Category Archives: Kindle

Of Men and Mountains

I came across a reference to William O Douglas’s book “Of Men and Mountains” in the “Hi Alpine” blog. The reference related to how William Douglas was at peace on his sick-bed thanks to the memories he had of his extensive exploration of the mountains around his hometown of Yakima, WA. I’m not much of a reader and don’t think I have ever read a book published outside of my lifetime, but this book published in 1950, turned out to be far more relevant to me today than I would have ever imagined.

I thought the book was going to be autobiographical with significant focus on William O Douglas as a Supreme Court Justice, but no, it was really just about his adventures in the wilderness. I immediately found myself fascinated by the challenges of a young man losing his father at an early age growing up in Yakima, WA, in the early 1900’s. I was able to gleam from the few professional references that William Douglas was a true man of integrity and must have been a tremendous Justice, but again the book was about his beloved Pacific Northwest Wilderness.

There were a few references to his wilderness adventures in New England and I loved his recollection of his trip to New York to attend Columbia Law School. He only had a few dollars so he hitched rides on trains across the country. Otherwise his story centered around Yakima in the Cascades and Wallowas. I have backpacked enough in this area to know of his references, but to share in them from a few generations prior was unique. What gear did an early backpacker use: a Nelson, Norwegian or Horseshoe packs. What did they eat: beans, bread, berries and fish. How did they stay dry: sometimes a tent but mostly they relied on the natural coverage of trees or caves. How did they stay warm: many times they didn’t but wool was their main resource. Horses for riding and packing were a part of their experiences. Interactions with Indians, trappers and herders were intriguing. But what I loved most were the recollections of his early backpacking experiences where his youthful enthusian would call into question the wisdom of some of his adventures. I get that, I think back to some of the stupid things I have done in the wilderness and I am thankful to be alive. In fact, I have always shared the kinship of my early adventures with my friend John back in NW Colorado in the 1980’s. We used to joke that we were the last of the true Mountain Men. ofmenandmountainsbook

Not long after I started reading the book I shared my interest in it with John. I knew he would relate to it as I have, especially the fishing secrets throughout the book. Yes, for us this book is an easy reading escape back to our own wilderness adventures. And when a first edition copy of the book was delivered to my home, it could have only come from my wilderness brother, John. True friendship is as valuable as anything we have and William Douglas shared many of his friendships in this book. I hope you all have friendships built upon wilderness adventures.

I think Amazon will Win Again

The Wired Magazine interview with Amazon’s Jeff Bezos in their latest issue has motivated me to reflect. For 15 years Amazon has been influential but they seem to always be behind the curtain to players like Microsoft, Apple, Google or Facebook. But consider what they have accomplished and how they have done it. A philosophy based on low margins designed to serve a large customer base in stark contrast to another famous tech player that focuses on high margins catering to a small customer base. Also the fact that Amazon is willing to commit to a 5-7 year business plan has separated them but may also contribute to how they may be overlooked. I remember in their early years I was amazed at their staying power, willing to loose money for many years, but knowing that they would eventually win because market share is the key to domination of the Internet.

Amazon’s strategy which has yielded success is why I have to believe that their approach to publishing with book distribution is also destined to radically redefine that industry. Apple tried to shake up the distribution game with iBooks but Amazon truly controls online book commerce. And now as Amazon ventures into publishing I think we need to take notice. Bookstores as the big publishers desire are quickly becoming history. Consumers will buy books via the most effective and affordable path and that is the Amazon model. We in Higher Ed continue to reason why this can’t work but it does. The majority of our students buy their books through Amazon and if we hope to maintain happy students we will relent to support of that model as well. So take notice of Amazon’s release of the Kindle Fire and their aggressive direct publishing strategy that will reward authors with 70% of the revenue stream. We may fear Amazon’s invasion of our privacy but that fear dampens as we compare it to all the other intruders into our lives.

Amazon Kindle, a Real Option

Kindle Fire

Finally an alternative to Apple’s iPad in the latest Kindle offerings. I have to admit that I am impressed sight unseen by the Kindle Fire for $199. More then anything else I see adopters of these simpler pad devices desiring simplicity. Just give me a device I can check my email surf the web and read books, and a guess playing games would be cool. This is really about the fact that these pad consumers have never wanted to use a real computer nor should they have been forced to. Now we have some pad options that truly justify having one as a digital consumption device. Let the geeks have the computers but let the masses participate in our digital world more simply and affordably.

