Category Archives: E-book Applications

With Amazon MatchBook Bundling One Big Step Closer to Reality

Publishers Weekly reports that “After years of false starts, bundling e-books with print books may have gotten the spark it needed Tuesday morning when Amazon announced an October launch date for Kindle MatchBook. Under the program, customers who buy—or have bought—print editions of titles can buy the e-book at prices ranging from $2.99 to free. At launch, Amazon expects to have over 10,000 books in the program, ranging from new books to books that Amazon began selling when it first opened in 1995.”

For background here’s a piece we published several years ago:

Bundling is an age-old merchandising technique in which customers are offered a discount if they purchase two related products. In the case of books, it’s a combo of two formats, print edition and e-book. Though the technical barriers to delivering both in one transaction are coming down, the real issue is how much to charge for the bundle. A little test we gave readers a few years ago will give you a sense of how challenging the concept is:

When you purchase a print book you should be able to get the e-book for…

a) the full combined retail prices of print and e-book editions
b) an additional 50% of the retail price of the print edition
c) an additional 25% of the retail price of the print edition
d) $1.00 more than the retail price of the print edition
e) free

The choices aren’t just economic but philosophical, reflecting just how aggressive a publisher wants to be and the various thresholds at which the publisher believes consumer resistance will melt. A good argument can be made for each, and as the bundling issue warms up you can expect to hear them all endlessly debated.

The time will soon come when publishers will have to choose one of the above strategies and put it into effect. Misjudging consumer attitudes could prove to be a big mistake and possibly a ruinous one. My own view? I strongly believe that the e-book version should be included free of charge with the purchase of the print edition. What do you think – and why?

Details in Bundling: Publishing’s Next Battleground.

Richard Curtis
This blog post was originally published on Digital Book World under the title Why Do We Have to Choose Between Print and Digital?

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We Used to Dump E-Trash on the Asians. Now We Dump it on Americans.

Four years ago we issued this warning about the dumping of used e-books and other computer devices. At last the issue is receiving some front page attention (see the New York Times‘s story Unwanted Electronic Gear Rising in Toxic Piles).

The only difference between then and now is that the E-Trash isn’t just being dumped on Asia’s poor. It’s now being dumped on America’s.

Below is the original posting.

Richard Curtis

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When the next generation of laptops, tablets and e-readers arrives, what’s going to happen to the devices you replace?

If what’s happening in Europe is any guideline, it will end up in a toxic e-waste landfill in Asia and Africa where the destitute, many of them children, will scavenge it for scrap. These scavengers incur horrifying and often fatal skin, lung, intestinal and reproductive organ ailments from the plastics, metals and gases that go into discarded cell phones, televisions, computers, keyboards, monitors,cables and similar e-scrap. Elizabeth Rosenthal, covering the story for the New York Times, tells us that “Rotterdam, the busiest port in Europe, has unwittingly become Europe’s main external garbage chute, a gateway for trash bound for places like China, Indonesia, India and Africa.

“There, electronic waste and construction debris containing toxic chemicals are often dismantled by children at great cost to their health. Other garbage that is supposed to be recycled according to European law may be simply burned or left to rot, polluting air and water and releasing the heat-trapping gases linked to global warming.”

Jessika Toothman, blogging on HowStuffWorks, describes how “A whole bouquet of heavy metals, semimetals and other chemical compounds lurk inside your seemingly innocent laptop or TV. E-waste dangers stem from ingredients such as lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, copper, beryllium, barium, chromium, nickel, zinc, silver and gold.” In fact if you want to see what this “bouquet” of poisons is doing to your fellow man, woman and child, you can view this sickening video of a Chinese e-trash village.

One device not mentioned in Toothman’s list of e-waste is e-book readers. The obvious reason is that we are still in the first generation of e-book devices (or second if you count progenitors like the Rocket Book) and there haven’t been enough readers manufactured to make them a formidable source of trash like cell phones and TVs. But when the next generation of e-book readers floods us with Kindle and Sony rivals – better, cheaper, faster, more colorful, loaded with special features and options – will we simply add them to the tons of lethal junk earmarked for miserable dumps in China, Indonesia or Africa?

Because it is still young, the e-book industry has an unprecedented opportunity to exercise its social responsibility, as we recently pointed out.Here is a three-point program to make sure the e-books business remains green.

