Archive for the ‘Thoughtabouts’ Category

Long form reading: it was a fun game while it lasted

April 13, 2014

Long form reading: it was a fun game while it lasted

Humans love to make up rules for themselves that require them to act counterinstinctually.

No, really.

That’s what games are.

Did you ever play that the “floor was lava” when you were a kid? You had to get around the room while walking on the furniture (jumping from couch to chair), so you didn’t “burn up”?

If something scared you and you just took off running, you wouldn’t climb around on the furniture…you’d make a straight line across the floor.

We think it’s fun to make ourselves behave in ways that are hard, or unnatural.

In addition to managing a brick-and-mortar bookstore, I also managed a brick-and-mortar gamestore, so I’m pretty familiar with them.

We not only think it’s fun: we think it’s virtuous.

Think about sex (you know, if you weren’t already). ;)

There are all kinds of rules about what you can show to whom when.

You might counter that other animals (which you might define as not having intellects, but just reacting instinctually…I don’t, but you might) sometimes have elaborate mating rituals.

Yes, but ours vary from culture to culture, which shows that they aren’t ingrained.

What you could show in New York City one hundred years ago isn’t the same as what you can show now.

If you violate the rules, someone might insult you by calling you an “animal” (again, using it as shorthand for “unthinking”).

I’ve hired and trained a lot of trainers, and one of the things I look for is someone who is able to think about one thing while doing something else.

I have a pretty simple test for that.

I tell someone to stand up and tell me what in their lives brought them to this moment…without using the word “I”: go!

Most people are terrible at it…they may lock up completely, or be able to go for a few seconds before they make a mistake.

Someone who will be a good trainer makes it work right away, and could go for minutes. One thing they do is refer to themselves in the third person. Instead of saying, “I grew up in Chicago,” they say, “There was a person, me, who grew up in Chicago.”

In order to get a good assessment, you have to try this spontaneously (I used to be part of an improv  troupe), so you can’t prepare yourself.

As soon as that’s over, though, they go back to speaking normally.

My point is that people are able to make themselves do things which are unnatural, but that it takes effort. They’ll revert back to the natural behaviors, given a choice.

Unnatural things…you know, like walking on your hands…or reading a novel?

I would guess just about everyone reading this blog has had a reading session with one book which was at least an hour long.

Is that a natural thing to do?

I don’t think so.

If you were a hunter/gatherer, I’d have a hard time coming up with one thing you would be doing that would require your undivided attention for an hour.

Stalking an animal doesn’t take that long, usually…and you sure better be paying attention to other things while you do it!

Someone can sit with their “nose in a book” for an hour, paying the rest of the world no heed.

Or at least, they used to be able to do that.


Sydney Morning Herald article by Michael S. Rosenwald

looks a the scientific concern that we are losing the ability to read in a linear fashion for a long period of time.

This isn’t because the quick skimming reading we do on the internet is evolving us in a new direction.

I don’t think we ever really evolved in the old one.

Before Gutenberg (mid-1400s), books were rare objects…and arguably, largely in the hands of people who weren’t part of the breeding population.

Mass market paperback books, which made novels much more available, only go back to the 1930s…maybe four or five generations ago. That’s not enough time for evolution to have changed anything in our brains.

I think for a while,we have “played the game” of reading long form.

Just like playing Blind Man’s Bluff, though, when the game is over, we are going back to what feels more natural.

From the article (which I recommend):

“[Maryanne] Wolf, one of the world’s foremost experts on the study of reading, was startled last year to discover her brain was apparently adapting, too. After a day of scrolling through the internet and hundreds of emails, she sat down one evening to read Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game (at AmazonSmile).

“I’m not kidding: I couldn’t do it,” she said. “It was torture getting through the first page. I couldn’t force myself to slow down so that I wasn’t skimming, picking out key words, organising my eye movements to generate the most information at the highest speed. I was so disgusted with myself.”

Why disgusted?

As Wolf knows, the brain adapts. It’s really, really good at that. We also aren’t the only species that does it (in my opinion).

We recently got a second dog, after having gotten another one several months earlier.

The first dog is now behaving much better, taking on the role of “supervisor”.

I am quite convinced that the first dog is “proud” of sitting patiently, waiting for food…behaving in a counterinstinctual way.

If you process information on a website by your brain bouncing all over the screen, looking for significant words, its only natural that it would try to do the same thing with a book…making comprehension and retention perhaps more difficult.

