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:

 Amazon  Comments Off on Kindle 3G for $189 with Free $25 Gift Card
Apr 112011

Advertisements on the Kindle

Today Amazon announced that you can get the normally-$139 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi for just $114 … but there’s a catch. The catch is advertising: screensavers and ads at the bottom of the home screen. You can find the deal (with free shipping) at Amazon here:

Kindle 3 Wi-Fi With “Special Offers” for $114

Now, getting a Kindle 3 for $139 is already a great deal for the best e-reader out there, in my opinion. So getting one for $114 is even better. But is it worth saving $25 to have to deal with advertisements? For as long as you own it? (Note, you can still get the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi for $139 and Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G for $189.)

On the one hand, the included screensavers are nothing to write home about anyway — mostly a rotating selection of dead authors — and some of the ad screensavers might not be so bad.

But what would annoy me are the ad banners that show up on the bottom of the home screen (see the lower left photo). I use my Kindle enough that I’d probably pay the extra $25 to avoid seeing those and losing that screen real estate. But they might not bother you, and saving $25 is nothing to scoff at. And Amazon assures us the ads do not show up while reading books.

Also, Amazon says that it will tailor the ads to readers’ needs, and offer great deals and other things that you might actually want to see. From Amazon’s description:

New, Lower Price

When you buy Kindle with Special Offers, you are getting the same bestselling Kindle for $25 less—only $114. Special offers and sponsored screensavers display on the Kindle screensaver and on the bottom of the home screen—they don’t interrupt reading.

Special Offers

You’ll receive special offers directly on your Kindle. Examples include:

  • $10 for $20 Amazon.com Gift Card
  • $6 for 6 Audible Books (normally $68)
  • $1 for an album in the Amazon MP3 Store (choose from over 1 million albums)
  • $10 for $30 of products in the Amazon Denim Shop or Amazon Swim Shop

I mean, a $20 Amazon gift card for $10 is a great deal, one that would be of interest to most Kindle owners. And getting notifications of legitimately good deals might even be a good thing. But not all the ads will be great deals (even the example ones in the photos are just Visa ads).

My gut instinct is that $99 would have been a more fair price for this ad-supported version.

What do you think? Is it a great way to save $25? Are the ads an abomination? Please leave a comment below with your thoughts.

The $114 “Kindle 3 Wi-Fi With Special Offers” (meaning “ads”) is available for pre-order from Amazon now, and is scheduled to ship on May 3.

Feb 242011

The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

Just a quick, excited post to announce that my latest novel, The Twiller, has progressed on to the second round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest. The award comes with a publishing contract with Penguin and a $15,000 advance for the winner.

The field has been whittled down to 1,000 entrants in each category (general adult and young adult), from about 10,000 total entrants. They will be further reduced to 250 in the quarter-finals, announced March 22.

You can learn more about The Twiller and see the description / pitch that got the novel into the second round at Amazon here:


Apple vs. Amazon

 Posted by at 7:57 PM  Tagged with: , , , , ,
Feb 162011

You didn't really think they could just get along, did you?

It was only a matter of time.

Once Apple entered the e-book business back in April with the launch of the iPad and the iBook Store — and partnered with publishers to cram the agency pricing model down Amazon’s throat — a collision like this was probably inevitable. After all, Apple has been selling e-books to be read on iDevices through the iBook store, while Amazon has been selling e-books for those same iDevices through the Kindle for iPhone/iPad apps. And, it’s pretty clear which of those two e-book retailers has been more successful: Amazon still commands the strong majority of e-book sales, while Apple’s iBook Store has floundered. So, is Apple OK with Amazon moving in and selling all those e-books to iDevice owners?

