Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

Is Kindle Unlimited Good or Bad for Authors – Six Viewpoints

Posted: 20 Jul 2014 05:55 PM PDT

question-markIn the two days since Amazon officially announced their ebook subscription service, everyone and their cousin has posted an editorial on the question of whether KU is good or bad for authors.

Being neither an author nor a publishers, I sat out the debate,  but as I looked over the links I collected for tomorrow’s Morning Coffee post I realized that had an excess of links for this one topic. And even though I have no opinion either way on the question, I can see that I am in the minority.Here are 6 different takes on this question, including a couple which address the point from unusual tangents.

But first, some background.

Kindle Unlimited is a $10 a month subscription ebook service from our favorite ebook retailer, Amazon. The service boasts over 600,000 ebook and audiobook titles which can be read on Kindles or Kindle apps. KU is currently limited to the US, but that is almost certainly going to change in the next few months.

Like the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, Kindle Unlimited draws most of its catalog from KDP Select. This is a special subsection of Amazon’s ebook distribution platform which offers additional promotional opportunities, requires exclusivity, and pays authors from a pool of money when an ebook is loaned in KOLL or KU. (That pool is worth $1.8 million in July, and will be increased next month).

Many of the posts focus on whether subscription ebook services are a good idea, while  others question whether anyone should be giving Amazon an exclusive.  I tend to think that is a bad idea, but I also think that this is a self-correcting issue which will fix itself in the long run. I’m basing that prediction on reports like the one from Nick Stephenson, an author who recently removed one of his ebooks from KDP Select:

I'm still a fan of free, but I've found that having books out of Select is (so far) having a positive effect. With KDP Select free days, I can drum up $1,500+ of extra cash in a 48 hour period, but that's relying almost entirely on Bookbub, and things go back to normal almost immediately. And I can't guarantee that the 'Bub is going to feature me every month. With books up on other vendors and a permafree title to keep readers coming in, I'm seeing much more consistent results – and I can use the smaller advertisers to keep the permafree's performance "topped up" when it starts to drop, removing my reliance on Bookbub to a certain degree.

If other authors are sharing Stephenson’s experience, then I would bet the issue of Amazon exclusivity is probably going to solve itself in the long run. Or at least that’s what I think, but not everyone is willing to let the market sort itself out.

Mark Coker, for one, is as much against exclusivity now as he was when KDP Select launched in late 2011, Writing on Friday:

Exclusivity is great for Amazon, but it’s not necessarily great for authors and readers.  Exclusivity starves competing retailers of books readers want to read, which motivates readers to move their reading to the Kindle platform. This is why Amazon has made exclusivity central to their ebook strategy. They’re playing a long term game of attrition.

Most indie authors recognize the value in fostering a diverse ecosystem of multiple competing retailing options.  Yet every book enrolled in KDP Select is a vote to put Amazon’s competitors out of business. You know this to be true if you believe, as I believe, that indies are the future of publishing.

Not everyone thinks it’s a bad idea; Will Entrekin, the publisher at Exciting Press, has not only signed up to use KU as a customer he has also submitted some titles from his catalog to KDP Select:

Look, I'll be candid: of that I'm not sure yet. For quite a while, Exciting Press titles were in Kindle Direct Publishing Select. They were exclusive to Kindle, could only be bought from Amazon. We publish without DRM — always have and always will — so readers could convert their books for whatever device they were using, but let's be honest there and note how tedious that is (if you even know how to do it in the first place, which a lot of readers may not). But if I may be further honest here I would argue that Amazon's gained dominance in the ebook marketplace simply because its experience is so superior for readers, and I think that makes a difference.

I don’t think his decision is a good idea (see the Stephenson quote above), but I also am well aware that there’s no one size fits all solution.  We cannot discount the possibility that someone is making KDP Select work for them and generate more revenue than if their ebooks are available elsewhere.

Not everyone, though, is looking at this in terms of its affect on authors; some commented on how it might affect the ebook amrket as a whole. Saying he is “cautiously optimistic”, Chuck Wendig wrote:

a) Amazon is interesting because it is a big company and yet it moves like a spry, tiny company. Which is awesome and scary because when big companies move quickly, it is often tectonic.

b) I don't know yet if this is tectonic. It is interesting to me as a reader and a little scary to me as a writer because all new things are scary to me as a writer because writers are ultimately flinchy since being whacked in the nose so many times with bad deals. I think if this becomes a truly dominant model, then it will be tectonic, shaking How Books Are Consumed and How Authors Are Paid to the molten, trembling core.

c) I think it's a good price point.

d) I think there's an argument to be made where this devalues books.

e) I think there's an argument to be made that high e-book prices hurt authors more than low e-book prices, so, blah blah blah book value exposure something snore.

f) I think Spotify was bad for bands but this isn't Spotify.

Wendig isn’t the only one who is optimistic; the team at Archangel Ink were in high spirits when they read about Kindle Unlimited:

I've noticed several of the articles on Amazon's bold decision to offer a subscription for unlimited eBook downloads seem to claim that this move is "bad for authors." That's probably because these articles were written by people who aren't authors or publishers and certainly not indie authors. We've published 40 books here in the last 70 days, and I've been active in the publishing industry since before there was such a thing as en eBook. I can assure you my predictions about how this will affect authors and the publishing industry in general is much better informed.

In short, don't worry authors. Bezos hasn't suddenly declared war on you. In fact, Bezos is continuing to take bold steps to declare with no ambiguity that indies are his friends, and publishing companies are his bitter rivals–at least until they change their business model and start publishing exclusively on Amazon instead of trying to sell books on every retailer imaginable. And no, Archangel Ink is not necessarily a "publishing company" so we're not threatened either. We're more like a steroid dealer for indie authors. Do you even lift Poe?

Some like Chris McMullen are more ambivalent:

The only way to really know for sure is to try it both ways. (Note that you can experience lengthy delays and problems trying to unpublish your e-book from other retailers in order to switch back into KDP Select.)

Kindle Unlimited may be a compelling reason to enroll in KDP Select. There will be many authors returning to KDP Select to try it out. There are also authors opting out with the introduction of KDP Select. Everyone is trying to decide which side of the fence has the greener grass. By the way, I'm staying in KDP Select.

So what do you think? Who is right?

The post Is Kindle Unlimited Good or Bad for Authors – Six Viewpoints appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Review: Hisense Sero 8 is Good but Not Great

Posted: 20 Jul 2014 06:32 AM PDT

hisense-sero-8[1]The Chinese gadget maker Hisense thrilled gadget buyers last year when it released the Sero 7 Pro, a $149 Android tablet that set the standard for the budget tablet market last year.

I for one was expecting Hisense to repeat that trick in 2014, but that hasn’t happened. Now that I’ve had my hands on the Sero 8 for a week I can see that Hisense has made a good tablet, just not one which deserves the praise lavished upon the Sero 7 Pro last year.

Hisense has only launched a single tablet in the US and Europe (a second tablet just cleared the FCC). The Sero 8 isn’t quite what I would expect in a replacement for the Sero 7 Pro; it is a mid-sized tablet with a budget price of $129 and (aside from the cameras) the specs and performance of similarly-priced mid-grade 8″ Android tablets like the Acer Iconia A1-830.

Review Date: 20 July 2014 – Review unit purchased from the Walmart store in Manassas, VA


The Sero 8 is taking over the reins as Hisense’s flagship tablet from the no longer available Sero 7 Pro, and in several ways it is a better tablet. The Sero 8 sports a 1.4GHz quad-core Rockchip CPU with 1GB RAM, 16 GB internal storage, and two cameras. It has both Wifi and Bluetooth, a microSD card slot, and an 8″ screen.

At first glance and at second glance, the Sero 8 looks like a generic Android tablet. It’s made to be held in landscape position, and it has a simple black glass front with a textured plastic back. The single speaker is on the lower back of the tablet, along with a 2MP camera. The front-facing VGA resolution camera is centered over the screen, and on the upper edge you’ll find the power button, headphone jack, USB port, and microSD card slot.

The Sero 8 has a more powerful CPU than most tablets in this price range (including the Sero 7 Pro), and it also ships with better cameras and more storage. The cameras are admittedly weaker than on the Sero 7 Pro, but then again that tablet had better cameras than what you could find on a $99 budget tablet.

hisense sero 8 android tablet 1 hisense sero 8 android tablet 2 hisense sero 8 android tablet 3 blog


The quality of the screen is one of my chief concerns for budget tablets, and the Sero 8 doesn’t disappoint. This tablet has an 8″ display with a resolution of 1280 x 800. Unlike cheaper tablets, the color quality is great, and the viewing angle is on par with the iPad.

The Sero 8 can be viewed from virtually any angle (including close to 90 degrees to the left, right, up or down) without any decrease in color quality or the viewing experience.

Not only is the screen good, this tablet could well double as a flashlight. At maximum setting the backlight is somewhat brighter than the one on my Kindle Fire HD, and at its dimmest the backlight on my Sero 8 Pro is also somewhat brighter than the one on my Kindle Fire HD.


The Sero 8 is equipped with a 2MP camera and a VGA resolution webcam. I tested both cameras outside, and they are quite good. There’s no LED flash on the rear camera, so it won’t be much good for less than brightly lit situations, but it still takes a high quality photo.

The cameras are supported by the basic camera app, with the usual minimal features.


