Archive for the ‘Advice’ Category

Comic Con inspired bargains

July 23, 2014

Comic Con inspired bargains

Tonight is the preview night for

San Diego Comic Con (SDCC)

which is one of the biggest pop culture events of the year.

In fact, it’s big enough that companies tie into it with merchandise/content sales…and not just on comics.

The con itself certainly goes beyond comic books/graphic novels. Some old timers complain that it has become too much about movies and TV…even ones that aren’t even especially geeky (and I use that adjective as a proud geek).

Authors of text-based books (you know…what many people just call “books”) ;) also appear: Diana Gabaldon, Robin Hobb, Jim Butcher, and more. Even the publishers (Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House) have panels.

So, through this weekend, we’ll be able to find bargains…even if they don’t specifically say they are there because of Comic Con, that may be the case.

For example, one of today’s Kindle Daily Deals is

Batman Day graphic novels sale (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

This is Batman’s 75th anniversary year..the Dark Knight (or Caped Crusader…depends a bit on your perspective) debuted in what is sometimes considered the best pop culture year, 1939.

Batman (along with Superman) certainly seems to have taken some inspiration from Doc Savage (Doc was a wealthy crimefighter with specialized vehicles and equipment…including a “utility vest”, which arguably became Batman’s utility belt), but that’s another story. :)

There have been some Batman graphic novels that are really considered classic by Batman fans…and yes, they are included here for $2.99 each.

That includes:

  • Batman: The Dark Knight by Frank Miller
  • Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore

If you’ve never read a graphic novel, I’d recommend The Dark Knight…and warn you ahead of time, those two in particular are not written for children.

Amazon is also giving us

Batman Eternal #1 (at AmazonSmile)

for free!

You need to enter a promotional code (BATMAN75) first…you can see all the details here:

Batman Eternal #1 promo detail page (at AmazonSmile)

I suspect we’ll see more related specials over the next few days in the

Kindle Daily Deals (at AmazonSmile)

Another place at Amazon where we’ll see savings through the weekend, and these may be explicitly SDCC deals, is

The Geek Boutique (at AmazonSmile)

One more thing before I leave Amazon. Here’s a link for

Prime Video Comic-Con Favorites (at AmazonSmile)

If you are an eligible Prime member, you can watch these at no additional cost…and there are 227 results at time of writing.

Let’s move off of Amazon for a minute to go to Marvel.

Marvel has “Marvel Unlimited”, which you can think of as similar to Kindle Unlimited…just for digital Marvel comics.

Normally, that’s $9.99 a month. It includes a lot of comics…typically, you can expect that when a Marvel comic is six months past its publication date, it may appear here.

As a special tie-in to SDCC, though, you can get the first month for $0.99!

You can have 12 comics out at a time (KU allows ten titles).

You can get more information on it here:

http://marvel.com/mu?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=AcquisitionEmail&utm_content=072314EMSubscribeNow&utm_campaign=SDCC14

The necessary app isn’t in the Amazon Appstore, but you could get it at

1Mobile

Amazon allows us to install apps from “unknown sources” on our Kindle Fires, but you have to make the call. Since the app won’t have been reviewed by Amazon to make sure it is safe and that it works on the KFire, you take responsibility for that.

This is one where I would feel comfortable getting it, and I have gotten things for my KFire from 1Mobile before.

You can count on bargains from other geeky sites, too, like

ThinkGeek.com

and

SuperHeroStuff.com

Enjoy!

Bonus story:

In a

press release

today, Amazon announced that it has added hundreds of thousands of songs to Prime Music (at AmazonSmile)…and hundreds of playlists.

That’s the no additional cost streaming music for eligible Amazon Prime members.

In my recent post

A Day in the Life of a Kindleer 2014

I didn’t talk about using Prime Music, but I have used it sporadically…I sometimes write with it on, for example.

It looks like Prime Music has been quite successful. Adding hundreds of thousands of songs to it is great! I haven’t been terribly impressed with their playlists, although it is nice to have fifty songs of one genre play with one selection. I’m just not sure that I’m seeing genuine creativity n how songs are grouped together in the playlists. I some cases, they seem a bit more like…search results, rather than curated music lists.

For example, the press release mentions one called “Fire for Your Fire”, and describes it as “Odes to all things fire make perfect listening on your Fire Phone or Kindle Fire”. I’m guessing that it’s just a bunch of songs with “fire” in the title, although I’m not seeing it yet on the site.

Curation seems to be better at Songza, but this is new for Amazon. One thing they could do is let customers share playlists, then have people “like” them…and with enough likes, a playlist moves up into a better discovery spot. That would create social engagement, and probably result in better playlists.

New! Join hundreds of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Is Amazon delaying Hachette books?

May 10, 2014

Is Amazon delaying Hachette books?

This story is all over the blogosphere. Here’s a Google search with several big name results (CNNMoney, Christian Science Monitor, Publishers Weekly, Slate, New York Times…):

Google news search for “Hachette”

The source of it appears to have been this

New York Times article by David Streitfeld

The article, which seems to uncritically accept what one party in the situation says, starts with:

“Amazon has begun discouraging customers from buying books by Malcolm Gladwell, Stephen Colbert, J. D. Salinger and other popular writers, a flexing of its muscle as a battle with a publisher spills into the open.”

Are you sure you don’t want to throw an “allegedly” or “reportedly” in there?

I mean, this is the New York Times, right? Not some anonymous book blog?

Well, I’m sure they verified Amazon’s actions and motivations before running the article…or not.

The gist of the story is that Amazon is REPORTEDLY deliberately keeping low stock on some Hachette p-books (paperbooks), which results in waits of two weeks or more for customers to get them.

Before I start commenting on this, let me say that my background might paint me as prejudiced…on one side or the other. ;) I was a brick-and-mortar bookstore manager, so that might put me in Amazon’s camp (since they are, in this instance a book retailer). I am also not an Amazon employee, but I have gotten money from them (royalties, for one thing).

On the other hand, I am (in a very small way) a publisher. I’ve published my own titles to the Kindle store…and Amazon could certainly mess me up if it chose to do that.

Okay, with that out of the way…

My first question is…is it true?

First, I did a search for Grand Central (one of Hachette’s imprints…and one suggested by the article) print books at Amazon.com:

Grand Central print books at Amazon.com (at AmazonSmile)

Looking at the “New and Popular” sort, I see

  1. No delay
  2. No delay
  3. No delay
  4. Pre-order
  5. Usually ships in 1 to 3 weeks (this is Robin Roberts’ Everybody’s Got Something)
  6. Pre-order
  7. No delay
  8. Pre-order
  9. No delay
  10. No delay
  11. No delay
  12. Usually ships in 3 to 4 weeks (The Hit by David Baldacci)
  13. No delay
  14. Usually ships in 3 to 4 weeks (Gone by James Patterson)
  15. No delay
  16. Usually ships in 2 to 5 weeks (Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food by Jody Williams and Mario Batali)
  17. No delay
  18. Pre-order
  19. No delay
  20. No delay

Well, there are some books there with a significant delay.