Apparently not. In the past week, Apple has started “clarifying” its position on e-book stores (and magazine and newspaper publishers) selling content through iOS apps to (what Apple sees as) Apple’s customers. The first salvo was when Apple denied the Sony E-Reader app, claiming that it violated guidelines related to in-app purchases. Over the ensuing week, Apple’s position became more clear, as it is apparently gearing up to require vendors who sell content to do so through in-app purchases. At issue is the current practice of many current apps (like Kindle for iPhone) that take users to Safari to purchase e-books over the Internet, bypassing Apple’s app store and its 30% cut of all app and in-app purchase proceeds. And Apple has given existing apps until June 30 to comply with the new requirement, which is that any app offering out-of-app purchases (like those over the Internet), must also offer an in-app option (at the same price). Of course, the in-app option (which will just be a click, attached to your existing Apple account and payment method) will be much more convenient for most users than launching a website and signing in. (Crazy side-note: Apple licenses Amazon’s patented 1-Click purchasing system.) Even worse, it appears from Apple’s latest statements that apps can’t even link to outside stores (like Amazon), but only offer the in-app purchase!

“Our philosophy is simple — when Apple brings a new subscriber to the app, Apple earns a 30% share,” said CEO Steve Jobs in a statement Tuesday. “When the publisher brings an existing or new subscriber to the app, the publisher keeps 100% and Apple earns nothing.”

“Apple does require that if a publisher chooses to sell a digital subscription separately outside of the app, that same subscription offer must be made available, at the same price or less, to customers who wish to subscribe from within the app.”

Think about that for a minute: Apple will now require e-book vendors (Amazon, B&N, Sony), magazine publishers, streaming video apps, and anyone else who sells anything that can be accessed through an App Store app to remove external Internet “buy links” and instead offer an in-app purchase option. And Apple will get 30% of all of those sales. In the case of e-books, the agency model agreements already specify that e-book retailers only get 30% of the sale price, which means that Apple would get all of the profit (and then some, since Amazon has some costs) from e-book sales: 70% would go to publishers, and 30% to Apple, with Amazon getting nothing. And while it currently appears that customers could choose to bypass the one-click in-app purchase and buy directly from Amazon’s website instead (from their computer, or by going to Safari themselves), how many will? And what is to stop Apple from preventing external purchases from being usable inside an app?

Obviously, Amazon can’t let this stand. There’s no way they’re going to agree to create the world’s largest e-book store, write an iOS app, deliver e-books to customers, and provide tech support for purchases, yet give all the revenue from Kindle app users to Apple. But, Amazon has promoted the “Buy Once, Read Anywhere” tagline, as it lets users read e-books purchased from the Kindle Store on Kindles, Macs, PCs, smartphones, Android, and Apple iOS devices. Yes, pulling the Kindle for iPad app would hurt Apple and the iPad’s already-damaged reputation as an “e-reader” and would tick off customers who bought an iPad thinking they could unify their Amazon, B&N, Sony, Kobo, and Apple e-book libraries on one device, but it would also tick off Amazon customers and Kindle owners who like to read from time to time on their iPhones. It’s pretty much a lose-lose situation, but Apple seems to be forcing the issue.

What’s the upshot of all this for iDevice owners? Will their iPhones and iPads become less useful overnight? I think being able to access Kindle e-books on the iPad was an important selling feature for Apple. How much other content will iDevice users lose access to? What other apps will this new policy affect? Would you want to develop an iOS app right now?

Even more disturbing are the future ramifications of such a move by Apple. If Apple considers iOS users as its customers for third-party goods (in a way that Dell, for example, never does when you use one of their computers to buy something online), what else will they try to “tax”? Now that Apple has earned a dominant position in the mobile app field (the Apple App Store is far ahead of the Android Marketplace or any competitors), how long until it starts changing the terms on developers? Although those developers provided a large portion of the value of Apple’s “platform” (the iDevice + wide variety of cool apps in the App Store) and helped make it #1, now that Apple is the dominant smartphone and tablet computer platform, it doesn’t need any one developer nearly as much as that developer needs Apple. What’s Apple’s next move here? Perhaps requiring exclusivity from its apps to prevent Android from becoming a threat?

