Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Apple tablet news

What'd I tell ya? Apple's going to do for print media what it did for phones, music players and operating systems. Oddly enough, it'll redefine print without the "print" part.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


I should own a Kindle. I should be all over a device that takes the various stacks of books I have planted around the house and condenses them into a handy little gadget. I should marvel at the ease with which I can access a library of some of my favorite writers and some of the greatest works of literature the world has ever known. I should stare in awe as the first chapter of that title I've been meaning to try downloads wirelessly to the Kindle.

I should ... and yet I don't.

I don't own a Kindle and don't have any plans to buy one. The root of the problem? Cost.

Hey, that's the root of just about every problem with a purchasing decision, right? But the Kindle is so expensive that I -- and you're less likely to find a more rabid book lover, seriously -- cannot even dream of affording it right now.

I used to blanch at the $10 per book cost. After all, without spending money actually printing or shipping the thing, how much can it really cost? And that's currently $10 more than I spend on 99 percent of my books, thanks to a local library system that is so good it's almost scary. Oh, and I can't loan a title to a friend or family member, making that $10 seem just a little wasteful. And not just wasteful for me, either: wasteful for the writer, too. After all, no writer would object to me generating greater exposure for him or her.

But I got over that. I recently spent an entire day sorting through boxes of books and decided on the spot that spending $10 per title to spare me the expense of warehousing hundreds of books probably isn't a bad investment. And sometimes the library books have mysterious stains on them , which always freaks me out. (Why aren't people more careful with these things?)

But the device itself is monstrously expensive. Sure, they just lowered the price of their smaller version to $299 (still easily $100 too much), but the Kindle DX -- AKA "the one with the realistic screen size" -- is $500 (I'm rounding up $11: sue me) PLUS $50 for a leather book cover (a good idea to protect the thing, right?) AND another $100 for a two-year extended warranty, which I've read is a really good idea for these things. And suddenly the Kindle is a $650 proposition for me, a guy who currently spends $0 on books.

A quick aside: I used to spend upwards of $1,000/year on books. Operative words: "used to."

Tech kingpin Leo Laporte mentioned on a podcast some time back that the Kindle is so expensive because Jeff Bezos decided he wanted to sell it for what it cost and not subsidize it in any way. That's all well and good until you realize that Amazon took years of losses on their sales and real estate deals in order to lay the foundation for an eventually successful company. It was a safe bet predicated on the fact that the Internet was going to change the way we shop forever. They didn't charge me what it really cost them to send me a book: they lost money for a time until they could make it up in volume. Even now, they'll send me a book for free. That doesn't mean it doesn't cost anything to ship me that book; it means they're underwriting the expense in exchange for my continued business.

So why not do the same with the Kindle? Is Amazon hedging its bet a little? Maybe they don't want to go too far out on a limb with this thing. Maybe they fear it'll become their Apple TV: fine for the "hobbyist" but not for us regular folk.

That's a mistake: a small Kindle at $99 and a Kindle DX at $199 would sell, and sell well (Jobs is right to point out that Amazon doesn't boast sales figures for the devices because there's nothing to boast about). Well enough, I suspect, to allow Amazon to make up the difference in book sales.

Here's why: e-readers will change the reading game the same way online retailers like Amazon changed the shopping game. Not "might" change it; "will" change it. But with a $650 e-reader, Amazon has priced itself right out of the conversation, and Apple is getting ready to shut them up for good. When Apple's new tablet device comes around, Amazon's premium-priced single-purpose device will look like a joke compared to something that also does music, video and Web for a hundred dollars more.

Oh, and don't tell me reading on a back-lit tablet will be uncomfortable. Yes, it will be. And no one will care.

It's not too late: ask Sony how they feel now that the PS3 is priced to sell. Don't bother, I'll tell you: they're happy. Because they're selling them now, not sitting back staring at piles of them collecting dust in warehouses while Nintendo eats their lunch.

Lower the price, Amazon. Apple's eyeing your lunch as we speak ...

Letterman's in the lead

Speaking of late night television, I've rearranged my top spots:
  1. Letterman
  2. Ferguson
  3. Fallon
  4. Leno
  5. O'Brien
  6. Kimmel
  7. Daly
Geez, but Dave's good. Don't be fooled by the top three, though: I can change my mind by the end of the day. Ferguson's terrific -- did you see him on Letterman? -- and his show looks a lot better in HD. Now how about a band, you cheap CBS goons?

I'm still surprised by Fallon. His show is lively, funny and fresh enough (hey, it's late night ... even the best are recycling bits Steve Allen did 50 years ago). I didn't think this show would amount to much of anything, and I really believe it's one of the best out there.

Note: Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert -- very, very funny guys with terrific shows -- aren't really doing "late night TV" and therefore aren't being considered here. Still, if you add them, that makes for four hours of decent programming per night. Nothing to shake a stick at.

Conan's contract

Spent a little time looking around online for details of Conan O'Brien's contract, but to no avail. I'm not interested in financial details -- I want to know the length of the contract. If it's anywhere close to three years, I think the guy's in trouble.

I watched last night's show, but not because it was his first since suffering a concussion on set last week. Rather, I tuned in on accident: flipping channels and hey, there's Conan, talking about his concussion.

He was obviously ill at ease recounting what happened, and actually seemed a little shaken up just watching the replay with an audience there. But he soldiered on and it made for pretty compelling TV, especially his back-and-forth with Andy Richter -- a guy who should be infinitely more popular than he is (see also: Patton Oswalt).

Drew Barrymore was fine -- personable, funny, attractive (and I do want to see her new movie) -- but I left the station during her second segment. I thought, "Dave would really make this interview work." And then I thought, "So why aren't I watching Dave?" Which is what I ended up doing.

Giant corporations are as loath to admit their mistakes as regular folks, but I still think it's possible that we see Jay Leno back on the Tonight Show in a few years. I don't know if enough Americans are going to decide they like Conan enough to make him number one, and it's possible he might be looking at number three some nights. Right now, I have a difficult time believing NBC's bet that a bunch of younger viewers will somehow gravitate back to the network at 11:30 pm -- leaving behind the Internet, Comedy Central, buddies and video games -- is going to pay off.

But at least they have a Plan B. Or a Plan Jay, as the case may be.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Online newspaper design done right

Want to see terrific Web design for an online newspaper? Check out the website for the Los Angeles Times. Three reasons I like this:
  1. Clear navigation, both at the top and throughout the page
  2. Modest integration of ads
  3. Nicely delineated sections (Health, Sports, Most Viewed, etc.)
Take a look:

Most newspaper websites look like an ad rep vomited on them, the result of bean counters trying to eke out enough advertising dollars to justify the expenditures related to providing so much free content. The ad placement here is so modest, in fact, that I wonder if this redesign is a precursor to a pay website strategy. Can the Times be making enough off the (relatively) few ads on its pages to continue like this? (Granted, their page visits are undoubtedly enormous, but big enough to warrant pricey ad buys?)

Regardless, I'm a fan.

Ha! Ha! Felony!

From Engadget, concerning the recent 31-second theft of thousands of dollars of merchandise from an Apple Store:
Look, we aren't trying to glamorize crime or anything, but this is the stuff GTA heists are made of.
See what they did there? They absolved themselves of responsibility for humorously condoning a felony right before they humorously condoned a felony.