Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

The Morning Coffee – 21 April 2014

Posted: 20 Apr 2014 09:27 PM PDT

Top stories this Monday morning include a site which shows just how badly women are objectified in comics (link), a review of the Kindle for Samsung app (link), Facebook’s Paper update (link), a post on the correct way to capitalize a title (link), and more.

The post The Morning Coffee – 21 April 2014 appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Barnes & Noble Launches New e-Textbook App – Yuzu

Posted: 20 Apr 2014 06:16 PM PDT

Barnes & NobleYuzu_iPad_logo[1] quietly launched the beta version of a new digital textbook app earlier this month. It’s called Yuzu, and it is currently available for the iPad and for web browsers.

Yuzu is a digital education platform that Barnes & Noble says is going to “make the everyday learning experience remarkably gratifying”. Few details are available at this time, but B&N says that the new platform will support “the collaborative, free flow of information between learners and educators”.

When it officially launches this summer Yuzu is going to be B&N’s replacement for NookStudy, which according to the website has already been retired. At this point it looks like Yuzu is an entirely new platform, and it would appear that Yuzu does not share the same accounts as the Nook Store or NookStudy. In fact, one of the FAQs I found says that Yuzu is not compatible with NookStudy textbooks.

The app is currently only available for Internet Explorer and Safari 6.1/7 (but not Firefox), and for iPads running iOS7, and it is far from complete. While the app does run in IE, all I can do is play around with the set up process. I can create terms and add courses to a term, but I cannot actually read any content. There’s no option for uploading my own files, and Yuzu’s bookstore has not yet been enabled.

yuzu app internet explorer

At this point we have little more to go on than B&N’s own description, and it makes Yuzu sound more like a digital textbook app like iBooks or Nook Study than an educational and academic app like iTunes U. Like its predecessor NookStudy, Yuzu offers students a next-generation reading and note-taking experience in a simple app, but it also improves on NookStudy by making it easier for educators to provide course materials.

FacultyEnlight_logo_RGB[1]In addition to launching the Yuzu platform, B&N is also tying in FacultyEnlight. This is a website where educators can assemble academic materials into course packs, and from what I can tell B&N launched it in 2011 (if not earlier). Educators  can search for the textbooks and other academic material they need, and then build a required and recommended textbook list for a class.

FacultyEnlight is very much focused on the college market, so I would bet that it is also tied in to the 600 plus college bookstore websites run by B&N College. On a related note, the site also prompts educators to sell their original course materials via Nook Press, where they will end up in the Nook Store – and probably Yuzu as well.

Yuzu is only available for IE, Safari, and the iPad, but I have been told that B&N plans to have a Yuzu Android app and support for more web browsers by the time the platform launches this summer.

The Digital Reader was the first to report earlier this year that Barnes & Noble was turning their attention to the digital education market (I scooped the official announcement by about 3 weeks). At the time I was hopeful that this pivot could save B&N’s digital division, but now I am not so sure that it will.

Everything I have read today suggests that Barnes & Noble is pursuing a retail strategy where they will sell (or rent) digital textbooks to students. Given the general failure of the digital textbook market, this does not bode well for B&N.

Over the past six months we have seen several digital textbook providers go bankrupt, sell out to their competition, or pivot to serve a new market. Kno was acquired out of bankruptcy by Intel, Coursesmart was sold off to its competitor, and Inkling pivoted to a new business model based on licensing its tech to publishers.

I predicted about a month ago that the future of digital textbooks is in publishers selling to schools, not retail. If B&N is going to ignore that trend then I expect that Yuzu is even more doomed than the Nook platform.

On the other hand, B&N does have an advantage that none of the startups could claim; B&N runs over 600 college bookstores. This gives them a market presence that few other than Follett (which also runs college bookstores) can match.

And in any case, it is too early to say for sure how B&N will generate revenue; they might be planning to use a different model than selling digital textbooks to cash-strapped students. We shall have to wait and see.


The post Barnes & Noble Launches New e-Textbook App – Yuzu appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Lawsuit Alleges Amazon is Rigging Prices to Cover Shipping Costs

Posted: 20 Apr 2014 10:16 AM PDT

A amazon frownlawsuit has been winding its way through the courts over the past couple months,  but it hasn’t gotten much attention in the press yet.

A group of consumers in Washington state are suing because sometimes the “free shipping” price Amazon offers to Prime members is more expensive than prices offered by 3rd-party sellers:

The argument is pretty straight forward. Amazon customers pay $79 a year for Amazon Prime, which gives members free two-day shipping on Prime-Eligible products. Amazon is being accused of encouraging vendors, who use Amazon to ship its items (referred to as Fulfillment by Amazon or FBA), of marking up the prices of these items to ultimately include shipping charges. Further, Amazon allegedly then gives these vendors priority by showing their items first in the Prime Member's product search results.

By raising the price of the product, the lawsuit contends that Amazon is able to recoup the cost of shipping because it receives a percentage of the product's price.

"The routine inclusion and encouragement of inclusion of shipping charges in the prices of FBA Prime-Eligible items constitutes a breach of Amazon's promise to Prime Program Members that shipping charges would not be included in the prices of items offered for sale as FBA Prime-Eligible, and violates Amazon's agreement that shipping would be 'free'."

Amazon recently increased the cost of a Prime membership to $99, and in exchange for that fee consumers are supposed to get free ebooks, free ebook loans, free streaming video, and reduced shipping costs including free 2-day shipping.

This blogger is willing to bet that this case is without merit. If there were merit then the lawsuit would have been filed years ago.

Washington state law says that a retailer can’t proclaim a free option and then simply bundle the cost into the retail price, and it is easy to see that this is not what Amazon is doing here. Amazon does not force Prime members to pay the prime price, nor do they block non-Prime members from paying that price. Prime members can pay the Prime price and get free 2-day shipping, and non-Prime members can also pay that price – and then pay extra for 2-day shipping (Thanks, Purple Lady!). In other words, the cost of shipping is not bundled.

On a related note, the state of Washington  has already looked into this; they have an office of consumer protection to investigate such issues. Fighting Deceptive Internet Sales Practices is listed as one of its main interests, but curiously enough Amazon is not listed as one of the companies sued or under investigation:

  • ATT Mobility
  • TJX
  • Dish
  • Direct TV
  • Tattoo Media

Amazon has been offering Prime since 2006, and Amazon has continued to offer the membership program for all that time. If Amazon were breaking the law don’t you think the state of Washington (not to mention the 49 other states) would have sued Amazon in court by now and forced Amazon to change the way Prime works?

Admittedly, the website has not been updated in several years (there’s no mention of the ebook price-fixing lawsuit) but any case against Amazon would have run its course by now and made it into the news. Given that the ebook antitrust lawsuit was filed a little over 2 years after Apple negotiated a consumer-unfriendly contracts with the 5 publishers, I would think that the state of Washington could have sued Amazon by now – assuming Amazon was breaking the law.

I can’t find any news reports of Amazon being sued over this (aside from this one case), and I know that the retailer has been sued any number of times in Europe for violating their competition laws, including for acts as simple as offering free shipping on books sold in France and Germany (it was ruled an illegal discount).

Did I miss something?

If so, the comments are open.

The post Lawsuit Alleges Amazon is Rigging Prices to Cover Shipping Costs appeared first on The Digital Reader.

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