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Jun 102010

Get free e-books at B&N stores

In addition to Barnes & Noble’s recent promotion offering a free $50 gift card with the purchase of a Nook e-book reader, they’re now offering a pair of new promotions: a different free e-book every week, and a free “tall” (which is Starbucks lingo for “small”) hot or iced coffee — just for showing them that you’re reading an e-book on your Nook or Barnes & Noble app for the PC, Mac, Blackberry, iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad.

For the past few weeks, B&N has been offering a different free e-book each week. To qualify, just bring in your Nook or laptop / phone running the free B&N e-reader app. Show it to any B&N employee and they’ll give you a voucher to download a free e-book (which you can do right there in the store with their free Wi-Fi connection). This week’s book is Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg, and next week’s book (starting June 14) is The Long Tail by Chris Anderson.

Free coffee too from B&N Cafe!

While you’re there, head over to the B&N Cafe (that looks like a Starbucks, but is technically not) and show them that same Nook or device running the B&N app, and they’ll hook you up with a free tall coffee. The fine print says you get a non-customized hot or iced coffee, and can only redeem it once. They also point out that this only works at B&N Cafes, not at Starbucks, or at any Starbucks Cafe inside a B&N store. Confusing? Yeah, I didn’t even know most cafes inside B&N stores were “B&N Cafes,” I just thought they were all Starbucks. So you may want to call and check your local B&N before you head over.

Anyway, that’s three pretty incredible deals from Barnes & Noble. A free $50 gift card is nothing to sneeze at, and the other two deals are even better since you don’t have to buy anything to qualify. You can just download the free B&N app to your laptop or phone, bring it in, and get a completely free e-book and free coffee. It’s a bold move by B&N to (a) get people into e-books and (b) drive foot traffic to their stores where they hope you browse and buy other stuff. It’s interesting that B&N is trying to increase business at its existing retail locations (that sell mostly paper books but increasingly sell gifts, cards, and accessories as well), but is also firmly committed to the future with the Nook and focus on e-books. I hope these moves pay off for them, because they seem well thought out, forward-thinking, and very customer-friendly.

So, download the free B&N e-reader app for your favorite portable device, maybe pick up an inexpensive e-book or two (this one is just $2.99, and get another free e-book and some free coffee on your next visit to a Barnes & Noble store.

Apple claims 5M e-books sold, 22% market share

A couple of days ago, Apple held its yearly conference and announced the new iPhone 4, to be released June 24. At the same time, modern iPhones will also be able to update to the new iPhone OS 4.0 (now called “iOS”). The new iOS offers multitasking and other new features, and also brings the iBooks e-book reading app and the iBooks Store to the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Apple also announced that they have sold 2 million iPads in the first 65 days, and had 5 million e-book downloads in that time. Now, Apple is famous for hype and the “Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field,” and they like throwing out impressive numbers that may or may not mean what they seem. For example, Apple neglected to mention how many of those 5 million e-books were paid vs. free downloads. If they’ve sold 3 or 4 or 5 million e-books in their first 2 months, that’s a big deal. But if they sold 500,000 and gave away 4.5 million free downloads … not so much. Also, the numbers work out to 2.5 books per iPad — or only about one book a month, which suggests that iPad owners are not generally voracious readers.

Apple also announced that the publishers they work with claim Apple already accounted for a staggering 22% of their e-book sales, but this number also wasn’t explained and must be taken with a grain of salt. First, many publishers don’t release sales numbers, nor do big e-book sellers like Amazon. Second, Apple only has 5 of the 6 largest publishers’ titles in the iBook Store, but lack the largest (Random House) and most smaller publishers; the “Apple 5” account for less than 50% of all e-book sales. The iBook Store currently has about 30,000 paid titles, whereas the Kindle Store has over 600,000 (20x more). Also, one of the “Big 6,” Penguin, had a disagreement with Amazon for much of the last 2 months and its new titles weren’t available in the Kindle Store. So maybe Penguin told Apple that they accounted for 22% of Penguin’s e-book sales (when its newest, most popular titles weren’t available on Amazon)? But I have a hard time believing that the iPad could do so well against Amazon (who had a 70%-90% e-book share), B&N, Sony, Kobo, and all the other established e-book retailers and jump out to a 22% share right out of the gate. Keep in mind that not only does Amazon have an estimated 3 million Kindles sold, but people can read Kindle titles on Kindle for PC, Mac, Blackberry, iPhone … and iPad. In any event, the numbers sound impressive, even if they are exaggerated a bit. I’m interested to see if people will really read much on the iPad. I’ve talked about reading on the iPad before, and concluded that I prefer the Kindle for pure reading, and that the iPad’s many distractions seem to appeal to a different demographic than serious readers.

