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Not so useful in practice
Apr 20th, 2011 by Ken Hagler

Kin­dle Lend­ing Library comes with strict terms, pre­served notes.

Kin­dle users will soon be able to bor­row Kin­dle books from more than 11,000 US libraries. Ama­zon made the unex­pect­ed announce­ment Wednes­day morn­ing, not­ing that users would be able to read the bor­rowed books on any Kindle-enabled device, includ­ing older-generation Kin­dles and apps on iOS, Black­Ber­ry, Android, Win­dows Phone, Mac, or PC.

Ama­zon is work­ing with dig­i­tal con­tent dis­trib­u­tor Over­Drive in order to deliv­er the library books to Kin­dle users. Although Over­Drive offers e-books to a num­ber of dif­fer­ent devices in var­i­ous for­mats, all the books bor­rowed through the Kin­dle Lend­ing Library will appar­ent­ly be in Kin­dle for­mat only. 

What’s cool, how­ev­er, is how Ama­zon and Over­Drive are treat­ing any notes or high­lights made in the bor­rowed e-books. Users will be able to anno­tate and book­mark to their heart’s desire, yet those mark­ings won’t show up for whomev­er checks out the e-book next. They will be pre­served on your account, though—if you decide to check out the book again or even pur­chase it from Ama­zon, your mark­ings will remain intact. (It’s unlike­ly, how­ev­er, that you’ll be able to access your mark­ings after you “return” the book, but before you bor­row or buy it again.)

Ama­zon announced in Octo­ber 2010 that Kin­dle users would final­ly be able to lend books to one anoth­er, but under strict con­di­tions. The down­side is that the book can only be lent to an indi­vid­ual user for 14 days, and it sounds like the terms for the Kin­dle Lend­ing Library will be at least the same or more strin­gent. Ama­zon spokesper­son Kin­ley Camp­bell told Ars that the lend­ing time will vary by library, “gen­er­al­ly 7–14 days,” but that users should check with their local libraries for infor­ma­tion.

Although we’re excit­ed about the Lend­ing Library, the lend­ing terms are a bit of bum­mer. Also, inde­pen­dent book lend­ing ser­vices, such as BookLending.com and Lendle.me, still exist for Kin­dle users who want to swap books online (Ama­zon restored Lendle’s API access after revok­ing it a month ago). The Lend­ing Library may be Amazon’s way of “com­pet­ing” with those ser­vices by dri­ving users towards libraries with more restric­tive terms.

[Ars Tech­ni­ca]

I don’t think this fea­ture will real­ly make much dif­fer­ence. It’s real­ly quite easy to remove DRM from ebooks. I’ve looked at the selec­tion of ebooks on loan via the Los Ange­les library sys­tem, with the inten­tion of remov­ing the DRM and read­ing any­thing of inter­est on my Kin­dle, but I nev­er actu­al­ly found any­thing worth read­ing. Maybe this will make more of a dif­fer­ence some years in the future, when the selec­tion offered by Over­Drive is bet­ter.

Calibre with Dropbox
Jun 6th, 2010 by Ken Hagler

After using Drop­box long enough to be sat­is­fied that its per­for­mance would remain good and my files wouldn’t spon­ta­neous­ly dis­ap­pear, I decid­ed to try using it in con­junc­tion with Cal­i­bre. Cal­i­bre is an open-source and cross-platform ebook man­age­ment pro­gram which orga­nizes ebooks in all dif­fer­ent for­mats and can con­vert between most of them. I use it to keep track of all the ebooks I’ve down­loaded for my Kin­dle from sources oth­er than Amazon–which is actu­al­ly the major­i­ty of them. Like most open-source projects it has a ghast­ly user inter­face, but it works well despite that hand­i­cap.

Kin­dles are recharged through the USB cable that con­nects them to a com­put­er, and I’ve been con­nect­ing mine to the Mac Pro I use for work­ing with photos–it’s easy to plug it in and set it out of the way to recharge when sit­ting on a desk. How­ev­er, I actu­al­ly down­load ebooks fair­ly often on my lap­top or gen­er­ate them using Fan­fic­tion Down­loader on my PC. In the past I’ve then moved the ebooks over to my Mac Pro via iDisk, but as I’ve men­tioned before iDisk doesn’t per­form all that well.

Cal­i­bre lets you spec­i­fy where you want your ebook library to be locat­ed in its pref­er­ences, so I moved the fold­er it had been using on the Mac Pro into my Drop­box and point­ed Cal­i­bre to the new loca­tion. I then installed Cal­i­bre on the oth­er two com­put­ers, and now I’ve got access to my library from three dif­fer­ent com­put­ers. When I down­load an ebook on my lap­top I can stick it in Cal­i­bre there, add any meta­da­ta I like, and the next time I plug my Kin­dle in to my Mac Pro it’s there already, wait­ing to be copied over to the Kin­dle. So far this has worked out very well.

