Jul 162011

The Kindle 3G now starts at just $139!

I’ve posted before about Amazon’s new “Special Offers” Kindles … where Amazon knocks $25 off the price of a Kindle that includes “Special Offers” that include advertisements in screen savers and at the bottom of the home screen (but NOT while reading books). I’ve also talked about how some of the “special offers” are actually quite good deals, like $20 Amazon gift cards for $10.

Now Amazon has really made the deal even more attractive by doubling the discount: they’re now knocking a full $50 off the price of the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G version, dropping the price down to just $139. That’s the same price as the regular Kindle Wi-Fi, which doesn’t include free-for-life 3G wireless connectivity.

I expect these will sell very well, especially considering that the $114 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi with “Special Offers” was already their best-selling model. Adding just $25 for the free-for-life 3G capability seems like a pretty good deal to me.

You can buy the various Kindle 3 models direct from Amazon (and get free shipping) here:

May 252011

Just a quick note: following on the success of Amazon’s Kindle 3 Wi-Fi with “Special Offers” (ads) for $114 — which quickly became Amazon’s best-selling Kindle model — Amazon today rolled out the 3G version: the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G with “Special Offers” for $164. Similar to the less-expensive model, this is also a $25 price cut from the normal 3G model, which is $189. It appears to be in stock, with free shipping.

For more info on the “Special Offers,” check out my post on the Wi-Fi-only version here.

UPDATE: The Kindle 3G + Wi-Fi with “Special Offers” is now $50 off, and costs just $139.

Last month, I wrote about Amazon’s new $114 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi with “Special Offers,” which is available and shipping now from Amazon. My gut reaction was that I like my Kindle (and the serene reading experience it provides) enough that I would prefer to pay the extra $25 (for the regular price $139 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi) to avoid seeing advertisements on my Kindle.

Since then, I’ve heard a little more about the “special offers” that Amazon is providing. A few of the ads are just ads, but a couple of legitimately good deals are being reported so far:

  • A $20 Amazon gift card for $10
  • A $10 Amazon credit when you buy one of a list of e-books, some of which are under $5

Assuming you take advantage of both deals (and buy one of the less expensive e-books that qualifies for the second deal), you’d save an extra $15 (plus get a free e-book), knocking the effective price of the “Special Offers” Kindle to just $99. As I said in my earlier post, $99 seems like a more tempting price point.

Presumably, Amazon will continue to offer deals like that (they mention a potential $6 deal for 6 Audible audiobooks that normally cost $68, for example), which would drive the effective price down further. If you keep it long enough and take advantage of enough of the legitimately good deals, could the Kindle’s “special offers” end up paying for itself?

Personally, I feel so overloaded and bombarded with advertisements in my life, I am loathe to open up another avenue for advertisers to annoy me. (Side rant: how about watching an NBA game, on paid cable TV, and not only getting 1.5 hours of ads for a 60-minute game, but seeing the Company X game summary brought to you by Company Y at the Company Z Arena, and then listening to the announcers plug products and upcoming shows during free throws? Enough already! End side rant.) That being said, if you’re the type who can safely ignore ads (tip: most people are not, which is why advertisers pay so much money forcing you to see them), this is one way to get a brand-new Kindle 3 (that is, in every mechanical respect, identical to the regular Kindle 3 Wi-Fi) for just $114, and maybe significantly less than that when some of Amazon’s special offers are factored in.

On the other hand, it’s always possible that the two special offers listed above are all you’re gonna get, and the rest will just be obnoxious car dealership ads. Don’t blame me if that’s the case! =)

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.

Jan 252011

The new, smaller K3 next to the K2

I’ve seen many people online wondering whether or not they should upgrade their perfectly-fine Kindle 2 to the new-and-improved Kindle 3. “Should I replace my K2 with a K3” is a very common question on the Amazon forums and KindleBoards. As one who recently grappled with that question, perhaps my experiences and opinions might help.

People asking this question are often asking two different things: first, is the Kindle 3 improved enough over the Kindle 2 to make it worth the cost of upgrading? And, second, should I buy a K3 now, or wait until (a) a new model comes out, or (b) the price goes down again?

Kindle 2 vs. Kindle 3

To answer the first question, I’m very glad that I upgraded from the K2i to the K3 in late November. I am a huge fan of the new e-Ink Pearl screen, the contrast is definitely improved and makes a marked difference in my reading enjoyment. I post my experiences here, along with side-by-side pictures showing off the dramatic improvement in contrast and screen readability. I also find that the sans serif font choice and software changes to allow for more lines of text makes the reading experience noticeably better as well. The lighter weight, faster page turns, better battery, etc., etc. are almost just a bonus.

As for price, I think the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi for $139 or the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G for $189 are both incredible values for the money — and well worth it for anyone who enjoys reading. If you can find a good home for the K2 (gifting it to a friend or family member), it may also help you justify the upgrade for yourself. Alternately, you should be able to sell the Kindle 2 (still a fine e-reader with free-for-life 3G wireless service) for $100 to $150, so you could recoup most of the cost of your new K3.

Buy Now, Or Wait For New Version?

Just to be clear, no one really knows when the next Kindle will come out, or when Amazon will adjust their pricing, so the best I can do is offer you an educated guess from someone who follows news and rumors about the Kindle very closely. That being said, the K3 is new enough (August 2010) that I don’t expect a Kindle 4 for at least 6 months, probably closer to a year (maybe just before Xmas). I think the K3 is pretty close to the limit of what they can do with black & white e-Ink, and the next big jump will be color e-Ink / Mirasol, which is still AT LEAST 6 months away, probably more. Of course, if you don’t care about color, you should be very happy with the K3 for a long time. As for price, if that mythical color K4 DOES come out, odds are that it will cost more than the current K3, at least at first.

Buy Now, Or Wait For Price Drop?

Regarding the K3, when the next Kindle model comes out (or just before), I’d imagine a discount to purge remaining K3 stock … but honestly, prices are pretty darn good to begin with — $139 is a very reasonable price (compared to $399 for the first K1s!), and there’s just not that much room for them to go down. At best, in 6 months, we might see $99 K3 Wi-Fis and $149 K3 3Gs. But, to me, 6 months of use is worth the extra $40.

Final Thoughts

As I said, these are just my educated guesses, and no one knows for sure! But I would be fairly confident (as confident as you can be with electronics, anyway) that now is a pretty good time to get a new Kindle 3, since I don’t foresee a big price drop or new model coming out for several months at least. In any event, it’s probably best to ask yourself if you like the Kindle 3 enough to get $139 (Wi-Fi) or $189 (3G) worth of use out of it — and if you answer “yes,” then go ahead and buy one and enjoy it, since no future price reduction or new model can change that.

Jan 142011

Somewhat of an off-topic post here, as I discuss some of my favorite and least favorite things money can buy. I started out wanting to give a shout-out to those products and companies that provide a great product or service, the things that just do what they’re supposed to do, do it reliably, and do it well. Then I figured it would also be a good excuse to rant a bit about those things that just annoy the heck out of you.

BEST

Mac Mini: I’ve been a Mac user for many years, and I find their computers far more reliable, easy to use, and virus free than the alternatives. (Note I do not necessarily feel the same way about all Apple products and iDevices, I’m talking about Mac computers specifically.) Nowadays, even low-end computers are fast enough for 95%+ of consumers; unless you’re doing high-end video editing work or playing the latest games, even the $599 Mac Mini is enough for email, Internet, Photoshop, word processing, etc. And, at that price, I get a new one (with the latest operating system and Apple iLife software) every few years. Mine never crashes, takes less than 30 seconds to start up, and does what I need it to do without spending hours constantly trying to fix it.

Readability and Instapaper: I’ll combine these two must-have Internet services. Readability is a “bookmarklet,” a little piece of code you save as a browser bookmark and that takes annoyingly-formatted articles that are split into 4 pages (I’m looking at you, Gatorsports.com) and formats them into a single, easy-to-read, black-text-on-white page, removing annoying side columns and flashing ads. Instapaper does something similar, gleaning the text of an online article and saving it into an archive for you to read later (or transfer to your Kindle).

Kindle 3: Regular readers of this blog knew this would be on the list (to be honest, it’s what prompted the idea for this blog post). The more I use the Kindle 3, the more I like it — actually, can’t live without it. It’s light and easy to carry and use, and the new e-Ink Pearl screen is very easy on the eyes, far better than the Kindle 2’s screen. The additional software improvements (like fitting more text on a page) are the icing on the cake. As a fiction reading device, it has no equal.

Corvette Z06: Ten years ago, when I was working as a lawyer at a big law firm, I splurged and bought my first new car, a 2001 Corvette Z06. I’m still driving it today, and it’s as fun to drive now as the day I bought it. This car is a precision-crafted machine that was built for a specific purpose and truly excels at that purpose. For under $50K (at the time), it blows away cars that cost double and triple the price. It’s also surprisingly practical, handling two cross-country trips with luggage, getting 28 mpg on the highway, and it hasn’t had any mechanical issues to speak of. Yes, tires are pricey, but well worth it for how this car accelerates, brakes, and handles. One note: if you’re looking for a chick magnet, look elsewhere — girls seem to be more impressed by cars that cost more but sport a fraction of the performance (*cough* Porsche Boxster *cough*), and it mainly impresses 18-year-old guys (who can actually tell a Z06 from a regular Corvette). But that doesn’t bother me, I bought it to drive, not impress, and I’ve never been disappointed.

Net 10 Wireless: Sure, it’s not “cool,” but I only pay $15 a month for my cellphone, which is less than most people pay just for their texting surcharge. Yeah, I only get 200 minutes (I don’t talk on the phone that much, and they roll over), and I can’t play Angry Birds (boo hoo), but I get great reception, never drop a call, and the battery on my non-smartphone lasts a week while my friends’ phones can’t make it through a day.

ING Direct: Very simple, convenient, no-fee, high-interest-paying online checking and savings accounts. It does exactly what it’s supposed to, pays a good rate, and makes it very easy to automate payments and transfers and handle my banking online.

Honorable Mention: Costco, for cheap prices, $1.50 hot dog & drink meals, and a very generous return policy. CreateSpace, for simple and affordable print book publishing.

WORST

Airlines in general, and American Airlines in particular: Airlines have just gotten so bad at customer service it’s a sad joke. I remember when it was kinda fun to fly, people treated you well, and they gave you playing cards and little wings — and I’m not that old. Now, you’re herded like cattle, charged for baggage (so everyone tries to cram all their stuff aboard), not fed, and squeezed into rows that I swear they make 1 cm smaller every year, figuring we won’t notice. But that’s the only explanation, since I stopped growing a while ago. They’re all pretty bad, but a special shout-out to American, who not only doesn’t have Wi-Fi or LCD screens on the seatbacks, they still have CRT TVs hanging down, like it’s 1972. And not only do they not feed you, but I was just on an 8-hour American flight and they didn’t so much as give us peanuts. On the plus side, most of my flights lately have been on time. And Hawaiian is the best of the bad domestic airlines.

iTunes: As much as I love my Mac, iTunes is the single biggest abomination of software I’ve ever seen (and I’ve used Microsoft Word, so that’s really saying something). First of all, who decided I wanted one program to manage my music library, organize e-books, watch movies, sync apps and music and movies and everything else with iPods and iPads, perform endless app and iOS updates, and be the only conduit to the App Store and iTunes Music Store? And does iTunes really have to launch (which takes way too long, now that it’s 10 programs in 1) every time I click a link to read about some app in my web browser? Oh, and syncing never seems to work right, every movie is in the wrong format and half my songs aren’t authorized for this iPod or whatever. The latest sync froze the movie player on my wife’s iPad for her 10-hour plane trip. Ugh.

AT&T Wireless: I don’t even have AT&T, but their cell phone service is so bad, I know which of my friends has it by how often they drop calls when I talk to them. Well, sure, they have the worst service, but at least they’re by far the most expensive wireless carrier. Wait, what? Oh yeah, that iPhone (with 2-year AT&T contract) didn’t only cost you $200.