This new Apple policy is a pretty disturbing move (that is almost certain to hurt consumers, however it shakes out), but even more disturbing is how Apple has morphed from the plucky underdog to the ruthless, monopolistic giant corporation that uses its power to squash competition. To complete the irony, perhaps the best hope to tame the Apple juggernaut is a partnership between Nokia and a plucky upstart in the mobile operating system field: Microsoft.

 e-books  Comments Off on Apple vs. Amazon
Feb 162011

Who's more serious about reading, Amazon or Apple?

So, Apple burst onto the e-book scene almost a year ago with the release of their iPad and the iBook Store in April. But, as of 6 months ago, Apple was still only a minor player on the e-book sales scene, with Amazon dominating 75% of e-book sales and B&N with another 20% or so. Apple was hindered by (a) being late on the e-book scene, (b) the fact that reading on a backlit LCD screen just isn’t as “magical” as Apple wants you to believe, and (c) the iBook Store doesn’t have the selection of other e-book stores, with no Random House titles and only about 30,000 total in-copyright titles (compared to Amazon’s 800,000 or so).

Even iPad owners prefer Amazon's Kindle store

Adding insult to injury, a Codex Group survey from November 2010 found that even iPad owners were buying more e-books from Amazon (which can be read on Amazon’s Kindle for iPad app) than from the iBook Store: Amazon e-books accounted for 40% of iPad users’ purchases, while Apple e-books were 29%.

Most observers have noted that Apple’s e-book business is struggling, including The Unofficial Apple Weblog, who looked at the iBook Store 6 months after launch and found that:

I figured that this would be a good time to see just how the iBookstore has progressed. The answer, in a word: poorly … very poorly.

Or how about this review?

However, after six months of offering up downloadable text content to capable iOS devices, it appears that the once seemingly mighty contender hasn’t been able to do much more than land a few rabbit punches. Despite the iPad’s rabid popularity, neither major publishers, nor the book buying public have embraced iBooks.

After more than half a year online, Apple’s iBook Store is still only offering up approximately 60,000 titles. When held up against the 700,000 titles offered by Amazon for their Kindle reader software and hardware solutions, Cupertino’s library looks pretty weak. Did we mention that about half of the titles available as iBooks are also available from Project Gutenberg? C’mon Steve, this is embarrassing.

And that came from the staunchly pro-Apple folks over at Mac Life. Ouch.

So, did Apple take these criticisms to heart and improve the iBooks experience? Did they prove they’re serious about the e-book market? Has Apple gotten Random House to sign on? Increased their selection to at least keep up with Amazon’s rate of growth, let alone closed the gap? Improved their store navigation or implemented a recommendation engine? What have we heard from Apple about the iBook Store in the months since those less-than-glowing articles were written?

Nothing. Well, I can’t say I’m shocked, since the whole iBook Store and marketing of the iPad as a reading device never seemed sincere to me. It’s just so far inferior to a Kindle 3 as a reading device (harder on the eyes, triple the weight, far less battery life, etc.), it’s not really in the discussion for me. Add in the fact that the K3 is around 1/4th the price ($139 for Wi-Fi, $189 for free-for-life 3G), and there’s no comparison when it comes to reading.

More telling is the fact that Apple pretty much abandoned the marketing talk about the iPad as an e-reader soon after launch. I always thought that was just a marketing ploy, a way to position itself as the #1 seller in the e-reader category (a “Kindle killer”), instead of as a minor player in the much larger laptop or netbook market. And Apple hasn’t mentioned the iPad’s e-reading capabilities in a long time, they haven’t added titles, they haven’t upgraded the shopping experience at all, and they’ve made only minor updates to the iBooks app. Contrast that to Amazon, which incessantly markets their e-readers as devices focused on reading, has commercials touting their outdoor reading ability as superior to the iPad, upgrades their Kindle software and Kindle apps often, adds about 30,000 new titles every month, and even came out with the much-improved Kindle 3 in August. As a reader, you know Amazon is devoted to reading, e-books, and the Kindle. And Apple never really cared about reading to begin with, and it shows. After all, Steve Jobs dismissed the Kindle and reading in general as recently as 2008, saying that:

“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore. Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.”

