I hope you’re reading this on your phone – I am!

Tablets and phones

About a week ago, when I wanted to try out Amazon’s new bookerly font, I went searching for my Kindle Paperwhite and realized the battery was dead; I hadn’t used it in weeks. Yet in those weeks, I had read several e-books and a plethora of articles – just not on my e-reader. I realized I did most of my reading on my phone.

Am I an outlier? Not according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal (“The Rise of Phone Reading” by Jennifer Maloney, @maloneyfiles). Reading on a smartphone is commonplace:

In a Nielsen survey of 2,000 people this past December, about 54% of e-book buyers said they used smartphones to read their books at least some of the time. That’s up from 24% in 2012, according to a separate study commissioned by Nielsen.

The number of people who read primarily on phones has risen to 14% in the first quarter of 2015 from 9% in 2012.

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E-Book Returns and the Problem With the Subscription Model

Kindle Paperwhite

As Amazon cracks down on serial e-book returners, maybe it’s time to re-think the e-book sales model.

Lately, two recent trends are taking place in e-book publishing. First, several articles in the past few months indicate that e-book returns have grown among readers. Some readers are abusing Amazon’s generous Kindle book return policy in order to get their money back after purchasing a book. Continue reading →

Why Jonathan Franzen is Wrong About E-books

Jonathan Franzen print apocalypse
Jonathan Franzen print apocalypse
Life after the print apocalypse? (Photo Credit: A.Z. Kilani

No, Jonathan Franzen, e-books aren’t the end of longform reading or deep thought — they signal a return to the participatory nature of art, pre-Mass Media.

Once again, author Jonathan Franzen has prescribed the cure for what’s ailing society, except the cure isn’t really a cure at all. In a recent article in The Guardian (“What’s Wrong With the Modern World”), Franzen laments the end of “the quiet and permanence of the printed word,” and suggests that in the digital age, “individual to individual” communication is gone.

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Friday Reads: Amazon Acquires Goodreads: Thoughts From Experts

friday reads banner

This week, I’d like to focus on yesterday’s big news: Amazon bought the social reading site Goodreads. Since I believe in social reading despite its issues, I am both excited and confused by this acquisition. I’m excited because I own a Kindle, read a lot of books and articles on it, and I’d love a way to share my notes and highlights with my Goodreads community. However, I’m also confused for two reasons: 1.) Amazon already owns a social reading service called Shelfari, and 2.) I don’t know whether this is a move  to support the large Goodreads community or to silence it and fold it into the Kindle sharing network at kindle.amazon.com.

I use Goodreads to keep track of my books, communicate with members of my local book club at Afterwords Books, and follow events happening at my local library. I also use it to follow my favorite writers. I don’t want to see these services go away once Amazon has control.

At the same time, I’ve always wanted to share my notes and highlights from my Kindle to Goodreads. Currently, it’s only possible to share notes and highlights to Facebook or Twitter. I hope this acquisition will bring more robust note-sharing tools to the Goodreads platform.

Also, I’d love to see Amazon integrate some type of book exchange system through Goodreads. I could see Amazon’s used ebook store platform (now just a credible rumor) integrated with the Goodreads platform. Goodreads already gives away ebooks on their site, so this is possible.

Last night, I went through some articles about the Goodreads acquisition. Over at Paid Content, Laura Hazard Owen interviewed Vice President of Kindle content Russ Grandinetti and Goodreads CEO Otis Chandler. When asked about how the Kindle platform will integrate into Goodreads, Grandinetti said:

Our goal would be…[for] the Kindle experience as it exists both on devices and apps, [to put] putting the connection [users] have on Goodreads as close to their fingertips as possible. When and how we do that, I’ll ask you to stay tuned.

While it’s not a full answer, this suggests better Kindle integration on Goodreads is coming soon.

Owen also asked Chandler about other book services connected to Goodreads, such as Barnes and Noble and Indiebound. Will these stay? Chandler said:

It’s incredibly important to us that Goodreads remain a platform for all kinds of readers to use, whether they’re reading paper or on their Nook or Kindle or whatever. We always want Goodreads to be a place for people to share and talk about books…As for specific design of [the links], we’ll see, but we really think about it from the user perspective. If users really want those links [to other retailers], then those links will probably still be there.

On one level, this is encouraging, but I can’t imagine Amazon keeping the competition on Goodreads in the long-term.

