Tagged: amazon

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Recommended Reading: “The War of the Words”

favicon This Vanity Fair article, “The War of the Words,” tells the story not only of the recent Amazon vs. Hachette conflict but also of the publishing business, e-books, the Apple collusion case, Goodreads, Kindles, and much more.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about the ascension of e-books (27 percent of book sales in 2013) and what that means for physical books and the imminent “death of print.” This article does a good job, I think, in not casting characters as heroes and villains. After all, traditional New York publishers, backed by media conglomerates, may not the bastions of reading freedom.

It’s a long article, but if you’re interested in the book industry, I think it’s worth it.

Excerpt
“Amazon’s war with publishing giant Hachette over e-book pricing has earned it a black eye in the media, with the likes of Philip Roth, James Patterson, and Stephen Colbert demanding that the online mega-store stand down.”

Source: http://j.mp/1whurTh (via Pocket). You can also find this article at Iserotope Extras, a curated list of my favorite articles about teaching, reading, and technology. favicon

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Why Kindle Unlimited isn’t a great match for the Kindle Classroom Project (for now)

Kindle Unlimitedfavicon Last week, Amazon unveiled Kindle Unlimited, its new book subscription service. A “Netflix for Books,” Kindle Unlimited lets you borrow as many books as you like for $9.99 a month.

Amazon hopes to compete against other (sort of) popular book subscription services Scribd and Oyster. At first glance, Kindle Unlimited seems like a perfect match for the Kindle Classroom Project.

The most crucial part of the Kindle Classroom Project’s success — even more important than the Kindles themselves — is that students have immediate access to high-quality books. If they want to read a book that is not currently in the Kindle library, they tell me, and because of generous donors, I purchase the title immediately.

The only problem with the current system is that Kindle books, on average, cost $9.99. That’s not too expensive, but especially at certain points of the year, student requests pick up, and my Amazon gift balance gets close to zero. As a result, I am always worried that eventually I will run out of money and have to tell a student, “Sorry, I can’t get that book for you.”

But what if my students could borrow an unlimited number of books? That would mean that I could ask 12 people to donate $9.99 per year (one generous donor per month), and all of my concerns would be solved! Right?

In theory, that’s true, but there are three things that prevent me from pursuing Kindle Unlimited, at least for now.

1. If you stop subscribing, you lose your books.
With Kindle Unlimited, you rent books. You don’t own them. (Some may argue that you don’t really own Kindle books even when you buy them, but that’s a philosophical discussion for another post.) Because you’re borrowing the books, once you stop paying the $9.99 a month, your books disappear. That just doesn’t make sense for the KCP.

2. The program is not meant for teachers or classroom libraries.
When you buy a book from Amazon, you can transfer the title to up to six devices on your account. That means when a book is extremely popular among my students, I sometimes purchase multiple copies. Kindle Unlimited is meant for personal accounts, and as far as I know, it would not be possible to borrow more than one copy at a time.

3. Most important: The selection is currently extremely limited.
There are currently 600,000 titles in Kindle Unlimited’s library. That sounds like a lot of selection, but it certainly isn’t unlimited. The library is particularly shaky when it comes to young adult fiction. Besides the big blockbusters (like Divergent and Hunger Games), there isn’t too much there. Of course, the selection may improve, but right now, it’s pretty middling.

Though I won’t be signing up for Kindle Unlimited right now, I’m not disparaging Amazon’s attempts to get into the book-subscription market. KU seems like it can save some money for heavy readers who don’t like to borrow e-books from the library.

Please let me know if you have opinions about Kindle Unlimited and whether you think I’m doing the right thing not to pursue it at this time. Also, if this post got you excited about making a contribution to ensure that students can always request books they want to read, please check out the Contribute page. Thank you!

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Trying out a nook. (Don’t tell the Kindles.)

Nook1favicon If I’m testing out a nook, do I need to change the name of the Kindle Classroom Project?

These are important existential questions.

(Also important: Knowing that the “n” is always lowercase.)

A few weeks ago, generous donor Donna from Denver donated several e-readers, including two 1st generation nooks.

I’ve been playing around with one of them. My initial review: I sort of like it! (Please don’t tell the 139 Kindles.)

What I Like
There’s a color touchscreen on the bottom. It’s playful and more user-friendly than the early generations of the Kindle. Everyone likes a touchscreen, especially my students.

It has page numbers. The nook gives you what page you’re on, rather than a “location.” This seems more human.

The menu is easier to access. It’s easy to skip to another chapter and  more intuitive to do some other key things.

Dave Barry wrote the user guide. This actually doesn’t make a difference, but I liked some of his tips for taking care of your nook. (1) “Never put your nook into a blender without a really good reason.” (2) “Keep your nook away from raccoons.” (3) “If an armed person says, ‘Your nook or your life,” surrender your nook.”

What I Don’t Like
The screen isn’t great. It’s a first generation device, so I wasn’t expecting a great screen, but I found it harder to read on than the early Kindles.

It’s not easy to look up words. There’s no five-way controller, so it takes forever. If I were a student, I’d just skip the word and read on.

The touchscreen isn’t sensitive enough. You really have to press down with significant force. And don’t try to type out a note; it’ll take forever.

Overall, I think the nook is solid. I’m going to get the two nooks out to students and see what they think. My hunch is that they’ll like them a lot and maybe prefer them to Kindles.

But for right now, at least, I’m not ready to ask for nooks or change my little program to the Kindle and nook Classroom Project. The biggest reason is that Amazon already has my allegiance, and books on the Kindle don’t work on the nook, and vice-versa. It just doesn’t make sense to purchase both the azw3 and the epub versions of each e-book.

Another reason is that I still think that Barnes and Noble is going to go out of business. Amazon may discontinue its E Ink Kindles, but the company itself, despite its limited profits, isn’t disappearing anytime soon.

Please let me know what you think. Should I open up donations of nooks? If so, what would be the benefit? Thank you! favicon

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Worldreader: The Kindle Classroom Project’s competition

favicon The past month has been slow at the Kindle Classroom Project. Kindles are still coming in, but the pace has been a bit slower than usual.

The other day, I was wondering why, and then I saw this on PBS NewsHour:

Hey, no fair! Why isn’t reporter Jeffrey Brown calling me up to ask for an interview?

I’m kidding, Mr. Brown. You chose an impressive organization to spotlight. Yes, Worldreader is about as old as the Kindle Classroom Project, and I give co-founder David Risher credit. In the time I’ve collected and distributed 87 Kindles, he’s up to more than 12,000.

Sure, Mr. Risher used to be a vice president at Amazon, and he’s got funding through Amazon and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Plus, his website is much fancier than iserotope.com.

With those resources, Worldreader has done an excellent job. The organization understands the importance of reading to fight illiteracy, and it partners well with villages in Sub-Suharan Africa to bring high-quality ebooks to kids. I particularly like Worldreader’s focus on filling up the e-readers with books by African authors.

Mr. Risher began his project in Ghana, close to my favorite West African country, Mali, which I was lucky to visit twice with buildOn, a non-profit organization that builds schools. The students I worked with in Donkelena and Kongolikoro would have loved (like, gone crazy) for a Kindle.

So, because Worldreader is doing important work, and an excellent job at it, I will no longer be secretly jealous of Mr. Risher and all of his success. 🙂 After all, there are plenty of used Kindles out there. If the Kindle Classroom Project gets 100 Kindles for every 1,000 that Worldreader gets, I’ll be happy with that. I will say this: If you’re currently donating to Worldreader, keep doing so, but every once in a while, please check out the KCP Contribute page! favicon

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(Still) my favorite Amazon Kindle advertisement

favicon The holiday season is here, which means your TV will likely be inundated with commercials prompting you to buy the latest gadgets.

Amazon no doubt will encourage you to buy Kindle Fire HD or the Kindle Paperwhite. But I am not moved (too much). My heart still goes out for the Kindle Keyboard: no fancy videos or pictures, built-in text-to-speech, and a full-on keyboard for highlights and annotations.

Plus, the Kindle Keyboard had a really good commercial for the holidays:

This commercial aired three years ago, when the Kindle Keyboard was the latest version, and when the Kindle Fire didn’t exist yet. Even though the ad is old, it understands what happens when we connect a kid’s curiosity to the world of books. favicon

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It’s Halloween: 6 Kindles come back from the dead

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfavicon I have to say, I’m pretty pleased with myself.

A few weeks ago, I reported that at least eight Kindles no longer worked because of faulty batteries. Amazon didn’t want to help, so I asked loyal and generous Iserotope readers to purchase replacement batteries (for $13 – $18 each), and as usual, they came through quickly.

Thank you to Mary (Parkersburg, IA), Wil (New York, NY), and Laura (San Francisco, CA) for taking care of business! (And thank you, LeAnne (Fremont, CA), for the encouraging words — that I should just go for it.)

So today was the big day. Would the replacement batteries work? Would I even know how to open a Kindle? Would I get electrocuted in the process?

In general, I’m not too handy, especially with home improvement projects. When I was little, my extended family teased me mercilessly about my inability to do anything with my hands. There’s no way that I would change my car’s engine oil, for example. Hang up a painting in my house? Not likely.

