Amazon’s new Kindles — $189 and $139 each

The new Amazon Kindle Wi-Fi, above, will sell for $139 but connect to the Web only by Wi-Fi. A new model to replace the Kindle 2 will sell for $189 and connect to the Internet through a cellphone network.

Amazon is stepping up its game, releasing new models of the already-popular Kindle and dropping the price in a big way. Are they poised to dominate this holiday season, or can Barnes & Noble, or the iPad, or even the Sony Reader, give them a run for their money?

Amazon.com, the maker of the Kindle e-reader, is introducing two new smaller, lighter versions with high-contrast screens and crisper text. The new Kindles will ship August 27th.
With Amazon’s latest announcement, it is again waging a price war. Barnes & Noble offers a Wi-Fi version of the Nook for $149 and Sony offers the Reader Pocket Edition, which does not have Wi-Fi, for $150.
I bought an iPad because I wanted a tablet device that was more than just an e-reader. But I’m intrigued by the Kindle. I’ve spent a little time playing around with a Nook, in Barnes & Noble, and to be frank I was very much less than impressed. The jury’s still out on the Kindle for me, and I wonder if this new model is an improvement — the price tag certainly is.

Openlibrary.org

From the Wall Street Journal:

“By GEOFFREY A. FOWLER

SAN FRANCISCO—Libraries are expanding e-book offerings with out-of-print editions, part of a broader effort to expand borrowing privileges in the Internet Age that could challenge traditional ideas about copyright.

Starting Tuesday, a group of libraries led by the Internet Archive, a nonprofit digital library, are joining forces to create a one-stop website for checking out e-books, including access to more than a million scanned public domain books and a catalog of thousands of contemporary e-book titles available at many public libraries.

And in a first, participants including the Boston Public Library and the Marine Biological Laboratory will also contribute scans of a few hundred older books that are still in copyright, but no longer sold commercially. That part of the project could raise eyebrows, because copyright law is unclear in the digital books arena. Google Inc., which is working on its own book scanning efforts, has been mired in a legal brouhaha with authors and publishers over its digital books project.

To read the books, borrowers around the world can download and read them for free on computers or e-reading gadgets. Software renders the books inaccessible once the loan period ends. Two-thirds of American libraries offered e-book loans in 2009, according to a survey by the American Library Association. But those were mostly contemporary imprints from the last couple of years—say, the latest Stephen King novel.

The Internet Archive project, dubbed Openlibrary.org, goes a step further by opening up some access to the sorts of books that may have otherwise gathered dust on library shelves—mainly those published in the past 90 years, but of less popular interest.”

Free ebooks from Barnes & Noble this summer

There’s a new promotion from Barnes & Noble: bring your electronic device (The device can be an iPad, iPod Touch, iPhone, BlackBerry, HTC HD2, PC or Mac laptop or B.&N.’s own electronic reader, the Nook) into the store for a code to redeem for a free e-book. The giveaway will run for five weeks, with a different free book each week.

The promotion began this past Monday (hmmm… I shop there *constantly* and this is the first I’ve heard of it, though. B&N, this is what I mean) with The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.

For more information, visit B&N’s promotion page.

Reading on the iPad

So last month I was Ms. Spammy Spamerson with iPad posts (“It’s coming!” “It’s here!” “Here’s what it’s like!”) and I promised I’d talk more about the iPad as an e-reader in an upcoming post. Reading isn’t the only reason I bought an iPad, though it was a contributing factor. While I mostly use it for accessing the web, carrying my photo library around with me and for watching video, I do like the idea of being able to store & access books on it as well. I was curious. In other words, I was interested enough about e-reading to want to be able to give it a try.

In a nutshell: reading itself on the iPad is great. I recommend it to anyone who has the same level of interest in it as an e-reader as I do. Where there are problems, though, has to do with the managing of content, but that’s not idiosyncratic to Apple’s iPad, it’s a problem for all e-readers — and the iPad just might handle it best. At the same time, you’re still getting an extremely high-quality machine from Apple. As with the latest Iphone 4, the company doesn’t mess around when it comes to the accessibility of their technology.

iBooks is certainly pretty.