  • First, manufacturers must be compelled to disclose the chemical components of the e-book devices they produce so that we can evaluate environmental hazards.
  • Second, Amazon, Sony, Plastic logic, Philips and other developers must develop programs for either returning their devices for safe (and monitored) disassembly and recycling or for donation to students, armed services personnel and other charitable recipients.
  • And third, The cost of recycling and safely disassembling e-books must be built into the price structure of e-books.

Right now the hidden cost of computers and other electronic devices is human suffering. It is unacceptable for the e-book industry to boast about environmental advantages while secretly sticking the helpless poor with the bill or contributing to the poisoning of the world’s water and air. If safety measures and sensible recycling add $25 or $50 to the price of their devices, that is an acceptable tradeoff. Because it would be assessed equally on all manufacturers, none would have a competitive advantage over its rivals.

We expect the e-book industry to do the right thing.

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.

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Authors: Is Your Website a Disaster Area?

For most authors the worst fate is to be ignored, and they spend long hours promoting themselves and their books on social media to make sure that doesn’t happen. Yet the biggest obstacle to discovery may be authors’ own Web sites, where visitors eager to learn more about their books and who are perhaps interested in buying them encounter a frustrating array of challenges.

This is particularly true in the case of authors who are putting their old books back into print. As a publisher specializing in reissues, I find that some authors seem to be doing everything they can to make it hard for readers to buy their books.

Below are some of the most commonly committed sins:

Covers of dead books: If your book is out of print, why are you displaying the old cover? And worse, why are you linking to the page on Amazon where the only copies sold are used ones (for which you make no money on sales)?

Covers to nowhere: It isn’t enough to paste the image of your cover onto your Web site; it must also be linked to retailers’ sites.

Links to only one retailer: Unless you have an exclusive relationship with Amazon, you should also have links to Barnes & Noble.com, Kobo, iBookstore, and all other sites where your book is offered.

Links to nowhere: If a link on your website only points to the homepage of your publisher instead of the page dedicated to your book, how is that going to help you sell it.

Bio? Reviews? Blurbs?: Biographical information and reviews can be long and tedious. Who has time to read them? Display only the short version.

Remember that fans have limited time and patience. Their goal might be described as Veni, Vidi, Emi (I came, I saw, I purchased). They want to promptly see what they came to see, and if their impulse is to buy it, they should be able to do so in one or two clicks. If there is any impediment to satisfying that impulse on your site, you will have no one to blame but yourself for being ignored.

Richard Curtis

The above suggestions are condensed from an article entitled Discovery Begins on Authors’ Homepages published in the March 4, 2013 issue of Publishers Weekly.  It can be read in its entirety here.

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Psst. Wanna Buy a Used E-Book?

No no. I said used E-BOOKS!

It takes a lot to leave me speechless but when I read that Amazon was contemplating selling used e-books I was too flabbergasted to make sense of it.  Luckily Brian Merchant, a freelance writer, editor and blogger (http://www.treehugger.com/author/brian-merchant/) expressed his dismay, in a posting on Motherboard, better than I could ever hope to.  So, with his kind permission, I reproduce his piece in full below.

Richard Curtis

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Used Ebooks, the Ridiculous Idea that Could Also Destroy the Publishing Industry

By Brian Merchant

Amazon has a patent to sell used ebooks. When I first scanned that headline, I thought it must be some Onion-esque gag, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone. Used e-books? As in, rumpled up, dog-eared pdfs? Faded black-and-white Kindle cover art, Calibri notes typed in the margins that you can’t erase?

Barely-amusing image aside, used ebooks are for real. Or at least have a very real potential to become real. See, Amazon just cleared a patent for technology that would allow it to create an online marketplace for used ebooks–essentially, if you own an ebook, you would theoretically be able to put it up for sale on a secondary market.

The approved patent describes the process:

Digital objects including e-books, audio, video, computer applications, etc., purchased from an original vendor by a user are stored in a user’s personalized data store … When the user no longer desires to retain the right to access the now-used digital content, the user may move the used digital content to another user’s personalized data store when permissible and the used digital content is deleted from the originating user’s personalized data store.

Used ebook shoppers could buy your digital copy, directly from you, and Amazon would facilitate the transfer of files–and it would pocket a fee.

It’s a fascinating concept, really, but it could ultimately be devastating to the publishing industry and, potentially, to authors. First, the elephant-sized absurdity in the room: a “used ebook” is identical to a new one. It is a precise digital reproduction. The file does not age, it cannot be damaged, it cannot be altered–therefore, it is worth no less than any other copy, and the only premium purchasers of “new” ebooks would be paying for would be the right to read it first.

