Posted tagged ‘Amazon’


July 24, 2011

I confess that I read with some sadness that the major American bookstore chain, Borders, is finally to close. Admittedly this has been on the cards for some time. The Borders stores in the UK and Ireland had already closed their doors some time ago, and last year the company announced the closure of several of their outlets in the United States. But now the game is up, and from the autumn there will be no more Borders shops anywhere.

With Borders closing, and Waterstones in the UK struggling somewhat, we may not have to wait too long before all the major bookstore chains have folded. Barnes & Noble in the US seem to be still holding their own, and of course we have the online presence of Amazon (whose success has been a major factor in the failure of the others).

Why should I be sad? Not very long ago Borders and Barnes & Noble were being portrayed everywhere as the big bullies of the book-selling world and the destroyers of smaller bookshops. The movie You’ve Got Mail had this as one of its key themes. But in fact, I always found Borders a rather good place to browse, and I rather liked the atmosphere I found there – not least because they had introduced the books-and-coffee theme that somehow seemed so civilised.

But now reading is moving online, and that’s the way it goes. I cannot complain, because that’s how I do much of my buying and reading. But I would like to think that the small independent bookshop, many of which have managed to survive, will still stay in the game. In fact, I’ll make a point of shopping in one this week.


‘Gadget Man’ and his outlook on 2010

January 6, 2010

When I started this blog some 18 months ago, my more ambitious hope was that I would be recognised as a leading commentator on academic matters and on the growth of the knowledge society; and maybe as someone with something to say on arts and culture; and an astute political analyst – that sort of thing. So have my dreams come true? I don’t know, really. A couple of weeks ago I was introduced at an event as ‘an important blogger, with a special emphasis on technology and gadgets.’ Oh yes? Well perhaps that was correct, because this week I got an email from what the TV broadcasters like to call ‘a member of the public’ (how do you acquire membership?), which addressed me as ‘the key European expert on the Amazon Kindle’, in which capacity he was asking me for advice.

It is indeed true that my three or four posts on the Amazon Kindle have gathered more readers (from a global readership) than anything else I have written. But an expert? I own two Kindles, and am about to order another (see below), and indeed developed a workaround for using it in Ireland before Amazon was ready to let me do that – but an expert?

Oh well, maybe for the purposes of this post at least I shall throw away my intellectual, academic, artistic and political pretensions and present myself solely as a gadget enthusiast; indeed maybe that’s where my career should take me…

And 2010 looks like it will be a bumper year for gadget freaks. After all the gloom and depression of 2009, it seems like tech companies are anticipating that we will want to burst out of the recession this year and trade up in our gadget portfolios. First out of the gate is Google with its Nexus One smartphone, based on its own Android operating system. This has been anticipated for a while, and will attract some attention in part because everything that Google does is observed widely, but in part also because it will be analysed for its potential as an ‘iPhone killer’. In fact look at any of the reviews, and inevitably it is all about how the Nexus One compares with Apple’s market leader. I haven’t directly seen or held one of the Google gadgets – and indeed Irish customers will have to wait a little – but my prediction is that, lacking some of the iPhone’s versatility and the sheer volume of the applications available for it, it will not kill off Apple’s market dominance or indeed get anywhere close to doing so; but competition is always good.

Apple in turn is expected to announce a multi-media touch screen tablet computer, incorporating an e-book reader and possibly television capability, early in the year. No further information is available at this point, but you can expect a sleek, design-conscious versatile gadget. But that too will not be without competition, as Microsoft and HP are combining to launch their own tablet computer, and may in fact beat Apple to it. And in the meantime Amazon will provide the Kindle DX (which has a larger screen than the original Kindle) for customers outside the United States; and of course I have one on order.

In the meantime more traditional technology will decline. Nearly 26 years ago I bought my first CD player and, with it, my first CD, and the beauty and versatility of this technology just amazed me. And who would have thought that this innovation would be so short-lived, because right now the CD is in free-fall decline, as music downloads (lawful and unlawful) take over. And now we can observe how the music industry, and indeed musical artists, are scrambling to salvage some sort of business model from the resulting situation.