So, to start off with, there’s iBooks. It’s lovely, visually. The nice bookshelf with your covers so prettily displayed. Internally as well, reading the text itself, I found aesthetically pleasing. Holding the iPad in landscape format, you get the two-page format of a book, so it heightens the experience. You can turn pages by tapping or by swiping — with swiping the page “turns” with animation, like a real paper page does. Apple’s very proud of that. It’s cute, but in actuality, I mostly tap. It’s faster.

Everyone asks me if it’s hard to read on the iPad because of the backlighting, and when I say no, they express disbelief and tell me that I’m wrong, everyone says it’s more difficult. I don’t know what to tell them. It doesn’t bother me. I’ve read almost all of Freakonomics without thinking about it either way. Some people say it’s a strain on their eyes. Some don’t. YMMV. Practically everything I do all day is a strain on my eyes, and my eyesight is so bad I’m practically blind as a bat. For what it’s worth, I didn’t find reading on the iPad to be uncomfortable at all.

No, the main problem with iBooks is content. The good news is that you can import your own EPUB books, if you happen to have them (perhaps you’ve got some short stories in Word doc form: you can transform these into an EPUB using a program like Calibre, for example). The other good news is that you can download tons of free classics from Project Gutenberg, right from the iBookstore. This is great. Sure, Google Books has lots of free books too, but they’re shoddily scanned and horribly OCRd (that’s Optical Character Recognition, or how a computer understands that the black marks in the picture it just read are letters). Full of typos, misreads and formatting glitches, reading a Google Book is more pain than pleasure, imho. I love Google in many of its forms, but when it comes to Google Books, I think their attitude of “get as much done as fast as possible” stinks. Project Gutenberg texts, on the other hand, are nicely proofed scans, with almost all the typos eliminated, neat and precise. I’m glad Apple made a point of offering PG books in the iBookstore.

But for paid content, it’s highly disappointing. Apple made deals with some publishers, but not all, and therefore there are big gaping holes in the iBookstore’s offerings. There’s still no agreement on the table with Random House, for example, and that’s a biggie. No Random House means no Knopf. No Crown. No Del-Rey. No Doubleday. No Vintage. No Ballantine. No Pantheon. No DC Comics. No Bantam. And a whole lot more. Go look at your bookshelf and see how many of your books are from those publishers. None of those would be in the iBookstore. Now, hopefully Apple and Random House will strike a deal soon & that’ll change

However, there’s another problem. As Laura Miller pointed out in her blog over on Salon.com, “I love reading on my iPad, but that doesn’t blind me to the abject inadequacy of the iBooks store. By contrast, Amazon, which has 15 years of online bookselling experience under its belt, has largely figured out the key to helping people find the books they want. It’s a little thing called metadata.” Don’t think you know what metadata is? Yes, you do. To the layperson, simply put, it’s tagging. Tagged posts, tagged objects, tagged images. Amazon uses metadata, including user-added tags, which make it easier for customers to find things they  might like. Look up your favorite book on Amazon, and scroll down a bit. You’ll see a section titled “Tags Customers Associate With This Product”. Click on a few. You might find something else you like. But the iBookstore doesn’t have tagging, or any metadata at all, really, other than author search, and genre distinctions of their own divising.

The first book I downloaded was my personal favorite, The Mists of Avalon -- not available in iBooks, but through Kindle for iPad.

Luckily, there’s Kindle for iPad. The app makes your iPad function just like a Kindle, as far as software goes: you can buy books right from Amazon on the iPad, or from your desktop and they’ll be synced to the iPad the next time you open the app. Easy. And there’s a veritable plethora of content to choose from. Amazon’s ahead of the game there.

A new arrival on the e-reader scene is Kobo, available June 17, a product partnered with Borders bookstores. Lower priced ($149) but lacking wireless capability for download, I can’t say if the reader itself will make a splash, but whether it does or not, there’s a Kobo for iPad app out already. As with the Kindle app, having this allows you to enjoy any Kobo books you might happen to purchase, and read them on your iPad.

