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Exclusive: Our own Len Edgerly interviews Amazon’s Jeff Bezos live in the KND Kindle Chronicles Interview

Article of Faith: “If people read more, that is a better world”

(Ed. Note: For any publisher or journalist, there are few things that feel as good as a great “get.” So this week, as we join contributing editor Len Edgerly in celebrating four terrific years of podcast interviews, we congratulate him for this week’s “get” of Amazon and Kindle founder Jeff Bezos, and we congratulate ourselves for our “get” of the highly esteemed Mr. Edgerly. –Steve Windwalker)

By LEN EDGERLY, Contributing Editor
I traveled to Seattle this week to sit down on July 26th with Jeff Bezos for an 18-minute conversation about the Kindle. We met in an unadorned conference room at Amazon’s fast-growing campus of nondescript buildings. He’d brought a dish of cottage cheese and a paper cup containing something to drink. As I tested the audio levels on my Olympus LS-10, Bezos offered this disarming advice: “Usually my laugh eventually blows out the microphone, so hopefully you’re set for that.”

In appreciation for this opportunity to better understand how the Kindle looks to the man who leads the team that created it, I am pleased to present the following complete transcript of the interview:

Len Edgerly: It’s been seven years since you did the early design for the Kindle.

Jeff Bezos: Yes.

LE: When you think back to what you saw then, what’s been the biggest surprise in how it’s all unfolded?

JB: The biggest surprise by far is how quickly it has grown. When we did this, we were very optimistic that Kindle would eventually be a success and that it would accelerate the adoption of eBooks. But what has actually happened, happened so much faster than any reasonable person would have expected.

Today eBooks have become a huge fraction of the books sold, and we wouldn’t have anticipated that. That’s a big surprise.

LE: It sold out in like the first hour and a half  [it was actually five and a half hours]. At that point was it evident that this was going to be a faster ride than you thought?

JB: Yeah. We were very surprised right from the beginning. And all throughout that first year actually, we continued to be surprised. So you may remember that not only were we out of stock in our first holiday season, but we were also out of stock in our second holiday selling season. That’s not a good time to be out of stock. And so we continued to be surprised by the adoption rates. That’s a good, high-quality problem, but it’s still something that I look back on and marvel at.

LE: How has the Kindle changed your own personal reading habits?

JB: I think like a lot of our Kindle customers, the biggest thing is that I end up reading more. So, it’s just easier to read more. I can have more books with me. I travel. When I’m traveling I don’t always know exactly what I’m going to be wanting to read from time to time. I can also get new things when I want to, when I hear about them. So if a friend tells me about something, I can get it right away, or if I read about something in a blog somewhere, I can get it right away. I just read more.

LE: I’ve been surprised by how much I read on the Fire, because I was such a lover of the E Ink. What’s your ratio between reading on the Fire versus with reading on the E Ink devices.

JB: Well, I carry both devices, and I really like to read periodicals on the Fire. So magazines and newspapers—I find the Fire experience to be preferable. When I get into a long-form book, reading a novel, I really prefer the E Ink device, I think in part because it weighs less, it’s lighter. It’s easier on my eyes. For extended reading sessions and right before bed, I find I gravitate towards my Kindle, and then for lots of other things I use my Fire.

LE: What do you think will be the same five to seven years or further out about the way we read, never mind how the technology advances?

JB: I think one thing that you can count on is that human nature doesn’t change. The human brain doesn’t change. And so one thing that seems to be very, very fundamental is that we like narrative. We like stories. So I don’t think that any amount of eBook technology is going to change the fact that we humans like narrative. And so I think that linear narrative, where somebody has really put a lot of work into guiding us along in a great story—a great storyteller, that’s what they do. I think that’s going to stay the same.

LE: Do you think that at some point the all-text story will be kind of an historical anomaly because the digital editions, the enhanced audio video and all that will just create a more compelling experience of a story than all text?

JB: I doubt it. We sort of have done that experiment in a way already, because sometimes really good books get made into movies. And even if the movie is a good movie—there’s also the case where they get made into bad movies. But even if they’re good movies, there are things about the book that never get replicated in the movie.
And I think the all-text story, as you put it, is its own medium, and I think that is likely to continue. I don’t think, for example, that audio snippets would make Hemingway better.  I’m not sure multimedia would make Hemingway better. So I think it’s its own thing.