My next question: are the books delayed at Amazon also delayed at Barnes & Noble?

Assuming that “usually ships within 24 hours” means that they don’t expect a delay, the answer was no…for all four of these.

Next, I’ll try some Random House titles, to see if they also have significant delays. I checked the top twenty Random House books, using the same technique I did for Grand Central: no delays.

So, tentatively at this point, I’ll say the evidence supports Hachette’s reported contention…Amazon may in fact be understocking Hachette’s books.

“Understocking?”

By that I mean that they aren’t keeping enough in stock to meet customer demand and get them delivered in a c0uple of days.

Why would that be the case?

It could be a deliberate bargaining tactic, as the stories suggest. The idea is that by delaying delivery, they are hurting Hachette.

However, wouldn’t that also hurt Amazon? The way they would be hurting the publisher is by reducing the sales…which also hurts Amazon.

I never think it’s a good tactic to annoy your customers to get back at your suppliers…I didn’t like it when stores did it to Amazon by not carrying Amazon’s traditionally published books, for example.

I think there might be a couple of other possible explanations.

One is that Amazon just blew it on the ordering. Certainly, that happened sometimes in my store. We way over-ordered on a Suzanne Summers book…because she lived in the area and we thought there would be a lot of interest. Maybe Robin Roberts got more publicity than they expected?

I don’t really think that’s likely. I think Amazon is generally good at ordering…and it would be pretty fluky if they just happened to be one publisher’s books (unless that publisher did something unexpected in terms of publicity).

Another one is that Amazon is experimenting…maybe trying to drive customers to e-books instead. In a case like that, they might pick one publisher’s books, or books that fit a certain profile (which might, coincidentally, align with a publisher’s content choices).

I would consider that…possible. Amazon has more (and I would guess increasingly) control in the e-book market than they do in the p-book market (although they are a major player there too, of course…and perhaps, becoming even more powerful as B&N wobbles on the edge of a cliff).

This might also simply be a way to try to cut costs and up profits…Roger Knights, one of my regular readers and commenters, had a strongly correct prediction about e-book prices rising at Amazon.

It costs money to store books. Every day a book sits in your warehouse (or back room, in a bookstore the size of the one I ran), you lose money on the sale. Maybe that’s making Amazon take more chances with low stock…and if Hachette’s return policies aren’t as friendly as other publishers, that could make them more likely to be hit by it…that’s just speculation, though.

Let’s sum this up:

Books unavailable? That’s a bad thing.

Is Amazon at fault here? I think that’s the most likely scenario.

What’s the plus side (there is always a plus side)? I suppose it might accelerate the shift to e-books, which I do see generally as a good thing (they are more accessible, less expensive for the most part, and as I understand it, more ecologically friendly).

If Hachette decides it needs to go more directly to readers, that’s very much more likely to be with e-books than p-books. Amazon is a behemoth in delivery, and does it for a lot of other companies. It would be very hard for a publisher to start doing D2R (Direct To Readers) with p-books…but a snap (logistically…marketing is a different question) with e-books.

Update: this additional

New York Times article, again by David Streitfeld

has two additional accusations against Amazon…claiming two more tactics against Hachette use by the e-tailer.

One is higher prices.

The other one, more intriguing, is running banner ads on a book’s Amazon product page…recommending similar, less expensive books.

That latter one, if true (and my intuition, without additional evidence, is that the story wouldn’t include this if it wasn’t), changes the math.

It would mean that Amazon could actually profit by reducing the sales of the Hachette books. Readers could be directed to books with more favorable terms..perhaps ones published by Amazon itself.

Nothing illegal about that…I wouldn’t even say it is unethical.

But it is sneaky. ;)

This second article focuses on how authors are hurt in these sorts of “spats”…certainly, that’s a motivation for them to publish independently in the future. Is that good for Amazon? Sure, that’s where most of them would indie publish!

Is that the real goal? Get authors out of publishers completely, and into controlling their own destinies…but using Amazon’s distribution platform?

Hmmmmmm….

Customers, of course, are also hurt by this…that’s where I would advise Amazon to be careful, if they are doing this at all. Even if a customer can get a cheaper (perhaps even better) alternative, most of them won’t get that emotionally. They’ll just get that Amazon doesn’t have the book they wanted it, when they wanted it, at the price they wanted.

That’s the sort of mistake Amazon hasn’t tended to make in the past…I hope they don’t let pressure for greater profits make them change their three core values: price; service; and selection.

What do you think? How bad is this? If this is Amazon’s fault, would that surprise you? Do you see it as part of a general trend? If the move towards popular reading being done with e-books rather than p-books accelerates, do you think that’s a good thing? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

New! Try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Don’t judge a box by its content

April 19, 2014

Don’t judge a box by its content

We’ve probably all heard the old saying that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

The idea is that the cover of a book may mislead you. It might be bland, while the book inside is exciting…or the opposite might be true.

There have been some pretty hilarious covers, like the ones in this

Trivia Happy post

Of course, nowadays, we may not even see the same cover for an e-book we are going to buy.

I haven’t heard about this happening, yet, but I  certainly anticipate it.

As you shop in different sections of a site, the cover for the same book might change its appearance to match the section. A Christian mystery might have a conservative cover in the Christian fiction section, and a flashier one in the Mystery section.

That idea just occurred to me, but it fits right in with a book I’ve just read:

Age of Context: Mobile, Sensors, Data and the Future of Privacy (at AmazonSmile)
by Richard Scoble and Shel Israel

and which I do recommend (I’ll write a review of it on Goodreads). They are talking about the  convergence  of five forces in technology (mobile, big data, sensors, location, and social media) and how they will create a context society, where our devices (and organizations) know much more about who we are and what we are doing, and tailor communications to match.

In fact, there is probably a real opportunity for a business there (if not for Amazon itself). Something that can algorithmically customize covers. I would think it might be very effective for the system to go find a picture of you (on a profile or on the web) and subtly merge elements of your appearance with that of a cover character. When that sort of morphing has been done, people tend to find the morphed picture (which they don’t know was morphed) to be a lot more trustworthy. I also saw something recently about people on dating sites tending to pick “themselves” more often.

Sure, we would sometimes want to see something exotic…and might not want to be the murderer on the cover. If, though, you stuck somebody in the background that had the morphing done, I bet that would work.

However, I digress. :)

I wrote this post to update that old saying.

