New Kobo Wireless E-Reader For $139

 Posted by at 6:25 PM  Tagged with:
Sep 292010

The new Kobo E-Reader adds wireless connectivity, faster page turns, a better screen, and a dictionary. It sells for $139

Kobo announced today that it has updated its Kobo E-Reader device (should we call it the Kobo 2?) to add Wi-Fi wireless connectivity, a faster processor (which enables faster page turns), a better e-Ink screen, and a built-in dictionary (finally!). It is available from Kobo for pre-order now for $139.

Kobo says the other features / improvements include:

  • Wi-Fi wireless connectivity
  • A faster processor that enables “2.5x faster” page turns (an impressive claim; the original Kobo was chastised for slow page turns)
  • A “new, sharper, 16-greyscale, 6” e-Ink screen,” though not the higher-contrast e-Ink Pearl screen being used in the new Kindle 3
  • A built-in dictionary to look up word definitions — a must-have feature notably missing from Kobo’s original offering
  • 1 GB of built-in memory, with an SD card slot for additional storage
  • Longer battery life

For more info, please see my post about the original Kobo E-Reader. As before, the Kobo 2 is lightweight, at just 7.8 ounces, and has relatively simple controls. On the minus side, it is missing some of the advanced features of the Kindle 3 or Nook — including text-to-speech, 3G wireless connectivity, or a keyboard/keypad for note-taking.

The Kobo reads e-books in ePub format and is compatible with free library e-books, which is a big plus. Kobo is affiliated with Borders, and this new e-reader will be sold in Borders stores. Readers can buy compatible e-books from the Borders or Kobo online stores, and can read e-books not only on the Kobo, but on a variety of reading apps for computers and Apple iOS devices. (UPDATE: The Kobo e-readers still work fine even after the Borders bankruptcy, and Kobo is not affected.)

When the Kindle 2 and Nook were $259, the Kobo came in as an appealing alternative that lacked some features, but was small and light and easy to use and cost only $149. At that price, it made a reasonable entry-level model that might appeal to some readers, even though some reviews chastised it for very slow page turns and its missing features. Now, the page turns appear to be much faster, and the addition of Wi-Fi and a built-in dictionary go a long way to leveling the feature playing field. Unfortunately for Kobo, Amazon drastically improved the Kindle 3, made it smaller and lighter, and slashed the price of the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi to just $139, so Kobo’s pricing advantage is gone. For the same price, I can’t see getting the Kobo 2 over the Kindle 3, considering the Kindle’s extra features and better e-book store and support from Amazon.

On the other hand, readers who are loyal to Borders, or who want to read library e-books can consider the Kobo 2 against the new Sony E-Readers, and the Kobo compares fairly well against the Sonys, considering the Kobo 2’s lower price and Wi-Fi connectivity.

UPDATE: Read my hands-on Kobo Wireless review here.

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iPad at Target Stores on Oct 3

 Posted by at 6:01 PM  Tagged with: ,
Sep 242010

Target announced today that the iPad will be available in nationwide Target stores starting on October 3. Target will have all 6 iPad models (the 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB models in both Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi + 3G configurations). Pricing will be the same as Apple’s official pricing, although it appears Target store credit card users can get a nice 5% discount on the iPads, starting October 17.

Target also carries the Kindle 3 and Sony e-Readers, so you can compare and contrast them with the iPad there. (Note: Best Buy has — or will soon have — the Kindle 3, Nook, Sony e-Readers, and iPads all in one place.)

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Kindle 3 at Best Buy, Target

 Posted by at 1:30 AM  Tagged with: , ,
Sep 232010

I’ve been hearing reports around the Internet of new Kindle 3 demo units available in some Best Buy and Target stores. While Target has carried the Kindle 2 for a while, it appears some stores now have the new, lighter Kindle 3 in stock.

I had also heard about Kindles being scheduled to show up in Best Buy as well, but I didn’t expect them to be available so quickly. I’ve heard multiple reports of the new Kindle 3 at various Best Buy locations around the country (although I can’t say for sure if they’ve arrived at all locations yet). Of note, you can now visit a Best Buy to see the Kindle 3, Nook, the Sony line of e-readers, and the iPad, to compare all the major e-readers in the same place.

Two caveats: first, the Kindles at both Target and Best Buy are only demo models, which are set to run through a fixed presentation. So you can see the e-Ink display and handle them to see the size and weight, but you can’t access the menus or play around with it to get the full experience. Second, don’t be surprised if the employees at your particular Best Buy have little or no accurate information on these new Kindle arrivals: the best place for info is still directly from Amazon.

