Thursday, 6 February 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

The Morning Coffee – 7 February 2013

Posted: 06 Feb 2014 09:30 PM PST

Due to a general lack of newsworthy events, I have a short list for you this morning. Top stories include 6 great blogs for indie authors (link), JKRowling’s regret about Harry, Ron, and Hermione (link), and more.

  • All Science Should Be Taught With Pop-Up Books Like This One (Gizmodo)
  • DRM Is The Right To Make Up Your Own Copyright Laws (Techdirt)
  • Is Sony’s Exit From The Ebook Business In North America A Model For Barnes & Noble’s Nook? (Forbes)
  • J.K. Rowling Harry Potter Regret | Shared with the world? (TeleRead)
  • Six Great Blogs for Indie Authors (The Passive Voice)
  • Sony Should Have Been A Digital Contender (Forrester Blogs)

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No, The Sony Kobo Deal is Not a Model for Barnes & Noble’s Nook

Posted: 06 Feb 2014 09:11 PM PST

I’m NOOK sony kobo logosure you’ve read the news today about Sony and Kobo. The former is bailing on the US ebook market, and as one last kindness to their customers they’ve convinced Kobo to take them in, while the latter is going to gain a few thousand more customers.

This deal is generating a lot of debate and punditry, including a new article over on Forbes. Someone thinks it would be a good idea for B&N to follow in Sony’s footsteps. While at first I thought it sounded ike a horrible idea, it’s actually not all that implausible:

Sony and Kobo are both thought to be very minor players in the U.S. ebook market. I doubt the move will add too many readers to Kobo's rolls. The company wouldn't tell me how many accounts are being transferred but in its press release announcing the move, it claimed the same 18 million worldwide users as it has claimed in other recent announcements.

This could be a good model for Nook, which many in the publishing industry expect to be shuttered or sold before the end of 2014. Nook is Barnes & Noble's device and ebook business and it has been faltering badly for nearly two years. While it still brings in over $100 million in revenue every quarter, it loses much more than that and revenues have been shrinking rather than growing.

That’s a terrible idea, and but as much as I might hate it I am afraid it might actually happen.

And just to be clear, I’m not referring to the possibility that B&N might sell out (I wish); I want to examine the Forbes proposal that B&N might simply walk away.

The thing is, Sony didn’t sell out; they threw in the towel. They bailed on the US ebook market because the revenue probably didn’t meet their expectations, and on their way out the door they asked Kobo take in the soon to be orphan customers (Sony’s last friendly act of customer service).

The US Sony Reader Store isn’t going to be transferred to new ownership; it’s going to be dismantled. I’m sure no one thinks that would be a good solution for B&N’s problems with the Nook, but they could still do it.

All it would take would be for B&n to perform a cold cost benefit analysis and decide that the ongoing hemorrhage of money outweighed the negative publicity. I would have reached that conclusion months ago, so it’s not impossible for B&N to reach the same conclusion in the near future.

And here’s how the result of that analysis might play out.

B&N’s first step would be to fire nearly everyone working at Nook Media. Not counting the people who have left over the past 6 months, that’s somewhere around 600 people, most of whom work in either Palo Alto or NYC. This would take the development teams that B&N spent years and a ton of money putting together and cast them to the wind, completely throwing away all that work, but if B&N is walking away from ebooks I don’t think they would care.

Next, B&N would have to find another company to take over the customer accounts. (Actually, this would come first, but I wanted to be melodramatic about the firings.) This could be Kobo, but Apple and Amazon are out. The latter would never get regulatory approval, while the former wouldn’t deign to support customers that didn’t own Apple hardware. And I doubt Kobo would be able to take over the accounts; I think Amazon would do their best to block regulatory approval for a B&N-Kobo deal.

As a result, that leaves just one company as the most likely candidate to take over the charred remains of the Nook Store: Microsoft. Remember, MS already owns a chuck of Nook Media, and the international Nook Store appears to operate under Microsoft’s auspices (it’s Windows 8 only). And that makes MS the best candidate to keep the Nook customer accounts from going in the shredder.

MS would probably abandon the Android apps, the iPad and iPhone apps, the OSX app, and maybe even the Windows apps, but they would at least keep the Windows 8 app going. And MS would keep many readers from suffering the same fate as Fictionwise’s international customers (left in the cold when B&N shut Fictionwise down).

Sure, almost no one would be able to read their ebooks because they didn’t run Windows 8, but at least their investment wouldn’t be completely gone.

But I’m not sure that would matter much on the larger scheme of things, because if B&N simply abandoned their Nook customers to MS I think most of those customers would flee for a safer harbor.

They would go running to Amazon.

Sure, they would keep reading their existing ebooks (assuming they still had access), but future purchases would be made in the Kindle Store – where it’s safe to assume that the ebooks will not vanish in the night. After all, many people might hate Amazon but who would you trust more, Amazon or MS?

In short, if B&N followed in Sony’s footsteps Amazon would come out a huge winner. And for that reason alone we should all be hoping that B&N doesn’t simply throw in the towel.

What do you think?

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Piper Verlag Launches a Traveling eBook Library in Germany

Posted: 06 Feb 2014 03:46 PM PST

Authorstime4books and publishers are always seeking new opportunities to promote their books, whether it’s via QR codes in portapotties, letting readers sample books on a train, or in the case of Piper Verlag, serving up book excerpts to bus riders.

The German publisher Piper announced a new partnership this week with City2City, a German bus company. Riders on one of the bus company’s routes will now have the option of reading excerpts of books published by Piper Verlag.

The program is called Time4Books, and it’s pretty simple. Passengers are given a flyer when they board the bus which has a number of QR codes printed on it.  the passengers can scan the code and use the bus’s Wifi to go to website and read the excerpt, which is formatted as a mobile friendly webpage which can be read on a tablet, smartphone, or a laptop. The excerpts are long enough to last an expected 35 minutes.

Piper Verlag currently offers 10 excerpts, and they plan to rotate more of their catalog through the program and add new titles every few months.

This program is not too dissimilar to one launched by the Catalan Government Railways in April 2012. The publisher partner in that program was Random House Mondadori, which cooperated to provide excerpts of Spanish and Catalan language books for passengers to read.

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Sony Gets Out of eBooks, Hands Customers to Kobo

Posted: 06 Feb 2014 10:33 AM PST

Sony’s400px-Sony_Reader_Store_logo.svg_[1] on again off again relationship with ebooks is off once again.

Earlier today Sony announced that they are shutting down the US and Canadian branch of the Sony Reader Store. There’s no news yet on the UK, European, Japanese, or Australian branches, but starting in March Sony’s North American customers will need to find a new place to find a new place to buy ebooks.

Sony is replacing their ebookstore and reading app in the NA market with a newly announced partnership with Kobo. The Kobo Android app will replace Sony’s app on Sony’s tablets and smartphones, and Kobo will also sell ebooks for the Sony Reader. The transition will start in the next few weeks, and by the end of March Sony and Kobo plan to have all Sony customers migrated to the Kobo Store.

Few might remember, but the two companies have worked together in the past. When Sony initially launched the Sony Reader in Australia in September 2010, they did not have an ebookstore. Instead they directed their customers to the Kobo store, which supplied ebooks to Sony Reader owners for a couple years. Sony didn’t launch the Reader Store in Australian until May 2013.


Like the last 2 Sony Readers, the PRS-T3 has an ebookstore on the device. It’s not clear at this time whether that ebookstore will continue to operate or whether owners of the PTS-T3 (and earlier models) will be required to side load all of their ebooks via USB. The press release suggests that users will still be able to buy ebooks from the device, but I am working to confirm that (the FAQ confirms it).

sony readerThe Sony Reader PRS-T3 was never released in the US when it was announced last Fall, but it was released in Canada. That seemed like a strange move at the time but now it would appear that the new arrangement with Kobo might have been in the works at that time.

Sony is not by any stretch of the imagination a major player in the ebook market, but I had thought I understood their interest. I had concluded in May 2013 that Sony’s interest in ebooks matched Apple’s and Samsung’s; all 3 companies were more interested in the hardware the ebooks were read on (tablets and smartphones) and saw the ebooks as a compliment to the gadgets.

This also explained why Sony invested in (limited) Epub3 support in their iPad and iPhone apps, and expanded the Reader Store with a kid’s book section that focused on enhanced ebooks (in Epub3).

Now I don’t know what to think. But that’s okay; I’m not sure that even Sony knows what they plan to do with ebooks next.

P.S. In related news, Sony also recently sold off their PC division to a Japanese investment fund, Japan Industrial Partners (JIP).

image via Engadget

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Amazon Buys Game Studio Double Helix Games – Rumored Gaming Console Now Nearly a Certainty

Posted: 06 Feb 2014 08:50 AM PST

Theamazon_instant_video_google_tv_1-580x326 hot news this week is about Amazon expanding their existing gaming division with the acquisition of one of the leading indie gaming studio, thus making it very likely that they have a gaming console in the pipeline.

TechCrunch broke the news:

Amazon has acquired a gaming studio called Double Helix Games, TechCrunch has learned, and Amazon now confirms. The deal was for both talent and IP, we understand. Financial terms have not been disclosed.

The Irvine, California-based company, founded in 2007 through the merger of two well-known game development shops, The Collective, Inc. and Shiny Entertainment, today employs 75 people who will now become Amazon employees and will continue to operate out of their Orange County home.

Amazon had already been developing games on a small scale; you can find some of their efforts in the Amazon Appstore and in the Kindle Store (yes, the games can be played on the Kindle). But with the acquisition of Double Helix, Amazon is clearly building toward a much larger scale effort in the gaming market.

kindle fire gaming

Amazon’s current gaming efforts

Double Helix makes a game called Killer Instinct, and they (or the 2 studios that merged to become Double Helix) also made a bunch of great games before that as well as tie-in games for titles like Star Wars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Matrix, and others.

