Archive for the ‘Watching the Watchers’ Category

Articles aiming at Amazon

February 23, 2014

Articles aiming at Amazon

Amazon isn’t perfect.

Some of you may be surprised to hear me say that.

After all, this blog is called, “I Love My Kindle”.

I’ll admit to thinking that my customer experience with Amazon is probably the best I’ve ever had with any company.

However, everyone can always improve.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have always liked Yul Brynner’s response to the question of what the actor would like as an epitaph (“on your tombstone”). I’m going from memory, but this may be close:

“I would like it to say ‘I have arrived’…because when you believe you’ve arrived, you’re dead.”

Anyone who doesn’t want to hear respectful criticism is driving a car high-speed without a windshield…and headed for a crash.

I don’t think Amazon is so close-minded that they don’t think that they can improve…and that they don’t believe that listening to other people can be helpful.

However…

I also believe that there is a tendency for people to want to attack people and organizations that are succeeding.

Part of that, I think, is to make it easier to believe that no one can succeed while being good.

If you believe they can, you have to ask why you aren’t as successful.

After all, it’s easier to believe that only the evil succeed…because it justifies the level to which you’ve risen (presumably without being what you perceive as evil).

There are two articles which recently have criticized Amazon which you might find interesting. I would recommend you read them, and evaluate them yourself. You might think that what they say is true. If you do, then you’ll have to consider for yourself what the proper response should be.

This first one has gotten a lot of buzz, and I was alerted to it by readers (thanks, readers!). It appeared on February 17th in the New Yorker:

article by George Packer

It’s a lengthy piece…over 10,000 words.

It talks about how bad Amazon is for books.

It also assigns a pretty Machiavellian motive:

“Bezos said that Amazon intended to sell books as a way of gathering data on affluent, educated shoppers. The books would be priced close to cost, in order to increase sales volume. After collecting data on millions of customers, Amazon could figure out how to sell everything else dirt cheap on the Internet. (Amazon says that its original business plan “contemplated only books.”)”

Now, I know Jeff Bezos is seen as forward-looking, but I have to admit…that seems a bit far-fetched.

Amazon only sold books because the sales were good for datamining?

That seems…rather ahead of the game for the mid-1990s.

It also suggests that only “affluent, educated” people would buy books (otherwise, based on this, you would have an increased noise to signal ratio in your data), and yet, the prices would be reduced?

I’d have to see the data, but if this is the plan, it doesn’t seem to me like it would work very well (and whatever Amazon has does, if you look at in terms of sales and not profits, it has worked very well).

It reads to me sort of like this:

“Rich people buy diamonds. We want to know where the rich people are, so we’ll sell diamonds. However, rich people don’t buy very many diamonds, which won’t give us enough information…so we’ll price our diamonds like they are rhinestones.”

You see the problem?

You could attract rich people (who would presumably be better customers for other goods) with a superior shopping experience and service…you wouldn’t decrease the price to get more data.

I genuinely believe that Amazon, as an entity, liked books from the beginning…even though they may have liked sales equally as  much.

I still believe that Amazon has been good for books.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve been good for the book industry, the way it existed before 1994.

Those are two different things, though.

More people can get more books more easily because of Amazon…tens of thousands of them for free.

Crucially, more people can publish books, creating a more diverse literature.

However, that’s only one small part of the article. There are a lot of specific allegations in it. I have to read it myself yet, thoroughly, but I think many of you will want to do that (perhaps on your Kindles…).

The question of the impact Amazon has on books is one that we can certainly debate. I think it may be decades before we really know. That’s how it is with a transformation: will what results be a butterfly or a werewolf…or a bit of both? Um…a butterwolf? ;)

You my find this other article more disturbing:

Salon article by Simon Head

It’s not about how Amazon treats books…it’s about how Amazon treats its employees.

The title and subtitle make the position clear:

“Worse than Wal-Mart: Amazon’s sick brutality and secret history of ruthlessly intimidating workers
You might find your Prime membership morally indefensible after reading these stories about worker mistreatment”

This is not a hypothetical assessment: it contains reports of specific allegations.

I do recommend that you read it, although it may be hard on your emotions.

Essentially, it suggests that Amazon abuses its workers, in part because of its customer focus.

I’ve mentioned concerns about fulfillment center workers before, and I do think that might be part of why Amazon bought Kiva, a robotics company, some time back.

While the article focuses on Amazon, and on how computerized monitoring and analysis can lead to harsher conditions for human workers, it is actually an excerpt from a book that deals with the topic more widely:

Mindless: Why Smarter Machines are Making Dumber Humans (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

I do want to point out something I found…interesting.

At the bottom of the article is a link to the book. Where does it take you? To the Kindle store, with what appears to be an affiliate link (I’ve used a different link above).

