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Not Everyone Wants a 9.7″ eInk Kindle DX, But If You Do, Here’s a Sweet Deal: 32% Off, Just $259!


For the past week or so, readers have been emailing Kindle Nation Daily, asking if Amazon would put the Kindle DX on sale for Black Friday.

Well, we have an answer: YES!

Amazon didn’t even wait until Black Friday. From now through Monday, November 28, the Kindle DX price has been reduced from 379 to just $259. (Click here to see it on Amazon.)

It seems obvious that this Black Friday deal amounts to the Farewell Tour for the Kindle DX, for a number of reasons, but Amazon’s experience with the Kindle DX may also provide the company with its own perspective on the ideal form factor for the Kindle Fire tablet.

Various Kindle models occupy most of the best seats on Amazon’s electronics bestseller list — #1, #2, #3, #5, #8, #10, #13, #14, #17 — but the Kindle DX has fallen all the way out of the Top 100. Lately it has suffered from weak support and vanishing software updates from Amazon, but the truth is that this most tablet-like of the eInk Kindles never caught on as a mass-market product due to price (initially $489, then $379, now $259), weight (18.9 ounces), and a failed effort to make it the device of choice for students and some professionals.

I got my Kindle DX the day it shipped, and there were some things I loved about it, but they didn’t outweigh the weight of the device, and I ended up selling my DX on eBay.

I’d be surprised to see Amazon come out with another DX-like product, at least until the advance of technology allows some sort of hybrid display that allows users to toggle back and forth between eInk and color.

But one thing this Kindle DX price cut does is provide some context for the far more successful Kindle Fire launch. I’ve found it interesting that some critics have claimed that the Kindle Fire tablet will fail because, they say, it’s a “tweener” device stuck between the “ideal” form factors of the 6″ dedicated eInk ereaders such as the Kindle and Nook and the 10″ iPad tablets.

My take is a little different. Having used the Kindle Fire for the past week, I’m convinced that its balance of 14.6-ounce weight and 6-inch display size is the ideal form factor for personal solo viewing of movies and TV shows and reading of magazines, newspapers, ebooks, and more. There are still some important things to fix or improve with the Fire, but a 9- or 10-inch display is not the answer.

So I’m ready now for the second time to sell a 10″ display device on eBay, and this time it will be an iPad. While I do expect Amazon eventually to come out with a 9″ Kindle Fire tablet, I wouldn’t rush it. It would be smarter for Amazon, having already gone to school on the failure of the Kindle DX, to invest its resources in perfect the sub-$200 6-inch Kindle Fire. That’s the device that is spanking the rest of the tablet market right now, and its advantage may not be price alone.

I’m envisioning a commercial that would be too snarky for Amazon ever to make, where one consumer is looking at another’s Kindle Fire and saying “Yeah, it’s awesome, but I’m just not sure it’s big and heavy enough for me.”

On the New $114 Kindle with Special Offers, The World is Made Up of Two Kinds of People

The world, or at least the Kindlesphere, may be made up of two kinds of people:

If you are a fan of Groupon, Living Social, Woot, or the Amazon Deal of the Day, but you also love to read and you don’t want to be distracted by advertising while you are reading an ebook, the Kindle with Special Offers could be just right for you.

But if you have ever spent a significant amount of time getting yourself on “Do Not Call” lists or filing spam reports or complaining to your public radio station that you don’t want to send their expensive roses to anybody on Valentine’s Day, it might be best for you to choose another Kindle or stick with the Kindle you already have.

Actually, there are probably still plenty of people in the “undecided” column, and I can say from personal experience that there are probably quite a few people in both of the camps I tried to describe above. There will be plenty to sort out with this latest Kindle, which is a good reason why we have been listening to our readers’ views and making our own notes over the past few days in an effort to share some useful information and perspective.

First, let’s make it clear what we are talking about here: On Monday afternoon, Amazon announced what it called a “new” Kindle, at a new (and rather strange) price of $114. The hardware and wi-fi connectivity is identical to the $139 latest generation Kindle Wi-fi model. The “new” $114 unit will do everything that the $139 model will do, but it will also include what Amazon calls “offers.” The somewhat ungainly name that Amazon has given the $114 unit — which will not ship until May 2 or May 3 — is the “Kindle with Special Offers.”

Here’s a link to the bulletin post that we ran at the time, which included Amazon’s press release:

Like many of Amazon’s business innovations, regardless of whether they are Kindle-related, the new offering has generated significant controversy in the early going among bloggers and visitors to various online forums. Much of the controversy revolves around just what Amazon means by Special Offers:

  • Do special offers mean advertising, or do they mean deals?
  • If they mean one thing now, will they come to mean another thing later?
  • Whatever these special offers are, where will they show up on the Kindle — on screensavers, on the Home screen, or — Heaven forfend! — in our Kindle books? (For the record, despite some mischievous disinformation in the blogosphere on this issue, Amazon has made it clear that there will be no encroachment into books).

The day after Monday’s announcement I posed this question on the Kindle Nation Facebook page:

What do you think of the new Kindle for $114? Do the “special offers” make it more, or less, appealing? If you already have a Kindle, do you wish you had waited for this one?

