Category Archives: E-book Industry (news)

E-Reads Travels to Open Road

Richard Curtis and the E-Readsmobile Prepare to Take to the Open Road

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road
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Dear Authors, Agents, Publishers and Friends of E-Reads:

As you know, E-Reads, the e-book publisher I founded in 1999, was recently acquired by Open Road, the largest independent e-book publisher in the English language. As of April 1, 2014 publication of our books will be taken over by Open Road, and the E-Reads website will be closed down. We have recently spent a great deal of time with the management and staff of Open Road and have every confidence that their superb publication and marketing machine will create a warm home for our books and greatly enhance their value.

I am very proud of the list that our superb team of artists and technicians has built in the fifteen years since I started the company, inspired by a vision of a digital publishing future that seemed remote at the end of the 90’s but has become the dominant force in books today. Though we created brilliant covers and a wonderfully robust website, our focus was always on the content itself. We loved books, we loved our books, and it gave us intense pleasure to bring them back to print and share their delights with old fans and a new generation of readers.

Although I’ve posted hundreds of blogs promoting E-Reads’ books, I’m somewhat at a loss for words as I convey my baby to its new home. So I’m going to let one of our most successful authors express what is in my heart.

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“E-Reads was a unique, precious, important thing in my life, and, I suspect, in the lives of many others. It was a joy to bring up the site and see what might be cooking on one day or another. I muchly enjoyed your blogs, or whatever they might be called. Too, it was nice to see the write-ups on one book or another. Too, your team was professional, effective, gifted, superb. The site was ample, well-organized, and well managed. It was also very attractive. The scroll arrangement, for example, was a marvelous device for pointing up and calling attention to offering after offering. Too, so many of your covers were marvelous. Of course, it was a pioneer project, too. It was original, and historical. What an amazing, and wonderful, fifteen years…

“E-Reads was an individual island, with its own trees, beasts, and scenery. It was a place where one could locate, and conveniently access, many books by many wonderful authors which were no longer generally available. Your rescue mission saved much that otherwise might have perished. It was a place where one could find such things. It designed for itself a needed role, and it played it splendidly.”
John Norman
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I will serve in a consultancy role with Open Road to assist in the transition. And of course my commitment to the clients of my literary agency, Richard Curtis Associates, Inc., remains as absolute as ever.

Richard Curtis

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OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA ACQUIRES E-READS

Open Road Integrated Media has acquired E-Reads, it was announced today jointly by E-Reads CEO Richard Curtis and Open Road CEO Jane Friedman.

E-Reads and Open Road, founded ten years apart, share the same passion for the power of digital publishing.

E-Reads was founded in 1999, at the dawn of the digital era. The company is the oldest independent digital publisher in the field and was built to create an ebook market for authors.

Open Road was founded in 2009, just as the ebook market was about to explode. The company was built from the ground up to bring the greats back to life through digital publishing and marketing. Using cutting-edge technology, Open Road connects authors and readers like never before. This is why we are so excited to announce Open Road’s acquisition of E-Reads, uniting the oldest ebook publisher with the largest.

Open Road will bring all of its marketing power to E-Reads’ 1,200+ titles, a majority of which are science fiction and fantasy and also span the romance, mystery, and thriller genres. These incredible books by authors like Dan Simmons, Harlan Ellison, Greg Bear, John Norman, Aaron Elkins, Laura Kinsale, and Ray Garton join Open Road’s more than 4,000 titles, adding to its growing genre list.

See the official announcement below for more information on our exciting news.

Thank you for joining us on the Open Road,

Richard Curtis and Jane Friedman
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OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA ACQUIRES E-READS

E-Reads’ 1,200+ Titles to Be Published and Marketed by Open Road,
Uniting Oldest Independent Ebook Publisher with Largest

Superstars Dan Simmons, Harlan Ellison, Greg Bear, John Norman (Science Fiction and Fantasy), Aaron Elkins, Barbara Parker (Mystery),
Laura Kinsale (Romance), and Ray Garton (Horror)
Add to Open Road’s Growing Genre List

(New York, NY, February 10th, 2014) – Open Road Integrated Media, the largest independent ebook publisher, announced today that it has acquired E-Reads, the oldest independent ebook publisher in the field. E-Reads’ more than 1,200 titles, a majority of which are science fiction and fantasy and also span the mystery, thriller, romance, and horror genres, will now be published by Open Road and marketed through the company’s proprietary platform. E-Reads founder Richard Curtis will consult with Open Road during the transition.

“E-Reads has proven to be as successful as I envisioned when I founded the company in 1999,” says Richard Curtis. “However, as I recently surveyed the state of the industry, it became apparent that it was time to seek an alliance with a company with greater resources, particularly in the all-important area of marketing. I am confident that Open Road will afford all of our books the best opportunity to realize their full potential in a competitive, ever-changing, and increasingly crowded marketplace, and I look forward to playing a role in the integration of these two great firms.”