When you buy an electronic gadget (and to make the saying work best, I’m calling all of those a “box”, whether it is a Kindle Fire HDX (at AmazonSmile: support a non-profit of your choice by shopping*), a Amazon Fire TV (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*), a Kindle Paperwhite, 6″ 2nd generation, wi-fi only, with Special Offers (at AmazonSmile), or something else), don’t judge it by the content it has.

That can change…and rapidly.

When the Fire TV was first released, there were a lot of very low starring reviews based on the fact that it didn’t have HBO Go. There were one and two star reviews…from people who didn’t even have the device yet.

I can absolutely see saying that it didn’t serve your purposes at that point, so you weren’t going to buy it yet…but that’s a very fluid characteristic on which to judge a gadget.

One of the interesting things is that Amazon included HBO GO in its comparison table…showing that they didn’t have it.

Why do that?

I think it’s because they are likely to get it.

Why don’t they have it already?

They have to negotiate it.

Let’s imagine you were HBO.

Right now, your customers want to watch HBO on their devices.

You have an app: it even works with Amazon’s Kindle Fire:

HBO GO (Kindle Fire Edition) (at AmazonSmile)

Your customers still have to have a subscription to HBO through a TV provider (like a cable company, or satellite) to use it…so you are making money from it.

Amazon wants to license it for their new streaming device, the Fire TV. It will attract customers to their gadget.

Your reasonable response might be, “What’s it worth to you?”

Makes some sense in the beginning… you don’t even know how many people are going to buy one until it is released.

Naturally, if a lot of people start using them and it starts cutting into the market for other boxes (the Roku, for example), that might shift some of the balance of power to Amazon. If people buy the Fire TV and you aren’t on it, they might decide they just don’t need you any more.

That’s not in the beginning, though…you might be able to wait to see what happens.

Would Amazon like to have had it at launch? Sure, but they can’t hold up the whole product waiting for one license. According to the documents in the Apple Agency Model conviction (for fixing prices), Apple was trying to negotiate quickly to get enough of the big publishers on board for iBooks when the iPad came out. That haste might have contributed to the eventual woes (with five publishers settling, and Apple losing…although they have appealed).

Personally, I’m not a cynical person. I tend to think good things about people and organizations.

I don’t quite get the cynical attitude. It would be like…putting shoe polish on your tongue before you went to dinner: it would just make everything taste bad. ;)

That doesn’t mean I was surprised when people said that Amazon’s voice search on the Fire TV only worked on Amazon Instant Video because they don’t want you to use competitors.

Amazon seems to be fine with you using competitors…you can get apps for your Kindle Fire from Amazon for direct competitors, such as

Netflix (at AmazonSmile)

and

Hulu Plus (at AmazonSmile)

…both of which came installed on the Fire TV!

Does it seem logical that they would let you use the app on the Fire TV, and then block you from using the voice search for those apps (even though you can key in a search), in an attempt to keep you from using them?

The voice search needs its own negotiation.

Why?

You need access to the company’s product database, which changes every day.

According to this

press release

Amazon has signed deals with Hulu Plus, Crackle, and Showtime to have the voice search work with their catalogs later this year.

I’m sure they are working on Netflix, too.

Oh, and I should point out, not all the competitors return the favor by featuring Amazon in their stores. Many bookstores have refused to carry books published by Amazon. Google Play still doesn’t recognize the Kindle Fire as a device…my best guess is that Google is making that choice. After all, we can commonly get apps that are at Google Play from other (legal) sources for the Fire (including Amazon’s own Appstore, and 1Mobile.com). I doubt Amazon is choosing to stay out of the Google Play store online (their Kindle reader app is available there, after all). Now, Amazon might not want to pay some fee to put Google Play directly on their devices…but the forked nature of the Android version Amazon is using might also have something to do with that.

If I don’t think you should judge a box by its content, do I think it is okay to judge it by its interface? After all, that could change in the future too, right?

Well, I do think that’s different. The interface (how a user interacts with it) not only tells you about how they feel about customers, they can largely develop the feel of it in house. They don’t have to negotiate with somebody to have a way to remove something from the “Recent” (which the Fire TV has). If something had an interface that made you put in, or, your astrological sign each time you wanted to do something, I could see saying that made it a less desirable device.

I would judge a gadget by:

  • The hardware specifications (does it have the power and connectors you want?)
  • The company’s Customer Service
  • The strength of the company
  • The interface
  • The openness
  • The  compatibility with other things you own…at lest the philosophy of that. That one could change, though

Oh, and yeah, sure…the coolness factor. ;)

Last point: I’m not saying you should buy something that doesn’t have what you want. Not buying it is not the same as denigrating it…

What do you think? How does Amazon treat its competitors on its devices and on its website? What do you look at before you buy a product? Would you write a bad review of something, because it didn’t have a license you wanted? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Advice for Amazon #1

March 31, 2014

Advice for Amazon #1

I have no doubt that Amazon could give me some good advice. :)

However, I also think that they benefit by considering all sorts of ideas. That’s why I have had an

Advice to Amazon

category on this blog.

They also have an e-mail address you can use to send feedback to them:

kindle-feedback@amazon.com

However, I thought it might be worthwhile to take a post, from time to time, to just give them some ideas. If they use them, great…if not, I understand. :) I do think some folks at Amazon read this blog, although I don’t think I have any particular influence with them.

If you like any of these, you are welcome to send them to Amazon as well (in your own words, of course) at the above address.

Suggested feature: Speed-reading display

While I had heard about

Spritz

I was surprised to see the passion behind the desire to have it on the Kindle shown in this

Amazon Kindle forum thread (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

The basic idea is that you see one word at a time on a screen and it changes very rapidly.

They claim that you could read (and comprehend) 1,000 words a minute this way (as opposed to a more typical 250 wpm).

You can try it yourself on their site (linked above).

I think most people find that they can certainly read it at 500 wpm…I’m not sure what studies there have been for long term retention.

This

The Weekly Wonk article by Annie Murphy Paul

challenges the value of Spritz.

Regardless, I think the demand is there.

Let me say first that this would not currently work on non-Fire Kindles. Not just because you couldn’t install it, but because the refresh speed on the screen technology just isn’t fast enough.

You could, though, do it on a Fire.

I’m proposing that Amazon have it as an option on the Fire.

Why not just have the app in the store?

I assume the app wouldn’t work with a Kindle store book (DRM…Digital Rights Management and all that). Amazon would have to license it, or in some other legal way get an equivalent tech, and have it work with Kindle store books.

I don’t think they would need the publishers’ permission: they wouldn’t be changing the file, just the display, as I understand it.

One would also think that publishers would want people to be able to read their books more quickly (so the customer wants another book sooner), but they are hard to predict. Text-to-speech also considerably speeds up consumption of a book (since you can listen in the car), but some publishers take steps to block that in some books.

