Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

The Morning Coffee – 28 May 2014

Posted: 27 May 2014 09:30 PM PDT

Wednesday is the opening day of Book Expo America. Here is a short list of stories to keep you busy while waiting for front line reports to come in.

Newsworthy stories include three articles on Amazon Hachette, a look at Medium (link), enough with the ereader judgmentalism already (link), a price hike in library ebooks (link), and more.

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Target to Launch eBook Service in Partnership with Librify

Posted: 27 May 2014 07:41 PM PDT

Target announced their next foray into ebooks late Tuesday night, just in time for BEA 2014.

According to USA Today, Target is going to be launching a new ebook club type of service in partnership with Librify some time later this year. The specific details concerning Target’s service have not bee released, but several details concerning Librify have been shared:

Librify, which started beta testing with select users in March, offers a social-subscription service for e-books. For $8.99 a month, you get access to a recommended book each month, and a 10%-20% discount on all other e-books. Librify has more than 500,000 titles available for purchase so far — that’s about half of what Amazon offers through the Kindle.

“Eventually the goal is to have as much interactivity as we can,” says Joanna Stone Herman, CEO of Librify. She wants to marry a centuries-old tradition rooted in the physical world with the ease, convenience, and social reach of the Web.

“Since the beginning of people reading books people have said, let’s get five friends together, read the same book and talk about it,” she says. “But there’s nothing that’s been done to enhance that from a technology standpoint.”

Librify was founded in February 2013, and it has generally maintained a low profile. The startup last crossed my desk back in January 2014 when the company picked up a capital investor. Ingram, via its investment firm ICG Ventures, invested an unknown sum in Librify.

Target, on the other hand, is much better known. This is the second largest retailer in the US, and it has demonstrated a willingness to experiment. Its past ebook efforts include selling a broad set of ereaders, including the Kindle. This was subsequently replaced by an ereader section which focused on the Nook (and was likely subsidized by B&N), and at one point or another Target has also offered ebook gift cards and magazines subscription gift cards. It is not clear whether those cards are still available in all Target stores, however.

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Amazon Responds to Discussion of Hachette Contract Dispute

Posted: 27 May 2014 05:58 PM PDT

Following a couple weeks of statements, leaks, and other communications from Hachette, Amazon broke its silence today on the 7-month-old contract negotiation.

A statement has been posted to an Amazon support forum.  The statement is from the Amazon Books Team, and is posted in the same forum where Amazon has in the past commented on previous issues. This is the first time Amazon has commented on this matter.

For the most part the statement confirms what we already knew. Amazon reduced the number of copies of Hachette titles carried in their warehouses, and they have disabled the pre-order option. There is no mention, however, of Amazon no longer discounting Hachette titles, and something else is also missing.

There’s a marked lack of the misstatements, innuendo, and sub rosa publicity campaign which Hachette has been running via their authors and allies in the MSM. Amazon’s statement is calm, professional, and measured. Curious, that.

Amazon’s statement, in full:

We are currently buying less (print) inventory and “safety stock” on titles from the publisher, Hachette, than we ordinarily do, and are no longer taking pre-orders on titles whose publication dates are in the future. Instead, customers can order new titles when their publication date arrives. For titles with no stock on hand, customers can still place an order at which time we order the inventory from Hachette — availability on those titles is dependent on how long it takes Hachette to fill the orders we place. Once the inventory arrives, we ship it to the customer promptly. These changes are related to the contract and terms between Hachette and Amazon.

At Amazon, we do business with more than 70,000 suppliers, including thousands of publishers. One of our important suppliers is Hachette, which is part of a $10 billion media conglomerate. Unfortunately, despite much work from both sides, we have been unable to reach mutually-acceptable agreement on terms. Hachette has operated in good faith and we admire the company and its executives. Nevertheless, the two companies have so far failed to find a solution. Even more unfortunate, though we remain hopeful and are working hard to come to a resolution as soon as possible, we are not optimistic that this will be resolved soon.

