Monthly Archives: October 2009

You Too Can Wink Like Sarah. Misty Glasses Prevent E-Book Eye

Why does the eyeglass manufacturer Masunaga sound familiar? Ah, that’s right – that’s the outfit that designed Sarah Palin’s distinctive glasses. What are they up to lately?

Well, they’ve developed a set of glasses that monitors how often you blink.When a sensor detects that you haven’t blinked for more than five seconds, a liquid crystal display is released in one lens causing it to fog up and gradually turn opaque.

Okay, remind us – why do we need this again?

Actually, there’s a very good reason. People who gaze intently at a computer screen or read an e-book for prolonged periods of time often develop ocular dehydration – dry eye. By being forced to blink, your eyelid coats your eyeball with a thin layer of moisture. The blink immediately clears the mist on your eyeglass lens.

Probably not the best thing to wear while driving on a highway, one would imagine.

The name of the product? Wink Glasses. If you’ve got 40,000 yen to burn, pick up a pair. That’s $430. Read New Japanese glasses bring tears to the eyes.

A much cheaper if somewhat grosser way to moisten your eyes may be seen in the below video.





Some Highlights of Teen Reading Survey

Here are some findings in a nutshell:

  • Comic books, manga and graphic novels? Sure, teens read them. But out of all categories, comics and graphic novels constitute only 20% of what they read, and manga even less – 18%. The most popular category? Fiction. Least popular? Memoir (20%), biography (16%) and history (15%).
  • What was the most important factor influencing young adults to pick up a book? Are you ready for this, copywriters? Ninety-one percent said jacket copy. “The cover was important to 79%. The next most important influence, with 77%, was familiarity with an author’s previous work; 74% were looking for the next book in a series. For 73%, the title was important.
  • “When asked what formats they prefer, 79% noted paperback while 74% said hardcovers. Audiobooks were favored by 6%, while e-books were noted only by 6% and 13% had no preference as to format.
  • “In a statistic that will warm the hearts of publishers, librarians, educators and authors, 83% of those surveyed like to read the book before they see the movie version. Only 4% like to see the movie first; 13% do not have a preference.
  • “Chain bookstores are their most popular destinations (78%), with local booksellers (45%) and online retailers (44%) trailing. More than one-third shop library book sales (36%), and 33% shop at big-box stores.”
  • “Not surprisingly, 83% of teens are influenced by their friends’ book recommendations. What did surprise us is that 52% were influenced by family members (perhaps their siblings), ahead of teachers (47%) and librarians (36%).”
  • “Most reported that parents don’t monitor what they read (55%), while 23% said their parents do weigh in some of the time, and 13% said they are monitored by their parents, but still read what they want. Only 9% follow parental monitors.And yes, it’s true that kids with a lot of free time like Facebook (71% of those polled) and YouTube. But some of that YouTube time leads to books: “46% of the respondents watch online book trailers, and 45% have purchased books after watching them.””Author interviews, either podcast or video, attract 24%, with an additional 21% who like video but not podcast. Yet 53% do not like either podcast or video interviews or are not sure how they feel.”
  • “More than 56% click on online ads about books, and 8% do this regularly. In fact, 6% said they get all the information they need from the ad itself. For nearly three-quarters (72%), recognizing the author/title grabs their attention when they see an online ad. But 52% respond to colors or art, and 35% react to offers of contests/giveaways. Moving/flash ads only influence 11%, while 21% noted that photographs of people on the cover matter.”

Music Biz Whistles Past Graveyard as Google Eyes Digitune Market

John Murrell has his ear to the ground in Silicon Valley, and he thinks he’s detected tremors of a Google play on the music domain dominated by iTunes.

“Everyone currently involved in the digital music biz” he writes, is”waking up with nervous stomachs over word from multiple TechCrunch sources that Google is close to launching its own music service, possibly called Google Audio, that would offer downloading, streaming or both. According to the rumor, the company has spent the past few weeks making content deals with the major music labels. Depending on how it’s structured, priced and executed, such a service, especially tightly integrated with the Android mobile platform, could be a thorn in the side, or worse, for established outfits from Rhapsody and Spotify to Amazon and iTunes.”

