the Kindle Vs Large Print Books

The Kindle reviews at Amazon show that a surprisingly large number of owners love being able to change the font size on their Kindle. A little digging on large print books, low vision, and related fields reveals some really interesting facts – 

  1. There were approximately 124 million people worldwide with low vision in 2002. (from Wikipedia).
  2. As populations around the world age, there are more and more people with lower vision. So the market for Large Print Books is increasing rapidly.  
  3. The wikipedia article on low vision has some interesting information including the fact that visual aids helped the majority of people affected by low vision.
  4. Large Print Books were first created as literally double-sized and double font sized books. In 1969 they changed to normal sized books with 16 font size. 
  5. There is an interesting company called ReadHowYouWant that prints Large Print Books in custom fonts.  
  6. Amazon itself has a Large Print Books Store. Its very nicely set-up with browsing by categories, a section on bargain large print books, and also a bestsellers section. 
  7. Kindle’s font sizes are also helpful if you have slightly weak vision or just want less eye strain. 

The Kindle’s variable fonts allow users with low vision to read any book in the Kindle Store – definitely a bigger range than that available in Large Print Books. The other advantages of the Kindle also come into effect – 

  1. Lower Prices.
  2. Light Weight. 
  3. 24/7 availability. 
  4. Instant Downloads.

For someone with low vision, I’d think not having to drive to a store is a pretty significant advantage too. 

I’m not sure if Amazon specifically aimed at targeting this market – however, they’ve managed to create a great device for people who have bad eyesight. If you have low vision or another vision related problem, buying the Kindle is definitely an option to look into.

Kindle Text to Speech – Kindle 2.0 Reality (Kindle 3.0 Ideas)

Update: For all the grief I give amazon, I have to say I am well and truly impressed to see an Experimental text to speech feature in Kindle 2.0, which is now available to preorder. In my mind it really is a star feature. You can have any book, magazine or newspaper read to you, and switch from reading yourself to listening, and back, anytime.

There are a lot of situations where it would be really nice to have books read to you –

  1. When you’re doing something where your hands and eyes are otherwise occupied – cooking, driving, exercising, and so forth.
  2. If you’re feeling particularly lazy.
  3. If your eyes are tired.
  4. As you’re going to bed or are in bed.

The obvious solution is audio books – however, you have to pay for audiobooks, and the range is limited. Given that the Kindle uses Linux as its Operating system, and that there are a lot of decent text to speech software programs available for Linux, why doesn’t Amazon add in an option to let you have any kindle edition book you’ve bought read to you.

Text to Speech Synthesis software for Linux.

There are some good options available, including a huge list of free TTS software. Here’s some more information on two popular ones –

  1. Festival– Arguably the most popular TTS software for Linux, with the added benefit of having unrestricted use for both commercial and non-commercial purposes. Here’s a nice blog post explaining how to use Festival.
  2. eSpeak – It’s open source, works with English and other languages, and works on Linux and Windows.  Although, since we’re concentrating on the kindle, linux support is the only one we’re interested in.

What Would be Involved in adding this feature to the Kindle?

There’d be a few things involved –

  1. The text i.e. the books. These are already available – both from the Kindle Store, and free classics from manybooks.net and gutenberg.org. 
  2. The device – the Kindle already can play audiobooks.  
  3. The OS i.e. Linux – The Kindle already runs Linux.  
  4. A Text To Speech Software – We’ve already discussed two free popular TTS software programs above. One of these would need to be integrated into the Kindle, which should be relatively painless.
  5. Voices – This is the voice that actually reads out the book. This would need some work to come up with better voices. However, some of the voices available today are passable.

That’s it as far as I understand. Out of these 5 parts, part 4. i.e. integrating in the Software into the Kindle, and part 5. i.e. finding a suitable voice, are the only ones that the Lab 126 team would need to work on. Honestly, a 1-2 person development team could get this done in a rather reasonable timeframe. If you want to come out with something labeled ‘Beta’ or ‘Experimental’ then under a month. And for something more polished, perhaps 2-3 months. I definitely think it’s a feature worth doing. The other option for Amazon would be to open up the Kindle platform for Kindle 3.0, and encourage 3rd party developers to develop applications like this.

Kindle Sale Estimates, Rumours + News

The unexplained kindle delays, lack of word on Kindle 2.0 release date, and complete lack of Kindle Sales figures all add up to lots of news articles, blog posts and other free press for Amazon. I really don’t see why they’d release any official figures and kill all the free Kindle press and slow down Kindle 2.0 buzz. The three figures that are personally very interesting to me are –

  1. How many Kindles did Amazon sell after the Oprah announcement through the Kindle going out of stock?
  2. How many Kindles is Amazon selling per day currently, despite the 8-10 week delays?
  3. A good estimate of the amount of Kindle Sales Amazon lost out on this Christmas Season due to the Kindle being out of stock.

Of course, there’s little chance Amazon releases these figures. My guesses are –

  1. Amazon sold between 70,000 and 100,000 Kindles in the 8 days from the Oprah endorsement through the Kindle becoming out of stock on November 1st. That’s 8,000-12,000 kindles a day.
  2. Amazon was selling between 1,500 and 2,500 Kindles a day until Nov 24th, when the delays shot up to 11-13 weeks.
  3. Amazon is currently selling between 500 and 700 Kindles a day right now.  

Assuming that Kindle sales would drop a bit as the Oprah effect dissipated, and that the drop in sales would be somewhat offset by the Christmas effect, Amazon probably missed out on selling another 195,000 or so of Kindles.

This is pure speculation, and please treat it as such.

My overall estimate for total Kindle sales through end of 2008 is between 240K and 600K, with the single likeliest figure being around half a million kindles sold.

Kindle News

2008 is almost at an end and here are some of the most interesting Kindle 2.0, Kindle, and Amazon related news snippets, with my thoughts scattered in between –

  1. An exceptional blog post on book sales at Amazon, B&N, Borders, etc. I hadn’t realized how much of a force Barnes & Noble are.
  2. Kindle shipping delays are down to 8-10 weeks i.e.  people ordering now should be getting their kindles Feb 13th to Feb 27th. This matches my predicted Kindle 2.0 release date, and I really think mid Feb is when people will get their hands on Kindle 2.0.
  3. USA Today is now available on the Kindle and you can get the 26th Dec edition for free.  
  4. You can now get used kindles as low as $349 and $400.
  5. Is this a growing trend? Brady High School got a $3,500 grant that’ll provide for 5 Kindles and 70 books for students in the Spring Semester.
  6. Amazon’s 2008 holiday season was its best ever – Are people coming online for better deals? Or is Amazon simply doing a better job than everyone else?  
  7. Kindle Edition sales continue to impress

    Brian Murray, CEO of HarperCollins Publishers Worldwide, said in the NYT earlier this week that the Kindle sales of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, one of Winfrey’s book club titles, represent 20 percent of total Amazon sales for the book

  8. As do New York Times’ desparation measures

    The Times is planning to sell its 17.5 percent stake in the Boston Red Sox in an effort to create $150-200 million in cash. The company may also sell The Boston Globe and About.com to gain additional breathing room.

  9. Going back to the fact that 20% of total sales of ‘Story of Edgar Sawtelle’ were to Kindle owners – What percentage of total book sales do these Kindle editions account for? Is it significant enough for publishers to start marketing to Kindle owners? 
  10. Prime View’s stock is soaring in Taiwan – However, there’s a rather strange snippet in there – “Shipments have almost doubled to around 2,500 sets of e-books each month to 4,500 sets as now.” Apart from the obvious grammatical mistakes, isn’t 4,500 sets a month just plain wrong.