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The Kindle Chronicles Interview: Fire Fight: Could New Kindle Fire HD Models Ignite Real Attack on iPad’s Share of Tablet Market?

Len Edgerly Interviews James McQuivey,
vice president and principal analyst, Forrester Research

Contributing Editor

Let’s try a multiple-choice quiz as we wait for the Kindle Paperwhite to begin shipping this week, followed by the Kindle Fire HD 8.9” in November.

Which of the following will have their business disrupted the most by Amazon’s new generation of Kindles and Fires?

  1. The “Big 6” book publishers
  2. Wal-Mart
  3. Apple
  4. Barnes & Noble
  5. Dunkin’ Donuts

james-mcquiveyIf you chose c) Apple, go to the head of the class, where you will find James McQuivey in his usual chair, making insightful comments about the latest in digital disruption.
McQuivey (photo at right), who is a frequent guest on The Kindle Chronicles podcast, has been analyzing digital media for more than a decade. In our conversation on September 24th, he began by suggesting that the new Amazon devices are designed to attack in multiple directions at once.

For publishers, the E Ink Kindles and Kindle Fires further entrench Amazon in the publishing business. This is not a game-changing development, McQuivey suggested, but more a continued building of the company’s strength in the book industry.
Instead, it is Apple that is being disrupted by Amazon’s latest offerings, especially the almost-iPad-sized Kindle Fire HD 8.9”. But McQuivey does not expect Apple to run scared.

“They have a better device,” he stated. “They also have a much more expensive device, so Amazon knows that they at least can start picking some of the lower fruit on that tablet tree.”

“That is going to be disruptive,” he continued, “mostly because now Apple has to stop pretending that there’s only one size of tablet in the world, and that price points can be whatever Apple decides they should be.”

This might remind Cupertino of the first time a credible challenge arose to the iPod from SanDisk and others, whose competing devices never amounted to anything, but did force big changes in the iPod lineup. That challenge is why there are now multiple iPod models, at better prices, and the competitive pressure eventually led to creation of the iPod Touch and even the iPhone, in McQuivey’s view.

“Amazon is going to push Apple out of just thinking of themselves as a tablet provider,” he said. “The biggest challenge to Apple is that Apple is now left holding only its devices—they don’t have a more comprehensive customer relationship to try to attach, which of course is what Amazon has.”

Amazon wants to sell us Dockers—I’ve bought two pair in the past month—a good book to read, some video games, and just about anything else you can imagine buying. A new toilet seat, perhaps, or, in McQuivey’s case, the Italian cocoa powder that he had ordered the morning I spoke with him.

“That’s where they’re going to make their money in the long run, and Apple just doesn’t have that,” McQuivey said. “Apple doesn’t need it, as long as no one else is making competitively priced devices at least half as good as theirs.”

“Well that day just came,” he added, referring to the new Kindle Fire HD.

So in this round of moves by Seattle, Apple is being disrupted more than the publishing world. One change that is taking place in publishing, though, and not just because of the new Kindles, is a diminished role for Apple’s iBooks platform.

McQuivey said the Department of Justice action against Apple and five publishers charged with eBook price-fixing put an end to “Apple’s hope for ever becoming an alternative refuge for publishers to run to” and “certainly made it clear that Apple is not going to be a contender in the publishing world—at least not given current circumstances, devices and customer relationships.”

If you chose b) Wal-Mart as the player most disrupted by Amazon, you might be in line for a VP of Strategy position in Bentonville, Arkansas. That’s because Wally World finally figured out that Amazon is taking direct aim at its business, which led to last week’s announcement that Kindles and Fires will no longer be sold in Wal-Mart stores.

McQuivey expects that this decision will benefit Barnes & Noble, whose new Nooks will still be available at Wal-Mart.

“Wal-Mart still needs to present a credible list of devices,” he said, “and that’s going to have to include a lineup of nice Nooks.”

We have now covered all the possible answers to the quiz, except for one.
If you chose f) Dunkin’ Donuts, I like your style, and I’ll meet you at the Fresh Pond store for a glazed and a coffee, black, so we can discuss your theory further!


lenKindle Nation Weekender columnist and contributing editor Len Edgerly blogs at The Kindle Chronicles, where you can hear his interview with James McQuivey in Episode 217.