In other words, it appears to me that Salon posted an article, wrote a headline for it suggesting it was “morally indefensible” to give Amazon money…then linked to a place where you could give Amazon money…and they would benefit from it if you did.

Hm…

What do you think? Has Amazon been good or bad for books? Do we know yet? As books become increasingly democratized, is that a positive or a negative? Is increasing the number of “poorer” quality books available a risk to quality literature? How about Amazon’s workers? If these allegations are true, would you stop shopping with Amazon? What if Amazon was working to change its practices? 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.

* 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! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

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.

Ewan Morrison: “…epublishing is another tech bubble”

August 4, 2012

Ewan Morrison: “…epublishing is another tech bubble”

This is one of the most interesting articles on e-books that I’ve read in some time:

The Guardian: “Why social media isn’t the magic bullet for self-epublished authors”

Ewan Morrison likens online independent publishing to the tech bubble.

A few people make a lot of money, lots of people get into it (the bubble inflates), and then…pop!

I think many people sort of intuitively feel that there are many people publishing that are feeding a current ravenous maw for content, that wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) be making it in the higher bar paper world.

This isn’t about just guessing, though.

Morrison does a great job of going through what people are being told to get them in the game, what “success rules” they are being sold…and some actual statistics.

For example, there is the stat that 10% of independent e-publishers make 75% of the money.

Of course, it’s quite possible that the same is true in traditionally published p-books. You don’t think Stephen King makes hundreds of times what low-paid novelists make?

I’m going to really recommend that you read the article, especially if you are an author or thinking about becoming one.

I want to look at one particular idea, though.

Why would people encourage other people to become authors?

Where’s the upside?

One of the reasons is that you can make money when people think you can tell them how to make money.

Yes, that could be books and seminars about how to be a successful independent publisher.

I joked about that in this

earlier post

That’s a direct exchange: you pay me for a “secret” or for expertise.

There are other people and organizations that benefit by people independently publishing.

Amazon does, for sure…even if the self-published book doesn’t sell one copy.

It helps because customers think that having more content options is better.

Take the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL). The growth of available books was incredibly multiplied by Amazon starting KDP Select, a program that allowed publishers using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing to make their books available in the KOLL.

Sure, some of those indies make money doing that…and Amazon doesn’t charge them for it (although they do require exclusivity, meaning that the publisher might lose potential sales elsewhere). Amazon, though, makes money whether those books are borrowed or not, if people are more likely to use Kindles (and/or join Prime) because of the close to 200,000 books in the KOLL.

What about all this encouragement to tweet to get readers?

Twitter makes money based on traffic, right?

That’s what makes all of this not immediately clear. Money doesn’t need to be made directly from the independent publisher (although it can be). It can be made by people and organizations that benefit from both the sheer volume of titles and the promotion of those titles.

Why would that cease to be true in the future?

There could be a couple of reasons.

First, if it turns out that folks realize that making money as an author actually is hard work with a small chance of success, the number of people who do it may vastly diminish…making the market for direct exploitation much smaller and less attractive.

The other thing is that traditional content suppliers, or other big organization players, may figure out how to give us enough content that we get choosier again.

I think that’s already happened to some extent.

Five words I never thought I’d say: “I have enough to read”

Are free e-books less desirable to you now than they were, oh, a year or two ago?

That’s evidence of a potential bubble.

I don’t think this means that indie e-publishing isn’t going to be just as good a path now for some people in three years as it is now. However, there may not be as many people taking it as a bad path.

I strongly recommend Ewan Morrison’s article to you.

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

Yahoo! Finance: “Consumers Are Casualties of E-Book Standoff”

March 2, 2012

Yahoo! Finance: “Consumers Are Casualties of E-Book Standoff”

Yahoo! Finance article

There are some great mainstream writers who cover e-books and EBRs (E-Book Readers). Jeffrey Trachtenberg comes immediately to mind, with insightful, accurate, and informed articles.

Unfortunately, this piece by Diallah Haidar, doesn’t deserve those sorts of accolades.

There are certainly legitimate concerns to be expressed about e-book exclusives. Amazon has made a major move in that direction with its KDP Select program, which requires a ninety-day period of exclusivity.

However, the article, in what comes across to me as an attempt to make things seem dire, makes some statements which are easily challenged.

For example, there is this one:

“While iPad users may not be able to buy Amazon books for their tablets…”

I think the 153,988 people who have rated the Kindle app in the iTunes store would be surprised to read that. :)

Kindle App in iTunes store

Sure, a lot of those people may be reading on an iPhone or an iPod touch…or not have ever purchased a book (although they still could). Balancing that, though, is the presumably large number of users who haven’t done a rating.

While anybody can make a mistake when writing (I’ve left out the word “not” at very inopportune moments), this one strikes at the heart of the article and is consistent with the basic thesis.