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July 2010 E-Book Sales Figures: $40.8M

 Posted by at 3:33 AM  Tagged with: ,
Sep 222010

July 2010 E-Book Sales Surge To $40.8M

The latest industry e-book sales figures are in (see previous months’ reports here), and July was a record month for e-book sales. The AAP and IDPF are reporting July e-book sales are a whopping $40,800,000, almost a 37% increase from June’s numbers, and a 150.2% increase (well over double) compared to July 2009’s numbers. E-book sales are up 191% year-to-date (for one point of comparison, the entire second quarter of 2009 was only $37.6 M).

I’ve spent more time analyzing these trends in my last few posts, but July’s very strong numbers seem to confirm the continuation of the strong upward long-term trend and prove April’s weak numbers to be an aberration (which is looking more and more like the fault of publishers raising e-book prices through the agency model). It also blows away the previous high: January 2010, an outlier I believe is due to e-book shopping driven by e-book readers received as Xmas gifts, and the cold weather keeping people indoors and downloading new books to read wirelessly. For convenience, here are all of this year’s monthly figures again:

  • Jan 2010: $31.9 M
  • Feb 2010: $28.9 M
  • Mar 2010: $28.5 M
  • Apr 2010: $27.4 M
  • May 2010: $29.3 M
  • June 2010: $29.8 M
  • July 2010: $40.8 M

As you can see, July’s figures are a huge jump for e-books after a relatively sluggish (mostly flat) first six months of the year. I wonder if the enormous jump from the prior month has anything to do with Amazon raising royalty rates on self-published works to 70% on June 30. Perhaps that attracted some small publishers that are being counted in these sales figures to release more Kindle books. I know most self-published authors saw increased revenue when raising their prices from 99 cents into Amazon’s $2.99 to $9.99 range to qualify for the higher royalties (I, for one, sold half the books at three times the price and six times the royalty), but we aren’t included in these sales numbers — the AAP never asks me for my sales info. =)

I suppose the bump could be due to summer reading, but that large a jump seems like it should have a more tangible explanation — and it’s probably not the Kindle 3, which was only made available for pre-order July 28 (and started shipping in August). I’ll keep an eye out for possible causes, and it will be interesting to see if August sales match July’s torrid pace.

In any event, monthly sales of over $40 million demonstrates e-book sales creeping ever-closer into print book territory: for comparison, adult mass-market paperback sales were $60.6 M (and are down 13.1% year-to-date, so e-books are definitely closing the gap). Adult trade paperback sales are still a hefty $111.1 M (but down 8.6% for the year), and adult hardcover sales are $74.1 M. E-books still have a ways to go to reach the combined $245.8 M of adult print book sales (e-book sales are about 1/6th of that number), let alone the $1.5 billion per month of the entire book industry (which includes children’s books, professional books, and educational textbooks). The big question is whether e-books will continue to accelerate at their rapid pace (doubling or tripling each year) — and, if so, how long before they overtake print book sales.

Sep 202010

I recently read Empire From The Ashes, an omnibus edition of the three novels of the so-called “Dahak Trilogy” by David Weber: Mutineer’s Moon, The Armageddon Inheritance, and Heirs of Empire. I had read several other of Weber’s works, including most of his Honor Harrington novels and 1633. A reader had suggested these books to me, as an example of science fiction that “got the science right.”

The story begins 50,000 years in our own past, with the human captain of the Imperium starship Dahak in the midst of a mutiny. Realizing he can’t fend off the mutineers, he orders the advanced computer running the ship to give a countdown, then release deadly radiation into the ship, forcing all the mutineers off the ship — and killing himself in the process. He also orders the computer to destroy any mutineers trying to return to the ship before his loyal crew members restore control.

His plan removes everyone from the ship, but the mutineers have sabotaged Dahak and left it too helpless to retrieve the loyal crew members’ lifeboats, but with automated systems that will destroy the mutineers’ warships if they come close. So the mutineers and other crew members descend to a nearby planet named Earth where they populate the planet. With the aid of “stasis fields” and bio-enhanced longevity, they mostly sleep through a 50,000-year stalemate. Dahak rebuilds itself, but is stuck between its captain’s last command to suppress the mutiny and the prerogative not to destroy half the Earth while doing so.

Fast-forward 50,000 years, and humanity’s recent forays to the moon — did we mention that Dahak is a “planetoid,” a stupendously colossal starship somehow posing as Earth’s moon for all these millennia? — enable Dahak to capture Colin MacIntyre, an astronaut and descendant of Dahak’s loyalists from so many years ago. Thus begins the battle between Dahak (commanded now by Colin) and the mutineers.

