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Category: ereaders

Coming very soon: Barnes & Noble's new Nook?

Nook_angrybirds
Tech journalists are gathering in New York on Monday to see new Barnes & Noble products, widely understood to be the next generation of Nook e-readers, including the first full-fledged tablet version of the Nook.

Mashable, which plans to live-blog the presentation, writes:

The event could be something of a letdown as huge amounts of detail about the tablet have already leaked. The Barnes & Noble Nook will reportedly be very similarly to the Nook Color in size and shape (7 inches and roughly a half-inch thick). It could be a bit lighter and thinner. Inside, it may offer a dual-core 1.2 GHz processor and 1 GB of RAM. These specs are notable because they potentially both outdo the recently launched Amazon Kindle Fire. It offers a 1 GHz dual-core CPU and, reportedly, 512 GB of RAM ...

The confidential Barnes & Noble presentation making the rounds also depicts an interface that is not remarkably different from the current Nook Color, but we haven’t seen color screens or enough detail to know just how much versatility Barnes & Noble has built into its new tablet. The current Nook already includes an email client. Will it also have its own proprietary Web browser (similar to what’s now in the Kindle Fire) or will it use the Android browser?

The L.A. Times Technology blog notes that in addition to new hardware, Barnes & Noble might be highlighting changes to its Nook Friends network, which allows readers to share and discuss books through their Nook device.

We'll have more after the news — whatever it is — is out from Barnes & Noble.

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Barnes & Noble gets its own e-reader

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— Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: The game Angry Birds running on a Barnes & Noble Nook Color. Credit: Barnes & Noble

Amazon's new Kindle lending program causes publishing stir

Kindleownerslendinglibrary
Amazon has made it possible for some readers to share ebooks on the Kindle, the company announced with some fanfare Thursday. The new Kindle Owners' Lending Library is available to Amazon Prime members (an annual $79 fee), turning Kindles into a member-supported private library. Amazon announced in its press release:

With an Amazon Prime membership, Kindle owners can now choose from thousands of books to borrow for free -- including over 100 current and former New York Times Bestsellers -- as frequently as a book a month, with no due dates. No other e-reader or ebookstore offers such a service.  With an annual Prime membership, the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library is included at no additional cost.  Millions of Prime members enjoy free two-day shipping,  unlimited streaming of nearly 13,000 movies and TV shows, and now thousands of books to borrow for free with a Kindle.

Amazon's move is causing consternation behind the scenes in publishing. The online retailer had approached publishers about participating in the program for a flat fee -- and many turned them down. Much to their surprise, their books appeared as part of the program anyway. The industry newsletter Publishers Marketplace wrote Thursday:

As publishers and agents have started to realize with exasperation today, a number of titles in the Kindle Lending Library program -- including some of the bestselling, prominently-promoted titles on the program's home page -- are part of this new initiative without the consent or affirmative participation of the publishers and rightsholders. Not only that, but at least some come from companies that directly turned down Amazon's initial offer over the past few months to license a broad selection of backlist for a flat fee. Multiple participants were only told by Amazon yesterday (or found out themselves this morning) that this was happening. How could such a thing be possible, many people are wondering?

Publishers Marketplace went on to explain that the books included in the program are those that were bought by Amazon under publishing's traditional wholesale-retail model. Once Amazon or any other retailer buys a book at wholesale, they can sell it for whatever price they want. The idea, of course, is that the book will be sold for the recommended retail price that comes printed on the book jacket. Most retailers sell books to readers at that marked-up retail price -- that's how bookstores make a profit -- or with some discount. But legally, it can sell a book for 1 cent, if it doesn't mind taking a loss. It can even give the book away for free.

While the terms of agreements with publishers vary -- and are undisclosed -- some of the books have been included for a flat fee. Others are wholesale titles that Amazon buys once and adds to the library. In some cases, it may compensate a publisher each time a book is borrowed from the library as if it were a sale.