The premise of the article is that Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple are trying to establish monopolies on e-books, to the detriment of readers and authors.

By ignoring the free readers apps (suggesting that consumers need to “…buy three different e-readers” to get full access), it misses a huge part of the e-book industry.

Jeff Bezos has made a point about separating Kindle store books and Kindles, in terms of markets, and has stayed with that. You can read Kindle store  books on:

  • Kindles
  • iDevices (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch)
  • Windows PCs
  • Macs
  • Blackberrys
  • Windows Phone 7
  • Android devices
and through a browser using the Cloud Reader.

Those are just the currently available ones.

I’d be interested to hear a more thorough bolstering of this claim:

“None of these digital giants wants anything to do with its competitors”

That’s while Amazon has apps for Netflix and Kobo in its appstore…two companies that are clearly competitors, the latter a major player for e-books (the focus of the story).

I understand that it is easier to attract people by alarming them…throw in a word like “censorship” (as the article does) and you’ll turn more heads. Imagine somebody standing up in a crowded theatre to  say, “This theatre has fire retardant seat covers and sufficient well-marked exits, as well as a sprinkler system, so we would likely be okay in the improbable event of an incident.” ;)  Someone, it’s easier and more riveting to yell “Fire!” and a lot of writers know that. In the ensuing rush for the exits, though, somebody might get hurt.

Again, I want to emphasize that one could legitimately argue against e-book exclusives. To do so by misrepresenting the current situation, though, would not be my approach.

I think you’ll find the article interesting. If you have a connection to retail (as I do, as a former bookstore manager), I think you’ll find the third sentence particularly…non-shocking. :)

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

“So many people are returning them…”

December 14, 2011

“So many people are returning them…”

Sigh.

I was at work today, and happened to walk into a conversation about the Kindle.

It was nice, because one person was recommending this blog to another person.

However…

The question came up about whether I’d “upgraded” to a Kindle Fire yet.

One of the two people said (approximately): “Oh, all the reviews are bad. So many people are returning them.”

That’s because of this

New York Times article

I gently pointed that out, and explained that nobody outside of Amazon knows how many Kindle Fires are being returned. Amazon doesn’t release how many are returned…or even how many are sold (although Jeff Bezos has said “millions”).

I think the damage was done, though…I don’t think that logic was going to undo what the person had heard.

One of the first people who alerted me to the article was my reader, John Tobison. I wanted to give you my first response to John:

Wow! I haven’t had that unpleasant a spin since the teacup ride at Disneyland. ;)

I’ve said this before: I’m still surprised when news sources run such an arguably biased piece. Blogs are different…those are often opinion pieces (I even have a category for “opinion” on this blog).

I’m not sure why I still expect journalistic standards to be what they were before. Of course, in the 1800s, mainstream newspapers published some apparently false articles (see, for example, this article on the New York Sun’s Moon hoax, but that’s different from this.

This current article by David Streitfeld made me wish for Jeffrey Trachtenberg’s balanced reporting mainstream reporting on e-books and publishing from the Wall Street Journal.

I’m going to recommend that you read the article, but do it as a study in critical thinking.

Let me give you just the first paragraph:

“The Kindle Fire, Amazon’s heavily promoted tablet, is less than a blazing success with many of its early users. The most disgruntled are packing the device up and firing it back to the retailer.”

Now, is any of this factually incorrect?

Probably not technically. How do you define “heavily promoted”, “blazing success”, “many”, and “most disgruntled”? If you can’t define it precisely, it’s tough to test as a hypothesis.

Would ten people be “many”? Sure, that seems like many. It’s not much out of millions, of course, but we don’t have either number.

I know that one Kindle Fire was returned…I returned one with a scratched screen. Unless you’ve returned yourself, or been part of a return, you don’t know that I returned it…you are taking my word for it.

Are there problems with the Kindle Fire?

Absolutely. I’d be happy to see some changes.

That doesn’t mean that the device is a failure and nobody likes it, though.

As I write this right now, there are 5,526 reviews.

They break down this way*:

5-star: 2,665 (48.2%)

4-star: 1,059  (19.2%)

3-star: 647 (11.7%)

2-star: 479 (8.6%)

1-star 676 (12.2%)

Certainly, 12.2% 1-star reviews is something to notice. The Kindle Keyboard, an established model, only has 3.8% 1-star reviews.

However…

That “established” part is important. I would guess that the initial reviews of a product tend to be lower. Why? Well, for one thing people don’t know what it is. After the Fire has been around for six months, people will have a better sense of it, and will be less likely to be surprised by what they receive. That’s just a hypothesis, though.

Also, the product may improve over time. That’s part of the weird (to me) spin in the article.

Why is it a bad thing that Amazon is going to release an update to improve the product?