The KND Kindle Chronicles Interview: Not Just Another Jeff B – Amazon Publishing VP Jeff Belle on Kindle Serials and the “Virtual Water Cooler”

(Ed. Note: Longtime Kindle Nation readers may remember Jeff Belle as one of the first sponsors of Kindle Nation Daily way back in September 2010 with his debut novella, ‘Carlos The Impossible’ — “a ‘Ferdinand’ for grown-ups … a sort of love story: part tall tale, part sad, sly amusement, and part subtle, comic fable – all rolled together in the narrowing distance between a man and a bull.” But we’re thrilled to welcome him back in his day-job capacity with Amazon Publishing in this week’s column by contributing editor Len Edgerly.)

By Len Edgerly

Contributing Editor


Amazon Publishing this month introduced an amazing new gadget called the Virtual Water Cooler.

You can buy it with 16 GB of memory or 32, with or without Special Offers… Just kidding. It’s free, and it’s not really a gadget. It’s a feature of Amazon’s new Kindle Serials—“Great Reads, One Episode at a Time.”

The feature, Customer Discussions Forums, exists for other Amazon products, but when applied to Kindle Serials it offers an innovative way for authors and readers to connect before the author completes the writing of his or her story.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced Kindle Serials on September 6th at a press conference dominated by news of new E Ink Kindles and Kindle Fires. I thought at the time that Kindle Serials might well turn out to be one of the most important innovations revealed in the Barker Hangar, perhaps comparable in impact to Amazon’s huge success with mid-length Kindle Singles.

Jeff BelleThere are eight Kindle Serials for sale at Amazon.com, costing $1.99 each. For that price, you will receive the entire Serial, not just the first episode.  All of the subsequent ones will arrive automatically to your Kindle device at no extra charge.

Jeff Belle (right), vice president of Amazon Publishing, told me in this week’s Kindle Chronicles interview that the new venture is off to a strong start with authors and readers.

“We have received dozens of submissions over the last couple of weeks since launch,” he said, “and they’re selling well. We’ve sold about 10,000 in the first week, and we certainly expect that number to keep climbing.”

Serials are not a new idea, of course. Charles Dickens at age 25 published The Pickwick Papers in monthly installments, beginning with the first episode in March of 1836.

His publishers printed 1,000 copies of that first installment, and by the time the serial was concluded in October, 1837, they were printing 40,000 copies of each episode.

As an homage to Dickens, Amazon is introducing its first Kindle Serials alongside free, serialized versions of The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist.  A nice touch.

Though Amazon did not invent serials, it is applying digital technology to the concept in two ways.

First, the Kindle makes it possible for readers to purchase a serial just once and have future episodes appear automatically on their devices, with highlights and notes they make in earlier versions preserved in the new ones. That’s something Dickens couldn’t do.

The second update is the virtual water cooler, a.k.a. Customer Discussions Forums.

“We really like this idea,” Belle said. “We want to create a forum, a destination where readers of these books after each installment can gather, talk and interact with the author. And hopefully the author will be able to glean some feedback from readers in ways that actually inform the future content of the book.”

Although I love the idea of Kindle Serials, I wonder if reader-author interactions will take place at meaningful levels of activity.

As of September 21, two weeks after launch, the sale of at least 10,000 Kindle Serials has generated only 57 posts in the Customer Discussion Forums for the eight Kindle Serials.

More than half of the posts—28 of them—are in response to Neal Pollack’s Downward-Facing Death, a serial that Bezos mentioned at the press conference. The other seven all have posts in the single digits.

It’s early, of course, but it will be worth watching these forums, to see if the virtual water cooler catches on.

Belle sees engagement in the forums as a key to the success of Kindle Serials. Without it, in my opinion, today’s readers might well lose interest in stories that routinely bring you to the edge of a cliff and then make you wait two weeks or a month before you find out what happens.

I tried the virtual water cooler myself by posting a question for author Neal Pollack. I asked why his episodes appear every month instead of every two weeks, which is the more common cycle for the other Serials.

He responded in the forum exactly two minutes and 50 seconds after my post went live, which was impressive and a little eerie, as if there really was a water cooler and we were hanging out there together.

“Because of my schedule,” Pollack replied, “a month lag time between episodes simply worked best this time around. Maybe if I do another serial, I’ll have a shorter lead time.”

For the virtual water cooler to generate engagement that makes Kindle Serials a success, I think Pollack’s speed of response will need to be the norm. One of the other Serials authors, who will go nameless, has not responded to a question posted by a reader nine days ago.

