Archive for January, 2010

Money for nothin’ and your books for free

January 27, 2010

Is it a sale if you don’t pay anything for the product?

That’s a more important question than you might think.

Having a book on as an Amazon bestseller can make a difference in the sales.  For one thing, people are more likely to see it when they go that category.  For another, it lends some credibility to the title.

Some independent publishers have complained that they can’t mark their books as free, and therefore, they can’t get the highs as easily on the bestseller list.  Articles in mainstream media and the blogosphere have also mentioned this issue.

Is it a sale if the person doesn’t pay for it?  There are many books I’ve gotten basically because they were free.  Hey, if I don’t want to read it, my Significant Other might.

The first definition of “sell” in my Kindle dictionary would suggest that it isn’t.  It says “give or hand over (something) in exchange for money.”

Of course, that doesn’t say anything about using credit, either.  ;)

With Amazon enticing people to list price books through the Digital Text Platform between $2.99 and $9.99 (to get the higher 70% royalty rate, I thought I’d take a look at the impact different price points have on the best seller list.

First, let’s take a look at the percentage of books at different price ranges in the Kindle store:

Price Count Percentage
free 19793 5%
.01-.99 34866 8%
1-2.98 48501 12%
2.99 6,567 2%
3-4.99 82388 20%
5-7.99 49612 12%
8-9.98 19097 5%
9.99 53890 13%
10+ 100016 24%
Total 414730  

 

Price Distribution in the Kindle Store

Price Distribution in the Kindle Store

Note that these are not evenly distributed categories.  I’m noting $2.99 separately and $9.99 separately, for example.  You can tell that $9.99 is a popular price point, though.

The next thing I did was look at the price distribution of the top 100 “sellers” for Kindle books:

Point Count
free 58
.01-.99 4
1-2.98 1
2.99 0
3-4.99 3
5-7.99 9
8-9.98 6
9.99 18
10+ 1

Let’s look at these two figures (percent of titles in the store and percent of bestsellers) side by side:

Point Bsellers Price Store Pct Diff
free 58 free 5% 53
.01-.99 4 .01-.99 8% -4
1-2.98 1 1-2.98 12% -11
2.99 0 2.99 2% -2
3-4.99 3 3-4.99 20% -17
5-7.99 9 5-7.99 12% -3
8-9.98 6 8-9.98 5% 1
9.99 18 9.99 13% 5
10+ 1 10+ 24% -23

The free books are obviously way over-represented in the bestsellers.  They are only 5 percent of the books in the store, but fifty-eight percent of the top one hundred bestsellers.  That’s a difference of 53%!  They are more than ten times as popular as they are represented in title count.

Books at ten dollars and over are under-represented, but that makes sense.  The more expensive books (like textbooks) just aren’t going to sell as well.  In fact, honestly, I was shocked to see even one book.  It has the text-to-speech blocked, so I’m not going to mention it, but it is a novel from a major house.  It was just released…it may go down to $9.99 soon.

So, free books dominate the bestseller list at Amazon.  Granted.  Maybe they should call it a “most downloaded” list?  But, perhaps Amazon doesn’t want people to think of Kindle books as downloads.  They could simply call it “Most Popular”, I suppose.

Is this an unfair situation?  After all, these are the books that people are getting the most.

The thing that calls it into question for me is that not everybody can list their books for free.

Independents who publish through Amazon’s Digital Text Platform for the Kindle can’t do that.  Traditional publishers (tradpubs) can.

Amazon does carry expenses for DTP books.  One of them is Customer Service, which can be expensive.  Those DTP books aren’t always that well formatted, and they may result in more phone calls and e-mails to Kindle Customer Service, both asking for refunds and just complaining. 

Amazon now reviews those books when they are submitted, and may pull them out of the store if the formatting is bad enough.

That’s a cost.  It wouldn’t make sense for them to do that on a book that is going to generate zero income for them, usually.

The Digital Text Platform is how Amazon is going to transform publishing, though.  They are making independent publishing more attractive than traditional publishing for many authors, at least after the 70 percent option goes into effect. 

Amazon may want to re-think the free ban.  How about this?  They charge them for selling the books.  They charge them, oh, twenty-five cents a free book (plus fifteen cents a megabyte for delivery). 

They could take that out of future royalties, if any.  They already wait quite awhile before paying royalties.

That would let the indies make a book for free for a couple of weeks, then raise it to a money-making level.

Many of those indies are only available in the Kindle store.  That would give Amazon a big plus on freebies.  Barnes and Noble is actually beating Amazon on non-public domain freebies right now, although if you look at the selection at both of them, you might not be all that impressed.

Amazon has fifty-four non-public domain freebies right now:

Amazon NPD freebie search 

Barnes and Noble has about 104:

B&N NPD freebies 

Making this move would be a simple way for Amazon to blow that number away, I think.   A lot of them would also be full novels…many freebies are just chapters or short stories.

That still would presumably give the advantage to tradpubs, but it would help.

Amazon could also simply do a daily free download of a DTP book.  Yes, they’d take a loss, but that would be great publicity.  They could allow people to opt into it: if they pick your book, you get no royalties for the sales that day.  That would make the loss much lower, and again, promote the exclusive titles that B&N has.  They could do this with the DTP…that’s a very different arrangement than B&N or Sony trying to do it with tradpubs.

I think that would work very well, actually.  It would drive daily traffic to Amazon (I would not do it by subscription, but make people go and click).  It could be on a page with other titles that Amazon wants to promote, and they would get some impulse buys on those as well.  For example, they could do a pre-order page, and include the free book on that page.  “Can’t wait?  Enjoy this book today!”

As an author, I’d definitely go for that.  My book would be in the company of the future bestsellers, and it would garner a lot of publicity.  People would discover authors that they otherwise wouldn’t find, perhaps recommend them to other people…who would be too late to get the freebie, quite often.  :)  It would also generate reviews, which makes a difference on indie sales, I believe.

“That’s the way you do it…money for nothin’ and your books for free.”

;)

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog

The Slow Burn: when books never die

January 26, 2010

“Slowly, slowly…it’s too nice a job to rush.”

–Columbia, the Rocky Horror Picture Show

One of the underdiscussed elements of the e-book revolution is that books need not go “out of print” ever again.

Oh, they may be withdrawn, for various reasons, but that’s different.

On the surface, this may just seem like a convenience for readers.  Rather than looking for a book in a used bookstore, or bidding for it on eBay, it will still be in the store, along with all the books published since.

There are no warehouses, no storage fees.  No need to go back and do a brand new print run.

This changes so many things.  It’s part of what devalues the traditional publishers (tradpubs). 

When I managed a bookstore, we knew that one of the main things we were fighting was rent.  Every day that a book didn’t sell, we made less profit on it. 

Tick, tick, tick.

One of the secrets of success was turnover.  Get the old books out, get the news books in. 

If a book sold, why wasn’t it going to keep selling?

First, there was a limited number of regular customers.  We certainly had new customers, probably every day.  But our regulars?  They’d seen the book in a week or two…the ones that were going to buy it probably had.  We would put a book aside for somebody who wanted it, by the way.

Second, those new customers…they may also have had a chance to see the book in a different store.  They didn’t buy it there in the two weeks, why are they going to buy it from us?  Well, we might have a better price (or be nicer) ;) , but people knew that there was a limited time to get to a book. 

Third, what prompted the purchase could have ended.  When a book is first released, there can be buzz about it.  Book reviews for a book tend to appear around the same time in different outlets.  An author tour usually happens in one sweep around the country.  You don’t do the South in the winter, and the North in the summer.   The book might tie into a movie or TV show.

So, you walked into a store.  If the book hasn’t sold in, say, six weeks…and it doesn’t have great momentum, it was probably going to be gone.  We needed that space for the next hot book. 

Yes, there were books we always had, absolutely.  Some were perpetual sellers..that’s different.  But the new novel?  If it didn’t prove itself, it didn’t get to stay.

What happened to it?