My guess is that the website version, which would be like scanning a jungle looking for prey or a predator in  a tree, is much more normal.

If we don’t have to do long form, linear reading will we lose the ability to do it?

Quite possibly: I believe it is a learned skill, not inherent.

What do you think? Is reading the same book for an hour harder now than it used to be for you? Have you noticed any change in kids (especially if you are a teacher)? Would losing that ability be such a bad thing? Should e-books perhaps adapt, maybe having pictures appear and disappear on pages? Is it because it is such a hard thing to do that people want no interruptions when they are “trying to read”? 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! :) 

** Does Amazon pay royalties when one of their employees sings Happy Birthday over Mayday? Is that a commercial use…or, collectively, a public performance? I don’t know that they should, I just think it’s a possibility

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.


Pre-order The Sandman: Dream Hunters…for delivery on January 1, 2036

April 8, 2014

Pre-order The Sandman: Dream Hunters…for delivery on January 1, 2036

“I have one more question for you during this interview. It’s just a little thing we like to ask applicants…it helps us get a feel for who might best fit on 0ur team. What do you see yourself reading in the future…like twenty years from now?”

Actually, as somebody who has interviewed applicants, I love that question!

It’s a fascinating idea! Could I have predicted twenty years ago what I would like reading today? Hm…actually, in 1994, I probably would have gotten some of it right, but we didn’t have e-books, and that certainly has changed things.

Think about it for a minute. What do you think you’ll be reading two decades  from now? How many of today’s brand name authors will still be writing? Will you be reading all independents? Will you have shifted more to the classics?

I’m looking forward to the comments on this post!

What prompted this question was finding this listing in the USA Kindle store:

The Sandman: Dream Hunters (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

The interesting part about this Neil Gaiman graphic novel is that you can pre-order now for delivery to your Kindle…on January 1, 2036.

The paperback shows a publication date of June 1st, 2000.

Thanks to that and the hardback, we have 67 customer reviews…with an average of 4.6 stars out of five.

Now, in some cases when I’ve seen a book scheduled far into the future like this, it’s been because the publisher is waiting for the book to fall into the public domain. You can’t do that with modern books, since when their copyright terms expire is based on when their authors expire (life+70…a system I find inherently ageist).

With older books, though, you can predict when something will be in the public domain…as long as the rules don’t change in-between.

No, this is a listing by Vertigo, the publisher of the paperback.

I was trying to think if it could be a mistake, but a typo seems unlikely (January 1, 2016 doesn’t make much more sense to me).

I don’t think it has to do with Gaiman’s birthday, which is November 10.

I’m guessing there might be some kind of administrative reason, but I’m not sure what it would be. Maybe they need to be promoting (or even selling) the e-book to maintain the rights? Hm…

Well, one thing is likely: the price of books may have gone up in two decades, so if they guarantee the price, it might be worth it. :) You are also betting on Amazon being around for two more decades, or someone honoring the pre-order if they aren’t.

What do you think? Why do we see books available for pre-order decades ahead of the stated delivery date? What will you be reading in twenty years? Feel free to let me and my readers know 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.

Reading by channels

February 19, 2014

Reading by channels

I read an interesting

CNN article (originally Wired) by Kyle VanHemert

in my morning Flipboard (at AmazonSmile: support a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) read the other day**.

The thrust of the article was that services like Netflix, Roku channels, and Amazon Instant Video are missing an important element by having us choose what we want to watch each time.

I agree.

Sure, it’s great to be able to choose…to say, “I want to watch this movie now” and be able to do it.

However, it’s also a wonderfully serendipitous feeling to just blunder into something that’s good.

Think about it. I would never ever have to watch something without knowing what it was first. Yet, I do.

Let me give you an example.

In the NBC News channel on my

I can select to watch individual stories, maybe just ones that interest me.

I don’t do that, usually. I start the top news running, and just let it run from story to story.


I think it’s fun. ;) I think we are geared towards having unplanned experiences…that’s a lot more natural. We have a joy of discovery.

VanHemert has a great point:

“Consider, for example, a strange paradox of the streaming video age: You’ll totally watch an hour of “Ghostbusters” on TNT, but you’d never in a million years start it up from the top on Netflix, even though it’s always right there, just a dozen clicks away.”

