Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Kindle: First Impressions

fancyfembot_kindle2Apparently I was good last year, because Santa brought me a Kindle for Christmas.

My overall opinion of the Kindle: I love it. So much so that given the option of buying an eBook over a traditional book, I'll take the eBook every time.

The following are some initial impressions. Note the word "initial". My opinions of these items might change in the future; it'd be interesting to revisit this topic maybe a few months from now when I've really had a chance to give the Kindle a good trial period.

Dimensions/Weight

The device is small—much smaller than I had anticipated even though I knew the dimensions ahead of time (the exact dimensions from Amazon's web site are 8" x 5.3" x 0.36", or 203.2mm x 134.6mm x 9.1mm)—and light, weighing in at 10.2 ounces (289.2 grams).

Comfort Factor

How often have you heard people saying how much they love curling up with a good book? I like that, too, except I'm now doing it with my Kindle. In an easy chair, my Kindle rests nicely in my lap/against my leg. In bed, about the same. Either way, because the device is so light, it rests comfortably in one hand. Turning pages with the device in one hand is as easy as a click of the thumb. There are "Next Page" buttons on either side, making page turning very convenient.

Performance

I recently read a blog post where the poster decried how slow the page turning on Kindle is. I'll be damned if I can find it, though, or I'd provide a link. Here's the post. I've found just the opposite: the Kindle turns pages in less than a second. I can't explain the disparity. Pulling up full dictionary entries is a little slow (Kindle gives you a quick definition almost instantly) and, as might be expected, accessing the Kindle Store varies based on the speed of the 3G connection at the time. Still, once you're on, I experienced very little lag when going from one item to the next.

The E Ink Display

The eInk screen is amazing. When I first unboxed my Kindle I peeled away a clear, protective covering that covered the front of the entire device. There was another film—this with basic instructions for activating the Kindle—over the screen itself, or so I thought. As I went to peel it away I realized that what I thought was a film of printed instructions was actually instructions on the screen itself. The clarity is a thing of beauty. There is no flicker (eInk displays do not refresh like traditional CRT's or LCD's) and the crispness of the characters and text is of no less quality than an actual printed page. I've read for hours without any eyestrain issues. I could probably read all day and not have any problems.

Battery Life

Battery life is a non-issue. I've been using it for days—off and on of course—and the battery level has barely budged. I'm keeping the wireless off, which extends battery life even longer. I believe the Kindle with the 3G wireless off will go for over a week without a charge.

5-way Controller

The 5-way controller (the little joystick-like thing) is a nice navigation device, but it's a bit difficult getting a hold of it. It barely rises above the plane of the device (probably a good thing otherwise you might accidentally break it off), but because of that it's sometimes hard to manipulate. I've been kind of getting the tip of my nail on it, which seems to work ok. I guess what I'm afraid of is pushing down on it (the fifth 'way') when I really just want to move the cursor over.

Built-in Dictionary

The built-in dictionary is a nice touch. Just move the 5-way controller to the word you want to retrieve a definition for and a short definition appears at the bottom of the screen. You can then press one of the small keys at the bottom of the device to get a full-page, more thorough definition.

Bookmarks and Annotations

Bookmarking and adding annotations is easy. Bookmarking is achieved with the press of a button. Likewise, adding notes/annotation is just as easy: just use the 5-way controller to navigate to a word and start typing.

Probably the coolest thing about annotations and bookmarks: with the introduction of Kindle for PC, I have instant access to all of my bookmarks and annotations while I'm on my laptop. All Kindle applications (Kindle for PC, Kindle for iPhone) are automatically synched with my Kindle eReader. eBooks, bookmarks, annotations, even my current reading location are all synched across the full spread of Kindle devices/apps for which I have registered. What this means for me is that annotations and bookmarks I add while reading on my Kindle will automatically show up in the Kindle for PC app, so when I'm writing up a book review I have instant access to all of my thumbnail information. No more bending pages or writing down page numbers.

