How will people look back at the Kindle & Nook era in 100 years?

Let’s start with a little snippet about Johannes Gutenberg and the Printing Press:

…probably introduced movable type to Europe, and is likely to have developed the earliest European printing press.

He is sometimes said to have started the Printing Revolution, regarded as the most important event of the modern period.

It played a key role in the development of the Renaissance, Reformation and the Scientific Revolution and laid the material basis for the modern knowledge-based economy and the spread of learning to the masses.

So we have a pretty intimidating frame of reference to compare eReaders and eBooks to – The Gutenberg Press played a key role in the development of the Renaissance, Reformation and the Scientific Revolution. The Gutenberg Press laid the basis for the knowledge economy and brought learning to the masses.

Here’s a quote talking about the impact of Gutenberg’s Printing Press  –

As early as 1620, the English statesman and philosopher Francis Bacon could write that typographical printing has “changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world” 

The first question that comes up is – Will eReaders and eBooks have similar impact?

eReaders & eBooks are unlikely to have the scale of impact of the Printing Press

The primary reason is that books already exist and they aren’t really very expensive. We aren’t going through a big jump from ‘books only being affordable to the top few percent of the population’ to ‘books being available to a huge percentage of the population’.

That opportunity doesn’t exist because Gutenberg and his Press already took it.

The secondary reason (and this is a really big one too) is that the Internet already exists and it’s already done a lot of what ebooks possibly could have. The barriers are already gone. Information is already spreading wildly and freely.

There might not be a big, huge oppportunity for ebooks to make pivotal impact. Because they arrive after Gutenberg and after the Internet.

Which brings us to our second question – What big positive impact are eReaders and eBooks having?

Are eReaders & eBooks making books more accessible?

Yes. We can definitely point to a few things here –

  1. Anyone can read all public domain books for free now.
  2. Books are available instantly.
  3. Books are slowly becoming cheaper.
  4. People who had limited access to books earlier – now have more access.
  5. More people are able to offer books so the choice available is increasing.

There is, however, a twist.

When absolutely anyone can publish books, and lots of people are, we run into a signal versus noise problem.

Have eReaders & eBooks made it too easy to publish and spread books?

You have to wonder.

  1. If there is no barrier to publishing a book – Is that really a good thing?
  2. If the amount of noise keeps increasing – Is that going to scare people away from books?
  3. If there is no real barrier to the spread of a book – Are there any dangers?
  4. Since the lack of barriers also applies to things like stealing books – Is this going to reduce money earned by authors and publishers to the point that it starts affecting quality?
  5. Are we getting too much of a good thing?

I think the Law of Unintended Consequences is going to do a real number on everyone in books (including readers and authors).

The Law of Unintended Consequences & Books

There are two separate things:

  1. Letting anyone who wants to publish, publish.
  2. Making it easy to publish – even if you shouldn’t be publishing.

These are intertwined and have opposing effects. 

  1. The first is good. It’s about freedom and the democratization of publishing.
  2. The second is bad. It’s about a lack of quality control and about terrible books drowning out the good ones.

Kindle and Nook and eBooks were supposed to allow people to publish. To let deserving authors bypass the Gatekeepers and go straight to readers. To let authors take 90% of the earnings instead of 10%.

The Law of Unintended Consequences says:

  1. In parallel with X deserving authors, we’ll have 10X undeserving authors who will also publish. ‘Undeserving’ is a very loaded term – interpret it as people who haven’t worked on the craft of writing enough to be worth readers’ time.
  2. Authors will get a larger share of earnings. At the same time the amount of earnings will start to plummet.
  3. There will be so much competition and such little defensibility that books as an industry will begin to disappear.

You can’t stop people from having free access to your books. You can’t stop authors and semi-authors and pretend-authors from publishing books. Readers can’t handle the sheer volume of published books. It’s spinning out of control.

eReaders and eBooks might mark the ‘Public Domain’ization of ALL books (new or old)

What has happened is that the minute you release an eBook, or for that matter a printed book, you leave it up to readers to decide what they will pay for it.

Readers don’t fully understand this. Authors don’t understand that readers have the option to pay zero. No one is willing to admit that sooner or later people will choose to buy a $4 cup of coffee and read the latest bestseller for free (as opposed to paying for the bestseller).

As soon as readers get a reason that satisfies their need to ‘not be the bad person’, they will gladly switch over to reading books without paying for them. They just need a reason – ads, price too high, restrictions, anything – and they will gladly switch to a model where they don’t pay or where they pay a ridiculously low amount.