The first book chronicles the fight against the mutineers; the second follows humanity’s attempts to contact the remainder of the Imperium and fight off the advances of a hostile alien race; the third book details a madman trying to take over the new government.

I really enjoyed the first two books. While I found the premise a little implausible (our moon is actually a giant, camouflaged, unimaginably powerful, semi-sentient starship waiting 50,000 years to suppress a long-dead mutiny?), there was plenty of action and I enjoyed some of the philosophical questions a semi-sentient computer posed. In fact, as the book went on, Dahak quickly progressed to full sentience, to the point where it could think on its own, make decisions, philosophize, and tell the difference between right and wrong (even if it did lack a bit in human intuition). It even learns to feel emotions, and becomes one of the main characters in the story.

The second book was probably my favorite — it focuses much more on space combat and the threat of a destructive alien race. The characters from the first book grow and take on positions of power in the new unified Earth government that must race to catch up to the “Imperial” technology of Dahak before the aliens arrive in a couple of years. It’s a story of combat and strategy and individual bravery, with the survival of Earth at stake. There is plenty of tension and a surprise twist at the end.

The third book, unfortunately, fell apart a bit for me. First of all, the conflict is wholly internal, and the thought of so much mayhem and death being sown by one crazy human just doesn’t appeal to me as much as the idea of a threat from a warlike alien species. Also, I knew with 100% certainty the identity of “Mister X” (yes, that’s what he’s referred to) literally the first time he was introduced. (Big hint: he’s the only new guy in a position of power that wasn’t a proven veteran from the first two books.) Therefore, the book lost most of its punch, and I found it hard to believe this guy could orchestrate so many things that obviously required the highest levels of clearance (like destroying an entire planetoid starship by sabotage and killing 80,000 people) — and all the smartest people on the planet and this super-smart sentient Dahak never even ONCE considered him as a suspect … to the point where they put him in charge of the operation to find himself. Ugh.

The other glaring problem with the third book was that Weber stuck a whole extra book in the middle of it. Weber is clearly a military history buff (like his book 1633, which detailed pre-industrial battles of pikes and cavalry and cannons — but with the twist of modern technology thrown in to tip the scales). However, this book suffers from a bad case of Weber exulting in his hobby: the book is twice the length of the previous two, and at least half is taken up by a side adventure of the main characters’ young adult children marooned on a primitive planet … and details how they use modern ideas and technology to raise an army and tip the scales in fights against pikes and cavalry and cannons. (Sound familiar?) A one-chapter diversion may have been OK … but this is a whole BOOK with detailed accounts of multiple battles — an entire campaign, actually — and I just found myself wanting to get back to the “real” action and finding out what was happening in the main storyline. The whole thing just felt like a huge pointless diversion, and out of place in the book I thought I was reading.

I think Weber is at his best when he’s describing epic space battles and tactics — I’m personally less interested in the pre-industrial footmen and artillery battles he likes so much, which is part of why I didn’t finish 1633. But his space battles are done very well, and I enjoy the epic scope of his stories, the heroism of his characters, and the moral issues he often grapples with … which isn’t surprising, since those are elements I use in my own books.

I’ve heard Weber’s works described as “hard sci-fi” with a focus on detailed science and technology, but that’s not really the case (I’d call most of his books “military sci-fi”). In this series, Weber mentions “gravitonics,” “Enchanch drives,” “warp grenades,” “hyperspace,” and other science-fiction hand-waving … and it doesn’t bother me a bit. Weber simply gives something a cool name, tells us what it does, and doesn’t bother with pages of pseudo-scientific “explanation” for technologies that humanity’s best minds don’t know how to create and that might even be impossible. The important thing to me is how he USES his technological framework to advance the story, play out large space fleet battles, and place his characters in dramatic situations, and Weber does that very well (there are a couple of minor problems, like heroes dodging laser beams). I do have to admit that I found the idea of a monstrous “planetoid” starship orbiting Earth and passing, undetected, as our moon for millennia hard to swallow.

All in all, I’d recommend the series, with the huge caveat that half of the third book seemed extraneous (if you feel the same, I’d recommend you skip all the side-story chapters, as I wish I had — there’s not even a satisfying payoff at the end to make it worthwhile). I’d give Mutineer’s Moon 7 out of 10, The Armageddon Inheritance 8 / 10, and Heirs of Empire only 4 / 10.