I think Belle is correct that active engagement will be the key to success of Kindle Serials.

If all that you found at the water cooler was something to drink (or read), what would be the point of going there so often?


lenKindle Nation Weekender columnist and contributing editor Len Edgerly blogs at The Kindle Chronicles, where you can hear his interview with Jeff Belle in Episode 216.

The KND Kindle Chronicles Interview: Going Back to the Roots and Forward to the Future of the eBook Revolution – Len Edgerly Interviews Sri Peruvemba, chief marketing officer, E Ink Holdings

By LEN EDGERLY, Contributing Editor

Most of the big news in eBooks these days comes out Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle, but the eBook Revolution actually started right here in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Prof. Joseph M. Jacobson of the M.I.T. Media Lab and one of his students, Barrett Comiskey, filed the original patent on October 25, 1996 for “Nonemissive displays and piezoelectric supplies therefor.” In layman’s terms, they invented the electronic paper that made the Kindle and similar eReaders feasible for the mass market.

Jacobson and Comiskey, along with three other partners, in 1997 founded a company based on their invention. They named it E Ink Corporation, and they located it in Cambridge, just five miles down the road from the Media Lab. It took 10 years and $200 million in investment before they had a product ready to sell.

Sri PhotoMy first visit to E Ink was in November of 2008. The Kindle was still in its first of now five generations. I wanted to understand the technology behind the Kindle, so I made an appointment to interview Sri Peruvemba, vice president of marketing.

Since then, the price of a Kindle has fallen from $399 to $69, and E Ink’s workforce in Massachusetts has grown from 75 employees to about 300.

The company in 2009 was purchased by one of its business partners, Prime View Int’l Co. Ltd (PVI), based in Taiwan. PVI since then has changed its name to E Ink Holdings, and its U.S. headquarters is still here in Cambridge.

Peruvemba is now based in California but happened to be in Cambridge this week, so I was able to schedule another in-person interview. As we started, he remembered back to what life at E Ink was like in the early days.

“We were probably losing about a million dollars a month,” he recalled. “We were perfecting a product that didn’t quite exist, and we were going after a market that didn’t quite exist.”

When the market for eReaders developed, E Ink’s displays became the default standard for the new industry.

More than half of E Ink’s employees in the U.S. are in research and development, and the company continues to draw heavily from local universities, especially M.I.T.
It’s a great American and New England success story. I particularly love the fact that E Ink makes 100 percent of its electronic displays 90 minutes away in South Hadley, Mass..

To explain E Ink’s technology, Peruvemba has come up with an effective teaching tool. It’s a clear plastic ball about the size of a golf ball, and it contains white and black spheres floating in a clear liquid.

“When we started, our aim was to replace printed paper,” he begins. The E Ink process makes tiny pigment particles out of the same materials used to make paper white and ink black. The particles are charged and encased in slightly larger capsules.

“By applying voltage across the capsule, we can cause the white or black pigment to rise to the surface,” he explains.

We’re talking very small objects in this description. Peruvemba’s golf ball display represents a capsule about the diameter of a human hair.

Five years ago the displays in eReaders like the Kindle had resolution of about 150 dots per inch (DPI). The current generation of displays boasts resolution of 212 DPI.
“A lot of people think one of these microcapsules is a pixel,” he said. “It is not. Under each pixel, we have dozens of microcapsules. So we have a lot more resolution to give in the future, and I think it’s going to keep getting better for a while.”

I’ve heard about the microcapsules before, and I always assumed that they were the delicate part of a Kindle screen. I thought the microcapsules would crater if, for example, you tossed a satellite phone on your Kindle as Eric Loss did by mistake while sailing solo around the world.

Peruvemba explained to me that it’s actually a one-millimeter sheet of glass below the microcapsule layer that can break under impact. This glass does a good job as a conductor of electricity and is used in 95 percent of all LCD screens. On smaller products, plastics are beginning to replace the glass, and when that is available for computer and eReader screens, they won’t be so vulnerable to flying sat phones.
Peruvemba believes we are still in the early days of the revolution sparked by E Ink technology.  Although the penetration of eBooks in trade publishing is significant, there is still a great deal of potential growth in the textbook market.

“I believe every single book everywhere in the world will all become electronic,” he said. “Whether it’s E Ink technology or some other is not the point.”