I own DVDs of movies, but I’m a lot more likely to watch a show if it just happens to be on than to pull out the DVD (those seem to be more for special occasions…like when my adult kid and an adult friend and I watched all of The Prisoner ((at AmazonSmile)) in one day). ;)

Naturally, that got my mind exploring (most things do).

What if we read like that?

What if there was, say, a science fiction channel, a romance channel, a mystery channel, a non-fiction channel, and so?

You would “tune into” a channel, and see what was on. If you wanted to read it great…start reading.

Now, I don’t mean that everybody would read it at the same time. While we all generally have the same “watching speed”, we don’t have the same reading speeds.

You’d have to be able to download it and read it at your own pace.

I would think you could only have one thing downloaded at a time. When you finished it, you’d “return it”…and see what else was “on”.

I wonder if that would work?

It’s even possible to me that I would read half of a book (a novel if I’ve read it before…maybe a collection of non-fiction essays if I haven’t), but that seems unlikely to have mass appeal. :)

No, I’d see it being with novels and non-fiction books…but short stories might work especially well.

Yes, I would go to a short story channel, and just read whatever came up.

That might work.

The faster you would read, of course, the more opportunity you’d have to read, but I think that’s reasonable.

Don’t see something you like on one channel? Go to another channel…switch from “urban short stories” to “Victorian poetry” to “Penny Dreadfuls” until you found something you liked. Download it, read it, see what else was on.

Would it work economically?

Hard to say.

I think publishers might especially like the discovery aspect as a way to “push” lesser known works. There could certainly be a way to buy other works by that author at the end of the piece you read…and/or you could buy it if you wanted to keep it. Gifting might be another income stream.

It could be like television now. Either you pay for it by watching ads, or it is a subser (subscription service…you pay a flat rate for the month or year).

Certainly, there are some things a little bit like this. Science fiction magazines come to mind: we wouldn’t get to choose which stories would appear in which issues. In my Sherlock Holmes blog, 221B Blog Street, you just get each day whatever is the next chapter or story in order (unless you are reading on the website). There are other literary magazines and blogs, of course.

That doesn’t seem quite the same…

This is all just a thought experiment. I’m not at all convinced it would work. Many people have a lot higher standard for what they read than I do…I’m pretty open to reading all different kinds of things. Some people say that they “…don’t have time to read bad books”. I’m not yet convinced that there are bad books…there are better books, but I’ve never regretted reading a book yet.

I also have to say, some of my favorite books (including Doc Savage), I didn’t seek out and read by choice…they were the only books available to me at the time.

Anyway, just a thought…

What do you think? Could this work at all? Have you ever read only part of a novel…on purpose? Maybe on vacation, or in a store? Have you ever read something “by accident”, just because it was there…and loved it? Feel free to tell me and my readers 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.

** I’ve written before on this blog about having what I refer to as “Temporal Awareness Disorder” (that’s just my term for it). I really don’t have a good sense of the passage of time. While I don’t remember all things equally, I can’t tell from a memory if it’s old (like a decade ago) or new (like a week ago). I typically have to look at internal clues to figure it out. My Significant Other pointed something out to me years ago. I refer to “today”. I refer to “yesterday”. Everything else that is in the past, if it isn’t “yesterday”, is often simply, “the other day” for me. That could be true if it happened just recently or when I was a kid…

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.

Why aren’t you reading?

January 26, 2014

Why aren’t you reading?

Do you ever find yourself wondering why you aren’t reading?

You know, you’re doing something, like stirring the oatmeal, and you think to yourself, “Why aren’t you reading?”

That exact experience happened to me today: I was stirring a pot of oatmeal, reading the news crawl on the TV with the sound off (my Significant Other wasn’t out yet), and feeling like it would have been better if I’d set my Kindle up nearby so I could read a book at the same time.

That, despite the fact that I have to keep my eye on the oatmeal at that stage: I’d certainly be flicking my eyes back and forth, and not getting a lot of reading done.

Still, I thought, it would have been better than nothing.

But is “not reading” the same as “nothing”?

Clearly not. There are a lot of valuable things in my life besides reading. ;)


I have to say,  I never feel guilty about having been reading. I also watch videos (TV, movie), although I’m often reading at the same time. I feel like I would have to justify having watched ten episodes of a mediocre TV show in a day…I don’t feel like one has to justify “binge reading” in the same way one does “binge watching”.

We have a new dog (we’ve had Elf* for a couple of months), and the three of us were walking up to the dog park (about a mile away). I didn’t read on the way up, which I would have done years ago if it was just me walking a dog.