But that anxiety hasn’t extended to technology. Over the years, I’ve had no trouble dabbling with old computers, taking them apart, installing Linux here or some RAM there. By no means am I a hardware techie, but for some reason, I don’t get anxious dealing with electronics. Once, I built a makeshift computer lab in my classroom, complete with 18 Pentium III computers that had no business working. It took a long time, but it was worth it.

That is all to say that this morning, there were eight Kindles that weren’t working, that Amazon told me to give up on. They would cost $560 to replace.

This afternoon, I am happy to report, six of those Kindles have been resuscitated, revived from imminent e-waste recycling doom, and ready again to be read starting this Friday by willing and eager ninth graders in the Bay Area.

But I have to say, the process wasn’t always easy. Amazon is a bit like Apple in that they don’t want you hacking into your (their?) stuff. I had to find tiny tiny screwdrivers and practice my patience.

And then, there were a few freaky moments. Here are a couple strange (even spooky, because it’s Halloween season) things that happened:

1. A replacement battery didn’t revive one Kindle, but brought another Kindle to life. But here’s what’s freaky: The first Kindle worked with a different battery (exact same brand).

2. One Kindle didn’t come back to life when charged into one wall socket, but when brought to another wall socket, it turned on. (There was nothing wrong with the first wall socket; it charged several other Kindles.)

Is there any explanation? Please let me know so I can sleep better tonight.

All right, so all of this work leaves just two more Kindles in need of replacement batteries. I’ve revised the Amazon Wishlist, so if you want to help out, all you have to do is click here. The battery is at the top of the list. For around $15 (after tax), you can get a Kindle back into a student’s hands! favicon

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Kindle batteries don’t last long

Kindle-Battery-Emptyfavicon A new problem emerged yesterday at the Kindle Classroom Project. I was charging up some Kindles to get them ready for students, and more than a few of them didn’t work. Either an empty battery icon remained on the screen, or the Kindle wouldn’t wake from its screensaver.

This is a big problem. I haven’t counted yet, but this problem may affect up to 15 Kindles. Confirmed so far: 8 Kindles.

Here’s what’s particularly not good: Kindle batteries don’t last long, and when you call Amazon Customer Support for help, representatives say there’s nothing they can do except offer you refurbished models for $50.

I don’t like this. Everyone knows that batteries don’t last forever. When the batteries on my Walkman died, back in the ’80s, I put in new batteries, and then my Walkman worked again. The same thing just happened with my Samsung phone. A new battery means the device is as good as new.

Why can’t the same thing be true for the Kindle? Is it because Amazon wants to force us to buy new shiny products when the old ones work just fine? It doesn’t make sense, particularly because I’m sure Amazon makes much more profit on its e-books than it does on its e-readers.

Or maybe Amazon doesn’t want its customers to hand down their Kindles to family members or donate them to students.

Instead of just venting, I need to figure out what to do next. There are many batteries online that I can buy, and there are many videos on YouTube that demonstrate how I can change a Kindle battery. But if you ask Amazon representatives, all of them say that it can’t and shouldn’t be done.

I’d like to do things the responsible way, and Amazon has helped make the entire Kindle Classroom Project a reality. But something just doesn’t feel right here.

Please let me know your thoughts! favicon

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How long should teachers stay at their schools?

favicon Most people decry teacher turnover. Schools should do more to make teaching sustainable. Students do better when they have experienced teachers who know their schools and communities.

I agree.

But how long should teachers stay? What’s the sweet spot? Given today’s labor landscape, in which the typical worker bops from job to job every couple years or so, what’s possible?

Tonight I’ve been reading an excellent profile of Jeff Bezos in Business Week. There’s an interesting little graph from the article:

Amazon Retention

Pretty crazy, don’t you think? I mean, I knew that the tenure of most tech workers was short. But one year for the typical Amazon employee? That’s insane. By Amazon’s standards, Yahoo’s median 2.4-year tenure seems really long in comparison.

What would happen in schools if the average teacher tenure were less than two years? In many urban public schools, that figure is unfortunately a reality. Maybe that’s why I sometimes felt like a dinosaur at my last school, where I stayed for 12 years.

I remember that it took me nearly three years at my first school to figure out what I was doing. And then, at my second school, it took another two to adjust to my new environment. If that’s true for other teachers, it makes sense for schools to create conditions such that teachers would stay for six to eight years, at minimum.

But if you ask the typical urban public school principal how long she realistically hopes that teachers will stay, the answer won’t be longer than five years. (This is wishful thinking.) This means two or three years of getting good, followed by two or three years of being good. And then, the cycle repeats.

There are, of course, many forces that make it hard for teachers to stay longer. And there aren’t too many things that schools can do, outside of strong professional development, to counteract factors like overwork, underpay, challenging work conditions, and limited resources.

It’s just not easy.

What are your thoughts? How long should teachers stay at their schools before moving on?