We had about 30 responses in the short period of time the question was front and center on our Facebook page, and I felt they did justice to the things that large numbers of people were thinking.

  • Melanie R. I think it is an intriguing concept. It is the first technology I know of that gave a choice regarding accepting advertising. My initial reaction was to reject it; but after reading more about it, I wish that it was available in 3G. I don’t want a wifi only kindle, but I would like to take advantage of the special offers.
  • LaToya A. I think the special offers may be more appealing to some, but besides the $20 giftcard for $10, I don’t care for much else. The sponsered screensavers does intrigue me and I am wondering if it will be available on all Kindles…
  • Eddie N. Less appealing. Savings isn’t worth the hassle of ads, sponsored screen savers, etc. For $50…maybe. For a small fraction less…and wifi only…I’ll pass. But thanks for trying ?:^)
  • Lennette W. I love my WiFi+3G Kindle 3 just the way it is!!! As for the Special Offers, I hope that they offer it to the rest of us! They sound very interesting!!!
  • Connie E.The ads are a turnoff. Wouldn’t be worth it to me. I LOVE my Kindle 3 just as it is.
  • Juana L. This is a BAD idea. When I read on my kindle, I want to enjoy my books. Not ads. For ads, I could be watching tv.
  • Marianne S. Oh no! I want that part of my life ad-free!! Would never EVER consider it for money!
  • Donna D. I LOVE my Kindle but I don’t know if I could put up with the ads as I don’t like them on my TV. My Kindle takes me away from all of that!
  • Sarah H. I would pay money not to have to look at Emily Dickinson again. I vote for screensaver bundles we could buy. I would do that in a heartbeat. Or give us the option of making book covers of the books we purchase our screensavers.
  • Mike D. No ads for me thanks … but I’m in favor of the idea. For many people the price of a Kindle is a deal breaker, and I’m all for anything that softens the blow.
  • Wendy H. I’ve already got a Kindle, but I think it might be a nice way for people to save a little money on one. I personally wouldn’t care if there was an ad on the screen saver/ home page as long as I could get to my book without delay. I’m with @Sarah H. above – I’d love some new screen savers. John Steinbeck is starting to give me the creeps…
  • Ruth N. With so much advertising all around us every day, I am so glad my Kindle DX is AD FREE. worth the extra $$ not to be sold to all the time.
  • Dwight J. As long as the ads never show up while I’m reading or playing a game, I don’t mind ads on the screensaver and home page. If this was available when I got my Kindle, I’d have jumped at the savings.
  • Jaime A. Too small of a price break for ads, which would be a huge disruption in a book.
  • Bill T. Not interested in ads. Think this devalues the Kindle.
  • Debbie S.the ads are just like the screensavers, it’s no big deal. It’s not going to interrupt your reading with a commercial. The price cut just made this more affordable to a lot more people and thats a good thing. Screensaver bundles to buy…maybe, but when I pick up my Kindle I have it switched on before the cover is all the way open so I never really see much of the screensaver at all.
  • Debbie T. I would like new screensavers for my kindle, tired of the ones that keep showing up, how about some different bundles, themed art or how about book covers of the books we have on the kindle, they could be screensavers and the more we buy the more screensavers we have
  • Pat M. If someone bought this for me as a gift, I wouldn’t be very happy especially when I know there is a perfect Kindle without advertising that they could have purchased for me. A gift of this Kindle just tells me how cheap the person giving the gift really is.

As for me, I’m inclined to think of the Kindle with Special Offers as sort of “half brilliant.”

I guess that I see kind of a strange fault line in public sentiment on marketing. All of us boomers who grew up on commercial-cluttered network TV have managed to train ourselves and each other to hate spam with evangelical fervor, but the successes of eBay and Amazon Marketplace and Groupon and Woot and LivingSocial all prove pretty clearly that there are also huge numbers of us who loooooove deals, especially deals that dress us up in some sort of “Members Only” jacket. It can be hard to keep the distinctions straight — for instance, the old prohibitions against advertising by public radio and television stations and doctors and lawyers certainly can’t be said to exist in the same ways any more.

Groupon has certainly proven there’s a business model there, so now Amazon’s taken the natural next step after investing in Living Social and Woot, and come up with a Kindle offering that — whatever else it may be — is a delivery system for such offers. I do believe that part is brilliant in terms of the total concept, and I expect that within a year we owners of all the other Kindles will be given a chance to opt in to special offers. And many will opt in. After all, as a member of Groupon and LivingSocial I can say that once or twice a week or so I see deals offering 50 to 60% off of what I would willingly pay for things that I actually want.

But the flip side here is that Amazon has been a little tone deaf in the roll-out.

  • First, a lot of existing Kindle owners are understandably upset because they have been asking Amazon to allow personal screensaver selections without forcing people to hack their Kindles to get there (under threat of warranty revocation), and now Amazon is doing something on screensavers that has little if anything to do with what folks were asking for.
  • Second, there’s too much stumbling language in their description of the new Kindle with Special Offers and Sponsored Screensavers, as if they don’t really want us to know what they are doing here. Any time a product name is seven words long, or even four words long, it’s a pretty good sign that there’s a problem.