Part of that is because I use a cane when I walk, now, and I have to keep looking where I put it: it w0uld not be a good thing to have that cane not provide solid support. That means that, even if I had my Kindle in my other hand, I wouldn’t have “eyes free” to see it. I could listen to text-to-speech, but that would take a major social element away from the walk.

Text-to-speech, though, has been a wonderful thing in the car! I like to say that I now feel like driving isn’t “wasted non-reading time”. ;)

It’s fascinating to me that so many people put reading on such an exalted plane: what can you do that is better for yourself and for the world than read?

However, it’s also clear that many people (perhaps more), don’t feel that way. “You shouldn’t read at the table.” “You should go outside and play”. “You should put down that book and meet people.” “You shouldn’t read while you are riding your bike”…well, that last one might have an argument. ;) I knew somebody who smacked into the back of a parked truck, because they were riding a bike and reading at the same time.

Why do we feel like this?

Reading is the purest interaction we can have with another person’s mind…unencumbered by our perceptions of their physicality.

I’m sure that it’s true that people who read widely are more tolerant of others.

That doesn’t mean that reading is all you should do, of course…there are a lot of wonderful things to be done.

Reading, though? Never a wrong thing…

Bonus deal:

Gold Box Deal of the Day: Top-Rated Kindle Books: Novels, Nonfiction, and More (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

This is a great selection! There are 75 books from HarperCollins (I think they are all from HC), which is one of the five largest trade publishers in the USA…and they appear to each be $1.99!

Looking over the list, I’m struck by the amount of interesting non-fiction.

Remember that you can buy a book as a gift, and delay delivery until the appropriate occasion…this might be a good chance to get some small gifts for later.

Always check the price before you click that Buy button: books can move in and out of a deal, and this deal may not apply in your country.


Update: by request from one of my regular readers, Harold Delk, here is a picture of Elf:


Elf weighs about 12 pounds, and is quite long. The vet said that Elf looks like a Dandie Dinmont terrier (mix), and while that would be a bit odd circumstantially, much of it does match (except without the usual fur). My Significant Other has decided that Elf is a mix between a terrier and a Slinky Dog…a “Slinkier”. ;)

What do you think? Do you have a good example of when you suddenly thought to yourself that “…this would be better if I was reading?” Where is the weirdest place where you’ve been reading a book, the one that would most shock non-readers? Have you ever read a book on a roller coaster? Does your hand feel empty without a book in it? If you were a reader growing up, how did that affect other people’s perception of you? 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.

Does Amazon EVER need to make money on e-books?

January 17, 2014

Does Amazon EVER need to make money on e-books?

You can’t keep losing money on something forever and stay in business, right?

Actually, yes…yes, you can.

You can even prosper that way.

The trick is that the thing on which you lose money has to “inspire sales” that make you money.

I’m speaking as a former brick-and-mortar bookstore manager, and that’s one of the main difference between the way consumers see things and suppliers (whether retailers or creators) see things.

Consumers see things in terms of the single transaction they are doing. Let’s say that a soft drink company changes the flavor of your favorite soda. You hate it. They lose you as a customer, and you figure they are going to go down in flames because of it.

However, if ten other people become customers because of the new flavor, it’s a net win for them, right?

Retailers (and creators) think in terms of populations of sales. It’s not each individual transaction which matters: it’s all of them.

It’s also not only all of the transactions of the same type. Let’s say they changed that flavor of soda, and almost everybody hated it. However, the flavor is part of a line of sodas…and they all got the same sort of change. The other flavors see increased sales because of the change. That’s also a net win.

In that case, it would be logical to discontinue the one (now) bad-selling flavor, right?

What if people who bought sodas also bought chips, and the company made more money on chips than on sodas? With the new flavor, only ten percent as many people buy it…but those people buy so many more chips (maybe the old flavor was saltier…and now they crave chips for the salt) that the company ends up making more money?

In that case, you’d keep making the less salty chips.

I was recently responding to one of my regular readers and commenters, Roger Knights.

Roger suggested that eventually, the investors and/or Amazon would want Amazon to make money on e-books.

That seems logical…but they wouldn’t want that to happen if losing money on e-books was making them more money on something else.

Let’s think about a restaurant.

When you sit down at a restaurant, they typically will give you a glass of ice water for free.