From a technology perspective, there is more resolution to achieve on E Ink screens, as well as increases in speed of display. Animation is already possible, and video speeds will one day be feasible. And there is still work being done on color E Ink screens, so stay tuned for developments there.

My time at E Ink US Headquarters convinced me that the soul of a startup is still driving these inventors to keep improving their technology, which means the revolution is truly just getting started.


lenKindle Nation Weekender columnist and contributing editor Len Edgerly blogs at The Kindle Chronicles.

First Look at the New Normal from Amazon: Len Edgerly’s Notes from the Santa Monica Kindle Press Conference

By Len Edgerly
Contributing Editor

Amazon is shortening the half-life of normal.

That’s my impression the morning after the latest torrent of new devices and inventions released yesterday, September 6th, here in Santa Monica, California.

It was just 345 days ago that the Seattle game changers introduced the Kindle Fire at a press conference in New York City. It’s instructive to remember back to when the idea of Amazon selling a color tablet was pretty radical stuff.

Jeff-9-6-2012As Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos strode across the stage and raised that first Fire high, like a proud fist, I thought I saw a golden rim around it. It turned out to be just the reflection of the arty overhead lights at the venue, but Amazon went on to find plenty of gold in the original Fire. In its first nine months the seven-inch tablet snatched 22 percent of the U.S. tablet market.

Before yesterday, “normal” had settled down for a while, to a solid lineup of E Ink Kindles and one Kindle Fire. Amazon Prime customers came to think it normal that their $79 annual membership keeps bringing additional benefits, like free book borrowing at the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and an ever-expanding selection of free movies and TV shows through Prime Instant Video.

Yesterday’s press conference in Santa Monica opened with a new television ad shown on a huge screen at the back of the stage. The ad highlighted Amazon’s most successful innovations, from one-click purchasing to customer reviews and the creation of the Kindle. It ended with this statement: “Look around. What once seemed wildly impractical is now completely normal. Then normal just begs to be messed with.”

As the lights came up, Jeff Bezos entered from Stage Left grinning, ready to start messing with normal. He wore jeans, a sports jacket, and a white shirt with colorful buttons. His famous and jarring laugh is under wraps for these tightly scripted events. What remains is a nearly constant smile, just this side of a smirk.

“We. Love. To invent.” He made that statement just as I’ve written it, with pauses separating the words. He continued, “We love to pioneer. We even love to go down alleys that turn out to be blind alleys.”

Exhibit A of a blind alley, which Bezos cited when I interviewed him in Seattle this summer, was the invention of “locations” in Kindle books. It was a reasonable innovation for identifying where you are in a book when the number of pages changes with the font size, but customers hated it.

“Of course every once in a while,” he said yesterday, “one of those blind alleys opens up into a broad avenue—and that’s really fun.”

By now you have, I’m sure, checked out the new lineup of devices that Bezos introduced. For each one, he had fun touting new features and highlighting the engineering prowess that made them possible. The crowd of 400, mainly journalists not paid to holler and applaud, couldn’t help offering some oohs and ahs.

I felt the suspense build as each of the new products was described on the screen and demonstrated by Bezos at his lectern. What is this thing going to cost?

I guessed too low for the new Kindle 6-inch Paperwhite, with its gorgeous frontlit screen, but my tech assistant for the press conference, Garrett Riley, came close to nailing it when I whispered a request for his prediction.  He guessed $100; it’s actually $119 with Special Offers and ships October 1.

Here is the rest of the lineup:

In the past, I have purchased every new Kindle in order to make sure I have hands-on experience to share with my listeners and readers. But yesterday’s offerings arrived as a blur of possibilities, reminding me of a story I heard when I lived in Casper, Wyoming.

A cowhand was supposed to be counting cattle moving into a corral. When he presented his tally, it contained a single line for each animal along with a few marks that led the foreman to ask, “What are these?”

“Oh, them’s bunches,” the wrangler replied.

Likewise, the specific devices kind of flowed together in my mind as we tried them out and watched demos in the high lobby of the Barker Hanger. Did the Kindle Paperwhite have audio? Or just the Fires? (Answer: Just the Fires.)

Back here at the hotel last night, I hit the one-click button on a Kindle Paperwhite without 3G, because I can tether it to my iPhone whenever I need to. It won’t be shipped for three weeks, so that led me also to buy the new entry-level six-inch Kindle, which I’m happy to see left Amazon’s facility this morning at 6 a.m. and is headed to Cambridge for delivery in four days.