Whether people will read or not on iDevices will soon become a huge question in the industry, because iOS 4.0 will bring the iBook reader app and iBook Store (where you can sample, purchase, and download e-books) to the iPhone and iPod Touch. I don’t know how many people read novels on their phones, although surveys always surprise me with how many people do it (personally, I prefer a larger, e-Ink screen to read on). But, even a relatively small percentage of iDevice owners could be huge, since there are nearly 100 million iPhones and iPod Touches out there, and Apple has 150 million credit cards in its 1-Click database.

In other news for the iBook app, a forthcoming update will add features that Kindle (and Kindle for iPhone/iPad app) users already have: bookmarking, highlighting, and syncing your position in your books across all your devices — so you can read to Chapter 4 on your iPad, then grab your iPhone and automatically pick up where you left off. Another cool feature is that the iBook app will also read PDFs and store them on a separate virtual bookshelf from your e-books.

In any event, it’s exciting news, since the reach of e-books has just expanded from a few million people (who owned Kindles, Nooks, and iPads) to 100 million iPhone users. With the ability to browse the iBook Store, make a 1-Click purchase (from a trusted source and without having to make a new account), and get instant wireless e-book downloads, will this be the tipping point for the wide-scale adoption of e-books? Time will tell….

Jun 022010

“While supplies last,” receive a free $50 gift card with the purchase of a $259 Nook e-book reader. (Supplies of Nooks or gift cards? Can they run out of gift cards?)

The Nook is one of the most popular competitors to Amazon’s Kindle. Both sell for $259, and both include a 6″ e-Ink screen, free 3G wireless downloads, and the ability to store and read thousands of e-books.

The Nook comes with a small color LCD touchscreen below the main B&W e-Ink display. The color screen can show book covers, various menus, and an on-screen keyboard. On the plus side, it is helpful to see covers in color or browse the Internet. On the minus side, it can sometimes slow down the device and it drains the battery much more quickly than the e-Ink screen.

The Nook also comes with an SD memory card slot, and includes WiFi connectivity. Barnes & Noble gives you some freebies (cookies & e-books and such) when you bring your Nook into a B&N bookstore. The Nook reads the more-standard ePub format (along with PDFs and text files), and can borrow e-books from some libraries using the Overdrive system.

A large part in any Nook vs. Kindle decision might be whether you prefer shopping at Barnes & Noble or Amazon. Amazon is known for having the largest selection and lowest prices for e-books, but B&N is probably a close second.

The $50 gift card gives the Nook a significant advantage, so it’s like getting the Nook for just $209. That’s a heck of a deal for a dual-screen e-reader with free lifetime 3G wireless coverage included.

UPDATE: The Nook is now priced at $149 for the Wi-Fi model and $199 for the 3G model.

Kindles in the classroom

At Clearwater High School (near Tampa, FL), students will receive a shiny new Kindle 2 instead of stacks of textbooks next school year. While other schools have dabbled with e-readers for specific classes or even started digitizing their libraries, Clearwater High will be the first to transition completely to electronic textbooks, providing one for each of its 100 teachers and 2,100 students.

The benefits of such a switch are obvious: a student can carry a single, 10-ounce Kindle instead of seven textbooks that each weigh a couple of pounds (or more) each. The Kindle could end up saving schools lots of money, considering that the K2 costs them $177.60 (the school apparently got a small bulk discount from Amazon) and typical textbooks cost about $80 each (7 books x $80 = $560). E-textbooks typically cost much less than the printed versions. Heck, students might not even need lockers any more (which could save money, time, and space for additional or larger classrooms).