Free PDF Conversion

Kindle supports native viewing of PDF's now, which basically means you can copy PDF's to the device and view them without any conversion. The problem I found with this is your average page in a PDF is not formatted correctly for viewing on an eReader. An initial experiment yielded a page where the type was so small it was unreadable. Not only that but it cut off lines at the bottom, or chopped them in half, anyway. You cannot resize fonts when viewing PDF's.

There is a cure for this: Amazon offers free PDF to AZW (Kindle format) conversion. Also, Kindle reads MOBI/PRC format natively, also. Another way to deal with this is to use calibre, a free, open-source eBook management application. calibre supports the conversion of many eBook file formats, one of which is MOBI. Kindle can read MOBI format natively, though I'll sub-note this for now with the disclosure that I have not tried this process out myself yet to see how Kindle renders MOBI files. The best option I've found for converting files to MOBI/PRC format is the free Mobipocket eBook Creator software. MOBI/PRC files (the file formats are the same though they do have different file extensions) look just fine on the Kindle, and Mobipocket Creator seems to produce the best MOBI/PRC formatted files.

Conclusion

Like I said at the start, these are only initial impressions. I think I'll revisit this topic in maybe 6 months if not sooner just to see if my opinion of any of these points has changed.

Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 4: Amazon.com

This is the next post in a multi-part series about self-publishing your eBook. Posts include:

1. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 1: Introduction
2. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 2: E-book Formatting
3. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 3: Book Covers
4. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 4: Amazon.com (this post) 
5. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 5: Smashwords
6. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 6: Scribd
7. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 7: Lulu
8. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 8: Selling Strategy

While I've written a post or two about Amazon, their Kindle e-reader, and how much you'll make selling your e-book in the Kindle store, I never have delved into the details of how to publish with Amazon. In this post I'll therefore jump into the tools and resources available to make this happen, including information on Amazon Kindle's Publishing Program, their Digital Text Platform, Digital Text Platform Community Support forum, and Amazon Author Central.

First thing's first, though: publishing an e-book in the Kindle store is not exactly the same thing as having a traditional print book listed on their site. For one, anyone can publish to the Kindle store regardless of your current or previous publishing status (or lack thereof). The only requirement is that you have an e-book to sell (and that you own the rights to it).

With that, let's jump into it.

Amazon Kindle's Publishing Program

From the Kindle storefront you'll see a link at the left called "Publish on Kindle"

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This is as good a starting place as any. From here, you can select the method by which you wish to upload content to the store (there are several methods depending on your relationship with Amazon) as well as a link to the Amazon Kindle Publishing Guidelines, a pdf I found only marginally helpful. It really digs into the nuances of formatting a document, though, including information like this:

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Reminds of something out of one of my computer science texts. I didn't find this level of detail terribly helpful, and, in fact, it really isn't even necessary if you use Amazon's Digital Text Platform.

Digital Text Platform

Amazon's Digital Text Platform, or DTP, is the small or self-publisher's software platform of choice for listing content in the Kindle store. Don't expect anything fancy here: DTP is pretty barebones, but it does the job. With DTP, you can upload content (i.e., your e-book) to the Kindle store as well as download basic earnings reports once you've made some sales.

The publishing/upload process consists of (1) signing up for an Amazon account (if you do not already have one), (2) providing some details about your book (title, plot summary, etc.), (3) uploading a cover image, (4) uploading and previewing your entries, and (5) publishing.

I'll spend a little time going over each step, but also refer you to Amazon's Digital Text Platform Quick Start Guide, which provides a nice step-by-step approach to the five steps I listed (they go into a bit more detail than I intend to).

Step 1: Sign-up for an Amazon account

I'll assume you can handle this one and move right into step 2.

