Amazon introduces camera-enabled Echo Look

Amazon has announced a new member of the Alexa Echo family, this time a device with a camera. Called the Echo Look, the device is being touted as a “hands-free camera and style assistant”.

The device allows you to take sharable 360 degree photos and videos with just your voice.It features built in LED lighting a a depth-sensing camera that allows you to blur the a photo’s background.

The Echo Look’s integrated app has some interesting features: You can create a personal lookbook. It also incorporates a feature called Style Assistant, which allows you to get a second opinion on your outfit. Submit two photos and the Look will tell which looks best.

The Echo Look does all the other things the Echo is known for. It plays music, reads audiobooks, gives you the weather forecast and so on. You can also add third-party skills to the device.

The Echo Look will retail for $199.99. Like they did with the original Echo, Amazon is initially making the Echo Look available by invitation only. You can request an invitation here.

So what do you think? Do you think Alexa needs a camera?

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Books in Michael Connelly’s Bosch series on sale

Today (Sunday) only, Books 1 through 7 of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series are on sale for $2.99 each at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and iTunes.

The first seven titles are:

Season three of the Amazon exclusive TV series based on the books will be premiering on April 21, 2017. Seasons one and two are available for streaming now and are free for Prime Members. You can see a sneak peek at season three here.

National Library Week: Library Extension for Chrome

Since it is #NationalLibraryWeek, we are focusing this week on ebooks and libraries. While I check sales every day and do have subscriptions to both Scribd and Kindle Unlimited, I still manage to find quite a few books that are not available through either service in the format that I want, at a price that I am willing to pay.

For the past few months, I have been using the Library Extension for Chrome to help me find Library books. It is hands down the best tool I have found for helping me to find books from the library.

Library Extension is an extension for the Chrome browser that allows you to see library books as you shop on sites like Amazon, Goodreads and Barnes and Noble. The extension currently supports over 3200 libraries that use the OverDrive and 3M Cloud systems. It is currently free and you do not need to register or sign up for an account.

Here’s how it works. Once you install the browser extension, you can go into options on your browser and set up the libraries you want it to check (and, yes, you can add more than one library!). You can also choose to check for either physical book or ebooks. Here’s what that screen looks like:

(All three libraries shown are from the Mobileread.com list of libraries that loan digital materials to non-residents in yesterday’s post. I am currently checking out the Fairfax library collection.)

After installation, when you are browsing for a supported site for books, you will see the books available from the libraries that you have selected. You can also click on the hold button and go right to the library page for the book and place a hold. Here’s a picture where I searched for Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train:

Note a couple of things in the picture above: If you have the extension set for ebooks, it will return results for both audiobooks and ebooks if the library has both. Also note that one of the results that comes up for the Brooklyn Public Library is Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train / Summary. Because of the way the OverDrive System works, the extension may also show results for similar titles.

If you have your extension set for ebooks and a book is not available at your library, you will see a message that says that the book is not available as an ebook. This is message will also come up for Amazon exclusives like this month’s Beach Lawyer by Avery Duff or books that are in the Kindle Unlimited program.

If you get too many “This title does not appear to be available as an ebook” results for books that you know are available in your public library, you may have encountered a bug or a catalog change and should contact Library Extension’s support team. The team is absolutely fantastic at responding quickly and resolving issues!

Here are a few of the things I do that may help you get more out of the browser extension:

  • I create wishlists for each library I use. This allows me to put a book on a list for a particular library so that I can easily find it later when I am read to read it.
  • I also use the extension to compare the number of copies available at each library to see which library is likely to have the shorter hold time.
  • I check libraries to see if they have an entire series before I start reading, It is a great tool for checking if all the books in the series are available before you commit to the series.
  • I have also added libraries that I am interested in to the extension as a way to see if they have enough of the titles I am interested in before I pay an out-of-area fee. It is a way to “try before you buy”.

Library extension is currently available only for Chrome. A Firefox version is under development. For more information, you can visit libraryextension.com.

Have you tried Library Extension? What did you think?

National Library Week: The shifting landscape of the digital library

Given the high prices of e-books, the ability to borrow digital materials is a lifesaver, particularly for those on a budget. There are many sites which offer free editions of public domain books, but other than a paid subscription service, for newer books, public libraries are the easiest way to read without paying the high prices publishers are demanding for newer ebooks.

Since library borrows of ebooks are up, it would seem like ebook readers agree. In 2016 alone, OverDrive, one of the leading distributors of digital materials to libraries, announced a total of  196 million borrows worldwide. According to OverDrive, there were 49 libraries surpassed over 1 million borrows each. However since there are a number of digital distributors to libraries, that also means that’s there is not one central source (that I could find, anyway) that has recent numbers for total digital borrows from libraries.

While the ability to borrow ebooks, audiobooks, music, movies and more from the library without leaving your house is definitely convenient, one of the unfortunate realities is that, for a number of reasons, all library experiences are not identical.Depending on your library, their vendors, your preferred device and format choices (Mobi or ePub, audiobook or ebook), the digital library experience can vary considerably.

There are number of library distributors who distribute digital materials to libraries. OverDrive is probably one of the biggest and best known to many patrons, but there are others like 3M cloud and Axis 360. Some, like Hoopla, offer a mixed variety of digital content.There are also a number of vendors that specialize in specific types of content (such as One Click digital for audiobooks, Freegal for music, Zinio and Flipster  for magazines).