But there is one other gadget I have just acquired that I find exceptionally satisfying, but in this case in an extremely retro sort of way. I have splashed out and bought a Montblanc ballpoint pen. So I can say if you’re tired of new technology and want something quite special in a more traditional range, these pens are awesome. I can’t see them disappearing from the market, no matter what the tech companies do. And when I put my Montblanc just next to my Apple Macintosh PowerBook laptop, it creates a particularly pleasing image. Something old, something new.

The continuing story of e-books

December 27, 2009

According to the latest information released by online book retailer Amazon, this Christmas, for the first time, e-books out-sold hard copy (i.e. paper) books. The company’s e-book reader, the Kindle, is now more likely to contain a customer’s book collection than a bookcase or a set of shelves on the wall. This raises a number of questions, but perhaps some of the more interesting ones include what this will do to book prices, how writers and publishers will be affected, and what kind of ‘market’ this will turn into.

Take this example. If you would like to buy Colm Toibin’s latest book, Brooklyn, then on Amazon you can get the paper edition for $16.50. But if you go for the e-book (Kindle) version, you will have to pay $13.79. So you’ll get the electronic version at a lower price, but low enough? If you’ve just got the Kindle, and you are full of admiration for your new toy, maybe you won’t think that price too bad. But let us say you’ve had the device for six months, and you start wondering about what this money is paying for, and in particular that neither the publisher nor Amazon have to create and then ship anything of material value to you, then you may start thinking that the price is too high.

In fact, it appears that many customers regard $9.99 as the top price that would be acceptable for an e-book – and I’ll bet my first edition of Dickens’ Bleak House that in another two years or so that price elasticity will have slipped further and the limit will be $4.99. And between now and then you’ll have publishers and agents and Amazon itself arguing about copyright and older titles and heaven knows what else, and before you know it the whole publishing industry will be plagued by piracy and other such stuff.

There is also a rumour that Apple is about to enter this market – wait for an updated version of iTunes with book content for your iPodReader or whatever.

There will be interesting times ahead. E-book readers are here to stay. And e-books provide opportunities for publishing and distribution that could rattle the cages of the large publishing houses and open up some real competition. Let us hope that this is how it will develop.

The Kindle – coming your way

October 8, 2009

As I have mentioned in a previous post, I seem to have acquired the status of an expert on Amazon’s ebook reader, the Kindle. My posts on this subject have been the most widely read of anything I have written here. So maybe I should just say, for those who have not already seen this, that Amazon has now announced that the Kindle can be bought by non-US customers and delivered to them, and that its wireless service for downloading books will now be usable outside the United States. Or if you prefer to read all about it in German, here you go.

I am kind of proud that I was able to acquire the Kindle, buy ebooks for it from, and do it all from Dublin before Amazon made this change. So from now on, I’ll just be one Kindle user amongst many here.

However, for those now contemplating the purchase, I can say again that I find it an excellent device and that I have now read a large number of books on it. I am still reading paper books as well, but I find the Kindle excellent for when I am travelling, or even just when I want to take four books with me around town without wanting to carry them all. I have also looked at other ebook readers, and for me at least the Kindle is best.

I still wonder whether devices such as this, or new generation versions of such devices, will eventually supplant books. I hope not, but then again I also hope that ebook readers will become more and more successful.

Kindle man

July 8, 2009

My posts on this blog generate a certain amount of off-blog email and letters; usually about university matters or higher education. However, one topic has produced a bigger postbag than any other: Amazon’s ebook reader, the Kindle. I have written about the Kindle three or four times here, and each of these posts has attracted a bigger readership than almost any other. The top ranked post – this one – is probably the one thing I have written in my life that has brought me more readers than any other, literally thousands. It has also been linked to by a number of other websites. And so, apparently, I have become recognised as the world’s number one expert on the use of the Kindle in Europe.

It is one of those curiosities: you start off aiming to be recognised as a key authority on education, pedagogy, modern thought, innovation and intellectual pursuits; and you end up being recognised principally as an expert on the use of a gadget outside the United States. Ah well, it’s something, I guess. But I am still going to work on the educational stuff.

