Tag - amazon

So David Brin personally edited my self-published scifi novel, No Other Gods

About 18 months ago I started my first science fiction novel, No Other Gods. I worked on it about 30 minutes a day, usually at 6AM before phones started ringing and emails started dinging.

A couple of months ago I finished it (edited three times, proofread by 2 pros I know) and self-published it to Amazon. It was doing OK, and got some great reviews, but nothing huge.

So I decided to take a leap of faith and started to @ message people on Twitter about it who were interested in science fiction. One of the ones who came up when I searched Twitter was David Brin, who’s of course a best-selling SF author with something like 20 books to his credit.

Shockingly, he responded.

I asked if he’d like a copy of my book, he gave me his email address, and I sent him a copy. A couple days later he made my day when he read the first chapter and emailed back: “Okay you got decent action chops. Still no promises when I can get beyond the wakeup scene. But you are no amateur.”

Then 7 days later, he blew my mind when he emailed again, having read the entire book. This time he said:

“John, thanks for sharing your novel. You have very solid skills. The work makes no pretense of being deep, but it is completely professional and successful at what it aims to be. I would be happy to provide a comment/blurb for you to use, if you like.

I went ahead and took some notes. Some inconsistencies I noticed and some typos. They are provided below. I hope they are useful.”

Obviously I wanted a comment/blurb from him (!!) but below I carefully read through his notes. There, David Brin had carefully compiled about three pages of detailed notes on my first attempt at a novel, ranging from a couple remaining spelling errors to suggestions on foreshadowing events, deepening emotional connections with characters, and one unbelievably critical suggestion on enhancing and clarifying the goals and motives of the main villain of No Other Gods … one of the “gods.”


Bestselling authors (and working scientists) don’t take time out of their day to edit unknown self-publishing “authors” books. They just don’t. It doesn’t happen.

Except … it did.

I made all the changes he indicated, re-submitted to Amazon as a second edition of the book, and included his promo blurb right on the front cover:

“Non-stop action! An eternal champion battles his way across centuries, gradually learning to ask the question: why?”

Wow, wow, wow.

With the help of that recommendation, No Other Gods is now climbing Amazon’s SF time travel bestseller list, hitting the first page of the list for the first time today at #18.

Thanks David Brin!

VIP access to No Other Gods, my first novel

I’m giving a few select people early pre-publishing access to my first book, a science fiction novel title No Other Gods.

A man and a woman exist, knowing nothing but that they are warriors for the gods. They fight, they die, they fight again at different times, in different places. But each time they learn a little more, and eventually they see that not all is as they have been told.

No Other Gods is the story of Geno and Livia, who seek the truth, and find themselves.

This ain't yo daddy's Amazon.com

Amazon.com is an interesting adventure in user experience.

For a time, it was the sine qua non of web UI, just because it was so successful. And many tried to copy it. Then most of us realized: Amazon can do what Amazon is doing because Amazon is Amazon … and you can’t because you’re not.

Circular, illogical, and annoying, but unfortunately true.

Remember the millions of tabs? I grabbed this screenshot from WakeUpLater. I think that at points there were even more:

Listing to the left
And then, of course, the weighty left-hand nav, loaded with things you might want to do, places you might want to go:

Amazon has always had a busy, cluttered, confused user interface, but they’ve always gotten away with it because when ecommerce buyers grow up with you, they learn you, they know you, they grok you, and they love you. And Amazon was our first buy-online girlfriend.

But something is a little different at Amazon.com today:

What’s this at Amazon? White space? No tabs? No heavy left nav? It’s almost Apple-like in its simplicity, you might be tempted to think.

Well, no. It’s still ugly. It’s still unbalanced – a UI only a mother could love.

There is space and breathing room – must have been an edict from Jeff Bezos. And obviously there’s a massive focus on one of Amazon’s key strategic weapons, the Kindle e-reader/tablet. But the overwhelming change is massive, perhaps almost complete personalization.

Almost every single item on the Amazon home page is focused squarely on me:

  • what I’ve bought recently
  • what I’ve searched for recently
  • what might go with things I’ve purchased in the past
  • tools and apps to help me manage and consume my purchases

The site is mine
Gone is the heavy nav and million tabs. The site is not what Amazon is, the site is what Amazon is for me (yes, with some corporate strategy driven exceptions, I concede).