Step 2: Provide details about your e-book

Here's a screenshot with the information filled-in for my fantasy novel, The Hall of the Wood:

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This information flows into the product listing page in the store once you've hit "publish" and looks like the usual Amazon product listing:

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Step 3: Upload a cover image

It's a good idea to have a cover image to attract potential buyers and to hopefully help your work stand out from the rest. If you don't specify a cover image, Amazon will give you one that says "no image available". Not the best way to start a relationship with a potential reader. Personally, I'm much more likely to skip over a book that does not have one. Whether the cover itself is compelling or professional is another matter entirely, and goes beyond the scope of this post.

Here is the cover I went with for The Hall of the Wood:

hotw-fiction

And here it is when displayed in the store with the Kindle image attached:

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Step 4: Upload and preview your content

This is where you upload and preview your e-book. It's a pretty simple interface: specify the location of your e-book, click "Upload", and you're done.

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There is a note about file formats:

Note: For optimal results, please upload files in MS Word, HTML, or PRC format. Other formats such as PDF may lead to poor conversion quality. We are working to improve the conversion quality for PDF and other formats.

I uploaded in HTML format; it simply gave me the best results.

Previewing looks something like:

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Here's another page, chosen at random:

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Step 5: Set Your Price

This is a topic I covered when I asked the question, how much do you make selling through Amazon's Kindle store? I'll therefore leave that post to explain how Amazon's pricing works and how you should set yours.

The screenshot in DTP looks like:

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Step 6: Publish

Once you've got all your information set, you can publish to the Kindle store by clicking "Publish":

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Amazon has recently implemented a review process which states that new e-books or changes to existing ones can take up to five business days to gain approval, so you'll have to wait up to five business days before your e-book will be viewable in the store.

Digital Text Platform Community Support

One of the best resources for all things Kindle publishing is DTP's Community Support Forum. It's broken into 3 main sections: a general FAQ, Publisher Support, and Ask the Community. There's pretty standard forum sort of stuff in there, with a good mix of newbies and more experienced people contributing.

Amazon Author Central

Amazon Author Central is where authors are showcased. This is something new for e-book writers. While traditionally published authors have always been able to fill out their profiles here, it was only with the coming of the Kindle and then Amazon allowing anyone to sell books via the Kindle store that this area was opened to e-book authors.

Some of the things you can do on an author page include adding a personal photo and biography, you get an automatic bibliography based on the books Amazon has listed for you, and you can add an existing blog via your RSS feed or use the space to start a new one.

I added my own RSS feed to my Amazon Author Page and got this back:

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I was kind of hoping it would have grabbed the older posts, but oh well. Sometimes a space like this is a good for raising older posts from the dead, after all. Imagine this post will be the first to show up there.

That's it for Author Central. I tried to keep my bio short and to the point. Seemed like brevity was the best course of action. I included a link to my Twitter account as well as this web site, though Amazon does not allow HTML.

Conclusion

Whew! That's a lot of information. Hopefully you've stuck with me and seen the possibilities opening up if you've considered publishing your e-book in the Kindle store. There's no doubt this forum brings with it a major plus: the fact that millions of people every day (every hour?) might find your e-book and buy it. These are numbers that most of us just can't get on our own sites.

Next time I'll take a look at another online e-book publisher: Smashwords.com.

Resources


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Kindle for PC

One of the features lacking in Amazon's Kindle plans for e-book domination has been the fact that in order to read e-books purchased from their store you need to have a Kindle.

No longer.

Amazon has just released the new Kindle for PC software, currently in beta with Mac version coming soon, which is a free download and allows you to view Kindle e-books on your home computer or laptop.

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If you're leery of beta software best wait for the release version, though I installed and did the basics without any issue.

Kindle for PC is a quick install. In moments, I was presented with the application's opening screen:

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The "Register now to get started" dialog wants your Amazon account information, but it is not necessary to fill this in as there is a "continue without registering" option. I went ahead and filled in my Amazon account information and clicked "Register".