Basically this acquisition is a case of Amazon buying one of their suppliers. Amazon bought Double Helix for the same reason they bought Liquavista, Mobipocket, or Kiva Systems; each company had skills or tech Amazon wanted, so rather than hiring the smaller company Amazon aqui-hired (bought) what they needed.

Or at least it would be a case of Amazon buying one of their suppliers, if not for the fact that Amazon doesn’t have a gaming platform that would merit a studio as good as Double Helix – yet.

That yet is the key detail here, IMO. At this point I would say that it is a near certainty that Amazon is going to release a console / set top box, and I am basing that prediction on Amazon now having a flagship game title with no platform to put it on.

But will it be profitable or even a good idea? That’s another question.

Amazon’s rumored gaming console / set top box last appeared in the news last week, when one gaming blog reported that they had inside sources at gaming studios which said that it existed and was being pitched to said gaming studios.

I covered the story at the time, and in the ensuing debate in the comment section one reader asked whether it was already too late for Amazon. Felix made the point that there were high end and reasonably new consoles as well as much cheaper last generation consoles ($150 Xbox 360, for example) on the market. Also, Amazon’s competitors have a lot of games and established user bases, and that raises the question how exactly would Amazon be able to compete effectively?

It’s not like this is the ebook market, which Amazon effectively created, or the music market, which is sufficiently generic that simply selling MP3 is enough. Console gaming is built on selling consoles, and it’s not clear how Amazon can offer a better value proposition than their competition.

TBH, after Felix laid out his arguments I was half convinced that the console would never see the light of day. It didn’t make any sense once you looked at the state of the market (which I summed up above). But now that Amazon owns Double Helix I am not so sure.

In any case, the usual rule is to wait for a real hardware leak before believing in rumors and that hasn’t happened yet. We also haven’t seen any technical details on the console, so at this point it is little more than an urban legend.

Stay tuned.

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Debunking the “Self-Pub Shit Volcano” – Not Shit, Nor a Problem, And is it Not Going Away

Posted: 06 Feb 2014 05:20 AM PST

There’s been a story building over the past week about self-published ebooks. According to Chuck Wendig, the massive volume of self-published titles has resulted in a “shit volcano” of worthless content. Another blogger picked up the story, and then yesterday Mike Cane jumped in with the prediction that Amazon would eventually take steps to clean up the Kindle Store.

If you have time today you might want to read these posts. But if you don’t have time, don’t worry. This line of reasoning is arguably flawed in that it is focusing the wrong problem, and it is safe to simply ignore it (especially since Chuck Wendig’s post is so long).

That last link leads to one of Mike Cane’s post which was published yesterday. Mike is usually right about these kind of things, which is why I posted that article last night.

But in this case it’s much more likely that he is wrong. As Mackay Bell pointed out in the comments, this is the new normal:

We heard the exact same arguments about blogging and You Tube. How can Blogger continue to allow anyone to create a site for free? They will have to start charging. Not yet. Same with You Tube. Google can't possibly continue to allow people to post any video on line, they'll have to start limiting it. Didn't happen. (Same arguments about photo sharing sites, as I recall.)

Welcome to the digital age. It costs almost nothing to allow people to post this stuff, and the benefits to the companies that allow it are enormous for the small portion of stuff that turns out to be valuable.

This is true, and the same generalized comment could be made about every platform that is built on user-generated content, including Tumblr, Facebook, WordPress, Flickr, etc.

And now that we have a new perspective on the problem, I have a question for you: Would you describe the many, many Youtube channels with poor quality video as a shit volcano? Would you say that about the many badly written blogs?

What about the many podcasts in iTunes, or the excessive number of duplicate apps in iTunes, Google Play, and elsewhere? Surely those are shit volcanoes which need to be cleaned up, right?

I wouldn’t say so; all that content is merely the dross which I ignore while searching for the good stuff. In fact, I hadn’t even thought of the unwanted content on Youtube, et al until Mackay left that comment, that’s how well I have ignored it. All that excess and possibly bad content isn’t a problem for me, much less one deserving of the title of shit volcano.

And if we don’t call that other user-generated content a shit volcano then is it really correct to apply the term to self-published ebooks?

Again, I would say no.

I think Chuck Wendig’s original argument is flawed. The problem we should be looking at isn’t the volume of content or its quality; the problem is how to sort through the dross and find the good stuff.

The term we’re looking for now is discovery, which basically means connecting readers with their next read, and I’m not convinced discovery is a problem, either.

This whole discussion started with Chuck telling us to go look at 10 ebooks at random in the Kindle Store so we cans see how many are terrible.

Okay, we can do that but does anyone really use that as a way to find new content?

I don’t. Like most other readers I listen to recommendations, check free ebook sites, and read descriptions and reviews in order to tell whether I might like a book. I don’t usually grab ebooks at random in the Kindle Store, so the enormous mass of ebooks don’t bother me at all.

In short, the “self-pub shit volcano” is no more of a problem than my current dilemma of deciding whether I should get my morning sandwich from McDonalds, Panera, or the local coffee shop.

It’s the new normal, so there’s little reason to complain about it.

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