Amazon

Dec 172013

Just a quick note that, today (Dec 17) only, Amazon offers its Kindle for just $49 with free shipping. That is an amazing price for a new Kindle!

Yes, it is the entry-level model, without the built-in light or the touchscreen, and it does have Amazon’s “special offers,” but for this price it’s still a great deal for an e-reader for yourself or as a gift.

Pick it up direct from Amazon here — but remember, the sale is today only. Tomorrow it will be back to $69.

The New Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

Today Amazon announced their latest-generation e-reader, the “All-New Kindle Paperwhite,” starting at $119.

I’m not really sure about the name. First of all, it’s not exactly “all new,” although that’s not necessarily a bad thing, since the Kindle has been refined over time and is a pretty great e-Ink-based e-reader. I guess Amazon didn’t want to name it the “Kindle Paperwhite 2″ or the “Kindle 6,” as it’s the second Kindle generation to include the side lighting system, and the sixth Kindle generation overall.

In any event, what is new about the All-New Kindle Paperwhite is:

  • 50% Improved Contrast with E-Ink Carta (whiter white background and darker blacks)
  • 25% Faster Processor (for faster page turns)
  • A “Next Generation” lighting system (lit from the side, not the back, so it’s easier on your eyes)

The specs, which are similar to the previous model, are:

  • 6″ e-Ink Carta display, 212 ppi
  • 6.7″ x 4.6″ x 0.36″ (169 mm x 117 mm x 9.1 mm)
  • 7.3 ounces (206 grams) — “30% lighter than an iPad Mini”
  • 2 GB internal storage (about 1,100 books)
  • Wi-Fi wireless connectivity
  • Battery lasts about 8 weeks (Wi-Fi off and reading for 30 minutes per day)

It is available with “Special Offers” for $119 (with free shipping), or without them for $139, and ships September 30.

Also coming soon is the version that also includes 3G wireless connectivity (in addition to Wi-Fi), coming November 5 for $189.

It looks to me like a solid, although not necessarily game-changing update to a very successful product. Better contrast (which was already excellent starting with the Kindle 3 and getting better from there) is always welcome, as is the faster processor. If any readers get their hands on one, please leave me your hands-on experiences in the comments below. Thanks!

UPDATE: The new e-Ink display technology used by the new Kindle is called “E-Ink Carta.” According to E-Ink:

“E Ink Carta delivers a dramatic 50% increase in contrast over earlier generations of ePaper, giving eReaders a contrast ratio close to that of a paperback book. The crisp text and detailed graphics are also highly readable in direct sunlight. Carta’s 16 levels of grey produce the sharpest rendering of images with smooth tones and rich detail.”

Jeff Bezos Interview

Posted by Always Write at 12:22 AM Tagged with: ,
Jul 302012

Sorry I haven’t had time to post much lately … just way too much going on with the day job and another (non-fiction) writing project I’m working on.

This is just a quick post to highlight what I thought was an interesting interview by Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon (and inventor of the Kindle). A few highlights:

LE: How has the Kindle changed your own personal reading habits?

JB: I think like a lot of our Kindle customers, the biggest thing is that I end up reading more. So, it’s just easier to read more. I can have more books with me.

LE: What do you think will be the same five to seven years or further out about the way we read, never mind how the technology advances?

JB: I think one thing that you can count on is that human nature doesn’t change. The human brain doesn’t change. And so one thing that seems to be very, very fundamental is that we like narrative. We like stories. So I don’t think that any amount of eBook technology is going to change the fact that we humans like narrative.

LE: Do you think the appeal of purpose-driven eReaders is likely to diminish as the all-purpose devices get better and better at reading?

JB: No. I think that for serious readers, there will always be a place for a purpose-built reading device, because I think you’ll be able to build a device which is lighter, which matters a lot to people, has better readability if what you’re doing is reading text. You know, as soon as you have to make a device do a bunch of things, it becomes suboptimal for doing the one thing. … Can you go hiking in tennis shoes? Yes, but if you’re a real hiker you might want hiking boots. And so both things, I think, will continue to coexist.

LE: What conviction, personally for you, do you hold onto to avoid wilting under the criticism that comes your way, specifically in the publishing arena?

JB: What I hold onto and what I tell our folks here at Amazon is, if you’re going to invent, if you’re going to do anything at all in a new way there are going to be people who sincerely misunderstand, and there are going to be also self-interested critics who have a reason to misunderstand. You’ll get both types.

