Archive for the ‘Watching the Watchers’ Category

The book(store) thief: when people stole from my bookstore

December 17, 2017

The book(store) thief: when people stole from my bookstore

During my morning Flipboard read, in part looking for articles to flip into the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard, I was intrigued by this

ELECTRIC LIT post by Jo Lou

The premise is that the author interviewed indie bookstores (well, presumably, people in them) 😉 about which books were most stolen. The author then says, “…with authority that there are three types of book burglars”.

I’m a former bookstore manager, and for me, the basic premise of the article doesn’t match my experience.

They start out by saying that it wasn’t like stealing gummy bears, and that which books people stole would tell you something about the “literary tastes” of the thief.

This makes a very big presumption that the person stealing is doing it for personal consumption.

While I’ll write about some instances which do suggest that was the case, I’m confident that the vast majority of the book theft in my store (I actually had more than one store…I didn’t own them, I managed them) was for simple resale for cash.

One disclosure first: my managing days were a long time ago. It’s possible that human nature and American economics have completely changed in the intervening years. 😉

So, how can I deduce that people were stealing for resale rather than to read them themselves?

Let me give you two examples of why I think so…you can draw your own conclusions.

Poacher Piles

We would find stacks of expensive (photo books, art books) laying on a shelf…maybe ten of them. I referred to those as “poacher piles” to my team. What would happen is that someone would surreptitiously pile the books up like that…then they would wait until the coast was clear between that shelf and the front door, and then take them and leave.

The books were not really thematically grouped…it was more about being expensive hardbacks.

What could they do with them?

Back then, you could get maybe 25% of the list price for a new, likely to sell hardback, from an unscrupulous used bookstore (which could sell them for 50%). For a $50 book, you could get $12.50. For ten of them, you could get $125…not a bad sort of theft.

We know that some used bookstores bought without checking that the sale had a proper provenance. While I was managing, we were having a major book convention coming to San Francisco (I was just south of there). The local police ran a sting on a used bookstore ahead of time, partially, I would say, to show they were making an effort.

They would sell the bookstore boxes of books…with the shipping labels on them for a different bookstore. Clearly stolen (although this was a sting, again).

As I recall, the owner actually just yelled out in the store: “I need ten copies of the new Stephen King book…somebody want to steal them for me?” Something like that.

Used bookstores were supposed to ID sellers…that one didn’t. Let me be clear, many used bookstores were undoubtedly ethical, but the ones which would buy stolen books weren’t hard to find.

One interesting stratagem which resulted in poacher piles. A person would come in, looking destitute. They would ask something like, “Where are your expensive books?” If a clerk went to help them and show them where they were (we wanted to help everybody), there would be another person in the store…in a three-piece suit. The second person was the actual thief.

The Purloining Professor

We had a regular customer, who we would see every few weeks. This customer was a professor at a local university. It would always be a sale of a variety of books…something which would make sense for a professor to buy (at least, in the popular imagination).

The professor would pay for them: no problem there.

We then saw a news story. The police had caught this same professor at the San Jose Flea Market (a big venue…lots of sellers) selling multiple copies of the same books. Again,  clearly stolen…and clearly being stolen to sell for cash.

How did the professor do it?

We had several stores in the area (I worked for a chain…note that the article interviewed indies, which can be chains, but I again disclose that my store may have been seen as different from a “mom and pop” or fan-owned store). The professor would visit one of them in the morning and buy books. The professor would take the books out of the bag. Then the professor would visit another one of our stores, with the empty bag and the receipt (probably hidden on entry).

The professor would then steal the same books from each of the other stores in the area. If stopped or questioned, the professor had a receipt for those books…hard to argue with that.

Also, it’s important to note: this professor was also a con artist. The “con” in “con artist” is short for “confidence”. We were confident that this was a “good person”…chatted with us, reliably paid us for books. We didn’t have a particular reason to suspect them of crime.

I think it’s hard to argue that those cases tell us very much about the literary tastes of the person stealing. It’s also sort of a business, meaning that they were a disproportionate percentage of the books stolen from us (our goal was 8% “shrinkage”…shoplifting, employee theft, and damage combined…I had heard that at the time, bookstores were the most shoplifted type of store, because of the easy sale).

One case of an attempted theft of something which appeared to me to be for personal use may be instructive here.

I noticed a young person with a magazine under their shirt.

