Monthly Archives: May 2012

Google Wants It – and Has It – Both Ways

Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it?  There’s no point in googling the answer: the answer is Google.

Noam Cohen of the New York Times frames the paradox: “Is Google search an intermediary like the phone company — simply connecting people with the information they seek? Or is Google search a publisher, like a newspaper, which provides only the information that it sees fit and is protected by the First Amendment?”

The answer to both questions is yes. That’s how Google has managed to navigate through the treacherous rapids of liability for anticompetitive practices. Perhaps the easiest analogy is the telephone book. As a simple alphabetical list of addresses and phone numbers it links users to information about other users. Doesn’t look like there’s any creativity to protect, does it? Or does it? Because its format creates a unique database (people with names beginning with A come before people with names beginning with B) it can arguably be copyrighted.

Arguably. But not actually. In 1991 the US Supreme Court ruled that a phone directory was not copyrightable because it lacked the kind of creativity that would make it a unique work, like a novel. (See Feist v. Rural)

But that hasn’t deterred Google from testing the legal envelope. Cohen reports the company is developing arguments to support the contention that “Google search results are protected speech.” Some lower court rulings since the phone book case have given the company’s lawyers incentive to argue its position to the limits of the legal system.

Last fall Google’s chairman Eric E. Schmidt was put on the griddle before a Senate antitrust committee. He was asked “Is it possible for Google to be both an unbiased search engine and at the same time own a vast portfolio of Web-based products and services?”

If Google continues to answer yes to that double-edged question, some law may end up being made.

At least, US law. We haven’t even talked about foreign law, and there’s a whole bunch of nations that take a very dim view of Google’s practices. Whatever the Supreme Court decides, overseas courts may not take Yes for an answer.

Details in Professor Makes the Case That Google Is a Publisher

Richard Curtis

This blog post was originally published by Digital Book World as Google Says You Can Have Your Cake and Eat It Too.

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Will Facebook Give Bing More Bang?

When you Bing "Bing" You Get a Cherry

Back in 2009, when Microsoft introduced its search engine Bing, we asked: You Can Google Bing, But Will You Bing Google? Up to now, Bing has scarcely made a ding in the armor of its titanic rival Google. Indeed, in 2011 MS took a $2.6 billion loss in its online services division. But thanks to an investment in and partnership with Facebook, Microsoft thinks it has found a chink in Big G’s armor.

By drawing on Facebook and other social networks, Microsoft “hopes to mine people’s online social connections to provide more personal search results for everything from hotel searches in Hawaii to movie recommendations,” writes Nick Wingfield in the New York Times. Bing’s earlier effort to tap Facebook created a cluster of “likes” that made for messy displays. “The new Bing,” says Wingfield, “has a much cleaner design that tucks all of the social search results away into a sidebar on the Bing search results pages, where they are now clearly distinct from the traditional Bing search results on the left side of the screen.” (A Revamping of Bing in the Battle for Search Engine Supremacy)

Experts feel the quality of Bing’s search results is now the equal of Google’s in every way but one: it’s hard to beat a household name. Until bing becomes a verb, it will remain a distant second. And for more on the verbification of Google, see Even with 13% of Web Search Biz, Bing is Still a Noun.

Richard Curtis

This blog post was originally published by Digital Book World as Will Bing Ever Be a Verb?

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New Digital Print Technology Could Crown POD’s Conquest

The conference is called “drupa” but “the Olympics of printing” sounds a lot sexier. This year’s event, just concluded, may be the most significant print convocation since the Chicago Book Expo in 1998 that introduced print on demand.

Drupa is held, Olympics style, every four years in Düsseldorf, Germany. This year’s drew some 400,000 visitors, and what they saw will make POD look like a mimeograph machine.

“This year,” writes  The Guardian‘s Mark Piesing. “visitors will see a number of rival technologies launched, each of which promises to deliver a ‘second digital revolution in printing’ that will allow the digital printer to kill off the offset press for commercial printing, and may even allow the printed page to compete with the iPad in terms of visual quality and individualization of content.”

As readers of this column know, we have often said that there is nothing wrong with print books – it’s the way that they are distributed that has placed the book industry in jeopardy. (See Publishing 3.0: A World Without Inventory, Part 1 and Part 2) Publishers must accept that the future of book distribution is POD.  The unpretentiously-named drupa conference may bring that future closer.

Details in Rivals launch a printing revolution that could be as significant as Gutenberg

Richard Curtis

This blog post was originally published by Digital Book World as Second Digital Revolution – But This Time It’s Print

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Libel Tourists – Cancel That Trip to London

“Next time you visit London,” we wrote back in 2009, “if you have an hour or two after visiting London Bridge, Westminster Palace and Big Ben, drop by a solicitor’s office and sue someone for libel. It will more than pay for the cost of your vacation.” We were describing the infamous British libel laws that merely require a plaintiff to show that a statement harms his reputation and put the burden of disproof on the defendant to show that his allegations were not libelous.  This has made London a breeding ground for libel lawsuits. Can’t Sue for Libel in the US? Take Your Beef to Britain, Libel Capital of the World

This legal travesty may at long last be reversed. A bill is making its way through Britain’s Parliament “is intended to abolish costly trials by jury in most libel cases, curb online defamation through a new notice and takedown procedure, reduce so-called ‘libel tourism’ and make it more difficult for large corporations to sue newspapers.”

Not just newspapers: “The bill will rebalance the law to ensure that people who have been defamed are able to protect their reputation, but that free speech and freedom of expression are not unjustifiably impeded by actual or threatened libel proceedings,” said a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice.

Details in Queen’s speech launches overhaul of libel law (guardian.co.uk)

Richard Curtis

This blog post was originally published by Digital Book World as What is So Fair as a Libel Suit in May?

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Can Sony Rescue eReader from Red Inkbath?

Sony has announced a ¥455 billion loss in its fiscal year, which ended last March. But not to worry: that only sounds scary because of the yen is so big compared to the US dollar.  In dollars that’s only $5.7 billion.

Hmm.  $5.7 billion sounds like a lot, actually. Enough to drop the company’s value to about 3% of Apple’s.

Sony is the company that brought you the Walkman and the PlayStation. And the Sony eReader.  What is going to become of our poor dear Sony eReader?

Though it never remotely competed with Amazon’s Kindle and has been surpassed in popularity by the B&N Nook, Apple’s iPad and even Kobo’s eReader, it has held steadfast for the six years since its introduction and remains a viable electronic reading device.

The company has a new chief who is giving 10,000 employees pink slips and implementing other cost-cutting measures which have emboldened him to predict ¥8.5 trillion in sales in the next two years, according to Reuters.  Now that sounds pretty impressive.  Surely there will be a few yen of profit to sustain Sony’s eReader.

We hope so.  We’re fond of it, and we need someone to compete with the big boys.

Richard Curtis

This blog post was originally published by Digital Book World as Sony on the Ropes. Will eReader Survive?

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Target is Target (of Amazon Showrooming)

Independent bookstores aren’t the only retailers chafing at the practice of showroom. Just ask Target.

In showrooming, customers enter a retail store and, when they have located the product they’re shopping for, walk out, go home and purchase the item on the Internet at a lower price.  Some shoppers simply scan the barcode of the production in the store and order it online on the spot. This in effect makes the brick and mortar store a mere showroom for customers to examine products they have no intention of buying there. Last Christmas Amazon actually promoted the practice, outraging alarming and outraging many stores and store chains. We know of at least one publisher that fought back by discontinuing distribution of its books on Amazon.

The latest objector is Target, the giant retail store chain. Executives, reacting to what they perceived as showrooming of Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader, informed Amazon they would no longer carry it.

Though Amazon sells most of its Kindles on its own website, many customers like to examine them physically, just as they may now do with Kindle’s rival, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, which may be “road-tested” by customers in B&N’s brick and mortar bookstore.  Recognizing consumers’ natural impulse to touch, Amazon began distributing Kindles in big retail chains.

It’s hard to predict what impact Target’s action will have on Kindle sales.  With nearly 1,770 stores in 49 states and gross revenues of $65 billion, boycott of a product by Target can have some seriously detrimental impact on any supplier. More ominously, if Staples, Best Buy and Wal-Mart, which also sell Kindles, see themselves as showrooming victims and follow Target’s lead, it could put a crimp in Amazon’s sales – and its image.

For the complete story read Target, Unhappy With Being an Amazon Showroom, Will Stop Selling Kindles by Stephanie Clifford and Julie Bosman in the New York Times.

Richard Curtis

This blog post was originally published on Digital Book World as Target Targets Amazon as Showrooming Enabler

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Join Us In Wishing…

Birthday greetings to E-Reads' Technical Director

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Hey is for Horses, Not Authors

The following email was forwarded to me by an author.

Richard Curtis

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My Dear Miss Klimstrock,

I’m writing to tender an apology for my intemperate outburst in response to your email greeting me as “Hey, Pat.”  I have been aware for some time that the Internet tends to dissolve formalities but I did not realize that things had progressed quite so far.

I assure you that I usually have far better control over my impulses but perhaps you can appreciate that, given my title and social position, I am accustomed to being addressed Milord or Sir. In the circles in which I was raised, familiarity by peers and indeed even intimate friends is considered shockingly vulgar. Thus, to be addressed “Hey” by a perfect stranger was so alien to my fundamental sense of respect and dignity that I momentarily forgot that the civilized ladies and gentlemen who once populated the publishing profession have been replaced by ignorant and uncouth ragamuffins who speak to one another in grunts, slang and monosyllabic code and send texts in incomprehensible shorthand. I would not have guessed, however, that such liberties are now extended to authors and perfect strangers.