In effect, your book is ‘public domain’ the minute it gets converted into ebook format. You can come up with ways to try to get people to pay for them. However, it’s going to be difficult – particularly as more and more kids trained to get everything (music, movies, games) free online grow up and expect the same from books. What makes books and authors special? Why aren’t books free like everything else?

The Legacy of eReaders and eBooks might be the conversion of books to works of charity

Think back to the ‘value perception of books’ in 2007. Now consider what the current value perception of books is. It’s changed a lot.

Can you imagine someone walking into a bookstore in 2007 and asking for the latest bestseller to be $3 or even $1? Yet, that is routinely what people are now asking for ebooks to be priced at. These are the same people who have all the power – they can just download the book for free.

eReaders and eBooks are building up two legacies –

  1. Anyone can get a book without paying the author of the book anything.
  2. Anyone can publish and dilute the average quality of books.

Both of these play into each other. More books = more competition = lower prices. Lower prices = lower quality = less differentiation. The net result is that eReaders and eBooks might end up doing a lot more bad than good.

Perhaps it isn’t the best thing in the world to remove all barriers and let people do whatever they want. Pay whatever they want. Publish whatever they want.

My prediction is that people will look back at the Kindle & Nook era in 100 years as the ‘dark age of books’. That what happens in books in the next 10 to 30 years due to eReaders and eBooks and human nature being left unchecked is going to be very damaging for books. This is no Guternberg’s Press. This is more like a storm that uproots the very foundation of a business model that, despite its faults, has some redeeming qualities. A storm that leaves behind a world where books are everyone’s property and the incentive and resources for crafting great books are diminished significantly.

Our Kindle Speed Reading App and the truth about Kindle App Approval Process

This comment from Tim made me think it’d be worth sharing some information about our ‘Improve Your Reading Speed’ app and why it won’t be coming out. And might as well share information about other apps that Amazon hasn’t approved and probably never will.

Tim – 2 hours ago 

I agree with Mary – concentrate on something that Amazon or others might not do. I reckon the Kindle is a perfect format for a speed-reading app, and that a good number of its users would be very interested in that.

@Sandy Spruill – if you download Caliber and then download instal the Kindle Collections plugin from the Caliber plug-ins page, you can organise your collections.

We’ve also had users leave comments before and even email us. The infinite irony of this is that we’ve had a Reading Speed App submitted since September 2010. Over a year ago. Amazon just keeps finding reasons to not let it go out to Kindle owners.


We do have a Reading Speed App. It has the following:

  1. A 7 day course on learning how to speed read.
  2. 15 public domain books to test on and measure reading speed on.
  3. A tracker that tracks your reading speed and shows it graphically.

Here is a screenshot. You basically go into a practice book, tap ‘Start’, read a few pages, then tap ‘Stop’, and it measures your reading speed. There’s a course that explains how to improve your reading speed.

Reading Speed App
Improve Your Reading Speed

It does not have the following:

  1. Option to speed read through every Kindle book. Apps are not allowed to access books so this is not possible at the moment. Ideally we’d like to make something that lets you measure your reading speed in any book and also use auto-page turns or Random Serial Visual Presentation to speed-read any book. However, Kindle Apps are NOT ALLOWED to access books.

This ‘Improve Your Reading Speed’ app is probably never going to come out.

Amazon rationale:

  1. We have no credentials to release a reading speed app.
  2. There are legal concerns. Given that there are 50 different speed reading software available for the PC and for smartphones this seems like nonsense.
  3. Users who don’t see their reading speed improve will give it a negative review.
  4. Price is too high. I have a simple answer – Let us make it WiFi only and we’ll sell it for $1. We get charged 15 cents per MB and this app is 2.5 MB so if Amazon makes it WiFi only (and then users can use WiFi or PC to download) we’ll make it $1. The aim is to help people improve their reading speed and $1 is fine. We just can’t manage $1 if we also have to pay 40 cents for every single download of the app.

Honestly, I think Amazon is just delaying us because it is shopping the app idea around and seeing if it can get some more ‘palatable’ & ‘established’ company to do it first.

Here are the key dates:

  1. October 2010: App Submitted in working form.
  2. October and November 2010: Amazon tell us that they will have some people internally ‘who know speed reading’ look at our app and give ideas. Because ‘some random person at Amazon with a fleeting interest in speed reading’ should naturally tell the people who made the software how to design it.
  3. November, December, January 2010: Prioritization of Apps like ‘Tic Tac Toe’ and ‘Flip It’ since Amazon thought that out of the 24 Apps we submitted (Notepad, Calendar, ToDo List, Reading Speed, Weather, etc.) the ones most valuable to Kindle owners would be Tic Tac Toe and FlipIt (the only two games).
  4. This year we restarted the idea (thinking that after Notepad and Calendar we would be able to get over Amazon’s ‘credentials’ objection. Amazon wanted to ‘Approve the Idea’ and took two months to approve it. 2 months for some committee at Amazon to give their stamp of approval.
  5. Then we submitted the app (works for all eInk Kindles except Kindle Touch) and just last week Amazon says – You might as well do some other app, because this app will take 3 months to approve.

This is an app with an entire book reading component. It’s only when the entire app is done (and modified for Kindle 4 so it works without a keyboard) that Amazon suddenly decided it’s not good enough.

So an app that we really, really want to make for Kindle owners and will sell for $1 if Amazon lets us do WiFi only (so we don’t have to pay 40 cents every single time the app is downloaded) – Amazon won’t let us. It’d rather we made me-too apps like Tic Tac Toe and random games.


Even Apps that are approved are a journey through Hell. Kindle Notepad only got shipped after we threatened to leave the store.

Our Kindle Notepad update took 2.5 months to get approved. Again, after threatening to leave the store. Calendar and Kindle Notepad update shipped on the same day and only because we again threatened to leave the store.

It’s just very disheartening when the only way to get an app approved is to use threats and go through months and months of waiting.


Here are some other apps that aren’t approved:

  1. Notes with Email. This is a Notes App that lets you keep three tabs of notes and also email them out. Reason Not Approved: It uses 3G. Note: Amazon won’t add API to differentiate between WiFi and 3G. It won’t let us cover 3G costs either. 
  2. Weather. This is not approved because it would use wireless data. 
  3. Please Return Me App. This is an app you can leave running on your Kindle when you leave the house. If someone finds your Kindle, they can email you from the app itself. Reason not Approved: Use of 3G. Because we are sending email to user email account and that counts as ‘user information’ and is risky. This is despite us switching to Amazon’s Simple Email Service.
  4. Personality Test Apps. Reason not allowed: Because we don’t have the ‘credentials’.
  5. Page Number Guesser. This was a simple app that let users enter page numbers and locations for a book and then look up things. Note: This isn’t very useful because apps can’t access books themselves – so it would be a reference outside the app.
  6. Photos – A File Manager that lets you keep photos, create folders (multi-level) and put photos in them, view slideshows. Reason: Not sure.

These are just some of the apps not approved. Most of these apps fall into the categories of

  • Apps that Amazon thinks we have no business releasing. OR
  • Apps that use wireless data and Amazon can’t be bothered to release an API that differentiaties between WiFi and 3G. Note: It won’t let us release 3G apps even if we agree to pay for 3G data.

Apps that do get approved aren’t a cakewalk either. Calculator took 9 months to get approved. In the interim another company got to release their app first (they are a launch partner). Kindle Tips took nearly an entire year.

Kindle App Team keeps ‘suggesting’ we make apps free and when we don’t then that app gets ignored for months.

Our team thinks it’s Kindle owners who should decide whether an app idea is good for users or not. Not middle management at Amazon.

And that an app shouldn’t be stopped because Amazon’s Kindle App team is scared that some users might give it bad reviews. Should a Speed Reading App that will benefit tens of thousands of users be not released because a few dozen users might leave 1-star reviews?

If you find one or more of these apps appealing, please email Mike Nash, who’s the head of the Kindle App Team. Perhaps he can explain why an app on Reading Speed is not being allowed to ship because of the fear that a few people might give it a 1-star review, and why all the above apps like Weather and Personality Tests and Email Apps are not OK to release. His email is

Finally, every single Kindle App developer I’ve talked to has the same problems i.e. Kindle App Team thinks they know better than Kindle owners what apps they should get. They won’t add things like ‘sound API’ so no alarm clock apps are possible, they won’t allow a WiFi API so we can’t add apps that use wireless, and they won’t allow access to books so Collections Organizers and Page Number Apps etc. can’t be made.

Also, the Kindle Touch Development Kit was shared with only a limited group of large companies. And everyone else had to wait a month. Which guarantees that all the ‘non-privileged’ companies won’t be able to get Touch versions of their apps out for Christmas. Basically, companies like EA get exclusive access to Touch Kindle owners for Christmas and the new year.

Here are a few more developers who are experiencing the infinite joy of Amazon’s Kindle Apps Team (Bolding is mine). 


Developer #1:

Can I get a new contact at Amazon. To other developers: beware 

 was asked by a developer at Amazon to make an application offered on another mobile platform for the Kindle. I accepted, signed up, purchased a Kindle reader learned how to program on this platform. A few weeks into development, my contact at Amazon asks to see my progress, tells me things look like they’re moving in the right direction with my project. He informs me there is too much ghosting, to which I answer, that introducing more frequent flashing will take away too much from the speed of the program. I did not think the ghosting was bad at all. He informs me that it is already really fast and flashing will not make the program too slow. So, I introduce flashing with every screen repaint as he requested instead of flashing every 10 or so screens like I was doing (if I am not mistaken, a flash every 10 screens max is the recommendation in the documentation).

I finish the program, submit it. A few days later I get an email asking if he could get in touch with me about some feedback on my program. Of course, I say, any time is fine. I hear no feedback for days. I email him asking for the feedback again, and I finally get it. The feedback indicates that the team does not think the format of my program (which I have been selling for years on another platform and was asked to bring over to Kindle by someone at Amazon) is not acceptable. I am wondering why I was even asked to join this project if my application wasn’t acceptable. Also, the flashing I implemented at the request of my contact is not acceptable to the team, as they indicate my application is too slow. I’m sorry but I can’t help that flashing takes to long and my contact wants flashing with every repaint. The team, is suggesting I make other changes to my program which I disagree with. Okay fine, I can accept they want changes and I will make some of them, but some of the changes being recommended by the team are just not possible and others I need clarification on. I have emailed my contact with questions about the feedback from the team and I am totally frustrated at the lack of response and the contradictory feedback.

I’m 40,000 lines of code into my project, and these changes are requiring me to make considerable alterations. If Amazon is going to demand this much control over what they allow in the store, I need some support from them, and I am not getting it. I have had at least four important emails go unresponded. My contact is very good at making demands, but is doing very little to address my questions and other issues.

So now I have a 40,000 code line immaculate work of art, ready for deployment by  reasonable means, and I can’t get some simple answers about the feedback I am getting. It appears Amazon is throwing me under the bus. I have spent at least 240 hours on this project. I refuse to work like this.

To the other developers: What are you experiences with the review process? Be aware that this may happen to you. Be cautious of investing too much time into your projects before getting feedback. Even if you are getting regular feedback during development, it seems they have no problem reversing their stance later.

To Amazon: get me a contact that is going to actually RESPOND TO MY EMAILS AND NOT JUST MAKE DEMANDS, immediately. I don’t have endless resources to spend on this project.I am 240 hours in the hole on this project, and I have to find a way to, you know, pay for my housing and food, so some help would be great. 

email: [removed]


Developer #2:

This is not too different from my own experiences. After weeks and months of slow and often technically uninformed (the so-called engineer I was referred to for one problem in my app wasn’t even aware of a bug that has been discussed in these forums a couple of times only to suggest a workaround that – as discussed in the forums as well – is impossible with the current kdk) feedback I finally got the technical ok from the QA team only to be informed by my contact that the current design of my app was “not viable”. There were two – supposedly better – similar apps on the market and mine wouldn’t be able to compete with them. Apart from the fact that all information required to come to this conclusion must have been available to them for a long time I don’t agree (also, the financial risk is mine isn’t it?). I asked for clarification of the rather general statement and suggestions for improvement but only received vague dismissive answers. My last two emails on the matter (sent weeks ago) have remained unanswered.

I’ve been quite angry about the matter for a while but have now decided to invest my time and effort elsewhere.

I find this really baffling. Amazon is an international multi-billion company that wants to go up against the likes of Apple and Google but seems to think it can get along with a half-assed bug-ridden poorly maintained sdk and shoddy developer relations. I think this is not going to cut it..

Have we reached the point of effective equality between all eReaders?


Is ‘Kindle vs Nook – Which Should I Get?’ now better written as ‘Kindle or Nook – It Doesn’t Matter’.

Seriously, let’s take a look at whether there’s any difference at all between getting a Kindle or a Nook 2. In particular, would you buy one and later regret it? If you wouldn’t regret either purchase – then it effectively implies that the two eReaders are now pretty much equal.

In the past Kindle vs Nook was not an easy choice

In Nov 2009, Kindle vs Nook was a tough decision

When Nook 1 was first announced, it had the following main advantages over the incumbent Kindle 2 – PDF support, ebook lending (even if it was/is just a token feature), library book support, replaceable battery, LCD touch-screen at the bottom, millions of free books from Google (although you could convert these for Kindle), ePub support, Chess and Sudoku, slightly better screen contrast, memory card slot, both WiFi and 3G.

Kindle 2 had significant advantages of its own – lower book prices, text to speech, free 3G Internet, faster speed, ease of use, better battery life (significantly better), second generation device (most of the bugs and issues had been worked out).

There were significant pros and cons to choosing Kindle over Nook (or vice versa).

In July 2010, Kindle 3 vs Nook tilted towards Kindle – but there were still consequences

In early 2010 the Agency Model eroded one of the Kindle’s biggest advantages. This made the Kindle vs Nook decision even tougher. But then Kindle 3 tilted things in favor of the Kindle.

When Kindle 3 was first announced it had the following main advantages over the Nook 1 – eInk Pearl screen, text to speech, free 3G internet browsing, slightly better PDF support, better browser, ease of use, light weight, compactness, battery life of a month, social features, being the third version of the Kindle (most issues were worked out). 

Because it was a third generation eReader, Kindle 3 easily outpaced Nook 1. However, you made significant sacrifices – no pretend-lending, no support for library books, no memory card, no replaceable battery, no ePub support, no color touchscreen at the bottom. 

In 2010, it was quite possible to pick one out of Kindle or Nook and later regret it.

In 2011, Nook 2 has made Kindle vs Nook a non-question

The features are so similar that, in combination with the Agency Model, it’s almost impossible to go wrong. All the biggest things – library book lending, pretend-lending (not a big feature but perceived as such, especially if you don’t have it), book prices, eInk Pearl screen, ease of use, speed, compactness, long battery life, light weight, availability of free books – are almost perfectly balanced.

Are you really going to regret it if you get a Kindle?

Let’s say you get a Kindle 3. The things you might possibly regret are now gone.

  1. Library Book Support – Arriving this year. 
  2. Pretend-Lending – Available. 
  3. WiFi support – Kindle 3 has it. 
  4. Replaceable battery – Nook 3 doesn’t have one. 
  5. Color touch-screen – Nook 3 doesn’t have it. It does have a touch screen, but seeing book covers in color is gone.

It’s hard to get upset about not having ePub support when the biggest reason for needing ePub support (library book support) is gone. Additionally, the Agency Model means that Amazon will have the same price as every other store for most books.

Are you really going to regret it if you get a Nook 2?

Nook 2 has closed the gap so well it’s in danger of becoming a clone.

  1. eInk Pearl screen – check.
  2. Great battery life – check.
  3. No color screen – check.
  4. Focus on ease of use – check.
  5. Light and Compact – check.
  6. Social features – check.
  7. Black Casing + WiFi – check.
  8. Faster processor so sluggishness is gone – check.

Kindle 3 and Nook 2 both have the same screen and a focus on reading. They both have the same books at the same prices. Kindle vs Nook is no longer a difficult decision. It isn’t even much of a decision any more.

Whether you get Kindle and get x months of battery life at x’ hours per day, or you get the Nook 2 and get y months of battery life at y’ hours per day – It’s still incredible battery life and it’s not really different.

That’s how ridiculous the contest has become – the companies are competing on something (battery life) that isn’t really a differentiator any more. Amazon can’t claim eInk Pearl, and B&N can’t claim support for library books, so it devolves into an argument over which device’s battery life is longer when measured in peculiar ways.

When it comes to reading on eReaders, we might be running out of genuine differentiators

Few of the participants in the eBook ecosystem have any interest in favoring Amazon over B&N or B&N over Amazon.

  1. eInk/PVI, the eInk Pearl screen maker, will sell both the same technology.
  2. Foxconn will make both Kindles and Nooks.
  3. Publishers will sell both the same books, and at the same prices, and with the Agency Model restrictions – effectively killing the biggest possible differentiator.
  4. Stores like WalMart and BestBuy will sell both.
  5. Google will offer up free books to both, as will Internet Archive and Gutenberg and Many Books. Not to mention – all public domain books are free for anyone to use, and hence can’t really be a differentiator.
  6. Indie Authors and Authors will, for the most part, sell to both. Example: Amanda Hocking declining a deal from Amazon because Amazon wanted a Kindle exclusive.
  7. Even some Kindle owners are buying Nook Colors (out of curiosity) and Nook 2s (because they want an ePub reader).

There is very, very little opportunity to differentiate. Amazon is left with its website and its Cloud. B&N is left with its stores and the fact that everyone is scared of Amazon. Those just don’t seem enough to get a clear lead.