I stopped them, and had them produce it.

It was a magazine with gay sexually explicit images. Very unlikely that was for resale: magazines weren’t worth much in a used bookstore, especially not current issues. The person stealing was terrified, my inference was that if people found out, it could be dangerous. I just had them give it back…I didn’t call the police.

Calling the police, by the way, would have been futile in that case anyway.

A shoplifter had not committed a crime until they left the store with their (actually our) items. That made it quite difficult. We could catch somebody with books under their clothes like this, and all we could do was ask them to put it back. We could tell them they were never welcome in the store again (if they came back, it was trespassing, and we could call the police), but it would have been a real logistical challenge to keep a list like that.

Now, it is different if they brought in tools…that makes it burglary. When the author of the ELECTRIC LIT piece used the term “burglar”, I think that was a loose use of the term. In the case of the Purloining Professor, that was burglary, because the bag is a tool.

Another one that made me think it was probably for personal use?

Someone would come up to the counter to return a book. The new bestseller they bought was actually a different book inside the dust cover. Perhaps it was a $2.99 “remainder” inside a $25 top selling novel dust cover.

What would have likely happened there is that someone swapped the dust covers to buy the bestseller…they perhaps couldn’t afford the new book. We would unknowingly ring up the book as the remainder.

It was also likely that some people stole books for the game of it, not because they couldn’t afford it. My speculation is that they assumed we had insurance that would replace it, so being “clever” wasn’t “hurting anyone”.

All of this is about p-books (paperbooks). In the early days of popular e-books (after the release of the Kindle ten years ago), there was a lot of pirating going on. There still is some, of course, but I don’t think it’s as big as it was (just my intuition). Generally, when those books were made available on the internet, the releaser didn’t charge for them. That might tell us more about what they think is important to make freely available. In some cases, those free books were to entice people to a site where they either saw advertising or paid for other things, but they were often just out there.

In summation, I don’t think which books are being stolen tell us which books the person stealing is reading or likes to read.

One more note: I didn’t use the term “thief” throughout this piece, except in the title (where it is a play on The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak | at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*. I try to be careful not to define people as “things”. A person isn’t a thief…a person is a person who steals. We have that policy at work: we don’t refer to people as “the disabled”, we refer to them as “people with disabilities” (and there may be other terms as well, but they aren’t nouns). Referring to someone as a noun suggests that they just are that thing, and can’t be changed. That’s going to seem ridiculous to some people, but when you define something, you imbue it with a lot of power. It not only has its own characteristics, it gains the characteristics of an entire class.

Bonus deal: what a great Kindle Daily Deal (at AmazonSmile…benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)! If you are a piece buyer (buying books one at a time, as opposed to having a subscription service, basically), there are really good prices, and great for gifts today. They are “Top fiction reads for $3.99 or less”.  I’ll particularly point out that you can get each of the three books in the Lord of the Rings trilogy for $2.99…under $10 for all three. Yes, you could pay that for a month Kindle Unlimited (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) and read them and lots and lots of other books…but we all know people who wouldn’t complete the trilogy in a month.

You can be part of my next book, Because of the Kindle!

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

All aboard The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

* 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.


HuffPo article: Amazon is “potentially terrorizing”

May 5, 2017

HuffPo article: Amazon is “potentially terrorizing”

Let me start out by saying that I’m not neutral on Amazon (could you tell from the title of this blog?).

I like them as a customer, and that includes as a reader. I’ve never liked any other company more. While they weren’t the only possible option for reading e-books, I, to some extent, equate Amazon and e-books. When the Kindle 2 got text-to-speech, that was a big change that affects me every week to this day.

I am also not an employee of Amazon’s. I do write about when I disagree with what they do. I don’t have any more direct influence over them than anybody else does, and I don’t have a boss there.

However, I have also made tens of thousands of dollars from Amazon, which I report on my taxes. I make that money as an author (and technically, as a publisher). I get royalties on books and blogs, and I derive other income from having the blogs.

It’s not how I make my living: I have a “day job” which is the vast majority of my income.

I’m bringing that up because I’m about to refer you to, and write about, a

Huffington Post article by Brooke Warner

who is identified as “Publisher, Coach, Author”.

The post is reporting what could certainly be a concerning policy change by Amazon. It says, among other things, that Amazon’s goal is to “…disrupt publishing, not to support publishers or authors”.

