Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

The Morning Coffee – 27 March 2014

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 09:21 PM PDT

Top stories this morning include a paean to hardback books (link), the death and rebirth of digital textbooks (link), the value of a book (link), and more.

  • 10 Things A Kindle Can't Do (That A Hardcover Book Can) (Thought Catalog)
  • The absurd ebook case: Apple fights on as consumers spend settlement money at Amazon (GigaOm)
  • "The collaborative penumbra" (Brian O’Leary)
  • Even the biggest and smartest publishers still have a lot to learn about digital marketing (The Passive Voice)
  • Have we forgotten the value of a book? (TeleRead)
  • What Happened When A Digital Textbook Company Was Forced To Redefine Its Customers (Fast Company)
  • Will Atavist Books really 'revolutionize book publishing'? (TeleRead)

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Inkling is Giving up on Digital Textbook Retailing

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 06:06 PM PDT

When I wrote inklingabout Amazon’s Brazilian digital textbook deal last week I argued that it was a sign of a shift in the market, and today I got another piece of evidence that shows I’m right.

There’s an article over on Fast Company about Inkling, the digital textbook startup. It’s well worth your time, but I especially want to highlight a couple points:

When Inkling took their technology beyond simply digitizing textbooks they discovered educational companies who were building adaptive learning platforms, search databases for reference materials and much more sophisticated beyond-the book kinds of products. "That's actually where our technology shines," says McInnis. Today, Inkling applies its technology to all types of reference materials, from cookbooks to medical books for physicians.

The majority of Inkling's revenue now comes from licencing their platform to publishers. "There was a core business model shift where we went from being about consumer retail to being about licensing software to businesses (the publishers themselves)," says McInnis.

While Inkling had originally viewed textbook publishers as necessary evils, they now view them as partners, and while they originally pegged students as their customers they now realize the customer is the publisher. "We thought we were a B-to-C company. We're actually a B-to-B company," says McInnis.

Just like Amazon pursued the Brazilian textbook deal, Inkling has pivoted from generating revenue by selling digital textbooks to licensing their platform. They’re now making more from the latter than from the former.

This ties in fairly well with what I wrote last week concerning Amazon’s deal:

This deal, along with several other unrelated developments, are all signs that the digital textbook market bubble, in particular the one where textbooks were going to be sold to students, is defunct.

Macinnis doesn’t come out and say that there is no market for selling digital textbooks to students, but Inkling is following the same trend I identified last week.

Kno tried to sell digital textbooks to students and went bankrupt, CourseSmart did the same and had to be bought up by a competitor, and Amazon is focusing on industry deals rather than selling digital textbooks at retail.

And now Inkling is focusing on industry deals rather than selling textbooks to students. Use whatever spin you want, but at the very least this says that there is less money in digital textbook retail than the previous hype led us to believe.

This comes as no surprise to me; I’ve been saying that since 2012. I most recently made this point in July 2013 when Inkling raised their latest round of capital. I described the retail market for digital textbooks as tepid, and that was based on a recent survey which showed the vast majority of students choosing not to adopt digital textbooks.

Given that students are (1) involuntary customers with (2) limited funds, I thought it was pretty clear that students would never make up a sizable digital textbook market. And now it would seem that Amazon and Inkling have reached the same conclusion.

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ZTE Unveils the Nubia X6 Smartphone with 6.44″ Display

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 02:41 PM PDT

A few 2014-03-26-image-7[1]weeks ago I suggested that the phablet trend might be dead, but as you can see from ZTE’s latest gadget I was probably wrong. The Nubia X6 sports a screen so large that it is the next best thing to a 7″ tablet.

The latest handset from Chinese smartphone maker ZTE runs Android on a quad-core SnapDragon 801 CPU with 3GB RAM and either 32GB or 64GB Flash storage. It has two 13MP cameras, both with Flash, and the 6.44″ screen has a resolution of 1920 x 1080.

In terms of connectivity, the Nubia X6 has Wifi, Bluetooth, NFC, LTE, CDMA, and more. And not only does this phone have 2 sim card slots, it also has 3 microphones, suggesting that it may incorporate the nifty noise cancellation tech that Qualcomm showed off at CES 2014.

2014-03-26-image-8[1] 2014-03-26-image-7[1] 640x957xnubia-x6-launch-hero.jpg.pagespeed.ic.HKS8J5qZ8t[1] 2014-03-26-image-9[1]

The Nubia X6 is up for pre-order as of writing in China with a price tag of $HK 5,010, or about $646 USD, for the model with 32GB Flash storage and a 2.3GHz CPU. The 64GB model will of course cost more and have a 2.5GHz CPU. While that price tag might seem high, I think the specs more than justify the price.


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Defunct Indie eBook Retailer BooksOnBoard Files Antitrust Lawsuit Against Apple, 5 Publishers

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 12:28 PM PDT

BooksOnBoardbooksonboard may have abruptly gone out of business last April but that doesn’t mean it’s completely gone. Some remnant is still active, and last week it filed an antitrust lawsuit.

Abbey House Media, the Texas-based company that owned and ran BooksOnBoard, filed a lawsuit in Manhattan last Friday. The lawsuit alleges that Apple colluded with 5 publishers, HarperCollins, Hachette, Macmillan, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster, to raise the price of ebooks and artificially restrict competition via price controls.

They’re basically making the same argument as the one Diesel eBooks made when that ebookstore filed its suit a couple weeks ago. Both parties are pointing to the lawsuit which the Department of Justice filed against Apple and the publishers in April 2012. The 5 publishers settled before trial, but Apple lost in July 2013.

BooksOnBoard (and Diesel eBooks) are arguing that they are two of the parties harmed by conspiracy, with BooksOnBoard even going so far as to claim that Agency is what killed it. (Diesel eBooks isn’t quite dead yet, but it is shutting down 5 days from now.)

According to the complaint, BooksOnBoard says that before Agency took effect in April 2010, they were the largest independent ebook retailer in the United States, with revenue behind only Amazon and Barnes & Noble. (I think they are exaggerating for effect.)

This retailer launched in 2006, before the Kindle, and they built their customer base via aggressive pricing of their large ebook catalog. But all of that changed in 2010. “Once Apple and the publisher defendants entered into their price-fixing agreement, however, BooksOnBoard was no longer able to offer its favorable pricing,” the lawsuit states. “After years of steady growth, in April 2010 — right after the imposition of agency — BooksOnBoard quickly went under for all intents and purposes.”

While I do believe that they suffered under Agency, I also think that the claim that Agency killed BoB in April 2010 is rather hyperbolic. The retailer didn’t cease operations until April 2013, so their demise was not nearly as sudden as they would make it sound. Rather, the death of BooksOnBoard more closely resembles a case of slow strangulation rather than a sudden act of violence.

But how BooksOnBoard died isn’t really that important; what matters is that Agency made it much more difficult for this retailer to compete effectively. Rather than foster competition, as many in publishing industry have claimed, Agency pricing discouraged buyers from shopping around, thus making it harder for the smaller retailers to attract and keep customers.

And I’m sure it didn’t help the indies that shortly after Agency came to pass, ereader prices dropped through the floor. That encouraged readers to buy a device tied to one of the majors and then primarily shop with that major ebook retailer.

As ex-retailers, BooksOnBoard and Diesel eBooks have no further need of publishers as a source of content. This removes what little disincentive remained  to discourage the retailers from filing suit, which means that they can keep pursuing this lawsuit until they either lose or their lawyers quit.

I do not expect the publishers or Apple to settle this lawsuit, so this is probably going to drag out over several years. Barring some unexpected ruling, I would place the over-under at 3 years.

Thanks, Anne!

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HTC’s News Reader App Will Soon be Available for All Android Devices

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 10:07 AM PDT

HTC blinkfeedlaunched a new smartphone yesterday, and along with an impressive piece of hardware they also unveiled new versions of their proprietary camera, news and other apps. Some time in the near future those apps will be available for all Android devices.

This includes Blinkfeed, HTC’s news reader app.

Based on the screenshots and description, Blinkfeed looks to offer a similar user experience to what can be found on Samsung’s new Galaxy Pro line of tablets.  It brings many news sources to your home screen, enabling readers to get all of their social feeds, calendar events, news, music and content arranged and constantly updated in one place.

The app is intended to work with a user’s mobile data plan, but it also has an offline reading mode and it can be restricted to only downloading via Wifi.

blinkfeed 1

Based on the timestamps on the reviews and Youtube videos, the app has been around for at least a year, but to be perfectly honest this is the first I had heard of it. I look forward to giving it a shot when it is available.

You can find the app in Google Play. Of course, if you don’t have an HTC device it won’t do you much good at the moment.



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OverDrive Abandons Support for their Blackberry App

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 08:35 AM PDT

Due to blackberry overdrive devicesdeclining sales, Blackberry has long since stopped being one of the major tablet and smartphone makers, so today’s news should come as no surprise.

The library ebook vendor OverDrive sent out an email this morning  to their library partners, announcing that they were withdrawing the OverDrive Media Console app from the Blackberry App World.

It seems that the app, which ran on the BB Playbook as well as Blackberry smartphones, is only used by a fraction of a percent of library patrons and has been steadily losing users over the past few months. Rather than simply let the app wither on the vine, OverDrive is formally abandoning it.  This is in fact the better option than simply stopping development without telling anyone (which happens far too often with apps).

Update: A reader has informed me that the Blackberry app is the same app as the Media Console Android app. Anyone who has a Blackberry device can simply sideload the existing Android app, which is available on the OverDrive website. I’m told that app runs well on the Blackberry, leading me to wonder why OverDrive didn’t simply update the app that was available in BB App World rather than remove it.

Here’s the text of the email:

Effective April 10, 2014, the OverDrive Media Console (OMC) mobile app for BlackBerry will no longer be available to download on BlackBerry, BlackBerry 10, and Playbook devices.

BlackBerry users with the app installed prior to April 10 will be able to continue downloading eBooks and audiobooks via OMC. However, no further development or testing will be dedicated to it.

In the past year, OMC for BlackBerry has experienced a steady decline in downloads. Only .3% of all visitors to digital library websites come from a BlackBerry device. After much consideration, OverDrive has decided to remove the app from BlackBerry App World and continue to focus our development efforts on more widely used platforms such as iOS and Android—both of which have more daily downloads than BlackBerry has monthly.

As of October 2013, OverDrive was the leading library ebook distributor in the world. With over 27,000 partner library and schools in 36 countries around the world, OverDrive is far larger than 3M Cloud Library, Ingram’s MyiLibrary, or Baker & Taylor’s Axis360.


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Scribd Adds New Travel Books Section to their eBook Subscription Service

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 07:50 AM PDT

Scribdscribd-logo-blk_100x28 announced on Wednesday that they had signed a deal with Lonely Planet. This travel publisher is going to be the anchor for Scribd’s new travel section, and readers will find all of Lonely Planet’s best selling travel guidebooks as well as their other titles.

Scribd launched their ebook subscription service in October 2013, and by February 2014 the service grew to offer a catalog second only to the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library. Readers can subscribe to Scribd and read from a collection of over 300,000 titles, including backlist tiles from publishers like HarperCollins, Sourcebooks, and Kensington, as well as indie titles distributed by Smashwords.

The service  costs $8.99 per month, and readers can access the ebooks via Scribd’s apps for Android, iOS, and the web browser.


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Barnes & Noble Now Issuing Refunds for the eBooks Antitrust Settlement

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 05:49 AM PDT

Amazon may6355360253_30e095425d_n[1] have been the first ebook retailer to issue a credit for ebooks purchased during the agency era but they’re not the only to do so.

B&N has also started sending out emails, notifying customers that they are now a member of the moneyed classes.

Like Amazon, B&N is issuing a store credit to its customers. Any B&N customer who has bought an ebook published by Hachette, HarperCollns, Macmillan, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster between 1 April 2010 and 21 May 2012 should be getting an email.

Under the terms of the refund agreement, customers will be getting a minimum of $.73 for each Agency ebook they bought during that period. If a title hit the NY Times best seller list then the customer will be getting $3.17.

The credits being issued by B&N come from the same pool of money as the credits Amazon was issuing yesterday.  Both are funded by the $166 million settlement that Hachette, HarperCollns, Macmillan, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster paid to the DOJ when they settled the antitrust lawsuit which was filed in 2012. It’s been over a year since the last publisher (Macmillan) settled, but these things move slowly.

According to the official antitrust settlement website, Google, and Sony will be sending out checks rather than issuing store credits and Apple will be issuing a credit in iTunes. It’s not clear how Kobo is going to proceed, but the website did note that smaller ebook retailers will also be sending out refund checks.