I wanted to try one of the HD Fires, but I love my iPad 3, so I bought the Kindle Fire HD 7” and will have that in just over a week.

In addition to the devices themselves, Amazon’s new generation includes inventions big and small that illustrate just how much fun they’re having and how closely they are aligning themselves with customers.

If you are like me, one of the things you still miss from the days of paper books is being able to flip ahead a few pages to see how far it is to the end of the chapter you’re on. The new Kindles will show that information in the lower corner when you tap to bring up the controls. The software even tracks how fast you’re reading, so the estimate of how soon you will reach the end of the chapter, or the book, is tailored to your own pace.

An invention that has the potential to revolutionize content as much as Kindle Singles is Kindle Serials. It’s an idea that dates back to Charles Dickens, and it will get a big boost from Amazon. There are eight series available already for $1.99 each and two free ones, based on Dickens classics. When you buy a series, you will receive the first installment and all future ones, as described in the listing details.

When a future episode arrives on your Kindle, it will replace the previous file with one containing all the episodes released so far. But unlike file replacements which we now receive sometimes for corrected books, these updated Serials downloads will preserve all of your notes and highlights.

Russ Grandinetti, VP for Kindle content, told me Serials is only available through Amazon Publishing, so you can’t create one yourself through Kindle Direct Publishing yet. But I am sure that is something they’d like to do in the future, once they get the new content up and running.

Another breakthrough is one we’ve known was only a matter of time. Since Amazon owns Audible.com, why not sell an audio book paired with a Kindle book, so you can switch from reading to listening and never lose your place? Welcome to Whispersync for Voice.

Here is my advice: Don’t delay making your choices from among these new device options, and settle in as fast as you can to the new normal for Kindle reading. Because the way things are going, we won’t have long before Amazon messes with normal–again.

 *     *     *

lenKindle Nation Weekender columnist and contributing editor Len Edgerly blogs at The Kindle Chronicles where you can hear his special podcast all about the Santa Monica press conference in Episode 214.



*     *     *


First, here’s an important tip for everyone interested in getting one of the new Kindle Fire HD units into their hands as quickly as possible: While most of the new Kindle Fire HD models will be released in November, the brand new $199 16GB Kindle Fire HD 7″ model with Dolby audio, 2 antennas, and dual-band wi-fi will be released NEXT FRIDAY, Sept 14 – here’s a link to get your order in right away http://bit.ly/FIRE-HD-SEPT14 (And by the way, this is the Kindle Fire that will be going to winners of our weekly Kindle Fire giveaway sweepstakes. We’ll be announcing not one but two winners in the next few days.)

In addition to our usual coverage of free and bargain books and this week’s great column from contributing editor Len Edgerly just below, here are links to some of our other coverage of this week’s Kindle news:

New Kindle Ordering Links

Important Links for New Kindle Accessories, Warranties, and More

Kindle Fire Accessories

Kindle E-reader Accessories

Kindle Fire Warranties

Kindle eReader Warranties
The Overflow

14,000+ Titles That Are Now Eligible for Amazon’s Cool New WhisperSync for Voice Program

Judge Approves eBook Pricing Settlement Between Government and Publishers (This one almost upstaged the Amazon press conference, since it became public just moments before Jeff Bezos stepped on stage Thursday. We’ll have more to say about it soon, and it is great news for ebook consumers, but for now you can get the basics from the New York Times.)


The KND Kindle Chronicles Interview: A British Startup with an Entirely New Way of Bringing Authors and Readers Closer Together – Len Edgerly Interviews John Mitchinson, co-founder of Unbound

By LEN EDGERLY, Contributing Editor

What if you could subscribe to an author’s next book before he or she writes it– providing encouragement, receiving updates on how it’s going, and meeting other supporters?

And what if, in return for your pledged support, your name appeared in the published book as a sponsor or you received two tickets to the launch party? Or how about if a sizable pledge—about $800, in one case—meant that a character named after you actually appeared in the book?

John MitchinsonThese are some of the possibilities that John Mitchinson (photo at right) and his team are experimenting with at a U.K. startup named Unbound. They now have 25,000 registered users, and 70 percent of them have made pledges to support specific pitches from authors, at an average pledge of about $50.