Car Dealerships: OK, this is an oldie, but they’re breaking out some new tricks. Pretty much every dealer tries to slip in some sort of “dealer fee” or “dealer prep” or “ADM” (additional dealer markup) after you’ve negotiated the price of the car. And since people caught on to “rust coating,” now they have mandatory overpriced VIN etching in the windows (who needs that?), and — are you sitting down for this one? — “Nitro fill,” which means, yes, they’re actually charging you $100 to put air in your tires.

Dis-Honorable Mention: Red Lobster, because the commercials look so good and I get suckered into going back once every 10 years for some truly awful food — never again. Telephone Customer Service, outsourced to the lowest bidder and keeping you on hold for an hour, for just about every company ever. HSN & QVC, for ripping people off so badly; they should be ashamed. Cable companies, which is why I don’t have cable anymore. Movie theaters, who have the nerve to show commercials but expect me to pay $12-$15 for a movie. And commercials in general, isn’t it enough already? When we get back from a 5-minute commercial break just to see the announcer standing on a court with a Gatorade logo inside Staples Center which is plastered with Geico ads, and the announcer unconvincingly plugs the latest smartphone while telling us to watch the Allstate replay, brought to you by Coke — “obnoxious” doesn’t begin to cover it.

My Favorite Things of 2010

Posted by Always Write at 9:10 PM Tagged with: ,
Jan 062011

As a follow-up to my 2010 Year In Review post, I thought I’d highlight a few of my favorite things (devices, developments, services, or books) from the past year.

The Kindle 3

Regular followers of this blog are surely sick of hearing me sing the praises of my Kindle 3, so I’ll keep it brief, and point you to my Kindle 3 Review (with pics). But I will just mention that I’m liking it more and more the longer I use it, and I’m actually finding myself drawn to reading more than I was on my K2. I’ve read about a dozen books in the month or so that I’ve had it, and that’s probably the most important thing I can say about it.

The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold

Speaking of those dozen books, most of them have been in the excellent Vorkosigan series by Louis McMaster Bujold, and available for free on the Baen Free Library as part of the Cryoburn CD. This science fiction series follows the exploits of Miles Vorkosigan, who is not your typical hero: he is physically short and weak due to stunted growth stemming from his mother being poisoned during pregnancy. He makes up for his physical failings with a mixture of wit, bravery, bravado, charisma, and reckless risk-taking. The books are more of the space opera, soft science-fiction style: there are a few cursory ship battles and discussion of technology and weaponry, but really quite little. Most of the action takes place man-to-man, whether on the ground (including the convoluted politics of Miles’ homeworld, where was born to an important noble family), on space stations or ships (where boarding parties and mercenary raids are common), or between negotiating diplomats from one of many human factions. The stories are well-crafted, the writing is excellent, and the adventures are entertaining, even if some parts strain credulity a tad — Miles does have a way of getting into and out of some incredible situations.

Of note: the series consists of a sometimes-confusing timeline of 14 novels and 4 novellas, grouped into 7 omnibus editions. I recommend reading the books in chronological order, not necessarily the order in which they were written or arranged (the stories in omnibus edition #5, Miles, Mutants, and Microbes, are out of chronological order for the rest of the series). The second issue is that one pivotal novel, Memory, is not included in the omnibus editions. Now, I can’t complain much for getting 13/14 novels for free and paying $6 to Baen for the missing one (which I did), but it is confusing. Also confusing is why Baen would give away essentially an entire series for free. I could see the first book or two in order to drive sales of the rest of the series, but I fear that authors and publishers giving away too many books for free smacks of desperation, and will have a “tragedy of the commons” affect, where no one is able to sell e-books anymore, but that’s for another blog post.

70% Royalties by Amazon (with an assist by Apple)

Early this year, prompted by Apple’s anticipated entry into the e-book game, Amazon announced that in July they would double royalties (from 35% to 70%) for e-books sold through their DTP self-publishing platform that (a) were priced between $2.99 and $9.99, and (b) enabled text-to-speech and met other requirements. This announcement gave many self-publishing authors real hope of making a living at their craft — selling enough e-books to make a living with a $2.05 royalty (about what most $2.99 e-books end up with after a small, size-based fee Amazon deducts) is much more likely than with a $0.35 royalty (35% of $0.99). It also has repercussions in the e-book pricing world and the publishing world — as authors suddenly wonder if sticking with traditional publishers (and their 8% print and 17.5% e-book royalties) is worth it.

