Monday, 24 March 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

The Morning Coffee – 25 March 2014

Posted: 24 Mar 2014 09:30 PM PDT

Top stories this Tuesday morning include DBW noticing that Apple has supplanted B&N as the second largest US ebook retailer (link) – a conclusion which I reached 2 months ago, a look at floppy book sequels (link), a silly copyright infringement claim (link),, and more

  • 5 Tips for Running a Little Free Library (BOOK RIOT)
  • British Library Says It’s Copyright Infringement To Take Photos Inside The Library (Techdirt)
  • Is Apple Now the No. 2 Ebook Retailer in the U.S.? (DBW)
  • Kids take plot into their hands in new interactive eBook (iKids)
  • Long Awaited Book Sequels… That Completely Flopped (HuffPost)
  • Mark Haddon launches online petition against prisoner’s book ban (The Guardian)

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Cloud Storage Firm Box Files for IPO

Posted: 24 Mar 2014 05:08 PM PDT

Box,[1]one of the many cloud storage services with an enterprise focus, filed the initial paperwork today for their IPO. According the the SEC, Box is seeking to raise up to $250 million in the initial public offering.

Box is not a name that you’d read often on this blog, and that is generally because the company has been focused on signing businesses and not consumers. Just about the only times the name has come across my radar is when the Box app was bundled on to budget tablets. The app came with a promise of 5GB of free cloud storage.

This service provider boasts 25 million registered users and 34,000 paying corporate customers. Its 513 employees had generated revenues  $124.2 million for the year ending January 31, 2013. That’s more than double the revenues from the previous year, but I wouldn’t celebrate just yet. Losses also widened from $112.6 million to $168.6 million over the same period as Box poured more money into growth.

Box is seeking to raise a far smaller sum than its larger and more successful rival, Dropbox. That firm recently raised $350 million from private investors and boasts 200 million (mostly non-paying) users.

Around a quarter of Box is owned by the venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson.  The second largest investor, US Venture Partners, own 13% of the company.Other investors include General Atlantic (8.4%), Scale Venture Partners (7.4%), Bessemer Venture Partners (5.6%), Meritech Capital Partners (5.1%), and co-founder and CEO Aaron Levie owns 4.1%.


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Got an Unpublished College Thesis? This Vanity Press Will Help You Get it into Print

Posted: 24 Mar 2014 02:04 PM PDT

Self-publishedThe joy of seeing your work in print. authors have long known to be wary of vanity presses like Author Solutions and other Penguin Random House subsidiaries, and this may have inspired one predatory operation to pursue a new field with unsuspecting victims: academia.

Joseph Stromberg, writing over at Slate, recently chronicled his experiences with LAP Lambert Academic Publishing, a vanity press bent on publishing all of the theses and academic papers it can.

While LAP Lambert doesn’t take the usual route of trying to sell authors unnecessary services, it is eager to publish any paper, no matter the lack of quality, proofreading, or length, and it does still pressure its victims to buy POD copies of the papers they already own.

Oh, and they grab exclusive rights to the paper, too:

The contract told me—as I'd already learned from the blog posts—that I'd transfer the exclusive right to print my thesis to AV Akademikerverlag GmbH & Co. KG, the German company that owned LAP Lambert. (I could still let people download the thesis digitally, if I wasn't making a profit.) They'd pay for all publishing costs, and I'd get 12 percent of the book's royalties, but only if they cleared 50 euros per month for a calendar year—otherwise, I'd just get credit to use in buying other LAP Lambert books. I was responsible for making sure the text didn't contain plagiarism and that I had the right to sell it in the first place. They would set the retail price and could suggest corrections to any grammar or spelling errors they came across. I clicked on the link she'd sent, digitally signed the agreement, and was told to start uploading my thesis.

The terms are actually only slightly worse than what is demanded by most publishers of academic journals (I’m looking at you Elsevier and Springer). Sure, there aren’t any reports of authors seeing a dime from the sale of their paper, but that is again no worse than publishers of academic journals. So if LAP Lambert had stopped here they would at best count as a nuisance.

But if LAP Lambert had stopped at simply spamming online bookstores everywhere with unproofed, poorly produced POD books then they would not be a vanity press. They appear to make most of their revenue from selling to authors:

My book was on the verge of being published, and I had a very special opportunity: If I acted now, I could buy multiple copies of it at deeply discounted prices. The standard price for the 128-page book was 49.90 euro (about $68), but I could get five copies for 32.90 euro each, or 20 copies for 29.90 euro each, and if I was prepared to buy 200 copies, I could have each for 22.90 euro. As part of the prepublication deal, if I bought a number of copies at any one of these levels, all future retail shoppers would get to purchase the book at the same price I'd paid, even if they bought just a single copy.

LAP Lambert uses a number of hard sale tactics to try to pressure authors into buying copies of their own papers, including guilt, optimism, and hostility:

  • We agreed to provide you free ISBN, free cataloguing of your book in thousands of bookstores, free book cover, market coverage, support and assistance. We are now offering you the opportunity to support your project.
  • You can also purchase some copies and market them in your locality or maybe even sell them at your own price, thus not only generating profit, but also getting to know your target audience and perhaps establishing valuable contacts.
  • We would have thought that you would have at least liked to have some copies of your new published book and that is why proposed this offer to you in the first place. Maybe you have not realized the importance of having some printed copies of your book in hand?

Stromberg reports that his book made it through LAP Lambert with no sign that it had even been looked at by a person. The book has a generic cover, and it is lying in wait for unsuspecting readers at a number of bookstores, including Amazon, B&N, and elsewhere.

The joy of seeing your work in print.

LAP Lambert is merely one small cog in a book mill. It’s part of an enormous German publishing conglomerate called VDM which boasts 78 imprints and 27 subsidiary houses. It publishes content in English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Russian. The parent company of LAP Lambert likes to boast that they publish 50,000 titles per month, making them the publishing industry’s equivalent of a content farm.

You’ve probably encountered their work. In addition to spamming bookstores with unedited academic papers, VDM is also notorious for churning out books based entirely on copied Wikipedia articles.

You can find any number of examples of VDM's efforts at their online bookstore,

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Nokia, Microsoft now Expect Their $7.2 Billion Deal to Close in April

Posted: 24 Mar 2014 12:17 PM PDT

Microsoft's Nokia CEO Stephen Elop and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announce plans for a broad strategic partnership to build a new global mobile ecosystem at a press conference in London, UK February 11, 2011. Nokia and Microsoft plan to form a broad strategic partneacquisition of Nokia's hardware business has hit a few hurdles since it was initially announced last September, but it’s still going to happen. Microsoft announced late last night that the deal to form MicroNokiaSoft is set to be completed by April.

Microsoft is spending $7.2 billion to buy Nokia’s struggling hardware and services business, a move which is expected to boost their hardware divisions as well as give Microsoft control over the primary maker of Windows Phones.

The deal was supposed to have closed this quarter but it is still wending its way through the various regulatory bodies. According to Nokia, “the transaction is pending approvals from certain antitrust authorities in Asia which are still conducting their reviews”. Microsoft says that the deal has been approved by regulatory authorities in 15 markets on five continents so far.

The deal is still awaiting approval in China, and it is expected to run into problems in India.

Nokia smartphones running Windows Phone

Nokia smartphones running Windows Phone

Both Google and Samsung have asked Chinese authorities to consider how the deal could impact patent licensing fees, and in India the deal might get caught up in an existing tax dispute. Nokia owns factories in India, some of which will be transferred to Microsoft, and one Indian state has filed suit over unpaid taxes on smartphones produced there.

But it does not appear that Nokia is too concerned. According to the Nokia statement, the  "ongoing tax proceedings in India have no bearing on the timing of the closing or the material deal terms of the anticipated transaction between Nokia and Microsoft."

Nokia is the leading maker of Windows Phones, and they have also partnered with Microsoft to produce several tablets. But even though the 2 companies have close ties, Nokia has continued to develop devices running other OSes, including a recently announced line of budget smartphones which run a customized version of Android.

Nokia, Microsoft


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Zola Books Partners with NY Public Library, Will Supply New Book Recommendation Engine

Posted: 24 Mar 2014 09:22 AM PDT

Whennew-york-public-library-new-logo[1] indie ebookstore Zola Books bought the ebook recommendation site Bookish in January, most pundits expected that the one site would be folded into the other. Few probably could have predicted today’s news.

The New York Public Library has announced a new partnership with Zola Books today. The library is adding a new book recommendation system to its online catalog, and that new system is going to be powered by Bookish.

This site, which was announced in 2011 but launched in 2013, was originally developed by a consortium of 3 major US publishers (Simon & Schuster,Hachette, and Penguin) as a marketing tool. The site was intended to promote books, and it was chiefly know for its recommendation engine.

Bookish uses an algorithm that identifies recommended books based on similar characteristics. Unlike the NYPL’s current recommendation system, which based its suggestions on the books that other readers were checking out, Bookish recommends books based on dozens of attributes, including a books’ metadata, the awards it may have one, and so on.

So how well does it work? That I don’t know for sure, but obviously it works well enough for the NYPL to offer a contract to Zola Books.

“Discovering great books on library shelves when I was a kid made me the huge reader I am today. To be able to partner with one of the best libraries in the world to offer the serendipity of book discovery online through Bookish Recommends is a tremendous thrill”, said Joe Regal, CEO of Zola Books.

The new recommendation system is expected to be integrated into the NYPL catalog in the next few weeks. That catalog is supported by BiblioCommons, an independent tech firm that has contracts to support the catalogs of  close to 70 public libraries, including ones in the US, Canada, and elsewhere.

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Indie eBook Retailer Diesel eBooks Files Antitrust Lawsuit Over Agency Pricing

Posted: 24 Mar 2014 08:22 AM PDT

Here’s a186284-1-m[1] two week old story that doesn’t seem to have gotten much attention.

