Digital Publishing News

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One of the early adoption markets for tablet use, K12 digital textbooks, and a thriving e-commerce site to offer ebooks was India, but recent reports have shown somewhat stagnant responses, which experts have attributed to a lack of reliable wifi and internet connectivity throughout the country, as well as concerns about posting credit card information on unreliable digital infrastructure. But a new multi-billion dollar initiative from the Indian government in conjunction with a major telecom provider may change all that with the institution of free wifi in 2,500 cities across the country.

The Digital India project will create some 50,000 to 60,000 hotspots in various cities, and offer citizens data plans through telecom-provider BSNL. These data plans, which will function in much the same way that consumers currently subscribe to data plans, will offer the free data packages, with the option to purchase additional data each month after the free threshold has been reached.

According to an outline of the project, the goals include:

  • Broadband highways to connect all villages and cities of India
  • Everywhere mobile connectivity; wherein mobile coverage will be provided to every nook and corner of India
  • Public Internet Access Program wherein internet accessibility to the web will be provided at subsidized rates (example public WiFis)
  • eGovernance in every government department, wherein 100% paper-less environment will be encouraged
  • e-Kranti, wherein government services would be electronically delivered
    Information for All policy (which includes provisioning of Right to Information using the Internet as a medium)
  • Electronics manufacturing
  • IT for Jobs
  • Early harvest program

How does this affect the publishing industry? Nearly all sectors of publishing have seen lagging adoption–slower than predicted, at least–due to concerns of connectivity. While educational initiatives have put devices in place, retail websites like Flipkart and Amazon India have introduced easy ebook purchasing, and even major self-publishers have brought the platform to authors in India, the lack of internet connection has been blamed for disappointing results in publishing.

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Internet news devotees have had to become very selective about the articles they read due to the abundance of available content, which has led many to adopt dedicated digital platforms that only display news from sources they choose. Apps like PressReader and Newsbeat have stepped up to fill the gap, and offer customizable options for current news, including region-specific content and categorical selection. Digital newspapers and magazines have also grown in popularity, possibly in relation to the unreliable options flooding social media; OverDrive reported on its growth of digital content yesterday, citing the convenience of access to news through public library portals as a chief patron service.

One platform in particular, Press Reader, released a new video that explains its all-you-can-read digital news model, as well as its emergence as a leading provider of digital newspapers and magazines to the all-important library sector.

Press Reader bills itself to users as a premium content provider, meaning its not the same old headlines that are available scattered across news blogs. This has helped the crucial lending market make a trusted choice in subscribing for their patrons to access digital content.

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The digital revolution and its subsequent self-publishing hey day have perhaps sparked more change in literature and publishing than any event since Gutenberg started tinkering, but for all of the great talk of “equalizing” and breaking down barriers, what industry watchers were really referring to was text-based novels. A number of demographics in the publishing business were left out, such as comic book creators, graphic novelists, children’s book authors, and more.

But as startups began to recognize the self-publishing and digital platform spheres were overloaded with options for authors, a few other companies began quietly meeting the needs that other companies had overlooked. One such market was the image-heavy ebook space, where books had to be converted into apps for consumption in various operating system-specific app stores rather than sold through e-reading sites like Amazon or B&N.

Story2Go, first interviewed by Good e-Reader at Frankfurt Book Fair in 2013, launched at the time with an inexpensive iOS app that allowed authors and creators to essentially build their ebooks with simple drag-and-drop and uploading features, then rely on the bigger guns to actually distribute the book to a variety of app stores. While the process of creating the file isn’t entirely intuitive–this is no “Children’s eBooks for Dummies” level of process–there are clear-cut instructions at each step of the way to help authors along.

For a limited time, the Story2Go app is free in the Apple App Store, and despite the time that the company has producing and distributing books on behalf of authors, the price to distribute is still only a one-time $99 fee for the first platform, and $149 for multiple app stores.

