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The Kindle Chronicles Interview:

200 Million Free Downloads and Counting, Exclusively Yours – How Amazon Has Attracted A Quarter of A Million “Kindle Exclusive” Titles with KDP Select

Len Edgerly Interviews Russ Grandinetti, Amazon’s Vice President of Kindle Content

(Ed. Note: In this week’s column, Len focuses primarily on how the KDP Select and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library programs benefit authors. But they’re also a huge benefit to readers, both because of the free borrowing highlighted in the next article and because KDP Select allows the authors and publishers to offer the thousands of free books highlighted every day in Kindle Nation Daily posts. –Steve Windwalker)

By LEN EDGERLY, Contributing Editor

A blind alley is closed at one end. It leads nowhere. Why on earth would you ever want to go down one?

russ1Russ Grandinetti (photo at right), Amazon’s Vice President of Kindle Content, puts it this way: “We like going down blind alleys, because occasionally they turn into broad vistas.”

Grandinetti is quoting Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos with that metaphor, which aptly describes the success of a program launched almost a year ago named KDP Select.

Unless you have self-published a book at Kindle Direct Publishing, you may not have heard of KDP Select. But you probably do know about the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL, pronounced “coal.”)

Through KOLL, Amazon Prime members in the U.S. who own Kindle devices get free borrowing rights for up to one Kindle book a month, with no due dates. The lending library was added on November 3, 2011, to free two-day shipping and free Prime Instant Videos as benefits of Amazon Prime, which costs $79 a year.

The lending library began with only 5,000 books to choose from. None of them came from authors publishing their work through Kindle Direct Publishing.

Thirty-five days after launching the lending library, Amazon opened the library’s doors to KDP authors. Through KDP Select, an author or publisher can make their books available for free borrowing at the lending library in return for granting a 90-day exclusive to the Kindle Store. After the 90 days are up, they are free to sell their eBooks at Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, or anywhere else.

Amazon’s lending library is unusual in that an author receives a payment every time his or her book is borrowed. In fact, through November of this year KDP Select authors have received a total of more than $7 million in payments from Amazon. The money is distributed on a prorated basis, determined by how many borrowings take place for each book. The payments have been running about $2 per borrowing.

KDP Select also enables an author or publisher to offer their Kindle book for free at the regular Kindle Store, for up to five days every 90 days.

“In hindsight, it seems obvious that it succeeded so well,” Grandinetti said of KDP Select in a telephone interview on November 28th. “It wasn’t obvious in advance—we had hopes, but we didn’t know. That one has turned out to be super successful.”

Grandinetti is an enthusiastic exec who uses the word “super” a lot. And in the case of KDP Select, an initiative that might well have been a blind alley but turned into a broad vista, the numbers back him up.

Thanks to the response by authors and publishers to KDP Select, the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library has grown from 5,000 titles to approximately 240,000. KDP Select books have been purchased, borrowed from KOLL, or downloaded for free more than 200 million times in the past year.

In that same year, more than 500 books enrolled in KDP Select have reached the top 100 Kindle bestseller lists around the world.

Grandinetti believes the lending library helps increase a book’s sales in the Kindle Store, because free borrowing is, in effect, an extended sampling mechanism for books that customers might not otherwise take a chance on.

“It helps them reach an audience that they might not otherwise have reached,” Grandinetti said of authors whose books are available in the library. Another benefit is that a borrowing is treated like a sale for the purpose of personalized recommendations and ranking on Amazon’s bestseller lists.

Amazon invented the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library in order to create an added benefit for customers purchasing a Kindle eReader or Kindle Fire. That’s why free borrowing from the library is not available via Kindle apps such as those for the iPad, Blackberry devices or personal computers.

As for the larger picture here, I know that many in the traditional publishing industry see only a ruthless new competitor in Amazon. But when I have the chance to interview Amazon executives, from Jeff Bezos on down, I never hear about competitors. I hear about customers.

From the company’s Vice President of Kindle Content, I hear how initiatives like KDP Select that entail millions of dollars of spending are launched in order to bring new benefits to customers who are authors and publishers, as well as customers who are readers.

“The price that I charge a customer today is the lowest that I can charge while still maintaining a healthy business for us, so we can continue, and also for the publishing community,” Grandinetti told me.

“Having a great, robust, diverse, successful publishing business and having a great, robust, diverse, successful agent and author business is really great for readers,” he added. “I feel that Amazon and Kindle have contributed to that, and we’ll continue to try and find ways to do so.”

On the day after I spoke with Grandinetti, Amazon issued a press release announcing that the company will add $1.5 million to the KDP Select global fund on top of the regular monthly payments, payable to authors and publishers during the three-month period from December through February.

In the press release I found evidence that when a player with Amazon’s resources is willing to go down blind alleys, the broad vistas that sometimes open up are not just one company’s to enjoy and profit from.

They can also open for a single writer, like Martin Crosbie, the author of a first novel titled My Temporary Life who was quoted in the release.

Crosbie, who lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, earned $100 from royalties for his book in the two months before he enrolled it in KDP Select. He then earned $45,000 in a single month from paid sales and payments for borrowings from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.

“I have readers anxiously waiting for my next novel,” Crosbie was quoted as saying, “and—I never get tired of saying this—I’m a full-time writer.”

lenContributing editor Len Edgerly blogs at The Kindle Chronicles where you can hear his interview

with Russ Grandinetti at 13:29 of Episode 226.


Just released on Kindle: The Complete 2013 User’s Guide to the Amazing Amazon Kindle: Covers All Current Kindles Including the Kindle Fire, Kindle Fire HD, Kindle Fire HD 8.9″, Kindle Paperwhite, and Kindle Basic, by Bruce Grubbs and Steve Windwalker of Kindle Nation Daily – http://amzn.to/T8uGcF

KFTTCover(1)And for Kindle Fire owners, here’s the perfect companion to your Kindle Fire, your user’s manual, and your copy of The Complete 2013 User’s Guide to the Amazing Amazon Kindle: Kindle Nation Daily’s Kindle Fire editor April Hamilton’s collection of her most helpful posts and articles to help you get the most out of your Kindle Fire tablet! http://amzn.to/TS6JVV

Fingers in the Dike: How Some Indie Booksellers Are Fiddling, Fussing and Fibbing in the Face of Innovation and History

Len Edgerly Interviews Neil Strandberg,

Director of Member Technology, American Booksellers Association

By LEN EDGERLY, Contributing Editor

The general manager of Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Massachusetts, remembers two women who came into the store and said, “We’d like to talk to your children’s specialist about what books we should buy for our granddaughter for her Kindle.”

“I took a really deep breath and said we’d be happy to do that,” the manager recalled in a recent interview.

Therein lies a glimpse of the topsy-turvy world of bookselling five years after Amazon introduced the Kindle on November 19, 2007.

Neil Strandberg, director of member technology for the American Booksellers Association (ABA), has helped to create a new way for independent booksellers to navigate that world. It’s an eReader that begins with the letter K, but it’s not made by Amazon.

Kobo eReaders can now be sold at any ABA member bookstore, and when you use the Kobo that you buy at an indie bookstore, your Kobo eBook purchases will benefit the store via sales commissions.

We knew the ABA was looking for a new partner for selling eBooks, because Google in April of this year announced it was ending its eBook reselling program with the indies. The Google program never really took off. As a Kindle owner, I hoped against hope that the ABA might make like Nixon going to China and shock the book world by making a deal with Amazon.

This became a slightly more plausible dream in May when the biggest bookstore chain in the U.K., Waterstones, announced a deal to sell Kindles and Kindle eBooks at Waterstones stores.

The Economist dubbed the move “a Faustian pact” agreed to by James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones. Daunt had once famously described Amazon as a “ruthless money-making devil.”

In a YouTube video in May, Daunt described the Amazon deal as the best way “to solve the digital question,” by offering “a great family of devices” and making the Kindle experience better by enabling a Kindle owner to browse and read via WiFi while enjoying a coffee at a Waterstones store.

In the event, as the Brits would say, the ABA chose a different route and in late August announced the partnership with Kobo.

I spoke with Neil Strandberg by Skype this week about the Kobo choice. He said the ABA searched “high and low” for a new provider of eBooks and eReaders for independent booksellers. He declined to say whether or not Amazon or any other specific company had submitted a proposal.

“It’s not exclusive, we are careful to say,” he noted.  But I suggest not holding your breath hoping for an ABA-Kindle connection any time soon, Waterstones or no Waterstones.

Strandberg is a practical, diplomatic guy with whom I enjoyed talking eBooks over coffee in Denver, where until May of this year he worked as manager of operations at The Tattered Cover Book Store, one of the nation’s premier independent booksellers. He is not a basher of Amazon or any other player on the publishing scene.

When I suggested this week that most of the indie bookstore customers who have gone digital probably chose the Kindle, he demurred.

“I think it’s an open question how many of those customers that are still very active with the independent channel have chosen Amazon,” he said. “To the extent that they want to add eReading to their portfolio of reading habits, in many respects they’ve already said to us, ‘not Amazon,” or they’ve already said to us, ‘not Barnes and Noble.”

Carole Horne, the general manager at Harvard Book Store, told me that she would be extremely reluctant to ever team up with Amazon. “They’ve said they want to put other people out of business, especially independent bookstores,” she asserted.

In four years of covering the Kindle and eBooks, I have never heard anyone from Amazon express that desire, so I pressed Horne on her source.

“At trade shows, talking to people from Amazon, there are people who say, ‘We think independent bookstores are dead, and that’s fine with us,’” she replied. She has not heard Jeff Bezos say that, but she believes “he would like to be the only retailer in the world.”

I find that characterization to be quite a stretch from Amazon’s stated mission of being “Earth’s most customer-centric company.”

In any event, I purchased a Kobo mini at the Harvard Book Store the day after Thanksgiving, when they were on sale for $49.99. I also created a new Kobo account, tied to the Harvard Book Store, so eBook purchases that I make at the Kobo store will benefit Cambridge’s premier indie bookseller. I even sideloaded the Kobo app to my Kindle Fire HD, so I can read Kobo books on an Amazon device.

Given the scary threat that eBooks pose for the ABA and stores like Horne’s, I am impressed by customer-oriented responses like her decision to help the two women find books for a granddaughter’s Kindle, and by the Kobo initiative.

For those of us who have switched to reading exclusively on Kindles or Kindle apps, bookstores were once our favorite sanctuaries and places to shop. That’s where we learned to love books.

We still love books. And, to greater or lesser degrees, we pretty much love Amazon for inventing the Kindle, constantly improving its capabilities, and making it cheaper and cheaper to read more voraciously than ever.

I hope U.S. bookstores have a great holiday sales season and sell lots of Kobos. And I hope that somewhere in the world of indie bookstores there is a Nixon still looking for a way to get to China—by way of Seattle.

lenOur contributing editor Len Edgerly blogs at The Kindle Chronicles where you can hear his interview with Neil Strandberg at 8:51 of this week’s Episode 225.

The KND Kindle Chronicles Interview: Reading for, and About, Pleasure … or “Henry James on Viagra”

Len Edgerly Interviews Richard Mason,

author of History of a Pleasure Seeker

By LEN EDGERLY, Contributing Editor

When a brilliant author creates a version of his novel for tablet computers, a whole new world of possibilities opens up.

Richard_MasonThat’s what I find so intriguing about Richard Mason’s recently released app, History of a Pleasure Seeker, Volume I: The Gilded Curve.

When Mason began work on a digitally enhanced version of his book, the Kindle Fire did not yet exist, so the app is only available at the iTunes store for iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. An Android version that will play on the Kindle Fire is in the works, the author assured me in this week’s Kindle Chronicles interview on November 5th.

Meanwhile, you can check out what he refers to as the “e-lumination” of his novel on an iOS device, or you can read History of a Pleasure Seeker on your Kindle or Kindle app as a text-only eBook.

It’s the story of Piet Barol, a handsome and charismatic young Dutchman from a humble background who in 1907 lands a tutoring job in a very grand house in Amsterdam. Piet’s psychologically skillful navigation of his host family’s luxurious world is presented with deft characterizations, perfect dialog, and a good deal of artful eroticism.

I read the novel in one day last month when I was confined to the house with a bad cold, and I loved every page of it. The writing is so good it hurts.

Or, as The Boston Globe put it, “If Charles Dickens and Jane Austen had a love child who grew up reading nothing but Edith Wharton and Penthouse Forum—well, that person might be almost as wry, sexy, and knowing a writer as Richard Mason.” Another reviewer, Alex Preston, described History of a Pleasure Seeker as “Henry James on Viagra.”

You might think an author this talented would simply keep writing manuscripts in his longhand writing notebook, which Mason prefers to any keyboard. And in fact he has done just that, publishing a total of five novels including History of a Pleasure Seeker.

But when he was shown an iPad for the first time in July, 2010, Mason was inspired to create something entirely new–a version of his book that would take advantage of what he calls “this incredible device.”

It was clearly a major undertaking, beginning with the recruitment of Dan Stevens, who plays Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey, to narrate the book’s 20 hours of audio. Mason founded an entirely new venture in Manhattan, Orson & Co, to set teams of musicians, videographers, photographers and coders to work on the e-lumination.

The completed app was released this month, costing $12.99 at the iTunes Store, where you will also find a free “Lite” version that offers samples of the digital enhancements.

If you are a regular reader of eBooks on Kindle, you will immediately notice that features you have come to expect are missing in the e-lumination. Chief among them is the ability to increase the font size.

Those still reading print books won’t mind this aspect of the app. But if you love changing the font of an eBook to exactly the size that is easiest for you to read, you will feel hemmed in by the default font, as if someone had forced you unwillingly back to the pre-eBook era. For me, the font size of the app is too small to read comfortably, but I am 62 years old, so if your eyes are younger it may be okay.

There is also no dictionary lookup and no ability to highlight text. You can write notes in a general notes area, but you can’t attach a note to a specific place in the book.

As for things you will find in the app that are wonderfully new, you are in for some treats.

If you tap on the icon of a gramophone at the bottom of each page, you will hear a pleasingly British voice intone the words of the story. As each paragraph is read, its text turns red. If you want to skip to another paragraph, just tap it, and Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens will skip ahead or behind, as you wish.

If the page contains a line-art drawing, tapping on it will bring up a photograph of a street scene of Belle Époque buildings or perhaps a crystal goblet, with a Ken Burns effect of moving around the image slowly.

There is a red ribbon hanging from the upper right of the page, and when you tap on it or pull it down, it reveals an ornate menu taking you to “Ask the Author” videos, one-page history lessons on topics such as “How Amsterdam got rich,” a gallery of photos, a place where you can write and read your notes, and several options for sharing via e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter.

It’s all beautifully presented, with details suitable to the period of the novel.

“I think it’s a new way of experiencing a story,” Mason told me, “one that puts the reader in charge for the first time of how and if to stimulate their imagination by what they see and hear.”

To arrive at a vision for his e-lumination, Mason began by asking himself where the true pleasure of the reading experience lies.

“I thought, in the end,” he said, “that it’s the pleasure that comes from taking your imagination as the reader, collaborating with the author’s imagination, to create an experience that is wholly your own.”

I agree. But I hope that Mason’s next iteration might put readers even more in charge of the experience.

The key would be to let us choose to enjoy the exquisite, fixed-page design as it appears in this version or, with a tap of a menu, to toggle to an entirely different view in which we can change the font to precisely the one that gives us the most pleasure in reading.

I know this would be a tough change for Mason to make, because he is so deeply committed to the beauty of the pages his team has created.

In a similar way, the editors of The New Yorker could not bring themselves to give up the iconic font and page design of the print magazine when they created apps for tablets like the Kindle Fire. What you see is all you get in terms of font size, and you can’t look words up or highlight.

By comparison, The New York Review of Books for Kindle Fire allows you to view that magazine’s traditional pages, with zooming capability, or to shift to the more reader-friendly Kindle view in which you can change font sizes and the rest.

I hope this suggestion is worth considering, but I want to conclude by congratulating Richard Mason for his pioneering work in advancing the pleasure of reading. He deserves credit for breaking new ground and writing a novel worth experiencing in as many new ways as the mind can imagine.

lenOur contributing editor Len Edgerly blogs at The Kindle Chronicles where you can hear his interview with Richard Mason in Episode 223.

The Kindle Chronicles Interview: If you could only read three books during next 12 months, which ones would you choose?

Len Edgerly Interviews Chris Brogan,
co-author of The Impact Equation

By LEN EDGERLY, Contributing Editor

Three books? 12 months? For most Kindle Nation readers, it’s hard to imagine such a choice. But which ones would you choose?

In my case, it may take another year for me to finish Tolstoy’s War and Peace at the rate I’m going, so I would include that one.

And because I aspire to making things happen in the Kindlesphere through my podcast and blog, I might include a new book by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith titled The Impact Equation: Are You Making Things Happen or Just Making Noise?

chrisbrogan-2012I spoke with Chris Brogan by Skype from Denver the day after Hurricane Sandy dealt his hometown in Newburyport, Massachusetts, a glancing blow. As CEO of Human Business Works, Brogan is a sought-after keynote speaker, trainer, blogger, and author.

He assigned himself the task of reading only three books from November 1, 2012, to November 1, 2013, as an experiment in immersion. I find the idea fascinating but am not sure I am willing to try it.

“I have this opinion that a lot of times people will read books and just kind of go from one book to the next,” Brogan told me. “I track on things like Twitter what people say about my book. So I’ll see, ‘Just finished The Impact Equation, now going on to The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg’—as if there’s some kind of a hurdle race, as if they’ve just gone over a hurdle, and they’re going to the next one.”

As a result, Brogan believes, we seldom go deeply enough into a book, to fully absorb the meaning of it. His idea of picking three books to read and reread throughout the coming year tests a new level of commitment to a book, like becoming a rooted disciple instead of a hurdler who is always jumping to the next new title.

I made a note in iCal for November 1, 2013, to loop back with Brogan for a report on the results of his project. I won’t be surprised to find that he was unable to keep his love of reading on such a tight leash, but he may surprise us.

Here are the only three books that Chris Brogan will be reading for the next 12 months: The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How by Daniel Coyle, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change by Pema Chodron, and You Are Your Own Gym: The Bible of Bodyweight Exercises by Mark Lauren.

None of the three books is more than 140 pages long, so Brogan could probably read them all in a day and a half.  If he sticks to it, he will certainly be reading each of these books more than once and probably several times.

This seems like brilliant luxury to me. I sometimes finish a book with a wistful thought of going back to Page One, because I sense that if I read the whole book again I would understand it better, that the book might actually change me. But there are always more unread books on my Kindle, beckoning for my attention, so I move on.

You may see where this is going.

Brogan’s book comprises 285 pages, and I’m thinking of reading it and rereading it for the next 12 months. I am not willing to limit my reading to The Impact Equation and just two other books, but as my own experiment in reading habits and social media awareness, I intend to keep reading this tome until November 1, 2013. Each time I finish it, I will tap on “Go To” on my Kindle and return to the beginning.

I think it’s a good choice for a year of immersive reading, because I find the book to be well-written, substantive, and full of insightful eddies and detours of mind.

In my first read of it, I have found only one tiny typo, a forgotten period at Location 2610. So it’s a carefully written and proofed book, and that matters to me.

It’s also a book with a clear structure. As the title suggests, the book presents an equation that enables you to measure the potential impact of your ideas. To wit:

Impact = C x (R + E + A + T + E).

It’s easy to remember, because it spells “Create,” and the six variables of the equation give the authors room to dive deeply into the following impact attributes:

Contrast – An idea’s perceived difference, the thing that strikes people as remarkable.

Reach – The size of your email list or RSS feed, the number of your followers.

Exposure – How often you connect with the people you connect with.

Articulation – Making your idea instantly understandable.

Trust – A tough factor to define, but we know it when we feel it. Brogan and Smith covered this subject in their 322-page book published in 2009, Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust.

Echo – The feeling of connection you give your reader, visitor, or participant in your project.

The authors flesh out this equation with usable action steps, tips for honing ideas, and specific advice on everything from how often you should Tweet to where you should buy your shaving razors. There will be no end of practical advice to follow.

But I think the real payoff of spending a year with this book will be the number of things I will be invited to think about.

In my first reading, I wished I could spend more time thinking about pattern recognition, extrapolation of ideas from one realm to another, what it takes to become “a master of language,” the proper approach to influential people, and why Sunday is a magical day for releasing a blog post, to mention just a few of the trails the book invited me to explore.

If you would like to join me in reading The Impact Equation all year long, please drop me an email at PodChronicles AT Gmail DOT com, so we can keep each other honest. And look for a return to the book here and at The Kindle Chronicles on or before November 1, 2013.

One of the idea-shaping exercises in the book is to simplify your idea to three words. When I asked Brogan how he would do this for the idea of his new book, he paused and said, “Let’s see….”

His answer may be the reason I am willing to spend a year with his book, because I think he meant it.

“Be very helpful,” he said. “That’s probably the essence of all the advice that I ever give. Just be helpful.”

Our contributing editor Len Edgerly blogs at The Kindle Chronicles where you can hear his interview with Chris Brogan at 21:50 of TKC 222.

The KND-Kindle Chronicles Interview: Reading Books and Feeding Minds, One Kindle at a Time – WorldReader’s Million eBooks Movement Comes to Sub-Saharan Africa

Len Edgerly Interviews David Risher,
CEO and Co-founder of Worldreader.org


Contributing Editor

It is difficult to imagine how much an eReader like the Kindle can change the life of a student in sub-Saharan Africa.

I know that the Kindle has improved the way I read in deep and satisfying ways, adding convenience and a more intimate engagement with an author’s words. But I and most of you reading this are transitioning to eBooks from a rich prior relationship with traditional books.

RisherDavid Risher (photo at right), a former Amazon executive who co-founded Worldreader.org in late 2009 to distribute eReaders and eBooks throughout the world, has seen a more profound transition.

“We see kids, for example, go from three books in their lives before our program up to 200 on average on their Kindles,” Risher told me in this week’s Kindle Chronicles podcast interview on October 23rd.

“It’s almost one of those things that blows your mind,” he said.

Imagine if you had grown up in a home with one Bible and one other book. Now as a student you are given a device containing hundreds of books—everything from African writers to Nancy Drew mysteries to Roald Dahl classics such as James and the Giant Peach.

WorldreaderWorldreader has offered approximately 3,000 kids this mind-bending experience through projects in Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. The nonprofit organization has distributed about 1,000 Kindles and has plans to triple that number by the end of January, 2013. (Click on the image to make a donation, or click here to see the Worldreader.org website.)

You can get an idea of how highly Worldreader’s efforts are valued by asking yourself how many of the 500 Kindles in Ghana over an 18-month period do you think were lost due to theft.

The answer is three. The number is even lower in Uganda and Kenya.

“The teachers understand from a very early stage that this is an important part of the education process,” Risher said. “One of the girls told us in Ghana years ago that thieves really don’t steal education, and we found that to be the case.”

If you are reading on a Kindle, I am sure you have friends or family who are attached to print books and opposed to eBooks. In developing nations where print books are woefully scarce, there is little resistance of this nature.

“The hardest thing for us,” Risher said of Worldreader, “has turned out to be easy, and that is getting people to change their behavior, getting kids to read more. That’s almost automatic.”

The reason, Risher believes, is that people everywhere are curious.

“People want to improve their lives,” he said. “People want to become doctors, or lawyers or football players, or just be curious about the world.  And that fundamental curiosity is so strong, that it serves as a pull.”

Which is not to say that Worldreader has taken on an easy challenge. Yes, there is nearly infinite demand for eBooks in places where traditional books are scarce. But it is a daunting mission to increase the number of eBooks distributed from the current level of about 220,000 to a million, and to increase the number of participating kids from a thousand to a million.

“These are big numbers,” Risher admitted. “When you’re thinking about numbers like that, the biggest challenge is execution.”

You’d have to say that, so far, the execution of Worldreader’s mission is going very well.

When I last spoke to Risher in March of 2010, the organization had four full-time employees and was just starting a pilot project in one country, Ghana. Today the employee count around the world has reached 25. And within two weeks, Tanzania, the fifth country hosting Worldreader sites, will come on line.

If you are not familiar with the Worldreader story, a great place to experience the scale and humanity of the effort is their web site, worldreader.org. You will find compelling videos of students using Kindles, evaluation data on field projects, and lots of excellent photos.

You can support the mission a number of ways, including donations at the web site. As little as five dollars gets an eBook to a child, and you can click here to make it happen.

Risher hopes to have in place next year an innovative tool with which you will be able to select from specific books needed in Worldreader projects and know that your donation will make it possible for them to be wirelessly delivered to student’s Kindles within 60 seconds.

With his Amazon connections, Risher works closely with the company on efforts such as the one that recently went public, Whispercast for Kindle, which is a free, online management system for schools and businesses managing “fleets” of eReaders.

“We’re like a particularly intense customer that gives them an enormous amount of feedback,” Risher said of Amazon. In effect, Worldreader helped the company develop Whispercast over a period of 18 months before it was announced on October 17th.

Risher in his comments on the video describing Worldreader’s “Million E-Books Movement” states, “We are creating a culture of reading in a part of the world where it’s never been able to take hold before.”

If Worldreader manages to scale its success so far, it is not difficult to imagine an extraordinary impact decades hence.

“Twenty years from now we’re going to have an entire generation of kids who have been able to read any book they want or need,” Risher said, “and we will really have made a bit of a dent in the universe in that way.”


 lenKindle Nation Weekender columnist and contributing editor Len Edgerly blogs at The Kindle Chronicles, where you can hear his interview with David Risher at 23:58 in Episode 221.

The Kindle Chronicles Interview:

In Amazon’s World of Gadgets, It’s Really All About the 4 C’s of the Kindle “Service:”
Catalog, Customer Base, Connectivity, and Convenience

Len Edgerly Interviews Stephen Windwalker,
Creator of Kindle Nation Daily


Contributing Editor

When Stephen Windwalker and I get together, at least one of us usually brings a new gadget.

As creator of Kindle Nation Daily, Steve is on top of all things Kindle, but when he stopped by the Kindle Chronicles studio here in Cambridge this week, he had a tiny and very cool gadget that was not a Kindle.

fitbitIt’s called Fitbit. It weighs 1.6 ounces, and it tells Steve (among other things) how many steps he has taken on his relatively new daily walking regimen of 10,000 steps, along with sleep information via a wristband that he can wear at night. It uses 3D motion-sensing and altimeter technology, and synchs up constantly to a pretty cool dashboard on his computer.

I want one!

Like me, Stephen Windwalker owns an arsenal of gadgets that he has amassed over the years we have been covering eReaders and, more recently, tablets. On the shelf behind me are, from right to left, a Sony PRS-T2 eReader, a Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight, Nexus 7, iPad 3, and six Kindles.

The reason that I probably won’t pony up $77.74 for a Fitbit is that I’m saving money—which I assure my wife is earmarked for Kindle Chronicles research and development projects—for an iPad Mini, not to mention the Kindle HD 8.9” that I have on order and maybe even a Microsoft Surface.

WindwalkerI suspect that many of you reading this share a love of new gadgets, especially when they help you to read in a better way. So you might share my surprise in hearing that gadget lover Stephen Windwalker made a convincing case to me this week that—gasp—it’s not really about the gadgets any more.

“When you look at all these devices that are out, the air is kind of coming out of the balloon in terms of the competition between devices,” he told me after putting the Fitbit away.

He praised the iPad 3, the iPhone, the new Kindle Fire HDs, the Kindle Paperwhite, and even the new Nook tablets, which look very sharp as hardware.

“But,” he said, “the idea that people are any longer at the point where when a new device comes out they’re going to throw the old one away and grab the new one—I’m just not convinced of that any more.”

Steve emphasized the importance of focusing on what people actually do on these devices, “rather than some proposition that 11 left-handed redheads might use.”

Within a range of, say, five percent in terms of functionality for what people actually do on devices, customer motivation is not centered on hardware features, he said.

“What’s really important,” Steve said, “is the delivery of content.”

He offered a good analogy in suggesting that you don’t decide where to buy a washer/dryer by how nice and modern the store looks. What matters is the value proposition, price, and how good the washer/dryer is.

“What we get now is that none of these companies are going to dominate the marketplace based on hardware alone, if they’re all within spitting distance of each other,” Steve said. What enables a competitor like Amazon to dominate a market are catalog, customer base, connectivity, and convenience —“The Four C’s” as he has referred to them.

Steve’s view of gadgets echoes what Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said at the September 6 press conference when the new Kindles were introduced.

“People don’t want gadgets anymore,” Bezos asserted. “They want services. They want services that improve over time. They want services that get better every day, every week, and every month, year after year.”

I nodded my head when I heard Bezos make that statement, and I nodded again when Steve extended the idea in our conversation this week. It seems eminently sensible when you see it that way.

Why then, am I such a sucker for the next new gadget? It’s about a boy and his toys, I suppose, a direct line back to childhood infatuation with shiny new things that make noise and scare the family dog.

What matters in the business of technology, though, is which gadgets become products we really use. I am sometimes surprised by the ones that have the most staying power.

For Stephen Windwalker, the venerable Kindle DX—the 9.7-inch eReader introduced in 2009—is still his E Ink reader of choice, because of its great readability, audio, and 3G. Steve listens to a lot of text-to-speech and Audible.com titles, so even though he purchased a Kindle Paperwhite and admires its beautiful display, the DX still rules.

“It’s right on my desk,” he said of the Paperwhite, “and I almost never use it.” He is, however, using a Kindle HD 7” and is even surprised at how much better it is for use in sunlight, compared with the iPads and iPhones he has owned.

As for me, I sold my Kindle DX on eBay a couple of years ago, and I’ve become a heavy user of the Paperwhite and the Kindle HD 7”. I’m planning on selling my iPad 3 to make way for the Kindle HD 8.9”.

I’d like to figure out a reason to get one of those Fitbit gadgets, but for two years I have monitored my sleep with Zeo tracking gadgets, and I prefer cross-trainers, bikes, and rowing shells to walking 10,000 steps a day on my unreliable knees.

As Steve said, just because there’s a new gadget in town doesn’t mean I have to buy it and throw away the old one. I believe that. I really do.

I wonder which color I would get—the blue or the plum?

Photo credits:

  • Steve Windwalker, photo by Betty Scharf at Fenway Park, September 26, 2012
  • Fitbit, Amazon customer image by Amer



lenKindle Nation Weekender columnist and contributing editor Len Edgerly blogs at The Kindle Chronicles, where you can hear his interview with Stephen Windwalker in Episode 219.

The Kindle Chronicles Interview: How a Tiny Boston Start-Up, Amazon (and Authors) Are Plotting to Change the World of Serialized Fiction on Kindle

Welcome to the Third Layer of Publishing:

How a Tiny Boston Start-Up, Amazon (and Authors) Are Plotting to Change the World of Serialized Fiction on Kindle

Len Edgerly Interviews Yael Goldstein Love, Co-Founder and Editorial Director of Plympton

Contributing Editor

Welcome to the Third Layer of Publishing.

That his how Jennifer 8. Lee, Co-Founder and President of Plympton, a literary startup creating serial fiction for digital readers, refers to the emerging alternative to major publishers and uncurated online markets.

Yael PhotoI learned more about the third layer from Lee’s co-founder, Yael Goldstein Love (photo at right), who also serves as Plympton’s Editorial Director and was my guest this week on The Kindle Chronicles podcast.

“It’s not something that people are talking about very much, this third layer,” Love told me.

Not many people were talking about Plympton, either, before the morning of September 6th this year. That was when three of the Boston startup’s titles were featured among the first eight Kindle Serials announced by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in Santa Monica.

Plympton was founded in 2011 and was approached this year by Amazon to participate in the Kindle Serials project.

Amazon did not invent serial fiction, of course, but the technological capabilities of the Kindle platform make some very interesting updates to the genre possible.

For one thing, you can offer readers a one-price up-front purchase of a serial, so that subsequent installments arrive at no charge on their Kindles or Kindle apps. You can even preserve notes and highlights that a reader has made on the earlier installments, when the serial is updated. As an introductory price, Amazon is offering the eight Kindle Serials at $1.99 each.

Plympton’s titles are Hacker Mom by Austen Rachlis, Love is Strong as Death by Carolyn Nash, and The Many Lives of Lilith Lane by E.V. Anderson.

I remember several years ago, when the Kindle was first taking hold, someone—I can’t remember who–predicted that eReaders and eBooks would enable the rise of completely new players in publishing. Somewhere in a coffee shop, two literary entrepreneurs would hatch an idea that would upend the entire business.

I remember thinking, “I can’t wait to meet them.”

I didn’t think of those coffee-shop innovators as the Third Layer. But it’s as good a name as any. And now we know some of their names. In addition to the team at Plympton, they include two other startups–Byliner and The Atavist.

Yael Goldstein Love offered a helpful analogy for how this Third Layer will change traditional publishing and the Wild West of digital self-publishing.

“When you think back to when blogs were starting to become a thing,” she said, “there was this big distinction between blogs and journalism. We thought one is professional and one isn’t, and then we saw the professionalization of blogs. Not only did it change how we think about blogging, it very much changed how we think about journalism.”

She suggested that something similar may be happening in the Third Layer. In this view, Plympton and similar startups represent the professionalization of online publishing.

Love’s own background shows what literary professionalism can bring to the party. An honors graduate in philosophy from Harvard in 2000, she wrote a novel titled Overture that was published by Doubleday in 2007. The New York Times Book Review wrote that her work showed “signs of brooding genius” and described Love as “a writer of great emotional precocity.”

She has taught fiction at Grub Street, a Boston center for creative writing, and served as a publishing assistant at The Paris Review.

This is good experience to bring to “a new literary studio devoted to reinventing the way people experience literature by combining serialized fiction and digital platforms,” which is how Plympton describes its vision.

Readers are looking for good things to read, but it’s not easy to figure out what that looks like. When I asked Love what she’s looking for in Plympton serials, she offered a convincing set of guidelines, beginning with the obvious requirements that they be well-written and offer characters that fascinate.

“What’s really different with a serial than with a more traditionally told novel is that you need that through line, the plot, to be so crystal clear,” she added. “It can never fall by the wayside.”

She tells writers that she loves “the meandering meditation on first love” as much as the next person, but “we cannot have that in a serial—that does not work.”

There has to be a compelling plot line strong enough to pull the reader from episode to episode. This might sound like a drag if you are a literary type, but Love makes it sound freeing, and you can see how her writer’s sensibility will help her to guide the creative process of potential Plympton authors.

“I think in a way it’s a constraint that’s very freeing, especially for more literary writers who have in some ways gotten away from plot,” she said. “To have the excuse to focus on a really fun, wild, compelling plot can be a very freeing experience, I think.”

“We’ll see,” she adds.

As for the reader-feedback aspect of Kindle Serials, which Amazon Publishing VP Jeff Belle has emphasized in describing the new genre, Love said she is curious what role such feedback might play in helping authors shape their writing.

Amazon is making it easy for Kindle Serials readers to post comments and questions for authors at each serial’s discussion forum. So far, the number of comments has been modest.

“It could become a big element,” she said of reader feedback. “It would be sort of exciting if it did. I’m not surprised that it hasn’t picked up yet. It’s something readers are going to have to get used to.”

She pointed out that even Charles Dickens benefited from the reaction of readers, after serialization of The Pickwick Papers had gotten off to a weak start.

“It was not until the fourth installment, where he introduced the character of Sam Weller, the very charming manservant, and people loved it,” she said. “All of a sudden everyone was loving The Pickwick Papers, and he noticed that and he changed things to have this character be more active. So he very much was influenced by reader feedback.”

Whether Kindle Serials authors will have similar experiences is just one of the plots that make the Third Layer of Publishing a story that I will be very interested to follow in the months and years ahead.

Meanwhile, if you hurry you can play a role yourself in Plympton’s future by making a pledge to their Kickstarter project to raise money for ongoing expenses, like paying the writers and editors. Supporters have already blown past the initial goal of $30,000 but the funding doesn’t end until Tuesday, October 9 at 10:15 p.m. ET.



lenKindle Nation Weekender columnist and contributing editor Len Edgerly blogs at The Kindle Chronicles, where you can hear his interview with Yael Goldstein Love in Episode 218.