That ice water has significant costs associated with it:

  • The water bill
  • The electricity for the freezer for the ice
  • The capital investment in that freezer
  • The capital investment in water glasses
  • The expense to clean the glasses (water, detergent)
  • The salary expense for the server to bring it…and to keep refilling it, typically
  • The salary expense for the person who cleans the table
  • The expense to replace broken glasses
  • Expenses associated with when people spill the water, especially if it might wreck a menu

I could keep going.

The restaurant is losing money on every glass of water.

However, they may be making money on the meal…and if a restaurant refused to bring you free water, you might not stick around for the meal (or might not come back).

That would be true if the restaurant was in business for twenty years: they’d never have to make money on the glasses on water, because those glasses inspire other sales.

Could e-books be the “glasses of water” for Amazon?


We don’t have to say the following is true for everyone, but let’s say it is true for a substantial number of Amazon’s customers:

  • They buy e-books from Amazon
  • They want something on which to read the e-books, so they buy a Kindle
  • When they want to get a tablet, they look at a Kindle Fire, because they like the Kindle…and they want the option to read those e-books on the Fire. In my case, part of that is wanting the Fire for text-to-speech in the car, even though I own a Paperwhite
  • When they have the Fire, they get a free month of Prime
  • Once they try Prime, they stay with it…and spend a lot more money on high profit items (like diapers, I would think)

Amazon is then making a profit on that customer, even though they could be losing money on every e-book sale to that person…forever.

Amazon never, ever needs to make money on e-book sales if the e-book sales inspire other sales which make them more money than they lose.

That’s why I don’t really worry about there being a day when Amazon suddenly raises e-book prices across the board. I hear people being worried about that, especially if they end up with less competition.

Even if they had no competitors, they could still lose money on e-books.

Let me give you an analog from when I managed that bookstore.

We sold TV Guide…and the cover price was sixty cents back then.

We gave a ten percent discount on magazines, so we sold it for fifty-four cents.

The profit margin on magazines was considerably below the profit margin on books…let’s say (although I don’t remember exactly) that we paid the distributor forty-eight cents for it…meaning that we made six cents on each sale.

Well, only directly.

We had those “costs of sale”.

We had to pay a sales clerk to sell it. This was some time ago: let’s say they made six dollars an hour, and that it takes a minute to sell the magazine on average. A six dollar an hour salesperson costs about 1.67 cents a minute.

In that one minute to sell it, we are now down to about 4.33 cents of profit.

However, we also had to “receive” the magazine when it came in. That’s more salary.

We had to pay rent on the space in which it sat until it sold.

We had to take into account “shrinkage”, due to shoplifting (yes, they got stolen), and damage (people would pick up a TV Guide just to check something…and maybe bend the pages to where somebody wouldn’t buy it).

We had expenses for doing the payment to the distributor.

We lost money on every TV Guide sale.

However, people who bought the TV Guide often came in every week to get it…and some of them left with several books.

It was because of those “inspired sales” of the other books that we sold TV Guides.

Amazon doesn’t depend on e-book sales, or even p-book (paperbook) sales. They make a lot of their money with web services, and with acting as fulfillment centers for other sellers.

This, by the way, is why the publishers (and many other bookstores) hated Amazon’s $9.99 price point for some well-known books. Amazon was losing money on many of those, but Amazon could afford to lose the money.

Not because Amazon was such a big bookseller, but because they can make their money on other things besides books.

That doesn’t excuse illegal collusion to raise prices. Do people who sell bottles of water have a case against restaurants giving it away? Could they get the Department of Justice to step in and force the restaurants to charge for water? Well, maybe in France ;), where they are passing laws to make customers pay more to get an Amazon book delivered than they used to pay.

Not in the USA, though…not as far as I know.

I also think Amazon isn’t always losing money on e-books, even calculating in costs of sale. That might make a difference legally.

As readers, we reap the benefits of Amazon charging so little for e-books.

I believe authors are likely making more than they used to make. Certainly, that’s true for many non-brand-name authors, who may be making more independently publishing.

Is there a risk that the downward price pressure pushes tradpubs (traditional publishers) out of business? If price-matching eventually drives the price of a new Stephen King novel to $4.99, how can the publisher afford to pay enough to Stephen King to keep the mega-author from going independent? Would the low price point kill the business?

Hypothetically…but publishers can find other ways to monetize books. That includes adaptation rights (for movies and TV shows), and I think it will include subscription services.