Students can also use the convenient dictionary lookup feature (even more useful in a classroom setting than for fiction), which is like carrying seven textbooks plus a dictionary. The K2 also allows for highlighting, bookmarking, and note-taking … instead of having students mark up textbooks that will be re-used next year. Students can also use their Kindles to download free and lower-cost versions of all those books they need to read in English class: all of the classics (anything written before 1923) are free in e-book form. And they’ll probably be much more likely to do pleasure reading if their novels are already with them all day at school — why not read a few chapters of Harry Potter on the bus or at lunch?

Some things to consider, though, are the inevitable thefts and damage to the Kindles that the school hands out. The article linked above mentions that parents will be able to purchase insurance for damage that happens off school property. I guess parents/students can already be charged if they lose or damage textbooks, so maybe it’s not all that different. But still, students horsing around and breaking a $177 K2 wouldn’t be pleasant for the kid, parents, or school. On the plus side, all the e-textbooks can simply be re-loaded onto a new device.

Maybe the cost savings will even be enough to give each incoming student their own K2 (to last them all four years), and, if they keep it in good shape, it’s theirs to keep when they graduate (and only if they graduate!). If they lose it, they have to pay $177 (or put down a deposit) for a replacement, which they can either keep or turn back in when they leave school and have their money refunded.

There are certainly some issues to iron out, but I think the advantages and cost savings outweigh the concerns, and I hope the program is successful. I think schools will continue to follow suit in the future, as more and more reading is done on electronic devices.

UPDATE: This article says the Kindle experiment is going pretty well, with most students and teachers finding them to increase productivity. There have been a few glitches, but students have been using them to read textbooks, take notes, and look up information on the Internet.

May 242010

Demo unit not functional, indeed.

It seems that Kindles in Target’s test locations have been “flying off the shelves,” so Target will roll them out in stores nationwide on June 6.

I went by my local Target today (since I’m fortunate enough to be in the South Florida test location), and, sure enough, there was a K2 display on an aisle end cap in the electronics section. There was a large picture of a huge Kindle alongside a woman sipping coffee and reading, a demo Kindle 2 unit, and a page describing its features (books in 60 seconds, free 3G wireless, paper-like display, 2-week battery life, etc.). Below the unit were several types of cases for the device ($30-$40 each).

Unfortunately, the demo unit at the location I visited was damaged: the screen had been cracked (note: the pattern you see in the above photo is indicative of the Kindle’s screen cracking on the inside). For some reason, this made me kinda sad, as it hardly seems like they’re putting the Kindle’s best foot forward with a display with a broken unit, which is not only useless (and ugly) to look at, but reminds potential buyers that you do have to be more careful with a Kindle than with a paper book. That scene in Modern Family where the kid sits on Al Bundy’s Kindle and breaks it didn’t help either!

(For the record, I hear Amazon’s customer service is extremely helpful and generous with replacement units if you’re unfortunate enough to crack your Kindle’s screen, but I’m not taking the chance.)

On the plus side, all the Kindles at the location I visited were sold out (though they did have stock at other nearby locations). It also appeared that several of the cases were sold out as well (there were stickers and spaces for 6-8 different types of cases, but there were only 4 cases of 2 different types remaining).

It looked like the demo Kindle was set to cycle through a few different pages of text and images (it was hard to tell with the broken screen). As the sticker on the demo unit warns that it’s “not functional,” I doubt you can open books or play with menus, but it is attached by a retractable cord that allows people to feel its weight and note how thin it feels in their hands. I still think the Kindle is a “wow” device, and that most people who see one in action (with, hopefully, a working e-Ink screen) will be impressed and tempted to buy one. Check it out for yourself at Target starting on June 6. And try not to drop it. 🙂

May 212010

Get posts delivered wirelessly

I’ve recently made my blog available on Amazon, so Kindle users can subscribe and receive wireless updates that deliver new posts directly to their Kindles. Pretty cool stuff.