But if you can’t weather that misunderstanding for long periods of time, then you just have to hang up your hat as an inventor. It’s part and parcel with invention. Invention is by its very nature disruptive. And if you want to be understood, if it’s so important for you to be understood at all times, then don’t do anything new.

The full transcript of the interview is here; I think it’s worth reading.

I’ve talked before about self-publishing, how it’s been a huge boon to my writing career, but also how authors should temper their expectations: realize that writing, editing, designing a cover for, formatting and converting, and marketing a self-published book is a lot of hard work, and is less likely than the lottery to make you rich. (For that matter, traditional publishing is hardly a high-percentage method for getting rich, or even making a decent living.)

Of course, just like with the lottery, there are a few unvarnished success stories that provide something for independent authors to aspire to. The two most exceptional are independent authors John Locke and Amanda Hocking. This week, Amazon announced that Hocking joined Locke (along with 12 traditionally-published authors) in the “Kindle Million Club,” by selling over a million copies of their books in the Amazon Kindle Store. (Twilight author Stephanie Meyer attained that lofty mark this week as well.)

Hocking began as a self-published, independent author, and her runaway success led to her accepting a four-book deal with St. Martin’s Press (a subsidiary of Macmillan) worth over $2 million.

The most interesting thing to me about Amazon’s press release was this note:

In addition to the more than 2 million books sold by John Locke and Amanda Hocking, 12 KDP authors have sold more than 200,000 books and 30 KDP authors have sold more than 100,000 books.

(KDP stands for “Kindle Direct Publishing.” It’s the method by which self-published authors may upload their own works to be sold in the Kindle Store.)

So, how likely are you to strike it rich by self-publishing? There are now over 1,000,000 titles in the Kindle Store, and probably at least 100,000 self-published authors selling their books through KDP. E-books on Amazon are sold for a minimum of 99 cents per title (netting the author $0.35), while many independently-published e-books (including my own) are sold for $2.99 (netting the author about $2.05). So, if we assume 100,000 self-published authors, of that number:

  • 2 authors (0.002%) have sold 1,000,000 books, earning at least $350,000
  • 12 authors (0.012%) have sold 200,000 books, earning at least $70,000 (and possibly $410,000)
  • 30 authors (0.03%) have sold 100,000 books, earning at least $35,000 (and possibly $205,000)

Of course, those dollar amounts are before taxes (yes, Amazon sends a 1099-MISC, so you have to pay income taxes) and any expenses for agents, editing, cover design, e-book conversion, advertising, web hosting, etc. And I think it’s fair to assume that the majority (probably the vast majority) of these high-selling titles were sold at 99 cents — I know almost all of John Lock’s titles were sold at $0.99 and most of Hocking’s were as well. So, 44 indie authors in the world have managed to make $35,000+ (before taxes and expenses) through selling e-books on Amazon — and we’re assuming each author may have written about 10 books, which would take several years, if not a decade or more. (Hocking has 11 books on Amazon, and Locke has 12.)

I’m not writing this to either convince you or dissuade you from writing a book, or trying to sell it on Amazon. I’ve long maintained that if you want to write a book, my best advice to you is to write it for yourself, because you enjoy the writing process and have a story to tell — assume you won’t make any money from it, and if you still yearn to write, then go for it. After that, you can decide if the potential monetary payoff is enough to offset the time, effort, and money you’ll spend, and the inevitable criticism you’ll receive by self-publishing. (For what it’s worth, even though I’m not yet one of the 44, I am glad of my decision to self-publish.) But I wanted to include the numbers above, which were the first I’ve seen that really specifically give us a clue as to how common these success stories are. They prove that it certainly is possible to “strike it rich” as an independent author, but it takes a lot of work, and the odds of you even making a living (let alone getting rich) are still quite low.

The new Kindle 4: the $79 "Kindle" and $99 "Kindle Touch"

Today Amazon unveiled their newest Kindle versions (what would be considered the Kindle 4), and is calling them simply the “Kindle” and the “Kindle Touch” for the touchscreen version. Both keep the 6″ e-Ink Pearl screen of their predecessors, and both lose the physical keyboard (replacing them with on-screen keyboards). The big news is probably the price: the Kindle now starts at just $79. Considering that people have predicted for a while that e-reader sales would explode when they got below $100, $79 (for the Kindle) and $99 (for the Kindle Touch) is pretty big news.