Suggested feature: Daltonizer

I’ve mentioned this before, but I think it could be a killer app for a certain segment of the population, and would be seen as being community minded.

Again, this would be for the Fire, since it requires color.

There are apps (I have one one my phone) that can shift colors to make them easier for people with color vision deficiency (I have some) to see them.

You’d be surprised how many people that is!

It’s not uncommon that I’ll get an e-mail saying, “We’re doing the green ones, we aren’t doing the red ones, we might do the black ones,” and I can’t tell which is which.

There are also cases where I can’t read the lettering in an Excel cell or on a PowerPoint slide because of the font/fill color combination.

Amazon could include a “Daltonizer” color changer on the Fire. Again, I don’t think any publisher permission would be required. You simply identify your deficiency to the device (the app could test you, if you didn’t know), and it color shifts the display for you.

That would make the decision for some people as to which device to get, and would likely be well-received by some disability advocates.

Suggested strategy: discounts for you

Safeway, the grocery store we used, recently updated their app so it really works for us, and Amazon could do something similar.

The idea is this: you get personalized coupons.

Sure, you see the other coupons, too, but what if you saw something like this?

“10% off the new Janet Evanovich book…you’ve purchased that author’s books in the past”

You would want it to look like it was special for you…different coupons for different people. Obviously, there would be more than one Janet Evanovich fan, but you get the idea.

The price for most people might be $9.99…but you get it for $8.99.

By making the coupons last for a limited time (that’s what Safeway does), Amazon could impact the sales pattern of books.

Publishers might particularly like this. It wouldn’t change the apparent price of the book in the market (they don’t like that…bad comparison for paperbooks), but would encourage purchasing. It could even “manipulate” getting something on the bestseller list.

In fact, that’s one way to go! Amazon could make this a deal with publishers using their Kindle Direct Publishing (like me). The publisher could elect to let Amazon discount the book only for prior purchasers for a certain amount of time.

Amazon could tie that into the KDP Select program…only valid while the book is exclusive to Amazon, perhaps.

This would allow Amazon to really leverage their data.

Would it make customers more loyal?

You betcha!

They could use this not just with authors, but with things like genres. That could encourage you to buy, say, an alternate history book from a different author and/or publisher…and Amazon could get a deal from the publisher for that reason (sort of advertising supported).

I really think this would work!

They could also let you put it on a Wishlist (Safeway lets you put the discount on your card), and make that public…again, with the discount for, perhaps, a limited time.

I think this would be an excellent use of big data by Amazon, and exactly a way to swing purchasers to tighten the bond.

I’m always curious what you think, though, so as part of this feature, I’m going to include a poll:

If you have additional suggestions, or comments on these, feel free to let me and my readers know what you think by commenting on this post.

===

Nominate a child to be given a free Kindle at Give a Kid a Kindle. Last weekend to recommend one of the current nominees to get the Kindle!

===

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Round up #228: Silk fix, what did Melville make?

December 18, 2013

Round up #228: Silk fix, what did Melville make?

The ILMK Round ups are short pieces which may or may not be expanded later.

Coming in 2014: Give a Kid a Kindle

I’m going to give away a Kindle to a child in 2014 (I hope to do it every quarter), and you’ll be able to help.

You can nominate a child that you know, by commenting on this page:

Give a Kid a Kindle

which I have just made public this morning.

Nominating comments can be made now (see that page for more information), and I will begin displaying those nominations (which may be edited) on the page in January.

Readers will be able to recommend a child for the Kindle in March of 2014, by using a poll which will be on that page.

There is no charitable organization involved in this, and there won’t be any tax write-offs associated with it…it’s just something that I want to do personally (and I’ve discussed with my Significant Other, of course).

I’ve tried to keep this simple. I just want to do something nice. :)

I think reading is important, and that readers can (but don’t have to) change the world.

I’d appreciate any comments or suggestions you have for this. I can certainly see some challenges in doing it…

Amazon promises Silk “accordion” fix

It has seemed pretty obvious lately that Amazon needs to do more testing before they release updates.

Don’t get me wrong, I love getting free updates with new functionality! It’s just that you don’t want them to make things worse. That’s clearly how some people are feeling about Amazon’s updates…I know of people saying that they are afraid to turn on the wireless, because they don’t want to get a new update.

Recently:

  • A Kindle Fire update appears to have made wireless connections unstable…I have to frequently toggle the wireless on and off now
  • The introduction of Cloud Collections to the Kindle Paperwhite in a recent update has been widely criticized as confusing and unwieldy
  • An update to the Silk browser caused pages to “accordion” as you scrolled, making it impossible to read them

As to the last one, Amazon had now addressed it in this:

Kindle forum thread

They’ve said that a fix has been released, and that the Fire should automatically update within the next few days.

I really appreciate that Amazon employees will go into a public forum and make a statement like that…but it would be better if the problems were discovered pre-release, and fixed.

I’m guessing that when Amazon gets a little distance on all this after the holiday season, they’ll re-evaluate their quality control and testing for updates. That might mean we get them farther apart, but I think that would be worth it.

Hugh Howey writing in the world of Kurt Vonnegut

My feeling is that Kindle Worlds has been a bit slow getting off the ground. This is Amazon’s bold venture to mainstream fanfic (“fan fiction”), in a sense, by licensing properties from the rightsholders and then letting anyone write within those worlds (within certain guidelines), and splitting the royalties.

I’ve been following the forum at the

and after some initial activity, it’s been quite slow.

The bestselling Kindle Worlds books tend not to break the top 10,000 in the Kindle store. That doesn’t mean that can’t be profitable and popular, but my intuition is that Amazon would like more out of the program.

Part of this is chicken or the egg: they may need hits to get people interested in the program, and people need to be interested in the program to write those hit titles.

Well, this title should help.

Hugh Howey (at AmazonSmile) is a best-selling (New York Times and USA Today) science fiction author. I’m reading Wool Omnibus Edition (Wool 1 – 5) (Silo Saga) (at AmazonSmile) myself, although it’s not first in line for me (I’m reading a galley copy of something right now, as part a “beta reader”, and then there is always the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library book to finish). My guess is that I’ll finish the five books in the next few months.

Howey is writing a Kindle Worlds’ title in the world of Kurt Vonnegut:

It can be pre-ordered now, for delivery on January 14, 2014.

Howey’s books are well-reviewed on Amazon, and this announcement has gotten some media play. It’s an interesting mix of inspiration (Slaughterhouse-Five (at AmazonSmile)) (which is only $2.50 at time of writing) and author. Howey had a personal experience with the September 11th World Trade Center attacks, which may certainly inform this piece.

