Nothing to See Here

My Kindle Voyage arrived last night so I was playing with that instead of blogging. Admittedly it’s expensive but holy hell is it a wonderful reading device. The screen is really nice (at least compared to my first generation touch screen Kindle) and the back light doesn’t interfere with the e-paper legibility. Did I mention the return of the page flip buttons? I missed those and am glad they’re back. If you read a lot I highly recommend this thing.

Since Goodreads is integrated with the Voyage I created an account. If you want to know what I’m reading and what I’ve read you can follow me here (hint: it’s almost all science fiction and history).

The Death of Barnes and Noble

Recent news regarding the leadership decisions taking place in Barnes and Nobel leads me to believe that the chain is now officially dead:

For the last several years there’s been a battle for Barnes & Noble’s soul. In one corner stood 72-year-old chairman and founder Leonard Riggio. A legend in retail, Riggio has been fighting to keep the chain focused on stores rather than jumping into the e-reader tablet wars.

Though he still owns 30% of the company’s stock, Riggio had been pushed to the side strategically in favor of former computer hardware executive and now-ex CEO William Lynch. It was Lynch who drove the company’s costly expansion into handheld Nook readers.

Last night Riggio emerged victorious when Barnes & Noble announced Lynch’s immediate resignation. Overnight Riggio went from figurehead Chairman to unquestioned king. All other executives at Barnes & Noble will now report directly to him and the company says it has no immediate plans to find a new CEO to replace Lynch.

The final nail in Lynch’s coffin was in late June when Barnes & Noble reported a staggering $477 million loss on Nooks and announced that it would be outsourcing the manufacturing of future e-readers. As discussed on Breakout at the time, the Nook debacle strengthened the hand of Barnes & Noble’s founder Leonard Riggio and his push to keep the company focused on the chain’s 675 stores.

History has not been kind to companies that try to maintain the old way of doing things when a new way has established itself. Buggy manufacturers didn’t do so well when automobiles began permeating society, business for typewriter manufacturers didn’t boom after the introduction of affordable personal computers, and traditional bookstores aren’t going to find their coffers filled with cash now that e-books have become popular.

While Barnes and Noble’s Nook division hasn’t been bringing the company profits the correct response isn’t to shift the company towards a dying model. Sure, losses will go down in the immediacy but as time goes on and Barnes and Noble focuses on heavy, space consuming dead tree books the company will become less and less relevant. But in the long run Barnes and Nobel will become irrelevant if it attempts to continue its old model.

We’re at the beginning of a new era where the cost of personal electronics has decreased to a point where it is viable to replace physical books with electronic books and e-readers. Trying to prop up the old model is a recipe for irrelevancy. Those wanting physical books will become a small minority that won’t be capable of maintaining Barnes and Noble’s currently large presence.

Digitizing Books for Fun and Preservation

With the introduction of e-readers such as the Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Nobel Nook e-books have finally gained a foothold. In fact it’s been almost one and a half year since Amazon announced that they sold more e-books than hardcover books. It’s easy to see why e-books have taken off, it’s far more convenient to have every book you own on a single device instead of lugging around a handful of books wherever you go. Unfortunately there are some books that still aren’t in electronic format, many of which are very rare. For example, I have a copy of The Black Flag of Anarchy Corinne Jacker. It’s a very interesting title that covers anarchism in the United States but, as far as I can see, no electronic copy exists and no electronic copy is likely to be made. That is, at least, until I follow these instructions for building a do-it-yourself book scanners:

Daniel Reetz, founder of, had been making kits available for those looking to build their own device. Finding a need for a scanner himself, Reetz built his first book scanner from the trash he found from dumpster diving. He created an Instructable to share his experiences and discovered a diverse group of individuals who also had the need for a book scanner. The group ranged from a man from Indonesia hoping to preserve books from flood damage to a group of engineers looking for a new and interesting project to spark their interests. The DIY Book Scanner had modest beginnings, but over a period of two years it evolved into a movement of individuals using readily available resources to create solutions.