Over at Digital Book World, Jeremy Greenfield quoted from Goodreads user comments to see what they thought of the Amazon acquisition. Most users were upbeat, but some feared that Amazon would use the platform to push Amazon products. One user, Norma, responded to Otis Chandler’s announcement about the acquisition:

While happy for you in that you see a sale as all your hard work paying off, I’m sure you’ll understand that there are many reasons for your long-time community members to be less excited. We have all experienced our favorite online corners being sold to the big guys, assured that nothing would change…and then everything changes.

I no longer read on a Kindle, so integration means nothing to me. My bigger fear is that Goodreads will become another vehicle for Amazon to attempt to continuously sell me something.

I hope Amazon will keep the platform separate from its retail business, but it’s possible that Goodreads could become another retail place. However, Amazon owns other services that remain independent, like IMDb. It’s possible Goodreads would stay independent as well.

We’ll see what happens with this news. I will keep up to date about the acquisition on Twitter and Facebook as it develops.

How a novelist went from nothing to published on Amazon in two years

Here at Critical Margins, I often write about how digital platforms like the Kindle are changing the way writers publish and promote their work. In this guest post, novelist Peter Licari discusses the sometimes confusing and difficult process he went through to get his novel, The Dimensional Constant, published and promoted.  — Kevin

My first foray into publishing was when I was 14-years-old. It was an idealistic, extremely profane story about blind dogmatism. I called it “Blind Faith.” I thought it was clever. Looking back, I would definitely chide my younger self for a lack of originality.

I learned a lot about the publishing experience from that story. I learned the values of content, the importance of a well-spun tale, and the necessity of lying.

Well, lying might be a bit harsh. It’s not like anyone exactly asked me for my age. I said I was a “student writer.” It gave the impression that I was in college or something. I was a student; I was a freshman in high school. They assumed I was 18.

peter licari_CoverWhen I was 16, I wrote my first novel. Ok, that was a lie. The truth is I wrote my first novel at 15. It was so riddled with plot holes, spelling errors, and improper grammar that I sentenced it to life in the maximum security confine of my dresser.

But when I was 16, I wrote my first novel that I intended people to read. I tried to continue my lesson in lying and publish it under the guise of an established author. Except they then asked for my social security number to fill in my W2. As a writer, I’m a liar– that comes with the territory. I’m not a felon. I’m not going to willingly deceive the federal government. That’s a brilliant way to snuff out a career before it even starts.

I waited two years and edited it 13 times. On October 31, 2012, I released my debut novel. It’s a study of the struggle between science and God using conspiracy, mystery, death, and second chances to voice it. The Dimensional Constant was officially realized.

I was so excited, I had to call everyone I know. “Did you hear the good news? I’m published! My book is available on Amazon! I finally did it!”

I did it, alright. I opened my own version of Pandora’s box. Except instead of sins and faults, my box unleashed a flood of reality. The wave crashed down and tossed me like a rag doll back to a place beyond square one. I was back at abstract polygon zero.

It was an unfamiliar place as you could expect. It was dark, empty, and boundless. I call this the world of the self-made man. It’s a place that many would think is subverted beneath our reality, but I’ve found it’s actually above us. You don’t get dragged down– you get pulled up. This is the world of the author, the wordsmith, the silver-tongued devil enthralling with black ink.

This is the place that I call home.

Unlike the world we know where the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the middle class is tossed aside like a forgotten orphan, there are no stratas here. This place is a blank slate. It’s entirely what you make of it. That probably sounds pretty ideal to the starting writer. It is. It’s perfect. But perfection is the furthest thing from easy or self-explanatory.

When I got here, I had to stumble around for a while. “Ok… what do I do? How do I market this book? How do I get people to read it?” A lot of queries and a lot of darkness.

*****

There are a lot of sources of light though, thankfully. After all, you’re not the only person who lives here. So these little specks of light will filter into your vision occasionally. You approach them and allow yourself to be illuminated.

“Ok…this blogger started posting things on Facebook.”

“This author got himself a dedicated website.”

“This writer hired an editor.”

Tips like these shined the brightest.

Then you’d have what I’d call mirages. They seem like they’re dim, distant storehouses of amazing knowledge. But then you approach them and quickly find out that they’re really just dim bulbs in close proximity.

“It’s easy! All you have to do is write a press release, contact a million bloggers per day, shove your books down people’s throats, and eliminate your literary competition highlander style.”

Sure, there’s something there. But you have to diligently pick through it to discover it. Have you ever tried dissecting light? That shit isn’t easy.

You walk around this world and you try to pick up bits of light to illuminate the way. You have end goals in mind and you’re looking for anything to help get you there.