Barnes and Noble has the Nook, and an iPhone app for their e-reader. They still haven’t come out with their app for the iPad, though they keep saying it’s in the works. My advice? Move it along a little faster there, B&N, and not just the app. I know you’ve been king of the bookselling heap for awhile now, but as Ferris Bueller once said, life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. In your case, B&N, you might miss the train. I love B&N but if they want to stay relevant, they should be the stars of the e-book revolution — and they’re not. The Nook is pretty darn clunky, imho, and their e-book promotion and selling is lackluster at best. Sorry, a little digression from me and I doubt B&N is listening, but I wish they were, for their sakes.

For me, there’s one big advantage to the iPad over the Kindle or the Nook, even aside from versatility: the touchscreen. Laptop touch pads have been frustrating me for years; both devices feature their version of a touchpad, and I fear I would have been stymied again. Another factor is my growing dislike for one-purpose mobile devices. I don’t want to carry around a bunch of somethings that only do one thing.

One caveat: I haven’t been able to spend as much time with either the Kindle or the Nook as I’d like, to be able to give either an in-depth review, because I don’t own them. Unfortunately, my little blog budget does not extend to endless gadget purchases. If I had access to either, or the Sony Reader or the Kobo, I’d be happy to give any of them a fair shake.

Back to the iPad, I should also mention that for comic books, there’s the app from Marvel Comics. Comic books and graphic novels obviously lend themselves ably to the iPad’s full-color screen. Marvel’s free app is a comic reader; you pay for content in-app, something that’s growing common on the iStore. I was always a DC girl, so I know less about what I’m looking at with Marvel but — it looked pretty amazing. I’m just not sure, though, that you’ll ever pry paper comics out of their collectors’ hot hands.

The Toy Story Read-Along app includes music, coloring pages and games.

There are a couple other options for reading various files on the iPad. Good Reader is an app you can use to transfer files from your desktop to the iPad (by syncing, within iTunes, or wirelessly, but that can be messier). PDFs, TXTs, DOCs, and so forth. I uploaded a doc file and a PDF, and you can read them just fine in Good Reader. It’s not as smooth or pleasant a reading experience, but it works.

Lastly, there are also standalone book apps. Some app designers are selling their books this way, one app per book, and those books are either in the public domain, or original works licensed to them. Some of these are unremarkable, but a few showcase just what the iPad could do with creative content. Disney is right in the ballgame from the start with their Digital Books site, and now their Read-Along apps for iPad. Toy Story is a free download in the App Store; Toy Story 2 costs $8.99. They’re also offering The Princess and the Frog, with Beauty and the Beast to be added soon and, coming in June, a 3D app for Toy Story 3. Other childrens’ books on the iPad as standalone apps include The Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss’s ABC, How to Train Your Dragon, Miss Spider’s Tea Party, and The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg. A hugely popular app is the Alice for the iPad, with a Lite version available for free. Wonderful illustrations, graphics and interactivity:

Clearly, there are a ton of options for e-reading right now; all these companies competing with each other for our business with their hardware e-readers, their software e-books, their apps. Competition used benefits the consumer, but the one problem in this instance is that it makes file management very messy for us order-loving types. What I really want, after all, is all of my e-book files in one place, the way all of my music is in one place. In my house, my books are neatly arranged on my bookshelf, while yours might be strewn around the room. Either way, they’re not separated by which store I bought them from. I suspect Apple would prefer that I bought all my e-books from them, and therefore they would be all nicely organized in iBooks. But I suspect Amazon would like me to do the same in my Kindle app, and Borders would prefer I only use Kobo. That’s not going to happen, though, because the great thing about the iPad — and this is the crux of my review, and why my ultimate word on the issue is a hearty recommendation for it as an e-reader — is choice. I can shop at Apple, or Amazon, or Borders, or an independent company, and read all of it on my device. With a Kindle, or a Nook, or a Kobo, I’m restricted. Yes, all those devices can read DRM-free files you might have lying around. But the stores aren’t selling you DRM-free files. Why would they? They want you to use their product, their device, be their customer. Not someone else’s.