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Kindle Cheap Reads; Red Adept

 Posted by at 3:51 PM  Tagged with:
Sep 132010

Thanks to the fine folks over at Kindle Cheap Reads (now called Daily Cheap Reads), who featured yours truly yesterday. They run a very prolific website, featuring inexpensive (under $5) Kindle books and have recently started adding a sampling of independent authors to the mix. Check them out!

Also, here’s a shout out to the famous Red Adept, who tirelessly reviews Kindle books to help you find your next great read. This month, she’s been running an ongoing series of author interviews asking: “Which came first, the character or the plot?” Check out some responses by me and some other great indie authors:

While Red Adept hasn’t chosen to review one of my novels yet, I’ve sent them her way and am keeping my fingers crossed. 😉

UPDATE: Red Adept just posted a 4  3/4-star review of The Twiller! More info here.

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Apple iPod Touch and iPod Refresh

 Posted by at 9:19 PM  Tagged with: ,
Sep 012010

Apple's New iPod Line: the Shuffle, Nano, and Touch

Apple today announced a refresh of its iPod line, with new models of the iPod Shuffle, iPod Nano, and iPod Touch.

The iPod Touch adds the iPhone’s 960×640 IPS “Retina” display, A4 processor, and gyroscope. It also adds front- and rear-facing video cameras, designed for use with Apple’s “FaceTime” video chat software. Prices are $229 for the 8GB model, $299 for 32GB, and $399 for 64GB.

The iPod Nano has the most drastic change: its size was cut roughly in half so only the screen remains (no more click wheel). The screen is now a touchscreen and has a home screen with specialized “apps” (like audio and photo players), but it won’t run normal iPhone apps and games. It gains FM radio capability and Nike+ pedometer support, but it loses its camera and the ability to display video. The prices are $149 for the 8GB version and $179 for the 16GB. It now has a clip like its smaller Shuffle sibling.

Finally, the iPod Shuffle actually gets its clickwheel back, but otherwise remains largely unchanged from the last version. It holds 2GB and costs $49.

Of note, the iPod Classic hums along unchanged, at $249 for a model with a 160GB hard drive.

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New Sony E-Readers

 Posted by at 8:59 PM  Tagged with:
Sep 012010

The New Sony E-Reader 350

Today, Sony refreshed its line of e-readers, bringing the new e-Ink Pearl screen (used in the Kindle 3) to the Sony line. One could argue that Sony started the modern e-reader revolution (as its first model came out before the Kindle), but it wasn’t until Amazon’s Kindle 2 came out in 2009 that e-reader sales really took off. Since then, Sony has been the forgotten one of the “Big 3” (Amazon, B&N, Sony) — and has even taken a back seat to Apple (which doesn’t even make e-readers) in the eyes of many.

Like with much of their other technology, the Sony hardware is impressive, but somewhat quirky, expensive, and lacking in ease of use.

First, the good news: the new Sony e-readers have the higher-contrast e-Ink Pearl screen we’ve discussed when covering the Kindle 3. They are also very small and light — even smaller and lighter than the K3. They all sport new touchscreens that use infrared sensors built in to the edges of the screen, so it doesn’t impede reading (the old touchscreen layers made the screen harder to read and thus kinda sucked). And they support DRMed ePub files, so you can read library books on them (although it’s a bit of a hassle).

On the down side, they’re considerably more expensive than the Kindles, their entry-level version only has a 5″ e-Ink screen (compared to the 6″ one found on Kindles and Nooks), and only their most expensive model (not yet available) has wireless connectivity — the 2 models available now don’t even have Wi-Fi, let alone 3G. That means you have to use your computer to purchase, download, and transfer books to your device.

There are three models: the 5″ Sony PRS-350 (“Pocket Edition”) for $179, the 6″ PRS-650 (“Touch Edition”) for $229, and the 7″ PRS-950 (“Daily Edition”), due out before the holidays for $299.

All 3 models use the new e-Ink Pearl displays and improved touchscreens. The Touch Edition adds the larger (standard-size) screen and memory slots. The Daily edition adds an even larger screen and Wi-Fi + 3G wireless connectivity.

The 5″ PRS-350 Pocket Edition has 2GB of built-in storage (no memory card slots), weighs only 5.64 oz (the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi weighs 8.5), measures just 5.71 x 4.11 x 0.33 inches, and costs $179. Compared to the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi, you pay $40 more to get a touchscreen, ePub support, and smaller size, but you lose out with a smaller screen, no wireless connection, no Internet, no text-to-speech, worse battery life, less storage, and you don’t get to use Amazon’s Kindle e-book store: Sony’s E-Reader Store is far inferior. For just $10 more, you could even splurge for the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G, and get unlimited 3G connectivity for life.