Now will there be new kinds of things invented that take advantage of these new technologies? Yes. Just like movies, moving pictures, was a completely new medium. But you didn’t try to do books with moving pictures—they might be derived from a book. But it’s its own art form, and they had to invent all the things that make movies good—all the different ways from cutting from one scene to the next—and it didn’t displace books. And I think that’s what you’ll see happen here, too.  There’ll be new kinds of multimedia offerings that people can interact with on Kindles, but they won’t displace all-text stories.

LE: When you’re reading an all-text story, your mind is filling in so much, and that’s part of the pleasure.

JB: Exactly. Part of the pleasure is that you’re imagining your version of that story, all the details and all the richness.  And multimedia takes some of that away.

LE: Plus it’s kind of a distraction. There’s a thread that gets broken when you’re tempted to go somewhere.

JB: I totally agree. And I would also say that a lot of what makes long-form books such a good format is there’s a lot of inner dialog that can happen in a book that you can’t really capture in multimedia. It can’t just be a glance at somebody’s face. It has to actually be that whole thread of what’s happening inside their head.

LE: The two core features back in the early days of the design that you emphasized were keyboards for searching books easily and also the automatic 3G, so people wouldn’t have to mess with WiFi. And the two Kindles now don’t have either of those. So what changed there?

JB: The key thing about the keyboard is that the electronic ink display technology finally got fast enough and responsive enough that we could do a reasonable onscreen keyboard. That also ends up making the device lighter. But the big difference, the big change over time is that the electronic ink display technology has gotten faster and more responsive.

We do still offer our 3G version of the Kindle. And that is a very popular choice, in fact people who buy that Kindle are the people who read the most.

LE: Why do you think that is?

JB: I suspect it’s probably some that they are the more serious readers, so they want the very best Kindle. But we also see that their reading increases even more than people who buy the other Kindles. And the reason, I think, for that is that it makes getting books even more frictionless, makes it even easier. You don’t have to look for a WiFi hotspot. You can just get them wherever you happen to be. And it roams globally at no charge, so people can figure that out, too, and get it wherever they are, even if they’re traveling around the world.

LE: It’s amazing how that small of an additional convenience would translate into more sales and reading.

JB: Exactly right, and we see this in everything. Many years ago we did this thing called One-Click Shopping, and tiny, little improvements can drive people to do more of something, just because you’re making it easier. And we’re all busy here in the early 21st Century.

LE: You’ve innovated with steady improvements to the Kindle platform  since the introduction in November of 2007. And, as you’ve said, not every experiment succeeds—otherwise it wouldn’t be an experiment. Which blind alley that you’ve gone down in the last seven years taught you the most about how your customers want to read?

JB: That’s a great question. I would say one example of that would be location numbers. So one of the things that we did early on is we looked very hard at page numbers and how should we deal with electronic books? How should we do page numbers? You have to keep in mind that when you change the font size, everything changes. So you can’t really just count pages or screenfuls. So we came up with location numbers, and location numbers are the same no matter what font size you set your Kindle to. And by the way, being able to change the font size is something customers love about Kindle. That, and looking up words—there are a bunch of little things that people really love. They seem like small things, but they’re actually big features that people use all the time.

So after working with location numbers for many years, we got lots of feedback from customers that there are a lot of use cases where they wished that they had page numbers that matched the page numbers in physical books. So, for example, if you’re having a book club, and some people have the physical book and you have the Kindle book, you still want to be able to refer people to the real page number. You can’t say to your friend, “Turn to Location, you know, 2015.” (Laughs)

And so we used our cloud-computing expertise and our machine-learning expertise, and we actually built a set of algorithms that can look at the scanned pages of physical books and match up the words and find with pretty high confidence when you’re on your Kindle, what is the real page number that you happen to be on? We’ve implemented that for many, many of the books now in the Kindle catalog.

LE: That was good, because even though I can’t feel the pages, to know I’m on page 200—there’s a reference to the way I used to read that’s helpful.

JB: Exactly. Because we’ve all grown up reading physical books, we have kind of an internal clock or something that keeps track in page numbers, and that’s much harder to translate into something like location numbers. Maybe it would be akin to trying to figure out how much something costs in Yen when you’re in Japan. You can eventually figure it out, but it’s not something that you can do with intuition.

