Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

The Morning Coffee – 9 July 2014

Posted: 08 Jul 2014 05:56 PM PDT

Your reading list this Wednesday morning includes Harry Potter, the annoyance of websites blocking copy-paste,a reader fleeing back to paper books, academic publishers as modern day robber barons, and more.

  • Amazon-Hachette: Whose Side Are You On? (TeleRead)
  • Are Indie Books Being Squeezed out of Book Promo Sites? (Indies Unlimited)
  • The “C” in ARC Does Not Stand for “Contract” (Dear Author)
  • Harry Potter makes first appearance for seven years as he turns 34 ()
  • The numbers they didn’t want you to see: study finds that academic publishers charge whatever they want (MobyLives)
  • Sorry e-book, but we're through, writes Clare Masters (dailytelegraph.com.au)
  • The Trials Of Being A Techdirt Writer Volume 1: Stupid Copyright Popups When Pressing CTRL-C (Techdirt)

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Wattpad Acquires, Closes Competing Author Site

Posted: 08 Jul 2014 04:52 PM PDT

redroom-logo[1]Wattpad put the $46 million raised in their latest round of funding to good use last week.

PW reports that Wattpad has acquired a smaller rival writer site called Red Room for an undisclosed sum. In what could well be described as a whirlwind acquisition, Red Room informed members only last week that the site had been bought, and they turned off the servers today (no, seriously.)

Launched in 2008, Red Room was one of a number of sites intended to be a “Facebook for authors”. The site was founded by Ivory Madison, a lawyer, entrepreneur, and author. The site grew out of Madison’s previous project, the Red Room Writing School. “One grew out of the other,”" Madison said in 2009. “I wanted something scalable that could serve more people than the school. And I wanted it to be about something I care about—writers and writing.”

According to the press release, Madison notes that the acquisition will give Red Room authors access to the 30 million people that visit Wattpad each month. “When I launched Red Room in 2008 I wanted to break down the walls between readers and writers. I'm thrilled Red Room authors have found a new home in a friendly and supportive global community.”

I am having trouble finding recent coverage of the site, probably due to the commonality of the name.  We do know that the site had 20,000 members in 2009, and that it had raised around two and a half  million dollars in capital. But what I have found in Google suggests that many members only learned of the deal last week.

I’ll be honest with you: I had never heard of it before. From what I found in the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive, the Red Room was far more commercial than Wattpad, and included both a paid premium membership option and a bookstore. Wattpad, on the other hand, is still trying to find a way to fund operations.

Did you use Red Room? How did it compare to, say, Booklikes, Tumblr, or Wattpad?

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A Palate Cleanser for the Amazon Hachette Posts (video)

Posted: 08 Jul 2014 03:35 PM PDT

Earlier today I had the misfortune to write 3 different posts on the Amazon-Hachette contract dispute. I’m sure not everyone wanted to read that much about that particular topic in such a short period of time, but it couldn’t be helped.

Since I can’t unwrite the posts, let me make up for them with a palate cleanser. For your enjoyment, here is a video of a kitten playing on an iPad:

Now doesn’t that make everything better?

P.S. I’ve actually been waiting to use this idea for a while now. I got it from Boing Boing, where they use a unicorn chaser following posts with gross videos or photos.

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Hachette Declines Amazon’s Offer to Give Authors 100% eBook Royalties During Dispute

Posted: 08 Jul 2014 02:41 PM PDT

Well that was quick.

It’s only been a handful of hours since the letter Amazon sent to authors and agents was leaked to the press, and Hachette has already issued a statement declining the offer (found via GigaOm):

Amazon has just sent us a brief proposal.  We invite Amazon to withdraw the sanctions they have unilaterally imposed, and we will continue to negotiate in good faith and with the hope of a swift conclusion. We believe that the best outcome for the writers we publish is a contract with Amazon that brings genuine marketing benefits and whose terms allow Hachette to continue to invest in writers, marketing, and innovation.  We look forward to resolving this dispute soon and to the benefit of the writers who have trusted their books to us."

In their letter, Amazon claimed that Hachette wasn’t negotiating in good faith and had not really been negotiating at all (you can find the full letter here). Amazon said that negotiations had stalled in early June when Hachette stopped communicating. i don’t know if that’s true but it certainly has not been denied by Hachette.

Furthermore, Amazon has issued its own response to Hachette’s statement:

We call baloney. Hachette is part of a $10 billion global conglomerate. It wouldn't be 'suicide. They can afford it. What they're really making clear is that they absolutely want their authors caught in the middle of this negotiation because they believe it increases their leverage. All the while, they are stalling and refusing to negotiate, despite the pain caused to their authors. Our offer is sincere. They should take us up on it.

And this, folks, is what it looks like when Amazon plays dirty.

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Chuck Wendig is Right About Authors Taking Sides in the Amazon-Hachette Dispute

Posted: 08 Jul 2014 12:32 PM PDT

chuck_wendig200[1]If you’ve been following the media circus that is the contract dispute between Amazon and Hachette this past week, you may have noticed a couple additions. Groups of authors have started taking sides in large numbers, adding their own sideshows to the main event.

On Wednesday Doug Prescott circulated an open letter calling on Amazon to end its rough negotiation tactics. That letter was shortly seconded by the SFWA, and a day later leading indie author Hugh Howey responded with a similar open letter posted at Change.org. Howey’s letter was ostensibly written to readers, thanking them for buying books, but in reality it was a thinly veiled partisan criticism of Hachette and traditional publishing.

I have largely been avoiding writing about that part of the Amazon-Hachette media circus, but I decided to mention it today and second n opinion expressed by author Chuck Wendig. Wendig and I don’t see eye to eye on many topics, but last week he posted a critique Howey’s open letter and I wanted to reiterate what he wrote:

So, if one wanted to cobble together a more sane and sound response to the Amazon protest letter penned by some industry giants (Patterson, Preston, Patterson — wow, they sound like a legal firm), what would it, or could it, look like?

It'd be short.

It wouldn't be a petition.

It'd go to media, but also posted on relevant blogs to increase commentary and viral transmission.

It could be co-signed by a lot of self-publisher venerables.

It might read, in fact, like this:

“We respectfully disagree with the Amazon protest letter and believe that Amazon represents one part of a diverse publishing environment. We also feel that Amazon has helped to revolutionize publishing and is working for readers and authors, not in opposition to them. Amazon continues to put books in the hands of readers all around the country — in fact, the world — and has done more good for publishing than bad.”

“Further, we respectfully call on all publishers to work toward more equitable royalties and deal terms for their author partners. We support authors and want to keep as many avenues for those authors open — and as advantageous — as possible to maintain the health of books and book culture.”

Then, I dunno, you'd write THE END and be happy it was under 500 words. (Actually, I think that's about 100 words, so huzzah for brevity.) Short and sweet. Still lots one could disagree with, and I'm not putting this out as my letter — rather, I just wanted to demonstrate what a short and moderate response letter could look like. I feel like this is sharp enough, middle-of-the-road enough, and still gets the message across without sounding like it's time to pass the Flavor-Aid around the Jonestown campfire. It doesn't demonize anybody, doesn't throw anybody under the bus, doesn't elevate anybody to Empyrean pillars. Sounds (theoretically) mature. I mean, if I were really the one writing it, I'd probably throw a couple "fucks" and "poop noises" in there, just to brand it as my own, but whatever. Your mileage can and should vary.

He’s not wrong. This is exactly the calm, neutral, non-partisan response which Howey should have written. There was a high ground here, and Howey failed to seize it.

IMO the mistake Howey made was that he forgot indie authors don’t owe Amazon anything other than a commission.  Yes, Amazon has created new opportunities for authors and expanded the industry, but any obligation that may have created was cancelled out by the money Amazon earned.

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Amazon Offers Authors 100% of eBook Sales During Dispute with Hachette

Posted: 08 Jul 2014 11:12 AM PDT

2844902161_f66b8f9bdf_b[1]Something tells me that Amazon doesn’t expect their contract dispute with the French media conglomerate Lagardère to end any time soon.

The WSJ reported this morning that Amazon is now offering to give Hachette authors 100% of ebook revenues, and if this source is real then it appears Amazon might be willing to back down on some of their harsh negotiating tactics:

Amazon made the proposal in a letter to a handful of authors and agents. If Hachette agrees to the idea, Amazon would also return to “normal levels of on-hand print inventory, return to normal pricing in all formats, and for books that haven’t gone on sale yet, reinstate pre-orders.” That would effectively reverse steps Amazon had taken in the wake of its fight with Hachette.

Can anyone suggest a reason for Amazon’s sudden change of behavior?

I’m not entirely sure this letter is real, but even if it is we are only getting about half of the story. I, for one, don’t see Amazon offering this out of the goodness of their heart, so I have to wonder what exactly they want in return. Alas, I don’t have the letter so I can’t answer that. But there has to be some type of quid pro quo, or at least this offer has to in some way benefit Amazon.

Update: GigaOm posted the full letter:

Dear XX,

I wanted to ask your opinion about an idea we've had that would take authors out of the middle of the Hachette-Amazon dispute (actually it would be a big windfall for authors) and would motivate both Hachette and Amazon to work faster to resolve the situation.

Our first choice would be to resolve a dispute like this through discussion only. We tried that already. We reached out to Hachette for the first time to discuss terms at the beginning of January for our contract which terminated in March. We heard nothing from them for three full months. We extended the contract into April under existing terms. Still nothing. In fact we got no conversation at all from Hachette until we started reducing our on-hand print inventory and reducing the discounts we offer customers off their list prices. Even since then, weeks have gone by while we waited for them to get back to us. After our last proposal to them on June 5th, they waited a week to respond at all, promising a counteroffer the following week. We are still waiting a month later.

We agree that authors are caught in the middle while these negotiations drag on, and we're particularly sensitive to the effect on debut and midlist authors. But Hachette's unresponsiveness and unwillingness to talk until we took action put us in this position, and unless Hachette dramatically changes their negotiating tempo, this is going to take a really long time.

Here's what we're thinking of proposing to them:

• If Hachette agrees, for as long as this dispute lasts, Hachette authors would get 100% of the sales price of every Hachette e-book we sell. Both Amazon and Hachette would forego all revenue and profit from the sale of every e-book until an agreement is reached.

• Amazon would also return to normal levels of on-hand print inventory, return to normal pricing in all formats, and for books that haven't gone on sale yet, reinstate pre-orders.

Here's an example: if we sell a book at $9.99, the author would get the full $9.99, many multiples of what they would normally get. We can begin implementing this arrangement in 72 hours if Hachette agrees.

We haven't sent this offer to Hachette yet — we're sending this to a few authors and agents to get feedback first.

What do you think?  Would this be helpful, especially for midlist and debut authors?

Can we talk on the phone later today or tomorrow once you've had a chance to digest?

Thanks and look forward to talking

Now I see what Amazon was going for; this is smart on a level that deserves applause.

Knowing that this letter would be leaked, Amazon sent a conciliatory note which included all sorts of details which they would not and could not reveal publicly. I can’t say how much of it is true, but that matters less than the fact that Amazon has very likely managed to change the tenor of the coverage.

What’s more, if Hachette takes Amazon up on their offer it will mollify authors who have been complaining, but if Hachette doesn’t then Amazon will no longer be the only bad guy in this fight. On a tactical level this was genius.

This contract dispute has reportedly been going on since last November, with Amazon using various means to pressure Lagardère ‘s US publishing subsidiary, Hachette Book Group, into agreeing to a new contract. Amazon has reduced the stock of Hachette titles in its warehouses, reduced discounts, and removed the option to pre-order Hachette titles.

Aside from leaks from Hachette, no one knows exactly what the two parties are fighting over. But it has been said that Amazon wants increased co-op fees, and possibly better terms on ebook sales. The latter was confirmed by Kindle VP Russ Grandinetti last week.

What little we do know is that Amazon has Hachette over a barrel. The retailer accounts for 60% of Hachette ebook sales in the US, and 79% in the UK.

image by mararie

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HarperCollins Launches Yet Another eBookstore

Posted: 08 Jul 2014 09:28 AM PDT

HarperCollinsEvidently pleased with the success of niche ebookstores like Narnia.com (launched last October), HarperCollins launched a new ebookstore today at HarperCollins.com.

The new store sells paper books, ebook, and even audiobooks (when available).

The ebooks are being sold globally in all markets where HC has the rights, but the audiobooks and paper books are only available to US customers. In addition to selling the books, HC also links to other retailers who also offer HC titles. This includes retailers outside of the US.

The store also offers previews of upcoming titles as well as the option to pre-order the book. Readers will also find author tour and appearance information, and sweepstakes featuring partner prizes.

“Our mission as a 21st century publisher is to connect authors and readers,” said Angela Tribelli, chief marketing officer. “The elegant, consumer-centric design of the site provides an innovative platform for our authors that will boost the discoverability of their books, drive sales, and—ultimately—launch writing careers.”

Like the Narnia.com store, the ebooks sold on HarperCollins.com can be read in the HarperCollins -branded apps for iOS and Android, and they can also be downloaded to a PC and transferred to a compatible ebook reader.

Based on the few minutes I spent checking price, HarperCollins is pricing some titles competitively and others at full price. That is much the same pricing policy as Amazon and other ebook retailers, and in fact HC sometimes beat the Amazon price.

HarperCollins is one of a number of publishers, including RosettaBooks and Hachette, that are trying to forge a direct retail connection with readers in the hopes of bypassing or at least lessening the impact of the Kindle Store. Given the inconvenience of HarperCollins’s new store, I don’t think they will have much luck in loosening Amazon’s grip on their pocketbook – at least not directly. But if HC were to start emphasizing links to other retailers, they might be able to lessen Amazon’s market share.

It would be a roundabout solution, but it’s still better than the alternative.

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Even a Knife Can’t Hurt This “iPhone 6″ Display (video)

Posted: 08 Jul 2014 08:34 AM PDT

Apple has long been rumored to be planning to use scratch-resistant Sapphire glass on its next iPhone (and iWatch). These rumors circulated around the launch of the iPhone 5s last year (they weren’t true), but it looks like the rumors might finally be coming true at last.

A new video on Youtube purports to show the front glass for the next iPhone. According to Youtuber Marques Brownlee, it measures 4.7″ and is extremely rugged:

As he points out in the video, the Sapphire glass is scratch resistant, impact resistant, and is far more flexible than you would expect from a sheet of glass. Brownlee scrapes his keys across the glass, tries to stab it with a knife, and then tries to both bend and twist the component.

It survives everything Brownlee can do to is, which is more than I would say for Corning’s Gorilla Glass. That would have broken when you twisted it, and it’s not nearly as impact resistant (I can speak from personal experience).

The next iPhone is expected to launch sometime in either September or October, and at this point it looks like we will be seeing both a 4.7″ model and a 5.5″ model.

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Blloon Wants to Bring a Netflix-Style eBook Service to eBook Readers

Posted: 08 Jul 2014 07:19 AM PDT

RTEmagicC_hero-teaser_smaller.jpg[1]The world’s most secretive ebook startup broke cover again today with a few new details about their service.

Blloon, which I had previously reported as being a new service from the German ebook company txtr, is actually an independent project . It’s a new company which is being launched by some of the team behind txtr, and when its service goes live this summer it intends to offer readers a subscription ebook service with a catalog of around a million titles.

Blloon has confirmed today that the service is scheduled to launch in the UK in August, and expand to Germany in the first quarter of next year. Other markets were not mentioned. New subscribers will get 3 free ebooks when they sign up (and not the 3 per month which I was lead to believe last week).

Or rather, Blloon is now saying that customers will get credit in a virtual currency which will let them acquire 3 ebooks. The details are still vague on that point and it is one we will need to confirm when Blloon officially launches.

It’s also not clear exactly how the service will operate. While I am calling it a Netflix-style service, that might not be strictly true. There are hints that ebooks are paid with points, not money, and that readers can get points either through their subscription or by other means, including recruiting new members, writing reviews, and the like. There is also a suggestion that the ebooks will be permanently acquired in a way similar to Audible and Entitle.

Again, that is a detail that we will need to confirm in the official FAQ when Blloon launches.

The Berlin-based startup also revealed today that  in addition to launching on the iPad, they hope to expand their service on to ereaders. When they spoke to lesen.net yesterday, they hinted that they wanted to work out deals with device makers like Kobo and Pocketbook to add a Blloon app to the home screen of ereaders.

Yes, ereaders (or so reported lesen.net). While that might sound impossible, it’s really just highly improbable.

You and I might think that services like Blloon, or its competitors Oyster and Scribd, as only working with apps but that is not strictly true.  It’s possible to load library ebooks on to ereaders, and in fact Sony integrated OverDrive into their last 3 Sony Readers (now deceased). Overdrive offers library ebooks which expire, which is not dissimilar from Blloon (but also not the same thing).

So in fact getting the Blloon service on to ereaders is not impossible. Still, I would describe it as implausible. Developing the software will cost no small amount, and the investment will only be worth it after Blloon is widely available. Since that is not going to happen soon I don’t see either Kobo or Pocketbook jumping on the idea.

I am also not convinced that the Blloon team has the technical chops to support their service on ereaders. These same folks have tried and failed to launch a couple ereaders, including the txtr reader in 2009 (d. 2011) and the beagle, a 5″ smartphone accessory. That last launched close to 2 years ago but is only available in a single small market in Europe (and that took over a year to accomplish). It was supposed to be sold through telecoms, but thanks to a bungled design no one wants to carry it.

Txtr is best known now for offering a white-label ebookstore platform which other companies can use. Sony, for example, was a customer, and so is Deutsche Telecom in several markets. Txtr has also provided several key components for the 3M Cloud Library (3M is largest of txtr’s capital investors, but doesn’t own it outright).

And while we are on the topic, here is the official word on the relationship between txtr and Blloon:

It emanates from txtr employees but Blloon is a separate company. txtr is supplying technology as a service provider. We have a service license agreement with Blloon as we do with Lenovo, Foyles, ReaderLink and our other clients.

At this point there are really too many unknowns to draw any conclusions or make any predictions about Blloon, so i for one will wait for the launch in August.

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The Morning Coffee – 8 July 2014

Posted: 07 Jul 2014 09:10 PM PDT

My reading list is short today .

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