I didn't buy very many agency priced ebooks in this period and I didn’t buy any from Barnes & Noble, so I have not received a credit. Did you get any money from B&N?

image by 401(K) 2013

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The Pocketbook Aqua is All Wet (video)

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 05:01 AM PDT

Pocketbook’spocketbook aqua new waterproof ereader isn’t the most impressive ebook reader out there but it is probably the cheapest waterproof model on or off the market.

Les Numériques caught up with Pocketbook last week at the Salon du Livre, and they got a chance to dunk the new Pocketbook Aqua to confirm that it was waterproof. This is a fairly basic ereader with a low resolution 6″ E-ink screen, 4GB Flash storage, Wifi, and a touchscreen, but no frontlight or microSD card slot.

It has specs about on the same level as the Pocketbook Basic Touch, a 69 euro ebook reader, but due to the additional cost of waterproofing the Pocketbook Aqua is going to cost 109 euros in Germany when it ships in the next few weeks. The Aqua is certified for the IP57 standard for dust and water resistance, meaning that it can be submerged in up to a meter of water for up to 30 minutes.

At 109 euros, this is a pretty expensive ereader considering the basic specs. On the other hand, the Aqua does cost abut $70 cheaper than an aftermarket Kindle Paperwhite from Waterfi, which costs $219. Waterfi offers an aftermarket service which waterproof mobile electronics, and they’ve been selling the KPW since May 2013. They also sell a number of tablet and mp3 players, in case you’re interested.

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It’s Official – Diesel eBooks is Shutting Down in Five Days

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 04:02 AM PDT

When I 186284-1-m[1]reported the speculation yesterday that Diesel eBooks might be shutting down in 5 days, I was hoping that I had gotten the story wrong. Sadly, that’s not the case.

I have just received official notice from Diesel eBooks that they are turning off the lights at the end of March. It basically said the same thing as the message on the support page:

Diesel eBooks will be closing at the end of this month. It’s been a great ride!  We’re exploring our options – eBooks are still in the infant years and there are many opportunities opening up now and in the future.

IMPORTANT: you must download your eBooks by month end. Downloads will not be possible on April 1st.  We want to thank you for being such loyal customers. Understand this doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t see Diesel in another form in the near future.

If you have not received an email yet, I can explain; Diesel eBooks’s email system is broken. I in fact got 16 copies of this one email, all sent within a single minute. Chances are the system is eating as many emails as it is sending, so some Diesel eBooks customers may never get a notice.

If you want confirmation, go check out the home page over at Diesel eBooks. Earlier this morning they posted an announcement banner with the news that they’re shutting down.

Diesel eBooks was founded in 2004, during the pre-Kindle ebook era. It sold a number of ebook formats over the years, including eReader, Mobipocket, MSReader, PDF, and Epub. Most of those ebook formats predeceased Diesel eBooks, which says something about how much the ebook market has changed over the years. This retailer also expanded into selling ebook readers from 2009, and they also offered a rewards program and ebook bundles.

I’ve bought ebooks from them over the years (mainly in the pre-agency era). It was an okay site with decent prices, customer service, and tech support, and that should have been enough to keep it competitive. Unfortunately, Diesel eBooks is one of the smaller indie ebook retailers that never really recovered from Agency Pricing.

When the 5 publishers started the agency era in early 2010, the first thing they did was cancel existing contracts with ebook retailers and renegotiate. Guess who were the publishers’ lowest priority for signing the new contracts? Indies like Diesel eBooks. It took some indies months and months to get the new contracts signed, and that cost them a competitive disadvantage.

And under the new system, the ebook retailers were unable to lower their prices on any of the titles published by the big 6, which limited their ability to attract and keep customers. Yes, fixed ebook prices may have prevented Amazon’s price-gouging, but it also helped discourage customers from shopping around. That made it a heck of a lot harder for indies to pry customers away from the majors.

Diesel eBooks is now the second indie ebookstore to fail in the past year. The first was BooksOnBoard, which abruptly ceased operations last April. I doubt they will be the last.

Edit: I should also add that Diesel eBooks may not be totally dead. A few weeks ago its owners filed an antitrust suit against the 5 publishers and Apple that made up the Price Fix 6.  Should they win the lawsuit they might be able to reopen.

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