Tag Archives: Kindle

Mixed Media

I am a completion-ist at heart. If I’m collecting something, watching something, reading something, I want it all.

I don’t mean every obscure fan-fiction Star Trek story, or every piece of Babylon 5 paraphernalia available. But if I’m reading a series, I want every book in that series.

And here lies the quandary, do I mix my media?

I tend to split things this way: physical books (especially comic books) are for my really prized series. The best of the best. The rest is digital. But it’s the digital I actually have  time to read, so some of my “best of the best” series are actually all digital (Chew for example).

bleach-logo

Then there’s the stuff in the middle. I like to read Bleach (a manga). I own volumes 1-34 physically, but know that I do not have the shelf space to buy any more (the series is up in the 70’s now). Digital volumes of the series are actually half the price of the physical, and take up no more space than their electrons. And they’re way more likely to be read. But I’ll never make enough money from selling 1-34 to buy their digital equivalents (maybe a good number but not all), so selling my existing stock doesn’t make much sense. But I’m much more likely to actually read these books if I buy them digitally, and I buy a whole row of a shelf’s worth of space in the process.

So for the moment I have mixed media (1-34 physically and I just bought Volume 35 digitally). At least it’s a clean split.

But sometimes price can get the better of you.

If you’ve been reading a series on the Kindle, then suddenly find the next book as a paperback for 1/5th the price, do you go for it? Or do you buy the Kindle book anyway so you can have the whole series in one form?

Kindle Matchbook is a nice theoretical solution to this problem, except that you have to buy the books from Amazon, and not everything participates in that program (in fact most things don’t, Bleach doesn’t). What’d be nice is to be able to buy cheap digital copies of everything we own physically, regardless of how we got it, but that’s an impractical business model.

I don’t like buying things twice any more than the rest of us, but the urge to be able to take things with me is strong.

Maybe this is why libraries are awesome. You can read things without the burden of figuring out how to own them.

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I Swear on the Gorilla Glass

Suzi LeVine, the new U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, became the first US official to be sworn in on a Kindle, specifically a Kindle displaying a copy of the constitution (from the photo on the Washington Post blog it looks like the eReader was displaying the 19th amendment [women’s suffrage]).

Let’s acknowledge that this might feel a little weird. Weirder still might be the group of firefighters sworn in on an iPad Bible. But is being sworn in on a digital copy of a book really any different than the physical one?

That depends on what you think the purpose of the artifact is, and what the motives were for using a digital equivalent.

My argument would be that swearing on the constitution or the Bible is intended to bring those documents to mind. Basically, putting your hand on the Bible is supposed to make you think about actually being in the presence of God, and that your words are being spoken in front of him as well as anyone in the room. When you swear on the constitution you are pledging your loyalty to our country and its guiding principles, and if you’re an ambassador you are pledging to be our representative, to speak for us.

So does a physical book do a better job of invoking this state of mind than a digital book?

I don’t buy it. Sure a book has heft, weight, substance, but I think it’s easy to either be sincere or to go through the motions no matter what you’re putting your hand on.

Now I’m not making the argument that a physical book and an eBook are the same thing. I’m merely stating that the differences do not have a significant impact on the symbol, or at least they don’t have to. For me, a digital Bible is eminently more practical, useful and effective in my life than the dozen physical Bibles I own. The digital Bible is always with me, and even though I don’t read it as often as I like, I read it a lot more than any of the physical Bibles (even my nice little hardbound red one I bought specifically to carry with me everywhere).

The experience of God is not tied to a specific medium, and the impact of our country is not tied to a bound or scrolled or engraved constitution.

Now a Kindle might signify laziness on the part of someone doing the ceremony. They couldn’t be troubled to find a nice copy of the constitution so they found one online in a second. And I bet in some cases this is true, but again care is more a function of the heart of the person taking the oath than the actual circumstances. And in this case she took the time to swear on a significant amendment (and the time to adjust the font ridiculously large and show it in landscape view).

For some people. the digital version will never be quite the same, and for them the physical is a good thing. But for others, the digital has the same if not more significance.

What do you guys think? Is this the beginning of the erosion of our natural principles, or is it just the natural progression of technology?

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Pow! Bam! Zort! Amazon gobbles up Comixology!

Actually my favorite one of these was in Fables Volume 6. Boy Blue slices a guy in half with a vorpal sword and the sound effect is “snicker-snack!”

ComiXology-Logo-Dark-Grey-500x92

Publisher’s Weekly raised some questions customers will have about Amazon’s recent acquisition of comics app Comixology. Though I think discussions of in app purchases (Comixology removed them to avoid paying 30% to Apple), content restrictions and listings are important, there are a couple of other issues that I think need addressing by both sides.

For those who aren’t aware, Comixology is an app that works on a variety of different devices, from PCs to tablets, that allows you to buy digital issues and collections of comic books. It is also one of the more DRM (Digital Rights Management) heavy formats going so far as to split its image data into two separate encrypted files that are merged together by their proprietary viewer. Comixology is also very aggressive in patching or taking down solutions that users have created to attempt to break this DRM. Even for backup and recovery purposes, the AZW (Amazon Whispersync) or AZW3 formats are better since they at least contain the entire comic book in a single file.

Back when the second Star Trek movie was coming out, Comixology had a sale on a number of their Star Trek IDW titles (stuff that can be a little expensive to collect physically even for a purist). I bought a number of titles that I could view on my Polaroid, computer or Kindle.

And then I remembered Amazon’s golden rule, we will never be undersold by anyone.

Now inevitably, every time I get a sale notification from Comixology, I can expect the exact same one from Amazon. And consequently I’ve stopped buying from Comixology altogether unless they have something I can’t get anywhere else.

And that’s the only thing I think Amazon’s gaining by the acquisition, content. But if we’re talking format, I’d take Amazon’s ebook format hands down as I can at least get a little closer to owning my own content (though really on all of these you’re just leasing the rights to them). What I’d really love is for Comixology to convert all of my existing titles over to Kindle versions when the two companies merge. That way everything’s part of one big happy library. That’s the way the Audible acquisition went. Anything bought from Audible shows up in my cloud list same as any regular book. Now it’s in audibles audio format, but the difference there is that Amazon doesn’t really have its own audio format for books (for the most part).

Now Amazon’s not without its flaws on comic books. Manga can be downloaded to the Kindle Touch but not a first generation Fire. Saga can only be downloaded to Kindle HDs and above, the Kindle App or the Kindle Cloud reader (though the only thing standing in the way seems to be higher resolution though that doesn’t quite track since my Android has worse resolution than the Fire). *

Comixology does have some unique comic formats that might only work on the app, such as more interactive or guided view comics, but most standard conventional material will look nice in either format. And the app and library management are actually a lot clunkier than Kindle so I’d just as well hope that they merge everything together.

The merger should be good from a content standpoint if nothing else, but I’m hoping they go a few steps further to create a truly beneficial offering.

*Actually Image Comics (Saga, Sex Criminals, etc.) offers their comics as true ebook downloads (PDF, CBR, CBZ, epub) so it might be better just to buy directly from them for those comics since they are DRM free.

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Amazon Manga Madness!!!

Long time readers of the blog may remember I like to read manga, but being an Amazon Kindle user my options were limited and they had none of my favorite series (including Bleach and most Viz media).

Apparently that has changed.

After a couple of layers of Amazon “you may like” or “customers who bought this item also bought”, I discovered Rurouni Kenshin – Restoration, a two volume retelling / tie-in with the live action movie (also discussed on this blog). Each volume is priced at $5.79 and are welcome editions to my Kindle (I’ll evaluate the story and the movie in a future post once the live action arrives on my doorstep).

It turns out Amazon has a lot of good titles: Naruto, Bleach, Attack on Titan, Rurouni Kenshin and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Single volumes all seem to be priced at around the $5.79 price though the Evangelion title’s offer three-in-ones priced at $9.39. Absent though is Fullmetal Alchemist, Trigun, Love Hina and numerous others that I would have loved to see.

As I have long suspected it would, manga looks great on the Touch. Barnes and Noble, who used to be the only game in town, did not offer manga on their eReaders, only supporting it on their tablet models. There are some quirks, however:

  • Manga is compatible with my Touch but not my first generation Fire. This seems odd since the Fire has a better resolution and supports a variety of other comics. It works on my crappy generic Android, however. To my understanding the Touch and the Fire are the same hardware generation so I find it a little odd that the Touch works and Fire does not.
  • The manga pages are ordered backwards, or more to the point they are placed back to front as a real printed volume would be. I think it’s a little weird to have to hit the previous button to get the next page, and the effect is not as natural as it is with the actual book.

The price point’s not bad, though I wish they offered more of the long running series in the same format as the Evangelion books (the equivalent of buying each volume for $3.13 instead of $5.79). Kenshin is a 28 volume series, and Bleach and Naruto have 50+ volumes. Manga has never been the cheapest hobby to sustain, and Amazon is cheaper than most print runs, but it’s still expensive to have a complete collection.

Overall I’m happy, particularly for trying new series like Attack on Titan that I haven’t read. One of these days I’ll have to review a real book so you don’t think all I read is comic books 🙂

What other manga titles do you like?

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Reading Habits

eReaders are already on the decline, even as eBook sales continue to rise. Two factors are largely in play on this: expense of a dedicated eReader to cheaper Android tablets, and people keeping their eReaders for longer.