“We’re at an interesting moment,” Mitchinson told me in a Skype interview on August 24th. “We set up Unbound as a way of trying to bring the relationship between readers and writers closer together. It seemed to us that those were the important kind of people in the chain.”

Unbound has 21 books available to fund, and you can browse video and text pitches by each of the authors to see if any of them entice you to make a pledge at whatever level you choose.

To take just one tasty example, Tamasin Day-Lewis, whose The Art of the Tart became a bestseller in England in 2000, has written a dozen popular cookbooks since then. But tarts are the subject she is still asked about most, and she has been creating scores of new tart recipes in the past 12 years.

That’s why Day-Lewis would like to write a new book, titled Smart Tart. In her pitch, she concludes with the following:

“Because although baking books are ubiquitous, there is NO OTHER sweet and savoury tart book out there. Plus, I have tinkered with and perfected and up-dated even the old-fashioned classics and now I have a hundred new tarts up my sleeve to re-ignite the palates of all those who delighted in The Art of the Tart. That’s surely enough to re-crown me The Queen of Tarts.”

In her video, Day-Lewis is shown cooking up a mouth-watering sample of tarts in her lovely country kitchen, and Mitchinson stars as an appreciative guest, tasting the treats. The videography is top quality, with pleasant music and great camera work.

If your saliva glands are dancing, as mine are as I write this, you will find yourself checking out the various levels of pledge you can make, and there is still time—only five percent of the needed pledges have been made, with 76 days to go.

The lowest level is 10 pounds or $15.88 for a digital copy of the book that will have your name in the back. Higher levels, if the pitch succeeds, will bring you a hardback copy, a signed collector’s edition, a tart-making class conducted by the author, and a “Smart Tart Lunch” comprising tarts galore prepared by Day-Lewis at a central London restaurant.

And for just under $800 you can get all of the above, plus have a tart named after you in the book, and you can even suggest the key ingredients!

I think this example gives you an idea of the creativity at play in this playful publishing venture.

The variety of subjects described in the “Books to Fund” section is truly wonderful. In addition to tarts, you’ll find a pitch by JF Derry for The Dissent of Man, “exploring the influence of Darwin on everyone: atheists, Christians, biologists and entrepreneurs.”

There is also Keith Kahn-Harris’s The Best Water Skier in Luxembourg, which he says “will recount my encounters with those who dedicate their lives to the pursuit of excellence while almost no one else is looking.”

Although Mitchinson plans to extend the model to unpublished authors, his initial projects have featured well-known writers willing to try an entirely new way of financing a book.

I didn’t find it particularly easy at this point to find which books are available to download as eBooks in Kindle and other formats, but Mitchinson will be working on that in the coming weeks and months.

I did manage to submit a 10-pound pledge via PayPal for How to Have an Almost Perfect Marriage by Edna Fry, wife of Stephen Fry, who hosts a BBC comedy quiz show named Quite Interesting. QI lists John Mitchinson as its Director of Research.

Once my pledge went through, I was able to download a .mobi file of the book for my Kindles, because Mrs. Fry’s project is already fully funded. In fact, it reached 165 percent of its goal. Even though I won’t see my name in the eBook, it looks like an entertaining read, and I’m glad to support one of the first Unbound books.

I’d say this experiment is off to a promising start. Unbound has successfully funded 18 books in its first year. Mitchinson plans to add another 50 successful projects this year, and to grow exponentially after that.

He is at an interesting moment indeed.

lenKindle Nation Weekender columnist and contributing editor Len Edgerly blogs at The Kindle Chronicles where you can hear his with John Mitchinson in its entirety at 25:23 of this week’s Episode 213.

The KND Kindle Chronicles Interview: The Making of the President (-ial Campaign Book) 2012: Game Changing in the Age of Kindle

Len Edgerly Interviews Glenn Thrush, Politico’s senior White House Correspondent and author of Obama’s Last Stand

By LEN EDGERLY, Contributing Editor

A new eBook about the presidential campaign this week shows just how quickly the journalism game is changing.

Obama’s Last Stand, written by Glenn Thrush, Politico.com’s senior White House correspondent, was released in the early morning of Monday, August 20th, in eBook format only.

Its juicy bits about dissension within the Obama reelection campaign and how the President really feels about Mitt Romney prompted extensive media coverage, and the book quickly leaped to Number One on the Kindle Singles best-seller list.

