Don’t judge a box by its content

Don’t judge a box by its content

We’ve probably all heard the old saying that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

The idea is that the cover of a book may mislead you. It might be bland, while the book inside is exciting…or the opposite might be true.

There have been some pretty hilarious covers, like the ones in this

Trivia Happy post

Of course, nowadays, we may not even see the same cover for an e-book we are going to buy.

I haven’t heard about this happening, yet, but I  certainly anticipate it.

As you shop in different sections of a site, the cover for the same book might change its appearance to match the section. A Christian mystery might have a conservative cover in the Christian fiction section, and a flashier one in the Mystery section.

That idea just occurred to me, but it fits right in with a book I’ve just read:

Age of Context: Mobile, Sensors, Data and the Future of Privacy (at AmazonSmile)
by Richard Scoble and Shel Israel

and which I do recommend (I’ll write a review of it on Goodreads). They are talking about the  convergence  of five forces in technology (mobile, big data, sensors, location, and social media) and how they will create a context society, where our devices (and organizations) know much more about who we are and what we are doing, and tailor communications to match.

In fact, there is probably a real opportunity for a business there (if not for Amazon itself). Something that can algorithmically customize covers. I would think it might be very effective for the system to go find a picture of you (on a profile or on the web) and subtly merge elements of your appearance with that of a cover character. When that sort of morphing has been done, people tend to find the morphed picture (which they don’t know was morphed) to be a lot more trustworthy. I also saw something recently about people on dating sites tending to pick “themselves” more often.

Sure, we would sometimes want to see something exotic…and might not want to be the murderer on the cover. If, though, you stuck somebody in the background that had the morphing done, I bet that would work.

However, I digress. :)

I wrote this post to update that old saying.

When you buy an electronic gadget (and to make the saying work best, I’m calling all of those a “box”, whether it is a Kindle Fire HDX (at AmazonSmile: support a non-profit of your choice by shopping*), a Amazon Fire TV (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*), a Kindle Paperwhite, 6? 2nd generation, wi-fi only, with Special Offers (at AmazonSmile), or something else), don’t judge it by the content it has.

That can change…and rapidly.

When the Fire TV was first released, there were a lot of very low starring reviews based on the fact that it didn’t have HBO Go. There were one and two star reviews…from people who didn’t even have the device yet.

I can absolutely see saying that it didn’t serve your purposes at that point, so you weren’t going to buy it yet…but that’s a very fluid characteristic on which to judge a gadget.

One of the interesting things is that Amazon included HBO GO in its comparison table…showing that they didn’t have it.

Why do that?

I think it’s because they are likely to get it.

Why don’t they have it already?

They have to negotiate it.

Let’s imagine you were HBO.

Right now, your customers want to watch HBO on their devices.

You have an app: it even works with Amazon’s Kindle Fire:

HBO GO (Kindle Fire Edition) (at AmazonSmile)

Your customers still have to have a subscription to HBO through a TV provider (like a cable company, or satellite) to use it…so you are making money from it.

Amazon wants to license it for their new streaming device, the Fire TV. It will attract customers to their gadget.

Your reasonable response might be, “What’s it worth to you?”

Makes some sense in the beginning… you don’t even know how many people are going to buy one until it is released.

Naturally, if a lot of people start using them and it starts cutting into the market for other boxes (the Roku, for example), that might shift some of the balance of power to Amazon. If people buy the Fire TV and you aren’t on it, they might decide they just don’t need you any more.

That’s not in the beginning, though…you might be able to wait to see what happens.

Would Amazon like to have had it at launch? Sure, but they can’t hold up the whole product waiting for one license. According to the documents in the Apple Agency Model conviction (for fixing prices), Apple was trying to negotiate quickly to get enough of the big publishers on board for iBooks when the iPad came out. That haste might have contributed to the eventual woes (with five publishers settling, and Apple losing…although they have appealed).

Personally, I’m not a cynical person. I tend to think good things about people and organizations.

I don’t quite get the cynical attitude. It would be like…putting shoe polish on your tongue before you went to dinner: it would just make everything taste bad. ;)

That doesn’t mean I was surprised when people said that Amazon’s voice search on the Fire TV only worked on Amazon Instant Video because they don’t want you to use competitors.

Amazon seems to be fine with you using competitors…you can get apps for your Kindle Fire from Amazon for direct competitors, such as

Netflix (at AmazonSmile)

and

Hulu Plus (at AmazonSmile)

…both of which came installed on the Fire TV!

Does it seem logical that they would let you use the app on the Fire TV, and then block you from using the voice search for those apps (even though you can key in a search), in an attempt to keep you from using them?

The voice search needs its own negotiation.

Why?

You need access to the company’s product database, which changes every day.

According to this

press release

Amazon has signed deals with Hulu Plus, Crackle, and Showtime to have the voice search work with their catalogs later this year.

I’m sure they are working on Netflix, too.

Oh, and I should point out, not all the competitors return the favor by featuring Amazon in their stores. Many bookstores have refused to carry books published by Amazon. Google Play still doesn’t recognize the Kindle Fire as a device…my best guess is that Google is making that choice. After all, we can commonly get apps that are at Google Play from other (legal) sources for the Fire (including Amazon’s own Appstore, and 1Mobile.com). I doubt Amazon is choosing to stay out of the Google Play store online (their Kindle reader app is available there, after all). Now, Amazon might not want to pay some fee to put Google Play directly on their devices…but the forked nature of the Android version Amazon is using might also have something to do with that.

