Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

The Morning Coffee – 29 May 2014

Posted: 28 May 2014 09:30 PM PDT

Must read stories this morning include the take down of that I wish I could have written (link), a look at how Amazon’s early business model resembles the Hachette situation (link), and more.

  • BEA 2014: Can Anyone Compete with Amazon? (PW)
  • Confessions of a Once-Tyrannical English Teacher (BOOK RIOT)
  • DoJ: Apple Verdict Should Be Affirmed (PW)
  • The Hated Business Model is Back (Transplanting a Seattleite)
  • LeVar Burton wants the web to save reading and ‘Reading Rainbow’ (The Verge)
  • isn’t yours. And it’s not a bookshop. And it’s absolutely not independent. (TeleRead)
  • Publishers’ Deal with the Devil (stratechery by Ben Thompson)
  • Watchmen Writer Alan Moore Unveils Comic Book App Electricomics (TNW)

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Scribd CEO Reportedly in New Funding Round, Trying to Finance Advances for Publishers

Posted: 28 May 2014 05:42 PM PDT

scribd[1]BEA 2014 kicked off today in NYC, but Scribd CEO Trip Adler isn’t there, meeting with publishers.

Pando Daily reports that Mr Adler is at a different conference in California where he is meeting with investors and trying to raise funds for expansion:

According to extremely well-placed sources, CEO Trip Adler is making it widely (and loudly) known that the primary purpose of his trip to Kara Swisher's CODE conference is to find willing investors to help Scribd get to the next level.

We're told Adler is attempting to raise cash for a very specific purpose: To pay hefty guarantees to publishers wary of license their intellectual property to book rental services. Sources tell us that many publishers are holding back their books unless they are guaranteed a certain amount of royalty cash.

In other words, rather than building their own services, the famously Luddite publishing industry is  letting Scribd, Oyster et al take all the risk (and raise all the cash), safe in the knowledge that those services can't exist without licensing popular books. And so Scribd's CEO is reportedly roaming the halls of CODE looking for someone to pay the ransom.

Leaving aside Pando’s hyperbole, I think they probably have their facts correct. I can’t find any indication that Adler is in NYC, and it is entirely plausible that he needs to raise more funding.

But bribes? That part, however colorful, can be ignored. I don’t think these payments to publishers are bribes, not when they are more likely advances against royalties.

Scribd currently carries around 400,000 titles, but so far they have only scored deals with 2 of the major trade publishers (HarperCollins and S&S). Scribd’s next target (aside from Perseus Book Group, which is being announced tomorrow) could be holding out for an advance.

Yes, I can believe that publishers are asking for upfront payments, and that Adler is raising the funds to pay the advances. It makes a fair amount of sense from the viewpoint of publishers to request an advance; this is an untried business model (and if the advance never earns out, the publisher can pocket the excess).

As Mike Shatzkin pointed out yesterday, we still don’t know whether the economics of Scribd and Oyster’s pay-per-loan business model will work in the long run:

I'm sure Scribd and Oyster have data and analytical skills that I don't have. But, intuitively, this seems like a tough proposition. Subscription services are attractive to consumers because they're bargains. If you normally read a single ebook or month or fewer, the $8.99 monthly subscription charge would not seem attractive. But if you read an ebook or two a month or more, the services will likely lose money on you.

I am keeping my fingers crossed, but even I think the viability of subscription ebooks has yet to be decided, so I can’t blame publishers for being cautious.

Unfortunately, the question of viability might never be answered, not of Scribd can’t raise more funding.

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Reeder for iOS Updated With a Bevy of Improvements and Bug Fixes

Posted: 28 May 2014 04:52 PM PDT

image-13795164056HeBrx1[1]The popular news reader app Reeder was updated to version 2.2 earlier this week with a fairly lengthy list of new features and bug fixes.

In addition to some rather cool features like background updates, the new version of the app now has a loading progress indicator in the in-app browser, better support for feed links (feed://) in 3rd-party apps, and improved navigation.

Bug fixes include better support for multiple Feedly accounts and fixes for disappearing articles, browser scroll issues, OPML import issues, and more. Other changes include a better login option for Pocket, a rearranged appearance of the article list entries, and changes to Pinboard integration.

The app costs $5 and can be found in iTunes.


What's New in Version 2.2

What's new:
- Background app refresh (per account setting, disabled by default)
- Loading progress indicator for the in-app browser
- Smart streams now also support grouping by feed or date
- New setting to disable favicons for subscriptions/article list (see Settings ? General)
- Reeder now can handle feed links (feed://) from external apps
- Added navigation pan (right/left) to toolbars and empty spaces in list views (in addition to the left and right screen edges)
- Added a drag handle to the browser toolbar to make it clearer that you can slide right/left to go back/forward

- Pocket integration now uses OAuth
- Pinboard integration now uses API token
- Sharing via Messages now includes the title and link
- Updated appearance of article list entries (moved the "unread dot" to the upper right of the row, same as in the current Reeder for Mac beta)


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Hachette Responds to Amazon

Posted: 28 May 2014 01:32 PM PDT

amazon frownFollowing Amazon’s first and only comment on the ongoing Hachette contract dispute, Hachette responded this morning with another public statement.

Hachette, which first released a statement when news of this dispute broke in the NYTimes (and has been subsequently leaking details right and left), put the blame for this dispute and the resulting fallout squarely on Amazon’s shoulders.

Hachette claims to want  a solution that values an “author's unique role in creating books, and the publisher's role in editing, marketing, and distributing them”. Funny, Amazon distributes the books they sell, not Hachette, and as anyone can tell you most marketing is left to Amazon and or authors.

It’s also worth noting that what Hachette calls limiting a customer’s ability to buy Hachette titles is in fact "making Hachette books available on the same terms as those of smaller publishers, including its own KDP authors." (Thanks, Marc!)

It is good to see Amazon acknowledge that its business decisions significantly affect authors' lives. For reasons of their own, Amazon has limited its customers' ability to buy more than 5,000 Hachette titles.

Authors, with whom we at Hachette have been partners for nearly two centuries, engage in a complex and difficult mission to communicate with readers. In addition to royalties, they are concerned with audience, career, culture, education, art, entertainment, and connection. By preventing its customers from connecting with these authors' books, Amazon indicates that it considers books to be like any other consumer good. They are not.

We will spare no effort to resume normal business relations with Amazon—which has been a great partner for years—but under terms that value appropriately for the years ahead the author's unique role in creating books, and the publisher's role in editing, marketing, and distributing them, at the same time that it recognizes Amazon's importance as a retailer and innovator. Once we have reached such an agreement, we will be happy to discuss with Amazon its ideas about compensating authors for the damage its demand for improved terms may have done them, and to pass along any payments it considers appropriate.

In the meantime, we are extremely grateful for the spontaneous outpouring of support we have received both privately and publicly from authors and agents. We will continue to communicate with them promptly as this situation develops.

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Tor Books to Launch New DRM-free Imprint on

Posted: 28 May 2014 01:18 PM PDT

imprint_logo_option1a copyTor Books surprised us all when they announced plans two years ago to go DRM free, and Tom Doherty, the founder of Tor Books took the stage at the IDPF conference today to share a few details on the perils of going DRM-free.

In short, there weren’t any . Mr. Doherty confirmed that after two years Tor Books had yet to see any downside to their decision. Distributing ebooks sans DRM has not increased the number of pirated ebooks or visibly decreased sales of Tor titles, thus proving that DRM serves no actual purpose other than locking consumers into existing retail channels.

Mr Doherty then went on to announce the launch of a new Tor Books imprint. This publisher has long been using its online community as a source of short fiction, and today that effort has been formalized. From the announcement: is excited to announce that we will be expanding our original fiction program via a new imprint dedicated to publishing novellas, shorter novels, serializations, and any other pieces of fiction that exceed the traditional novelette length (17,499 words).

Each DRM-free title will be available exclusively for purchase, unlike the current fiction that is offered for free on the site, and will have full publisher support behind it. It will have a heavy digital focus but all titles will be available via POD and audio formats. We will also consider traditional print publishing for a select number of titles a year. All titles will be available worldwide.

To be honest, I am not sure that this counts as a “new” imprint. Tor Books has been taking works originally published on and selling them in the various ebookstores, but Mr Doherty notes that the new imprint will be getting greater editorial attention. (That might prove a boon; one of the titles I bought was edited by someone who should have spent more time on his prepositions and conjunctions.)

Alongside the new imprint, will also continue its existing program of acquiring award-winning original short fiction for publication on the site itself. was launched the summer of 2008 as an SF community and an experiment on the part of Tor Books and its corporate parent Macmillan. In addition to posting timely commentary on SF and fantasy topics, has also dabbled in selling books and nearly opened an ebookstore. In the past 6 years it has grown into one of the best SF-focused sites on the web.

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Publishers Price-Gouge Libraries, Libraries Respond by Cutting Back on the Service

Posted: 28 May 2014 10:27 AM PDT

BLC[1]In the consumer ebook market Amazon is a villain that tries to keep prices down, but there is no similar villain in library ebooks. As the major trade publishers have shown us time and again, publishers can jack up prices or otherwise limit services in order to try to get more revenue from libraries.

There isn’t much that libraries can do about it, but sometimes they do cancel contracts or otherwise walk away from a service which has grown to expensive. The Boston Library Consortium was recently the victim of a surprise price hike:

This month the BLC was surprised to learn that a number of the publishers in this program planned immediate, significant, and unexplained increases in price. Even worse, the new pricing goes into effect at a time when library budgets are already committed for the 2015 fiscal year.

The BLC’s ebook program is used by nine BLC member libraries, including Boston College, Boston University, Brandeis University, and others. The program is designed to only pay publishers the full price on ebooks which are widely used, and pay a fractional price on ebooks used by only a couple users.

But that is not good enough for some of the publishers who had signed up with this program:

These newly announced price increases, amounting to several hundred percent in some cases, are levied on short-term uses, and this regressive pricing model is being adopted by the publishers whose ebooks are already among the most expensive in the scholarly market. More reasonable library pricing—both for outright purchase and for short-term use—is being offered by other publishers and we are pleased to see many (though not all) university presses in this latter category.

The BLC is viewing this as predatory pricing. (When was the last time you heard that term applied to ebook prices going up?) In  response, the BLC has lowered the price ceiling for their program. eBooks which are priced above the ceiling can’t be included in the Boston Library Consortium’s ebook program.

In this way, we mean to reward what we regard as fair dealing, as we attempt to limit the budget impact of what appears plainly to be price-gouging.

In effect, the publishers priced themselves out of the market.

There’s no word on which publishers increased their prices, but one comment left on my source article reports that another library consortium, this time in Washington, is facing similar price hikes. What’s more, they also named the publishers responsible:

On May 15th, ProQuest announced a list of publishers that will be increasing short term loan fees on all imprint in our DDA program. The new charges will be approximately 150% to 300% of current rates. The publishers raising rates on June 1 or July 1 are:

  • Ashgate
  • Berghahn
  • Bloombury
  • Boydell & Brewer
  • Cambridge UP
  • Charles C Thomas
  • DeGruyter
  • John Benjamins
  • Kogan Page
  • Oxford University Press
  • Princeton UP
  • Stanford UP
  • Taylor and Francis
  • Wiley
  • World Scientific

The Orbis Cascade Alliance reports that had the price hike come at the beginning of the fiscal year, it would have added nearly half a million to the cost of the service. The Alliance will be eating the cost until the end of their fiscal year, but they are not sure how they will cope next year other than to cut back on what they are willing to pay publishers. They simply don’t have the funding to absorb the price increase.

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Pocket Launches Paid Premium Service

Posted: 28 May 2014 09:43 AM PDT

Pocket has been a free service ever since it launched as Read-it-Later in 2007 but good times rarely last forever. The leader in save-for-later services has just launched a premium service which will set users back $5 a month (or $45 a year).


In addition to the guarantee that the content you save will always be available, Pocket Premium boasts a feature that users have been requesting for years. Paying Pocket ysers will gain access to vastly improved search capabilities, including the option to search the text of all of the articles saved in one’s account as well as search by tags, author, and more. Pocket Premium also automatically suggest tags for articles, which could be useful for keeping your library organized.

Like Evernote's paid service, Pocket Premium will likely attract the service's most loyal users. But unlike Evernote's offering, it’s not clear why Pocket Premium is worth the extra cost. Search and Save? That just doesn’t strike this user as being worth $45 a year, but of more premium features were added I might change my mind.

Pocket is also launching a few new products for all of its users: New browser extensions for adding articles, as well as simpler tag management on the web and Pocket's mobile apps. To date, Pocket users have saved over 1 billion articles, videos, and images to the service.


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