Stop. It’s futile.

Let me let you in on a little secret: there is no one path through the darkness. There is no guarantee that your book will lead you to your end result. You want to earn a million dollars? There are a million ways to get there. And then, when you do, what happens? You’ve reached your goal, but you just can’t abandon your book. You’re still in this land. It’s boundless.

But as I accumulated bits of light, I made my own path through the darkness. I even managed to cut myself a nice piece of property here at abstract polygon zero. It’s a small place, but there’s room for expansion. I am the king of my castle.

*****

As you could guess from my publishing history, I’m not very inclined to preach variable experiences as gospel. So like Plato and the tale of the world’s creation, I will not say absolutely. But I will tell you how I became the king of my castle: what I valued, and a bit of what I did. You might be surprised to know that it all goes back to that first publishing experience I got in high school.

First, I have to impress upon you how important having something that’s good looking is to my success. I’m not just talking about a girlfriend or a car (although both of mine happen to look incredible), but a book. When you design a cover, it needs to grab people’s attention. Steal it away from everything else in the world.  I made mine black and blue with some bitching lightning. That might legitimately be the best way to describe it. It takes your attention.

I need to keep it though, so it needs to look good on the inside, too. That means knowing the difference between your and you’re (if you need help, I made a blog post about it a little while back). That means varying your sentences so that you continually hook the reader. Not everything can be gargantuan. Or brief. It depends on the situation. The font needs to be aesthetically pleasing and the words themselves need to ring in the mind. When I write anything, I make the guts of the piece a high priority. I cannot stress how important it has been for my success.

I also cannot articulate enough how important the story is. Your story is what’s going to determine if your book, novel, what have you, sinks or swims 99% of the time. I’ve found that a great premise isn’t going to support a terrible story. It’s like tying a party balloon to the Titanic and thinking it’ll stay afloat.

Intellectual honesty is the most important thing you can have as a writer. You need to be able to objectively view your work as another’s so you can determine if it’s decent. You need to be able to read through and say either “Ok, this is good but it needs work” or “This is terrible. It needs work.” If you sit back and say “you know, this is the best thing ever written– EVER! This must be published as is!” you’re deluding yourself.  To quote Hemingway, “the first draft of anything is shit.” Remember, it took me 13 rereads until I was satisfied. It still needs work, but I’m content with the world reading The Dimensional Constant the way it is.

Intellectual honesty is important, but it’s not as important as selective dishonesty. I’m accomplished as a writer, sure. I’ve written and published a novel, written scores of articles, published flash fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction. It’s an impressive resume. But I have to make myself sound like I’m one of the greats. I need to be incredible because I’ve found that people don’t respond to mediocrity.

When I approach a blogger to write for them, I don’t do so as a tentative “please sir, may I haz a chance.” I go in like I’m the second biggest fish in the pond (the blogger’s usually a bit larger). I don’t lie because that’s a good way to stifle a career before it starts. But I have to act like I know what I’m doing 100% of the time. Basically, I need to be confident and sure about my works. Even if I haven’t exactly earned the right to strut yet, I’ve got to peacock my stuff.

Oh, and learn how to appropriately conclude something important. I can’t tell you how many times writers will just drag along to make a point. When the piece is done, it’s done.

peterPeter Licari is an author and a freelance writer. He has over 100 credited articles, a number of which appear on Yahoo! News. His debut novel, The Dimensional Constant, is available on Amazon and on the Kindle. He is currently pursuing majors in Government and World Affairs and Philosophy at the University of Tampa’s Honors College. He resides in Tampa, but often reminisces about when he lived in Chuluota, Florida with his dog Buster. Visit him at www.thequillanddagger.com.

Kindle Paperwhite: Best e-reader available?

Kindle Paperwhite
Kindle Paperwhite
Kindle Paperwhite | flickr

A couple months ago, I praised my Kindle keyboard as one of the best e-readers available because of its content selection, accessibility options, excellent keyboard for annotations, and battery life. I said that if the Kindle Paperwhite was able to match these qualities and add new ones, I’d consider buying it (at the time, it hadn’t been released to the public). I was happy with my Kindle keyboard, so I waited.

I decided to buy the Kindle Paperwhite last month, and I have to say, it’s a wonderful e-reader. I’m so convinced that I might have to give up on my Kindle Keyboard because all of my needs are met with the Paperwhite.

