The Kindle Moment

No one can ignore that the hottest book right now is Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, a narrative history of the beginning of the Trump administration. It’s the best selling book on Amazon, even though it’s not currently available in hardcover. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) Originally scheduled for release on January 9, it was pushed up to the 5th to meet the demand that had been created by some carefully planned magazine excerpts, and a few tweets by the subject of the book, followed by some weak attempts to block its sale.

It’s a page-turner; I’ve read about half so far. It confirms that things are really bad in the White House, but also that they’re much worse than we could have imagined.

What’s interesting about this book is that it’s the first real Kindle moment. The first printing sold out in hours, and Amazon currently shows it as being available in 2 to 4 weeks. This estimate is probably exaggerated, because they should be able to get enough books printed in a day or two to satisfy the early demand, but it’s possible that they have so many orders already, that their next deliveries are already sold.

Unlike an iPhone, which is a physical product that often suffers from this sort of unavailability at launch, this book is also available in Kindle format. And Amazon is taking advantage of that, reminding readers that they can buy the Kindle version without waiting:

Fire and fury

You’ll note that the Kindle version currently costs more than the (unavailable) hardcover. This is a sort of surge pricing for books; why discount the hottest book of the season? It’s not a loss leader like the latest novels by Dan Brown or Stephen King, it’s a must-read that people want now, because it won’t be as interesting in a week, after many of the salacious elements are reported in the press.

It’s not often that a book like this drives demand so much that the publisher can’t keep up. Amazon is stepping in to help meet that demand, shifting a lot of readers from print to ebook. Even if they don’t have Kindles, they can read it on their phones or tablets.

Recent reports have suggested that ebook sales are sliding, but this is the kind of book that can give an unexpected bump to the format.

One note: credit is due to Amazon for policing reviews on this book. Following recent changes to Amazon’s review policy, this book can only be reviewed by verified purchasers. This weeds out the many fake reviewers that attempt to lower the ratings of controversial books. Nevertheless, at the time of this writing, more than 500 people have reviewed this book, giving it an average rating of five stars. I’m sure not all of them have read the book in its entirety, but many people are posting reviews just to say that, in spite of attempts to quash it, they’ve bought it.

There are currently 14 one-star reviews, including:

President has declared book illegal. If you read you illegal. America now great. Obey law or go gulag. Bad book. Bad writing. Go far away.

And…

VERY SAD!!!!!
I read a lots of books more than anyone and this book is a DISGRACE.Wolff is a loser A TOTAL LOSER and everyone knows it. you know it, I know it, everyone knows it.This book is NOT FOR SMART PEOPLE. Only a very for dumb people would read this TRASH. Only very dumb people like, not the kind of book I would read because I’m one of the SMARTEST PEOPLE.

And…

Sorry I made a mistake I want the actual book it is a present por my mom can you return it?

The Kindle Changed the Book Business. Can It Change Books? – WIRED

It’s now been a decade since Amazon unveiled the first Kindle to the world. The first model seems ridiculous in retrospect—what with the giant keyboard filled with slanted keys, the tiny second screen just for navigation, and the mostly pointless scroll wheel—but was wildly popular, selling out its initial inventory in less than six hours. Since then, the device has torn through the publishing landscape. Not only is Amazon the most powerful player in the industry, it has built an entire book-based universe all its own. “Kindle” has become a platform, not a device. Like Amazon tends to do, it entered the market and utterly subsumed it.

Interesting article about the Kindle. But I don’t see much supporting the “Can it change books?” question in the headline. The author points out the influence Amazon has in the publishing industry, but the only suggestions of change are vague and nebulous.

The Kindle they’ve always imagined is thin as paper, as light as paper, as flexible and durable as paper.

Perhaps, but a sheet of paper isn’t that durable, and I don’t think we’ll see a Kindle that thin for some time, at least until some sort of battery technology is invented that allows for paper-thin batteries. But the ideal Kindle wouldn’t be paper; it would be, perhaps, like the latest Kindle Oasis, perhaps a bit thinner, but still sturdy enough to hold on to.

Ebooks have been taking a hit recently, but I think this is cyclical. I know lots of people who swear by their Kindles, and many others, like me, who are avid readers and use read both the Kindle and print books. I find myself using the Kindle more and more, as publishers seem to be shrinking font sizes recently. Since a smaller font means fewer pages, and less expense, they are tempted, but they’re often making print books unreadable to those of us with aging eyes (the majority of readers). The Kindle allows me to set the font to a comfortable size, even one large enough so I don’t need to use reading glasses.

Source: The Kindle Changed the Book Business. Can It Change Books? | WIRED

Amazon Improves Kindle Readability

Amazon today announced a new waterproof Kindle, and they also announced some new typography features that will roll out to devices from 2013 and later.

  • New Font Size and Bold Settings: Now choose from more font sizes than ever before—and five levels of boldness—for whichever font you choose to read with. Combined with the new, 7-inch Paperwhite display, you can personalize your books so it’s perfectly comfortable for your eyes.
  • New Accessibility Options: In addition to the OpenDyslexic font, we’ve added a feature to invert black and white on the display if you have light sensitivity. The new enlarged display option also lets you increase the size of items like the text on the home screen and library as well as the book icons to make the all-new Kindle Oasis easier to read.
  • Ragged Right Alignment: You can now read using left-aligned (ragged right) text.