If I don’t think you should judge a box by its content, do I think it is okay to judge it by its interface? After all, that could change in the future too, right?

Well, I do think that’s different. The interface (how a user interacts with it) not only tells you about how they feel about customers, they can largely develop the feel of it in house. They don’t have to negotiate with somebody to have a way to remove something from the “Recent” (which the Fire TV has). If something had an interface that made you put in, or, your astrological sign each time you wanted to do something, I could see saying that made it a less desirable device.

I would judge a gadget by:

  • The hardware specifications (does it have the power and connectors you want?)
  • The company’s Customer Service
  • The strength of the company
  • The interface
  • The openness
  • The  compatibility with other things you own…at lest the philosophy of that. That one could change, though

Oh, and yeah, sure…the coolness factor. ;)

Last point: I’m not saying you should buy something that doesn’t have what you want. Not buying it is not the same as denigrating it…

What do you think? How does Amazon treat its competitors on its devices and on its website? What do you look at before you buy a product? Would you write a bad review of something, because it didn’t have a license you wanted? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


TKC 298 Molly Hawthorne

Molly Hawthorne

Retired Special Ed Teacher and Kindle Reader

Interview starts at 19:42

I read The New York Times Book Magazine on Sundays, and I belong to a book group, and there are suggestions there. If I come across anything in the newspaper or whatever, then I check it out. The nice thing is I can get a sample of it and read that sample. If I like it I can download it, and if not I just go onto the next.

 Show Notes and Links:

 News

“Amazon Kindle Fire Smartphone Expected Release Date” by Christine Celis at AndroidOrigin – April 14, 2014

Tech Tip

Amazon Cloud Collections

Interview with Molly Hawthorne

Viking River Cruises longship Ingvi

Interview with Charles and Robbie Beazley (Starts at 31:28)

Click here to download PDF of Kindle Paperwhite User’s Guide – 2nd Edition

Content

Books on Molly Hawthorne’s Kindle (all prices as listed at Kindle Store):

The Litigators by John Grisham – $6.35

Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies by J.B. West and Mary Lynn Kotz – $1.99

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty – $5.99

The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum by Temple Grandin and Richard Panek – $9.09

Orphan Train: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline – $6.99

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot – $7.99

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd – $10.99

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman – $8.99

Books on the Kindles of Charles and Robbie Beazley:

The Racketeer by John Grisham – $4.99

Reservation to Kill by Leonard Finz – $2.99

Next Week’s Show:

I am working with an Amazon representative at the company’s Paris office to set up an interview next week when Darlene and I conclude our current trip with three days in Paris.

How You Can Support E-Books for Troops

Click here to help, so we can continue to distribute donated Kindles to U.S. Soldiers deployed overseas.

Click here for information on how to donate your used Kindle.

For information regarding major gifts or other questions, please email me at PodChronicles AT gmail DOT com.

Thanks to all of you who are already supporting E-Books for Troops, and a special thanks to M-Edge Accessories, which donates new Kindle cases whenever we need them to supplement cases that we receive with the donated Kindles.

Music for my podcast is from an original Thelonius Monk composition named “Well, You Needn’t.” This version is “Ra-Monk” by Eval Manigat on the “Variations in Time: A Jazz Persepctive” CD by Public Transit Recording” CD.

Please Join the Kindle Chronicles group at Goodreads!

Send to Kindle

Add Your Amazon Books rolling out to Goodreads website

Add Your Amazon Books rolling out to Goodreads website

When Amazon bought Goodreads (a bit over a year ago), one of the advantages people  envisaged  (and certainly, some people thought there might be disadvantages as well) was the ability to easily import your Amazon purchases to your Goodreads shelves.

We did get the ability to do that from some Kindle devices. For example, you have that functionality on the Kindle Paperwhite.

That was fine for people with those devices, but there are lots of Goodreads users who have bought books from Amazon and don’t have Kindles (or at least, those specific devices). The import isn’t just for Kindle editions…it’s for p-books (paperbooks) also.

In this

Goodreads blog post

they announce that Add Your Amazon Books”…will be available in the next few weeks to members in the U.S., Canada, and Australia. ”

Other countries are expected to follow.

After giving you an explanation of what it will be like (it will be on My Books under Tools), they give you a link to where you can go ahead and do it now:

Early Access

They have a Question and Answer section there. I’ve asked this, but don’t have an answer yet:

“This seems to be similar to the functionality on the Kindle devices (for the ones which have it). It is only showing me recently purchased books, and I have something like a thousand which haven’t been imported. My guess is that there might have been a size limit the first time it did the sync, and now it doesn’t go back and re-query, just starts with books after the last sync (yes, I’m a geek). :) Any troubleshooting for it not importing all of the books? Are there books which wouldn’t be imported (ones without ISBNs, perhaps)? Thanks! “

Why do this?

Mainly to “feed” Goodreads. It lets other people see what you are reading (if you choose that), helps you keep track for yourself…and strengthens the algorithms used by the system to make recommendations to you.