Personalization? Where’s the social?
That’s an interesting shift, of course, and one that has been happening for years of course, but it begs the question: where’s the social? I could imagine some juicy cool integrations with Facebook, the social graph, and Facebook’s new actions.

Unfortunately, I imagine, both Facebook and Amazon would have strategic concerns with such an alliance.

Amazon Kindle is killing it (specifically, Google)

The Kindle is absolutely killing it. Amazon doesn’t release sales numbers, but the whisper number in Taiwan is 4 million Kindles over the last three months of 2011.

That pales beside Apple’s almost 19 million units of iPad, but it’s the biggest number for Android tablets. And that’s a huge problem for Google.

Android, for Google, is about freedom
Android is the trojan horse that Google gives away to device manufacturers and carriers which was designed to ensure that their customers and users would be more tightly (even if virtually) connected to Google … glued tighter via digital services that generate income flow long term than the atoms & molecules that hoover cash up front.

So Android was supposed to guarantee Google’s freedom of access to users. Freedom from those device manufacturers and operating system vendors who might step between Google and users and try to sever the connection … such as making Bing the default search engine in IE. Or Siri replacing 95% of users’ need to search Google on their iPhones. Without users, there are no advertisers. Without advertisers, Google has no cash. And, as the old saying goes: no margin, no mission.

(Google’s freedom, of course, is distinct from users’ freedom. But by and large, Google has not been very evil about its efforts.)

New boss, same as the old boss
But now the Google trojan horse has a virus. A virus that infiltrated the Android dummy and took it over.

That virus is Amazon, who is using the structure and foundation of Android, but has divorced it entirely from it’s Google services roots. Unplug from Google (music, search, mail, apps, ads); plug in to Amazon (music, books, TV, products, movies, etc. etc. etc.).

Open source is … well … open
The reason Amazon is able to do this is the same reason Android grew so quickly in the first place: open source. Android never would have grown the way it did without three factors:

  1. It’s open source, so anyone can get the code, change the code, and re-release the code
  2. It improved rapidly after Google saw Apple reveal what a modern mobile OS should be
  3. It got big just as Apple was unleashing massive change in the mobile landscape, Microsoft/Nokia/BlackBerry all abysmally failed to respond with any even marginally capable riposte, and the carriers were desperate to compete with iPhone

But the biggest reason was number 1: free, baby, free.

It’s hard to compete with free. Free X beats marginally better X+1 … and Windows Mobile, Symbian, and BB OS were all very definitively unfree. Even better, Android quickly got better than tired old WinMo, complicated Symbian, and limited BB OS. Then it was free and good, even free and better. Irresistable!

(Of course, Android is no longer free. Due to patent encumbrances, Microsoft probably makes more money off Android right now than Google does, at least in the short term. Apple probably will start making money by licensing patents to Android device manufacturers as well. But still: it’s better, and it remains cheap.)

Hewers of wood & drawers of water
Now that Google has so kindly provided a great almost-free platform for small mobile devices, including tablets, Amazon is capitalizing on it by hijacking the result for its own use. Google won’t make a penny on any Kindle shipped, because:

  1. Amazon glue has replaced the Google glue
  2. Amazon even replaced the Google app store with an Amazon app store

Rock & roll, baby! This is how you win: turn your opponent’s strength into your strength. It’s very Sun Tzu of Jeff Bezos and company. And it’s turned Google’s hard work at creating a competitive moat of protection and offence into Amazon’s best weapon.

Nice to know you’re working for Amazon if you’re on Google’s Android development team, isn’t it? And due to the nature of open source software, that genie don’t go back into that box. Ever.

Thinking, thinking, thinking
If Kindle continues to be the default Android tablet by virtue of market choice, Google will be cut out of the market it created. And I don’t see how they can get that trojan horse turned around and properly supporting the company that built it.

The only option is continuing to innovate on Android – making it so awesome, and making the connection to Google services so essential – that users will demand the “real Android” experience they can only get from Google glue.

Almost every step on that path also sharpens Amazon’s sword.

Good luck, Google!

Kindle: more expensive than print?

Why would a digital version be more expensive than a print version?