Lest I give the wrong impression, I’m not going to stop reading printed books. They’re still my preference. E-books are just another format to me, like audiobooks, and I wanted something to be able to access them with, like I have a CD player in my car or an iPhone jack so I can listen to podcasts while I drive. The iPad lets me read pretty much any e-book I might come across, and that’s why I like it. I use my iPad for so many other things, but it’s a big plus that it gives me the freedom to read what I want on it — and comfortably and pleasantly and enjoyably — as well.

Everything they said it would and wouldn’t be: iPad review

The title says it all, but if you want to keep reading, I’ll happily babble about the iPad a bit more.

They said it would be magical and revolutionary, and in a lot of ways it is. I’d been somewhat worried about the size — I hate clunky heavy devices. It’s shockingly thin. And fits nicely in the hands. The touchscreen is responsive as all get-out, and the color, brightness, clarity is lovely. My photos look quite nice. Video is clear. Everything we were lead to expect.

In one area, the iPad is surpassing expectations. Steve Jobs talked about 10 hours of battery life, which everyone (myself included) heard as “10 means 6 or 7, maybe”). But apparently, for once, Jobs was giving a low estimate — users are reporting almost 12 hours of battery life with heavy use. That’s impressive. Heck, I was tickled that it came out of the box with a full charge (how do they do that?).

George is apparently impressed, but Fred just wants to lick his brother's ear. An unsurprising response.

Speaking of the out-of-box experience, it’s minimal. iPad, USB dock connector, power adaptor, booklet with very little instructional information. Typical. I would have appreciated a little wipe cloth, because the iPad picks up fingerprints like a CSI unit on speed, but I had some lying around already. As for accessories, they’re still coming off the production line; the keyboard isn’t available for a few months, but to be frank I won’t be buying it. Typing with the on-screen keyboard in landscape mode is easy and fast. I’ve never had much use for docks. I will absolutely buy a protective cover/case, but the pickings were too slim right now (I thought Apple’s case was, to be blunt, an overpriced piece of flimsy junk). Most importantly, though, I find that I want a second cable. I don’t know if the iPhone/iPod cables are supposed to be interchangeable; it works, but it’s not a smooth fit. And as some users are discovering, the iPad doesn’t seem to charge when it’s connected to your computer; you have to use the wall charger for that, and then sync on your computer. That’s fine, but I don’t feel like moving the cable around every time. Otherwise, setup is a snap. You plug it in, it starts, you give it a name and sync. Connecting to WiFi is easy, as usual, as well.

I spent most of  yesterday looking for interesting iPad apps and setting up iBooks. Apple was very proud of the fact that iPhone apps will work on the iPad, just scaled down or magnified. Yeah, not so much. Oh, they work, but they look terrible, and aren’t able to take advantage of the iPad on-screen keyboard. It’s not a fun experience. Luckily, there are some terrific new iPad apps (the Netflix app for your Watch Instantly queue is fantastic, as is the ABC app, with full episodes of all your favorite shows, both for free). And a few front-runners have updated their apps, including Amazon’s Kindle reader and IMDB. But a few others need to get with the program.

iBooks is a beautiful application; the iBookstore just needs more content. I’ll post more about e-reading on the iPad in a few days, once I’ve had more time to explore.

A lot of noise is being made by the lack of support for Flash on the iPad, just as with the iPhone. I think the amount of complaining is disproportionate to how important it really is, to be frank. Sure, you find flash on a lot of sites. Most of the time, though, isn’t it stuff you don’t really need to see? You’re all set for YouTube with an app, and ditto for Netflix, and we all know Hulu is working on an app as well. Let’s cut to the chase: no, you can’t play Farmville on your iPad. It’s a travesty, I know.

The bigger omission, in my opinion, is the lack of a camera. I didn’t think I’d care — I’ve got several cameras, and the one on my iPhone, who needs another? Except, argh, it’s already aggravated me twice in 24 hours that I have to take a picture with another device, sync that to my computer and then the iPad, or upload it online, or email it to myself, or something, and *then* use it for whatever I wanted it for. If they’d just included the most basic little camera into the iPad, it would have been so much more convenient.

