Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

The Morning Coffee – 27 February 2014

Posted: 26 Feb 2014 09:36 PM PST

The morning coffee post includes an unexpected focus on grammar this Thursday morning, including 3 different articles on the topic. Other top stories include the comment section from Ars Technica’s coverage of Apple’s ebook anti-trust appeal (link), a 6 month old post which lists the world’s largest book publishers (link), an viewpoint of the founders of pay-per-page service Total Boox (link), and more.

  • 12 Most Electric Reasons I Love Kindle (12 Most)
  • Apple e-book appeal: Higher new release prices boosted competition (Ars Technica)
  • Commercial Grammar (The Millions)
  • The Empire Strikes Back (Brian O’Leary)
  • Grammar Police Undercover: Pet Peeves At The Donut Shop (Rob on Writing)
  • Fear Not, English Is Safe From 'Satisfries' (The Millions)
  • LinkedIn Publishing and the Rise of the Borrowed Platform (Social Media Today)
  • Total Boox, pay per page ebook service, an interview with Yoav Lorch and Udi Arad (No Shelf Required)
  • Why is Indie Music So Much Cooler than Indie Books? (Indie Reader)
  • The World’s 60 Largest Book Publishers, 2013 (PW)



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It Must be Time for MidTerms – CourseSmart is Down

Posted: 26 Feb 2014 06:23 PM PST

When it 2840195_1c8a95fc6c_m[1]comes to new technology, it’s important to remember that there are always upsides and downsides. For example, with digital textbooks there is the downside of not being able to resell the book and recoup the cost, but there is a corresponding upside.

Thanks to digital textbook provider CourseSmart, we now have a new twist on the “my dog ate my homework” excuse.

Numerous reports are coming in from Twitter on Tuesday night that the CourseSmart website is down. At the time I wrote this post it had been down for at least 2 hours with the first complaint tweeted at 6:53 pm eastern. According to one tweet, the CourseSmart website has been down since about 5 pm eastern.

Students are reporting that they cannot access their online textbooks, and many are expressing an understandable frustration with CourseSmart:

CourseSmart has already confirmed that their servers crashed, and they have promised that they are working on the issue and will try to have the servers up and running again ASAP. Unfortunately those promises aren’t much help to the students who want to study for their exams tomorrow, or the ones who have a class or test tonight.

Based on the tone and the quantity of tweets, I would hazard a guess that the CourseSmart servers failed under a maximum load – just like last year. Many students are commenting upon the fact that they need to study for a test, and that suggests that we’re once again in the middle of an exam week with its corresponding increase in stress and studying.

As frustrating and disappointing as this may be, it probably should not come as a surprise.  CourseSmart’s servers crashed in April of last year, during what was probably another exam week. Sadly, I think there’s a good chance that this may become an annual or even biannual event as digital textbooks become more popular.

And that’s truly unfortunate, because this is yet another example of why digital textbooks are not ready for widespread use.  Opponents of digital textbooks, like Temple University assistant Professor Meredith Broussard, have a point when they criticize digital content as not being suitable for critical uses like textbooks.

Professor Broussard went public with her objections to digital textbooks last month in The New Republic. She raised a number of issues, including:

For a couple of semesters, I patiently endured students announcing their technical difficulties to the entire class: "Wait, I'm out of juice, I have to find a plug." "What page is that on? My Kindle has different pages, so I can't find the passage we're talking about." "Professor, do you have an iPad charging cord I could use?" After a while, I realized that I was spending an awful lot of class time doing tech support. The 2-minute interruptions were starting to add up. E-readers were a disruptive technology in the classroom—and not in a good way.

Now that CourseSmart has once again failed during an exam week, it’s difficult to argue that she is wrong.

CourseSmart likes to call itself the leading digital textbook platform, but after today’s debacle I would not take that claim seriously. But I can say that it is the most widely supported platform and probably the best funded. CourseSmart is owned by a consortium of textbook publishers, with Pearson, Cengage, and McGraw-Hill owning the 3 largest shares.

image by Rich Anderson

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How to Stream Amazon Instant Video on Android from – You Can’t

Posted: 26 Feb 2014 05:06 PM PST

What with amazon-uk[1]Amazon expanding their Instant Video service into the UK and Germany on Wednesday, I’ve been getting a lot of visitors who want to watch the videos on their Android tablets.

And since the UK requires a different set of tricks than the instructions I posted in January 2014, I thought it might be helpful to write a new post just for those with an account so I can share the bad news.

At this time I do not know of a way for anyone with an account to stream Instant Video on their Android device.

There’s a trick where you can use Adobe Flash and the Dolphin web browser to get the service working on most Android tablets, but unfortunately it won’t work with Amazon’s UK website. The trick requires Flash, and does not support that standard.

I can’t tell you why there’s no Flash support, but I can tell you that numerous comments have already been left by frustrated readers who have confirmed the bad news.

All I can say at this point is that I looked for a solution and did not find it. If one turns up in the future I will update this post.


P.S. In the absence of Flash, our only option is to use Microsoft’s Silverlight standard. Unfortunately, Android is not supported – so far as I know. If this changes I will update this post.

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Patent Awarded on System for Libraries to Sell eBooks

Posted: 26 Feb 2014 02:52 PM PST

The USPTO 5623695161_8b6feea9da_m[1]awarded a new patent last week for a system which will enable libraries to sell ebooks to patrons. For the past several years publishers have been pushing libraries to sell ebooks, and now a couple Canadians have a lock on the idea.

US Patent No 8,655,739 was awarded to Ronald Dick and Gordon Freedman of Ottawa Canada, and it describes one way that one way for libraries to generate revenue from ebooks. Here’s how it could work.

A borrower would check out and download an ebook. Once the ebook was opened in the related reading app, the system would track how much of the ebook had been read.  As the lending period ran out and the patron is about to lose access, the system determines whether the reader is going to finish the ebook.  If not, the borrower receives an on-screen offer to buy the ebook on the spot and keep it permanently.

Amazon operates on a similar basis, though their methods are different. As you know, they have partnered with OverDrive to enable their customers to read library ebooks on Kindles and in Kindle apps, and I can speak from first hand experience that Amazon has tried to sell me a copy of the ebook I checked out.

The system discussed in the patent is built on the assumption that borrowers might want to pay for the ability to complete the book at their leisure. There’s also the option for patrons to buy the ebook for another, or even donate it to the library.

That’s a pretty safe assumption for some titles in a library’s collection, but I wouldn’t necessarily expect it to happen all that often. What this patent describes is a digital equivalent of browsing in a bookshop, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who browses more titles than I buy.


The Cite

image by Wiertz Sébastien

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Sony to Close 20 Retail Stores

Posted: 26 Feb 2014 11:45 AM PST

Sonysony-logo announced the shutdown of their US ebookstore earlier this month, and now it seems that wasn’t the only retail effort to go on the chopping block.

The electronics giant announced today that they are shutting down most of their US retail stores. Sony had been selling their own electronics from various mall stores for the past decade, but that’s probably not going to true for much longer. Sony is closing 20 of their remaining 31 retail stores, including both of the stores in my area, leaving them with only 11 stores in the US.

That’s less than a fifth of the 56 stores they reportedly had in 2011, shortly before they closed 11 stores. It looks like Sony has been shutting down stores ever since then, probably when the leases expired.

sony store

Sony had been selling a wide variety of Sony-branded electronics in the stores, including cameras, TVs, tablets, PCs, laptops, and until last October, the Sony Reader.  The last Sony reader was never released in the US, but the earlier models were sold in Sony’s retail stores. I can recall going to see the PRS-700 in the Tysons Corner store in late 2008, and I also picked up the PRS-T2 from that store in late 2012.

Here’s a list of the 20 locations to be shuttered; are any near you?

Camarillo, CA (Camarillo Premium Outlets)

Gilroy, CA (Gilroy Premium Outlets)

Los Angeles, CA (Century City)

San Diego, CA (Las Americas Premium Outlets)

Santa Clara, CA (Valley Fair)

Cherry Creek, CO (Cherry Creek Shopping Center)

Boca Raton, FL (Town Center at Boca Raton)

Miami, FL (Dolphin Mall)

Aurora, IL (Chicago Premium Outlets)

Menlo Park, NJ (Menlo Park Mall)

Wrentham, MA (Wrentham Village Premium Outlets)

Philadelphia, PA (The Market at Comcast Center)

Central Valley, NY (Woodbury Common Outlets)

Las Vegas, NV (Forum Shops at Caesar's)

Dallas, TX (Galleria Dallas)

San Marcos, TX (San Marcos Prime Outlets)

Arlington, VA (Fashion Centre at Pentagon City)

McLean, VA (Tysons Corner)

Seattle, WA (University Village)

Pleasant Prairie, WI (Pleasant Prairie Prime Outlets)


image by HAM guy


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Samsung’s Brand New Galaxy S5 Smartphone Already has a Clone

Posted: 26 Feb 2014 09:57 AM PST

Meet goophone-s5[1]the Goophone S5.

Goophone is a Chinese smartphone maker that has made something of a name for itself over the past few years. They’re well known for cloning smartphones made by many of the major manufacturers (as well as more than a few smaller makers). In some cases, it even churns out multiple clone variants for the same handset.

Over the past year Goophone has gotten rather brazen in copying smartphones. They’ve even been so bold as release copies of the iPhone 5c and 5s as the Goophone i5s and the Goophone i5C, either of which would fool the less observant into thinking Apple had made them.

And now they’ve turned their attention the Galaxy S5.  Samsung’s latest smartphone isn’t even on the market yet, and in fact it was only announced a couple days ago, but it already has a clone.

The Goophone S5 is only hours old, so I doubt that it has a physical existence just yet, but it is listed on the Goophone website.  It probably has no real existence other than as specs on a website,  but vaporware or no they’re pretty impressive specs. It sports a 5″ 1920×1080 display, and it’s going to run Android 4.2 Jelly Bean on a 2GHz MediaTek octa-core CPU with 2GB RAM, 32GB internal storage, Wifi, and Bluetooth.


It also has a 2.8Ah battery and a pair of cameras (13MP and 5MP).  Retail is listed at $300, though of course you should take that figure with a grain of salt.

As you can see in the image above, the Goophone S5 is a virtually identical copy of the Galaxy S5, only without that pesky Samsung brand ruining an otherwise beautiful smartphone.

Unwired View


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Macmillan Now Sells eBooks to Schools in the US, Canada

Posted: 26 Feb 2014 09:23 AM PST

OverDrive 6140017255_815f69e70e_m[1]announced on Wednesday that they had worked out a new deal with Macmillan to make that publishers ebooks available to public and private schools in the US and Canada. Macmillan had previously offered 640 titles to schools in a pilot program, and they are now opening their 12,000-title catalog.

The catalog includes popular titles such as Killing Lincoln by Bill O'Reilly, The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson, Night by Elie Wiesel, Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, The Natural by Bernard Malamud, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah, The American Presidents Series, and many more.

According to the announcement, Macmillan plans to sell ebooks to schools under terms that are are different from what Macmillan offers to libraries. The ebooks are rented to schools under a 1 year expiring license, and are priced at $15 or $17. Libraries, on the other hand, can rent the ebooks for 2 years  at $25 a pop. The key difference is the time frame, and that schools are also free to let as many students check out a title as possible. There’s no one copy, one user rule that limits libraries.

image by thejester100

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Early Google Smartwatch Prototype Leaks Online

Posted: 26 Feb 2014 08:17 AM PST

google smartphwatch motarola 3Google has long been rumored to be working on a smartwatch, with the latest rumors saying that LG was going to have it ready to ship in time for Google I/O in late June.

It turns out that LG wasn’t Google’s first partner for this project; new photos have been leaked online which show a Motorola branded smartwatch which, if the rumors are true, was going to be called the Google Watch.

This smartwatch was a prototype that was developed sometime in 2013 under the codename Gem. If it had been released it would have fallen under the Nexus brand of devices.

There are few hard details which have been shared by the source, but some information can be gleaned from the photos. It’s not clear how big the screen is or its resolution, but we can see that the wristband is rubber and includes an integrated USB dongle – probably for charging and loading data from your PC.  As you can see in the diagram below, there are several buttons on the face and sides of the smartwatch, suggesting that this prototype might not have had a touchscreen.

google smartphwatch motarola 3 google smartphwatch motarola 2 google smartphwatch motarola 4

It’s actually a pretty crude looking design when compared to some of the smartwatches released in the past 6 months, but I’m not sure that had anything to do with it being passed over. This is a prototype, after all, and the final design could have ended up looking considerably different.

Android Police

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B&N Reports Digital Sales Down 50%, But It’s Okay Because They Have a New Tablet in the Works

Posted: 26 Feb 2014 06:50 AM PST

Barnes & Noblebarnes noble logo released their latest quarterly financial report today, and the news is as bad as one could imagine. Sales were down slightly in the retail stores and in the college bookstores, which is bad enough, but sales in the Nook Store dropped through the floor.

B&N reported their third quarter earnings (for the quarter that ended January 25, 2014). Overall revenue fell 10% to $2.0 billion, and EBITDA increased to $173 million from $74 million a year ago.

According to the press release, the B&N the retail unit, including the bookstores and, had revenues of $1.4 billion for the quarter, decreasing 6.3% over the prior year. B&N College, the 600 odd college bookstores which are operated under contract, had revenues of $486 million, decreasing 6.0% as compared to a year ago.

And that brings us to the Nook division. You might want to sit down for this.

According to the B&N press release, revenues for the Nook segment dropped by half as compared to the same quarter last year.

The NOOK segment (including digital content, devices and accessories) had revenues of $157 million for the quarter, decreasing 50.4% from a year ago.  Device and accessories sales were $100 million for the quarter, a decrease of 58.2% from a year ago, due to lower unit selling volume and lower average selling prices.  Digital content sales were $57 million for the quarter, a decline of 26.5% compared to a year ago, due primarily to lower device unit sales.

In spite of the terrible news, it’s not all bad; B&N also reported that they took a smaller loss on the Nook last quarter; their money pit only cost them $60 million EBITA, and not the $190 million loss in the same quarter last year.

One could argue that this is actually good news in that B&N isn’t losing quite so much money, but the losses are going to have to eventually be covered by revenues. What with Nook revenues continuing to decline for the 5th straight quarter, there’s a good chance that revenues will cancel out the losses at about the point that both reach zero.

color_nookBut never mind that; B&N has also shared today that they are planning to release another tablet this year. “The Company is actively engaged in discussions with several world-class hardware partners related to device development as well as content packaging and distribution.” said Michael P. Huseby, Chief Executive Officer of Barnes & Noble, Inc. said in a released statement. “As a result, we plan to launch a new NOOK color device in early fiscal 2015.”

Rumors of said tablet have been circulating since at least last August; at last report it had a model number of BNTV800 and was running Android on an Nvidia Tegra 4 CPU. These details were revealed in a leaked benchmark test in November, and have yet to be confirmed by B&N or by other leaks.

At this point I would think this is another mistake on the part of B&N; as has been pointed out at MobileRead B&N has already lost nearly 1.4 billion dollars investing in hardware. This is not their strength, and since they cannot afford to keep throwing money away I think it would be better for B&N to focus on apps and content.

IMO tablets were B&N’s single greatest error. If they had stuck with Nook ebook readers, and never released the first Nook Color,  B&N could have saved themselves the money invested in the Nook Tablet and Nook HD/HD+, 3 devices no one wanted to buy – not even after the latter two were cheap and shipped with Google Play.

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Microsoft Now Scraping Mobile Sites, Building Pirated WebApps for Windows Phone

Posted: 26 Feb 2014 06:02 AM PST

Mobile nokia[1]apps are better than mobile websites, right? Not necessarily.

Sometimes, such as in the case of Microsoft’s latest efforts for Windows Phone, what you get in the app isn’t better than a website – it’s actually a half-assed effort to cobble together an app – any app – no matter how terrible.

Microsoft is so desperate to have enough apps for Windows Phone that they’ve stooped to building WebApps which are intended to fill in for the brand-name apps which users want but don’t exist.

What’s a WebApp? MS initially conceived of this effort as a way for users to find and pin mobile sites to their Windows Phone, but they’ve since starting scraping mobile websites and building the apps themselves. Add a few screenshots plus a generic description (competing services Trullia and Redfin have virtually identical descriptions) and the app is released to an unsuspecting public – bugs and all. (As anyone who has used Windows can tell you, Microsoft only fixes the bugs after they ship a product.)

b4449096-294a-4a8f-9869-56ffd6ba9b36[1]They’ve been doing this since at least last Fall when Southwest Airlines asked Microsoft to remove its unauthorized web app from the Windows Phone Store. The app was developed by Microsoft, and while it was removed many others remain. Microsoft has slapped together apps for any number of websites and retailers, including Meetup, Coach, Ugg, Redfin, Lowes, Jimmy John's, Orbitz, and many more. MS has been releasing new “apps” on a regular basis.

There are more than 80 of Microsoft’s WebApps apps in the Windows Phone Store at the moment. Some of the apps do have high ratings, but nearly half don’t have any reviews at all, which I suppose is better than bad reviews. At least with no reviews it’s safe to assume that no one hated an app enough to complain.

Of course, it could also mean no one is using said app. The Lowes app has the most reviews (72 and counting); that’s not very many compared to the most popular apps in the Windows Phone Store which often have thousands of reviews.

Microsoft has been quite open about their ongoing and repeated acts of copyright and trademark infringement, telling Geekwire that “Customer response to WebApps has been strong with an average user rating of more than 4 of 5 stars, prompting several companies to take ownership of a WebApp and republish it themselves.”

Microsoft's statement continued, “We've found that the majority of site owners appreciate the fact that WebApps engage more people in the company's own website experience; however, we are happy to work with content owners to resolve any concerns they may have. Website owners are welcome to contact us at“.

They probably see themselves as having been driven to this by the lack of interest from developers and brands. Windows Phone accounts for a negligible share of most smartphone markets, and it’s only in Europe that it managed to crack 10%.




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