Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

Microsoft’s Surface Mini Tablet is the Walking Dead

Posted: 22 May 2014 02:42 PM PDT

microsoft surface mini 2By the time Microsoft’s Surface press event came to a close on Tuesday the biggest surprise wasn’t the specs for the Surface Pro 3, or the faux drop test, or the prices, but what wasn’t announced.

Microsoft was widely expected to launch the Surface Mini on Tuesday, but that didn’t happen. Instead, new reports on Tuesday suggested that the Surface Mini, which had been rumored to be in the works since last year, was pulled at the last second.

Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella and Executive Vice President Stephen Elop decided that the product in development wasn't different enough from rivals and probably wouldn't be a hit, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans weren't public. Engineers had been working on the device and had planned to unveil it as early as today at an event in New York, two of the people said.

And now it seems that the tablet was pulled at what might literally have been the 11th hour. A new unnamed source has indicated that the initial production run had already begun, “with thousands – 15,000-20,000 of them – having already been made, and which now are sitting somewhere, locked up, waiting to see the light of day”.

According to unnamed sources and leaked product listings, the Surface Mini was supposed to have an 8″ screen, run Windows RT on a Qualcomm chip, and ship minus the kickstand that is the Surface tablets most distinctive feature. It was supposed to look like this:

surface mini 3There was even a case with a detachable BT keyboard, but I suppose that will never see the light of day (not unless it happens to fit another 8″ tablet).

No one knows for sure why the tablet was canceled, but the general consensus of the unnamed sources is that Microsoft’s senior management figured out that it would probably be a flop. Given that you can get excellent 8″ Windows 8 tablets in the $200 to $300 price range, that is probably true.

But now it would seem that Microsoft could be holding it in anticipation of a new version of Windows RT:

And it’s also widely believed that Myerson’s team is in the midst of revamping the version of Windows that runs on ARM so that the same version of Windows will be able to run on ARM-based Windows Phones and smaller ARM-based Windows tablets.

There is also a report that the Surface Mini is waiting on the new version of Office:

The other reason we have heard – and this one comes from a source who has provided credible information in the past – is that Microsoft is now waiting for the touch-based version of Office to arrive, which should be this fall, according to the last bits we heard about Gemini.

If I had to guess, I would say that both rumors will prove to be wrong. Oh, the new version of Windows RT is plausible, and so is the new version of Office, but I still think he Surface Mini is dead.

The Surface Mini doesn’t have any of the advantages of the Surface Pro 3. That larger tablet has few direct competitors with a similar sized screen and equally powerful CPU. The Surface Mini, on the other hand, has more competitors than you can shake a stick at – and all those competitors run Windows 8.

Really, the only surprise with the Mini was that it took Microsoft so long to kill it.

The post Microsoft’s Surface Mini Tablet is the Walking Dead appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Library Journal, BiblioBoard Launch a Self-Pub eBook Discovery Service for Libraries

Posted: 22 May 2014 12:41 PM PDT

web_banner_self-e[1]Ask any author and they’ll tell you that getting noticed is difficult. Whether it’s bookstores or ebookstores, getting and keeping the attention of potential buyers can be tricky, and this truism extends to the library ebook market as well.

And that’s where BiblioBoard and Library Journal come in. Today they are announcing the launch of Self-e, a new discovery service that is designed to help librarians find good self-published ebooks.

Using Self-e's submission portal, authors can submit their self-published ebooks for review by Library Journal. The ebooks will be put through a comprehensive curation process where LJ will evaluate and select the most interesting titles. The ebooks will be made available to libraries via BiblioBoard in curated genre collections that participating public libraries can make available to their patrons all over the United States.

This is as much a distribution deal as it is discovery, so I think it is worth noting that this is not quite the same deal as what Smashwords and OverDrive announced earlier this week. BiblioBoard operates under ReadersFirst principles, which in this case means that the ebooks will be available to library patrons without limit or the need to check out or return a title.

As a user, I like this plan, but this might not appeal to all authors. Fortunately Self-e is nonexclusive, giving authors the option of also distributing through Smashwords or other platforms.

There’s no cost to the author, and any title not accepted for the curated collections can still be submitted for the localized state modules with other local authors. Library Journal will not curate these modules, but will be offering them in order to provide libraries with an opportunity to highlight  ebooks by local authors.

Self-e is available today, and the first collections are set to be released early next year.

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HarperCollins Inks Deal With Kid’s eBook Subscription Service Epic

Posted: 22 May 2014 09:17 AM PDT

epic logoHot on the heels of yesterday’s news about Simon & Schuster comes  a new report from HarperCollins.

HarperCollins expanded their support for the subscription ebook market earlier today with a new deal with Epic, a children's subscription service. This deal makes HarperCollins Epic’s 25th publishing partner, addding around 1,000 HC titles to the service and boosting Epic’s catalog to more than 4,000 ebooks from a variety of publishers including S&S, Kids Can Press, Lerner Publishing Group, and Open Road Integrated Media.

Kids can read as many ebooks as they like for only $10 a month. The Epic service supports up to 4 profiles on each account, enabling a family to share. Alas, it is only available on the iPad at the moment, but that should change in the future.

Epic is focused more on reading skills and less on entertainment, and the ebooks in their catalog do not offer audio, animation, or the interactive effects which can often be found in children’s ebooks. In addition to the curated library, the service offers a book recommendation engine, badges, gaming-like rewards, offline reading and time-spent reading data for parents.

Launched in January 2014, Epic is focused on the niche kids ebook market, where they have lots of competition. In addition to Reading Rainbow, Sesame Street, and other services, Epic is also competing against Kindle FreeTime Unlimited, Amazon’s Kindle Fire focused service. FreeTime Unlimited costs $5 to $10 a month, and offers access to a catalog of "thousands of the most popular books, games, apps, and shows".

But with 4,000 titles, Epic has a larger catalog than most of their competition, and that should make them more than capable of dominating the market.


The post HarperCollins Inks Deal With Kid’s eBook Subscription Service Epic appeared first on The Digital Reader.

eBook Bundling Service BitLit Picks up New Capital from Angel investors

Posted: 22 May 2014 08:21 AM PDT

BitLit-App-Logo-with-Name-on-transparent[1]Vancouver-based ebook startup BitLit announced on Thursday that they had closed a seed round of funding. The amount of the round was not disclosed.

BitLit, which launched last year, has developed a platform which enables publishers to bundle an ebook or other digital content with their paper books.In mnay ways it is similar to the Amazon Matchbook program, only free of Amazon’s tentacles. Also, it is platform agnostic.

The Bitlit system is based around an app for Android and iOS, and it requires a camera-equipped smartphone or tablet. In order for a book buyer to get the free ebook, they need to take an identifying photo of the book’s cover and of the personalized copyright page (you have to write your name in the book). Once the book owner has taken the 2 photos and uploaded them to BitLit, they will get an email with links to the ebook in DRM-free Kindle and Epub formats.

Bitlit’s new investors include former Kobo CEO Michael Serbinis along with Mike Volker, BDC Venture Capital, and Jim Fletcher. This is the first investment from Serbinins’s new Three Angels Capital fund, which was launched earlier this year. The fund focuses on "early stage tech companies seeking angel investment" and likes "disruptive platform plays with global aspirations”.

The startup has not received much press attention yet, but it has signed partnerships with 85 publishers, including Angry Robot Books, O'Reilly, Osprey Group, and more. They boast a catalog of over 10,000 titles, and about 30% of BitLit's bundled ebooks are free if you own the print copy or with the purchase of a print edition.

The post eBook Bundling Service BitLit Picks up New Capital from Angel investors appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Yes, Trigger Warnings Could Lead to Censorship

Posted: 22 May 2014 05:37 AM PDT

triggerIf you’ve been following book news over the past few months then you may have noticed the ongoing debate about trigger warnings.

Professors and student advocates at some US universities have been debating whether classes which read certain types of literature should add a “trigger warning” to the class syllabus to warn students suffering from PTSD or who were victims of assault that a book might trigger an incident.

There’s been a lot of debate on this topic, with some going so far as to ridicule the idea, and on the other end of the spectrum propose trigger warnings for “heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of oppression”. As someone who is in principle in favor of the idea, I have been sitting out the debate, but today I decided to jump in and address one of my concerns that some have discarded out of hand.

Rebecca Schinsky, writing over at Book Riot, doesn’t see any reason why we should be worried about censorship:

Some of these pieces equate skipping a book that contains material that might trigger you with intellectual laziness and an unwillingness to be offended (that is: the writers of these pieces do not really understand what it is to have triggers). Others mount the hand-wringing slippery slope argument that trigger warnings will put us one step closer to book bannings (that is: they fail to acknowledge the significant differences between individual discretion and institutionalized, government-enforced censorship).

What Rebecca fails to acknowledge is that there are more types of censorship than government-enforced censorship. For example, there is the subtle commercial censorship system of the MPAA ratings. While that appears to be voluntary, any movie without an MPAA rating will have a difficult time getting into movie theaters. Similarly, any movie with an NC-17 rating simply won’t be shown.

And given that the MPAA’s ratings board has at times explicitly said that you need to change this, that, and the other in order to get a lower rating, this is a form of censorship:

And that’s not the only reason to be concerned. Here in the US we have a censorship issue on the local level.

It’s called book banning.

To name one example, it was only a couple months ago that an Idaho school district banned Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, over the protests of students, teachers, and parents.

The book makes reference to masturbation, contains profanity and has been viewed by many as anti-Christian. Some Meridian School District parents and students cautioned the board about banning the book, while others labeled it pornographic and racist.

What Rebecca fails to acknowledge is that if trigger warnings become more widespread, if it becomes common for books to be listed in catalogs with trigger warnings, then we will be handing the book banners another weapon in their fight to remove literature from libraries and schools. We might even see parents groups pressuring schools and libraries to not buy these books in the first place, simply because they come with a trigger warning. And if that happens, we are all going to be harmed.

So yes, when someone raises concerns of censorship, they’re not misstating the case, they’re not misunderstanding the situation, and they’re not, as Rebecca put it, wringing their hands.

In conclusion, when The Guardian pointed out that trigger warnings were “one small step from book banning”, they were not wrong:

Of course, life doesn’t come with a trigger warning, even if it should. And while a classroom conversation about emotionally fraught subjects would seem not only advisable but also just part of any decent teaching method, slapping a trigger warning on classic works of literature seems a short step away from book banning, a kind of censorship based on offenses to individual feelings.

And as the idea of trigger warnings moves forward, we need to keep the potential downsides in mind. The best way to avoid trigger warnings being misused is to not develop a system where they can be misused.

image by simonov

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