Did anyone really think he so dramatically changed his mind and did a complete 180 between that statement and when he made the iPad (which came out in 2010 but was probably in development even when Jobs uttered those words)? Or was “e-reader” just a convenient marketing label Apple decided to attach to a multi-purpose device designed primarily to do other things?

Jan 312011

$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.

 Amazon, publishing  Comments Off on Cheap E-Books Dominate Amazon Bestsellers
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.

 Amazon, e-books  Comments Off on E-Books Outselling Paperbacks at Amazon
Jan 152011

The "Always Write" Blog, now in convenient e-book form.

I am pleased to announce that I have just released The Future of the Written Word: “Always Write” Blog Posts from 2010, on both the Amazon Kindle Store and the B&N NookBook Store. It is just $0.99.

This collection of blog posts from this Always Write Blog covers developments pertaining to e-books, e-readers, the publishing industry, and my own writing endeavors. It includes all blog posts from the year 2010, a total of 103 posts spanning over 65,000 words, plus pictures.

The posts cover a variety of topics, but the main ones include:

• E-Books: e-book sales figures, availability, reviews, and features (such as lending, text-to-speech, and DRM).

• E-Readers: news, tips, and info on e-book reading devices, focusing on Amazon’s Kindle (mainly the Kindle 2 and Kindle 3), with coverage of Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Sony’s E-Readers, the Kobo E-Readers, and Apple’s iPad.

• Publishing: commentary on the state of book and e-book publishing, and its future, including discussion of e-book pricing, the agency model, and the future of bookstores and printed books.

• Writing: details about the self-publishing “indie” movement in general and my own writing endeavors in particular, including tips for fellow authors on formatting, retailing, and marketing.

Please note that these blog posts are available for free here (www.davidderrico.com/blog). However, these e-books are formatted and proofread specifically for the Kindle and Nook, and includes a table of contents, chapter waypoints in the locations bar, all images, and the links to other included blog posts have been changed to internal links for your convenience. It’s a much more convenient way to read all this info on your favorite e-reader.

You can purchase the e-book for just 99 cents here:

Amazon Kindle Store

Barnes & Noble Nook Store

Thanks for checking it out! I hope you find it useful! As always, comments are welcomed below.

 news  Comments Off on The Future of the Written Word: Always Write Blog Posts from 2010

Will Amazon Remove Books From My Kindle?

 Posted by at 1:53 PM  Tagged with:
Dec 172010

The behemoth known as Amazon

The short answer is no.

Let me back up a bit. Amazon allows independent authors, like me, to upload e-books for sale on the Amazon Kindle Store. They don’t read each of the 750,000 titles they currently have for sale (nor does the manager at B&N read every book on the shelves). In July of 2009, Amazon discovered that someone had uploaded a copy of George Orwell’s famous book 1984 to offer it for sale on Amazon. The problem was that this person didn’t own the rights to Orwell’s book (which had fallen into the public domain in Australia but not here in the U.S.), so it would be like if I scanned in a copy of Harry Potter and tried to sell it on Amazon and make money off it.

Of course, Amazon couldn’t continue doing that once they found out about it (or they would be in violation of Federal copyright law), so they decided to:

  1. Give everyone who had purchased a copy of that e-book a full refund,
  2. Remove the (illegal) title from their servers, and stop selling it through the Kindle Store, and
  3. Remove the file from the Kindles of people who had bought it (this is the part that ticked people off).

After the brouhaha (which spread mainly due to the incredible irony of the deleted e-book being perhaps the best-known book about government repression and censorship), Amazon apologized profusely, and offered its customers their choice of either (a) having the book re-sent to their Kindles, or (b) a $30 Amazon gift card. They also promised to never remove e-books from their customers’ Kindles again, going so far as to have Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos issue this statement:

This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our “solution” to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we’ve received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.