Here's the application resized for better viewing:

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The interface is simple almost to the point of being plain. But then it has a fairly narrow, specific purpose: to view Kindle-formatted e-books. Since I registered the software with my Amazon account, Kindle for PC went through a quick sync cycle to see what Kindle e-books I had already purchased. Of course, I don't own a Kindle and therefore have not purchased any e-books from the Kindle store, so nothing showed up.

Fortunately, Amazon makes it easy to add Kindle e-books to my collection by placing a button at the top of the app that says, "Shop in Kindle Store":

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That, of course, brings you to the Kindle storefront where, with a quick search, I can find my e-book, The Hall of the Wood.

If you're curious about how the buying process works, click on the "How buying works" link beneath the "Buy" button at the right. This will bring up the following dialog with the new Kindle for PC option listed alongside the more traditional ones:

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You'll also see the Kindle for PC device already selected if you registered when the app came up:

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For demonstration purposes, and because I've never actually seen my e-book other than in DTP preview mode, I went ahead and purchased my own e-book. Chalk up another sale for me. Once I went through the payment method, etc., I get this:

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After clicking "Go to Kindle for PC", I'm brought back to the Kindle for PC app:

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A quick double-click on my e-book and it brings it up in all its glory:

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Now that's cool.

I can't say I'm real keen on reading e-books on my PC (or Mac if I had one). In other words, I still want an e-reader. But Amazon is addressing a void in the Kindle's feature set. One less thing for someone on the fence about purchasing one e-reader over another to concern themselves with. Plus, who knows, for people who want to buy e-books from Amazon but don't have an iPhone or Kindle, now they can.

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Amazon Kindle: Now, is the price right?

Amazon cut the price on their Kindle digital e-book reader again. This marks the second price cut of the year so far (the previous cut was $60). With Christmas rapidly approaching, and more digital readers hitting the market all the time (now, Barnes & Noble is going to sell one), one wonders if we won't see another price cut—or possible holiday price reductions—before the year is out.

As it stands now, here's the current breakdown of Kindle models and prices:

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The $259 and $279 Kindle differ only in that the latter allows one to download e-books when traveling abroad (outside the United States). The Kindle DX is the deluxe, super-sized Kindle, with a larger reading screen and more memory. Scott Hanselman, a technologist whom I follow on Twitter and whose blog and podcast I read and listen to regularly, has a nice post up about the differences between the Kindle and the Kindle DX if you'd like to read more on that.

Given this most recent price reduction, I'd like to dig up an older post of mine, How much does the Kindle 2 really cost?, where I cited an article where the author ran through a cost-justification of the Kindle 2. The author makes a comparison between buying a Kindle and accompanying e-books (at a rate of 2 per month) vs... buying the same number of traditional paperbacks.

So, buying paperbacks:

I could get free shipping if I ordered two paperbacks at a time and didn't mind waiting five to nine business days for them to ship. If I chose standard shipping (three business days) instead, I'd pay about $4.88 for two paperbacks mailed together. I wouldn't be charged tax. (I live in San Francisco. How much you pay in shipping or taxes depends on where you live.) The $4.88 shipping for two books a month would equal $58.56 a year. That brings my two-paperback-a-month habit (books + shipping) to $447.12 per year.

Versus buying the Kindle (remember, the cited price of the reader does not include the recent price cut, nor does it include the price cut of $60 from three months ago):

My Kindle 2 order totaled $365.98, which includes $359 for the e-book reader and $6.98 for three-business-day shipping. The average price of the top 10 Amazon Kindle nonfiction bestsellers is $9.78. If I bought two e-books per month, I'd spend $19.56 per month or $234.72 a year (shipping isn't necessary). My grand total for the year: $600.70, which includes the Kindle 2 and 24 e-books.

That gives us $447 vs.. $600. A $153 difference. If you extrapolate this out to 2 years as the author of the article does (excluding the cost of the Kindle on the second year, of course), those figures go to $894 and $835. By buying the Kindle (at yesterday's prices) you wind up saving $59.

