Monday, 19 May 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

The Morning Coffee – 20 May 2014

Posted: 19 May 2014 09:30 PM PDT

Top stories this morning include a satirical take on, well, you just have to read it (link), how censorship killed the early golden age of comics (link), more problems with speed reading apps (link), translation issues at AmazonCrossing (link), and more.

  • How Censors Killed The Weird, Experimental, Progressive Golden Age Of Comics (Buzzfeed)
  • I’m Gilligan Mothafucka (On Public Relations)
  • Kobo Reviews Coming Soon… (YOURS IN STORYTELLING…)
  • Luxembourg is not France, and other reasons why French translators are right to be mad at AmazonCrossing (MobyLives)
  • One-Third Of Hungarians Do Not Care Whether They Read Books Legally Or Illegally (Daily News Hungary)
  • Publishers Weekly Gets Into the Self-Publishing Business (GalleyCat)
  • Speed Reading App Disadvantages (Business Insider)
  • University Presses: "Under Fire" or Just Under the Gun (Like the Rest of Us)? (The Scholarly Kitchen)

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New Authors Group Hasn’t Even Launched and It’s Already the Victim of FUD

Posted: 19 May 2014 08:13 PM PDT

4736550347_d193a8e485_b[1]Have you heard about the Authors Alliance? It’s a new forward-looking authors trade group which first broke cover last week in Publishers Weekly, and even though it won’t formally launch until later this week it is already the subject of strife.

From PW:

For authors in the digital age, with an ever-broadening set of interests and goals, the Authors Guild is no longer the only game in town when it comes to advocacy. On May 21, the Authors Alliance will officially launch. Formed in the wake of the Google library litigation by University California Berkeley law professor Pamela Samuelson (among others) the Authors Alliance endeavors "to further the public interest in facilitating widespread access to works of authorship by helping authors navigate the opportunities and challenges of the digital age.” It will be also be a "voice for authors in discussions about public and institutional policies that might promote or inhibit broad dissemination."

PW  interviewed one of the founder of the Authors Alliance. I think that article is worth your time to read, but for the purposes of this post I am going to skip to the juicy catfighting which has already broken out.

One  The Authors Guild board member took to The AG’s blog last Friday to post a “warning” about this new group. It start out with this:

If any of you earn a living as a writer, or hope to, I strongly urge you not to join the Authors Alliance. If you think authors should be the ones to decide what is done with their books, then I strongly urge you not to join.

However, if you are an academic, or scorn the idea of making a living from writing as a quest for "fame and fortune," the Authors Alliance may be the organization for you. If you think, in our digital age, that the biggest problem facing authors is how hard it is to give your work away for free, it's for you. If you think you've got too much power over people who copy and distribute your work without your permission, by all means sign up. Even if you agree with one or two things advocated by the Authors Alliance, if you join you lend weight to its entire agenda.

And it goes downhill from there.

At a time when The Authors Guild should be building bridges, trying to bolster their ranks, and making peace, they have instead chosen to take an inflammatory and divisive position that is guaranteed to alienate many people like myself who weren’t happy about The Authors Guild’s positions in the first place.

I had suspected that The Authors Guild would not react well if they ever faced direct competition as spokesgroup for book writers, but I didn’t think they would descend into FUD quite so quickly.

From Wikipedia:

Fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) is a tactic used in sales, marketing, public relations,politics, and propaganda.

FUD is generally a strategic attempt to influence perception by disseminating negative and dubious or false information. An individual firm, for example, might use FUD to invite unfavorable opinions and speculation about a competitor’s product; to increase the general estimation of switching costs among current customers; or to maintain leverage over a current business partner who could potentially become a rival.

If you think I’m wrong to call it FUD, feel free to call me out in the comments.

But after having read that post 3 times today and after looking up the founders of the Authors Alliance, I can’t help but conclude that the post is slanted and conveys dubious, inaccurate, and misleading information about the Authors Alliance.

I can’t think of a better word to describe that post on The Authors Guild blog than FUD. Can you?

image by Jason Hargrove

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National Journal Shuts Down Their Public Comment Section

Posted: 19 May 2014 04:28 PM PDT

2427929_83bc5084e9_b[1]Citing comments which “debased” and “cheapened” the discussion, the political news magazine National Journal announced today that they were shutting down the public comment section for the indefinite future:

Some sites have responded by devoting substantial time and effort to monitoring and editing comments, but we’d rather put our resources into the journalism that brings readers to National Journal in the first place. So, today we’ll join the growing number of sites that are choosing to forgo public comments on most stories.

We think there are better ways to foster the dialogue we all want. We’re going to start by leaving the comment sections open and visible to National Journal‘s members, a group that’s highly unlikely to live by Godwin’s Law.

By only allowing members to leave a comment, the NJ is in effect pursuing a “real name” policy similar to that of Facebook. Given that this site covers an inherently divisive topic, I’m not sure that’s going to help. (It also doesn’t help that the sign up process appears to be broken). But this will tend to discourage the more casual troll, so it is better than nothing.

News sites have tried various solutions to the comment troll problem, including signing up for comment management services like Disquis, turning to Facebook comments, or shutting down the comment section entirely.

Just last month the Chicago Sun-Times turned off their comments section. Pointing out that “a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader’s perception of a story”, Popular Science did the same in September 2013.

And then there are sites which sidestepped the problem entirely. Quartz, for example, enabled readers to leave inline annotations rather than comments, and Vox, a news "explainer" site, launched last month with no comment section at all.

Perhaps the most famous attempt at curbing online trolls was in South Korea, which started requiring commenters to use their real name in 2007. This was scrapped in 2011 because it was deemed largely ineffective at curbing trolls.

At this point there doesn’t seem to be a one size fits all solution, and the effort to encourage civil online discourse continues.

image by Genista


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Smashwords Adds Txtr to its Distribution Network

Posted: 19 May 2014 01:53 PM PDT

txtr+SmashwordsSmashwords announced on Monday that they had signed a new distribution agreement with txtr, the Berlin-based ebook company. Authors and publishers  who distribute their ebooks via Smashwords can now elect to also sell their titles via txtr and the ebookstores it operates.

Smashwords currently distributes 290,000 titles to over a dozen ebook retailers and service providers. Its distribution network includes ebook subscription companies Scribd and Oyster, ebook retailers like iBooks, Flipkart, and Kobo, and even one library ebook provider (Axis 360).

Txtr orignially launched in 2008 with the goal of launching an ereader, but today they are what is technically known as a whitelabel ebookstore operator. They developed a platform to run an ebookstore (including ebook apps), and then licensed that platform to other companies.

In addition to running their own ebookstores in a dozen markets around the world, txtr also powers the ebookstore run by the UK-based retailer Foyle, and they have partnered with Duetsche Telecom in a couple markets in Eastern Europe. Txtr’s highest profile partner used to be Sony; before Sony shut down the Reader Store a few weeks ago txtr supplied Sony’s ebookstores in Germany and the UK, and probably other markets.

Txtr will sell Smashwords titles at the price set by the author or publisher (no discounting), or at the local currency equivalent, and authors will earn 60% of the list price (minus VAT and taxes). The first Smashwords titles will begin appearing for sale at txtr on Friday.


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Amazon is Giving Away an $8 PDF App Today

Posted: 19 May 2014 10:55 AM PDT

Adobe41+guWaqEGL Reader and the many other free PDF apps for Android usually do an adequate job in displaying a PDF, but this blogger likes to pick up as many different alternative apps as he can find.

For example, today’s free app in the Amazon Appstore is PDF Max. It usually costs $7.99, but today Amazon is giving it away for free. PDF Max supports annotations, filling out forms, text reflow, and text to speech. It features Dropbox integration, and it also enables users to edit, delete, or insert pages into existing PDFs.


The post Amazon is Giving Away an $8 PDF App Today appeared first on The Digital Reader.

New Author Earnings Report Shows Growing Revenues for Authors

Posted: 19 May 2014 10:10 AM PDT

logo-ae[1]It’s been some 3 months since Hugh Howey released the first Author Earnings Report, and he’s back again today to deliver another installment.

The new report takes a one-day snapshot of the Kindle Store’s best seller lists and computes the relative number of indie, self-published, and traditionally published titles, the relative earnings for each type of author,  and so on. That’s pretty much what the first report did, only with fewer titles (~50,000). This new report pulled data for 85,000 titles from the Kindle Store’s best seller list, and it confirms what Howey told us back in February.

Self-published authors make up 38% of the titles on lists (this number includes the uncategorized single author publishers), with medium and indie publishers (43%) and the Big 5 (18%) making up most of the rest. The last 1% is Amazon.

UL-85-50[1]Self-published authors make up a slightly larger share in the new report (+2%), and the Big 5 make up a smaller share (-2%.) It’s not clear whether the self-published are making gains or that more of the bottom of the best seller list is taken up by self-published titles.

Part of the reason I am expressing doubt is that the unit sales report is virtually the same as the one from February. Self-published authors sold an estimated 36% of copies of books which made the list ( this again includes the uncategorized single author publishers as self-published).

The only difference with the earlier report on unit sales is that small and medium publishers picked up a +4% sales volume at the expense of the Big 5 and Amazon.



The report goes on to detail the gross revenue estimates (the Big 5 earn most of the money, of course) and an estimate of daily revenues to authors. You can find that information over at the Author Earnings website.

Hugh says in the report that they plan to continue to run new reports each quarter. As they get more data they hope to start seeing trends in how the market is shifting.

Do you know what I would like to see?

I think it would be useful to run a similar report on Amazon’s print book sale,. That way we would know if self-published authors are having similar success in print.

It’s a lot harder to do a POD self-pub title than to put out an ebook, so there’s a chance that self-published authors will have less of a presence in that area. Unfortunately, we won’t know until someone goes and checks. Any volunteers?

Author Earnings

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A Different Take on That Amazon Studio Arrangement Patent

Posted: 19 May 2014 06:46 AM PDT

amazon-studio-patent_3[1]When word got around a couple weeks ago that Amazon had received a patent for an obvious photography studio trick, many bloggers had fun heckling Amazon (for filing) and the US Patent Office (for awarding) a patent which documented a trick that photographers had been using for decades.

Amazon’s patent covers a process for taking a photo against a white background with the goal of reducing the number of shadows and other blemishes in the resulting image. This is an old photographer’s trick which  is so well established, as some have pointed out, that you can find how to guides and demo videos online which explain the steps involved.

So this patent is clearly a strong argument for patent reform, right? Amazon has patented the digital photography equivalent of sliced bread, right?

Maybe not.

Rebecca Allen, posting over on her blog, writes about her take on the patent.  She read it and concluded that it is something new:

Here’s what the patent is: set up your studio like this and you will have a photo of a subject that is brightly lit with no shadows (actually, there’s usually something below the feet, if it is a human model standing, but why go there?) and a completely translucent background without having to do ANY post-processing whatsoever. Everyone invoking photography and studio set ups from before the digital era has Comprehensively Missed the Point.

So why would Amazon want this and why wouldn’t everyone have already figured out how to do this? You can tell that people _had not_ figured out how to do this, because it is Dead Easy to find people asking how to avoid, minimize or expedite the post-processing hassle of removing shadows and lines and so forth and getting answers that focus on making the PhotoShoppery easy and effective vs. avoiding it entirely. R. is able to find both film (the crazy awesome wonderfulness of Elsa Dorfman) and digital photographers who have gone a long way down the all white background/brightly lit path, but it is stupidly easy to play Find the Shadow/Detect the Light Source. (Remember: I’m not a photographer, so if I can do this easily, it MUST be stupidly easy.)

… Why did Amazon do it? Two reasons: it’s incredibly labor saving (cheap!) once the hassle of setting up the studio is amortized over millions of photographs. And it creates a Look without looking like it is a Look. The Amazon item photo is unbelievably recognizable, but you probably never even noticed that.

One could argue that a common trick like this is too obvious to deserve a patent, but I think that misses the point. This is a trick which photographers are trying to perfect, and one which everyone shares tips online. If this were obvious then there would be no need to share tips online.

In short, Amazon has a patent on perfecting a trick that photographers have struggled with for decades. Amazon might not be the first to get it right but they are the first to document their success.

And for that, they got a patent.

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gReader v3.7.0 Adds New Themes, Features, and More

Posted: 19 May 2014 05:03 AM PDT

greader logoGoogle Reader may have gone to that great server in the sky but many of its competitors live on.

gReader got a major update over the weekend which added many new features and improvements, including an option to export the list of feeds you follow, new blue and green color themes, as well as improvements to a number of existing features.

You can find the app in Google Play. If you want to pair gReader with another news reader service like BazQux, Feedly, InoReader, NewsBlur, or Feedbin, you’ll need to get the News+ app.


  • NEW: 2 new beautiful themes: Blue and Green
  • NEW: Custom notification for feeds (Pro)
  • NEW: Create shortcut for subscriptions/tags
  • NEW: Change settings in Tasker : Synchronization, Offline Usage, Notification, Theme
  • NEW: OPML Export (Manage Sources)
  • IMPROVED: RSS Reader (local) loading feed information
  • IMPROVED: OPML Import (RSS Reader only)
  • IMPROVED: Sort by feed now sorts like Manage sources
  • FIXED: Display issue on some websites (cache contents should be saved again)

Android Police

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