Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

Amazon’s Contract with Dutch Publishers Under New Scrutiny.

Posted: 05 Nov 2014 07:24 PM PST

11994873444_ca6d6841dc[1]Amazon hasn’t launched the Kindle Store in the Netherlands yet, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that from the kvetching.

Writing for Boekblad, media lawyer Hans Bousie reports that he saw a copy of the contract which Amazon has signed with CB Logistics, the main ebook distributor in the Netherlands, and he has a problem with one of the clauses:

Maximum Price: The maximum customer price for any eBook will be no greater than the lowest priced physical edition.

Amazon is well-known for pushing for pricing restrictions on their suppliers. They’ve long set the 70% royalty option in KDP so most books would be priced in the range of $3 to $10, and in other markets Amazon has secured either a most favored nation clause or some other clause which gives Amazon wiggle room on the price.

And the stock contract in the Netherlands includes a ceiling on the price of ebooks. Given that the Netherlands has a fixed price law for books which does not extend to ebooks, that could prove to be a smart move for Amazon.  It will enable Amazon to match the price of the Kindle edition to the sale price of the print edition, thus saving consumers money.

And if Dutch publishers want to keep ebook prices high they will have to keep the print prices higher.

It’s not completely clear to me how that will impact the book market, but if the nothing else, the new critique of the contract terms tells us that the launch of a local Kindle Store in the Netherlands is that much more real than it was yesterday.

image by archer10

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EFF Files for DMCA Exemption on the Right to Strip DRM from Abandoned Video Games

Posted: 05 Nov 2014 02:13 PM PST

simcity2013[1]Two days ago I expressed regret for missing the opportunity to petition for a DMCA exemption for stripping ebook DRM after the servers have been turned off. and now it seems the EFF had a very similar idea.

The EFF filed no fewer than 6 petitions this year. In addition to asking the Copyright Office for DMCA exemptions for the right to jailbreak tablets, access a car’s diagnostic data, and a renewal and partial expansion of the exemptions for remix videos that use excerpts from DVDs, the EFF also petitioned for a DMCA exemption for the purposes of rescuing old video games (PDF):

EFF’s other requests this rulemaking include one for users who want to continue to play “abandoned” video games. For example, some users may need to modify an old video game so it doesn’t perform a check with an authentication server that has since been shut down.

That’s not quite the petition I proposed for ebook DRM, but it is a close cousin, and many of the arguments made in favor of stripping DRM for video games apply to ebooks as well.

As the latest version of Sim City made abundantly clear, DRM on video games can completely bork things up even when everything is operating correctly, and things only get worse when the DRM servers are shut off.

As we’ve seen time and time again, otherwise perfectly functional games can be arbitrarily killed or lose features at the whim of the publisher. Thanks to the prevalence of DRM that requires activation/verification or (even worse) a live internet connection, consumers have been repeatedly hurt by game makers that use the DRM and then decide they no longer want the expense of supporting it.

And it’s not just gamers who are harmed by DRM on dead games but researchers and archivists as well:

The inability to play older games (because the necessary servers have been shut down) inhibits scholarship and research as well – it is much more difficult for game scholars to access older works due to a lack of playable archival copies, and archivists have less incentive to preserve games that are unplayable or only partially playable. Jerome McDonough, a professor who specializes in digital preservation, put it simply. "Digital media are inherently fragile and the ability to migrate games to new hardware/media is critical to any preservation activity we might take, whether through migration or emulation. [The] DMCA's technological protection measure language takes the difficult case of software preservation and transforms it into a fundamentally impossible case.” In the case of multi-player games, it can be impossible for scholars to replicate the experience of playing the game, since player communities often die when servers are deactivated.

While it is technically possible to disable the DRM (or hack it so the game will run regardless) and it could even be legal to do so for academic purposes, the EFF points out that the legal cloud has significant chilling effects on both gamers and researchers. (Curiously, it hasn’t stopped the Internet Archive from making 900 arcade games available online – an act which could well be an example of large scale copyright infringement.)

And the EFF wants to do something about that. But to be honest, I don’t think they’ll have much luck. Only a handful of DMCA exemptions are granted at each of the triennial submission periods, so the odds are stacked against any single petition making it through the gauntlet.

To make matters worse, this petition in particular could well look to a non-gamer like a frivolous request, which is why I think it will be the first be disregarded.

Ars Technica


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Axel Springer Bows to Google in Fight Over Snippet Licensing

Posted: 05 Nov 2014 11:27 AM PST

google-germany-logo-06[1]Germany’s biggest news publisher has just acceded to the fact that it needs Google more than Google needs it. Reuters reports that Axel Springer recently ended a two-week-long test where Springer blocked Google from using snippets of  articles from its websites noting that the test had caused traffic to its sites to plunge.

For the past two weeks Springer has blocked Google from using snippets from 4 of its most popular news sites:,, and There are no publicly available details on the traffic lost during the test, but Springer did note that “traffic flowing from clicks on Google search results had fallen by 40 percent and traffic delivered via Google News had plummeted by 80 percent in the past two weeks”.

Axel Springer was the last holdout of a cartel of German publishers which had been trying for years to force Google to pay for the traffic it sends them, a fight which the publishers have lost every round.

After years of yelling and threats, the publishers got a law passed in 2013 which required search engines like Google to pay for the use of snippets in search results. Google responded by requiring publishers to grant free use of the snippets under the promise of being removed from Google News (as we can see from today’s news, that is not an idle threat).

Earlier this year the publishers counter-attacked. 200 German publishers signed up with VG Media and started legal proceedings against Google, alleging that Google was violating that 2013 law. They asked to be awarded 11% of Google's revenues based on their abilities to heft a very wide shovel.

In addition to demanding that Google pay for the use of the snippets, VG Media filed an antitrust complaint against Google. That came to naught  in August after the Bundeskartellamt declined to investigate Google’s dominance of the search engine market, noting that the  publishers had not offered sufficient basis to justify an investigation. (The fact that the Bundeskartellamt also had to investigate VG Media as a possibly illegal cartel may have influenced its decision.)

VG Media’s efforts came to an end a couple weeks ago when it announced that its members would be granting Google the use of snippets for free, and now Axel Springer is joining them. Chief Executive Mathias Doepfner said on Wednesday that his company would have “shot ourselves out of the market” had it continued to block Google.

While it is good  to read that the publishers have conceded the fight, this story is not over with yet. Spain has recently passed a law which grants publishers the inalienable right to license their content (as in it’s illegal for them to give the snippets away for free), and the EU’s new digital commissioner has stated his intentions to  push for an EU-wide Google tax.



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B&N ReLaunches Their Audiobook Section With New App for Android

Posted: 05 Nov 2014 10:01 AM PST

nook itunesWith Kindle,, Audible, OverDrive, and, there’s no shortage of audiobooks for Android, but B&n thinks there’s room for one more.

Barnes & Noble’s here again, gone again digital audiobook dept abruptly returned from hiatus this week. B&N has released a new Nook Audiobook app in Google Play yesterday. (There’s no similar app in iTunes.)

The app is described as being a beta release, and it is still rough around the edges, but the big news today is that B&N is back in the digital audiobook market. The retailer had gotten out of this market in June of this year to focus just on selling physical audiobooks (but promised they would return).

I’ve spent a few minutes playing with the app today.  I can’t tell you how many titles it offers, but I spot checked a half dozen prices and found they were usually cheaper than the retail price at Audible.

The Nook Audiobook app doesn’t offer a subscription, and there’s no way to download the audiobook and use it elsewhere (it will probably never have this feature), so you can’t really compare prices to features. But if you don’t mind being locked into a single app then this isn’t a bad deal.

nook audiobook app android 2 nook audiobook app android  1 nook audiobook app android 3

I haven’t bought any audiobooks, but I was able to log in with my existing Nook account.I was then prompted for my credit card info, which is rather weird considering that the info is up to date on the B&N website.

Speaking of the website, there’s no mention of the new audiobook section. B&N is selling physical audiobooks, sure, but the only mention of digital audiobooks is in the FAQ and is focused on the closure in June.

The B&N website will probably be updated in the next few weeks, once B&N thinks their app is ready for prime time.

That can’t come soon enough.  The AAP reports that downloadable audiobooks are consistently one of the fastest growing categories tracked in the AAP’s monthly reports. The publishers who submitted data to the AAP reported that audiobook revenues were up 26% in the first 7 months of 2014.

Google Play via Android Police

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Hanvon Launches E930 eReader in China – 9.7″ E-ink Screen, Android

Posted: 05 Nov 2014 06:51 AM PST

hanvon e930 2The market for large-screen ereaders may have been supplanted by tablets but that hasn’t discouraged Hanvon. This Chinese ereader maker launched a new 9.7″ model this summer which combines a frontlight, stylus, and Android.

Details are still sketchy (several sites are offering contradictory specs and prices), but what we do know is that the E930 runs Android on a 1GHZ CPU with 4GB internal storage and a micro SD card slot.

The 9.7″ E-ink display has a screen resolution of 1,200 x 825. It does have a frontlight, and one retail site also mentions that the touchscreen is fingertip friendly. That is a stylus you see in the slot on the left, but it’s optional.

hanvon e930 1

It’s not clear whether users can install Android apps, but I do know that the E930 supports TTS and has a rear-facing speaker. The E930 also supports a wide variety of file formats: MP3, wav, and arm for audio, and Heb, Epub, PDF, FB2, Mobi, doc, html, chm, and txt for ebooks.

At this point there is literally almost no English language coverage of the E930; I can’t find anything aside from a mention at MobileRead Forums. But many Chinese retail sites do list the E930, including Amazon. They’re showing that the E930 costs 2675 yuan, or about $435.

It’s been on the market in China since August and garnered mixed reviews from users. Many complain about the slowness and disappointing screen resolution. There is also criticism of the frontpanel, which several users described as shiny.

The hands on video I found would seem to confirm that detail.

Hanvon was at one time (2009 – 2011) a leading OEM of ereaders, but I have not seen much from them in a couple years now. They last crossed my desk in 2012 when they announced that the C920, a 9.7″ ereader with a color E-ink screen, would be licensed to Ectaco and sold in Europe, Russia, and the US as the Jetbook Color.

hanvon e930 1 hanvon e930 2 hanvon e930 4 hanvon e930 3

Thanks, M Singh!

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Disqus is Bringing Spam to Comment Sections Everywhere

Posted: 04 Nov 2014 08:02 PM PST

Disqus.Helper.1.1Earlier this week Disqus revealed its answer to the problem that all free platforms face.

The problem is revenue, but rather than charging for the service they provide, Disqus has decided to go the way of sponsored comments. They’re going to start inserting adverts into the comment threads of sites which rely on Disqus to provide comment moderation.

They’ve been working with ad agencies since April to develop a way to add targeted adverts in relevant comment threads while also making sure that the ads won’t appear in a spot which would be detrimental to the brand image (think car insurance ad placed in the comment section following a traffic accident story).

The adverts will look something like this:


You can click on it to see an expanded view.

AdWeek reports that Disqus is working with Xaxis, an automated ad platform, to sell ad space to brands. The ads will be shown at the top of the discussion threads and marked sponsored. The ads will reportedly be optional (AdWeek says they’re choosing not to exercise the option). There’s also mention that publishers could share in the revenue.

While I don’t like the idea of sponsored comments and see them as basically spam, I also know that this is not the first attempt Disqus has made at a business model. Disqus launched a premium VIP service in 2009, and I see mentions of it in 2010 but it seems to have been dropped some time in 2013.

I don’t think there were enough sites willing to pay for the service. This is a problem faced by many startups that try to offer a freemium model, including Disqus’s competitors like LiveFyre.


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