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Kindle’ll Win Because Content is King

Stephen King's novella UR will be available exclusively on Kindle for at least a while as part of the introduction of Kindle 2. Mainstream content by famous authors is unlikely to stay exclusive to the device, but this marketing approach gives a hint of what's to come. Many of us will "need" Kindles either because the content we want is available on them first or because Kindle – and perhaps a set of Kindle-compatible readers – are the only place we can get certain content. Physical books won't die away – especially because they can produced without huge inventory cost using print on demand (POD).

This is partly wishful thinking on my part. I'm hoping that Kindle and devices like it will become an alternate road to publication for new authors and will diminish the gatekeeper function of mainstream publishers. Hits, in most cases, will still require clever marketing, celebrity, and/or luck. Chris Anderson has written famously about how Amazon's "endless shelf" supports the long tail of books which would otherwise be out of print and out of distribution because they didn't make the sales cut for brick and mortar book stores. It makes sense that Kindle and the like will support an even longer tail – books which never would have been published at all except that they can be published and distributed at almost no cost (except the writing!) because they're only published electronically.

Some reference books will simply change to a subscription model so they can be kept ever-current. Cruising guides come to mind because we need to be able to access them even when we're not online but also would like them to be up-to-date.

Extremely topical books will come out first or perhaps exclusively for e-readers since they're need in a hurry but quickly become obsolete.

And books like UR which are lunched with hit power will trade short-term exclusivity for launch publicity. You gotta have a Kindle if you want to be first on your block to read UR.

Perhaps because of production and cost bottlenecks, Amazon is not now aiming the Kindle at the long tail of book publishing. There are many less books, just 230,000, available in the Kindle store than there are in Amazon's marketplace for traditional books. My blog Fractals of Change and my book hackoff.com: an historical murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble are both available on Kindle. I could only make the novel available for Kindle because it already was carried on Amazon as a "real" book; I'm not quite sure how the blog was chosen. Amazon solicits me for marketing and co-promotion opportunities for the traditional book but I haven't yet found out how to do direct marketing to Kindle owners (just asked Amazon). My short story "The Interpreter's Tale" is available as an e-book for downloading from Amazon to a computer but not for Kindle. At some point Amazon'll make this all come together but it hasn't happened yet.

Amazon will eventually have to decide whether it is a device provider or a content reseller. As a device provider, it makes sense to keep the price of the now scarce Kindle high at $359. But a content reseller would want to take razor and blades approach and make the reader cheap or even license the technology liberally to increase the audience for downloads. Tough decision because success would then depend on being the place where author's "publish" and readers search. There isn't much cost to publishing in multiple places. In the physical book world, Amazon has managed to create and expand a position as THE place to find the book you want. For authors today, if your book is going to be carried in only one place, you want that to be Amazon.

My bet is that Amazon will eventually decide to expand the market and take the price of the reader down – especially if it sells in high enough quantities at today's price to lower the cost of manufacture. But this is NOT what Amazon elected to do in yesterday's announcement; they followed the practice of the electronics industry by using lower component costs to increase capability rather than to lower price.    

Kindle – Free Internet Browsing for Just $400

Both this blog, Fractals of Change, and my novel hackoff.com: an historic murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble are available for Kindle, Amazon’s new e-book reader. These two reasons are enough for me to buy one even at the $400 (in 2010, $139) pre-Christmas price; but there’s a third reason that might convince even non-authors: free Internet browsing.

Update: I should’ve been clear. You have to pay to subscribe to FOC ($.99/month) or to buy hackoff.com ($4.76) on Kindle in Kindle format although both are free on the web and even through the Kindle browser (see below). Fred Wilson hates this but it doesn’t bother me because the connectivity is free (once you buy the device). Usually you pay connect to the Internet and get the content free. This is another choice for readers.


In a New York Times article this morning, Saul Hansell quotes Amazon founder Jeff Bezos: “If you go back in time, the landscape is littered with the bodies of dead e-book readers.” Presumably Jeff means the devices and not the people who used them.