Negotiating with suppliers for equitable terms and making stocking and assortment decisions based on those terms is one of a bookseller’s, or any retailer’s, most important jobs. Suppliers get to decide the terms under which they are willing to sell to a retailer. It’s reciprocally the right of a retailer to determine whether the terms on offer are acceptable and to stock items accordingly. A retailer can feature a supplier’s items in its advertising and promotional circulars, “stack it high” in the front of the store, keep small quantities on hand in the back aisle, or not carry the item at all, and bookstores and other retailers do these every day. When we negotiate with suppliers, we are doing so on behalf of customers. Negotiating for acceptable terms is an essential business practice that is critical to keeping service and value high for customers in the medium and long term.

A word about proportion: this business interruption affects a small percentage of Amazon’s demand-weighted units. If you order 1,000 items from Amazon, 989 will be unaffected by this interruption. If you do need one of the affected titles quickly, we regret the inconvenience and encourage you to purchase a new or used version from one of our third-party sellers or from one of our competitors.

We also take seriously the impact it has when, however infrequently, such a business interruption affects authors. We’ve offered to Hachette to fund 50% of an author pool – to be allocated by Hachette – to mitigate the impact of this dispute on author royalties, if Hachette funds the other 50%. We did this with the publisher Macmillan some years ago. We hope Hachette takes us up on it.

This topic has generated a variety of coverage, presumably in part because the negotiation is with a book publisher instead of a supplier of a different type of product. Some of the coverage has expressed a relatively narrow point of view. Here is one post that offers a wider perspective.


Thanks, Timothy!

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Onyx Boox T76SML eReader Launches in Russia – 6.8″ Screen, Android 4.0, $261

Posted: 27 May 2014 01:08 PM PDT

Onyx has long been in the habit of launching their newest hardware in Russia first (and often times in Russia only) so it should probably come as no surprise that their first ebook reader with a 6.8″ screen first made an appearance there.


The Onyx Boox T76SML Nefertiti might have a confusing name but it is for all intents and purposes a cut-down version of theT68 ereader that Onyx has been teasing us with.

The Nefertiti runs Android 4.0 Jelly Bean on a 1GHz Freescale CPU with 512MB RAM, 4GB internal storage, a microSD card slot and Wifi.

Weighing in at 238 grams, this device is heavier than most ebook readers but still lighter than many tablets. Its 6.8″ screen has the same resolution as the Kobo Aura HD (1440 x 1080), but the Nefertiti doesn’t have quite the same screen as that older ereader. The press release indicates that the Nefertiti has a frontlight, but not a touchscreen.Interactions with the ereader are limited to the page turn buttons and the d-pad.

Onyx has in the past released models in the Russian market sans touchscreen, so that last detail comes as no surprise. It’s disappointing, yes, but not a surprise.

Like past Onyx ereaders, the Nefertiti supports a wide range of ebook formats, including Epub, PDF, Mobi, PDB, CHM, and FB2. There’s no mention of audio support, but this ereader does support doc formats including Doc, html, txt, and RTF.

The Onyx Boox T76SML Nefertiti is available now from Onyx’s local retail partner ????????, with a retail price of 8990 rubles (about $261 USD).


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Are Smartphones Driving eBook Sales in India?

Posted: 27 May 2014 12:29 PM PDT

karbonn-a21[1]It looks like a prediction I made last year is coming true in India.

The Times of India reported on Sunday that the Indian ebook market, which had finally started to really ignite in 2013, was growing not due to ereader sales but because people were reading on their smartphones:

E-books may be at an inflection point in India. For most publishers, ebook sales are between 2% and 5% of business, small compared to the 30% in mature markets where ebooks are mostly read on ebook readers like Amazon’s Kindle.

But the smartphone surge, and the availability of reading apps on them, are redrawing the book market. “Few in India would want to spend a minimum of Rs 7,000 on an e-reader and then pay money to buy e-books,” says Thomas Abraham, MD of Hachette India. “But now, with tablets and smartphones (that you bought anyway) having reading apps, we are seeing the beginnings of what might well be a big change. Last year we saw a quantum jump in sales,” he says.

