Tuesday, 4 November 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

The Morning Coffee – 5 November 2014

Posted: 04 Nov 2014 08:07 PM PST

The recipe for today’s coffee includes a hefty dollop of Mike Shatzkin, a dash of one software developer’s take on crafting an ebook, 110 writing tools for NaNoWriMo, and a sprinkling of public domain works at Harvard.

  • 110 Writing Tools in a Single Post (GalleyCat)
  • Book Marketing the Old Way Versus the Way That Works Today—Part 2: Email Promotions (DBW)
  • Harvard University Library Confirms That Public Domain Works In Its Collection Remain In The Public Domain (Techdirt)
  • The implications of the computer moving from the desktop to our hip pocket (The Shatzkin Files)
  • Zero to 353 Pages: Bringing My Web Book to Print and eBook (journal.stuffwithstuff.com)


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That Sweet & Low eBook is Only the Tip of the Sponsored Content Iceberg

Posted: 04 Nov 2014 04:24 PM PST

6962ded1603489f2f42f4ecf224c5b46[1]Assuming Amazon doesn’t manage to kill the book industry, the next great threat reared its head this week. The NY Times reported on Sunday that product placement was making its way to books.

Oh, the horror:

The heroine of "Find Me I'm Yours," a new novel by Hillary Carlip, is a quirky young woman named Mags who works at an online bridal magazine and is searching for love in Los Angeles.

But the story also has another, less obvious protagonist: Sweet'N Low, the artificial sweetener.

Sweet'N Low appears several times in the 356-page story, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. In one scene, Mags, a Sweet'N Low devotee, shows off her nails, which she has painted to resemble the product's pink packets. In another, she gets teased by a co-worker for putting Sweet'N Low in her coffee.

The novel in question isn’t so much a novel as it is a multi-format work which includes an ebook as well as a series of websites and web TV shows, all of which is designed as “a vehicle for content sponsored by companies”. The artificial sweetener shows up several times in the story because its maker paid $1.3 million for the privilege, just like a car maker might pay to get their latest model added as a plot point in a tv series.

Aside from the point that this idea is being applied to books, it’s not new. But I was inspired to comment on the story after Mike Cane posted his rant about it. I can’t quote much of what he wrote (it’s NSFW) beyond his description of the publisher was doing:

Destroy a form of art so you can cash in.

Needless to say, my viewpoint is much milder than his. Speaking as someone who has to make a living off of his writing, I have a passing knowledge of the history of sponsored content.

It goes back decades, and while there are far more examples of sponsored content in books than I could fit in a single blog post there are a couple which stand out in my mind.

Even if you leave out product placement in movies and tv shows and focus solely on books, this is far from the most obnoxious example of sponsored content. My nominee for that title would be Transformers and GIJoe – not the current movies but the original early 1980s comic books and tv series.

I don’t know if the people who ranted about the recent terrible movies recall this, but the original comic books and tv series were created as a vessel to sell toys. This is especially true in the case of GI Joe, which was a doll long before the comic books and tv series.

Marvel, which created and published the comic book series, got involved in GI Joe in the early 1908s when Hasbro wanted to restart the toyline, and was looking for a new way to promote it. And after GI Joe proved wildly successful, the two companies continued their partnership with the Transformers – which, like GI Joe, started as an idea for a line of toys and grew from there.

And yet somehow, despite Marvel’s and Hasbro’s best efforts, those toys didn’t kill comic books as an art form.

Something tells me that this Sweet & Low sponsorship won’t kill books, either.


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Kindle Unlimited Launches in Spain, Italy

Posted: 04 Nov 2014 11:54 AM PST

kindle unlimited germanyIn a move which has me baffled, Amazon continued the European expansion of Kindle Unlimited today with simultaneous launches in Spain and Italy.

Amazon customers in Italy and Spain can now join customers in the US, UK, and Germany in enjoying a catalog of 700,000 titles. The service is now being offered for 10 euros a month, the same as it is in Germany.

The retailer is promoting Kindle Unlimited along similar lines in both countries, touting the Kindle exclusive titles, English language titles, and classics as well as the 15,000 titles in Italian and the 25,000 titles in Spanish.

In Spain, Amazon.es pitches Kindle Unlimited on the inclusion of writers like Santiago Posteguillo,  Gabriel García Márquez,  and KDP indie author Jorge Magano. In Italy, Amazon.it name drops Anna Premoli, Marcello Simoni and Stephenie Meyer. And in both countries, Amazon also mentions that readers can find Harry Potter, for Dummies books, and more.

I have to say that I was surprised by today’s launch because I was expecting a more general launch, not a piecemeal launch in one country at a time. But now that I see the content deals Amazon has lined up I think I see a method to their madness.

I don’t have any details on this aspect of the Italian ebook market, but I can tell you that Kindle Unlimited is launching in Spain with a larger catalog than any of its local competitors. Kindle Unlimited carries 25,000 Spanish language titles, far more than the 5,000 titles which Skoobe has in its catalog when it expanded into Spain last week, or the 16,000 titles found in the 24Symbols catalog. (I can’t tell you how many Spanish or Italian language titles Scribd has, however.)

It looks like Amazon may have held the launch in Spain until they could guarantee a better selection than their competitors.

On the other hand, they could have a minimum threshold for the number of local titles before Kindle Unlimited launches into another country . If that is correct then further expansion will likely be erratic.

Update: Actualitte reported on the KU expansion earlier today and wrote that KU was facing stiff opposition from French publishers and distributors. This could explain why KU didn’t meet the rumored October launch date for France.

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Kindle Voyage Ships Today in the UK, Germany

Posted: 04 Nov 2014 02:37 PM PST

kindle voyage 5In case anyone wondered which were Amazon’s most valuable markets, today’s Kindle Voyage launch will tell you. Amazon’s latest and greatest ebook reader shipped went up for pre-order today in Germany and the UK (but not the rest of Europe). The retail price price is £169 and 189 euros, and the first units are already arriving. The Voyage is already out of stock, and it’s expected to ship in both markets on 8 December.

Those prices are for the Wifi models; the 3G-equipped models will set you back an additional 60 euros or £80.

The Kindle Voyage launched in the US in early September, and garnered positive but puzzled reviews when it shipped a couple weeks ago. It’s currently out of stock on Amazon.com, and is also out of stock at Best Buy (or so the website is telling me). Amazon expects to have the Kindle Voyage  in stock at the beginning of next month.

The Voyage ships with support for all of the local Kindle Stores, so I would not be surprised if the availability was expanded in the near future.


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Disney Patents a Search Engine Which Makes it Harder to Find and Read Relevant Info

Posted: 04 Nov 2014 09:42 AM PST

disney-pirate[1]Disney is not known for their work in search engines, and after looking over their latest patent I can understand why.

Torrentfreak reported on Friday that Disney had been awarded a patent for a piracy-free search engine. While that is entirely true, the more interesting story was buried at the end of their post where it might have been missed. (I didn’t catch the significance until a reader pointed it out yesterday, and on reflection I think it deserves its own coverage.)

The patent defines a custom search engine which assigns an “authenticity weight” to the sites listed in its index. Pirate sites and other undesirable websites of course have a lower authenticity weight than legitimate sites, and sites like Wikipedia and official sites owned by publishers and studios have a higher weight.

While that sounds all well and good, Disney’s idea falls apart once you take a close look at what they think counts as an authentic or authoritative site.

Here’s how the patent described it:

In certain embodiments, an authenticity weight may indicate the relative authority of a web element for a given category, context, keyword, phrase, search term, filter, etc. For example, a search index may index a Disney.go.com.TM. web page for the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.TM. film and an online encyclopedia web page that also discusses the same film. The Disney.go.com web page may be associated with an authenticity weight that is greater than the authenticity weight associated with the encyclopedia web page because Disney.go.com is the official domain for The Walt Disney Company. As such, with respect to the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.TM. film, the Disney.go.com web page may be considered more authoritative (and thus more authentic) than the encyclopedia web page.

Do you see the problem?

Disney has invented a search engine which is set up to tell you what their marketing dept wants you to see, not to show you links to relevant info.

For example, when you’re searching for a movie you might want to find the trailer on Youtube, the summary on Wikipedia, and the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Those would all be useful and relevant, but rather than put those links at the top of the search results, Disney will instead show you the official website for the movie.

Similarly, if you search for a book Disney will show you the publisher’s website ahead of the reviews on Goodreads and book blogs.


IMO, what Disney is doing with this search engine is the equivalent of one of the classic logical fallacies: argument from authority. Disney is going to first show you what the authority wants to tell you, but not necessarily the results which you would be most interested in finding.

In short, Disney has come up with a search engine no one, or at least no consumer, is going to want to use. Of course, that’s not the only way it could be used; Disney could also be planning to license the tech to another company (I don’t know who would want it but the idea is not impossible).

The post Disney Patents a Search Engine Which Makes it Harder to Find and Read Relevant Info appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Twelve24 Launches Kickstarter Project to Fund a $600 E-ink Wall Clock

Posted: 04 Nov 2014 07:48 AM PST

ClockONE_04_gallery[1]When it comes to crowd funded hardware projects, there are some which you know will succeed because the creators have a history (the InkCase Plus), others that you know won’t succeed (the FusionWriter), and ones which you hope will succeed simply because the idea is cool (the Earl back-country tablet).

The ClockOne from Twelve24 is definitely in that latter category.

Initially revealed at CES 2014 in January, the ClockOne is a one-of-a-kind wall clock which measures almost a meter wide but is only 5mm thin. It uses segmented E-ink displays to recreate on a large scale what an LED clock does on your nightstand:


Thanks to its use of E-ink screen tech, the ClockOne is visible from almost every angle, offering a wider viewing angle that anything short of the best LCD and LED screens (unless you’re in the dark). And due to the low power requirements of E-ink screens, the ClockOne is powered by a single battery which is specced to run for up to a year. This saves owners from having to run an unsightly power cord, or replace the battery frequently.

This clock was supposed to go up for pre-order in September, but it popped up on Kickstarter today. Twelve24 is seeking to raise $200,000 in order to mass-produce their clock. Backers who contribute $500 or more can pre-order a ClockOne in any of 5 colors (white blue, orange, pink, or moss), and early bird backers also have the option of ordering a white ClockOne for only $400.

I haven’t ordered one myself (that $400 is more than I can afford to spend on a clock) but a lot of people are. The campaign started today and it’s already raised $20, 000 in a matter of hours.


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Oyster Goes Social, Lets Readers Create and Share Book Lists

Posted: 04 Nov 2014 06:35 AM PST

oyster logoOyster made the next step in book discovery; they’re now letting readers help each other find their next read. On Tuesday this ebook subscription service took a leaf from the product book of Goodreads and launched Book Lists, a new way for readers to assemble and share personalized collections of titles.

Like the thought (and sometime conflict) provoking bookshelf feature found on Goodreads and other book social networks, Book Lists enables readers to create and share curated lists of favorite titles freely and easily. And when a reader is browsing a list created by another, they can start reading any title in that list with the click of a button, or add it to their to be read pile. The list can also be saved so it can be browsed later.

To mark the launch of this feature, Oyster a number of authors, publishers, and readers,  including Michael Chabon and Doris Kearns Goodwin, Lincoln Michel of Electric Literature, and Alex Shephard of Melville House, to create lists. You can find those lists on the Oyster blog:

There’s really not much to say about Book Lists once I’ve pointed out the similarities to Goodreads, but I can add that the new Book Lists offers readers a 3rd way to discover their next book on Oyster, which already recommended new content through editorial curation by Oyster staff and through an algorithmic recommendation system.

oyster devices

While this feature is not the first of its kind, it does mark a change in the subscription ebook market as one of the leading competitors expands from trying to have a larger catalog to also trying to out-Amazon Amazon in the book recommendation dept. While Amazon does own Goodreads, it’s not integrated into Kindle Unlimited to quite the same degree as Oyster’s new Book Lists.

And while Scribd does have bookshelves, it looks from the outside like they are focused more on what a user has uploaded rather than a list which a user has assembled and shared. But I would not be surprised if that changes soon.




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The Morning Coffee – 4 November 2014

Posted: 04 Nov 2014 06:40 AM PST

The reading list is short this morning, but it includes a good mix of controversy and good news – looking forward to reading your comments.

  • Book minnow opens new chapter in publishing (Telegraph)
  • A good subscription for the ebook industry: Making books social ()
  • Moscow metro opens virtual library of Russian classical literature (The Guardian)
  • There is no war between Amazon and Traditional Publishing (Studio Tendra)
  • UK Museums and Libraries Protest Outdated Copyright Laws (TorrentFreak)

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