Will book apps replace the ebook?

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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

How to create, format and self-publish your own eBook

iBooks

iBooksWhen Apple rolled out iBooks 2, it also released a tool to create interactive ebooks called iBook Author. It’s free and supposed to be easy to use. The catch is that you can only use it to sell books via Apple’s iBooks store, although you can use it to create ebooks that you can distribute for free.

iBooks Author is an important tool because creating an ebook is a bit more complicated that exporting a Word document as a PDF. Self publishing services such as Lulu, Smashwords and Amazon’s CreateSpace, and Barnes & Noble’s PubIt! have free templates that you can use to create your ebook. Cover art is usually uploaded as a separate file. Your files are converted into the ePub format that will be readable by ebook readers such as Nook and Kindle.

All this is free – that is, until you actually sell your ebooks. These services can take anywhere from 15 percent to 30 percent in commissions. While that’s more lucrative than royalties paid by traditional publishers, you may want to truly self-publish your books. There are tools that will export ePub and PDF formats, allowing you to sell your own ebooks and/or distribute through one of the services.

Here are some free options that you can use to create ebooks on your own:

  • PressBooks: This service is a WordPress blog that lets authors export books in ePub, Kindle, print-on-demand-ready PDF, HTML and inDesign-ready XML.
  • eCub: This free app works on Windows, Linux, Mac, FreeBSD and Solaris systems. It’s a very basic tool without WYSIWYG.
  • Sigil: Free WYSIWYG ebook editor works in Windows, Mac OSX and Linux.

Jutoh costs $39 and is a WYSIWYG ebook editor imports text files or lets you create the ebook from scratch. It works in Windows, Mac OSX and Linux. Some word processing and design apps such as Atlantis, Adobe InDesign, Pages and Scrivener will export documents in ePub format.

Conclusion

It may be worth your while to create your ebook with one of these apps before uploading it to an ebook selling service. They may be easier to use than the templates provided, and having your own ePub-formatted manuscripts give you more flexibility for selling your books.

Kindle Fire proves that reviews are meaningless

If you’re serious about purchasing a new piece of technology, do yourself a favor and try before you buy. Because relying on reviews, especially from just one or two people, is tantamount to gambling your money on one person’s opinion.

We’ve all looked at reviews online. We even write them here at Techerator. And they can make for fun reading, and writing. But their worth is up for debate. The thing which a lot of people seem to forget is that reviews are really nothing but opinion. Whether the product being reviewed is a website, an album, a video game, a movie, or a piece of consumer technology, that fact remains present and correct.

Kindle Fire Reviews

The Kindle Fire has garnered the most diverse range of opinions aimed that I have ever seen for a piece of consumer technology. You can read 10 reviews of the new Amazon tablet online and I guarantee none of them will agree with each other. On one end of the scale will be unmitigated praise, on the other, damning admonishment. And in-between are the more sensible, down-to-earth approaches which state the good and the bad in equal measure.

The best demonstration of this is on ZDNet, where the same writer, David Gewirtz, has been able to find seven reasons why the Kindle Fire is better than the iPad, and 12 things about the Kindle Fire which kinda suck. And even these facts are open to interpretation. If the cost of something isn’t an issue, then the low price of the Kindle Fire would not be an advantage. If you wouldn’t dream of adding a keyboard to a tablet then the Kindle Fire’s lack of Bluetooth support isn’t a downside in the slightest.

If that is a good example of looking at a product objectively then Marco Arment’s review of the Kindle Fire is a good example of ranting and raving against a product without looking at it in context. Arment is the creator of Instapaper, so his review spread virally across the interwebs. It was eventually lapped up by Apple fanboys extraordinaire such as John Gruber and MG Siegler. The question is why has Arment’s opinion been treated with higher regard than someone who isn’t well-known within the industry? Is his opinion worth more? Is it more likely to be correct?

Conclusions

The Kindle Fire isn’t an iPad. Amazon has never suggested it is. But the Kindle Fire is a $199 tablet which does many of the same things a $499 iPad does, and for that reason it will sell. If you can afford an iPad then get one of those. If not then the Kindle Fire is a good product at a good price.

As for reviews, they’re certainly better than buying blind, but take everything with a liberal pinch of salt. And also read a variety of opinions from across the spectrum of writers and reviewers. Amazon is always a good starting point, as these are ordinary consumers not spoiled by having reviewed every product on the market.

Image Credit: Striatic
Image Credit: Courtbean

Is More Amazon Hardware On The Way?

Amazon is a huge and hugely influential online retailer. But of late it has become something much more than that: a purveyor of hardware. Not just any old hardware, but well-made hardware that people actually want to own. The question is: after the Kindle eBook reader and the Kindle Fire tablet what hardware could be next on Amazon’s wish list?