The Kindle in Ireland (and Europe) – a PS

March 5, 2009

Postscript, October 2009

As this post gets a lot of readers, it may be worth noting here that the position has changed since I wrote it, and that the Amazon Kindle is now available to Irish (and European) customers. You can see the details in my more recent post, here. Furthermore, in another more recent post I have also speculated on the arrival of Apple in the ebook reader market.

And January 2010

Amazon has just announced that the larger screen Kindle DX will be available from January 19, 2010, to non-US customers also. And Apple has unveiled its ‘iPad’ device, which will also be an e-book reader (amongst many other things – more details here).

The original post

Following on from my post of yesterday about the Amazon Kindle, it occurs to me that I should add a couple of words about using it in Ireland (a topic I have addressed before, but a while ago). The Kindle is sold on Amazon’s US website, and they will only deliver it to a US address. So in order to buy one, you need to have an American address which you can use for these purposes. There are commercial services that provide addresses and mail forwarding, for relatively little money.

Once you have the Kindle, you cannot in Ireland use the ‘whispernet’ wireless technology; this essentially uses mobile phone networks to provide direct access to Amazon’s online Kindle shop, and allows you to browse the shop and make purchases, which are then directly downloaded to your device. But not outside the US. The first generation Kindle used the standard US mobile network technology which doesn’t work outside North America at all. As far as I can tell, the new Kindle uses G3 access, but it does not appear to allow roaming, so again it doesn’t work here.

There is a workaround. As a Kindle customer, you can choose to download books from the Amazon store to your computer (and this you can do here), and then transfer the files (i.e. the e-books) to your Kindle via the USB cable. The only snag is that in order to do so you need to be using both a US address (but if you have the Kindle you’ve already got that, presumably) and US payment methods. Until recently I thought that required a US credit card, but a reader of this blog kindly drew my attention to the fact that an Amazon gift card will do the trick, and you can buy these online with your Irish (or whatever) credit card.

Phew! Seems like way too much trouble? Perhaps. Maybe the Sony device (which is somewhat more basic, but which does work in Ireland) is a better choice? Perhaps – but not if (like me) you’re a Macintosh user – it only works with Windows. And there is one other bright spot. Thousands and thousands of books, including pretty much anything out of copyright (i.e. all the classics) can be got free from various websites, in Amazon Kindle format. And you can also (although again this requires a workaround) transfer any pdf document to the Kindle.

Gadget time: the Kindle 2

March 5, 2009

As I had announced in an earlier post, I have acquired (and have now taken delivery of) the second generation Kindle, the e-book reader sold by Amazon. It’s too early to offer any very detailed review, but first impressions are good. It is actually slightly larger in terms of footprint than the original Kindle, but the screen is the same size. But critically, the device is much thinner, and aesthetically rather more attractive. The buttons have changed, both in terms of their functionality and in terms of how you press them. You still ‘turn the page’ by pressing pretty much where you did so before, but the key is pressed differently, and this took a little getting used to. The screen display looks (to me at least) much like before, and is easy on the eye. A little innovation is that when you switch the device off, you are left with a picture of a famous writer on the screen.

There is now a combined charging and data transfer cable, slotting into the USB port on your computer. The downside is that this is a unique cable, not the standard USB one that was used for data transfer on the first Kindle. And if you want a spare or additional one, get ready to be charged rather more for this.

Overall: so far I like it. But I’ll need to review that when I have spent a little more time reading.

And for those who have no idea what I am talking about: the Kindle allows you to store electronic versions of books (which can be bought on Amazon) on the device, and then read them there. The appearance of the page on the device is intended to look as nearly as possible as it would on paper, and the advantage of the device is that, on one bit of equipment the size of a very thin book,  you can actually take with you a whole collection of books, dozens of them. I don’t think this will replace ‘real’ books, but it’s a useful substitute when travelling and in similar situations. Apart from Amazon’s Kindle, there are also other devices, including one from Sony.

Gadgets, gadgets – the new Kindle

February 10, 2009

Today I received an email from Amazon telling me that they are releasing the second generation Kindle later this month, and offering me, as a ‘valued customer’, the opportunity to get into the line early. And of course I can never see a gadget without wanting it, even if I already have the thing; and so I duly placed my order for the Kindle 2. I tell myself that it’s worth it because I have someone willing to take the original Kindle off my hands for a small amount of money.