"[I]t's awful for publishers and authors," writes Joe Wikert  plainly at O'Reilly Media. Why? Because a flat fee to a publisher isn't compensating authors for their individual work. He'd prefer to see a pay-for-performance model -- which some publishers, or some specific books, are apparently getting.

Amazon has not yet responded to our request for a list of publishers actively participating in the program. We also asked whether any publishers had requested that their books be removed from the Kindle Owners' Lending Library, but we have yet to receive a response.

As the story evolves, it underscores just how much Amazon can set the agenda for publishers, particularly when it comes to readers' expectations around e-books. Amazon is a retailer and has its customers' ear -- and eyes, credit card numbers, and shopping and reading habits. All publishers have are books.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image: Screenshot of the Kindle Owners' Lending Library.

Amazon offers trade-in program for old Kindles

Kindle_1014

Tired of looking at your old Kindle? Thinking you'd prefer to hold Amazon's new tablet, the Kindle Fire, in your hands instead? Well Amazon is making it easy for early Kindle adopters to trade up by offering trade-in deals for used Kindles.

That's the good news. The bad news is that the trade-in value for the first-generation Kindle, which cost $399, is just $28 bucks. Up to $28 bucks, that is — you might get less if you left coffee stains on the seat, or lost the floor mats, or whatever the equivalent of a slightly damaged used car is for an e-reader.

The trade-ins offered for used Kindles range from $28 to $135; many hover around $40 to $50. That's partly because the price of the new Kindle Fire, which is scheduled to begin shipping Nov. 15, is half that of the original Kindle — just $199. So offering bigger trade-in values would make the newest, most snazzy Kindle practically free.

Which it will be if you decide to trade in your iPad 2 in perfect condition. Amazon is offering up to $330 to those who trade in the latest generation Apple tablet. That's right, Amazon is tempting people who've already bought tablets to trade for one of theirs: the online retailer is offering trade-ins for HP Touchpads, Samsung Galaxy Tabs, Toshiba, Motorola, PanDigital, ViewSonic, Acer and Blackberry tablets too.

Amazon debuted its electronics trade-in feature in March but only began accepting Kindle trade-ins this week. "No doubt the addition of Kindles to Amazon's Trade-In store is aimed at encouraging customers to buy the $199, 7-inch Amazon Kindle Fire tablet," writes PC Magazine.

Since people who use the trade-in feature get store credit with Amazon, those who want to trade in an old Kindle don't have to buy a Kindle Fire. They could spend their $28 on anything: gourmet cat food, beach chairs or even old-fashioned print books.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: A Kindle in April 2008. Credit: Robert Nelson via Flickr

Tin House goes digital

Tinhousedigital
Tin House magazine has gone electronic -- its issue called the Ecstatic can be downloaded via iTunes or Amazon for $10. The Ecstatic includes work by Kelly Link, Meghan O'Rourke and Matthew Zapruder. The quarterly literary journal promises it has translated its print design to tablet e-readers.

Other magazines, such as Wired and the New Yorker, have already taken the electronic plunge, of course. But some are still finding their way -- Vanity Fair has tried its hand at doing digital singles for the Kindle and Nook, like Keith Gessen's behind-the-publishing-scenes piece, "How a Book Is Born."

But not all literary magazines have made the plunge. So far, the Paris Review remains an avowedly print publication.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image: Tin House magazine

Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet, new e-readers target low-cost market

Newkindles2011
When Amazon gathered technology and publishing journalists for a press conference in New York on Wednesday, there was a buzz of excitement. The online bookseller was ready to debut its long-rumored tablet, the Kindle Fire.

The product itself wasn't all that exciting: it's a lot like the iPad, in that it can play movies and music. It retains its bookish roots by storing media on virtual shelves (pictured, right). The real news about the Kindle Fire is its bargain-basement price: $199.

That was the upshot of all the devices Amazon's Jeff Bezos presented: familiar, but cheaper.

