Amazon Brings The Pain With KDP Select!

As a runner, I was always taught to never look back at the competition. Keep moving forward, never slow down. With its introduction of the KDP Select program for self-publishers, Amazon clearly intends to add to its already commanding lead in the eBook market.

KDP Select adds a number of new features that self-publishers on the Kindle have been asking for for some time. These include the option to offer books for free, and to participate in the Kindle Owners Lending Program, with an attractive cash incentive in the form of a $500000 fund for participants. KDP Select adds a terrific toolset for promoting your eBooks, but there is just one little catch. Books enrolled in the program must be Kindle exclusives for at least 90 days.

That last little catch won’t be much of a stumbling block for most authors who already publish on the Kindle. But it’s virtually a nuclear strike against Amazon’s eBook publishing competitors such as Barnes & Noble’s PubIt!, Smashwords, and Apple’s iBookstore. The marketing and cash incentives are simply too good to pass up. While Learncrest has no plans to pull our current eBooks from other stores, new titles will very little be enrolled in the program.

So for it looks like Christmas has come a little early for many eBook self-publishers. But Amazon’s eBook rivals may be getting lumps of coal this holiday season.

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Runners in Different Races: Amazon Fire vs iPad

As expected, Black Friday sales of the Kindle Fire were very good and some analyst project that Amazon will sell 4 to 5 million Fire tablets before the end of the year. While there have been some indications that sales have cooled a bit, right now there’s no reason to believe that the Fire is going away any time soon.

The thing I find most interesting about the news I see is the continuing comparison to the iPad. Many stories cast the Kindle Fire as a potential “iPad killer” when clearly the hardware and software indicate a different target. Amazon’s new tablet is first and foremost, a Kindle. It’s an eReader first and was probably initially intended to be a response to the Nook Color than the iPad. As I’ve ranted here before, the Kindle Fire was made for book lovers making the initial move into digital. The Fire and iPad are horses running different races. If anything, over the long term, the lower spec’d Fire is more likely to drive iPad sales as many Fire users get hooked on digital media and seek out a more capable tablet still compatible with most of the media they’ve already bought.

It’s too early to tell if the Fire has made a significant dent in iPad sales, but it does look like it has claimed at least one victim as Dell has recently dropped its own 7 inch tablet. Dell has always been pretty quick to drop products that have no long term profit potential, so this move speaks volumes. As for the Nook, Barnes & Noble has been claiming good sales and a doubling of its Nook business since last year. We won’t really know if the Nook tablet has gained any traction until Barnes & Noble’s next quarterly report.

Competition is generally a good thing for the consumer, so I hope the Nook tablet won’t fall victim to the Fire too soon. However, the days of other 7 inch tablets that lack strong ties to eBook and media stores may be numbered.

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New Nook Tablet Plays With Fire At High Price

Barnes & Noble unveiled their new Nook Tablet today, boasting higher specs than Amazon’s Kindle Fire in nearly every measure, including price. The new Nook weighs in at $249 versus $199 for Amazon’s tablet. Barnes & Noble also announced immediate price cuts of the current Nook Color to $199 and the Nook Simple Touch to $99.


Sometimes Less Is More

Clearly, these moves are in response to Amazon which makes the higher price of the new Nook rather puzzling. Even more puzzling given that anyone who’s been watching the iPad vs. everyone else tablet wars has already seen this movie played out before. Barnes & Noble calls the new Nook a better value than the Kindle Fire because it has a faster CPU, more system memory and data storage. And they’re right, in a rationale world, the higher spec’d, better performing tablet should command a higher price. Consumers should flock to it, right?

But isn’t that what a number of tablet makers claimed when they went into battle against Apple’s iPad? They offered tablets with more features, raw processor speed , and memory than the iPad. And some of them could play Flash videos and games too which the iPad still cannot do. This greater performance came at a greater price than the base iPad which was entirely reasonable being a better value. But in the end, most of these tablets were utter market disasters. Even the most successful of them have scarcely made a dent in the market share of Apple’s iPad.

Consumers are looking for value, but that doesn’t always correspond to the better hardware. Amazon has an enormous media and online retail data infrastructure to plug the Kindle Fire into. This is entirely analogous to the integrated ecosystem that Apple has built around iOS devices. When you buy an iPad, buying movies, music, and apps is drop dead easy. If Amazon produces a similar user experience with the Fire, the higher spec’d Nook won’t even get a chance to play. Sometimes less is more.

It is good that Barnes & Noble seems to have gained an ally in Netflix, but launching a new tablet at $50 more than the latest from the Amazon juggernaut could be a fatal mistake. Techies love the faster hardware, but they are not the market that is at stake here, nor are the people happily using iPads and other full function tablets. The real market consists of that larger, aging population of people who are increasingly annoyed that so many physical bookstores are disappearing.