But I understand that there’s a delicate balance that Amazon is trying to achieve here. As is evident from some of the responses above that people posted on our Facebook page, there will be plenty of people who buy this new Kindle in order to save $25. Some of them will be fine with the special offers and sponsorships, and some will quickly become fed up.

There are plenty of smart people who are saying “Maybe I would bite if the discount were $50.” And a lot of us wondered why Amazon hadn’t dropped the price to $99, which would obviously be a much more appealing price point.

But that’s exactly what Amazon did not want to do, at least not right off the bat. If they get a lot of people buying the “new” Kindle only because of the price break, those folks will have a higher resistance and a more negative response to the special offers. If, on the other hand, most of the people who buy the “new” Kindle are interested in or intrigued by the deals, and Amazon starts out with a fantastic array of specials in the first couple of weeks, the Kindle with Special Offers is likely to be a great success in at least two ways:

The “new” $114 Kindle with Special Offers won’t ship until May 2 or 3, and that three-week shipping gap will give Amazon a chance to pay close attention to the response and tweak the user experience if they are so inclined. But for all of us who are wondering where this will lead, we’ll just be guessing until customers actually have the “new” Kindles in their hands.

As for me, I tend to be a grumpy curmudgeon with respect to most advertising. I am channeling Mr. Ashley, whose lawn I used to mow on Saturday afternoons when I was 12. He was a great guy, well into his 70s, and it seemed like he popped Nitroglycerine every 20 minutes for his angina. When I finished his lawn he’d give me $1.25 and invite me for a cold lemonade and a few innings of the Red Sox game. I had never seen a remote control device before and I was amazed to see him mute the beer ads between innings. And the car ads, andsoforth. Like Mr. Ashley, now, I game the system, mute the ads, use the DVR, try to block out ads when I am at the movie theater, block pop-ups on my computer, use the spam filter on the Viagra ads, etc.
But I know quite a few smart, serious people who are addicted to Groupon and LivingSocial and scarf up more coupons than they will ever use. What they love are deals that are suited to them, I guess. They don’t think of them as ads or spam, and they don’t spend much time fine-tuning the analogies with respect to what is or is not like TV advertising or NPR underwriting or whatever. It’s just beyond most of our bandwidth to worry much about that.

And what most of us do with ads and spam and deals and offers is define our own boundaries, and since the “new” Kindle is opt-in, I’ll be surprised if many actual customers end up being upset with their actual experience, as opposed to what they fear it may be leading to, or what they hear about it in the media, etc.

Which is why I still think it is half-brilliant. And I’m intrigued. And I haven’t ruled out pulling the trigger on one. After all, if I’d had the “new” $114 Kindle with Special Offers in hand this morning, it probably would have told me about the Amazon Deal of the Day … the today-only price cut from $379 to $299 on the latest-generation Kindle DX!

Kind of makes you wonder what’s coming next month, doesn’t it? Which may be the biggest cause of friction for Amazon’s efforts to sell either the $114 Kindle or the $299 DX.

Are You Listening, Mr. Bezos? Why a Kindle for Kids App Will Trump Academic Pilot Programs in Building a Kindle Future

By Stephen Windwalker
Originally posted February 22, 2010 – © Kindle Nation Daily 2010
Related posts:  
Wonpyo Yun, a reporter for the Daily Princetonian, has the scoop on an official Princeton University announcement of the results from the Kindle DX pilot project on which the Ivy League school partnered with Amazon last semester.
Yun’s report suggests that the New Jersey university’s report will lead with the positive by touting cost savings and the fact that use of the DX “reduced the amount of paper students printed for their respective classes by nearly 50 percent.” But it also makes clear that the Kindle DX pilot project was something less than a love fest.

(Update: here’s a link to the official announcement.) 

(Update: here’s a link to a more comprehensive report on all the Kindle pilot projects, courtesy of my friend Ned Stuckey-French, in Tuesday’s edition of Inside Higher Ed.) 

Out here in the real world, Amazon has generally been very successful in its Kindle marketing by lowering prices several times while promoting the Kindle in a rather understated manner as a dedicated or purpose-built reading device, setting up a delayed “Wow” factor when customers receive their Kindles and discover unexpected features and capacities with the occasional help of a Kindle guide or a Kindle blog. But Yun’s reporting on the comments of students and faculty at Princeton suggests that Amazon may have hurried or overplayed its hand with a $489 DX that is not quite ready for prime time as a replacement for textbooks and courseware. The complaints cited will probably come as no surprise to Kindle Nation Daily readers:

  • difficulties in annotating PDF documents
  • lack of folders or other content management features
  • lack of page numbers for citation, or to help in judging reading progress
  • tiny keyboard size, and other limitations on annotation
“It was great to have the experience of using a Kindle, but I think I’ll stick with books until they work out the kinks,” Cally Robertson ’10 told the Princetonian, and her impatience with the Kindle’s “kinks” seemed to be shared widely among students who have probably been denied very little in the gadgetry arena during their brief lives. 

