Thursday, 3 July 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

Four Takes on the “Amazon: Threat or Menace?” Debate

Posted: 03 Jul 2014 12:17 PM PDT

Origin-712014-71734-PM[1]Love them or hate them, Amazon is a polarizing topic in the book industry. It’s been the subject of numerous articles, think pieces, rants, and ravings, and a couple days ago it was the focus of a televised debate.

Two days ago the NY Public Library hosted a debate panel titled “Amazon: Business as Usual?”. The event was streamed live before an audience, enabling this blogger and many others to witness what the American publishing industry really thinks and how it sees itself.

It was not a terribly well run event, unfortunately; aside from a token panelist, everyone on the panel hated Amazon. What’s more, the so-called moderator kept failing to do her job. As an anti-Amazon person herself, Tina Bennett kept interrupting the single dissenting voice, David “Passive Guy” Vandagriff.

But the debate is what it is, and there is much to be learned from it and from what is written about it. I posted my take on the debate Tuesday night, but I am not the only one to post a commentary. Here are several other posts from a variety of sources, including a first-hand account by David Vandagriff.

After you read the excerpts, scroll down to the end. I have a comment on the commentary.

Chris Meadows of TeleRead:

So in the end, the panel turned into a preach-to-the-converted session, with almost everyone just reiterating the same tired old talking points to each other. Amazon is big and bad; it sees books as a "commodity" like mouthwash or toilet paper, when books are actually a special snowflake; it's going to turn around and beat up on self-publishing authors after it finishes with traditional publishers, just you wait and see; traditional publishers are the guardians of literature and we'll miss them when they're gone; self-publishing authors "hate" the traditional publishing establishment; and so on. Vandagriff did the best he could with the time he had, but he just didn't have time to refute six other people—especially since one of them kept interrupting him when he tried.

David Vandagriff of The Passive Voice:

As the title of the post indicates, traditional publishing and indie authors live in two different worlds. The business concerns, the view of the future, the willingness and ability to change, the attitude toward Amazon and the self-image of the two groups are widely divergent.

To the extent that the other panelists were representative of tradpub as a whole, PG concludes they're terrified of Amazon. They believe that Amazon's commitment to low prices is simply not consistent with their survival and they're desperate to keep prices up. The idea of changing the way they operate to thrive a lower-price world is not on anyone's radar. Neither is the concept of making up revenue and profits with higher volume.

Porter Anderson on FutureBook:

It was WME literary agent Tina Bennett who suggested to LIVE From the NYPL’s curator Paul Holdengräber that the program have an evening’s conversation titled “Amazon: Business as Usual?” on the New York Public Library’s (NYPL) series. And as she moderated the panel Tuesday,  the point that she and the group kept returning to was the development of a marketplace controlled, as Princeton-based panelist Danielle Allen put it, by one commercial entity.

By some 50 minutes into the evening, the exercise was notable for an inability or unwillingness of the powerful to speak for itself.

On a related note, Publishers Lunch did not post a commentary, nor did Publishing Perspectives. There is a story in The Bookseller, but it’s behind a paywall so I can’t tell if it’s news or commentary.

Now that I have had a few days to digest the event, I have realized that this was not so much a debate as it was a chorus of agreement. And on that point, I judge it a failure.

Not that we should be surprised; this debate was structured in such a way that it was guaranteed to only include industry voices.

Chris Meadows pointed out how the debate could have been more balanced, even in the absence of an Amazon spokesperson: “add to Vandagriff a couple of folks like Hugh Howey, J.A. Konrath, Barry Eisler, or David Gaughran for the indie publisher side”.

That’s a good idea, but unfortunately the debate was conceived and held in too short of a time frame. Porter Anderson said that “the discussion was pulled together in about 10 days’ time” (Tina Bennett confirms that the event was put together very quickly). Anderson then goes on to fault Amazon for not sending anyone, which given the time frame was simply ridiculous.

Publishing industry conferences are planned not 10 days or 10 weeks in advance, but 10 months in advance. Even press events, which are scheduled for at least 2 weeks after the invites go out, are crafted over the course of months.

To put it simply, that short time frame between conception and holding the debate made it extremely difficult for anyone not already living in NYC to come to the event.

Unlike publishing industry insiders who live in and around NYC, a lot of us from the indie side can’t afford to plunk down thousands of dollars for a last minute plane ticket and hotel room. We don’t all have publishing companies to fund our travel budgets, nor is it reasonable to suggest that our schedules be disrupted at the last minute.

In short, folks, this event was set up to only include people who could commute into NYC for the day. That may not have been the intent, but whoever was in charge of the schedule should have seen it coming and done something.

Or am I wrong?

The post Four Takes on the “Amazon: Threat or Menace?” Debate appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Piracy Sting Nets $700,000 in Illicit Books in Uganda, Shows the Value of Reprinting Services like Paperight

Posted: 03 Jul 2014 09:47 AM PDT

3752143560_7fb8c27ce5_b[1]A distributed printing network like Paeright might not make much commercial sense in the US, but in its native Africa where the market is flooded with pirated print books, it’s a different matter.

There are conflicting reports coming out of Uganda this week concerning a major crackdown on illicit printing operations.

Depending on which source you find, somewhere between 60,000 and 80,000 books have been seized from multiple locations in  the Ugandan capital and from Mbarara, a small city in southwest Uganda. One account says that 1.8 billion Ugandan shillings worth of books were nabbed during “raids on bookshops, printeries and some homes”.

Most of those books are said to be textbooks, with one source saying that they were worth the equivalent of $686,000 USD. According to the executive director of the Uganda Reproduction Rights Organisation (URRO), Charles Batambuze, the pirated textbooks aren’t sold on the open market but to schools. “Most of these thugs connive with private schools, who then buy the books from them, some not knowing that they are buying fakes,” Batambuze said.

Some 29 booksellers were cited in the sting, including both street vendors and some prominent Ugandan bookstores. All of the thousands of textbooks seized in the sting will be burnt as soon criminal proceedings have concluded.

Local experts say that piracy has cost the Ugandan publishing industry around 10 billion shillings since last October, though it’s not clear where they got that figure. The Ugandan govt is also missing out on taxes.

Piracy is considered to be such a problem that  the industry is putting the final touches on a plan to use advanced anti-counterfeiting tech to foil the pirates.

A hologram is a form of a stamp fixed on genuine books to differentiate them from those plagiarised with a view of helping inspectors to identify rightful books on sale the market. The chairman of the National Book Trust, Mr Martin Okia said businesses and vendors have with impunity infringed on the copy right of both Ugandan and foreign authors which has killed the market for genuine books. "Authors and publishers have lost business due to piracy. This evil also affects buyers in terms of getting substandard and or altered materials," said Mr Okia.

Something tells me that the book pirates will either find a way to fake the stamps, or they’ll just buy them on the black market. I think a better solution would be to push more of the print shops that are printing the pirated books to join with Paperight and start compensating creators.

Paperight is a South African startup which created a distributed network which connects publishers and print shops. Publishers sign up and submit their titles, and authorized print shopspay a fee for each copy they print.

It provides an alternative source for textbooks which often cost too much in academic bookstores:

Dozens of students come into Aloe X every week to look for – and print out – textbooks that they need for their studies, but can't afford from the town's only academic bookstore (which, by the way, is just down the road.)

Because of this, Aloe X is one of our most active Paperight outlets, and probably the most active outlet in South Africa relative to the amount of people who live in its immediate vicinity. Word spreads fast here: students walk into Aloe X with their smartphones in hand to message their friends to come along if  the books they need can be located on the Paperight website.

"It's gotten to the point where people come up to me in the club and ask me if I can get them the books they need," Angelo says. "It's crazy how many people can't afford books in the book store here, but I'm happy we can do them a service."

I have long been an advocate of affirmative solutions to piracy, and not simply cracking down on pirates. Paperight is an example of how one can turn a pirate into a customer, and Ugandan authorities would be wise to push for a system like this. This strikes me as a long term solution which would remove or at least lessen the need to fight piracy.


image by fuzzcat

The post Piracy Sting Nets $700,000 in Illicit Books in Uganda, Shows the Value of Reprinting Services like Paperight appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Alcatel’s 3.5″ eReader Made an Appearance at Computex, Now Known as the e-Card

Posted: 03 Jul 2014 06:00 AM PDT

alcatel e-card 2The Alcatel Magic Flip was one of the high points of CES 2014, and I have just learned that this smartphone accessory slash ebook reader showed up at Computex last month.

The MagicFlip is now called the e-Card. From what I can tell it’s still not available yet, but on the plus side this ereader now works a lot better.

A video recently turned up on Youtube which shows the e-Card (or eCard, which I will now call it) displaying manga, and a couple blogs got their hands on the eCard at Computex. They found it in the E-ink booth (Charbax missed it when he toured the E-ink booth at Computex).

Sporting a 3.5″ E-ink screen, the eCard is designed to be paired an Alcatel smartphone over Bluetooth. And so far as I know, it isn’t intended to work with a competitor’s smartphones. Like the E-ink smartphone case from Gajah/Oaxis (old and new), the eCard requires a special app on the smartphone, but unlike the InkCase the eCard is also capable of working independently. The video suggests that the eCard can load an entire ebook and read it.

According to the description of the video (and the hands-on reports), the eCard can also display status updates, notifications (incoming call, SMS, alarms, email), weather info (this is shown in the video), and users can also push images to the eCard.

In many ways the eCard has features similar to smartwatches, only without the clunky weight on your wrist or the tiny screen. I don’t have a smartphone, but I did like how the eCard fit in my hand back at CES 2014. If this device ever hits the market it could well prove more popular than smartwatches.

At the very least I think the eCard could have more success than the txtr beagle. That smartphone accessory was intended to be simply an ereader when it launched in late 2012, but it has had little success on the market. By the end of 2013 it had only been picked up by a single telecom, in Hungary, and aside from the limited retail sales in Germany in 2013 the beagle is not available elsewhere.


The post Alcatel’s 3.5″ eReader Made an Appearance at Computex, Now Known as the e-Card appeared first on The Digital Reader.

The Morning Coffee – 3 July 2014

Posted: 02 Jul 2014 09:11 PM PDT

Your reading list this Thursday morning is focused on several different takes on the Amazon debate from Tuesday night, including Chris Meadows’s summary and an insider view from The Passive Voice. Other stories to read this morning include Scrivener’s Error take on the HobbyLobby decision, and more.


The post The Morning Coffee – 3 July 2014 appeared first on The Digital Reader.

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