Reviewing Kindle samples

I purchased my Kindle because I liked the idea of my library of books being at my fingertip. I also liked the fact that ebooks are, typically, cheaper than paper books. What I didn’t expect was how much the Kindle opened up new avenues in reading for me, and it did so through the concept of Kindle samples.

As you’re browsing through books, either with the Kindle, or online at Amazon, if you find one that’s interesting but not sure whether you want to buy it or not, you can download a sample to your device for review. The sample is automatically sent to the Kindle, at no cost. At the end of the sample, you’re asked whether you want to buy the book, or read more about it at Amazon. If you decide you don’t want to buy the book, you can then use the Kindle’s Content Manager to delete the sample.

How big the Kindle samples are depends on the size of books. Some of the samples were quite large, others the briefest of introductions. The structure of the samples differed, too, probably based on the ebook structure as determined by the publisher. Many books started directly in the first chapter, without having to traverse any preliminary dedication or cover. Other books, though, led off with every last bit of paper that proceeded the book in hard format, including copyright pages, forwards, dedications, publisher contact information, and so on.

I have purchased, and enjoyed, several books via Kindle samples—books I probably wouldn’t have bought if it weren’t for the samples. I’ve also avoided many more books because the writing in the samples proved disappointing, or not what I expected.

What was it about each sample that led to the Buy, No Buy decision? In answering, I decided to review the Kindle samples I download, regardless of whether I bought the book based on the sample or not. If I buy the book, the review will then transition into a full book review. If not, then the review will be of the sample, only, including a discussion of why I did not buy the book.

I begin my new sample reviews with an author whose name might be familiar to some of you: Seth Godin’s Tribes.


Kindle Coupon

I imagine this will kick start Kindle sales: MobileRead reports that Oprah Winfrey calls the Kindle her favorite gadget. All due respect to the Big O, I could care less, except that there’s supposedly a $50.00 coupon associated with her favoritism, which you can use when you buy a Kindle. The coupon code is OPRAHWINFREY, lasting until November 1.

I haven’t been writing much about my Kindle, something I plan on changing at my newly updated Just Shelley site. In the meantime, the Kindle is not a bad gift idea, and $50.00 saved is $50.00 saved.

PS Rumor has it that the UK Kindle is on its way, but you know how rumors are.

PPS Perhaps Om Malik will buy a Kindle for Stacey now that he can get a $50.00 discount.

PPPS Oops, no go for the UK Kindle just yet.


Grumbles in Kindletown

I have written before about my satisfaction with my Kindle, and even hope to write a couple of book reviews on new discoveries. However, not all is well in Kindletown at the moment, and reason is prices for Kindle editions.

I’ve been wanting the second book in Mercedes Lackey’s Obsidian trilogy, but Amazon only offered the first and third books. A few days ago, I noticed that the second book, To Light a Candle was available…for $22.63, which was equivalent to about 300% the price of the paperback (currently at $7.99).

I was astonished and more than a little peeved at the price, and posted a note about it in the Kindle forums. Not long after my note, another reader noticed that another Tor book by Mercedes Lackey, The Phoenix Unchained was also set to a price more expensive than the paperback ($16.61 as compared to $7.99). What’s even more odd about The Phoenix Unchained, it was originally set to a discounted paperback price of $6.29, and the price only jumped in the last week or so.

Today, To Light a Candle was reduced to $7.19, which compared to $7.99 for the paperback was an acceptable value. However, The Phoenix Unchained is still set to $16.61, effectively 150% the cost of a paperback. Though incidental to this discussion on books prices, I also noticed that the third volume in the Obsidian trilogy has vanished from the Kindle lists, which is odd considering that it makes no sense to “sell out” a digital book.

What seems to be happening with The Phoenix Unchained is that the Kindle volume is being offered at a discounted value…discounted from the hard cover price, not the paperback. Not for all of the books, either, but enough to generate some concerns.

In addition, I noticed my own Painting the Web has a discount of about 9% for the Kindle version, which is different from O’Reilly’s 20% discount it offers for the eBook bundle at the O’Reilly site. However, my paper book is discounted by Amazon, while the Kindle book is given less of a discount, so again, we’re talking about difficult to understand variations in Kindle pricing.

Another reader mentioned wanting to read the Janis Ian Autobiography, but the Kindle price is $16.01, while the hard cover is $17.79. Both are discounted from the retail cost of the book, which is $26.95. However, what happens when the paperback of the book is offered? Will the Kindle then become discounted from the paperback cost? Or discounted from the original hard cover?