These book lovers are being forced by necessity into buying their first eReaders. Little do they know just how quickly they’ll be hooked on eBooks. Once that happens, they’ll be well primed to buy other digital content. This crowd is not going to go for the tablet that costs $50 more than the one from the company that they’ve probably ordered books from in the past. I mean, really, who hasn’t bought something from Amazon in the last 10 years?

I think, B&N can build some advantages with their physical stores and the ability to not only showcase the Nook, but also popular and up and coming authors. But they’ve seriously got to lose the $50 premium. Price matching the Fire with the slower, older Nook Color is not going to cut it either. I think this fall is setting the stage for whether the last major U.S. bookstore chain survives or closes the book on the era of popular printed literature.

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Amazon Fires Up HTML 5 In Kindle Format 8 To Replace Mobi

HTML5 LogoAmazon has announced HTML 5 support in the upcoming Kindle Format 8. Kindle Format 8 (KF8) will replace Mobi 7 in the Kindle Fire and eventually the entire Kindle line of eReaders. Amazon has a complete list of KF8 enhancements here.

For me the main excitement is the fact that my very HTML centric method of producing eBooks is likely to benefit greatly from the move to what appears to be a very HTML 5-ish KF8. In particular, making a graphics heavy book like The Great Robot Adventure, which presented a great challenge to publish on the Kindle, should be a lot easier in KF8. I can’t wait to put the CSS3 and Scalable Vector Graphics support to the test!

As Amazon gears up to launch the Kindle Fire in a few weeks, moves like this, lowering the barriers to publishing great content, can only tighten their grasp on and dominance of the eBook market. One begins to wonder if anyone else can stand against the Amazon juggernaut for much longer.

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Goodbye Steve And Thanks For All The Cool Stuff!

Steve JobsAs most people know by now, Steve Jobs passed away yesterday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. If I had to name one person who’s had the most influence on what technology I use and how I use it, it would have to be Steve Jobs. This site and the Learncrest venture exist and are empowered largely by Macintosh, iPhone, and iPad. And my own ideas about technology and aesthetics have been heavily influenced by the vision he promoted at Apple.

So rest in peace Steve. Now it’s time for the rest of use to take your vision of beauty and technology and make it uniquely our own.

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JManga Announces Sale And iPad App In The Works

JManga Lovers SaleOnline legal Japanese manga site JManga launched back in August with a lot of titles never before available to English speaking readers. One could see from the number of titles and the scope of the site that it was indeed an ambitious undertaking involving most of the major manga publishers in Japan. But early reports were quick to note that many of the titles, though listed, were not yet available to read online. Not only that, the prices were much higher than those of similar online titles such as those from Viz, and the Flash based reader did not work in iOS devices such as Apple’s iPhone and iPad.

Since that time, JManga has steadily added new titles, and most recently announced the JManga Lover’s Sale slashing the prices of manga on the site by up to 60% during the month of October. JManga also gave a 50% rebate on titles already purchased prior to the October 4th beginning of the sale. And to top it all off, Anime News Network reported that JManga has announced, via Twitter, their plans to release an iPad app by the end of the year.

Clearly, JManga is listening to its customers which can only bode well for manga lovers everywhere! In particular, support of the iPad is essential as Apple’s popular tablet computer has become the place for digital comics and manga.

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Amazon Lights Kindle Fire, Nook Color May Get Burned

Amazon Kindle FireIn probably one of the worst kept secrets in tech history, Amazon unveiled its much anticipated new color Kindle today, the Kindle Fire. In addition to the Fire, Amazon is releasing 3 new eInk Kindles, a $79 non-touch model and two touch screen Kindles. One with WiFi and the other 3G.

While this Bloomberg report describes the Kindle Fire as a tablet computer, and much has been made of it being an “iPad killer”, I think Barnes & Noble has more to be concerned about than Apple. At $199, it’s $50 less than the Nook Color and its lack of a camera and microphone is more evidence that the Kindle Fire is more of a response to competitor B & N in filling a hole in the the Kindle lineup from which the Nook Color had garnered some success.

Amazon has an extensive Kindle Fire page that reveals a powerful color eReader prepared to take back any ground lost to the Nook Color in children’s books, magazines, or games like Angry Birds. Like Kindles before it, the Kindle Fire is clearly designed to sell Amazon books and content, including movies and TV shows.

I suspect that Amazon has discovered that iPad folks and Kindle folks are two different markets. They overlap a bit, but not enough to make the Kindle Fire a more general purpose tablet like the iPad. And Amazon’s well developed information infrastructure, which will leveraged in the Fire’s Silk browser, will more than deliver on the promises they’re making content wise. The Kindle Fire is a nuclear powered reader’s tablet. The iPad will feel the heat, but the Nook Color will be the one getting burned in all likelihood.

Of course the game is not over yet. Barnes & Noble is expected to be announcing the next Nooks soon. And I would be surprised if the Nook Color doesn’t see a price drop ahead of the Kindle Fire’s November availability date. So stay tuned!