That should be a good thing, right? Whether it is fixing problems or giving more features (and the one we may see by the end of the year may do both), it shows a company supporting its customers. Oh, you could argue that they have no choice when the product is bad…maybe say it is like a mandatory recall for a car.

I don’t see it that way, though. Amazon isn’t recalling them…it’s enhancing them.

This would be the third update since the release of the Kindle Fire. The first one happened before most people had the device.

I see that as a good thing.

Okay, let me run a few queries through the reviews:

Yes, 327 reviews contain the word “return”.

38 of those are 5-star reviews. They love the product! They are mentioning return, at least sometimes, because they are praising the return policy.

Only 116 of the ones that mention “return” are 1-star reviews.

91 people used the words “send” and “back”.  Fifteen of those are 5-star reviews.

How about the word “love”?

1,951.

By the way, some reviews may have been added while I was running the queries.

There were at least 500 5-star reviews in the “love” batch…that’s as far as they displayed them to me.

They based some of the article on the usability “study” I recently mentioned. I put the study in quotation marks because it was only four people.

Let’s look at the positive a bit more. :) What would I like to see in the update?

  • Text-to-speech! I think that’s possible, and it would greatly enhance the device for me
  • Built-in parental controls. While the free Kids Place app takes you a long way down that path, it would be nice to have a bit more sophistication (like blocking streaming video at certain rating levels, like R)
  • The ability to edit or hide the Carousel
  • The ability to have something like folders or Collections. It might be possible to do that by giving us more control over the bookshelves…if we could name them and arrange within a shelf independent of the other shelves, that would help
  • The ability to lock the power button so people wouldn’t accidentally turn it off when they set it down. It could be locked so that it took a several second depress to unlock it
  • They could do quite a bit of work on the Silk browser…I think it could connect more types of places, for example. I like Silk, but it could be more flexible
  • I still have some problems with it recognizing presses…it got better after the last update

As you can see, I don’t just blindly love Amazon products, despite the name of this blog. I generally like what they do, but they clearly don’t understand privacy concerns very well (we’ve seen that before). However, I do like that Amazon improves its products after you buy them…although I know they haven’t updated some older models of the Kindle in a while.

What do you think? Does the article make a fair point? Is the Fire a failure, a success, or is it too soon to tell? What changes would you like to see in the next (or future) updates? Feel free to let me know…

*Thanks to Dave, one of my regular readers and commenters, for pointing out an error in my math. That has been corrected. The number of reviews was corrected, but I think I had miscopied a percentage

Update: David Streiftield, the author of the original article, has published a

follow up comment

Streitfield doesn’t mention people saying that it was the way the article was written that concerned them, which I think is interesting. That’s what caught my eye about it…the “angle of attack”, so to speak.

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

Fast Company: “The Great Tech War of 2012″

October 25, 2011

Fast Company: “The Great Tech War of 2012″

The Great Tech War of 2012

by Farhad Manjoo
October 19, 2011 (the November issue)
Fast Company

Thanks to regular commenter for the heads-up on this article!

It’s a good lengthy piece (I’d say the equivalent of 25 pages or so), talking about four innovative, growing American tech giants…and where they may go from here.

Go ahead, you’re already thinking about it…what are the four?

  • Amazon
  • Apple
  • Facebook
  • Google

Seriously, if you were putting together your fantasy Fortune 500, wouldn’t you want these on your team?

It talks about how they are similar, and how they are different.

Generally, I think the article is good…but I have to guess that the author doesn’t have a Kindle and/or doesn’t know much about how people use it.

Manjoo says:

“Think of this: You have a family desktop computer, but you probably don’t have a family Kindle. E-books are tied to a single Amazon account and can be read by one person at a time. The same for phones and apps. For the Fab Four, this is a beautiful thing because it means that everything done on your phone, tablet, or e-reader can be associated with you. Your likes, dislikes, and preferences feed new products and creative ways to market them to you.”

I’m going to presume Manjoo means “only one person at a time”, which of course, is generally incorrect.  Unless it says otherwise on the book’s Amazon product page, you get six simultaneous device licenses (SDLs) when you buy a book in the Kindle store. That means that six people could be reading the same book at the same time on the same account (for one purchase price). That’s a huge deal, and one of the game changers in e-books.

I have to overcome thinking that one major deficit in understanding like that devalues the rest of the article. I’ve been wrong before…that doesn’t mean I’m never right (thankfully). ;)

Take a look at it and let me know where you agree and disagree with its ideas.

Now, I do want to give you a little insight into using the Kindle with this.

Roger linked the story for me, so I went looked. I saw it was longer than I was going to get through before I went to work.

So, I used

SENDtoREADER

That sent it right to my Kindle, wirelessly, for free, via wi-fi, in under a minute. In included the picture at the start of the article, but otherwise, was nicely cleaned up.

