Ebook/Ereader Technical

Cory Doctorow: Information Doesn’t Want To Be Free

10 November 2014

From TechCrunch:

The technical implausibility and unintended consequences of digital locks are big problems for digital-lock makers. But we’re more interested in what digital locks do to creators and their investors, and there’s one important harm we need to discuss before we move on. Digital locks turn paying customers into pirates.

One thing we know about audiences is that they aren’t very interested in hearing excuses about why they can’t buy the media they want, when they want it, in the format they want to buy it in. Study after study shows that overseas downloading of U.S. TV shows drops off sharply when those shows are put on the air internationally. That is, people just want to watch the TV their pals are talking about on the Internet—they’ll pay for it if it’s for sale, but if it’s not, they’ll just get it for free. Locking users out doesn’t reduce downloads, it reduces sales.

The first person to publish a program to break the digital locks on old-style DVDs, in 1999, was Jon Lech Johansen, a fifteenyear- old Norwegian teenager. “DVD Jon” took up the project because his computer ran the GNU/Linux operating system, for which the movie studios wouldn’t license a DVD player. In order to watch the DVDs he bought, he had to break their locks.

. . . .

In 2007, NBC and Apple had a contractual dispute over the terms of sale for Apple’s iTunes Store. NBC’s material was withdrawn from iTunes for about nine months. In 2008, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University released a paper investigating the file-sharing impact of this blackout (“Converting Pirates Without Cannibalizing Purchasers: The Impact of Digital Distribution on Physical Sales and Internet Piracy”). What they found was that the contract dispute resulted in a spike of downloads on “pirate” sites, and not just of NBC material—it seemed that once people who had been in the habit of buying their shows on iTunes found their way onto the free-for-all file-sharing sites, they clicked on everything that looked interesting. Downloads of NBC shows went up a lot, and downloads of everything else went up a little.

More interesting is what happened after the NBC-Apple dispute ended, and the shows returned to iTunes. As the CMU paper showed, download rates for those shows stayed higher than they had been before the blackout. That is:

  • Refusing to sell their viewers the content they wanted in the format they preferred drove those viewers to piracy.
  • Once the audience started pirating the content they wanted, they quickly turned to pirating other content, too.
  • Having become aware of and proficient in the ways of downloading, the audience developed a downloading habit that outlasted the end of the blackout.

Digital-lock vendors will tell you that their wares aren’t perfect, but they’re “better than nothing.” But the evidence is that digital locks are much worse than nothing. Industries that make widespread use of digital locks see market power shifting from creators and investors to intermediaries. They don’t reduce piracy. And customers who run into frustrations with digital locks are given an incentive to learn how to rip off the whole supply chain.

. . . .

It’s harder if you’re a creator, because many of the biggest investors have bought into the idea of selling with DRM or not at all. When it comes down to negotiating DRM, you just have to make a decision about whether you’re willing to let your creative work be put in some tech company’s jail in order to make your investors happy, or whether you’ll keep shopping for a saner, better investor.

Link to the rest at TechCrunch

Kindle Original vs Kindle Voyage

5 November 2014

From boingboing:

Jason Weisberger finally upgraded. Did seven years make much difference? The answer will probably not surprise you, but the details might.

. . . .

Facing off Amazon’s latest and greatest single purpose reading device, the Kindle Voyage, to their last generation Paperwhite seemed like a waste of your and my time. Every single review tells you its a nice upgrade, but perhaps one not worth the money. The Voyage, in form factor, most reminded me of the original Kindle. The strangely angular case design looked derivative. Luckily, I just happened to have one here…

Rob described the original Kindle as “looking like wadded up cardboard” and I think he may be right. Before I’d even recharged the device and powered it on, I marveled at the insane shape Amazon felt was going to be most pleasing and book-like to the user. I remember being put off by the design when I first saw it, but I’ve actually missed it. OG Kindle did feel more like the bend of pages when holding a paperback sized book than any of the sterile, rounded Kindle’s since. The Voyage backplate sports similar angling and ridging. It fits the hand in a similar manner, even the Amazon Origami case attempts to translate that tactile feel. I quite like it but actually still feel original Kindle maintains the edge over all other e-readers for actual book-in-hand-ness.

. . . .

Screen is simply no contest. The new Voyage is lightning quick, shows almost no ghosting and the matte glass front does stay unsmudged, far longer. The OG Kindle’s screen is slow and ghosts a lot. The resolution would never be an issue, for me at the font sizes I read at, but seeing them next to each other its just unfair.

. . . .

Reading is better on the Voyage. Unsurprisingly I like having a better screen, and the self adjusting front light is a dream. Voyage is a better reading device in all lighting conditions. The self-adjusting light is a dream, even nicer than the Paperwhite. The OG Kindle was a first gen device, this is the primary function of the product line at Amazon and they’ve made HUGE improvements. The Voyage is great in direct sun and lights out situations. Years back I retired the OG Kindle for an iPad with the Kindle app purely for the backlighting at night, it made reading outdoors impossible.

Link to the rest at boingboing and thanks to Scott for the tip.

Here’s a link to the Kindle Voyage

Why we need an e-book DRM DMCA exemption

31 October 2014

From Chris Meadows at TeleRead:

It’s that time again. Ars Technica reports that the Copyright Office is accepting petitions on activities to exempt from the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions, making it legal to crack DRM for certain restricted purposes.

. . . .

Public Knowledge will be submitting requests to legalize consumer ripping of DVDs and to allow circumvention of DRM locks on 3D printers. I’m not holding my breath.

. . . .

Here’s a crazy thought: if the Big Five publishers knew what they were doing, they would be submitting and throwing their weight behind a petition to permit consumers to crack e-book DRM for purposes of archival and platform interoperability. Think about it. Publishers already full well know their insistence on DRM effectively handed Amazon the keys to the kingdom, and their conflict with Amazon has come to a head over the last few months with the Amazon/Hachette squabble. What better time to ask the government to permit consumers to break the Amazon shackles?

This would be a way for publishers to have their cake and eat it, too. They could continue to put DRM on their books, placating authors who fear piracy, and it would continue to be illegal to crack DRM for pirate purposes. And what would it really change? It would only legalize something a lot of consumers already do illegally. It’s not as if they’re even trying to hunt down and prosecute people who crack DRM illegally anyway, unless they do something stupid like upload watermarked books to peer-to-peer.

. . . .

With legalized DRM-cracking for interoperability, e-book stores could set up their own DRM-cracking import services for the people who aren’t tech-savvy enough to set up Calibre themselves. Want to move all your e-books from your Amazon library to Barnes & Noble, or Kobo? Just drag and drop the files from your “My Kindle E-Books” directory onto this uploading app and we’ll take care of everything for you! Who knows, it might even make it possible for other e-book stores to compete with Amazon if you could make it almost as easy for customers to switch away from them and keep their libraries as it is to keep using them.

Link to the rest at TeleRead

Google Play Books Updated To Make It A Better eReader For Students, Chefs, And Others Who Read Huge Books

31 October 2014

From TechCrunch:

Most eReader apps tend to be built for reading something from start to finish — which makes sense, given that that’s how about 99 percent of fiction works are meant to be read.

But what about non-fiction stuff? The research documents, the textbooks, and the cookbooks of the world? In books of that sort, the reader often needs to flip back and forth between opposite ends of the book almost endlessly.

With those folks in mind, Google has just updated its Google Play Books eReader application with a focus on efficient reading.

. . . .

  • “Skim” mode allows you to zoom between pages in an endless stream rather than forcing you to flip through page by page.
  • “Quick Bookmarks” lets you set multiple saved spots in the book and quickly jump back and forth between them — perfect for when you’re required to refer to some reference table 200 pages away from what you’re trying to read.

Link to the rest at TechCrunch and thanks to Nirmala for the tip.

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.

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