Monday, 23 June 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

Content was What was Holding Back the Japanese eBook Market, Not Twice-Shy Consumers

Posted: 23 Jun 2014 04:04 PM PDT

5335997022_4d4da4d23b_b[1]In a country  that invented the idea of cellphone novels, developed the first E-ink ereader, and has gadget-loving consumers who commute long distances everyday, it is a little odd that ebooks didn’t explode in Japan long before the Kindle launched in the US. Have you ever wondered why the Japanese ebook market is lagging behind that of the US?

An article which crossed my desk this morning tries to answer that question. According to The Japan Times, the Japanese ebook market sputtered for many years because of risk-averse consumers:

Although it has now been surpassed by the United States, Japan was once the world's largest market for e-books, thanks to the early success of the cellphone-content business. But in today's competitive market, e-book sellers disappear every few months, leaving consumers to wonder whether the digital products they are buying are as permanent as paper books.

I think the article reaches the wrong conclusion, but it’s still worth reading.

It offers a fascinating look at the recent history of failed ebook efforts in Japan, including:

On May 29, Yamada Denki, Japan's largest chain retailer of electrical appliances, announced that it will close its Yamada e-Book store at the end of July, two years after its launch in June 2012. The service is not especially popular anyway, but the announcement raised the hackles of users by saying that all their purchased e-books would become unavailable; that unused credit would not be refunded; and that Yamada Denki will eventually start another e-book store.

When other e-book stores have shut down in the past, they have usually offered their customers some form of compensation. For example, when convenience-store chain Lawson stopped the e-books part of its Elpaka Books service in February, users were offered Lawson store points to the value of their existing e-book purchases.

In short, the Japanese ebook market has seen so many retailers come and go that the US equivalent would be if Best Buy, Target, Circuit City, Krogers, Menards, Meijers, and even 7-11 thought it would be a great idea to slap their logo on an app and launch an ebookstore.

All that noise and all those competitors would make it hard to choose a single store, and it would also make it difficult for any one retailer to turn a profit, but I don’t think that is the real reason why the Japanese ebook market has been stymied.

While the article in The Japan Times is a good look at the current state of the Japanese ebook market, it doesn’t take a historical view and thus it misses at least one important detail, which is how many titles were offered by the ebookstores.

sony librie 1Just to give you two examples, a limited catalog of titles rented for 60 days at high costs helped kill the Sony Librie in 2004. (The high retail price for the Librie didn’t help either, but still …)

And when Sony made their reappearance in the Japanese ebook market in 2010, they launched an ebookstore with only 20,000 titles.

In comparison, Amazon shocked everyone when they launched the Kindle three years earlier and offered a catalog of 90,000 titles.

Content was one of the stumbling blocks for the US market for many years, and the same is true for the Japanese market. If there’s not enough content to buy then consumers won’t invest, retailers can’t turn a profit, and the market fizzles.

It doesn’t matter whether an ebookstore is popular or not,and it doesn’t matter whether the tech is any good; if the catalog is too small then there simply won’t be enough sales to keep it in business.

And that is probably what kept the Japanese ebook market so small for so many years.

P.S. Content was not the only issue holding back that market, but I would still rate it higher than risk-averse consumers.

image by MIKI Yoshihito (´???)

The post Content was What was Holding Back the Japanese eBook Market, Not Twice-Shy Consumers appeared first on The Digital Reader.

DBW Webcast: Five Success Factors of Publishing Startups

Posted: 23 Jun 2014 01:14 PM PDT

dbw digital book worldIf you want to learn more about the ins and outs of launching a startup in the digital publishing industry then I have a webcast you should see.

Digital Book World is holding a webcast (cost: $45) tomorrow featuring three startups which have navigated the rocky terrain of this industry:

Join the founders of three successful publishing start-ups, Librify, Jellybooks and The Atavist, for an inside look at their journeys–from ideation to getting off the ground to running a thriving business. We’ll identify the key factors that determined their success and offer insights for newcomers on navigating the publishing landscape as it continues to evolve.