LE: Do you think we’ll ever reach a time when 60 seconds just seems like too long to download a book?

JB: I can tell you that most of the downloads now take way less than that. So we advertise books in 60 seconds, but actually it’s much faster.

I can also tell you that one of the things that gets me up in the morning is knowing that customer expectations are always rising, and I find that very exciting. You know, this is a team of missionaries, and we like to rise to those kinds of challenges.

LE: You like to be a little bit ahead.

JB: Maybe it should be books in one second. (Laughs.)

LE: Whoah. I’d buy even more.

JB: Exactly. Very good.

LE: Now, Stephen King has been very future-leaning on eBooks. In fact he helped you launch the Kindle 2. I was disappointed, because his upcoming book, Joyland, is coming out in print only, and he was quoted in the press release saying, “folks who want to read it will have to buy the actual book.” Any idea what happened there?

JB: No, I don’t know what that’s about. I can tell you one thing, though. If you’re Stephen King, you can do what you want. (Laughs.) As you pointed out, he’s been a great friend of Kindle. He wrote some exclusive content for us and came to one of our press conferences, and he’s a very good guy.

LE: Compared with the Kindle Fire and the Kindle apps, the E Ink Kindles still maintain their role as kind of the Cadillac of purpose-built reading devices.  There are things you can do on the E Ink Kindles that you can’t do on the Fire. Do you think the appeal of purpose-driven eReaders is likely to diminish as the all-purpose devices get better and better at reading?

JB: No. I think that for serious readers, there will always be a place for a purpose-built reading device, because I think you’ll be able to build a device which is lighter, which matters a lot to people, has better readability if what you’re doing is reading text. You know, as soon as you have to make a device do a bunch of things, it becomes suboptimal for doing the one thing. And so while I think the tablet, LCD devices like Kindle Fire will continue to get better and better and better, I think that purpose-built reading devices, like our electronic ink Kindle will also continue to get better and better and better.

Can you go hiking in tennis shoes? Yes, but if you’re a real hiker you might want hiking boots. And so both things, I think, will continue to coexist.

LE: You’ve said your passions choose you and not the other way around. Can you trace back the passion that led to the creation of the Kindle in your life?

JB:  Well, I have been a lifelong reader. My wife is an author. We started Amazon with books. We are missionaries. All of our products here at Amazon, products and services, are built by missionaries. And I call it missionaries versus mercenaries. Missionaries build better products, because they’re not doing it just for the business results. They’re doing it because the love the product or they love the service.
And it turns out Kindle is a really easy product to attract missionaries, because a lot of people care about reading. A lot of people care about inventing the future of reading. And so it’s super-easy for me personally and for our whole team to be passionate missionaries about Kindle.

LE: Because of that love of reading.

JB: Yeah, absolutely! I think it’s the love of reading personally and it’s also that we on the Kindle team take it as an article of faith that reading is important for civilization. So we feel this powerful mission, and it’s exciting.

LE: Your mission is every book ever published in every language, available in 60 seconds anywhere in the world. How would the world be a better place if you achieve that?

JB: First and foremost, I would take it as an article of faith. I think if people read more, that is a better world. So I would posit that as an article of faith.

But, you know, we humans, we co-evolve with our tools. We change our tools, and then our tools change us. And if you look at the digital era, almost every kind of media as it’s gotten digitized, more people have been able to access it. And most of what has happened with the digitization of text has been on short-form, so it’s things like blog posts. It’s short articles, short newspaper articles and so on.

And really, until Kindle, nothing in the digital era really made it easier to read long-form. People didn’t want to read long-form on their laptop. We tried that actually. We offered eBooks to people to buy as PDFs and other ways. You needed an electron microscope to find sales. Nobody wanted that.

In that sense that we’re co-evolving with our tools, one of the things that Kindle does is make it easier for people to read long-form. I personally believe that that also means that people will have longer attention spans. You know, one of the reasons that people sense that attention spans are getting shorter and shorter, a lot of it is because a lot of the digital media are shrinking the scale of the media. So YouTube videos are eight minutes long, and blog posts are two paragraphs long. So it’s not surprising. If that’s what you consume all day, that’s what your brain gets accustomed to consuming. And Kindle helps to push in the other direction.