Janet Dailey reported dead

We sold a lot of Janet Dailey (at AmazonSmile) when I managed a brick-and-mortar bookstore…and we certainly weren’t the only ones.

Reportedly, the author’s books sold something like 300 million copies, certainly making the romance novelist one of the best-selling novelists of any kind.

Amazon lists over 100 Janet Dailey titles in the Kindle store, including at least some of the Americana series (Dailey wrote a novel for each state).

Dailey began writing in the 1970s, and the latest book from the author was published this year.

New York Times article by Paul Vitello

Herman Melville’s Lifetime Literary Earnings

Bibliokept has this nice

post

which shows you how much Herman Melville got paid for writing. While not complete, let’s just say that the figures might be surprising…you do have to remember that we aren’t talking about constant dollars, though. Money went further back then. Still, being an author is rarely one of the best paid occupations.

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Amazon: room for improvement

November 23, 2013

Amazon: room for improvement

Amazon does a lot of things really well.

You want to return something? It’s easy. For an e-book, you can even return it within seven days of purchase your self, just by going to

http://www.amazon.com/manageyourkindle

finding the book there, clicking or tapping “Actions…”, and returning it.

If it’s a physical item, Amazon lets you print out a return label.

You even have thirty days to return a Kindle:

Kindle Return Policies

You want Customer Service?

If you have a new generation Kindle Fire, you have the Mayday service. There has never been an easier way to get Customer Service (and I’ve used it a few times already).

Buying things? Some people would say it is too easy. ;)

Overall, I’d say Amazon is the best retail company I’ve ever used, hands down.

However…

That doesn’t mean they couldn’t be better.

I do believe they want to be better. Amazon is constantly changing and updating things. A lot of the innovation this year has been around new services and savings, more than around new hardware. As an existing customer, that’s how you want it to be. Making what you already own better…at no additional cost? Great.

There are, though, some definite areas for improvement.

I’m going to list a few year. As always, you  can comment on the post to add your own. My hope here is that Amazon is moving in these directions, and is aware of the concerns. If they aren’t, well, this might be like an ant trying to move a rubber tree plant, as the old song goes…but remember, in the song, that plant does move. :)

What’s in a name?

The Bard of Avon wasn’t saying that names are irrelevant. Sure, a “rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, but the last names that Romeo and Juliet had indicated a lot about them…and that’s where the problems happened.

People assume that, if you name something, you are conveying meaning inherent to that thing. When the name and the meaning don’t align, it’s confusing and offputting.

We can go back to the beginning of the “Kindle”, more than six years ago now.

Many people didn’t like the name. People (properly) associated “kindling” with “burning”…and disrupting the book industry by associating books with burning was not a good thing. Amazon put out something explaining that they meant it like “kindling passion”…getting something started, rather than destroying it. Paperbooks and flames, though? Not a good association.

Okay, that’s just a case of how the name of a thing that people were seeing for the first time was perceived: just a first impression.

People got past that. It wouldn’t surprise me if there are young people who first associate the word “Kindle” with a book-reading device, rather than with burning things.

However, it then started to get confusing.

Rather than naming the next generation Kindle a “Kindle 2″, or something like that (officially, anyway), Kindles have been named…”Kindle”. Now, the current “entry level” Kindle (which I call a “Mindle”) doesn’t have much in common with the 2007 device…but according to Amazon’s naming conventions, they should be identical.

You could, of course, argue that a Ford Mustang is called a Ford Mustang every year, but it’s not…they add the model year to it. I can understand not wanting to name your e-book reading devices with the year, but I think a serial naming sequence (“Kindle 1″, “Kindle 2″) would make sense. If you want to come up with cool names each time, like Apple did by naming operating systems after big cats, that’s fine.

You just shouldn’t have two very different things with the same name.

I had cautioned against it, but they also named the tablet a Kindle…a Kindle Fire. Now, these are two very different lines of hardware, that do different things (although there is a fairly small overlap). People were confused: they were  complaining that the “new Kindle” wasn’t easy to read in bright sunlight. They talked about “upgrading” from a Kindle 3 (or Kindle Keyboard, or whatever they called it) to a Kindle Fire…that’s like upgrading from a baseball bat to an avocado. ;) They just aren’t in a direct line.

Beyond that ,we have all of Amazon’s uses of the word “Cloud”. You have the Cloud Reader, the Cloud Player, the Cloud which is your archives stored on Amazon…and now, Cloud Collections (which don’t appear at the Manage Your Kindle site…which I think is what many people think of as the “Cloud”).

I’ll suggest a simple guideline, which I used to tell people when I helped them with database design: two things which do different things shouldn’t have the same name. :) I would tell them not to have two “Accept” buttons on the same screen, for example.

Customer Education

In my “day job”, I do a lot of training, and that can certainly involve education (although they aren’t the same…training has do with modifying behavior, which often requires knowledge…education is just knowledge). Amazon, unfortunately, doesn’t do a very good job in letting people know about things.

When a new feature is introduced (like Cloud Collections), I’ll see massive confusion for days…even years. It may be something people would love (at least parts of it), if they knew the intended use…but Amazon never seems to explain that.

I certainly don’t mind (in fact, I enjoy) explaining the features, as I did here:

Understanding Cloud Collections

However, I have to figure it out pretty much by trial and error. I can’t just go on to an Amazon Help Page and get a scenario based explanation. Typically, even the features aren’t explained there.

Somebody at Amazon knows the use cases for all of these features: when they are good, and when they aren’t. If they didn’t, they couldn’t get built.

Maybe the thought is that they’ll be replaced soon anyway, so why spend the time and energy…but that doesn’t make sense to me. Even the basic concepts of what is stored on the device and what is stored at Amazon could be explained better.

I still see people (quite frequently) worrying that if they remove a Kindle store book from a device, they won’t be able to read it again.

Has Amazon ever given people  a simple explanation of Simultaneous Device Licenses?

Before you release a significant update, you should prepare a communication piece that explains the “why” of it. What is the context? What’s the advantage? What adjustments will people need to make? I’ve taught change management, and I always tell people that the first thing you say is what is not going to change.

If you are going to change the organizational structure in a business, the first part of introducing that should be, “Nobody is losing their jobs.” I’m putting it bluntly, here, but that’s got to be in the message before you say what is going to change…otherwise, people are just waiting to hear if that is going to happen, and they don’t hear anything else until that is addressed.

Similarly, updates should reassure people first.

Then, they should tell people why changes were made…and what the advantages are.

Lastly, they should tell people how to use the new features.

That’s not the only place we could use more information. It stills stuns me that they don’t list the clipping limit on a book’s Amazon product page. That’s important information: if you can only “clip” ten percent of one edition of a book, but one hundred percent of another, that might affect your buying decision…and satisfaction.