Something else that struck me was how Amazon may now be able to build a stronger customer profile database. Not only from this more controlled connection to their customers because of the Kindle device, but maybe more from their controlled monitoring of their web browsing trail. What I am talking about here is the Amazon Silk web browser. Isn’t this improved performance based on running everything through the AWS cloud better then even a proxy server. Google only gets to monitor us when we are on their sites. What if Amazon can now monitor everything we do?

Stephen Shankland’s CNET article: Amazon Silk: One step forward, two steps back shed’s additional light on my privacy concern’s.

Digital Delivery for E-Publications

The type of digital delivery may be the most important question. This probably breaks down into a version for subscription and one for purchase models. Subscription publications will strive to make distribution as flexible as possible due to their dependence on circulation driving advertising revenue. The challenge for the publisher of market specific magazines will come from the need to justify advertising revenue based on actual reader click through rather then just the circulation list. However, magazines and newspapers that are able to command a subscription price will still be able to leverage advertising revenue based on circulation. The key to this all: without physical distribution barriers, the competitive playing field will be leveled favoring the digital presentation as much as the actual content.

Unique publications such as books will be far more concerned about control of the digital object. Of course efficient distribution models such as from Amazon or Apple’s iBooks will dominate, however, they will be most concerned about the Digital Rights Management. Unfortunately I believe we will start out with as many restrictions as the distributors can get away with. I do not see the E-Reader device as the controller because I do not see the major players designing for that. It may appear that Apple leans in that direction, but they make money either way. Amazon offering an iPad version of their Kindle is a prime example of catering to a single revenue stream. Control of the digital object will be handled by the software application. Hence the E-Reader will be selected for affordability for desired features.

Here is the link to my interview with OurBlook on Digital Delivery which expands upon this topic.

What will Tip the Scale for e-Books

I think it is official that we are e-Book aware now. It generally takes a story in a prominent mainline publication like the New York Times: “In a Digital Future, Textbooks Are History”, to capture our attention. The Educause CIO listserve was flooded with comments about this article.

The conversation has been beneficial for elevating the awareness, unfortunately personal opinions and knit picking does threaten to cloud the bigger issue. But some of the key points did focus around the cost and the feature set needed for an effective e-Book reader which right now is defined by the Kindle. Some good discussion about IT’s role in driving this change. IT is in the middle no matter what. Most talk though is about the device, who would use it, what must it do, etc. But I don’t think the transition to e-Books will be justified by the device.

I believe the transition will be driven by the business model. The news about Barnes & Noble consolidating with their college bookstore arm, VC investment in Academos and new grant money flowing into open textbook initiatives is probably a much greater sign that the book world is changing. Google is primed to partner with their vast digital library and publishers want to play. Apple may have the best distribution engine but competition is real with Sony and Amazon. And of course Higher Ed is finally ready to fix the broken textbook financial model. I think this is going to happen and happen quickly because the players know it is inevitable and they know that profit exists for those who move early.

There is agreement that we are possibly one device generation away from an acceptable e-Book Reader. I still don’t think we will settle for only an e-Book Reader. We will jump because of the the soon to be announced Internet enabled very portable touch tablet type computing devices that will also be excellent e-Book Readers. And my money is still on the MacTouch.

MacTouch will Change so Much in the Coming Year

Our university President recently told me that the most common complaint he hears is that textbook costs are too high. He also relayed his excitement about all he has heard about the Amazon Kindle. Of course he was a bit surprised when I showed him the Kindle App on my iPhone. His excitement related to his hopes for bringing the cost of higher education down and he could see the relationship to the growth of eBooks. I then reminded him of my prediction to our executive committee that textbooks, bookstores and libraries would be dramatically different a year from now and the key reason would be the soon to be announced larger iTouch or what I refer to as the MacTouch.

A recent article by Jason Schwarz does a great job of summing up all that we think we know about Apple’s new MacTouch. I have been talking about this device along with many others, but my interest is more directly related to how I believe it will effect higher education. This quote from the article says a lot.

By next year, we will all be wondering how the newspaper industry survived as long as it did with its outdated paper delivery model. The iTouch will replace newspapers, magazines, and books. Imagine a college student not having to lug around his $600 worth of textbooks each semester. Imagine not having to load up on magazines at the airport. The digitization of education and media has arrived. This is the first device that caters to digital readers on the go.

Our hopes are that this device does truly cater to the needs of higher education both for reducing costs and for enhancing learning. Don’t get to hung up on the comments of the book purists who believe that sitting on a couch with a good book is the only way it can be. I think my wife may only buy books on her iPhone Kindle from now on. Reading with a back-light option and having all her books always with her more then justifies that couch cozy argument. So Apple; just remember that I want a price point around $700 and for it not to be over focused as an entertainment device.

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