And that’s where we start running into problems. Nobody, besides die-hard fans of a given author on a big release date, would ever care enough to pay extra for digital dibs. Used ebooks would eliminate nearly all the incentive to buy “new” ebooks. And Amazon could be banking on that, even though at first blush it might appear to undercut its own business.

Bill Rosenblatt, a copyright expert and witness in numerous digital content patent cases, argues that the online retail giant may be angling to push publishers out for good with such a move. He explained his case to Wired:

Rosenblatt believes that a digital resale marketplace wouldn’t ultimately make Amazon a lot more money on books or music, at least not at first. But he thinks it would move much more of Amazon’s digital content business beyond the interference of publishers, just as publishers can’t dictate the terms of, for example, the sale of used physical books on Amazon. Just as with physical books, publishers would only have a say — or get a cut — the first time a customer buys a copy of an e-book. The second, third and fourth sales of that “same” e-book would be purely under Amazon’s control.

“If Amazon is allowed to get away with doing resale transactions without compensating publishers, then what they can do is say, ‘hey authors, sign with us and we’ll give you a piece of the resale,’” he says. “That could attract authors who might otherwise sign with traditional publishers.”

It would be an exceedingly brazen move on Amazon’s part, and would likely require the combined strength of every copyright lawyer its side of the Mississippi, but it’s entirely possible. And it’s bad news for authors too.

Because, what if they don’t sign on? Well, on the grounds that publishers and authors don’t get a cut of physical used books, Amazon could easily seek to justify refusing to pay writers for secondhand transactions. That’s what worries John Scalzi, the president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

“I’m awfully suspicious that it means nothing good for writers who want to get paid for their work using the current compensation model,” he writes on his blog. Scalzi foresees writer-led class action lawsuits aplenty should Amazon ever try to cut out author royalties on ebook resales. And Scalzi agrees that it’s trouble for the traditional publishing industry, too: “if I were a publisher I really wouldn’t have any doubt Amazon wants me dead,” he writes.

Still, the whole phantom of a secondhand ebook marketplace might not ever amount to much. As Marcus Wohlsen notes, Amazon may have secured the patent simply to bury it, to eliminate any possible threat of a secondhand ebook market to its standard business. It may deem the legal threats too great and deign not to push on. Or it may realize that if it ever admits to boxing out authors, consumers may revolt and just download pirated files or directly from author sites.

If Amazon does try this stunt, however, it will be attempting to seize on our nostalgic understanding of physical secondhand marketplaces: many readers love used bookstores and swapping well-worn paperbacks. Thanks to the cloud and increasingly bottomless RAM, the bookshelves of the future are near-infinite–we have no need to “swap” files. We can copy and forward them. Amazon would be relying on the notion that our habits of buying and selling tangible goods are deeply inculcated enough that we’d overlook the absurdity and potential exploitation of a secondhand ebook market.

Used ebooks are a paradoxical anachronism, a cannily capitalistic construct whose only aim is to squeeze authors and publishers. Again, it’s fascinating–but it’s also complete bullshit.

 

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Here Come E-Kiosks!

For years we’ve been forecasting e-book kiosks, brick and mortar showrooms for e-books.  You walk into a store, browse descriptions and sample texts from some two or three million books, point your smart phone at the ones you want, buy and download them. The great thing is that these shops don’t have to be bookstores.  Someone could set one up in a drug store, supermarket, or even a deli (See I’ll have Four Sesames, Four Poppy Seeds, and a Copy of War and Peace).

Virtual kiosks are no longer theoretical.  According to a report in L’Atelier, EBay recently created a couple over the recent holidays dedicated to a variety of products and services.  “The online auction and sales platform provider recently opened pop-up stores in London and Berlin, where customers were able to make purchases using smartphones and also obtain advice and training on how to sell on eBay.” Though the stock in trade was hard goods, there’s no reason why the concept cannot be applied to e-books. Bookstores are (unfortunately) already being used as showrooms for book browsers, so this just legitimizes the process.