Choose Your Own…pretty much everything

My third one here is going to be the sense I have that Amazon thinks everybody wants the same things…and that, of course, it is easier for Amazon if there isn’t a lot of variety out there.

Sure, if  you let people change their “screensavers”, there is a risk that something goes wrong every once in a while. That might have a Customer Service expense associated with it.

However, people have made the buying decision to get a different device just because they couldn’t have that! There is a bigger expense (or loss) associated with that.

I remember consulting with people who wanted every possible access to Help removed in Microsoft. They didn’t want people finding out how to do things on their own, because it would make it harder to support the technology, since there would be more variety in the field. That seemed counter-productive to me: it would require more tech support for simple things…and simple things are more common.

We don’t get to make decisions about whether we want to upgrade or not. We don’t get to decide about whether we want to have local Collections or Cloud Collections (or ideally, both).

Amazon just makes the change, and we all end up with the same thing.

I’m hoping that, maybe, Amazon has started to recognize this by having customizable covers.

I kind of doubt it, though. All they did there was making something available somebody else had developed.

The corporate philosophy seems to be that everybody is the same…having one color (or maybe two) of a device is fine, having one organization of the menus is fine…okay, they let you change the name of the device, which people love to do, but we could have a lot more flexibility.

Those are three big areas of philosophy where I’d like to see Amazon make a change. I do love Amazon, and am extremely impressed to their adherence to their basic tenets (selection, service, price). I’m not asking for any of those to be compromised: I just see room for improvement.

How about you? Are there philosophical changes you’d like to see made at Amazon (not specific hardware/software changes)? Do you agree with mine, or am I being focused on things that bother me, but don’t bother you? Feel free to let me and my readers know what you think by commenting on this post.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Smile.Amazon: support your favorite charity by shopping

November 3, 2013

Smile.Amazon: support your favorite charity by shopping

Shopping at Amazon is easy, right? Some might say it is too easy… ;)

Wouldn’t it be nice if supporting your favorite charity was that easy? Especially if you could give them financial support without giving them any of your own money (although that can certainly feel rewarding)?

Amazon has now made that possible.

All you have to do is go to

http://Smile.Amazon.com

pick your charity, and shop as you always do at Amazon!

Your charity will get 0.5% of your purchase…spend $100, and they get fifty cents.

There’s really not that much more to it.

Amazon has done things with charitable giving before, but I like how easy this is…and how they have so many charities available. I used to sit on the Board of a somewhat obscure group, and it showed up: they say they have almost a million organizations.

Amazon announced it in this

press release

Naturally, Amazon needs the bank information to be able to directly deposit money. Organizations can register here:

https://org.amazon.com/

What happens if your organization doesn’t register and someone chooses your group?

Amazon will hold on to the money for up to four calendar quarters. They’ll try to contact you to get you to register (which is free). If you don’t register after that time, they’ll distribute the money to other charitable groups.

Not every product is eligible, and the ones which are will be marked on the item’s Amazon product page.

I did a quick check: it looked to me like Kindle hardware was, but I wasn’t seeing Kindle e-books which were (although I didn’t check very many). I did specifically check a book published by Amazon, in addition to others, and didn’t see the information. The

agreement

does indicate that some digital products will be eligible.

I don’t see much reason not to do this. :)

Amazon again changes things in a positive way, in my opinion. This could get a lot more money (read: opportunity) to these organizations which have been recognized by the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) as being non-profits (some types are excluded).

One other thing: I know some of my readers are Amazon Associates. Your current links will not direct people to this site.

I checked with Amazon on this, and this is part of their reply:

“You can easily link to the AmazonSmile home page or a product detail page by using the following format to construct your links:

Home Page: http://smile.amazon.com/?tag=your_Associates_ID
Detail Page: http://smile.amazon.com/dp/ASIN/?tag=your_Associates_ID

To make your link to an items detail page functional, replace ASIN with the 10-digit ISBN or ASIN of the product, and replace your_Associates_ID with your Associates ID or Tracking ID.

The ASIN is listed on the product detail page at Amazon.com under Product Details. Your Associates ID and Tracking ID can be found on the left of your screen when youre signed into Associates Central. Your Associates ID will be listed under Signed in as.”

An organization can both be the beneficiary of someone shopping and get a referral fee…that’s explicitly okay.

I do have a few things I’d like to highlight:

  • There is no cap on the donations (Amazon will not stop donating because a certain dollar value is reached)
  • There are no deductions for administrative fees
  • This is free both for the shoppers and for the receiving organizations
  • The donations actually come from Amazon, not from the shopper…so the shopper does not get a tax write-off
  • Organizations can opt out, if they want
  • While you are shopping, you’ll see a banner at the top reminding you of which organization you chose. You can click or tap “Supporting” there to make a change
  • You are going to get to http://Smile.Amazon.com in your browser (on a computer, tablet, or phone). I don’t believe you can do this while using the Amazon shopping app at this point, or when shopping directly from a Kindle (unless you use the browser there)

More questions?

About AmazonSmile

Please consider this option during the holiday season…and I can certainly see organizations themselves (many of which buy things from Amazon) shopping the site.

Here’s my suggested new motto for them:

“Shop ’til it helps!”

:)

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them

Suggestion: Amazon Kindleizer service

September 6, 2013

Suggestion: Amazon Kindleizer service

This was inspired by a recent comment by Edward Boyhan, a regular reader of and commenter on this blog.

Point 1: Amazon clearly wants to have exclusive content. Some rightsholders seem to be getting comfortable with making such exclusive deals (see, for example, Kindle Worlds: Amazon mainstreams fanfic).

Point 2: Digitizing a book isn’t easy. I’ve done it myself. There are several techniques:

  • Scan the book, then run it through OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software
  • Have someone retype the book (this tends to be more accurate than OCR, at least when I do it)
  • Have someone read the book into speech-to-text software…again, this tends to be less accurate for me than “brute force” retyping it, although it’s gotten better. It is relatively slow…

However, it can be made easier with better equipment (both scanners and software), and skilled users.

So, how about this?

Amazon offers a service where they will digitize a paperbook (p-book) for the rightsholder.

In exchange for that, Amazon gets exclusive distribution of it…that could even be limited to a year.

I think a lot of publishers might jump on that for the “long tail”, for books that are not new and might not even be in print, but are still under copyright and still licensed to someone.

Amazon would be paid for it in part by the attractiveness of the exclusivity. The publisher benefits because it would cost them a lot of time and effort to digitize some of these books…and Amazon could do it well, adding Active Table of Contents (where you can click on a chapter title, for example, and jump right to that chapter).

Certainly, people would complain that Amazon is “controlling the world’s literature”, but the book would still be available in paper (if it was).

