The Kindle Changed Oprah’s Life

October 26, 2008

According to an entry on Oprah Winfrey’s blog, called “Oprah’s Favorite New Gadget,” “This summer, Oprah received a gift that she says changed her life. ‘It’s absolutely my new favorite favorite thing in the world,’ she says.” 20081024_tows_kindle1_350x263.jpgIt’s nearly November and she hasn’t found another favorite favorite thing in the world? I guess she already has the Oral-B Pulsonic Sonic Toothbrush.pulsonic_ip.jpg

The blog gushingly continues, “Although the Amazon Kindle costs $359, Oprah looks at it as an environmentally friendly investment. ‘I know it’s expensive in these times [Ed: not for Oprah; hers was free], but it’s not frivolous because it will pay for itself,” she says. ‘The books are much cheaper, and you’re saving paper.’ [Ed: although by purchasing a device with a far nastier non-biodegradable high carbon footprint than paper] New York Times Bestsellers and New Releases are $9.99 or less, unless otherwise marked.

“As a special offer for Oprah Show viewers, Amazon.com is giving $50 off the price of Kindle. Enter the promotional code OPRAHWINFREY during the checkout process at Amazon.com to receive the discount. This offer is valid through November 1, 2008. [Ed: A generous 8 days.]

It’s a four-page blog entry, and I’m starting to feel vomitous quoting from it, but I’ll stave off the bildge for another moment with this quote: “Oprah says she will talk about her Kindle with anyone who’s willing to listen. ‘Anyone who knows me knows I’m really not a gadget person at all, but I have fallen in love with this little baby [emphasis mine],’ she says. ‘If you’re like me and a little computer challenged, do not be afraid of the Kindle–do not be afraid [emphasis mine]–because you don’t even have to have a computer for it to work. That’s the brilliant thing about it.'” Yes, quite brilliant. Unless you already have a computer.

The conclusion: “‘You can tell a lot about a person by what’s on their [Kindle] homepage,’ Oprah says.” Included on her homepage are “Crack the Fat-Loss Code: Outsmart Your Metabolism and

Conquer the Diet Plateau” by Wendy Chant. There are certain things that don’t change.

An article by Antone Gonsalves in Information Week notes: “Winfrey’s endorsement of the Kindle could lead to more than just a sales boost. It could go a long way toward moving the Kindle to the mainstream from a niche market.” How depressing. Another chapter in the future of publishing has just been written. Loggers will be picketing her show, and getting into fistfights with workers from the semiconductor industry and the employees of E Ink.

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Esquire Magazine Takes a Stab at the Future of Publishing

July 23, 2008

A glowing article in last Monday’s New York Times alerted readers that Esquire magazine, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, has figured out a trick to gain admittance to the future of publishing party.

The cover of its September issue, or rather the cover of the newsstand version of the September issue, will be “printed” with E-ink technology. It’s not 100% clear exactly what kind of razzle-dazzle Esquire will be providing newsstand browsers as a result. It could be fun…we’ll soon enough see. Esquire went to some considerable pains to make this technology leap. The article provides the details, including “first Esquire had to make a six-figure investment to hire an engineer in China to develop a battery small enough to be inserted in the magazine cover. The batteries and the display case are manufactured and put together in China. They are shipped to Texas and on to Mexico, where the device is inserted by hand into each magazine. The issues will then be shipped via trucks, which will be refrigerated to preserve the batteries, to the magazine’s distributor in Glazer, Ky.” The article notes that unfortunately the battery will lose power in 90 days, although any unsold copies will no doubt be in the recycling machines by then. It may however be a disappointment to the folks who are hoping for an eBay bonanza as a collector’s item.

The blogosphere has been underwhelmed by the announcement. Brian Lam at Gizmodo comments “This is really slick in some ways—as far as attention goes—but the bigger thing it shows is the terrible lack of understanding that most magazine editors have in dealing with the digital future of their publications.” Later in his piece he even uses the “f” word!

