Get your books more cheaply – possibly

I often link from this site to Amazon – the hope is that you might buy some of the things I talk about and then I get a (small) return which I can use to buy things I like at Amazon. It doesn’t work too well for me – I think I have made 26 pence in the last six months or so. Back when I ran a blog about politics it was a bit more successful – people obviously thought I had something worthwhile to say on politics, but less so on science and computing. For shame. (Actually, another factor is that the vast majority of this blog’s readership is from outside the UK.)

Image representing Amazon as depicted in Crunc...
Image by None via CrunchBase

So, I guess I am not exactly cutting my own throat when I tell you that recent legal changes in the UK may mean that while Amazon is a great place to see what is available and even to look who to buy from, it might not make financial sense to buy from them directly.

Until recently Amazon exercised some pretty heavy controls over the prices third-party sellers could charge customers who bought directly from their (the third party’s) website. In essence they forbid them from charging less than they offered through Amazon, at pain of being delisted from Amazon.

But that approach has now been ruled anti-competitive and so it might just make sense to use Amazon to window shop and to buy directly from the third party seller.

Here’s a real example I have just spotted.

The Pragmatic Programmer is a very well regarded book on programming (often compared to the brilliant Programming Pearls, a book absolutely every programmer should read) – one I was thinking of buying for myself. Amazon sell it for £22.39 – including the price of delivery.

The two cheapest third party sellers offer it for £17.86 and £17.87 respectively, but also charge an additional £2.80 for delivery – bumping up the price to £20.66 and £20.67, still cheaper than buying directly from Amazon though. But if you go to the second of these two suppliers – UK Paperback Shop – they are selling it direct for £18.76.

Other sellers may even be cheaper – I haven’t checked.

Of course, there might be other reasons why you want to shop through Amazon, but it is worth remembering that it might pay to look around. I am guessing that the savings will be most easily realised if you are buying low volume or specialist or technical books.

Of course if you want to buy a Kindle Tablet I’d love it if you did it through that link 🙂

Amazon getting their act together on Kindle quality?

Just received this email:


We are happy to announce that an updated version of your past Kindle purchase of Making Embedded Systems: Design Patterns for Great Software by Elecia White is now available. The version you received had the following issues that have been corrected:

Significant editorial issues were present.

Before you update to the new version, check to see that all devices that you have used to read this book are connected to a network and that their Annotations Backup settings are turned on. This will ensure that your notes, highlights, bookmarks and furthest reading location are retained in the new version. For help with modifying settings, please visit

You can get this new version by going to the Manage Your Kindle page at .Find the book in your Kindle Library and click on the “update available” link next to the book’s title. Within 5 minutes, any of your devices that have the eBook currently downloaded and have an active wireless connection will be updated automatically.

Alternatively, you can reply to this email with the word “Yes” in the first line of your response. Your e-mail response must come from the e-mail address associated with your Amazon account. We will update your book within 2 hours of receiving your email.

We thank you for your business with Amazon.
Customer Service Department

I am away from my Kindle at the moment, so cannot verify how good the changes have been, but it is at least a positive sign. I still would not recommend using a Kindle for maths, science and computer science books though: this is just one update… and there are all the other, DRM-related, issues too.

Another (final) episode in the @AmazonKindle farce

Cover of "Kindle Wireless Reading Device,...
Cover via Amazon

In August I bought this book – Information and Coding Theory.

As I was then in rural Norfolk I bought it for the Kindle. That was a mistake.

The book is a good one – I would recommend it for those seeking to get to grips with the maths of information theory – an increasingly important field of study well beyond communications.

But do not buy it – or any other mathematical or scientific – textbook for the Kindle. Because Amazon do such a shoddy job that sooner or later you will hit a page or pages where the notation is so messed up that the book is impossible to use.

When this happened to me I contacted the publishers – Springer Verlag – who were polite and helpful but said it was really a matter for Amazon.

I then tried the book on other versions of the Kindle reader (eg for Mac, for Android) – but it was no better and nor did a recent update of the Kindle’s OS fix it (I suspect the character are missing and the notation messed up in the data file, so no hardware or software fix would ever help – in other words the fundamental data format for the Kindle is broken.

I repeatedly questioned Amazon on twitter on this but got no answers as to what they intended to do about it. I even got a story on Slashdot but still no answers.

So I did the last thing that was open to me and asked for a refund.

To be fair to Amazon they gave that without question.

I have now ordered (from Amazon – this is a monopoly) a paper copy.

Lesson learned.

Don’t buy a Kindle to read maths or computer science books

The volume rocker of the Amazon Kindle 2
The volume rocker of the Amazon Kindle 2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the last twenty-four hours I have been forced to completely reassess my view of the Kindle.

I have been reading a book (I won’t say what as I want to make the comments below anonymous) on a Kindle (the device, not an application – see below), and was resigned to the usual second class Kindle editing – the odd missing paragraph, the loss of a non-roman letter or symbol here or there, when I came to a chapter which was essentially unreadable because it relied on (for example) the difference between P and \bar P but was unable to render \bar P , merely displaying P .

I was so frustrated and annoyed – how could any publisher allow their book to be published in this form when a whole chapter was rendered into (literally) nonsense – that I emailed a senior editor of the publisher to complain.

To be fair to them, they replied quickly and passed on my complaint to a senior colleague:

This is a problem with the way the Kindle displays mathematics and it is an ongoing problem that we are trying to solve with Amazon and other hand-held device makers … I suspect you will be due a refund from Amazon.

The reply does the publisher a lot of credit, and more or less restored my faith in them. But it also carries a very simple message – don’t buy a Kindle to read technical books.

I have since discovered that one Kindle app – on Mac OSX – renders the book perfectly, while another – on Android – is just as poor as the Kindle itself.

Why are Amazon selling books that are broken like this?

In the meantime I suggest sticking to hard copies when it comes to technical works.

Update: Not sure why I thought the Mac OSX app worked – it’s just as broken as the Kindle itself.

More thoughts on the Kindle

Amazon Kindle

I made pretty extensive use of my Kindle this last fortnight – and the ability to order a book and have it delivered more or less instantaneously was great when it came to getting hold of Information and Coding Theory.

But a few gripes remain. It’s plain that publishers do not put the same effort into editing their books for the Kindle as they do for print (some small but still annoying errors that would never be allowed in print for a maths book are all to obvious in that one, for instance).

And why can’t we have colour in Europe? That points to the bigger problem: that the Kindle concentrates too much power, close to all power, in the hands of the distributer.

Surrendered to the Kindle

Cover of "Kindle Wireless Reading Device,...
Cover via Amazon

I wrote a piece a while back about why I wasn’t looking to buy a Kindle. Well, now I have got one.

To be fair to myself I did not buy it – it was a present. I quite like it – especially when faced with a long haul jet journey (as later today). But I also realise more than ever just how much power it gives Amazon over my books – that aspect of it is not nice at all.

But right now I am interested in any recommendations for jet flight reading:

  • Mildly intellectually taxing thrillers
  • Great literature that is also a page turner
  • Essential works on computing maths that I may not have read

Any ideas?