCD screens just aren’t as good for reading as e-Ink screens: LCD screens cause more eyestrain (for most people), use much more battery power, wash out and are unreadable in sunlight, and even make it harder to fall asleep.
So why use them? Well, LCD screens (like your cell phone, computer monitor, or many TV sets) display color and video, two things the current crop of e-Ink screens can’t do yet. That’s great for surfing the Internet and watching videos, but for reading books, I’d rather stare at a screen that is easy on my eyes and mimics paper, instead of my TV set.
The Nook Color, which is $249 and will be available in B&N stores and online at B&N’s website starting November 19, promises more interactive e-books (such as cookbooks with color photos and videos), a whole new specialty section for children’s interactive e-books, a built-in web browser (using the Wi-Fi wireless connection), and various games and apps, including Sudoku, crossword puzzles, chess, and Pandora Internet radio to start. It will also focus more on color newspapers and magazines. It runs Android 2.1 (to be updated to 2.2), and can view Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint) files. It can also view photos, and play audio and videos. It will supposedly support Flash-based web content in the 2.2 Android update.
But I think it’s more important to look at what the Nook Color, by virtue of choosing to go with an LCD screen, does not have:
- It costs $249, compared to $149 for the comparable Nook Wi-Fi or $199 for the Nook with Wi-Fi and 3G.
- It does not include 3G wireless connectivity (which connects to the cell phone network), and can only be connected at Wi-Fi hotspots, like you might find in some homes, offices, and coffee shops.
- It weighs 15.8 ounces, or just about 1 pound. Compare that to the 12 oz weight of the original Nook, the 10 oz weight of the Kindle 2, the 8.5 oz weight of the Kindle 3, or the Sony Pocket at just 5.6 oz. At almost double the weight of its main competitor, the Kindle 3, it’s closer to the 24 oz weight of the iPad, which I find too heavy for comfortable reading for any length of time.
- The battery life, already a weak point for the Nook as compared to the Kindle, only lasts 8 hours, even with the wireless off! (So, figure 4-6 hours using Wi-Fi to surf the Internet.) Compare that to the Kindle 3, which lasts for up to a month on a single charge. Do you see why we like e-Ink screens in our e-readers yet?
I’m a bit baffled, to be honest. Compared to the K3, I think it’s a disaster. For $139, you could get a Kindle 3 that’s much less expensive, easier on the eyes, can be read in sunlight, weighs half as much, and has a battery life measured in weeks instead of hours. For $189, you get all that and throw in free-for-life 3G wireless connectivity to browse and download books almost anywhere — still $60 less expensive than the Nook Color.
I think a better comparison is to the iPad. For half the price of the $499 iPad, you get a smaller (7″ screen vs. 9.7″), lighter (15.8 oz vs. 24 oz) tablet computer with less memory (8 GB vs. 16 GB, but the Nook Color does come with a Micro SD card slot, so this is about a wash). I haven’t seen the processor specs of the Nook Color yet, but I’d be surprised if it was as fast as the iPad. It runs the Android operating system instead of Apple’s iOS, and some people might prefer that, although Apple still has a strong lead in the number of apps available for its platform.
I’m still a little baffled by the direction B&N is going — I thought they “got it” and understood what we readers wanted: an inexpensive, light, easy-on-the-eyes non-backlit screen with a battery that lasts forever. Instead, they seem to be chasing the “hype” of color — something non-readers have been clamoring for, claiming the iPad will “kill” the Kindle for some time now — even going so far as to make “Color” a large part of the name. It seems to me like they’ve given up on competing with the K3, and have decided to branch in a different direction instead. Well, time will tell if it’s successful, and I hope they at least keep updating the original Nook line (which is now a generation behind the Kindle 3 and is in desperate need of a refresh), so those of us who have no interest in a Nook Color tablet computer can just ignore it. But I was looking for a Nook 2, a worthy competitor to the K3 that would push the e-reader market forward. Instead, we got the iPad Lite. Color this reader disappointed.
Today’s Amazon press release contains a number of Kindle milestones and sales figures, although Amazon does get a bit cute with the wording:
- Sales of the “new generation Kindle devices” since their introduction surpassed “total Kindle device sales” for Q4 2009. This has a bit of tricky wording: are they talking just about the Kindle 3, introduced July 28, or the Kindle DX 2 (introduced July 1) as well? Removing the DX from both sides of the equation, this would mean the Kindle 3 sold more in its first 2 months and 28 days (July 28 through today, Oct 25) than the Kindle 2 over the last three months of 2009. True, holiday sales are Amazon’s busiest time of the year, but this one isn’t as impressive as it first sounds, since we’re comparing almost equal time periods and I’d expect a sales bump when a new model is introduced.
- Over the past 30 days, Amazon sold twice as many Kindle editions of books in the Top 10 on Amazon.com as it did of print books (paperback and hardcover combined). They also sold more e-books than print books for the Top 25, 100, and 1,000 Amazon bestsellers. This statement is also a little clever, and notable because they DON’T just say they sold more e-books than print books over the past month. Clearly, their e-book sales are stronger on their bestselling titles, while print books have a more robust “long tail.” Still, it’s an impressive statistic that for the Top 1,000 bestselling titles on Amazon, more were sold in electronic form than printed form in the past 30 days.
- Amazon also notes that they sold more than 3 times as many Kindle e-books in the first 9 months of 2010 than they did for the first 9 months of 2009. An impressive growth rate that pretty much equals (or slightly exceeds) the growth of e-books in general.
- On a similar note, those same industry e-book sales figures claim that e-book sales increased 193% from January of this year to August of this year, and Amazon says their Kindle e-book sales surpassed that figure (although they don’t say by how much).
Overall, solid stats and figures, although I wish Amazon (and Apple, to name another culprit) would be a little more direct with their statistics, instead of couching things in intentionally-confusing language that requires decoding and sounds better than it really is.
Through October 31, Borders is aggressively discounting the e-book readers it sells, offering $30 off, 5 free e-books, discounts on accessories, and other perks.
Of note, the Kobo E-Reader is $30 off, and now costs only $99.99 from Borders.com. That’s quite a deal for an e-Ink based e-book reader. Of note, it’s the older model of Kobo E-Reader, not the new Kobo Wireless E-Reader, which adds Wi-Fi connectivity (the new model is “coming soon” and still $139.99).
The Kobo also comes with 5 free e-books:
A total value of $75, the free eBooks include “Slow Death by Rubber Duck” by Bruce Lourie and Rick Smith; “Soccernomics” by Stefan Szymanski; “Phantom of Pemberley” by Regina Jeffers; “Eye of the Raven: A Mystery of Colonial America” by Eliot Pattison; and “Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America” by John Avlon.
Borders also offers a free cover with built-in light with the purchase of the Sony Touch or Sony Pocket e-readers. They’re also offering 20% off all e-reader accessories (including cases and covers) with the purchase of any device.