That is not what Amazon says, of course, so we can treat this as an opinion (which could be suggested to be a deduction based on evidence,)…or Warner has inside information.

I’m a former brick-and-mortar bookstore manager, and yes, in my opinion, Amazon has disrupted publishing. While e-books existed before the Kindle, they were a tiny part of the market, and that’s no longer true. If we can say that Amazon made e-books a significant market, we can say that one of the disruptions they caused was that authors could publish a book themselves and have it appear in the same marketplace as a book which was traditionally published.

In my bookstore, for economic/logistical reasons I’ve discussed before, an indie (independently published) book was simply not going to sit on a shelf next to one from Random House or Simon & Schuster. It was very, very difficult for an indie author to make a living…even harder than it was a tradpubbed author (and that was a big long shot as well).

Now, it is possible…and it happens.

I have had years where, based strictly on my income as an author, I wouldn’t have been below the poverty line.

I doubt there has ever been a company which has enabled more authors to make more money…the introduction of paperbacks helped (there are a couple of companies which popularized those), but this is different.


Those authors making the money are largely newer authors who weren’t already established with tradpubs. Just as was argued with paperbacks, people argue that the books aren’t, on average, as good as tradpubbed books. That can be especially true in the areas of proofreading and copy editing…which sometimes doesn’t happen much at all with an indie. Some indie books I’ve read have been beautifully edited and proofread, and wonderful books. I think what we can fairly say is that, with a lower level to market entry, there are a higher percentage of “substandard” books among indies than among tradpubbed…although I wouldn’t say that the, oh, top 30 percent (in a completely subjective measure of quality) are better among tradpubs than indies.

The policy being reported here (and my intuitive assessment of the article is that the policy as reported is true) is that a book being sold by the publisher through Amazon may not get the “Buy” button.

Customers should be familiar with the “Buy” button versus the additional ways to buy. I’m always inclined to use the Buy button method…even though another source might be cheaper. In some cases, the other method might send me a product which is just as good (never used). I bought a whole bunch of kitschy collectibles once from a store going out of business…posters, pictures, that sort of thing, from pop culture (TV shows). I bought them new and unused, didn’t open the packages, and could hypothetically have sold them for a lot more than what I paid for them, and a lot less than the price another store would have gotten. I don’t think I ever actually did sell any of them. 🙂

If you are a publisher, and your new book being sold directly no longer appears as the first choice, that is legitimately a problem for you.

For third-party sellers, it appears to be that you have to “win” the Buy button, and you can improve that by paralleling Amazon’s goals…lower prices, perhaps.

Amazon has the right to do this…they don’t have to sell your books at all, of course. There may be some issue if Amazon is violating an agreement they’ve made with the publisher, but I’d have to see contractual language that promised that the book would be promoted in some way which clearly indicates it would be the Buy button, and that Amazon didn’t follow the necessary rules (which might include notification to the publisher) in making the change.

Absolutely, I can see how this would hurt publishers.

The article also suggests that it significantly hurts authors.

Here’s that argument: when you buy a used book, the author doesn’t get a royalty on that sale. It isn’t part of the accounting.

They did, generally, get a royalty on the first sale…the one where the person bought it who later sold it used.

There are books which aren’t supposed to be sold to others. In the bookstore, we would get “galleys”, pre-publication versions (an upcoming hardback might have a trade paperback style galley…which might not have cover art), which we could read ahead of time so we were knowledgeable and engaged promoting the book on release day. Those would specifically say they weren’t for resale.

There was also the issue of “strips”. From tradpubs, we were generally guaranteed we could sell a book. If we didn’t sell a book, we could return it for a refund (which was usually a credit for purchasing more books from that company). That’s one reason indies were often impractical: they didn’t have that policy.

It would be expensive to ship mass market paperbacks back to the publisher: books are heavy (which is one of the big pluses of e-books, especially for those with certain physical challenges)! Instead, we were instructed to tear the front cover off, and mail those back. You could get maybe twenty of those in a manila envelope, which could be mailed much more cheaply than a box of twenty books.

The book itself would still be able to be read, of course.

It was explicitly stated: we could not sell those “strips”. We could not donate them (we could tell the publisher about an organization that needed books, and the publisher would often donate books there…giving them the write-off, but also accounting for in some way for the author, I assume).

