Will book apps replace the ebook?


More and more people are reading ebooks instead of physical books nowadays. It’s a platform that continues to be popular and it’s definitely a lot easier to carry dozens of books on a tablet than to carry even a few actual books with you on vacation. As ebooks continue to grow in popularity, there’s a new type of platform entering the market, and it’s called the book app.

What is a book app?

A book app presents a book in app form rather than ebook form, and it allows for much more interactivity. Sure, an ebook can have video and sound in it now, but a book app can do so much more. It can add interactive video, games, and new ways to get involved with the story; it’s an entirely new and different experience.

Book apps have actually been around for quite a while, mostly being prevalent in children’s books. When the iPad first came out, Disney released a free Toy Story book app, and it’s still one of the best apps in the app store. It includes the book, along with a coloring book and games mixed into the story to engage children as they read it. After this book was released, Disney continued to release more and more interactive book apps, and they still do to this day. Other content creators have since jumped in.

Book apps are gaining steam

However, while it’s not a brand new category by any means, book apps are expanding to include more than just children’s books. Just these past couple of months has seen the release of two fantastic book apps. First,  The Animator’s Survival Kit. This is an app based on the book of the same name, which is a book that teaches animation. Instead of creating an ebook edition (one still might be on the way, but it’s not available as of this writing), the book was converted into a full-blown app, adding many fantastic features you wouldn’t get otherwise. The app is packed with all kinds of videos, including interactive videos that let the reader see the animation steps in a way not possible in an ebook. It’s fantastic, and it’s the same retail price as the actual book, so you’re getting a lot more bang for your buck.

ebooks are still sticking around

That was just one example of a recent book app, but does this mean the end of the ebook is near? I don’t think so. Certain books only work as text, and it’s what most people still want. However, I do see interactive book apps becoming more and more popular as time goes on. Can you just imagine a Stephen King book as an interactive app? That would be pretty amazing.

Microsoft invests $300 million in Barnes & Noble; looks to spin off Nook business

In what may be considered an interesting and somewhat odd move considering past events, Microsoft has announced that they will be investing $300 million into a “strategic partnership” with Barnes & Noble to work on the future of e-reading by creating a whole new subsidiary of Barnes & Noble that will focus on all things Nook as well as its education/college business.

With Microsoft’s $300 million investment, they’ll own a 17.6 percent stake in the new business (valuing the new company at $1.7 billion), while Barnes & Noble will own the remaining 82.4 percent.

The first thing on the agenda so far is a Windows 8 Nook app, as well as working on spreading and popularizing the Nook Study software on Microsoft’s platforms. Just from these two things alone, Microsoft desperately wants content on their platforms. It seems they want their own answer to Apple’s iBooks and to offer Windows users an alternative to Amazon’s Kindle Fire.

However, this could end up being a bitter mistake for both Microsoft and Barnes & Noble if things don’t go even remotely well. Microsoft has a recent history of catching up to established markets by siding with mediocre companies (their partnership with Nokia, for instance). Microsoft’s partnership with B&N, who – let’s face it – is a lesser-performing company in the e-reading market, could become a complete flop if not done right, especially when going up against powerhouses like iBooks and Amazon’s established ecosystem.

Then again, Microsoft lacks any real strategy to compete in the e-reader business in the first place, so this partnership with Barnes & Noble is certainly a good first step if they really want to compete. It will allow them to get more content onto their platform — especially Windows 8 tablets.

In any case, it’ll be interesting to see what consumers will get out of this once the competition is in full swing.

Image Credit: George Kelly

Track and Share Your Favorite Books Online with Goodreads

goodreads_logo_high_res2I had long sought a good place to keep a list of all the books I’ve read or listened to. I originally used a service called Visual Bookshelf (now known as LivingSocial: Books) through Facebook, but I was looking for something cleaner and with better performance. Although LivingSocial: Books had basically every feature I wanted, the overall presentation was clunky and I frequently found myself waiting for pages to load.