Personally, I think Amazon bent over backwards to make things right. They saw that someone had uploaded and was selling an e-book illegally, so they stopped selling it, refunded everyone’s money, and made the books go away, as if it had never happened. I’m sure they thought they were just “righting the wrong” — censorship never enters the equation here, just doing the right thing under copyright law and not letting someone make money off a book they don’t have the rights to. In fact, Amazon currently sells many different versions (paperbacks, hardcovers, and Kindle) of 1984.

On top of that, Amazon not only issued refunds, but then gave everyone who bought that e-book an extra $30, and promised to never remove any e-book from customers’ Kindles again. So why are we still talking about this?

Because I’ve heard a poorly-understood version of the 1984 facts above used as a reason not to get a Kindle. And because the issue has cropped up again recently, when Amazon decided to stop selling a book called The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child-Lover’s Code of Conduct. Amazon itself agonized over the decision, at first defending the sale of the book on free speech grounds, but ultimately bowing to pressure and removing it from sale. The problem is that numerous articles and forum posts are claiming that Amazon “removed” the e-books from people’s Kindles, which is not the case. They’ve promised not to do that again, and (as far as I know, but I hadn’t purchased that book) they haven’t. There’s also a lot of brouhaha about evil Amazon “censorship.”

But claims of “censorship” and “removal” are both factually inaccurate. Only governments may censor material, not Amazon. Amazon is not “banning” anything: they’re not prohibiting you from getting that book elsewhere, and it’s not like Amazon is anywhere near a monopoly. B&N could still choose to carry it, your local indie bookstore could, and the author could sell it direct from their own website. You could even put it on your Kindle if the author sold a MOBI version directly, or through Smashwords. Amazon is only deciding what they want to and do not want to carry/sell, for business reasons. The local B&N store does not stock a copy of my books, but that is not censorship, just a business decision on their part.

Here, Amazon is damned if they do and damned if they don’t, because some people will be very upset if Amazon is helping to distribute, and profit from, a book on such a topic, which most people find morally repellent. Those people will stop buying ALL books from Amazon — and that will cost Amazon much more than whatever they’ll earn from sales of one indie title with (hopefully) a very small niche audience.

The titles of articles claiming that Amazon is “removing” e-books from people’s Kindles is misleading, and uses the “fear-mongering” tactic I’ve seen people use as their #1 argument against using Kindles: that Amazon will swoop in and steal your books away from you. Everyone knows about the 1984 thing (although usually not all the facts, just some exaggerated and incomplete version), and Amazon has stated they won’t do that again. They are not doing that here (to the best of my knowledge) — they are just removing the books from their servers. Local copies will stay on your Kindle (and your computer, if you backed it up there — if you’re paranoid, Amazon can’t touch what’s on your computer). It will no longer show up in your “Archived Items,” which is just a list of what Amazon is storing on its servers for you, but they’re not “removing” anything from anyone’s Kindles.

 Amazon  Comments Off on Will Amazon Remove Books From My Kindle?
Dec 072010

Read Kindle e-books in any web browser

In what can hardly be a coincidence (considering the launch of Google E-Books yesterday with its focus on reading in web browsers), Amazon announced today that they are expanding Kindle For Web, allowing users to not only preview and purchase Kindle books from web browsers, but read full e-books as well.

Kindle For Web currently allows any website to embed previews of Kindle e-books, where users can read the first chapter or two and click through to purchase the book from Amazon (you can see an example of Kindle for Web in action here). Presumably, users can now read the sample, click to purchase the e-book, and continue reading right from the website they were already on. I’d imagine users will also be able to visit a Kindle For Web page on Amazon.com and be able to read any e-book in their Kindle e-book library.

Amazon seems to enjoy stealing other companies’ thunder — anyone remember Amazon undercutting B&N’s Nook price-cut within hours of the announcement? While Google trumpets the ability to read e-books from its new e-bookstore in any web browser or multiple other devices, Kindle e-books can now be read on a Kindle, in a web browser, on a desktop or laptop Mac or PC computer, any iOS device (iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad), Blackberries, or any Android smartphone.

 Amazon  Comments Off on Amazon’s Kindle For Web Expands