WordPress

In April, I switched over my website (which I had maintained since 1998, mainly writing my own HTML and PHP) to the WordPress platform. WordPress is a free content management system primarily aimed at bloggers, and it allows for simple and modular blogging, website organization, and other features. The main impetus for the switch was my interest in blogging, and I used it to write 103 posts over the last 9 months of the year. While it takes some tinkering to get it to work right as a full website platform (supporting both a traditional website and the blogging section), it does make blogging much easier and provides a ton of useful features I couldn’t have done on my own.

KindleBoards

While I technically discovered KindleBoards.com in late 2009, I really became active on the site in early 2010, where I met lots of great authors and readers, learned a great deal, and got much more exposure for my books. The newfound avenue for reader-author interaction is invaluable, and I had many memorable discussions and enjoyed interacting with readers, especially on my book threads. The site is not only a great source for information, but is also the best-moderated forum I’ve ever used, and the users are generally truly cordial and helpful, even to newcomers (which is, sadly, quite rare on the Internet).

The I Love My Kindle Blog

As part of the research I do for this blog and for the business aspects of self-publishing, I follow over a dozen Kindle, e-book, technology, and publishing-related blogs. One of the most helpful I’ve found is the I Love My Kindle Blog, maintained by Amazon forum regular Bufo Calvin. It has a great mix of archived information about Kindle tips and tricks, and regular posts about new developments in the e-book and e-publishing worlds. Bufo is also very responsive, and is always happy to respond to comments or emails, and was even kind enough to post a review of The Twiller when it was released.

As 2010 comes to a close, it’s a good time to take a moment to reflect on everything that’s happened this year with e-books, e-readers, the publishing industry, and writing. I’ve included plenty of links to posts with more detail on individual topics you may be particularly interested in.

E-Books

In 2010, e-book sales roughly tripled, increasing from about 3% of total book sales to about 9% — a figure that finally seems to have the publishing world sitting up and taking notice. As we transition from paper books to a paper + digital world (and perhaps eventually to a primarily digital book world), we’ll see many changes in the centuries-old print publishing industry: bookstores will close, publishers will struggle, and new companies will step in and pick up the slack. In the digital world, in 2010 we’ve seen a proliferation of available e-book titles (the Amazon store roughly doubled its catalogue to over 750,000 e-books), e-books starting a global expansion (including the launch of the Amazon UK Kindle Store), and we’ve even seen e-book sales on Amazon overtake hardcovers and overtake all print books for best-selling titles.

We’ve also seen a battle over e-book features — with publishers generally fighting some of the very things that make e-books so useful and convenient for many of us. Publishers lined up to block text-to-speech functionality (which lets your Kindle read e-books aloud to you); add restrictive, annoying, and mostly ineffectual DRM copy protection; provide many e-books as poorly-formatted, non-proofread scans of print books; and we’re still stuck in an era where readers in many countries can’t buy the e-books they want to pay good money for, as geographic legal restrictions serve to partially negate the huge e-book advantage of instant, inexpensive, global distribution.

In 2011, I predict e-book sales to continue to increase (perhaps continuing the trend of doubling or tripling each year for another year or two), especially considering the technological advances in e-readers (and lower price points) and how many people probably just unwrapped new e-readers last week. I’d expect slow improvement in worldwide e-book availability and improved formatting of e-books, as publishers realize that they’re losing money and start to take e-books more seriously. But I’d expect large publishers to continue fighting certain e-book features, as they’re still in the mode of protecting print book sales, not fully embracing e-books yet. However, the pressure will continue to increase on them next year.

E-Readers

2010 brought us the introduction of Apple’s iPad, Amazon’s new Kindle 3, a new round of Sony E-Readers, and the Nook Color, among others. We’ve seen improvements in technology, including the new e-Ink Pearl screen with better contrast, and a battle between tablet computers with LCD screens (like the iPad) and dedicated e-readers with easy-on-the-eyes e-Ink screens (like the Kindle); at the same time, we’ve seen prices come down from $259 for the Kindle 2 to only $139 for the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi. This has combined to make e-readers much more affordable and a better value for more and more people. Estimates put e-reader sales from about 5 million in 2009, to 12 million in 2010, and predict 27 million in 2011.

Personally, I’ve tried the iPad, and found it better suited for Internet surfing, movie watching, and game-playing than for reading. I also recently upgraded from a Kindle 2 to a Kindle 3, and I am very, very pleased with the Kindle 3 — I think it’s the best device available for e-book reading, and I am finding it considerably better than the already-quite-good Kindle 2. I especially appreciate the increased contrast (much darker blacks and slightly lighter background) of the e-Ink Pearl screen, which is why I wouldn’t recommend either an LCD-based device (which has short battery life and is harder on the eyes), or an older-generation technology like the e-Ink screen in Barnes & Noble’s Nook. I’ve written a Holiday E-Reader Buying Guide here that compares and contrasts the options available, if you’re still trying to decide which one is right for you.

Next year, we can expect to see (a) more tablet computers being introduced, and many of them will masquerade as “e-readers,” although they are really Jacks-of-all-trades that are better suited for other tasks, (b) continued improvements and refinements in e-readers, and (c) perhaps even lower prices, as we’re approaching the $99 price point for e-readers — remarkable when the Kindle 1 debuted just 3 years ago for $399.

Publishing

As I mentioned above, the continued rise of e-books will have a profound effect on the publishing industry. First, print book sales declined in 2010, being replaced by e-book sales. This shift has strained the margins of publishers and bookstores, who are finding it difficult to adapt to an online e-book-selling world. Publishers have long-entrenched ideas, facilities, processes, and business models that can’t turn on a dime, and they’re seeing increased competition from online retailers (like Amazon and B&N) and smaller publishers, who don’t need the huge economies of scale and financial capital that the print book business requires. Predictably, these businesses have responded by trying to fight e-book adoption, trying to protect their print book business for as long as they can, and squeeze out a few more profitable quarters. They, so far, don’t appear to be interested in making the tough changes and painful downsizing required to succeed an an e-book world, and they (rightfully) fear that their spot at the top will be jeopardized during the upheaval, as newer, leaner, more forward-thinking companies replace some of the “Big 6” publishers at the top of the heap.

To that end, publishers, fearful of Amazon’s e-book dominance, in April embraced the agency model, which stopped Amazon from selling best-selling e-books for $9.99 and allowed publishers to retain control of e-book pricing (most best-selling e-books then increased to about $12.99). This caused a temporary dip in e-book sales, which have since recovered. Publishers complained that low e-book prices “devalued e-books” and were unsustainable, while many independent authors (like myself) argued that selling more units at a lower price was a win-win scenario.

2010 will also be remembered as the year of the rise of self-published authors, with a couple I know of in particular (Joe Konrath and Amanda Hocking) selling over 100,000 e-books and earning a very nice living — without traditional publishers. Several other indie authors joined Amazon’s “Encore” publishing program, competing directly with large publishers. In 2010, we saw e-book royalties for self-published authors (through Amazon, B&N, Apple, and most other outlets) increase from 35% to 70%, which compares quite favorably to the 8% authors used to get from publishers for paperback sales, or the 17.5% (net) they normally pay for e-book royalties.

As large publishers continue to decrease the amount of advances paid, hold the line on e-book royalties, overprice their e-books, block features, and reduce marketing services, my question to best-selling authors in 2011 is: why give 90%+ of the profits to a large publisher, when you can hire someone to do your covers and formatting for you, and keep 70% for yourself? I think we’ll see more and more big authors strike off on their own — and do very, very well. After all, when you buy a Stephen King or J.K. Rowling or Dan Brown book, you’re buying the book for the author, not the publisher (quick: who can even name the publishers for those 3 authors without looking it up?).

Writing

2010 was a milestone year for me personally, as I finished writing and editing my third novel, The Twiller, and released it for sale in June. Of course, being independent, I was also responsible for doing my own formatting and creating my own cover, along with doing my own marketing, which can take more time than actually writing the book! I was very pleased by the launch of The Twiller, which had the following results:

  • Ranked #1 on Amazon’s “Movers & Shakers” List.
  • Ranked in the Top 5 in both “Humor” and “Science Fiction” in the entire Kindle Store.
  • Ranked #188 overall in the Amazon Kindle Store.

My other novels also exploded in sales in 2010 (I only made them available through Amazon for the Kindle in late 2009). I ended the year with several new sales records, selling several thousand copies and earning several thousands of dollars from my writing for the first time — not yet enough to make a living, but certainly a nice start. More importantly, I reached thousands of readers, received dozens of positive reviews, and interacted with many great and passionate readers by email, through my Facebook Fan Page, and more. I sincerely do appreciate all the readers who have read my book, taken the time to contact me, written a review (they really do help!), and generally been supportive in my writing endeavors this year.

For my first novel, Right Ascension, I had the following encouraging and exciting milestones:

The sequel, Declination, also showed encouraging signs:

  • Sold over 3,000 copies this year — so more than 60% of the people who bought Right Ascension went on to purchase the sequel as well.
  • Both Right Ascension and Declination were on the Top 25 best-seller list for “Science Fiction” at the same time.
  • Ranked #827 overall in the Amazon Kindle Store.

As for this blog, its popularity has steadily increased since I launched it in April, with over 18,000 visitors. Average hits per day increased from about 40, to 60 in August, 90 in October, and over 100 a day in November and December. My most popular blog posts from 2010 were:

  1. E-Ink vs. LCD: What’s The Difference? (2,075 views)
  2. E-Book Market Share: Amazon At 75% (760 views)
  3. Kindle 3 Announced: 3G for $189, Wi-Fi for $139 (675 views)
  4. Kindle 3: Hands-On First Impressions (607 views)
  5. E-Book Sales Continue Rapid Growth (483 views)

Thank you again to everyone who visited my blog, left a comment, bought or read one of my books (available in the right nav bar or through Amazon here), became a Facebook fan, or shared some encouraging words this year. I’ve definitely excited to see what unfolds in 2011, and discuss it with all of you. Happy New Year!

Nov 302010

My old white Kindle 2 next to my new graphite Kindle 3

A few days before my birthday, I got a pleasant surprise in the mail today: a new Kindle 3 from my wife. I own (and am quite happy with) a Kindle 2 already, but after reading and writing about the Kindle 3 for almost 5 months now, and seeing photos and being able to play with one at the local Target, I finally decided I wanted the upgrade — and I’m glad I did.

I decided on the $189 graphite 3G + Wi-Fi Kindle 3 — while the $139 Wi-Fi-only version is a great deal, only $50 extra for 3G connectivity and free-for-life 3G wireless service was too good a value to pass up. For $50, I’d rather have it and not really need it than need it and not have it.

The first thing that struck me is just how small, thin, and light it is. While my old Kindle 2 is hardly enormous or heavy — only 10.2 ounces — the Kindle 3 is smaller in every dimension and only weighs 8.7 ounces (about half a pound). It’s very easy to hold and read one-handed, especially since I haven’t gotten a case for it yet.

The second thing I noticed is the new e-Ink Pearl screen, which promised increased contrast. It definitely delivers. Just check out the photo above: see how much darker the blacks are on the K3 compared to the K2? On the K3, I find the blacks to be noticeably darker (almost a true black), and the background to be slightly lighter (still not a true white, but a lighter shade of gray than on the K2). In combination, the text really pops off the page on the K3. While the K2’s contrast was fine by itself, when I look at it compared to the new K3, it seems a bit “muddied” in comparison.

