Can Oprah Save Kindle?

Oprah Endorses KindleOprah endorses Kindle. OMG! Stop the presses. OMG! This is huge. OMG!

Once again, Amazon is trying to create buzz around Kindle and show that Kindle can do for books what the iPod did for music.

Yet, what does Oprah’s endorsement say about the success of Kindle? To me it means current marketing efforts have been less than satisfactory. (Hey, I’m trying to be kind.)

It tells me that Amazon couldn’t leverage their massive base of loyal customers. They couldn’t drum up enough demand by marketing it on their home page continuously for six months. Amazon couldn’t do it by using the largest affiliate marketing program on the Internet.

So Amazon, needing a good holiday season for Kindle, resorts to Oprah. For good or for bad, Oprah is perhaps the largest influencer in books, particularly now that J. K. Rowling closed out the Harry Potter series.

Aside from the Oprah stamp of approval, the endorsement came with a $50 off coupon code. What does that tell you about the price point of Kindle? It’s too expensive!

Remember, Amazon hasn’t released any sales numbers for Kindle. One could argue that Kindle isn’t contributing enough to be reported as material. Yet Amazon’s third quarter results do include references to Kindle title breadth (still a puny 185,000) and Kindle title sales as a percentage of total format sales (more than 10%). So is Kindle material or not? Or is it only material when the numbers look good?

If Kindle were selling like hotcakes Amazon would be beating their chest about it, wouldn’t be crawling to Oprah and wouldn’t be providing a $50 coupon code.

The Internati want Kindle to succeed in the worst way, building projections that Amazon finally had to come out and refute as being extremely high. On the flip side, University publishers and the New York Times have both made less than stellar comments and references about volume.

Kindle 2.0 won’t be out until some time in 2009 and there is still no indication that a textbook Kindle is in the works. Again, if Kindle was a clear success, new versions would have been fast tracked. Now Amazon has to deal with Stanza for iPhone and potential for competition from Google.

Can Oprah save Kindle?

Textbook Torrents

Textbook Torrents Permanently Offline

(updates below or see Rapidshare Textbooks or Free Textbooks)

Textbook Torrents

Textbook Torrents is using BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer file sharing protocol, to let students download textbooks for free. The site not only allows Torrents for those open textbooks but allows users to scan and upload other textbooks.

Scan as many of your other textbooks as you can, and put them up here for others to benefit from. There aren’t very many scanned texts out there, so let’s change that.

A basic rule of thumb to determine if something is acceptable: if you can find it in the courses section of your local university bookstore, it’s fair game.

Sites like Textbook Torrents are reacting to the increasingly high cost of textbooks. According to a 2004 CALPIRG study, the average textbook costs $102 and students spent almost $900 a school year on textbooks. Many believe these prices are artificially high, creating windfall profit centers for publishers on the backs of students who essentially must purchase these textbooks.

The used textbook marketplace has flourished because of these high prices, though the shelf life of a textbook seems to be decreasing as publishers crank out updates and editions on a more regular basis. The Amazon Kindle is also delivering textbooks via digital download.

It’s no surprise that students are using new technology to defray the cost of their education. Obviously the textbook landscape would collapse if the majority of students sourced their textbooks via Torrents – authors need to be compensated, publishers need to run a business.

But publishers shouldn’t squawk too much about these developments. High textbook prices were the accelerant to the flux in the textbook market. Now they’re scrambling to protect their cash cow in the encroaching digital age.

Textbook Torrents Update (July 14, 2008 – 2:00pm)

As noted by readers, the website is currently offline. The error data (“not found on this server”) makes me believe that the owner took it down or that the host (DreamHost) took it down. Please note that Google still has pages from in their index. Google hasn’t banned the site, it’s simply not ranking high because there’s no longer any relevant content on these pages.

I’m guessing this disappearing act is due to legal pressure brought by publishers. The domain doesn’t expire until January 2011. Perhaps will come back when a new host is secured … or not if the publisher pressure was simply too much to handle.

Textbook Torrents Update (July 14, 2008 – 2:57pm)

I emailed DreamHost in what I thought would be a vain attempt to gain some information on the Textbook Torrents situation. To my pleasant surprise, DreamHost responded to my inquiry within the hour. Below is the text of that email:

We received very long DMCA takedown notices from publishers of the content in question. The site was further closed down due to violations of our Terms of Service due to it’s illegal facilitation of the distribution of copyrighted content without the copyright owners consent.

While I sympathize with students and the cost of textbooks, you can’t fault DreamHost for pulling the plug. Based on the information provided above, I’d be surprised if any major US host would touch Textbook Torrents at this point.

Textbook Torrents Update (July 30, 2008 – 8:22am) is still down as we hit the height of textbook season. I’ll continue to look for signs of life and encourage anyone with information to comment or contact me directly. In the interim, students can check out my list of other free textbook sites.