As an employee, I was told I could bring those strips home and read them…it was just that we couldn’t resell them or donate them. It was one of the benefits of working in a bookstore when I was a clerk, and didn’t make much money. The publisher wasn’t usually losing a sale: I wouldn’t have bought the book otherwise.

I have seen strips in used bookstores with a statement stamped on them that if you were buying it, it was stolen goods, basically. I always thought that was brazen on the part of the bookstore, the people who had bought it.

If customers begin buying books by third-party sellers, who may have bought them at a “going out of business sale” like I had done with the posters, and not directly from the publisher, it could mean the publishers lose significant income.

Would the publisher have gotten the money from the sale from the dying store? Maybe…bankruptcy can result in suppliers not being paid, for one thing. The author may get paid based on what the customer paid, rather than what the cover price was, and that could possibly hurt the author.

Note that all of this is about physical books, not e-books…since e-books are not sold used or third-party at this point. It could affect e-book readers if it affects hybrid publishers or authors.

As readers, we may be paying lower prices…so I do think it is good that the article raises people’s awareness. I’ve said many times that I believe small brick-and-mortar bookstores can make it, by making the buying experience such that people voluntarily pay more money because they want to support you.

I think it’s more complicated than the HuffPo article makes it…it concludes with saying, “If you want to support the authors you love, get off Amazon.” Do that, and you’ll kill the income of many indie authors, who publish the books themselves. That’s especially true for e-books. You will likely give authors the highest royalty you can by purchasing e-books they’ve published themselves of their own books. It’s tougher to go from indie publishing to where some of the real money is, like movies and TV shows, although movies do get made from independently published books:

The Martian by Andy Weir (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit by shopping*)

comes to mind.

I’m going to wrap this up by recommending that you read Warner’s article. I suspect you’ll hear about it, and that some people will simply hear that Amazon is ripping off authors, without hearing too much of the details. It has the potential to be a big negative news node for Amazon, like when they removed 1984 (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) from people’s Kindles (I’ve written extensively about what happened there) or when they heard that Amazon deleted somebody’s account. I’m not saying this policy is a positive thing, by any means…I just wanted to give you some more perspective in making your own decision about it.

Feel free to let me and my readers know what you think by commenting on this post.

My current Amazon Giveaways:
Star Wars Day through 40 years of Star Wars!
Giveaway by Bufo Calvin
  • Winner:Randomly selected after Giveaway has ended, up to 1 winners.
  • Requirements for participation:
    • Resident of the 50 United States or the District of Columbia
    • Follow @TMCGTT on twitter
    • 18+ years of age (or legal age)


Start:May 4, 2017 6:32 AM PDT
End:Jun 3, 2017 11:59 PM PDT

It’s going on that long in part so that it covers the actual 40th anniversary of Star Wars (of the release in the USA) on May 25th 2017. Also, this book, which has good reviews and is new, is $14.99 in the Kindle edition…which is a lot for me for a giveaway. 🙂

Good luck, and may the Force be with you!

One Murder More (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

by my sibling, Kris Calvin

1 winner

Requirements for participation:

  • Resident of the 50 United States or the District of Columbia
  • 18+ years of age (or legal age)
  • Follow Kris Calvin on Amazon (you’ll be notified when future books are added to Amazon…I think that’s the only contact you get, although I’m not positive)


Start:Apr 30, 2017 9:46 AM PDT
End:May 7, 2017 11:59 PM PDT

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

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

 * 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.


ZDNet uncovers an apparent massive gaming of the Kindle publishing system

October 4, 2016

ZDNet uncovers an apparent massive gaming of the Kindle publishing system

There is what appears to be a great bit of investigative journalism in this

ZDNet article by Zack Whittaker

I don’t want to take away from them so I’ll just hit the very highlights.

It appears that one person used a sophisticated computer system to both publish inexpensive and low content e-books and open many, many accounts to download them when they were offered free, and perhaps to purchase them.

That drives up the books’ rankings.

That in turn creates real sales, even if only for a short period.

According to the article, this generated literally millions of dollars in royalties.

I’ll let you read the article, which I highly recommend.

What I’m going to do here is talk about this from a broader perspective.

There seem to me to be two main points here

First, it’s the idea of “fake” reviews.

These are probably pretty common, although Amazon does crack down on them.

