Tag Archives: Kindle

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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When to hit publish

I used to read back every word I wrote in my blog posts (several times).

That lasted about a week.

Sometimes you need to write what you feel, do a quick skim to make sure you haven’t committed too many serious grammatical mistakes (except when the purpose of the post is those mistakes), add a sentence here, tighten a word or two there, and hit publish.

But books are different.

Even in this self-publishing wild west world in which we now live, a sloppily edited book comes off as such. We understand, in fact we embrace the idea, that you’re circumventing the gatekeepers in the publishing houses to give people what they actually might want to read. But really you need to string two sentences together or the reviews might kill you.

On the other hand books can languish from over-editing, over-obsessing. If a book is up to a certain standard the back and forth feedback from reviewers, bloggers, and a wider circle might actually help you to write better material. It might be hard for some writers to hear this, but maybe there’s not really a good excuse for keeping things in a drawer anymore. If it’s been rejected by publishers, but is still a story some niche might enjoy then publish.

But a bad story can set a tone two. One reviewer I read recently thought that the writer had some imaginative and original ideas, but that the characterizations were terrible, and the writing poor. They looked forward to reading future more polished works. This is the unusual case. Usually if someone has paid money for something, and it turns out to not be that good, that will cement their impression of it for a long time.

So what do we do? Do we push something out the door, or do we wait and wait til its perfect?

My other line of work is programming. This may shock you, but most programs are not perfect on their release day. They need patches, bug fixes, and feature enhancements (Yes you Linux users may say otherwise, but even your software gets patches and updates). Weirdly enough, the book of today is more like a program than a book. I know several eBook published authors who are rewriting their novels based on feedback and either republishing under the same title, or creating another book. Kindle supports updates to books, and eBooks reading may overtime have more of a patch structure, with user feedback and further ideas allowing an author to enhance their work, to fix it.

To some this is frightening (me kinda included). I love all my stories, don’t get me wrong (please buy Surreality in Jan-Feb ’13 🙂 ), but the thought of revising them after I hit publish can seem a little never-ending. Maybe a set time frame would make sense. It’s definitely something I’d be open to trying.

But this assumes a book is good enough to start, to get people interested in telling even more story. Otherwise the book leaves a bitter taste.

Ultimately the decision about whether a book is ready is up to you, more than ever. Set a deadline, work your butt off, and get it out there. I can’t wait to read it!

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