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Tag Archive for 'books'

Books I am currently reading

Reading has been an issue for me. I am so busy with work, hobbies, and family that it is very hard to allocate time needed to read any decently sized book. Thanks to my recently acquired car stereo I came up with a solution: I am reading e-books during my commute. This works out perfectly since commute is the only time when I don’t get distracted by my other daily chores.

I usually get a book from the library. So far there hasn’t been a single title that I couldn’t get for free. Before I read however I always go to the local Barnes & Noble store to get familiar with the author and his/her style. My kids love the place too since they have a children corner which makes going to the book store so much easier. Here are the books I have been listening to recently.

Cashflow Quadrant by Robert Kiyosaki

Robert Kiyosaki follows the style of Rich Dad Poor Dad in this “sequel”. Just like in the original story the author uses a lot allegory which makes the book fun to read. Just like in his first book in Cashflow Quadrant Robert Kiyosaki highlights the benefits and the importance of owning the system or means of production (a business), rather than being an employee of a system, which for him is the necessary factor in achieving the financial freedom, the state when your passive income exceeds your expenses.

You should not however over-idolize the book (this is more of a note to myself). The author gives a lot of useful advise but it is more of a philosophical nature. Ultimately only you yourself can write your own plan to financial freedom.

Buyology by Martin Lindstrom

The new technology era has multiplied our information consumption and radically changed the driving forces behind marketing. What will the commercials of future look like? In this book the author takes on a large brain-scanning research funded by “some of the most respected companies in the world” with the sole purpose of studying effects of advertising on the brain.

I am just one third in the book right now but I love the style and the facts I learn. The guy is an advertising history expert and quotes some amazing facts from the real-world business, especially interesting for rookies like myself (ever heard of Pepsi Challenge?)

Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell

This is the kind of book I have meant to read for a long time. Why property prices change from area to area? Why workers salaries differ depending on the business industry? Do tariffs really protect American steel industry? You will find answers to these and many more questions in this book which is written in a very simple language. Consider it as close to the “for dummies” series as teaching economics can be.

I have just read a few chapters from the books but I already look forward to listening to all of it. The same author recently published Applied Economics which I also plan to read, but first thing first! :-)

What books are you reading? Do you like them? Please share your list in the comments!

Free books, Free merchandise, Free car?

Thousands of full-text free books

There might really be thousands of them but they are mostly public domain books or well known classics that you can easily get in any library. Yet, the website is very good for those who like reading books online. I only wish they also offered these books in downloadable files so I could read them off of my PDA. Here are just a few titles that caught my eye:

For many more books head to FreeBooks.com

Free merchandise for women

A new website has launched that tests waters in viral marketing and specifically targets women. I have not tried it and don’t know anyone who did but the business model sounds very interesting.

How does it work? You sign up to the network, receive free products (yes, you get to keep those), try them out, send back your feedback, and then receive relevant product samples and coupons to share with your friends.

SheSpeaks — have you used it or know anyone who did?

Free car for two years

It is not a joke. You can get one for free from FreeCarMedia and it will be yours to use for 2 years. All you need is a clean drivers license. Of course there is a catch. Your car is paid for by advertisers and will have ads all over the body. So ultimately you may end up driving a huge Coca-Cola can on wheels, or something like that. If this is not something to discourage you, head on to the sign up page to see if you get lucky.

Source: How would you like a free car? at WiseBread

Past polls — results and comments

I ran a few polls over the past two months and I thought it would be a good idea to list them all and do some analysis of the results. So here they are.

How ready are you financially to a family disaster?

This poll was in the article which I wrote shortly after learning about the Kim’s family tragedy. The results look very disturbing. If you are not that one who answered “I have done more than this” then I insist that you check out the list I compiled back in December and make sure you cover every item.

Family Disaster

How many newspapers do you pay for?

I was kind of surprised this poll would stir so much interest. It collected 137 votes and from the answers I can say just one thing, YOU READ A LOT!

Shame on me since my answer was item 1. I just seem to read no newspapers any more. Ever since I started blogging my source of news became online publications, mostly other blogs which I discover via

And by the way, the blog post running this poll was about how you can read the cover page of almost any US newspaper without actually subscribing to it.

Newspapers

Which of these free VOIP services do you use regularly?

The article running this poll was about free VOIP telephony services. It was not surprise for me that Skype came out the winner. It is one of the first and it is the most popular VOIP service.

Among other alternatives you suggested Vonage, Vitelity, and VoipCheap. They all are cheap and IP but they are not free (with the exception of VoipCheap which offers free international calling to some countries).

I plan to cover more VOIP services in the future. Subscribe to my full RSS feed so you don’t miss it out! (I just had to say that ;-))

Free VOIP Services

Which book comparison engine do you like?

The blog post that ran this poll was my attempt to compare available options as far as comparing book prices is concerned. You seem to like Ugenie the most. However I believe Ugenie is just the one who got more publicity thanks to support from TechCrunch and other popular blogs. BooksPrice and CompareBook are very strong competitors and I would check them both next time you go shopping. You might be surprised by what you find.

Among alternatives you suggested Fetchbook which is one of the older/traditional websites and doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that the younger type are offering.

Book Comparison

Do you carry a credit card balance?

I was honestly hoping to see better results for this one. By carrying a balance you give away a lot of cash to banks. The only reason why you ever want to load your credit card is if you have an emergency. That is the real emergency, like the one I was referring to in the first poll on this page. If you think differently you need to see a psychiatrist. (Oops, I better close comments to this post. ;-) )

By the way, the blog post running this poll was about an online tool that helps you make a decision, should you apply for a new card and transfer your balance (and save as you do so) or not. Don’t forget to cut your old card once you do the transfer to avoid the temptation of loading it up again.

Credit Card Balance

Save on college textbooks with Chegg

Comparing book prices may sound like a good idea to save a few dollars on that bestseller you want to have on your shelf. But it may not be enough for the college students who struggle each semester to come up with a few hundred dollars for a new set of textbooks that University professors require to take their courses.

Students don’t have the money to buy textbooks, to attend the courses, to get a degree, to find a job, to earn the money as the result. Sounds like a chicken and egg problem, isn’t it? That is what Chegg is all about and that is where the name came from.

According to 2005 Government Accountability Office report textbook prices almost tripled between 1986 and the end of 2004 — rising by 186%. On the other hand teenagers and college students are probably the most active age group on the internet who are not afraid to try new things and experiment with new online services.

Chegg is the biggest of a several websites who try to monetize on this combination. The idea is very simple: build a community where college students can freely buy/sell used textbooks from each other and then use that community to make money by selling new textbooks and other merchandise. Here is how the marketplace works according to Chegg itself:

Chegg

The diagram for non-students is slightly different and involves a small fee — one more way for Chegg to monetize the website which in turn has gained so much momentum that Chegg is receiving another round of funding ($2.2 million) from Gabriel Venture Partners and angel investor Mike Maples.

But the team didn’t stop at the local market of University campuses. They went further and have made it easy for the students to publish their books for sale at Facebook — the biggest high school and college oriented social network. Isn’t it smart?!

What can I say — where was I when it all started in 2001 at Iowa State by one of the university students? Wherever I was — it was the wrong place to be. ;-)

Source: Web Sites Challenge the Textbook Goliaths at BusinessWeek

Compare book prices — Web20 approach (Poll)

Starting with this post I am wading into the area of vertical price comparison engines — sites that specialize in certain niches.

Books, movies and music seem to represent a niche where a comparison engine is relatively easy to implement and as the result it is very popular among small-scale startups (credit card offers is probably another such example).

There are several popular old-timers in the niche but instead I would like to cover a few very little known companies that have been playing with some amazing web technologies and doing a few innovative things compared to the legacy heavy-hitters.

The most noticeable functionality that sets these sites apart is the ability to combine several items in a group (bundle) and compare prices for that group as if it was one item. Since these websites know how much it will cost to ship the bundle to you they can calculate the bottom line — weather you order the items separately or from the same store.

All of the reviewed here websites make a good job visually presenting the search results so that you have essential information up front with cross links to relevant items that might be of an interest to you. The kind of links are those to items by the same author (books), the same artist (movies and music), or from similar category.

Ugenie

Ugenie is probably the most functionality rich price comparison engine reviewed here. The tags and public bundles are there to satisfy the most demanding users and affiliate program is to catch the eye of webmasters.

Ugenie shouldn’t complain about lack of publicity. Covered by TechCrunch and other blogs it is the only vertical engine in the niche that I know to have attracted financing from the side. The startup has offices in California and Bangalore, India.

Pros:

  • During search users
    a) can exclude merchants by name or rating — in case I have merchant preferences, I can permanently exclude some from the search
    b) can exclude coupons — this is useful if you for some reason cannot use the coupons Ugenie is trying to apply
  • Textbooks integration — university students can list textbooks by entering the department and term information. Double checking the list before you order the books would probably be a good idea
  • Tags integration — I like this feature which helps me find relevant books. I didn’t like the fact that there is not easy access to the list of all tags. Since Ugenie doesn’t make use of categories this can be a problem if you don’t know what to search and just came to browse books
  • Public bundles — popular groups (bundles) that people create become public and can be viewed by everyone. This is a great tool to find relevant books which people often buy together. Kind of works similar to “Customers who bought this item also bought” you often see at Amazon

Cons:

  • In bundled search, no way to see all merchants — this is partially compensated by the ability to exclude merchants. Yet I would appreciate the full list and easiness to pick my favorite merchants that comes with it
  • No book rating and few book reviews — compared to the other two websites Ugenie doesn’t make use of Amazon API to display the book ratings and reviews.

Note, Ugenie is currently running a promotion. Spend $50 on books — get a movie ticket, spend $80 — get two. Promotion ends January 25, 2007. Tickets expire March 31, 2007. More details available from the company blog.

BooksPrice

BooksPrice is a self financed startup based in New York. The website is very nicely built and has simple and easy to use interface. Lucy Orbach, a co-founder, has recently sent me an email with details on new functionality they have just added: RSS price watcher (read below for details).

I liked the idea of internet browser toolbar that launches price comparison by selecting an ISBN and clicking on a toolbar button, but somehow it didn’t work in Firefox 2.0 which I am using. The link2us section explains how webmasters can install a BooksPrice branded link or a widget on their site or blog.

Pros:

  • During search users
    a) can select international shipping — might appeal to international users who buy from US merchants,
    b) can apply store membership — e.g. if I have Amazon prime membership (free shipping on all orders) Booksprice will take it into account when calculating the final price
  • Amazon wish-list integration — I wasn’t able to verify how it works but presumably you can find an Amazon wishlist by name or email and work off of the list when comparing the prices
  • RSS price watcherannounced just last week RSS price watcher is an alternative way to keep track of book price changes. Instead of signing up to an email alert you subscribe to RSS feed for a specific item.

Cons:

  • In search results: no sales tax estimate — in my example Walmart results came on top even though if sales tax is taken into consideration Walmart will not be the best deal
  • Incorrect results in bundle search with one-time use coupons, no way to exclude coupons — in my example TextbooksRus was quoted as having the best deal however the results assumed I could apply Google Checkout $10 coupon to each book in the bundle. This is obviously wrong since it is a one-time use coupon and can only be applied once to the entire purchase
  • Comparison cart section sometimes disappears and there is no link to access it — this is most likely a UI bug. As soon as I start adding books, the cart shows back up with all my books in there
  • No user accounts — this makes things a little harder for return users. You have to configure your preferences each time you come back. The default configuration has worked fine for me though

CompareBook

I was able to find very little information on CompareBook. The about page doesn’t say much while domain is registered to Alliance Enterprises LLC in Utah. CompareBook seem to be trying to set themselves apart from the competitors by offering the lowest price guarantee on the books you buy via the website.

The comparison engine has nice interface and makes even more use of JavaScript and AJAX than the competitors — though a little excessive to my liking. I appreciated the multiple levels of categorization which allowed me to browse books in a familiar tree-structured hierarchy. Just as BooksPrice the website owners lure webmasters by branded links and widgets.

Pros:

  • Price alert functionality — traditional email alert functionality. Receive an email whenever the lowest price for the book of your choice drops.
  • Lowest price guarantee — an interesting twist in the CompareBook marketing campaign. The price you pay is actually guaranteed to be the lowest at the time of the purchase. Certain limitations apply
  • Multi-level category hierarchy — makes browsing books similar to browsing files on your hard drive.

Cons:

  • Few search customization options — CompareBook has the least search customization options among the three websites reviewed here. Also I couldn’t find a way to tell apart new from used books in the bundle mode.
  • Slow search — as I was comparing these websites side by side the searches on CompareBook were taking longest to execute
  • No user accounts — CompareBook doesn’t support user accounts. However with so few customization options this is not much of an issue
  • Books only, no movies or music — unlike its competitors CompareBook compares only books. I would prefer to have single place to come for all these things.

Conclusion

The new breed of price comparison engines feature eye catching user interface and functionality that should be more than sufficient for an average bargain hunter. Each engine covers around 30 merchants and offers some distinctive features. Overall Ugenie seems to be the leader functionality wise however the difference is not that significant — it is surely not enough to pay back the $5 million financing they received last year.

Compared to the old-timers, none of the new websites seem to include eBay into the search. If this feature is critical for you go to AllBookStores or AddAll instead. Here is another observation. Pricegrabber, one of the horizontal search engines in my list, has a feature called Bottomline which in essence does bundling. However since this is not a specialized search engine the list of supported book retailers is much shorter.

I personally couldn’t make up my mind which website I prefer. I like the categories of CompareBooks, search customization of Ugenie, and the full list of bundled results at BooksPrice. I didn’t like the absence of sale tax estimate at BooksPrice, the absence of books ratings in Ugenie, and the fact that I cannot compare movies/music at CompareBook. Have you made your choice? Which website do you like?




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