Sunday, September 23, 2012

Kindle News: Len Edgerly's "In the Hangar" Amazon Single. 20~ Classic Kindle books WITH Audible audio narration for free. Throw in the Vowel, on sale


Author and Podcaster Len Edgerly
Len Edgerly, of the popular weekly Podcast The Kindle Chronicles, has published an Amazon Single (by request of his readers), with his thoughts on the event.

Titled Inside the Hangar at Amazon's Santa Monica Press Conference - September 6, 2012, it is an engagingly written, informative take on what he heard during the announcements, what he saw during the hands-on demo stations afterward, and what he heard in his interviews with the several Kindle VPs who were made available for two hours of Q&A with approximately 400 representatives of the media, at various stations against the walls -- the usually hard to find VPs simultaneously doing show & answer sessions with often time-consuming lines of individuals from the media with microphones and videocams.

  Edgerly organizes the material well, puts everything in context and gives it all a balanced perspective.  He enjoys both Amazon and Apple offerings and has recently also been enjoying the Nook Glowlight.  There are things he finds impressive about the new Kindle offerings and things he wishes were different, and he gives some guidance from a wider frame of view and hands-on background than is normally experienced in this type of report.
  In the appendix he has links to other reading with varied and unique points of view, though I haven't finished those yet.

  Highly recommended.

My own thoughts on some of this
  He also covers the aftermath, when it became more apparent that the lower cost of good hardware and many software features not seen in competing e-readers comes at the cost of seeing more 'Special Offers' than many might prefer, although some consider the lock-screen ads no problem due to some actual attractive discount offers and the fact it usually involves only a brief glimpse of an ad before starting the Kindle, especially if you have the Kindle in a case.

Jeff Bezos emphasized at the press event that while they never plan to take a loss on hardware (as some media had thought), they obviously focus on lower margins on these and hope to make their revenue on the use of the devices, meaning they're being enjoyed, but the obvious meaning is they hope the owners will spend money at Amazon via those devices.  Amazon is a store, but a creative one that focuses on adding quite a bit of informational content in the many special features, for its book-leaning consumers.

  As investors in the stock market know, Amazon's margins are kept low, in general, unlike other successful companies, so there ARE product suggestions, based on items you've bought.  I do feel that those who'd prefer a tablet free of any online store should buy something like the Google Nexus.  (I just noticed that Amazon now has a separate Tablet Store, while looking at this product page on which Digitz is selling that tablet for a bit more {maybe because they're in shorter supply these days?} and the orders are fulfilled by Amazon).
  Buyers should keep in mind, though, that for $200, the Nexus has only 8 GB of storage space, in a world of large HD files, while the Kindle Fire HD starts with 16 GB.  Also, the Nexus has one mono speaker vs the KFireHD's two Dolby-enhanced speakers, and the KFireHD has an "HDMI out" to show its HD files on an HDTV.

 Buying-suggestions on the bottom of the Home screen (not unlike what is seen on the bottom area of the B&N Nook home screen) are, at this point, not covered by the $15 ads-opt-out, but they can be replaced by a screen of one's Favorites with a click of the star icon or avoided entirely by viewing in Landscape.

  Amazon is said to be considering an opt-out on those too, though I found today that they are keyed to specific books I've bought that are displayed on the Carousel as recent reading, and they change depending on which book is shown in the middle.  As a personal note -- and many won't feel the same way -- I've come to find it useful, while I'm hoping for a general opt-out choice on that too.
  At any rate, Edgerly discusses the post-event reactions also, from his own point of view.

Throw in the Vowel

Throw in the Vowel
is a popular word game for all e-Ink Kindles except the Kindle 1 (the latter has no direct access to the screen) and is briefly available on sale at 99 cents.

I was late to get to this, so the sales window is shorter on this.

"Kindle Classics on, for Free"
Commenter John Sauter sent in a great tip, which (as with Throw in the Vowel) I wasn't able to get to sooner, but the deal is still active.  These are free Kindle books (classics) that come with professionally-narrated audio versions (also free at this point), but read on...