Amazon Kindle

Amazon released its first Kindle in 2007, and while it wasn’t the first or only eBook reader on the market it was the device that brought eBooks into the mainstream. With ultra-competitive pricing Amazon was able to sell millions of Kindles and then make money from the sale of eBooks. There have been several iterations of the hardware since, with the new Kindle Touch being the latest.

Kindle Fire Tablet

Alongside the Kindle Touch Amazon also unveiled the Kindle Fire, a tablet in the mold of, but not competing with, the Apple iPad. Priced at just $199, the Kindle Fire is affordable to those millions of people who covet an iPad but simply cannot justify the price tag. Amazon is likely losing a small amount of money on each Kindle Fire sold, but like with the Kindle will make money from the sale of digital content after the hardware is in the hands of consumers.

Seesaw

Alongside the registration of trademarks for the Kindle Fire came a separate company name, with ‘Seesaw’ playing host to the Android tablet and its associated products. This could simply be a bookkeeping tactic, splitting the tablet business from the main Amazon brand in order to protect it and open up the possibility of selling it off in the future should things not go as well as hoped. Or it could be the start of a whole new business for Amazon, one in which the online retailer is a true hardware manufacturer.

Smartphones? Laptops? TVs?

With an eBook reader and tablet under its belt, it’s certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that Amazon will produce more hardware in the future. Essentially any device which connects to the Web, and can handle the consumption of digital content, is ripe for Amazon to dabble in. A smartphone is the most obvious next step, with many people now using them to do much more than simply communicate with others. But laptops and netbooks are also a possibility. And how about an Amazon-branded television? On that score Jeff Bezos and Co. could even beat Apple to the punch.

The key for Amazon, whichever direction it heads in next in terms of hardware, is to keep prices low and quality high. If it can achieve that blend then it could become a true hardware giant.

Image Credit: Jonobacon
Image Credit: Paz.ca

Why I’ll Never Use the Kindle Fire Tablet for Reading

I love my Kindle. I was hesitant to get one at first because I tricked myself into thinking that there was something to the “real book experience” that I couldn’t get from a Kindle. I was wrong — I tried the Kindle, became enamored by the size, portability, and battery life, and now I have hundreds of e-books. I’ll probably never buy a paperback book again… sure, the Kindle has some experience problems, like the hassle of quickly flipping back to reference something at the beginning of the book, but the good just vastly outweighs the bad.

I was pretty excited to see what the Kindle Fire tablet would offer me. I was positive I would upgrade, but now that I’ve seen what it’s all about, I am almost positive I won’t. Why? I’m going to do my best to show why I will not upgrade to a Fire with a picture.

See that? It’s Angry Birds, and it will prevent me from buying the Kindle Fire to read books.

I’ve had this conversation with a few friends that own iPads. I ask, “What is reading like on that thing?” They hand it over and give me a hack, and to be honest, it’s amazing. Beautiful even. There is absolutely nothing about the Kindle page-to-page experience that I prefer over that of the iPad. But how many of my friends use their iPad for reading?

Zero. Goose egg.

The problem is that the iPad has so many other features, so many other forms of quick entertainment that it becomes almost impossible to stay focused on a book! Internet browser, Twitter, frickin’ Angry Birds. While the reading experience on an iPad is quite nice, each of my friends admit that they pull out their Kindle (or *gasp* an actual book) if they want to do some serious reading.

The beauty of the Kindle, and the reason I will keep mine for a great long while, is that it is a one-purpose device for an activity that deserves 100% of your attention while engaged in it. I like the idea of a cheaper alternative to an iPad that runs on Android, but I almost disagree with attaching the Kindle name to it. It’s going to be an impressive device that almost nobody uses for reading, just like the iPad.

So, there you have it. I hope somebody from the Kindle development team stumbles across this article and bears in mind that some people want a Kindle that can only be used for reading. The Kindle Fire is going to be a really neat device (arguably better than the iPad), but I don’t see myself retiring my Kindle 3 any time in the near future.

Amazon Announces Slew of New Kindles

Today, Amazon hosted an event in New York City to announce and show off some new products. Sure enough, it was all about the Kindle brand.

Here’s what they unveiled:

Kindle Touch

The first device they announced was the Kindle Touch. As the  name implies, the Touch doesn’t have a physical keyboard or any buttons. Rather, it has an IR touch system that’s similar to the latest Nook and Kobo. Bezos says the E-Ink display on the Touch is one of the most advanced yet. The device is also smaller, thinner and lighter than the existing Kindle and while specifics about battery life weren’t revealed, we’re told it’s “extra long.”

The Kindle Touch will be priced at $99 with a 3G model available for $50 more. Both will be up for pre-order later today and will ship on November 11th.