We returned it to the publisher for credit on future purchases from the publisher.  The publisher had to eat it.  They could sell to us again, much cheaper and with a mark drawn on it or a corner cut (usually) to show it was a “remainder”.  They could donate it somewhere for the tax write-off.

Let’s back up in the process.

The publisher buys the rights to the book.  One of their big responsibilities: getting it printed and distributed.  They have to make a very careful decision about how many to print.  If they print too few, they lose sales.  You can do another print run with a popular book, and they certainly do.  But you need that economy of scale.  Ideally, you are going to print all of the copies you need at once. 

If you print too many, you don’t lose sales, but you have to buy the books back from the retailers.  You guarantee the retailers that they will be able to sell the books.  You had to send them out, then get them back, then do something with them.  That’s expensive.

Knowing how many books to print is an art, not just a science.  Some publishers are better at it than others.

We had publisher’s representatives that would come to the store.  With the best ones, we let them greatly advise us on what to buy.  We would have come up with our own list, based on what we sold or our own preferences.  But if the rep said we needed fifty copies of something coming out the next month because it was going to be big, we either believed the rep or we didn’t.  I certainly had one rep I just trusted…he was usually right.  If he said to order fifty, I did…and we usually sold them all.

Another really key factor is that customers want to see new things.  With a novel, if you didn’t buy it last time, you probably won’t buy it this time.  Again, not with a solid backlister, but with new novels.

E-books change all of this, and that’s going to change the business.

The publisher doesn’t have to do a print run.  They don’t need to decide how many to print.  They don’t need to deal with returns.

The books can effectively be available forever.

That means there doesn’t need to be a Big Bang of sales…there can be a slow burn. 

Let’s say you had a pretty good seller (not a blockbuster) and you sold ten thousand copies.  You sold them all in the first year (probably in a few months), and then you have to decide: do another print run, or let it go out of print.  You figure you might sell a thousand the next year…but it costs too much per copy to only print a thousand.  The book goes out of print.  You might even let the rights revert to the author, or sell them to the author and let the author sell it out of her or his garage (or over the internet, now).  You might try to resell it as a remainder.

With the e-book, let’s say you are going to sell that ten thousand the first year (we are nowhere near that at this point, though).  At the end of the year, you can still service that one thousand a year demand.  You can do that for ten, fifteen, twenty years. 

The author doesn’t need the Big Bang, necessarily.  The author may figure the book doesn’t need that huge publicity push, because the selling cycle is so much longer.  Write a solid genre book (let’s say a vampire novel), and it gets decent reviews from readers on Amazon’s site.  It will continue to sell.  The selling cycle can be very long…decades.  You’re not going to sell it to everyone who wants to read it and then have it die…because new readers enter the market.   The eight-year olds of today are the eighteen-year olds of ten years from now.  They will want to read different things then they read at eight…like your book, for example.  They may look for books that have gotten five stars…they aren’t going to be necessarily be looking in the Sunday reviews to see what is new.

So, authors, you will be less beholden to the publicity machines of the tradpubs.  You don’t have to get all the sales you can possibly get in a year.  I understand, you still need to eat this year, absolutely.  But your backlist titles will still be feeding you next year, and the year after that.  Eventually you might have ten titles out there, selling fifteen percent of what your one title a year used to sell.  That’s better, right? 

The situation with advances gets trickier, or course.  What if you get an advance of thirty thousand dollars?  Maybe you used to get that back in one year.  What if it takes you five years now before you see dollar one? 

It’s all interesting going forward, but the Slow Burn really devalues what the tradpubs can give authors.

I’m confident that more authors were go the independent route, often doing it largely by themselves.  If you are a brand name author with ten books in your backlist, where is the advantage in going to the tradpub?  You don’t need the publicity.  You don’t need their print capability.  You can get a much higher royalty doing it yourself.  You can pay freelancers to do the prep of the book. You can give an editor points.   If you publish it through Amazon’s digital text platform (DTP), and Amazon handles the “returns”.  You can get 70% from Amazon (starting later this year)…even for a ten-year old book.

Authors benefit from a longer sales cycle.  Readers benefit from a longer sales cycle.  Some of the skills of tradpubs become less valuable.

Are we ready for a book market with fewer peaks and valleys…where it isn’t the four-walling author tour that makes a book a hit, but actual reader evaluations that it is good that keep it selling it for many years?

How much has it already changed?

Some of these are going to help in a Big Bang, some will help in a Slow Burn.

Marshall McLuhan famously said that the “medium is the message”.  It may turn out that the medium is also the market.

Am I making too big a deal out of this?  Do you think the tradpubs will still dominate?  Feel free to let me know by commenting on this post. 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog

Round up #13: Kindlers’ pincushion, Ewan’s deal

January 25, 2010

Are we there yet?

Dragi Raos, a Croatian Kindleer who has been helping a lot of people in the  Kindle community, recently started a Google map for Kindleers.  Dragi referred to it as the “Kindlers’ pincushion”, since you can put a “push pin” into it to show your location.

It’s a fun visual, and you can add your own pin!  You do need to be logged into Google, and of course, a negative is that someone else can move your pin or change the information about you.  You can tell who edited it last, though.

Timezones are going to affect when people post to it, but it’s started.   There are already more than thirty pins, and I expect a lot more.   There are Kindleers (my preferred term) already listed in Europe, Asia, North America, Australia…will you be the first one in South America or Africa?  Probably not, actually…I’m going to tweet this as well.  :)

Of course, there is nothing that guarantees accuracy, but it’s a fun idea.

Kindlers’ Pincushion

When you get there (and you are logged into Google), you’ll see a choice to Edit above the list of Kindleers.  You may want to zoom into your own area first (you can double-click on the map to zoom).  Once you get there, you can click on the pushpin icon up towards the top of the screen, and then click on your location.  You may not want to click your exact location…I didn’t. 

You can then enter some information.  Dragi said it was okay that I listed this blog, for example.  :)

Note: be careful not to accidentally move someone else’s pin…use that pushpin icon.

Great idea, Dragi!  I’m expecting we’ll see lots of pins soon.  :)  I do think geography is awfully nineteenth century ;), but it still can be interesting. 

Ewan’s deal

This was a fascinating story out of England.  Ian McEwan, who won the Man Booker prize (see this previous post for a bit more information on the prize) in 1998 for his novel, Amsterdam, has struck a deal for his backlist books to be Kindleized.

Top authors await ebook bonanza 

While it would be exciting regardless, why is this particularly interesting news?

First, it’s an exclusive deal.  You aren’t going to get these books on the nook (sic) or Sony.

How did they swing that?

They got him royalties of fifty percent!  Fifty!  For paperbooks from a traditional publisher (tradpubs), authors might get eight or twelve percent…somewhere in there.  With e-books from a tradpub, it might be twenty-five or so.

This deal was done by Rosetta Books, an important player in e-books in the past.  They are one of the reasons why people don’t think Random House’s assertion that they automatically own e-book rights when they own paperbook (p-book) rights is going to succeed.  They’ve already won a legal thing with RH in a similar situation. 

One of the interesting things is that the details of the deal were made public.  We knew Stephen Covey had made a similar deal through Rosetta, but the royalty rate wasn’t part of the publicity.

Now, if you’ve been reading this blog, you may be aware that there is a seventy percent  deal coming in the fairly near future.   That would seem like something even better, right?  It doesn’t even have to be an exclusive deal…Ewan could be selling it in the Kindle store, Barnes & Noble, and the Sony store, and getting 70% instead of fifty.

The drawback to that is that the seventy percent comes through the do-it-yourself digital text platform (I suppose you could say the DTP is DIY).  Authors, especially fiction authors, aren’t always that involved with details.  It might be worth it to have a traditional publisher (tradpub) handle those things for you.

However, the other issue is that the 70% deal requires a maximum Digital List Price of $9.99.  If Ewan had done it himself through the DTP, he could get about seven dollars a copy.  However, he’d have to deal with the conversion, proof-reading, and so on. 

