Monthly Archives: December 2009

Why Didn’t I Think of that? Pogies Awarded to Those That Did

David Pogue, who writes the “State of the Art” column in the New York Times, is the wise and witty voice of technology, and you can always count on him to articulate what are the best, worst and dumbest features of everyday products. For several years he has been handing out his personal honors – “Pogies” – to the best gadgets, features or refinements of the year. This year he’s done something just a little different, celebrating the best ideas of the year, “great, clever features that somehow made it past the obstacles of cost, engineering and lawyers.”

Here’s a summary of some of the outstanding ones:

  • “Docks” for your Droid, Motorola’s popular answer to the iPhone. Pogue cites a docking station for use in your home. “When you insert the Droid, the screen becomes a handsome, horizontal-layout alarm-clock/weather display, complete with buttons that let you access your music or even dim the screen for sleepy time. You have to charge your phone overnight anyway, so why shouldn’t it be doing something useful in the meantime?”
  • iType2Go, a phone app that allows those of you who absolutely have to text while you are walking to see where you are going even as you text. Sheesh – don’t you people ever give it up for a few minutes?
  • MiFi, Novatel’s portable power source, giving you “a Wi-Fi hot spot in your pocket, purse or laptop bag.”
  • Nikon Projector Cam. A pocket camera with a built-in projector. “Now, with a single button press on the top of the camera, you can turn on the projector. The image is beamed straight from the front of the camera onto a wall, a ceiling or a friend’s T-shirt.”
  • Bing Pop-Up Previews. Using Microsoft’s Bing search service – the answer to Google’s – you can “point to any search result in the list without clicking. A popup balloon shows you the first few paragraphs of text on it.”

Pogue’s favorite? “The single best tech idea of 2009,” Pogue gushes, “the real life-changer, has got to be Readability…When you click it, Readability eliminates everything from the Web page you’re reading except the text and photos. No ads, blinking, links, banners, promos or anything else.” Makes us want to gush too. It sounds like the Web’s answer to Tivo. Bring it on! (You can access Readability here.)

You can read Pogue’s article in full here.

Happy New Year, everybody.

Richard Curtis

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.

Share

Mike Shatzkin Gazes at Crystal Ball for 2010 and Sees…

We scoff at prophecies of Mayans
And offer toasts to healthy buy-ins.

So what if 2012 draws nigh?

Prognostications? Mike’s our guy.

Seers of yore are mere ersatz kin

Compared to clairvoyant Mike Shatzkin.

We hope his crystal ball discloses

A featherbed of ruby roses.

Richard Curtis

Mike Shatzkin’s name was a challenge to find a rhyme for, but challenging imagination is what Shatzkin, the publishing industry’s oracle in residence, is all about. He’s done it again in a year-end blog posted on his Shatzkin Files website.

“It is customary,” he writes, “for those of us who do crystal-ball gazing to make some calls about the year ahead at around the time the celebrants head for Times Square. I am not a man to flout custom.” Shatzkin then offers us a baker’s dozen of predictions for the coming year. Here’s an abstract. For the fully fleshed out version click here. You might want to take a tranquilizer first. The unprepared or unaware tend to manifest symptoms of airsickness.

  • At least one major book will have several different enhanced ebook editions.
  • The growing incidence of bookstore-less cities will provoke the mass merchants to explore a greatly increased title selection inside their stores as a magnet to attract disenfranchised bookstore customers.
  • Ebooks that are too short to be print books will become a real factor in ebook sales, opening up new opportunities for publishers but even more for authors.
  • Driven by new entrants in the field, self-publishing, and unbundled aggregations of print books, the gap between the items listed in “Books in Print” and the items that should be listed in a directory of “Ebooks Available” will continue to grow.
  • The rearrangement of the big publishers’ IP portfolios will begin in 2010 as they emphasize what they do best: deliver narrative-writing and children’s books to multiple outlets in large quantities.
  • By the end of 2010, ebook sales will routinely constitute at least 20% of the units moved for midlist and the lower tier of bestsellers and at least 10% of the units for really big bestsellers.
  • By the end of 2010, the experiment with “windowing” ebooks — withholding them from release when the hardcover comes out — will end as increasing evidence persuades publishers and agents that ebook sales (at any price) spur print book sales (at any price), not cannibalize or discourage them and, furthermore, that this withholding effort does nothing to restrain Amazon’s proclivity for discounting.
  • Managing territorial rights for ebooks will be a growing problem the industry will have to deal with.
  • Some authors who have developed huge followings on Facebook and Twitter and their own blogs start to demonstrate that they can have a serious positive impact on the books of other authors they favor.
  • With the arrival of Google Editions in the first or second quarter of 2010, there will be multiple channels to the ebook market through a variety of players: Google, Amazon, Apple, Baker & Taylor’s Blio, Kobo (formerly Indigo), and Sony will not be alone!
  • Because there are so many players fighting for a foothold in ebooks, discounting them deeply will be the “new normal.”
  • The merchandising challenge for ebooks will ultimately be met web page by web page over the entire Internet. This future paradigm will be tipped in 2010 when we start to see ebook stores on more and more non-book web sites, each trying to deliver some sort of value-add with curation or follow-on products.
  • The big meme coming out of 2010 will be “what is a book?”) Publishers will increasingly be releasing productions that contain video, audio, animation, slide shows, and interactive game elements. Movie, TV, and game producers will see an alternate marketing and revenue channel available through “ebookifying” content they have and moving it through book channels like a “tie-in.” Where one stops and the other begins will become increasingly difficult to see (and increasingly irrelevant).

Richard Curtis
Poem excerpt from “The Year of the Tweet” by Richard Curtis,(c) Richard Curtis reprinted from Publishers Weekly, December 21 2009 Reed Elsevier Magazines.

Share

Where is Abbie Hoffman When You Need Him?

Book theft just isn’t what it used to be. The thieves are neither as selective as they once were, nor as imaginative.

That seems to be the conclusion reached by author Margo Rabb (Cures for Heartbreak) in an article she wrote for the New York Times Sunday Book Review, Steal These Books.

From all she is able to learn, the most purloined title is The Bible. “Apparently,” Rabb writes, “the thieves have not yet read the ‘Thou shalt not steal’ part — or maybe they believe that Bibles don’t need to be paid for. ‘Some people think the word of God should be free,'” an Austin, Texas bookstore owner tells her, and for a Springfield, Oregon bookstore manager, it is free. “If a person asks for a Bible,” says Rabb, “they’ll be given a copy without charge.”

New Yorkers are more secular in their shoplifting tastes. A Manhattan bookshop reports the disappearance of fiction masters like Martin Amis, Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs, Raymond Carver, Don DeLillo and Jack Kerouac.

Note that no female authors are on the hit-list. “’It’s mostly younger men stealing the books,’” a Brooklyn store owner told Rabb. “They think it’s an existential rite of passage to steal their homeboy.’” The manager of operations of the famous Tattered Cover in Denver reported the same thing. “’Our arrest record is very male.’”

Bookstores may inadvertently be accessories to these crimes. For an Austin store called BookPeople, the books promoted by the store are the ones most likely to be nicked. “I feel like our staff recommendation cards should read: ‘BookPeople Bookseller recommends that you steal ________.’” the head book buyer told Rabb.

You can get arrested for stealing a book from a store, but that’s not as bad as stealing an e-book, for which you can possibly be sued.

Of all the titles you would imagine are most likely to be stolen, Abbie Hoffman’s 1971 classic Steal This Book is the most obvious. You couldn’t be more wrong: at this writing a used hardcover copy in very good condition costs $999.99. Stealing that copy of Steal This Book would be considered a felony in many states.

Richard Curtis

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

Share

Merci Beaucoup, Google, Mais Nous Le Ferons Nous-Mêmes

“Thanks, but we’ll do it ourselves” is pretty much what France said in response to Google’s effort to digitize the nation’s library, as reported by Scott Sayare of the New York Times. And its president, Nicolas Sarkozy, put his money where his mouth is by committing almost $1.1 billion to scanning the National Library’s 14 million volume collection. The government was reacting to an outpouring of nationalist outrage over what was perceived as an invasion of the country’s literary treasure trove.

As if to put le point d’exclamation on the government’s maneuver, a short time later a French court ordered Google to pay €300,000 – over $430,000 – in damages for breach of copyright stemming from litigation commenced in 2006. Google was also required to cease distributing digital copies of French books online because La Martinière Groupe, the publishers, had not authorized such use. The grounds for the French legal action, which was joined by the French Publishers Association representing some 400 publishers, were not dissimilar to those cited in the suit brought against Google by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers, a suit that has eventuated in the settlement currently awaiting adjudication.

Do you think Google will get le message?

RC

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.