  Olivia Flores Alvarez, reporting for Art Attack, a Houston press blog, reminds us of a great, no-cost, way to become acquainted with and benefit from excellent examples of classic Kindle books that come with the new Whispersync for Voice technology announced at the press conference Sept. 6.

Amazon has a list of 20 free classics on Kindle that come with, for now, a free copy of the narrated version on Audible.

  The FIRST classic on that listing, however (A Tale of Two Cities) shows at the moment a $7.95 price for the audio narration and is likely a mistake, because of the promo-list it's on and since the other books I clicked on, so far, come with free audio versions as part of that promotion.
  I would wait on that one, and I've asked for clarification of that Kindle/Audio book status.

Example - using a book I enjoyed long ago
Amazon, which has owned for years, now is able to sync material between professionally-narrated Audible versions and corresponding Kindle books purchased by its customers, so that Kindle book owners, after ending a reading session, can pick up at the last book-location read, when wanting to use the audio version and vice versa.

  Generally, if you buy the Kindle book and it has a corresponding audio narration, the cost of getting the audio book this way will be between $0 and $3.95 (but much higher for the audio version when not bought with the Kindle version).  While the Paperwhite model has no audio, the Kindle book and audio can also be read and heard on a mobile device owned.

  How you get one of the free promos:
First, 'buy' the Kindle book linked to, for $0.00 and make sure the audio version for this promo is also $0.00 (it's noted in a box lower in the header section) since you're doing this to learn how Whispersync for Audio works in response to an Amazon promo.

  Once you've 'bought' the Kindle version, then you're told you can get, in this case, the $19.59 audio version for $0.00 because you bought the Kindle edition also.  When you click to get the free audio version, but are not yet a member of, you're given a short membership form to fill out and they allow just the Amazon password to be used and there's no added cost to join.

  I just completed my purchase of The Picture of Dorian Gray, and it's nice to see all those $goose-eggs, when exploring how useful a feature might be.

  So, as I've mentioned before, it's a form of bundling that's been much requested, except that in most cases, it's not free but a fairly hefty discount is applied.   Information may 'want' to be free, as some put it, but those who labor to fulfill a request may want/need to be paid for the work.

I'd like to receive feedback on how well this works for anyone trying it and your thoughts on the combo pricing.  Thanks.

UPDATE - We've received quick and detailed feedback from QZA, who downloaded six of the currently-free Kindle/Audible combos and reports on the quality. He also has excellent advice on the amount of device space these will take.  An excerpt:
' ... Every hour of audio will take up about 29MB of space on your device.  An average audio book classic is about 7 - 8 hours (Moby Dick is much longer) so make sure you have about 250 MB free space before you download an audio book.  Amazon does not display file sizes, only book length in hours and minutes.  All 20 audio books won't fit on your Kindle even if you were to delete all your books so it's better to download a few and keep the rest in your archive for free fast delivery as needed. '
You can read the rest of of QZA's feedback here

Check often: Temporarily-free recently published Kindle books
  Guide to finding Free Kindle books and Sources.  Top 100 free bestsellers.  Liked-books under $1
UK-Only: recently published free books, bestsellers, or £5 Max ones
    Also, UK customers should see the UK store's Top 100 free bestsellers.

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  1. I just downloaded six of the offerings together with the audio companion. Everything downloaded smoothly to my K Touch with no issues. I was hoping that there would be a sort of ad hoc implementation of whispersync for voice on the Touch , possibly a manual sync option but there is not any. I guess we will have to wait for Amazon to give us an update hopefully soon.

    A word on the quality. The narration is top notch. Even though the books are free Amazon went with some great voice talent including Hollywood A-Lister Elijah Wood. The audio books are well worth the time and effort even if the Touch does not yet have the required update to sync voice to text.

    One important thing to consider on the Touch and Keyboard models is the file size of the audio books. All downloads to kindle devices are in the new enhanced format and you cant opt for a lower quality on the kindle ( though you can get a wide variety of quality options for pc etc). Every hour of audio will take up about 29MB of space on your device. An average audio book classic is about 7 - 8 hours (Moby Dick is much longer) so make sure you have about 250 MB free space before you download an audio book. Amazon does not display file sizes only book length in hours and minutes. All 20 audio books wont fit on your Kindle even if you were to delete all your books so its better to download a few and keep the rest in your archive for free fast delivery as needed.