Otherwise… I have no complaints. The iPad does exactly what I thought it would do, and does it nicely. I really think this is a device where your satisfaction with it will depend on whether you want to use it for what it does, or whether you’re disappointed it doesn’t do something else entirely. I’m in the first category. I like having portable video. I love surfing from anywhere, in the house, out. I read a lot of sites, and this makes it easy. I look forward to e-reading. iTunes works just the same as it does anywhere else; I didn’t load most of my music onto the iPad, though, because that’s not something I’d use it for. I have an iPod set up as a stereo in my house, and a dock at work for my iPhone, and I don’t need it on the iPad as well. I did, however, load all 8 GB of my photographs, and I love being able to look through them, and presented so nicely. Multi-tasking? I really only do one thing at a time, anyhow; I never understand why that’s much of an issue. And Flash, pfft, I don’t much care. The camera part is a pain, but I’ll survive, believe me. (serious hint for iPad 2.0, though, Apple. Come on.)

Mostly, for me, it’s the touchscreen that makes it all work, because while you can do pretty much everything I’m talking about on a laptop, I’ve hated laptop navigation for years. The touchpad is awkward and annoying, and hooking up a mouse defeats the purpose of portability, or is at least as awkward. I probably should have gotten a tablet computer ages ago, but they’ve had a tendency to be a tad pricey, and no one’s done it as prettily as Apple has with the iPad.

eBook sellers will have to compete on the iPad

Terrific article in the New York Times today mapping out e-book retailer competition on the iPad:

From the start, no one bookstore will come with an advantage: No matter which bookstore application iPad owners choose, they will have to download it first. Even the iBookstore, as Apple writes on its Web site, won’t come preloaded on the device. iPad owners will be asked to “Download the iBooks app free from the App Store.”

It sounds obvious, but I didn’t quite process it until I read it today. In fact, the other day I was Googling around about methods for importing Banes & Noble e-book purchases onto an iPad (this isn’t a good one, for this very reason). The answer is that I won’t. I’ll just download the B&N e-reader app to my iPad and read them there, easy peesy. And that’s *why* there’s a Kindle App for the iPad, and one from B&N, and so on. They want to keep you buying their product, wherever you’re reading it.

Of course I did

iPafWas there really any doubt I was going to preorder an iPad? Apple has their hooks in me. It’s the shinyness. The clean white stores, the sleekness, the form over factor, I freely admit it all. I’m brainwashed. But also, in this particular instance, I fit their niche. I’ve always wanted a more portable computer for web access and for reading, plus other things. I hate laptops: too big. The netbook: too limited in capability, no touch screen (and thank you, eBay). My iPhone: wondrous, and useful, but a bit small. I’m their target market for the iPad. I don’t care that it doesn’t have a camera, as I had no intention of taking pictures with it. I don’t need 3G, b/c I’m mostly going to use it in my own house, where there’s WiFi. It looks like a good size for reading. Touchscreen yay. On Project Runway, Michael Kors likes to talk about “the right girl, in the right dress, with the right styling”, and that’s what the  iPad is for me, the right girl in the right dress. For someone else, of course, it will not be. Chacun à son goût. I begrudge no one their disinterest in Apple and their wares. I expect others not to begrudge mine.

From the e-reader standpoint, I’m eager to hear more details about iBooks. What most people want to know is, will we and how will we be able to import other e-books we already own into iBooks, onto our iPads? I don’t own many e-books right now, but I do have a few. And I might want to shop elsewhere, in the future, but still read on my iPad. Barnes and Noble has announced that they’ll have an e-reader app specifically for the iPad ready on April 3rd. It might seem like they’re fraternizing with the competition — should B&N just want you to buy a Nook? — but quite the opposite: they’re keeping their fingers in the pie. It’s not about selling Nooks, or Kindles, or maybe even iPads, and it never has been. It’s about selling e-books, music, movies. Since the iPad will use the ePub standard that Barnes and Noble does, it shouldn’t be a problem. After all, we can import mp3s and other music files into iTunes with no great difficulty; hopefully, with iBooks, it’ll be the same.

iPad may go on sale March 26th — getting ready for iBooks

I’m a junkie: pretty much every day now I’m Googling “ipad release date”, looking for news — finally, this morning, MacRumors.com says there are “whispers” that the iPad will go on sale March 26, at 6 PM.