I know Amazon does a ton of price experimentation. Buying from Amazon can be a little like reserving a seat on a plane: nobody has paid exactly the same price you did.

But a digital product should be cheaper than a paper product, you would think. After all, there’s no packaging, no storage, no shipping, no postage. Just the product itself: the words and ideas you paid to share.

So I was fairly surprised to see this:

The Kindle edition is $17.52, but the hardcover – hardcover – is $14.44. That’s $3 cheaper to get the actual dead tree version.

That’s odd, but it’s not the only oddity. The pricing is even more complex: the book is new from $13.00, but the Amazon price is $14.44? This is just weird.

Amazon is one of the smartest companies in the world. I’m sure they’ll figure it out. The question is: are they working so hard to scientifically optimize pricing for extracting maximum value from clients’ wallets that they’ve lost simplicity (and sense) in pricing?

Device ubiquity: this is why Amazon will win

You buy it in physical form from Amazon, they win. You buy it in physical form on Amazon from another retailer, they win. You buy it digitally on a Kindle, they win. You buy it digitally on Kindle on iPad, they win. You buy it digitally on a PC or Mac, they win:

Plug in whatever device you want … smartphone, PC, eReader … Amazon has it covered.

This is smart, and this is the future: device ubiquity.

In other words, don’t force your customer to choose. Provide your product or service wherever your customer is. Make it simple, make it easy. And … go the extra step to ensure synchronicity within your ubiquity – so that, as Amazon enables, a user can start reading on Kindle on the iPad, and finish on their PC. Same place, same bookmarks, same notes.

Smart. Very smart.

Are coupons the future of local (e) commerce? Really?

Social coupons are the hottest new old thing on the web today.

With Google maybe/probably coughing up $6,000,000,000 (yeah, that’s billion) for Groupon, Amazon investing in or buying LivingSocial, Baidu launching a group buying engine, eBay buying Milo, WhaleShark Media buying Retailmenot to add to their portfolio of Deals.com and CouponShare.com and everyone else and his dog investing in or buying or building group purchasing deal features …. this is hot.

But seriously.

Coupons are OK. I mean, everyone likes saving money. And group deals are cool … if we can all save money together, isn’t everyone a little happier?

But with all the hype, let’s remember a few important things:

  • Coupons are a feature
    First of all, from a business (and technology) point of view, coupons are a feature, not a platform. Meaning they need to hook into an existing engine.

    The genius of Groupon (and the genius of the entire RESTful, API-centric, connected web2.0-3.0 world) is that they connected with the Facebook platform to drive unprecedented growth. Look for that to get a little harder if they’re owned by Facebook’s arch-rival Google in the future.

    But the point is: it’s not the whole enchilada. It’s a piece of the pie (so if you’re going to do coupons, you better have a pie, not just a cherry).

  • Coupons aren’t for everyone
    Having mixed metaphors fearlessly up to this point, let’s just say this: Coupon Ron is not your preferred client. While there’s no doubt that coupons are a great marketing move for some businesses, you are not going to drive long-term profitable growth based on couponing.

    By definition, Coupon Ron is fickle … he’ll go to whoever has the latest coupon. That means he’s used to getting a discount. If you’re not giving him one, he’s probably not shopping/eating/consuming/buying your services or products. And that means he’s a low-margin client.

    In other words, coupons are not the playing card that a merchant who’s dealing from a position of strength throws down.

So … coupons are great and cool, but there’s a LOT more to commerce, e-commerce, local commerce, social commerce, and any other form of commerce.

And that’s something we’d all do well to remember when the tulip bulb craziness hits.

Here's Why Apple Will Beat Amazon In The Battle For The E-Textbook Market

We made calls to universities that have been evaluating various e-readers and e-book formats and found that most expect to partner with Apple’s iPad in its e-reader initiatives.

This is because:

* Apple already has a massive infrastructure built to promote and distribute its products to universities and it will take time for its competitors to replicate that.

* Amazon and Sony have improved their devices in recent releases but universities are still not satisfied.

* The iPad appears to solve the portability issues and lack of features many universities have cited for not embracing Amazon and Sony readers.

via Here’s Why Apple Will Beat Amazon In The Battle For The E-Textbook Market.