LE: Which has got to be a good thing just for understanding and knowledge.

JB: That’s exactly what I think.

LE: Last question. When you spoke to the graduates at Princeton, you asked what convictions would enable them not to wilt under criticism. That interested me, and it made me think of your willingness to be misunderstood within the publishing industry. What conviction, personally for you, do you hold onto to avoid wilting under the criticism that comes your way, specifically in the publishing arena?

JB: What I hold onto and what I tell our folks here at Amazon is, if you’re going to invent, if you’re going to do anything at all in a new way there are going to be people who sincerely misunderstand, and there are going to be also self-interested critics who have a reason to misunderstand. You’ll get both types.

But if you can’t weather that misunderstanding for long periods of time, then you just have to hang up your hat as an inventor. It’s part and parcel with invention. Invention is by its very nature disruptive. And if you want to be understood, if it’s so important for you to be understood at all times, then don’t do anything new.

lenKindle Nation Weekender columnist and contributing editor Len Edgerly blogs at The Kindle Chronicles where you can hear his interview with Jeff Bezos in its entirety at 11:45 of this week’s Kindle Chronicles episode 208.  

Amazon Pushes Back Positively on Labor Issues with Innovative New Education Initiative, Paying 95% of Tuition Costs for Employees

Jeff Bezos is no Joe Hill, and his company — along with Apple, Walmart and others — has come under increasingly frequent criticism from labor activists and progressives for being unfriendly to union organizing and, according to some, a tough place to work. Parsing such matters can be a delicate balance for progressives; as we wrote here in April:

While the company certainly has its detractors among competitors, some publishers, some authors, and progressives who decry the company’s labor practices, it is nonetheless an enormously popular company. So progressives like me might wring our hands over the conditions faced by Amazon’s warehouse workers, but at the end of the day Amazon has more progressive titles and more progressive customers than any other bookstore….

Other predictable consequences of Amazon’s dominance not only in the ebook sphere but beyond could create problems for the company if it does not make forward-looking changes in the way it does business. The company is seen by many as a tax-avoiding bogeyman that is destroying not only publishers and wholesalers but independent bookstores in particular and Main Street in general, and while there are major economic forces at work here that would probably lead to the same conclusion without Amazon at the head of march, Amazon has to realize that it should do everything possible to avoid being seen as the online version of Walmart. And while Amazon has escaped much of the kind of negative attention that has surrounded Apple and its FoxConn manufacturing plant in China, there is an emerging campaign among labor activists and progressive journalists to focus a spotlight on poor conditions in Amazon fulfillment centers. As with all of these concerns, there are real issues at play, and Amazon’s best moves would be substantive rather than media-driven.

Our point, of course, was that a company in Amazon’s position might well be too powerful for any among us to force it into what we might consider best labor practices, but Amazon — even if more out of a sense of realpolitik than noblesse oblige or progressive principles — would do best to play a positive, innovative leadership role both in addressing its tax responsibilities as a corporate citizen and in making every nook and cranny of its corporate empire (including any out-of-the-way spots where contract, 1099, or third-party employees might toil) “best in class” as places to work, to prosper, and to grow.

So we don’t want to congratulate a marathoner gratuitously for a strong first mile, but all in all, we see Amazon’s press release this afternoon as a promising step, and we will keep watching.

Amazon Launches Innovative New Education Initiative, Paying 95% of Tuition Costs for Employees to Pursue Their Aspirations – Whether at Amazon, or in Another Industry

SEATTLE–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Jul. 23, 2012– Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN) today announced the Amazon Career Choice Program, an innovative new program designed to expand the choices available to its employees in their future careers, whether at Amazon or in another industry. Many fulfillment center employees will choose to build their careers at Amazon. For others, a job at Amazon might be a step towards a career in another field. Amazon wants to make it easier for employees to make that choice and pursue their aspirations.

Jeff Bezos – Photo Credit: James Duncan Davidson

“At Amazon, we like to pioneer, we like to invent, and we’re not willing to do things the normal way if we can figure out a better way,” said Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com, in a letter posted on the front page of Amazon. “It can be difficult in this economy to have the flexibility and financial resources to teach yourself new skills. So, for people who’ve been with us as little as three years, we’re offering to pre-pay 95% of the cost of courses such as aircraft mechanics, computer-aided design, machine tool technologies, medical lab technologies, nursing, and many other fields.”