 “I think [the Kindle]’s one of those pieces of technology that will seem ridiculously anachronistic five years from now,” said another student, aptly named No. 

Are you listening, Mr. Jobs?
It would not surprise me if, having been introduced by Amazon and their instructors to the Kindle, many of these Princeton students end up being perfect customers for Apple’s iPad. The iPad’s initial sticker price of $499 to $699 is not going to be a deal breaker for many of these students whose parents are paying $252,480 for four years of tuition, room, and board, even if the total four-year costs of 3G coverage, warranties, and accessories like the iPad keyboard shown above right bring that price above $2,500. That’s over five times the cost of a Kindle DX, but for now at least, you can’t write a term paper on the DX.

While Amazon has been around for 15 years, its Kindle business is still very much a start-up, and for that business Amazon faces a dizzying array of choices about how to invest its capital, its people, and its many marketplace advantages for the future. Kindle DX sales seem currently to make up only about 10 percent of overall Kindle sales, and Amazon may well decide not to engage Apple in what might become a hubris-driven battle for the highest-end convergence-devices-that-might-also-serve-as-ereaders market. 
But eschewing a market composed of the children of millionaires is not the same as eschewing a market composed of children, and that’s where Amazon’s smartest future-oriented strategic moves could soon come. I’ve been saying for months that it is time for a Kindle for Kids, and although my predictions along those lines have come to naught, the fact that I’ve been wrong about the timing doesn’t make the entire notion wrong. Whatever Amazon decides to do in the short term with regard to the DX and textbooks, I’m convinced that the company could do much more to build a long-term future for the Kindle and the Kindle Store by putting a full-court press on the possibility of creating a Kindle App for the Fisher-Price iXL Learning System (shown at right), scheduled to ship in July 2010 for $79.95 with Story Book, Game Player, Note Book, Art Studio, Music Player and Photo Album applications, an SD card slot for expanded memory, USB connectivity, PC and Mac compatibility, a software management CD enabling users to add their own songs and pictures, and onboard storage for additional software titles, songs, and pictures (and, I would assume, ebooks). Calling it a Learning System, of course, is a marketing masterstroke that guarantees heavy activity involving grandparents.
But what part of all that would a kid not love? What part of all that wouldn’t lead a fair number of Dads to try to negotiate some user time with their five-year-olds? Most parents are already familiar with the experience of taking their kids to a restaurant and secretly wishing that they too could order the crusty mac and cheese with the $3 price tag from the Kids’ Menu. 
And most manufacturers and marketers are already familiar with the way in which many kids’ eating preferences are dominated for years by the culinary themes and motifs of those same Kids’ Menus. 
For Amazon, it’s got to be obvious that getting Fisher-Price to link the iXL Learning System to a beefed-up Kids’ Korner of the Kindle Store would — far more than any academic pilot project — virtually guarantee the development of millions of little Kindle Kids and future Kindle Adults.
Hell yes, I’m serious. Or, given the subject matter and the need for this particular App to come with parental controls, “Heck yes.”
Are you listening, Mr. Bezos?

Got Kindle DX Questions? We’ve Got Kindle DX Answers

With Kindle DX here to stay, it makes sense to address some of the questions that Kindle Nation citizens have been sharing with me and elsewhere about the latest model. My hope is that some of this will be of interest both to prospective DX buyers and to Kindle 1 or 2 owners who are wondering if there is anything in particular about the DX that might drive a new-model purchase.

The Kindle DX Display

The Kindle DX display seems very easy on the eyes, but after taking, magnifying, and comparing screen shots of the same page from my Kindle DX and my Kindle 2, I can say with some certainty that the font size, font clarity, background, and contrast on the two models are similar.

However, there is a specific and valuable kind of serious improvement in the display legibility of the Kindle DX compared with the earlier Kindle models, and it involves all of the non-adjustable fonts to which we have grown accustomed on the Kindle. For those of us who tend to gravitate toward the larger font sizes whenever we are able with the Kindle, it can be frustrating to try to read the Kindle Home screen, the Kindle storefront, and other displays such as menus, bookmark listings, search results, the Settings page and even, for when we want to keep up with Amazon’s touting of titles that are already big sellers from mainstream megapublishers, with the Kindle Daily Post.

On the Kindle DX, all these non-adjustable pages are far more legible and easy on the eyes, especially in less than optimal light.

The actual dimensions of the Kindle DX display screen (5 3/8″ x 7 7/8″, 9.7″ on the diagonal) are a tiny bit smaller than the standard 6″ x 9″ of most trade paperbacks and allow for a printable page that is equal to the printable page in a standard hardcover book whose exterior dimensions are 6 1/4″ x 9 7/16″.

Although I am not impressed with the Kindle DX’s usefulness for viewing PDF documents, the larger display performs beautifully with graphic files embedded in Kindle editions such as those found on Amazon’s special page of Featured Books for the Kindle DX. These includes photographs and other art, graphic novels and cartoons, maps and charts, and more.