Of note, the new “default” price is the price with “special offers,” which means you get ads as screensavers and at the bottom of your home screen (but not during reading). I discuss it further here, but the ad-supported versions have become Amazon’s most popular, and some of the ads are even legitimately great deals (like a $20 Amazon gift card for $10). The non-ad-supported versions are $30 or $40 more each.

The breakdown:

  • Kindle ($79, or $109 without ads): Wi-Fi, 5-way controller, 5.98 oz., 2 GB
  • Kindle Touch ($99, or $139 without ads): Wi-Fi, touchscreen, 7.5 oz., 4 GB
  • Kindle Touch 3G ($149, or $189 without ads): Wi-Fi + free 3G, touchscreen, 7.8 ounces, 4 GB

The older (Kindle 3) model has been renamed the “Kindle Keyboard,” and has been discounted: $99 for the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi ($139 without special offers), and $139 for the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G ($189 without special offers).

  • Kindle Keyboard ($99, or $139 without ads): Wi-Fi, 5-way controller + physical keyboard, 8.5 oz., 4 GB
  • Kindle Keyboard 3G ($139, or $189 without ads): Wi-Fi + free 3G, 5-way controller + physical keyboard, 8.7 oz., 4 GB

While I am not as convinced of the merits of a touchscreen as most people seem to be, what jumps out at me is the $79 Kindle: you get the same 6″ e-Ink Pearl screen, access to Amazon’s world-leading e-bookstore, all Kindles now have access to library e-book lending, and it weighs just under 6 ounces. That is a very impressive bang for the buck, and the light weight makes it pretty perfect for a lot of users. The lack of a physical keyboard mainly only comes into play for those who like to take lots of notes or surf the web a lot; for the few times you might need the keyboard during normal use (to create and name a new “collection,” for example), I’d imagine the 5-way controller and on-screen keyboard will be fine. At the bottom of the Kindle (Kindle 4? New Kindle? Kindle Sans Keyboard & Sans Touch?) is the 5-way controller from the previous Kindle, as well as home, back, keyboard, and menu buttons. It also retains the narrow page turn buttons on each side, which I like in my Kindle 3.

Of course, if you like touchscreens, for just $20 more, you can get the Kindle Touch for $99. Like Sony and B&N, the Kindle Touch uses a series of infrared beams to detect your fingers instead of an extra touchscreen layer (which would somewhat muddle the screen beneath). The Kindle Touch (and Kindle Touch 3G, which looks the same on the outside) has no physical buttons on the front or the sides — it seems everything is now accomplished through the touchscreen. Turning pages requires a swipe or tap on the side of the screen you want (left for back, right for forward).

Both models are small and light, with the non-touchscreen Kindle an ounce or two lighter and slightly smaller (6.5″ x 4.5″ x 0.34″ vs. 6.8″ x 4.7″ x 0.4″ for the Kindle Touch). The $79 Kindle also has less battery life (listed at 1 month instead of 2) and storage space (2 GB instead of 4 GB); however, both should be more than enough for most users. The $79 Kindle doesn’t include speakers (so no text-to-speech). Both new models incorporate a trick used on the new Nook Touch: it only refreshes the e-Ink screen (which causes a brief black-on-white flash) every 6 page turns instead of each time. E-Ink flash never bothered me, but some people might prefer the new system.

My analysis? Well, I haven’t been able to physically try one yet, but considering they have the same screen as my current Kindle 3 (sorry, I mean “Kindle Keyboard”), I think I can make some good guesses. I think the $79 Kindle 4 is going to be very popular this holiday season, because I think it gives most people everything they really need in an e-book reader, and at under 6 ounces.

On the other hand, I’m not quite as impressed by the Kindle Touch versions. For people who like touchscreens, they will be great, but I’m just not on the touchscreen bandwagon. And, to compare apples to apples, the prices are really about the same as the versions they’re replacing when you compare ad-supported vs. ad-supported models; Amazon is (probably wisely) just focusing more on the ad-supported price instead of what used to be the “regular” non-ad-supported price. On the other hand, getting an e-reader from the industry leader, with library lending, Wi-Fi, and a touchscreen for under $100 is still a heck of a deal.

A couple of final notes for now (I’m sure I will have more soon about these new models): back in January, I advised readers that the next-generation Kindle would not arrive for “at least 6 months, probably closer to a year (maybe just before Xmas).” That was just over 8 months ago. The $79 Kindle is available now, while the Kindle Touch version should start shipping November 21, pretty much just before Xmas. I also predicted that color e-Ink or Mirasol was probably further away than that.