The iPad is getting a lot of pre-release criticism, and I’m sure it’s not for everyone. I don’t recommend it, I don’t dis-recommend it — but I know I, personally, want one. I use a desktop for all my heavy computing. I use (and love) my iPhone for my mobile needs. But there’s a niche that’s missing for me. I bought a netbook a few months ago, mostly to fill in while the desktop (“Stan the Man”, I call it — yes, I name my computers) was out getting repairs. I have nothing positive to say about netbooks. Steve Job is right: it really is just a crappy laptop. I need the touchscreen, the media capabilities. And I’ve grown very curious about e-reading. I’ve done a bit of it on my iPhone; it’s not bad, but the screen is a little small. I’ve been curious about the Kindle and the Nook, but just couldn’t stomach the price tag, for a one-purpose device. As Roger Stewart, editorial director of McGraw-Hill Professional, put it:

“The reason publishers have long believed the iPad would have the potential to be a game changer is not because it was designed to be an e-book reader,” he said. “It’s a game changer because it does everything else well and, by the way, it also happens to be a great e-book reader. Most people are reluctant to pay $300 for an e-book reader, but if the reader is just part of the device that you bought for all those other reasons the barrier goes away.”

Exactly.

So, I’m still Googling, and watching the news. I seriously doubt I’ll camp out for the iPad. I didn’t for the iPhone, and instead just walked into an Apple Store the next day and bought one in five minutes. But I’ll be tempted.

Why buy the cow when you can read the milk for free?

E-books have been the story for 2010 so far — who’s reading them, who’s not, how much they should sell for, and what you should read them on.

Publishers have objected to lowering the cost of e-books, and in a much-publicized dispute between Amazon and MacMillan, so far the publishers are winning. On one hand, I, too, agree that we shouldn’t devalue books, that artificially low costs give the impression that books are cheap and not worth spending money on. On the other hand, as a consumer, I’m still saying that if you want me to boy an e-book instead of a paper book, you’ve got to give me big incentives — especially a lower price. Why would I pay $15 dollars for a book I’ll be able to buy in paperback for that much in a few months? And I’m not the only reader who feels that way. Those of us who “value” books the most are the same people who consume more of them than anyone else, and we can’t afford not to be price-conscious. At the same time, we’re well aware of our options for reading. There is, after all, always the library. 🙂

Then there are all the free e-books out there, which is the big story, really, as to what’s driving the rise in e-book popularity this year, in my opinion. It’s not just books in the public domain — new authors and old have found that giving away books can actually help their sales in the long run. More than half of the “best-selling” e-books on the Kindle, Amazon.com’s e-reader, are available at no charge. Sometimes it’s a new author with a new series: they’ll give away the first book for free in hopes you’ll get hooked and buy the second. And sometimes it’s an older author with a new release, hoping to cash in on the same ploy. Whatever it is, it seems to be working. Publishers, of course, are less than thrilled.

Similarly, a spokesman for Penguin Group USA said: “Penguin has not and does not give away books for free. We feel that the value of the book is too important to do that.”

Of course, that’s not at all true. Penguin gives review copies for free, I’m sure, and one might argue that this new e-book business model isn’t completely different from that.

I can’t help but feel that publishing companies are going to have to come to grips with that new model whether they want to or not. More and more people are cottoning on to the idea of e-readers; even I plan on buying an iPad this spring and giving it a whirl, in addition to already reading on my phone, from time to time. I don’t think bookstores are going to go away, not entirely (though I’m a little more worried about the traditional public library). But just as the music industry has had to adapt to digital music and find a way to make it profitable (and they have), publishers are going to have to do the same to incorporate digital reading into their framework.