Thursday, 6 November 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

The Morning Coffee – 7 November 2014

Posted: 06 Nov 2014 04:32 PM PST

Today’s links rang from the preachy (Finish That Book!) to the historical (Laura Ingalls Wilder) to the snobbish (a critique of the Kindle Voyage), and more.

  • Embrace Change – Guest Post by David Gaughran (A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing)
  • Finish That Book! (The Atlantic)
  • The future of books is on your phone, not your tablet (The Verge)
  • I’m Going on a Fiction Fast (BOOK RIOT)
  • Kindle Original vs Kindle Voyage (Boing Boing)
  • No Offense to Laura Ingalls Wilder (The Awl)
  • Oyster Cofounders Explain What Happens When You Combine Books and Big Data (Betabeat)
  • Publishers and the Smiling Curve (Hugh Howey)
  • Skybrite streams unlimited audiobooks to your phone or tablet (CNET)
  • Spanish Copyright Amendments Will Shakedown News Sites and Censor the Web (EFF)
  • A Voyage to 2009 ()

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Amazon Echo Speaks, But Cannot Read

Posted: 06 Nov 2014 01:23 PM PST

amazon echoAmazon’s awesome-looking new in-home digital concierge* can do a hundred and one things, including answer questions, stream music, and tell you that it’s time for you to get a watch, but this blogger has learned that bibliophile might not be happy with some of the Echo’s shortcomings.

I just got email from Amazon pr which shared the bad news that the Echo won’t support streaming audiobooks, and it won’t be able to read Kindle ebooks aloud.

The Echo can stream the radio and stream music, so I suppose you could upload an MP3 audiobook and stream that, but it’s not going to ship with support for either Audible or Kindle.

And that’s a shame, because books would have been one of the reasons I would want to buy an Echo. I find the idea of having a book read to me while my hands are busy with house work appealing.

What’s more, adding ebook and audiobook support would have turned the Echo into a very accessible “reading” device for the visually impaired, and the physically impaired. Amazon has taken a lot of grief from some quarters for the lack of audio support on the Kindle, and I think a voice activated reading device would have done a lot to salve that wound.

What do you think? Would you use a reading feature if it were available?

P.S. I got the description of “in-home digital concierge” from Len Edgerly of The Kindle Chronicles. It’s a better phrase than anything I had come up with.


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Scribd One-Ups Amazon, Adds 30,000 Audiobooks

Posted: 06 Nov 2014 11:36 AM PST

scribd[1]When Kindle Unlimited launched this summer it offered a format which none of its competitors matched: audiobooks. And now Scribd has.

Earlier today Scribd debuted the latest addition to its ebook subscription service. They’ve partnered with Findaway World to add 30,000 audiobooks from leading publishers. 

That 30,000 titles falls far short of the 150,000 titles Audible carries, but it does include the frontlist and popular titles from many publishers, including The Hunger Games trilogy,  Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami, No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy, and many others.

The audiobooks are available now in Scribd’s Android app and in your web browser, and the iOS app will be gaining support in the near future. They can be downloaded and listened to offline, and Scribd is also planning to offer a Whispersync-like feature early next year.

Scribd’s subscribers will be able to listen to as many audiobooks as they can find the time, all for the same $9 a month they pay for access to Scribd’s 500,000 ebook catalog.

In comparison, Amazon offers around 2,300 audiobook titles. Oyster doesn’t have any, and the recently launched streaming-only audiobook subscription service offered by Skybrite has “thousands” of titles and costs $9.99 a month. Also, the retailer used to offer a $25 a month subscription but they dropped it in January 2013.


This is a bold move for Scribd which will make its service much more attractive than its competitors, but its also a move that Amazon could copy if that giant really wanted to. But they probably won’t because of the increased costs.

I would bet that Amazon launched Kindle Unlimited with only 2,300 audiobook titles because audiobooks usually cost 4 times or more than the price of an ebook. This suggests that an unlimited subscription plan is simply unsustainable at $9 a month or the KU’s $10 a month.

And I think even Scribd knows that.
reported that Scribd is hinting at a price hike:

The company is adding audiobooks without raising its $8.99 monthly subscription fee. However, Adler described that as "an introductory price." While he wants to offer "as much value as we possibly can at an $8.99 price point," Adler is "not ruling out" a tiered pricing plan in the future.

If the audiobooks prove popular they’re going to have to increase prices – or go bankrupt.

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The Future of Books is the Device You Have With You – Which Might Not be Your Phone

Posted: 06 Nov 2014 05:40 PM PST

a9f1c7dd18aea0b8af2a481c1c503ca6_400x400[1]The Verge posted an interview yesterday of Oyster founder Willem Van Lancker. He makes some bold claims about the future of books, including that the phone is the future of ebooks:

Where are people reading more, tablets, phones, or on the web?

We’ve always been really big believers that the device of the future for books is the phone. That's the first thing we went to publishers with when we started talking about the differentiation of Oyster, that we can provide the best possible mobile experience.

It's hard to get the data on this with Android, because, what is a tablet? But between iPhone and iPad, it's a 50 / 50 split. It might even be higher on the phone in recent months over the iPad. This is an app that people use on their phone constantly, and we see the actual activity spiking during the week at lunchtime, and through the evening and peaks around midnight, and on the weekends it's pretty sustained. Unlike a lot of products, our biggest days are Saturdays and Sundays, but when we added the web reader, you see it spiking on weekdays because people are reading during work.

We thought about making a button you could hit that would make Oyster look like Microsoft Word like they do for March Madness. It would be funny to bring that to books.

I have long said that smartphones and tablets (and not dedicated ereaders) were the future of the ebook market, but I’m not sure Van Lancker is right in this instance to focus on just one type of device.

While we have seen evidence that smartphones are outselling tablets by a factor of five to one and are driving sales in some markets, I’m not sure that he is correct to say that they’re the future – at least, not yet.

For one thing, with 200 million iPads sold and 500 million iPhones sold in 7 years, the fact that iPads and iPhones are showing up in Oyster in equal numbers suggests  the argument that the iPad is preferred over the iPhone as a reading device. (And even if you assume that an arbitrary percentage of the units sold are no longer operational, you’re still going to have far more iPhones in use.)

But more importantly, the growth of phablet screen sizes is quickly rendering most distinctions between smartphones and tablets irrelevant. When you have 4.3″, 5″, 6″, and 7″ tablets and 5″, 6″, and 7″ smartphones available in a single market, the only way you can really distinguish between them is by the connectivity – namely, whether you can use one to make a call. And thanks to Skype, I’m not sure that’s a valid criterion either.

In short, I wouldn’t say that smartphones are the future; at this point that is an arbitrary label applied to some mobile devices. Instead, I would say that people will read on the device they have at hand. Often times that is their phone, yes, but not always.

For example, I have always carried around a 7″ tablet to read on, but lately I have started to replace it with an Android ereader. Yes, I know one shouldn’t generalize from a single example, but his argument is based on the same flaw:

Why did your gut tell you that people are going to be reading on phones in the future?

It was my own behavior. Even when I'm in bed at night, I have an iPad mini with Retina and I still use my phone. And I have an iPhone 6 now, which is even better.



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Amazon Echo is Siri in a Can (Video)

Posted: 06 Nov 2014 05:38 PM PST

amazon echoAmazon might not be having much luck in selling an iPhone competitor but their Siri alternative is another matter. The retailer has just announced Amazon Echo, their entrant into the virtual assistant market.

Building on the work of two startups Amazon bought in November 2011 and in early 2013, the Amazon Echo picks up where the Dash personal shopping assistant leaves off. If offers many of the virtual assistant features offered by Siri, including answering questions, acting as an alarm clock, and more, and thanks to its non-mobile design the Echo can also double as the focal point for a sound system.

It’s just been announced today, so no one has heard it yet, but the website shows that the Echo combines a set of speakers with microphones, wifi, Bluetooth, and a computer to drive it all, and then packs it into a cylinder 3 inches wide and 9 inches tall:

amazon echo

There is also a remote, and Amazon is launching companion apps for Android and iOS.

All in all this is Amazon’s most novel product yet. The Verge would call it the most ambitious, but given what Amazon has launched over the past year I would see this as more of a logical next step.

Amazon already did streaming audio with the Fire tablets, voice recognition with the Fire TV and Amazon Dash, and TTS in the Kindles. In short Amazon took all of their previous work and then added the ability for the Echo to talk back to you.
I don’t mean to criticize Amazon, just to point out that much of what the Echo can do is established tech wrapped up in a cool new package. That is actually a good thing, because it means there are fewer bugs to be worked out by the early adopters.

The Echo is available today, but by invitation only. It costs $200 ($100 for Prime members). For those of us who aren’t chosen, here is the promo video Amazon posted:

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Has Amazon Ever Been Seen as the “Savior” of the Book Industry?

Posted: 06 Nov 2014 05:37 PM PST

2117512295_24e409bf9d_z1[1]Vanity Fair has a new article out today which takes a long look at Amazon and its effect on the book industry.

There are a number of details which I disagree with, but the article in general is worth your time. It makes a number of interesting claims, including this one from the introduction:

Amazon's war with publishing giant Hachette over e-book pricing has earned it a black eye in the media, with the likes of Philip Roth, James Patterson, and Stephen Colbert demanding that the online mega-store stand down. How did Amazon—which was once seen as the book industry's savior—end up as Literary Enemy Number One? And how much of this fight is even about money? Keith Gessen reports.

That’s a rather unusual historical viewpoint, don’t you think? Do you think it’s correct?

I don’t think so, but then again I wasn’t involved with the book industry in Amazon’s early years so I can’t comment directly. (Google also failed to turn up much in the way of news coverage from that period.) But based on what I know about Amazon and the book industry, I have trouble seeing what Amazon could have been saving the book industry from – obscurity?

Before Amazon came along, publishers sold books to distributors who then sold them to bookstores, or publishers sold directly to the major chains which handled their own distribution.

According to VF, that had its own issues:

The big chains were good for publishers because they sold so many books, but they were bad for publishers because they used their market power to dictate tough terms and also because they sometimes returned a lot of stock. People also worried about the power of the chains to determine whether a book did well or badly. Barnes & Noble's lone literary-fiction buyer, Sessalee Hensley, could make (or break) a book with a large order (or a disappointingly small one). If you talked to a publisher in the early 2000s, chances are they would complain to you about the tyranny of Sessalee. No one used her last name; the most influential woman in the book trade did not need one.

I can see how that would be frustrating, but is it really bad enough to warrant calling Amazon a savior? And did anyone see Amazon as a savior way back when?

If that truly is the case then it sheds new light on the talk over the past couple years about Walmart and how it might rescue the book industry from Amazon. There have been rumors that Walmart would start a bookstore chain and speculation that it might buy B&N, and one pundit even predicted that it would happen eventually.

That desire to be rescued by a powerful retailer from another powerful retailer always struck me as a cure which was worse than the disease, but that doesn’t mean that some weren’t agitating for it.

So was Amazon viewed as a savior at some point?

image by Zarko Drincic

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