    What can I say about the price. Its hard to argue with FREE. The quality of the narration is such that I would pay 9.99 for a few of the books offered. Certainly Dracula, Dorian Gray and Frankenstein. If these combos are $20 or less when they fully roll this out for non classic titles They have one customer here.

  2. QZA,
    That was FAST yet thorough feedback! Great advice, and I'll link readers to the comment, as they are important points.

    If they wanted to keep the price down for the Paperwhite due to whatever cost of producing that quite beautiful reader in a small enough size and price (seems everyone is encouraged to put out the lowest-cost product these days), then the 2 GB storage of the Paperwhite certainly wouldn't do for this type of use.

    Re Amazon and Audible going with some great voice talent in connection with these free audio books, it seems that they are the demo examples and are a promotional batch during the introduction of all the Kindle Fires this coming quarter.  I agree with you that if they keep the bundling/combo editions at a decent price, they'll be quite popular.

    Also, I think that syncing of audio to highlighted text as it goes, via the Immersion Reading feature, would be great (was that what you were referring to?), especially for those learning to read or just wanting reinforcement of what they read for better retention. That feature is available for only some of the titles though.

    Thanks for the quick, fine feedback.

  3. Andrys, funny you should mention, " usually involves only a brief glimpse of an ad before starting the Kindle, especially if you have the Kindle in a case."

    I've been thinking about that issue with the case design with regards to E-ink. Specifically, I wonder how the advertisers feel about it, in that with the auto-on-off cover, one never really has to see the ad on the sleep screen of the Paperwhite!

  4. I think I can guess ... but those who are interested in them at all can click for them and they'd have a more positive audience...

  5. This is why I love this blog and check it every day - hearing about things like this. I saw this yesterday and went ahead and downloaded/bought all 18 (there were only 18 when I looked, no Tale Of).

    One thing I noticed, though. I, at the time, did not have my KKB around so I told it to download to my new Fire HD. Book came down fine, opened fine, and normally read fine... I then activated TTS and had a smarmy Brit reading Dorian Grey to me. Thank God I can accelerate his voice, he reads as slow as a fourth grader. ;)

    The issue was this - now that I activated TTS and let the Fire HD read to me for a bit, after I hit pause and tried to page forward on my own (basically, did what Whispersync for Voice is supposed to do, allow you to have the book read to you and then pick up reading when you can), I can't go forward or back any more. I'm stuck at position 22 in Dorian (part of the introduction) and if I tap/swipe forward, it immediately punts me back a page... if I try to go back a page, it punts me forward a page. So it looks like it's "enforced Whispersync once you start and you can't go on unless it's using the voice." Tried turning off TTS manually and no dice. No matter what I do, I'm "pinned" to the one page that I left off on when the narrator stopped talking.

    Anyone else see this? I haven't tried yet on my KKB (I'm at work now and can't join my corporate wireless on a KKB), but I'm definitely seeing a potential bug in the Fire HD...

    1. Tyler, did you see the caution/warning about not downloading them all at one time onto one device? I don't know if that might be the source of a problem. The first commenter took 6 combo books and had a better experience while reading/listening, and he was the one who reminded us not to download them all at one time as they take so much space. A full disk of any type can lead to oddities.

      Re opening a Kindle book linked to the Audio version, I'd try powering off and then coming back on to open the Kindle book alone. Normally it doesn't remember the voice status as 'on' ... but even if it does, can you now turn it off (after powering off first)? If that works, I'd go backwards a few pages.

      Maybe QZA will have some thoughts on your problem. I've not tried the feature yet.

      Thanks for the report!

    2. Thanks Andrys - I tried sleeping/waking the Fire HD and it seemed to work fine as just a reading book. Then I activated TTS for a few seconds, paused it, and the Fire had the same "stuck to a page" problem - for a little while. I think it might be a lag; maybe the Fire HD is trying to sync to Amazon via Voice WhisperSync, and until it does, it will keep you "stuck" to that page. A little while later, I re-opened the book and it worked fine. So maybe it's an order of operations thing, or just a delay in having the device mark your last-read spot? I did notice that the "following along with the narrator" highlighting does not actually follow the voice, too.

