Kindle Unlimited: Not Worth Your Money

Have you heard?  Netflix for books has arrived!  Amazon now offers a new service called Kindle Unlimited.  For a nominal fee of $9.99/month ($119.88) you can “enjoy unlimited access to over 600,000 titles and thousands of audio books on any device.” Sounds excellent, right?  Sorry, no.  It’s not worth your money.  Here’s why:

    • Borrowing books, not buying them…so there is a limit on how many you can have out a time.
    • Not included in Amazon Prime
    • Do not have access to all Kindle books
    • Better/More Popular selection available for FREE through your local public library using the app OverDrive.
    • Not a new, innovative idea

Borrowing Books, Not Buying Them Did you actually read the all the fine print or just watch the sailboat video?  I’ll say it plainly so there are no questions: you are borrowing books, not buying them.  The subscription service is not “get unlimited books for $10/month”, it is “borrow 10 books at time, as frequently as you want for $10/month”.  That’s right, you’re actually restricted to “ten books at a time and there are no due dates.”  While the restriction seems logical…it’s not so awesome if your family shares an Amazon account. A caveat of borrowing Kindle books is this: once you return the book, any annotations and notes you make are gone.  Technically, they are inaccessible because they are saved as a separate file on your Kindle, so if you borrow the book again your notes will be there…as long as you didn’t accidentally delete the “letter” that states your rental expired.

Not Included In Amazon Prime Kindle Unlimited is not added into the Amazon Prime subscription.  It’s an extra cost.  However, if you have Amazon Prime and a Kindle, each month you can read free books through the Kindle First and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (about 500,000 titles).

Do Not Have Access to All Kindle Books Did you read the first paragraph thoroughly or did you just skim right over the 600,000 titles number? Or did the difference simply not register?  Amazon boasts “over 1 million books are available for the Amazon Kindle”.  Let’s do some simple math: 1,000,000-600,000=400,000 Kindle books that Amazon has that are not available for Kindle Unlimited. So what accounts for the large difference? Five major publishing houses opted not to participateSimon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Hachette, MacMillan, and Penguin.  So while Scholastic and HoughlinMifflin Harcourt are participating, there is a noticeable lack of New York Times Bestsellers.

Better/More Popular Selection Available through OverDrive and Your Local Library OverDrive is a free app that you can download to your iPad/iPhone/iPod, Android, Windows Phone, Kindle, Nook, Mac, and Windows.  Once downloaded, you log into OverDrive using your library card and pin/password that was given to you at the library.  If you have any trouble with this, consult your local library. Be advised: the availability of books for you may differ from someone else as availability depends on what subscription your public library has with OverDrive. You can filter search results by format: Audio book, Adobe ePub, OverDriveREAD, Adobe PDF EBook, and Kindle.  Yes, you can borrow several Kindle books through OverDrive that are unavailable through Kindle Unlimited.

Not a New Concept There are already a few eBook subscriptions sites available: Scribd, Oyster, and Entitle, just to name a few.

Not Worth Your Money So, why is Amazon charging an extra $9.99/month to borrow books that I can digitally borrow on my iPad through OverDrive and my local public library for free?  It’s a great business endeavor for them, but bad for the consumer.  You’re better off either buying the ebooks, borrowing for free from your local library, or using a different subscription service that actually has some of the top publishing houses.

Book Crawler: Keep Track of Your Own Library

Have you ever bought a book only to come home and find out you already had it?  No?  Well, then have you ever found a book in a series but you weren’t sure if you had it, passed it by, and then returned home only to find out you didn’t have it?  Still no?  Hmm, you must not be a bookworm or have your own physical library.

I have lots of books.  I have two encyclopedia sets (one Britannica one from the 70s and one called the Great Books of the Western World), a leather-bound book collection, mass market paperbacks from several favorite authors, popular fiction I’ve read, a lengthy “to read” shelf, textbooks from undergraduate and graduate school, textbooks for tutoring, graphic novels, etc.  My children’s books are currently in storage.  Like I said, I have lots of books.

I’ve always wanted to digitally keep track of my library; however, I did not have the funds to purchase card catalog software (though if I had, I would have years ago!).  Thankfully, I didn’t because I’ve found a smartphone app that scans the ISBN bar code of a book and populates an entry for me to keep track of each and every book (since it populates from WorldCat).  It’s called Book Crawler.