Murrell cautions us against betting the house on Google tunes. He cites CNet’s Greg Sandoval as surmising that “possibly as early as next week, Google will announce a service called One Box (for now, at least) that will offer song previews, artist bios, graphics, video, and the opportunity to buy music from featured sites like LaLa and iLike.”

Here’s Murrell’s blog. We’ll be waiting to see which way the Google cat jumps.



Two Heavyweights Duke It Out over Micropay for Content’s MediaShift recently hosted a two-part debate by two men with big credentials and even bigger opinions. The issue was whether newspapers should charge for online content.

Moderator Mark Glaser did his best to keep the dispute civil. Taking the pro-micropay position was David Carr, who writes the “Media Equation” column for the business section of the New York Times. In the other corner, opposing micropayments – virulently opposing micropayments – was Mike Masnick, an outspoken and influential blogger and founder of the Techdirt website. The photo at right not them.

Read The Great Debate on Micropayments and Paid Content, Part 1, then Part 2.



Macmillan Issues New Contract Boilerplate for All Divisions, E-Royalty Lower than RH, S&S, Other Majors

Agents are poring over a new contract boilerplate issued by Macmillan, parent company of St. Martin’s, Farrar Straus and Giroux, Henry Holt, Picador, and Tor among others. The contract files were emailed to agents on Monday (October 26th) with a covering note from Macmillan CEO John Sargent (link at bottom of this post).

Sargent highlights key elements in the homogenization of the contract forms, namely: 1) a new across-the-board (all Macmillan divisions) e-book royalty; 2) a new across-the-board direct-to-consumer royalty; and 3) enhanced promotional and Internet marketing initiatives.

The e-book royalty will come as the biggest surprise to e-book royalty watchers, as it goes contrary to the trend (which some think is a polite word for something darker) among major publishers to pay 25% of net e-book receipts to authors. Unfortunately, Macmillan offers even less than that – 20%.

It will be interesting to see if Macmillan will hold the line at an e-book royalty below that of its playmates such as Random House and Simon & Schuster, who in the last year have reduced their e-book royalties to 25% of net receipts. It will be even more interesting to see if the agents fall into the trap of accepting 25% as the “standard” e-book royalty. Who says that’s all it should be? (Full disclosure, E-Reads pays 50% of net receipts to its authors, and always has.)

As for direct-to-consumer sales, the new royalty is 10% of net receipts on the first 10,000 copies and 15% thereafter. The standard for as long as anyone can remember has been 5%. That low number was created in an era of mail order of hard copies, a cost-intensive process that was often generated by full color magazine ads, coupons, and other expensive forms of solicitation. This process will now yield to cheaper Web solicitations and streamlined delivery systems.

Buried deep in this change of royalty is the intriguing prospect that Macmillan might be moving toward a more aggressive approach to selling its books direct to consumers, a strategy from which many publishers have shrunk out of fear of upsetting Barnes & Noble and Amazon by competing with them. There is good reason to shrink, as Penguin discovered in April 2008 when Amazon threw an elbow at them over this very issue.

Nevertheless, if Macmillan is any bellwether, publishers may be gearing up for a push on direct-to-consumer sales. The prize? Nothing short of survival. See Direct Sales: Publishing’s Last Stand.

Here’s the link to Sargent’s letter, reproduced in full.

Richard Curtis


Wired Editor Lehrer Thinks Brain Will Get used to E-Books

Jonah Lehrer, a cognitive neuroscientist and contributing editor at Wired, is sympathetic to those who have recently expressed concern that the focused, immersive experience of reading paper books will be compromised by e-book reading. (See The Medium is the Screen, The Message is Distraction). In fact, he confesses he himself recently struggled with a Tolstoy epic in print format and even fell asleep a few times. “In a world oversaturated with information.” he says, “I wonder if it’s increasingly hard to savor the languid process of reading a really long book.”

That said, he’s confident that “after a few years, the technology is tweaked and our brain adjusts and the new reading format is read with the same ventral fluency as words on a page.

“I don’t worry too much about the effect of E-Books on the reading brain. I think one of the most interesting findings regarding literacy and the human cortex is the fact that there are actually two distinct pathways activated by the sight of letters. (The brain is stuffed full of redundancies.) As the lab of Stanislas Dehaene has found, when people are reading “routinized, familiar passages” a part of the brain known as the visual word form area (VWFA, or the ventral pathway) is activated. This pathway processes letters and words in parallel, allowing us to read quickly and effortlessly. It’s the pathway that literate readers almost always rely upon.”

You can see how he reached his conclusion in Reading, E-Books and the Brain, posted on



The E-book Reader That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Do you know how to pronounce Scribd? Does it rhyme with “scribed”? Or “fibbed”? I’ve even heard it called “Scrib-dee”.

How about Que, Plastic Logic’s forthcoming e-book reader? Is it pronounced “Kay”? or “Cue”?

Next is the Flepia, Fujitsu’s e-book reader. Is it Fleh-pia or Flee-pia?

Or the UK e-book reader called the Cool-er. As we recently wondered (see Another E-Book Reader with a Dumb Name), is that pronounced “color” (the device screen is black and white by the way)? Or do you pronounce it like the refrigerated water dispenser commonly found in business offices, suggesting it’s cooler than the Kindle? Or maybe you come to a full glottal stop, thus: Cool. Er.

If I were a technology company investing millions of dollars to develop a device or service or product, it would make sense for me to ask a focus group to review it. And to make sure that focus group is stocked with people with dirty minds. Like Charles Curtis’s.

Charles Curtis believes there is money to be made helping corporations avoid selecting embarrassing names for their products. He would call his service “Double Entendre Consulting”. “The concept,” he explains, “is this: say you’re a startup with a company name, logo, slogan but you’re nervous that there’s something hidden in it that will make you a laughingstock. So you pay my company a fee and I, along with my fellow gross-minded colleagues, will review your selections and tell you if they’re clean or if they will become fodder for viral hilarity on the Internet.”

For example? “If Kids Exchange had hired us, we would have informed them that their URL,, spelled out something very different from what they intended. Same goes for an outfit called Who Represents? Their URL is

“This idea came up in college when I used to frequent a fast food joint that prided itself on making great salads. Unfortunately, their slogan was, ‘The Original Salad Tossers’. If you don’t understand why that’s so hilarious, click here. When I went back there years later, the slogan on their napkins had changed, so perhaps someone had informed them that sickos such as myself were rolling on the floor every time we mentioned their slogan. And teabagging? The Republicans, should have consulted me before they began advocating that practice. Click here to learn why.”

Full disclosure Number 1: I sired this person. Full disclosure #2: if he does go into the double entendre business I intend to become a serious investor, because I think there’s a fortune to be made in exposing dumb names.

And that brings us to The Nook.

Charles does not mention what he would have said to Barnes & Noble had they consulted with him about The Nook, BN.Com’s newly minted and named e-book reader. But he might consider employing a blogger named Charissa, who wrote the following Open Letter to Barnes & Noble:

Dear Barnes & Noble,

What were you thinking?

Who on earth thought it would be a good idea to name you new E-Reader device the nook? I mean, really? Do you know anything about pop culture and slang from the last few decades? I would love to know what kind of focus groups you used to demo the name and marketing, or did you use focus groups at all? Because I don’t know who wouldn’t have told you this is a bad idea.

And did you even give a thought to what your booksellers are going to have to endure, answering questions about the nook(ie)? Not to mention all the jokes they’re going to be subject to. Trust me, there is an endless supply of nook jokes out there, from the innocent “nook, nook” jokes to more suggestive humor.

Not to mention the fact that within less than 24 hours of the nook’s announcement, some anonymous B&N employees have already begun re-writing Limp Bizkit’s “Nookie” in honor of the nook. Do you realize how obnoxious it is to have the words, “And you can take you Kindle and stick it up your…” stuck in your head all day long?

And it’s really bad that the device itself doesn’t even come out until the end of November and I’m already having trouble using the name in a sentence with a straight face. We still have more than a month of nook jokes to go.

I realize it’s too late to change the name now, but I really hope next time you’re a little more careful when selecting the name of something as monumental to the company as this device apparently is.

A Concerned Citizen

PS – If you were to, say, give out free nooks to all your employees in an effort to encourage them to familiarize themselves with the device for customer questions, then I would be more than willing to forgive you for this minor naming indiscretion.

We wish the best of success to the makers of the Flepia, Que, Cool-er and Nook. They should be aware, though, that had they hired Double Entendre Consulting they might have avoided becoming, in the words of W. S. Gilbert, “a source of innocent merriment.”

Richard Curtis, President of E-Reads (which is pronounced “Ee-Reeds”, not “Eh-Reds”)


What’s the Difference Between Borrowing E-Books and Borrowing Print Books?

Short answer? None.

The procedure for borrowing an e-book from your local library is pretty much the same as borrowing a p-book, except you don’t have to travel any further than the distance to your PC. Nor are the economics different. Your library buys an e-book from a publisher. It is then offered for loan to the library’s patrons, and there is a waiting list. When your turn comes up you download the e-book and have it exclusively for a limited period of time. When that time expires the e-book disappears from the patron’s computer and is offered to the next person on the waiting list. If a book is popular, a library or library system may buy more than one e-book version enabling the library to offer it to multiple borrowers.

We’ve detailed the process here because many publishers mistakenly believe that they are being asked to donate e-books to libraries for no compensation, and that the libraries’ rights are in perpetuity. In other words, they fear that they’re giving e-books away for nothing and forever. As a result, the concept of a lending e-library has not yet rung a bell with all publishers. “Simon & Schuster, whose authors include Stephen King and Bob Woodward, has also refrained from distributing its e-books to public libraries, writes New York Times‘s Motoko Rich in Libraries and Readers Wade Into Digital Lending. She quotes an S&S spokesman as saying, “’We have not found a business model that works for us and our authors.’”

It’s important that book publishers understand the economics of the e-book lending process, and the go-to guy for a tutorial is Steve Potash, founder of OverDrive, the leading supplier of e-books to libraries.

Another issue hampering e-book lending is that Kindle and iPhone don’t observe the practice.Rich writes “For now, the expansion will be slowed in part because, with few exceptions, e-books in public libraries cannot be read on Amazon’s Kindle, currently the best-selling electronic reader, or on Apple’s iPhone, which has rapidly become a popular device for reading e-books. Most library editions are compatible with the Sony Reader, computers and a handful of other mobile devices.”

Despite the slow takeoff , e-books are now offered at more than 5000 public libraries, and downloads in 2009 to date exceed 1 million units.


Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times.


Is That a Vook You’re Screading or Are You Just Kindling?

While neuroscientists and child development specialists have been delving into the psychology of reading e-books and vooks (see The Medium Is The Screen, But The Message is Distraction), a blogger named Danny Bloom has occupied himself with the nomenclature.

Plain old “reading” simply doesn’t seem to cover the various acts necessary to experience a multimedia vook that we have to click, scroll, screen, watch, listen to, and – yes – read. So Bloom, who has been aggregating on his blog a great deal of cogent information and articles about e-books, has proposed the word “Screading”, combining screening and reading.

We buy it completely, and from now on, “Screading” it will be.

Bloom also brought to my attention that “Kindle” is now a verb. It may be a while before “Nook” achieves verb status, however.