Amazon Announces Kindle Unlimited, $10 Monthly Access to More than 600,000 Books

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Safari001.pngAmazon today announced Kindle Unlimited, a $10 per month all-you-can-read subscription to Kindle e-books. Amazon touts “unlimited access to over 600,000 titles and thousands of audiobooks on any device for just $9.99 a month.”

I alluded to this a few days ago, when Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited webpage was prematurely leaked. I’m not sure what the value of this type of service is. As I pointed out in my article, more than 600,000 books does not mean that you will always find books that you want to read. Amazon highlights a number of books that are available via Kindle Unlimited. These include the Hunger Games series, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the Harry Potter books. Amazon also shows a number of popular novels and non-fiction books, and lets you browse what’s available. But they don’t offer any books from the big five publishers, so those books that are highlighted are part of a small selection of popular titles.

Taking a quick look at the Literature & Fiction category, I noticed that certain subcategories are very well represented: Action & Adventure (25,121), Erotica (34,703), Horror (19,312), and Short Stories (28,614). The Romance genre contains 35,571 titles, and Mystery, Thriller & Suspense has a whopping 46,293 titles. Let us not forget Science Fiction & Fantasy, which reaches the astounding number of 50,245 titles. These are genres where self-published books tend to lurk. And the genres I cited just above make up, together, more than 300,000 titles, or about half of what’s available from Kindle Unlimited.

What is more interesting about Kindle Unlimited is the access to audiobooks. However, there are currently only 1,704 titles available, which is a very small number. Amazon calls these “books with narration,” rather than audiobooks, which makes me wonder if these are indeed audiobooks, or just books that allow you to use the text-to-speech feature on a Kindle or other device.

Kindle Unlimited is only available in the US for now, so I won’t be able to try it out. I’m very interested to see how well this works; as I pointed out in my article the other day, given the amount that I read, this could be useful for me.

Amazon Considering Kindle Unlimited: One-Price Access to 600,000 Books

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I’m a book person. I have thousands of books in my home, and read at least one or two a week. Unfortunately, I don’t have a good library near home, so I buy a lot of books. I look carefully for the lowest prices, buying sometimes from Amazon, sometimes from third-party sellers on Amazon, and sometimes used.

I also buy ebooks, for books that I know I won’t want to read again, but, also, since when I recently moved from France to the UK, and realized how many books I had (and culled half of them), I vowed to not let my book collection grow so large again.

Ebooks aren’t great, but they are fine for certain types of books: fast-read novels, non-fiction that I won’t read more than once, and books where I’m unlikely to read footnotes. I buy Kindle books rather than iBooks, because the Kindle is a better reading device than the iPad or iPhone, and, if I buy Kindle books, I can read them on any platform. I like reading outdoors, and I can’t do that on my iPad, but I can read on my Kindle in the sun. If I want to read on my iPad, I can do that with the Kindle app. Win-win.

So, the (unsurprising) disclosure that Amazon is testing a Kindle Unlimited service interests me as a reader. But before getting out the credit card and signing up, it’s worth considering what kinds of books you can get from a service like this.

A few months ago, I tried out Scribd, which offers a similar service. My experience was not very positive. Services like this only get books from a limited number of publishers, plus nearly every self-published book on the planet. Nothing against self-publishing, but lots of that stuff is simply dreadful. If Amazon offers such a service, it will certainly have similar content. Out of there 600,000-odd books, it’s likely that the vast majority will just not be any good.

Amazon has a feature of its Amazon Prime service called the Kindle Lending Library. There are, here in the UK, “over 500,000 Kindle titles to borrow for free.” Alas, I’ve not come across any when searching for books I want to read. So I fear that Kindle Unlimited would be similar.

I’m not the kind of person who will only choose books to read from what’s available from a service like that. Could you imagine only watching movies on Netflix because you’ve paid for a subscription? Kindle Unlimited will only be interesting if it includes lots of books from major publishers. I can imagine that new releases wouldn’t be included, and that’s fine, but if it’s only small publishers and self-published books, it’s not worth it.

