Would you like an e-book to go with your print book?

By John Yunker,

I can’t say I’ve ever purchased both a print and digital version of the same book.

But I’ve certainly heard from people who have — and have long yearned for the day when you could get digital and print books bundled together in a reasonably priced package.

In October, for Amazon customers, this day will arrive.

Amazon calls the program Kindle Matchbook, which is an odd title. I keep envisioning Kindling and Matches, which can’t be the intended visual.

You can read the press release here.

In short, Amazon will allow publishers and authors to offer anyone who purchased the print edition of their book a discounted (or free) version of the e-book.  Amazon will cap this additional e-book price at $2.99, and I know publishers will be experimenting with free e-books as a way to spur additional print book sales.

Harper Collins is on board with the program so far, though I’ve read very mixed feedback so far to the program.

Some people like it. Some don’t.

As for us, we’re up for giving it a shot. It will be very interesting to see just how many people want both print and digital versions of books.

Our authors have the option to participate in this service, and most are eager to try it out.

This is a smart move for Amazon, and it will further reinforce the relationships they have built with their customers.

An easy way to move files from your Mac (or PC) to your Kindle

By John Yunker,

When I tried out the Kindle Fire, the first thought that occurred to me was How do I easily get documents onto it?

Of course, any book, song, or movie I purchase from Amazon is automatically downloaded to the Kindle — and made available to my Kindle app on my iPad and Mac.

But what about PDF files or Kindle books that I’ve downloaded or made elsewhere, like Gutenberg.org?

I still use my (now ancient) second-generation Kindle, which shipped with a USB cable that allowed me to drag files over. That’s the old way of doing things.

The Kindle Fire doesn’t even ship with a USB cable.

These days, we have the cloud — that disk drive on the Internet somewhere that will hold all of your documents, songs, and other digital detritus.

But the cloud doesn’t always make things easier. If anything, I find that people are really confused about  managing all these Kindle devices, apps, and clouds.

So Amazon wisely created a simple application, simply named Send to Kindle, that allows you to virtually drag files to your Kindle. There is a PC version here.

Here’s what it looks like when you open it:

Pretty simple — you just drag a file onto it and it then displays a window like the following:

I just used a test document. What’s interesting is that it gives you a choice of Wi-Fi transfer (which means your device is on the same network as your Mac) or Amazon’s “Whispernet” network — which Amazon charges for. I’m cheap, so I opt for Wi-Fi. And as you can see here, the app has discovered my iPad (which has the Kindle app installed on it). If I had multiple devices and Kindles on this network, you would see those as well.

In this example, I’m transferring a PDF file, but I could also transfer a Word document, raw text document, or another .Mobi (Kindle) book.

The file is also automatically saved in my Kindle library — which lives up in Kindle’s cloud. If I were to click the “Manage your Kindle” link I would be taken to my Kindle library web page, where I can see everything in the library.

So far, I’ve used the app several times, and it works as advertised.


Dark clouds (with a silver lining): Predicting the year ahead in publishing

By John Yunker,

When the CEO of one of the world’s largest publishing houses says he sees dark clouds ahead in 2012, this is big news.

It’s big news not so much because there are dark clouds on the horizon, but because a CEO is saying so.

That is, I believe he is preparing his employees for major structural changes in 2012.

And I’m not just talking about staff reductions, though I’m sure those are coming as well. Cost cutting alone is never the solution when an industry is being disrupted.

Reinvention is the only solution in times like these.

So what does all this reinvention mean?

I have a few thoughts, which I’ll translate into predictions for 2012:

1. Big publishers will stop accepting free returns from booksellers

For years, booksellers have been free to return any unsold books to the publisher, often for a full refund (or full credit). This is a practice that’s unheard of in almost all other retail businesses, and it really hurts publishers. Shipping books back and forth alone is expensive, and small publishers (like us) have been forced to not take returns (except for special circumstances, such as author readings). This industry-wide no-return policy has hurt us because booksellers are used to the no-risk policy supported by larger publishers. Yet I believe that even the large publishers are going to start testing the waters with booksellers in 2012, trying to move away from this practice. This is just not a sustainable practice for either party. Booksellers will naturally be forced to order fewer books and to only order those books they truly believe in, but I think this will ultimately be a good thing; hand-selling books that an employee believes in is what good bookselling is all about. Naturally, I’m a little biased as both an author and publisher: Changing these policies will give authors a more realistic view of sales (i.e., no more huge sales numbers, only to be reduced once the returns come in), and it will level the playing field for all of the small presses.

2. Booksellers will reinvent themselves as cultural curators, publishers, community centers, and gift shops (or all of the above).

I don’t want to live in a world with no local bookstores. And I do not believe that Amazon will win and all local bookstores will lose. I don’t believe this because I’ve already seen signs of bookstores reinventing themselves. Many already sell a mix of new and used books, as well as gifts and locally curated art. A few small stores are also becoming local publishers (many indie bookstores with Espresso Book Machines, such as Vermont’s Northshire Bookstore, run small publishing imprints). And a few others are becoming non-profit cooperatives. I’m also optimistic that we’ll see bookstores begin to embrace books from small publishers again. Booksellers need to embrace their role as cultural curators, separating the great books from the awful books instead of just taking co-op funds from large publishers and promoting the same books as Costco. To survive and thrive, booksellers need to stand apart.

3. Big publishers will take fewer chances on new authors.

Based on what we’re hearing from authors who submit to us, it’s brutal out there. Big publishers are cutting back on new authors and putting more money behind fewer authors — and this is great news for us: The quality of the work we’re seeing is amazing. Truly. And, honestly, it makes sense for the large publishers to put more resources behind their established authors. After all, bestselling authors are now being tempted into self-publishing, and the large publishers need to create compelling reasons for them not to jump ship.