Kindle vs. iPad: Far from over

The day after Apple’s big iPad debut, Amazon reported stellar fourth-quarter results that included a 42% increase in sales and net income up a whopping 71%. Although Kindle and eBook sales still account for only a small segment of revenue — predicted to be about 5% in 2010 according to most analysts — its success continues to be a highlight.

In Amazon’s earnings release, Bezos threw a spotlight on the “millions of people” who own the e-Reader, adding, “When we have both editions, we sell 6 Kindle books for every 10 physical books.”

via Kindle vs. iPad: Far from over – Fortune Brainstorm Tech.

Amazon quietly lets publishers remove DRM from Kindle ebooks » Nieman Journalism Lab

Without a formal announcement, Amazon.com has started allowing authors to publish their ebooks for the Kindle without digital rights management (DRM), the technology that limits how consumers can use the ebooks they’ve bought.

The change appears to have gone in effect around Jan. 15, when a few Kindle publishers spotted changes in Amazon’s Digital Text Platform. A new option gave publishers the choice to “not enable digital rights management.” A science-fiction author named Joseph Rhea appears to have been the first to notice the change. On Jan. 15, Amazon announced an expansion of its Digital Text Platform to non-U.S. authors, but made no mention of DRM changes.

via Amazon quietly lets publishers remove DRM from Kindle ebooks » Nieman Journalism Lab.

Finally: my thoughts on the Amazon Kindle

kindleI’ve owned and been reading from a Kindle for a couple of weeks now. A number of people have been asking when I’ll post some thoughts on it … so here goes.

What I didn’t like

  • I won’t be curling up with it
    I stare at a screen 10-12 hours a day, sometimes more. That might be the 3.5″ screen of my iPhone, the 23″ plus 13″ screens of my laptop and external monitor, or the 42″ screen of my TV (this one is a little rare lately!).

    Surprise, surprise … in my downtime (which means: recreational reading) I don’t want to stare at a screen.

  • It’s just not as good a reading experience as a book
    The Kindle is definitely a gadget … and it doesn’t feel like a book. And, it doesn’t read like a book.

    I’m a fast reader, and I find I need to turn the pages so often that it gets annoying. A page on Kindle at a decent but not tiny resolution is not very many words, meaning that I’m flipping more than once a minute. Each time there’s a little hesitation/interruption in my reading process, my state, my flow. Each time, it’s annoying.

  • I don’t like the positioning of the buttons
    The buttons are oddly placed. If you want to hold it widescreen, you can’t reach the Next Page button without effort (a couple of times a second, remember). The big buttons on the left and the right are BOTH for Next Page … whereas intuitively the left side might be Last Page and the right page might be Next Page. The small button above the next page is Prev Page on the left and Home on the right … another inconsistency.

    And don’t get me started the on the “5-way button” that is masquerading as a mouse.

  • The keyboard hates humans
    Writing notes on the Kindle – page notes, footnotes etc. – is a masochistic exercise. The keyboard is easily the worst I’ve ever used. Painful! Slow! Annoying!

  • I just want to touch it NOW
    Sorry, world. iPhone has spoiled me rotten and now when I can’t use touch on a small screen it gets extremely annoying. Several times I found myself touching the screen trying to do something quickly and easily … only to find that the device was, after all, dumb and unresponsive.

  • Books not on Kindle
    Having a Kindle makes you want to buy books on Kindle … or at least acquire them. And when you have the capability of getting books INSTANTLY on Kindle, you want to. So when books are not available in Kindle format … even books by people who should be clueful enough like Seth Godin … it gets annoying. Having to get it shipped and having to wait a half a week for the physical object suddenly seems intolerable.

    In addition, there are hundreds of thousands of books that are in the public domain which sellers of e-readers who don’t make their money selling books make it easy for you to access. Not Kindle. It’s hard to get free books from, say, Google or Project Gutenberg on your Kindle. You need to download third-party software, install it, find books, and then transfer them over to your Kindle via USB.

What I did like

  • Immediacy
    Obviously, getting a hot new book right away (read, in a couple of minutes) is a wonderful, excellent, exciting feature. This is perhaps the best feature of the Kindle.