I can even see the possibility of paying somebody like Stephen King a salary, rather than royalties. Sure, it would be a big salary, but it might be worth it.

I’m sure a lot of authors would take a $50,000 salary, with a requirement to turn out x number of books a year as a deal.

That may, actually, be a good way to go.

Stop paying authors based on individual sales, which is a very complicated process.

Pay them a salary (and benefits).

These sorts of things have been done before, and in other industries. Comic book writers are employees, right? TV screenwriters?

I assume that’s how those work. :)

There might be no doubt about exclusivity in a case like that. Amazon could employ authors, and have exclusive rights to their work and adaptations. Writers would be subject to performance reviews, of course: if there isn’t enough interest in what you produce, you could be put on a performance improvement plan…and eventually, if things didn’t pick up, terminated.

Hm…I’ve gone a bit far afield here! :)

The bottom line is that book sales can be below the bottom line for Amazon…as long as they inspire other sales.

What do you think? Does Amazon’s long term strategy include making money on every e-book sale? Is what they are doing “predatory pricing”, or a legitimate business practice? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

**Nominate a child to be given a free Kindle at Give a Kid a Kindle**

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.

Borrow to Buy: e-book equivalent of Rent to Own?

January 14, 2014

Borrow to Buy: e-book equivalent of Rent to Own?

An idea just occurred to me, which I think we may see widely implemented in a variety of ways.

My guess is that there has already been some thought of it in the places that would make it happen…it’s just not something that has been promoted yet.

The basic idea is this:

Make it super easy to start reading a book, so that people then discover the book that way and buy it.

I would say that many people, having gotten a few chapters into a book and who are finding it interesting, would then really want to finish it.

Let me give you one possible application.

I recently wrote about Kindle vending machines in a humor piece:

New menus at the Amazon Diner

I even suggested that you might be able to rent the Kindle that way.

Just a few days ago, in this

Wired article by Marcus Wohlsen

I read that Amazon had done exactly that (a Kindle vending machine) at CES (the Consumer Electronics Show).

They didn’t mention it for rentals, just for retail, but it does make sense.

Then, I was thinking about flights, and the impact Kindles have on airport bookstores.

I was thinking that there could be a rent and return system for Kindle vending machines. You would pay maybe five dollars to get the Kindle out of a machine in, say, New York, and return it to a machine in Los Angeles.


What happens then to the book you started reading if you hadn’t finished it? You could temporarily register the device to your own account, but they’d have to be sure it got deregistered at the other end to  prevent serious consumer risk. They’d also have to wipe the devices (both of data and  hygienically, of course) each time.

This would appeal to people if they forgot their own device, if their device failed, or if they wanted to try out a Kindle (maybe a different model).

Would people pay $5 for it? What if it was free, and it didn’t need to be registered to their own account? That would really simplify things.

Who would pay for the devices?

Publishers…at least in part.

Let’s move this from the store to the airline.

You get on the plane. There is a Kindle in the seat pocket (it could be connected with a cable, although I think that’s probably not necessary).

The Kindle has some books on it. It could also have magazines/newspapers, although I don’t think that would work as well.

You can just pick the Kindle up and start reading on it.

During the flight, you don’t finish the book, although you find a book you like and get into it substantially.

At the end of the flight (or whenever you want), you can log into your own Amazon account and buy the book.

The Kindle automatically logs out of your account when it goes to sleep (that would be one of the few software innovations required here). You don’t need to be logged into the account to read the book, of course, because you aren’t reading your copy, you are reading the device’s.

Ideally, there would be some way to transfer your location in the book from the device to your account.

I think this could be a really good discovery method…something very important to publishers, and for which they are willing to pay.

It wouldn’t have to just be airlines: it could be hotels, even coffee shops. Perhaps public transit, for that matter. A forty-five minute train ride could be enough to hook you on a book.

Now, would some people read a whole book and not pay for it this way? Sure.

Would some people start a book and decide they don’t like it and not buy it? Yes, that’s possible, but you have seven days from purchase to return a Kindle book anyway*, so that doesn’t add a lot of risk, in my opinion.

I think this might work very well.

A similar idea for “Borrow to Buy” is expressed in this

Digital Book World article by Beth Bacon

It makes an interesting argument for public libraries becoming e-bookstores, and talks about what is already happening in that area.