For those of you who are already Goodreads users, this simplifies things. If you don’t use Goodreads now (I do…you can follow me. I write a little review there on most books I finish), maybe this will get you to start. ;)

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


Amazon updates Kindle Personal Documents

Amazon updates Kindle Personal Documents

In this

Amazon Kindle forum thread (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

Amazon announced some significant changes to their Personal Documents service.

Previously, you had the ability to send documents to your Kindle. You could e-mail them to a special e-mail address your Kindle has, or use the “Send to Kindle” feature:

send to kindle (at AmazonSmile)

and they would be stored in your Cloud/archives. One place they were available was at

http://www.amazon.com/manageyourkindle (at AmazonSmile)

You could also download them from your device.

For example, I keep the configuration information for my routers there. That way, I can access it from any of my devices. That means I have the information on my phone or tablet when I set up a new device.

As of today, though, they are also stored in your Amazon Cloud Drive, in a folder called “My Send-to-Kindle Docs”.

That does give you the advantage of the additional organizational capabilities of the Cloud drive (you can add folders, mass delete, move and copy, and so on).

Nice enough, I suppose, to have it in the same site as personal photos and documents you’ve uploaded directly to the Cloud drive.

By the way, I’ve seen a lot of complaints today. That seems to be the normal thing with any update…”Though Kindle updates, may bring the pain…” ;)

Some people appear to have gotten tons of documents this way, and a few people mentioned .png files. Those are “Portable Network Graphics” files, and I’m guessing what happened there is they uploaded a file with pictures in it, and the Cloud drive broke each picture out into its own file. That didn’t happen with me, by the way: my new drive looks very much like what I would want it to do in this case, with the appropriate number of files.

The other big part of this announcement, though, is that files will stay in their native formats.

What that means is that, if you e-mail a Word document to your Kindle, it will be converted to a Kindle friendly document…and it will be available as a Word document in your Cloud Drive. I tested it, and that is what happened. That is an easy way to use your Cloud Drive somewhat like Dropbox (without some of the features of the latter).

If they were to incorporate this into the

Amazon Fire TV (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

I would actually find that quite useful.

I do presentations. I could e-mail a presentation to my Kindle Fire, and on a Fire TV at work, I could display it on an HDTV. Of course, I could mirror from my

Kindle Fire HDX (at AmazonSmile: support a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

to the Fire TV, but that would commit the resources of my Kindle Fire to that task…and I might want to use it for something else. I wouldn’t even have to be where the Fire TV was, if someone else was using it.

It wouldn’t surprise me if that’s in the offing.

I also like the idea that I could carry a document on my Kindle (Fire or not), and easily access the same document in full-featured Office on my desktop/laptop/two-in-1.

I think this is one of those that may take a while before people really realize the benefits.

Feel free to let me and my readers know what your experience is with it!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


Heads up! LTO on LCD writing board at 315 PM Pacific

Heads up! LTO on LCD writing board at 315 PM Pacific

Amazon: Upcoming Limited-Time Special Offer on Kindle Fire: LCD Writing Board for $5. Deal starts at 6:15 PM ET/3:15 PM PT.

Check your Kindle Fire. ..

More later…

Update: sorry I had to be really brief on this one! Not only was I on my phone, but I was in a place where I couldn’t speak out loud…so I couldn’t use speech-to-text! That really limited my ability to input the information.

These are special limited time offers, which are only available to Kindle Fire owners.

What happens is you can get a text to alert you to an upcoming deal (details in the links below). You don’t get much warning…maybe an hour (about half an hour in this case).

The deal also appears on the sleep screen of your Fire, and you can find it under Offers on the homescreen (all the way at the end).

Then, you say you want to “learn more”. You’ll get to a screen with a countdown clock. As soon as the clock gets to zero, you need to click to have a chance to get it.

They have typically been selling out in seconds. In this case, I wasn’t in a place where I had a wi-fi connection…although this is one I would have liked to have gotten to have to give as a gift at the holidays.

Here is information on the program:

As I’ve written before, I look at these LTOs (Limited Time Offers) sort of like buying a lottery ticket: I don’t expect to get one (win), but its exciting if I do! Of course, the “ticket” doesn’t cost me anything.

These LTOs are one of the best arguments for having Special Offers…and yes, a good argument for having a  Fire (at AmazonSmile)!

Did you get one? Do you have any other comment on this? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

===

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


Kindle Fires are on sale today

Kindle Fires are on sale today

Note: see the update below: Prime members are getting an extra ten percent off the prices listed in the first part of this post!

This is a “limited time” offer, but not one of those that disappears in seconds. No way to know how long it will last, but I guess it will be good for today. Check the price before you click or tap that Buy button.

Kindle Fire HDX 7″ (at AmazonSmile: support a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

That’s my personally most-used device.

It’s $199 for the configuration I have: 16 GB, special offers, wi-fi only.

That’s $30 off the normal $299 price.

It appears to be $30 off any of the possible configurations.

Kindle Fire HDX 8.9″ (at AmazonSmile)

is $40 off, again, that appears to be all the configurations (including 4G).

That brings the cheapest version down to $339.

