Friday, June 29, 2012

HP to focus on Intel-based Windows 8 tablets, skip ARM-based Windows RT tablets

Bloomberg reports that HP has decided to focus on building Intel-based Windows 8 tablets and not release an ARM-based tablet running Windows RT. HP was one of the vendors given early access to the Windows RT platform by Microsoft. As fewer manufacturers commit to Windows RT, more pressure is being put on Microsoft's Surface tablet to be successful. If Microsoft ends up being the only company with a first-tier Windows RT tablet, it will make any chance of successfully competing against Apple almost impossible.

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Scholastic to distribute National Geographic for Kids titles on its Storia eBook platform

Scholastic has signed an agreement to distribute a selection of National Geographic for Kids' eBooks through Scholastic's Storia eBook platform starting in August. The collection will include 20 titles from the "National Geographic Readers" series.
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eBookstores (and some publishers) are tracking how their eBooks are read

The Wall Street Journal reports that retailers (and, in some cases, publishers) know far more about how eBooks are being used than they ever knew about print books. According to the article, Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble and Google can track how far readers are getting into their eBooks, how long they spend reading them, how often they read them and which search terms they use. If the eReader supports annotations, they also know what readers are highlighting and the contents of notes. They also know how many times readers open their tablet apps.

This information is just beginning to be studied, and some retailers are sharing the information (albeit selectively) with publishers. Barnes & Noble is in "the earliest stages of deep analytics," but it's already learned some useful information:
  • Nook users who buy the first eBook in a popular series tend to read the next title in the series as soon as they finish the first one. 
  • Nonfiction eBooks tend to be read a little at a time and are dropped sooner than fiction, while fiction titles are usually read straight through. 
  • Science fiction, romance and crime fans often read more eBooks in those genres, and read them more quickly, than do literary fiction readers. 
  • Readers of literary fiction quit eBooks more often and tend to skip around between titles more frequently than readers of other fiction genres. 
Amazon has long gathered and utilized information on its customers' purchasing habits; for example, it uses that information to recommend similar titles. Digital security expert Bruce Schneier is concerned that the knowledge that tracking is going on may cause a "chilling effect" on purchases of eBooks on sensitive topics, such as sex, health and security.

Groups such as the Electronic Freedom Foundation want Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other resellers to give their customers the ability to opt-out of eBook tracking. California has a "Reader Privacy Act" that requires government agencies to get a court order before requiring digital booksellers to turn over information about which eBooks their customers have browsed, purchased, read or annotated. The ACLU and EFF are now trying to enact similar laws in other states.

Some publishers, especially those who sell directly to customers, are gathering their own data about reader behavior. Sourcebooks is experimenting with early online "work-in-progress" versions of some of its titles, and is incorporating reader feedback into the final version. Scholastic is using online message boards and interactive games connected to its "39 Clues" series to gather input from 1.9 million registered users. Coliloquy, an interactive digital publisher, is gathering information on the characters and plot lines selected by readers and forwarding it to authors for use in writing future titles.

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Amazon's CreateSpace is pushing its clients to do direct deposit

According to Galleycat, Amazon's CreateSpace self-publishing service is trying to push customers to accept direct deposit payments for their royalties instead of getting paid by check. The minimum amount of earnings for which CreateSpace will cut a check has been raised to $100 from $28. In addition, they now charge $8 to send each check (so, if you're only getting $100 in royalties, that's like paying 8% for your own money.) By comparison, CreateSpace will issue an electronic royalty payment for as little as $10, with no processing fee.
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New Kobo Vox Coming This Fall?

On The Digital Reader blog, Nate Hoffelder writes about a MobileRead post from a current Kobo Vox user who was told by an Indigo Books salesperson that a new Vox model is coming in the fall. Given Google's new Nexus 7 and the multiple rumors about new Kindle tablets coming as early as the end of July, it makes sense for Kobo to be working on a new version of the Vox.
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Is agency or wholesale pricing better? It depends on who's asking the question

As part of the ongoing discussion about the U.S. Justice Department's eBook price-fixing case, there's been a lot of back-and-forth about which pricing model, agency (where publishers set retail prices) or wholesale (where retailers set their own prices), is better. I'll cut to the chase: Agency is better for publishers and some retailers (who either can't or won't compete on price,) while wholesale is better for other retailers (those who are willing and able to compete on price) and consumers. Agency allows publishers to eliminate discounting--they authorize every reseller to sell their eBooks at the same price. If a publisher wants to make more money, it simply raises its prices, and those price increases are passed directly onto consumers.

Under wholesale pricing, publishers sell their eBooks to resellers, who have the right to resell them at any price they choose. They can change prices and respond to consumer demand without getting permission from publishers. Without wholesale pricing, there would be no discount resellers in the U.S. Barnes & Noble would have to compete with independent booksellers solely on selection, not price. 

Publishers, or for that matter, any vendors of products or services, don't seek to control retail prices in order to make them lower for consumers--they do it to maintain or increase prices. Decades ago, the term "fair trade" referred not to helping improve income and conditions for producers in developing countries, but to a policy of requiring all resellers to sell the same product at the same price (also called "price maintenance".) The first statute allowing manufacturers to force everyone to sell at the same minimum price went into effect in 1931 in California. Here's a quote from Wikipedia: " (Fair trade laws) were ostensibly intended to protect small businesses to some degree from the competition of the very large chain stores during a time when small businesses were suffering. Many people objected to this on the grounds that if the manufacturers could set the price, consumers would have to pay more even at large discount stores." The last of the fair trade laws was repealed in 1975.

My parents ran a small store that discounted its merchandise. They couldn't sell Sony electronics or Seiko watches, because both companies refused to sell to discounters. So, they instead sold Panasonic electronics and Citizen watches, helping both companies to establish a foothold in the U.S. The fair trade laws kept consumer prices high and created a price umbrella under which competitors could enter the market at lower prices.

That demonstrates a fundamental flaw in the publishers' thinking about agency pricing: In the short run, it bolsters the price of their eBooks, but in the long run, it attracts substitute titles into the market that are sold at lower prices. Experience shows that book buyers are very price-sensitive--that's how Barnes & Noble and Borders killed most independent booksellers, and how Amazon built such a big eBook market share. We're already seeing the effect with the growth of self-publishers who are selling their eBooks at dramatically lower prices than the Big 6.

Price maintenance is a strategy that rarely works in the long run. Resellers figure out ways to get around it, consumers pressure their legislators to outlaw the practice, or the courts intervene.
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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Amazon Publishing likely to acquire Dorchester Publishing

At Digital Book World, Richard Curtis writes that Amazon is the "stalking horse" bidder to acquire Dorchester Publishing in an auction to be completed on August 15th. Amazon has committed to pay all outstanding back royalties owed to Dorchester's authors and agents as of May 31st if it wins the auction. Curtis writes that it's unlikely that any other company will outbid Amazon, given that Dorchester has been on the market for some time, without any real interest from buyers.
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Internet Archive's Peter Brantley wants librarians to take a more active role in the digital transition

The Digital Shift writes about a presentation made by the Internet Archive's Peter Brantley at the American Library Association Conference. Here's a summary:

* As self-published titles comprise more and more of the total number of titles published each year, there's more pressure on public libraries to make at least some of them available. However, there's no way for libraries to get eBooks for lending from some of the biggest self-publishing vendors, including Kindle Direct Publishing.

* The Canadian Urban Libraries Council and eBOUND Canada are working to build "a national public library infrastructure for the storage and distribution of digital content that would also manage lending agreements with publishers as well as transactions between libraries and patrons."

* The IDPF's search for a "lightweight" DRM for EPUB, in Brantley's view, could result in a replacement for Adobe's Content Server for libraries. Brantley said “Adobe Content Server is a very poorly supported software that has seen better days. It is not well loved by anyone who uses it, and it also imposes a lot of technical and organizational burdens on libraries.”

* On the basis of discussions that he had at BEA, Brantley believes that some publishers are willing to consider exploring alternative DRM schemes with libraries.

* Brantley pointed to the project and the Library License being proposed by the Harvard Library Innovation Laboratory as interesting ways to make more eBooks available to libraries. uses a crowdfunding model to underwrite reprinting and free distribution of out-of-print titles, and the Library License would grant libraries full digital rights to titles on the basis of time since publication or sales of the title over time.

* Brantley said that the West Coast technology companies such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft have become major players in the publishing industry--the first three, through their eBook sales, and Microsoft through its partnership with Barnes & Noble.
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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What the heck is Google thinking?

Now that we've had a chance to see Google's latest product announcements at its I/O Conference, it's clear that the company understands software just fine but doesn't have a clue about hardware. Android 4.1, Jelly Bean, looks like a strong, if incremental, update to Android, as do the enhancements to Google+. However, the new hardware has me scratching my head:
  • There's nothing exciting about the new Nexus 7 tablet. Essentially, Google looked at what Amazon's Kindle Fire lacks--a front-facing camera and faster processor--added them, and gave the Nexus 7 the same price. In doing so, Google assumed that Amazon would stand still, when multiple rumors indicate that two new 7" tablets are due from Amazon as soon as this quarter. The price of the existing Kindle Fire is rumored to drop to $149, and a next-generation model with features very similar to the Nexus 7 is almost certainly not going to be priced more than $199. With Amazon's superior distribution, it's going to be very hard for Google to compete.
  • The Nexus Q media player makes absolutely no sense to me. It's an Internet set-top box with a 25-watt stereo amplifier and a single HDMI output, priced at $299. It competes with low-end A/V receivers, Internet set-top boxes from companies such as Apple, Roku and Vizio, and portable Internet receivers from companies like Sonos. Most of the devices that it competes with are less expensive ($99 or less in the case of the Internet set-top boxes.) Its round shape makes it a poor fit with audio component systems, and in use, it'll have a myriad of cords attached on both the front and back of the device. It requires another Android device as a remote control. Google says that the Nexus Q is a "social jukebox," but is there really a market for a digital audio player that lets you screw around with other people's playlists?
  • Google Glasses are vaporware; Google isn't committing to deliver anything for a year, yet wants developers to pay for them now. They're almost the perfect example of a product designed by engineers who have no idea what real consumers want. Google doesn't even know what the use cases will be; it wants developers to pay $1,500 to help it find out. The market is...skydivers who want low-resolution video cameras in their sunglasses? Engineers who want to look like dorks? People who can't be bothered to look down at their smartphone to see their messages?
When you put these projects together with Google's Chrome OS initiative, which is coming apart at the seams, and pipe-dream projects like self-driving cars, it's clear that all that Larry Page has done is kill off one set of unproductive projects in favor of a different set of equally unproductive projects. All the while, Google is continuing to bleed employees, and the company is being forced to add talent through ever-more-expensive acquisitions. It would be great if Google was doing fundamental research that's inventing entirely new technologies, as Bell Labs did for decades, but most of what's coming out of Google's efforts is...junk. Google's advertising revenues are subsidizing one of the most wasteful and undisciplined product development programs in the history of high tech. 

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Califa Commits $325,000 in Funding for Library eBook Project; Deal Close With Smashwords

The pubic library eBook self-distribution movement is gaining more momentum: The Digital Shift reports that California's Califa Group library consortium has increased the funding for its library eBook ownership program, similar to the Douglas County, CO program, from $30,000 to $325,000, thanks in part to a partnership with the Kansas State Library and an increased grant from the California State Library. The consortium is very close to striking a deal with Smashwords that would get 10,000 of the distributor's top titles into Califa's network for about $3/title. California's Contra Costa County Library will be the pilot site for the project.

Here are some additional details:
  • Boopsie will provide mobile apps for the new program. 
  • Califa will install an Adobe Content Server (configured by Quipu Group) to provide DRM protection for the eBooks. Califa paid $10K for the Content Server plus $1,500 in annual maintenance. 
  • Califa is using VuFind, the same open-source web-based library resource portal that Douglas County is using, to make its eBook collection available to patrons. 
  • Smashwords will make its self-publishing service available to library patrons through Califa's VuFind portal. 

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Call for lower, uniform eBook VAT in Europe

The Bookseller reports that the Federation of European Publishers, supported by European Commission vice-president Neelie Kroes, is calling for a uniform, and lowered, Value Added Tax for eBooks throughout the European Union. Currently, there are big differences in the VAT from country to country; for example, in Luxembourg, where Amazon has its European headquarters, the VAT on eBooks is 3%, but in the U.K, the VAT is 20%. However, as the Federation points out, the decision on changing individual VAT rates is up to the finance ministers in each country.

The Federation is also calling for consumers to be able to move eBooks from device to device without constraint, although it didn't propose any rules for doing so.
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Google announces new version of Android, new Nexus 7 tablet and Nexus Q media player at I/O Conference

Engadget reports that Google made several announcements at its Google I/O Conference today:

1) Android 4.1, also called Jelly Bean, will be released in mid-July for the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and Nexus S smartphones, and Motorola Xoom tablets. Other devices may be updated in the future, depending on whether the hardware can support the new operating system, and whether hardware vendors and mobile service providers decide to support it. A number of enhancements have been made to improve performance; the company now claims that the CPU and GPU run in parallel, enabling the user interface to run at 60fps (if the hardware supports it.) The on-screen keyboard has been improved, as has voice input, which now works in both online and offline modes.The design of the home screen has been updated, and it's now easier to add, move and delete apps and widgets. Improvements have also been made to the camera app.

2) Google is now supporting "Smart App Updates" that allow incremental updates instead of requiring entire apps to be replaced. It's also improving encryption in order to make it harder to pirate paid apps.

3) Google announced its new tablet--the Nexus 7--that also runs Android 4.1. There were no surprises--all of the specs and prices had been previously leaked. It's got a 7" 1280 x 800 display, a quad-core Tegra 3 processor, 1GB of RAM and a 1.2 megapixel front camera, for $199 for the 8GB model and $249 for 16GB. For a limited time, it also comes with a $25 credit for the Google Play content and app store. Its user interface is based on the design of the Google Play store. The Nexus 7 will ship in mid-July.

4) The new Nexus Q is a ball-shaped media streaming device for the living room. It can connect any Android device to a television set or audio/video receiver and stream music and video from the Google Play store, as well as YouTube videos from the cloud. However, it doesn't appear to support services such as Hulu, Netflix or other third-party content providers. It also has its own built-in 25-watt amplifier, so it can be used as a standalone device by connecting speakers to it. According to The New York Times, the Nexus Q is almost entirely manufactured in the U.S. The Nexus Q will be priced at $299 when it ships in mid-July; the price is three times as much as comparable products from Apple, Roku and Vizio, so it's not clear who's Google's target market or why it feels that it can justify such a high price.
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Promethean introduces its table-sized tablet just as Microsoft distances itself from its version

MindShift reports that Promethean has just introduced a table with an integrated 46" touchscreen LCD for classroom use called the ActivTable. Up to six students can interact with the device at the same time, and Promethean offers a collection of "activities" designed for four- to 11-year-old children. The ActivTable will sell for $8,000; adding the entire suite of interactive tools can cost as much as $4,000 more.

Promethean's timing is a little off: Microsoft launched a table computer called Surface (yes, that's where the company got the name for its new tablets) in 2008. Samsung took over production of a second-generation version of the device this year, and the same day that Microsoft announced its Surface tablets, it quietly renamed the table computer to PixelSense. The original Surface computer has found a few customers, but by and large, it (and Samsung's version) have been seen as overpriced toys. (Samsung's SUR40 is priced at $8,400.)

If Microsoft's table/computer had ever gotten much market traction, it wouldn't have been possible for the company to adopt its Surface brand name for its new tablets without causing a great deal of market confusion. Given Microsoft's experience, and at its $8,000 price, Promethean's ActivTable is going to have a steep uphill battle for sales.
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Monday, June 25, 2012

Mixed news on the tablet eMagazine front

There's been some mixed news concerning tablet eMagazines today:

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Gizmodo Australia claims to have read a training manual for Google's rumored tablet

Gizmodo Australia claims to have read a training manual for Google's rumored tablet to be launched this week at the Google I/O Conference. According to the document, the tablet will be called the Nexus 7, will be built by Asus, and will use a 1.3GHz quad-core Tegra 3 processor with 12-core GeForce GPU and 1GB of RAM. The 7" display will have 1280 x 800 resolution, and the tablet will have a front-facing 1.2 megapixel camera and a battery that will give 9 hours of runtime. It will support Near Field Communication (NFC) for wireless transactions, and Google Wallet. The document says that the tablet will run Jelly Bean, the next version of Android, but it doesn't mention a version number. The Nexus 7 will be sold in two configurations, 8GB for $199 (U.S.) and 16GB for $249.

Google's intention with the Nexus 7 is to compete with Amazon's Kindle Fire and keep customers out of Amazon's ecosystem. However, if Gizmodo's story is correct and rumors about Amazon's new tablets are also correct, Google may still find itself flat-footed. The Kindle Fire's price is said to be dropping to $149 very soon, to make way for a replacement model with better specifications in Q3, which will also be priced at $149. A second 7" model, with specifications similar to the Nexus 7, is supposed to also be released in Q3 of this year, probably at the same price(s) as the Nexus 7. Given Amazon's superior distribution and support capabilities, it's unlikely that the Nexus 7 will gain much traction, at least in North America.
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DirecTV, Dish are under investigation by the Justice Department

Bloomberg is reporting that DirecTV and Dish have both received civil investigative demands, similar to subpoenas, from the Justice Department requesting information on both companies' pricing contracts with cable networks. What makes this story relevant to eBooks is that two sources have told Bloomberg that the DOJ is seeking information about "Most Favored Nation" (MFN) clauses in their contracts with content providers, the same clauses that the DOJ is seeking to eliminate in its price-fixing case against Apple, Macmillan and Penguin. In the pay-TV case, the DOJ is trying to find out whether cable, satellite and IPTV video services are using MFN clauses to prevent Internet video distributors and smaller startups from getting rights to distribute cable networks.
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Friday, June 22, 2012

U.S. eBook price-fixing trial set for June 2013; Apple and publishers still have issues

Reuters reports that Judge Denise Cote has set June 3, 2013 as the the start date for the U.S. eBook price-fixing trial against Apple, Macmillan and Penguin. According to another report from the Associated Press, the Department of Justice has asked the judge for permission to continue gathering evidence for the case until March of 2013, but Apple wants the DOJ to wrap up its discovery by the end of 2012. (Apparently, the publishers are siding with the DOJ on this issue, not Apple.)

A third report from CNET News says that the three publishers that are in the process of settling with the DOJ--Hachette, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster--are asking to be treated as "non parties" to the lawsuit, so that they won't be required to provide discovery in the case unless a party provides "good cause." The DOJ says that the publishers aren't entitled to "special treatment" because there was no allowance for it in their settlement agreement, the companies are likely to be "sources of highly relevant evidence," and they've turned over documents to European investigators that they haven't turned over to the DOJ.
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Patron-driven library acquisition could hurt some university presses

Department store magnate John Wanamaker is quoted as saying "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don't know which half." Some librarians feel much the same way about their collections--and they're starting to do something about it. According to Inside Higher Ed, library inventory research suggests that as much as half the holdings of university libraries never circulate. To cut down on waste, 400 to 600 university libraries worldwide have implemented patron-driven acquisition (PDA) strategies, in which they get access to eBook vendors' entire collections but are charged only when patrons actually use the eBooks. Consultant Joseph Esposito expects the number of libraries using PDA strategies to double in the next 18 months.

For example, the library at Grand Valley State University in Michigan started using a PDA program from Ebook Library in 2009. That year, library patrons used 6,239 eBooks, but only 343 of them were used enough to trigger an automatic purchase. Grand Valley paid Ebook Library $69,000, but if it had purchased all the eBooks that were skimmed, it would have paid $550,000.

So, if libraries shift to a model where they only pay for titles that they actually use, how will that affect university presses, for which a significant amount of their output comes from scholarly monographs that are rarely read? Esposito estimates that approximately 25% of university press sales (which total $320 million) go to libraries, or about $80 million in sales. Roughly 40% of all library book sales in an average general research library would be eliminated with a PDA strategy in the most extreme case, which would result in $32 million in lost revenue for university presses, or 10% of their total sales.

Rick Anderson, Associate Dean for Scholarly Resources and Collections at the University of Utah, said the following at a panel at the Association of American University Presses' annual meeting in Chicago last Tuesday: “When you describe the current situation as a partnership between libraries and university presses, that makes it sound very good and noble. Here’s another way of expressing it. University presses publish books that are no freaking good to anybody, libraries buy them and put them on the shelves, where they sit and are never used by anyone, and with the money that we used to buy them, university presses publish more books that are no use to anybody. The question becomes what should be the criteria according to which we discriminate. Should it be on the basis of what our patrons demonstrably need, or should it be on the basis of what we consider to be of high quality?”
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Pew Internet report on libraries and eBooks

The Pew Internet Project released a report earlier today titled "Libraries, patrons and e-books." The study focuses on public libraries. The finding that's getting the most attention is that a majority of library patrons don't know whether or not their library lends eBooks. Here's a summary of some of the findings:
  • 12% of Americans ages 16 and over who read eBooks borrowed at least one eBook from a public library in the last year. 
  • eBook borrowers read an average of 29 books a year vs. 23 books read by non-eBook borrowers. 
  • The median number of books read in the last year was 20 for eBook borrowers vs. 12 by non-borrowers. 
A majority of library patrons don't know if their library lends out eBooks:
  • 58% of library card holders don't know if their library loans out eBooks. 
  • 55% of those who said that the library is "very important" to them don't know if their library lends eBooks. 
  • 53% of tablet users don't know if their library lends eBooks. 
  • 48% of hardware eReader (e.g. Kindle, Nook) users don't know if their library loans out eBooks. 
  • 47% of all respondents who read an eBook in the last year don't know if their library loans out eBooks. 
Patrons who borrow eBooks from their public library are generally satisfied with the selection, but they've had problems:
  • Patrons rated the eBook selection at their public library as: 
    • Excellent: 16% 
    • Very Good: 18% 
    • Good: 32% 
    • Fair: 23% 
    • Poor: 4% 
  • 56% of eBook borrowers had tried to borrow a specific title that their library didn't carry. 
  • 52% had at some point tried to borrow an eBook but couldn't because there was a waiting list. 
  • 18% had found an eBook that they wanted to borrow, but it wasn't available in the format that they needed. 
Purchasing vs. borrowing behavior:
  • 78% of respondents ages 16 and older said that they had read at least one book in the last year. Of these respondents: 
    • 48% had bought their most recent book. 
    • 24% borrowed the book from a friend. 
    • 14% borrowed it from a library. 
    • 13% got it another way. 
  • Among library card holders: 
    • 47% had bought their most recent book. 
    • 20% borrowed it from a friend. 
    • 20% borrowed it from a library. 
    • 12% got it another way. 
  • 41% of patrons who borrow eBooks from libraries purchased their most recent eBook. 
  • 47% of eBook borrowers look for eBooks first from online bookstores and websites, and 41% look for them from their public library first. 
Recommendation sources:
  • Across all respondents: 
    • 64% get book recommendations from family members, friends or co-workers. 
    • 28% get recommendations from online bookstores or other websites. 
    • 23% get recommendations from staffers in brick & mortar bookstores. 
    • 19% get recommendations from librarians or library websites. 
  • Among library eBook borrowers: 
    • 71% get recommendations from online bookstores and websites. 
    • 39% get recommendations from staffers in brick & mortar bookstores. 
    • 42% get recommendations from librarians or library websites. 
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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Online Publishers Association releases survey of U.S. tablet users

The Online Publishers Association released a study conducted for it by Frank. N. Magid Associates: "A Portrait of Today's Tablet User, Wave II." Here's a summary of selected findings:
  • Regular tablet users increased from 12% of the population (28.3 million people) in 2011 to 31% of the population   (74.1 million people) in 2012. 
  • The OPA projects that in 2013, tablet users will increase to 47% of the population   (117.4 million people.) 
  • The percentage of respondents using Android tablets increased dramatically: In 2011, the split was 72% iOS/23% Android/12% Other; in 2012, the split was 52% iOS/47% Android/14% Other, primarily due to the popularity of the Kindle Fire (percentages add up to more than 100% because some respondents own/use more than one type of tablet, but only one tablet per operating system was counted.) 
  • The user base is getting older and richer: Tablet users ages 8-24 decreased 8% year-over-year, while tablet users ages 35-54 increased 8%. As for income, households earning $50K or more comprised 41% of the population sampled by the OPA, but 59% of tablet users. In fact, tablet users were overrepresented in every income bracket from $50K to $150K+. 
  • 60% of tablet owners use their tablet several times a day; and addition 14% use it once a day. 
  • The average amount of time that respondents spend using their tablet is 13.9 hours per week, with the most popular times for usage being between 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. 
  • 67% of tablet usage is at home, 15% in school or at work, 14% when commuting or in a car, and 4% while shopping. 
  • 94% of respondents in the 2012 survey use their tablet to access content/information, compared to 87% in 2011. 
  • 69.7 million people use their tablets to access content/information in 2012, compared with 24.4 million in 2011. 
  • 42% use their tablets to read eBooks in the 2012 survey, the same percentage as in 2011. 
  • 31.1 million people use their tablets to read eBooks in 2012, compared with 11.8 million in 2011. 
  • 35% of respondents have purchased at least one eBook for their tablets. 
  • Videos are the most popular type of content accessed by tablet users, and the most popular type of videos are news and sports clips, weather forecasts, excerpts of TV shows, and other short-form news & entertainment. (Note that this doesn't include user-generated content on sites such as YouTube--that's the second most popular type of video.) 
  • Tablet users prefer reading on tablets over reading on mobile phones, PCs, print newspapers and magazines, and dedicated eReaders such as the Kindle and Nook. However, the preferences for tablets vs. eReaders are the closest of all the options: 48% for tablets, 33% for dedicated eReaders, 19% "don't know." (By comparison, 71% of tablet users prefer reading on tablets rather than mobile phones, 23% prefer mobile phones, and 5% "don't know.") 
  • Tablet users have downloaded an average of 22 apps over the last 12 months, of which 77% were free and 23% were paid. 

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LG to Sideline Tablet Development to Focus on Smartphones

Bloomberg reports that South Korea's LG Electronics has decided to "to put all new tablet development on the back burner for the time being in order to focus on smartphones,” according to company spokesperson Ken Hong. LG denied that Microsoft's announcement of its new Surface tablets was a factor in the company's decision. LG sells Android tablets, but their sales have been poor, so it's not a surprise that the company is pulling back until it becomes clear if, and how, other companies can successfully (and profitably) compete with the iPad.
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Penguin to test eBook lending with the New York and Brooklyn Public Libraries--and 3M

The New York Times reports that, after exiting the library market in February, Penguin is planning to reenter the market--with a different distribution partner. Penguin stopped distributing new eBook titles through OverDrive last November when it learned that OverDrive was violating its contract by serving eBooks to Kindle users through Amazon's servers, and cut off all eBooks to OverDrive in February. Now, Penguin is working with 3M, the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library on a year-long pilot eBook lending program to begin in August. Penguin will make more than 15,000 frontlist titles available to the libraries, but there will be a six-month delay from the books' initial publication dates, in order to help prevent cannibalization of eBook sales. According to a Penguin spokesperson, library pricing for the eBooks will be similar to consumer prices, with licensing on a one borrower/one copy basis. If the program is successful, Penguin and 3M will roll it out to libraries around the country.

This test is a huge win for 3M, and a slap in the face for OverDrive, since public libraries that want eBooks from Penguin will have to get them from 3M. The company has already signed up Random House and HarperCollins, and is adding publishers at a rapid pace.
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CBS tells it like it is--most reality TV is unwatchable crap

Yesterday, CBS failed in its attempt to get a preliminary injunction to stop ABC from airing the reality series "Glass House," which CBS claimed is largely based on the same premise as "Big Brother" and is produced and staffed by former members of the "Big Brother" team. ABC claims that "Glass House" is a "wholly original" concept. In response to the court's decision, CBS put out a hilarious press release titled "CBS Announces Development of 'Dancing On The Stars,' an Exciting and Completely Original Reality Program that Owes its Concept and Execution to Nobody At All." The release goes on to describe the new show as washed-up actors and celebrities dancing on the graves of real celebrities in Hollywood.

CBS hits ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" right on the mark--but the shot then ricochets and hits CBS square in the chest. "Dancing With the Stars" is inane, but so is "Big Brother," which is all but unwatchable. For that matter, most reality television in the U.S. is pitched at developmentally-stunted young adults. Go down the list: "Survivor"? Entertaining once, but way past its prime. "American Idol"? The show's gotten to the point where no amount of cast changes is likely to reverse its slide. "The X Factor"? Mean-spirited and insipid at the same time. "The Bachelor/The Bachelorette"? The only way I could watch those shows is on a Demerol drip. And that's just the "first tier" of reality shows--with few exceptions, the rest are much, much worse.

As for "original concepts," it's important to remember that CBS didn't create "Big Brother"--they licensed it from Endemol. "Survivor" is a licensed version of a Swedish reality show called "Expedition Robinson." Fox's  "American Idol" is based on the British show "Pop Idol," and "The X Factor" also came from the U.K. and is licensed from Simon Cowell and his company SYCOtv. ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" is based on the BBC's "Strictly Come Dancing." NBC's "The Voice" is based on "The Voice of Holland." You get the picture: When it comes to reality shows, U.S. networks don't create them--they buy them.

I have no idea whether CBS can prevail in court against ABC, but given the ratings for the first episode of "Glass House," it'll likely be off the air well before the case makes it to trial. To me, the whole thing is like saying "Your steaming pile of crap looks and smells just like my steaming pile of crap!" Yes, it does.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Book View Cafe Offers Libraries a 45% Discount on its eBooks

The Digital Shift reports that Book View Cafe, an eBook publisher/author collective with more than 40 author members, is offering libraries a 45% discount on its entire catalog, which brings the average price of its eBooks to libraries under $3.00. Authors distributing titles through Book View Cafe include "Hugo and Nebula award winners such as Ursula K. Le Guin, Vonda N. McIntyre, David D. Levine, and Linda Nagata, as well as New York Times bestsellers and notable authors Patricia Rice, Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, Lois Gresh, and Sarah Zettel." In addition to selling direct, Book View Cafe distributes through Smashwords to supply Baker & Taylor's Axis 360 library service, and is in talks with other distributors, including OverDrive.

Book View Cafe's titles are distributed in EPUB, MOBI and (in some cases) PDF format, and are sold without Digital Rights Management. Most of the titles appear to be reprints where rights have reverted to the authors, along with some new titles. Authors get 95% of the sale price for titles sold through the Book View Cafe website.
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Google and Asus expected to unveil 7" Nexus tablet next week at Google I/O

DigiTimes reports that Google's and Asus' new 7" Nexus Android tablet, to be built for the companies by Quanta Computer (the same company that manufactures the Kindle Fire,) will be launched at next week's Google I/O Conference in San Francisco. The price will reportedly be $199, and the tablet is said to include a quad-core Tegra 3 processor and a front-facing webcam. DigiTimes also says that the tablet will be preloaded with Google's Chrome browser for Android; it's not clear if Chrome will replace or be installed in addition to the legacy Android browser.
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DigiTimes reports Microsoft is outsourcing Surface tablets to Pegatron; expected prices above US$599

DigiTimes reports that its sources say that Pegatron, which is one of Apple's iPad manufacturers, has won the contract to manufacture Microsoft's Surface tablets. These sources also estimate that the price of the Surface for Windows RT, which will compete directly with the iPad, will be priced above $599, while the Intel-based Surface for Windows 8 Pro will be priced above $799. In both cases, the high prices may outweigh the appeal of the tablets' industrial design. In addition, Microsoft has said that the tablets will only be sold in its retail stores (of which there are 21, plus four more under construction,) and online. Without other retail outlets, it's highly unlikely that Microsoft can get the volume it needs to drop the tablets' prices enough to be competitive with Apple and other manufacturers.
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Samsung may be dropping Kobo as its European eBook supplier

The Digital Reader reports that some users of Samsung Android devices in Europe are getting a warning message when they open Samsung's own eReader app. The warning informs users that they need to download Kobo's app from the Google Play store if they want to continue reading the eBooks that they purchased for use in Samsung's eReader app, and that Samsung plans to release its own "new and improved" eReader service soon.

Kobo has provided the eBooks and back-end transaction services for Samsung in Europe, but it looks like that deal is coming to an end. When Kobo and Samsung originally struck their deal, Kobo only had black & white hardware eReaders, but it's now competing with Samsung via its Vox Android tablet. Samsung may have decided that it doesn't want to funnel revenue to a competitor. There are many alternative vendors that Samsung could work with (txtr and Blio are two possibilities.)
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ALA releases final version of Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study 2011-12

The American Library Association has released the final version of its Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study 2011-12. Here's a summary of selected findings:

* For FY2011-12, the average total operating expenditures funding for U.S. public libraries dropped by 2.4%, the third year in a row where available funding declined. Survey respondents anticipate that funding in FY2012-13 will drop by another 5.3%.

* Collections expenditures dropped an average of 1.64% in FY 2011-12, and libraries expect them to drop another 4.61% in FY2012-13. However, the numbers vary considerably by library location: Urban libraries' collection expenditures rose 3.2% in FY2011-12, and suburban libraries' collection expenditures also increased by 12.6%. By comparison, rural libraries' collection expenditures declined 37%.

* 76.3% of public libraries now offer eBooks to their patrons in their facilities, and 76.1% offer eBooks to patrons remotely (for example, over the Web.)

* 39.1% of public libraries make eReaders such as Kindles or Nooks available to their patrons for reading eBooks.

* 14.2% of public libraries have optimized their websites for use on mobile devices.

* 7.2% of public libraries have developed smartphone apps for access to library services and content.
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Are library eBook vendors trying to "cut out the middlemen" -- librarians?

The American Library Association's American Libraries blog has a post by Christopher Harris titled "Does OverDrive Really Care About Libraries?". Harris writes about an email that he received from OverDrive as part of its ISTE conference promotions; here's a quote from his article:

"Instead of speaking as a library partner—a company dedicated to helping provide digital books through libraries—OverDrive seems to be presenting itself to the school technology world as a library replacement. 'Lend your students eBooks from a publisher-supported digital library powered by OverDrive,' the ad states. Never mind, this seems to suggest, lending from a school library that includes ebooks; tap into an OverDrive library replacement that your school can buy after laying off the school librarian."

Harris' primary concern is that eBook vendors, faced with declining school and public library budgets, may start selling their collections as a replacement for, rather than an addition to, physical libraries. However, there's scant evidence that library eBook consolidators are bypassing libraries (at least as of yet.)
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RRKidz releases Reading Rainbow iPad eBook app

TechCrunch reports that RRKidz, co-founded by LeVar Burton and producer Mark Wolfe, has released a Reading Rainbow iPad app. RRKidz licensed the Reading Rainbow trademark and content from public television station WNED in Buffalo, NY. The app gives children access to eBooks from publishers including Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; Holiday House; Charlesbridge Publishing; Kane Press; Sleeping Bear Press; Peachtree Publishers; and Shenanigan Books. The eBooks feature interactive features, quizzes and narration. The app also includes videos shot in the style of the original Reading Rainbow television series.

The Reading Rainbow app is free and comes with four eBooks and videos. Parents can then subscribe to the service for $9.99/month, which gives them unlimited access to content.
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Kindle Mobile Learning Initiative announcement postponed

PaidContent reports that the Kindle Mobile Learning Initiative that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Amazon's Jeff Bezos were supposed to announce today was postponed. The State Department says that the reason is Clinton's schedule at the G-20 Mexico summit and the Rio+20 conference later this week. However, the State Department knew about those events for many months and scheduled the Kindle press conference anyway, so it's likely that there's another reason for the postponement. 

The National Federation for the Blind sent a letter to Secretary Clinton on June 18th that said that “any agreement by the United States to procure inaccessible Kindle, or other, e-readers is a violation of the law, including Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.” That could be a reason for the decision to postpone the event.

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Microsoft just made all Windows Phone 7.X smartphones obsolete

Earlier today, Microsoft gave a technical preview of Windows Phone 8, the new version of its phone operating system. There were two big pieces of news, one good for developers and future Windows Phone buyers, the other very bad for current Windows Phone owners.

The good news is that Windows Phone 8 will be based on the same kernel, and many of the same drivers, as Windows 8. That means that it will be much easier for developers to move apps from Windows Phone 8 to Windows 8 and vice versa. I suspect that it won't be quite as smooth as Apple's iOS environment, where the iPhone and iPad run the same operating system, but it'll be much better than Windows' current situation, where there's virtually no commonality between Windows 7 and Windows Phone 7.X.

The bad (really bad) news is that owners of Windows Phone 7.X devices will not be able to upgrade to Windows Phone 8. All those folks that bought Nokia Lumia 900s, 800s, 600s and any other Windows Phone 7.X device are out of luck--no Windows Phone 8 for you. Microsoft will offer them a consolation prize, Windows Phone 7.8, with some of Windows Phone 8's user interface improvements, but with no way to run Windows Phone 8 apps.

Apple's had this "make your new operating system compatible with your old devices" thing down for a few years now, and I marvel at why neither Google nor now Microsoft can do it. Microsoft will undoubtedly argue that smartphones need new hardware to take advantage of Windows Phone 8, but that doesn't explain why the company didn't anticipate the problem when drawing up the specifications for Windows Phone 7.X devices. Did the Windows and Windows Phone teams not start talking to each other until a few weeks ago?

When Nokia launched the Lumia 900, it ran commercials in the U.S. with a spokesperson telling people that the "beta test is over"--they could buy the first "production" smartphone, the Lumia 900. Unfortunately, Nokia and Microsoft customers who bought that line now know that they were merely participating in yet another beta test.
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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Bibliotheca to export Douglas County, Colorado library eBook model worldwide

No Shelf Required reports that Bibliotheca, a Switzerland-based vendor of self-service print book circulation kiosks and security equipment for libraries, is turning the in-house eBook system developed by the Douglas County, CO public library and its partners into a commercial product. Bibliotheca will provide services for aggregating eBook purchases from participating libraries in order to maximize discounts from publishers, and provide a secure DRM environment for publishers. (It's not clear whether they're simply going to resell Adobe's Content Server, find a comparable DRM platform from another vendor, or develop their own DRM solution.)

Bibliotheca will base its eBook operation near Denver, and it will be run by Monique Sendze, who's currently the Associate Director of Information Technology at Douglas County Libraries. The company plans to introduce its platform in early 2013, and will initially focus on North American libraries before expanding worldwide.
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Barbara's Bookstore to open shops within Macy's stores in Massachusetts

According to the Boston Business Journal, Chicago-based independent bookstore chain Barbara's Bookstore, which has operated a full-service bookstore inside Macy's flagship Chicago department since 2003, will open bookstore boutiques in Macy's locations throughout Massachusetts. (One Barbara's Bookstore is already operating in the Boston South Station Macy's.) A new bookstore will be added to Macy's Downtown Crossing store, as well as stores in Hyannis, Holyoke and North Attelboro, MA, with plans to eventually open more locations. One reason for Macy's and Barbara's Bookstore's expansion of their partnership is the closure of Borders' stores and other bookstores near Macy's locations. (It's not out of the question that if the Massachusetts experiment is successful, Macy's could acquire Barbara's Bookstore and expand its in-store bookstores more widely throughout its stores.)
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Barnes & Noble's Q4 financial results

Reuters reports that Barnes & Noble released its Q4 financial results Tuesday morning:
  • Revenue was $1.38 billion, up slightly from a year ago but below analysts' estimates of $1.48 billion. 
  • The company had a net loss of $57.7 million, or $1.08/share, slightly lower than its Q4 loss of $59.4 million, or $1.04/share, a year ago. 
  • Same-store sales at its 700 superstores were up 4.5% compared with Q4 last year. 
  • The company had higher-than-expected returns of Nook devices from retailers after the 2011 holiday season, and a decline in sales of its eReaders and tablets in Q4. 
  • Revenues at its Nook business, including eBooks, eMagazines and apps as well as devices, fell 19% to $164 million in the quarter. 
  • B&N now has 27% of the U.S. eBook market, compared to 60% for Amazon. (That leaves 13% for Apple, Kobo, Sony and everyone else.) 

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Wiley Announces Fiscal Year and Fourth Quarter Results

Wiley has released its Q4 and FY2012 financial results:

For Q4:
  • Revenue was $455 million, up 2% including foreign exchange rates, and up 3% excluding foreign exchange. 
  • Adjusted earnings per share were up 73% over the prior year to $0.80. 
  • Revenue from Wiley's Scientific, Technical, Medical and Scholarly (STMS) business line was up 2% to $291 million, Professional/Trade was up 4% to $114 million, and Global Education was up 2% to $49 million. 
For the full 2012 fiscal year:
  • Revenue was $1.783 billion, up 2% including foreign exchange rates, and up 1% excluding foreign exchange. 
  • Adjusted earnings per share were up 11% to $3.21. 
  • STMS revenue was up 2% to $1.041 billion, driven primarily by growth in digital revenue, which represented approximately 61% of the segment's total revenue for FY2012. 
  • Professional/Trade revenue fell 1% to $434 million; full-year eBook revenue was up approximately 70% to $40 million, representing 9% of the segment's total revenue. 
  • Global Education revenue fell 1% to $308 million; full-year non-textbook and digital revenue grew 5% to $88 million, representing 29% of the segment's total revenue. 

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