Side-by-side with the Kindle 2, the Kindle DX display is consistently a tiny bit slower to refresh. The good news is that the same situation that causes the DX e-Ink display to take a few milliseconds longer to refresh — the fact that it contains more than twice as much text per screen — more than offsets the cumulative effect of slower refreshes. By the time you finish reading any book on a DX you will have spent about half as much time waiting for refreshes as you would spend reading the same book on a Kindle 1 or Kindle 2.

Kindle DX File Managament

There do not appear to be any new developments or features with regard to folders, labels, groupings, etc.

Kindle DX Value: Is the DX worth $489?

It’s such a subjective question. If you are having trouble keeping the wolf from the door, nothing is worth $489. But let me put it this way: if the Kindle 2 is worth $359, the DX is definitely worth $489 for its serious enhancements in display, legibility, and the compatibility between all the content it can display and the way that content looks on the DX. I felt that I needed to purchase a Kindle DX because of my role here with Kindle Nation and my Kindle books, but I was frankly on the fence about whether I would keep it, given how much I like my Kindle 2. Although I have not made a final decision, after 10 hours with the DX I am leaning toward calling it a keeper.

PDF on the Kindle DX

On the plus side:

  • The Kindle DX has native support for PDF files, so that you can transfer a PDF file directly from any computer to your Kindle DX via USB without relying on Amazon’s 15-cent-and-up conversion service.
  • The Kindle DX display has more than twice as much “printable space” as the previous Kindle models, so many PDF files display well.
  • Kindle DX PDF support allows you to search inside a PDF document and bookmark entire pages, if the document is unrestricted and has been created from a text-based rather than a graphic document.

On the negative side.

  • The Kindle DX does not support “zoom,” “pan,” or magnification for PDF files, so if the display size (about 70% the size of an 8×11 sheet) is too small, you are stuck. Based on my first impressions I’m not optimistic that the DX will be much a solution for technical PDFs, PDFs with charts, etc.
  • The highlighting, bookmarking, annotation and clipping features that provide important functionality for other Kindle documents in an academic setting are virtually useless with PDF files, so that the promise of being able to use PDF files for academic courseware is unfulfilled.
  • Despite claims at Location 670 of the Amazon’s Kindle DX User Guide, the Kindle DX does not consistently make optimal use of landscape-view rotation to magnify PDF files for easier viewing.
  • The weakness of the aformentioned features such as annotation and search is the same for PDF files regardless of whether you transfer them directly from computer to Kindle via USB or send them wirelessly via the Whispernet. When you send a PDF to your @kindle.com email address Amazon does not put the file through any conversion process, and it is impossible to have Amazon convert a PDF file to an .AZW Kindle file. Some technophiles will want to explore the potential for converting their own PDF files backward to .DOC, .TXT, or .MOBI files so as to convert them forward into a more useful format to take advantage of Kindle DX features. We will consult with friends who are more technologically advanced and revisit these possibilities in a future issue of Kindle Nation.

Portability, Use and Carrying Ease

This is another highly subjective matter. The Kindle DX weighs a little less than twice as much as a Kindle 2, and its heft, feel, and solidness is much the same as the Kindle 2 across a larger mass. If you are used to carrying a hardcover book, or a briefcase or moderate-sized backpack or purse, or a 7 x 10 planner, the Kindle DX won’t bother you. It’s easier to lug around than any netbook, laptop, or tablet computer or most hardcover bestsellers. I like the way it carries, opens, and performs both home and away, especially in the moleskine-like leather Kindle DX cover that Amazon manufactures and sells for it. I am finding it easy to use for one-handed reading.

I also expect that some of these issues of weight and heft may be different to different users. I’m a big, strong guy, and the idea of exercise or walking with, say, 2- or 5-pound weights would seem silly to me. If you are someone who would find it useful to carry 2-pound weights on a power walk, the Kindle DX might seem more burdensome to you. I also suspect that, at least for a while, I might be annoyed by the right-side control placement if I were lefthanded. The Amazon explanation that this annoyance would by mitigated by using the DX’s ability to rotate to an upside-down display strikes me as a Youtube parody video waiting to happen.


I lack the courage to put my new Kindle DX through any drop-testing research, but I will say this. The DX feels every bit as sturdy as the Kindle 2, but I am sure that, if I decide to keep it, I will spring for the 2-year extended warranty. I did not purchase the extended warranty for my Kindle 2, and the difference is based on three things:

  • Since the Kindle DX is larger and heavier, I believe that the prospect of some mishap is naturally greater, assuming the same care.
  • I think the DX is likely to be my e-book reader of choice for the next three to five years, whereas I got the Kindle 2 with a strong expectation that there would be a compelling upgrade coming in behind it within a year.
  • For whatever reason associated with my household budget, there is a significant difference to me between $359 and $489.

The Kindle DX Web Browser

Primarily because of the size and automatic rotation of the Kindle DX display, it is far superior to its predecessors in its capacity to display web pages in an appealing and useful way. Whereas the Kindle 1 and Kindle 2 offered a choice between “basic mode” and “advanced mode” with the web browser, the Kindle DX toggles between “basic mode” and “desktop mode,” and the combination of “desktop mode” and landscape orientation (see below) shows most web pages in a relatively impressive and useful way compared with earlier Kindle models.