Speaking of color, today Amazon also announced the Kindle Fire, the long-anticipated “Kindle Tablet,” which sports a 7″ color LCD (not e-Ink) screen and is more of a direct competitor to the B&N Nook Color, and a smaller, cheaper alternative to Apple’s iPad. At just $199 and 14.6 ounces, it will read e-books, play movies (from Amazon’s video on demand service), play music (from Amazon’s MP3 service), and run apps and games (from Amazon’s Android App Store). I will have a separate post about the Kindle Fire shortly. (UPDATE: As promised, here it is.)

May 192011

A few months after Amazon announced that its e-book sales overtook hardcover books, then paperback books, Amazon today announced that e-book sales on Amazon overtook all formats of print books combined — and that’s even excluding free Kindle e-books and including print books with no e-book counterparts.

From the Amazon press release:

  • Since April 1, for every 100 print books Amazon.com has sold, it has sold 105 Kindle books. This includes sales of hardcover and paperback books by Amazon where there is no Kindle edition. Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the number even higher.
  • So far in 2011, the tremendous growth of Kindle book sales, combined with the continued growth in Amazon’s print book sales, have resulted in the fastest year-over-year growth rate for Amazon’s U.S. books business, in both units and dollars, in over 10 years. This includes books in all formats, print and digital. Free books are excluded in the calculation of growth rates.
  • In the five weeks since its introduction, Kindle with Special Offers for only $114 is already the bestselling member of the Kindle family in the U.S.
  • Amazon sold more than 3x as many Kindle books so far in 2011 as it did during the same period in 2010.
  • Less than one year after introducing the UK Kindle Store, Amazon.co.uk is now selling more Kindle books than hardcover books, even as hardcover sales continue to grow. Since April 1, Amazon.co.uk customers are purchasing Kindle books over hardcover books at a rate of more than 2 to 1.

Pretty remarkable. Amazon is the world’s #1 bookseller, and is now selling more e-books than print books (5% more), and I’m sure the numbers will continue to shift even further in favor of e-books going forward. How long until Barnes & Noble releases a similar announcement? (We probably have a couple of years or so left for that one.)

Another interesting tidbit from the press release was the news that e-book sales in 2011 have tripled from 2010 numbers. The rate of e-book sales and market share increases shows no sign of slowing down.

Also of note: the $114 Kindle Wi-Fi with “Special Offers” (which I wrote about here) has overtaken the other Kindle versions to become the best-selling Kindle at Amazon. Perhaps not terribly surprising considering it is the least expensive version, but it does seem to show that a lot of people don’t mind ads on their Kindles and will accept them in exchange for a lower price ($25 off in this case).

(One last note: the Kindle store now stands at 950,000 e-books, closing fast on 1 million, which it should hit by July.)

Apr 282011

Kindle 3

Just a heads-up on a very nice Mother’s Day deal from Amazon: buy a $189 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G, or a $379 Kindle DX 2 with 3G, and get a free $25 Amazon gift card. They also include free shipping. That’s like getting the Kindle 3G (review here) for just $164, which is a great deal. The deal lasts until May 8, 2011.

Your Kindle buying options:

Apr 202011

In a bit of surprising good news, today Amazon announced “Kindle Library Lending,” which will bring library e-book lending to the Kindle range of devices and Kindle desktop & smartphone apps. The program will work through OverDrive, the major player in library e-book lending. Amazon says the feature will launch “later this year.”

The lack of access to library e-books was often mentioned as the single greatest weakness of the Kindle compared to its ePub-reading brethren (like the Nook, Kobo, and Sony E-Readers). (I just bought a Kobo Wireless and started checking out library e-books; the process does work, but is difficult to set up and the e-book selection at most libraries is quite limited. My review of the process is here.)

In a nice touch, Amazon will save any notes or highlights you make on the e-book you check out, and will sync those notes up through Whispersync if you check out the e-book again or even if you decide to buy it. Pretty cool for people who like taking notes in their e-books. (The notes will not show up for the next patron who checks the e-book out from the library; they’re saved to your Amazon account.)

All in all, it’s a very positive feature, and another example of Amazon improving (through software updates or added features) the Kindles we already own.

I do have to say I’m a little surprised. On the one hand, adding this feature will probably win over some people who would have bought e-readers other than the Kindle just due to the lack of library access. (Honestly, I can’t think of a single important reason to buy an e-reader other than the Kindle 3 right now — library lending was the one key feature the Kindle was missing.) On the other hand, Amazon already owns the lion’s share of the e-book market, and most e-books borrowed from libraries are e-books that won’t be purchased from Amazon. I always saw library lending as something the other e-readers had to do in order to compete with Amazon.