Even though the Paperwhite shed some functionality like text-to-speech, its new features make up for what it has lost. First, the text is so clear; the font resolution is as close to ink on paper I’ve ever seen before. Second, the front-lit screen is not hard on the eyes. I can read in bed with the lights off and not feel eye strain like I do when I read on a tablet or on my phone.

Third — and this is the most important to me — annotating on this Kindle is a wonderful, easy experience. I thought typing on a multi-touch e-ink screen would be a chore, but it’s very easy. I find myself annotating and writing notes on more books than before.

The hardware itself is nothing amazing, but that’s the point: Amazon wants you to ignore the hardware and immerse yourself in a book or article. Even with the front-lit screen turned up all the way, I am not paying attention to the hardware, only the words on the screen.

Using these three criteria, I’d like to give my reasons for why I am switching to the Kindle Paperwhite. Sure, the Kindle Keyboard is a great option for those readers who don’t need a built-in light or need the accessibility functions like text-to-speech, but the Kindle Paperwhite is a better option for readers who want the best reading experience.

1. Screen Resolution. Technically, the Kindle Paperwhite has a better resolution and pixel density than the Kindle Keyboard. When dealing with text on an e-ink screen, this is fairly relative. The most recent Kindle Keyboard update improved the font resolution significantly, but the Paperwhite is good enough that you don’t see much pixelation on any of font sizes. Also, the Paperwhite has better font options. While I got used to Amazon’s Caecilia font, the Paperwhite has more standard book publishing fonts, like Palatino and Baskerville (my favorite is Palatino). Caecilia is still available, but not the best choice. Images look much sharper as well, which was a complaint I had about all Kindle models pre-Paperwhite.

2. Front-lit screen. When the Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight came out, many reviewers said that the front-lit screen made for a better reading experience, but the light was uneven and came out from the top of the device. On the Paperwhite, the light shines up from the bottom and disperses evenly. There is a bit of dead light near the bottom, but on my model, this does not affect the content areas at all (some reviewers, however, have complained about “dead spots”). I was concerned that even with a front-lit screen, I’d suffer from eye strain at night, but I find it to be unobtrusive and easy on the eyes. And, I don’t disturb my wife while reading in bed at night like I did when I read on my Kindle Fire. For that reason alone, this device is worth it for me.

3. Annotating, sharing, highlighting, and clipping content. I’ve mentioned several times before on this blog that I am an active reader. I annotate, note, and highlight almost everything I read. When I read on e-readers or tablets, I have a very specific system to keep track of all these notes: I use services like Instapaper and Longreads to find and save content, then I back up my notes to Evernote and Google Drive. The Kindle Paperwhite makes this process easy. The experimental browser, for example, seems a lot faster than in previous Kindle models, so I can archive or like articles in Instapaper quickly and don’t have to do it on a different device. Also, the clippings.txt file is still there as it was on previous models, so all my notes get saved to a central file that I backup to my computer regularly. Tweeting book highlights seems quicker, and access to Wikipedia isn’t as clunky as it was on the Kindle Keyboard. Overall, I’ve become quite the power-reader thanks to these features.

Complaints: I have a few complaints about the Kindle Paperwhite, and most are hardware-related. First, I’d like physical page forward and page back buttons. Even if I don’t use them, it’d be nice to have the option. This is one advantage that the Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight has over the Kindle. Second, I’m not impressed with the battery life. While it’s comparable to the Kindle Keyboard, I’m not getting the battery life that Amazon promises on their Website (8-weeks is what they claim). This might be because of my usage: I read a lot, and I read with the light on at half-power and with WiFi running in the background. Still, even with tweaks, I’ve had to charge this twice and I’ve only owned it for 3 weeks.

Even with these complaints, I’m convinced that the Paperwhite is one of the best e-readers available. The Kindle Keyboard is still a good choice, but I recommend the Paperwhite at this point.

I’d love to hear what my readers think about the Paperwhite: have you made the switch, or will you stick with your current e-reader?

Why I love my Kindle Keyboard

Earlier this month, Amazon released a collection of new Kindles. One of the new Kindles is the Kindle Paperwhite, a front-lit e-ink multi-touch Kindle with one of the crispest displays Amazon has yet released.

After reading the tech buzz surrounding this new Kindle (which doesn’t come out until October, so hasn’t yet been reviewed), I wanted one bad. It has all the elements of an amazing e-Reader: functional touchscreen, responsive page-turns, crisp text, a front-lit display that is not as sharp on the eyes as an LCD screen, and the best contrast for any e-ink screen on the market. Also, the price is right: it’s only $119. Sure, it’s not the cheapest Kindle, but it’s still affordable.