  • Small, thin, and portable
    The Kindle – I got the smaller, 6″ version – is so thin and light you won’t know you’re carrying it around. It’s easy to just slip in a bag and run. I could even fit it in my jeans’ back pocket (but I don’t recommend sitting down!)

  • Business/trade books
    While I didn’t like the Kindle for relaxation and recreational reading, I found it just fine for books that I’m reading for information: business books, books about technology, etc. etc. I would typically dive into a book for 5-15 minutes, and then get back to whatever I was doing.

    For this kind of reading – Twitter-style, you might say – I think the Kindle works fine.

  • Battery life
    As long as you turn it completely off – important caveat: sleeping is not off – the battery lasts a loooong time. This is great … you don’t have to take the charger along on a week-long trip. Just throw the Kindle in the bag and go.

. . .
. . .

Overall, I think I’ll stick primarily to paper books for now when I want to read for fun. For business/trade books, I’ll probably switch just due to convenience, price, and availability.

Interestingly, I recently played with a Nook in a Barnes & Noble and actually liked it better. David Pogue savaged the Nook in the NY Times, but I liked the feel better, felt there were a few more words on the screen, and really liked the touchscreen feature. It’s not perfect, but I think they may have a winner in the 2.0 version.

After a few more months of using the Kindle, I’ll probably update these thoughts.

Amazon's Kindle winning battle, but Adobe poised to win e-book war

A total of 30 e-book readers rely on Adobe software, including Barnes & Noble’s just-debuted, already-delayed Nook and Sony’s popular Sony Readers, according to Nick Bogaty, senior business development manager for digital publishing at Adobe.

Both PDF and ePub are open industry standards, though the optional encryption and DRM provided by Adobe’s Content Server and enforced by the Adobe Reader are not.

Adobe may balk at the comparison, but its role in the e-book market is similar to the one Microsoft Corp. plays in the PC market: It’ a builder of a semi-open ecosystem of partners to whom it sells publishing tools.

In this analogy, Amazon.com is like Apple: successful, but secretive, with a reliance on proprietary formats like the Kindle’s native AZW that creates customer hassle and lock-in.

via Amazon’s Kindle winning battle, but Adobe poised to win e-book war.

Amazon Marketplace: not for you or me

I just spent 20 minutes prepping a no-longer-needed-textbook for sale. One of the places I thought I might sell it was Amazon Marketplace, only to be presented with this:

Obviously, Amazon Marketplace is not looking for your average Craigslister, and probably not your media eBayer as well. Rather, they’re looking for bookstore owners, high-volume eBay retailers, and so on.

It’s an interesting strategy – definitely designed to capture the fat front end of the long tail and not the thin whippy extremity. It probably results in a lot less hassle for Amazon.

But it also does leave a significant portion of the resale market for eBay and, increasingly, Craigslist. And it leave a bit of a sour taste in the mouth of loyal Amazon clients, such as me, who have bought thousands of dollars of books and other products from Amazon, but can’t use the same service to recycle redundant items.

First miss for Shelfari (and Amazon)

As you may have noticed, I’ve begun using Shelfari to catalog the books I’m reading.

After a couple of months, I’ve finally found a book that Shelfari doesn’t know about: At the Sharp End, which is Tim Cook’s novel about the Canadian contribution to WWI. Interestingly enough, neither does Amazon.

However, Indigo (a Canadian bookseller owned by Chapters) does, and here it is (volume one at any rate).

I’ve wondered before if Amazon and Shelfari are linked … particularly since Shelfari buy-the-book links are to Amazon. Amazon has invested in Shelfari … which is probably why Shelfari seems to be using the Amazon book database.

. . .
. . .

Interestingly, when I fed Shelfari’s import functionality this page, it came up with a different book by the same author: Clio’s Warriors.

Oddness abounds.

Amazon marketplace: sorry, your purchase has been sold

Yesterday I bought 27 books from Amazon – mostly from the marketplace. Why not? The book are almost new, and they’re easily half off or less.Today I got a notice that a book I bought via the marketplace was previously sold.amazonNo biggie – I just went back to Amazon, chose the next available seller for the book, and bought it again.Here’s the deal: when Amazon sends out that kind of email, they should include a link to re-purchase. That would probably increase their sales from people whose purchases are no longer available.And would make an already very usable store even more so.