It isn’t clear from the article (or from Amazon’s press release) if we are talking about the Digital List Price or the sales price, and that makes a huge difference.   If the DLP for a book is $25, and Amazon sells it for $9.99, the traditional deal is that the publisher would get $12.50 and the author would probably get $6.25.  That would be if the author gets 25% of the e-book DLP.  If the author gets 25% of the sale price, or of the publisher’s take, that’s all very different and that isn’t clear. 

Let’s say that it’s the best case scenario (for the author), and they get that take of the DLP.  If Ewan is getting 50% of the DLP, what is Rosetta getting?  Well, for exclusive rights, they may have worked out a better than fifty percent payment from Amazon…maybe that seventy percent?

I do think we’ll see more authors going the independent route.  Very successful authors can get people to do the services that a tradpub does now, in exchange for points on the sales. 

Apple’s announcement

This Wednesday, January 27, is when Apple is likely to announce…whatever it is.  :)  There is all sorts of speculation about their new device.  One of the interesting questions: will you be able to buy Kindle books for it?

My guess…sure!  You can already get an app for two other popular Apple products, the iPhone and the iPod touch.   Amazon says they will soon have a free Kindle for Mac app, just like they currently have a free Kindle for PC app.  If you can already read Kindle books on Apple mobile devices, and you are going to be able to read them on Macs at home, you will pretty clearly be able to read them on the iWhoozits (iSlate or iTablet).  Apple is supposedly working on a seventy percent deal with traditional publishers…but probably not for exclusive license.   Is the Apple device a threat to Kindle hardware sales?  I don’t think so, not much anyway.  It’s likely that the iWhoozits will be bigger, more expensive, have a shorter battery life, and have a backlit screen.  It will certainly appeal to some folks, but I think the Kindle will have a great year in 2010.   If Amazon keeps making exclusive deals, that’s going to be another plus for the Kindle. 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog

The Death Rustle

January 24, 2010

It’s been talked about for a while.

The death of paper books.

Can you hear it?

Can you hear the rustle?

Is that the last death throes of the paper book…the death rustle?

Not yet, not yet…but the prognosis isn’t good.  This one isn’t…isn’t going to get any better.   Oh, there’s always hope for some new treatment.  But things have been on a down trend for some time.  Some recent developments look like they signal a hastening of the lessening.

Chain bookstores closing

I’ve referred to them before as the “dinostores”.  Large, generic bookstores whose main attractions are: selection; price, and convenience.  It they are like dinosaurs, we are at the K-T boundary…that time at the end of the Mesozoic and start of the Cenozoic eras.  The nimble little mammals have appeared…we call them e-books.  It’s taken a little while for them to begin to have a big hold on the ecology/economy, but that’s coming rapidly.

Is this statement still true?

“Most new books are purchased at brick-and-mortar bookstores.”

According to the Association of American Publishers, yes  Based on a 2008 snapshot, 23% of buyers shop online.  22% shop in large chain bookstores, 7% shop in Other/Independent bookstores.  

Online PowerPoint
 

However, that margin is likely to have dropped, and may drop even more in the near future.

Who are the large chain bookstores selling new books?

In the US, all you are really still talking about is Barnes & Noble (which owns B. Dalton) and Borders (which includes Waldenbooks), and arguably, Books-A-Million.  Those are the big three.

B&N reported a 5% drop in brick-and-mortar sales in the last couple of months of 2009.  That’s not good.  Yes, it was a tough year, but Amazon had a great holiday season.  This is something that should seriously concern nook buyers.  That’s the chain’s EBR (E-Book Reader), and a competitor to Amazon’s Kindle.  It has some cool features…but a couple of the best are currently dependent on you getting to a B&N store.  For example, they say they are going to let you read e-books for free in the store (I’ve heard an hour a day limit on a specific book).  However, that won’t do you much good if there isn’t a store around you. 

This was an interesting article recently from CNN:

Big city left with no bookstore 

It talks about the closing of the B. Dalton (owned by B&N) in Laredo, Texas.  According to the article, that leaves the city of 250,000 with “no bookstore”.  They say the nearest bookstore is 150 miles away.  Of course, for Kindle owners the nearest bookstore is…at the end of their arms.  That’s the fallacy.  The story is written as though people there don’t have access to books…it’s presented as a sad demise.  A few years ago, it might have been spun as people not reading enough. 

This is probably the key paragraph in the article:

“Barnes & Noble says it closed the Laredo store as part of an overall strategy to shut down the chain of mall-based bookstores. Even though the Laredo store was profitable, the overall chain was losing money, according to company officials.”

That store was making money and it wasn’t enough to save it.

B. Dalton…out. 

The article also says that B&N has been closing fifty to sixty B&N owned stores a year for half a decade.  It doesn’t say how many they have opened during that time, but it’s presumably a net loss.  It’s easy to predict the closing of a hundred B&Ns this year, and more the next. 

Borders is in a worse situation.  They have a big loan coming due this year, and they’ve also made a move towards e-books.

According to their 2009 Annual Report,  Books-A-Million has 220 stores in 21 states…and that’s growth from their 2008 report.  They say they opened 16 stores in fiscal year 2009, and anticipate opening three to five in 2010. 

They said they had “decreased traffic”, although they did well in some categories.  The core book business was down, but they were selling more toys, games, and accessories.

Online and e-book sales are up…chain bookstore sales are down.

People do buy new paperbooks in other stores…grocery stores, Costco, Target, that sort of place.   But is it enough?

Price pressure from e-books

Amazon just announced a major initiative that will help influence the price of books in the future, both e-books and paperbooks (p-books). 

Not enough is being written about this.  It’s as significant as the death of the Hollywood “Studio System” in the 1950s.  There were movie stars in the 1930s and 1940s…a lot of people see that as Hollywood’s golden age.  It’s very different now…not that there aren’t movie stars.  Some would actually argue that the movies from the 1970s and up might be better.  But it’s a very different path to greatness.    It took a Supreme Court decision in 1948 to break the studio system.  Amazon is using the Digital Text Platform (DTP) to do the same.

If you wrote a novel twenty years ago, you didn’t have a lot of choices about how to get it to readers.  You could pay to have it published…but bookstores weren’t going to carry it, probably.  It would be derided as being from a “vanity” press.   You wanted to make money as an author?  You pretty much had to sell the rights to a publisher.  In fact, you probably had to have an agent sell the rights to a publisher. 

If you had a bookstore, you had to deal with those publishers.  They had the books.  You typically paid them fifty percent of the list price…a price the publishers themselves set. 

E-books didn’t change that arrangement much, initially.  It did make it cheaper to publish books yourself, but they still weren’t going to get distributed to the mainstream of readers.  Retailers still paid publishers fifty percent.

Amazon is a company known for innovative thinking.  One way to innovate is to look at the current situation, and consider other options.  This was the situation:

  1. Authors write books
  2. Authors sell those books to publishers
  3. We (retailers) buy those books from the publishers at prices they largely set
  4. We sell the books to customers

You might look at that formula and look at ways to change it.  Amazon could write their own books, but that’s difficult.  So, you move on to step two.

Why can’t Amazon buy the rights for books from the authors?  We don’t need all the apparatus that paperbook publishing required.  Amazon had already been doing some of this with print-on-demand for paperbooks.

That’s what they are doing.  They aren’t even buying exclusive rights.

First, Amazon is getting the Kindle into people’s hands.  Distribution requirement?  Met. 

Next, they expand where you can read the books to things like iPhones and PCs.

It started out with Amazon paying those authors a 35% royalty…Amazon was taking 65%.  This isn’t just authors, by the way…it’s also small publishers who would have had a hard time getting into a chain store.

People went for that…it’s a better deal than they would get from traditional publishers (tradpubs).  No, they didn’t get the publicity machines of the tradpubs, which is one of their primary services.  It’s not likely you’ll get on Oprah or your local radio talkshow with an independently published Kindle book.  Still, people are hungry for things to read.

That wasn’t going to break the tradpubs, though.  Indies were getting 35%…tradpubs were getting 50%.

That’s been working.  This next move, though, is brilliant…and has the potential to really strike a blow at paper publishing.

