Thursday, 5 December 2013

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

The Morning Coffee – 6 December 2013

Posted: 05 Dec 2013 09:30 PM PST

Hot stories this morning include 2 funny satirical websites, a post on anthropodermic bibliopegy (link), a comparison of what “get it now” means in 2013 vs what it meant 30 years ago (link), a reconsideration of paywalls (link), a post from PandoDaily which looks at the differences between reading articles in medium vs Flipboard (link), and more.

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Ebay Gets Into Digital Comics – Fun Times are Ahead

Posted: 05 Dec 2013 04:31 PM PST

Ebay has longebay digital comics been letting creators sell digital content and today they decided to join the party. They’ve just opened a new marketplace where you can buy digital comics.

Launched in partnership with comiXology, the new marketplace lets you browse a diverse selection of over 40,000 top comics and graphic novels. After you’ve decided on a purchase, you’ll be directed to comiXology yo complete the transaction.

Ebay is an online marketplace second only to Amazon in the breadth of their selection, so it should probably come as no surprise that they would be interested in branching out into digital content. But I am a little surprised to see just how much they are relying on comiXology.

This marketplace looks to me like it is more of an affiliate partnership between Ebay and comiXology rather than the marketplace which TechCrunch describes it as. Everything beyond the initial browsing is handled by comiXology, including hosting the listings and payment processing. You even read the comics with a comiXology app  (browser, Android, iPhone, etc).

ebay digital comics

This is odd because Ebay would seem to be the perfect candidate to open an ebookstore. They have the capability to process payments and the money to fund the development of a ebookstore platform (or simply buy one), so the only surprise today is that they haven’t done so. Instead Ebay has taken the more cautious step by instead playing the lesser partner to comiXology and letting the experienced digital comics distributor shoulder the burden.

This is a more captious move than I am used to seeing in startups, and it is probably a smart decision. At this point Ebay doesn’t know if this idea will work out so they have decided to keep their investment to a minimum.

It’s also a good idea because Ebay clearly doesn’t have the content filters you might expect in an ebookstore. They don’t have a significant piracy problem, per se; I only found a few pirated titles, all from new sellers. This tells me that the pirates are probably banned on a regular basis.

But Ebay does have an excess of spam content like PLR and “how to succeed on Ebay” ebooks. That type of content has been cleared out of the Kindle Store, Smashwords, and most other ebookstores a long time ago, and if Ebay is serious about ebooks then they’ll need to clean that stuff up.

And I hope they are serious because their entry into ebooks will shake up the market. it’s been awhile since that last happened, and the ebook market could use the disruption.

I am also looking forward to the first time someone tries to sell or buy erotica via Ebay’s ebookstore; now that will be fun. Ebay, as you know, owns Paypal.

Remember last year when Paypal tried to bully Smashwords into no longer selling erotica?Paypal is Smashwords’ payment processor, and it threatened to stop handling the funds unless the erotica was removed from Smashwords.

Paypal was forced to back down due to public pressure, but my point here is that Ebay shares Paypal’s puritanical streak. I am looking forward to watching them balk at the thought of selling naughty books (even the tamer ones are probably too much).

P.S. The whole Ebay, ebook, and other issues came up a couple weeks ago in the comments section on this blog. I’d like to thank Ray and Felix for their comments, without which I could not have written this post.

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NY Times Brings Their Print Edition Online with New Web App

Posted: 05 Dec 2013 12:25 PM PST

The NYTimes TodaysPaperdesktoptablet_large_verge_medium_landscapehas long been sending a version of their print edition to subscribers on ebook readers like the Nook and Kindle, and today they’ve announced that web subscribers can join the fun.

They’ve taken the Today’s Paper section of the NYTimes website and expanded it into its own web app. It offers a reading experience with content limited to only what is in the print  edition of this paper of record.

Built with the latest HTML5 technologies, this is the first responsive app developed for readers who value the regular schedule, structured composition and totality of the NYTimes daily print edition. The app includes the articles and ads found in all of the sections of each print edition, as well as a few videos. Users can access each edition from the previous seven days and read the articles offline.

The Today’s Paper web app replaces the experimental web app that the NYTImes launched last year, and it won’t be replacing the main section of the NYTimes website. But it will offer readers a way to curate the large volume of articles published every day in the NY Times and pull out the ones that were deemed the most relevant when the print edition went out the night before.



The Today’s Paper app works on most desktop browsers (Chrome, IE, Firefox, Safari) but according to ReadWrite there’s no smartphone support and tablet support is limited:

“Today’s Paper” supports browsers for desktops and tablets including Chrome, Safari and Internet Explorer. It does not support Firefox or Opera on any tablet or the native Android browser on devices that do not use Chrome. “Today’s Paper” will not work for the Silk browser on a Kindle Fire. The Web app is not optimized for a smartphone.

It is available to existing digital subscribers.

TBH I don’t see the point; reading this edition in the late afternoon means that any important events that occurred in the past 12 hours will go unread.

But according to evp Denise Warren, that hasn’t detracted from its popularity: “Soon after we launched our experimental Web App we discovered that Today's Paper was one of the most popular sections,” said Denise Warren, executive vice president of digital products and services, The New York Times. “This new reading experience is the next step in our ongoing process to develop new and valuable digital products that offer our subscribers other innovative ways to access our content.”

I suppose this might be a useful optional filter which could be handy in dealing with the fire hose of news that comes at us at all hours of the day and night. On the other hand, some of us like having too much too read.

Today’s Paper

The Verge

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New German Court Ruling Could Threaten Calibre for Having DRM-Removal Plug-ins

Posted: 05 Dec 2013 09:40 AM PST

I have some UPu3A8n[1]frightening news today for everyone who supports open source software.

A court in Germany confirmed this week that Appwork, the company that coordinates development of the open source downloading app JDownloader, could be held legally responsible for any and all contributions made by outside developers – even if they didn’t know about it.

JDownloader is one of the more popular multi-purpose downloading apps on the web today, and it is capable of for example downloading video files from Youtube or files from file-hosting sites like RapidShare.

Like calibre, JDownloader is an open source app which draws contributions from outside developers, all of which still control the copyright over their work even though they license their code to be used freely by others.

This current situation grew out of a June 2013 ruling which found that Appwork was liable for a feature which had been coded and contributed by an outside developer. This feature, which was only available briefly in some of the beta releases for JDownloader, let users download DRMed RTMPE video streams and automatically strip the DRM.

The Hamburg Regional Court found in June that this violated the anti-circumvention clause of Germany's Copyright Act and issued a preliminary injunction banning any version of JDownloader that contain the DRM-stripping feature.

None of this is unreasonable, but I can’t say the same about what happened next. The court then decided that Appwork was responsible for the violation, and not the open source developer who had actually written the code (and who still owned the copyright). Appwork was threatened with a 250,000 euro fine for "production, distribution and possession" of an 'illegal' piece of software.

Appwork had already removed the offending code from the beta release and had never officially released a version of JDownloader with the DRM-stripping feature, so the court ruling had little practical effect. But it still had a chilling effect on Appwork, which is why the company decided in June that they were going to fight the ruling.

Today I am dismayed to report that Appwork lost that fight (the first round, anyway). As Appworks’ told TorrentFreak, “In the eyes of the judges, our company 'made the open source contributions our own' mostly by having a copyright sign in the info dialogue. Therefore we are liable and must actively screen every code contribution and/or have protective mechanisms in place against someone committing something that might be illegal.”

In confirming this ruling the Hamburg Regional Court has decided to apply a legal principle of secondary liability, which in short means that they’re blaming Appworks for the actions of another. That’s not a strong legal argument – not in the US, at least, but Europe is a separate case.

Courts in the US have generally been inclined to assume that principle of secondary liability is invalid (Sony v Universal, 1984), and in fact protection from secondary liability has been codified into US copyright law. It’s known colloquially as the Safe Harbor rule under the DMCA, and it is part of the reason why Viacom keeps losing copyright infringement cases against Youtube.

But there have been times where lawyers have successfully argued that secondary liability applies. For example, most of the anti-piracy cases against file-hosting sites and music sharing sites hinge upon finding reasons why the service being sued made themselves liable for the actions of their users. Grokster, for example, lost the court battle against MGM in part because of how they promoted their file-sharing service and how it was discussed inside the company.

Bringing this back to Appworks, the German court decided that Appworks was liable simply because if a copyright symbol on the about page. That seems a tenuous claim at best, but it was enough for this court.

This ruling is going to have a chilling effect on open source software projects in Germany and the rest of Europe.

As the Appworks spokesperson put it, “It doesn't matter if the project owner did not do anything (i.e. write any line of code) or even if the project owner knows about anything illegal being committed,” they are still liable. As a result of this one ruling anyone who maintains an open source project is going to have to screen all contributions from outside developers out of fear of a lawsuit.

Fortunately for users of calibre the primary developer, Kovid Goyal, is not based in Europe; he lives in India and as such is outside the reach of all but the most ridiculously overreaching European courts. On the other hand, India has their own version of the DMCA, and it includes criminal penalties for DRM circumvention. Indian copyright law was amended in 2012, and this was one of the additions.

Calibre supports the use of third party plug-ins, including a particular plug-in that can be used to strip DRM from ebooks. Kovid did not develop that plug-in nor does he promote or distribute it, but that doesn’t mean that some ambitious prosecutor won’t decide to make a name for itself by going after Kovid.

Okay, I will admit that this is a stretch. But it is not impossible – not if you recall what happened when DeCSS, the DVD decoding tool, was released in 1999.

This was the first tool that let users strip the DRM from a DVD so it could be loaded onto a hard disk, which naturally did not please the MPAA. One of the developers of DeCSS, Jon Lech Johansen, was prosecuted in Norway at the instigation of US industry interests. He was eventually acquitted after being tried twice, but it took 3 years before he could clear his name.

I don’t want to see that happen to Kovid Goyal, do you?

Heck, i don’t want that happening to anyone.


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Tesco’s eBookstore Delayed Until March, Could Launch With New Hudl Tablet

Posted: 05 Dec 2013 05:59 AM PST

Tesco’s Blinkboxtesco hudl 4 Books ebookstore was previously expected to launch in time for Christmas but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen.

New reports are saying that Blinkbox Books, which was expected to sell ebooks as a compliment to the subsidized Hudl tablet, won’t be launching next month. This much delayed ebookstore is now expected to open by March of 2014.

Tesco also revealed earlier this week that they have sold over 300,000 Hudl tablets since it launched in September, and according to CEO Philip Clarke the retailer was "struggling to keep up with demand”. Clarke went on to say that the Tesco plans to release a second Hudl model next year. “The new model will be an enhanced version,” said Clarke, adding that it will have a better camera and more storage.

The Hudl tablet, which is intended to be a budget-priced competitor to the Kindle Fire HD, was developed in partnership with the French tablet maker Archos. It runs runs Android 4.2.2 on a quad-core 1.5GHz Rockchip CPU, and it comes with a microSD card slot, 16 GB of storage, and a high resolution 7″ screen (1440 x 900, same as on the Nook HD).

It retails for £119 in Tesco stores and on their website. That is a rather low price considering the specs, and it is subsidized by Tesco’s Blinkbox digital content stores

tesco hudl 3

In the 2 months since it launched the Hudl tablet has garnered several favorable reviews, with PC Advisor calling it “the best cheap tablet of 2013″. TechRadar gave it 4 out of 5 stars, and Engadget said that despite the Hudl’s shortcomings “this meager slate became our go-to piece of hardware for responding to emails and browsing Twitter”.

Tesco expects sales of the original Hudl tablet to break 600,000 by the end of the holiday season.

Tesco bought rather than built their content store by acquiring the Blinkbox video service a couple years ago and then buying the We7 music service, which was renamed Blinkbox Music. Blinkbox Books is built on top of Mobcast, the white label ebookstore provider that Tesco bought in Fall 2012 for £4.5 million.

The Grocer

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