Share

TechnoBuffalo Guy Hears iSlate Will have Raised Keyboard

Further to our speculations on the imminent announcement of an Apple tablet (hereinafter called iSlate until we are refuted), a blogger has posted more information, some old (Apple’s announcement will be made on January 26th in San Francisco), some new and slightly bizarre (a ribbed keyboard will materialize when you’re ready to text), and some at variance with our own received wisdom – otherwise known as rumor. TechnoBuffalo says the iSlate’s screen will be 7″, whereas our sources (gossip) suggest something between 10″ and 11″. The larger screen makes more sense for a tablet device that is supposed to carry newspapers, magazines, and illustrated books, but what do we know? When it comes to Apple, we know slightly less than Kremlin-watchers knew at the height of the Cold War. But it’s still fun to guess

RC.

Here’s his video:

Share

Apple Tablet Announcement Slated for Jan 26 – We Have a Name Sighting And It’s a Good One

All eyes will be on the stage of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco on January 26th. That’s where and when Apple is expected to introduce its long-awaited tablet. . We couldn’t get odds in Las Vegas but David Gelles of Financial Times‘s ft.com website reports that at least one analyst rates the likelihood at 50-50. Investors liked the odds a lot better than that, driving Apple shares up by almost $7.00 to an all-time high of over $209.00 at the end of last week’s trading. If you’d bought Apple last January you’d be up about $130.00 a share today.

What will the Apple tablet look and feel like? Since everything at this stage is pure conjecture, the device is literally a tabula rasa. But Jeremy Horwitz, editor in chief of iLounge.com, who has a pretty good track record in the conjecture department, speculated about it in September. Among other features he thinks we will see when the curtain is pulled back are:

  • It has a 10.7-inch screen
  • It runs on an iPhone OS
  • It will come in two different variations: one with 3G networking capabilities, and one without. “Think of the 3G version as a bigscreen iPhone 3GS, and the non-3G version as a bigscreen iPod touch.”
  • It will have a 480 x 320-pixel display, enabling easy reading of full-sized book and magazine pages.”Expect something like 5-6 times the resolution of an iPod touch or iPhone screen (720p or thereabouts) and 7 times the touchable surface area.”
  • It is designed to be a slate-like replacement for books and magazines, plus all of the media, gaming, app, and web functionality of the iPhone and iPod touch

Gelles in his ft.com article adds that “Apple is working to solidify a new round of content deals with TV studios. Meanwhile, publishers have been working on new versions of digital magazines that would be viewed on touch screen computers.

We have frequently stated here that as red-hot as the e-book industry’s growth may be, it will not reach its full potential until there’s a tablet under the arm of every student on every campus. There is simply no dedicated reading device available today with screen size adequate to serve the educational community.

So, what’s the name of Apple’s tablet? Typical of Steve Jobs’s secretive style the company is holding it tightly under wraps. However, a little birdie tells us it’s iSlate. “It seems Apple’s name was temporarily exposed as the actual owner of ‘iSlate.com’ for several weeks in late 2007,” explains a website called MacRumors. “It was changed back within a few weeks, but MacRumors has found the historic record proving Apple ownership of the iSlate.com domain.”

You can actually see the document here. But don’t go looking for it online, at least not yet. We tried and got one of these:

PROBLEM LOADING PAGE
Firefox can’t find the server at www.islate.com.

Do we like the name “iSlate”? Well, given the epidemic of dumb names assigned to e-book readers lately, we give a big thumbs-up to iSlate. That is, unless you misread it as “Is Late.” If Apple fails to release its tablet early in the new year (March is the projected date), you can expect no end of plays on an otherwise memorable name.

Richard Curtis

Share

You Know E-Books Have Made It When Anna Wintour Features One in Vogue

The “Last Look” feature on the last page of Vogue is usually reserved for the most chic and preposterously priced items like $20,000 handbags, megastylish shoes and ragingly expensive bling. The last item you’d expect to see on that page is an e-book. But there, on the “Last Look” page of Vogue‘s January 2010 issue, opened to Chapter 2 of Pride and Prejudice, is Barnes & Noble’s entry into the e-book sweepstakes, The Nook, advertised for a modest $259.00.

It shares the page with a deliciously buttery-looking calfskin case called the “Electronic Porta Libro,” manufactured by Tod’s, in which you can, um, show your Nook off at the Venice Biennale or the casino at Monte Carlo. At $525.00 it’s a little closer to the opulence and elegance one expects on that page of the magazine. If that’s too rich for your blood you can pick up a leather Kindle jacket with one of three New Yorker cover images from Conde Nast for $49.99.

RC

Share

Penetrating Kindle’s Kishkes? Israeli Hacker Claims to Un-DRM Code

The motto of The Register is “Biting the Hand that Feeds It”, and in a recent posting the website took a big bite out of Amazon’s hand. It had posed a challenge to “make ebooks published in Amazon’s proprietary format display on competing readers.” A little more than a week later a participant working under the handle “Labba” claimed to score a victory. His technique, as explained on The Register‘s website, was to reverse-engineer the code.

