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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Kindle it! Tablet Style (:

As some of you know, I’ve been an eBook fan for years. I’ve been counting the days until eBooks really took off, and well, it looks like the time is now. Amazon has been amazingly successful with its Kindle; Sony has plodded along with superior hardware but little marketshare; Barnes and Nobles got all the geekboys in a tizzy with the announcement of The Nook, and well, there are probably a dozen other lesser players that have released or are about to release readers.

Finally, earlier this week, Amazon released their Kindle reader software for the PC,with a special nod to multi-touch tablet PCs. That, in itself, does the heart good. I immediately downloaded the software and checked to see if my current programming tome was available.

It was. So I bought the damn thing.

You see, the book is over 1300 pages long, making it unwieldy to hold, horrible to carry with you, and it weighs as much as my tablet PC. So, even though I didn’t have the money for another copy of the book, I bought it. Check out this screen shot:

Kindle Reader

Dig this – I’m actually able to resize the Kindle reader so that I can have my book on the right side of the screen and my IDE on the left. With Windows 7, it makes switching and resizing windows really nice, too. Anyway, it’s soo much better than trying to manage a HUGE book on my laptop desk along with my tablet. I can now read it on the bus, at school, virtually anywhere.

The only real complaint I have is one that the original version of the Kindle had – it’s too easy to accidentally flip pages! Do you see those light grey borders on the sides of the Kindle reader page? Click either one of those and you’ll advance a page ahead or a page back. I find that as I’m programming I sometimes need to move the windows so I can see more and then move back to the Kindle Reader software…when I do, I often click the border and have to figure out what page I was on. The Kindle software also doesn’t do page numbers – instead, it tells me that I’m 60% through the document and identifies “locations”. The page I’m currently on is “Locations 13,739 – 46” out of a total of 23,294 locations! Okay, that’s not the most friendly way to do it, but I assume it has something to do with Whispernet, their syncing software and the fact that page sizes differ whether you’re using a Kindle (either size), an iPhone, or a PC. I can deal with that, but I would really like it if it offered a little customization. Right now, other than setting the font size and placing bookmarks, the software is pretty bare bones.

Another minor problem is the way it handles graphics. In Microsoft Reader software, for instance, a graphic could be clicked on and made full size – which is GREAT. In Amazon’s Kindle, you don’t get that option. There’s also not an option to zoom in, so it’s what you see is what you get. That would be fine, but the code samples in my book are inset as graphics and can’t be resized. And they’re small. Very small. Of course, my tablet PC is a high resolution little guy – 1440 DPI on a 12.1 inch display – so text tends to be small anyway. So while I LOVE the Kindle software, it’s more about the selection of books than the actual implementation. If Microsoft Reader hadn’t crashed and burned, I would be happy to use that software and own a gazillion books in that format. Unfortunately, it never took off, and Microsoft seems to have abandoned it well before eBooks finally came of age.

Hmm…have they really come of age? My guess is that if each manufacturer insists on using their own version of DRM, the future of eBooks is rather bleak. Why can’t businesses learn from past history? Nobody wants a gazillion formats hanging out there. My guess, if this isn’t resolved quickly, there will be a shakeout. I’m putting my money on Amazon, because let’s face it, they’re currently the it-girl when it comes to eBooks, and well, they are where America goes to shop. I read recently that the number 1 item in both unit sales and revenue on their site is the Kindle. If they open it up to other vendors’ eBook reader devices, which they should, it’s game over for the other formats. Adding the PC was a stroke of genius – as was the iPhone – so they’ve got a serious head start on the other players in the market.

Okay, back to programming. Man, it sure feels good to update this blog after such a long lapse. Yeah, I’ve been on Facebook, but sometimes being able to put down your feelings/thoughts/ideas in a more complete manner is nice, too. I think I’m back.


Charles Gramlich said...

I heard they were going to make Kindle set up for computers. Seems to defeat the purpose to me, though. I really don't like reading on my computer much. but a tablet is probaly a lot different.

Clifford said...

Hey man, good to hear from you! Yeah, a tablet is much different for reading...it's similar in many ways to using a Kindle. But for something like a programming book, I use the tablet in laptop mode and it's fantastic to have that flexibility.

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Thomas M. Sipos said...

Another nice thing about Kindle is that Amazon makes it easy for any author to self-publish their books, articles, short stories, scripts, whatever, on Kindle.

You just open an Amazon Kindle publishing account.

You upload your book, and set the price. Amazon requires a minimum price of 99 cents. They take 35% of what you collect.

I've uploaded two of my novels onto Kindle: Vampire Nation and Manhattan Sharks.

I priced them at $1.99. I uploaded Vampire Nation in late June, and Manhattan Sharks only last week.

It's easy, and any author can do it.

By contrast, the Sony ereader is a lot harder to publish on. I went to Sony's page. If you want to publish there, you must contact them. Apparently, they only accept certain authors and books. Unlike Amazon, no easy self-publishing.