One of the first things I did with my new Kindle DX when it arrived was to transfer and listen to the MP3 of last week’s podcast of The Kindle Chronicles, and I noticed right away that the smarter placement of the two Kindle DX speakers on the bottom edge, where they are never covered by a Kindle cover or by laying the Kindle flat, makes for a greatly enhanced listening experience. Whether the audio is any different when conveyed over a headset or external speaker is a question I have yet to research.

Just bring your Kindle to your nearest indie bookstore today for …

I’m sure I’m not the only one who is sometimes fascinated by the issues that pop up, among my fellow authors and readers, as reasons for staying away from new technologies such as the Kindle and even print-on-demand publishing services such as those provided by Amazon’s CreateSpace.com and Ingram’s Lightning Source. Some of us are Luddites, some of us are anti-corporate (so we would prefer Random House, right?), some of us are skeered to death of being branded as DIY self-publishers, and ….

And here’s the one for which I, as a former brick-and-mortar indie bookseller and member of the American Booksellers Association, have the most patience:

We want to support indie bookstores and we want to make it easy for our readers to find our books on the shelves in indie bookstores. Real bookstores.

Not Amazon. Certainly not the Kindle store. Not chains. Okay, maybe chains if they serve good coffee.

Of course. I love indie bookstores and the people who run them and work at them. I am well aware of the forces that have conspired against them over the past few decades, and it is true that I cannot help but notice certain parallels between the indie bookselling trade and the traditional newspaper business. These parallels may even include the prospect that changes in technology are making it inevitable that indie bookstores and traditional newspapers will share the same fate. But those of us who want to do all we can to keep indie bookstores and traditional newspapers alive are driven in most cases by honorable motivations.

That being said, I for one want to see signs from the indie booksellers themselves that they are doing all that they can, and being as imaginative as possible, in an effort to find ways to appropriate the newest and most interesting technologies to connect more readers with more books in more customer-centered ways. One example that tickles me: a favorite local bookstore of mine (and one that like my tiny publishing company may also have drawn its name from a venerable institution from my undergraduate days) is offering inexpensive delivery of all local orders, using emissions-free vehicles, in partnership with MetroPed, “Boston’s human-powered delivery service.”

And here’s another: another long-time bookstore fave o’ mine, Vermont’s Northshire Bookstore, has installed an Expresso Book Machine to offer almost-immediate in-store printing and binding of an incredible array of titles including thousands of titles from On Demand Books, thousands more becoming available from the 8,000 publishing partners of Ingram’s Lightning Source POD facility, and — I especially love this one — a growing catalog of local-interest titles offered by Northshire’s in-house Shire Books imprint. (Yes, this is how Lawrence Ferlinghetti would have begun offering his own Pictures of the Gone World and other City Lights Books titles at the North Beach store if the technology has existed back in 1955).

So, this is great, right? Despite the fact that the Expresso machinery takes up almost as much space as some entire bookstores and looks a lot like — am I dating myself much here? — Univac (or the latest invention of Will Farrell’s unfortunate recent character), it is an interesting step toward the Long Tail and new-tech delivery systems for indie bookstores. I’ve been following the Expresso “ATM for books” concept and narrative since mainstream publishing industry veteran and chronicler Jason Epstein became associated with the concept a few years back. And part of what is exciting here is that Northshire is — among its fellow independent booksellers — one of the most respected bookshops in the country. I met founder Ed Morrow through ABA and the New England Booksellers Association decades ago and throughout my own bookselling career I never turned down an oppportunity to pick their or their staffers’ brains about what might work in my store.

But the Expresso-at-Northshire experiment got me thinking about another potentially exciting way in which indie bookstores could welcome, and profit from, new technologies.

Okay, take a leap with me here. This idea involves indie booksellers actually marketing their stores to Kindle owners (or substitute another ebook brand here, provided that certain compatibilities exist) and inviting the Kindlers to bring their Kindle units into their neighborhood bookstores. If I haven’t lost you there already, here’s the concept:

  • Imagine all the books that exist or ever will exist in the public domain.
  • Add all the books that are or ever will be available through POD services of any kind including CreateSpace, Lightning Source, On Demand Books, and the Espresso.
  • Add all the other digital books or documents that any bookstore might ever be able to acquire or offer — whether as a college bookstore agregating instructor’s packets and lecture notes or a store like Northshire creating its own POD-and-digital imprint.
  • Render this entire (and, may I say, humongous?) catalog compatible with eBook readers in a copyright-sensitive but DRM-free format that, like PDF files for the new Kindle DX, do not require an extra data-conversion step.
  • Allow all booksellers from Amazon to indie brick-and-mortar shops and chains to offer as much as possible of this entire catalog in both digital ebook and digital print-on-demand as well as other print modalities.
  • Monetize the entire catalog with prices ranging from 49 cents for public-domain to $9.99 for bestsellers (and more when justifiable for technical books, etc.), a sensible royalty structure back to publishers (including Amazon Digital Services), rights holders, and authors, and a point-of-sale slice for pysical stores.
  • Provide apps to integrate the entire process not only with Kindle owners but with the iPhone, the iPod touch, the Blackberry, netbooks, laptops, and every other device imaginable.
  • Invite device owners to bring their Kindles or other readers into bookstores to browse and zap content right onto their hardware via USB, wireless, etc., and offer specific promotions (such as first-day in-store only downloads of the latest Dan Brown) to get readers into the habit of bringing their devices in.
  • Outfit the in-store operation hardware-wise with a user-friendly “music kiosk” like station that requires little or no staffing.
  • Offer a BOGO deal whenever a customer comes to the counter to buy a print-edition (with appropriate back-end monetization: “If you’d like to step over to the kiosk with this coupon that expires in 30 days you can also get a digital copy of this book for an additional 99 cents.”

I don’t know if it would catch on like the Univac thing did. Sometimes it seems as if it is the nature of e-commerce these days to drive us all away from the local toward the global, and certainly Amazon is well-positioned to take advantage of this momentum.

But there is great value in the local, and indie booksellers and their loyalists are working hard at the process of trying to figure out how to remain viable. If it makes any sense for them to install interesting monstrosities like the Expresso Book Machine in their stores to sell digital p-books, than it has to make sense to figure out and operationalize a process to sell digital e-books like the one I have suggested here.

Imagine all the booksellers, living life in peace….

A thoughtful and well-considered post from Kindle Zen: PDF and the Kindle DX: Is Amazon Serious?

I’m not able to read every Kindle blog that comes along, but lately I have found that the relatively new Kindle Zen blog is calm, elegant, thoughtful, and informative. Its author, Steve Bain, recently wrote an interesting and well-reasoned post on the Kindle DX and the direction in which Amazon should proceed in addressing some serious problems with the new model’s PDF functionality.

I had observed some of these problems in my original review of the Kindle DX on June 11, so I was pleased and grateful that Steve granted his permission for me to share his piece in its entirety with the citizens of Kindle Nation here:

PDF and the Kindle DX: Is Amazon Serious?

I’ve been experimenting with the Kindle DX for several days and my overall impression is very positive, but I believe that the support for PDF documents is an embarrassment for Amazon. In this post, I will offer a critique for the PDF user interface in the Kindle DX.

First some background. PDF is an open but Adobe-specified digital document format that seeks to replicate the geometrical richness of a printed page. It is a complicated format that has evolved in nine succeeding releases over fifteen years, and full implementations of the specification are difficult to develop. There are apparently several classes of PDF rendering engines that are licensable from Adobe for embedded applications and some good third party options are also available.

PDF rendering in the Kindle DX is generally impressive. The PDF engine for the DX is apparently based on a mobile device offering from Adobe. This was a conservative choice by Amazon and was likely the least expensive option for PDF rendering that could be licensed from Adobe. However, this PDF implementation is actually a poor value for Kindle DX customers because it does not support linkage. Linkage from PDFs to external web documents might be of questionable value on the Kindle because of the clumsy web browser. However, linkage within PDF documents is an absolutely critical feature for efficient navigation, and it is hard to understand why Amazon would deliver PDF support without this key feature. Linkage enables an active Table of Contents that can greatly ease browsing in a long technical document. Linkage also enables practical access to cross-references within documents such as to footnotes, figures, and tables.

Since there is no support for linkage, how does one navigate? Well, the Kindle DX supports these methods for navigation in a PDF document:

  1. Next Page and Previous Page buttons
  3. Search
  4. Go to Beginning (of document)
  5. Go to Page

Bookmarks are not an efficient means for navigation, because they must first be set by the user. Further, the Kindle DX provides no way to name PDF bookmarks nor does it provide any context for PDF bookmarks. Rather, the user interface is simply a selectable list of the page numbers that have been bookmarked.

Search can be a useful navigation method, and especially when one is recently and deeply familiar with a document. However, search is no substitute for direct navigation because words are seldom unique within a large document.

This leaves “Go to Page” as the most broadly useful of the navigation methods that Amazon has provided for PDFs. From a document’s table of contents, you presumably estimate the page number for the start of a section of interest and then you do the following:

  • Press the Menu button
  • Manipulate the 5-way controller to highlight “Go to Page…” in the pop-up menu
  • Select this function by pressing the 5-way controller
  • Enter a page number using chorded keystrokes, Alt-1, Alt-5, Alt-3, etc.
  • Press enter to complete the navigation

This process could be simplified with a better UI design. First, “Go to Page…” could be the default option on the pop-up menu whenever a PDF document is displayed. Then, when a page number is being entered from the keyboard for navigation, the Kindle DX could interpret presses on the top row of keys as numbers so that there is no need for chorded entry on the cramped keypad. This would offer no disadvantage, because the page number entry field does not accept letters.