Essentially, you might go to a library (or a library’s website), and want to borrow a book…but there is a long waiting list. You have the option to immediately get the book if you buy it.

That’s not exactly Borrow to Buy, but you could also do it where you have the option to buy the book when your loan is expiring.

One argument for it: if you buy the book, it could retain annotations you’ve made it: when you return it, it wouldn’t.

It think this idea of “Borrow to Buy” could really appeal to the tradpubs (traditional publishers). If you are getting on a plane, and it doesn’t cost you anything to do, I think you are much more likely to select a well-known book than to start with something of which you’ve never heard. Indies (independent publishers) can compete strongly on price: there would be no price competition here when you started to read. You would want something relatively safe (likely to be good, with decent proof-reading), because you don’t want to take a lot of time picking something.

Many people would want to start reading the book they heard about on the news, or for which they saw a full-page ad somewhere.

Why don’t I think magazines/newspapers would work as well?

I think you are less likely to be hooked part way through something in a magazine and have that emotional drive to finish it. You might read a great article and want to subscribe, but I think the pass-through rate on the sales would be a lot lower on that.

An obvious question: why wouldn’t you just read on your own Kindle?

There is that issue of lost/broken/not charged, or of wanting to try a different model…but this would also appeal because the books on it would be free (for the duration of your encounter). Maybe you normally wouldn’t pay $9.99 for a book, but you start reading it on the plane and get hooked.

What do you think? Am I missing any major barriers to this? Would this be something that would help tradpubs maintain market share? It seems to me that it benefits the tradpubs and the airline/hotel/restaurant/public transit agency significantly. I think it would help hardware manufacturers: I don’t think very many people would say, “I don’t have to buy my own Kindle because I can read one at Starbucks”…and the ones who do probably wouldn’t have bought one anyway. Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

Nominate a child to be given a free Kindle at Give a Kid a Kindle.

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.

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.


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.

Could Amazon replace cable TV?

August 6, 2013

Could Amazon replace cable TV?

Edward Boyhan, one of my most insightful commenters, really got me thinking.

Edward said (in part):

“For me the most interesting item was in the 3Q guidance where they are forecasting substantial operating losses. Given Amazon’ ability to tune numbers such as these, I wondered why they are electing to take such a large 3Q loss? They explicitly ruled out any acquisitions, restructurings, or legal settlements in this forecast.

I wonder whether this might be a harbinger of new products, and especially aggressive pricing of same. The rumor mill has pretty much laid out what to expect on the KF front. Unknown is what they are going to do on the RSK front. I think they will be announcing some kind of set-top box — which I’m hoping will be something like Google Chromcast on steroids.”

I think Edward may have sussed out something very important.

Picture this…

Amazon introduces a TV gadget. I think the term “set-top box” may have been obsoleted by Google’s Chromecast. Let’s say it plugs into your HDMI port (as Chromecast does), and it’s self or vampire powered (it doesn’t need to be plugged into to the wall, it sucks juice from the TV). Even if it has to be plugged in, that’s okay.

Further, Amazon has paid the major networks to run their broadcasting…so you get the current seasons. That would cost Amazon a lot of money.

Maybe you only can get the current programming if you are a Prime member. You could watch a lot of other things without that, but they could make Prime very attractive. So attractive that people become cable cutters.

Once you are a Prime member, you spend a lot more at Amazon, from what we’ve heard…and on profitable things, like “diapers and windshield wipers”, as I like to say.

Wait, I’m not done speculating. ;)

When it turns on, you see an ad for Amazon…like the lock screen we get on the Kindle Fire, or on our non-Fire Kindles. You can click something (you can use a device, like your Fire or a SmartPhone as a remote) to buy what’s in the ad.

Also, there  is an added Amazon shopping channel. You can go there and order things (both digital and physical) directly from Amazon.

From your TV…on your couch.

It can bring you X-Ray for Video…and you can buy things you see on TV (you want that t-shirt on The Big Bang Theory? Done).

There might be a Prime and a Super Prime membership, but that might not be necessary  if people’s buying increases enough.

I think that could be the push that a lot of people need to finally cut the cable and dump the dish.

Would it be expensive for Amazon? As all get out. ;) Might it be worth it? In the long run (and that’s the only way Amazon thinks), yes, it could be.  Many people don’t like their cable providers much…if this could be done well, I think people would drop them in a hurry.