They could well be correct. Smartphone sales topped 44 million units in India in 2013, up threefold over 2012 (according to IDC). There’s no data on ereader sales but I would be terribly surprised, based on sales patterns elsewhere, if ebook reader sales in India hit 1 million units in 2013.

And while ereader slaes have not increased significantly in India, the same cannot be said for ebook sales. Amazon hasn’t released any sales figures for any market, but their leading competitor Flipkart is willing to share.

The site launched an ebookstore in November 2012 with around around 70,000 titles. It now carries around 550,000 titles in its catalog including titles from Smashwords, and it reports that reader adoption has grown even faster than the catalog.

Flipcart’s reading apps in particular have been the driving source for growth: “Since the launch of the apps we have seen a 5-fold increase in orders and new customers,” says Nipun Mehra, senior director of retail at Flipkart, adding that more than 60% of the readers use smartphones to access ebooks.”

Smartphones aren’t particularly cheaper in India than elsewhere in the world, but compared to a Kindle, which costs $102 in India, the prevalence of smartphones make them the more attractive reading device.

This is more or less what I expected last year when I wrote that tablets and smartphones were driving ebook adoption. As was pointed out in the comments for that post, there is already some evidence to support this idea is coming true in Germany and Australia, and now it seems to be coming true in India as well.


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Toshiba Excite Go Could Be the Best Android Tablet for $110

Posted: 27 May 2014 11:44 AM PDT

It was around this time last year that you could find a 7″ tablet of questionable quality with a dual-core CPU, 1024 x 600 resolution screen, and disappointing battery life for $99. Now Toshiba is unveiling a tablet which is bound to be at least twice as good and yet it will only cost $110.

The Toshiba Excite Go sports 1GB RAM, 16GB internal storage, a microSD card slot, and it boasts 7.5 hours of battery life. It runs Android 4.4 KitKat on an unspecified Intel Atom CPU and weighs in at 12.5 ounces. Like many 7″ tablets released in the past year the Excite Go has a screen resolution of 1024 x 600.

Toshiba Excite Go

While the Excite Go might not look like much on paper, the brand on the case counts for something, and the CPU counts for a lot more.

I know that I have said this before, but it bears repeating. Intel’s Atom chips are usually more powerful than a similarly spec ARM CPU from Rockchip, or other companies. In effect, this is a budget tablet with on a premium CPU, and I would expect that the performance to reflect that fact.

Of course, this is still a budget tablet, which means that Toshiba may have cut corners to get the price down. We won’t know for sure whether it’s any good until it gets in the hands of reviewers.



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POD Service Blurb Buys Graphicly, Will Shutter Its Distribution Service

Posted: 27 May 2014 11:02 AM PDT

screen-shot-2014-05-27-at-12-41-43[1]There’s an old adage in economics that a period of consolidation usually follows a period of rapid expansion. No one would argue that digital publishing just went through 7 year period with many new startups launched, and after today I think it is clear the industry is entering a period of consolidation.

Following the merger of Feedbooks and Aldiko (and the Dropbox acquisition of Readmill in March), Blurb has announced that they are acquiring the ebook distribution platform Graphicly. The terms of the deal have not been disclosed, but Micah Baldwin told TechCrunch that the outcome "was a positive one for everybody" financially.

Graphicly was a leading independent distributor of graphic novels and other image heavy works, offering an automated conversion service which late last year was expanded to include regular ebooks as well. Blurb is a POD service which specializes in coffee table books, magazines, and similar content, in both print and digital. I don’t think anyone is puzzled by this acquisition.

With 2 million creators and nearly 10 million titles distributed, Blurb dwarfed Grphicly, which had around 10,000 publishers on its platform who had distributed some 20,000 titles. Blurb is expected to generate around $100 million in revenue this year.

This is an acqui-hire, with the six employees who formed Graphicly joining Blurb. As part of that process, Graphicly’s existing platform will be shutting down, with the lights to be turned off in about a month. Also, Blurb will be shutting down over the next 30 days as its new staff integrates the newly acquired technology into Blurb.

"None of the assets per se are coming over, but we are talking to publishers who were on Graphicly," says Baldwin. "We are hopeful that Graphicly users will take their content and manage it with Blurb, and maybe print their books there, too."

Graphicly, founded in 2009, had raised some $7 million since 2010, and the company had been showing some signs of financial issues of late. Last year Micah Baldwin, the founder of Graphicly, stepped down from his position as CEO. The new CEO then expanded Graphicly’s services to include distribution of text-based ebooks (as opposed to image and graphics-heavy works like digital comics, cookbooks, and so on). There have also been rumors that Graphicly had been in acquisition talk with a number of potential buyers, though it’s not known who was approached.

Graphicly is Blurb’s second acquisition in the past month; a few weeks ago Blurb acquired MagCloud, one of HP’s digital publishing platforms, from HP.


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Findaway World Launches New Bundled eReader Solution for Libraries, Schools

Posted: 27 May 2014 09:30 AM PDT

NeRD Device and CaseFindaway World announced the launch of a new hardware program on Tuesday.

Designed to offer schools, businesses, and institutions control over their hardware, Lock is a new ebook reader from the same team that brought you the Playaway mp3 player and the NeRD (Navy eReader Device).

When Findaway World announced the NeRD a few weeks ago, many saw it as a ridiculous product that was overpriced and unnecessarily hampered by security restrictions. The US Navy, on the other hand, saw the NeRD as a way to control how sailors use their equipment, and I am sure that other organizations will agree that the Lock fills a unique need.

Lock is an ereader solution which enables third parties to deliver a custom-curated library of digital content through preloaded and secure ereaders. Lock should prove useful to businesses that want to let employees read documents without being able to copy them. Libraries and schools who already buy and loan out Playaway devices and ebook readers might also see the appeal of an ereader which is protected from patrons and students deleting and adding content.

Specific hardware details on Lock are not available at this time, but I do know that the NeRD had a 6″ E-ink screen, but no Wifi, touchscreen, frontlight, or USB port. The NeRD shipped with 300 titles preloaded.

In addition to the option of loading existing proprietary content onto devices, Lock customers can also choose to preload commercially released or public domain ebooks from a catalog which includes thousands of ebook and audiobook titles spanning best-sellers to classics to professional development and Common Core. Findaway World has contracts with some of the biggest publishers in the world, including Simon & Schuster, Hachette, Penguin Random House, and Harper Collins.

Lock's preloaded nature and "black box" design eliminates potential misuse and ensures that only approved digital content will be accessible. Lock's portability also allows easy sharing and distribution, making it the ideal choice for multi-user lending environments, whether in education, government, or enterprise.

For more details, contact Findaway World.





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The Digital Reader is Back Online

Posted: 27 May 2014 08:52 AM PDT

Sorry for the downtime today, folks.

My webhost was having server issues, and they decided to respond to the issues by blaming me and blocking access to my site.

But it is fixed now, so who cares.

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Comixology is Giving Away a Free Comic Every Day for the Next 3 Weeks

Posted: 27 May 2014 08:01 AM PDT

Still ComiXology-Comics-Apptrying to make peace with the many customers put off by Amazon’s recent changes to the Comixology iOS app, Comixology launched a free comic book promotion yesterday.

Starting Monday, 26 May, Comixology  is giving away a new free digital comic each day. The promotion is going to run 20 days, and if you act fast you can still get Monday’s free comic. The remaining 19 free titles have not been revealed, but we do know that Monday’s freebie is a Batman title, Detective Comics #871:

A series of brutal murders pushes Batman’s detective skills to the limit and forces him to confront one of Gotham City’s oldest evils. Plus, when a figure from the past returns to Gotham, Jim Gordon must face some of his darkest demons.

Comixology’s name is mud in many comics circles. Following their recent acquisition by Amazon, Comixology  abruptly and unsurprisingly changed their existing app for the iPad and iPhone, removing the option to buy comics from inside the app. The change has been universally poorly received, resulting in the app achieving a 1-star customer rating in iTunes.


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