Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

The Morning Coffee – 11 April 2014

Posted: 10 Apr 2014 09:39 PM PDT

Top stories this morning include the geology of Game of Thrones (link), a look at why digital textbooks have failed (link), another article on book pricing (link),  and more.

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Facebook is Cleaning up Your News Feed

Posted: 10 Apr 2014 06:09 PM PDT

Facebookfacebook took to their blog today with an update about the news feed. They’re changing the sorting algorithms again, but this time around I don’t think too many people will mind.

Unlike past changes which were designed to thin out the content you saw in order to get pages to pay to get your attention, today’s updates are reportedly designed to filter out spammy, frequently circulated, and like-bait posts.

Pages and Facebook users that post spammy content are now going to be de-emphasized. Facebook says that by “measuring how frequently people on Facebook who visit a link choose to like the original post or share that post with their friends, we've been able to better detect spammy links.” This includes unwanted content like stories that claim to link to a photo album but instead take the viewer to a website with just ads.

The new algorithm is also going to limit the number of times you see the same funny video or cute photo. They say that they are are improving News Feed to de-emphasize the Pages which post the content, which does not strike me as the right solution. I think it would be better to filter the content, not de-emphasize the source.

And finally, Facebook is also going to do more to filter out like-baiting. Like-baiting is when a post explicitly asks News Feed readers to like, comment or share the post in order to get additional distribution beyond what the post would normally receive.

Like this, for example:


The new algorithm is designed to better detect these stories and  make sure that they are not shown more prominently in News Feed than more relevant stories from friends and other Pages.


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Zola Adds Social Features to iPhone, iPad Reading App

Posted: 10 Apr 2014 03:29 PM PDT

Indie ebook zola-books-logoretailer Zola Books rolled out a new update today for their iOS app. (Or at least they planned to release the app today; it’s not available yet.)

When the app is available, readers will be able to read alone or with friends using highlighting, commenting, and sharing. They can use their Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or Goodreads account to either sign in or create a new account.

The new Zola app will enable readers to share with small groups of users such as friends, family, and book clubs within the Zola network – all from inside the ebook they are reading, and it will also let them to share more broadly on Facebook and Twitter. Readers can also follow favorite authors on Zola network to see their comments and annotations in books.

When it is available, you will find the app in iTunes.

Having officially launched on multiple occasions in 2012 and 2013, Zola Books has a checkered history that includes goals like displacing the Kindle Store in 5 to 10 years. Lately the ebookstore has taken more realistic steps, including raising $5.1 million in a funding round in November 2013, and acquiring the book discovery site Bookish in January 2014.

Zola Books currently stocks around 150,000 titles in their ebookstore.

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Amazon to Acquire ComiXology

Posted: 10 Apr 2014 02:06 PM PDT

ComingComiXology-Comics-App nearly 2 weeks after rumors broke about the deal, Amazon announced today that they were acquiring the leading digital comics distributor comiXology.

In one fell swoop Amazon has bought a strong position in yet another digital market.

comiXology is the leading digital comics distributor; it dominates a market where Amazon only has a token presence, and that is probably why Amazon bought them.

With partnerships with over 75 comic book publishers including Marvel and DC, comiXology sells digital comics to millions of readers. They have apps for Android,  iPad, Windows 8, iPhone, and the web browser, as well as the largest digital comic catalog anywhere.

comixology mobilecomiXology has been selling digital comics since July 2009. Amazon, on the other hand, only started selling digital comics in the Kindle Store in November 2011. Amazon’s digital comics efforts launched at the same time as the Kindle Fire, and at first were only available on that device.

Amazon has never disclosed how many digital comics they’ve sold, but it is safe to say that comiXology sells quite a few more. In many ways, comiXology is like Audible, the audiobook distributor Amazon acquired in 2008. Both companies secured control of a market via early investment in tech and aggressive pursuit of partnerships with publishers.

Update: I finally heard back from Amazon, and they told me that, like Amazon’s many other acquisitions, comiXology is going to be operated as a standalone business, with its brand, management team and headquarters in New York City intact. “Amazon, when it buys a working company that's doing a good job, tends to let them spread their wings,” said comiXology co-founder and CEO David Steinberger. “It gives them resources and lets them go on the same path, only faster, better and stronger.”

P.S. This deal had to have been in the works for 6 months or more, and negotiations may even have started before I predicted last July that Amazon should be interested in comiXology. I wish I knew which came first.

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This Pocket-Sized Printer is Cute But Expensive

Posted: 10 Apr 2014 12:32 PM PDT

As a91de1d8535ee1c7afdc4b83191fd34d9_large[1] geek I am always in favor of new gadgety ways of doing things, whether it’s a robot that rolls around on and cleans a tablet screen, or a printer so small that it doubles as a paperweight. Which brings me to today’s geekiest gadget.

There’s a new project up on Kickstarter today which is trying to fund a mobile robotic printer.

Weighing in at 11 ounces, the Mini Mobile Printer from ZUtA Labs packs a couple motors, a circuit board, an ink cartridge, and an inkjet into a cylinder about 4 inches tall and 5 inches in diameter.

