ailon's DevBlog: Development related stuff in my life

Why Kindle eBooks Often Cost More Than Hardcovers in Europe

7/23/2012 7:05:40 PM


If you live in Europe and own a Kindle you probably find yourself depressed quite often when you see that a Kindle edition of some book is more expensive than even a hardcover. Like in the screenshot above. I don’t know what that book is. It’s just the first book on the first page that was shown to me when I went to the Kindle books section on Amazon. It’s 20%+ more expensive in digital form than in hardcover and 45% more expensive than a paperback. So WTF?

Here are several reasons for this. Let’s start with objective stuff and move to the real reasons later.

VAT on eBooks

There’s either no VAT or special (low) VAT rates on books in European Union, but eBooks aren’t considered books for some crazy reason. Apparently there were improvements in this area just recently:

The price that Amazon charges in all its EU stores (including the UK store) has dropped today to 3% from 15%.

This change is because Luxembourg has dropped the VAT rate it charges on eBooks down to 3%, the same rate it uses for printed books.

But apparently someone wasn’t happy about that:

The European Union's executive began legal action against France and Luxembourg on Tuesday for applying reduced tax rates on the sale of electronic books, something it said was incompatible with EU rules.


Wholesale prices on paper books

Amazon buys paper books in bulk at wholesale prices so they can sell them at whatever price point they want. But you can’t “stock” 10,000 copies of an ebook. So the same rules do not apply.

“Free” 3G

When Kindles with free 3G launched in US that was a feature. When they extended that offer worldwide it became an obligation. I own 2 WiFi-only Kindles and I’m pretty sure I’m paying for your free 3G with every book purchase.

Kindle is cheap for a reason

Amazon doesn’t care about making profits from Kindle hardware. They make their money from books and part of your book purchases goes to compensate for low margins on Kindle hardware. That’s why everyone who has ever tried to replace a broken Kindle was ecstatic about the quality of Amazon’s support. No questions asked. The worst thing that could happen is that you’ll stop buying books.


What did I miss?

Don’t get me wrong, I love my Kindle but every time I see a picture like the one above, I feel dumb and depressed. At the very least they could’ve stopped showing me prices for other editions. They know I haven’t bought a paper book in 3 years. Ignorance is a bliss, right?

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Launching Windows Store from your Metro style app

7/13/2012 3:03:44 PM

Suppose you wanted to include a page in your new shiny Windows 8 Metro app listing your other apps and when a user taps on an app in the list he/she will be immediately transferred into Windows Store to give you more money (or at least boost your rankings). How do you do that?

In Windows Phone that was really easy. There was a MarketplaceDetailTask class just for that. So you would do something like this:

MarketplaceDetailTask mpTask = new MarketplaceDetailTask();
mpTask.ContentIdentifier = marketplaceAppId;


But there’s nothing like that in WinRT. As it usually happens with advanced APIs simplicity was sacrificed in the name of flexibility. In Windows 8 any app can register (with user’s permission) as a default app to handle some protocol. So Windows Store is no different. It’s a default app to handle “ms-windows-store” protocol. You can read more on the protocol here.

So you need to construct a URI, create an instance of Windows.System.Launcher and call LaunchUriAsync(uri). Here’s a tutorial on how to do this for a general abstract case.

So the structure of URI for ms-windows-store protocol looks like this:


Where PFN stands for Package Family Name which is sort of an equivalent of marketplace id of your app in Windows Store. If it’s for your own app you can get it in Visual Studio or web version of your apps listing in the store as detailed in this post. If it’s not your app the web version is your only choice and (to make things more complicated) it’s not browsable or searchable at the time of this writing. So the only way to get it is if developers posted a link to it on their web page (let me know in the comments if you know other ways).

Developers of the awesome twitter client Metrotwit did just that and we can browse to their web listing and view source of that page.


So we now have everything we need and the C# code to launch a Windows Store for Metrotwit from within your Metro style app looks like this:

var storeURI = new Uri("ms-windows-store:PDP?PFN=PixelTuckerPtyLtd.MetroTwit_5kbmb3e034y6r");
await Windows.System.Launcher.LaunchUriAsync(storeURI);

It’s not too difficult to create a Windows Phone style wrapper for this if you wish to do it “old school” way.


Don’t Quit Your 9-to-5 Job To Start A Startup

7/9/2012 7:02:51 PM

Yeah, click bait. Guilty! No, I mean do quit your day job, but only when you are ready to go all-in with your startup. Don’t think that “I’ll work on my idea and do some consulting on the side to pay the bills”. That’s what I thought in 2003 when I’ve launched SPAW Editor. The reality is that you will “do consulting to pay the bills and maybe work on your idea on the side”.


Back in 2003 SPAW Editor was one of the first web based WYSIWYG HTML editors in the world. And I’m willing to claim it was the best. I will write a separate post about it in my startups series someday, but what I want to mention here is that I was doing contract work to support the development of SPAW Editor and I was so busy doing it “on the side” that I totally missed the timeframe when the required capabilities became available in other browsers than IE (yeah, IE was on the edge of progress less than 10 years ago). So other editors got ahead and even though I think SPAW Editor v.2 was once again the best editor out there (imho) it was too little too late.

Your 9-to-5 job is just that – a job from 9am to 5pm (with some minor variations). You then have all the time in the world to work on whatever you want to do. In a consultant/freelancer world all of the 24 hours in the day could potentially be monetized so you are constantly in a conflict between making extra money and spending time (and money) on your idea. And that’s a loosing position for your startup. At least in my perspective.

So unless you have some investment or passive income to support your startup, I would suggest doing it as a side project while working at a job (provided there are no legal barriers to that). Consulting will just eat all of your time with nothing to show for it in the long run.


Is Silicon Valley Thinking Too Big?

7/5/2012 5:12:50 PM

Disclaimer: this is going to be ranty and might bite me in the ass in the future or I may change my opinion, but it’s my personal blog and I felt like venting this out :)

Photo by Benh LIEU SONG

One of the main shortcomings identified in European and especially Eastern European startups is that we are thinking too small. I’m not arguing with that. It’s probably as true as any generalization could be. That said, I would argue that Silicon Valley is thinking too big. Again, a generalization, but since I’m not arguing about the former one, I guess I’m allowed to make the latter.

On our trip to Silicon Valley with Startup Sauna I’ve met quite a few entrepreneurs and the reason for a pivot for their startup most often sounded something like this: “we figured out that this can’t be a billion dollar business (even in theory), therefore we dumped the idea and moved to the next one”.

And most of the time their initial idea was pretty good and potentially a multi-million dollar business (with “multi” in 2-50 range), but the new idea is crazy enough that no one can identify if this is a total nonsense or a billion dollar idea. Sometimes this turns into an awesome thing (e.g. Twitter) but I’m pretty sure most of the times it just goes nowhere.

Another phrase I’ve heard multiple times is “it takes as much effort to build a billion dollar company as it takes to build a million dollar company, so why not go for a billion?” [I’m pretty sure some real (and smart) person said that first, but I don’t know who that was so I can’t attribute it]. This could be true, but it’s as true as “it takes as much effort to place a chip on a number as it takes to place it on red”. Except chances of winning are totally different.

VCs to blame?

I understand that this whole mentality comes from the nature of venture capital and the fact that if an average fund plans to invest around $10m into your company (over several rounds) they will only be happy with $100m+ exit. And angel investors are considering early stage investments mostly through the prism of “will this company be able to attract the next round from VCs?”.

So this makes a 5 person company making $5m a year a bad business? I know, they don’t call it a bad business. They call it a “lifestyle business”. Which is a Silicon Valley way of saying you are a boring loser.

I think this mentality turns really smart people with good ideas away from being successful “lifestyle entrepreneurs” into being real losers. Because their billion dollar ideas most of the time are not worth a $100 and they’ve scrapped really good ideas just because they were too modest.

The VC model is fine-tuned to tolerate 20 losses for 1 big win, but can you say the same about your life?


My Next PC

7/4/2012 6:40:21 PM

Most of my adult life I’ve been using desktop PCs. Then for some time I’ve switched to a laptop docked to the monitor, network, etc. I wasn’t traveling at all at that time, so this was mostly pointless and underpowered setup. That said, at times I needed to take my work with me I didn’t need to do anything. Just take the laptop and go.

Then I switched back to a desktop. Then I started travelling a little more and having a desktop and a laptop that was collecting dust 90% of the time wasn’t convenient. You either have to manage your laptop for no reason or it’s outdated, etc. when you need it. So I switched back to a laptop based desktop system. Here’s how my workplace looks at the moment.


The keyboard and touchpad on the ultrabook just occupy the space most of the time. Plus all the ultrabooks on the market at the moment lack a dock option (as far as I know) so I’m plugging 4 cables each morning. But I like the idea that I don’t have to manage multiple computers and I have all my stuff with me whether I’m at work, at home or on the road. That said, even at home or when travelling I still don’t really need that laptop keyboard (it kind of sucks on the ASUS ZenBook, btw) unless I’m really doing serious work.

So here’s how I imagine my next PC setup should look (please pardon my graphic skills):


Ideally I want a pretty powerful Intel (as in not ARM) based tablet with a dock and support for external monitors (preferably more than one). So when I go home I take the tablet with me and use it as a consumption/entertainment device at home and when I’m back at the office I just dock it and I’m back in business.

I’m not sure if top of the line Surface will fit the bill when it’s released. Will it be powerful enough? And I’m not sure they’ll have docks. And it seems that it will support only one external monitor. However those touch/type covers would definitely be handy.

So who’s going to build my next PC?

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