$79 Kindle: Like the established and popular Kindle, but lighter and without the keyboard across the bottom (photo, at left).

$99 Kindle Touch: Like the Nook or Kobo, control of the Kindle touch is on the screen. It's an e-reader only, and, for a few dollars more, can be ad-free ($139) and connect with 3G ($159). See our Technology Blog for more info.

$199 Kindle Fire: A full-color multimedia tablet. Some say it's positioned to be an iPad killer; others say its low price will crash the rest of the tablet market. See our Technology Blog's report on the Kindle Fire.

The tactic Amazon seems to be taking is creating its own versions of established products and selling them for irresistibly low prices.

Amazon wasn't the first to introduce an e-reader, but when it debuted its e-ink Kindle in 2007, it became the market leader. That first Kindle, with fewer features, retailed for $400; Kindles this Christmas season will cost less than a fourth of that.

The products that its new e-readers are positioned to compete with are Barnes & Noble's Nook and the Kobo, both of which already have touchscreen editions. Amazon’s Kindle Touch undercuts the Kobo’s price by $30 and the e-ink Nook’s by $40; will those prices come down to compete? Amazon, with its go-to storefront and broad customer base, seems ready and able to shoulder aside its e-book competitors.

Can Amazon's tablet be an iPad killer? The price sure makes it attractive -- you can get two Amazon tablets for the price of one Apple iPad and have $100 left over for some e-books. Or maybe for movies instead.

Amazon may be setting its sights on the increasingly vulnerable Netflix as a provider of streaming filmed entertainment. Amazon, which launched Amazon Prime Instant viewing in February, signed a deal this summer to stream CBS content and announced a partnership with Fox to stream 6,000 more titles. As long as you’re accessing material in Amazon’s cloud, the new Kindle Fire can know where you left off watching that episode of “Arrested Development” on your TV and pick up from there.

The easy access to content -- and familiarity with Amazon as a retailer -- may give the Kindle Fire an edge when it comes to entering the tablet market. Other Android tablets have struggled to find a foothold against Apple, including HP's Touchpad and Blackberry's PlayBook.

Another edge will be the price. The PlayBook and Touchpad set their retail price at around $500; the Blackberry reportedly cost more than $300 to manufacture. Amazon has said it is losing money on the Kindle Fire devices; $199 is priced to sell.

But sometimes a bargain just feels cheap. Take the new Kindle advertisement -- it's after the jump.

Continue reading »

Ikea is changing its long-lived Billy bookshelf. Is print dead?

Ikea's Billy bookshelves Ikea will make changes to its low-cost, high-volume Billy bookshelf this fall. And to some, that means books are dying.

In other news, Ikea may introduce a newly shaped bath mat, proving that baths will never be same ... or not.

Ikea's Billy bookshelf, which can already be adorned with glass doors, will be deeper beginning in October. And the Economist says that's because nobody has books anymore.

The firm reckons customers will increasingly use them for ornaments, tchotchkes and the odd coffee-table tome—anything, that is, except books that are actually read.

When the article appeared late Friday, people were excited to jump on the bandwagon. Time magazine wrote:

It's clear the book world is well into its digital transition. While IKEA won't face financial trouble simply because people aren't buying bookshelves to store books, they're more than wise to keep up with buyers' trends. They've realized we don't need fixed shelves 12 inches high and 9 inches deep.

That might be true, but it doesn't describe the Billy bookshelves, which have adjustable shelves, not fixed, and are about 10.5 inches deep, after the shelves are assembled.

I admit, they could be deeper. Some books, like my 2002 Snickersee Press edition of Ben Hech's "Art & Architecture on 1001 Afternoons in Chicago" sticks out past the edge of the shelf. I've sometimes arranged the books so it doesn't wind up at a smack-guests-in-the-face level. Even so, I don't plan on replacing it with an electronic version anytime soon.