As an author, however, I’m less interested in a service like this, and given the types of books I write, I wouldn’t allow them to be on a one-price-per-month service. But that will be the subject of a future article…

iOS Apps to Discover Great Literature

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Back in the early days of personal computing, the promise of interactive, multimedia, hypertext books was exciting, notably with Voyager’s Expanded Books. But in those days, the limits of technology prevented those “books” from gaining a foothold. You could have links and unlimited text content, but the size of videos was just slightly larger than a postage stamp, and audio codecs weren’t as advanced as they are today. Also, you had to read them on a computer screen, with the limited resolutions of the time.

The iPad offers such powerful features—and excellent resolution—that truly enhanced books are possible. Here are six apps for the iPad that have popped up in recent years that look at great literature, paying homage to fantastic works while adding new layers.

Read about six great literary apps in my latest Tech Hive article, Brush up on classic literature with these immersive apps.

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Good Listens: The Leonard Lopate Show Podcast

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mza_7074018866017961747.170x170-75.jpgI don’t have time to listen to a lot of podcasts, but one of the ones I’ve been listening to for ages is the Leonard Lopate Show, a radio show that is broadcast on WNYC in New York City. Mr. Lopate is a fascinating interviewer, and his show features guests in an eclectic range of subjects: books, movies, theater, science, health, language and much more.

Recent segments that have interested me include:

  • Just Because It’s on the Internet Doesn’t Mean It’s True
  • How Bad English Became Good English
  • Online Tracking Is Getting Creepier
  • How to Get Better Health Care from Your Doctor
  • House of Cards Author: Politics Isn’t a Place for Angels
  • Please Explain: Pain
  • Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise in America: 1848-1877
  • Genes, Race, and Human History
  • Glenn Greenwald on Edward Snowden and the ‘Inept and Menacing’ NSA
  • Words Wrought by Writers
  • The Secret Partnership Between Silicon Valley and the NSA

There are several segments a day, and, while I don’t listen to all of them, at least one a day interests me. One of the regular segments is Please Explain, where one or more experts explains a subject, such as pain, allergies, spiders, weeds, jellyfish and others.

There’s plenty of variety on this podcast, but Leonard Lopate does feature many well-known people. And he’s a wonderful interviewer, and seems to know a lot about each subject he covers (or does very good homework).

Subscribe to The Leonard Lopate Show on iTunes.

The Two Key Tips for Being a Successful Freelance Writer

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I’ve been a freelancer for nearly 20 years, and I consider myself successful. I make a good living from my activity, and my clients — magazines, websites, and companies — keep coming back to me and offering me work. Over the years, I have realized that there are two essential tips that a freelancer needs to know. If you get these right, you, too, have a good chance of having a successful freelance career.

Working as a freelancer is not for everyone. While the flexibility of working at home is something I would never trade – I’ve done my share of suit-and-tie corporate work – it does require a certain amount of discipline. I’ve seen freelancers fail because they simply couldn’t develop a routine that allowed them to get work done. Sure, when it’s a nice day, you might want to go outside, take a walk, laze around in the sun, because, after all, no one’s looking over your shoulder. And there are days when you can do this; if you done your work, or if you can do it later, it’s great to take some time for yourself. When you consider how much time you save by not commuting, you can use part of your day to enjoy yourself. But the work comes first.

Freelancing also requires a certain amount of financial discipline. You need to keep your books; you either pay an accountant to do it for you, or you learn to do it yourself. Personally, I have a combination of both: I do all the day-to-day accounting, and I have an accountant who takes care of checking my books and filing forms.

And then there’s the marketing. I won’t discuss that here, but that’s obviously the biggest hurdle that any freelancer faces. If you can’t find a market to get work, then you will not succeed.