Textbook Torrent Update (July 30, 2008 – 9:02am)

Thank you to xGeNeSisx who tipped us off that Textbook Torrents is up and running but at a different address:

Textbook Torrent Update (October 13, 2008 – 5:31pm)

Textbook Torrents is now permanently offline. Following is the farewell text:

Textbook Torrents is now permanently offline.

There are a number of reasons for this, but I would be lying if I claimed that the concern of legal action wasn’t a major factor in the decision. However, it was by no means the only reason. Upkeep of a site this size is a lot of work, increasingly so as time progressed. What’s more, two years is a long time to be running a site of this nature.

I am at heart an activist, a crusader for the underdog. When I see something that I believe is wrong, I do what I can to fix it, if only in some small way. I believe this is what Textbook Torrents has stood for, and what we have done. The amount of attention that we have garnered would not have been possible by simply running around with a sandwich board and shouting slogans. We have opened people’s eyes, and gotten them talking. At its true purpose, the site has been successful beyond my wildest dreams.

What we have started here does not stop with one site. It is real, and it is now up to you to continue. Take what you have learned and experienced here and go forth. If you’re able, start new sites. Find new ways to open new eyes. Keep the revolution going. It is not a revolution of one, not even of eight staff members: it is a revolution of 100,000. We have done nothing here but provide you with a venue to voice your discontent, and the ideological sentiment that we all share need not end with Textbook Torrents. Indeed, it must live on.

For my part, I have other causes that need fighting for. There are all kinds of ways to fight all kinds of battles, and it is unlikely that I will find myself running a BitTorrent tracker again. I will step back from this and hope that you will carry on in our place.

Thanks for everything, folks. Thanks for making Textbook Torrents everything that it was, and for adding your voices to mine. Now it’s your turn.

(Former) Textbook Torrents administrator

Litquake 2008

Litquake Logo

Litquake 2008 is underway! This is the best literary festival in the city, or perhaps any city. If you’re not familiar with Litquake here’s a quick explanation.

Litquake is a San Francisco literary festival with heart, guts and a taste for the wilder side of the literary world.

It all started in January 2002, when a group of San Francisco writers and media folks met up and started working on the idea of a festival that would be a literary version of the city’s music, film, and cultural festivals. We wanted it to be diverse and inclusive – a mix of readings, panel discussions, themed events, and general literary mayhem – from a wide range of Bay Area authors. And we definitely didn’t want it to be boring.

This 9 day event will feature authors such as Tobias Wolff, Ann Packer, Tom Perrotta, Daniel Handler and Neil Gaiman. Better yet, more than 80% of all Litquake events are free! If you’re in the Bay Area please go out and attend a Litquake event.

If you’re really feeling adventurous, join the Lit Crawl. The literary equivalent to the traditional pub crawl, this three-hour trek takes listeners through the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District. Oh and all Lit Crawl events are free. (Drinks, however, are not.) Download a Lit Crawl map (PDF).

I’ve worked with the Litquake folks and they are great people. Don’t miss out on this extraordinary event.

Kindle 2.0 Photos

Kindle 2.0 Photo

Kindle 2.0 photos have been leaked by The Boy Genius Report and reported in BoingBoing. The new photos show a rounder, sleeker model that is a bit larger than the first generation Kindle. The Boy Genius Report does a very good job breaking down the gadgetry and new user interface. The biggest shocker seems to be the removal of the SD slot, yet another way to ensure users are firmly locked into the Amazon sales channel.

Kindle 2.0 versus Kindle 1.0

Recent reports indicated that Kindle 2.0 wasn’t going to be available until early 2009. Does this mean Amazon has moved up the scheduled release in hopes of a holiday season push? Or is this a Kindle 1.5? Or perhaps it’ll simply take that much time to get production up and running on the new version? As with all things Amazon, we don’t know because they don’t say much.

I’d be surprised if Amazon did follow through on a holiday launch. The economy isn’t going to kind to retailers and a pricey gadget may not get the traction it did in prior years. It is notable that this is not the Textbook Kindle. I’m guessing that Amazon is trying to persuade publishers to play ball with them for a July 2009 release just prior to the back-to-school rush.

Initial reaction from innovators and early adopters seems mixed at best. This is bad news if Amazon was hoping for a substantial number of upgrade purchases, and saps the momentum it’s had among this group.

In the end I still believe this is much ado about nothing. The Kindle is a solution without a problem. Sure there are niches which would substantially benefit from the Kindle: researchers, travelers and students. However, the first two are small markets and the third, while large and lucrative, is intrinsically tied to publishers who have little love or trust of Amazon.

Conclusion: gadgetry gone wild.