This would not fall into the same murky legal issues that Google did with its scanning project (the legal discussion of that has been going on for about eight years, I think). The rightsholder would be licensing it (which is another parallel with Kindle Worlds).

Of course, the rightsholder might not have the e-book rights from the author or the author’s estate. If this was available, though, I think those might be more easily negotiated.

If the rights have reverted to the author, I’m not sure that they could allow Amazon to scan the p-book…the publisher of the p-book might have control over some elements of that. However, Amazon could also do this with paper manuscripts the authors might have.

Perfect system? Nope, but I think this could greatly accelerate the conversion rate, and grow Amazon’s prominence even more.

Of course, Apple would have the resources to counter it…and I might not be happy if there were Apple e-book exclusives of books I’d like to read. :) I live with that possibility now, though…it’s happened with Barnes & Noble, for example. That’s why putting a year-long limit on it might be worth it for Amazon…just for the public relations. Hm…could they continue to get a cut of the book when it was distributed by other e-book retailers, if they had initially digitized it? Fascinating possibility…

This is all just off the top of my head, so I’d be interested in your feedback on it. I also hope I’m setting some mental wheels turning at Amazon…

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

How to save large bookstores

September 3, 2013

How to save large bookstores

There was always something glorious about walking through a giant bookstore.

Sure, it’s a very different attraction than being in a tiny, genre-focused store, or a used bookstore so crammed with dusty tomes that you have to turn sideways to get down the aisles. ;)

Still, until they decayed to the point that there were cavernously large sections where the shelves had been removed, and nobody was merchandising them, I have to say it felt great to browse through a place with tens of thousands of volumes.

That experience has been going away.

Crown Books is long gone.

Waldenbooks is gone.

B. Dalton is gone.

Borders is gone.

Barnes & Noble…is not gone when I am writing this. ;) They are, however, planning to reduce the number of stores.

Now, some of you are probably saying, “Good riddance”. After all, the “dinostores” were one of the reasons that a lot of local bookstores closed.

Even though I love shopping for books (especially e-books) on the internet, I do think there is a place in the market for large bookstores.

How can they survive, though, when they aren’t as convenient or have as big a selection and aren’t as cheap as the internet?

As a former brick-and-mortar bookstore manager, I can think of a way…two of them, actually.

They both could be done by Barnes & Noble, but it requires a major change in thinking. Customers would welcome them, I think.

The Pop-up Store

When you manage a brick-and-mortar bookstore, you are constantly fighting your rent. When a book is sitting on the shelf, it costs you money, because you are paying rent for the space underneath it. The longer you have it, the less you profit on the sale.

You are also fighting salaries. Even when your employees aren’t selling something, if they are in the store and “on the clock”, money is ticking away.

The answer here would be to only have the store open for a few months in the year (specifically, I would go with mid-November to mid-January).

That is a high demand period for books, especially for gift books (which can be more profitable, partially because people don’t really expect you to mark down a $100 gift book…in fact, it can reduce the sales if you discount it, because they are looking for a luxury item at that point).

You could choose to only stock books with a pretty high likelihood of selling. People could get their monthly romances somewhere else…this would be more for high-ticket items.

There is a parallel to this…Halloween stores. There is plenty (puh-lenty) of large cheap retail space around that would work very well for this.

You wouldn’t have to put it right downtown in a high-rent space…people would travel for this. Adults would remember getting paperbooks (p-books) as kids, and want to duplicate that experience.

You could get investors for those few months…sort of selling shares in the performance.

The rest of the year?

You sell through the internet.

I think this could really work. I picked those dates, by the way, because they are pre-Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) and then they go through when people return items (January is actually a good sales month). Returns often mean additional sales. A luxury store like this would also be likely to have fewer returns…the person who got the book isn’t the person who bought the book, so that can complicate them bringing it back. There’s also the factor of not wanting to hurt somebody’s feelings when it is an expensive book.

Franchises

This is another model that could work well.

Many, many people have a fantasy about running a bookstore. I’ve done some weird things in my life, but I never have to have any reluctance to mention that I managed a bookstore…everybody thinks that’s cool. ;)

The great thing for the franchisor (let’s say Barnes & Noble, in this case) is that the store doesn’t have to make any money. That’s not how the franchisor makes the money.

I was part of a franchise (I didn’t own it, I just worked in it). The franchisor got six percent of the gross every year. Note that it was of the gross (everything taken in), not the profit. There basically wasn’t any profit…I think we had something like five owners in seven years, because nobody could really run it profitably. They thought they could, though. :) With a bookstore, people would think they could make it work, and even if they couldn’t, it would be a dream job for many people…if they could afford it. I’ve been in many used bookstores where I can guarantee you that they did not make a profit. They ran it because they wanted to run a bookstore…that’s it.

Another way that a franchisor can make money is by having a buy-in fee. Let ‘s say the buy-in fee is $75,000 per location…and there are three locations in our group (and people buy all three together). So, every time the ownership changes, the franchisor makes $225,000! Let’s see, if that happens five times, that’s $1,125,000…not a bad way to profit on somebody else’s failure. ;)

Naturally, people will generally want to think there is a chance to succeed, or you won’t have people buying the franchise (although some might still do it, for the experience). The odds are that some people would figure out a way…and B&N could keep a few profitable company-owned stores (hand-picked, of course) as examples.

Franchisees would have to follow certain guidelines for the right to use the Barnes & Noble name…so B&N can keep up the quality. If you are a franchisee and you don’t meet those obligations (maybe a B&N snap inspection shows the store is too dirty), you could conceivably lose the franchise, because you would have agreed to those conditions.

Yes, I think both of these models would be a way to keep big bookstores around. Consumers would like them, even if they don’t entirely replicate the chain bookstore experience of the 1980s.

I know it would be tough to get B&N to do either of these…although I do think you may see mini-B&N pop-up stores this holiday season.

What do you think? Am I missing something here? Would you want the experience of running a bookstore…even if it was only for a few months one year? Do you think you would travel, oh, fifteen miles for a well-run, large bookstore with gift books? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

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

Why I don’t use Amazon’s Silk browser

July 27, 2013

Why I don’t use Amazon’s Silk browser

I’m afraid of my Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ 4G LTE Wireless 32GB right now.

As a consumer, that’s not a good place to be. :) As the title of the blog says, “I love my Kindle,” and I do.

Still, I keep checking and checking, dreading something.

You see, I know there is an update coming. I’ve been reading about it in the Kindle forums, but it hasn”t been announced yet and isn’t available at

Kindle Software Updates

When it happens, it happens. There’s really nothing you can do about stopping an update, if you connect with Amazon’s servers (which I do regularly).

I normally welcome the updates, but this one, which will change my system from 8.4.3 to 8.4.5, is reported to break something I use every day.