In addition to the larger screen, you also get a rear-facing camera with that one, in addition to the front-facing camera (for videocalls, mostly) you get on the 7″.

Kindle Fire HD (2nd generation) 7″ (at AmazonSmile)

No cameras, no Mayday…but $20 off the 8GB makes it as low as $119. 16GB? $40 off.

For comparison’s sake, $119 makes it the same price as the

Kindle Paperwhite, 6″ 2nd generation, wi-fi only, with Special Offers (at AmazonSmile)

Update: thanks to reader Glenn Starrett for the heads-up on this one!

I missed this at first, and I think a lot of people did.

For the first time, Prime members are getting an additional discount on Kindles…and it can be combined with the above.

We don’t know if it will last very long, but the extra 10% is an interesting move (and a way to give us more as they raise the prices. Here are the details:

Prime Members Save 10% on Kindle Fire HD and Kindle Fire HDX (at AmazonSmile)

Bonus tip: I’ve written before about pricing strategies. Pricing something with a price ending in .99 makes it seem like you are getting a bargain, like you are saving money.

Pricing something ending in .00 makes it seem like it is a quality product.  When I managed a gamestore (I also managed a bookstore), we couldn’t have sold a $499 chess set…but we could sell a $500 one. Someone spending that much doesn’t want a “bargain”, they want “the best”.

Oddly, sort of the same thing goes with Kindle books. A stand-out book may be priced at an even $5, instead of $4.99:

$5 books in the USA Kindle store (at AmazonSmile)

Some of the books there:

  • Life after Life by Kate Atkinson
  • Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
  • Wild by Cheryl Strayed
  • Lean In by Sheryl Strandberg
  • I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron

Those were all buzzy books. That doesn’t mean that books priced at $4.99 aren’t as good, and certainly not that they aren’t as popular. It’s just that if you sort things only by price, you may miss some really good backlist books at what are now bargain prices.

Enjoy!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


Evi: free voice-input assistant for the Kindle Fire

Evi: free voice-input assistant for the Kindle Fire

Note: if you are not an app user, I have something else for you at the end of this post

I’m more of a keyboard person than a mouse person.

When I first learned to use computers, we didn’t have mice. In fact, we didn’t even use a keyboard. Do you know what we used to talk to the computer?

A punchcard machine.

Quickly, though, we got keyboards…and I took a typing class in high school.

Eventually, I got to be pretty quick: I was measured typing in the 90s (words per minute), which is fast, but not world class.

Then along came SmartPhones, and people were texting.

I’ve never really gotten the hang of texting quickly. The keyboard is too small to qwerty on it (at least for me), and the thumb thing…I’d say I’m adequate.

It’s a little easier to type on a tablet (the screen is bigger), and I have happily used a Bluetooth keyboard with my Kindle Fires.

However, typing is still much more of an effort on those little mobile devices than it is on a laptop or a desktop.

My preferred input method now?

Voice.

Sure, you run into places where you can’t do it (without disrupting people around you), but if I can talk, I prefer it.

One of the things which had been missing on the Kindle Fire, including my  latest generation

Kindle Fire HDX (at AmazonSmile: support a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

was voice input.

They fixed that when they gave us Dictate in an update.

Now, most places I would use the keyboard, I can tap a microphone icon instead, and speak it.

I can do that for e-mails: I’ve even done it for posts for this blog.

I now no longer carry a Bluetooth keyboard, for that reason.

That takes care of some of what I need.

I can go to a browser (I prefer Maxthon, but I tested it in Silk for this post) and ask a question, and then search for an answer.

That’s okay…but it’s not like Siri or Google Now, where you can ask a question, and your “assistant” speaks the answer back to you.

Well, the free app

Evi (at AmazonSmile)

gives us that on the Kindle Fire…and it works pretty well.

The app is “speech powered” by Nuance, the same company that make Dragon NaturallySpeaking.

You open the app, tap a big microphone icon (you can type your question, if you prefer), and it gives you the answer…out loud.

For example, I tried this:

“How tall was Mickey Rooney?””

The voice read out, “Mickey Rooney’s heights are 5 feet 2 inches and 1.57 metres.”

Yes, “heights” plural, because it is giving me the height in two different systems.

That answer was also displayed on the screen.

I tried asking it, “Where is the nearest bookstore?”

The results were pretty good!

Obviously, I have LBS (Location Based Services) turned on on my KFHDX.

I thought I’d try something a little trickier:

“What is the tallest building in Boston?”

Hm…that one didn’t work…it suggested I try Yelp. :)

I should mention that when it is getting me these answers, it is often giving me links to results on the web.

It also lets me vote: Good answer, or Bad answer.

For this one:

“How old is Jeff Bezos?”

it was quite complete: “Jeff Bezos was born on the 12th of January 1964. That makes his current age 50 years, 3 months and 3 days old.”

It gives quite a few examples when you tap the tutorial. For example, I could ask, “How hot will it be tomorrow?” and it gave me the temperature for an acceptably near by town…in both Fahrenheit and Celsius. I usually use the latter, so I was happy to hear it. :)

It doesn’t always get things right, of course. When I asked what movies are opening this weekend, it gave me movies…for September 10, 2010. :)

Overall, though, this is a fun way to get answers without typing…and it is free.

