Thursday, 19 June 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

SwarmIQ Launches Premium Service, Now Boasts 10k Users of Its News Reader Service

Posted: 19 Jun 2014 11:12 AM PDT

swarmiq_logo[1]In the post Google Reader world, Feedly gets most of the attention from the media (and from extortionists, sadly), but they are far from the only news reader service out there. One of Feedly’s smaller competitors, SwarmIQ, launched a premium service last month (it only just now crossed my desk).

SwarmIQ was one of many news reader services that toiled in the shadow of Google Reader but really only started getting attention in the wake of Google announcing the closure of Google Reader in March 2013. Describing itself as an “intelligent personalized RSS reader”, SwarmIQ was launched with the goal of helping users solve the information overload problem by providing users with a set of monitoring, filtering and notification tools to manage all the content coming at them through their feeds.

While SwarmIQ’s free users can follow up to 200 RSS feeds, for $5 a month (or $45 a year) readers can follow an unlimited number of feeds. Paying users also get the option of full-text search for the titles and articles that the user is following or has favorited, keyword-based filters for sorting and keeping an eye on specific topics, email alerts, and additional  sharing/saving options that free users can’t access (including Twitter, Evernote, Pocket, and Instapaper).

The service currently boasts 10,000 users (in comparison, Feedly has 15 million users, including 24,000 paying users). It offers a browser-based reader with a customizable user interface, but no mobile apps.

The service was unimpressive when I tried it last August, but I am currently in the middle of revising and updating that review at the moment. It’s too early to say whether I can recommend it or not.

Do you use SwarmIQ? What do you think of it?

The post SwarmIQ Launches Premium Service, Now Boasts 10k Users of Its News Reader Service appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Used eBook Website Launches in Europe

Posted: 19 Jun 2014 08:26 AM PDT

The question of whether it is legal to resell ebooks is still hotly contested in the US and Europe, but there is at least one startup which isn’t going to wait for an answer. A new Dutch website crossed my desk this week which appears to have been launched by someone who would rather beg forgiveness than ask permission.

tom kabinet used ebook marketplace is a marketplace for buying and selling used ebooks similar to the ReDigi service here in the US. The Tom Kabinet website doesn’t sell the ebooks directly but instead acts as an facilitator between the buyer and seller, handling both the payment processing (for a fee) and the transfer of the ebook file.

Unlike Redigi, which requires buyers and sellers install an app so Redigi can ensure that a music file is deleted when sold, Tom Kabinet would appear to operate on the honor system with sellers, trusting them to remove the file from their servers. But the service is not quite so trusting with buyers, the FAQ mentions digital watermarks, suggesting that Tom Kabinet adds identifying details to the ebook files during the transfer process.

The current selection in the marketplace is still limited, and is mainly focused on Dutch titles. All of the ebooks are in Epub, and aside from the digital watermarks the ebooks are DRM-free. Due to technical and legal complications, Tom Kabinet has no plans to handle DRMed ebooks from iBooks, Google Play, or other sites, and Kindle ebooks are not supported – DRM-free or no.

So is this legal?

I can’t answer that question yet in Europe, but reselling ebooks in the US is almost certainly legal.  Thanks to the nuances of the Capital Records v ReDigi decision, it is arguably legal in the US to resell an ebook so long as you sell the medium it resides on. ReDigi continues to act as a used music marketplace under that theory (they even have a patent on it), and last year they announced plans to launch a used ebook marketplace. Nothing seems to have come of that plan, though.

And as for Europe, Tom Kabinet argues that the resale of ebooks is legal under recent rulings from the European Court of Justice. That might be true, but it’s no guarantee that Tom Kabinet will win in the inevitable court case.

The post Used eBook Website Launches in Europe appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Scribd Inks Deal With Connu, Oyster Releases Update for iOS App

Posted: 19 Jun 2014 06:41 AM PDT

oyster logoScribd and Oyster are the two leading competitors in the subscription ebook market, and they announced news this week.

In addition to Oyster’s new app for Android, Oyster also released a new version of its app for iPad and iPhone earlier this week. And in related news, Scribd has signed a deal with the literary site Connu for exclusive content.

Calling itself a ” hub for contemporary short fiction”, Connu launched via a Kickstaer campaign in 2013 with the goal of publishing new and original short fiction. It publishes a new story 5 days a week which can be read in its app for iDevices or on the Connu website.

Scribd’s deal with Connu adds Connu's 30 most popular stories to Scribd's catalog of over 400,000 titles. Scribd will be featuring a new story every week in Scribd Selects, and readers can also browse all thirty stories on Connu's publisher page.

And in related news, Oyster has also rolled out an update for its app for iPad and iPhone. According to the changelog, the new features include a new reading theme, significant improvements to the existing themes, new options for night mode, and more:

  • New book detail view includes a beautiful redesign with a dynamic complementary color system, and many more related titles and recommended sets on every page.
  • Editor's notes for our top titles written by our editorial team.
  • New "read time" feature lets you know approximately how long it will take to read a book before you start it. It's kind of like magic… actually it's just math.
  • All of our reader themes have gotten a nice facelift with new typography, a refreshed color palette, and small refinements throughout.
  • Introducing Wythe: a new high contrast reader theme featuring a news-text font that's well-suited for outdoor (especially beach) reading.
  • All reader themes are now available in night mode.

You can find the Oyster app in iTunes. The app is free, but the service costs $10 a month (with a free trial).  You have to sign up before you can use the free trial.

The post Scribd Inks Deal With Connu, Oyster Releases Update for iOS App appeared first on The Digital Reader.

The Morning Coffee – 19 June 2014

Posted: 18 Jun 2014 08:50 PM PDT

Here are seven stories to read this morning.

  • 5 Things To Do To Avoid Passing On Fake News on Social Media (Awesomely Luvvie)
  • Advocate General Says EU Libraries May Digitize Books In Their Collection Without Permission (Techdirt)
  • Amazon is not your best friend: Why self-published authors should side with Hachette (The Passive Voice)
  • Can You Catch These Common Grammar Mistakes? (QUIZ) (HuffPost)
  • Oyster on Android | How does it fare? (TeleRead)
  • Why Audiences Hate Hard News—And Love Pretending Otherwise (The Atlantic)
  • Working-class fiction has been written out of publishing ()

The post The Morning Coffee – 19 June 2014 appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Watch Jeff Bezos Announce the Fire Phone

Posted: 18 Jun 2014 05:02 PM PDT

fire phoneA short while ago Amazon posted the video from the launch event for the Fire Phone. If like me you still have questions about the Fire Phone’s features and why some of the liveblogs sounded impressed, here’s your chance to find out.

I haven’t seen it myself, but I will be making time tonight. I still have doubts whether I will get the $650 smartphone. I know I won’t be tying myself to AT&T, but it remains to be seen whether this smartphone does enough to justify the expense.

So what do you think?

The post Watch Jeff Bezos Announce the Fire Phone appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Wattpad Plans to Stay Free Forever, Will Make Money From Native Ads

Posted: 18 Jun 2014 04:39 PM PDT

wattpad ipadWhen it comes to funding a website with a lot of users, there are a number of tried and true business models, including selling ads, selling user data, charging for a premium service, and so on. Facebook, for example, started out by selling ads and later switched to charging users for access (FB calls it “boosting posts”), but not everyone goes down that route.

The online writing community Wattpad, on the other hand, is taking a different and somewhat riskier path. In a recent interview, Wattpad CEO Allen Lau said that rather than charge for access or clutter up the app and website with over ads, Wattpad was turning to native advertising.

From TechCrunch:

Wattpad's first advertiser was 20th Century Fox, which was promoting its film The Fault In Our Stars. To do that, it created a Fault In Our Stars account on Wattpad, where it featured fiction from Wattpad authors that was either directly related to or at least inspired by the enormously popular young adult novel of the same name — some of those stories were actually commissioned by Fox. Then, similar to ads on Twitter and other social networks, Wattpad mixed promotions for the account and for the individual titles in with its regular recommendations. (The promoted content was labeled as such, as you can see in the screenshot to the left.)

The result? The account became the fifth-most-followed on Wattpad, with more than 200,000 followers, the ad units saw 25 million impressions (with a clickthrough rate of 2.5 percent), and the commissioned stories saw 1 million unique readers. Oh, and the movie was a hit, though I don't think Wattpad can take full credit for that part

This is only the latest of Wattpad’s monetization efforts. The community had briefly tested a fan funding program in the middle of 2013, but so far as I know that did not make it beyond the first few initial trials.

Native advertising, on the other hand, has a much more promising future. It has long been argued in some circles that advertising is content and content is advertising. In other words, some pundits argue that one should make the ad so enticing that it is what people come to see. That idea can come across as crass, and when tried by a news organization it’s highly unethical, but when done right it can work.

For example, in 2012 OKGo shot a car commercial for Chevrolet:

That music video has been viewed tens of millions of times and when it was first released it was written about extensively in the press. And all that attention was given to a car commercial.

And while there’s no way to predict whether this model will work out, the company is not short of funds or ideas. Wattpad raised $46 million in a series C funding round in April, and according to Lau it is still  the “very early days in our experiments”. Lau suggested that another possibility is releasing stories for free, then charging for bonus content, but he one thing he never plans to try is charging for access to Wattpad itself: “It will remain a free app forever”.

The post Wattpad Plans to Stay Free Forever, Will Make Money From Native Ads appeared first on The Digital Reader.

OverDrive Carries Self-Published eBooks, but Don’t Worry – They’re in a Ghetto

Posted: 18 Jun 2014 03:00 PM PDT

5350382220_48d46283ed_b[1]When OverDrive and Smashwords announced a deal last month which made hundreds of thousands of self-published available to public libraries, I was thrilled. Besides the potential increase in revenues and ebook sales, indie authors were gaining access to a whole new market with opportunities to find new readers.

Unfortunately, the deal between Smashwords and Overdrive isn’t working out as well as one would like. In fact, I’m not sure how it could be worse.

Maria Schneider, an author who self-publishes under the Bear Mountain Books imprint, writes over on her blog about her dismay over  the hassle of finding self-published ebooks at OverDrive:

I was pretty excited the other day to learn that Smashwords, an ebook distributor, would be distributing books to Overdrive. Overdrive supplies libraries with ebooks. I made sure my books were all signed up. Yesterday I saw they had shipped and were available for libraries to order!

I immediately contacted my librarian friend to make sure they could be seen in the overdrive library system. I've had several requests from fans who want their library to order my series. I wanted to make sure the books showed up in the system before I shared the news.

Well. Smashwords does ship the books to Overdrive. HOWEVER, in order for the librarian to even FIND the books in the list, she had to spend a lot of time researching. None of the usual methods worked: Title, nope. Author name, nope. OH. Turns out there is a box on overdrive underneath some other menu…labeled "Self-published." Once she FOUND that menu and clicked that box and did a search, well THEN the titles would show up. The button was not obvious and had she not known me personally and asked someone else about it…they would never have found my titles at all.

No, you did not read that wrong. Overdrive has put self-published ebooks in their own ghetto.

One could argue that this is justifiable based on certain assumptions about quality, but that argument tends to fall apart when you consider the average quality of the latest celeb bio, or the latest – never mind, I’m not going to tear others down just to build up self-published ebooks.

I would suggest that any argument in favor of a ghetto for self-published ebooks tends to fall apart once you recall that ebooks accounted for half of the growth of the UK ebook market in 2013. People are clearly willing to pay for self-published ebooks, and yet at OverDrive they’re in the ghetto.

And if that doesn’t convince you, just remember that ebooks distributed by Smashwords have been hitting the NY Times best seller list since 2012.

Take a look at the August 5 edition of The New York Times Fiction Ebook bestseller list, out yesterday.  Lightning struck multiple times this week.

Congrats to Colleen Hoover (Slammed at #8, Point of Retreat at #18), R.L. Mathewson (Playing for Keeps at #16), Lyla Sinclair (Training Tessa at #17) and Bella Andre (If You Were Mine at #22, Can’t Help Falling in Love at #23, and I Only Have Eyes for You at #24).

All the credit for these results go to the authors who wrote the books, the readers who purchased them and the retailers who connected these books with readers.

Yes, OverDrive has put New York Times best sellers in a ghetto. And according to the statement I just got from OverDrive, they seem to think it’s a good idea:

We value self-published works and are proud to make them available to the library. We think it's a benefit to give the Smashwords and other self-published titles their own tab in our Marketplace catalog portal. This was a direct request from librarians to make their selection process easier by splitting off this important and valuable collection. It's not because the collection is any less valuable, but instead because it is a large selection it's much more efficient to search and find what you're looking for. This is similar to other special collections, like simultaneous use titles.

Horse manure. A ghetto is a ghetto is a ghetto, no matter what you call it.

And it really doesn’t matter what OverDrive says or why they think they did it; the result is the same. By setting self-published ebooks apart (they’re not even in the same search indices as the rest of OverDrive’s catalog) OD is inherently labeling self-published ebooks as inferior.

OverDrive is also making it inherently difficult for libraries to find and buy the ebooks. How does that serve anyone’s purposes?

image by uvw916a

The post OverDrive Carries Self-Published eBooks, but Don’t Worry – They’re in a Ghetto appeared first on The Digital Reader.

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