Amazon has this existing deal.  It only had a pretty tiny amount of control.  The authors couldn’t price the book below a dollar, basically.  They had to say they had the rights. 

Then, Amazon began to assert more control.  They said “no public domain” books.  They began rejecting books for formatting issues.

Then, this recent move.  “You know that thirty-five percent we’ve been giving you?  You can get twice that.  You can get seventy percent…but you have to play by our new rules.”

The first significant rule?  You have to price your book at a minimum of $2.99.   Amazon probably isn’t making much on selling books that cost a dollar and make them seventy cents.  “But wait,” you say, “they are going to pay more in royalties, not less.”  Yes, but they are making you sell them for $2.99 to get that.  Amazon getting seventy percent of $2.99 (ninety cents) is more than Amazon getting 65% of a dollar (sixty-five cents).

You might think that this is bad for Amazon on e-books, since authors at Barnes & Noble can still sell the same titles for a dollar. 

Well, that’s the next thing.  The deal is that you can’t have it list priced lower anywhere else. 

So, the bottom price on e-books is going to rise, most likely.  You may think that’s good for p-books. 

However, there is more.  There is also a top price of $9.99.    That is way below a lot of the current digital list prices, and of course, way below the paper list price (which tends to be the same as the digital list price).  The digital list price has been based on the paper list price (which I think hasn’t changed wildly since the recent explosive growth of e-book sales). 

As the balance of power shifts between the declining p-books and the ascendant e-books, the prices will go the other way.  The e-book prices will impact the p-books. 

Amazon is making sure that happens.  The contract on the lucrative seventy percent royalty requires that the e-book list price be at least twenty percent below the p-book.

Let’s say a hardback is currently $25.  Does that mean the e-book would get list priced at $20? 

That’s one option. 

However, a lot of the independently published books are going to top out at $9.99 to take advantage of that seventy percent.

So, a traditional publisher could get fifty percent of $20…or seventy percent of $9.99, if they massively cut the price.  The ten dollars is still more attractive than the seven dollars, right?

But the e-book costs less to produce.  The e-book has a longer sales cycle (no reason for it to ever go “out of print”).  That’s making it closer.

How many more books will you sell at $9.99 than at $20?  It doesn’t have to be twice as many, if the royalty is higher.  If you get seven dollars for $9.99 and ten dollars for $20, you only need to sell forty-three percent more. 

So, now you are pricing your e-books at $9.99.  You have to charge at least $12 for a hardback.  You could charge that $25 you used to charge, but that’s going to look pretty odd.  Instead of making the Digital List Price and the Paper List Price the same, as you are doing now, you will be telling your customers that paperbooks are more expensive.  If you charge $12 for the hardback, it may not be worth it to publish the hardback.

Not right away.  Not when the volume for paperbooks is still so much more than it is for e-books. 

However, what happens after Borders closes?  What happens after more Barnes & Nobles close? 

There may be an increase in independent bookstore sales, of course.  There may be an increase in online p-book sales.  People may buy more books at grocery stores and Costcos.

But won’t many of those people switch to e-books?  They’ll be cheaper (mandated by Amazon for those in the seventy percent plan, as well as being driven by market forces).   They’ll be more convenient.  Eventually, they’ll have more choices.

Backlist books have begun to be issued in just e-book form.  Seventy percent for a $5.99 e-book versus fifty percent (for a tradpub) for a $7.19 (twenty percent higher) paperback?  That’s $4.19 royalty for the e-book and $3.60 for the p-book.

More royalty, less cost…more profit.

To make the same royalty on the p-book, you’d have to charge at least $8.38.  The p-book presumably costs you more to produce, so you’d have to charge more than that.

At what point does it become not worthwhile to produce the p-book, except maybe as an expensive print-on-demand version?

At what point does it become a luxury item?

At what point does it become not worth it?

When do you stop pouring money into it?  When do you stop the heroic measures?

Can you hear it?

Can you hear the rustle?

Can you?

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog

It’s an honor just to be nominated

January 23, 2010

It’s an honor just to be nominated

How do you pick what books to read?

Recommendations from people you know are certainly influential.  Reviews and talk show appearances also clearly help.

However, some people go by which books win awards.  Winning an award suggests that the book has been held to a higher standard.  It has, by definition, competed with other books and been judged superior.

While everybody knows the Oscars, Emmys, and Tonys, how many people can name a literary award?  Actually, I would hope that most readers could name some awards, but there are certainly a lot of them out there.  It might help if the awards were on television and Joan Rivers was at the red carpet.  Um, never mind…have you seen the way some authors dress?  ;)  Just kidding, but writing is by its nature more of a solitary thing.  Authors are not always the most “get out there and be photographed” crowd…er, set of individuals.

So, although you aren’t likely to see a literary awards show on E!, they can be a good guide for you.  If nothing else, the genre awards help you recognize books of a particular type.

Some readers are completists: they want to start at the beginning of a list and go straight through it.  We love series!  Hey, I read all 181 Doc Savage adventures in order (well, the order they were released in the Bantam paperbacks, anyway).   If you want to read science fiction, you could do worse than reading all of the Hugo novel winners.  Same thing goes for mystery: reading all of the Edgar winners could be a good way to go.

The other factor for EBR (E-Book Reader) users, of course, is whether or not those award winners are available (and available for their devices).  What I’m going to do here is list some of the awards, and a few of the books that have been Kindleized.

Nobel Prize in Literature

Focus: “the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”

Awarded since: 1901

Award process: by committee

Website: The Nobel Prize in Literature

List of winners: Nobel Laureates

This is one of the most prestigious awards, but it’s also a bit odd.  The award isn’t for a specific work, necessarily: the book doesn’t win the award, the author does.   Some years, they haven’t awarded it at all…you aren’t necessarily the best in the year, they have to decide you deserve it.  Being a Swedish award, it tends to be more international in scope than many awards.   Yes, people who write in English win some times, and you’ve certainly heard of some of the names (Toni Morrison, Rudyard Kipling, Saul Bellow).

Selected Nobel Laureates for the Kindle

William Butler Yeats  (1923)

Ernest Hemingway (1954)

Doris Lessing (2007)

The Man Booker Prize for Fiction

Focus: “…the finest in fiction by rewarding the very best book of the year.”

Awarded since: 1969

Eligibility:

Any full-length novel, written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland and published this year, is eligible for the prize. The novel must be an original work in English (not a translation) and must not be self-published.

 Award process: by committee

Website: The Man Booker Prize 

Lists of winners:

Man Booker Prize archive

Man Booker crib sheet  (pdf) (includes shortlisted titles and lists of judges)

 This one has the limitation of “the Commonwealth” and the Republic of Ireland.  Winners have come from the UK, Australia, Canada, South Africa, India, Nigeria, Ireland, and so on.  Since 2005, there has been a separate, international award.

Winning the Booker Prize has a real impact on sales:.  Being shortlisted is another positive for authors.

Selected Booker Prize winners

Wolf Hall (2009)

The Inheritance of Loss (2006)

Life of Pi (2002)

 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 

Focus: “…distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life…”

Awarded since: 1948 (novel was 1917-1947)

 Website:

The Pulitzer Prizes

Lists of winners:

Past winners and finalists by category 

This was formerly called the Pulitzer Prize for Novel, and is one of several Pulitzer Prizes for writing.  

Selected Pulitzer Prize winners:

The Shipping News (1994)

A Confederacy of Dunces (1981)

The Age of Innocence  (1921 – novel)

Genre Awards

Children’s Literature

Newbery

Awarded since: 1922

Website:

Newbery Medal Home Page

List of winners:

Newbery Medal Winners 

Selected Newbery Winners:

Jacob Have I Love  (1981)

Bridge to Terabithia (1978)

A Wrinkle in Time (1963)

Mysteries

The Edgars

Officially, these are the Edgar Allan Poe Awards, given by the Mystery Writers of America…but even they call them The Edgars

Awarded since: 1946

Website: The Edgars.com 

List of winners: Edgars Database

Selected Edgar Novel winners:

Blue Heaven  (2009)

California Girl  (2005)

Dance Hall of the Dead  (1974)

Science Fiction/Fantasy

The Hugos

These are named after Hugo Gernsbeck, and have a number of categories.

Awarded since: 1955

Website: The Hugo Awards 

List of winners: Hugo Award History 

Selected Hugo novel winners:

The Graveyard Book  (2009)

A Fire Upon the Deep (1993)

They’d Rather Be Right  (1955)

The Nebulas

Given by the Science Fiction Writers of America in several categories.

Awarded since:

Website: The Nebula Awards 

List of winners: Nebula Awards winners 

Selected Nebula novel winners:

Paladin of Souls (2004)

Tehanu (1990)

The Dispossessed (1974)

Romances

The RITA Awards

Given by the Romance Writers of America, and are a continuation of the Golden Medallion.

Awarded since: 1982 (Golden Medallion)

Website: RITA Awards 

List of winners:

RITA Awards: Past Winners 

Selected RITA winners:

Not Another Bad Date (2009)

Bet Me (2005)

Dream a Little Dream (1999)

Well, those are just a few of the big ones.  There are many book awards, in all sorts of categories.  For example, there is the Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year. There is even an award for e-books that goes all the way back to 2000, called the Epic Award  (or the Eppies for short). 

If you’ve read your way through any of the awards (all of the Hugo novels, anyone?), let me know.  I’d be curious to hear about it.  That’s something I’ve never done.

Reminder: the Kindle DX international has started shipping…

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog

INfrequently asked Kindle questions ;)

January 22, 2010

INfrequently asked Kindle questions

(This post is humor…don’t take it seriously) ;)

Q. Kindle books are just too cheap.  They are worth so much more to me than paperbooks, what with the dictionary, and sharing licenses, and the adjustable text size and all.  I refuse to buy any Kindle book that doesn’t cost more than the paper equivalent.  What can I do to get Amazon to make them more expensive?

A. There is a boycott group that refuses to pay LESS than $10 for any book.  Admittedly, that does limit your options, but if enough people refuse to buy those inexpensive books that make it seem like e-books aren’t worth anything, publishers may figure out what we really want and raise the Digital List Prices.  You can also complain to Amazon about their discount policies.  You tell them that savings of more than twenty percent just make you feel…cheap.

Q. Does the Kindle have a strobe light?

A. No, but you can push the next page button several times and try blinking your eyes a lot.  If that doesn’t work, try reading some Philip K. Dick…he kind of has the same effect as a strobe light does on many people.

Q. I just find that background on the Kindle too bright.  Is there anything I can do to get the letters and the background to be closer to the same color?

A. Unfortunately, the color is as grey as it is going to get right now.  You could try smearing the screen with a light coating of mayonnaise.  Note: allow mayonnaise to dry before closing any cover you might have bought to avoid staining.  That should lower the refraction index.

Q. I love the “screensaver” images on my Kindle!  I never want to see anything else.  Is there a way I can get my television to just show me those pictures over and over again in random order?

A. Yes.  There are several devices designed to show images on your TV.  You could burn them to DVD, although they then won’t show in random order.  You may find it most effective to connect your laptop to your TV.  On the other hand, you have a Kindle…why do you still have a TV?

Q. The text on my PDFs is just too big.  It’s like looking at a darn billboard, or sitting in the front row of a movie theatre!  I can’t figure out how to make it any smaller.  Any suggestions?

A. Try propping your Kindle up on a table or kitchen counter.  You may want to get the M-Edge Platform Cover.   Next, open the Kindle to your PDF.  Now, close your eyes and run to the other side of the room!  Rotate your body 180 degrees in a rapid, crisp motion.  Make sure you are pointed in the correct direction.  Cup your hands around your eyes, like the blinders on a Central Park cabhorse.  If you find this difficult, you may want to get a Slurpee cup (drain of  Slurpee first) and cut the bottom out of it. Peer through the large opening in the cup.   If you have oriented the cup (or your head) properly, the pdf should be of a smaller, manageable size.  To change the page in a multipage pdf, return to the Kindle and repeat the process.  NOTE: dogs have a tendency to stand in front of you when you are running somewhere with your eyes closed.  Consider boarding your pet if this is a problem.

Q. The Text-To-Speech is so realistic, it’s creepy!  I keep thinking someone is actually speaking to me…until I realize that no one would be actually describing a white rabbit wearing a waistcoat.   Is there any way to tone down the inflection, so it doesn’t seem so, you know, human?

A. Unfortunately, no.   If you find yourself getting confused, look at the Kindle and move your head from side to side.  When your brain processes the fact that the mouth on your Kindle’s sleep mode picture is not moving, you will realize that Oscar Wilde isn’t actually in the room with you.  If you find yourself looking around for Edgar Bergen or Paul Winchell…or Jeff Dunham, try humming at the same time and in the same inflection as the Kindle is speaking.  Next drop your vocal tone four notes in the octave.  The resulting self-canceling chord should work to counteract the Kindle’s realistic delivery.

Q. There are too many books in the Kindle store.  There are some books in there that I hated reading when my teachers assigned them.  I never want to see them again!  Is there a way to get Amazon to remove them from the store?  Also, there are way too many choices…it’s just confusing! 

A. You may want to consider getting a nook (sic) or a Sony.  They have fewer choices in their stores…just stay away from the library and the Google book options they have.  If you must stay with the Kindle, shop only from the device itself, not from your computer.  It is much harder to find the books on the Kindle, so you are less likely to encounter the ones you don’t like.

Q. I can’t stand not paying the authors of books, even when they are dead.  I don’t understand why some of the best books in the world are free!  Is there a way I can send money to Charles Dickens or William Shakespeare when I get one of their books?  Then, at least, it won’t feel like it is free.

A. You can send money directly to the Authors Guild.  They’ll figure out something to do with it.

Q. I read a book and then found out there was a whole series of those books.  When I checked, Amazon had twenty books with that character!  This is clearly just a rip off to get you to buy more books!   At least, if there was a break in the series (like it was missing numbers), I’d be able to stop and not feel this compulsion to read the whole thing!  Is there a way to figure out which books don’t have those huge series?

A. Amazon doesn’t make publishers warn you when they have put all of the books in a series in the Kindle store.  You may want to check Wikipedia to see if there are other books in a series before purchasing the first one.

Q. I find the Kindle’s controls way too complicated to use.  I managed to get a book open, but when I turned the page, all I could see was this white rectangle.  I think it might have been the back of the device.  When I turned it back, I was still seeing the same page.  After I try turning the page for about ten minutes, I somehow end up closing the book!  I see the cover of the book…but the cover doesn’t have anything to do with the story!  I still can’t figure out what Emily Dickinson has to do with George Carlin!  Am I doing something wrong?

A. Since the customer is always right, you can’t possibly be doing anything wrong.  Clearly, this is Amazon’s fault, and you can probably blame Jeff Bezos personally.  Have you considered starting a boycott?

NOTE: The preceding post is a joke.  These are not real questions and answers…fortunately.  ;)

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog

Flash! Amazon opens Kindle to outside apps!

January 21, 2010

Okay, this one is going to seem a bit techy, maybe.  It’s hard to say exactly what the impact will be on, you know, readers.  :)

Amazon put out a

press release

that will allow authors and publishers to put “active” content in the Kindle store during 2010. 

We’re going to have to watch this carefully to see what really happens.  You know those hacks that are against the Terms of Service?  The one that lets you put in your own sleep mode pictures, and the one that lets you change the fonts and add character sets (so the Kindle can display Russian, for example)?

Well, the difference between a hack and an app is that an app is authorized.  It’s not quite that simple, but this could create some very interesting possibilities. 

Amazon heads the press release with this:

Travel books that suggest activities based on real-time weather and current events, cookbooks that recommend menus based on size of party and allergies, and word games and puzzles–just some of the possibilities with the new Kindle Development Kit”

When you hear “app” you may think of the iPhone, and that makes some sense.  There have been great (and goofy) iPhone apps, and they are definitely part of the charm of that device.

You can count on things like crossword puzzles, sure.  One of the other interesting things, though, is that the Kindle knows (pretty vaguely) where it is in the world.  Well, it knows where the cell tower which it is using is located.

How about this?  You open your Kindle newspaper…and it shows you the news/weather/sports for wherever you happen to be?  You go on a trip?  You get the local news. 

How about a used bookstore finder?  Yes, Kindleers still like bookstores.  :)  You open it up, it tells you where and what the nearest used bookstores are.

What about fiction?  Hypothetically, you could have a hardboiled murder mystery…set in whatever city you want.  You put in your zip, or just let the Kindle figure it out.  It then changes street names, names of “social establishments”, the name of the park where the tipster meets the main character…it would be possible.

Some Kindle books use some interactivity now…like the Sudoku book I mentioned in this earlier post

All of this is likely to drain the battery a bit more, of course, and they could mess up the Kindle in other ways…although they will undoubtedly be carefully scrutinized for that.

It could also mean that some of the things you couldn’t download from websites before will work now. 

I can think of a lot of possibilities, but other people will think of a lot more. 

If you are one of those development folks, take a look here:

http://www.amazon.com/kdk/

Amazon is going to take a 30% split (just like they are going to offer for books through the Digital Text Platform as an option starting in June).   There wil be delivery charges to the publisher (fifteen cents a megabyte), again like the new DTP option. 

They will allow three pricing options: free, one time, and subscription.  They have guidelines for the use…and some for the content (no advertising, no voice over IP…like phone use, nothing “offensive”, no mentioning Amazon or the Kindle).

That “no offensive” thing is interesting, because Amazon allows some pretty racy stuff in books and blogs for the Kindle, including ones with the word “erotic” in them.   They may end up with an interesting legal statement on what “offensive” means.  Anything can offend somebody…heck, I’m sure some people are offended by what I write.   Hey, some people are offended by typos and misuse…like using the word “loose” (not tight) when you mean “lose” (to no longer have)!  I wonder if Amazon will forbid those apps.  ;)

Are there apps you’d like to see?  A to do list?  A calendar?  Ooh, an organization system?  Feel free to comment on this post and let me know.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

Amazon announces upcoming 70% royalty rate for indie publishers

January 20, 2010

Amazon announces upcoming 70% royalty rate for indie publishers

Amazon announced in a

Press Release

that they are going to be offering an alternate royalty structure for independent publishers who use their Digital Text Platform (DTP) to make books available for the Kindle .

Instead of the current 35% of the Digital List Price, Amazon will pay authors 70%…minus the delivery costs.  The delivery cost will be based on the same fees used for personal documents in the US (fifteen cents a megabyte).

That’s very likely to mean indies get a higher royalty per Kindle book sold.  Amazon says that the median file size of 368kb would have a delivery cost below six percent.  They calculate that an $8.99 book would earn a royalty of $6.25 royalty versus the current $3.15.

Sounds great, right?

There are a few interesting other elements.

Higher prices

It’s likely to drive some Kindle store book prices higher.  They have set an eligible price range of $2.99 to $9.99.  If I were to choose this program, I would have to raise prices on almost all of my titles.  There isn’t an easy way that I know to separate out books published using the DTP versus ones from tradpubs (traditional publishers), but looking at the overall, but approximately twelve percent of the Kindle store books are priced between one dollar $2.98 (48110 of 411518).  I set the dollar bottom limit because that eliminates freebies and other low prices that DTP publishers are not allowed to set.

My guess is that quite a few of those will be driven up to the $2.99 price by this new policy.  Will I do that?  I’ll definitely have to think about it.  If I’m selling a book for a dollar, the question is, will I gain or lose money by raising the price?  I currently get thirty-five cents on a one dollar title.  Seventy percent of $2.99 is $2.09.   It would have to cut my sales by more than eighty percent to make it a bad deal for me (not counting those delivery costs, which would be small).  I’d have to think about it, though…I like that one dollar price point.  :)

The $9.99 top end probably won’t affect to many indies.

On the other hand

There are competitive pricing requirements for the new 70 percent rate.   The price must be twenty percent below the lowest price for the paperbook (p-book).  So, when a book becomes a bargain book, presumably, the price must drop for the e-book.  That won’t affect indies all that much…many of the books published through the DTP simply don’t have physical editions. 

It also says that the book must be offered at or below the competition.  That sounds like the sales price.  Amazon says they will do that for you…so if Barnes and Noble offers it at a lower price, your price goes down automatically. 

This also has a major contradictory statement in the press release.  In the first paragraph, they say:

“…will receive 70 percent of list price, net of delivery costs.”  So, if you price a book for $5.00, and Amazon sells it for $4.00, you’d get seventy percent of five dollars, minus the delivery costs ($3.50). 

However, in the price parity paragraph, they say:

“…the 70 percent royalty will be calculated off the sales price.” 

That’s very different.  If the list price is five dollars and Amazon sells it for four dollars, the 70 percent under this statement would be calculated on the four dollars.  That’s $2.80, rather than $3.50. 

Amazon may have to issue another updated press release to clarify that.  That is going to make a big difference to some people.  If Amazon gave your book away (made it free) under the second scenario, you’d get nothing.

More worldwide books

To take advantage of this, you must make the book available through the Kindle store for all jurisdictions in which you have the rights.  Generally, my guess is that most people were already doing that.  Why hold it back if you have the rights?  The formatting is the same everywhere, so there really isn’t an additional cost at this point.  It does mean that you can’t simply select a competing e-book distribution platform for other countries, if you were getting a better deal there (which is probably unlikely).  You’d have to have it available in both places.

Only affects books under copyright

The seventy percent is unavailable for works published before 1923…that may just be before 1923 in the US.  They said they were referring to public domain books, but there are public domain books published after 1923 (sometimes due to improper copyright notices, sometimes due to a failure to renew).  Since Amazon says they are no longer accepting public domain titles through the DTP, again, not that big an impact.

Must have text-to-speech

Publishers wanting the seventy percent have to allow a “broad set of features”, including text-to-speech, that are offered in the Kindle store.  I’m unaware of any indies blocking TTS at this point.  There’s also an intriguing suggestion, that there may be some additional significant features coming.  If, for example, the Kindle store did a nook-type lending plan, I would presume you would have to participate in that to get the seventy percent.  Pure speculation, by the way.

Onset date

Initially (June 30, 2010), this will only be available for book sold in the US.  Hmm, that means you have to make it available for the UK, if you have the rights, but presumably, you only get 35% there.  That’s kind of tricky.  :)

Majors going to switch to this?

Anne Rice asked (and I addressed it in this  earlier post) if major authors should go directly to the Kindle.  Well, this would be a major motivation!  This is higher than even the top dogs get from tradpubs, and well established authors don’t need the services of tradpubs as much as newbies.  This could clearly drive price inflation, as the publishers have to offer higher royalty rates to keep them (driving up digital list prices, possibly).  Good for the authors, certainly…may be an issue for readers.  However, since the one dollar books may go to three dollars, this may be less of a competitive disadvantage for the traditional folks.

What about tradpubs switching?

There’s a fascinating possibility.   Random House, you want seventy percent (instead of the fifty percent you probably get now)?  Switch to the DTP…and allow text-to-speech.  That could certainly happen under this scenario.  It’s a way for Amazon to…persuade publishers to follow their policies.

Why do it?

The rumor has been that Apple is offering a 70% rate to publishers for the iSlate (iTablet…the new unannounced device that we will very likely know about before the end of this month).  That may be a driver for this.  That was more for tradpubs, but again, they could switch to this new plan at Amazon as well.   It may also be a way to drive up the indie prices…Amazon has costs associated with those, and they may not have anticipated a large number of one dollar books.

All in all, this is a very interesting move.  Those Amazon folks…always thinking.  :)

UPDATE: I thought about this a bit more.  I think we may see the Association of American Publishers  scream bloody murder about this in the press.   It’s that top end DLP that’s the problem. 

Currently, traditioanal publishers generally get fifty percent of the Digital List Price from Amazon (at least, that’s my understanding). Getting seventy percent would be better…but there is that price cap. E-books from tradbpubs with new hardback equivalents have DLPs equal to the hardbacks, generally. Let’s say a new hardback is $25.00. The DLP would be $25.00, and the publisher would get $12.50. If they price the book at $9.99, they only get about $7.  So, this gives a considerable competitive advantage to the indies, who often price books at that level now.  The indies have lower costs. 

This is bad news for paperbooks, probably.  It makes e-publishing much more attractive for traditional publishers…and creates price value deflation in a big way (the perception that books should be priced lower than they are currently).  If you can only make a list price of fifteen dollars for a hardback and get fifty percent ($7.50), but you can charge $9.99 for an e-book and get $7, that might be attractive.  It costs somewhat less to produce the e-book…and it has lower ongoing costs with a longer sales cycle. 

Hmmm…fascinating.   I wouldn’t say it is the “death rustle” of paperbooks, but to quote Beef from Phantom of the Paradise …

“Can’t you feel the vibes in your own house, man? Bad, sport, real bad. The karma in here is so thick, you need an aqualung to breathe. “

:)

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog

Before you get a Kindle…

January 20, 2010

Before you get a Kindle…

A lot of people are thinking about getting Kindles (or other EBRs…E-Book Readers).  We get expect the number of people e-books to increase tremendously in the next few years.  That may be on tablets, but a lot of it will be on EBRs. 

I see people ask questions after they get them, so I thought I’d take this post to address some of the things you might want to know and/or do before you get one.

 Q. Does it matter which EBR I get?

A. Yes.  One of the important considerations is if you know anybody else who already has one, and if you might want to share books.  The big three aren’t really compatible with each other.  If you buy a Kindle and a friend has a Sony or a nook, that’s going to complicate things.

Q. Which one is the best?

 A. That’s going to be a bit subjective, although I do like the Kindle the best.  I’ve analyzed the three of these, and they each have advantages and disadvantages.  This previous post  gives you an overview of the three, and links to more comprehensive analyses.

Q. Should I buy one now or wait for the next generation?

A. My feeling is that it’s worth buying it now, generally.  I’ve certainly gotten my money’s worth out of my K1 and K2…if there’s a next generation Kindle soon, I won’t feel bad about it.  None has been announced, by the way.

Q. If I’ve already bought books from Amazon in paper, will I have to buy them again in e-book form?

A. Only if you want them as e-books.  There’s no reason you can’t have both, of course.  You won’t get a discount for buying them again, and there are some good reasons for that.  Let’s say you paid $4.95 for the paperback three years ago.  That was a fair deal at the time, right?  Amazon has to pay the publisher when you download the e-book…and that might even be more than what they got from you for the paperback.  The publisher might offer you a discount, but that’s up to them (and unlikely).

Q. Are all the Kindle store books $9.99?

A. No, many of them are less expensive, some are more.  What Amazon says is that New York Times Bestsellers and most new releases are $9.99…unless marked otherwise. 

Q. Are e-books always cheaper than p-books?

A. No, but they usually are…it’s rare when they aren’t.

Q. Will I save money with a Kindle?

A. It depends on your book buying habits, but probably.   If you only get books from the library, then you won’t.  Take a look at how much money you spent on books last year.  That will give you a good idea.  It’s nice that you can get so many free books (although that’s particularly older books).  The more you books you buy, the better the Kindle is for you economically. 

Q. I heard Amazon can remove your books…is that true?

A. They did that in one widely-publicized instance with an unauthorized edition of books by George Orwell.  They have promised they wouldn’t do the same thing again…and even stated it in a legal settlement.  They actually compensated people more than what customers had paid for the book…customers could make a profit on the deal.

Q. How do I know if Amazon has the books I want for the Kindle?

A. Check the Amazon website.  You can choose to search for Kindle books.  However, many of us have taken this as an opportunity to broaden our reading horizons.  Books are being “Kindleized” very quickly…the US Kindle store has more than quadrupled the number of titles in just a couple of years.

Q. What Kindle should I get?

A. There are two models currently available.  One is $259, and one is $489.  The more expensive one has a bigger screen…that’s the main difference.

Q. I’ve heard you can only get books from the Kindle store for the Kindle…is that true?

A. Nope.  You can get books from lots of sources.  The Kindle can only read books with Digital Rights Management (DRM) on them that come from the Kindle store, not from other sources.  DRM is code that most publishers insert into e-book files to control the use of the file.  It generally won’t be on books that aren’t under copyright, and some publishers release without it.

Q. Can I loan/share my Kindle store books with other people?

A. Yes, if they are on your account.   Otherwise, no.  Putting people on your account can work very well, though. 

Q. Can I read Kindle books on my computer?

A. Yes, with a free “app” from Amazon.   Otherwise, no.

Q. Can I read Kindle books on any other devices?

A. Yes.  You can read them on the iPhone and iPod Touch, currently, as well as on PCs (with the app) and Kindles.  Mac and Blackberry apps are coming soon.

Q. How many Kindles have been sold?

A. Amazon doesn’t release that information, but the Kindle has been the #1 selling item at Amazon. 

Q. I’ve heard the Kindle reads books to you.  Is that like an audiobook?

A. No, it’s a “robotic” sounding voice.   Think of it as another way to access the information in the book, not as an entertaining adaptation, like an audiobook performed by professional actors.  You can hear a sample of it here:

Tom Demo at A Kindle World blog

Q. What happens to my Kindle books if Amazon stops making the Kindle?  Will it be like beta videotapes?

A. No.  The beta versus VHS thing was hardware.  Different e-book formats are a matter of software.  I’m confident that we would have the ability to read our Kindle store books (perhaps through conversion) even if Amazon went under (knock virtual wood).

Q. Won’t I miss the feel of a “real book”?

A. You get used to it.  I actually prefer it now.  I love paperbooks, but this is easier.  For more information, see this earlier post.

Q. I want to know more about it, like the technical specs.  How can I get more info?

A. Start with the Kindle product page.  You can go to Kindle Support from there, and even read the User’s Guide.  I also recommend the Amazon Kindle community.  You can ask questions there, and they will get answered very quickly by users.  You can also leave comments on this post for me.

Q. What do I do after I get my Kindle?

A. See this earlier post.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

 

It’s the games Kindles play

January 19, 2010

It’s the games Kindles play

“Does it play games?”

That used to be one of the frequently asked questions about Kindles.  Hey, what’s that “shwrr, shwrr” sound?  Oh, it’s the literati rolling their eyes.  :)

Well, the answer actually is, yes, the Kindles play games.

I know, I know…some of you are shuddering.  You’d no sooner play a game on your EBR (E-Book Reader) than read Chaucer in Modern English.  Why, the very thought of having fun in the same place you read is abhorrent!   If you really must play, do it outside where you won’t disturb anybody.  ;)  Just kidding, of course.   There is an understandable desire to see the Kindle as allied to intellectual literary pursuits rather than to Xboxes and Wiis.

However, as I wrote in this earlier post on TV and reading, I don’t see the two as antithetical.  I managed a bookstore, as many of you know.  I also managed a game store.  We sold board games, strategy games, role-playing games, darts…quite a wide variety of things geared towards the adult market.  That’s adult as opposed to children, you salacious thing, you.  :)

There is quite an overlap between game players and readers.  They both require a certain amount of imagination…both are somewhat intellectual.  If you go to a science fiction convention, even one geared towards the literature, there will be a lot of game-playing.  How to Host a Murder was one of our popular items, and clearly appealed to readers of mysteries.  There are even hybrids, referred to as “gamebooks”, which I’ll address later.

If the idea of playing games on your Kindle is against your principles, you can just skip this post and come back tomorrow.  :)  I try and keep it a good mix, so everybody gets their ninety-nine cents a month’s worth.  :)

My initial instructions will be for any Kindle except a K1, provided that it as been updated to 2.3

Minesweeper

This game became wide-known when it was part of Windows 3.1 (and then appeared in subsequent versions).