Bonus item: I don’t like to do things which are just for the Fire (although I do sometimes), so I thought I’d mention that

Joyland (at AmazonSmile)

just became available for the Kindle.

This is a hit book from Stephen King. 4.4 out of 5 stars, 1,434 customer reviews.

I wasn’t happy when I wrote about it last year…because Stephen King chose to “window” it, and not release it in e-book form initially.

I’m still not happy with that choice: e-books are so much easier for many people with disabilities and challenges which do not rise to the legal level of a disability. However, King did make clear that it would come out in e-book eventually…and I understand the motivation to help brick-and-mortar stores. In other words, I don’t agree with the decision, but I don’t think it should prevent you from getting the book now that it is out in e-book form.

The price?

$6.59 at time of writing…not bad. The book is only ranked #88 paid in the Kindle store right now. It surprised me a bit that it is that low…

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


Long form reading: it was a fun game while it lasted

Long form reading: it was a fun game while it lasted

Humans love to make up rules for themselves that require them to act counterinstinctually.

No, really.

That’s what games are.

Did you ever play that the “floor was lava” when you were a kid? You had to get around the room while walking on the furniture (jumping from couch to chair), so you didn’t “burn up”?

If something scared you and you just took off running, you wouldn’t climb around on the furniture…you’d make a straight line across the floor.

We think it’s fun to make ourselves behave in ways that are hard, or unnatural.

In addition to managing a brick-and-mortar bookstore, I also managed a brick-and-mortar gamestore, so I’m pretty familiar with them.

We not only think it’s fun: we think it’s virtuous.

Think about sex (you know, if you weren’t already). ;)

There are all kinds of rules about what you can show to whom when.

You might counter that other animals (which you might define as not having intellects, but just reacting instinctually…I don’t, but you might) sometimes have elaborate mating rituals.

Yes, but ours vary from culture to culture, which shows that they aren’t ingrained.

What you could show in New York City one hundred years ago isn’t the same as what you can show now.

If you violate the rules, someone might insult you by calling you an “animal” (again, using it as shorthand for “unthinking”).

I’ve hired and trained a lot of trainers, and one of the things I look for is someone who is able to think about one thing while doing something else.

I have a pretty simple test for that.

I tell someone to stand up and tell me what in their lives brought them to this moment…without using the word “I”: go!

Most people are terrible at it…they may lock up completely, or be able to go for a few seconds before they make a mistake.

Someone who will be a good trainer makes it work right away, and could go for minutes. One thing they do is refer to themselves in the third person. Instead of saying, “I grew up in Chicago,” they say, “There was a person, me, who grew up in Chicago.”

In order to get a good assessment, you have to try this spontaneously (I used to be part of an improv  troupe), so you can’t prepare yourself.

As soon as that’s over, though, they go back to speaking normally.

My point is that people are able to make themselves do things which are unnatural, but that it takes effort. They’ll revert back to the natural behaviors, given a choice.

Unnatural things…you know, like walking on your hands…or reading a novel?

I would guess just about everyone reading this blog has had a reading session with one book which was at least an hour long.

Is that a natural thing to do?

I don’t think so.

If you were a hunter/gatherer, I’d have a hard time coming up with one thing you would be doing that would require your undivided attention for an hour.

Stalking an animal doesn’t take that long, usually…and you sure better be paying attention to other things while you do it!

Someone can sit with their “nose in a book” for an hour, paying the rest of the world no heed.

Or at least, they used to be able to do that.

This

Sydney Morning Herald article by Michael S. Rosenwald

looks a the scientific concern that we are losing the ability to read in a linear fashion for a long period of time.

This isn’t because the quick skimming reading we do on the internet is evolving us in a new direction.

I don’t think we ever really evolved in the old one.

Before Gutenberg (mid-1400s), books were rare objects…and arguably, largely in the hands of people who weren’t part of the breeding population.

Mass market paperback books, which made novels much more available, only go back to the 1930s…maybe four or five generations ago. That’s not enough time for evolution to have changed anything in our brains.

I think for a while,we have “played the game” of reading long form.

Just like playing Blind Man’s Bluff, though, when the game is over, we are going back to what feels more natural.

From the article (which I recommend):

“[Maryanne] Wolf, one of the world’s foremost experts on the study of reading, was startled last year to discover her brain was apparently adapting, too. After a day of scrolling through the internet and hundreds of emails, she sat down one evening to read Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game (at AmazonSmile).

“I’m not kidding: I couldn’t do it,” she said. “It was torture getting through the first page. I couldn’t force myself to slow down so that I wasn’t skimming, picking out key words, organising my eye movements to generate the most information at the highest speed. I was so disgusted with myself.”

Why disgusted?

As Wolf knows, the brain adapts. It’s really, really good at that. We also aren’t the only species that does it (in my opinion).

We recently got a second dog, after having gotten another one several months earlier.

The first dog is now behaving much better, taking on the role of “supervisor”.

I am quite convinced that the first dog is “proud” of sitting patiently, waiting for food…behaving in a counterinstinctual way.

If you process information on a website by your brain bouncing all over the screen, looking for significant words, its only natural that it would try to do the same thing with a book…making comprehension and retention perhaps more difficult.

My guess is that the website version, which would be like scanning a jungle looking for prey or a predator in  a tree, is much more normal.