One of the big advantages of Amazon’s Kindle is that lifetime, unlimited wireless access is included, for free. (By comparison, an iPad 3G’s unlimited data plan will cost you $30 a month, which is enough to buy a $259 Kindle 2 in less than 9 months, and comes to $1,080 over 3 years.) The Kindle’s wireless access can be used to browse, buy, and download books; surf the Internet or check e-mail (slowly, in black and white); sync your bookmarks, notes, and your position in books you’re reading across multiple devices; or subscribe to newspapers or blogs and get daily issues or new posts sent to you throughout the day.

While Amazon provides the wireless access for free, they do charge for blog subscriptions. Interestingly, they choose the pricing of the blogs they offer (I have no say in the matter), and they’ve chosen to price mine at $1.99 a month. (I get 30% of that.) They also offer a free, 14-day trial subscription if you want to check out the functionality.

Anyway, I’m obviously happy to provide my blog through my website or RSS feed for free, but I figured this gives people another option — getting wireless updates throughout the day from blogs you subscribe to is a pretty cool feature. Even if you don’t have a Kindle, feel free to head over to my blog’s Amazon page and leave a review or just help click on the “tags” halfway down the page so people can find me. Thanks!

B&N Announces "PubIt"

Barnes & Noble announced today that they will be opening their doors to independent publishers and self-published authors through their “PubIt” program, expected to launch in “Summer 2010.” While this move isn’t exactly groundbreaking (my novels are already available at Barnes & Noble), it’s still a welcome step forward. Currently, self-published e-books are made available on B&N.com through an intermediary: Smashwords, which is a fine company that offers a great service to independent authors. Soon, however, we will have the ability to upload our work directly to B&N, which will presumably offer us more control, a faster turnaround (it can take months to get your books or any changes to show up on B&N), and possibly higher royalties. B&N says royalties will be announced within a few weeks, and promises they will be “competitive.” It is hard to imagine how they could offer less than the 70% that Apple offers and that Amazon will offer starting July 1.

Amazon led the way for the self-publishing revolution with its Digital Text Platform, which allows any author to upload their work in e-book form to be sold on Amazon.com. So while one could argue that B&N has been following rather than innovating (releasing the Nook 2 years after the Kindle and arriving over a year late to the self-publishing scene), I’m glad to see B&N moving toward and embracing the future, unlike some businesses I could mention. I would expect a direct upload channel to B&N will enable me to create a higher-quality, better formatted source file (with Smashwords, it’s best to upload a simple, generically-formatted file that gets converted to multiple formats), quicker upload and revision times, better control over the description and category, and — hopefully — a higher royalty rate.

Another big benefit might be quicker sales reporting: currently, Amazon Kindle sales are reported instantly … which leads to incessant checking several times a day. 😉 B&N sales, on the other hand, get reported through Smashwords, and are currently on a 3-5 month delay. I started selling on B&N at the very end of January, and I haven’t even received my first sales report yet — all I can do is watch my sales ranking and guess. So I don’t know if B&N is turning into a worthy second sales channel, or if B&N sales are still just a tiny fraction of Amazon’s. It would behoove B&N to get this info to me more quickly, so I would know whether or not it’s worthwhile to devote more promotional efforts their way.

My only concern is whether the new file I upload will replace or sit alongside the Smashwords version that’s already active on B&N. I’d certainly like to keep my description, reviews, and sales ranking (Right Ascension has made it into the Top 7,500 there!).

Anyway, it’s an exciting development, and having both the #1 and #2 booksellers in the world throwing their weight behind self-publishing is certainly an encouraging sign. I still have more questions than answers (How many am I selling on B&N? What will the royalties be? When will it launch? What format do they want me to upload? Can I migrate over my existing product details?), but I remain hopeful.

P.S.: I seem to get most of my feedback from Kindle users, so I’d love to hear from a few B&N / Nook users: Have you purchased my books from B&N? Have you enjoyed them? How did the formatting look on the Nook? How many of you are out there??

Refurb Sony Reader Pocket Just $110

Posted by Always Write at 1:27 AM Tagged with: ,
May 192010

For today only, Woot.com is offering a refurbished Sony PRS-300BC Digital Reader Pocket Edition for just $109.99 (compare to my mention last week of a new model for $140). Woot’s motto is “One Day, One Deal,” so this deal will be up today only (May 19), and will end at midnight central time (23 hours and 33 minutes from now). Woot lets you buy up to 3 units with $5 flat rate shipping.