Different libraries may use different vendors and/or combination of vendors. That means each library may offer a unique combination of materials and services.

Cost is usually a huge factor in which services libraries offer. For ebooks, publishers charge libraries more than they do individuals to license materials. The pricing structure also varies from service to service. Services like OverDrive use the One Copy/One User lending model. The library can only loan out a finite number of ebooks at one time, depending on how many licenses they have purchased for a particular title.

It is becoming increasingly common to hear stories about libraries changing distributors in order to try to keep cost down. Just this week, the Auburn, Alabama Public Library announced that it is moving from Overdrive to 3M Cloud. Because it is affiliated with book publishers, 3M Cloud offers its services at lower price than OverDrive. The problem is that 3M Cloud content does not work with e-ink Kindles, leaving Kindle readers out in the cold unless they read on their Fire tablet.

Unlike OverDrive, Hoopla allows for simultaneous usage, meaning patrons do not have to wait for a popular title. Because of cost, however, most libraries have a limit on how many Hoopla items can be checked out in a given month. As this article on the CLEVNET library consortium in Ohio  shows, some libraries have had to reduce the number of items available to patrons because of the costs. Like 3M Clud, Hoopla only works on phones and tablets, not on e-ink devices like the Kindle.

The bottom line is, the amount of money available to your library system will determine what your library can offer on the digital front. The best resource for checking what your local library offers is their website. Most libraries list their digital services on their website.

While more ebooks than ever are being offered by local libraries, I still get email from people frustrated that their library does not have a large enough selection of ebooks or titles in a particular genre. While services like the Digital Public Library of America, The Internet Archive and the Open Library have come a long way towards making material available, we are still a long way away from a true national digital public library that can be accessed by everyone.

If you happen to live in a district that either has a small ebook selection or not enough titles in the genres you prefer to read, you may have some options. You may want to check with your library to see if they have reciprocal privileges with other libraries in the county or the state where you live. There are some libraries that offer non-resident cards online or via email for a fee. (There is a list here on Mobileread.com.) The Free Library of Philadelphia and the Brooklyn Public Library are both popular with avid ebook readers and the fee for each is a modest $50.

I personally have cards at both The Free Library of Philadelphia and the Brooklyn Public Library. My local library has very limited options for digital materials. The city library has reciprocal privileges with our county library, but those privileges don’t include access to the county’s fantastic selection of digital materials and even paid out-of-area cards there do not include digital lending . My only choice for a wider selection is to pay for a card somewhere else.

So how about you? What’s your experience been borrowing ebooks from your library?

As we continue #NationalLibraryWeek discussions, tomorrow, we’ll discuss tools for library reading strategies. 🙂

It is National Library Week!

This week, April 9-15, is National Library Week. This year’s theme is Libraries Transform. The theme celebrates the shifting focus of libraries. The modern library is no longer just about having books, periodicals, or music music available for patrons; modern libraries are increasingly more about doing things for and with people and a greater role as a community shared space.

The official hashtags for the week are #NationalLibraryWeek and #LibrariesTransform. There are also official “I Love Libraries” accounts to follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Just a few of the highlight events for the National Library Week:

Monday, April 10, 2017, the Top Ten List of Most Challenged Books for 2016 will be released in the ALA 2017 State of America’s Library Report.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017 is National Library Workers Day, a day to celebrate the contributions of library workers.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017 is National Bookmobile Day. The days celebrates bookmobiles and the community outreach done by the awesome professionals who work with bookmobile programs.

Thursday, April 13, 2017 is Take Action for Libraries Day. Libraries will be asking for help to save federal funding for libraries.

During the entire week, there is also an Expert in the Library Promotion. Give a shout out on social media and let the world know what your librarian is an expert in. Use the “hashtag #expertinthelibrary and  and post between Saturday, April 8 at noon CT and Saturday, April 15 at noon CT for a chance to win the $100 Visa gift card.” (More details here.)

You and find graphics, details and more information at the I Love Libraries and ALA websites.

Here on the Ebook Evangelist, we’ll be celebrating with a series of posts focusing on libraries and ebooks. 🙂

Kindle First Books for April 2017

Every month, Amazon allows Prime members to download one upcoming book from one of Amazon’s imprints for free. The books are chosen by Amazon’s editors. (These deals are for US customers only.)

This month’s books are:

Beach Lawyer (Beach Lawyer Series) by Avery Duff – Thriller

Beneath a Scarlet Sky: A Novel by Mark Sullivan – Historical Fiction

All the Lies We Tell (Quarry Road Book 1) by Megan Hart – Romantic Drama

Crimes Against a Book Club by Kathy Cooperman – Contemporary Fiction

Paper Boats by Dee Lestari, Tiffany Tsao – Coming of Age

A Small Revolution by Jimin Han – Literary Suspense

Previously, Amazon would allow you to download a second upcoming title for only $1.99. While that offer is no longer available, if you are a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, all of these books will be available to read for free when they are released on May 1, 2017 as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription.

Prime members can also sign up to receive a monthly e-mail announcing new Kindle First picks.