If we don’t have to do long form, linear reading will we lose the ability to do it?

Quite possibly: I believe it is a learned skill, not inherent.

What do you think? Is reading the same book for an hour harder now than it used to be for you? Have you noticed any change in kids (especially if you are a teacher)? Would losing that ability be such a bad thing? Should e-books perhaps adapt, maybe having pictures appear and disappear on pages? Is it because it is such a hard thing to do that people want no interruptions when they are “trying to read”? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

** Does Amazon pay royalties when one of their employees sings Happy Birthday over Mayday? Is that a commercial use…or, collectively, a public performance? I don’t know that they should, I just think it’s a possibility

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

 


Jeff Bezos’ letter to shareowners 2014

Jeff Bezos’ letter to shareowners 2014

There’s a lot of buzzy stuff in

Jeff Bezos’ 2014 letter to shareowners (filed at the SEC…U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission)

Bezos takes us on a tour (more on actual tours later) of the “…broad array of initiatives” at Amazon.

Prime

A million people joined Prime just in the third week of December of 2013. I thought at first that might be people opening up their new Kindle Fires (and getting a month free), but that was probably more likely to be the fourth week…unless they count you becoming a member when they ship it out.

The key thing here is that they aren’t “done” adding things to Prime. What might that be? Well, a streaming music service wouldn’t surprise me, and fairly soon. Separation of video from shipping (so you can pay for them separately) and installment payments or something other than an annual fee makes sense. Amazon bought comiXology: could they do something like adding comics to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library? I also really think some kind of subser (subscription service) for adults (as opposed to FreeTime for kids) from Amazon this year…and could have the Prime name on it.

Readers & Authors

It’s interesting to put those two together, because traditional publishers would immediately think something needs to bridge the two…not surprisingly, they would say it was traditional publishers. ;)

Bezos makes a point of mentioning some things which cut tradpubs out of the picture: “…Kindle Worlds, the literary journal Day One, eight new Amazon Publishing imprints”, and mentions expansion to other parts of the world for Kindle Direct Publishing.

I think they also  legitimately  take credit for getting Kindles (and other devices) cleared for using during more parts of commercial air flights.

The Kindle Paperwhite 2 is mentioned…and Kindle Fires don’t get mentioned under Readers & Authors (interesting, since I for one do a lot of my reading there, and I suspect that’s true for people who want color ((for magazines, for one thing)), text-to-speech, audiobooks, and multimedia enhancement…none of which the Paperwhite does).

A divider line in the letter takes us to this next section:

Prime Instant Video

Lots more titles, exclusives, original content…and growing rapidly. Prime Instant Video also expanded to the UK and Germany, and surpassed their expectations.

I’ve started using PIV more. The Kindle Fire has a better interface for PIV than my Roku or Tivo…and the Fire TV makes it even better (voice search helps).

Fire TV

Amazon Fire TV (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

Having been using it for a while now, I really like it. When we get a new TV (and we may soon…our family room one is quite old), we would probably get a second Fire TV for it. It was funny: AT&T just came by the house to try and get me to search internet, cable, and phone (they just put fiber optic cables in our neighborhood…which is tempting). They checked off a whole bunch of channels I could get…and I thought, “I don’t need all those channels…I have enough to watch on my Fire TV.” ;) I mentioned Fire TV to them…they hadn’t heard of it, which didn’t help their credibility. We also don’t have a landline, so they can’t help me there.

I’m considering writing a short guide to the Fire TV, but let me mention some cool things:

  • The photo part of it is cool and seamless! I have the Amazon Cloud Drive on my Samsung Galaxy S3 phone. I took some pictures today at the dog park. I came home, turned on my Fire TV, went to Photos, and BAM! They were already there. I started a slideshow…and it smoothly panned across each picture, adding a real dynamic aspect
  • The mirroring with my Kindle Fire HDX (at AmazonSmile: support a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) is astonishingly simple, even if it takes fifteen seconds or so to connect. I was already mirroring my Fire to my TV through a NETGEAR Push2TV (at AmazonSmile)…but this is much easier. My HDX doesn’t have to search for the Fire TV: when I go to the mirroring option (Swipe down from the top, Settings, Display & Sounds, Display Mirroring), it’s always sitting there. I can tap it while my TV boots up (this is a newer TV than the family room one, but still takes some time to wake-up, and that works). Why does mirroring matter? Anything I can see on my Kindle Fire’s screen I can see on my TV. So, for those of you worried about HBOGO and the FTV, you are fine if you have a Fire
  • The voice search really does work for Amazon content
  • It has some cool screensavers, although I don’t see them that much
  • You can remove items from the Recent listing! I wish I had that for my Roku. That is similar to the Carousel on the Fire…there are other similarities, too (including force stopping apps, and resetting to factory defaults)
  • The ASAP things, which makes some videos start pretty much instantly, is very nice! That doesn’t sound like much, but not having to wait for a video to load is like the first time you used a microwave oven…for those of you who remember when those were new ;)
  • The free AOL ON app gives me decent news coverage, and the stories will autoplay from one to the next
  • I haven’t even tried the games much, but the one I did was fun…oh, and your coins are available for shopping from the Fire TV

Amazon Game Studios

Interesting to me that they put this under the Fire TV. That’s who should be scared by the FTV more than video distributors, I think. It’s a backdoor way to get people into gaming through Amazon…and they could really cut into console sales that way. One box to rule them all! ;)

Another dividing line, bringing us to what I guess we could consider miscellaneous content:

Amazon Appstore

It tripled in size and is now in 200 countries…no, there aren’t as many apps as Apple or Google, but I would bet that on the average, these are more reliable.