In any event, look for library lending to come to a Kindle near you later this year.

$0.99 is the new $9.99

I bet the big publishers wish they had been happy with $9.99.

As I mentioned in this post about the agency model, 5 of the “Big 6″ publishers demanded that Amazon stop discounting e-books to $9.99, and insisted on controlling retail prices — immediately raising many new release e-book prices to $12.99 or $14.99.

Amazon argued that the agency model and those high prices were costing publishers sales, and I knew that readers would vote with their wallets, but for a while it appeared that publishers were doing OK with $12.99 e-books (although $14.99 pricing never really caught on). But a look at the current Amazon bestseller list shows that readers are voting with their wallets in a big way, and what they want is inexpensive e-books.

In fact, almost exactly half of the Kindle Top 100 consists of e-books that are $5 or less. (Additionally, there are several selling for about $5.50 that I’m not counting.) In fact, a quarter of the e-books on the bestseller list are $1 or less.

On top of that, the books at the very top of the list are skewed even more towards low-priced e-books than the whole list. Books $5 or less make up:

  • 4 of the Top 5  (80%)
  • 7 of the Top 10 (70%)
  • 12 of the Top 20 (60%)
  • 20 of the Top 40 (50%)
  • 49 of the Top 100 (49%)

And, more than half of those books are very low-priced: $1 or less. Books $1 or less make up:

  • 3 of the Top 20
  • 9 of the Top 40
  • 25 of the Top 100

And this does not include all the free e-books being downloaded on Amazon.

Further exacerbating the publishers’ nightmare, a decent percentage of these e-books are by independent authors, including uber-indie Amanda Hocking, who has 3 e-books in the Top 12 and reached #2 overall in the Kindle store. She sells as many books in a day as I sold last year, and the big publishers didn’t want her. But in 2011, it’s the readers, not the publishers, who have the power.

Maybe, instead of fighting with Amazon over $9.99, publishers should have been happy that Amazon had ingrained $10 as a reasonable price point for e-books. Instead of thinking they could get even more, maybe they should have thanked Amazon for getting customers to pay that much for e-books that have no printing, shipping, or returns costs. Because now readers are demanding more and more low-priced and free e-books, and don’t even feel guilty about it because they feel that publishers tried to take advantage of them with overpriced e-books, delayed releases, poor formatting, blocking lending, blocking text-to-speech, and invasive DRM. And now big publishers are being crowded out of the bestseller lists by independent authors, and are being forced to lower their own big-name titles to $5 just to compete with indie authors at $1 and $3.

I bet $9.99 is looking pretty good to them now.

Jan 272011

The behemoth known as Amazon

Six months ago, Amazon announced that e-books were outselling hardcovers at the world’s largest bookseller; now, Amazon announced that e-books are outselling paperbacks (for Amazon U.S. sales). From the press release:

  • Amazon.com is now selling more Kindle books than paperback books. Since the beginning of the year, for every 100 paperback books Amazon has sold, the Company has sold 115 Kindle books. Additionally, during this same time period the Company has sold three times as many Kindle books as hardcover books. This is across Amazon.com’s entire U.S. book business and includes sales of books where there is no Kindle edition. Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the numbers even higher.
  • The Company sold millions of third-generation Kindle devices with the new advanced paper-like Pearl e-ink display in the fourth quarter and the third-generation Kindle eclipsed “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” as the bestselling product in Amazon’s history.
  • The U.S. Kindle Store now has more than 810,000 books including New Releases and 107 of 112 New York Times Bestsellers. Over 670,000 of these books are $9.99 or less, including 74 New York Times Bestsellers. Millions of free, out-of-copyright, pre-1923 books are also available to read on Kindle.

Wow, for every 100 paperbacks sold, Amazon is selling 115 Kindle e-books. Playing with the numbers a little more, for every 100 Kindle e-books, Amazon is selling 87 paperbacks and 33 hardcovers. So, for Amazon’s U.S. sales:

  1. E-Books: 45.5%
  2. Paperbacks: 39.5%
  3. Hardcovers: 15.0%

Very impressive, especially since Amazon makes clear that it does not count free e-book downloads and does count printed books without e-book equivalents. I suppose the next milestone will be when e-books overtake combined print (paperback + hardcover) sales, which can’t be too far away now.

© 2010 David Derrico