In the comments section of Paul Constant’s brief entry on SLOG, we’re treated to Fnarf’s snarky comment: “When you open it, will it play a tinkly electronic version of a popular Christmas carol, like those godawful greeting cards that came out 20+ years ago?” Jubilation T. Cornball chimes in with a quote from the article in the NYT and then adds a comment: “‘I fully expect that in 25 to 30 years, this cover will be in a museum,'” is noted in the original article.

Mr. Cornball adds: “I fully expect ALL magazines will be in a museum by then.”

Oh well. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

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No Snacking Between Books Please!

April 29, 2008

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a little weary of all the Amazon-generated hype about the Kindle, its proprietary eBook reader (described by Amazon as a “revolutionary wireless reading device [emphasis mine]). We’re told incessantly how “visionary,”exceptional,” and, yes, “revolutionary” this little device is, but we’re not told why (with regard to features that differentiate it meaningfully from its nine competitors). The Amazon site states: “Revolutionary electronic-paper display provides a sharp, high-resolution screen that looks and reads like real paper.” But all of its competitors use ePaper.

We’re told that it sold out 5-½ hours after release, but have never been told how many units had been produced. And now, when you go to Amazon’s home page, you’e greeted not by the usual smorgasbord of new product releases in various genres, but by a somber yet upbeat letter from C.E.O. Bezos himself, advising that this magical Kindle is once more in stock. Hallelujah!

The letter goes on to invite us to read president Bezos’ just released (April 14th) annual Letter to Shareholders. He goes on to explain that he doesn’ ordinarily link to this sort of communication from the Amazon home page (I’d hate to think what would happen to Amazon’s sales if he got in the habit of doing so), but, Bezos explains, “this letter is all about the Kindle,”mas if that would help us form some sort of logical connection in our minds about the appearance of this missive.

On behalf of my readers, and in the interest of Kindle-lovers everywhere, I clicked on the link and a 5-page PDF file slowly overwhelmed my browser window. The last three pages are the shareholder letter; the first page-and-a-half contain Bezos’ verbose paean to the Kindle.

It takes until page 2, paragraph 2 to get a sense of why the Kindle has turned Bezos into a born again eBooker. Here are his insights:

1. “We change our tools, and then our tools change us.” (A widely-accepted view of the impact of technology.)

2. Writing “changed us dramatically.” (Well, yes!)

3. Gutenberg made books cheaper, and “physical books ushered in a new way of collaborating and learning.” (Amongst many, many other things, Jeff. See Elizabeth Eisenstein’s The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, available on Amazon at an 11% discount, or for 25 cents less at Barnes and Noble.)

4. “Lately, networked tools such as desktop computers, laptops, cell phones and PDAs have changed us too.” (No problem there.)

5. “(Networked tools have) shifted us more toward information snacking (sic), and I would argue toward shorter attention spans.” (I recommend reading Web usability guru Jakob Nielsen’s famous and prescient 1997 column “How Users Read on the Web,” which begins with the memorable line: “They don’t.” Nielsen continues: “People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences.” So is the issue really shorter attention spans, or new techniques for coping with the vastly increased amount of textual information we’re asked to consume each day?)

6. “Kindle is purpose-built for long-form reading. We hope Kindle and its successors may gradually and incrementally move us over years into a world with longer spans of attention, providing a counterbalance to the recent proliferation of info-snacking tools.”

OK, I’ve got it. Without quoting any evidence, Bezos warns that new digital tools are inducing a form of ADD in the public at large. I’ll look into the research for you, Mr. Bezos, and report my findings shortly on this site in the Literacy section. In the meantime please peruse my updated section on eBooks: I am not without bias towards the supposed wonders of eBook technology.

Though the letter is evangelical in tone, Bezos forgets the apocryphal preacher’s advice on a successful sermon: “First, I tell them what I’m going to tell them, then I tell them, then I tell them what I just told them” Perhaps he was information snacking when he wrote the letter.

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