What do you think? I’m just speculating in pixels…but this strikes me as a possibility that would surprise a lot of folks, and fit into a Amazon’s strategic plans. Feel free to let me and my readers know what you think by commenting on this post.

Thanks, Edward!

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

Why it doesn’t make sense for Amazon to “bait and switch” e-books

August 4, 2013

Why it doesn’t make sense for Amazon to “bait and switch” e-books

There are people who are really anxious to find bad in the world.

Not, by the way, so they can do anything about it necessarily…it’s more like they want to show that they are smarter than other people because they “aren’t falling for it”.

I’ve seen that sort of attitude before. Have you ever noticed how much quicker people are to accept the accusation of a fraud about something unusual than they are to accept an unusual report?

That’s not necessarily because a fraud is more likely than something unusual happening.

True scientists would test both the accusation of the fraud and the claim of the unusual with the same dispassionate and rigorous challenge. That pretty much defines science for me. It isn’t about how you feel about something, it’s about making an observation, coming up with a prediction, and testing it.

If you dismiss something without testing it, that’s as unscientific as accepting something without testing it.

I may have digressed here a bit. :)

My point is that some people will toss an accusation of nefarious deception (and sometimes, criminal activity) out into the world, without always thinking it through or testing it.

If you are going to say something bad about someone or some organization, I would always recommend that you look for reasons why it might not be true.

Accuse someone of doing bad when it turns out they aren’t, and you make the world a darker, unhappier place for no good reason.

Say that someone has done something good when they haven’t, and you make the world a brighter, happier place…again, for no reason.

I know which way I’d rather go. :)

Actually, I’d rather be accurate, and that requires thinking about what you say.

I recently saw someone complaining that Amazon was using a “bait and switch” by having books on the

Top 100 Free Kindle Books

list that weren’t free.

They used the term “bait and switch”.

Before I address that, let me say that some people were surprised when other people were offended by the term. Do they not think that it is an accusation? I wrote about that “offense blindness” (a condition with which people can’t see that they are being offensive) in How to get help in an online forum.

“Bait and switch” is clearly an accusation of wrongdoing. The term means that you promise one thing to get entice peole to do something (you are “baiting” them), and then you switch it to something else which is less desirable.

Well, if Amazon is ever using “bait and switch” on customers for e-books, it is also doing “catch and release”. ;)

It’s very easy to remedy it if you buy an e-book from Amazon and it doesn’t turn out to be what you thought it was going to be (and that includes the price).

Within seven days of purchase, you can go to

click or tap


and return it for a refund.

So, it doesn’t make much sense for them to fool you with a different price…when you can just get a refund so easily.

Giving you the refund also costs Amazon. It costs them some small amount of money to process it, but it also costs them your goodwill, if you think they tried to fool you…and that’s very valuable for them. Remember, they don’t make much of a margin on e-books (they probably often lose money). If they lose you as a customer over a $2.99 e-book charge, you aren’t going to buy those “diapers and windshield wipers” from them, where I think the real money is.

It simply doesn’t make sense.

Oh, sure, there may be some people who don’t check their e-mail for over a week after ordering, and don’t realize that they were charged for it…but I think that’s going to be  a small number. Amazon can’t make a return policy that covers every contingency: I think that expecting you to look at the price before you click the Buy button and/or checking your e-mail within a week is more than reasonable. Last time I checked, neither Sony, Barnes & Noble, nor Kobo allowed e-book returns at any time for any reason.

The reason the accusation happened is that, yes, sometimes, there are books on the free list that aren’t free.

Amazon explains why that is…the list is updated hourly, and the prices can change any time. So, a book that was free at 12:01 will stay on the list until 1:00 (assuming they are updated on the hour), but the price might change as 12:30.

It’s not like Amazon says they have 100 free books and don’t…they have over 50,000 free books.

They even direct you to free books from other sources.

Now, let me be clear: I’m not saying that I’m scientifically proving that Amazon is not trying to use bait and switch.

What  I’m saying is that it wouldn’t make much sense for them to do so, since they give you such an easy remedy.

It would be like robbing somebody, and then asking them if they want you to give them their money back…and then doing it. :)

Oh, and then asking them if they want to shop in your store… ;)

It just doesn’t makes sense to me.

My recommendation?

If you are mad because you think someone has an evil motivation, try to come up with every possible way that you could be wrong about that…make a game out of it.

Believe me, life will be more fun that way. :)

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:

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

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


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.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,251 other followers

%d bloggers like this: