How to hype a book into being a best-selling. Rule #1 – Start with a wonderfully-written book that includes dogs

I learned about The Story of Edgar Sawtelle the old fashioned way – newspaper book reviews.

According to an article in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, I, along with thousands more, have been “hyped” into buying and reading the just-published book, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, the debut novel by David Wroblewski. According to the Wall Street Journal “marketing” story, “Driving (the book’s) unexpectedly heavy demand has been strong reviews and promotional support from Amazon.com.”

I confess, I didn’t know I was being caught up in some promotional scheme when I purchased the book. Despite their reported promotional support, Amazon.com didn’t even recommend it to me. And I didn’t read about the book on any blogs, nor have I been targeted by anything remotely viral or word-of-mouth. (And I get targeted by those often — and I rarely blog about anything that I discover that way.)

This book hit my radar the good old fashioned way: I purchased it because of last Sunday’s Janet Maslin New York Times review that is filled with love-notes like this: “Pick up this book and expect to feel very, very reluctant to put it down.” When I read that review a week ago, I did a Google search and clicked over to WashingtonPost.com and read something similar: “The dog days of summer are nigh, and here is a big-hearted novel you can fall into, get lost in and finally emerge from reluctantly, a little surprised that the real world went on spinning while you were absorbed.”

I will note this, however. Despite me not being “hyped” into purchasing the book, technology played a role in my purchase. Had I not had a Kindle next to me when I read the review, I would have probably forgotten about the book until next time I was in a book store — and by then, I likely would have forgotten the title. And with a Kindle, it was a $10 item, not a $16-$25 item.

As for the novel itself, I am hesitant to provide a review of a book I’m only half-way through, but this is my half-time report: I’m very, very reluctant to put it down and I have found it to be a big-hearted novel that I have fallen into, got lost in and will be reluctant to finally emerge from.*

So far, it is wonderful. Especially if you’re a dog person. (When I finish the book, I will note it on this post.)

*Yes, that is plagiarism.

Is the Amazon Kindle a ‘tipping point’ product?

I’m a fan of the Amazon Kindle, however I feel sure the company would prefer that I keep my version of praise for the product to myself. And, to judge from some e-mail I’ve received knee-jerking past observations I’ve written about the device, some of my "fellow" fans of the Kindle also prefer I shut-the-praise up.

I guess I’m an enigma to traditional eBook/ePaper lovers because, get this, I like my Kindle but am less than convinced there is much a future for a dedicated eBook reading device. In other words, the love I have for my Kindle is the kind of love that only a mother of a, how can I say this?, unfortunate-looking baby could understand.

So as they typically draw arrows, why do I bring up this topic yet again ?

Because the New York Times today asks , "Is the electronic book approaching the tipping point?" The story reports on the confused ("energizing yet unnerving") response book industry people attending the giant "BookExpo" trade show had because someone (Amazon) has finally come up with an eBook reader and business model that may actually work.

Around ten years ago, I attended that very same trade show in Los Angeles. Ironically, eBooks were getting the same kind of unnerving response then. Also getting the same unnerving response the year I attended was Barnes & Noble and Amazon — the show is filled with independent booksellers who are perpetually unnerved by Barnes & Noble and Amazon — for everything.

As the New York Times story reports, eBooks have been around 40 years. And the concept of ePaper (thin displays that replicate the properties of real paper) is right up there with flying cars and TV watches as the most predicted technology never to make it to the mass market.

So, if by "tipping point," the New York Times writer means, has the eBook reader finally had a "proof of business concept," I’d have to answer that the Kindle is, yes, a tipping point product. However, I’d place it along side the Motorola brick phone in the "works-great-but-can-we-get-something-that-does-this-that-is-less-goofy" department?

And the Kindle tipping point moment came just in time, I might add. I think many in the digital book fan nation had all but given up on the mass-market viability of eBook readers.