If you’re in the market for an inexpensive, small, light e-reader and you don’t mind it being refurbished, this could be a tempting deal. (Check out the post I linked above for more info and specs.) It’s good to see the cost of e-readers continuing to fall.

UPDATE: Deal expired.

The Twiller Cover Is Here

Posted by Always Write at 3:00 AM Tagged with: ,
May 162010

The Twiller, coming in June!

Now that I’ve finished The Twiller and sent it off to my editors, I’ve been working on designing the new cover for it. Cover design is one of the toughest parts of being an independent author, and actually takes a very long time, or a lot of money, or both. Many authors hire cover designers, and spend hundreds or thousands of dollars for a cover. As an indie, writing a novel is just the beginning, as I’m also responsible for editing, interior layout, cover design, formatting, and promotion (to name a few). I am fortunate to be pretty computer literate, so I can do most of those tasks on my own, although some, like editing, require some outside help since you always need a second (or third, or fourth) set of eyes. Having a quality cover is critically important (people can, and do, judge books by their covers every day), so I had to spend a great deal of time teaching myself Photoshop and creating something I could be proud of. I hope you are as pleased with the results as I am. 🙂

In designing the cover for The Twiller, I had a couple of challenges. One is that I wanted to maintain a consistent theme or “brand” for my books, where the new cover would be instantly recognizable to people who have read and enjoyed the first two novels — even if the cover is seen at a tiny thumbnail size. On the other hand, unlike my second novel, this book is not a sequel to the first two, but a different story and a different type of book: a fun, humorous adventure as opposed to an action-packed, cerebral story with underlying ethical themes. So I didn’t want to make the cover too similar to the first two, yet I still wanted to maintain some similarity. To that end, I kept the theme of using a phenomenal background pic of a nebula (courtesy of NASA), and kept the font color and placement of my name and the title the same, but I changed the title font to something more casual and appropriate, and added the graphic of the twiller, our title character. I think he adds a nice splash of color and serves as a whimsical element that helps differentiate the cover from the first two, gives a hint as to the humorous nature of the book, and helps readers visualize the title character. And he pops out quite nicely even on a small thumbnail-sized picture.

That brings me to my second challenge: designing the twiller graphic. While I had spent a lot of time getting proficient with text effects in Photoshop, and I mask my lack of artistic ability by using (literally) billion-dollar background images, now I had to actually draw something. The problem is: I can’t even draw stick figures. Seriously. Nonetheless, I persevered with Photoshop, and found that (fortunately) graphic design is much different than drawing freehand. And after many hours spent creating a 3-D cylinder, working with shading, global light sources, gradients, paths, beveling & embossing, outer glows, drop shadows, dozens of layers and masks, and more, I’m quite happy with the result.

Anyway, I am getting more and more excited by the day about the imminent release of The Twiller, which will almost certainly be released next month. So I wanted to share the new cover with you (larger pic here) and get your thoughts. It’s not 100% done (and I still need to work on the spine and back cover!), but I think it’s pretty close. I hope you like it — please let me know what you think in the comments!

May 072010

Available at B&N

I’m pleased to announce that Right Ascension is now available at Barnes & Noble in paperback format (for those of you who haven’t hopped aboard the e-book train yet). It is currently on sale there for 10% off the cover price, and is just $8.79. Barnes & Noble also offers free shipping for its members, or if you spend over $25.

(Of course, you can also buy it direct from me from the links in the column to the right, but I can’t beat free shipping!)

The print version is a “trade paperback,” which is larger in size (mine is 6×9 inches), and higher in quality than the “mass market paperbacks” you usually find in the under-$10 price range. It also has higher quality, whiter paper than the gray pages you’d find in a mass market paperback.

Now that Right Ascension is in the various databases it needs to be in, this also means that you can walk into your local Barnes & Noble or Borders or library (or wherever) and request that they order a copy for you. Hey, if enough people request it, they may even decide to stock a few extra copies in the store ….

© 2010 David Derrico