Monday, 15 September 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

New Study Suggests Readers Recall More from Print than Digital News – if You Can Trust the Data

Posted: 15 Sep 2014 06:46 PM PDT

3660097148_5d3ac33084_b[1]A newly published paper from the University of Houston appears to show that test subjects who get their news from newspapers recall more details than those who get their news online, but there are serious questions about the validity of the study.

Dr. Arthur D. Santana, a former journalist and assistant professor in the Jack. J. Valenti School of Communication at the University of Houston, recently conducted a study which examined the difference in users' experiences in print and online media. In that study a group of college students were asked to read from the NYTimes for 20 minutes and then asked to list the headlines, general topics, and main points of as many stories as they could remember.

According to the press release, the test subjects who read online recalled an average of 3.35 stories, while those who read the print edition remembered an average of 4.24 news stories, thus showing the obvious benefits of print over digital.

Or maybe not.

Ever since the latest digital v print study made the rounds a few weeks ago, I’ve been talking about these types of studies with a pair of specialists who have been conducting research in this area. While they would rather not be named, our discussions have pointed me at a few problems with this paper and the study it is based on.

In this case, one of the problems I can see in this study is that there was only the mention of a survey and not any source of data. That is but a single data point, which means that there is only so much you can measure. What’s more, the test subjects were asked to simply read from the NYTimes, rather than given specific articles. That lack of a structured reading setup, when combined with the open ended survey, means that you can’t prove that the test subjects didn’t recall a detail; it just means they didn’t report it.

In contrast, test subjects in the study discussed last month were required to read a specific story and then extensively quizzed on the details in the story. While that study had its own issues (many of the test subjects had never before used the devices they were tested on) in some ways it still had a better procedure.

In short, there’s really not much that can be said about this study.

image by lethaargic




The post New Study Suggests Readers Recall More from Print than Digital News – if You Can Trust the Data appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Scribd for iOS Updated with Two Column Mode and Other Layout Improvements

Posted: 15 Sep 2014 02:35 PM PDT

scribd[1]Scribd rolled out a new update today for their app for iPhone and iPad, adding features that some have been wanting for a while now.

The v3.7 Scribd app features faster downloads, smoother syncing between the app and the site, and it also has a completely re-imagined browsing experience with more than 1,800 categories and handpicked collections from our editors.

The app also now has support for Japanese and Chinese characters, but the most important change today are the changes to the layout. Scribd reports that they’ve improved the page layout and hyphenation, and added a two-column reading mode for the iPad (and probably the iPhone 6+ when it is available).

I am not a subscriber of Scribd, but I do agree with Juli Monroe’s point that a two-column (or more) reading mode is a must have feature for reading apps. It’s good to see that Scribd added it.

Next step: a three-column reading mode. You can find the app in iTunes.

P.S. If anyone wants to post a screenshot, I’d love to see what the app looks like in the new mode.


The post Scribd for iOS Updated with Two Column Mode and Other Layout Improvements appeared first on The Digital Reader.

HarperCollins Thinks There’s No Such Thing as Too Much DRM, Adds Another DRM Layer to eBooks

Posted: 15 Sep 2014 11:12 AM PDT

HarperCollinsHarperCollins dashed my hopes today when they announced that they were spending even more on DRM. This publisher isn’t just using DRM to try to lock down consumer copies; they’ve expanded the idea with the false hope that they can use digital watermark DRM to make their supply chain more secure.

From PW:

Although the system is capable of identifying consumers who download e-books illegally, HC is using it to make sure that its e-tailers "are using the highest degree of security possible,"Restivo-Alessi said. If the Guardian Watermarking finds e-books that are being downloaded illegally, they will ask that e-tailer to either upgrade their security efforts or risk being dropped as an account, Restivo-Alessi added.

The addition of the watermarking initiative to regular DRM efforts "is another control we have in the digital supply chain to assure authors we are doing all we can to protect their content,"Restivo-Alessi said. HC has been aggressively growing its sales of e-books overseas and just last week signed an agreement with to sell e-books in China.

This story came across my desk a couple weeks ago as an embargoed press release. I’ve had some time to think about it and I have to wonder exactly what HarperCollins is trying to accomplish here.

On the face of it, I don’t see what HarperCollins will gain from knowing which ebook retailer was the seller of a pirated ebook. The most they can do is either demand the retailer use an industry standard DRM or be cut off.

But what if HC finds a pirated ebook and tracks it back to a retailer which is already using an industry standard DRM? What then?

All of the common types of encryption DRM, from Kindle to Adobe DE, have been hacked already, and adopting one of the uncommon types would likely cost a retailer a lot of money and customers.