I was ready to pre-order and sell or give away my current Kindle, the Kindle Keyboard (or Kindle 3 as it was called when it was released). I ordered this Kindle when it came out in Fall 2010. Before this, I had owned the Kindle 2, and while I liked this Kindle, its screen did not have the pixel density and sharpness of the Kindle 3. It was also heavy and wasn’t receiving the same software updates as the Kindle 3, so I sold it on eBay and used the money to buy the new Kindle.

Immediately, I was impressed with my new Kindle’s beautiful screen. It was so sharp that when I opened it for the first time, I thought the start screen was a protective sticker, and I tried to peel it off before realizing it was the e-ink screen. At first glance, I didn’t see pixelation around the text; it looked like a printed page. As I began using it, I would notice some pixelation, but overall, reading on this Kindle was as close to reading on paper as I’d ever come. It was lighter, too, and easier for me to forget I was reading on a device. The pages turned quickly, and I was happy with my choice to upgrade. The Kindle Keyboard outperformed my expectations and made up for the shortcomings and annoyances I had developed with the Kindle 2.

I haven’t upgraded to any of the current e-ink Kindles because they just aren’t as useful or beautiful as my Kindle Keyboard. Yes, 2011 brought the Kindle Touch, a multi-touch Kindle with a faster page-turn rate and a lighter/smaller form factor. But from my tests with this Kindle, it didn’t live up to the hype. I’ve grown to love typing on my Kindle Keyboard, and since I love to take notes while reading, a keyboard seems like an important feature. The multi-touch keyboard isn’t as responsive as a multi-touch keyboard on a smartphone or tablet. This was a deal-breaker for me. I decided to hold on to my old Kindle, even though it was already a generation behind.

I also found the Kindle Keyboard’s screen to provide a much better reading experience. Initial reviews of the Kindle Touch suggested that because an extra layer was added to the screen for touch functionality, the text lost some sharpness. Text looked greyer than on the Kindle Keyboard and the standard $79 Kindle, according to these reports (which, by the way, was ruled out by me because it did not provide an easy way to type notes). Although this has been fixed with software updates, I grew to like the way the Kindle Keyboard felt in my hands and didn’t see the need to upgrade. I appreciated its simplicity and ease of use, and the battery life was still sufficient enough for my needs.

So I kept the Kindle Keyboard, waiting for an upgrade that mattered to me. The core functionality I sought out was screen contrast and resolution (the higher the better), usable touch that doesn’t compromise on readability, and a decent, built-in light. Also, high battery life, light and thin form factor, and decent software to handle reading a variety of publications, not just books.

It seems the Kindle Paperwhite is that device. I want to upgrade, but I keep going back to how much I love my Kindle Keyboard. Amazon still supports the Kindle Keyboard; in fact, it just updated the software, bringing even better screen resolution and updates to the new Kindle book formats.

Now that I’m considering an upgrade, I have to decide: is losing a great keyboard on a device that I’ve learned to love — and that, by the way, still gets software updates — worth gaining some incremental perks, such as touch capability and a well-designed front-light? Some days, I think gaining these new functions makes the upgrade worth it, but then I sit down and read a particularly engaging section of a book on my Kindle Keyboard and fall in love with the device all over again. It seems trite, but it’s true: I love my Kindle Keyboard because it provides the best reading experience.

Ultimately, what’s most important is the act of reading itself. Maybe it doesn’t matter which device I use. If the book is good enough, I’ll fall into it in the same way.

True, but I haven’t had this experience reading on my smartphone or Kindle Fire (which I don’t plan to upgrade, even though the new Fires look pretty cool). LCD screens don’t allow me to “fall in” to books because I’m distracted by apps and notifications. Reading on my Kindle 2, an e-ink Kindle, always felt artificial, although it was an OK experience while reading outdoors. I’ve tried Nooks and Sony readers and have felt the same way: something I can’t name is missing.

For now, the Kindle Keyboard has the best attributes for a perfect reading experience, and I’m not sure I want to give up on that. I have yet to decide, but I think I’ll wait it out and stick with my Kindle Keyboard, even though that Kindle Paperwhite looks awfully tempting.

I’d be interested to know what readers think. Do you have a reading device you’ve grown to like and don’t want to give up? Are you considering the Paperwhite or another device? Should I reconsider the Nook Glowlight or some other device I’ve dismissed? I’m curious to know more.