Obviously, Amazon means to succeed with this device despite the fact that other e-book devices have hardly taken the world by storm. It is different in at least one important way from its predecessors: it comes with a free wireless Internet connection via Sprint EVDO service (which Amazon calls Whispernet). Clearly, this connectivity is meant to make the device easy to use and written material easy to purchase. For comparison, an unlimited EVDO plan from Sprint costs $60/month but you don’t have to have an account with Sprint to use EVDO.

You can do more than just buy e-books or order from Amazon over this connection. Kindle includes a web browser. Unlimited use of this browser over Whispernet is free. Note: This isn’t absolutely clear from the Kindle documentation so I called Kindle support. “Yes,” the CSR said, “free,” and “yes, unlimited.”

From an author’s point of view, the inclusion of a browser is a breakthrough. My blog as well as the online editions of hackoff.com and The Interpreter’s Tale all include links which I think added to the stories but get lost in the paper editions. People already read blogs online, both because of timeliness and links. I’ll start reading books online when they are richer than paper books – that means links that work!

This isn’t full Internet access. There is limited e-mail available through which you can receive attachments which Amazon converts to Kindle format at $.10 for each conversion (or free if you email them to your non-Kindle email account). Other people you authorize (remember, you’re paying for the conversion) can also send you attachments. But this isn’t a Blackberry; you can’t do your regular email through it you can only do email in the browser.

Other than downloading Kindle-compatible content and products from Audible.com, it doesn’t appear that you can do any other kinds of file transfer over the Internet connection. You can use the included USB cable, however, to transfer photos and music from your PC directly.

Even the browser isn’t fully featured. According to the User’s Guide: “Your Kindle comes with an Experimental application called Basic Web which is a Web browser that is optimized to read text-centric Web sites. It supports JavaScript, SSL and cookies but does not support media plug-ins (Flash, Shockwave, etc.) or Java applets.” That means no YouTube on your Kindle. Note: TechCrunch says that Kindle DOESN’T support JavaScript. I’m assuming they mean Java since web access these days is almost useless without JavaScript but don’t have a device so can’t be sure.

Depending on Sprint EVDO has its plusses and minuses: there is no searching for a hotspot as there would have been with WiFi and no worry about signing on to a WiFi service. On the other hand, Sprint EVDO isn’t everywhere in the US and is hardly anywhere outside the US. Amazon marketing says: “With Whispernet, you can be anywhere, think of a book, and get it in one minute. Similarly, your content automatically comes to you, wherever you are. Newspaper subscriptions are delivered wirelessly each morning. Most magazines arrive before they hit newsstands.” I buy the one minute; but “anywhere” is quite a stretch.

My bet, WiFi will be added soon. If people are going to use the live links, it won’t be satisfying to download where you have EVDO connectivity and then read offline. But WiFi is becoming pervasive in homes and hotels and’ll soon be in planes (I hope).

Maybe Kindle is the wave of the future for free web access. See this post.

 

update 2010: Kindle – Does It Provide Free International Internet Access?

 

BookTour.com and Amazon

BookTour.com, the site which links touring authors with readers, has a cool new feature which takes advantage of the fact that many readers are also customers of Amazon.com. If you give BookTour your Amazon credentials, it logs into Amazon, finds out what authors’ books you’ve been buying, and then lets you know by email or RSS when these authors are touring near you.

This supplements a feature which BookTour has had since the beginning: you can tell BookTour explicitly which authors you’re interested in meeting if they should be nearby and have it alert you to their upcoming appearances. You can also use BookTour to invite your favorite authors to your book club, library, or store.

Only those authors who have currently signed up with BookTour.com will get added to your profile. There is this chicken and egg thing with new web services that match providers and consumers. Providers don’t have much incentive to sign up until consumers do; consumers don’t have much incentive until there are providers. But, full disclosure, I’m signed up as an author with BookTour.com so; if you bought hackoff.com: an historic murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble or “The Interpreter’s Tale” (an Amazon short) from Amazon, you’ll find me on your author list automagically if you use this new feature.