I said there were two tips that could make you a successful freelance writer. I learned these very early in my career, and being aware of them has, I think, helped me get a steady stream of work. One still needs to be a good writer, of course, and have good ideas, but even good writers can get tripped up by not respecting these points.

Tip 1: never miss a deadline. And I mean never. Ever. I missed a deadline once, because of a health problem that was serious enough to prevent me from working. But that was the only time I missed a deadline; really. In my line of work — writing — missing a deadline can be problematic for people downstream. If an editor is planning on a story for a magazine, and a writer is late, it makes the editor’s life very difficult. They have to find someone else to write your story, or find a different story, because they’ve earmarked a certain number of pages for your article. Even for websites, which try and schedule new content at a certain frequency, not having the expected articles will pose problems.

For many years, I worked as a translator. Deadlines were often very tight, and things such as product launches, or the printing of annual reports, depended on having translated texts on time. If you miss a deadline, the whole process gets delayed, and people will simply not come back to you and offer you more work.

Sometimes you may accidentally miss a deadline, and it’s not your fault. There are times when you send an article to an editor and they never receive it. For this reason, if you send your work to a client or editor, and don’t hear back from them within 24 hours, email them again to make sure that they’ve received it. The onus is on the freelancer to meet the deadline; don’t depend on editors to remind you.

Tip 2: don’t argue with your editor. I’ve heard stories from editors about writers who argue about certain words, certain phrases, even punctuation that editors have changed. For me, the editor is my client and my boss, and I trust him or her to do what’s necessary to edit my work for their publication. When an editor sends an article back to me after editing it, I read through it carefully, making sure that he or she did not introduce any errors. But I don’t spend my time changing words, revising sentences, or reorganizing anything. The editor knows what they want; once I send them the work, it belongs to them.

While these two tips are about being a freelance writer, you can apply them to a lot of freelance jobs. The one about not missing a deadline is the first commandment of freelancing. As for the second one, as the saying goes, “the customer is always right.” I’ve had my share of pain-in-the-ass clients, and I’ve dropped some clients who were too annoying, or who made my work look bad by introducing errors after I’d signed off. If you’re a freelance writer, you’ll find plenty of clients who want to change your work. As long as it’s not wrong, let them.

Being a freelancer can be very rewarding. The “free” in freelancer is, if you’re the right kind of person, the best way to work. These two tips could help make sure that you keep getting work.

App Review: James Joyce’s Ulysses, A Guide

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What better way to celebrate Bloomsday – June 16, the day on which James Joyce’s Ulysses is set – than by discovering the novel in an interactive iPad app? Naxos, known for its classical music releases and audiobooks, has released the $9 Joyce’s Ulysses: A Guide which gives you Joyce’s great novel, plus a plethora of features to help you better understand this work, which can be daunting.

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The heart of this app is the full text of Ulysses, with annotations that help you understand the text, its references, the Dublin it’s set in, and its characters. Annotations appear in the right margin, allowing you to read without them obscuring the text:

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But the app contains multitudes: an abridged audiobook of Ulysses, from Naxos Audiobooks (I’d rather see the full audiobook, but that’s a lot more expensive), information about Joyce’s life, the music in the book (with recordings), photos of Dublin, and even the full text of a translation of Homer’s Odyssey, which is the template for Ulysses. You can even hear Joyce himself read a bit of the text; hearing Joyce’s voice was, for me, many years ago, something that opened up his texts, especially Finnegans Wake.

While you can buy ebooks of Ulysses, and even download it for free (since it’s in the public domain), it remains a complex text, and the annotations alone make this app worth the price. The additional features help understand the context and setting of Ulysses, and the only thing that I would like to have that’s not in the app is a map of Dublin, showing the travels of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedelus. (I actually bought a book with maps and photos the first time I visited Dublin to see some of the landmarks.)

This is just one of a growing number of excellent apps that let you explore literature on the iPad. Naxos has done a great job on this, and I hope they do more in the future.