After finishing up the weighty tome Atlas Shrugged last week, I decided to put a little more effort into locating a better service. I discovered Goodreads after a little looking, and immediately set to work building my virtual library.

Getting Started with Goodreads

Goodreads was founded in 2006, so it isn’t one of the typical fresh-from-the-box startups we see so often nowadays. Goodreads is also privately owned, which makes me feel a little better about storing my information on the site (the previous service I used was notably involved in many unrelated ventures).

Since I had already established my reading history on a different service, I exported my library from that site as a .csv file and imported it to Goodreads with their simple import/export tool. Goodreads did a good job of importing my previous titles and soon my library was brimming with the books I had conquered.
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Goodreads also allows you to import books from Amazon wish lists, and if all else fails you can search their massive library of 78,000,000 books.
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Your Library

After locating a book you’ve read (or plan to read), click the Add to My Books button next to its listing to add it to your personal library. When you click this button, you’ll have the option to select whether you have already read the book, are currently reading it, or plan to read it in the future.
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If you’ve linked any social networks to your Goodreads account, you can publish status updates to them with the book title, your rating, and your personal review of the book. You can also include your update in the Goodreads update feed, which any of your friends on the service will see on their home page (like the Facebook News Feed).
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From the My Books page, you can see the entire list of books you’ve read. Here you can add ratings, add or remove titles, and categorize your collections.
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By default, Goodreads has three categories which are known as “bookshelves”: read, currently-reading, and to-read. If you want to be more specific with your categorization, click the Add Shelf link below these categories to create your own. You can create bookshelves for specific authors, genres, or even for specific people you think would enjoy the book as a recommendation.
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Share with your Friends

Adding your friends on Goodreads will give you a better experience by letting you read and share reviews. I used the built-in Gmail, Facebook, and Twitter search tools to quickly add a few of my social networking friends.

When browsing book listings, your friends ratings and reviews will show up right below the book’s description.

Like Malcolm Gladwell? Check out his TED presentation about spaghetti sauce. It will blow your mind-grapes.

If your friends have elected to share their updates with you, you can post snarky comments to your heart’s delight.

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When Kevin isn't studying theoretical physics, he enjoys playing video games and painting abstract art.

One of my favorite features about Goodreads’ friend system is the ability to compare books. When viewing a friend’s profile, click the Compare Books link to see list of books you’ve both read, your respective ratings, and how much you have in common with that person’s reading habits.

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Not bad!

Following your Favorite Authors

Besides following your friends, you can also become a fan of your favorite authors to receive updates and see what books they are reading. Many popular authors have accounts on Goodreads, and even the ones that don’t have personal accounts still have author pages where you can become a fan to publicly display your allegiance.

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If you're looking for a good (newer) Neil Gaiman book, check out 'The Graveyard Book'.

After becoming a fan of an author, a special Favorite Authors field will be displayed on your profile with a brief list of your selections.
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Additional Features

If you have a personal website or blog, Goodreads offers some attractive widgets to show off your various collections to your viewers. You can even add Amazon referral links to the book links to earn money through Amazon’s affiliate program. This was a huge surprise to me as I’ve become accustomed to sites making money off of me, not for me.

You can check out one of the widgets in action on the sidebar of my Tumblr blog.
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For a little entertainment, check out the Never-Ending Book Quiz. As its name implies, this game offers a non-stop supply of trivia questions regarding popular books. Your results are stored online so you can compare (and compete) with friends.

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Yet another reason it pays to watch Philip Seymour Hoffman movies.

Goodreads has a lot of features that I didn’t cover in this guide, so take some time to play around with the site. After adding my friends to the site, I was excited to see that reading is still alive and well, and I’m looking forward to discovering new and interesting books through their recommendations.

So You Got a New Kindle for Christmas, Now What?

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Like many of you lucky people out there, I got a new Kindle as a present this Christmas (thanks, Mom!).  I’m an avid reader so I know I’ll make good use of it, but I’ve come up with a few simple tips that can help you get the most out of your new toy.

Oh, and did I mention you can get many popular books on your Kindle for free?

Link your Kindle to your Amazon.com account

The Kindle Store in the Kindle is useful, but if you register your device (linking it with your Amazon.com account), you can instantly send books to your Kindle directly from a web browser.  To register your device, open up the Menu, select Settings, and locate the Registration field.  Click Register to link your Kindle to your Amazon account.

If you purchased your Kindle using your Amazon.com account, it’s allegedly supposed to be pre-registered, but mine was not.

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Download free Kindle books

So you have your new Kindle, but what good is it without any books?  Dozens of literary classics are available for free on the Kindle because they are available in the public domain.  Books like The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Pride and Prejudice, Gulliver’s Travels, Treasure Island, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – all free.  I’m reading Sherlock Holmes at the moment, which was converted to Kindle by a community of enthusiasts for our enjoyment.

To find more free Kindle books, check out Amazon’s Top 100 Free Kindle Books (updated hourly).  You can also check out user-created lists of free books (including much more than public domain books).

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Read the manual (RTFM)

I’m not usually a person that reads instructions, nor do I tell other smart people to read them.  But check this out, smart people: You should read the included digital documentation to get the most out of your Kindle.  The Kindle is straightforward enough, but because of its simple design, you can remain completely oblivious to many useful features.  Here are a few tips I picked up from the manual:

  • Press ALT + Enter to post selected text to Twitter or Facebook
  • Press the Left directional key on a selected item in your library to permanently delete it from your Kindle
  • Press ALT + Q to insert the number 1, ALT + W to insert the number 2, etc (they’re all available with the SYM key, but this is much faster if you’re just using numbers)

The Kindle User’s Guide is included with every Kindle and is right on your home screen when you turn it on.  It’s a bit lengthy, but definitely worth the time.

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Browse the internet

It might not be the fastest, but the Kindle includes a surprisingly nice web browser.  Don’t expect it to render websites perfectly, but if you want to do some surfing between reading sessions and you’re away from a computer, this will do just fine.

The Kindle browser is available under the Menu –> Experimental –> Web Browser.

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Irony, thy name is Kindle.

Turn off popular highlights

The Kindle lets you digitally highlight text in books by navigating to the selection with the directional pad and pressing the center button to start highlighting. Amazon then stores this information online, and uses it to identify which selections are the most popular among all Kindle users.

If you’re reading a book, you’ll notice that some paragraphs will be underlined and may say how many “highlighters” it has.  This is a feature Amazon enables by default to help you identify popular selections, but in my opinion, it’s distracting.

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To turn off popular highlights, press Menu from the home screen, select Settings, and navigate to page 2 of 3.  Locate the Popular Highlights option and disable it.

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Link your social networks

As I mentioned earlier, you can post excerpts you’ve enjoyed to Facebook and Twitter.  To add social networks, press Menu from the home screen, select Settings, and navigate to page 3 of 3.  Open the Social Networks option to link your accounts using the included web browser.


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Use the built-in dictionary

When you think about the advantages the Kindle has over printed books, don’t forget one of the most significant features: you can look up word definitions instantly without digging for a dictionary or using Google’s define: search.  Whenever you encounter a word you want to look up, simply move the cursor in front of it and a brief definition will appear on the screen.

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For a more detailed explanation, simply press the enter key and you’ll be taken to the full dictionary app.  While reading Sherlock Holmes, I had no idea how many different words were used to describe a horse carriage.

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Listen to Audiobooks

I have a 15-minute commute to the office every morning, so I make the most of that time by listening to audiobooks from Audible.com.  I started listening to audiobooks about 3 years ago to pass the time on long trips, and have been completely hooked ever since.

The Kindle can play (and download) Audible audiobooks as well as MP3s, so if you’re torn between carrying your Kindle or iPod, you can bring just one device.  Audible audiobooks you have purchased will appear under Archived Items on your home screen, and you can play MP3s under Menu –> Experimental –> MP3 Player.