They likely fall into three broad categories:

One is so-called “sock puppets”. That’s when an author, or someone else with a fiduciary interest in a book, pretends to be someone else (or has friends/family/coworkers pretend to be someone) to talk up a book.

I’ve seen this happen, sometimes not so subtly. Someone might post on the Amazon Kindle forum, or even in a comment to this blog, something like, “XYZ is a great novel! I’ve never read anything better. I was so surprised and it blew my mind.” While I often don’t know where a piece of fiction I am writing is going when I start, I can’t say I’ve ever been surprised reading one of my works after I finished it. 😉

I’ve seen this be done in a clumsy and unsophisticated way, but it can also be done in a very difficult way to discern.

The second source is, I would guess, purchased reviews.

That differs because they are more like mercenaries than loyal citizens.

This could be a literal payment for a good review (Amazon has caught people doing that before), or it might be an exchange. For example, two authors might write each other good reviews, even if they haven’t read the other’s book.

Reviewers are supposed to reveal if they got an e-book for free from the publisher when they review it. I’m sure not everybody does.

I pointed out the appropriateness of revealing it when some of my readers got free copies of my sibling’s first novel

One Murder More (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

If they got it from me, they probably wouldn’t have to reveal it (although I still think it’s a good thing to do), but if Kris Calvin paid for it, my understanding is that they should. Since readers couldn’t be sure if it was me or Kris who paid for it, I feel they should reveal…and I was happy when I saw that at least one of them did.

The third group of reviews are those with an ulterior motive…a political agenda might be one reason. For example, people of one political party might write that another party’s candidate’s book was poorly written or inaccurate, when they hadn’t even read it. I’ve seen something similar happen with people with a social issue do the same thing.

Those, I think, are the three main sources of fake reviews.

I said there were two main points…here’s the second.

This shows the value of reviews and purchases on Amazon.

The vast majority of people don’t write reviews of books they read…but this strongly suggest that doing so can make a difference. Please consider doing so for books you read that you like (or don’t like).

Oh, and more thing…many returns would have probably sunk this system.

You can “return” a USA Kindle store book for a refund within seven days of purchase by going to

If you return an anonymously high percentage of items (unspecified, of course), Amazon might ask you to call them before returning items, rather than being able to do it yourself.

Still, if you get a significantly deficient book, it makes sense to return it.

Of course, this is also an argument for downloading a sample before buying an e-book…but I’ll admit I rarely do that.

I also don’t return e-books…I’m not sure I ever have, but I’m not 100% positive. I think I might have returned one I accidentally bought which had text-to-speech access blocked by the publisher.

I generally have a pretty good idea what a book will be like before I get it, I’d say…certainly, if I’m paying for it.

I think I can tell quite a bit from the reviews…and that doesn’t mean I just go by the highest averages, or get dissuaded by the lowest ones. I always take a look at the low rankings to see if the reasons they give are ones with which I might agree; often they aren’t.

There will always be people who will try to game the system. I’m not going to judge whether this was legal or not…I don’t know enough about what the agreements were, and whether there might or might not be fraud involved. It certainly sounds like it might violate Amazon’s Terms of Services…and there were apparently efforts being made to conceal the activities, which is not a great argument for having confidence in the legitimacy of your actions.

I will again suggest you read the post: it wouldn’t surprise me if it is in contention for award consideration at some point, if it all holds up.

Feel free to let me and my readers know what you think by commenting on this post.

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

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project! Do you have what it takes to be a Timeblazer?

* 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.

Has Kindle e-book development stagnated?

October 13, 2015

Has Kindle e-book development stagnated?

Thanks to a reader (if you’d like to be credited in the blog, just let me know) who alerted me in a private e-mail to this intriguing essay in Aeon:

Digital books stagnate in closed, dull systems, while printed books are shareable, lovely and enduring. What comes next? by Craig Mod

It’s well written, and both deeply researched in some areas and based on personal experience. I recommend reading it.

That said, I don’t have the same assessment of the situation that the author does.

The basic premise is this:

” As our hardware has grown more powerful and our screens more capable, our book-reading software has largely stagnated.”

One explanation given:

“It seems as though Amazon has been disincentivised to stake out bold explorations by effectively winning a monopoly (deservedly, in many ways) on the market.”

I think the first question we have to ask is if this is limited just to EBRs (E-Book Readers)…that is, not tablets like the Fire. We are continuing to see development on the tablets, including Amazon’s new Word Runner featured. That’s even available on the

Fire, 7″ Display, Wi-Fi, 8 GB – Includes Special Offers, Black (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) $49.99

It shows you a book one word at a time, in the middle of the screen. There’s a lot more to it than that, but it should greatly increase your reading speed. You can read more about that here:

The new feature I most want to try on Fire tablets

That’s a recent innovation which Amazon arguably didn’t have to do…and it certainly isn’t stagnant.

It was, perhaps, to respond to the competition of Spritz, which does a similar thing.

The fact that there is competition, though, tends to refute the premise of Mod’s essay.

What about those EBRs? Does there continue to be development there? I do want to say that I assume the author is only talking about EBRs. The article mentions “backlit” Kindles, but I think that may be confusion with the Paperwhite’s (and later the Voyage’s) frontlighting…many people confuse those two.

We’ve gotten some typography changes recently, and we got Page Flip (a way to look ahead in the book without losing your place) not that long ago.

Those don’t feel as amazing as some of the earlier things we got…but should we expect that?

One reason why some people consider paper books one of the greatest technological innovations is how little they have had to change since our basic form factor came into being.

Sure, paperbacks were a change, starting in the 1930s…but they weren’t radically different from hardbacks. They certainly weren’t more different from hardbacks than the Voyage is from the first generation (2007) model.

For more on the history of books, see the

ILMK E-books Timeline

Maybe Kindle books have changed that much in the past few years…because they already do pretty much what we want them to do.

That’s not to say that the system can’t be improved!

We continue to make progress…but I do think, for example, that we could still have much better management of the books on the Amazon website. It would be nice to be able to see which books are on which devices, for example.

The author of the essay has a couple of suggestions, and I do think they are intriguing.

However, I also suspect the author’s desires aren’t the same as those of the majority readers.

Look, I’m weird…and I know it. 😉

My Significant Other got me one of my favorite t-shirts. It says, “Nobody’s Target Market”.

I’m not sure, though, that Craig Mod has quite that same sense of self awareness.

Mod is very into book design. So into it that a great story in the article is about Mod buying a travel guidebook because of the way it was constructed…even with no intent to use it.

I don’t think most people care that much.

That doesn’t mean they can’t appreciate a great design, but my guess is that the majority of people are happy to be able to get right into the text of a book…they don’t need the sensual experience of drawing a beautifully crafted volume being drawn from an equally painstakingly designed slipcase.

Now, would I rather have my Kindle books start at the cover, rather than Chapter 1? Yes, I’d like that option.

I don’t miss the physicality of a p-book (paperbook), though.

I love owning 100 year old books, sure…I have several of those. I feel like I am in a special presence when I see a vintage book.

For my day to day reading? Give me an invulnerable digital file with increasable text, please.

I was a bit amused to be reading the article through the medium of text-to-speech in my car, after using the “Send to Kindle” extension for Google Chrome (which then let me use my Kindle Fire HDX 7).

That’s a big improvement for me.

Do I think that e-books wipeout p-books?

Nope…vinyl is still around for records, despite its relative inefficiency.

My best guess is that it is not an unreasonable model for the future for publishing: the vast majority of reading being done on e-books, with p-books being what they were before mass manufacturing: luxury items.

We aren’t close to that, yet.

Craig Mod and I have different ideas about what people tend to value in books, and what the future will bring.

That’s a good thing. 🙂

Again, I recommend the piece as evocative, thoughtful, and well-written.

Thanks again to my reader for the heads-up!

What do you think? Has Amazon diverted resources from Kindle book development to other things? If they have, is that an opening for someone else to take part of the market? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

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

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

Perhaps the most ridiculous p to e comparison I’ve ever seen

August 12, 2015

Perhaps the most ridiculous p to e comparison I’ve ever seen

Okay, I’m not prone to use words like “ridiculous” in describing other people’s opinions…and I don’t really think I’m doing that here.

The chart (really more of a table) presented in this


hypothetically doesn’t offer an opinion, although it does have some evaluative comments (“incredibly hard”).

What it does is compare a paperbook (p-book) to a

All-New Kindle Paperwhite, 6″ High-Resolution Display (300 ppi) with Built-in Light, Wi-Fi – Includes Special Offers (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

and to an iPad.

It compares price, weight, battery life, pros, and cons.


Notice that I said it compares “a paperbook”.

That’s like comparing an apple to a bushel of oranges. 😉

They list the cost of a p-book at $15.52…and the cost of a Paperwhite at $120.

It would make more sense to compare a bookcase to a Paperwhite.

If we start out saying that a bookcase costs, oh, $100, that’s still not the way to do it.

Even if we discount the free cloud storage (which would be a big mistake), a Paperwhite can hold what would be many bookcases worth of books.

We’ll go with…you want the complete works of Shakespeare, the Harry Potter series, and the top five New York Times hardback fiction equivalent bestsellers…plus a single bookcase or a Paperwhite. We’ll use $100 for the bookcase, $120 for the Paperwhite.

Shakespeare in hardback (that seems to be their comparison): I’m finding new ones for as low as about $25.

Shakespeare in e-book: free

At this point, we are close enough to even. 🙂

Harry Potter hardback boxed set of the 7: $116.55 (that’s a considerable discount, by the way)

Harry Potter in e-book: $57.54…oh, and you could read them all in a month for $9.99 with

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

but you don’t own them then, so that’s not really a fair comparison.

The e-book choice is about $40 cheaper at this point.

Now, let’s add in the bestsellers:

P-book E-book
$16.07 $13.99
$13.47 $6.99
$15.29 $13.99
$16.70 $11.43
$15.14 $12.99
$76.67 $59.39
 Difference $17.28

I simply don’t think you can reasonably suggest that it is less expensive to have a library of p-books than a library of e-books.

Yes, you can re-sell p-books…but if you don’t, you pay to store them. It’s rent/property taxes/mortgage for the floor under the bookcase. As a former brick-and-mortar bookstore manager, I had to always make that calculation…it’s why a slow-selling book couldn’t profitably be kept sitting around in the store…you would eventually have lost money keeping it there.

The pros and cons listed also seem…odd, to me.

I don’t want to take too much away from the chart, so I’ll just mention one.

One of two cons listed under the Papewhite is “…Still not water-proof”.

You know, because p-books do just fine when you drop in the bathtub. 😉

Let me be very clear that the excellent EBOOK FRIENDLY did not create this chart. It appears in an interesting Wall Street Journal article (to which they link), and is reportedly based on the School Library Journal’s 2015 Book Pricing Report.

There are pros and cons to p-books, EBRs (E-Book Readers), and tablets…I just don’t think this chart presents them in a particularly useful way.

Oh, I am going to mention one more thing from the chart.

The iPad is described as “…hard to read on in the sun”.

The use of two prepositions in a row like that can be jarring (what was wrong with, “…hard to read in the sun”?). It reminds me of this old “joke” (it’s not exactly a joke) designed to make grammar purists react the way most people do to fingernails on a blackboard (which, I’ve heard, is so irritating because it is a similar frequency to a monkey’s panic vocalization…you don’t like the sound, because you think a leopard is about to leap into your troop).

A young child is sick upstairs.

A parent, wanting to console the child, brings in a book the child had loved a few years ago…but which the child now thinks they have outgrown.

The child says, “What did you bring that book I didn’t want to be read to out of up here for?”


I’ve probably told this one before on this blog, but legendarily, Winston Churchill was upbraided for ending a sentence with a preposition. Churchill knew how to speak to the common people, and made the choice to use accessible language. Churchill’s reported response was, “…that is the sort of grammatical pedantry up with which I will not put.” 🙂

I would guess all of my readers could come with reasons why e-books can be better than p-books, so let me flip that: give me some arguments why having a library of p-books is better than a library of e-books. You can do that (and share other thoughts) for me and my readers by commenting on this post.

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

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

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

Is Amazon delaying Hachette books?

May 10, 2014

Is Amazon delaying Hachette books?

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

Google news search for “Hachette”

The source of it appears to have been this

New York Times article by David Streitfeld

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, with that out of the way…

My first question is…is it true?

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

Grand Central print books at (at AmazonSmile)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Why would that be the case?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s sum this up:

Books unavailable? That’s a bad thing.

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

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

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

Update: this additional

New York Times article, again by David Streitfeld

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

One is higher prices.

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

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

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

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

But it is sneaky. 😉

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

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


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

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

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

New! Try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

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

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

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.


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.


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…”


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.


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.


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”?


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.

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