I got in the car, and plugged my Kindle into my sound system with my trusty Coby CA-745 Wireless FM Car Transmitter with Digital Display, which I’ve been using for quite some time for text-to-speech in the car.

I started up the TTS (I use Shift+Sym), and listened to about half of it before I got to work.

I got to work and sight-read a smidge more while my laptop booted up. ;)

I finished up the article eating lunch at Whole Foods (where my Kindle will connect to their free wi-fi, although that wasn’t necessary today…may come in handy with my Kindle Fire, though, which I expect will connect there).

Was it very different than it would have been if it was only available on paper?

First, I probably wouldn’t have read it. I wouldn’t have subscribed to Fast Company, although I might have read the article if the magazine was in my dentist’s office or something.

Second, let’s say I did have a twenty-five pages of a book to read (the twenty-five pages are based on the traditional 250 words in a book page…and article in a magazine gets more words on the page). I tend to bounce around and read a lot of things on the same day. I won’t promise I would have finished it in five days, even. In the car, with text-to-speech? I only read one thing (I’m not going to switch to another book in the middle while I am driving). I always hope the publishers take note of that…I consume books much more quickly using a combination of text-to-speech and sight-reading, than I did with sight-reading alone.

Anyway, Id suggest you read the article…and feel free to let me know what you think.

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

FoxNews: “Things Amazon Should Tell Us About the Kindle”

August 2, 2011

FoxNews: “Things Amazon Should Tell Us About the Kindle”

Thanks to petr in the Amazon Kindle community for the heads-up on this

FoxNews article

“Things Amazon Should Tell Us About the Kindle”
by Clayton Morris
August 1, 2011

As always, I recommend that you read the article. I’m going to do two main things: address the basic premise of the article, and give Mr. Morris some good news. :)

The opening of the article is that Amazon doesn’t tell people about Collections or text-to-speech, and they should.

Like me, Clayton Morris finds text-to-speech a great feature: I would have a tough time considering an EBR (E-Book Reader) that didn’t have it.

Amazon does announce (if not promote) the feature, though.

It gets a special call-out on the Kindle product page in the Kindle at a Glance section:

“Read-to-Me
With Text-to-Speech, Kindle can read English-language content out loud to you.”

Under Experimental Features, it gets a fuller paragraph:

“Read-to-Me
With the Text-to-Speech feature, Kindle can read English newspapers, magazines, blogs, and books out loud to you, unless the book’s rights holder made the feature unavailable. You can switch back and forth between reading and listening, and your spot is automatically saved. Pages automatically turn while the content is being read, so you can listen hands-free. You can choose from both male and female voices which can be sped up or slowed down to suit your preference. In the middle of a great story or article but have to jump in the car? Simply turn on Text-to-Speech and listen on the go. “

So, they promote it on the product page…more than once.

It’s also in the promo video on that page (and has been since it was introduced). It starts about a minute into it, and is one of the first features discussed (it starts about a minute into it).

If someone buys a Kindle directly from Amazon, I’m comfortable saying Amazon does tell us about the feature.

What about people who get the Kindle as a gift (therefore not seeing the product page) or buy it in a store?

It’s in the User’s Guide (it gets its own chapter, early on). It’s not mentioned in Quick Start, which makes sense to me.

Does that mean I think most people know about it?

I don’t have the data…apparently, Morris does, since he says, “…Most people don’t know about these features…” ;) I mean, this is news, right? One wouldn’t make a statement like that without the evidence…just kidding, it’s clearly a presumption, and not an unreasonable one. I see many times where people state indignantly that the Kindle should do something it already does…even mock Amazon for it.

That brings us to another part of the article. ;) Morris says:

“For instance, I can create collections of books on my Kindle, but those collections won’t show up in the Kindle app on a smartphone or on the desktop. And they won’t show up if I lose my Kindle and replace it with a new one. My books will show up but my collections are gone. Why create a feature like this that doesn’t work as expected, Amazon? It makes no sense.”

Well, here’s where I can make your day, Mr. Morris! Since we’ve had Collections, they’ve been importable to another Kindle on the same account. I’ve had a Kindle fail that had Collections, and had no problem importing them to a new Kindle. Download the books to the new device, then go to Archived Items on that new one and choose Add Other Device Collections).

Recently, Amazon added the Collections feature to both Kindle for PC and Kindle for Mac. I did an in-depth article on that.

So, there you go, Mr. Morris! The world make sense again! ;)

They haven’t brought Collections yet to SmartPhones, but I personally don’t expect my reader apps to have all the same features as my hardware…it may come there eventually.

