Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

The Morning Coffee – 2 October 2014

Posted: 01 Oct 2014 07:56 PM PDT

Here are six stories to read this morning.

  • Are there lessons from Spotify on eBook subscription services? (TeleRead)
  • AuthorRise Shows Promise for Indie Writers by Frances Caballo (The Book Designer)
  • A note about confidentiality clauses (Courtney Milan’s Blog)
  • The NYT admits its app strategy has holes, pulls plug on one app, puts users of another on notice | (TNM)
  • Size Matters: Balancing Line Length And Font Size In Responsive Web Design (Smashing Magazine)
  • What About Hachette's Responsibility? (The Watershed Chronicle)

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WSJ: The Authors Guild Met With DOJ in August

Posted: 01 Oct 2014 07:55 PM PDT

5566452462_1313bfc915[1]It seems that earlier reports of Amazon crushing the will of the book industry have greatly exaggerated.

The WSJ reported Wednesday night that members of The Authors Guild met with the US Dept of Justice in August to complain about Amazon:

The Authors Guild, the country’s largest advocacy group for writers, met with Justice Department officials in early August, people familiar with the matter said. The Guild, which has more than 8,500 members, raised concerns that Amazon is violating antitrust law as it puts pressure on Hachette Book Group in a dispute over revenue from e-books.

The meeting took place after the Authors Guild emailed Bill Baer, head of the antitrust division of the Justice Department, requesting that the department open an investigation into Amazon, one of the people said.

One person who attended the meeting said Justice Department lawyers listened attentively, but said this wasn’t an indication of whether the government would launch such a probe. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

I don’t know about you, but I am especially amused to read about that meeting considering that The Authors Guild, in its appeal of the Google Books ruling, called out Amazon as one of the parties harmed by said ruling.

There’s no word at this time what was discussed, just that The AG claimed that Amazon was violating US antitrust law.

I have trouble picturing how that could be the case; current antitrust law is focused on increasing competition, particularly at the consumer end. Amazon is dedicated to competing aggressively to keep prices low, so it would require a novel interpretation of antitrust law to prosecute Amazon.

And that goes double when you consider that Walmart, which is about 6 times Amazon’s size, has an even greater impact on far more than just the book industry. Walmart is well-known for using tactics similar to Amazon’s, and yet this retailer has not been prosecuted for antitrust violations. Something tells me Amazon won’t be prosecuted either.

But one detail I found especially interesting from the WSJ report was that Douglas Preston was reportedly at the meeting with the DOJ. He’s on The AG’s Council which means he is privy to just about everything that The AG has said to the Dept of Justice.

Douglas Preston is also the head of Authors United, which as you might recall recently announced that it was going to be sending a letter to the DOJ, asking that Amazon be investigated for antitrust violations.

That letter is still being crafted, and once complete it will be sent out to AU members for review (I believe this is called litigation by committee). Something tells me that Preston already knows just how much impact the letter will have.

I for one look forward to reading it.

image  by @jbtaylor

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Mike Shatzkin Encounters Socially-Aware Indie Authors, is Confused

Posted: 01 Oct 2014 02:50 PM PDT

Shatzkin-MIke-4-300x268[1]Mike Shatzkin is a noted pundit in the publishing industry, but there are times that he truly misses the point.

A couple days ago Mike posted a new screed in which he questions the motivations of indie authors who bash the legacy publishing industry. While Mike can see how advocates of the legacy industry are fighting for their jobs, he thinks indies are arguing against their own interests:

While there is a symmetry to the two sides' dismay about what is appreciated or understood, there is a massive asymmetry here that is hardly, if ever, mentioned. And that asymmetry makes the motivation of the legacy defenders very clear — they're fighting for their lives — but actually suggests that the "side" fighting them (to the extent that it consists of indie authors) is at least sometimes simultaneously fighting against their own interests.

I found the entire 2,300 word piece to be immensely frustrating. It’s not that Mike can’t see or connect motivations, actions, and arguments from A to B to C to D; he has all the points to answer his own question in his own post and yet he doesn’t see them.

Sidenote: My apologies if this copies a comment left on Mike’s blog; Disquis is on the fritz and I cannot see the comments.

To start, let’s accept the premise that indies need the majors to balance out Amazon. As much as I would rather not rely on the existing reprobates running the 5 major trade publishers, I cannot argue with the point that indies would be better off with market power divided among more and not fewer businesses.

I’m sure we can also agree that the book publishing industry is going through a revolutionary if not cataclysmic time.

So how do we act to help the majors survive? By pointing out all of the things they’re doing wrong (in the opinion of the indie author), or as Mike laid, by bashing them:

Indeed, the content of the anti-publisher rants often includes specific suggestions, or demands: raise the digital royalty, make shorter contracts, pay royalties more often, etc. that are, no doubt, author-friendly.

What really gets me about Mike’s piece is that earlier in the article he writes that “Simple logic says that Amazon will treat them best when the possibilities offered by publishers are the best”, and yet he doesn’t see how indies bashing publishers on contract terms serves that purpose.

Instead he writes that:

But it does seem a bit weird for people committed to demonizing, weakening, and ridiculing the big publishers to be the ones to tell them what they could do to stay competitive. If publishers accepted the suggestions, of course, perhaps Amazon would be pushed to improve author terms too, but that seems a pretty indirect and distant reward to explain all the time and energy some people expend on this.

For one thing, anyone who thinks that all of this bashing could actually _weaken_ a major publisher really needs to get there head out of the echo chamber which is the publishing industry and into the real world. (It is also poor form to question “the time and energy some people expend on this” in a post that is over 2,300 words long, but I digress.)

But never mind that; I’m just tired of this piece, and I am tired of Mike’s assumption that anyone who bashes the publishing industry wants Amazon to win. (The constant framing of this issue as a binary debate was almost enough to make me abandon this post – twice).

Let me wrap this up quickly.

In short, folks, Mike sees that indies have Motivation A (keeping big publishers around). He sees them pursuing Goal B (getting the pubs to reform) by taking Action C (bashing the publishers on contract terms).

I don’t know if that describes all indies but that sure does fit with a bunch of the ones I know.  Some of them dissect the contract terms they won’t accept, while others are talking just to talk. (It’s the internet; that’s what we do.)

And some actually are socially aware, and are joining in the debate so they can point out what they see as the best way forward for the publishing industry.

But I don’t think Mike can accept that such people exist, otherwise he wouldn’t have repeatedly denied them in his piece.

The post Mike Shatzkin Encounters Socially-Aware Indie Authors, is Confused appeared first on The Digital Reader.

FreedomPop Launches a $75 Tablet, Will Follow it With a $99 Phablet

Posted: 01 Oct 2014 10:23 AM PDT

FreedomPop-Liberty1[1]FreedomPop is about to launch a new phablet aimed at those who think the Galaxy Note line is both too small and too expensive.

This purveyor of budget cellphone plans is launching a 7″ tablet today as a precursor to launching a 4G-equipped model next month.

The FreedomPop Liberty tablet has generally unremarkable specs, but FreedomPop is hoping that the low price will draw in tablet owners and turn them into customers who might later be tempted to upgrade to a better plan or better hardware.

So what do you get for your $75?

The full specs for the Liberty aren’t available from FreedomPop, but according to the press coverage this tablet runs Android 4.2 Jelly Bean on a 1.2GHz dual-core CPU with 512RAM, 4GB internal storage, and a microSD card slot. It sports a 4MP (?) rear camera and a VGA resolution front-facing camera. The screen resolution is 1024 x 600,and the tablet has a 2.8Ah battery.

All in all those are unimpressive specs. There’s really nothing to recommend this tablet over similar priced units like a refurbished Sero 7 Pro, much less convince this blogger to tie myself to a telecom like FreedomPop – not when competing tablets lack the attached FreedomPop strings.


But the model coming next month with 4G LTE, now that’s another matter. Everyone is reporting that FreedomPop will release the $99 Frenzy phablet in November, and if you pair that price with FreedomPop’s $6 a month plans it could really be a tempting buy.

Assuming, that is, you wanted a weak phablet which is tied to Sprint network. FredomPop is an MVNO which buys airtime from Sprint, which I’m told has the slowest 4G network in the US.

I’m not trying to bash FreedomPop; I was at first very interested in this offer, but after I went through the steps to check the specs and buy the Liberty tablet I didn’t like it so much. It’s too cheap and comes with too many strings attached.

But to be fair, I don’t know of any other 7″ phablets selling for $99. The closest I can think of is the Asus FonePad, which retails for $400, or the Verizon Ellipsis 7, which costs $249 at retail.

As with all devices, you get what you pay for.




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What Are You Reading On? October 2014

Posted: 01 Oct 2014 08:29 AM PDT

icarus illumina hd reading app 1 Given the many new mobile device launched each year and the excess of models still floating around from past years, a reader has many choices for reading devices.

That’s why every so often I like to post an open question where I share what I’m using, and ask readers what gadgets they are reading on. 

When I last discussed my ereader tools in June 2014, I mentioned that I used a laptop to keep up on news and work, an iPad (rarely), and two tablets: the Kindle Fire HD and a Kobo Arc (2012).

I have long been a fan of reading ebooks on tablets (my first ereader was a Tapwave Zodiac, TBH), so the lack of an ebook reader in that list should come as no surprise. But what surprised me is that after many years of using tablets and preferring them to ereaders, I found an ebook reader which drew me back to the gray side – and it’s not the Onyx Boox T68 Lynx, with its 6.8″ screen.

Icarus-Illumina-HDI’m still using my Kindle Fire HD as a media tablet, and yes it is the same buggy one I had in June, but my main reading device is the Boyue T61 Android ereader I reviewed a few weeks back.

As much as I like the color screens and multi-purpose nature of Android tablets, every time I put down a review unit I keep getting drawn back to the T61. It has a 6″ E-ink screen with a disappointing frontlight, which I had thought would cool my interest, but the combination of page turn buttons and the fact it runs Android has made the T61 a very attractive ereader.

I can install any of the reading apps I want, and since most of the apps work with the page turn buttons the T61 offers what I feel is a great reading experience. I’ve been using it as a straight ebook reader, and not the multi-purpose device it could be.

I guess the lesson I’ve learned here is that sometimes it’s not the screen size or resolution that matters; it’s the little details that count.


So that's what I am reading on; how about you?

Are you reading on a tablet, smartphone, or ereader? The comments are open.

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Amazon Gives UK Prime Members Early eBook Access with Kindle First

Posted: 01 Oct 2014 07:10 AM PDT

kindle firstAmazon has made it a little sweeter today to be an  Amazon Prime member in the UK. Following only a couple weeks after the UK launch of Kindle Unlimited, Amazon expanded their Kindle First Program into the UK today.

Amazon’s UK customers can now download one of four ebooks published by Amazon a month before it is officially released.  The limit is one download per customer, and they’re being sold cheap.  Prime members can get the ebook for free, and the rest of Amazon’s customers can get the ebook for 99 pence – about 75% off retail.

Curiously, the US Kindle First program is limited to only Prime members. Do you think this is a sign that could change?

Amazon has never revealed just how many US customers participate in the Kindle First program here in the states, but we do know that the program has proven popular enough that the freebies distort the Kindle best seller list, so much so that DBW started filtering out said titles.

There’s a high probability that this program will have a similar effect on the UK best seller list, boosting the profile (and sales) of books published by Amazon.


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Tesco to Close/Sell Blinkbox – This May Include the eBookstore

Posted: 01 Oct 2014 06:11 AM PDT

indexNews is breaking in the UK today that the supermarket chain Tesco is getting out of streaming video. The Guardian, Time of London, and other sources are reporting that Tesco CEO Dave Lewis has started a strategic review of Blinkbox, the streaming video service which Tesco acquired 3 years ago.

Lewis is reportedly planning to either sell or shutter Blinkbox in order to reduce Tesco’s losses. Neither Tesco nor Blinkbox spokespersons are commenting, and that is leaving a lot of questions unanswered.

For example, we still don’t know whether Tesco will shut down its entire media division, including the ebookstore, or just down just the streaming video service.

Tesco has been buying or building a digital media unit over the past several years in order to sell video, music, and – most importantly for this blogger – ebooks. The retailer acquired the ebook distributor Mobcast in 2012, and used Mobcast to launch Blinkbox Books earlier this year.

tesco hudl 3The  digital media unit  was intended to complement Tesco’s Hudl Android tablet and provide a multi-pronged competitor to Amazon, which offers the Kindle Fire, as well as apps, ebooks, music, and streaming video in the UK.

But now it looks like Tesco’s digital plans aren’t working out as well as they would like, so when they are said to be talking about closing one service they might actually be discussing shutting down the entire unit.

That would be disappointing, but when it comes to ebooks it would also not be much of a surprise. Amazon reportedly has over a 75% share of the UK book market, so if Tesco’s ebookstore was still taking losses it might make sense to pull out of that market.

But at this point we don’t know what’s going on, so we’ll have to wait and see.

P.S. If you are a Tesco customer and receive an email on this topic, please do me the favor of forwarding it.

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