“The hack” says The Register,” is the latest to show the futility of digital rights management schemes, which more often than not inconvenience paying customers more than they prevent unauthorized copying.”

RC

Share

Ticked Off about Delayed Release of E-Book Reprint? Enhancements Will Make It Worth Waiting For

In July of 2008, about nine months after the first season of Mad Men ended, Lionsgate, the hit television show’s producer, released the DVD. It not only carried all 13 episodes but a number of special features as well. Among them were audio commentaries on each episode; a “featurette” exploring the world of Mad Men; a documentary called The Desire of the American Dream, described as “featuring the 1960’s creative revolution in media”; “Pictures of Elegance” a photo gallery with commentaries from the costume, hair and production designers; another featurette called “Scoring Mad Men“; and a Mad Men Music Sampler.

Some leading publishing executives must have watched that or some other DVD and had an “Aha!” moment. Why couldn’t you enhance e-book reprints the same way that film and television studios enhance the DVD rereleases of theatrical movies or television series?

That idea seems to be taking hold. Jack McKeown, a founder of book publisher and distributor Perseus Group, recently discussed this idea, citing remarks by HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray: “Publishers would do well to seize the high ground here by offering enhanced e-book editions, accompanied by robust internet-focused marketing campaigns to further distinguish their e-book launches.”

And Jeffrey Trachtenberg of the Wall Street Journal reports that Macmillan will be releasing special e-book editions of key hardcover books, but with an interesting twist: they will actually be sold for a higher price than the hardcovers! “The special editions, which will include author interviews and other material, such as reading guides, will carry a list price slightly higher than the hardcover edition. (Hardcover books typically list for at least $25, while e-book versions of best sellers can go for as little as $9.99.) The new e-books will go on sale on the same day as the hardcover. After 90 days, the special edition will be replaced by a standard e-book.”

It should come as no surprise that the idea for enhanced e-books was introduced, or at least articulated, last March by Mike Shatzkin, the closest thing our business has to a Nostradumus. In a two part posting he laid out everything a publisher needs to know and do to maximize its e-book resources.

One of the key benefits of the medium is economy. Enhanced e-books “present the opportunity to deliver additional content and features to consumers with no additional run-on production cost,” Shatzkin explains. “Traditional printed books cost something additional for every extra page we put into them; e-books don’t.

“An enhanced ebook,” he points out, “can be an infinite number of things, and probably will become dozens, if not hundreds, of different things over time…The tools include internal linking, external linking, embedded video and audio, additional text-and-illustration content, and even software utilities.” You can read details in Part 1 and Part 2 of Shatzkin’s oracular posts.

By glamorizing their e-book reprints with author interviews, special prefaces by guests or by the authors themselves, audios and videos, previews of the author’s new book, etc., publishers will go far to pacify complaints by fans irritated about having to wait. (See Agent Nat Sobel Challenges Publishers to Hold Back E-Reprints.)

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the Wall Street Journal.

Share

Richard Curtis Verses the Publishing Industry, 2009

For seven or eight years in the mid 1980s and early ’90s Publisher’s Weekly ran literary agent Richard Curtis’s end-of-the-year summary, in tongue-in-cheek verse, of the highlights and lowlights of the year in the publishing industry. The annual rhymes carried such titles as, “Merger, He Wrote,” (1986), “Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Industry of Mine” (1989) and “Stop the Millennium, I Want to Get Off” (1990).

After a hiatus of some fifteen years, the verse-atile agent returned to PW in 2007 with “The Year of the Platform,” which boasted such lines as,

Are our values turning asswards
When opening books requires passwords?

Last year’s effusion, “The Coming of the POD People,” had this memorable doggerel:

Agents now submit their schlock
By means of email as dot-doc.

In 2009’s poem, “The Yr of the Tweet“, Curtis writes,

It’s fine for paradigms to shift
As long as authors don’t get stiffed.

Click here to read it in its entirety, and discover how Curtis actually found a rhyme for “Shatzkin”. Verses for prior years as well as his prose spoofs are collected in The Client From Hell and Other Publishing Satires.

The only problem is that if you really enjoy his latest poem, you’ll have to wait a whole year before you get to read another.

John Douglas

Poem excerpts (c) Richard Curtis reprinted from Publishers Weekly, December 31 2007, December 22 2008 and December 21 2009 Reed Elsevier Magazines.

Share