Kindle

There’s no fancy name attached to the end of this one, but that’s because it’s just a normal Kindle. Amazon revealed an updated Kindle and it will only cost you a mere $79. It’s weighs just under six ounces and is 18 percent smaller than the third-gen Kindle. This one has buttons, but no physical keyboard and no touch screen. The interface is much faster than before, with lightning-quick page turns being one of the biggest improvements.

The new Kindle is out now and ready to ship!

Kindle Fire

Just when we thought we could never see a tablet under $200, Amazon makes it happen. Today they revealed their Kindle Fire tablet for $199, which has a 7-inch IPS display (with Gorilla Glass) and built-in WiFi (no 3G, though), as well as a 30-day trial to Amazon Prime (the $79-a-year service that includes streaming video and free two-day shipping). It also sports a dual-core processor and weighs just 14.6 ounces (lighter than the iPad). It doesn’t have any cameras or a microphone, but that’s expected with a sub-$200 tablet. You’ll also get access to the Amazon App Store, as well as movies, TV shows and Kindle books.

The Kindle Fire is running the Android OS, but Amazon heavily customized the interface so it looks nothing like Android, and we’re guessing you won’t be able to get the true Android experience without a little warranty-voiding.

Bezos says that the Kindle Fire can pose a real threat to Apple’s iPad, something that HP and RIM couldn’t manage to do. The price is definitely one way to get started on that. The Fire will begin shipping on November 15th. You can pre-order today.

Harry Potter eBooks To Be DRM Free

Personally, I am not a fan of publishers locking down eBooks with intrusive and unnecessary DRM. It devalues their product and does little to prevent piracy anyway. It’s unfortunate that almost all major publishers and digital book distributors continue to sell their books with such a handicap. One giant name in the book industry, however, is looking to shake things up.

J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, revealed her latest project yesterday. Along with a brand new online component of the Harry Potter universe known as Pottermore, Rowling revealed that both audio and eBook versions of the series would be made available digitally for the first time. Even better, the eBooks will be DRM free, meaning they can be bought and downloaded regardless of the platform they will be read on. The files will be digitally watermarked instead, associating the file to the person that purchased it.

A major publisher almost certainly wouldn’t allow such a bold move, but Rowling is able to offer her works DRM free because she retains the rights to the digital publication of the Harry Potter series.

Will this mark a turning point in the eBook industry? Will publishers and authors see that eBooks can still sell even without DRM? It’s hard to say, but it certainly won’t hurt. If Harry Potter sells well DRM free (which it almost certainly will), book publishers might finally start to see that DRM is completely unnecessary.

You can watch Rowling’s announcement for yourself in the video below.

How To: Import E-Books Into Aldiko for Android Using Dropbox

It’s been nearly a year since I last wrote about Aldiko, and while the E-book market on Android has exploded since then I still consider Aldiko to be the best reader out there. E-book powerhouses like Amazon and Barnes and Noble have both launched reader applications of their own, but they both lack a seemingly critical feature: the ability to import your own E-books to read.

Luckily for you, Aldiko does exactly that.

In previous versions of Aldiko E-book importing was a bit of a hassle. The books had to be put in a specific folder on the SD card or the application wouldn’t even recognize they existed. A few months ago, though, Aldiko got a brand new interface, and with it came easier book importing. By combining this awesome new update with the power of Dropbox, it’s not even necessary to connect your device to your computer to import books!

Initial Setup

To get started, you’ll first want to ensure that the book you’re importing is in the correct format as Aldiko will only accept books of the EPUB variety. If your book isn’t already in the EPUB format, it can easily be converted using Calibre which is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

The next step is to sign up for Dropbox if you don’t already have an account. Dropbox is a free service that lets you sync files across multiple platforms, including Android.

After getting your computer set up with Dropbox, go ahead and move the E-book you want to import to the Dropbox folder. Once it syncs, head on over to your Android device.

Importing the Book Into Aldiko

If you haven’t already, go ahead and download the Dropbox client for Android. Once you’ve signed in, you should see the E-book you moved earlier. Long press on it and select ‘Download’.

Once the book finishes downloading, switch over to Aldiko. If you aren’t already on Aldiko’s home screen, hit the Options button and select ‘Home’. From here you should see a button for SD card. Once in the SD card you’ll want to look for the folder labeled ‘dropbox’. You should now see the book you want to import, so go ahead and select it and choose ‘Import to Aldiko’.

That’s it! You can click on the book right now to start reading, or access it from the shelf view later. Happy reading!

Aldiko comes in both a free and paid version, both available on the Android Market. Download the free version by scanning the QR code below, or find it here on the web version of the Market.

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.

Conclusion

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!