Helping text readability even more is the K3’s new support for 3 different fonts (normal, condensed, and sans serif) and 3 line spacing options — in addition to the 8 font sizes shared with the K2. After playing around with them a bit, I like the sans serif font (which is bolder than the normal) with the medium line spacing option, on the 4th text size. Check out the difference in the photo below:

Notice the bolder, darker text of the K3 (click pic to read more…)

The text on the Kindle 3 is significantly darker than on the K2, and the background is lighter. The combination makes for a noticeable improvement in readability. Another nice improvement: notice how much more text you get on the K3 screen — an extra 5 lines of text. This is from a combination of the font being more condensed (but more readable), and the location bar being moved all the way down to the very bottom edge of the K3’s screen. Even better, once you click the next page button on the K3, the title bar (that shows the name of the book and the battery indicator) disappears, giving you more room at the top and bottom. Even with the same font type and size, the K3 will get several extra lines of text per page. In total, it seems like I’ll get 25-33% more words on the K3 screen, which is great for a few reasons: having to press the page turn button less frequently (which is nice in itself) also means I should be able to read faster, and the battery will last longer, since e-Ink screens only use power when you change pages (you should get about 10,000 page turns per battery charge, regardless of how many words are on each page). In other words: a book that used to take 1,000 page turns (and use 1/10th the battery life) might now only take 750 page turns (and 1/13th the battery life).

A few other notes: the K3 has a few improvements I haven’t really noticed yet, including longer battery life (both will last for weeks), more storage space (I’m nowhere near filling up either one of them), and faster page turns. I did a side-by-side test, and the K3’s page turns are a little faster, but this is honestly a non-issue for me, as the K2 is plenty fast enough anyway — faster than turning a page in a physical book. Whether the K2 is 0.8 seconds and the K3 is 0.6 or whatever, they’re both fast enough that I don’t notice any delay.

I played around a bit with the K3’s improved web browser (and Wi-Fi connectivity, which for some reason didn’t “see” my network, but once I entered the network name and password it connected with no problem), and it does seem to be much improved. Using the web browser on the K2 could be described as frustrating at best: you could do it, but only if you really had to. The K3 browser is still far from pleasant (compared to a computer or iPad), but it’s much faster, more usable, and seems to render more sites properly. It had no problem with my Yahoo portal, Yahoo mail, this blog, and Amazon’s DTP book sales reports … which I’m embarrassed to admit that I check way more often than I should. 😉 (Ironically, Amazon’s DTP page had problems loading properly on the K2.) The K3’s zooming and panning functions (a necessity due to the 6″ screen) worked pretty well, and the “article mode” (which strips out extraneous stuff and just presents the main text from some web pages) works great so far — this blog came up looking great in article mode. Of course, the Kindle’s e-Ink screen is 16-shade grayscale, and it doesn’t do video, so certain sites are just not going to look that great. And the speed is so-so over Wi-Fi; I think it’s slower over 3G but haven’t tested that yet.

I do have to include a few early nitpicks: I miss the number keys (both have full keyboards, but the K3 loses the top row of number keys from the K2 — instead, you need to press ALT + the letters on the top row). I think this will turn out to be minor, since I hardly ever use the number keys normally, but I had to use them a few times in the initial set-up (mainly punching in location numbers to get to the right place in certain books). But it seems like they could have fit the number keys, or at least printed the corresponding numbers on or near the top row of letter keys. My second nitpick is that I hit a few buttons accidentally: the page turn buttons (which now depress toward the edge instead of the middle like on the K2) and the buttons near the new 5-way controller. I think the side button issue will go away once I get a case, and hopefully I’ll just adjust to the 5-way button and it won’t continue to be an issue.

What else? I’ll have to read more on it (I just got it a few hours ago) to give you more detailed thoughts on the reading experience, and I’ll write a follow-up article in a couple weeks when I can give a more thorough review. But my early impressions are very favorable: the main reason I wanted the K3 was the improved screen contrast, and it delivered. I think the combination of better contrast, more words per page, and lighter weight are going to combine to make the reading experience — which I already found superior to a printed book with my K2 — even better.

Hands-On With The Kindle 3

Posted by Always Write at 12:26 AM Tagged with: ,
Nov 102010

The smaller, graphite K3 next to the white K2

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.

© 2010 David Derrico