Monthly Archives: October 2008

An LCD Challenger to ePaper?

Slashgear reports a different approach to ePaper, this one produced by Sharp. It’s an eight-color liquid crystal display that can freezes static images after the juice is switched off. Sharp foresees a variety of markets for it such as grocery displays: by hooking the screen up to a Wi-Fi, store managers can readily adjust prices displayed to customers. It could also be competitive with emerging e-book applications once the cost comes down and some other issues, such as temperature distortion and power consumption, are resolved. The technology doesn’t sound competitive yet with eInk but given Sharp minds, that could change fast. Read about it.



A Screen So Thin It Flaps

And speaking of screen technology, check out Samsung’s flat panel display; at 0.05 mm, it’s so thin it actually flaps!

As reported by Gearlog, “The OLED display was made by using polysilicon TFTs and low-molecular organic EL materials. The panel is then sealed using a technology that employs sputtering method and doesn’t use glass substrate. Samsung’s flapping OLED display has a 480 × 272 pixels resolution, 200cd/m2 luminance and 100,000:1 contrast ratio. Just imagine watching movies on paper-thin displays in the future!”

Translation: A screen so thin it flaps!



Military Developing Ultralight E-Ink Flex Displays

It’s been said that the first applications of every scientific innovation are invariably sex and warfare. This one is about warfare.

The US Army is investing tens of millions of dollars developing light, electrically charged plastic display screens that can be carried in a soldier’s pocket, replacing bulky, heavy and unreliable systems that compromise mobility, communications and rapid response.

“These flexible displays have been the dream of science fiction authors, wearable-computing enthusiasts and the display industry for nearly a decade,” blogs Priya Ginapati in Wired. “LG Philips, Fujitsu and Sony have shown off prototypes of flexible-display systems, while startups such as Plastic Logic and E-Ink have talked about the possibility of putting their digital ink displays onto bendable backings. But so far the idea has remained more in the realm of Minority Report than the real world.”

“For instance,” continues Ginapati, “a soldier in the field could get information about the surroundings, the position of enemies or the blueprint of a building he or she may be planning to enter. Other applications could include the use of the flexible displays as maps.”

E-Ink was developed by MIT scientists for use in e-books, and we’re hopeful that it will prevail as much in peace as in war.



Random House Changes E-Book Royalty Policy

In a letter circulated among literary agents, signed by David J. Sanford, Director Publishing Contracts, and Katherine J. Trager, Senior Vice President, Secretary and General Counsel, Random House announced a shift in e-book royalties from one based on the list price to one based on the actual net moneys received by the publisher. “With the widespread use by consumers of electronic devices such as the iPod, the Amazon Kindle, and the Sony Reader, a significant market for ebooks and digitally delivered audio content is finally ready to emerge,” the letter stated. “In response, Random House is making major investments in our digital infrastructure and is creating digital files of active titles so that they are available for sales as ebooks, as downloadable audio, and for Internet search and discovery.”

Commencing December 1, 2008, the new royalty rate for sales of ebooks will be 25% of the amount received for all sales, Random’s letter goes on to state. What does Random House actually receive? Most e-book retailers take a discount of approximately 50% of an e-book’s list price. Therefore, the amount received by Random House — the amount on which the new royalty will be based — is about half of the list.

How does that play out in real dollars?

A recent Random House contract states that on all copies of a work sold as an electronic book, the royalty will be 25% of the US suggested retail price until the book’s advance has earned out, and 15% of the list price thereafter. Under the current (pre-change) royalty structure, on a book retailing for, say, $10.00, the e-book royalty would be $2.50 per download at 25%, then $1.50 per download when the royalty rate shifts to 15%.

By contrast, the new royalty of 25% of the net receipts comes to something like $1.25 per sale on a $10.00 book (25% of 50%). So, Random House’s change is definitely a reduction of e-book income for authors.

Random’s justification for the change is “1) The new rates are very much in line with the e-book and digital audio rates being offered today by our major competitors… 2) The way the market is developing, the publisher’s list price will soon no longer be a relevant basis for calculating royalties in the digital environment… 3) The electronic formats are not as inexpensive to produce and publish as many believe […] We have made substantial investments, and we will continue to invest, in related digital infrastructure, such as the creation and maintenance of a digital archive, and in the development of the market for electronic formats… 4) The new ebook rate continues to compare favorably to the rates we pay for other formats in which books are made available.”

By way of comparison, and as a matter of full disclosure, E-Reads pays a royalty of 50% of net receipts for e-book sales, and has done so since its founding in 2000. On a $10.00 book, that means a royalty of $2.50. At no point is the royalty rate ever reduced.

– Richard Curtis


Google and Publishers Association/Authors Guild in Major Settlement

In what could be a huge boost to the e-book industry, Google has agreed to an out-of-court settlement with the American Association of Publishers and Authors Guild, each of which brought its own lawsuit over Google’s program of scanning copyrighted books. According to Publishers Weekly, which broke the story today on the heels of an AAP press release, Google will pay $125 million settlement and set up a new licensing system.

The press release is reprinted below.


The Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers, and Google today announced a groundbreaking settlement agreement on behalf of a broad class of authors and publishers worldwide that would expand online access to millions of in-copyright books and other written materials in the U.S. from the collections of a number of major U.S. libraries participating in Google Book Search. The agreement, reached after two years of negotiations, would resolve a class-action lawsuit brought by book authors and the Authors Guild, as well as a separate lawsuit filed by five large publishers as representatives of the AAP’s membership. The class action is subject to approval by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The agreement promises to benefit readers and researchers, and enhance the ability of authors and publishers to distribute their content in digital form, by significantly expanding online access to works through Google Book Search, an ambitious effort to make millions of books searchable via the Web. The agreement acknowledges the rights and interests of copyright owners, provides an efficient means for them to control how their intellectual property is accessed online and enables them to receive compensation for online access to their works.

If approved by the court, the agreement would provide:

· More Access to Out-of-Print Books — Generating greater exposure for millions of in-copyright works, including hard-to-find out-of-print books, by enabling readers in the U.S. to search these works and preview them online;

· Additional Ways to Purchase Copyrighted Books — Building off publishers’ and authors’ current efforts and further expanding the electronic market for copyrighted books in the U.S., by offering users the ability to purchase online access to many in-copyright books;

· Institutional Subscriptions to Millions of Books Online — Offering a means for U.S. colleges, universities and other organizations to obtain subscriptions for online access to collections from some of the world’s most renowned libraries;

· Free Access From U.S. Libraries — Providing free, full-text, online viewing of millions of out-of-print books at designated computers in U.S. public and university libraries; and

· Compensation to Authors and Publishers and Control Over Access to Their Works — Distributing payments earned from online access provided by Google and, prospectively, from similar programs that may be established by other providers, through a newly created independent, not-for-profit Book Rights Registry that will also locate rightsholders, collect and maintain accurate rightsholder information, and provide a way for rightsholders to request inclusion in or exclusion from the project.

Under the agreement, Google will make payments totaling $125 million. The money will be used to establish the Book Rights Registry, to resolve existing claims by authors and publishers and to cover legal fees. The settlement agreement resolves Authors Guild v. Google, a class-action suit filed on September 20, 2005 by the Authors Guild and certain authors, and a suit filed on October 19, 2005 by five major publisher-members of the Association of American Publishers: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.; Pearson Education, Inc. and Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,; John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; and Simon & Schuster, Inc.). These lawsuits challenged Google’s plan to digitize, search and show snippets of in-copyright books and to share digital copies with libraries without the explicit permission of the copyright owner.

Holders worldwide of U.S. copyrights can register their works with the Book Rights Registry and receive compensation from institutional subscriptions, book sales, ad revenues and other possible revenue models, as well as a cash payment if their works have already been digitized.

Libraries at the Universities of California, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Stanford have provided input into the settlement and expect to participate in the project, including by making their collections available. Along with a number of other U.S. libraries that currently work with Google, their significant efforts to preserve, maintain and provide access to books have played a critical role in achieving this agreement and, through their anticipated participation, they are furthering such efforts while making books even more accessible to students, researchers and readers in the U.S. It is expected that additional libraries in the U.S. will participate in this project in the future.

Google Book Search users in the United States will be able to enjoy and purchase the products and services offered under the project. Outside the United States, the users’ experience with Google Book Search will be unchanged, unless the offering of such products and services is authorized by the rightsholder of a book.

“It’s hard work writing a book, and even harder work getting paid for it,” said Roy Blount Jr., President of the Authors Guild. “As a reader and researcher, I’ll be delighted to stop by my local library to browse the stacks of some of the world’s great libraries. As an author, well, we appreciate payment when people use our work. This deal makes good sense.”

“This historic settlement is a win for everyone,” said Richard Sarnoff, Chairman of the Association of American Publishers. “From our perspective, the agreement creates an innovative framework for the use of copyrighted material in a rapidly digitizing world, serves readers by enabling broader access to a huge trove of hard-to-find books, and benefits the publishing community by establishing an attractive commercial model that offers both control and choice to the rightsholder.”

“Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Today, together with the authors, publishers, and libraries, we have been able to make a great leap in this endeavor,” said Sergey Brin, co-founder & president of technology at Google. “While this agreement is a real win-win for all of us, the real victors are all the readers. The tremendous wealth of knowledge that lies within the books of the world will now be at their fingertips.”


E-Book Reader App for Your iPhone, At Last

Mac Life reports a promising new e-book reader designed to interface with your iPhone. Check out Ryu’s Classics Collection Application. For now the demo books are all public domain classics, but if the app flies it could lead to an iPhone store for copyrighted e-books as well.

This latest development brings us closer to the day when Apple CEO Steve Jobs eats his words knocking the future of reading.



Oprah’s Kindle: “Absolutely my new favorite thing in the world.”

Telling viewers that a gift of a Kindle changed her life this past summer, Oprah Winfrey gave a huge endorsement to Amazon’s e-reading device in front of God and everybody. Well, maybe not God, but Jeff Bezos, who appeared with her on the program.

For viewers intimidated by the Kindle’s list price, her website is offering a promotion knocking $50.00 off the purchase price through Friday, October 31st. That happens to be Halloween, but this is all treat and no trick.

Check it out



Can Your Book Publisher Become Your E-Book Publisher?

Yesterday I commented on a news item about a publisher, St. Martin’s Press, that had released a book as an original e-book. I said,

It raises a provocative question for authors and agents (and publishing lawyers): is there anything in a conventional book contract that prevents your publisher from releasing your book originally as an e-book? Or, for that matter, exclusively as an e-book as opposed to print on paper? I would guess that the author of the St. Martin’s Press book explicitly waived his right to have his book published first in a hardcover or paperback volume. But what about us garden variety authors? Could a publisher elect to go straight into e-book without our express permission?

After I wrote this I realized these questions only give rise to more questions.

Suppose that the St. Martin’s book were not merely a one-time exception to the traditional practice of publishing books originally in print format. Suppose instead that it was the first step in a major shift among conventional book publishers – the Random Houses, Simon & Schusters, the HarperCollins, as well as the St. Martinses — from launching books in hard copy to launching them in e-book format – indeed, to launching them only in e-book format.

This is not a fanciful question. Given the inefficient economies of print publication, and the efficiencies of digital publication, it is entirely possible that we could experience the same kind of shift that we are seeing in the newspaper and magazine business as the paper-reading generation gives way to a digitally-oriented one. (I am writing this on the day that the New York Times reported a 51% drop in earnings.)

If original e-book publication becomes not merely an occasional or optional event but a primary format – well, what does that say for the identities of the Random Houses, Simon & Schusters, HarperCollins, and St. Martinses? What does it say for the publishing industry? For editors? For authors? For — omigod — agents?

Just asking!

– Richard Curtis


Original E-Book Publication – A Loophole in Your Publishing Contract?

Publishers Weekly recent carried the news item that St. Martin’s Press was launching its first exclusive e-book title, The 100 Day Action Plan to Save the Planet by William Becker. Obviously it’s a book about the environment and, as the news item pointed out, “releasing the title as an e-book would be the most environmentally-friendly approach.” It sounds like a book everyone should read, and we applaud St. Martin’s initiative for going straight to e-book.

It does however raise a provocative question for authors and agents (and publishing lawyers): is there anything in a conventional book contract that prevents your publisher from releasing your book originally as an e-book? Or, for that matter, exclusively as an e-book as opposed to print on paper? I would guess that the author of the St. Martin’s Press book explicitly waived his right to have his book published first in a hardcover or paperback volume. But what about us garden variety authors? Could a publisher elect to go straight into e-book without our express permission?

Just asking!

I raised the question in a column years ago and raise it again now. It might be worthwhile for author and agent organizations to examine publisher boilerplate and, if I’m right, push to sew up this loophole.

– Richard Curtis


E-Books Coming on Buckypaper?

Scientists are exploring a multitude of applications for “buckypaper,” a tissue-thin and steel-strong fabric made up of carbon nanotubes. Because of its strength and vast surface area – a gram of it could theoretically blanket about 3000 square yards – it may one day provide the vehicle for the e-ink that is the basis for electronic newspapers, magazines, and books.

For a fascinating article and video on buckypaper, click here.

– RC