The article primarily discusses the trials and tribulations faced by the ArsTechnica writers who built one of the do-it-yourself scanners. It’s not easy but it is possible and the technology is guarantee to improve and become more accessible. Digitizing books is the most effective way to make rare titles available for everybody’s enjoyment and is currently the most effective way of preventing such titles from disappearing entirely. It is my hope that every piece of written literature will someday be available in electronic format.

Kindle Touch 5.1.0 Firmware Released

Yes, I’m still madly in love with my Kindle. While I never actually got around to typing up a review of the Kindle Touch I can say it’s a great device with only a handful of caveats. One of the features that was removed from the Kindle Touch that was present in all previous models was landscape mode. Honestly, I never used it so I didn’t miss it but Amazon has finally added the feature back into the Kindle Touch in the new 5.1.0 firmware update:

  • Language Support: Customize your Kindle Touch with the language you prefer: English (US and UK), German, French, Spanish, Italian, or Brazilian Portuguese.
  • Landscape Mode: Switch between portrait and landscape orientation in books and PDFs to read maps, graphs, and tables more easily.
  • Instant Translations: Tap any word or highlight a section to instantly translate into other languages, including Spanish, Japanese, and more. Translations by Bing Translator.
  • Kindle Format 8: Formatting and layout improvements make Kindle books look even better.
  • Wi-Fi Enhancements: Connect your Kindle Touch to Wi-Fi with WPS and select WPA2 Enterprise networks.
  • Read-to-Me With Text-to-Speech: Have your Kindle Touch read English-language content out loud to you, now including summaries of newspaper and magazine articles when available from the publisher.
  • More Sharing Options: Tell others what you’re reading on Facebook or Twitter from anywhere within a book — just tap to share a link along with your comments.
  • Onscreen Keyboard Suggestions: Search and shop faster with automatic word suggestions as you type.

Landscape mode is accessibly in the menu, although I wish they would have placed it on the bottom menu bar that appears when you tap the menu button for consistency. Beyond the above mentioned changes the home screen has been updated a bit. The font used to display boots and collections appears to have changed a bit and the top now had three new combo boxes; one for filtering content that appears on the home screen, one for selecting how content on the home screen is sorted, and one for quickly jumping to a desired page on your home screen. Overall the home screen update is minor but welcomed.

The predictive text is a nice touch as well but I don’t type very often on my Kindle Touch so it’s really just a minor update for me. I will also have to play with the supposed WPA2 enterprise update just to fulfill my curiosity. Beyond those updates I doubt I’ll utilize any of the other new features, I mostly use my Kindle to read books and that’s really it.

Baen Books Demonstrates How to Win

When I finished reading Robert Buettner’s Oprah series I couldn’t wait for his next works to come out. Eventually Overkill was released but no Kindle format was to be found, leaving me wanting (an e-book version).

Some time ago I learned that the e-book version of Overkill was available on Baen Books and I have to way they’re working hard on winning. Namely when you buy an e-book from Baen you can download it in any DRM-free format your heart desires (at the time of this writing Overkill is made available in Mobi, ePub, HTML, Microsoft Reader, Sony Reader, rich text format, and some obscure format I’ve never heard of called Rocket). You read correctly, DRM-free.

I don’t know how a publisher could do much better. Obviously I grabbed the Mobi format so I could read it on my Kindle but I also grabbed the ePub format just to test it out (works fine as expected). More publishers need to learn from Baen’s example, hand me DRM-free files and I’ll love you forever.

One Major Kindle Headache

While I absolutely love the Kindle there is one improvement I would like to see, a way of copy and pasting a WPA key. I’m a little over the top when it comes to computer security so you know I’m one of those weirdos who uses a 63-character gibberish string for my WPA key. Needless to say this is a huge pain in the ass to enter when I want to attach my Kindle to my wireless network. With my iPhone and iPad I can simply e-mail the key to myself (as I run my own e-mail server the e-mail goes from my system to my system and thus never leaves my control), copy the key from the e-mail, and paste it in the wireless configuration screen on the device.

I wish Amazon would put in an easy workaround such as letting the user drop a plain text file containing their key in the root directory of the device. Anything would be better than having to enter in 63-characters of gibberish. With all of that said it is much easier to type in the key with the new touch screen Kindle than it was with the old Kindles.

Besides that the Kindle Touch is pretty awesome. I’ll eventually get a full review of the device up that better expresses my thoughts.

A Primer on Cost

One of the common complaints about e-book readers is that the books are too expensive. These complaints usually bring up the fact that e-books should be much cheaper than physical books because you don’t have various costs such as printing, shipping, and storage to deal with. While those facts are true there is one economic fact that everybody seems to forget, cost of production has nothing to do with the sale price of a good:

Consumers set prices based on their preferences. It doesn’t matter what a book costs; what matters is what a reader will pay for it. Likewise, consumers in the Western world determine the prices — not by haggling — but by buying or not buying.

The fact is we set the cost of goods by buying or not buying them at asked prices. Hewlett-Packard’s TouchPad wasn’t selling at all when the price was set equal to the iPad but started selling like hotcakes when the price was reduces to $99.00. Obviously somewhere between the price of an iPad and $99.00 lies a price people are willing to pay for the device. Firearms are anther good that demonstrate the cost of production has nothing to do with the price people are willing to pay. Heckler and Koch make extremely expensive firearms that are functionally no more reliable than other similar firearms on the market yet people are willing to pay their higher asking price. Well I’m not willing to pay their price but that gets us into the fact that different people value different things:

There is no necessary and direct connection between the value of a good and whether, or in what quantities, labor and other goods of higher order were applied to its production.… Whether a diamond was found accidentally or was obtained from a diamond pit with the employment of a thousand days of labor is completely irrelevant for its value.

Value is subjective and different from person to person. While I find the additional cost of an Apple computer acceptable for what they are many are not. I find the higher cost of certain beers well worth every penny while others who are fine with Budweiser value the cost of beer different.

While I would love to see e-book prices drop I know they won’t be doing so any time in the near future. The sale of e-books has exploded suggesting that people are fine with their cost often being similar to a hardcover or paperback version of the same title:

Book sales for all of last year rose 3.6 percent, from $11.25 billion in 2009 to $11.67 billion in 2010. But e-book sales rose a stunning 164.4 percent ($441.3 million vs. $166.9 million) and downloaded audiobook sales increased 38.8 percent, while physical audiobook sales decreased 6.3 percent.

A 164.4 percent increase in e-book sales would indicate that the price is currently set at a level acceptable to most consumers. When you complain that something is too expensive remember that you can vote with your wallet and simply not buy that product. If enough people follow you then the producer will have to reduce the price or face bankruptcy (unless the government bails them out). This ability to negotiate with your money is one of the greatest aspect of the free market. I only wish I could do the same with government services.

New Kindles Released

Yesterday Amazon had their Kindle event where they released their expected tablet device along with two other e-ink based Kindles.

There are now three tiers to the Kindle line starting with the cheapest device simply referred to as the Kindle. Although the price starts at $79.00 that includes advertisements being sent to and displayed on the device. Unlike most websites with advertisements the Kindle’s ads appear to be unobtrusive although I would still pay the extra $30.00 to have an ad-free device. This device should really be considered a dedicated reader as it lacks a hardware keyboard and instead relies on an on-screen keyboard where you use the four-way navigation button on the unit to highlight and select keys individually. So long as you don’t type notes on your Kindle very often this probably shouldn’t act as too much of a deterrent. If you really want a keyboard the previous Kindle can still be had for $99.00 if you’re OK with ads and $139.00 if you want an ad-free experience.

The next tier in the Kindle line is the new touch-screen equipped Kindle Touch. Like the previous Kindle the Kindle Touch comes in two variaties; Wi-Fi only and Wi-Fi with free lifetime 3G. The Wi-Fi only Kindle Touch runs $99.00 for the ad-supported version and $139.00 for the ad-free version. The 3G equipped unit starts at $149.00 for the ad-supported version and $189.00 for the ad-free version. When the Nook Touch came out and I was able to get some hands on time with it I said Amazon would be guaranteed to have some of my money if they ever came out with a touch-screen enabled Kindle. Well they did and Amazon now has $189.00 of my money as I pre-ordered the ad-free 3G version of the Kindle Touch the second it became available for pre-order on Amazon’s website. Sadly I have to wait until November 21st for the unit to ship.