Obama’s Last Stand reminds me of Game Change by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, a dishy account of the 2008 Presidential campaign that was turned into an HBO movie. But a key difference is that the anonymous sources for Game Change knew that their comments would not go public until after the election.
Glenn Thrush
“It was a very challenging project from a reporting perspective,” Thrush said of his book in an interview this week, “because the people I was interviewing knew that their perspectives on things would appear prior to the election.”

In fact, the author did not have tremendously high hopes that the experiment would succeed. When he began the reporting for the book, he wasn’t sure he would find people willing to talk about the Obama campaign, even on background.

He needn’t have worried.

“Campaigns are, fortunately for me, fairly chatty enterprises,” Thrush said.

I wonder if there might have been another reason he succeeded in getting lots of newsworthy anecdotes for the book. His sources might have thought this was going to be “only” an eBook, so how much harm could it do?

If that was a factor, future campaign-chronicling eBook authors may find their sources will be more cautious, given the coverage Thrush’s book received this week everywhere from The New Yorker and USA Today.

You can tell this is a new form of journalism by how the pioneering author himself was not entirely certain of its possibilities.

When I asked Thrush if he had found parts of the book that he would like to amend, he said yes, based on comments from a couple of players who had not returned phone calls or emails during his due-diligence work but did contact him once the book was published, to give him their perspectives.

He said he would not be averse to going back into the book and adding some nuance based on such feedback, but he didn’t seem to realize how easy it would be to make minor changes to the digital file and resubmit it.

When I pointed out that this would be a trivial task, Thrush replied: “That is something I’d be eager to explore, absolutely.”

The eBook-only publication posed a challenge for some of Thrush’s over-50 peers. In fact, he found himself helping a friend download the Kindle app in order to read it on a computer.

“I never thought that would be part of the whole e-author process,” he said. “I don’t think Teddy White ever had to do that.”

Which is a good way to emphasize how far we’ve come. When Theodore H. White wrote his Making of the President series of campaign books, beginning with the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, reporters were hauling portable typewriters along the campaign trail and stuffing their pockets with dimes to call in stories from pay phones.

With each change in journalism’s technology and professional standards, there is an impact on our democracy. I was glad to hear Glenn Thrush express sensitivity on that point. He noted that a deep-background book about an incumbent president running for reelection, released in real time during the campaign, cannot easily be replicated by reporters following the opponent.

“Reporters covering the Romney campaign don’t have the benefit of having lived basically in the same building with their subject, as I have,” he said. “The challenger has an advantage in terms of the opacity. They are the merry pirate band.”

That makes the challenger’s campaign more difficult to penetrate for reporters, which raises a concern about balance in Thrush’s mind.

“I’m not covering sports,” he said. “I’m covering politics because I care about it. I think it would be really cool if somebody could do something similar on the Romney side.”

For his part, Thrush spent at least a quarter of his two months of work on the book going back to the principals in the story, checking drafts for accuracy. This makes sense when you realize he works in a small circle of players. If someone feels that you unfairly described their role, you might get a buzz-worthy blog post or eBook out of it, but not much in the future.

For political junkies, the arrival of longform coverage in the middle of a campaign is like industrial-strength catnip. Obama’s Last Stand is about 25,000 words, and it took me two or three hours to finish, partly by text-to-speech on my Kindle Fire as I was driving from Harpswell, Maine, back to Ocean Park.

By comparison, Jane Mayer’s New Yorker article, “Schmooze or Lose,” about the Obama campaign’s conflicted courting of large donors, totaled only 7,000 words. Game Change, the traditionally sized book published more than a year after the 2008 election, clocked in at approximately 165,000 words.

So this mid-length, fast-to-publication account of a political campaign is something brand new, and I’m sure we will see more of it.

The fourth and last book in Politico’s Playbook 2012 series will cover the rest of the campaign, and will probably be available on your Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo or other eReader soon after the first Tuesday in November.

lenKindle Nation Weekender columnist and contributing editor Len Edgerly blogs at The Kindle Chronicles where you can hear his interview with Glenn Thrush in its entirety at 22:34 of this week’s Episode 212.

The KND Kindle Chronicles Interview – Two Kindles Before the Mast: It’s Our Gain as Len Edgerly Interviews Eric Loss About Sailing Solo — and Reading eBooks — Around the World in 258 Days

By LEN EDGERLY, Contributing Editor

How many Kindles would you take on an eight-month solo sail around the world?

