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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.

Ebooks and Typos: Readers, and Consumers, Deserve Better

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A recent article in The Guardian highlighted an embarrassing typo in a romance novel:

When she spotted me, she flung her anus high in the air and kept them up until she reached me.

Yes, that “anus” was meant to be “arms,” but the OCR software used in the book make a little mistake. This was spotted on Google Books, so it’s not even a question of cheap OCR software. It is, however, a scan that has not been proofread.

Over the years, reading ebooks, I’ve seen a huge number of typos, and it’s getting annoying. I can understand an un-proofread book, such as the Google Books example, but when a mainstream publisher sells an ebook with lots of typos, they should be held responsible. I’ve recently been reading William Trevor’s Collected Stories (only available in Kindle format from Amazon UK apparently), and I’m appalled at the number of typos in the book. There are a few in each story; and there are a lot of stories in that book, which is some 1,200 pages in the print edition.

I’ve seen worse. I bought a Stephen King book that was missing nearly 100 pages. And I’ve seen terrible formatting in ebooks. All of these examples show that publishers don’t pay much attention to the ebooks they sell.

As an author, I’m familiar with the law of the conservation of typographical errors. When correcting proofs, every typo that you remove is replaced by another one to maintain balance in the universe. But I don’t think any of my books have had more than a few typos. Seeing the number of typos – or, more correctly, scanos – in these books shows that there’s no serious proofreading going on after the books are scanned.

I note, however, that the William Trevor book is published by Penguin, the same company whose edition of James Joyce’s Dubliners had such bad formatting. I’m not sure if it’s endemic at Penguin, but they’d do well to take a look at their production process.

You can report typos from a Kindle, but I don’t know if anything ever happens after you do. I think that we readers should contact the sellers of these ebooks and ask for refunds if there are more than a handful of typos. Only then will publisher (perhaps) start taking such things seriously.

Apple Refuses Ebook with Tits on Cover; French Go Crazy

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According to Le Monde, Apple has refused to sell a book with a picture of tits on its cover. The publisher – a small press, which hardly anyone had heard of before this event – is crying foul. Using phrases like “censorship” and “a violation of freedom of expression,” this publisher is calling on the French Minister of Culture, and even the European Commission, to act on their behalf and force Apple to accept their book’s cover.

Now, I’ve written about Apple’s hypocrisy in this area before, but this is not about censorship, and it is no threat to the “freedom of creation,” as the French publisher claims. No one can force any store to sell a specific item; any retailer has the right to choose what they sell. You may not agree with their rules, but it in no way threatens your “freedom of expression.”

Apple does have stringent rules for their stores: these say that you can’t have nudity on covers of items, but they go much further, as developers I know have found out. There are many words you can’t use in descriptions, and the rules about how apps work are even more byzantine.

No, French publisher, you’re not being censored. Apple’s “prudishness” may bother you, but it’s their store, and you play by their rules. Apple sells their content in many countries that are far more prudish than the United States, so it’s probably that their rules are stricter for that reason. Get a grip.

OS X 10.9 Mavericks: Restore Missing Ebooks to iBooks App

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I’ve gotten several emails from people who “lost” a number of ebooks after updating to OS X 10.9 Mavericks. I had pointed out that iBooks moves ebooks from your iTunes Media folder to a hard-to-find folder, but in same cases, people’s ebook libraries weren’t migrated completely.

If this has happened to you, launch the App Store app to update to iBooks 1.0.1. Launch iBooks, then choose File > Move Books from iTunes. The iBooks window will show a progress bar, then tell you that it has moved all your ebooks.

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You should now see all your ebooks in the iBooks app.

OS X 10.9 Mavericks and Ebooks: The Good, the Bad and the Confusing

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With the arrival of the iBooks app on OS X 10.9 Mavericks, those who have large ebook libraries on their Macs face some conundrums. In a recent article, Where Did My Books Go?, I explained that your ebooks are no longer stored in your iTunes Media folder. They are now hidden in an obscure folder, and the file names are changed. If you want to back up a large ebook library, you need to make sure to back up this folder.

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But there’s another issue you need to know about. You can no longer add epub books to your iTunes library; but you can still add PDFs. This has two effects. First, you cannot change any metadata in the iBooks app. So if you get a book and the author’s name is wrong, or the genre (or “category”) is incorrect, you can’t alter these. Second, if you have any epubs that are digital booklets for albums – such as those provided with downloads purchased from Hyperion Records – you can no longer store them with your music.

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First, the metadata issue. Even if you buy all your ebooks from Apple, you’ll find that authors’ names are not consistent (some are Last Name, First Name, others are First Name Last Name), and you’ll likely want to change the categories of some books, if you sort books that way. There’s no native method for doing this any more, though there are a few third-party apps that claim to be able to edit metadata of epubs (I haven’t tried any yet). But once the books are in iBooks, it’s not simple to change the metadata. Since there’s no Reveal in Finder command for a book, you need to look in the folder I told you about in this article, but where the epub files won’t have recognizable names. You’ll have to root through the files to find the book you want.