4. Small publishers will take a lead in publishing books that matter

This is hardly much of a prediction, as it has already happened. Look at the nominees and winners of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. We’re talking small presses. But the bad news is the university presses are being hit hard as universities cut budgets.

As a small publisher, we’re well positioned for 2012 because we’re small and we’re focused. We’re building a brand centered around “books with a world view” and “eco-lit,” and we’re embracing technology. That doesn’t mean we won’t be in for a bumpy ride as well. But where others see dark clouds, we see a silver lining.

PS:  Publishing guru Mike Shatskin has a great blog post on this as well.

The Kindle Fire is a great deal as tablets go, but I’m sticking with the old Kindle

By John Yunker,

I like the Kindle Fire.

Though many tech gurus have criticized it for not living up to the Apple iPad (and it doesn’t), the Kindle Fire is an incredible deal at $199.

I played around with the Fire for a bit. And despite the name (Fire? Really?) the device didn’t feel cheap at all, as many said. Though it’s not as user friendly as the iPad, I had no trouble figuring out how to use it. The color screen is a welcome sight if you love full-color books. And the fact that you can start watching movies right away thanks to a one-month free trial of Amazon Prime is no trivial feature. And within a minute of starting up the device, I had all my previous Kindle purchases synced over to this device. Very nifty.

That said, I’m happy to stick with the old-fashioned black-and-white Kindle.

The reason for this is that I already have an iPad.

Right now, the original Kindle and iPad complement one another nicely. The Kindle is lightweight and does one thing extremely well. The iPad is heavy but does everything else extremely well.

And the old Kindle has buttons. I got used to the buttons for zipping through books, and I’m not ready to give them up for an all-touch screen just yet.

The Kindle Fire falls somewhere in between the old Kindle and the iPad, which appears to be a nice place to be given that the the device is projected to sell 5 million units this year and is outselling the iPad at Best Buy.



Making sense of the Amazon Kindle Cloud Reader

By John Yunker,

One of the many reasons for Amazon’s success with the Kindle has been the fact that you can buy a book for the Kindle but read it on many different devices, such as the Android, iPad, and iPhone. All you need to do is download apps for these devices and log in to your account.

But what if you don’t have one of these devices? What if you just want to read your book on your old-fashioned computer screen using your web browser?

Amazon has a solution for that as well — the Cloud Reader.

Using Chrome or Safari (Mac or PC) go to http://read.amazon.com.

You’ll first see this intro screen:

You’ll notice that this intro screen stresses that the Cloud Reader is optimized for the iPad, which might seem peculiar since Amazon also offers a Kindle App for the iPad. There’s a reason for this, which I’ll explain in a moment. But let’s just focus on your PC web browser first, as there are two points worth highlighting.

Once you click the “get started” button, you’ll be notified that the Cloud Reader works offline as well. This is a very cool feature and means that your browser will cache copies of your books onto your computer so you don’t need an Internet connection to read them. And, yes, this also works on the iPad.

After you click through this screen, you’ll be asked to log in — and then you’ll see the books that you’ve purchased:

These books are synced to your Kindle and any device-specific Kindle apps. So if you read to page 100 on a book here and switch to your iPad app, you can pick up at page 100. Another great feature.

Making sense of Web Apps vs. Native Apps

What Amazon is doing here with the Cloud Reader isn’t just a generous gesture for those folks out there who want to read on their PCs. The purpose of the Cloud Reader is to bypass Apple’s app store. But before I get into that, I want to explain the difference between a web app and a native app.

A web app is like a web site. It’s anything that you access via your web browser, like the Cloud Reader. A native app, on the other hand, is anything that is device-specific, like an app purchased over the Apple App store or Google’s Android store. These are applications developed specifically for a device. Native apps are generally considered superior to web apps because they open faster and can take advantage of all the benefits of the device’s operating system. Web apps, because they live in a web browser, just don’t feel as responsive overall — though this “offline” reading feature of the Cloud Reader marks one bold attempt to change that.

Finally, I should note that people LOVE apps, particularly if they’re free. And there’s something to be said for having an icon on your iPhone that you can access with one click (rather than inputting a long URL). I’m not sure that most people know that they can bookmark web apps on their iPhones and iPads to create “app like” icons on their home screens.

So for now, users prefer native apps to web apps.

Which brings me back to Amazon. If users prefer native apps, and Amazon already offers a native Kindle app, why did Amazon go to the trouble of launching a web app?

Because six months ago, Apple changed the way it operates its app store. It told Amazon and others that if you were going to have a link in your app to your store, you’d have to give Apple 30% of any revenues from any sales that comes through people clicking on that link.

So what did Amazon do? It removed the Kindle store link from its native Kindle app.

But if you go to the Cloud Reader web app, you’ll see, in the upper right corner, a link to the Kindle store.

Which brings me back to the iPad. Let’s say you’ve been happily using the Kindle app for the iPad, and you recently noticed that the Kindle store button went missing. Well, now you can get it back by going to your web browser and navigating to the Cloud Reader.

The experience isn’t as good as the native app, but it’s not bad.

And I’ll give Amazon a great deal of credit for trying to maintain a positive user experience in the face of Apple’s unfortunate behavior. I say “unfortunate” because the Apple iBookstore is nowhere near as sophisticated as the Amazon Kindle store. I would rather have seen Apple innovate with its store and compete with Amazon than simply block the Kindle store altogether. I understand why Apple did what it did, but the users — that is, us readers — suffer because Apple has not worked hard enough to be competitive with Amazon.