It's been over a week, and I haven't heard back from Sony. I don't expect to.

So my books are available on Kindle, and not on the Sony/Barnes & Noble ereader.

I think Amazon will win.

Thomas M. Sipos said...

Okay, I just found that Sony now accepts self-published authors, albeit through other providers: http://ebookstore.sony.com/publishers/

Clifford said...

Hey Thomas, you bring up a couple of good points. One, Amazon will win. Putting their software on the PC gives people sitting on the fence a taste. People like me won't want to carry another device though, unless it duplicates much of the functionality of my tablet...so the PC software kicks butt.

The winner will likely be the one with the most desireable content, and I'd guess we're headed for an era of exclusivity as the big three or four try to push their devices. I'm amazed at how much premium content Amazon has these days. I've only bought three books so far, but will be buying more. Not having to carry around a programming tome has been great (working in a cafe now...no book, just my tablet!).

Sony was in the space first, and their hardware is sweet. But instead of going it alone, they should have partnered with one of the book retailing sources, like Amazon or Barnes and Noble. I hope they were smart enough to try to do that, and failing, decided to go it alone.

I think the pricing of content was the real key to Amazon's success. Until Kindle, content cost as much, and sometimes more, than its more tangible counterpart. I've been reading ebooks for years, and I admit, in the past it's been difficult to pony up more money for the eBook than they were asking for the hardback. But in the end, for me, I'm 100 times more likely to read a book in eBook format than paperbound. Right now, I have King's Under the Dome at home...it's freaking huge and the thought of hefting it, trying to get into a comfortable reading position with it, is not very enticing. It's a beautifully produced book, I'll give you that, but I'd so much rather have the eBook (which, by the way, hasn't been released yet).

So I'm putting my money on Kindle, but The Nook's lending feature, limited though it is, has got my book-loving friends intriqued, and these are people who a year or two ago wouldn't go near an eBook with a ten-foot pole, even though I tried, I really tried, to get them to give it a try on their pda or phone.

The only thing I'm absolutely sure of: the countdown to the end of the paper-based book has begun.

Thomas M. Sipos said...

I thought Barnes & Noble's Nook was a Sony ereader?

If so, that's another reason Amazon should win, because Barnes & Noble never really had the heart to go online. It only did so to follow Amazon.

Amazon.com gets over 10 times the visitors of BN.com. Amazon has built an online book community, with online reviewers (ranking them, selecting some for Vine Voices), lists, forums, etc.

By contrast, BN.com just lays there.

Amazon's customers are more online-oriented, and thus inclined to read ebooks. Barnes & Noble emphasizes selling its Nook in bricks & mortar stores: but those shoppers are more paper-oriented.

Kindle has many public domain ebooks for free -- but poorly formatted. Reviewers of the Kindle Sun Tzu's "Art of War" have complained of slipshod formatting, as if Amazon just rushed those books into Kindle format.

Many publishers are selling their Kindle books for the same price as the paper copy. That makes no sense. However, Amazon allows publishers to control their retail price, however over-priced.

Clifford said...

Actually, Barnes & Noble was really behind eBooks in the early part of the decade, and even published exclusive content from a couple of name authors.

Nook is a brand new device from Barnes & Noble...they currently sell the Sony in their stores, but I suspect that will be over early next year when The Nook hits the stores. Early word is that the software on it is quite buggy, but an update is right around the corner.

As for costs of eBooks, I read that in order to make the Kindle a success, they were/are selling bestselling eBooks below their cost. The article I read said that publishers were worried that Amazon was planning to "force" them to sell eBook content at a lower rate -- if this is still going on, it's nuts...but recent events lead me to believe that the publishers, like the record companies before them, are scared of eBooks, and really don't want to see the format thrive. Case in point, Kings publisher decided to delay the release of his latest novel a full month after the debut of the hardbound copy. I don't know how common this is now, as I've been buried in technical books this year...

Anyway, while the Kindle is a definite success, I think Barnes & Noble has a chance because the device is sexier than the Kindle, has a small COLOR touch screen beneath the main ePaper reading display, for a cheaper price than the Kindle...and you'll be able to walk into a Barnes & Noble and play with it before making your decision. That said, I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't end up having a device price war in 2010 -- it will be a battle for the pocketbooks of the future becuase once you've purchased a device, you're pretty much linked to a single vendor...

2010 looks to be the most exciting and possibly game changing year in publishing history!

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This is me and one of my two cats. His name is Cougar, and he’s an F1 Chausie. A chausie is a new breed of cat under development. Chausies are the result of a cross between a domestic cat (in Cougar’s case, a Bengal) and a jungle cat (Felis Chaus). Cougar’s mom is 8 pounds and his father is a 30-pound jungle cat. He’s about 16 pounds, super intelligent, spirited, and toilet trained. A writer without a cat (or two) is not to be trusted.