The cheapest Kindle is $69, but to get a touchscreen you need to spend $119 (up from the $100 I paid for my Kindle Touch two years ago). The cheapest Nook is $79 and actually seems to be better in most substantive ways than the new Nook GlowLight (especially since the GlowLight does not have an expansion SD slot and the Simple Touch does*).

For $10 more you can get a Nook HD, or a cheap 7″ Android tablet (my Polaroid, which admittedly is not the best tablet ever, was $60).

And eReaders do less now than they used to. Amazon has cut the storage space in half (emphasizing their cloud storage), as well as eliminating MP3 playback and text-to-speech. The original Nook could pay games and music but the Simple Touch does neither (nor does it have a web-browser like the Kindle).

In short eReaders are crappier than they used to be, and the better ones cost almost as much as tablets, which people seem to want to buy more anyway, since they can DO so much more.

That said, I think eReaders are better for reading, perhaps more now than ever, because of their dedicated nature.

I started with a Fire and dabbled in a couple of eBooks, but realistically finished none. Then I got a Touch about seven months later and am reading a book or two a month. (Okay, maybe not the best for showing off on Goodreads, but way better than I had been doing). eReaders are easier on the eyes, and more importantly, don’t tempt me with things to take me away from reading. The Fire was great for magazines, and short reading jaunts, but the sit around for hours readers are my two Touches (Kindle and Nook).

I wish eReader manufacturers would make them cheaper, and as full featured as some generations have been. My current eReader, the Kindle Touch, is the most full featured book experience, with text-to-speech allowing me to turn any book into an audio book, and letting me play music while I read, while at the same time keeping me largely focused on the reading. Touch screens feel the most to me like turning pages, but the combination of buttons and swiping on the Nook Simple Touch is also very flexible.

Dedicated eReaders are more of luxury if we’re being honest. Since most people want to play games, surf the web, and maybe get some work done on a tablet, an eReader does little to add to those experiences. Most of us probably don’t have, or don’t want to spend money on both.

But for me anyway, reading on an eReader is the most like reading on a book a tablet can get. There are some imperfections in the way the Nook Simple Touch renders the eInk that feel almost like the variations some printed books have. Even the best tablets can have some glare, especially in the sun, and as someone who stares at screens all the time a change can be nice.

How about you? Do you read on a tablet or an eReader, or do you still crave the analog experience? Do you feel distracted by tablets, or does it all feel a little cold and technical?

*Yes, the processor on the GlowLight is slightly better, there are a few more pixels, and there’s a built-in book light, but the Simple Touch refreshes quickly, can be expanded to 8 times the storage capacity of the GlowLight, and is $40 bucks cheaper.

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Is Amazon Cornering The Market Because Of DRM?

Last week a number of independent booksellers filed a class-action antitrust lawsuit against Amazon and a number of its publisher partners over the use of DRM. Specifically, they feel that Amazon’s DRM restricts eBooks to being read only on Kindle based devices, and that since many of the publishers named only provide eBooks through Amazon, it effectively cuts other eReaders and potentially even other brick and mortar stores (more because of price) out of the market. The suit floats the possibility of “open-source DRM” which would allow a book to be protected, but still able to transferred across devices.

I am no great fan of DRM, and as an author think it’s best to sell without it, even with the risk of piracy. Even though piracy can take a sale away, it can spread buzz about an independent author who’s making his start which may lead to more sales in the long run. But let’s unpack whether Amazon unfairly restricts DRM.

Amazon’s DRM is device specific. In other words, if you own two Kindle eReaders and download the same book to both, those files are not actually the same. Each is encoded against the serial number of your device. You can’t move a book downloaded to one device to the other unless you do it through your Amazon cloud archive. The difference is especially noticeable when we’re talking about Android based readers like the Fire or the Kindle app. This being said, the Kindle app makes Kindle books available on any phone, tablet or PC. The main restrictions is eInk eReaders, for that you’ll need a Kindle.

Amazon’s DRM policy is only really restrictive when we’re talking about eReaders (and magazines since these are not archived in the cloud like all other books). I think the real basis for any complaint would be that certain publishers are only selling through Amazon, which has nothing to do with DRM.

Open source DRM as I understand it would take away the serial number part of the DRM encoding. In other words, if I had two Kindles I could transfer a book I downloaded to one to the other through my computer and not through the cloud. The file would still be restricted to be re-encoded into another format (which would still make them unreadable on the Nook, Nooks read epubs and Kindles read mobi). Maybe the seller could provide software to convert while preserving DRM (only convert to DRM supporting formats) but I don’t see much of an incentive for them to make their books easy to port to another device. And open source doesn’t really apply in this case. Open source implies the source code for the DRM is available to the public, which would effectively defeat the purpose. Open source DRM is a contradiction in terms.