Once your Amazon authors have been added, you can manually delete the ones you DON’T want to hear from or about.

Chris Anderson, cofounder of BookTour and author of The Long Tail, says that BookTour protects your privacy by promptly forgetting your Amazon credentials. You need to give them again in order to refresh your author list. I’d like to see this polite behavior be the default option with an override allowing the site to remember my Amazon credentials but this is just a quibble.

BookTour is free for both authors and readers although authors can buy ads. I haven’t tried that yet.

New Excerpt from The Interpreter's Tale

Sagrada_familia_5 This is a second teaser from my long short story "The Interpreter's Tale".  The whole story is for sale as an Amazon Short.  You can buy it from Amazon for reading, printing, or downloading as a PDF for just 49 cents, the price of all Amazon Shorts. Unfortnuately, though, you have to have a US shipping address to buy an Amazon Short.  Still trying to work out something for nonUS readers.

The Blurb

The pickpockets of Barcelona are justly famed for their ability to extract whatever they want from anywhere; why are they suddenly stealing cheap cellphones in preference to laden purses? What does this have to do with Gaudi's fantastic unfinished cathedral, with mega-yachts, with the long-ago Caliphate, and modern-day terrorists? Interpol and their super-hacker consultant Dom Montain would like to know; so would the Romanian-born police interpreter Maria whose tale this is. If you read my novel hackoff.com, you already know Dom. Whether you read hackoff.com or not, I think you'll enjoy meeting Maria.

The Teaser

About five minutes apart, the Americans and the engineer both rent the audioguide in English for the tour of Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi’s great unfinished basilica in Barcelona.  Even had there been a guide available in Arabic, the engineer would not have asked for it. He could be mistaken for an Englishman in his appearance, his language, and his mannerisms.

“I didn’t even know it was still being built,” the American says to his wife. “I hardly even heard of it before.  It’s huge, much bigger than all those Gothic cathedrals you drag me through.  When did he start it?”

“I don’t know,” the American wife says, “probably late 1800s early 1900s.  Parts look like his other building, parts don’t.”

The audioguide tells them that many contemporary architects and sculptors have been enlisted to complete Gaudi’s vision.  He intended the basilica to be “the last great sanctuary of Christendom” according to the tape.  Plans for its crowning cross, which is not yet in place, include a giant beacon which will be visible far out to sea.

Arches

The engineer looks up to where massive columns branch into what appear to be delicate stone tendrils.  The tendrils become arches supporting the unfinished roof of the central nave under which he and many others including the Americans are standing.  The concrete decorations are cast on site before fitting.  Workmen then hoist them up to the arches and tendrils. Electrical wires for the connection of lights dangle incongruously from holes in the stone columns.  The engineer plays a section of the recording several times and makes careful notes of numbers and sketches of the supports.

The engineer and the Americans are in the same elevator going up for a high view from the towers but they don’t notice each other.  “You can see carved fruit on some of the spires,” the wife says.

“The guide says Gaudi specified ceramics for these heights because the rain would wash them clean,” the American says.  “Looks like he was an architect who actually understood engineering.”

“I still smile when I think about the roof of the house he designed on the Passeig de Gracia,” says the wife. “He has such a sense of fun.  That tour was wonderful.”

“Too bad it was so crowded.”

Even from the height of the balcony off the tower, the engineer is looking up to see the vaults of the central nave. He makes a few more sketches. He draws part of the scaffolding and the notes carefully the circuitous route through partially-finished spiral stairs and temporary ladders which leads from the floor to the highest platforms.

Both the engineer and the Americans visit the gift shop before leaving.  Both buy books.  While the American couple is visiting an ancillary school room for workers’ children, also designed by Gaudi, the engineer makes a wax cast of the simple hasp lock on one of the gates which separates the workers from the tourists.

The Americans leave by subway.  The engineer leaves on a motorbike.

**************

The rest of the story is here.

Amazon Shorts Restricted To USA

Loyal hackoff.com reader Allan tried to download “The Interpreter’s Tale” from Amazon and promptly ran into and commented on a restriction I didn’t know about: you have to have a US shipping address to purchase Amazon Shorts even though all fulfillment is online!

I asked my contact at Amazon about this and it’s true. The reason is that Amazon thinks it might be guilty of not collecting VAT in some countries and so has taken the broadbrush approach of restricting downloads to those it has good reason to believe are in the US. They do promise me that they are looking for alternative ways to deliver to readers outside the US.

This is a particularly serious issue for Shorts authors because we sign up for six months exclusivity (minimum) in order to get this distribution. It’s not a good thing (to say the least) if that means our works are only available in the US. Hopefully Amazon will have a solution soon.

The Interpreter's Tale

Cover_2 The pickpockets of Barcelona are justly famed for their ability to extract whatever they want from anywhere; why are they suddenly stealing cheap cellphones in preference to laden purses? What does this have to do with Gaudi's fantastic unfinished cathedral, with mega-yachts, with the long-ago Caliphate, and modern-day terrorists? Interpol and their super-hacker consultant Dom Montain would like to know; so would the Romanian-born police interpreter Maria whose tale this is. If you read my novel hackoff.com, you already know Dom. Whether you read hackoff.com or not, I think you'll enjoy meeting Maria.

"The Interpreter's Tale" is a long short story. It was just released today as an Amazon Short.  You can buy it from Amazon for reading, printing, or downloading as a PDF for just 49 cents, the price of all Amazon Shorts.

Below is a teaser from the story.  However, I'm NOT planning to  run the whole thing as blog posts this time.  It'll cost you $.49 to find out how it ends.

*********

Barcelona, not Madrid, was the leader’s first choice for an attack on Spain. It is well-known that he hates Barcelona, considers it the well-spring of Muslim humiliation which began with the Reconquista in 722AD, continued with the Crusades, and led to the current unsatisfactory state of the world.

Usually the leader’s first choice is what happens. But last time Allah did not will it so. The local cell in Barcelona was incompetent; that in Madrid excellent. As the leader feared, the Basques were first given credit for the attack; but this myth was soon dispelled. Spain, as he said it would, recognized their power and elected politicians committed to withdrawal from Iraq.

One does not question the decisions of the leader, even if one is respected enough to be in The Cave (The location of The Cave is always changing. Sometimes it in Afghanistan, sometimes in Pakistan; but it is always The Cave). If one is very respected, one may ask to be informed by what wisdom the leader has made his decision. One has asked to be enlightened of the wisdom by which a further attack on Spain is planned after the success of the operation in Madrid and the quick capitulation of the Spanish, Allah be praised.

“The Spanish are still infidels,” the leader reminds them. “They have troops in Afghanistan even though these troops are cowards who are prohibited by protocols from actually fighting. Their culture remains degenerate. They respect neither the Prophet nor those who worship him. There must be a clear lesson that partial capitulation will never be accepted nor will it be proof against our power.

“Allah willing,” he continues, “ a new time has come. The Caliphate will be restored. This time it will not succumb to the bickering and rivalries and impieties which led to the downfall of the old Caliphate. The world will be united in the one true faith as the Prophet tells us that it must be. It is our honor to be the means to this end. A new lesson is needed and, Allah willing, shall be delivered.” He turns in a way which indicates that this discussion is ended.

But then he turns back. “Certain mistakes were made in the last operation,” he says. “Our men were prepared to be martyrs but they did not have to be. Worse yet, some were captured before they could be martyred. Allah did not make them strong enough and the infidels learned much more than they should have. These mistakes must not be repeated.”

“What are those mistakes that we may avoid them in the next operation?”

“Those who have a need to know already do know. There is no need to spread the knowledge further.” He turns away again and this time the conversation really is over.

**************

The rest of the story is here.

Amazon Shorts

Update! “The Interpreter’s Tale is now available for download from Amazon Shorts.  A short preview is here.