E-kiosks were envisioned some years ago by Joe Esposito, a management consultant in the digital media and publishing field. He coined the term “Medadatarium”, a concept that falls somewhere between a mega-bookstore and an e-book kiosk. “We need a utopian solution” to the crisis of our disappearing bookstores,” Esposito says. “We need our bookstores,” he wrote, “but we also need Amazon’s inventory. We need libraries–and we need a way to pay for them. We need analog tools for discovery and digital modes of delivery. We need a Third Place for community and a Cloud-based infrastructure to deliver all information to anyone anywhere anytime. And I need a place to kill some time on Saturday afternoons.”  Esposito crackles with good (and entertaining) ideas and you can read up on his Metadatarium here.

See you at the kiosk!

Richard Curtis

This blog post was originally published by Digital Book World under the title Virtual E-Book Kiosks One Giant Step Closer.

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Print/E-book Bundles on the Horizon?

Michael Clarke, an executive at Silverchair Information Systems and a passionate music lover, is torn between vinyl and digital – squarely split down the middle. Vinyl to him means warm sound, beautiful packaging, tactility and the special rituals of opening record jackets, reading the copy, placing the record on a turntable and lowering the needle on it. Against these advantages he weighs only one for digital music: convenience. But that one completely balances the scales.

But Michael Clarke wonders why he has to choose. Why can’t he have both? Why can’t he buy the record and get the download too – at no extra cost? It’s not unprecedented. Blogging in The Solitary Kitchen, he writes : “What indie rock bands have figured out is that the purchase of music does not have to be an either/or proposition. They don’t make their customers choose between analog or digital. Whenever you buy a record from just about any indie band, it comes with either a CD or with a card that contains a URL and a download code so you can get a digital copy at no additional cost.”

Clarke doesn’t use the word, but what he’s talking about is bundling, and we think it’s the next big step in the evolution of the book business. We also think it’s the next war zone.

Bundling is an age-old merchandising technique in which customers are offered a discount if they purchase two related products. In the case of books, it’s a combo of two formats, print edition and e-book. Though the technical barriers to delivering both in one transaction are coming down, the real issue is how much to charge for the bundle. A little test we gave readers a few years ago will give you a sense of how challenging the concept is:

When you purchase a print book you should be able to get the e-book for…

a) the full combined retail prices of print and e-book editions
b) an additional 50% of the retail price of the print edition
c) an additional 25% of the retail price of the print edition
d) $1.00 more than the retail price of the print edition
e) free

The choices aren’t just economic but philosophical, reflecting just how aggressive a publisher wants to be and the various thresholds at which the publisher believes consumer resistance will melt. A good argument can be made for each, and as the bundling issue warms up you can expect to hear them all endlessly debated.

The time will soon come when publishers will have to choose one of the above strategies and put it into effect. Misjudging consumer attitudes could prove to be a big mistake and possibly a ruinous one. My own view? I strongly believe that the e-book version should be included free of charge with the purchase of the print edition. What do you think – and why?

Details in Bundling: Publishing’s Next Battleground.

Richard Curtis
This blog post was originally published on Digital Book World under the title Why Do We Have to Choose Between Print and Digital?

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Apple Corners Page-Turn Technology

The ticks are at it again

I’m really confused.  On November 16, New York Times blogger Nick Bilton reported that the US Patent Office had approved Apple’s patent on the feature that enables you to virtually turn pages on your e-reader.  But over two years ago, in August 2010, we reported that Microsoft had filed a patent application for the very same touch-screen page-turn! (See Can You Be Sued for Turning a Page?) What happened to Microsoft’s application? Did the Patent Office misplace it?  Did Apple buy Microsoft out?  Did Apple do some sort of end-around on its rival?

In fact, Microsoft’s patent had some special wrinkles such as the ability to flip a lot of pages at once (y0u do it by dragging your finger down the right margin).  Another is pretty mind-blowing. “Sources other than fingers may be used to execute a page-turning gesture,” the filing stated.  Anybody got an idea what else you might use to turn an e-book page? Your nose? Your elbow? Or some other, unmentionable, body part?

Whether or not Apple’s patent provides for flipping pages with organs other than fingers, they now own the exclusive right to the page-turn, and God help you if you infringe it. But, as Bolton points out, you risk a receiving a lawyer letter from Apple for violations that border on the bizarre.  “The company has also been granted patents for an icon for music (which is a just a musical note), the glass staircase used in the company’s stores — yes, stairs, that people walk up — and for the packaging of its iPhone.”

Apple isn’t the only outfit sewing up everything but your right to breathe.  Amazon was sued  by a company claiming violation of its patent on one-click ordering online. And years before rival Barnes & Noble released the Nook, Amazon had patented the same underlying technology but conveniently didn’t reveal it until the Nook came out. (Never heard what happened to that claim.)