Update: There’s an easy way to get copies of books in your iBooks library: just drag them to the Desktop or to a folder.

As for digital booklets, which you may want to store with your music, there’s no way around that, other than to only use PDF versions. Hyperion makes both; most labels only provide PDFs (if they provide digital booklets at all). This is a shame; Hyperion’s initiative is laudable, since epubs let you choose a font size, and the books are more readable on small-screen devices, such as an iPhone or iPod touch. You could put all your epub digital booklets in iBooks, sync them to an iOS device, and read them with the iBooks app – or read them on a Mac with iBooks – but they won’t be as accessible as when they’re stored with an album. But note that, in spite of the separation of books from iTunes, you still choose which ones you want to sync to your iOS device from the iTunes interface.

It’s good that Apple has (finally) released an iBooks app for Mac. This makes reading books on a Mac very easy. However, it’s not so good that they’ve sequestered these books in a hard-to-find folder, and eliminated the ability to edit metadata. Perhaps a developer will pick up the gauntlet, and create an app that can scan the books in that hidden folder, and let you edit their metadata. This would be a good thing, and make it easier to manage a library of ebooks on a Mac.

Oyster: The Ebook Smorgasboard

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If we can have all the movies and TV shows we want for a monthly fee, on Netflix, why not do the same for ebooks? Oyster is doing just that. Currently rolling out by invitation only, Oyster plans to offer unlimited ebooks for $10 a month. The company claims to have more than 100,000 titles, Oyster works via an iPhone app, and the company says an iPad version is coming soon.

This is a great idea, and, unfortunately, I’m unable to test it, as it’s US-only for now (and, perhaps, forever, given the way licensing agreements work). I’d want to be able to access books on more than just an iPhone: for me, an iPad is essential, and I’d expect the company will extend to other platforms, such as Android, in the future.

I’d certainly pay $10 a month to read ebooks, but only if the selection was good enough. I subscribe to Netflix, and, while there’s plenty to watch, there’s a lot of dreck. Netflix is great for TV series, but not so good for recent movies. For an all-you-can-read ebook service, I’d expect a broad selection, and, for now, the only major publisher on board is HarperCollins. But I’m sure that, if this proves successful, Oyster will be able to get other big publishers, and offer a selection that would be worth the cost.

Amazon Should Allow Multiple Accounts on Kindles

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I’ve complained about Apple IDs, in a recent Macworld article, as these IDs control the DRM that regulates what content you can use on different devices. But Apple’s not the only company running a DRM ring that limits how you can access your content. Amazon does this as well, with the DRM on Kindle books.

With Apple, you can have content from two Apple accounts on a single device. For example, a husband and wife can each have Apple IDs, and download content with them, and put all of that content on the iPhones, iPods and iPads they each own. So Alice can buy an app, and Bob can also use it on his iPhone. Bob can buy a book, and Alice can read it in iBooks on her iPad. All this requires is each user logging in on the computer that syncs to these devices.

With Amazon, you simply can’t share Kindle content. Sure, Amazon has a way you can lend or borrow books, but it’s very limited; you can only lend or borrow certain books. You need to check each book to find out if you can lend it.

This is a ridiculous system. The nature of books is that we lend and borrow them; it’s how we discover new books, it’s how we share the books we love. If Alice buys a book she really likes, she may want Bob to read it, but, the way the Kindle DRM works, this isn’t possible. The only way to do so would be to de-register a Kindle device or app, then register under another account; this is complicated, and it erases any books that were on the device from the original account.

Amazon needs to allow multiple accounts to be accessed on a Kindle or a Kindle app. I understand the need for DRM, but I also find it unfair that I can’t buy a Kindle book, then lend it to my girlfriend so she can read it when I’m finished. It’s not complicated to allow this. Come on, Amazon, get back in touch with the way the world works. People share books; let them do this easily.

Amazon Announces Kindle MatchBook; Users Can Buy Cheap Ebooks of Print Books They’ve Purchased

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Amazon has announced Kindle Matchbook, a new program where Amazon will let users buy Kindle ebooks of print books they’ve bought from Amazon at discounted prices. Announced at prices ranging from free to $2.99, Kindle MatchBook, launching in October, is said to provide Kindle editions for “thousands of books.”

I wonder how this will work for me. I’ve bought far too many books from Amazon.com, but I live in the UK. (I used to live in France, and bought more English-language books from the US than the UK, because they were cheaper.) Will I be able to get Kindle editions of my books? I guess I’ll find out in October.

No matter what, I think it’s a great idea. I’m looking forward to seeing how this works out, and how many books offer this. As an aside, this is something that Amazon can do but that Apple can’t, since Apple only sells digital products. This is similar to Amazon’s AutoRip, where you can get MP3 versions of CDs you’ve purchased, but with AutoRip, you’re simply getting files that you could create yourself.

So when will Amazon offer the same thing for DVDs and Blu-Rays…?