Today an email came saying that my long story (or short novel) “The Interpreter’s Tale” has been accepted into the Amazon Shorts program. The Shorts are “are never-before-seen short works from a wide variety of well-known authors, available only on Amazon.com.”  They are only distributed electronically although you are welcome to print them.  And they all sell for $.49.

Since I self-published my first novel, hackoff.com: an historic murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble, it drew neither acceptance (nor rejection) letters. An acceptance letter turns out to be more gratifying than I would have thought, quite possibly because I’m the son of two oft-published writers and the spirits of our house ebbed and flowed with acceptance and rejection letters not to mention that we ate (or didn’t) based on royalties.

Authors get a whopping 40% royalty for Shorts; much more than the standard 6% my parents got.  But, of course, their books sold for a lot more than $.49. This is most likely not a road to riches but it is two different experiments for me.

The author experiment is the open-ended question: what can fiction look like if we don’t worry about the printed media called books and magazines?  Can we find new, interesting ways to tell a story?  This is a continuation of  the experiment that started with publishing hackoff.com as a blook.

In the old days of non-electronic distribution, there was usually a clear line between short stories, which had to fit in magazines, and novels, which had to fill the form factor of a book.  A very well-know author could stretch this some with a novella or a long short story serialized but generally the story had to fit the medium it was distributed in.

I have a story to tell in bits and pieces, a mosaic of little mysteries that may knit into the tapestry of an adventure.  Some pieces are long like hackoff.com; some are much shorter like “The Interpreter’s Tale”.  All are likely to contain links to online pictures, maps, and who knows what else.  I am writing for the electronic editions, not paper, although I know from experience with hackoff.com that many of you will choose to print and read.  One of the things I like about the Amazon Shorts program is that you retain the right to view or download the electronic edition forever.   Even if you read primarily paper, you can go back and click through any links that you want to follow.

As a web guy, I’m interested in distribution and how content creators connect with content consumers.  How do content creators make a living meeting the need of content consumers?  Part of the answer is that prices go down because a lot of middlemen disappear and much of the physical cost of distribution goes down.  But another part of the answer has to be some sort of marketplace or substitute for a marketplace where sellers find their buyers and vice versa.

My experience with hackoff.com was that about ten to twenty thousand readers read all or a substantial part of the blook online or listed to the podcasts (all free).  These readers found the blook mainly by word of blog and a small amount of planned promotion.  However, this online interest did NOT make the eventual hardcover edition a hit by any means.  It still sells; people still read the online version.  But there is no efficient way to promote either of them in isolation and I don’t have a list of other books to sell along with them.  Thanks to traditional Amazon, however, the book isn’t doomed to disappear and become inaccessible.

Amazon Shorts and other forms of electronic distribution like Mobipocket.com, which I’m also experimenting with, may be part of the answer.  They are places where people who like to read go (don’t know how many).  The fact that content costs money through these channels means that the channel has a reason to promote.  I suspect that channel promotion will remain important to authors – even those authors who don’t need to make a direct living from their books.

Speaking of promotion: I’m only going to tell you a tiny bit about “The Interpreter’s Tale” now.  It takes place in Barcelona; Dom Montain, super-hacker from the last novel, is back;  Larry Lazard, who died in the last novel, is not; there are no stock brokers or IPOs in the story.  Mary says I’m not allowed to say more until there is an Amazon Shorts URL for the story to link to; you know, that call to action thing.

Now on Kindle!

hackoff.com: An historic murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble

CEO Tom Evslin's insider account of the Internet bubble and its aftermath. "This novel is a surveillance video of the seeds of the current economic collapse."

The Interpreter's Tale

Hacker Dom Montain is in Barcelona in Evslin's Kindle-edition long short story. Why? and why are the pickpockets stealing mobile phones?

Need A Kindle?

Kindle: Amazon's Wireless Reading Device

Not quite as good as a real book IMHO but a lot lighter than a trip worth of books. Also better than a cell phone for mobile web access - and that's free!

Recent Reads - Click title to order from Amazon


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