Monday, 3 November 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

Amazon Adds to Speculation that Kindle Unlimited Might Drop Exclusivity Requirement

Posted: 03 Nov 2014 04:00 PM PST

31890a2[1]Whispers have been going around for close to a month now that Amazon might be considering dropping its requirement for exclusivity for any title in KDP Select, and now Amazon is adding fuel to the fire.

Daniel Slater, Amazon’s Independent Publishing principal, was speaking at the Ninc conference a couple weeks ago when he was asked about Kindle Unlimited (I just now read about it). Porter Anderson quotes him:

Slater pointed out that Kindle Unlimited is “a very new programme” — launched in July, in competition with other “all you can read” subscription services Oyster and Scribd — and said that Seattle is watching KU’s development and reactions to it carefully. “It might be possible that we’d look at that,” he said in reference to the controversial exclusivity component of the programme.

Is that real interest, do you think, or is it just the usual non-definite answer one offers when cornered?

If it’s the later then I am guilty of following Anderson into clickbaiting, but if it is the former then authors are going to want to pay attention.

One of the chief objections many authors have with Kindle Unlimited (and Kindle Owner’s Lending Library before it) was that it required authors to forgo selling ebooks in other ebookstores.  Depending on the market, that could represent a lot of money. And even without the money, many authors have a principled objection to offering any single retailer exclusivity and would love to see that requirement go away.

So do you think this quote is real?

And does anyone have more information on what else Daniel Slater said?

The post Amazon Adds to Speculation that Kindle Unlimited Might Drop Exclusivity Requirement appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Trekstor Launches First Tablet Based in Intel’s Reference Design

Posted: 03 Nov 2014 01:02 PM PST

trekstor-irda_03Intel’s two-month-old program to develop reference design tablets bore its first fruit today when the German gadget maker Trekstor announced its latest tablet.

The Intel Reference Design for Android (IRDA) program offers device makers a compete set of tablet hardware and a matching Android firmware which the device maker can have produced by a 3rd-party. The tablets come with guaranteed software updates and the promise that the design will pass Google certification.

And now Trekstor is the first to take advantage of the program. The TrekStor SurfTab xintron i 7.0 is a fairly ordinary looking  Android tablet with an Intel Atom Z3735G Bay Trail CPU with 1GB RAM. It has 8GB internal storage, a microSD card slot, a pair of cameras (5MP and 1.26MP), Wifi, GPS, and Bluetooth.


The 7″ display has a screen resolution of 1280 x 800, and this tablet measures 9mm thin, and it weighs 308 grams.

It’s going to run Android 4.4 KitKat when it ships, but Trekstor has already promised that Intel will be releasing an update in the near future which will add Android 5.0 Lollipop.

Amazon Germany is already taking orders for the tablet for 135 euros, but it isn’t in stock yet. That is a moderately high price tag for a budget tablet, even in Germany, but this tablet is probably powerful enough to justify the price.

Amazon is selling the 6″ Fire tablet for 99 euros and the Fire HD 7 for 129 euros (it’s on sale), so you might wonder if the 6″ model is the better value. But if you value power and performance, you’d be better off with the new Trekstor tablet.

I have a Toshiba tablet which has the same CPU.  That $109 tablet is more powerful than you would expect from the price tag, and I expect that Trekstor tablet will have a similar performance.


The post Trekstor Launches First Tablet Based in Intel’s Reference Design appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Sherlock Holmes is in the Public Domain – Supreme Court Declines to Hear Case

Posted: 03 Nov 2014 12:03 PM PST

4917266266_084466d680[1]A two-year-old legal battle over the copyright status of the Sherlock Holmes corpus came to a quiet end today when the US Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of the Conan Doyle estate.

The fight started last February when author, Holmesian scholar, and attorney Leslie Klinger filed a lawsuit against the estate of the late Sir Arthur Conan Doyle when the estate asked for a license fee for the anthology of Holmes stories which Klinger was editing.

The estate had collected fees for Klinger’s previous anthologies, just like it had for other works based on Holmes and Watson, but this time around Klinger decided he would rather pay a lawyer than pay the Conan Doyle estate’s Danegeld.

Klinger (or rather his lawyer) won the lawsuit in December 2013, and then they won the appeal before the 7th Circuit in June of this year. The district court judge ruled, and the appeals court concurred, that since much of Conan Doyle’s original stories and books about Holmes and Watson were in the public domain any detail in one of those stories could legally be used by any writer without having to get permission.


The Conan Doyle estate had previously extracted license fees from publishers, movie studios, and tv networks under the legal theory that since some of the stories were under copyright, the characters in the stories were under copyright as well. But as we can see from  today’s Supreme Court decision, that legal theory simply doesn’t hold water.

The estate will have to content themselves with the earnings from the 10 remaining Holmes stories still under copyright in the US. (Curiously, Conan Doyle’s entire body of work went into the public domain in his native UK in 2001, seventy years after he died.)

LA Times

Thanks, Savannah!

images by Trekkiestdavid__jones

The post Sherlock Holmes is in the Public Domain – Supreme Court Declines to Hear Case appeared first on The Digital Reader.

HarperCollins, PRH Adopt the Lexile Book Rating System

Posted: 03 Nov 2014 01:13 PM PST

lexile Pop Quiz: Would you trust a book rating system that told you that Sports Illustrated for Kids’ Awesome Athletes! was a more complex read than Jane Eyre, Huckleberry Finn, or To Kill a Mockingbird?

If the answer is no, then congratulations. You’ve just proven yourself smarter than many US publishers.

A new press release crossed my desk today which shared the news that a number of publishers, including HarperCollins and Penguin Random House, will soon be joining Macmillan, S&S, Scholastic, etc in providing Lexile scores for their children’s titles.

Originally invented in the 1980s, Lexile is a system for  assigning a numerical reading score to books. It’s pitched as a better alternative to the more holistic reading level assessment historically used by teachers and librarians  which replaces an expert’s opinion with a mechanical calculation. Lexile’s creator, MetaMetrics, uses a proprietary algorithm which analyzes sentence length and vocabulary of the text of a book and come up with a number between zero and 1,600.

The scores can be matched up to grade levels, more or less:


Having been adopted as part of the Common Core standards, Lexile is having its day in the sun. Publishers are adopting it left and right, schools are using it to buy books, and everything is peachy.

Or at least it would be, if not for the fact that Lexile is – at best – flawed. While it is indeed possible to guesstimate the reading level of a text (MSWord and other office apps have a similar feature) the algorithm used to generate a Lexile score frequently results in scores that simply don’t make any sense.

For example, the Lexile score for Sports Illustrated is actually higher than the one for Jane Eyre. With a score of only 870, To Kill a Mockingbird is only a fourth-grade read, while a children’s book like Mr. Popper's Penguins (with a respectable Lexile score of 910) is deemed more complex. Raymond Carver’s Cathedral, on the other hand, scored a weak 590, about the same as Curious George Gets a Medal.

The New Republic reported on Lexile last fall, and they posted this handy graphic which illustrates some of the more questionable scores.

I confess that I have not read most of the books listed, so I can’t comment on their difficulty, but any system that would rate the first volume of Lord of the Rings as being less complex than Mr Poppers Penguins is not one I would trust.

And I’m not the only one; even the creators of the Common Core admit that Lexile is flawed:

As the Common Core Standards Initiative officially puts it, "until widely available quantitative tools can better account for factors recognized as making such texts challenging, including multiple levels of meaning and mature themes, preference should likely be given to qualitative measures of text complexity when evaluating narrative fiction intended for students in grade 6 and above." But even here, the final goal is a more complex algorithm; qualitative measurement fills in as a flawed stopgap.

15455219752_9d15050462And yet it’s still being adopted widely and “recognized as the global standard for matching readers with texts”, which is not at all an exaggeration.

While researching this story I found many graphics which explain how to use Lexile scores to match books up with the various grade levels.

Even Scholastic posted one.

I’m sure you’ve heard of New Math, right? Welcome to New Reading.

To be fair to the publishers, they might only be adopting Lexile scores because teachers and librarians asked for the scores. And some of the teachers and librarians might not have a choice; use of the scores might be mandated by their school board or principal.

But even if that is the case, I would much rather see the publishers explain why they weren’t using Lexile by pointing out the issues to everyone who asked. If they really see themselves as the bulwark of book culture then this is exactly the kind of thing that they should be defending against.

image by JD Hancock

The post HarperCollins, PRH Adopt the Lexile Book Rating System appeared first on The Digital Reader.

The Window to Request an eBook DMCA Exception Ends Today

Posted: 03 Nov 2014 07:21 AM PST

6915188757_b176fbdf0f_m[1]Every three years the US Copyright Office invites the public to suggest new exemptions to the DMCA, and as Ars Technica and TeleRead reminded us last week our chance to request an exemption for ebook DRM ends today, 3 November.

Much to my chagrin, almost the entire 2 plus month long public query period slipped by under my radar. And that is a shame, because this time around I would have loved to organize a campaign to promote a DMCA exemption for stripping ebook DRM.

And as the past three years has shown us, consumers really could have used that exemption- and not just so we can buy ebooks on one platform and use them on another.

While Chris proposed that the exemptions should enable “consumers to crack ebook DRM for purposes of archival and platform interoperability”, I don’t see that as having any chance at all – there’s no similar exemption for movies or other content. What’s more, I also don’t think it’s really necessary nor is there any tangible benefit to publishers to support it – not when they can sit back, do nothing, and let those who want to strip DRM continue to thumb our noses at the law.

But an exemption for the sole purpose of removing DRM to rescue content after the retailer shuts down or DRM servers have been turned off? Now that is another matter.

This more limited exemption might pass muster.  I’m basing that opinion on the fact that a similar exemption was granted in 2006 and then renewed in 2010. The older exemption expired in 2012, and it only covered DRMed software that required a dongle for verification purposes, but it did enable users to bypass the DRM when their dongle was obsolete and nonfunctional.

Similarly, if we had an ebook exemption, readers would have the right to strip DRM from their ebooks when Fictionwise closed. They’d be able to strip DRM when Diesel eBooks, JManga, or BooksonBoard closed.

And more importantly, they would have the legal right to strip DRM when the DRM servers are turned off.

In the past 3 years no fewer than 4 ebook DRM servers have gone away. Amazon turned off Mobipocket in late 2011, Microsoft shut down MSReader in 2011, and Barnes & Noble shuttered both eReader and eBookwise when they closed Fictionwise in late 2012.

Three of those four formats were major ebook platforms before the Kindle Store, and thanks to the investment readers had made over the previous decade they were still pretty important even up to the day the servers were shut off.

Tell me that doesn’t cry out for an exemption, I dare you.

There isn’t enough time for me to feel comfortable writing a petition, but if you file one, please let me know. I have a few ideas on how to promote the petition and line up support from groups like the EFF and public figures like Cory Doctorow.

Here are a few details from Ars Technica on what happens next:

Those considering filing should read the Copyright Office’s webpage regarding the rulemaking, check their proposed template (Word file), and read the Federal Register notice that goes into detail on what they’re looking for. To upload a petition, do so via the submission page.

Once the petitions are submitted, it’s the beginning of a months-long process until the actual rules come out. The Copyright Office will ask for “evidentiary filings,” then allow opponents of the exemptions to respond, and then schedule public hearings on the proposed exemptions.

image  by gaelx

The post The Window to Request an eBook DMCA Exception Ends Today appeared first on The Digital Reader.

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