Finally Amazon surprised nobody with the announcement of their new tablet, the Kindle Fire. The Fire will set you back $199.00 (period, there is no ad-supported version) which is pretty reasonable considering the price of most tablets currently on the market. For that $199.00 you will get a Wi-Fi equipped tablet device with a 7″ screen, dual-core processor, and 8GB of on-board storage. While 8GB of on-board storage seems small you also get free cloud storage of all Amazon content which includes both music and movies offered by the retailer. Another thing that you get is access to the Amazon App Store which is really just Amazon’s own version of the Android App Market. Yes the Fire is an Android tablet but you’d never know that by looking at the interface as that has been completely customized by Amazon. While I will reserved judgement until I actually get to play with the unit I will say at first glance this looks to be the first real competitor to Apple’s iPad.

Overall I must say that Amazon continues to find new and inventive ways to get my money. I wish Amazon would put native ePub support on their readers so I wouldn’t have to use Caliber to convert titles in that format to Mobi, that is a very minor issue. It’s great to see competition in the e-reader market as well. Even though Amazon kickstarted the e-reader market with the first Kindle, Barnes and Noble has been doing a great job at releasing competitive products. When the free market is allowed to work the real winners end up being consumers.

Borders Bookstores Looking to Liquidate Their Assets

Well it seems that Borders was unable to find a sucker to buy their dying business model and are looking to start liquidating their assets as soon as Friday. I’m a man who loves bookstores but feel no sympathy for Borders and really could care less that they’re going away. Borders is a classic example of a company that has failed to evolve with the changing times and thus it’s time for them to go away (unless the government gives them a bailout or some such nonsense).

In the era of e-readers less people are buying physical books because it’s inconvenient. In order to get a physical book you must either go to the book store or order it online, have a place to store it, move it around when you’re cleaning or moving, etc. With an e-book you simply tell your software to purchase and download the book and you’re reading it in less than a minute in most cases. An additional advantage is the fact that you can take your entire e-book library with you wherever you go whereas you’re limited to the number of physical books you can take due to their size and weight. The bottom line is e-books have a lot of advantages whereas physical books have few (they can still sit on your shelf so when your friends see them you can feel all superior because you read “better books.”).

Barnes and Nobel was smart and jumped onto the e-reader bandwagon pretty early. Their first and second entry into the e-reader market were not to my liking but the new Nook is an amazing piece of hardware. In addition to jumping on the e-reader bandwagon Barnes and Nobel was also smart by trying to add value to their stories in the form of coffee shops and free wireless Internet access. Although I wouldn’t say Barnes and Nobel stores are out of the woods I do believe they’re on the right track to maintaining relevance in the age of advancing technology.

Borders was fucked the second they decided to ignore the e-book market. They signed their own death warrant in the form of trying to maintain a dying business model even after it was apparent that they were facing bankruptcy. On top of that I don’t remember ever walking into a Borders and actually finding a book I was looking for. Barnes and Nobel stores usually have pretty nice science fiction and history sections whereas the I find the same sections at Borders to leave me wanting. I’d just pass this off as me having esoteric tastes but I hear the same arguments from many people I talk to who are into completely different genres.

Much like buggy whip manufactures of days gone past the days of general bookstores is going away. There is still a market for niche bookstores that maintain titles that aren’t easily found elsewhere but it’s a niche. Now the book market belongs to e-readers and online retailers. When people want to order a physical book they usually do it online nowadays because it generally saves a butt load of money (I almost always find the price for a physical book on Amazon is noticeably less than at Barnes and Noble).

So long Borders. Part of me wishes to mourn the loss of a bookstore but you never really served a need in my life. Should Barnes and Noble go away I’ll mourn as their stores have provided me with many titles but Borders never had what I wanted so there isn’t even sentimental loss in their departure from the market.