Read with multiple devices, never lose your place

The Kindle will automatically store the last page you’ve read online so you’ll never lose your spot in a book.  Because you can read Kindle books on your PC, iPhone, iPad, and Android device, you will be automatically prompted to begin reading where you left off when you use another device.


There are many more great features on the Kindle, so take some time to play with your new device.  And if you find something I haven’t covered in this guide, how about posting it in the comments below?

Happy reading!

A Quick Look At Author Neal Stephenson’s Latest Project: The Mongoliad

Any self-respecting geek has heard of the author Neal Stephenson, and many have read at least one of his works. Author of books such as Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, and most recently Anathem, Stephenson is known for not holding back when it comes to technological descriptions.Cryptonomicon, for example, contains a multi-page explanation on the intricacies of Van Eck phreaking. It definitely isn’t light reading.

Stephenson recently unveiled his latest project, the online subscription-based serial novel The Mongoliad. The Mongoliad is much more than just an online book, however. Along with weekly chapters, you can also find illustrations, maps, a user editable wiki, and a collection of forums to discuss the novel with other subscribers.

In order to manage such a larger undertaking, Stephenson has teamed up with other writers and artists, forming the Subutai Corporation. The writing talent behind The Mongoliad includes Stephenson himself, Greg Bear, and Mark Teppo among others, forming the literary equivalent of a supergroup.

The Mongoliad takes place in the thirteenth century, in a world much like our own. Genghis Khan’s armies are sweeping across Asia and Europe, conquering everything in sight. A small group of warriors, members of a millennium old order, have plans to stop him, however.

Is it worth subscribing to this new form of literary content delivery? For $9.99, or roughly the cost of a standard paperback novel, you gain access to a year’s worth of DRM free Mongoliad content, which will supposedly cover the release of the entire novel. If you choose not to renew your subscription when it expires, you retain access to everything that was released while you were an active subscriber. If for some reason you aren’t happy with your subscription, you can get a full refund within 45 days. Sounds like quite a bargain to me!

An iOS application with access to The Mongoliad is currently going through Apple’s approval process, and an Android application is supposedly in the works as well. If you’re at all interested, a small bit of content, including a prologue chapter, is available to anyone who takes the time to look.

Image Credit: AMagill

Amazon Releases Kindle for Android App

In another big step towards expanding their grip on the E-Book market, Amazon recently released a version of their Kindle software for Android.  The Kindle was originally a hardware device for reading digital books, and Amazon has since made the software available on other devices like the iPhone and iPad.

The Kindle software is free and gives you access to Amazon’s library of 600,000+ digital books, which typically cost $9.99 each.

The Kindle for Android app is my first experience with E-Books; even though I read a lot, I just haven’t been able to give up my printed-on-paper books yet.  Since the Kindle software has been expanding to other devices, though, I’ve been much more eager to check it out, and I like the idea of having my entire library available digitally on a single device.

I’m impressed with Kindle for Android, which I’m told is almost identical to the Kindle app for iPhone/iPad.  I was extremely leery about using it on a small screen (I use the app on a Motorola Droid with a 3.7″ screen), but I was pleasantly surprised to find a good balance between readable text size and keeping as much text as possible on the screen at once.

Upcoming Android devices like the Motorola Droid X will offer much larger screens (the Droid X has a 4.3″ screen), which will dramatically improve your reading experience.

Kindle books can be downloaded pseudo-directly from the application.  A mobile version of the Kindle book store opens in your browser where you can view the Kindle library and purchase books.  Those books are then instantly sent to your device, and I was very impressed with how seamless the process was.

If you already have purchased Kindle books, you can view your personal library directly from the application.

You can also check out a free sample of Kindle books before making a purchase, which is great to see how the book translates to a small screen.

Now like I said, I’m pretty new to the whole E-Book thing.  If you’re a little more serious, you should check out what Kevin has to say about why the Kindle sucks (regarding the copy protection Amazon uses on their books) and his review of the Aldiko E-Book reader for Android, which gives access to a huge library of DRM-free books.

To download Kindle for Android, search the Android Market for “Kindle” or scan the QR code on the right with the Barcode Scanner app.