Jeff talks about several innovations this last year. I do still have what I think is a good idea for an app…if anybody out there is a developer, I’m interested in partnering. I could probably learn to program myself (I used to teach some programming), but that doesn’t make sense to me at this point. I can largely write the content of the app, someone else can build it (and market it), and I’m fine with a royalty arrangement. Let me know if you are interested. :)

Spoken Word Audio

I’m not really an audiobook person (I prefer text-to-speech, because I don’t like the reader interpreting the characters for me), but Audible apparently had a great year (no mention of Brilliance, which Amazon also owns). They mentioned 600 million listening hours downloaded last year…that sounds like a lot, but it’s about two hours per person in the USA, right? That’s a lot less than one audiobook (on average…there are some shorter things at Audible) per person.

Fresh Grocery

They are expanding this service…slowly. Jeff has a great line, here: “…no one accuses us of a lack of patience”. This $299 a year grocery (and many other things) delivery service is expanding and may come to more cities. This year, Amazon is introducing the “Amazon Dash”, which is sort of like a barcode reader for home…that ties into Fresh.

Amazon Web Services

The average consumer may not think much about this, but it is crucial for Amazon’s success. I would say they are much less reliant on the success of the Kindles than they are on AWS. It’s been expanding…with more than four times the number of “significant services and features” added in 2013 as in 2010.

The next section has to do with employees…

Employee Empowerment

Amazon has some public relations challenges with their management/employee relationships, with legal actions over unpaid time while going through security lines, protests in Europe, and allegations of unsafe conditions.

Jeff does a good job of mentioning some of their strong points:

  • Career Choice is a program where we pre-pay 95% of tuition for our employees to take courses for in-demand fields, such as airplane mechanic or nursing, regardless of whether the skills are relevant to a career at Amazon.”
  • “Once a year, we offer to pay our associates to quit. The first year the offer is made, it’s for $2,000. Then it goes up one thousand dollars a year until it reaches $5,000. The headline on the offer is “Please Don’t Take This Offer.”” This probably generated the most headline out of the letter, although it’s been around (it came from Zappos…which Amazon owns now). I think this makes a great deal of sense. $2000 isn’t really enough to quit, unless you were planning to quit anyway. If you were, it’s not good to have you around…you are bad for morale, and probably aren’t as productive as people who want to be there. Once you’ve invested in the job (by turning down the $2,000), I think you’ll be less likely to consider quitting in the future
  • Virtual Contact Centeremployees provide customer service support for Amazon and Kindle customers while working from home.” For many people, that would be a “Yes, please!” Great when you have young kids around the house…and the dogs are a lot happier when I’m home. ;) The only real problem I have is that one of them likes to lick the Kindle Fire screen…and it registers it as a capacitative touch! 

They also make a point of their good record in hiring veterans.

I would consider the next section…infrastructure:

Fulfillment Centers

Jeff talks about all of the improvements here…but where is the mention of the Kiva robots? Is that not working out? Are they afraid that people won’t like the idea?

I teased you with tours at the beginning of this post…you can take a tour of an Amazon fulfillment center!

http://www.amazon.com/fctours

It’s not every FC…unfortunately, the one nearest me doesn’t do it. I was surprised when my Significant Other thought it would be fun to go.

Urban Campus

There are several points made in this letter about the environment, and yes, it’s true that an urban complex is probably more ecological than a suburban one…because the infrastructure already exists around it. They are adding 420,000 square feet…and building a lot more.

Fast Delivery

Sure, part of this is Sunday delivery by the Post Office, but this was probably the second buzziest thing in the letter: “…The Prime Air team is already flight testing our 5th and 6th generation aerial vehicles, and we are in the design phase on generations 7 and 8.” That’s right…drones, my little flightless kiwi competitors! ;) I think this keeps getting raised in the public consciousness to get the FAA to approve their use…

The next section is really the miscellaneous one:

Experiments and more experiments

Instead of mentioning Lab126 for R&D (Research and Development), Jeff talks about “Weblab”. This is for the websites…but also for products. I’ve been part of one of these innovations: “Ask an Owner”. I got an e-mail from Amazon asking for some information about a product we had purchased. That came from a question from another customer. We were happy to answer it (it had to do with ingredients on something…just had to read the label). That has apparently happened millions of times: have you gotten an e-mail like that?

Apparel and Shoes

Waaay beyond Zappos. :) I thought this was a mind-blowing statistic: “We opened a new 40,000 square foot photo studio in Brooklyn and now shoot an average of 10,413 photos every day in the studio’s 28 bays”. That’s 371 photos per bay…each day.