The printer works by driving itself across a sheet of paper and depositing ink as it goes. It rides on 4 omni-wheels, and thanks to the unique properties of those wheels this little robot can move in any direction while depositing ink.

It’s by no means the highest resolution printer (the prototype has a resolution of 192dpi x 96dpi, far short of the 1200dpi available in most full sized printers), and due to the size limitations of the shell it is limited to grayscale. But this printer is good enough to print an A4-sized sheet in about a minute. The battery is good for up to an hour, and the cartridge is reportedly good for around a thousand pages before it needs to be replaced.


And all for the low, low price of$180 (the white model costs $200). That is pretty expensive, and not just because the resolution is low and the battery is limited.

I went looking for comparable mobile printers, and the one I like most is the HP OfficeJet 100, which offers 5 colors, high resolution, and can print several pages per minute, all for $120 (refurb) or $199 (new).

True, the HP printer isn’t as cool as the robot shown above but if I were going to buy a mobile printer I would pick one based on how much it would help me get work done. The robot printer shown above is a great conversation starter but as a functional tool it leaves a lot to be desired.



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Longreads Snapped up by Parent Automattic

Posted: 10 Apr 2014 11:38 AM PDT

Longreads longreads-automattic-blog-retina[1]announced on Wednesday that they were being acquired by Automattic. The financial details have not bee disclosed, but Longreads founder Mark Armstrong did say that the service will continue, and that the staff will be joining the editorial staff.

Founded in 2009, Longreads has spent the past 5 years finding and linking to long news articles and columns. The small SF-based company has been linking to stories of more than 1,500 words, highlighting lengthy (but not necessarily good) articles from lesser-known websites as well as from more established publications. With links regularly shared via email, Twitter, and RSS feed,  Longreads (along with its competitor Longform) is well-known in media circles.

Longreads is funded in part by sponsored posts (today’s sponsor was Oyster) and by paid subscriptions ($3 a month). The paying subscribers get a daily email with links to stories; I as a nonpaying subscriber have been getting those links via RSS feed.

Much has been said in the past day about the work of the Longreads staff, but I think the real value for Automattic is the community that has grown around the service. Longreads has over 127 thousand followers on Twitter, and is supported by a far larger group of readers who share stories under the #longreads hastag.

According to Businessweek, Automattic has been trying to expand the company's focus to reading and finding great nuggets on WordPress blogs, and the Longreads community should help there.

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Got a Tablet? T-Mobile Now Offering Free 1GB Mobile Data to Subscribers

Posted: 10 Apr 2014 09:52 AM PDT

In October 2013 tablets-samsung-nexus-blade-1[1]T-Mobile started bundling a free 200MB per month mobile data plan with all tablets bought from them, and today they sweetened the deal.

Dubbed Operation Tablet Freedom, T-Mobile is now encouraging phone subscribers to add their 4G equipped tablet to their T-Mobile account. Anyone who does so will get an additional 1GB of free mobile data added to their monthly limit.

The extra 1GB of data is free until the end of 2014, and it comes in addition to the 200MB that T-Mobile bundles with all tablets. The data can be used either by the tablet or the smartphone connected to the account, and when the promotion runs out at the end of the year, that 1GB of data will cost $10 a month.

The offer is good to any existing subscriber who adds a 4G equipped tablet to their account. And new subscribers can also get in on the deal by signing up for a new account.

T-Mobile is really trying to push mobile data on tablets, so much so that they’re offering a trade in program for Wifi-only tablets. They’ve also dropped the price of their 4G tablets down to the same price as the related Wifi model. That’s going to save upwards of $100, but the offer is only good for a limited time.

These are some pretty generous offers, and with good reason. The most recent data shows that tablet owners use Wifi more than mobile data when they want to browse the internet.  The latest data comes from OpenSignal, which in April of 2013 released a study which showed that:

  • one, data use tended to increase in proportion to screen size, and
  • two, the amount of data sent over Wifi grew at an average rate nearly 4 times as fast as that of mobile data plans.

This makes the tablet a virgin market for telecoms like T-Mobile, and they naturally want to get as many customers signed up as possible.

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It’s Now Illegal to Download Pirated eBooks in The Netherlands

Posted: 10 Apr 2014 08:52 AM PDT

Thanks3752143560_7fb8c27ce5_n[1] to a unique interpretation of their copyright laws, it has long been legal for consumers to download pirated content in the Netherlands, but that is about to change.

The European Court of Justice ruled yesterday that the Netherlands must make downloads of pirated content illegal. The ruling is not yet available online, but according to the press release (PDF), the Netherlands’ existing system of banning uploads while legitimizing downloads via a piracy tax on media (hard disks, flash drives, CDs, etc) does not comply with EU laws and policies.

This ruling was requested by the Hoge Raad der Nederlanden on behalf of a group of manufacturers and importers of blank media. These companies were objecting to having to collect a tax which covered the copying of pirated content in addition to private copying of legitimately purchased content.

Many countries have a similar tax on blank media (Canada, for one), but few countries agree with the Netherlands interpretation of copyright law (Switzerland does). As I understand it, the Netherlands had an explicit piracy tax because the courts had decided that there was no way for consumers to know for sure that the files they were downloaded were legal or pirated.

As much as I dislike the concept of a tax on blank media, I don’t buy that interpretation. And apparently the European Court of Justice doesn’t care for the idea either.

From the press release:

In its judgment delivered today, the Court points out that if Member States were free to adopt legislation permitting, inter alia, reproductions for private use to be made from an unlawful source, the result of that would clearly be detrimental to the proper functioning of the internal market.

Similarly, the objective of proper support for the dissemination of culture may not be achieved by sacrificing strict protection of copyright or by tolerating illegal forms of distribution of counterfeited or pirated works.

The press release goes on to point out that the piracy tax is tacit approval for the piracy, which is counterproductive to the original goal of the private copying levy:

First, to accept that such private reproductions may be made from an unlawful source would encourage the circulation of counterfeited or pirated works, which would inevitably reduce the volume of sales or of lawful transactions relating to the protected works and would consequently have an adverse effect on normal exploitation of those works. Secondly, the application of such national legislation may unreasonably prejudice copyright holders.

press release (PDF)


image by fuzzcat

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FBReader is Adding Support for DRM-ed eBooks – But Not For the Reasons You Think

Posted: 10 Apr 2014 07:43 AM PDT

The fbreaderRussia-based FBReader has long been a DRM holdout among reading apps, but that’s about to change.

FBReader put out a press release on Wednesday with the news that their Android app will soon support DRM (the other apps will gain DRM support later). They have partnered with Intertrust to integrate ExpressPlay DRM into FBReader for Android. ExpressPlay is based on the Marlin DRM standard, and it is wholly incompatible with Adobe’s Epub DRM.

While it might sound strange for FBReader to go with a less common ebook DRM, there is a certain logic to the move.

Marlin is a consortium of tech companies that develops new DRM standards for license. I last mentioned them in 2011 when they announced that they had formulated an ebook DRM standard. No single company controls the standard, which means that unlike Adobe no one is trying to collect transaction fees and certification fees.

Adding ExpressPlay DRM won’t help consumers read their B&N, Kobo, or Google purchased ebooks in FBReader, but it saves FBReader the expense of paying huge fees to Adobe while at the same time giving FBReader an opportunity to license their apps to ebook retailers.

Yes, Adobe is the most recognized name when it comes to Ebook DRM, but they’re not the only supplier. Kobo uses a non-Adobe DRM internally, and so does the ebook subscription service Oyster and the recently launched middle eastern ebook retailer Kotobi (which is confirmed to be using ExpressPlay). And I would bet that there are others which I have not found.

FBReader is adding ExpressPlay DRM because they want to license their reading apps to ebook retailers like Kotobi. I cannot predict whether they will have any success, but I can see how FBReader would be an appealing option.

FBReader has apps for multiple platforms, including Android, iOS (coming soon), Windows, and OSX. It’s been around for close to a decade, and as anyone who uses it can tell you it has received numerous and regular updates. According to the press release, FBReader boasts five million active users and nine million downloads.

The apps currently support a number of DRM-free formats, including Epub, PDF, FB2, Mobi, html, DOC, and rtf. It is highly customizable, allowing readers to choose colors, fonts, page turning animations, dictionaries, bookmarks, etc., to make reading a convenient and completely customizable experience.

It’s not clear how many of those formats or features will work with the new DRM version of FBReader, but I think it is safe to say that a serious contender just joined the reading app market.

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New Gossip: B&N to Spin off Nook Media

Posted: 10 Apr 2014 05:50 AM PDT

An unsubstantiated NOOK sony kobo logoand unconfirmed rumor circulated yesterday that Barnes & Noble was getting ready to spin off Nook Media. The rumor originates with a stock market news service, which reported on it behind a paywall, and it has been picked up by Benzinga.

There is absolutely no evidence to support this rumor being true, but given Barnes & Noble’s history it is not completely out of the question.

Barnes & Noble did spin off their ebook division and college bookstores in 2012, selling stakes to first Microsoft and then to Pearson. And then in 2013 rumors circulated that Len Riggio wanted to split B&N and take the retail stores as a separate company.

This split did not happen, but the rumor did turn out to be true. Riggio wanted to get rid of Nook Media and rescue the retail stores, but later cancelled his plans after Bill Lynch left his position as CEO and Riggio took control of B&N in his position as chairman of the board.

This latest rumor might be a sign that Riggio is moving forward with his plans to completely spin off Nook Media. True, there’s a lot of buzz coming out of B&N that they plan to launch a tablet this summer, and there are signs that they are making moves in to the educational market, but all of that can change in a trice if B&N found a buyer for Nook Media.

And given the ongoing downward sales spiral of B&N’s digital division, I could see why this sale would be a tempting idea.

But is this rumor true? I can’t say. It is certainly not implausible, but that’s not the same thing as being true.

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