Clumsy navigation is not the only problem for PDF documents in the DX. The Kindle DX is missing a high-contrast option that would ease reading for PDF documents that were designed for color rendering. With such color PDF documents on the DX, text is displayed in shades of gray that can be difficult to read. Also missing from Amazon’s PDF implementation are support for highlighting, annotation, the dictionary, and text-to-speech. Why should any customer be satisfied that such features are missing for PDF documents?

There are literally millions of existing PDF documents that Kindle users might want to access, but a vast majority are formatted for letter-sized or A4-sized pages, and virtually all are formatted for page sizes larger than the Kindle DX display. This means that PDF pages are usually rendered in portrait mode on the DX at a size much smaller than the document developers originally intended. Even though the Kindle’s resolution is excellent, reading documents with tiny letters can become frustrating in a hurry. The solution on Kindle DX is to rotate the device into landscape mode, which usually results in roughly a 1.5X zoom and half as much page area displayed. This might be a reasonable compromise except for one major problem: It places the critical Next Page and Previous Page buttons at either the top or bottom of the display where they are inconvenient to access. I find it hard to understand why the DX doesn’t repurpose keyboard keys as alternate paging keys when the Kindle is in landscape mode.

When the DX is in landscape mode, the keyboard space bar could be enabled as an alternate Next Page button. This simple change would result no important collision with the text entry features, and would greatly enhance the usability of PDF documents in landscape mode for both right and left handed users. Another button on the bottom row of the keyboard, perhaps the Shift key, could be enabled as an alternate Previous Page button. This might result in a minor collision with existing uses, but one that is far less important than having convenient, hand-in-place access to the Previous Page function.

It is a major embarrassment for Amazon that the Kindle DX was released to customers with such a poor user interface for PDF documents. The current PDF document support should be viewed as an “experimental feature” at best, and the deficit leaves a hole in Amazon’s product line that could be a nice opportunity for competitors like Sony and Plastic Logic. The hope for Kindle DX customers is that Amazon will rapidly improve PDF usability through a major firmware update. Some improvements, like better menu organization and sane use of the keyboard, are pretty easy stuff. Others, like improved contrast options for color documents and support for intra-document linkage, might require a license for different software from Adobe, or perhaps the switch to a third party PDF rendering engine.

It has been rumored that release of the Kindle 2 was delayed past the Christmas season because Jeff Bezos was dissatisfied with early releases for the user interface firmware. One wonders who within Amazon approved of the PDF document features for the Kindle DX.

Kindle Troubleshooting 101: If You Can’t Open Any of Your Kindle Books….

Here’s the kind of situation that I tend too easily to ignore (once I have solved it) because it seems like it must be a fluke that isn’t going to occur often enough to bother bringing it up here at Kindle Nation. But after I experienced it twice in my first two weeks with my new Kindle DX, two things occurred to me:

  1. This is a problem that Amazon should fix so that it does not keep happening.
  2. It’s definitely worth passing on the “fix” in Kindle Nation so that my fellow Kindlers can avoid the feelings of panic and despair that have come over me twice now as a result of a sudden and inexplicable inability to open any of the Kindle editions aboard my Kindle DX.

Here’s the problem: suddenly none of the Kindle books, periodicals or blogs that are displayed on my Kindle DX Home screen will load. When I click on any of them with the Kindle DX 5-way, a message appears on the screen telling me that the Kindle is unable to open this document and referring me to my Manage Your Kindle page at Amazon.com, via my computer, so that I can fix the problem (I wish I had made a screenshot, but alas my panic was too intense to think of such things!). I go to my Manage Your Kindle page at Amazon.com, but it tells me nothing, and everything appears to be fine with my Amazon.com account, credit cards on file, etc. I notice, meanwhile, that my Kindle does open my Personal Docs and my Audible.com audiobooks, so it seems clear that there is not a hardware problem.

I called Kindle Support at 1-866-216-1072 and it quickly became clear that

  1. The problem had nothing to do with anything that I could address through my Manage My Kindle page; and
  2. It is such a common problem that the the support guy to whom I was speaking was able to cut me off 10 seconds into my description of the problem to start focusing on the fix.

He said that the problem was a “file index corruption” problem that has been occurring “in a few cases,” and the solution is a simple hard boot or restart of the Kindle.

So here’s the simple solution, should you face the same lack of access to your Kindle library:

  1. From your Kindle’s Home screen, press the Menu button on the side of the Kindle.
  2. From the Menu listing, use the 5-way to select “Settings.”
  3. From the “settings” display, press the Menu button again.
  4. From the Menu listing, use the 5-way to select “Restart.”

(You can also initiate a restart by holding the power switch to the right continuously for about 20 seconds, letting it go, then sliding it to the right again, but this takes longer and puts more wear and tear on the Kindle’s few moving parts).

Your Kindle will then take about two minutes to complete a hard reboot, during most of which you will see the Amazon Kindle silhouette graphic of the figure sitting under a tree reading. A progress bar will appear on the screen about halfway through, and toward the end of the reboot you will briefly (and cruelly!) be shown a nearly empty Home screen with the words “Showing all 0 items” at the top and “Archived Items (0)” just below it.