Frustration-Free Packaging

Somehow, we don’t usually seem to get products wrapped in easy to open packaging from Amazon, although some are. I suspect part of that has to do with the next section…

Fulfillment by Amazon

Amazon has built this incredible way to get things to customers (see Fulfillment Centers above…and drones). FBA lets other sellers pay to hitch a ride. Does it work? It grew 65% last year…

Login and Pay with Amazon

Do I want to use my Amazon payment methods when I’m shopping other places? You betcha! More convenient, and fewer people get my data.

Amazon Smile

This should get a lot more recognition than it does, in my opinion. I promote it a lot. You shop at a mirror site to Amazon, and as you buy things, Amazon donates money to a non-profit of your choice…and there are many tiny non-profits on the list! If you aren’t doing that, I’d be curious as to why…

Mayday

I have said that I think Mayday, the live onscreen tech help on the Kindle HDX line, may be one of the greatest innovations in Customer Service in my lifetime. I’ve said that

“Having a tablet without Mayday is like having a car without a windshield: it doesn’t matter how fast your car is, or how cool it looks, if you can’t see how to get where you’re going.”

Jeff also told us some fun things about Mayday:

“Mayday Tech Advisors have received 35 marriage proposals from customers. 475 customers have asked to talk to Amy, our Mayday television personality. 109 Maydays have been customers asking for assistance with ordering a pizza. By a slim margin, Pizza Hut wins customer preference over Domino’s. There are 44 instances where the Mayday Tech Advisor has sung Happy Birthday** to the customer. Mayday Tech Advisors have been serenaded by customers 648 times. And 3 customers have asked for a bedtime story. Pretty cool.”

That’s a lot of things to cover!

Amazon is great at surprising people with innovations, though, and the CEO (Chief Executive Officer) says:

There are many programs I’ve omitted in this letter that are just as promising, consequential, and interesting as those I’ve highlighted.”

Yep…how about that 3D phone that might be coming soon, for example? ;)

I’ll be interested to hear what you think about Jeff Bezos’ 2014 letter to shareowners. Feel free to let me and my readers know what you think by commenting on this post.

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

** Does Amazon pay royalties when one of their employees sings Happy Birthday over Mayday? Is that a commercial use…or, collectively, a public performance? I don’t know that they should, I just think it’s a possibility

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


3 years of Special Offers

3 years of Special Offers

Three years ago, on April 11, 2011, Amazon introduced Kindles with Special Offers in this

press release

The basic idea is that the buyer of a new Kindle could agree to see ads, and in exchange for that, that initial purchase price was lowered.

That’s why they are also called “ad-supported” models.

It was up to the customer: get “paid” for watching ads by getting a discount, or pay the normal price and avoid seeing ads.

It’s a simple idea, but there was a lot of buzz around it at the time.

Many people decried it, equating it with ads in books.

First, there were ads in books before that…I have some mass market paperbacks that have a cardboard ad stuck in the middle of them.

Second, the ads don’t appear in the books themselves. They appear on the sleep screen, and (originally) at the bottom of the list of books on the homescreen.

This idea may have been complicated by Amazon having gotten a patent to put relevant ads in e-books. I wrote about that a bit here:

Advertising in E-books

That wasn’t this, though…and Amazon hasn’t followed through on ads in books themselves.

Another concern people expressed was that the ads might be “inappropriate”. Basing it on television, they though that kids might see ads for “mature products”, as one example.

While we did see ads for things like cars, we haven’t had alcohol or intimate  hygiene products.

Over time, my feeling is that the ads have actually gotten more tied into what the Kindleers want…more ads for books and Kindle accessories, for instance.

Now, that could be because it didn’t turn out that a Kindle was a great way to sell a car…so those companies stopped buying the ads.

I think it must work somewhat, though, since we still have Special Offers.

It’s also tended to be that SO models are more popular than their non-ad-supported, full price counterparts.

If you think that’s just because people want to save the money (and that they don’t really like the ads), I’ll tell you that I’ve seen plenty of statements to the contrary. Many people like seeing the ads: they know they sometimes get deals that way, and hey, if nothing else, it’s something new to see. :) A lot of people didn’t like the old “woodcut” type pictures we had, and one reason was that after a while, you’d “…been there, saw that”.

With the advent of the Limited Time Special Offers on the current Kindle Fires, folks (including me) have been saving a lot of money.

Looking at the list of “recent deals” on the above linked page, you could have saved $674.96 buying those six items…an average of over $100 per deal!

We bought a Kindle Paperwhite for $19, when it was normally $119 at the time.

These LTSOs are a big incentive to go with a Kindle Fire, that’s for sure!

If you want to stop getting Special Offers, you have that choice.

You would, naturally, have to pay the difference between the original discounted cost of the device and the full price…on the order of $20.

You do that by going to

http://www.amazon.com/manageyourkindle (at AmazonSmile)

and clicking or tapping

Manage Your Devices

You can then “unsubscribe” from Special Offers if you want.

Can you opt into getting Special Offers if your device came without them?

Sure…same thing as unsubscribing above, except that you choose to subscribe.

Oh, and they won’t retroactively give you the discount.

Still, I think many people do make that choice, just to have the option of getting a discount on something.

While we are talking about this, let me ask you hypothetically about ads in the books themselves (again, this is something different and not on the table right now):

If you want to tell me and my readers more about what you think about this, feel free to comment on this post.

 

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.