Book and Reading News

Indie Bestsellers for June 18, 2009

IndieBoundOrgLogo_2ColorwhiteJust in from the, the bestselling books at U.S. independent bookstores (via ABA site) for the week ending June 14, 2009:

Based on reporting from hundreds of independent bookstores across the United States. For an independent bookstore near you, visit


iPhone OS 3.0 out now, upgrade odd

title-20090608Apple has released the next generation of its iPhone operating system, OS 3.0. It adds a number of features, the most relevant to the e-book market is the addition to the iTunes Store of audiobook, movie, TV and music video downloads direct to the handset. The best feature, in my opinion, the long-awaited copy-and-paste capability. Here’s the upgrade page link.

Although iPhone 3.0 does offer tethering, the ability to share your phone’s broadband connection with a PC, it is not available in the United States, by AT&T’s, the carrier with exclusive rights to provide data and voice services to iPhones here, choice. The telco’s choice, not yours.

I am plugging my phone in now…. More soon on the upgrade process. Interesting first challenge: My phone is not being recognized by iTunes.

UPDATE: After downloading and installing OS 3.0, my phone cannot be activated. I have a brick and am advised to “try later.”

ONWARD: Okay, now the phone will start and can access the network. But most of my applications are gone. The only survivors, other than Apple’s apps: Kindle for iPhone; MLB AtBat 2009, ZumoDrive, QuadCamera (best hack of the old iPhone OSes); XpenseIt and; Twitterific. Oddly missing in action: iTunes and App Store.

AND FURTHER: After synching again, all apps are back, but now appear on new pages in the home view, with a blank page between the two groups. That’s weird. All apps seem to work, though adding a new email address didn’t work.

Overall grade after using it for a short time: I give it an “A.” Seems to perform a bit faster, the search feature, which appears when you sweep left (moving your thumb right across first home screen) is convenient because it finds everything with your search term, whether a contact, an email, calendar or document. Downside: The iTunes updater has repeatedly asked me to accept the same new terms of service.

Book and Reading News

Noted News & Opinion, June 17, 2009

NetBook AtticTechCrunch recommends an Adobe AIR-based e-reader for Project Gutenburg books. More than 200 million PCs have AIR, a Web applications platform, installed and can run NetBook application. The developer, Dean McKee, hasn’t signed the application, so you will receive a stern warning about its lack of provenance. It appears on downloadin go be safe and sane. Functionality is limited to increasing or decreasing the screen size, the ability to cache books on your PC, and copying text. See the image at right for a look inside a book. There is a full-screen mode that would be useful on a laptop. Pages scroll and there is no bookmarking, so it can be difficult to find your way back to, or share, a particular place in the book.

A “platform-a-second world” declared. Joe Mandese, writing at MediaPost, makes an important point, but mangles the meaning of some important terms. He writes that “by the time you finish reading [this sentence], a new online publishing platform will have been created. That’s right a new online destination is created every few seconds.” He means a new blog or publication is launched each second, not that a new platform, which denotes a collection of technologies for “content management” and publishing on the Web, is created each second. Platforms, like WordPress, Movable Type, Elgg, Blogger and to some degree, Twitter, come along very rarely. On the other hand, Mandese does make the valuable point that all these new publications—each of us has access not to one press but many presses from our keyboards—are potentially competitive with mainstream titles. There’s no barrier to beginning to compete, though there is a limit to an upstart’s competitiveness without access to some working capital or a long line of credit. He suggests focusing on “premium content” is the only differentiable investment publishers can make. I’d only add that creating conduits for discussion between readers is the ultimate premium experience, especially when writers and editors actually get involved to shape a valuable conversation. Publishers have always served communities, who were largely unaware they were in dialog. Now, the community around a book, Web site, newspaper or magazine is talking. Helping them do that while staying deeply involved in your articles, ideas, stories or data is the premium to work on.

Speaking of books with a soundtrack, Ballistic Publishing is releasing an example of how to make a book into an event. Utherworlds, The art of Phillip Straub (US$99), is a large-format (9.7″ x 15.1″) hardcover graphic novel that comes with a soundtrack and access to a Web site dedicated to the book. The site includes free PC wallpaper and links to buy Gelaskin device covers featuring Straub’s art, the opportunity to buy his prints and so forth.