I don’t like DRM, as I said above, but the way to fight it is not through lawsuits. It’s through individual authors making the choice to sell without DRM (which you can even do on Amazon (all of TOR books for example)). And it’s through consumer demand, refusing to buy a product unless it doesn’t have DRM. Amazon doesn’t make its money with its eReaders, but the books themselves. If you really want to read on another device, buy that one, and complain to the publisher if a book is not available for it.

Full disclosure, I own a Kindle Touch, Fire and an Android device with the Kindle App, as well as using the Kindle Cloud reader on several devices, though some of my books are purchased in DRM free format and converted to MOBI using Calibre. I made the decision to buy Amazon devices because I thought the hardware was the best, and I already had established accounts in music and video. I think if we want to talk monopolies and DRM, we need to bring the whole media infrastructure into the argument, but that’s a blog post for another time.

What do you guys think, is Amazon cornering the market? If you’re an author have you taken the DRM free pledge?

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10 more formatting tips for the Kindle

It’s been about two months since I started the drafting process for my “secret” non-fiction project. After the first week I gave my preliminary “10 formatting tips for the Kindle“. After fighting with Word and my Kindle Touch for the last couple of months, I thought I’d expand on the original list in the spirit of saving others some of the troubles I’ve had:

1) Check every special character you use in the body of the text – The equation editor converts the equation to an image when saved as a filtered web-page (preliminary format for the Kindle), but anything in the body of the text needs to be supported in the Kindle’s limited fonts. One character in particular, the “→” arrow simple in word comes out as “à” on my touch, resulting in a lot of back editing.

2) Use the equation editor, images, or carriage returns for long continuous sequences of letters – Some sections in my book require examples of some of the output strings of the programs being used like this one:

String = “FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FC-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FC-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FC-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-F”

Even though there are no spaces in this line, the Kindle formats this by breaking in the middle of lines, leaving hanging characters and random justified lines. Since realistically the sequence is mainly in there to illustrate the point of how long the string gets after only a few iterations, an image may be the best way to go.

3) Re-sizing an image in Word reduces the file size – Word uses image compression when saved in the Kindle preliminary format, but this compression works even better if you resize the original image. I had an image that was 160KB (too big for the 127 KB limitation). I sized it to 80% of the original size (barely noticeable in this case), and the image file size reduced to 59KB!

4) When formatting source code, long function calls should be a single line – A convention of many C++ programmers is to use a carriage return between some variables for a function with a lot of variables in the call. The function call thus appears on multiple lines, with the second and third lines indented. Unless this return is in the correct spot for all potential font sizes, this does not wrap correctly on the Kindle. A single line (though long in code) wraps around much better.

5) Don’t bunch equations together – The equation editor can be a real savior for complicated formulas. However, if you are copying and pasting a number of similar formulas make sure they have the appropriate amount of space between them. This can be accomplished by going into each equation, and hitting return. There shouldn’t be a line of text between them, so you can delete that if there is one, but there should be a 10 pixel or so gap. If they are bunched together too closely and they are centered on the page, the first one we’ll be centered on the kindle, and the rest will be bunched to the left.

6) Toggle to formatting view to fix unseen paragraph characters and other formatting errors – You can access this in Word by clicking on the “¶” character on the main tab. This view can be a little distracting to type in, so I’d suggest doing this after you’ve finished a section. You particularly want to eliminate paragraph characters before or after a page break, as these may cause a blank page on the Kindle.

7) Like a webpage, test all links – If your eBook has any hyper-linking between section, be sure this works on your Kindle. At the very least this will be the contents page, but there may be links in the body of the text as well.

8) Test in all font sizes, especially the default – What you’re looking for here are the positions of page breaks, flow of images and the text that refers to them and anything else that looks bad. But frankly, the more formatting like equations, images and code in a book, the better it is to look at it in a smaller font size. If this is the case with your book, make a few friendly setting suggestions in your introduction. That way people aren’t as surprised or frustrated. When you’re trying to create a book that works as well on a 6″ screen as on a 10″ (or God forbid a smart phone) some things won’t be perfect. Well placed page breaks can solve some of these problems.

9) Laugh when Word gives up on checking your grammar and spelling – I use a lot of source code in this book, and Word does not know how to parse C++ correctly (go figure). At some point there are so many mistakes that Word can’t handle them any more and turns off the auto checks for spelling and grammar (I think they apologized for my inconvenience). If you ever see this warning in a fiction book, however, it might be time for some revision 🙂

10) Back it up, back it up, back it up – Maybe this goes without saying after my tech tips for the cloud, but especially with something you’ve spent a lot of time not only writing, but formatting, backups are crucial. I recommend one on your Kindle, one or two on flash drives, and one on your drafting computer. Don’t put your book on the cloud until you’re ready to sell it!

At the end of the day this process is more fun than frustrating. Good formatting can make your work more professional, and gives you a real sense of putting something together that others will want to see. Any other tips from your experience?

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