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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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