In perhaps the most dramatic display of what I mean is the rather untimely release of the book "Print is Dead " by Jeff Gomez. I say "untimely" because it was published (on paper, no less) at precisely the same time as the Kindle was being announced — last November. Yet if one reads the book (as I have, on my Kindle), one is struck by the irony of how many thousands of words Gomez devotes to explaining why "the eBook revoluton didn’t happen." In a long chapter (7), Gomez, in effect, surrenders the notion that any eBook reader will ever succeed in order to support his central argument — that text delivered in a digital form will ultimately render paper and ink "dead."

So rather than helping Gomez prove his point that "print is dead," the success of the Kindle dramatically placed his technology forecasting credentials into question. (I’m sure he’ll reclaim his cred when he re-writes Chapter 7 for the Kindle version of the book — and takes out the "eBooks are doomed" part and that part where he quotes "the experts" who claim it will take a $1-$2 price point for eBooks to ever catch on.) (Later clarification: Despite my snarky comments regarding Gomez’ book, in general, I found that I agree with much of what he writes — except I still think the title is bad and, frankly, not what the book is truly about.)

So yes, I’m a Kindle lover who thinks, as I’ve said many times , while its hardware and interface design are inexcusably unfortunate (ugly-bad), its function (200 books in my briefcase) and the pricing of books one can purchase and download to it wirelessly (never having to attach it to a computer) makes me overlook the way I constantly lose my place in a book because of its peculiar button placement or the way the fricking back panel randomly falls off the device.

Yes, I love my Kindle — but here’s where I lose my invitation to join its fan club. I don’t think Amazon is going to be the long-term winner in the category. Like the Motorola brick, the Kindle is a great proof of concept. But in the end, the product that ultimately owns this category will be much, much more than a mere eBook reader using ePaper technology.

Bonus link: Thanks to Michael Turro (see comments) for pointing to this recent Gordon Crovitz column about the Kindle. Also, check out Michael’s post, as well.

What happens when Apple responds to the Amazon Kindle?

I must say, I’m beginning to admire Henry Blodget for his unabashed willingness to ignore any irony others might see in his analytical posts about Amazon.com, like this one that looks at Citi analyst Mark Mahaney’s report that the Amazon Kindle could be a $750 million iPod-like franchise in a couple of years. … However, I stand by my earlier prediction — and this is where I find a flaw in Mahaney’s analysis: Apple won’t stand still and let Amazon have this market all to itself.

I must say, I’m beginning to admire Henry Blodget for his unabashed willingness to ignore any irony others might see in his analytical posts about Amazon.com, like this one that looks at Citi analyst Mark Mahaney’s report that the Amazon Kindle could be a $750 million iPod-like franchise in a couple of years.

Blodget does not explicitly agree with the prediction, indeed, he points out some holes in the theory. He doesn’t fully repudiate it, however.

I’m clearly not a financial analyst and so any disagreements I may have with Mahaney’s predictions have nothing to do with market-share numbers. I have no idea about the revenues or bottom-line impact of future Kindle developments. However, since some of his analysis is based on his personal experience with the device, I feel I can at least weigh in on that front.

First, let me say I use the Kindle frequently. Not quite daily, but several times a week. My review of the Kindle from last December is still accurate. I haven’t really been surprised by anything about it during the past five months. It’s still a clunky, poorly designed piece of hardware with a ridiculous interface. Yet the EVDO (digital cellular)-powered feature that allows one to instantly purchase books from Amazon for less than $10 is near magic. That price-point for books and the instant download are what make the device work for me — and, apparently, the Citi analyst, also.

However, I stand by my earlier prediction — and this is where I find a flaw in Mahaney’s analysis: Apple won’t stand still and let Amazon have this market all to itself. As I’ve written about ad-naseum, a slightly larger iPod Touch linked to eBooks distributed via the iTunes store would match and raise the game with Amazon. At that point, Amazon would be competing with the iTunes distribution channel, but with Amazon hardware that looks and feels like it was designed in Soviet-era Russia.

Also, with Apple in the game, its eBook format would be readable via the Mac or iPhone, as well. The Kindle format is locked into a Kindle device.

As I wrote last November, I’ll continue to use my Kindle until Apple comes out with something like this (even if it’s not in the next couple of weeks):