Back in 2010 when I reported on Microsoft’s page-turn application I said some pretty unkind things about patent lawyers. I called them “the ticks of the Digital Age. After quietly applying for a patent they set up their nest on a tree branch and patiently wait – sometimes for years – until a fat cat walks underneath their perch. Then they drop on their victim’s neck and drain its blood.”

Nothing I’ve heard since then has altered that opinion.

Richard Curtis
This blog post was originally published by Digital Book World with the title Who Owns Your Right to Turn Pages?

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Still Dotcom? That is So Twentieth Century!

Hey, webmasters, how are those loins?  Hope they’re properly girded for the explosion of domain names set to fulminate in 2013.

If you run a restaurant you can buy .eat;  If you own a store you can bid for .shop; if you run a band there’ll be .music or .song;  writers can claim .author. And even if you’re nobody in particular, just a garden variety human being, you’ll still have a special domain of your own: .you . Just want to have fun?  You can have .fun . Looking for love? You can fall in .love .

What’s going on? Well, it seems  the outfit in charge of creating and managing domain names, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN  for short), may be making many more of them available for the next great leap of the Internet.  Nicole Perlroth of the New York Times, reports 1,930 applications for new extensions. Not just predictable ones (.game, .movie, .app) but some exotic ones on the red end of the spectrum – .smile, .joy, and .bot .

“Icann is expected to approve hundreds of these extensions,” writes Perlroth. But don’t expect to pick any of these for a song.  The application fee is almost $200,000.  And don’t expect to pick up .google, .nyc  or .apple at any price. Google, Amazon, and other behemoths are reaching deep into their pockets to buy them up.

But hey, you can dream. (And by the way. dream is taken .)

Details in Google Wants Love and 100 Other Things.

Richard Curtis

This blog post was originally published by Digital Book World as Every Domain But .kitchensink Coming in 2013 .

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E-Textbooks? Sec’y of Ed Wants ‘Em, But Students Far From Sure

In 2009 California’s then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger launched an initiative to replace printed textbooks with digital versions. He solicited feedback, and the man known as The Terminator got it in spades. Students flunked the format and wanted their paper books back.(See Not So Fast, Guv)

Since then, similar thumbs-down reactions have come in from schools in many other states, causing administrators to rethink e-book larnin’.  But that didn’t stop Education Secretary Arne Duncan from pronouncing recently that “Over the next few years, textbooks should be obsolete.”

Author Justin Hollander, an assistant professor of urban and environmental policy and planning at Tufts University, countered with an op-ed piece in the New York Times. “Such technologies certainly have their place,” he wrote. “But Secretary Duncan is threatening to light a bonfire to a tried-and-true technology — good old paper — that has been the foundation for one of the great educational systems on the planet. And while e-readers and multimedia may seem appealing, the idea of replacing an effective learning platform with a widely hyped but still unproven one is extremely dangerous.”

Details in Long Live Paper. And for an analysis of the cognitive challenges to reading e-books, see The Medium is the Screen. The Message is Distraction.
Richard Curtis
This blog post was originally published by Digital Book World as Uncle Sam Pushes E-Textbooks, But Students Push Back

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Big Six Shift to E-Originals Places Authors – And Editors – in Jeopardy Part 2

In the first part of this article I described a fundamental shift under way in the book industry from original paperbacks to original e-books – “e-originals” in Publisher Speak – and its depressing effect on author compensation. These deals point to sharp reductions in advances and royalties and acceleration of the flight of authors from traditional to self-publication.

Impact of E-Originals on Publishers

The impact of the shift on publishers themselves is less quantifiable. It is, however, potentially far more devastating.

You can define publishers in many ways but their unique claim and strong attraction for authors is that they distribute printed books in brick and mortar stores. By forsaking the very element that defines and distinguishes them, however, publishers are at risk of becoming unmoored from the comfortable physical terrain of the book business and floating up like a balloon into the unfamiliar and turbulent stratosphere of Cloud publishing.

I say “unfamiliar” terrain. Though legacy publishers have adapted admirably to the challenge of digital publishing, few who work in the industry them have truly grasped the stupendous upheavals that come with full commitment to all-digital publishing, and who can blame them for being in denial? The truth is that a purely digital book industry is nowhere near as dependent on people, places and things as the traditional one.

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