Chances are, the pricing issues we noticed with the Tor books are related to Amazon being a bit overwhelmed with trying to load books, and making mistakes in the pricing. I can’t see how a publisher would expect to charge more for a Kindle book than a paperback, though I’m not sure I should make this assumption. Without any understanding of how the pricing schemes work, with books appearing, disappearing, and then appearing again, as prices vary significantly between publishers, we readers have become the ebook version of a Wall Street trader: forced to continuously check book prices, and be ready to scream out “Buy!” when the books we want hit that sweet spot (as O’Reilly has defined it).

I never knew book buying could be such an adventure. Or so stressful.


Kindle and book freebies

In between accounts of the smog over Beijing, James Fallows at The Atlantic has been writing about his new Kindle and being able to use the device overseas. He also mentions a couple of free ebook download sites. I wanted to add to that list that the science fiction book publisher, Tor, is making several books available for free downloads through today (including PDFs for online reading). Hopefully this isn’t too late a notice for most of you.

I am still enamored with my Kindle, so much so that I’ve filled it up with free and purchased books, as well as samples, research reports, and other documents. I recently added an 8GB SDHC card, and am now happily trying to fill it up, too.

I do agree with one criticism of the Kindle in that it would be nice if there were a way to categorize the writings, as well as organize them into folders. However, you can search on any term, as well as display them by author, title, and status, so that will have to do for now.

Returning to using the Kindle overseas, Amazon is still not selling the device or Kindle books overseas and this decision isn’t because of Whispernet, it’s because of distribution rights and issues of copyright. Most publishers sell rights to distribution in foreign countries, an old practice that doesn’t live well with new ways of delivering content.

However, if you have a US-based address (in order to receive the Kindle) and credit card that works with Amazon purchases in the States, you could get the Kindle delivered and buy books. It’s just that instead of having them download via Whispernet, you download them to your computer and copy over using the USB cable. You can also use the same approach for updating your Kindle’s software.

It’s not as convenient as Whispernet, but it is workable. Perhaps we in the States should “adopt” our friends overseas, though there are other ebook readers that can be purchased regardless of country.

It’s also important to note that you don’t have to purchase books with Amazon. Many companies, like Tor, O’Reilly, and others are also selling ebooks direct, in formats that should work with a Kindle, a Sony ebook reader, and so on. It’s not as convenient, but other approaches may not be so locked in.

As for whether ebooks will replace the paper books, Fallows writes:

My theory: television didn’t eliminate radio, telephones didn’t eliminate personal conversations, eBooks won’t eliminate real books. People always find more ways to communicate, and this will be another way. Very good for some kinds of information, not so much for others. A welcome new addition to the mix.

Yes, but isn’t Twitter destroying our brains?

update A timely and interesting article on the internet’s impact on reading in the New York Times.

Books Technology

Amazon S3 and Kindle

It’s not just SmugMug and other client applications that aren’t working because of Amazon’s S3 failure. You can purchase a book on Amazon, and it shows among your books in Content Manager, but the book won’t download. The same holds for any subscriptions you try to download.

You don’t get an error or a message. You just don’t get the book. I’ve been back and forth with Amazon trying to figure out why my new purchases weren’t downloading, until I saw the posts about S3. I’m assuming that the book files are stored in S3 storage. Understandable. What’s less understandable is the absolute lack of communication about why a book is not downloading.

I have to wonder if this isn’t related to Amazon’s new video download service. If so, then we may be in for some interesting times.

Amazon also put out a Whispernet upgrade today, and several people have been told this is the problem. However, if the issue was networking, we wouldn’t be able to access the store. We can access the store, but we can’t get our purchases to download. That strikes me as a storage access problem, not a Whispernet problem. Since the timing on this is identical with the down time on S3, I would say these two items are related. Either that, or Amazon is having a system wide failure.

Just received from Amazon:

I apologize for the difficulties you have experienced while trying to download from the Amazon Kindle Store. We are currently performing upgrades on some of our systems that handle file downloads like yours and this is responsible for the error you encountered. Please retry your download again in a few hours and let us know if this problem persists.

That’s the first time I’ve heard a system failure called an upgrade. Amazon is not handling this incident well.

Amazon is all better now and we’re able to download our books. One of the books I purchased was my own, Painting the Web. I just couldn’t resist seeing the whole thing in Kindle.

However, you can forget the “enough room to store 300 books” if you buy my book on the Kindle. The largest book I’ve had to date was 6MB. Painting the Web took a whopping seventeen MB of space. I’m not sure if it’s the heaviest Kindle book there is, but it certainly has to be up there with any others.