More generally, should Amazon tell us more? Yes…I’ve mentioned before, I think the clipping limit should be on the product page. That’s a limit as to how much you can clip (but not highlight) out of a book, and it’s different on different titles. I think if a book is in the Topaz format (the lesser used of the two formats in the Kindle store), it should be indicated. To be fair, they should indicate either format. Some people might like that Topaz can hypothetically retain typographical decisions…others may not like that it doesn’t work very well. ;) Maybe that’s not fair, but it does seem to cause some problems, and you can’t change the typeface.

Should Amazon do more to promote text-to-speech? Maybe have the “Kindle Kouple” (I believe they call them “Kindle friends”) do an ad on it? Maybe…they trumpeted it when it was introduced in the Kindle 2. Then, they got slapped by the Authors Guild. They backed off on having it work on all books, and left it up to the publishers as to whether they would block the access or not on a title by title basis. That may have made them a bit “hype shy” on it. However, as I’ve mentioned above, they do talk about it…but maybe they don’t want to do a TV commercial for it, since it is blocked in quite a few books.

Anyway, feel free to tell me what you think about the article. I didn’t see a way to add a comment to Mr. Morris’ post on FoxNews, so I couldn’t address his concern about the Collections directly there. Hopefully, he’ll hear about it…

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

 

FoxNews: “The Real Force Behind Ebook Sales: Heaving Bosoms”

June 15, 2011

FoxNews: “The Real Force Behind Ebook Sales: Heaving Bosoms”

Thanks to Debra L. Perry in the Amazon Kindle community for the heads-up on this one:

FoxNews article

Let me start out by saying that this is one of my Watching the Watchers articles…I am going to be analyzing the article.

Second, I am looking at this article in isolation…I’m not going to talk about FoxNews: I’ll leave that to your comments, if you so choose.  :)

Third, I’ve encountered really negative reactions to this article. Feel free to read it yourself, but it might get you mad.

Fourth, this is the type of article where there could be a lot of (un)intentional double entendres…we’ll just ignore those, shall we?  ;)

The thrust of this article is that romance books are driving e-book sales, and that it is women who are attracted to those sorts of books.  Women like EBRs (E-Book Readers) in part because they fit in purses, and men like iPads…and porn.  Seriously, that’s part of the article.

I’m going to take some specific points of John R. Quain’s post, and respond to them.

The article is illustrated with a wall of romance novel covers…or so it appears.  The caption says:

“The colorful, graphic covers of romance novels are an instantly identifiable characteristic of the genre, which has proved a dominant force in ebook sales.”

It’s okay that they covers are in color when they wouldn’t appear that way on a Kindle…and not just because they would on an iPad or a NOOKColor (or a PC or a Mac…).  One of their points is that EBRs allow you to read without those covers being visible to bystanders.

That don’t mention it, but these are parody covers.  They are a bit blurry, but I was able to find out pretty quickly that at least some of them are the work of Longmire:

http://www.worldoflongmire.com/features/romance_novels/

Since the article is not criticizing those works, I would question whether this is Fair Use…in addition to being misleading.

When suggesting that women use EBRs to “explore their sexual fantasies”, it lists the following book as an example of “lusty titles” that are on the Kindle bestseller list:

My Horizontal Life

That’s by Chelsea Handler, and is certainly not a romance novel. It’s first category is Biographies and Memoirs…and I haven’t read it, but from what I know, I don’t think it has the sensibility of a romance novel. I don’t even know if it more likely to be read by women. The Amazon reviews include these first names:

Donna, Devlin, Kenneth, Tobhiyah, Corey, Elizabeth, Alan, Amanda, Mike, and Richard.

Those don’t seem overwhelmingly female to me (and some are identified as “real names”).

One likely contributing factor to it being on the bestseller list? It’s at a huge discount right now ($1.99 instead of $14.95) as part of Amazon’s Sunshine Deals.

In fact, looking at the top 100 paid books in the Kindle store, I had to get to number ten before a book identified itself as a romance.  I just skimmed through all 100 titles: I would be surprised if twenty of the top 100 identify themselves as romances.

So, I’d say that the premise of the article isn’t supported by the bestseller list.

There are some other elements of the article that may pull you up short.  How about this?

“The library also notes that most ebook checkouts take place on weekend nights.  Does that mean Miss Lonelyhearts are the biggest borrowers? “

Another thing about it is the lack of copy-editing. Now, as a blogger, I find I often have to go back and correct things (and I’m grateful when readers respectfully point them out).  I blame that on needing to write quickly (I told myself I would average over a thousand words a day on this blog…and I do that easily), and on writing “catch-as-catch-can”.  I think when I do have time to proof-read* something, I do a decent job.

Since this is from a major news source, I would think it would be edited before publication…but that’s been something I’ve noticed before. These outlets with presumably journalistic standards also have blogs where pretty much anything goes.

Here are a couple of examples from this post:

“Most titles are quick reads — perfect for the ereader format — and are also usually come in series.”