Eric Loss thought two would be enough, and he brought a couple of plastic covers to protect them when he departed Los Angeles on November 7th of last year aboard his 35-year-old, 37-foot yacht, Odyssey.

He returned, safe and sound, on July 22nd, and I spoke with him this week by Skype about his adventures in sailing—and reading.

The scariest moments came in the middle of the Indian Ocean a thousand miles before Australia, when a wave hit Odyssey sideways with enough force to knock the boat on its side, with the mast about two feet under water.

Eric was below deck, putting on his foul-weather gear as the autopilot did its job in the storm. When he saw the huge wave coming, he dove to the low end of the cabin to avoid being thrown there when the boat turned sideways. He heard the snap of something breaking.

“I was sure the boat was going to come back up and was not going to have a mast and I didn’t know what I was going to have to do,” he recalled. “When I looked out and saw the mast was still there, it was the best day of my life.”

It turned out that he had heard a wooden railing snapping, not the mast, and Odyssey was able to continue the journey unscathed.

As dramatic as that episode was, it wasn’t the one that took down either of the Kindles. And luckily for Eric, who at 26 years old is a voracious and eclectic reader, the demise of his Kindle Keyboards did not take place until he was much closer to the end of his trip.

“The first one, I’m not really sure what happened to it,” he said. “I was reading right before I went to bed. I turned if off and put it next to my bed. I must have somehow hit the screen when I was falling asleep.”

When he woke up, half the screen was messed up, so he had to flip the orientation of the Kindle twice in order to read a single page, which got tiring. It was enough to prompt him to break out the backup Kindle, loaded with the same books as the first.Eric Loss

Four days later, the second Kindle took a direct hit from Eric’s satellite phone, which he had tossed into the cabin from the deck instead of walking it down and putting it away.

By this late in the trip, he had read most of the books on the Kindles, so the loss of them was not so tough. Plus, he had become acclimatized to being alone on the endless expanse of ocean, which led to less time reading.

“I spent a lot more time, when the weather was nice, out on deck enjoying being outside, which was actually kind of a nice change, especially once the weather started warming up,” he said.

By this time, though, Eric had read a lot of books. He emailed me a list of books he’d read on Kindle and paper—since he did bring some paperbacks in case the Kindles broke—and I count at least 150 titles. Some of them he read twice.

The book that will probably stay with him the longest as a memory of his journey is one he read before he decided to undertake a solo, nonstop sail around the world. It is The Long Way, published in 1974 by Bernard Moitessier about his own solo sail around the world.

“I felt like every time I went back and reread pieces of it on the trip—reading about him rounding New Zealand while I was doing it, and having sailed through nasty weather, rereading about storms he was going through—every time I read it, it got more intense.”

Other books that Eric read included A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain, The Essential PG. Wodehouse, Candide by Voltaire, and Death in Holy Orders by P.D. James. He read sailing books, biographies, science fiction, and a category he described as “everything else.”

When the weather made few demands on his time, he could read most of the day, curled up below in the cabin.

I used to spend hours in a 14-foot sailing dinghy on a one-mile-long pond where my family vacationed in New Hampshire when I was a boy. I would bring a book with me and sail while glancing at the sky until the tops of trees appeared in my view, which meant it was time to tack away from shore.

It was easy for me to idealize the life that Eric Loss led for eight months aboard Odyssey.

That’s one reason why I checked his location in Google Maps regularly during his voyage, using the coordinates he posted at noon each day in his blog. It was an eerie way to experience the vastness of the oceans he was sailing, because when I first pulled up the location there would be nothing but empty blue space on the screen. I would have to zoom out and out to reveal the nearest land, a thousand miles away in most cases.

Eric’s mother, Katie Loss, emailed me a photo of Odyssey arriving in Los Angeles on July 22nd. It looked so small and fragile, but brilliantly white in the sunlight. What an adventure.

And what a memorable example of how this new digital reading technology makes it possible to read more than we ever could before, in more unusual places, without burdening our boat with weight better spent on cans of food.

lenKindle Nation Weekender columnist and contributing editor Len Edgerly blogs at The Kindle Chronicles where you can hear his interview with with Eric Loss in its entirety at 18:31 of this week’s Kindle Chronicles Episode 210