The advent of electronic books does not have to mean the end of printed books. When the death of print comes, it will be heralded not by more accommodating bookshelves, but by Ikea ditching its Billy entirely for a wildly-efficient, hard-to-assemble, wall-mounted Kindle holder.

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The hypothetical Amazon tablet with take over the universe

Round couch with surround shelves

A gallery of uber-modern bookcases

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Ikea Billy bookshelves in action. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg

The hypothetical Amazon tablet will take over the universe

Jeffbezos_kindleannounce
A tablet-style e-reader from Amazon, the company behind the Kindle, would be immensely popular -- to the tune of 3 million to 5 million tablets sold in the last three months of 2011 alone -- if sold for under $300, "assuming it has enough supply to meet demand," Forrester Research wrote Monday.

In addition to serving as an e-reader, the hypothetical Amazon tablet would be able to change diapers, trim trees, mix up a mean gazpacho and, when necessary, defend its owner with a double-barreled shotgun.

Just kidding. It can't do any of those things.

How can just another tablet -- one that Amazon has not confirmed even exists -- prompt such an optimistic, multimillion-sales forecast? Earlier this month, the crowded tablet market forced Hewlett-Packard to pull the plug on its tablet. When HP Touchpad price tags were subsequently marked down to the very cheap $99, they sold out fast.

Forrester projects a low price point for Amazon's hypothetical tablet because of "Amazon's willingness to sell hardware at a loss." Forrester Research, it's worth noting, has maintained since April 2010 that "Amazon's product strategists should 'go head to head' with Apple and create its own tablet." As for the projected 2011 tablet, Forrester writes that a low price, "combined with the strength of its brand, content, cloud infrastructure, and commerce assets makes it the only credible iPad competitor in the market." 

Put that way, it sounds revolutionary. But put another and it might sound familiar: It's like the Nook.

Barnes & Noble, like Amazon, has a strong brand and e-reading content. Its commerce assets aren't only online but include actual brick-and-mortar stores. Its Nook Color tablet has a 7-inch color touch-screen, 8 gigabytes of storage and a stripped-down version of Google's Android operating system. It costs $249.

What Amazon was able to do more than any other company was convince readers to adopt an e-reading device. There were e-readers before Amazon introduced the Kindle in 2007, but none caught on with readers to the extent the Kindle has.

That's exactly what Apple did with its iPad and the tablet market. Is there space for Amazon's imaginary tablet -- a space big enough to sell 3 million to 5 million before the end of 2011?

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Jeff Bezos announces Amazon's Kindle in November 2007. Credit: Mark Lennihan / Associated Press Photos

Kathryn Stockett and Janet Evanovich become Kindle million-sellers

Thehelp_smokin
Kathryn Stockett, author of "The Help," and Janet Evanovich, known for her popular mystery series, have both joined the Kindle million-seller club, Amazon announced Tuesday.

The Kindle million-seller club are those authors whose books have sold more than 1 million Kindle e-book copies.

So far, it's a pretty small club. Steig Larsson was the first to cross the 1-million Kindle ebook mark first, followed by thriller-writer James Patterson and romance maven Nora Roberts. Then came Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse books, which are the basis for the HBO vampire series "True Blood." Lee Child, Suzanne Collins and Michael Connelly are also million-sellers. Independent author John Locke was the first to become a Kindle million-seller without the support of a major publisher.

For Stockett, joining the Kindle million-seller club means just one thing: "The Help" has sold that many Kindle ebooks. It's her only book -- Stockett had a hard time finding a publisher -- and it has been a long-lived bestseller in both hardcover and paperback. Last week, the film adaptation was released; the movie came in second at the box office over the weekend and, apparently, sparked the interest of Kindle owners who hadn't yet purchased the book.