More info:

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A Riggatron Model For Education

Our Fusion Reactor The SunOne of the current controversies in Chicago is Mayor Emanuel’s proposal to add 90 minutes to the school day. The idea is to use the additional time for reading and math. Needless to say, the teachers are not happy with the largely unilateral way this was introduced, ignoring the collective bargaining agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union.

As my wife and I discussed this, we quickly realized that adding 90 minutes is not going to solve the most fundamental problem facing the system. How do we get more talented and motivated teachers into the schools? Initiatives such as Teach For America and various alternative certification programs have had some limited success.

They have drawn young, energetic, and motivated people from the colleges and professions into teaching. But most do not remain in teaching beyond their initial 2 year commitment, in the case of Teach For America for example. This should not be surprising given the extraordinary challenges many teachers face in the classroom, and the relatively low pay of teaching relative to other professions that those with great talent and skill might have available to them. In particular, highly talented women have far more opportunities available to them than only a few decades ago when teaching was the best career they could hope for outside of the home.

Most of the effort to abate this situation has been aimed at increasing teacher pay. But the brutal, honest facts are that through our actions, we as a society do not value teaching enough to do that. Teacher pay and benefits are not going to increase enough to attract and retain the best and brightest among us. So what do we do?

Back in the late 70’s, one proposed design for fusion reactors, the Riggatron, was planned around the use of cheap copper wired electromagnets rather than much more expensive superconducting magnets for the plasma containment field. These magnets would have to be closer to the plasma and would only last about 30 days. So the Riggatron was designed so that the magnets could be replaced quickly and easily, like changing a burnt out light bulb.

I think it is better to have a series of great teachers for a couple of years each, than a less talented one for a couple of decades. Why not expand and enhance programs like Teach For America so that there are enough of these young teachers to fill the naturally occuring openings in the schools as teachers retire and move on to other pursuits? Our students would benefit greatly from the wide diversity of talent, skill, and perspective such a system would engender. And I think our society would also benefit from having more of its members experience teaching as a profession.

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Let’s Burn Down The Great Library of Alexandria Again!

Google and the Great Library of AlexandriaI first learned of the Great Library of Alexandria as a kid watching Carl Sagan talk about it on his show, Cosmos on my local PBS station. Like Sagan, I was greatly saddened by the story of its destruction and the great setback to human progress that represented. Books were my greatest treasure growing up, and their destruction was almost unthinkable.

In the time of the Great Library, books were written on papyrus and copying one was a painstaking and time consuming, manual process. Today, most new books are digital and it is an increasing simple matter to digitize those that are not. The Google Print Library Project sought to digitize the great works, many of which are out of print, housed in the libraries of some of the most prominent universities in the world. In effect creating a great digital library the likes of which Alexandria could only dream of!

Since beginning the project, Google has been sued by publishers, had an agreement made with said publishers rejected by the courts, and is now being sued by The Authors Guild which may be the last straw for the project. It’s as if the Great Library is being burned down again before it can even be built!

The conflicts all center on copyright and control. The publishers and authors certainly have the right within our legal systems to control their works. But I think they’re missing the larger picture. No one writes a book just so it can languish in the dark on some long forgotten shelf in the basement stacks of a library. Most of us write so that others may share our thoughts and stories. Some of us are even able to make a living doing that, but not most! Books were written long before it became a profitable thing to do.

When a book goes out of print, practically speaking, that author’s voice has been silenced and will soon be forgotten. When books existed solely as physical objects, this was inevitable. A bookstore has to clear space for new books. A library has to rotate older work to archival stacks to make room for more current work researchers access more frequently.

A digital library of eBooks has unlimited shelf space. The works of the great masters of antiquity and those of contemporary writers can be equally accessible. That is, as long as the authors and publishers have the foresight to make their works available in digital format. If an author wants people to read their books, it would seem to be a no brainer, digitize your books. If a publisher wants to profit from the back catalog of works, digitize your books.

But so far efforts to transition to widely available eBooks have been stalled by disagreements that seem bent on maintaining the old business model. Regardless of current disagreements, the future is eBooks. If the old guard won’t get with the program, a new generation of authors and publishers stands ready to replace them.

No one knows how many great works were lost when the Great Library of Alexandria was destroyed. But life went on and while the lost works of the old masters were forgotten, in time new masters arose to take their places.

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Free eBook: Rolled Up Dimensionality

Rolled Up Dimensionality eBook CoverEveryone likes free stuff! Now through the end of the year, Rolled Up Dimensionality: Short stories from a forgotten life, is free on the iPad, iPhone, and iPod! The book is a collection of SciFi short stories inspired somewhat by the great pulp classics of the 1950’s and 60’s.

If there’s enough interest, the good folks at Amazon and Barnes & Noble may let me drop the price to free for the Kindle and Nook versions as well!

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