“E-Reads is one of the publishing industry’s pioneering companies, and it shares Open Road’s passion for the digital future,” says Open Road cofounder and CEO Jane Friedman. “Richard Curtis has built an incredible catalog filled with beloved and bestselling authors, and we are excited to welcome them to the Open Road family as we bring all of our resources to connecting them with readers around the world.”

E-Reads’ catalog spans multiple genres, with a focus on science fiction and fantasy authors including Harlan Ellison, Greg Bear, John Norman, Dave Duncan, Dan Simmons, Brian Aldiss, and Robert Sheckley; mystery bestsellers including Aaron Elkins and Barbara Parker; romance star Laura Kinsale; and horror master Ray Garton, who will now join Open Road’s growing list of genre greats.

Open Road launched as a literary publisher (Mary McCarthy, William Styron, Sherman Alexie, Michael Chabon) and has since expanded into additional genres including science fiction and fantasy (Octavia E. Butler, Theodore Sturgeon), mystery (Carl Hiaasen, Dorothy L. Sayers), and romance (Heather Graham, Amanda Scott), among many others.

This acquisition unites the oldest independent ebook publisher in the field with the largest. E-Reads was founded by Richard Curtis in 1999, at the beginning of the ebook era. Open Road Integrated Media, cofounded by Jane Friedman in 2009, published its first ebook in 2010 and has since grown to become the largest independent ebook publisher, with more than 4,000 titles.

Chris Davis, Open Road COO, led the negotiations on behalf of Open Road. Terms of the deal, which is expected to close on April 1, were not disclosed.

After the closing, the E-Reads website will be taken down and its titles will be featured on Open Road’s website (http://www.openroadmedia.com/), with links to all major e-tailers.

About Open Road
Open Road Integrated Media is a digital publisher and multimedia content company. Open Road creates connections between authors and their audiences by marketing its ebooks through a new proprietary online platform, which uses premium video content and social media. Open Road has published ebooks from legendary authors including William Styron, Pat Conroy, Alice Walker, James Jones, and Pearl S. Buck.

About E-Reads
Founded in 1999, at the dawn of the ebook era, E-Reads is the oldest independent digital publisher in the field and an innovative leader in the modern book industry.

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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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Authors Guild President Turow Describes Amazon/Goodreads as “A Devastating Act of Vertical Integration”

Authors Guild President Scott Turow has posted the following comment on Amazon’s acquisition of Goodreads:

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Feel free to forward or comment.

Amazon’s garden walls are about to grow much higher. In a truly devastating act of vertical integration, Amazon is buying Goodreads, its only sizable competitor for reader reviews and a site known for the depth and breadth of its users’ book recommendations. Recommendations from like-minded readers appear to be the Holy Grail of online book marketing. By combining Goodreads’ recommendation database with Amazon’s own vast databases of readers’ purchase histories, Amazon’s control of online bookselling approaches the insurmountable.

“Amazon’s acquisition of Goodreads is a textbook example of how modern Internet monopolies can be built,” said Scott Turow, Authors Guild president. “The key is to eliminate or absorb competitors before they pose a serious threat. With its 16 million subscribers, Goodreads could easily have become a competing on-line bookseller, or played a role in directing buyers to a site other than Amazon. Instead, Amazon has scuttled that potential and also squelched what was fast becoming the go-to venue for on-line reviews, attracting far more attention than Amazon for those seeking independent assessment and discussion of books. As those in advertising have long known, the key to driving sales is controlling information.”

One example should make it clear how formidable this combination is. For “Animals Make Us Human” by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson, Amazon has 123 customer reviews, and B&N has about 40 (they report 150, but that figure includes ratings as well as reviews). Goodreads swamps these figures, with 469 reviews and 2,266 ratings for the book.

As an independent platform, Goodreads, with its 16 million members, posed a serious competitive threat to Amazon. No more.

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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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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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Good News: Children’s E-Book Reading Up. And Now for the Bad News…

Good news: kids are reading more digital books.

Bad news: they may not be benefiting from what they read.

A report released by Scholastic early in 2013 carries an ostensibly encouraging report that children between 6 and 17 are turning in greater numbers to e-books. Forty-six percent of the children polled said they had read at least one e-book, twice the number of those surveyed in 2010.  In particular, boys, who “traditionally lag behind girls in reading” in the words of Leslie Kaufman of the New York Times,  were showing greater attachment to the medium.