Diesel eBooks, one of the lesser known (but still thriving) ebook retailers in the US, filed an antitrust lawsuit earlier this month. This retailer is alleging that it was harmed when 5 publishers conspired to bring about agency pricing. HarperCollins, Hachette, Macmillan, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster are all named in the suit, with Apple as the lead defendant.

I was wondering when this would happen.

Ever since the 5 publishers settled the antitrust lawsuit brought against them by the DOJ in 2012 I had been waiting for ebook retailers to file a similar lawsuit. The DOJ settlement only dealt with restitution for consumers that were forced to pay a higher price for ebooks, but they weren’t the only affected party.

Agency Pricing enabled publishers to control the retail prices of the ebooks they published, and that control restricted ebookstores from competing by selling the ebooks at a cheaper price. In short, Diesel eBooks is arguing that Agency artificially restrained the ability of Diesel eBooks to compete in the market.

Would anyone care to make a bet as to how long it will take before the publishers settle? Given that they have already tacitly admitted to the conspiracy when they settled with the DOJ, any defense they might mount in this case will be weak. I would like to say that they have no defense, but that doesn’t mean they cannot stall the case with motions, appeals, and other tricks. They might even be able to win on a technicality.

Apple, on the other hand, is probably going to fight this case as vigorously as they are continuing to appeal the antitrust lawsuit brought by the DOJ. Apple may have lost that case, but they are continuing to fight it on appeal. And they might win, too.

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Dual-Screen Smartphone Maker Yota Devices Adds Investor

Posted: 24 Mar 2014 07:42 AM PDT

Yota yotaphne hands onDevices, makers of the eye-catching Yotaphone, announced late last week tha they had a new investor. This 5 year old Russian firm has confimed that they are now partially owned by Rostec, a state run investment firm.

Rostec is primarily known as a defense corporation, but the company also invests in civilian tech like the Yotaphone. They took control of a 25% stake in Yota Devices in late December 2013 by exercising one of their existing options. Rostec had owned an interest in another larger mobile-technology firm which used to own Yota Devices before it was spun off in 2011.

According to a Yota Devices spokesperson, no money changed hands as part of the deal. The spokesperson went on to add that the firm doesn’t expect that the new ownership stake will affect its operations, though given the ongoing international crisis in the Ukraine I am not so sure I would agree with that point.

Yota Devices is best know for making the dual-screen Yotaphone, a novel smartphone that combines 2 screens, one LCD and the other E-ink, on a svelte slab style smartphone.


The first Yotaphone, which shipped in December 2013, is available in Russia, Germany, France, Austria, and Spain, and it will go on sale in the UK this week. That model sports a 4.3″ LCD screen and a 4.3″ E-ink screen, and retails for 499 euros.

The second-gen Yotaphone, which was unveiled last month, has a 5″ AMOLED screen and a 4.7″ E-ink screen. This model is expected to ship in Europe and Asia in Fall 2014.



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New Tax Laws Could Increase UK eBook Prices by as Much as 20%

Posted: 24 Mar 2014 06:14 AM PDT

Starting 5937492532_7d626bacd1_n[1]in January 2015, the UK is going to give consumers a good reason to learn how to use a VPN while buying content online.

The Guardian is reporting that the next budget for the UK includes a rather nasty clause that closes the Luxembourg tax loophole enjoyed by Apple, Google, Amazon, and other online sellers:

George Osborne’s latest budget could spell an end to 99p song downloads by closing a tax loophole that meant consumers were paying VAT at very low foreign rates on online purchases of books, music and apps.

The chancellor will bring in new laws making sure that internet downloads are taxed in the country where they are purchased, meaning web firms such as Amazon and Apple will have to charge the UK’s 20% rate of VAT. At the moment they are allowed to sell digital downloads through countries such as Luxembourg, where the tax rate is as low as 3%.

This should really come as no surprise. Remember, the European Commission announced in September that the EU tax laws on digital content would be changing by 2015. Today’s story merely reflects the UK complying with the new EU regulations.

Under the new rules, retailers are going to be required to collect VAT based on the location of the customer. The change will affect all retailers, but it’s only going to be a nuisance for online stores.

The old rule required retailers to collect based on their location. This encouraged some retailers to shift their digital operations to an EU member country which offered a lower VAT, thus enabling that retailer to have a slight competitive advantage. For example, Apple, Google, et al had been enjoying a Luxembourg tax loophole since that Duchy illegally lowered their VAT on digital content in December 2011. They dropped it to 3% from 15%, their regular VAT rate.

So how much will the ebook prices really increase?

At this point no one knows for sure, but the official estimates are suggesting that this move could add £300 million in tax revenues as retailers jack up prices.

But to be honest, I’m not sure Amazon is going to increase their prices. They do charge authors and publishers a delivery fee which is deducted from the 70% payment option, and that might be enough to balance out most of the extra taxes they will be required to collect. Sure, this might sting Amazon’s pocketbook, but it would also give them an advantage that will hurt their competitors even more.

The Guardian

image by me and the sysop


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