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24 posts from June 2008

Amazon's Rising Tide

Ocean What's that old phrase?...  A rising tide lifts all boats?  That's one of the points made in this Motley Fool article about a recent Amazon promotion.  It's long been suspected that some customers find what they like in a brick-and-mortar store and then go home to order online, from Amazon, for a better discount.  But does the opposite ever happen?  Do very many people see what the like on Amazon and decide instant gratification is more important than 34% off, so they instead buy the book at their local brick-and-mortar store and miss out on the savings?

I'm sure it happens every day, but the Motley Fool example suggests Amazon's promotion of one title in particular is having halo effects elsewhere, specifically at B&N.  It's impossible to examine true cause-and-effect on this sort of thing.  After all, who's to say the book wouldn't have had just as much success at B&N without the Amazon promotion?  Nevertheless, it's an interesting point to consider.  I'll bet it's a model Amazon studies closely as they try to figure out what discount they must offer their customers to prevent a promotion from driving too much traffic/sales to the competition.


Amazon's Newest Kindle Customer

Kindle3 I was holding out for the next generation Kindle.  I didn't want to spend the money on a "version 1.0" product.  My wife had other plans.  She decided to give me one of the best birthday gifts I've ever received: a shiny new Kindle.  The gift arrived Friday afternoon and boy, do I love it!

I've had less than 48 hours to explore the device and content options, including both Amazon and non-Amazon, but here are a few initial observations:

The form factor is just right...sort of.  The overall size is perfect.  Small enough to fit comfortably in a bag, feels right when you're holding and reading from it, etc., but the display is too small.  IOW, Amazon's designers used up too much precious surface area for the Chiclets keyboard at the expense of the reading area.  Here's to hoping that a future version does away with the physical keyboard and offers a virtual keyboard on a larger, touchscreen, display.

The reading experience is as good as advertised.  eInk rocks.  Need I say more?

Every Kindle owner should know about Feedbooks.  I talked about it earlier on Kindleville but finally got a chance to try it out for myself.  Loads of free e-books are available for seamless download.  My first test was Animal Farm but I'm sure I'll be back for more later.

130,000 is a smaller number than you think.  I'm referring to the number of Kindle edition books available on Amazon.  As of right this minute there are 131,637 books available, and while many bestsellers are there, it's amazing how many I want that aren't.  I'm looking for a great World War II book to read now that I've finished Citizen Soldier and World War II For Dummies.  The selection is fairly limited and I can see where this will be a roll of the dice every time I go searching...at least until the number of available titles grows by a factor of 10.

Ditto for newspapers and magazines.  I was thinking about returning to BusinessWeek via the Kindle but it's not an option...yet.  There are only 16 magazines and 19 newspapers available.  Talk about tiny numbers...  At about $1.50 per month for several magazines the price feels right, although I've seen plenty of customer complaints on Amazon regarding content that's in the print magazine but not the Kindle edition.  Amazon and their publishing partners need to fix this ASAP.

Why would I pay for newspapers/magazines?  I'm wondering whether I can rig up an RSS feed option where the key newspapers and magazines are accessible via the Kindle's browser instead...all for free.  I'll dig into it and see if I can come up with a viable solution.

The browser is as slow as advertised.  I've heard complaints before and they're legit.  In Amazon's defense, Kindle is an e-book reader first and the browser is just an experimental feature.  As slow as it is I hope it doesn't go away.  It will do in a pinch but you wouldn't want to depend on it for very long.

Thank goodness for the reset button.  Like most electronic devices the Kindle has its own hard reset button.  I skimmed over the info about it in the user's guide and didn't give it another thought...till my Kindle locked up.  Actually, I've had to pop the back cover off and stick a paperclip in it twice now.  Two resets in less than 48 hours.  Quite annoying.  I hope this trend doesn't continue, but I'm thinking about adding a paperclip holder to the wrap-around book cover the Kindle ships with, just in case.

Should I just start sending my paycheck directly to Jeff Bezos?  I've only bought one book and signed up for one trial magazine subscription so far but I can see where it would be easy to go nuts buying content.  It's ridiculously easy and the download speed is fast...faster than loading a simple web page in the browser, or so it seems.

Despite the warts I'm quite happy with my Kindle.  Now I need to look into all those hacks and other tricks I've heard so much about...


Random Thoughts

Bubble thought

Lots of little things bouncing around in my head today...

First up, my employer, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., just reported outstanding results for the fiscal year we completed on 4/30.  Congrats to the entire Wiley team!

Next up, Don Felder's Heaven and Hell.  Who's he?  The guy from The Eagles who wasn't Don Henley, Glen Frey, Joe Walsh, Randy Meisner or Timothy B. Schmit.  Seriously, every time I watched their Hell Freezes Over DVD I kept asking myself...who is that guy?!  Well, it turns out he's an incredible author with a fascinating story to tell.  Wiley recently published Felder's Heaven and Hell and a copy hit my desk last week.  Bear in mind I was a bit of an Eagles fan, but not a huge one.  I totally love the Hotel California album but that's about it for me.  When I started reading this I thought I'd be bored by the story of Felder's youth and all the pre-Eagles coverage.  Wow, was I wrong.  His story is fascinating from page one and the writing is exceptional.  I'm not quite halfway through it and can't wait to read more.  I'll have a full review shortly but if the rest is half as good as what I've already read this one will quickly become one of my all-time favorites.

Another interesting new book showed up on my front porch yesterday as well.  It's called The PITA Principle: How to Work with and Avoid Becoming a Pain in the Ass and I first heard of it via Lori Cates and her Publishing Careers blog.  She sent me a galley of the book and I can't wait to dig into it.  (Current Wiley colleagues and former colleagues from elsewhere...please hold all your jokes about how much of a PITA I can be from time to time...remember, I'm moderating all comments here.)

Speaking of PITA's, how about that wacky HSE School Board?  They're at it again.  First they blow money right and left on severance packages and now the local paper had to save them from making the incredibly embarassing mistake of offering the superintendent job to a candidate whose previous employer paid a settlement on a sexual harassment lawsuit that he was facing.  Given all the recent gaffes I figured this would be a tough slot to fill.  The new superintendent will either have baggage, like this one did, or they haven't studied the history close enough to know they should run from the opportunity.  And who's the recruiter the Board has working on this?!  Jeez, are they unable to do simple background checks?  Oh, HSE School Board, is their any type of embarssment you're unwilling to bring upon yourselves?


Nicholas Carr Says Google is Making Us Stupid

Google

Nicholas Carr is one of the most outspoken and opinionated authors you'll ever come across.  Several years ago he was the enemy of IT-types everywhere when he asked the question Does IT Matter?  More recently he wrote an excellent book I reviewed here called The Big Switch.  I enjoy his work and was delighted when a Wiley colleague left a Carr article on my desk entitled Is Google Making Us Stupid?  How could I resist reading it last night?!

Carr's premise is that Google is making us lazy by encouraging more online surfing at the shallowest of levels.  Read a headline and move on.  Scan an article but don't read it thoroughly.  It's the sort of thing I'm guilty of 99% of the time I'm online.  Actually, what Carr talks about as a problem is exactly what Jeff Bezos refers to as "information  snacking" and an issue he hopes will be counterbalanced by the Kindle.

I love some of the metaphors Carr uses in this article:

Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words.  Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a JetSki.

...we risk turning into 'pancake people'--spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast netork of information accessed by the mere touch of a button.

Maybe that's why I've had such a strong desire to curl up with a good book lately!  On a related note, this all raises a couple of billion dollar questions: Can we construct a new "book model" to address this?  How do we evolve with these changing reading habits?


A Print-on-Demand Opportunity

Print I've said it before and I'll say it again: Print-on-demand (POD) is only going to become more important in the future.  Given the current state of the technology, it's almost impossible for a consumer to distinguish between a POD book and one printed the old-fashioned way.

Yesterday I received a copy of Get Content. Get Customers.  (It's a great looking book, btw, and I'll be back with a full review shortly.)  I mention it because it's a POD product and it got me thinking...

We love POD for a number of reasons.  First, it provides a cost-effective option for the smallest of print runs (1 copy).  Second, those printings can be turned around quickly, often the same day as the order.  But what other features could POD vendors implement to help distinguish them from the offset printing world?  How about personalization?

My copy of Get Content. Get Customers. came to me through Newt Barrett, one of the book's co-authors.  When I flipped through it last night I found myself looking for a note from Newt, but I quickly remembered this copy came through Amazon, not directly from the author.  Wouldn't it be cool if all the POD vendors would let authors add a small note to the inside cover (or other blank area) to personalize it for the recipient?  Just a couple of sentences and a digitized version of their signature is all I'm talking about.

OK, maybe each author would only send out a dozen or so copies for review so it's crazy to implement something like this for such a small audience.  But what about people buying the book as a gift for one of their friends?  Wouldn't it be a nice touch if you could add a short note, photo and/or signature in that case as well?  Then there's the person who just wants to have their name printed inside in case the book gets lost.  Again, not a lot of info but something that could fit in a 3 x 3" box somewhere up front.

This would obviously require POD vendors to make some changes to their systems.  I tend to think it would be a pretty simple modification to implement though and well worth the effort.  Just think how much more personal that Father's Day gift from Amazon would be next year if they add this feature between now and then...

P.S. -- If you're looking to launch your own blog, please, oh please, don't choose Typepad as your platform.  I had nothing but problems (yet again) with Typepad's editor while writing this post.  Even though I'm a save-aholic I wound up losing my work twice because Typepad's system choked multiple times in the 30 minutes I spent on this.  Blogger is a far more reliable option and it's free.  Choose it instead, unless you'd rather pay $50/year for endless frustrations.