According to the specs posted online, the Sero 8 has a 4Ah battery, with an estimated battery life of 7 hours. I think that is a conservative estimate.

My tests suggest that the Sero 8 has a video run time of over 6 hours. Regular runtime will likely exceed 8 hours and can be extended by avoiding intensive tasks like watching movies or playing games. My estimate is based on playing a 1080p video with sound at full volume and Wifi on. While this isn’t the most intensive use of the battery, but it does offer a good yardstick because most activities short of 3d gaming will need fewer resources.

I have also noted that the Sero 8 has a standby time of around 5 days, which is fairly common for budget Android tablets.


This tablet ships with Android 4.4 KitKat, Google Play, and a minimum of bloatware. In addition to Google’s mandated apps (Play Newsstand/Music/Books/Games/, Voice Search, Hangouts, maps, etc) Hisense has only installed 4 apps, three of which belong to Walmart (Vudu and two shopping apps for Sam’s Club and The 4th app is a TV remote app which could prove useful for anyone who still owns a TV.

I installed a few apps myself, but I will admit that I didn’t test the software features as extensively as I could. I didn’t really see the need. The Sero 8 runs a stock version of Android 4.4 with few additions. There’s not much to say about it.


Screenshot_2014-07-19-11-41-13With an Antutu score of 17,712, the Sero 8 promises a performance superior to that of the Hisense Sero 7 Pro (as well as other cheaper 7″ tablets I reviewed last year).

And it delivers. The Sero 8 is noticeably peppier than the 7″ Android tablets sitting on my desk.  It more than fills my needs for a budget device, and if nor the my discomfort over the screen size I would be sorely tempted to keep the Sero 8 and see if the extra power enabled me to get more done, faster.

Audio & Video

The Sero 8 comes equipped with the basic gallery app, the stock media player, Youtube, Vudu, and a video player app which I somehow managed to get to display in a window (I have not managed to get it to repeat that trick).

I haven’t tested the Vudu app, but the first three work just fine. Given the Sero 8′s score on Antutu, we already knew that it was more than powerful enough to handle virtually any video thrown at it, even 1080p videos or higher. They look great, but the audio is another matter.

The Sero 8 only has a single rear-facing speaker, and it was (at its loudest) very quiet. This is not a speaker you can use in a quiet room; it’s simply not loud enough. I think you will need to plan on using the headphone jack, or a pair of BT headphones.

On the plus side, the audio quality of that quiet speaker was generally good; I listened to several songs with tricky audio and most of the keywords came through clear.


This is a solid tablet. The build quality is great, and Hisense used decent components (especially the cameras) and they added more storage than I would have expected. The Sero 8 even scored well on the performance test.

But I for one don’t like the screen size. Yes, I know this is picking nits, but the Sero 8 is too heavy and too large for me to comfortably pick up by gripping the edges. This is one of the things I like about 7″ tablets, which I can easily scoop up and carry one-handed. The Sero 8 is bigger, and yet it doesn’t offer a significant increase in screen real estate in trade. What’s more, the Sero 8 has the same screen resolution as many 7″ tablets, spreading the same number of pixels over a larger area.

But still, this is a good tablet – just not as good of a deal as the Sero 7 Pro was last year. At $149 the Sero 7 Pro was incomparable, while the Sero 8 has at least one 8″ tablet that offers a similar value.

Right now I also have the Acer Iconia A1-830 sitting on my desk. This tablet has similar performance and comparable specs (better cameras but no card slot), and only costs $10 more on than the $129 list price for the Hisense Sero 8.

I can see the good points in the Sero 8, but I wouldn’t recommend rushing out and buying it right away – not when you should also consider what else is on the market in the same price range.

It is a good tablet, though.

Where to Buy

Walmart is supposed to be the exclusive retailer, but they do not sell it on nor is it carried in most stores. You’ll need to check the Walmart website and see if any stores near you have this tablet in stock.

It could be rather difficult to get your hands on a new Sero 8; you might want to check Ebay. You could also look for a refurb, but I don’t know that any are available when I wrote this post.


  • Screen: 8″
  • Screen Resolution: 1280 x 800
  • Capacitive touchscreen
  • OS: Android 4.4 KitKat
  • CPU: quad-core 1.4GHz RockChip RK3188
  • GPU: Mali-400 MP
  • 1GB RAM
  • Storage: 16GB internal (actual: 12.5GB), microSD card slot
  • Cameras: VGA (front-facing), 2MP (rear-facing)
  • Wifi, Bluetooth
  • speaker, microphone
  • Battery: 4Ah
  • Dimensions: 8.2″ x 7.6″ x 0.4″
  • Weight: 450 grams



The post Review: Hisense Sero 8 is Good but Not Great appeared first on The Digital Reader.

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