“At at time when most consumer electronics companies…”

Finally, I want to mention a few terms that are used (in addition to the aforementioned “Miss Lonelyhearts”:

  • “salacious chick lit”
  • “four-eyed nerds”
  • “heaving bosoms and chiseled chins”
This is a case where I’m not going to strongly recommend that you read the original article…I’ll leave that up to you.  You are more than welcome to comment on it here, though.
*I’ve noticed that many people now use “proofread” without the hyphen, but my understanding is that either is correct, and I prefer the former.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

eBook Market View: “unprecedented drop” in Kindle bestseller prices

June 10, 2011

eBook Market View: “unprecedented drop” in Kindle bestseller prices

Thanks to Eddie Stack in the Amazon Kindle community for the heads-up on this

eBook Market View article

As you can probably tell, I’m partial to actual analysis. Oh, I love ungrounded speculation as well, but there is something about actually seeing the trend in addition to the interpretation.

The headline concept here is that the Kindle store bestsellers have dropped dramatically in price on the average.

I think that the suggestion that it is due to the

Sunshine Deals

makes sense.

This analysis is not based on the New York Times bestseller list, which is a much broader measure.  That’s influenced by paperbook sales as well, and isn’t limited to just Amazon.

The best thing for many people in this article is going to be the chart of the average price of the Kindle store bestsellers over the past seven months.  The price had been trending down strongly…until about March 1st, 2011.

What happened on March 1st?

Random House joined the Agency Model.

That’s a question raised in the article: will this shift place downward price pressure on $12.99 Agency Model books?

I don’t think this data indicates it.  I don’t think it suggests that fewer copies of an NYT bestseller were sold at Amazon…but that more of the Sunshine Deal books were sold.  I can tell you that some of the notable Sunshine Deal books jumped considerably in my referral sales. It’s not that I “sold” the same number of total e-books and which ones they were shifted: I’ve referred many more e-books this month.

That’s my guess: those figures represent additional sales, rather than replacement sales.

As to downward pressure: there aren’t fewer $12.99 books this morning than there were on June 1st.  There were 2,112 books priced at $12.99 on June 1st, 2011 (out of 974,841). There are 2,134 this morning (out of 980,866). That’s about the same percentage (0.22%).  Of course, prices might not react very quickly.  For one thing, this sale is for a limited time, and Amazon is quite possibly losing money on these sales.  Traditional publishers can certainly wait to see what happens after the sale ends.

There has been some indication that HarperCollins and Macmillan may have dropped prices recently on some books.  “Emily Bronte” in the long-running Amazon Kindle community thread:

Discounted / Price Dropped Kindle eBooks

has been noting that.

Overall, Dan Lubart’s article is a good one (as always, I recommend you read it), and that looks like a site worth watching.

I do wonder why the price bands he notes has the lowest one ending with $2.99. I end mine with $2.98, since $2.99 is where the royalty rate changes from 35% to 70%…which makes those two price points potentially quite different. He also calls books “Premium” if they are ten dollars or more…I’m not sure I would use that term at that level, but that’s a quibble. :)

Take a look at the article, and feel free to let me know what you think.

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

News: “Amazon’s Kindle opens new chapter for publishing industry”

December 29, 2010

News: “Amazon’s Kindle opens new chapter for publishing industry”

Los Angeles Times:

Amazon’s Kindle opens new chapter for publishing industry 

We don’t see a lot of interviews with Amazon executives, except for Jeff Bezos getting out there from time to time.

Russ Grandinetti is the head of Kindle content, and as such, he’s particularly important to the reading choices we have.

Let me start out with saying that the set-up for the interview has some serious inaccuracies. 

“Until this year, Amazon insisted that all new releases sold at its store be priced at $9.99 or less.”

This is not only incorrect, it reinforces a misconception people have…not a good thing in reporting.

Amazon had said that most bestsellers and new releases would be $9.99, unless marked otherwise.  That’s very different: even before the Agency Model, we had some books (certainly new releases not yet on the bestseller list) that were over $9.99.

The reason that matters is that Amazon is treated as though it had done a “bait and switch” or “false advertising” over the fact that some e-books are over $9.99…when they had never said that no books would be over that price. 

It also talks about a “promise in October” to give independent publishers who use Amazon’s DTP (Digital Text Platform) a 70% royalty.  Um…the promise was made on January 20, and went into effect June 30…where does October enter into it?

So, let’s skip the intro (although I always recommend you read the articles), and talk a little bit about what Grandinetti had to say.

One of the interesting ideas was that Amazon chose a proprietary format so that it would be easy to export it to other platforms.  In other words, it’s easier to make reading apps for a Blackberry and an Android device if you control the format, not if Adobe does (which would the case with EPUB, for example).  That’s an interesting statement, although I’m not sure everyone will buy it.