Book Crawler is available for the iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch ($1.99) and the Mac Desktop. The free/lite version of Book Crawler limits you to only 25 books.  I use Book Crawler on my iPhone and iPad.  The app is perfect; I can scan each book (that has a bar code, I will have to manually create new entries for all the leather-bound books and encyclopedia sets) and add any additional information I want to the entry.  I can add the price I paid for the book, whether I own it, the genre, have read it (and the date I read it or just put “a long time ago…”), have multiple editions of the same book, the medium (Kindle, paperback, hardcover, audio, etc.) plus several custom fields.  But what I REALLY like is the ability to classify the series it belongs to, including the order number.

I can delete any information that is populated from scanning the bar code and/or add any information.  This is great because sometimes the populated information isn’t specific enough for me or it doesn’t match others in the same series and thus, the database thinks this new book is a different series.  For example, one author I like to read is Debbie Macomber.  She has a series she calls “Dakota”.  Two of the books scanned with “Dakota” as the series, but another used “Buffalo Valley”.  It is a common reference to the series.  However, I wanted to keep the series name consistent, so I changed it to “Dakota”.

I like the ability to create Collections as well.  This allows me to separate my cookbooks.  Collections can be a smart list so I can specify a “Sparks Notes” Collection by publisher or content for my graphic novels.  I can also tag content in the books.  Right now I am not tagging content, mostly because of the sheer number of books and it’s not a priority.  But since I can go back and edit this, I may add tags in the future.

An excellent time-saving feature of Book Crawler is the ability to set defaults for my entries.  For example, if I am scanning all the books I own, I can set the default to of “Own” to on.  Why would it be anything else?  Perhaps you want to keep track of every book you ever read…including library books.  And since I’m scanning books I’ve already read, I’ve got that default set in the on position as well.  Lastly, since most of my books are paperback, I’ve got that default set to on as well.

When I first started scanning books using Book Crawler, I frequently got an error message that it couldn’t find the book.  I would have to manually enter the information in.  It quickly grew tedious and time-consuming on an iPhone to do so.  I have found three things that together solved the problem.  First, and most importantly, there is a difference between the UPC bar code on the back of the book and the ISBN bar code on the inside flap of a mass market paperback.  Book Crawler needs the ISBN bar code.  If there is no other bar code than the back of the book (like with a hard cover book), then chances are the ISBN bar code and the UPC bar code are intertwined.  Secondly, the default scanning program that Book Crawler uses is not that good.  It has trouble reading the ISBN bar codes.  Book Crawler recommends that you download pic2shop, a free bar code scanning program that integrates with Book Crawler.  I have found the recognition rate to be much higher.  Lastly, I have found that, on occasion, Book Crawler can take up to a minute to populate the entry with scanned information.  On the times the information is not found instantaneously, I begin filling out any information that I want that won’t be populated, like if I have read the book, how much I paid for it, etc.  Generally, after about 3 fields, the information is populated.

Now that I have Book Crawler running smoothly, I am excited to scan all my books.  I typically scan on my iPhone, however, if I want to use my iPad, the Book Crawler database does not automatically sync.  I have to back up the database to Dropbox (an excellent feature) on my iPhone and then download the backup on my iPad.  It takes a couple of minutes to do, but it’s not a big deal once I have it initially setup.

Book Crawler is essentially my own electronic card catalog for my own library!

Digital Literacy: Could e-books be a detriment to reading fluency?

Digital books have been around for a while now.  I’ve read a handful of books on my low-cost model Kindle and a couple on the Kindle app on my iPad.  I like having the flexibility to use digital books.  However, there just is something about a physical book that is special.  I definitely would know; I have lots of them.

While digital books are great green space-savers, could they actually be hindering reading proficiency?  At first, that concept seems silly: the built-in dictionaries can give instant access to unknown words, the read-aloud functions can help pronounce words or even pages, and the font size can adjust for eye problems.  But let’s look closer at those.

If you aren’t careful, those “helpful extras” can quickly and easily turn into “distracting extras”.  Videos that pop up in text books that enhance learning?  Sounds great: but now the student has to stop reading, focus on the new content, and then return to the reading content trying to remember what was being said before the video.

Annie Murphy Paul reported, for the New York Times, on a recently presented study by Heather Ruetschlin Schugar and Jordan T. Schugar from West Chester University.  The researchers found that among middle and high school students, “reading comprehension…was higher when they read conventional books” versus digital books on iPads.

Paul, summarizing information presented by the Shugars, states succinctly:

Parents and teachers to look for e-books that enhance and extend interactions with the text, rather than those that offer only distractions; that promote interactions that are relatively brief rather than time-consuming; that provide supports for making text-based inferences or understanding difficult vocabulary; and that locate interactions on the same page as the text display, rather than on a separate screen.

In addition, Paul states:

Adults should ensure that children are not overusing e-book features like the electronic dictionary or the “read-to-me” option. Young readers can often benefit from looking up the definition of a word with a click, but doing it too often will disrupt reading fluidity and comprehension. Even without connecting to the dictionary, children are able to glean the meaning of many words from context. Likewise, the read-to-me feature can be useful in decoding a difficult word, but when used too often it discourages children from sounding out words on their own.

So are digital books going to kill literacy rates?  Probably not.  However, if you don’t apply the same methods to learning how to read when using digital books as was done with physical books, we may have fewer and fewer people willing to read 500+ page books.

Citing eBooks

eBooks have gained such a popularity that people can no longer avoid citing them in papers.

Why do people avoid eBooks for papers?  One reason: many people have a little bit of difficulty categorizing them, are they a book or electronic source?  However, the major reason many people have avoided using eBooks is the lack of page numbers.  So, either fearful of plagiarism or a poor grade, students avoid citing eBooks.

So where do they go?  Are they a book?  An electronic source?  Both, technically.  However, you’ll find the entry under books.

The Modern Language Association (MLA) states, “Begin the entry in the works-cited list like the entry for a comparable printed work and end it with a designation of the medium of publication. The medium is the type of electronic file, such as Kindle file, Nook file, EPUB file, or PDF file. If you cannot identify the file type, use Digital file.”

Rowley, Hazel. Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage. New York: Farrar, 2010. Kindle file.

But what about page numbers?  MLA says, “Most electronic readers include a numbering system that tells users their location in the work. Do not cite this numbering, because it may not appear consistently to other users. If the work is divided into stable numbered sections like chapters, the numbers of those sections may be cited, with a label identifying the nature of the number”.

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt began their honeymoon with a week’s stay at Hyde Park (Rowley, ch. 2).

Lastly, MLA says, “If the work is a PDF file with fixed pages, cite the page numbers. If the work lacks any kind of stable section numbering, the work has to be cited as a whole”.

While MLA is one of the most common citation methods, it is not the only one.  The American Psychological Association (APA) format follows the same advice, but the entry is slightly different.  It says, “The reference list entry for a whole e-book should include elements of author, date, title (with e-reader book type in square brackets if applicable; italicize the title but not the bracketed material), and source (URL or DOI):”

Author, A. A. (Year). Title of book [E-reader version, if applicable]. Retrieved from http://xxxxx

Author, A. A. (Year). Title of book [E-reader version, if applicable]. doi:xxxxx

The APA recommends the following if there are no page numbers:

  • a paragraph number, if provided; alternatively, you can count paragraphs down from the beginning of the document;
  • an overarching heading plus a paragraph number within that section; or
  • an abbreviated heading (or the first few words of the heading) in quotation marks, in cases in which the heading is too unwieldy to cite in full.

So why can’t you just cite the location in the eBook?  The APA explains:

As of March 2011, many Kindle books now have real page numbers that correspond to those in print editions (as far as we know, this applies only for Kindle third generation products and going forward). These real page numbers are appropriate to use in academic citation (as are the page numbers of other paginated e-books). Kindle “location numbers,” however, should not be used in citations because they have limited retrievability.

The Purdue OWL details how you can cite an eBook in Chicago Style.  There are several other types of citation formats, but they are not as common as MLA and APA.

Guest Post: How Technology Shape Academic Learning

Guest Post Written By: Ethan Harvell

In the past, students have to do a lot of things in order to write their writing assignments or study for an exam. They have to go to libraries, check dictionaries, read the encyclopedia or type on a type writer. Thanks to technological development, students now experience a fast and convenient life as a student.

Other Side of Technology

Some say that technology (e.g computers, Internet or tabs) affects the concentration of students. BBC News even report that Internet usage made the attention span of people, much shorter. They even compare it to that of a goldfish. The focus of people becomes very weak because of the millions of data they consume on-line. These also promoted multitasking, with multiple tabs when people are searching on-line, which lessen the efficiency of people.

However technological inventions are not made to distract people. Its purpose is to help people have better lives. Internet is now used in learning. Since most students today were born in an era when computers are already used in every field of life, they have a sense of dependency towards computers. They rely on it for intellectual learning and even skills development. Even professors note the importance of technology in reaching Millennial students.

Let us take a closer look on how technology shapes academic learning:

Tablets For Learning

Recently Google introduced the benefits of the use of tablet applications in teaching. They note the importance of making students actively participate in class discussions and activities, which focus on Google Play applications downloaded on tablets.

Among the activities they do, are: quizzes, puzzles, reading books and spelling tests. Visual and auditory learners get to learn through visual aids while, haptic learners benefits from games and hands-on application. Class discussion also follows to access the learning of students.

E-books also became popular. It makes studying easier because students can bring their tablets anywhere. They can easily highlight and bookmark important parts of the book. Although only 21% of K-12 schools today uses digital textbooks, a huge increase of digital textbook users is expected, with 36.5% of schools, planning to move into digital books in the next few years.

Social Media Incorporated in Learning

Social media  used to be a distraction to intellectual growth and learning. But modern educators now incorporate it to class projects.

How Educators Are Using Pinterest for Showcasing, Curation,” written by A. Adam Glenn notes that Andrew Lih University of Southern California, uses Pinterest as source of generating idea for business and entrepreneur students. The “mood boards” that these students create are easily done through the sites clip board function. The site also promotes data curation, beneficial to journalism, digital media aggregation assignment, and content writing.

Google+ Hangouts are used by students for academic group discussions. Students from Boise State University incorporates YouTube videos in this groups and teach themselves with mathematical equations.

College blogs are also becoming very popular, not only for social sharing but also for social learning. Students can write their own contents and engage in commenting on other people’s work too. This leads to healthy discussions. Aside from that, reasoning, creativity and critical thinking skills are developed through blogging

Popularity of On-line Schools and Blended Learning

The increasing cost of attending a classroom facility encouraged people to enroll in on-line classes. Aside from monetary reasons, online classes  became popular because of these few reasons:

Flexibility– Students can take courses according to a schedule convenient to them. They can easily balance their personal life and school classes, without getting stressed.

Save Time– No need to waste time in going from one class to another; or driving from home to school, and vise-versa. You can efficiently use this time in studying instead.

Several Courses at Once– If you have a particular course that you want to take, but not in your program, you cannot take it on a typical class. But on-line programs allow you to expand your interest and enroll classes beyond the given course list.

Accessibility– Internet is easily available and students can attend classes at any convenient time they want.

Same Job Opportunity– You get the same job opportunity as students attending classroom lessons. Is an on-line program different from their usual classes? If the school is reputable, their method of teaching is basically the same, no matter how they deliver it.

Clayton Christensen on his theory of disruptive innovation tells that “by 2019, 50 percent of all high school courses will be delivered on-line.” Most classes today are already leaning towards technology-based teaching methods because of its effectiveness.

Flipped classroom is one of these blended learning strategies. Students are given lesson materials at home and they study it with an instructional video. In class, they join class activities related to that topic.
Although technology has its negative effect on students learning, it is undoubtedly, a very important tool in making academic learning much effective and efficient.

Author’s Bio

Ethan Harvell is resident of Fremont, California and is a journalist, philanthropist, and a volunteer teacher. He is currently a freelance writer for an essay writing service.

eReader Poll

I’ve been spending the majority of the day reading Wuthering Heights on my Kindle app for my iPad.  I love using my iPad to read the book.  It lessens the fatigue of my hands while reading which I believe increases my reading speed and focus.  Of course, the drawback is it sucks up battery rather rapidly (but not a bad rate) and I cannot use it outside in the sun.  I do have a paperback edition I will use for quoting and if I need to read outside, but it is very effective for siting for a long period to read.  I will not be completely sold on eReaders though.  I agree they have their uses and many positives.  But I just cannot forget the feeling of a new book in my hand, opening its cover and bringing its story to life.  I do feel the sense of accomplishment in the visual comparison of how much I have read and how much I have left.  Also an eBook (at least the Kindle version of Wuthering Heights does not have page numbers because you can increase the size of the text which thus alters the page numbers and creates an issue for citations.

I’m going to go more in depth on eReaders in another post so please – comment, email, facebook, whichever your preferred medium is – your thoughts and experiences on eReaders vs. paperbooks.  Or simply answer the following poll.

What is your preferred type of eReader?

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