I hasten to assure you that these derogatory remarks are not directed at you specifically, Miss Klimstrock. I also wish to make it clear that I am not reacting spitefully to your rejection of my submission, though I confess that the crudeness of your expression and illiteracy of your spelling and grammar did fuel the rage that compelled me to write my regrettably childish outburst of spleen before I could gain control of my emotions.

Hard as it is, I know I must reconcile myself to the common parlance of the modern world. I realize that we no longer live in an age when we saluted our correspondents with such phrases as “Your Excellency” and Esteemed Madame” or even “Dear Author” and I will endeavor to adjust to the usages of the 21 century, however offensive they may be to the well-bred.

I will remit a cheque for the return of my manuscript.

Believe me to be very truly yours,

Patrick Marley-Clockbridge, Third Earl of Crumfleath

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This blog post was originally published on Digital Book World as The Decline and Fall of the English Salutation

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Amazon Succumbs to the Siren Song of High Couture

She was his first love and he was willing to overlook her imperfections at the time. Though she could be charming, cultured and articulate, she was also dowdy and old-fashioned in tweeds and sensible shoes, unworldly and inclined to tedious intellectualism. But she was richly endowed and ripe for the plucking, And pluck her he did, first seducing her, then playing fast and loose with her heart, tormenting her with infidelities as he relieved her of her fortune.

Then he found a new fascination, charismatic, classy, fashionable and rich. He succumbed to her irresistible allure. Only one question remained: Would he throw his first love over?

This is the metaphor that may have occurred to some Amazon-watchers when they read that the behemoth retailer is launching an initiative in the high-end clothing business that resonates with its original efforts to revolutionize publishing.

“Having wounded the publishing industry, slashed pricing in electronics and made the toy industry quiver,” Stephanie Clifford wrote in the New York Times, ”Amazon is taking on the high-end clothing business in its typical way: go big and spare no expense…In the retail clothing world, fears are growing that few will be able to compete with a stepped-up Amazon.”

Though we in the book industry consider our little corner of the media to be glamorous, compared to the fashion field it is lackluster, unsophisticated and impecunious. Looking at it through the eyes of a shrewd businessman, the profit margin on high-end sales – even with free shipping and returning – beggar those of the book industry.”Gross profit dollars per unit will be much higher on a fashion item,”said Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, one of the shrewdest businessmen on the face of the Earth. Bezos was Honorary Chairman at the glam opening of a classic costume exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum. See New York Social Diary for photos of him with Vogue fashionista empress Anna Wintour.

Will the more precious commodity drive the cheaper one of Bezos’s attentions and affections? Keeping our Eternal Triangle metaphor in mind, read the Times‘s article and judge for yourself. Amazon Leaps Into High End of the Fashion Pool

Richard Curtis

This blog post was originally published on Digital Book World as Will Amazon Grow Bored with Publishing?

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They Just Don’t Make Churning Loins Like They Used To

No no no, you dimwit, not those loins!

A confession.

Like anybody else launching a writing career, I was not very particular about what I wrote as long as I got paid for it.  That is why I wrote half a dozen sex novels. They were a great way to learn fictional skills, they paid well, the publisher never asked for editorial fixes, and as long as I did not cross certain lines of taste the publisher would accept everything I produced. In those days that line was No Explicit Body Parts, No Clinical Terms for Intercourse, and No Dirty Words. That’s why sex novels in those days were weak tea compared to the hot erotica in even the average romance published today.  I was so good at writing sex scenes that I was occasionally asked by the publisher to “sex up” a drab and unimaginative scene written by another author.

For that reason, I feel confident that it will be no loss for me to pass up the opportunity to attend the Creative Writing in the 21st Century conference  this coming weekend in Toronto, where one of the presentations is entitled “He put his what, where? Or: How to teach students to write plausible sex scenes, prevent them from winning the Bad Sex Fiction Award, while not suffering from fear, alarm, dread, or embarrassment in the process.”.

Quill & Quire interviewed the pair (both female) of creative writing teachers conducting the course, and you will find the Q&A candid and refreshingly funny.

For instance, asked what inspired them to broach the delicate topic of scx scenes in their class, they replied “I think the trigger for us was the contest for the worst sex scene. There are so many writers that I admire who write terrible sex scenes. A lot of them, even if they’re not violent or offensive, are just really boring: he put his thing there, and she stroked this, he moaned, and he said, ‘Oh baby, baby.’”

For the complete interview click on Creative writing Q&A: Nicole Markotic on the delicate art of teaching sex scenes.

And if you don’t remember what contest they’re talking about, read Bad Sex Award Is Coming.  Oh God Oh God Yes Yes Yes It’s Coming!

Richard Curtis

This blog post was originally published on Digital Book World as Are Your Loins Churning Yet?

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