The program is unusual because unlike traditional tuition reimbursement programs, Amazon will exclusively fund education only in areas that are well-paying and in high demand according to sources like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the company will fund those areas regardless of whether those skills are relevant to a career at Amazon.

“I welcome Amazon’s innovative initiative, which offers a new and exciting way for corporate support of employee education,” said Washington State Governor Chris Gregoire. “I hope that other companies follow Amazon’s lead and I thank them for a creative new approach.”

The Amazon Career Choice Program builds on a series of innovations at Amazon’s fulfillment centers. Amazon’s high productivity allows the company to pay its fulfillment center employees 30% more than traditional physical retail store employees while still offering customers the lowest prices. Amazon’s work on safety practices has been so effective that it’s statistically safer to work in an Amazon fulfillment center than in a traditional department store.

Amazon’s bias for reinvention extends into recruiting programs across its fulfillment network. Amazon’s seasonal recruiting program CamperForce – where RVers combine work with camping – has been very successful and hundreds of campers return every year. Amazon’s military veteran recruiting program effectively helps vets transition into the civilian workforce. Amazon was recently named the #1 Top Military Friendly Employer by G.I. Jobs Magazine.

To learn more about the Amazon Career Choice Program, please visit www.amazon.com/careerchoice.

Find Thousands of Free and Bargain Kindle Books! Here’s an eBook Search & Browse Tool That Will Make You Glad You Have a Kindle … as if You Need Another Reason

If you’re a Kindle Nation reader, you are probably already aware that the Kindle outshines all the other so-called Kindle Killers when it comes to the selection and prices that are available in the Kindle Store catalog.

But now, thanks to some great folks at Inkmesh, we are able to offer you a free tool that will help you find the absolute best ebook price for any book you wish to read. Organized with elegant simplicity, Inkmesh allows you to search for free Kindle books and compare ebook prices for the Kindle, iPhone, Nook, Sony Reader and other ereaders.

Just click here to initiate any search and see a full set of results in a fraction of a second.

But that’s not all! Once you see a result page you’ll find an extremely useful set of fine-tuning aids in the left sidebar column that will allow you to drill down on results by price point (Free, Below $1, Below $5, and Below $10), content category, or device, and even to exclude public domain titles from your listings.

These same drill-down options are available to you when you click here (or click “Explore” from within Inkmesh) to browse ebooks by subject area, and the list of browsing subject areas is, in a word, magnificent. I never

thought I would say this about a third-party App, but Inkmesh has outdone Amazon itself when it comes to providing a useful tool for searching and browsing Amazon’s website, or at least the Kindle Store, and beyond. Click on any letter of the alphabet across the top row and you’ll be amazed at the array of browse categories.

Because Inkmesh hits the sweet spot when it comes to simplicity, it will actually work well directly from your Kindle, although Amazon still needs to improve its website and Kindle platform engineering so that we can use the Kindle’s browser to move directly from a Kindle book’s page on the Amazon website to the buy button on the Kindle’s version of the Kindle Store.

It only makes sense.

So this next point is only slightly off topic, but back in June 2008 I had a conversation on the air with Jeff Bezos when he appeared on a national NPR call-in program based here in the Boston area, and I asked him why it was not yet possible for Kindle owners to use their Kindles to synch up with the rest of the Amazon store to order other products from music to maple syrup.

Windwalker: Are you trying not to overdo it commercially or is that an engineering issue.

Bezos: Yeah, it’s an engineering issue. Those are the kinds of things we’re working on. We want complete integration between Kindle the device and Amazon.com the website.

It’s kind of hard for me to imagine any such task being too challenging for the wizards at Amazon, but if that’s the case, then I feel it is my duty to humbly suggest here that Amazon should offer whatever it takes as a purchase price to bring Inkmesh under its tent. If Amazon decides that it is time to provide Kindle users with a transparent, user-friendly way to search, browse and buy anywhere on the web including all the departments in Amazon’s main online store as well as the various departments of the Kindle Store, I feel confident that the Inkmesh team could nail it.