Since I have never seen or held the Kindle 2, I cannot tell whether this is worth the money. But it is, according to the specifications, much thinner, with better screen definition, much more disk space and longer battery life. As I did find the original Kindle just a tiny bit bulky, this seems good to me. I shall offer a review when I have received it towards the end of this month.

Once again, this is for the US market only. I get round this by having it sent to a US address. Also, I imagine it won’t let me connect wirelessly from Ireland (though it’s now running on G3, so it’s a theoretical possibility); I’ll have to download to my computer and transfer the books from there.

On various Kindle-related discussion lists, a large number of users are expressing anger at the new release, as they feel they should have been told when they bought the original Kindle. That seems to me to be naive; of course there was going to be a new model.

Will I use this gadget? Well, I certainly have been using the first one. Not as a substitute for paper books, but as a replacement mainly when travelling. Which is why the bulk and weight matters. And the battery life.

More on all this when I have it. And this being a recession and we all having to tighten belts and all that, let’s hope there isn’t going to be any other enticing gadget for a while.

The Amazon Kindle – another update

December 13, 2008

As readers of this blog will know, a few months ago I acquired an Amazon Kindle. This has been something of an endurance test, because the Kindle is only for sale in America to American customers, and as you will know I live and work in Ireland. I managed to get around this as I have a US mailing address, from where I can get things forwarded that are sent there for me.

Getting content on to the Kindle is much more difficult. There are thousands of ebooks on, but these can only be bought with an American credit card. Eventually I worked my way round this also by buying a ‘disposable’ VISA credit card while on a visit in the US and registering this on Amazon. Now I can buy Kindle-format ebooks, at least until the sum on the credit card has been exhausted. Then, if I still have the energy, I’ll need to get another one. There are also website where you can download free Kindle-format books, generally the classics.

So is it all worth it? Yes, I think so. Just about. The device itself is entirely intuitive and user-friendly, and I find the screen to be exactly right; reading is easy on the eyes. The battery life seems excellent – I have been on several intercontinental flights during which I read almost non-stop, without the power level in the battery showing much sign of running down. So I am happy with the device; but cannot help wondering why Amazon makes it so difficult for non-US customers. Apparently a UK version is about to be released; but nothing for Ireland.

In Ireland – if you can get hold of it – the Sony ebook reader is now on sale, at Waterstones. But I have been unable to get a demonstration of one, so I cannot say how good or bad it is. Whenever I go to Waterstones they do not have them in stock.

In praise of small bookshops

August 14, 2008

As readers of this blog will know, I have recently purchased and am using an Amazon Kindle e-book reader – despite the difficulties facing those trying to do so from an address outside the United States. However, while on my recent visit to the US (now concluded) I also took the time to visit several bookshops. I browsed in the usual Borders and Barnes & Noble book superstores, but my favourite shop on this occasion was a small bookstore called Indigo Books, close to Kiawah Island in South Carolina. It is, when compared with Borders, a very small shop, but it has a wonderful range of interesting books, with fiction veering more towards the literary, and some interesting history books, and other books with a local dimension. The owners are extremely pleasant and helpful, and I hope my custom repaid their good service.

In fact, I have a particular liking for small bookshops. There is another such shop in Mullingar, for example, with a similarly interesting collection of books and very helpful service. I find that when visiting such shops I invariably walk out with several purchases, whereas I can go to Borders, or Waterstones, and buy nothing.In fact, if I want to buy a book from a source with huge resources and choices, I will usually now go online to Amazon – where in terms of bulk I now buy most of my books.

So what is it that attracts me to little bookshops? Not the small size per se – I am not a particular fan of small shops generally, and find myself attracted to the big stores with the mega choices. But it’s different with books. What we read is something quite personal, something that tells us something about ourselves and how we relate to the community. And a small bookshop, run by someone who has an obvious passion for reading, makes that link to the community in a particularly satisfying way.

So wherever I go, if I see a small bookshop and if I have a few minutes, you’ll find me in there. And I shall almost never leave bearing the same aggregate weight. And while I hope that internet retailing continues to thrive, I shall always do what I can to support the small bookseller, and I hope others will, too.