First, let me tell you how to check your own version:

Swipe down from the top, More, Device, About…you’ll see the system version listed there.

If you have 8.4.5, you’ve already gotten the update.

The numbers are similar for the 7″: if you have 7.4.5 (rather than 7.4.3), you are updated.

I’ve heard that it brings the ability to highlight in different colors.

However, and this is what concerns me, I’ve also heard that it breaks the use of the Flash player in non-Amazon browsers.

You see, back in November of 2011, Adobe abandoned Flash for mobile browsers. That meant that the most current mobile browsers were unable to play Flash videos. It wasn’t Amazon’s fault, and it wasn’t limited to the Fire.

What you could do, though, is install the Flash player on your Fire, and use another browser that would support it.

That’s what I’ve been doing.

Amazon allows us to install apps from outside sources…despite what you might hear, it’s not a closed ecosystem, and never has been.

I think Amazon wants to compete. Oh, they want to win, and they’ll spend more money than you’ll ever see to do it, but I think they like the head-to-head.

Here’s how you allow it:

Swipe down, More, Device, Allow Installation of Applications from unknown sources

Naturally, if you do that, Amazon can’t be sure that what you install will work and that it won’t hurt your Kindle, so you take the responsibility for that app. That makes sense to me, and I’m fine with it.

I have the Maxthon Browser (version 4.0.4 1000) installed, and Adobe Flash Player (version 11.1).

You can get the Flash Player directly from Adobe here:

http://helpx.adobe.com/flash-player/kb/archived-flash-player-versions.html

I’d gotten the Maxthon browser originally directly in the Amazon Appstore, when it was compatible with my first generation Kindle Fire.

I think I got Maxthon for my Fire 8.9 from 1Mobile. Note: I am not recommending that you do the same…while I took that responsibility with my own Fire, I don’t want to take it with yours. :)

Having the combination of the two has meant that I can watch Flash videos on my Kindle Fire.

According to what I’m hearing, though, once my Fire updates, I won’t be able to do that any more, using Maxthon (or Dolphin).

I know some people will immediately assume that Amazon did this on purpose, to force people to use Silk.

Personally, I doubt that’s the case. Yes, if you use Silk, they can probably collect more data on you, and that’s valuable.  Yes, if Maxthon (or Dolphin, another reportedly affected browser) breaks your Kindle Fire, you are going to ask Amazon for help…even saying “no” costs them something, because Customer Service is expensive.

Generally, though, Amazon hasn’t done that kind of thing. For example, they approved the Netflix app for the Kindle Fire…even though it is a direct competitor to their own Amazon Instant Video (and in some ways, to Prime  Streaming Video).

While I do believe Amazon will do what it can to encourage you to use their apps, devices, and services, I don’t think they do it by trying to prevent you from using the competition (any more than what is the business norm).

In fact, I’m hoping that the reason I don’t have this update yet, and that it isn’t on the Kindle Software Updates page, is that they are trying to fix the problem (and possibly others). Amazon doesn’t want unhappy customers. I’m guessing that they were trying to do something to make the Silk browser work better with online videos, and that is just conflicting with Flash. That’s just my guess, though.

So, here’s the obvious question:

I’m a big Amazon fan. I use Kindles, Kindle Fires, Subscribe & Save, and am a Prime member.

Why don’t I use Amazon’s browser?

After all, I thought it sounded like one of the coolest Kindle Fire features. I liked the idea of “predictive loading”. It was going to learn my habits (and those of others), and pre-load webpages to make it faster. For example, when I go to

IMDb.com

a movie & TV reference site on the web (which is now owned by Amazon), I almost always go to the Top News section after I peruse the front page.

Silk was supposed to learn that, and so pre-load Top News whenever I went to IMDb.

It was supposed to do a lot of the processing in Amazon’s Cloud, where it would be much faster than on the device itself.

Well, I never really saw that…Silk has never been that fast for me, but that’s not the big issue.

The big thing is that it doesn’t have a couple of important features that I rely on in my browser.

The first one would be hard for them to fix. There is no desktop version of Silk, and no SmartPhone version.

One reason that I like Maxthon is (like Google Chrome), you can easily sync your bookmarks. Inevitably, I’m going to find websites on my Fire which I would rather see on my desktop, and I’m going to want mobile access to sites I’ve bookmarked on my desktop. Silk can’t do any of that.

The other big thing is that there is no privacy or “stealth” mode. I use that much of the time. It just means that the browser doesn’t store information about you the same way. When I visit a site, it doesn’t cache that site for me later, or store my passwords, or put it into my history, that kind of thing. Sure, that means that I have to enter that stuff every time, but for a lot of sites, I’m okay with that.  If I have a site I’m going to use a lot, I browse not in private mode. If it’s somewhere I’m just going to maybe see a funny video, I’m stealth.

There are other reasons to use a privacy mode…you may not want other users of the device to know which sites you visit…I won’t speculate on why. ;)

That’s one they could fix. I think it would especially appeal to people now, after all the talk there has been in the press about surveillance of internet use. Stealth mode wouldn’t prevent spying on you, of course, but it would make people feel like something has been done.

In fact, I think it would be cool if Amazon licensed

MaskMe

for Silk, so we could have better control over our information on line while still using services.

Now, it’s possible Amazon doesn’t want a privacy mode because it wants to collect data on your use, and it might interfere with that. I do think those two don’t have to be the same thing…you could erase my tracks while still knowing what my itinerary was. :) Amazon could know in the moment, and then not have my Kindle Fire know it afterwards.

Now, I should be clear: from what I’m hearing, the update won’t break Maxthon…just break the use of Flash in Maxthon. If I want to go to a site privately and use Flash, though, I’ll reportedly be out of luck.

Here’s hoping that isn’t what happens. :)

I’m curious if other people use the Silk browser (that’s what you use when you tap Web on your Fire)…so I’m going to ask you:

These questions only apply if you use a Kindle Fire (of any generation):

Okay…I’m going back to having the update of Damocles hanging over my head.  ;) Hopefully, it won’t mess me up…virtual fingers crossed.

What do you think? Does privacy mode matter to you? Do you sync your internet bookmarks/favorites between devices? Have you had experience with the latest updates? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

Update: I’m hearing from reliable sources that 8.4.6 is out there, and does not cause the Flash problems in non-Amazon browsers. Hopefully, if that one is good, they will post it at the software update site. My Fire hasn’t updated yet…

===

Bonus: Amazon recently updated the discontinued Kindle Touch. Yes, that’s right…contrary to what I see people say, Amazon does sometimes update discontinued devices…and in this case, it added some significant functionality (improving search, buying from a sample, and viewing the full dictionary definition).

You can get it from Amazon here:

Kindle Touch Software update 5.3.7

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


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