PenguinPubOfficePenguin Group has a social-leaning Web site, From the Publisher’s Office, reports Jim Milliot at Publishers Weekly.”It’s about narrowcasting, narrowcasting,’ said Penguin president Susan Petersen Kennedy,” Milliot writes. The site, which launched Tuesday, features a video channel, called The Screening Room, and a Radio and Reading Room, too, that will offer programming on Penguin’s Storytime, YA Central, Classics on Air, and Business Thought Leaders. There is vampire programming, too. Vampires are big. Episodes are 30 minutes long. My experience is that is way too long for most people, and I’ve produced more than 79,000 audio and video episodes, so I think I can say that with some confidence. Launch with more short stuff—five minutes long, if that—and see what catches people’s interest. Then, invest more in topics that you know have legs. Starting with a few long programs gives readers few options and could wash out because of several factors, including the programming not being very good. I’m not saying Penguin’s programming is bad, just that it is a small net conceptually.

Why duz dey hate de Strunk and White? Ron Kovach, the Writer’s magazine senior editor, suspects most veteran magazine editors would “still heartily endorse the heart of The Elements of Style.” He acknowledges that the venerable style guide, which recently has been attacked by no less than The Chronicle of Higher Education, has faults, but its guidance, that one should write short, clear sentences that express ideas. I still refer to S&W sometimes, though I’m an old Chicago Manual of Style man, but the argument reminds me that at one point in the history of the book there was no punctuation. Books were written to be read aloud, not silently, so there was no need for punctuation, nor was it easy to distinguish one word from the next. Punctuation offended some people, as do texting habits and their influence on written and spoken language do many people today. Language changes. We’ve got front row seats for a major chapter in the saga.

Newspapers’ online investments reap mixed returns. Douglas A. McIntyre of 24/7Wall Street, a financial news service based in New Rochelle, N.Y., has assembled data from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, Web visitor data from, and a subjective review of the layout and ease of use of newspaper Web sites to rank the return on investment in digital/online publishing by 23 publishers. He concludes that many newspaper publishers will not survive the next few years. The key statement: “Even at companies where 15% of the sales come from online operations, the amount is not great enough to carry the costs of large editorial and business staffs.” In short, online will not save a newspaper that continues to operate like newspapers did through most of the 20th century. The rankings, as suggests, contain some surprises, as several smaller papers rank with majors, such as the The New York Times (one of the three papers to earn an “A” grades, the others were Newsday and The St. Petersburg Times). Noted: The methodology’s components are explained completely, but the weighting of the factors isn’t described, which leaves plenty of room for subjectivity.

Book and Reading News

Noted News & Opinion, June 16, 2009

Global entertainment and media spending will reach $1.6 trillion in 2013, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers annual industry projections, AdWeek reports. The U.S. media industry will not match growth in the rest of the world, increasing only 1.2 percent annually, compared to the global rate of 2.7 percent, reaching $495 billion in 2013. Digital revenues are predicted to grow from 17 percent of the market today to 25 percent, for a total of $124 billion annually, four years from now. Bad news for magazines and newspapers, where revenues are expected to continue to head south.

Surprise, Jeff Bezos doesn’t like the Google-Author’s Guild settlement. But he won’t say why, according to CNET: “We have strong opinions about that issue which I’m not going to share,” Bezos is quoted as saying during the Wired Business Conference. “There are many forces of work looking at that and saying it doesn’t seem right that you should do something, kind of get a prize for violating a large series of copyrights.” The article also suggests that Bezos said Kindle sales now account for 35 percent of paper book sales, which I believe is a misinterpretation of what he said, as I discussed yesterday. What he appeared to say was that when a book is available in paper and on Kindle, 35 percent of the sales are in Kindle format.

Author Jeff Matthews suspects Google’s good for writers. He’s fond of Google Books as a research tool, as I am, then relates an interesting story about discovering why his grandfather won a medal in World War I through a book scanned by Google. It’s a touching story and is completely valid with regard to out-of-copyright books, but that kind of title isn’t what the Google-Author’s Guild covers. I have a different opinion, but I found Matthews’ story compelling.

S&S e-books venture is doomed. Author Anthony Policastro (Absence of Faith and Dark End of the Spectrum on Kindle), writing on his blog, argues that Simon & Schuster’s announced distribution deal with Scribd will fail because the pricing strategy is wrong. “Most people won’t even pay even $10 for an eBook,” Policastro writes. “The reason is that they do no perceive the value the same as the printed version.” I disagree, not because of the price point, but because the e-book as it is today is no improvement over reading a book and, in many ways, diminishes the reading experience. Someday, readers will pay more than the Jeff Bezos price ($9.99) for a book, because it will be a portal to new experiences through reading. But Policastro is right about S&S’s pricing strategy: If they want to succeed on Scribd they must compete on price, going below Amazon’s pricing.

Mitch’s Perspective: Today’s e-books have been positioned as less valuable than a mass market paperback. That needs to change, which means the features and services associated with the e-book have to change, for the better.

Amazon would be boycotted, if Science Fantasy publisher has a say. Antellus, a publishing company operated by its only author, Theresa M. Moore, has complained that Amazon is slow to respond to publishers experiencing problems with its DTP publishing platforms’ management of ASINs and and associated accounting systems. She also says Amazon should be faster in its deployment of a color Kindle. While the former may be a real problem, condemning Amazon for a “seller agreement, which allows Amazon to modify and/or sell books from its suppliers in whatever format it chooses at its own discretion,” which is key to providing book buyers archival access to titles without having to renegotiate rights each time it updates file formats, and failure to be the first to deliver a color reader diminishes the force of her arguments.

Book and Reading News The Reading World

Shortcovers making moves, hiring for clout

shortcovers logoShortcovers, developer of the Iceberg e-book reader for iPhone, BlackBerry, Palm Pre and Android mobile phones, recently announced it will offer a new version of its reader application on the iPhone OS 3.0 this summer. Today, the company announced the hiring of Michael Tamblyn, former president and CEO of BookNet Canada, as Head of Content and Sales—that’s longhand for “publisher.”

Looking at the product news, which was the beginning of a direct attack on the iPhone reading market, currently dominated by Amazon through its Lexcycle acquisition and the increasing popularity of its Kindle for iPhone application, it did not strike me as remarkable. It’s pretty clear that a number of e-reader developers are working toward nothing other than acquisition by Amazon, Google or Someone Else. Without a serious business effort, though, the app could be very good and not go anywhere. Shortcovers needs more than the thousands of titles it currently offers, and those new mainstream titles need to lay the foundation for the company’s self-publishing initiative. Every Shortcovers reader can be a publisher, too.

The addition of Tamblyn, who founded and, at BookNet Canada spent six years working to overhaul the book distribution networks of publishers, book distributors and booksellers in Canada. He tuned the supply chain and established industry-wide cataloging standards, something easier to do in Canada, because the government gets involved, than in the U.S.

In short, he’s been working the distribution problem and building relationships, especially with publishers who are seeking new channels for their products. This is a guy who can do deals, making the mystery of e-publishing transparent to paper publishers who just want to see another revenue stream kickstarted at the lowest possible cost, so they can focus on what many publishers believe their business to be: buying and exploiting rights.

Now, I think the Iceberg reader is very interesting and worth close attention.

Related note: Shortcovers offers some free books, one of which I downloaded yesterday, Serial, by Jack Kilborn (a pseudonym used by cop-novel author J.A. Konrath, see the novel Afraid) and Blake Crouch. It’s an awful short story aspiring to be Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” but imagine that both the killer in the back seat and the grouchy grandmother are serial killers. And that there is no story and no character development. The predictable story lingers over gore, finding titillating pleasure in murder victim’s suffering while turning the brief and predictable conflict between two serial killers who find themselves hunting prey in the same car into a kind of action-movie sequence that reveals nothing, nor changes anything about the characters. Except, they die. Crappy story, bad enough to make me dislike the application, because it showed no sense of what a good story might be.

The Reading World

Businessweek’s More-for-your-money strategy

Businessweek is experimenting, trying  to make itself of more use to readers. Businessweek is trying a variation on something new, the idea of giving subscribers more for their money while continuing to provide content for free online. It’s a variation on an idea that Josh Young and I have been talking about for a while.

You have to feel for magazine publishers these days. With few exceptions, like The Economist and specialty interest publications, they are seeing declining subscriber numbers along with the decrease in ad revenue due to the recession.

Businessweek made a good start, offering subscribers earlier access to print articles online and some “user-generated” news and social features. This will tax the staff very little, unless they choose to dive into the Businessweek community site and really talk to readers about the news. The degree of investment in relationships with readers remains to be seen. But there are a couple simple things they could do right now that would be relatively easy and cheap, involving e-book technology:

  • Provide print subscribers a free PDF, Kindle or ePub version of the magazine when it goes to the printer, typically two days before the issue is released.
  • Build tracking into its site and collect readers’ discussions, bundling them up into quarterly e-books (in the reader’s preferred format) delivered by email to subscribers, so they get a memorialized record of their participation in the community. The really active users will love this—generate a fake Businessweek cover with their avatar’s picture to make a personal package of the e-book.
  • Finally, take at least one full page, if not more, and turn it over to the community. Make them the authors of opinions and articles that reach print—then there is a reason to pick up the print copy.
Book and Reading News