      BTW, this is on my Fire HD only, so there's pleeeeeenty of space for all the books at once. Also, it only downloads the Audible tracks once you open the book (at least for me, it downloaded the book right away but only downloaded Audible voice when I activated TTS on the book).

      Anyways, it doesn't make the books unreadable in any way, it's just perhaps an oddity on the first-generation software on the Fire HD. It would probably be good for someone from Amazon to come out with a guide on how to do the voice/text Immersion Reading so we all know the best practices... for instance, when I "unslept" the Fire HD at first, there was a notification in my top bar, which when pulled down opened a purely audio interface to Dorian. So maybe there's two different ways of accessing the audio content and one is somehow superior to the other?

      Dunno, TTS/Audio/Audible/Immersion, for me, is a gimmicky thing that I probably won't use, much. I might try it out in the car, but my commutes are short and I always have the KKB with me to "manually read" when I want (at least until the PaperWhite comes). But it's nice to know that these are now part of my "permanent library" on Audible, if I want them! Thanks again for the post!

    3. Tyler, I ordered a 32GB 7" Kfire HD, not due until Oct 25, so am still working with the review copy. I also ordered the 8.9" for other needs.

      Amzn and Audible didn't let me download either the Kindle Classic (Dorian Gray) nor Audible edition to the Kindle Fire HD, for a few hours but I just saw the Kindle version enabled for Kindle Fire and got it, and it then uses the Audible OR text-to-speech if I bought it.

      'Read to me' on Kindle Fire HD is the actual 'text-to-speech' or TTS accessed via Aa button. But I've now got the Audible version on, which appears when you tap the screen near the center.

      I have to speed it up to 1.25x to hear the narrator of 'Dorina Gray' in a comfortable way, since he apparently speaks very slowly!

      I just paused it to see what 'labernum' means... and then for 'bourdon' -- had never heard of either word before. Am about to become educated!

      On THIS book, I can go backwards and forwards on the Kindle book, and the narration follows it. I don't even have to pause it for that to work. It also does have Immersion Reading and it IS highlighting each line read by him and is sync'd very well!

      Thanks for the continued feedback, Tyler. Download 'Dorian Gray' to see if that works better for you.

    4. Not 'Dorina' - Dorian. Typos flow when the mind doesn't.

  6. You might want to change the blog title to correct the spelling of 'Hangar' (if you can). I would have spelled it wrong, too (as did Len initially)!

    I've been playing around with Whispersync for Voice. I love that Audible bookmarks (which can have notes attached) become bookmark+note on my Kindle. But I can't get it to go the other way and make Kindle bookmarks and notes show up in the Audible app, which I'd like even more. Seems like an obvious oversight and one that would be very useful. I'd settle for just bookmarks synching (as opposed to notes/highlights). Audible chapters do not always correspond to the book chapters, and this would provide a workaround so that chapters could be located more easily when listening to the audiobook. Anyway, even without full-on 'immersion reading' it is easy enough to follow along on my Kindle while listening to the audiobook on my iPod Touch, and maybe better, since the Audible app lets you adjust playback speed (does Immersion Reading let you do that?).

  7. Tom,
    Do report that the older bookmarks and notes from Kindle aren't picked up by the Audible app. I didn't realize that Audible chapters don't always correspond to the book chapters.

    Re Immersion Reading, I haven't tried it yet, but it's said that at least some of those 18 free sample books have the feature.

    Thanks for the spelling note! - saddest thing is I made sure the ones in the body of the article were correct and then forgot all about the title :-)

  8. Lots of comments on this topic. I think that there will be the odd technical issues for the odd user. This usually happens when a new service that requires some technical sophistication is first released. We have not received the HD in the Caribbean as yet though I am seriously considering purchasing one through US contacts. Immersion reading is definitely a feature I am excited about.
    I have come up with a basic work around for syncing audio to text ( not immersion reading, just keeping audio and text aligned). The audible files are separated into chapters so for now I am making sure to finish a chapter before I stop reading or listening on the K Touch. That way I can switch between both modes easily. It will have to suffice until the hoped for Touch update.


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