Independent publishing and ebooks
Apr 8th, 2010 by Ken Hagler

Pub­lish­ers + Ebooks = Epic Fail. On one end, we have a large NY pub­lish­er, with dis­tri­b­u­tion mus­cle to get books into thou­sands of stores. They’re a giant machine that employs a lot of pro­fes­sion­als to acquire, edit, print, and sell books.

On the oth­er end, we have a sin­gle guy upload­ing his self-pubbed ebooks to Ama­zon.

You’d think the NY pub­lish­er would cream the sin­gle guy in terms of sales. But they didn’t. Not only did I dou­ble the sales of my pub­lish­er, but I made more mon­ey per book. Hell, I sold more ebooks than they sold print books and ebooks com­bined.

Don’t you think there’s some­thing amiss in the uni­verse when a midlist author can make more mon­ey on his own than he can with a big pub­lish­er? [A Newbie’s Guide to Pub­lish­ing]

Any­one with an inter­est in pub­lish­ing, includ­ing those of us who just read all the time, will find every­thing in this guy’s blog pret­ty inter­est­ing.

Kindle 2 Review
Mar 6th, 2009 by Ken Hagler

Last week I got a Kin­dle 2 from Ama­zon. Here are my impres­sions so far.

Phys­i­cal­ly, the Kin­dle 2 looks like an over­sized iPod. The screen is notice­ably bet­ter than any oth­er com­put­er screen I’ve seen. The con­trast is a bit less than a print­ed book, but unless you’re read­ing in very low light this won’t be a prob­lem (and read­ing in such low light wouldn’t be very com­fort­able with a book either). I’ve found that I can read the Kin­dle screen all day with­out get­ting the headache I would from a computer’s LCD mon­i­tor. The inter­face is sim­ple and well-suited to its rather min­i­mal job of keep­ing out of the user’s way while he reads.

The device is a bit wider than a paper­back book, but still nar­row enough to fit in the car­go pock­ets of my fatigues and the large inside pock­ets of my photographer’s vest. For peo­ple with less prac­ti­cal wardrobes, it would prob­a­bly be nec­es­sary to car­ry it in a brief­case or purse. Although it doesn’t come with a cov­er, it would be unwise not to buy one. The offi­cial Ama­zon cov­er works well, hold­ing the Kin­dle with two flat met­al hooks and pro­tect­ing the screen with thick card­board cov­ered by soft cloth on the inside and (alleged­ly) leather on the out­side.

Ama­zon claims that the bat­tery life is four days with wire­less on. I’m sure that’s true some­where, but it’s not good for four days on any plan­et I’ve heard of–I’d say it lasts for about twelve hours of use. Bat­tery life is great­ly extend­ed by turn­ing off wire­less. Since the wire­less fea­ture is basi­cal­ly a cell-phone trans­ceiv­er, it’s a good idea to leave it off almost all the time any­way, unless you like the gov­ern­ment track­ing your every move.

Besides the “Ama­zon Kin­dle” for­mat, the Kin­dle 2 can read Mobipock­et and plain text files with­out any con­ver­sion. The Mobipock­et for­mat seems to be fair­ly com­mon among ebook sell­ers oth­er than Ama­zon. Books from sources oth­er than Ama­zon can be loaded via the includ­ed USB cable, or emailed and then deliv­ered (for a ten cent charge) over the wire­less con­nec­tion.

I’m less impressed with Amazon’s pric­ing of Kin­dle books. They seem to con­sid­er $9.99 the “stan­dard” price for Kin­dle books, with some going for more and old­er books going for less. It seems fair­ly ridicu­lous to charge more than a paper­back for some­thing with no man­u­fac­tur­ing or dis­tri­b­u­tion costs. The selec­tion also has some rather large holes in it–nothing by J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Forester, for exam­ple.

That’s not to say that Amazon’s Kin­dle store is entire­ly worth­less. They do have some books old enough to be out of copy­right for free, such as The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Steven­son. There are also peri­od­ic pro­mo­tions where they sell books for sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduced prices or even give them away for free for a short time.

For­tu­nate­ly, I nev­er intend­ed to rely on Amazon’s Kin­dle book­store for my read­ing mate­r­i­al. For years now, most of my fic­tion read­ing has come from pub­lish­ers who sell ebooks for con­sid­er­ably more rea­son­able prices, such as Baen Books, and from entire­ly free fic­tion pub­lished only on the Inter­net, such as the (many, many) works of Eyrie Pro­duc­tions. Now I can read those books any­where, with­out being depen­dent on a lap­top (and with­out the headache).

Over­all, I’d say the Kin­dle is an excel­lent choice for any­one who already reads exten­sive­ly from online sources, or who trav­els often and cur­rent­ly car­ries heavy stacks of nov­els with them. For any­one else, though, it’s prob­a­bly not worth pay­ing the inflat­ed prices.

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