Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

German Publishers File Antitrust Compaint Against Google over Ad Revenues, Snippets

Posted: 24 Jun 2014 03:16 PM PDT

360505392_69557c287d_o[1]When German publishers filed a copyright licensing complaint against Google last week, I pointed out that the publishers had a weak case in their demands that Google pay them 11% of its revenues.

They had already given Google permission to use their snippets and links for free, thus rendering any demands for payment moot. Apparently the publishers saw that flaw in their case as well, and they have taken steps to repair it.

The German news site Heise reported today that VZ Media (the newspaper coalition which filed the copyright complaint next week) and 12 other German media companies have collectively filed an antitrust complaint against Google.

If I understand this correctly, the publishers are arguing that Google’s dominance of the search engine market in Germany gives it undue power over the publishers. As a result, when Google asked last year for the publishers to agree to let Google use the snippets and links for free, the publishers feel they were blackmailed or extorted into giving Google what it wanted.

They say that is an antitrust violation.

If you’ve been following this story for long enough then you know that last year Germany passed a new law which ostensibly gave German publishers complete control over how their content is used. In reality that was designed to force Google and other search engines to pay for the privilege of using links and snippets. German publishers had been trying to get money out of Google since 2010, and after failing in the courts and with regulators they got new regulations passed which gave them the control they wanted.

That law went into effect in August 2013. In June 2013 Google anticipated the law by changing the ToS for Google News (in Germany). Now any site that wanted to be listed had to explicitly agree to let Google use the snippets and links for free otherwise Google would delist the site (and cost the site all of the free advertising Google provides).

It is that threat which is now the subject of an antitrust complaint. “For us, this threat is clearly a market abuse,” said Thomas Düffert, chairman of the Madsack newspaper conglomerate. (Why the publishers didn’t make this argument at the time Google extracted that permission from them, I don’t know. Perhaps their lawyers hadn’t thought it up yet.)

The complaint has been filed with Bundeskartellamt Beschwerde, the German Federal Cartel Office today, so it will likely be weeks or months before we get a response.

Over the past few years Google Google has been the subject of numerous antitrust investigations in Germany. In fact, one early attempt to get Google to pay for the use of snippets was an antitrust complaint filed in January 2010. That obviously failed, as have others.

But not all such antitrust complaints have failed. Google is currently trying to settle an antitrust action brought by the EU over Google’s dominance of the search engine market. At this point it is still not clear how it will turn out, but regulators do seem to have ruled out breaking up Google.

“Europe can’t dismantle Chinese, American, Indian or South American companies,”German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, 60, said on Tuesday when asked about Mountain View, California-based Google, the world’s biggest search provider. “What kind of a legal system is that? That’s not going to work.”

Thanks, Name!

image by Gastev

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Hachette to Acquire Perseus Book Group, Will Split it with Ingram

Posted: 24 Jun 2014 02:17 PM PDT

Hachette-Book-Group-LARGE11[1]Last week I jokingly said that the 5 major US trade publishers were trying to acquire their way out of a decline in revenues, and darned if one didn’t prove me right today.

Hachette has announced Tuesday night that they are acquiring Perseus Book Group. The terms of the deal have not been disclosed, but we do know that publisher will be split between Hachette and Ingram, which will be buying PBG’s distribution division and adding it to Ingram’s existing ebook, library ebook, paper book, and POD distribution divisions.

As a privately held company, Perseus did not disclose their annual revenues, but Publishers Lunch said that PBG had gross revenues of around $425 million, with $100 million from publishing and the rest from distribution of 3rd-party books. With this deal Hachette will be boosting their US revenues to around $740 million (not counting losses from the ongoing fight with Amazon), putting Hachette not too far behind S&S (which has about $800 million in annual revenue).

This deal adds 6,000 mostly nonfiction titles to Hachette’s catalog, along with PBG’s Basic, Public Affairs, Running Press, Avalon Travel, and Seal Press imprints as well as academic textbook publisher Westview Press and other imprints. Hachette has almost no revenue from nonfiction publishing, and this diversification can’t hurt.

The Hachette Perseus news follows about 8 weeks after HarperCollins announced their acquisition of the romance publisher Harlequin. Would anyone care to wager who will be bought next?

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Amazon Faces Antitrust Complaint in Germany

Posted: 24 Jun 2014 11:37 AM PDT

9439286082_cbd0f79096_b[1]It looks like Amazon’s rough negotiating tactics have finally caught up with the retailer.

The Bookseller reported today that Börsenverein, the German book industry trade group, has filed an antitrust complaint against Amazon with Bundeskartellamt Beschwerde, the German Federal Cartel Office.

The Börsenverein is alleging that Amazon’s ongoing contract negotiation with the Swedish-owned Bonnier crosses the line from playing dirty to illegal. As you may recall from when I broke the story in May, Amazon was said to be pressuring Bonnier by letting Bonnier’s print titles go out of stock and by removing pre-order buttons.

According to industry gossip which has been repeated by Börsenverein, Amazon is pressuring Bonnier into accepting a lower ebook royalty. Rather than take what is now an industry standard cut of 30%, Amazon is said to be seeking to increase its cut to between 40% and 50%. Of course, the details from the negotiations are entirely unconfirmed, even when Börsenverein shares them; any negotiation with Amazon is likely conducted under an NDA and thus the details should not have been disclosed.

According to Börsenverein, Amazon has a 70% share of the online book sales across both print and digital, and was “thus clearly dominant”. These “special conditions” demand by Amazon, were driven by the “market strength of Amazon”. (Curiously enough, I don’t see a mention of the total German book market and Amazon’s share; I will look into that.)

And so the trade group is asking that Amazon be investigated for violating Germany’s laws against competition. It’s not known at this time whether Amazon will be fined or even investigated, but it seems Amazon’s finally pushed things too far.

In addition to Germany, Amazon is also pressuring publishers in the UK to radically change the terms of their contracts with Amazon, and the retailer is also in round 7 of a knock down drag out fight with Hachette in the US.

There haven’t been any reports of Amazon playing dirty in the UK (not yet), but here in the US Amazon has been short stocking Hachette titles, selling them at full price, and removing the pre-order buttons.

image by todd.vision

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Onyx Boox T68 Now Available on Amazon.com – $199

Posted: 24 Jun 2014 08:31 AM PDT

onyx boox t68 1If you have been pining for Onyx’s new 6.8″ ereader but didn’t want to pay the $50 shipping cost to get it from Europe, I have some good news. A couple days ago a reader tipped me to the news that Arta Tech, Onyx’s retail partner in Poland, is now selling the T68 Lynx on Amazon.com for $199.

The T68 Lynx sports a 6.8″ Pearl E-ink screen with a resolution of 1440 x 1080. Following the Kobo Aura HD, the T68 Lynx is only the second ereader to use E-ink’s 6.8″ screen. And like Kobo’s premium ereader, the T68 has a premium price.

The retail price is $199, and since Amazon is fulfilling the order, shipping is free with Amazon Prime. This is not a bad deal; I paid $250 and had to wait close to a week to get mine.

The T68 Lynx runs Android 4.0 on a 1GHz Freescale CPU with 512MB RAM, 4GB internal storage and a microSD card slot for additional storage. And since the Lynx has a frontlight, touchscreen, Wifi, and Bluetooth, it is the next best thing to an E-ink Android tablet – albeit an expensive one.

I’ve had mine for just over a week now, and I can tell you that once I got past the initial issues engendered by bad instructions and a confusing interface I decided that this is a better ereader than most. It can’t meet my requirements for an Android tablet (the CPU is too slow, for one) but as an enhanced ereader it is an intriguing device.

Thanks to the apps I have installed, the T68 Lynx offers more format support than any other unhacked ereader on the US market. Not only can I read Epub files, I also have the use of RepliGo, one of the better PDF apps for Android. I’ve also install the Kindle, Comixology, and other reading apps; Gmail, a couple note taking apps, and other reading/studying apps which you would not expect to find on an E-ink device.

The battery has proven to last about a week of moderate to heavy use. It should have lasted longer, but the T68 started behaving erratically when the meter dropped to around 16%.

And on a related note, I can’t say that the T68 is sturdier or flimsier than other devices (it is as solid as any other ereader I have), but I can tell you that I worked up the courage stupid to perform a key drop test.

Remember in 2012 when I damaged the frontlight on the original Nook Glow by dropping my keys on the screen? The T68 Lynx survived the test without any sign of damage. Given that the Kobo Aura HD survived the test and uses the same screen, this comes as no surprise (but at least now you don’t have to worry or take stupid risks).

All in all, the T68 does more to justify its high price tag than the Aura HD or the Kindle DX (which is actually still available). While the Aura HD can be hacked to run Android, it is described as buggy and frustrating.  And the Kindle DX has not been updated in years, limiting users to poor PDF support and incomplete support for the Kindle format (no support for KF8  or digital comics, for example).


Thanks, sd!

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Snapcards Adds Random House, Bonnier Titles to its eBook Gift Card Service

Posted: 24 Jun 2014 06:44 AM PDT

snapload snapcardThe ebook gift card market may have largely fizzled here in the US (the money seems to be in bulk sales), but that is not the case in Europe.

For example, the startup eBookCards boasts that they distribute ebook gift cards to over 300 stores in Germany, and today Snapload announced that they have new contracts with two additional publishing conglomerates.

Snapload, a subsidiary of Audio Media (Munich), announced on Tuesday that their SnapCards service had gained the support of Random House and Bonnier. Soon readers will be able to go into a German store and buy a gift card for titles including Bridget Jones, Die Känguru-Offenbarung, or Der Hundertjährige, der aus dem Fenster stieg.

snapcard 1SnapCards was launched during the Frankfurt Book Fair last October, but it only came to my attention today. The service supports both ebooks and audiobooks, and claims to offer 350,000 titles from publishers including dtv, Bastion Luebbe and, argon. The cards can be bought in a number of stores in Germany, including Müller drugstore, Globe, Valora, the Mayersche bookstore and the Tank & Rast service stations.

Snapload offers two types of SnapCards: gift cards with specific titles or generic gift cards.

Their competitor eBookCards offers similar cards, albeit without the option of audiobooks. eBookCards has a catalog of nearly 200 titles, and they also offer what they call a Joker card. This can be customized to match any of 250,000 ebook titles. The Joker card draws on the catalog of the ebook distributor Epidu, one of eBookCards investors.

Once a customer buys a SnapCard, they can take it home and download the ebook at their leisure, or of course give it away. The ebooks can be read on an ereader which supports Adobe DE DRM (I can’t find details on the audiobooks). In comparison, the eBookCards catalog includes ebooks both with and without DRM.

As you can see, the German ebook gift card market is much livelier than in the US.  In North America there are two primary competitors, Calgary-based Enthrill and California-based Livrada. While I am sure both companies are healthy, neither can boast a distribution network as broad as that of eBookCards or SnapCards.

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Scribd Launches App for Windows RT, Windows Phone

Posted: 24 Jun 2014 04:26 AM PDT

scribd[1]Scribd’s brass band must be on vacation at the moment, because last week they launched a couple new reading apps with no fanfare (or at least I missed it).

This blogger belatedly learned yesterday (via WPCentral) that last week Scribd released apps for both Windows RT/8 and for Windows Phone.

The new apps enable readers to access user-uploaded documents and read ebooks from Scribd’s 400,000 title strong ebook subscription service. Alas, the apps don’t let users read the ebooks offline; an internet connection is required.

Have you tried them?

I haven’t had a chance to try the apps yet (no Windows Phone and no interest in booting my Surface tablet), but it looks to me like someone made a quick and dirty version of a Scribd app by taking the existing browser-based reading app and then shoving it inside another app. This is similar to the way that Microsoft has been making WebApps for Windows Phone, but in this case the Scribd app was an official release by Scribd.

That is more than a little annoying, but on the upside Scribd now offers an app on a platform where their leading competitor, Oyster, does not. And frankly, having a limited function app is better than nothing.

If you count the option of reading in your web browser, Scribd is offering two ways to read subscription ebooks which Oyster cannot match (yet), and what’s more Scribd is also making the service available globally. According to Scribd, they now have 80 million users who use Scribd to upload, share, and read documents. Scribd has not revealed how many of those users are paying customers, using Scribd’s premium hosting service, nor do we know how many are subscribing to read ebooks.

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The Morning Coffee – 24 June 2014

Posted: 23 Jun 2014 09:16 PM PDT

I have a short reading list for you this Tuesday morning. Besides a commentary on Amazon, I have a couple reading lists for high school, the latest from the contract lawsuit between Open Road and HarperCollins, a look at Australian libraries, and more.

  • Amazon: Relentless.com (The Economist)
  • High School Reading, 2.0 (BOOK RIOT)
  • High school reading 2.0 (TeleRead)
  • Wolff: How book biz dug its own Amazon grave (USAToday)
  • Open Road Fires Back at HarperCollins in Copyright Case (PW)
  • Writer's Digest Dumps Author Solutions  (David Gaughran)
  • We like e-readers – but library users are still borrowing books (The Conversation)

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