The 6″ PRS-650 Touch Edition (does that name make sense when they all have touchscreens now?) costs $229, and brings you the larger screen and expandable memory in a slightly larger but still light (at 7.93 oz) package. For $90 more than the K3, you get the same size (and type) screen, so it’s more of an apples-to-apples comparison. Unfortunately, the library book support (an important feature), touchscreen (which I don’t think adds much to the reading experience), and slightly lighter weight don’t outweigh the $90 cost savings and other advantages of the Kindle.

The 7″ PRS-950 Daily Edition adds wireless (Wi-Fi and 3G) connectivity, along with a larger 7″ screen. At 8.99 ounces, it’s fractionally heavier than the K3, but still light enough for easy one-handed reading; that’s probably a good trade-off to get a larger screen (which means more words per page and fewer page turns when reading, especially if you like to read at larger font sizes). The problem is the $299 price tag, which pushes it almost into the 9.7″ Kindle DX2 territory ($379).

Sony is known for making great hardware, but they tend to drop the ball on customer experience (why are they still forcing us into Memory Sticks instead of letting us use the SD and MicroSD cards we have lying around?). Here, Sony doesn’t offer a way to buy and download e-books wirelessly, whereas the Kindle lets you buy any book you can think of in 30 seconds, without a computer. Even when using your computer, you’ll find the Sony E-Reader store almost an afterthought, with lower selection, worse prices, and an inferior browsing experience to the Kindle store. I’d only recommend the Sonys to someone a bit computer-savvy and who enjoys the hassle of finding e-books from other sources (like Project Gutenberg and libraries).

And, as with most Sony products, the bottom line is that they’re too expensive compared to the competition. I just can’t see paying close to double the price (compared to the $139 K3 Wi-Fi) for the $229 Touch Edition, and not even getting Wi-Fi connectivity.

But, if you really like touchscreens or library books, and are OK with using your computer to find, organize, and download e-books, the new Sony E-Readers are nice devices with great screens. They also offer options, if you prefer a slightly smaller or larger screen. Just don’t look too closely at the prices. =)

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Aug 312010

Staples announced today that they will be carrying the new Kindle 3 e-readers in their retail stores “this fall.” They will carry the $139 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi, the $189 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G, and “in late fall,” the larger $379 Kindle DX 2. This should offer more people the opportunity to see in person how easy on the eyes and paper-like e-Ink displays really are. Until then, you can still see the older Kindle 2 models at Target, or see the Nook at Barnes & Noble or Best Buy.

In other news, on the heels of the introduction of the lower-price Kindle 3 Wi-Fi for just $139, Kobo has wisely discounted its own Kobo E-Reader (which trails the Kindle and Nook in speed and features) to $129 to compete. While I like the Kobo’s light weight and focus on reading, I still think the new K3 is a better value. But the lower price is a step in the right direction — you can go check out a Kobo at a Borders store near you.

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The Real “Kindle Killer”

 Posted by at 7:49 PM  Tagged with: ,
Aug 252010

Please excuse me for poking a bit of fun at all the “iPad [or whatever magical device] is a Kindle Killer” article headlines, but it seems to me that the only real device with a chance of “killing” reading is the television. I just saw this report by Bowker, which proudly announced that “More than 40% of Americans over the age of 13 purchased a book in 2009.”

Now, not to delve too deeply into the math, but if 40% of Americans bought a book in 2009, then that means almost 60% of adults didn’t buy even one single book all last year. That’s a pretty depressing number to me. I mean, I know reading isn’t “cool” anymore, but I would have thought more than half of Americans would buy a book in a whole year.

It’s especially depressing when you compare it to TV statistics: 99% of American households own a TV, and on average, watch it between 4-6 hours a day. Hours a day vs. not even one book in a year. I couldn’t even find statistics for the percentage of people who watched at least one show on TV last year, presumably because everyone knows it’s 100%.

The sad thing is, most of the crap on TV is just, well … crap. Anything even remotely good (*sniff* Firefly *sniff*) gets cancelled anyway. If it wasn’t for Gator football games, I’d have pretty much no use for TV. As it is, I don’t own one (my wife has a small one hooked up to rabbit ears — no cable), although we do watch a few shows on Hulu.

Anyway, I need to head back to some reading / e-book forums to restore my faith in humanity, by hearing more stories of people who read 10 books a week and have a “to be read” list of 500 titles on their Kindles. Until then, feel free to leave a comment below telling me how often you read instead of watching TV.

Yes, I guess I can wait until the next commercial. *sigh*