Friday, 20 December 2013

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

A B&N Bookseller LiveJournal Community Shows us That B&N Has Forgotten What it Used to Know About Bookselling

Posted: 20 Dec 2013 11:12 AM PST

If you barnes noble logohave some time this weekend and are looking for a reason to drink excessively, you might want to go visit a certain discussion thread over on LiveJournal.

That thread, which was first uncovered by The Passive Voice, is filled with anonymous B&N staffers griping about the problems they face at work – everything from not having enough hours/staff to unreasonable demands from district managers who are depicted as not being entirely connected with reality.

It’s a depressing read, but I don’t want to catalog all of the gripes (Chris Meadows beat me to it, anyway). Instead I want to make a more specific point by highlighting just a few gripes.

For example, here’s one commenter who works in a store that didn’t hire holiday help until the second week of December:

The store where I currently work suffered mass exodus of long term employees and they just this week hired holiday help so the few of us remaining are trying to train the herd of newbies. There have been multiple visits from district manager and other big wigs, resulting in orders to reset promos which take forever to accomplish because our store is thankfully busy at all times. Also seeing plenty of customer/external theft. Now we finally have enough cashiers but pulling product from receiving is hopelessly backed up. We are seeing plenty of sales but in 10 years I have never seen such massive pressure to push gift cards and memberships.

And another whose hours were cut in mid-December (they later quit and got a job at McDonald’s):

I just received a call from one of my ASMs. He said the SM just got off a regional call and was told to cut hours for the rest of the year in order to make payroll budget. I was told not to come in tonight, and given my adjusted schedule that cuts my hours in half from the prior posted schedules. I don’t know what I am going to do now. I was counting on the $ from my schedule to pay for my kids Christmas presents. With my cut in hours, I won’t earn enough to get the kids their gifts.

My point here is that there is a certain frightening parallel between what B&N corporate is doing to the store staff and how they are running the entire chain. Remember that disastrous interview that Mitchell Klipper gave back in January? He told the WSJ that Barnes & Noble planned to shrink for the next decade:

“In 10 years we’ll have 450 to 500 stores,” said Mitchell Klipper, chief executive of Barnes & Noble’s retail group, in an interview last week. The company operated 689 retail stores as of Jan. 23, along with a separate chain of 674 college stores.

Mr. Klipper said his forecast assumes that the company will close about 20 stores a year over the period.

Barnes & Noble’s plan to rescue the company could best be summed up as cutting costs in the hopes that at some point revenues will exceed costs and the company will be profitable again. This is an accepted business theory which would work in most industries, and even in most retail industries, but not bookselling.

Why not bookselling?

For one thing, indies are thriving while using a completely inverted approach. For another, we know that Borders adopted a similar plan shortly before the end, and look where they ended up. Carly Zekter used to work at Borders, and she left this comment over on Teleread:

I used to work for Borders in management, and left a few years before the final implosion because I saw the writing on the wall.

You could replace all of these B&N references with Borders and it would still fit. This is eerily similar to what Borders was like when I left.

For example, I was ordered to write up our best cafe employee for not making her Borders Rewards signups. When I pushed back, pointing out that as the only quick service option in the mall the cafe didn’t get many people interested in books and instead got lots of mall employee traffic looking for coffee, I was told either I wrote her up or my boss would write both of us up.

At my exit interview with my DM, he asked how the store could improve. I told him we needed more workers, and he responded "Well, you're over payroll for the year, so what else?" Didn't matter to him that our issue was that customers were walking out because no one was free to help them.

Barnes & Noble has forgotten that bookselling isn’t like any other retail industry. The book part adds a community aspect that for example Walmart lacks, and that is part of the reason that Borders failed. Or so says Matt Blind, an ex-B&N Manager:

Books Are Not Retail.

Big Box Bookstores are social spaces, have been since 1992 or so, and it is at least as important — more important — to consider community, demographics, sociology, psychology, and the whole grand tradition of books and Civilization Itself, as to rely on old models of retail and business.

Borders' bankruptcy is not a failure of the business. Borders was run as a business, quite professionally, and using standard retail models.

The eventual collapse of Borders came because those in control of Borders forgot (or failed to ever realize) that Borders sells books.

And bookselling *is not* retail.

I know that might sound like hokum, but before you write it off I would like you to consider something:

Why are indie bookstores thriving at a time when BArnes & Noble is busy committing auto-asphyxiation?

Could it be perhaps that indies are operating as much from the heart as the ledger book?

A few months ago I pointed out that indies were thriving because they are offering all sorts of community activities and personal interaction with their customers that Amazon cannot provide. This may have run counter to the ongoing book industry paradigm of Amazon the bookstore slayer, but that doesn’t make it any less true:

To survive in the age of Amazon, many bookstores are emphasizing what e-commerce has a tougher time delivering: community and a personal touch. It's not exactly a new strategy. But it has gotten far more attention in recent years.

Indeed, many bookstore owners are trying to create a sort of community center amid their shelves. They've filled their store calendars with events like author lectures, writing workshops, and children's camps. Adding cafes also helps to create a scene while also diversifying revenue beyond just selling the latest bestsellers.

Based on what I read in that LiveJournal discussion, I don’t think B&N is focusing on the community aspects either. Instead they first threw vast sums of money into the Nook, and now they are pinning their hopes on cutting their way to profitability.

And that could be their undoing.

The post A B&N Bookseller LiveJournal Community Shows us That B&N Has Forgotten What it Used to Know About Bookselling appeared first on The Digital Reader.

BBC Audiobooks to go DRM-free via Random House Audio

Posted: 20 Dec 2013 10:46 AM PST

When 9498867634_3af476ff0a[1]Amazon announced last month that they were acquiring the rights to half of bankrupt AudioGo‘s audiobook catalog, this blogger wondered what would happen to the rest of the titles.

Now we know. Rather than sign a deal with Audible, the BBC has agreed to let Random House Audio distribute their audiobooks.

BBC’s catalog of over 3,500 audiobook titles will be made available via Random House Audio starting on 23 December. The catalog includes audio productions of popular BBC tv shows like Doctor Who, popular fiction titles like Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and BBC radio productions including I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue and Just a Minute.

Random House Audio is getting global distribution rights with the exception of North America, Australia, and New Zealand, and Random House Audio will also be producing new titles in partnership with the BBC.

You should expect to see the titles showing up in Audible in fairly short order, but I wouldn’t buy them there. Instead I would get them direct from Random House Audio. This doesn’t get much attention in the ebook circles, but Random House Audio went DRM-free in 2008.

And to make things even better, Random House Audio also sells direct to the public. So if you cannot find the title you like on or (both sell DRM-free audiobooks) you can get it direct from the publisher.

This is very good news to anyone who doesn’t like DRM, wouldn’t you agree?

The Bookseller

image by pterjan

The post BBC Audiobooks to go DRM-free via Random House Audio appeared first on The Digital Reader.

BrickPi Bookreader Will Read Your eBooks to You (video)

Posted: 20 Dec 2013 07:19 AM PST

Have you brickpi bookreaderever wanted to have an ebook read to you but felt that simply turning on the Android TTS feature was too easy? Have you ever wanted to remove the DRM from an ebook but decided that the existing DRM removal tools required too little work?

Then you might be interested in the BrickPi Bookreader. This project combines Legos, a camera, and a Raspberry Pi to offer a new solution pesky problems that no one has any more.

It was developed by engineers who were clearly inspired by a book scanner made up of a Macbook, a Kindle, and Legos (some people are lucky enough to never have to grow up) and works on a very similar principle as that kludged together book scanner.

The BrickPi Bookreader relies on a Raspberry Pi to function as a controller for the page turn mechanism. It take photos of the screen of the tablet with the camera and then convert the page image to text so it can be either read aloud or converted into a text file  (more or less what you started with).

The model shown above and below  is designed to work with most 7″ Android tablets or the iPad Mini. larger or smaller devices would require modifying the stand to change the size:

So what’s the point of this contraption?

Other than combining the work of Rube Goldberg with the work of MC Escher, I don’t know. But if you delight in doing things the hard way then you should go read the Dexter Industries blog. They have detailed instructions on how you can build one.

As for me, I took the shorter route of going into the settings menu and enabling TTS.

P.S. And in case you are wondering, this is why I’m not an engineer. I’ve never believed the maxim “if it ain’t broke, it doesn’t have enough features”. Simple works for me.

brickpi bookreader

The post BrickPi Bookreader Will Read Your eBooks to You (video) appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Just How Much Do Your Android eBook Reader Apps Know About You?

Posted: 20 Dec 2013 05:42 AM PST

When you 3279141121_4e76ac28db[1]read a book or an article on your Android device, how much power—and access to your personal data—are you giving the app?

A new comparison of 17 of the most popular reader apps, compiled by Matt Bernius, answers that question, and in some cases users may be revealing much more than they think.

No less than 4 of the apps tested required access to location information (NYTimes, DC, Marvel, and comiXology); half of them ask for “phone state and identity”, which would let them grab people’s phone numbers and IMEI numbers; and a couple can retrieve a list of other running apps.

Editor’s Note: A little digging has revealed that the “phone state and identity” permission stopped scaring everyone about 2011 (or so the Google search results suggest). And given that most of the apps that request it are tied to accounts with your contact info and credit card details, grabbing your phone number isn’t such a big deal – for most of the apps.

Android apps are required to specify what sort of access to the phone they can use, but these “permissions requests” screens can be opaque, and without a chart like this one, it can be difficult to tell if there are subtle but legitimate reasons why a particular class of app needs a particular type of permission.

Editor’s note: In some cases the excess permissions aren’t that unreasonable. For example, Kobo requires nearly as many permissions as Google Play Books, but that could be because Kobo’s reader analytics uses Google Analytics platform to pass data from the app to Kobo’s servers (that’s how it works on the Kobo Touch, anyway).


Click the chart to view it full-size. This chart is another valuable resource for readers looking to bring their privacy into the digital world. We’ve previously compared the privacy practices of different sources of ebooks.

Unfortunately, Android permissions operate on a “take it or leave it” model. Google briefly included a hidden privacy feature that allowed users to deny certain requested data and access to apps, but has removed it in the latest version of Android. There ways to get the privacy control back if you have a rooted device or install Cyanogenmod. But mainstream Android users are out of luck.

Editor’s Note: He’s not wrong. By preventing the user from controlling their Android device, Google has created a situation that is inherently unsafe. The only way for users to protect themselves is to be careful about the apps they install, and given that malware can sometimes be hidden inside legit apps that is not as simple of a task as it might sound.

And Google: it’s high time you promised to bring App Ops back, with an appropriate plan to expand the interface to work with all the important permission types, and with a plan for app developers to transition to a model with proper privacy controls.

reposted with additions under a CC license from

image by _mixer_

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