Happy Bloomsday to All!

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200px-UlyssesCover.jpgOnce again it’s Bloomsday, the 16th of June, the day on which James Joyce’s Ulysses takes place. If you aren’t familiar with this great work of the early twentieth century, it tells the tale of a modern-day Ulysses (Leopold Bloom) as he wanders the streets of Dublin on June 16, 1904. Closely modeled on the Odyssey, Ulysses is a landmark in modernist literature.

Every year on this day, around the world, people read Ulysses alone or in groups, to themselves or out loud, in performance or simply in sitting on a couch. For this year’s Bloomsday, allow me to recommend a novel way to experience the book. The unabridged audiobook of Ulysses, from Naxos, is a gem. With musical interludes and sound effects, and excellent reading by Jim Norton (and Marcella Riordan for the final chapter, the soliloquy by Molly Bloom), this reading brings the work to life in unexpected ways. At over 27 hours, you won’t be able to listen to the entire book in one day (the novel takes place over a period of “only” 18 hours), but you’ll be drawn into the story in ways you did not expect.

For those interested in penetrating this work more deeply, Ulysses Annotated gives you detailed information on the pullulating allusions that fill the novel. And The New Bloomsday Book gives a plot summary that can help you follow some of the more intricate chapters of the work. Hugh Kenner’s Ulysses gives a critical view of the book, and allows you to approach it with greater understanding of the broader scope of Joyce’s vision. Finally, Richard Ellman’s biography of Joyce sets the standard for literary biography. You’ll learn more from reading this book than from any book about Ulysses itself. A recent biography by Gordon Bowker also looks at Joyce’s life through documents that Ellman did not have access to. And a new iPad app from Naxos, Joyce’s Ulysses: A Guide can make all this easier, as it provides the full text of Ulysses, along with detailed in-line annotations, an abridged audiobook reading, and loads of background information about Joyce and Ulysses.

But most readers can eschew all the extra layers of complexity that such critical approaches add to the novel. The best way to experience Ulysses is to hear it read out loud. If you can, get the audiobook; if not, read the book. It’s long, it’s not beach reading, but it’s one of the greatest novels written in English.

Graham Johnson’s Monumental Work on Schubert’s Lieder to Be Released Soon

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Graham Johnson, the pianist behind Hyperion Record’s monumental series of Schubert’s complete lieder, is known for having a lot to say about these songs. His liner notes to the original releases of the series are rich and full of insight. Unfortunately, the current box set doesn’t come with those notes, but just a book of the lyrics to the songs.

But Johnson has been hard at work for several years, writing the definitive work on Schubert’s lieder, and this book is ready for publication. Published by Yale University Press, Franz Schubert: The Complete Songs (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) is a 3-volume, 3,000 page set, and will be released soon. (It’s listed as being available in the UK on June 30, and the US at the end of July.) At $300, or £200, it’s a big investment, but it will be worth the money. Here’s what the publisher has to say:

This three-volume boxed set is the definitive work on Franz Schubert’s vocal music with piano. A richly illustrated encyclopedia, these substantial volumes contain more than seven hundred song commentaries with parallel text and translations (by Richard Wigmore), detailed annotations on the songs’ poetic sources, and biographies of one hundred and twenty poets, as well as general articles on accompaniment, tonality, transcriptions, singers, and more. Compiled by Graham Johnson—celebrated accompanist, author, and the first pianist ever to record all of Schubert’s songs and part-songs—this sumptuous work is a must for performers, scholars, and all lovers of Schubert lieder.

If you’re a lover of Schubert’s lieder, you’ll want to get this, in spite of its somewhat high price; it’s more expensive than getting the CDs in the budget box set from Hyperion (Amazon.com, Amazon UK). But having read Johnson’s liner notes to the original CDs, I can only imagine how much more interesting this larger set of books will be. I’ll be spending a lot of time with these books.

Watch Graham Johnson discuss the book: