Ebook/Ereader Technical

Voyage, a High-End Amazon Kindle That Beats Hardcovers

21 October 2014

From The New York Times Bits blog:

Amazon’s Kindle is a tech-industry miracle. That sounds over-the-top; it’s not.

In 2007, when the company first unveiled its e-reader, the device was an expensive ugly duckling whose future looked marginal at best. The first Kindle, which sold for $400 and was made by a company that had no track record in hardware, had a lot to overcome: the reluctance of the book industry to change its business model, the sentimentality of readers for the printed book, and its egregious industrial design, which looked like the product of the Soviet space program.

. . . .

Now, with its newest Kindle, the Voyage, Amazon is refining its e-reader once more. The Voyage’s main trick is a high-resolution display that mimics the look of a printed page. Text on its screen appears at a resolution of 300 pixels an inch, which is on par with the high-resolution displays now found on most of our other mobile devices.

Compared with  previous Kindles, text on the Kindle Voyage appears both sharper and in starker relief against the background. Graphics, like charts and graphs, look just as clear as they do in any black-and-white book.

The effect is beguiling. If you look at the new Kindle for any stretch of time, you don’t just forget that you’re reading an e-book; you forget that you’re using any kind of electronic device at all.

Amazon says the Voyage offers a better approximation of print than has ever been available on an e-reader, but for me, it’s far better than that. It offers the visual clarity of printed text with the flexibility of an electronic device.

Given that combination, the Voyage functions as something like the executioner of the trusty old hardcover.

Link to the rest at New York Times

Here’s a link to the Voyage page

HarperCollins Is Now Using Digital Watermarks To Stop Ebook Piracy

16 September 2014

From Gizmodo:

Pirating ebooks is a breeze. Their file sizes are so small that it usually takes all of 60 seconds between a Google search and having the book on your Kindle. Now, publishers have hit upon a solution that they hope will trip up pirates: an invisible, traceable watermark on every ebook sold.

HarperColllins and ebook distributor LibreDigital, have signed up to use a new technology called Guardian Watermarking for Publishing from Digimarc, a new anti-piracy technology that embeds an invisible watermark into ebooks at the time of transaction. The service is cloud-based and offers an easy-to-integrate API for most ebook formats, including EPUB, PDF and MOBI. These watermarks allow publishers to track the source of the leak and take necessary steps to plug the hole.

. . . .

Digimarc’s anti-piracy service then crawls the web 24×7 searching for watermarked content. When a watermark is detected, Digimarc provides the unique identifier to the publisher to match against its own transaction records.

Link to the rest at Gizmodo and thanks to Robin for the tip.

What makes books different…

11 September 2014

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

Before the digital age, retailers that tried to sell across media were pretty rare. Barnes & Noble added music CDs to their product mix when the era of records and cassettes had long passed. Record stores rarely sold books and, if they did, tended to sell books related to an interest in music. For those stores, it wasn’t so much about combining media as it was about offering a defined audience content related to their interest, like Home Depot selling home repair books. For the most part in pre-Internet times, books, music, and video each had its own retail network.

But when media became largely digital in the first decade of the 21st century, the digital companies that decided to establish consumer retail tried to erase the distinction that had grown up dividing reading (books) from listening (music) from watching (movies and TV). The three principal digital giants in the media retailing space — Amazon, Apple, and Google — all sell all these media in their “pure” form and maintain a separate market for “apps” as well that might contain any or all of the legacy media.

The retailing efforts for all of them are divided along legacy media lines, acknowledging the reality that people are usually shopping specifically for a book or music or a cinematic experience. Most are probably not, as some seem to imagine, choosing which they’ll do based on what’s available at what price across the media. (This is a popular meme at the moment: books “competing” with other media because they are consumed on the same devices. Of course, only a minority of books are consumed on devices, unlike the other media. Even though this cross-media competition might be intuitive logic to some people, it has scarcely been “proven” and, while it might be true to a limited extent, it doesn’t look like a big part of the marketing problem to me.)

It seems from here that Amazon and Barnes & Noble have a distinct advantage over all their other competitors in the ebook space because, with books — unlike movies and TV and music — the audience toggles between print and digital.

. . . .

It should be more widely understood that the physical book will not go the way of the Dodo nearly as fast as the shrink-wrapped version has for music or TV/film. It hasn’t and it won’t. There are very good, understandable, and really undeniable reasons for this, even though it seems like many smart people expect all the media to go all-digital in much the same way.

. . . .

First of all, the book — unlike its hard good counterparts the CD (or record or cassette) and DVD (or videotape) — has functionality that the ebook version does not. Quite aside from the fact that you don’t need a powered device (or an Internet connection) to get or consume it, the book allows you to flip through pages, write margin notes, dog-ear pages you want to get back to quickly, and easily navigate around back and forth through the text much more readily than with an ebook. There are no comparable capabilities that come with a CD or DVD.

. . . .

But the differences between printed books and digital books are much more profound and they are not nuanced. In fact, there are categories of books that satisfy audiences very well in digital form and there are whole other categories of books that don’t sell at all well in digital. That is because while the difference between classical music and rock or the difference between a comedy and a thriller isn’t reflected in any difference between a streamed or hard-goods version, the difference between a novel and a travel guide or a book of knitting instruction is enormous when moving from a physical to digital format.

. . . .

So even though fiction reading has largely moved to digital (maybe even more than half), most of the consumer book business, by far, is still print.

Even eye-catching headlines like the one from July when the web site AuthorEarnings (organized and run by indie author Hugh Howey, who is a man with a strong point of view about all this) said “one in three ebooks” sold by Amazon is self-published, might not be as powerful at a second glance.

Although Howey weeds out the ebooks that were given away free, the share of the consumer revenue earned by those indie ebooks would be a much smaller fraction than their unit sales. The new ebooks from big houses, which is a big percentage of the ebook sales they make (and that AuthorEarnings report in July said the Big Five still had an even bigger share of units than the indies), are routinely priced anywhere from 3 to 10 times what indie ebooks normally sell for. So that “share” if expressed as a “share of revenue” might be more like five or ten percent. It really couldn’t be more than 15%.

. . . .

The facts, apparently, are that even heavy ebook readers still buy and consume print. There is not a lot of clear data about whether “hybrid readers” make their print-versus-digital choice categorically or some other way.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

PG and Mrs. PG are outliers in many ways (each reads for pleasure daily, for example), but they have almost never purchased physical books since shortly after they acquired Kindles.

PG suggests that among readers who purchase one book per week or more, purchases of ebooks will vastly outnumber physical books.

The future of books is digital.

How to Read E-books on a $20 Cellphone: Tips for the Cash-Strapped and Plain Adventurous

2 September 2014

From LibraryCity:

When I ran across $20 cell phones on Amazon, I couldn’t resist buying one to see if I could read e-books on it. Yes, I could—hour after hour.

I’ll never confuse this econo-phone with an iPad Air or upscale Kindle Fire. But e-books and affordable smartphones like the $20 model could help narrow both the digital and book divides in many countries.

The U.S. teems with “book deserts,” including major parts of urban areas; let’s fix that. Even affluent suburbs have “dried up” somewhat.

When I was in high school, I could buy cheap paperbacks of Norman Mailer and Saul Bellow’s novels off the rack at my local drugstore. But now? The much-shrunken racks just don’t offer the same range of books.

. . . .

The overwhelming majority of people in the U.S. can afford much more than $20 cell phones, and many now own other e-book-capable devices, too, such as tablets or Kindles. Frustratingly, however, a fair number of the cell phones popular among the poor are “dumb” feature phones that can’t do much justice to e-books.

. . . .

And, yes, the LG 38c can handle OverDrive library books, as well as the Kindle variety.

Link to the rest at LibraryCity and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

Here’s a link to the $20 LG Optimus Dynamic Android Prepaid Phone

Kobo: technology takes a back seat in the e-book game

27 August 2014

From The Telegraph:

For years, people have been forecasting the death of the e-reader. Ever since more flashy, multi-function tablets became mainstream – prompted by the launch of Apple’s iPad in 2010 – black-and-white e-readers with their matt e-ink screens have come to be seen as poor relations.

. . . .

However, the e-books industry is a lucrative one. The publishing industry as a whole is valued at about $100 billion, and e-books acount for about $14.5 billion of that, with the number expected to reach over $22 billion by 2017.

While many of these e-books are read via apps on smartphones and tablets, there remains a core group of passionate book lovers which contines to champion e-readers, claiming that e-ink screens are easier to read in sunlight and are less likely to cause eye-strain than the LCD displays commonly used in tablets.

. . . .

Michael Tamblyn, president and chief content officer at Kobo, said that the company felt that it had tapped into “the summit of the reading market”.

“People who are especially passionate about a particular segment of media are willing to invest in the best possible experience of that media. So someone who is passionate about music will have invested in the best set of headphones they can possibly get,” he said.

“We look at Aura HD as being similar to that music fan who has just bought a £170 set of headphones. It’s a case of, here is this thing that I love more than anything else, how can I make sure it’s as good as it can possibly be?”

The latest figures from Ofcom show that Amazon has a dominant 79 per cent share of the e-book market in the UK. Apple’s ibookstore the second most-used e-book platform with 9 per cent market share, and Google’s search engine was the third most popular platform, used by 8 per cent of people. Kobo, offered through WHSmith, had only 5 per cent, while book chain Waterstones recorded only 3 per cent.

. . . .

“It’s certainly helped that we have one of the largest catalogues of e-books in the world, and have treated this whole endeavour as much more a challenge of bookselling than a challenge of technology,” he said.

“Our most valuable customers are people who read on both an e-ink device and on a third party device that they also own. The e-ink device is what they have by the bedside, but they’ll also pull a smartphone out when they’re waiting in a line at the bank, and open up an app that picks up at the same point that they set it down at home.”

Tamblyn said that he still lives by the maxim that most reading takes place in the five Bs – backyard, bus, bed, bath and beach.

Link to the rest at The Telegraph and thanks to Peter for the tip.

E-reading has adverse effect on plot recall, says study

21 August 2014

From The Bookseller:

Kindle readers are “significantly” worse at recalling plot compared to paperback readers, according to a new Europe-wide study.
The study, presented in Italy at a conference last month, showed that Kindle readers “performed significantly worse on the plot reconstruction measure, ie, when they were asked to place 14 events in the correct order”, researcher Anne Mangen of Norway’s Stavanger University told the Guardian.

For the study, 50 readers were given a short story by Elizabeth George. Half read the 28-page story on a Kindle and the other half read a paperback version. They were then asked about objects, characters and settings in the story.

. . . .

“You have the tactile sense of progress, in addition to the visual … [The differences for Kindle readers] might have something to do with the fact that the fixity of a text on paper, and this very gradual unfolding of paper as you progress through a story, is some kind of sensory offload, supporting the visual sense of progress when you’re reading. Perhaps this somehow aids the reader, providing more fixity and solidity to the reader’s sense of unfolding and progress of the text, and hence the story.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller and thanks to Dana for the tip.

This browser extension turns Amazon into a pirated ebook search engine

6 August 2014

From VentureBeat:

Here’s something Amazon definitely won’t like: A new extension for Google’s Chrome web browser released earlier this month can turn the giant online retail site into a search engine for pirating ebooks.

The extension, called LibGen, pulls data from the Library Genesis search engine, which contains tens of thousands of results to locations around the web that offer pirated media (ebooks, comics, periodicals, and more). Chrome’s app store notes that just over 800 people have downloaded the extension thus far.

Installing the extension will add a row along the top of each Amazon book listing upon navigating to a page. The new navigation bar contains pretty basic piece of information (Author, book title, edition number, etc.) as well as links to various places where you can either download an ebook file directly or download a torrent for the book.

. . . .

This is potentially alarming to Amazon for a variety of reasons. First of all, one of Amazon’s primary new areas of business is in selling digital media. And with the exception of music, you don’t have the option of downloading a DRM-free version of those purchases.

Link to the rest at VentureBeat and thanks to Randall for the tip.

UPDATE: Google has removed the extension since it violates Chrome plug-in store policies/

Prototype Display Lets You Say Goodbye to Reading Glasses

25 July 2014

From The MIT Technology Review:

Those of us who need glasses to see a TV or laptop screen clearly could ditch the eyewear thanks to a display technology that corrects vision problems.

The technology uses algorithms to alter an image based on a person’s glasses prescription together with a light filter set in front of the display. The algorithm alters the light from each individual pixel so that, when fed through a tiny hole in the plastic filter, rays of light reach the retina in a way that re-creates a sharp image. Researchers say the idea is to anticipate how your eyes will naturally distort whatever’s onscreen—something glasses or contacts typically correct—and adjust it beforehand so that what you see appears clear.

Brian A. Barsky, a University of California, Berkeley, computer science professor and affiliate professor of optometry and vision science who coauthored a paper on it, says it’s like undoing what the optics in your eyes are about to do.

Link to the rest at The MIT Technology Review

Doubling Down on DRM

17 July 2014

From Cory Doctorow via Publishers Weekly:

I’ve just seen a letter sent to an author who has published books under Hachette’s imprints in some territories and with Tor Books and its sister companies in other territories (Tor is part of Macmillan). The letter, signed by Little, Brown U.K. CEO Ursula Mackenzie, explains to the author that Hachette has “acquired exclusive publication rights in our territories from you in good faith,” but warns that in other territories, Tor’s no-DRM policy “will make it difficult for the rights granted to us to be properly protected.” Hachette’s proposed solution: that the author insist Tor use DRM on these titles. “We look forward to hearing what action you propose taking.”

The letter also contains language that will apparently be included in future Hachette imprint contracts, language that would require authors to “ensure that any of his or her licensees of rights in territories not licensed under this agreement” will use DRM.

It’s hard to say what’s more shocking to me: the temerity of Hachette to attempt to dictate terms to its rivals on the use of anti-customer technology, or the evidence-free insistence that DRM has some nexus with improving the commercial fortunes of writers and their publishers. Let’s just say that Hachette has balls the size of Mars if it thinks it can dictate what other publishers do with titles in territories where it has no rights.

. . . .

The truth is that anyone who wants to avail herself of a Hachette e-book title without paying for it will have no problem doing so. DRM doesn’t stop people who scan books, or retype books. DRM doesn’t stop people who download widely available cracks that can remove all the DRM from an entire e-book collection. And DRM doesn’t stop people who are inclined to download the DRM-free pirate editions. All DRM does is punish legitimate users who had the misfortune to be so honest that they paid for the book, rather than taking it.

Hachette’s letter claims, “Improvements in retailer systems and e-book platforms has led to more flexible DRM which grants the consumer” (this being the odious term the letter uses in place of “the reader”) “greater flexibility in their use of purchased files, such as the ability to share across multiple devices.”

Devices, perhaps. But not across multiple platforms. With the exception of the Kindle Reader app, or the Nook app, available in Apple’s App Store and Google Play, there is no way to read e-books across platforms. And recently, we got a reminder as to what happens when Apple decides that an app is eating into its profits: out it goes. Just last week, Apple stopped bundling the YouTube player with its devices as part of its ongoing war with Google.

. . . .

Readers aren’t stupid. When they discover that paying for books results in locked, crippled editions, and downloading for free (simply by typing the title and “free e-book” into Google or Pirate Bay) gets them the same book, minus the offensive restrictions, they start to put two and two together. After all, DRM is not a selling point. There’s no one who’s ever bought a book because it had DRM. No one has ever clicked onto Amazon saying, “I wonder if there’s any way I can buy a book that offers less than the books I’ve been buying all my life.” People buy DRM e-books because they have no choice, or because they don’t care about it, or because they don’t know it’s there. But DRM never leads to a sale.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to SMH for the tip.

Five reasons for optimism about the future of ebooks

1 July 2014

From Medium:

“THAT COMPANY is destroying my P&L, the entire book industry, and the fabric of civilized society.”

“I really like their free, two-day shipping, though.”

“Me too.”

There’s a lot of tsoris in the publishing community right now over ebooks. Much of it has something to do with THAT COMPANY WITH THE WEBSITE THAT SELLS ALL THE THINGS, how THAT COMPANY has a stranglehold on the book market, how it’s devaluing our literary canon, how it has publishers right where it wants them.

But we’re not just cranky about THAT COMPANY. Other jeremiads include—but are not limited to—the painfully slow adoption curve of EPUB 3, the demise of beloved sites like Readmill, the failure of “enhanced” ebooks to gain traction, sundry ereader feculence, stagnating ebook sales, and sideloading.

I’m a cynic by nature, and count wallowing among my favorite hobbies, but after half a decade as a software engineer in the digital publishing space, even I’ve had enough and am issuing a moratorium on the negativity! Instead, I want to talk about some of the promising trends I’ve seen develop over the past year that foretell a bright future for the digital book. Forthwith, Five reasons for optimism about the future of ebooks.

#1: Ebook standards development is flourishing

I think there’s a tendency in publishing circles to look at EPUB 3 as some sort of digital-book endgame (e.g., “When NOOK finally fully supports EPUB 3, I can upgrade my entire ebook catalog”), when in reality, it’s merely a precondition for the real cutting-edge work to come.

EPUB 3 set the stage for avant-garde ebook development by opening the door to embedding (X)HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript within an ebook container, but the next stage of evolution in the EPUB specification is about further leveraging standards to mainstream this innovation.

. . . .

#4: Might the tide be turning against DRM?

When Tom Doherty, publisher of Tor Books, announced at IDPF Digital Book 2014 that Tor had eliminated DRM from its ebooks and had seen no significant detrimental impact on sales, the audience erupted in a loud cheer.

I took this as a hopeful sign that publishers are perhaps becoming more receptive to the notion that DRM is maybe not so much the solution to safeguarding ebook sales, but in fact the problem. In his 2011 dispatch, “Cutting their own throats,” author Charlie Stross put it thusly:

As ebook sales mushroom, the Big Six’s insistence on DRM has proven to be a hideous mistake. Rather than reducing piracy…it has locked customers in [THAT COMPANY WITH THE WEBSITE THAT SELLS ALL THE THINGS’s] walled garden, which in turn increases [THAT COMPANY’s] leverage over publishers….If the big six began selling ebooks without DRM, readers would at least be able to buy from other retailers and read their ebooks on whatever platform they wanted, thus eroding [THAT COMPANY’s] monopoly position.

In addition to fostering a more competitive ebook retail landscape, I believe dropping DRM from ebooks will help lead to more competition, and thus innovation, in ereader software. When the ebook point of sale is decoupled from the platform on which the product is consumed, customers have the freedom to choose retailer independent of ereader, and vice versa. Regardless of where they purchase their ebooks, they can choose the reading system that has the features they like best—e.g., best CSS3 support, best open annotation functionality (see #1, above), or best accessibility for those with visual disabilities.

I hope more and more publishers will be swayed by the case against DRM and follow Tor’s lead, or at least consider that the benefits DRM affords in terms of the illusion of piracy prevention might be outweighed by unfavorable market effects and diminished customer satisfaction.

Link to the rest at Medium and thanks to Rich for the tip.

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