McGraw-Hill launches digital education research center

MGEducationMcGraw-Hill Education, one of the top-four textbook publishers in the U.S., today announced it will open a Center for Digital Innovation research facility in Bothell, Wash. The team of publishers and educators working there will seek to develop learning services that fulfill diverse state and school district standards. The location of the facility is interesting, as it is less than a two miles from one of the best-funded school districts in the nation, Lake Washington School District, home to Microsoft, Nintendo and T-Mobile, among other technology leaders, and which has passed several technology levies in recent years. Acceptance in this district will carry weight in other regions, where the Seattle area is viewed as a technology leader.

The company will focus on PreK-12th curriculum and technology services, including the development of online quizzing and testing, e-books and other components of increasingly personalized learning experience. A toolkit will likely emerge from the effort, one that can be mixed and matched for individual teachers and their students. The role of teachers in setting individualized learning into effect is often ignored, because textbook and other equipment purchases are usually decided at the district level, even by state departments of education. A teacher equipped with a wide range of district-approved, well documented tools and rubrics could fashion a personal learning program for each student, according to the vision articulated by McGraw-Hill. The company’s talking beyond the “one-size-fits-all” thinking of the industrial-era school.

The Center for Digital Innovation has two programs due out for the 2009-2010 school year:

  • The CINCH Project (No explanation of the acronym provided by the company), a Web 2.0 tools package using “community-based” Web sites that provide personal profile and portfolio features;
  • Planet Turtle, a Kindergarten through Third Grade social networking service that uses animal avatars to encourage student-to-student interaction with learning games.

The same team developed eSuite components of the Wright Group’s Everyday Mathematics and SRA Imagine It! product lines, the company said.

Book and Reading News

CliffsNotes launches in iPhone App Store

38776-hi-cram_planThe venerable publisher of study guides, CliffsNotes, a division of Wiley Publishing, today launched a collection of five $0.99 iPhone applications for students that combine the company’s free podcasts on classic literature titles, CliffsNotes CramCast. The products offer the ability to download a CramCast on a specific title, one of these five books, the text of which are can be read within the application:

  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • Macbeth by William Shakespeare
  • Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • After listening, the application lets users study using a “CramPlan,” which is based on CliffsNotes guides and review quizzes, on their iPhone. The tools included in the application also provide character relationship maps and student reminders, such as the ability to highlight text.

    Here’s a link to the To Kill a Mockingbird app.

    The Reading World

    Indexing coolness at Reference Universe

    From Library Journal today: Across the Reference Universe. An interview with Eric Calaluca, founder of Reference Universe, an Austin, Texas-based developer of library products that interconnect the indices in paper and online reference books. Says Calaluca:

    In a nutshell, it aggregates article titles and complete back-of-the-book indexes to both electronic and print subject encyclopedias into a single online resource. The program also matches search results to each library’s own collection. It’s a very simple, powerful way to unlock the content of each library’s own specialized reference works. But there’s a basic financial, return-on-investment benefit for libraries here as well.

    Why does this jangle the spurs of my inner library geek? Check out my ZD Net posting, Books: Entering the Age of Glosses, of a while back about the potential value in indexing services that link across editions—this is a solid step in the direction we need to go, so that readers can navigate between texts as they seek to understand what they are reading. This kind of thinking will only come from the librarian/academic world, until publishers recognize the value of “deep linking

    Book and Reading News

    Kindle DX sold out in three days—not so much

    UPDATE: Reader David Sloves notes that shipping schedules may be the culprit in the shortage of Kindle DX. In fact, the Amazon site now says Kindle DX will be available on June 22 (as of Tuesday, Amazon says June 22; last evening, it said June 17), so we have the answer. No, the Kindle DX didn’t sell out in three days.

    Original text:

    First manufacturing run of Kindle DX reportedly sold out. CRN reports the first, undisclosed number of Kindle DXes produced for Amazon by Prime View International, has sold out in just three days. The device, which sells for $489, was introduced earlier this year and launched on June 10. No wonder Prime View bought E-Ink Corp. earlier this month, they’re cutting their costs as Kindle sales accelerate.

    You know what would be nice as Amazon reorders? Spec in a removable memory slot in both Kindle 2 and Kindle DX.

    Keep in mind that Amazon hedges its bets. Kindle1 shortages were the result of short production runs. This time, though, I’ll bet the manufacturer kept the production line intact.