This webcast caught my eye earlier today when I helped one of the participants, Andrew Rhomberg, put together a list of failed ebook hardware startups. This includes companies like Augen, Pandigital, Copia, Polymer Vision, Plastic Logic, txtr, etc. A debate ensued where we discussed whether B&N should go in that list, or companies like Panasonic, Samsung,  and Sony. (Each of those companies have launched an ereader which subsequently flopped.)

Andrew is calling that section of his presentation “the tar pits of publishing”, which I think is appropriate. From what I read on twitter today, the publishing industry is uniquely difficult for startups, more so than any other industry. This webcast should help listeners understand why.


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E-ink Names New CEO, Elects New Board

Posted: 23 Jun 2014 11:21 AM PDT

e-ink logoOut favorite screen tech company announced late last week that they had appointed a new CEO and elected a new board of directors.

Fu-Jen “Frank” Ko will be taking over from Felix Ho as CEO.

Dr Ko joined E-ink in December as the Chief Strategy Officer, where Dr. Ko led with a strong vision to expand E-ink's business and extend the application of E-ink technologies. Dr. Ko’s predecessor, Felix Ho, has held the position of interim CEO ever since the departure of Scott Liu in March 2013.

“I am honored to serve as Chairman and CEO of E Ink Holdings, a company that created and led the ePaper industry for many years with a strong global IP portfolio, innovative products and an incredible team," said Dr. Ko.

In addition to a new CEO, E-ink also has a new President, Johnson Lee, formerly of E-ink subsidiary Hydis, and a new board of directors, including three independent directors.: Dr. JT Wen, professor at National Chengchi University; Dr. Biing-Seng Wu, chairman of Himax Corporation; and Mr. Ten-Chung Chen, former general manager of Advantech America.

With the decline of the global ereader market, E-ink is facing increasing pressure to adapt its screen tech to serve new markets. Over the past several years they have partnered with new companies developing new products, including smartphone cases, new signage including a 32″ color E-ink display, and a novelty wall clock.

Revenues are still down, but with E-ink’s extensive patent portfolio and tech know-how the company has plenty to work with to generate new revenue. (And if nothing else, I’m sure Amazon would be interested in acquiring E-ink.)

The post E-ink Names New CEO, Elects New Board appeared first on The Digital Reader.

New Rumors Say Amazon is Pushing for Contract Revisions in the UK

Posted: 23 Jun 2014 09:53 AM PDT

13932227313_10e69a802d_o[1]In the midst of an ongoing contract dispute with Hachette here in the US, new rumors are circulating today that Amazon is pushing for similar changes to their contracts with UK book publishers.

Citing unnamed sources, The Bookseller reports:

In the UK a number of publishers spoken to as part of The Bookseller’s investigations into the Hachette dispute said Amazon was also now putting them under “heavy pressure”. According to the sources, new demands include adjusting terms so that e-books and physical book terms have parity; the adjustment is said to be in the direction of “p”, which traditionally attracts a higher percentage for the retailer compared with “e”. Amazon is also understood to be targeting academic terms, which have historically been more favourable to the publisher. The retailer also wants to impose a ceiling on the digital list price of e-books in preparation for 2015 when the retailer will have to begin imposing the standard 20% rate of VAT on digital titles.

Another clause of particular note requires publishers to guarantee they have books in stock, allowing Amazon to do print-on-demand editions to customers – with extra terms benefits – should books be out of supply. The clause has echoes of a demand made in 2008 that small publishers use its POD service, with Amazon arguing at that time that it could "provide a better, more timely customer experience if the p.o.d. titles are printed inside our own fulfilment centres". Publishers are worried that the clause would allow Amazon to effectively take over their stock-control.

Those are quite different contract terms than what the latest leak has revealed about Amazon’s negotiations with Hachette over the weekend. According to one of the NYTimes’s unnamed sources Amazon is negotiating with Hachette over co-op fees, with the retailer teasing out each service they can provide and asking to be paid for it specifically.

it’s not known why Amazon is seeking different terms in the UK, but they are also rumored to be new most favored nation clauses.

