Monday, 6 October 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

The Morning Coffee – 7 October 2014

Posted: 06 Oct 2014 08:41 PM PDT

The reading list is short this morning.

  • Amazon to face EU investigation over Luxembourg tax deal: FT (Reuters)
  • Apple Facing Trial Over Whether Its Use Of DRM Violated Antitrust Laws (Techdirt)
  • Digital piracy now about access more than cost, says New York Times (TeleRead)
  • Google’s ‘In The News’ Results Box will pull from Reddit (TNW)
  • Have we fallen out of love with e-readers? (The Independent)

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Green Mountain Faces Pivotal Lawsuit in Canada Over Coffee Pod DRM

Posted: 06 Oct 2014 05:58 PM PDT

3054417505_7261918945[1]Here’s an interesting wrinkle in the ongoing saga of Green Mountain and its nutty plan to lock out competitors through DRM.

It seems one coffee roaster in Ontario is suing Green Mountain and alleging that the latter’s decision to use DRM on its next generation coffee pods amounted to anti-competitive practices. 

Coffee Club has filled a $600 million lawsuit against Green Mountain, and as they told  CBC: “First, their new brewers have what they claim to be ‘proprietary technology’ that rejects any single serve pods not authorized by them,” a Club Coffee spokesperson told CBC News in an email. “Secondly, Keurig has used the threat of this lockout technology to coerce retailers into exclusive arrangements to sell only Keurig-controlled products.”

Given the differences between US and Canadian law, this could prove to be a landmark case on DRM.

To recap the story so far, Green Mountain was at one time the leading supplier of single serving coffee pods and coffee makers, a position they secured through being first/best in the market (or at least early good) and a position which they protected through a patent. That patent expired in 2012, leading to many competitors nibbling away at Green Mountain’s market share by going after its customers.

Green Mountain responded to the competition by developing new machines which incorporated DRM in both the machines and the pods. Green Mountain was going to use DRM in much the same way that printer ink cartridges are designed to keep customers from buying third party cartridges.

That DRM has already been hacked, so it’s a non-issue in the US. There’s established precedent it’s legal for a company to reverse engineer the DRM on printer ink cartridges (Lexmark v Static Control Components) which would probably result in a win for Green Mountain’s competitors.

But in Canada it’s a different matter. As of late 2012 it is illegal to strip DRM in Canada, and I am not aware of any legal precedents which would necessarily limit the scope of that law from being misused in the same way that Lexmark tried to misuse the DMCA.

Unless I am missing a detail, this case could well set legal precedence in Canada, including in ways that could well affect ebooks.

image  by scazon

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If you write nonfiction, and cannot command mega-advances, you should think about self-pub

Posted: 06 Oct 2014 07:53 PM PDT

Editor’s Note:  When discussing self-pub, few pundits consider nonfiction books. In his guest posts on The Digital Reader, William D. O’Neil will help to correct that oversight.

The great majority of indie self-pubs are genre fiction, and a large proportion of nonfiction in self-pub is about how to write and sell genre fiction. Some say self-pub is no good for nonfiction, surely not "serious" nonfiction. I listened to the arguments but decided they were wrong, or at best half true.

I've backed my conclusions with action, publishing three more or less "serious" nonfiction titles. The first two were largely test runs, to see what was really involved, but I've recently published a book on the disastrous German decision-making before and during the early days of World War I, and am working on one about AIG. The World War I book has done reasonably well and gathered praise from pros in the field.

Self-pub means no advance, but unless you're an established bestseller you don't get much of an advance these days, certainly not enough to finance lots of research. It also means missing out on the trad-pub publicity and distribution machine. Few midlist titles get advertised these days, but simply appearing in the catalogue is worth a good deal.

The other supposed advantages of trad-pub are mostly not for midlist nonfiction. Very few titles get any real editing, and what they do receive is rarely of good quality. You can buy or barter better editing services. The same is true for indexing, art, and layout, and these you also have the option of doing yourself.

The biggest advantage of self-pub for nonfiction is agility. You can get a topical book out in self-pub in less time than it would take to shop the proposal around the trad-pubs. And you can have a new edition of your book out as soon as you can make the changes in your manuscript. This agility can be used to produce exploitative trashbooks, like the wave of titles on ebola and other trendy subjects, but you can use it for better purposes.

Many trad-pub e-books have notably bad art — muddy, thumbnail-sized images. Many conclude from this that Kindle, etc., are inherently bad platforms for art. In reality, trad-pubs have simply been lazy/cheap about it. Art on a good e-ink screen can be fine; the e-reader software poses no real barrier. You have to live with some banding, but its effects can be minimized. And on the LCD screens of tablets and phablets art can display better than in any trade book. Most of what you read about art in e-books is obsolete (at least for Kindle) or never was true at all; it takes some experimenting as well as careful reading of the documentation to get the best results.

Nonfiction calls for print as well as e-book editions. Print accounts for around a third of my sales and I hear similar reports from elsewhere. Since I do my own art, layout, etc., I use CreateSpace. They produce a good book, integrate with Amazon, and charge me nothing for setup. But I've seen samples of high-quality books produced by other POD outfits too. CreateSpace only does trade paper, but there are others like Virtual Bookworm that also offer good-quality hardbounds. Major POD publishers now list their titles with Ingram and Baker & Taylor (for wider distribution). I've had sales to bookstores and libraries.

Parallel production of e-book and print editions raises workflow issues. You want a single manuscript that can quickly and easily be used for both. Any sort of serious nonfiction title involves much more complicated book layout than nonfiction. (I've done both). Some authors I know write in page layout systems like Adobe InDesign or Serif PagePlus; they offer easy routes to both e-book and print output. So far I've written in Microsoft Word formatted (per CreateSpace's directions) for print. But rather than send the .DOCX file to CreateSpace (which works for simple-format books) I've produced a .PDF and edited it a little in PagePlus to do the things Word won't. Then I've produced an HTML version in Word and edited it a bit before uploading to Amazon. You need different versions of most images, tailored to print and screen. It all takes less than two days.

The advice given for promoting self-pub fiction is probably largely applicable for entertainment-value general nonfiction too. If your book falls into a category like military history or Americana you probably already are connected into interest groups that can be a great way to spread the word. Much nonfiction lends itself to homebrew book events than can do a lot to build your audience.

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Adobe is Spying on Users, Collecting Data on Their eBook Libraries

Posted: 06 Oct 2014 09:25 PM PDT

13844066275_2ea2f384e0[1]Adobe has just given us a graphic demonstration of how not to handle security and privacy issues.

A hacker acquaintance of mine has tipped me to a huge security and privacy violation on the part of Adobe. That anonymous acquaintance was examining Adobe’s DRm for educational purposes when they noticed that Digital Editions 4, the newest version of Adobe’s Epub app, seemed to be sending an awful lot of data to Adobe’s servers.

My source told me, and I can confirm, that Adobe is tracking users in the app and uploading the data to their servers. (Adobe was contacted in advance of publication, but declined to respond.)

And just to be clear, I have seen this happen, and I can also tell you that Benjamin Daniel Mussler, the security researcher who found the security hole on, has also tested this at my request and saw it with his own eyes.

Adobe is gathering data on the ebooks that have been opened, which pages were read, and in what order. All of this data, including the title, publisher, and other metadata for the book is being sent to Adobe’s server in clear text.

I am not joking; Adobe is not only logging what users are doing, they’re also sending those logs to their servers in such a way that anyone running one of the servers in between can listen in and know everything,

But wait, there’s more.

Adobe isn’t just tracking what users are doing in DE4; this app was also scanning my computer, gathering the metadata from all of the ebooks sitting on my hard disk, and uploading that data to Adobe’s servers.

In. Plain. Text.

And just to be clear, this includes not just ebooks I opened in DE4, but also ebooks I store in calibre and every Epub ebook I happen to have sitting on my hard disk.

And just to show that I am neither exaggerating nor on drugs, here is proof.

The first file proves that Adobe is tracking users in the app, while the second one shows that Adobe is indexing my ebook collection.

The above two files were generated using data collected by an app called Wireshark. This nifty little app can be used to log all of the information that is sent or received by your computer over a network. Muussler and I both saw that data was being sent to, one of Adobe’s IP addresses. Wireshark logged all of the data sent to Adobe, and on request spat out the text files.


This is a privacy and security breach so big that I am still trying to wrap my head around the technical aspects, much less the legal aspects.

On a technical level, this kind of mistake is not new. Numerous apps have been caught sending data in clear text, and others have been caught scraping data without permission (email address books, for example). What’s more, LG was caught in a very similar privacy violation last November when one of their Smart TVs was shown to be uploading metadata from a user’s private files to LG’s servers – and like Adobe, that data was sent in clear text.

I am sharing these details not to excuse or justify Adobe, but to show you that this was a massively boneheaded stupid mistake that Adobe would have seen coming had they had the brains of a goldfish.

As for the legal aspects, I am still unsure of just how many privacy laws have been violated. Most states have privacy laws about library books, so if this app was installed in a library or used with a library ebook then those laws may have been violated. What’s more, Adobe may have also violated the data protection sections of FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and similar laws passed by states like California. (I’m going to have to let a lawyer answer that.)

And then there are the European privacy laws, some of which make US laws look lax.

Speaking of Europe, the Frankfurt Book Fair is coming up later this week. Adobe will be exhibiting at the trade show, and something tells me they will not be having a nice trip. (I for one hope that the senior management is detained for questioning.)

In any case, I would highly recommend that users avoid running Adobe’s apps for the near future – ever again, for that matter. Luckily for us there are alternatives.

Rather than use Adobe DE 4, I would suggest using an app provided by Amazon, Google, Apple, or Kobo. Amazon uses the Kindle format, and each of the last three ebook platforms uses their own unique DRM and Epub (-ish) file format inside their apps. (While Google and Kobo will let you download an ebook which can be read in Adobe DE, that DRM is not used internally by either Kobo or Google.)

None of those 4 platforms are susceptible to Adobe’s security hole. Of course, I can’t say for sure whether those platforms are more secure and private than Adobe’s, but I’m sure they will be made more secure in the next few weeks.

images by arturodonateukCWCS

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Amazon to Update Older Fire Tablets to New Fire OS, Could Bundle Washington Post App with it

Posted: 06 Oct 2014 11:54 AM PDT

FireTablet_Family[1]Amazon is giving existing Fire owners a couple reasons to hold on to their older tablets. Last year’s devices are going to be getting a firmware update, and what’s more there are reports that Amazon plans to offer a Washington Post app.

The retailer sent out a notice over the weekend to existing Fire tablet owners, sharing the good news. According to the one I got, my existing Kindle Fire HD (2013) will be updated to Kindle OS 4 Sangria.

This version of Fire OS shipped on the Fire HD 6 and Fire HD 7 last week, and it will be coming to all third generation Fire tablets. It’s based on Android 4.4 KitKat, and includes better power management options, Family Library sharing options, and Firefly, the Fire Phone feature which enabled users to use their camera to identify products.

For the record, Amazon actually announced that the older hardware would be updated when the new OS was announced in mid-September. I missed the news at the time, so i thought it was worth sharing.

In related news, BusinessWeek is reporting that the Bezos-owned Washington Post is working on a curated news app which will be bundled with the Fire tablets. Dubbed project rainbow, the app is being developed by a team led by Kerry Lauerman, the former editor-in-chief of

For the past few months, a group inside the Post has been working on a new application that will offer a curated selection of news and photographs from the daily newspaper in a magazine-style, tablet-friendly format. The application will come preinstalled on Amazon's newly updated Kindle Fire tablet, expected to be launched later this fall with the larger 8.9-inch screen, according to people with knowledge of the Post's plans.

The app will initially be free in the larger Fire tablet, and will later be made available to other Fire tablets and Android tablets as well as for iDevices. BW says that there will be a subscription fee, though of course there’s no info on how much that will cost.

And while this is pure speculation, I am expecting the app will be bundled with the Fire tablet in much the same way that Kindle Freetime Unlimited is bundled. That other service is also paid service which has to be paid for when activated.

This is a bold move for the Washington Post but it could well prove a bust. While the WaPo has expanded staff and revamped their coverage since the newspaper was acquired by Jeff Bezos last August, its rival the NYTimes has recently cut staff and killed an app that could well be bellwethers for how consumers get their news.

Last week the Neiman Journalism Lab reported that the NYTimes was killing the NYT Opinion app.  This app offered access to just the editorial content of that paper, at a premium. While it proved well-liked, the app didn’t pick up enough users to justify its expense.

If I had to guess, I would expect the new Washington Post app to suffer a similar fate. IMO readers don’t want to pay more for less content; they want to pay less for more content. That’s why apps like Flipboard and why feed reader services like Feedly are so popular.

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Qualcomm+Sharp’s Low Power Screen Tech to Give Liquavista a Run for Its Money in 2015

Posted: 06 Oct 2014 03:44 PM PDT

sharp pixtronix mems igzoSharp put out a press release this morning announcing that the cutting edge screen tech which they have been co-developing for the past few years is finally going to hit the market.

Or at least that is what they hope to accomplish; as with any new tech the final step of getting it into production is often the trickiest.

For the past number of years, Sharp has been working with Pixtronix, a small Boston-based subsidiary of Qualcomm, to integrate that company’s MEMs type screen with Sharp’s low-power IGZO backplane.

The quality of Pixtronix’s screen is higher than competing low-power screen tech, including screens from Amazon’s Liquavista, Japan Display, Pixel Qi, and even Qualcomm’s own Mirasol. On the other hand, it’s not quite as pretty as Samsung’s “low-power” screens, which reduced power consumption by squeezing the pixels into a smaller area and letting more backlight leak around each pixel.

If and when the Pixtronix tech hits the market it is hoped that it will offer a low-power and high-quality alternative to existing LCD and OLED screens, many of which are power-hungry.

Or at least that is what every one hopes will happen; while I have seen the screen and can attest to its quality, I don’t know of any real world tests that show a tablet built around this screen will gain anything in terms of battery life.

Pixtronix, which was acquired by Qualcomm in late 2011, has been showing off this screen tech since at least 2010 (every year, like clockwork). They were working with a number of screen tech manufacturers, including Hitachi, Samsung, and Chimei Innolux, and there was even a report in 2012 that Samsung would release a screen based on Pixtronix’s tech in 2013.

And now it seems that Sharp is the only manufacturing partner. Not so coincidentally, Qualcomm became the third largest investor in Sharp last June.

The first screen size scheduled to come off the production line next year will measure 7″ and have a resolution of 1,280 x 800. It is due out in the first half of 2015. Sharp plans to ship the screen on a tablet running Android 4.4.

To be honest, I’m not sure we’re going to see it. But if we are really lucky we might see this new screen and a new screen from Liquavista. That is what I am hoping for, anyway.

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