Now, let's look at that in light of the recent Kindle price reduction.

The first scenario obviously doesn't change, so our annual price of buying 2 paperbacks/month remains at $447.

The first year Kindle price plus e-books, however, goes down to $500 (Kindle: $259; s/h: $6.98; e-books: $234.72) from $600.

That makes for a 1 year difference of $53 in favor of buying traditional books (much better than the initial figure of $153). Over 2 years, however, we have $894 for traditional books and $734, a difference in favor of the Kindle of $160. Before the price reduction, that savings for 2 years of Kindle ownership was $59.

Given all of that, the question is this: Is now the time to buy a Kindle?

I think not.

While I think the long term cost savings begin to warrant the cost of the device, I'm willing to wait just a little bit longer to see what holiday price reductions Amazon institutes. Competition in the digital reader space is increasing, driving prices down. I'd like to see how much further they fall before I pull the trigger.

2009-10-09 Update: No sooner do I publish this post when word gets around Twitter that Barnes & Noble is planning a color e-book reader, to be released next year. A reason to put off buying a monochrome reader, or does this have further potential to drive prices of existing readers down? Guess we'll wait and see.

Is this the last word on Kindlegate?

Amazon-kindle-booksAmazon's Kindle digital e-book reader has had its share of controversy. The latest, and perhaps biggest misstep, came when they remotely deleted e-books legally purchased by consumers, but which had been illegally made available for sale by an unscrupulous vendor who ignored certain copyright laws.

Ever since Amazon performed that act of deletion, removing such works as 1984 and Animal Farm right from under readers' noses, they have been playing make-up with consumers who, in some cases, have resorted to lawsuits to "ease their pain". Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, even issued an apology.

Now, we've come full circle. Amazon has offered to replace copies of 1984 and Animal Farm at no charge to Kindle consumers. The message was sent in an email, and reads (source here):

"As you were one of the customers impacted by the removal of "Nineteen Eighty-Four" from your Kindle device in July of this year, we would like to offer you the option to have us re-deliver this book to your Kindle along with any annotations you made. You will not be charged for the book."

"This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our "solution" to the problem was stupid, thoughtless and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we've received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission."

Also,

Amazon said in an e-mail message to those customers that if they chose to have their digital copies restored, they would be able to see any digital annotations they had made. Those who do not want the books are eligible for an Amazon gift certificate or a check for $30, the company said.

It would seem they're pulling out all the stops, giving consumers enough options that how could anyone not wind up satisfied?

If only it were that simple…

Amazon violated a fundamental right of people who live in a free society when they deleted those e-books. Yobie Benjamin says it best:

In most cases, it would require a government subpoena, grand jury summons or court order to require you to reveal the contents of your device, turn over the contents of your device and/or to delete the contents in the device.

Yet Amazon did so without any of those things. Clearly, they overstepped their bounds. Their attempts to make amends is proof enough of that. But did they go so far as to make the act unredeemable? Have they single-handedly crushed any potential for mass adoption of their Kindle and other similar devices that make use of DRM?

I think if anything good is to come of this it will be the shortening of the lifespan of digital rights management technology. We've already seen this in the music industry, where Amazon—and even Apple now—sell DRM-free MP3's. Amazon has laid bare the true evil of DRM for all to see. 'All', in this case, is the wider audience they are still trying to sell their device to. Sure, the Kindle is doing well, but there's a lot more people without the device than with it. If the device—and e-books as a whole—is to succeed, it needs this mass adoption.

Amazon, I'm afraid, may have cooked this goose a bit too long. It's past done.

As an aside, this post marks my 200th on this blog. It's not my 200th post overall, because I was blogging on another platform before I made the switch to scottmarlowe.com, but I did move over the "best of the best" of those posts onto here, so maybe we can call it my 200th 'good' post. Anyway, thought it was worth mentioning.

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