This leads me to wonder if perhaps HarperCollins is going to start forcing ebook retailers to also adopt digital watermark DRM on top of the Adobe DRM.

I frankly don’t see what else HC will be driving for, do you?

Or is there something I missed?

The post HarperCollins Thinks There’s No Such Thing as Too Much DRM, Adds Another DRM Layer to eBooks appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Your Amazon Account Can be Hacked via a Kindle eBook

Posted: 15 Sep 2014 10:21 AM PDT

5811777890_73cb670487[1]Amazon might not have a security issue at Audible but they do have one on their main website.

A security researcher has reported, and I can confirm, that Amazon has a security hole on the “manage Your Kindle” page – one which is relatively easy to fix.

Thanks to this hole, a hacker can gain access to the Amazon account simply by getting his victims to download an ebook which was itself hacked to include a script in the title:

Once an attacker manages to have an e-book (file, document, …) with a title like

<script src=””></script>

added to the victim’s library, the code will be executed as soon as the victim opens the Kindle Library web page. As a result, Amazon account cookies can be accessed by and transferred to the attacker and the victim’s Amazon account can be compromised.

I’ve tried it, and it does work. I saw something similar to the image which the hacker posted to his blog.


As a result I would urge caution against buying or downloading ebooks from untrustworthy sources –  for the near future, at least. I expect Amazon will fix this problem shortly – that’s what they did when it was first discovered last fall.

No this is not a new story, though it is just coming to light. The German ebook blog broke the story earlier today when they reported on the hacker who discovered this issue – and more importantly, provided an ebook which could prove the hack worked.

Benjamin Daniel Mussler writes that he discovered this security issue last October. He notified Amazon in November, and they fixed it 4 days later. That is great, but then then Amazon reintroduced the security hole earlier this year when they launched the new version of the “Manage Your Kindle” page.

As of the time I wrote this post, Mussler’s hack still worked.  There’s even an ebook which you can use to test the hack yourself, if you like. I would recommend against it, but it is up to you.

On a related note, if you’re worried about being hacked, there is a simple rule you can follow to keep yourself safe.

I have a rule against downloading apps from questionable websites, one which I have long since applied to Epub ebooks (because they can contain Javascript)  and PDFs (because they can hold entire apps). Now it would seem that rule needs to be expanded to include Kindle ebooks as well.

image by Pitel

The post Your Amazon Account Can be Hacked via a Kindle eBook appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Does Audible Have a Security Loophole? Not That I Could Find

Posted: 15 Sep 2014 09:07 AM PDT

screen_shot_2014-09-15_at_11_34_09[1]Business Insider has a story up this morning which has me scratching my head.

They’re reporting that Audible, Amazon’s audiobook sub, has a security problem.  According to BI’s source,  Audible supposedly doesn’t check credit cards when you sign up for a prescription but instead checks when you use the first credit/

I have issues with this report:

In a video provided to Business Insider, Alan Joseph, a 19-year-old computer science student from Bangalore, India, demonstrated the loophole. Business Insider was able to replicate the technique used by Joseph to download audio books for free.

Using a fake name, fake email address and a fake credit card, users are able to create an account on Audible, and purchase any member program. Business Insider was able to purchase the most expensive membership program, a $229 24-book “Platinum Annual Membership,” using fake credit card information.

After the membership is applied to an account, users are given a number of credits to purchase books as part of the membership. Despite using randomized fake card details, the credits are still applied to accounts.

Amazon only checks the credit card information after a user “buys” an audio book using a credit gained from a membership program purchased using a fake credit card.

I would like to disbelieve this report as simply being too implausible, but to be honest I have seen similar mistakes with other retailers, including one which allowed me to continue to buy  and download ebooks after I cancelled a subscription.

Furthermore, it appears Amazon has patched that security hole. I tried and failed to replicate the loophole mentioned in the Business Insider article, and Amazon refused to accept the fake credit card number I used for the fake account  (which is exactly what should have happened).

So even if this story was true when BI posted it, it is no longer true. Or at the very least, I cannot confirm the accuracy of the story.

The post Does Audible Have a Security Loophole? Not That I Could Find appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Authors United Sends Open Letter to Amazon Board, Filled With Bad Arguments and Factual Errors

Posted: 15 Sep 2014 07:14 AM PDT

33968122_dc135bdd9f_b[1]The anti-Amazon group Authors United fired their next salvo today in their battle against Amazon. After seeing that their last effort, a $104,000 full page ad in the NYTimes, was less than successful in swaying public opinion, Authors United turned their attention to a smaller audience.

This morning Authors United published an open letter to Amazon’s board of directors, calling on them to change Amazon’s policies.  Authors United wants Amazon to stop using rough negotiation tactics in its contract dispute with Hachette Book Group. Said dispute has been going on since spring 2014, with no end in sight.

You can find the complete letter over at

I had planned to simply cover the basic facts of the letter, but now that I have read it I can’t help but marvel at the amount of talent that is lined up behind something so terribly written. Over a thousand gifted authors have joined Authors United at this point, yet somehow they managed to produce a letter which reads like it was written by a committee.

I am surprised at the number of bad arguments presented and facts they got wrong.

For example, near the end of the letter AU warns the board about the possible damage to Amazon’s reputation:

Since its founding, Amazon has been a highly regarded and progressive brand. But if this is how Amazon continues to treat the literary community, how long will the company’s fine reputation last?

This argument tends to fall apart when you remember that in many segments of the book industry, Amazon’s reputation is already dirt. This ongoing dispute is not going to hurt any.

Also, the latest market survey suggests that the contract dispute is not harming Amazon’s reputation with consumers. In July the Codex Group surveyed 5,300 American book consumers and found that 60% were unaware of the dispute, and that only 8% were buying fewer books as a result of the media coverage. (And while that survey data is old, if there was newer data which contained bad news for Amazon, it would have been published in that flurry of anti-Amazon pieces last week.)

And that is just the beginnings of what’s wrong with this letter. Authors United has a rather interesting view of their position in this contract dispute:

Our position has been consistent. We have made a great effort not to take sides. We are not against Amazon.

Funny,  I don’t recall Authors United taking out a full page ad calling on Hachette to make peace with Amazon. I also don’t recall any mentions of plans to send a similar open letter to board members at Lagardère, Hachette’s French corporate parent, calling on them to come to terms with Amazon.

And on a related note, Authors United has not indicated when they plan to castigate Barnes & Noble and other booksellers for refusing to stock titles published by Amazon. (An oversight, I am sure.)

The letter goes on to misquote Russ Grandinetti:

Russell Grandinetti of Amazon has stated that the company was “forced to take this step because Hachette refused to come to the table.” He has also claimed that “authors are the only leverage we have.”

This quote caught my eye because the NYTimes has a different version in which Grandinetti supposedly said: “This was the only leverage we had.”

One of the quotes has to be wrong, meaning that either the NYTimes is lying or this letter is lying about what Grandinetti said. Would you care to lay odds which version is correct?

Given that both versions came from Authors United, I don’t think it matters, but I do find the inconsistency  interesting.

I also found their claim that about Amazon’s mis-characterizations interesting:

… But Amazon has repeatedly tried to dismiss us as “rich” bestselling authors who are advocating higher ebook prices—a false and unfair characterization, as most of us are in fact midlist authors struggling to make a living.

No, it’s that $104,000 ad that characterized you as rich best-selling authors. Anyone who can afford to waste that much money, even if it’s divided among the entire group, is well-to-do.

To continue:

Amazon has every right to refuse to sell consumer goods in response to a pricing disagreement with a wholesaler. We all appreciate discounted razor blades and cheaper shoes. But books are not consumer goods.

Ah, the “books as special snowflakes” argument.

Books cannot be written more cheaply, nor can authors be outsourced to China.

A false argument. Amazon isn’t fighting for the books to be made more cheaply; they want to sell the books more cheaply.

And then there are arguments like this that characterize Authors United as out of touch, rich, best-selling authors:

Publishers provide venture capital for ideas. They advance money to authors, giving them the time and freedom to write their books. This system is especially important for nonfiction writers, who must quit their jobs to travel, research and write. Without an advance, for example, many aspiring writers would never be able to leave their jobs to write their first books.

While I would like to criticize them as simply being wrong, this is how many in the industry views publishing. It is a sadly myopic vision which excludes the vast majority of authors who don’t get huge advances and have never been able to quit their day jobs.

It also ignores the fact that the vast majority of first novels are written long before the publishers even see them; said manuscripts have usually been passed around for a couple years before an author is offered a contract – with a small advance. (The smarter ones  have given up by that point and self-published.)


All in all, if this letter succeeds at doing anything other than preaching to the choir, I will be terribly surprised.

If nothing else, the Grandinetti quote will sink this letter. All it will take is a single phone call and one director asking “Did you really say that?” When he denies the statement, the rest of the letter will be disregarded.

What do you think?

image  by jonrawlinson

The post Authors United Sends Open Letter to Amazon Board, Filled With Bad Arguments and Factual Errors appeared first on The Digital Reader.

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