I’m going to give you one more direct quotation:

“It’s not surprising that publishers who are raising prices are losing market share relative to publishers who decided to keep prices low. Customers aren’t stupid. Ultimately, the market will drive prices.”

I’d love to see those statistics.  As a consumer, I’d certainly hope that higher prices mean lower sales, but that’s not always the case.   When I last ran the number of December 1 (I run them at the start of every month in the Snapshots category), 14 of the 20 New York Times hardback fiction equivalents were over $9.99.  That doesn’t immediately make a market erosion clear for books at those prices, but it’s a complicated calculation…particularly when we don’t get sales figures.

I’d recommend you read the article to see what else Grandinetti has to say.

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

NPR: Is Your E-Book Reading Up on You?

December 17, 2010

NPR: Is Your E-Book Reading Up on You?

NPR article

NPR is National Public Radio, so this is an interview, but they do post a transcript on the site.  So, you can read it and/or listen to it…up to you.

I always recommend you read the entire article.

In this case, pay particular attention to what is stated as fact, and what is a hypothetical. 

Here are some key phrases you’ll see:

  • “…makes it possible”
  • “…if…”
  • “…it may also”

The basic premise of the article is that the Kindle and other readers could be invading your privacy.

Here’s a shocker from the beginning of the article?  Did you realize that the same technology that lets the Kindle get information (like a book) allows it to send information to Amazon?

Um…yes.  :)

I would think virtually all of my readers, and the vast majority of EBR (E-Book Reader) users know that.

It’s one of the things we love about the Kindle service.

Did you realize that Amazon knows what page you’ve reached in the book?

Yes!  Otherwise, how could they tell my Kindle for PC how far I’ve read on my Kindle?

One of the few definitive statements made in the article is this:

“They know how fast you read because you have to click to turn the page,” says Cindy Cohn, legal director at the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation. “It knows if you skip to the end to read how it turns out.”

I would love to see their technical data to prove this.  The suggestion here is that, because you click a button on the Kindle, that data gets recorded.  In other words, they are saying that every time you click the Next Page button, the system time-marks and remembers that…and then sends it to Amazon.

I find that unlikely, but I’d be willing to be convinced.  I can see timemarking during a diagnostic mode, but it seems like an unnecessary waste of computing power…which would degrade performance.  Page turn speeds are something people consider when choosing an EBR.  Is the information about how fast you go from one screen to the next valuable enough to lose that competitive edge?

Yes, your Kindle is supposed to remember what page you were reading when you finished your session (so it can open to the same page for you).  I don’t think it updates that record on every page turn, though.  I recommend people go back to Home before sleeping the Kindle.  I think you need to do that and sync the device with the server before Amazon knows where you are.

It would be great for me if it could update the information every screen turn…but I wouldn’t want the loss in speed…and the subsequent loss of battery charge life.

That’s actually another piece of evidence against that kind of heavy-duty tracking and updating.  How could the battery charge ever last a month if it was transmitting data to Amazon with every screen change?  This would also presume that it was doing that even though you’ve turned off the wireless.  It does seem possible to me that Amazon can communicate with a Kindle when you’ve turned off the wireless…that they can connect with it remotely, although I don’t know that.

I wrote about possible datamining by Amazon in this earlier post.  I was suggesting that Amazon could compensate people for collecting data…that people could volunteer to share information about their age, gender, and so on, to tie into demographics of who was reading a given book.

About 19% said they would never want to share that kind of information.

About 24% said that Amazon could have that kind of information for free.

The rest would do it if compensated.

So, I do want your opinion this time, but I’ll keep this very simple.

Personally, it doesn’t bother me at all.  That might sound funny, because I don’t reveal of lot of personal information in my writing.  Well, I don’t reveal some of it…I do tell you what I think about something, and sometimes how I feel.  But I don’t push a lot of my inherent information out there.

Why don’t I care if Amazon knows how much of a book I’ve read?

It helps me.  :)

I also know that Amazon has fought with people to protect customers’ privacy.  They went through a whole thing about that with the state of North Carolina earlier this year.

CNET article

For me, there are a few questions in this suggestion that Amazon is collecting huge amounts of usage data:

1. Could Amazon do this?  Technically, I think they could

2. Is Amazon doing it?  I really don’t think they are collecting data about the amount of time it takes you to go to the next screen.  I do think (at least if you have Whispersync turned on) that they are collecting your last page read.  Do they timestamp that?  Yes, that probably happens. 

3. Do I mind that they are doing it?  No.  I don’t mind that Amazon has the information, and I trust them not to release it inappropriately. 

I know other people may be more concerned about net privacy than I am.  Certainly, the FaceBook nation (the third largest country in the world…I just heard that on a newscast, and thought it was a great observation) is probably less concerned.  :)

Feel free to leave me a comment…unless you think that’s revealing too much information about yourself.  ;)

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


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