The basic “plot” is that you are trying to clear a minefield by logically deducing where the mines are.  It’s purely symbolic…no more violent than, say, Hangman.  Actually, even less than that. 

Here’s the idea: you have a grid of squares.  When you are standing in a square in the middle of the board, there are eight squares around you.  When you “tap the ground”, you can tell how many squares around you contain a mine…from zero to eight.

If you tap the ground in a square with a mine in it, you lose.  Conceptually, you set off the mine.  My Significant Other doesn’t like the game for that reason…seems violent. 

When you’ve deduced where a mine is, you can mark it, so you (and other people, if you are actually pretending you are clearing a minefield) don’t step on it.  If you identify all the mines without exploding one, you win.

Let’s take a look at a board that I’ve started.  You can deduce the location of several mines in this screengrab:

Minesweeper screengrab

Minesweeper screengrab

See that square towards the bottom, three squares in from the bottom right corner and two up from the bottom?  We know there is a mine there.

How do we know?

Whenever there is an arrangement of three “1”s, making a corner (and all the other numbers behind those three have been exposed), there has to be a mine in that corner spot. 

1  1

1 m

Besides, there is only square left around the 1 that is four from the bottom right corner and three up.   The rest of them all have their numbers revealed. 

So, you would 5-way over to that one, and mark it with the M. 

Minewsweeper screengrab marked with an M for "mine"

Minewsweeper screengrab marked with an M for "mine"

The game doesn’t tell you if you were right or not, by the way.  It’s possible to mark a mine in error, and have to fix it later.

Okay, now what about that 1 that’s in four from the bottom right, bottom row?  Well, we think we know where its one mine is, so we can tap the ground next to it.  That reveals another number, and we can deduce from there. 

That’s pretty much the way it goes.   There’s a lot more strategy, but from there, it’s just logic.  :) 

Alt+Shift+M (shift is the up arrow) = start the game

Click = Tap the ground

M = Mark (or unmark, if you think you were wrong) a mine

R = Restart (new game)

Menu=change difficulty (there are three levels)

You’ll get a running count of how many mines you haven’t marked.  That doesn’t tell you if you were right or not…on the Windows version, I’ve seen it say you have “-2 mines left”, basically. 

G = start Gomoku

Home = go to the homescreen

On a Kindle 1: you can’t use the 5-way, so you use the letter keys instead to move around, or you can switch which way the scroll wheel works.

I = up

J = left

K = down

L = left

Alt = switch the scroll wheel to move in the other axis (up/down versus left/right)

Spacebar or M to mark mines

Gomoku

If you’ve played Tic Tac Toe, you’ve played a simpler version of Gomoku.  Instead of getting three in a row, you are trying to get five in a row.  The grid is much larger.   It’s quite a bit more difficult, because you don’t have edges around you (that really helps in Tic Tac Toe).

Gomoku

Gomoku...5 in a row wins the game

Otherwise, it is similar.  5-way to a square you want to mark as yours, and click.  You are playing against your Kindle, and it will respond (generally, very rapidly).

You can’t beat an opponent who has four in a row with nothing on either end.  If you play on the “North” end, the opponent plays on the “South”, and you lose.  Similarly, if somebody has three in a row with nothing around it, you are two moves away from losing, unless you block one end of the “snake”. 

One interesting option here is that you can switch positions…take over the side that’s “ahead”.  That’s a good learning technique.

Alt+Shift+M, G to start (or just G if you are already in Minesweeper)

5-way to positions

Click to claim a square

S to switch

M to go to Minesweeper

Home to go Home

To my knowledge, those are the freebies.

Games for which you pay

The Kindle does have a games section, with quite a few options.  You can find it here:

Kindle Games category

I’m just going to list a few below.

Sudoku

Sudoku has been a popular game in the United States for about five years now: it’s been in Japan since, I think, 1984.

Basically, you have a series of grids.  Each grid has nine squares.  You need to put the digits 1 through 9 in there.  So far so good, right?  Well, there are actually nine grids (it’s nine by nine).  You aren’t supposed to repeat a number in any row or column.

What makes it harder is that a Sudoku grid comes with numbers already entered in some squares. 

This can certainly have you racking your brain. 

Here’s one you can try (NOTE: Not for Kindle 1s):

Sudoku Volume 1 

You can get a free sample, or it costs a penny at time of writing.  :)  It says it is optimized for larger screens, but I had no problem seeing it on a K2.

It’s a bit weird, in that it downloads the game through the Whispernet (the Kindle’s wireless internet connection).  If you don’t have Whispernet, you can’t play it.  Once you download a game, though, you can turn off the wireless to save battery while you play.

There were some typos in the instructions, but the game seemed to be fine.  You could have it:

  • Check (it will tell you how many errors you have, but not where they are)
  • Remove Errors (nice touch)
  • Solve it for you
  • Reset the game
  • Add a clue

After you play a game, hit Back to get back to where you can select another game.

Word Morph Volume 1

What this author calls “Word Morphs” you may know as “word ladders”, although that’s a bit different, technically (it allows more options), or “word chains”.  If you’ve seen the game show Chain Reaction, that’s the same thing.

Basically, you “change” one word into another word by changing a letter each time to create a new word.

Let’s say you wanted to change the word

cat

into the word

man:

cat

can

man

Easy enough, right?  Each word does have to be a word, though.  Some of them are much harder than this, and this author does make them match a theme (like changing “army” into “navy”).  You also are typically limited as to the number of words.

Again, free to try, one penny to buy.  :)

Crosswords

People ask about crossword puzzles for the Kindle.  A company called Puzux does them, but I downloaded a sample and didn’t get anything playable.  Can’t tell you if they are any good or not, but I know they do require the Whispernet.

UPDATE: Elad of Puzux was nice enough to write me and let me know how my readers can access a sample game.  You can go to http://kindle.puzux.com on your Kindle browser.   When you get there, you need to do a free registration…which can be a bear on the Kindle, honestly.  When you log in, you can try one free crossword puzzle.  Did it work?  Yes, you could play it.  It wasn’t super easy, which is nice, actually.  I think the hardest adjustment was not being able to see the clues and grid at the same time.  That’s because of the size of the screen.  You can adjust the text size (give the site a minute to adjust), which can get you some clues and the grid on the screen.  I work crossword puzzles in ink, and I typically want to verify my answer by projecting out a few clues, which is hard to do when you can’t see the others.  However, if you want to play a crossword on your Kindle, Puzux does make it possible.  The browser makes it quite slow, though.  Elad mentioned the Kindle Development Kit (that will result in the “apps store”), and hopefully, that will allow for a smoother version.  Oh,, they did have a version you can visit on your computer…but the crossword puzzle wouldn’t load for me there.  That one is http://www.puzux.com/mockindle.php.

Choose Your Own Adventure #1

This was quite a fad in the 1980s or so.  We sold a lot of them in the bookstore I used to manage.  Basically, you are reading a story.  You reach a “fork point”, where you can make a decision.  Let’s say you are in a spooky dungeon.  You see a door that’s got a big sign on it: “Beware of the Troll”.  Do you open the door or not?  In a Choose Your Own Adventure book, it would say something like,

If you open the door, turn to page 17

If you turn back, turn to page 39

The story then continues from that point, following your actions.

The books can be “solved”…there is an objective, and if you reach it, you win.

However, when you make a bad decision, you usually (but not always) have to start over.

I had suggested at one point that these would be great for the Kindle, and lo and behold, the Kindle store got an exclusive on them!  There was even a freebie when they first did it, so I tested it.  It worked great on my Kindle for PC, and was fine on my K2.   Purists may find it a little disconcerting that the kids in the stories have things like cell phones…the stories were updated when a new company released them.

Well, that gives you some games you can play.  :)  I was going to suggest some other things, like “Kindiscus” (hold your Kindle in one hand, spin around three times, and throw it as far as you can), but decided that would be a bad idea.  ;)  Bad idea, kids!  Bad idea…oh, oh;)

UPDATE: On August 3, 2010, Amazon released two downloadable word games for the Kindle (except the Kindle 1).  For more information, see this post.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.


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