Amazon is also reportedly seeking MFN clauses which include not just the option for Amazon to match prices with their competitors but which also gives Amazon the option to match whatever terms a publisher  might get for a new business arrangement, for example with a subscription service.

If that is true then it could be a sign that Amazon is already looking ahead to their next ebook effort, or at the very least they don’t want to be a step behind when someone else comes up with a new idea for the ebook market. And that is a telling clue of where Amazon thinks the book industry is going.

On a related note, what do you think the POD clause means?

I’m not sure if Amazon is that confident that their printing quality is that good, or if they just want to guarantee 100% availability for the books they carry.

The Bookseller

image by hnnbz

The post New Rumors Say Amazon is Pushing for Contract Revisions in the UK appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Police Reportedly Smash Massive Commercial Piracy Operation in Spain

Posted: 23 Jun 2014 07:40 AM PDT

2326768261_c9e02b6c52_b[1]There are new reports coming out of Spain yesterday that police in Seville and Madrid have shut down a massive piracy ring.

According to the AP:

The investigation follows a complaint from the copyright protection arm of Spain’s authors and publishers association. It said it had detected evidence of a large-scale operation to scan original works. A police statement Sunday said investigators turned up eight large-capacity photocopying facilities in Madrid and Seville where works by prestigious authors were being copied “massively.”

It didn’t say when the arrests happened or how much the books were worth in total. But it said over 1,000 published books and 10 computer hard discs full of texts for publishing were seized. The statement said a Spanish police unit focusing on Asian organized crime was involved, though it did not elaborate.


A Spanish language report also added that the police seized two laptop computers, ten hard drives, a USB flash drive, and diverse documentation. It goes on to add that one of those arrested administered five copy shops in Madrid, some strategically located near university campuses.

Does this smell funky to anyone, or is it just me?

When I first read about this story in the AP, it set off a couple alarm bells. Some of the details and the way they are phrased didn’t sound quite true, so I went looking for local coverage. I didn’t find coverage in El Pais or other major Spanish newspapers, but I did find a single story on the topic, and based on how it was written and its similarities to the AP story I have even more questions than before.

For example, if this operation was so large then why didn’t the reports include the titles of some of the pirated books? And if it were so large as to extend across 8 copy shops in Madrid and Seville then why were only 3 people arrested?

There’s more to this story than what we have read in the news, and until we find out what that is I’d suggest taking it with a grain of salt. It is entirely possible that the police raid came as a result of political pressure, and not because there were crimes going on.

On the other hand, the copy shops were reportedly located near universities. If they were pirating textbooks and academic material and selling to impoverished students then it’s entirely possible that this operation was as large as the reports claim.

If you know what is really going on, the comments are open.

image by hermenpaca

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iFixit Tears Apart the Surface Pro 3

Posted: 23 Jun 2014 06:32 AM PDT

surface pro 3 teardown 2Microsoft’s third tablet qua laptop made a pit stop at the repair specialists at iFixit over the weekend.

The Surface Pro 3 packs more computing power into a smaller space than I would have thought practical, and that comes at a price. iFixit has revealed that this tablet is not repairable by anyone other than an official tech with official tools (and maybe not even then).

While iFixit did mange to tease apart the components, they also shattered the screen (twice).  Once inside, they found that many of the components are either glued in place of attached with T3 Torx screws, making it very difficult for even the most ambitious and foolhardy DIYers to add after market modifications.

They did note, though, that once the battery was unglued it could simply be unplugged. And the SSD was oddly easy to swap out, assuming you don’t mind destroying the screen while opening the case.

surface pro 3 teardown 1 surface pro 3 teardown 3 surface pro 3 teardown 2 surface pro 3 teardown 4

The Surface Pro 3 is both larger and thinner than the earlier models, which could explain why it is rated as being less repairable. It sports a 12″ screen with a screen resolution of 2160 x 1440, and it runs Windows 8.1.

Weighing in at 800 grams and measuring a mere 9.1mm thin, this tablet is thinner and lighter than its predecessor (it’s also lighter than the 13″ Macbook Air). Microsoft launched a trio of Surface Pro 3 models last month, including models with a Core-i3 chip ($799) and s Core-i7 chip ($1,549). All run Windows 8.1.


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The Morning Coffee – 23 June 2014

Posted: 22 Jun 2014 09:12 PM PDT

Your reading list for this Monday morning includes one response to Doctorow’s Guardian piece on DRM, a competition to find tough tongue twisters, how Apple lost the ebook war, a revised Yog’s law (money doesn’t always flow to the writer anymore), and more.

  • An author claims Byliner ebooks screw authors. Here's my royalty statement to prove they don't (PandoDaily)
  • Dumping DRM is not a panacea (TeleRead)
  • Getting Your Self-Published Book into the Library, Tips from Librarian Marlene Harris (Lindsay Buroker)
  • Why Apple Has Lost the E-Book War (HuffPost)
  • I Was a Digital Best Seller! ()
  • MIT Researchers Reveal The World’s Toughest Tongue Twister! (Kids News Article)
  • The Publishing Industry Isn't Dead, But It IS Evolving (TNW)
  • Russian accents in American novels: Why are there so many right now? (Slate)
  • Sorry, journalists: When it comes to crowdfunding, reporting is absolutely crushed by comic books (PandoDaily)
  • Yog's Law and Self-Publishing (Scalzi’s Whatever author blog)

The post The Morning Coffee – 23 June 2014 appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Reports of the Failure of Digital Publishing Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Posted: 22 Jun 2014 07:21 PM PDT

0620OPEDparini-superJumbo[1]“I Was a Digital Best Seller!” claimed Tony Horowitz in the NY Times on Thursday, only if you ask him the boast doesn’t amount to much.

Horowitz writes about his experience in trying to publish a Kindle Single first with a digital startup called The Global Mail, and then after that firm folded by dealing directly with Byliner. Between one issue and another (mainly signing with Byliner after it had already started to decline due to insolvency), Horowitz has a bad experience, sees few sales, and receives little promotional/marketing support from Byliner.

As a result Horowitz concludes that digital publishing idn’t a viable future:

FIVE months ago I published a short book called "Boom." Commercially it was a bust. No news in that: Most books lose money and are quickly forgotten by all but their wounded authors.

But this experience wasn't just a predictable blow to what's left of my self-esteem. It's also a cautionary farce about the new media and technology we're so often told is the bright shining future for writers and readers.

My month of self-flackery seemed to work. In the sales rankings on Amazon for Kindle Singles, "Boom" broke the top 25, and almost all the titles ahead of it were fiction. In categories like "Page-Turning Narratives," my work often ranked No. 1. I was a nonfiction digital best seller!

Eager to know how many copies this represented, I asked Byliner for sales figures. It took them a while to respond — because, I imagined, they needed the time to tally the dizzying numbers pouring in from Amazon, iTunes and other retailers. In fact, the total was such that Byliner could offer only a "guesstimate." In its first month "Boom" had sold "somewhere between 700 and 800 copies," the email read, adding, "these things can take time to build, and this is the kind of story with a potentially very long tail."

My laid-off Aussie editor, at least, did right by me in the end. As The Global Mail unraveled and its owner shut off funds, my editor managed to salvage the $15,000 I'd been promised long ago. A few days ago "Boom" also resurfaced on Amazon, as mysteriously as it had disappeared; Byliner pledged its continuing "commitment to long-form journalism"; and I learned that sales had inched into four figures. In all, a disappointing rather than a ruinous seduction.

Horowitz ‘s article is replete with the subtext that his mistake was in going digital, and not that he had the bad luck to sign with two digital middlemen which subsequently went under. Having been burned once, Horowitz would have you believe that, in general, digital publishing is not a viable option. (Anyone running an ebook startup might as well go flip burgers; you’re doomed anyway.)

This doesn’t bode well for all the authors who want to self-publish, does it?

Well, no.

Horowitz’s article is getting passed around as evidence that authors are being screwed by Byliner in particular, and digital publishers in general, but few seem to be paying much attention to the fact that Horowitz had uniquely abominable luck.

Paul Carr, writing over at PandoDaily, noted that his experiences with Byliner fared better than Horowitz’s:

Three years ago, I published a short book through Byliner, detailing my recovery from alcoholism. I certainly had gripes of my own the (then fledgling) company. The commissioning editor originally offered me a $5k advance before suddenly dropping it to $3k as we were about to sign the contract. Then Byliner sat on the manuscript for months and only finally published it when I offered to buy back the rights; after which the publicity machine stopped rolling after a couple of months, leaving the book to fend for itself. I have friends who have written for Byliner who have had similarly frustrating experiences, including one whose book was abruptly cancelled apparently because Byliner decided it wouldn't sufficiently appeal to the company's core audience of "middle-aged women" (it was a book about tech).

And yet, as I read Horwitz's column, I felt myself first confused, then steadily more angry at the unfairness being meted out to Byliner, specifically, and to the ebook publishing industry, generally.

Most of my — and Horwitz's — issues with Byliner (renegotiated terms, sluggishness in publishing, sudden halting of publicity) I've also experienced with traditional publishers large and small. If Horwitz has issue with those, he has issue with the entire publishing industry. Also, some of Horwitz's gripes are plainly beyond Byliner's ability to fix: is the firm really supposed to arrange bulk orders of a Kindle Single for conference attendees? For one thing, that's just not how Singles work.

Carr goes on to note that his e-single sold 14,710 copies, earning him around $9,200 over the past 3 years. He’s earned more from some of his traditionally published books, but he also has earned less on some titles.

And more importantly, this wasn’t a book. It was a single article, really more of a short memoir than anything, leading Carr to remark that “Close to ten grand for a long piece of journalism really isn't too bad at all”.

That’s a failure all right. It reminds me of how Stephen King’s early serial web novel The Plant was deemed a failure and cancelled because downloads exceeded an arbitrary ratio to sales, even though the novel had generated almost half a million in profit before the end.

When I read Horowitz’s piece on Friday, my first thought was that it was a hatchet piece designed to attack digital publishing in general.

My second thought was that his irrational and illogical conclusion could be summed up in a few words:

If at first you don’t succeed, give up. Whatever you are trying to do is impossible, and you’re better off not trying a second time.

If you break it down to its simplest form, Horowitz’s argument is really that simple. And it really is that wrong. Amazon invested in ebooks for 7 years before opening the Kindle Store. JK Rowling was turned down by a dozen publishing houses. And Margaret Mitchell was rejected 38 times for Gone with the Wind.

Horowitz is giving up on digital publishing after being burned once. That doesn’t strike you as a sound idea, does it?

The post Reports of the Failure of Digital Publishing Have Been Greatly Exaggerated appeared first on The Digital Reader.

The History of English in Ten Minutes (video)

Posted: 22 Jun 2014 02:14 PM PDT

the history of English in 10 minutesEnglish has sometimes been jokingly described as the result of Norman conquerors trying to make dates with Saxon barmaids, and there’s more than a grain of truth in the joke.

The following History of English video came across my desk last week. 

In 10 one minute episodes, it shows the growth and change of English since before it was English. Starting with the invasion of the Anglo-Saxons and ending with Internet and Global English, this video shows just where many of our commonly used words came from.

The entire video is actually over 11 minutes long and rather densely packed with information, so I am betting I am not the only person who has not seen it all the way through. With that in mind, I would suggest heading over to the Open University website and viewing each of the chapters individually (especially the one on the influence of dictionaries).

If I hadn’t done that then I wouldn’t know that they got a number of details wrong in the chapter on Internet English. For example, a number of words like download and reboot were invented for the computer age, not the internet age. And firewall? That was a construction term which was adapted to a new use and a new meaning.

Still, even with the errors it’s well worth watching.

P.S. For more fun with English, here is a video which proves English pronunciation is crazy.

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