Evanovich has many more books behind her: The Stephanie Plum novels are numbered -- "One for the Money, " "Two for the Dough," up to "Smokin' Seventeen," and she's written a number of other books, too. It may make for a difficult schedule for a writer to be wrapped up in a popular series, publishing a book a year or more, but it also makes for a big body of popular work. That's what's helped Lee Child and James Patterson make the million-seller list: a deep backlist of books readers want to have on the Kindle, books they might have missed the first time around or have in another format.

Notably absent from the Kindle million-seller club is Stephenie Meyer. The "Twilight" author was among the first five authors to reach 500,000 Kindle ebook sales last July, but the other authors have continued on to sell more than 1 million, while she has not. At least, not yet.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

 

Kindle Cloud Reader: The latest from Amazon

Kindlecloud
The Kindle Cloud Reader was announced by Amazon on Wednesday, the latest move from the online bookseller to own the e-reader market.

The Kindle Cloud Reader does just what it says: It allows users to read Kindle e-books that are stored in the cloud, rather than being downloaded, using a Web browser. It works with Google Chrome and Apple's Safari but is not yet available for Firefox, Windows or BlackBerry.

Kindle users will see a library of the books they have purchased or downloaded for free. Reading can be synced across devices so readers know exactly where they are in an e-book whether they're on the Kindle, their desktop or an iPad.

Although Amazon is calling its Cloud Reader an app, it isn't something you can buy in Apple's app store. In fact, after downloading it to your iPad or Apple laptop using the Safari Web browser, it allows you to go to Amazon's online Kindle store.

This allows Amazon to offer Kindle e-book customers using Apple products an alternative to its current in-app purchase option, which is subject to fees imposed by Apple. "To make it easy and seamless to discover new books, we've added an integrated, touch optimized store directly into Cloud Reader," said Dorothy Nicholls, director of Amazon Kindle, in a press release.

Are you a Kindle user? Will you use the Kindle Cloud Reader?

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

 

The Reading Life: The New Yorker's grand old game

Yankees_redsox_aug2011
This is part of the occasional series "The Reading Life" by book critic David L. Ulin.

Over the weekend, as the Yankees-Red Sox series at Fenway Park became increasingly excruciating, I found myself turning off the TV and picking up my iPad, where I had downloaded a digital-only collection of baseball writings, "At the Ballpark," via the New Yorker's app.

Featuring an introduction by Adam Gopnik, "At the Ballpark" showcases 13 pieces, as well as a suite of comics, spanning the nearly nine decades of the magazine's life.

Among the most striking is "The Little Heine," Niven Busch Jr.'s 1929 profile of Lou Gehrig -- not because it is particularly incisive (it isn't), but because of the easy way it recycles all the cliches about Gehrig's relationship with his mother, or, for that matter, with Babe Ruth, proving that even the New Yorker was once susceptible to the most sentimental of baseball myths.

It felt fitting to read "At the Ballpark" during a Yankees-Red Sox series, since eight of the 13 pieces here deal with one or the other of the two teams. Of these, the two finest fall to Boston: John Updike's epic "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu," about Ted Williams' final game at Fenway ("Gods do not answer letters," Updike tells us, by way of explaining Williams' legendary diffidence), and Ben McGrath's "Waiting for Manny," a portrait of Manny Ramirez as a gifted headcase, in the twilight of his Red Sox run.

Here's McGrath on Manny:

According to lore, Ramirez has, or had, two Social Security numbers and five active driver's licenses -- none of which he managed to present to the officer who pulled him over in 1997 for driving with illegally tinted windows and the stereo blasting at earsplitting volume. "The cop knew who he was," as Sheldon Ocker, the Indians beat reporter for the Akron Beacon Journal, tells it. "He said, 'Manny, I'm going to give you a ticket.' Manny says, 'I don't need tickets, I can give you tickets,' and reaches for the glove compartment. Then he leaves the scene by making an illegal U-turn and he gets another ticket.

It's a great story, although for all its charms, not the best thing in the collection. That title goes to "Distance," Roger Angell's 1980 portrait of Bob Gibson, written five years after the St. Louis Cardinals' ace retired.

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