Meanwhile, while we wait for that development, here are tha main links you’ll need to get the most out of Inkmesh:

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A Detailed Roadmap for Kindle 3, 4, 5, & Beyond: Touchscreen, Flexible Large-Form, Notepad, Color, & Voila: The Kindle Reader & Mobile Net Device

By Stephen Windwalker, publisher of Kindle Nation

CEO Jeff Bezos was characteristically coy, during Thursday’s Amazon earnings conference call, when he was asked if the company “might unleash the computing power of the Kindle” by adding features that could make the Kindle competitive with netbook computers: “We’re really focused on purpose-built reading devices. We wouldn’t talk anyway about what we’re going to do in the future.”

Amazon may be coy, but CEO Russ Wilcox of e-Ink, the Cambridge, MA company that manufactures the revolutionary display technology used by the Kindle and the Sony eReader, recently provided the Boston Globe‘s Robert Weisman with a detailed, forward-looking chronology in which he laid out exactly what features we can reasonably expect in the Kindle 3.0 and beyond during 2009, 2010, and 2011. Although Amazon has always (during the Kindle’s brief 17-month history) emphasized the Kindle’s primary purpose as an electronic reading device, the company has not been shy about including other features that could, if optimized and augmented over time, appeal to consumers with “convergence device” or “laptop replacement” on their minds. Follow the very detailed Wilcox roadmap and we are looking, within three years, at the Kindle 4 or 5 as “an ideal mobile internet device.”

Perhaps this seems speculative, you say? But think this through with me:

If the e-Ink technologies that Wilcox describes move from prototype to product on the timetable that he describes so specifically, wouldn’t Amazon be foolish not to adopt them for the Kindle? After all, while I have always been clear about my view that the Kindle hardware is a bit of a Trojan horse, a means to Amazon’s real end of maintaining and expanding its leading role as a content retailer as we transition toward more and more digital content, it is essential for Amazon to hold onto the Kindle’s hardware market position for at least the next half-decade if it is to continue to shape and set standards for the Kindle content market. The inherent business propositions are straightforward both for e-Ink and for Amazon: e-Ink would not be investing the R&D money if its most important customer were not interested in the features, and Amazon can’t afford to turn its back on hardware device features that will be adopted by hardware device competitors (even if those devices end up selling Kindle Store content, as I expect they will).

So, here’s what we have to look forward to:

2009 Kindle-Compatible TouchTablet

  • Although bloggers have been buzzing for months about a large-form Kindle (first in 2008, and then, when that didn’t happen, in 2009), most of this buzz has been self-feeding, and I admit that I’ll be happily surprised, but still surprised, if there is a large-form e-Ink Kindle display in 2009. Maybe he needed to be more reticent about events closer to launch date, but Wilcox didn’t even mention 2009. He was very specific in mentioning 2010 and 2011.
  • Much more likely: a large-form, backlit, energy-intensive, high-end Kindle-compatible iPod TouchTablet with a price point in the $599-$699 range.

2010 Kindle

  • All the features of the Kindle 2, plus
  • Touch Screen with display-based keyboard, character recognition, and handwriting stylus for annotation and other writing-intensive activities including email, notes, and scribbling
  • Faster refresh
  • Flexible large-form e-ink display for effective rendering of textbooks and newspapers

2011 Kindle

  • All of the above
  • Plus a full-color display for effective rendering of magazines, cookbooks, comic books and graphic novels

2012(?) “Kindle Ideal” Mobile Internet Device

  • All of the above
  • Plus a full-screen, full-featured, full-color, fast-refresh, fast-loading browser
  • Flexible so you can fold it up and carry it with no more weight or footprint than the Kindle 2
  • Low electricity usage so that it can go for days between battery charges
  • And, dare we dream that its wireless web connection would still be free?

Among other things, I can’t help but mention that if all this comes to pass, the dumbed-down Netbook phenomenon of 2009 will be so over by 2013.

Sometimes, I know, I get accused of shilling for Amazon, or being a Kindle bore, when I throw words like “amazing” and “revolutionary” at the Kindle. But it has been this vision of the Kindle’s future — implicit in nearly every word of the Russ Wilcox video below — that I have been imagining, and writing about explicitly — since the Kindle was launched in November 2007.

Here is the Wilcox video:

That’s the hardware. Can I get a “Wow?”