Amazon says:

Starting today, the new size and bold settings as well as ragged right alignment will be delivered as a free, over-the-air update to Kindle Paperwhite (Gen 6 released in 2013), plus all newer Kindle devices.

These are good changes. I prefer reading on my iPad mini, in part because it has more font sizes. If I try to make the font on my Kindles big enough, it’s too big; this means there will be not only more fonts in between those sizes (sort of largish and very large), and different weights, making it a lot better for each reader to find their optimal font.

Where is eBook Interoperability?

Back in 2007, Steve Jobs wrote an open letter to the music industry, entitled Thoughts on Music. In it, Jobs discussed the problem of DRM – digital rights management – on music files.

As Jobs said:

To begin, it is useful to remember that all iPods play music that is free of any DRM and encoded in open licensable formats such as MP3 and AAC. iPod users can and do acquire their music from many sources, including CDs they own. Music on CDs can be easily imported into the freely-downloadable iTunes jukebox software which runs on both Macs and Windows PCs, and is automatically encoded into the open AAC or MP3 formats without any DRM. This music can be played on iPods or any other music players that play these open formats.

Because of this document, Jobs and Apple spearheaded the move toward selling digital music files without DRM; files that are “interoperable,” that can be played on any device that supports their format. Ten years later, this is the norm for music (with the exception of streaming music services, where it is certainly fair to use DRM, since you don’t own the music, you merely rent it).

I was reminded of this today, as I was trying to resolve a problem with Amazon and my Kindle books. Back in 2009, I bought my first Kindle. I was living in France at the time, and paid to have it shipped from the US. I then wanted to buy Kindle books on it from Amazon UK, since it was easier that buying from the US (the Kindle device and Kindle books wouldn’t be sold in France for many years). Amazon’s support told me that I could not use my existing Amazon UK account to do this – perhaps because I wasn’t in the UK – and told me to create a second account.

I did so, and have been using two accounts since then. But this has gotten complicated. Not only do I need to sign into two different accounts, but I don’t get all the benefits of Amazon Prime on my Kindle account (my Prime subscription is on my main account; I’ve added the second account, and I can get free shipping, but nothing else: no Kindle Lending Library, no Prime Video, etc.).

I contacted Amazon recently, asking if there were a way to combine the two accounts. By email, I received two different replies to my question. One said that, sure, they could combine the accounts; the second said they could refund the books and I could buy them again on the main account.

When I finally got someone on the phone to discuss this, it turned out that a) they actually couldn’t combine the accounts, and b) they couldn’t refund the books (I have 350 purchases, about thirty of which are public domain books).

This wouldn’t be a problem if these ebooks didn’t have DRM. I would be able to simply download them to my Mac, then send them to the Kindle account of the main account. But Amazon offers no solution to this issue; a problem that they created back in 2009. (I could switch my “main” account to the second account, but that would introduce a host of problems, because that account is used for Amazon affiliate links, Audible, as well as being linked to accounts in the US and France.)

Lots of publishers sell ebooks without DRM; Take Control Books, who has published my books, doesn’t use DRM at all. I’m sure there’s some piracy, but this is outweighed by providing a smooth customer experience to the people who buy our books.

If music has managed to shed DRM, why have ebooks resisted? Part of what caused Jobs to issue his statement was a European Commission investigation into interoperability of digital files; why have there been no similar investigation regarding ebooks?

It’s annoying, and frustrating. You get locked into a platform, and can’t change. With 350 books purchased, I’m not going to switch to Apple’s iBooks, Nook, or any other service. I’m hostage to Amazon’s DRM for what, granted, is not a simple problem – my having two accounts – but one that the company should be able to fix.

Yale Law Journal – Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox

Amazon is the titan of twenty-first century commerce. In addition to being a retailer, it is now a marketing platform, a delivery and logistics network, a payment service, a credit lender, an auction house, a major book publisher, a producer of television and films, a fashion designer, a hardware manufacturer, and a leading host of cloud server space. Although Amazon has clocked staggering growth, it generates meager profits, choosing to price below-cost and expand widely instead. Through this strategy, the company has positioned itself at the center of e-commerce and now serves as essential infrastructure for a host of other businesses that depend upon it. Elements of the firm’s structure and conduct pose anticompetitive concerns — yet it has escaped antitrust scrutiny.

A law journal article about Amazon and possible antitrust considerations.

By some estimates, Amazon now captures 46% of online shopping, with its share growing faster than the sector as a whole.

That’s impressive. Think of how many small businesses were killed in the US because they were allowed to sell without charging sales tax, effectively getting a discount over local businesses.

And Amazon as expanding, laying he groundwork for a potential delivery network.

I’m a big Amazon user, because living in a semi-rural area, it’s costly and time-consuming to buy things I need. But its frightening to see how big the company has gotten.

Source: Yale Law Journal – Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox