Wednesday, 4 December 2013

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

The Morning Coffee – 5 December 2013

Posted: 04 Dec 2013 09:24 PM PST

Top stories this morning include a look at social digital reading (link), micro-libraries in St Louis (link), the return of Newsweek’s print edition (link), a new update to digital publishing startup Medium (link), and more.

  • 4 Ways to Find Readers Who Love Your Work (Jane Friedman, by Sean Platt & Johnny B. Truant)
  • Are fiction writers conscious of how their stories will be interpreted? Hell, yes! (Idiotprogrammer)
  • Digital Social Reading Should Rule on E-Readers (Critical Margins)
  • Don't write off the 'productivity tablet' just yet (Pocketnow)
  • In Taiwan Reading is Cool, But Lukewarm on Ebooks (Publishing Perspectives)
  • Medium gets even magazine-ier (PandoDaily)
  • Newsweek Plans Return to Print (
  • Norway Decided to Digitize All the Norwegian Books (The Atlantic)
  • St. Louis police hope free books for kids will help reduce crime in Dutchtown (Post-Dispatch)
  • Why Wouldn’t You Be Valuable? (by @baekdal)

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Mike Shatzkin Says That There’s no Market for Anything Other Than Narrative eBooks – I’m Not Sure I Agree

Posted: 04 Dec 2013 06:10 PM PST

Mike Shatzkin Shatzkin-MIke-4-300x268[1]has a post up today that I wanted to bring to your attention.

In this post he argues that there is no market for any type of ebook other than well, novels:

We have proven beyond any reasonable doubt that digital versions of narrative immersive reading — which I define as books you read from page one to page last — if made reflowable will satisfy the vast majority of the book's print audience.   …

However, the complementary fact is that we have not yet found a formula that works for any other kind of book. (And with all due respect to Philip Jones of The Bookseller, whose piece on this subject is much more "on point" than the other three, pointing as he does to what Pottermore has done and can do is hardly a prototype for a dedicated book publisher.) How-to books haven't sold well as ebooks. Reference books haven't sold well as ebooks. Cookbooks haven't sold well as ebooks. If you dip in and out; if you rely on illustrations (which maybe should be videos); if your book is just filled with pretty pictures; then there is no formula for a digital version that has demonstrated mass commercial appeal.  …

I first heard Mike say this when we met at BEA 2013, and based on what I had seen I thought he was correct.

If you look at how Vook pivoted from making enhanced ebooks into ebook distribution, or how Coursesmart is propped up by the publishers that own it, or how Kno failed and was sold off for scrap (just to name 3 examples) you tend to get the impression that there are a lot of niches in the ebook market that aren’t working out (or I just fell victim to selection bias, which is another possibility).

In fact, I originally sat down to write a post which agreed with Mike’s point and called it out for emphasis. But I won’t do that, because I’m not sure we’re looking at this from the same perspective.

Here is where I disagree with Mike. This is the last sentence of the paragraph snipped above:

There have been successes, but they seem to be novelties (e.g. Touch Press) or on a much smaller scale than would warrant major publishers getting into this business (e.g. a small art press like MAPP Editions can claim success with 1,000 copies sold).

While I agree with Mike in the broad strokes, I’m not so sure that it should matter whether one publisher’s success can be replicated at scale by the major publishers. I would be curious to know if success in a niche can be matched by a competing publisher, or by several publishers, but the major publishers are not relevant to my point of view.

To put it another way, let me ask you which is more important: the half dozen largest fish in the publishing pond or the hundreds of smaller fish?

When it comes to the health and viability of a market niche, I tend to think that the latter group is more important – especially when we are in an untried and new era like ebook publishing.

appleii-right[1]To say that there’s no market today for digital products like cookbooks, textbooks, and the like would be like saying in 1978 that there was no market for PCs in the home or school simply because there were only a handful of truly successful models, none of which came from one of the major computer manufacturers (Wikipedia).

Just because IBM’s first several attempts at a PC were only marginally successful doesn’t mean that someone else, namely Apple, didn’t find a market for a PC in 1978. And it’s that someone else that we need to be looking at today, not the major publishers.

Or to give you another example, consider the ebook market in 2006. Mike would say that there was no ebook market in 2006, while in reality Baen Books, Fictionwise, and a handful of other pioneers had carved out a market.

Just because (to name one example) Macmillan couldn’t figure out how to handle the business of ebooks until early 2009 (that’s when they finally started catching up with releasing their backlist) doesn’t mean there wasn’t an ebook market before 2009.

If someone wants to posit that a market doesn’t exist they’re going to have to come up with a better argument than “it’s too small for the major publishers to bother with”. That is simply the wrong scale to work from.

But that’s just my two cents; what do you think?

The post Mike Shatzkin Says That There’s no Market for Anything Other Than Narrative eBooks – I’m Not Sure I Agree appeared first on The Digital Reader.

First Sub-$100 Intel Android Tablet Now in Stock at Walmart

Posted: 04 Dec 2013 12:53 PM PST

Intel has been saying for over a month now that their chips would show up in a budget tablet this holiday season and that has finally happened. The HP Mesquite Android tablet is now available at that temple of gadgetry, Walmart.


The Mesquite tablet runs Android 4.1 on a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom Z2640 CPU with 1GB of RAM, Wifi, Bluetooth, and a VGA webcam. It also has 8GB of storage, a microSD card slot, and a single speaker on the back.

The 7″ screen has a resolution of 1024 x 600, the same as on many other 7″ tablets in this price range. The tablet measures 7.6? x 4.9? x 0.4?, weighs about 13 oz, and is specced at 5 hours of battery life. This tablet was initially released on Black Friday at $89, but it is selling today at $99.

I bought one of these tablets on Black Friday, and while it’s not the best tablet I have seen it’s also not the worst. I plan to post a review this weekend, but for now I can say that the Mesquite tablet has a more polished hardware design than many of its no-name competition, though it lacks the HDMI port which is growing increasingly common on budget tablets.

The Mesquite is running a stock version of Android that is less polished than some sub-$100 tablets like the ones from Ematic. It also has unimpressive benchmark test results. That’s not necessarily a strike against the tablet, but it’s also not a point in its favor.

Please don’t take the above as being unnecessarily negative; the HP Mesquite is still in the running for my choice for best value under $100.



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Baen Books Mobile Website now in Beta, Android and iOS Apps Coming Soon

Posted: 04 Dec 2013 11:25 AM PST

What’s better Baen_logo_small_color[1]than buying DRM-free ebooks at a decent price? Being able to buy them on your mobile device and read them right away, that’s what.

Baen Books has quietly started testing a new version of their website. It’s still in beta and is not yet fully functional, but if you have a few minutes to spare today go check it out and provide feedback over on Baen’s Bar. You can find the site here, and login with your existing Baen account:

The site includes a mobile version of Baen’s Bar, a news feed with details about book releases and the Baen Free Radio Hour podcasts,  and of course a mobile version of the Baen ebookstore.

click to enlarge

main menu

That last feature was the most important to me; I love reading on my Android tablet, and I’ve always wanted to not have to sideload ebooks and instead buy them from the tablet itself. Alas, we’re not quite there yet.

Baen’s mobile site will let you buy ebooks, and it has an option to let you read them in a new mobile friendly version of Baen’s reading app, but the mobile site won’t actually let you download the ebooks (you can however send an ebook to your Kindle account).

The download feature has not yet been added to the mobile site, IMO limiting its usefulness. But I have high hopes that this will change. The site is in beta, after all, just like the mobile apps. I don’t have specific details on an Android app, but they’re hoping to get the iPhone app into iTunes in the next couple weeks.

I don’t know about you but I am looking forward to the mobile apps and the finished mobile website. Baen’s regular website is okay, but it doesn’t exactly work well on any screen smaller than the iPad.

click to enlarge

reading mode

In the past I have tried keeping my ebook library synced to Dropbox (a personal cloud, if you will) which I would then download on my mobile device, but that’s never really appealed to me. It worked, but it was really simply another way to sideload the ebooks. I would much prefer a more direct option.

Until the mobile site is operational I will probably continue to rely on Baen’s support for the OPDS standard. A number of reading apps (including Aldiko, MoonReader, FBReader, and others) support in app downloads via the OPDS standard. This works well but you can’t use it to buy ebooks from Baen, only download.

Baen’s Bar

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Amazon Doubles Down on Short Fiction Publishing With the Launch of StoryFront

Posted: 04 Dec 2013 07:24 AM PST

Flush with thestoryfront early success of their Day One literary magazine, Amazon  announced today that they are expanding their efforts with the launch of a new publishing imprint which will focus on short fiction.

StoryFront is going to publish a variety of works, including new previously unpublished titles and translated works as well as stories originally published in Day One for purchase a la carte. This imprint is launching today with 43 stories, including:

  • Sheila by Rebecca Adams Wright, the first story published in Day One
  • A Bite of Strawberry by William Lashner, featuring the long-awaited return of defense attorney Victor Carl
  • Museum of Literary Souls by John Connolly, a page-turner that blurs the lines between fact and fiction
  • Farmer One by Christian Cantrell, a dystopian adventure set in a future gone utterly awry

"Based on the continued success of short fiction on Kindle as well as the enthusiastic response to Day One—we received thousands of subscriptions in the first week—we know readers are hungry for short stories and excited about exploring new genres," said Daphne Durham, Publisher of Adult Trade and Children's Group. "With StoryFront, we're feeding that enthusiasm by offering a wide range of stories curated by a team of editors who are committed to the craft."

As I see it, StoryFront is going to be taking over from Amazon’s Kindle Singles imprint, which had been publishing short stories since it launched. While Kindle Singles is best known for longform essays and other works that are too long for a magazine article but too short for a book, a significant number of the titles in the Kindle Single section were actually fiction.

In a way Amazon has been publishing short fiction for quite some time, it just occurred under most people’s radar.

StoryFront joins sister imprints Jet City Comics, Kindle Worlds, Lake Union, 47North, AmazonCrossing, AmazonEncore, Amazon Publishing, Grand Harbor, Little A, Montlake Romance, Skyscape, Thomas & Mercer, and Two Lions in the Amazon Publishing family.


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YotaPhone Officially Launches in Europe – 2 Screens and a 499 Euro Price Tag

Posted: 04 Dec 2013 06:10 AM PST

There were yotaphonetimes over the past year when I truly did not expect this dual-screen smartphone to ever hit the market but YotaDevices has proven me wrong (maybe). They have just officially launched the Yotaphone in the Europe and Russia with a price tag of 499 and a ship date of “unknown”.

This smartphone is up for pre-order on the Yotaphone website, but there are no specific details on when it will actually ship (not that I can find).

The Yotaphone is effectively two devices rolled into one, making it an LTE Android smartphone with an ebook reader grafted on to the back. It’s going to be the higher end competition to E-ink smartphone cases like the InkCase from Gajah, only lighter, with a better build quality, and over 60 hours of reading time.yotaphone-

According to the website, the final specs of the Yotaphone place this smartphone solidly in the middle of the field. The consumer model (not to be confused with the demo units shown off in videos) is going to run Android 4.2.2 on a dual-core 1.7GHz “Krait” Snapdragon S4 Pro CPU. It will ship with 32GB of storage, 2GB of RAM, and a pair of cameras (13MP w\Flash and 1MP).

In terms of connectivity, the Yotaphone will have Wifi, BT, GPS, FM Radio, and support for LTE and GSM cell networks. It will also have a bevy of sensors including  an accelerometer, compass, gyroscope, proximity sensor, the kitchen sink, and an ambient light sensor.

And of course the screens, now that’s where things get interesting. The Yotaphone has 2 screens, the first of which is an LCD screen with a capacitive touchscreen and a screen resolution of 1280 × 720. This device also has an E-ink screen which also measures 4.3″ and sports a resolution of 640 × 360.


The Yotaphone has been under development for well over a year, and Yota Devices has taken that time to customize the firmware with special YotaPhone gestures and Put2Back apps which make it easy to transfer info to the E-ink screen.

Engadget got their hands on the Yotaphone today and they’re pleased with the build quality and general feel, noting that their loaner was a much better phone than the sample they saw last year.

But is it actually going to be available soon? I don’t know. It’s certainly not available at the moment, but you can sign up to be emailed when it is.

On a related note, did anyone else notice that the Yotaphone is only available from the official website? I find that rather curious given that Yota Devices had previously talked about distributing via telecom partners. Do you suppose no telecoms were interested, or do you think those early reports were incorrect?

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