But there are two other questions that may put these promising numbers into perspective.  One is, do kids like a steady diet of e-books? At least one group surveyed says they don’t. “The number of girls who reported being frequent readers declined to 36 percent from 42 percent,” Kaufman informs us. The reason for this significant decline may have to do with the fact that more children are reading on iPads and other tablets, rather than on Kindles, Nooks and other dedicated e-readers.  The temptation to peek at text messages or play a quick video game is far stronger when books are read on tablets. “‘Managing screen time is the challenge of parenting today,”‘ Francine Alexander,  Scholastic’s chief  academic officer was quoted in Kaufman’s article Digital Reading on the Rise for Children (With a Qualifier).

Which leads to the second and perhaps most significant question of all: how much are children getting out of digital reading? There is compelling evidence that information retention is down for kids who read on screen, as opposed to those who immerse themselves in printed books or books on dedicated e-readers. See for instance Will Our Children Read E-Books?

Richard Curtis
This blog post was originally published in Digital Book World under the title More Kids Read E-Books But What Do They Retain?

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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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Going Backwards from Digital to Tangible

We’d suspected it all along, but the New York Times confirmed it: retail stores are not just fighting back, they’re coming back.

“A Manhattan retail real estate broker reports an increase in inquiries from online-only retailers about opening shops, particularly in smaller spaces.” The piece went on to say that “Customers want to feel the merchandise.” “They see shopping as a social event,” said a retailer. “Think of the store as a showroom,” said another. Yet another said “They’ll show them a few products, lure them in and hopefully have them hooked. They feel that, yes, people are online, people have apps, but there’s nothing like the spontaneous face-to-face.”

One online retailer, inspired by his customers’ desire to feel the merchandise, opened a physical store and was thrilled to report that “‘the average in-store transaction was $360, double what it is online, and first-time store visitors buy again in 58 days, versus waiting 85 days between Web site purchases. And, he said, he has cut Web marketing expenses in half as in-store purchases have increased.'”

The product these people were talking about was apparel. But it could just as well have been books. Not just print books but books in all formats and domains. For some time we have been predicting that after an intoxicating decade of growth, readers would revisit print books and the brick and mortar stores that sell them.

Bookstore sales over the recent holidays suggest the trend in hard copies may be paralleling the trend in other hard goods like clothing. And for the same reasons: people like to browse, feel the merchandize, sample the goods, discover surprises, speak to an informed and friendly human salesperson. “The owner of The Book Cellar in Chicago, which saw 2011 sales rise 38% in the wake of Borders’s closing, was pleased to have last year’s increase stick,” Publishers Weekly reports. “‘Holiday sales for 2012 were “terrific,”’ the owner said, “’up a whisker.’” And Michael Boggs, co-owner of Carmichael’s Bookstore, with two stores in Louisville, Ky., was satisfied with being down 6% at one store and 4% at the other. “Both were up 38% from the year before. The new level is 30% more than pre-Borders. It’s an enormously big figure for a store that’s 35 years old to have.’”

Buried in the Times‘s report was this even more intriguing item: “An eBay pop-up store in London that opened this holiday season has no actual merchandise, just scannable screens displaying gift suggestions.” The idea of a physical kiosk selling virtual books is an idea whose time may at last be realized in the year to come, and if there is any breakthrough event we can predict for 2013, it’s that one. We’ll have more to say about kiosks before long.

Details in Once Proudly Web Only, Shopping Sites Hang Out Real Shingles by Stephanie Clifford.

Richard Curtis

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Long Before E-Book Revolution, War for Control of E-Rights Was Lost

In 1989 Ben Bova published a science fiction novel entitled Cyberbooks describing an electronic reading device almost identical to the Kindle: “…A gray oblong box about five inches by nine and less than an inch thick. Its front was almost entirely a dark display screen. There was a row of fingertip-sized touchpads beneath the screen.”

Bova’s gadget was very much like the one that had flashed into my mind the moment I laid eyes on a CD-ROM disc in the late 1980s. “What if,” I speculated, “you could insert CD-ROMs containing book texts into a portable light-box and read them on it?”

My concept was laughably crude, for the means of delivering those texts, the Internet, had not yet swept into dominance over worldwide communications. So, I was in the right church but the wrong pew. Still, the vision gripped me and I began to think about the practical aspects of digital technology.

I wasn’t the only one. One day around that time I received a Putnam contract and came across language I had never seen: the publisher had reserved something called “display” rights. I called Phyllis Grann, the head of the company, and asked her what it meant. She said she’d gone to an electronics show and seen the Franklin Bookman, a portable device that contained an electronic edition of the Bible. “I want that,” she told me.

That was the first shot fired by publishers in the battle to seize the e-rights high ground, and it occasioned the article I posted in the Association of Authors’ Representatives Newsletter in spring of 1993. Rereading it, it’s clear that I had as good a handle on what was to come as it was possible given how little we knew at that time. When I served as president of AAR in the mid-‘90s I tried to alert agents to the coming revolution and implement a few safeguards such as a new definition of “out of print,” for the new technology offered an opportunity to draw a precise line below which a publisher’s rights were terminable.

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