But I would be remiss if I did not also point out that there is still so, so much unrealized potential in terms of Kindle software and Amazon’s relationships with Kindle customers and content providers, including:

  • Content-driven social networking that would empower readers and authors while providing a nice viral marketing force for Kindle content
  • The obvious need for Amazon and publishers to liberate Kindle content from the restrictive guck of DRM (digital rights management), which has little or nothing to do with copyright protection and amounts to the biggest betrayal yet, or ever, of Amazon’s “customer experience” mantra
  • A more courageous and customer-driven stance in the face of the narrowly based opposition to the Kindle’s text-to-speech feature
  • The need to address a bizarre, uncharacteristic, unethical and legally questionable approach to Kindle content promotion and publishing platform support, in which Kindle staff have shown a bias toward mainstream publishers while failing to provide even rudimentary support for independent authors and publishers, and may, if other reports are to be believed, be employing the kind of two-tier royalty approach that could eventually lead to federal scrutiny

No doubt it is a lot to manage, but it seems ironic that a company that has never manufactured hardware before would be doing so well on the device itself, yet so poorly on myriad issues in which Amazon has proven expertise that the device’s bed could ultimately be fouled. I hope not.

* * *

(For more free news and tips about the Amazon Kindle, subscribe to Kindle Nation, the free weekly email newsletter by Stephen Windwalker, or download a month’s worth of issues to your Kindle for just 99 cents!).

The author was the first to note authoritatively that Amazon sold half a million Kindles by Fall 2008, and the first to predict the Kindle for iPhone App.

How Many, How Many I Wonder, But They Really Don’t Want to Tell

(Weekly blog post at TeleRead.com)

By Stephen Windwalker, with apologies to songwriters Don Robertson and Howard Barnes and artists Elvis Presley, Eddy Arnold, Les Paul and Mary Ford for the title of this post

Even if I had never been a guest on the show, I’m sure I would make a regular weekly routine of listening to Len Edgerly’s Friday Kindle Chronicles podcast. Today Len deserves kudos for landing and conducting an interview with Ian Freed, Amazon’s vice-president for Kindle, and for utilizing the wisdom of crowds….

Read more….

Useful new features in the Kindle 1.2 firmware upgrade

With the Kindle 2.0 Jazzed Level at Code Red, it would have been easy to miss important features that are included in the version 1.2 firmware upgrade that Amazon has been zapping in waves to the 713,451 Kindles* that are currently in the field.

So the sometimes helpful Amazon Kindle Team posted this announcement on the Kindle’s own Amazon discussion forum:

A new software update for Kindle has rolled out. This update (version 1.2) adds the following features:

– Zoom any image in Kindle books or periodicals by selecting the image using the scroll wheel.
– Individual items and groups of items can be deleted directly from the Home screen. Simply scroll to the item you wish to delete and push the backspace key.
– Improved character and font support including Greek characters and monospace fonts.

To make this process as effective as possible for all of our customers, not all devices will be sent the update at the same time. When the software update is available and your Kindle is connected wirelessly to Whispernet, the update will download to your Kindle automatically. Then, the next time Kindle is in sleep mode, it will take advantage of the idle time and apply the update.

The zoom feature will be important for all of us who have been frustrated by the Kindle’s previous inability to show us useful graphics of art, maps, diagrams, tables, etc. Obviously, this feature will greatly enhance the Kindle publishing platform’s appeal for publishers of academic texts, other textbooks, and travel guides, among others.

The upgrade that allows us to clean up our personal Kindle library by deleting titles directly from the home screen is an important convenience, but like many of the features missing from the Kindle 1.0, it deserved to be more remarked “in the breach than in the observance.”

Then there is the Greek alphabet thing. H’mm. Maybe it’s a signal that the first destination for a global Kindle roll-out will be among American ex-pats on the island of Crete. Or not. Maybe it’s all about academic texts. Maybe it ties back to Jeff Bezos’ original launch day statement that the Kindle would eventually be able to access “every book ever printed” and illuminates a commitment to go all the way back to those pre-Gutenberg texts that Caesar used as Kindling 2057 years ago. In any case, I’m yet to be convinced that this one will change my life.
* I arrived at this scientific quantification of the Kindle’s installed base by drawing from two sources: the time showing on my Kindle as I began typing, and the temperature at which paper becomes spontaneously combustible. And no, you can’t check my work.