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Amazon launched their Japanese e-Book store in 2012  and in order to read e-books,  manga or comic books you basically needed to use the dedicated Kindle app for Android or iOS.  Now users have another option, Kindle for PC has officially launched in Japan.

The premise of Kindle for PC is to keep your content synchronized across multiple devices. It also allows for a ton of versatility for Japanese text and displays anything you would buy from the Amazon digital bookstore.  All of your purchases will be able to be viewed in both landscape and portrait mode.  Customization options include changing the background color, font size, font type and access the dictionary.

Amazon launched the Kindle Cloud Reader in Japan last September, this is their online based HTML5 e-reading app. It was fairly limiting, because it was relegated to only reading novels, not magazines, newspapers or manga.

The debut of Kindle for PC comes at an opportune time for Amazon. Earlier in the month the company launched Kindle Free Manga Magazine. This is a platform that has a revolving pool of single issues and magazines, all available for free.  The initial lineup includes the recent issue of Shueisha’s Grand Jump magazine, as well as Manga Action, Comic Ran Twins, Comic Zero-Sum, Manga Box service, and Square Enix’s Hobo Gekkan Otameshi Gangan.

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Once you secure your position as the ultimate player in self-publishing, where do you go from there? The textbook self-publishing market. Amazon has released the specifics on its new textbook creator app, Kindle Textbook Creator, and while it doesn’t look like it has much to offer in the way of never-before-seen innovation, it does bring the benefits of self-publishing to those who have something great to share in terms of academia.

Just as Khan Academy and the advent of online video uploads brought a whole new realm of instruction to the internet and classrooms alike, the ability to build, sell, and market something that looks like a textbook but behaves like any other title in the Amazon Kindle store–except for the very obvious difference, you can’t read it on a Kindle–renews the coup of self-publishing for a whole new demographic of content creators.

According to an article by Darrell Etherington for TechCrunch, “Kindle Textbook Creator seems designed for speed, and for working with the legacy textbook publishing industry, as opposed to iBooks Author which is more designed to help educators build digital-native experiences from scratch. Books built with Amazon’s new tool offer multi-color highlighting for students, as well as built-in notebooks, flashcards for review, dictionaries, and of course multi-platform support, in addition to translating the PDF version of their document into something that works on any reader.”

Currently in a rudimentary format, Amazon has already stated new features will be rolled out as they become available. What also remains to be seen is how the possibility for professional academic publishing can evolve with a tool like this one, considering the intense pressure some universities place on their faculty to publish. As self-published fiction authors have discovered, what may be lost in prestige can be more than made up for in dollars.

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Any time a library can report an increase in circulation, patron engagement, offered services, and catalog content, it’s a cause for celebration. Libraries as vital parts of healthy communities are in a constant state of defense, so growth in the sector is good to hear. But when the libraries in question are school libraries who cater to the needs of emerging readers (and future voters who will determine the strength of public libraries down the road), it’s even better.

OverDrive, one of the world’s leading providers of digital content to public and academic libraries, released news yesterday of record growth of its ebook catalog.

“As of January 1, 2015, nearly 12,000 schools and districts have incorporated the OverDrive service into their curriculum and library plans, a 50% increase over the same time last year. OverDrive now works with K-12 partners in 38 countries, with 10 countries added to their global network in 2014.”

eBook adoption in school libraries stands to result in a significant savings for both public and private centers’ budgets, given the typically lower cost of titles and the elimination of damaged copies. One of the chief complaints in school adoption of digital titles, though, has been lack of content from publishers, a factor that OverDrive has worked hard to eliminate.

“OverDrive’s school eBook catalog has also reached record size, with 24% growth over the last year, adding more than 100,000 new titles and bringing the total digital catalog available to schools to more than 2 million titles. Audiobook availability has increased 15%, with more than 5,500 new titles available to school partners through OverDrive…In addition, the 2014 acquisition of Teacher’s Notebook has given K-12 partners access to teacher-created curriculum materials from more than 500,000 educators.

One of the most exciting parts of the announcement is the seamless incorporation of audio narration with digital titles, a factor that has been proven to increase not only comprehension and reading levels in students who utilize it, but also to play a key role in fostering reading self-selected texts for pleasure.

“In 2014, OverDrive also introduced Narrated eBooks, a feature that provides a single eBook file synchronized with audio. Publishers supplied hundreds of popular children’s titles in this new format, which are now available for schools and libraries.”

With a 234% increase in new visitors to the OverDrive site (over 2 million year-over-year), and 6.26 million visits to the school digital content website in 2014 alone (an increase of 276% over the previous year), K12 academic libraries are finally making solid headway into digital adoption.

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The dream of an used e-Book site may be over. A Dutch Court of Appeals has ruled that Tom Kabinet must shut down within three days or pay a daily fine of €1,000.

Tom Kabinet is a Netherlands based used e-Book website that was first established during the summer of 2014. Their launch immediately put them at odds with the Dutch Publishing Association. The publishers believe Tom Kabinet infringes on copyrights. Research suggests 90% of all eBooks that are listed on the site are pirated and that criminals are reselling books they download from torrent websites.

The core business model of the company is facilitating the sale of e-books that users post on their website.  They don’t actually host the actual book, but digitally watermark each title to prevent reselling of the same copy over and over.  When a book is sold, Kabinet takes a small commission for their role in the transaction.

Things initially looked to be going in favor of the Netherlands e-Book service in July when the court decided that that Tom Kabinet can stay open for business during the court case.  The main argument that was employed was the Oracle and Usedsoft  case that was decided in Germany some months sooner.

“Where the copyright holder makes available to his customer a copy – tangible or intangible – and at the same time concludes, in return form payment of a fee, a license agreement granting the customer the right to use that copy for an unlimited period, that right-holder sells the copy to the customer and thus exhausts his exclusive distribution right. Such a transaction involves a transfer of the right of ownership of the copy. Therefore, even if the license agreement prohibits a further transfer, the right-holder can no longer oppose the resale of that copy. He can therefore download onto his computer the copy sold to him by the first acquirer. Such a download must be regarded as a reproduction of digital product that is necessary to enable the new acquirer to use the program in accordance with its intended purpose.”

The entire saga between Tom Kabinet and the Dutch Publishers Association was supposed to be all wrapped  up on December 23rd, but due to the Christmas holidays, the judgement was postponed until just this week.

Where does this leave Tom Kabinet now? Well, it is tricky. The Dutch Court ruled that they have to close up shop within three days or pay a hefty fine. They also said the business model appeared to be legal in principle.

When many other companies would have simply closed up shop, TC is continuing to fight. They are trying to purge all of the questionable books from their site in a bid to be legitimized, but it might be far too late that now. In the courts and publishers eyes they are a pirate site that is leveraging a court case as their sole argument and it failed.  It looks like the dream of a legitimate used e-book site might be over, for now.

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With the steady stream of news coming across the internet, there is no shortage of opposing viewpoints, political leanings, and outright bias to the reporting. It can make uncovering the actual facts rather difficult, especially when coupled with the anonymity provided by so-called news sources. But even more alarming–though humorous, depending on who you ask–is the abundance of satirical news sites that publish tongue-in-cheek variations on the latest headlines.

While satire has long been a respected form of writing (even if journalism might be a strong word for it), readers of ages past had to seek out these works and were fully aware of the attempts at humor. Unfortunately, the internet has brought satire into the mainstream with sites like The Onion and DuffelBlog, and many readers are no longer as aware that the information is not only false, but is intentionally so.

Facebook is now working out a way to help readers sift through the headlines, not with the aim of censoring satirical content, but rather putting a disclaimer on the article. The goal is to improve the spread of actual news while not discouraging the entertainment value of ludicrous headlines.

While concerns have been raised about the ability of readers with a political agenda to “block” legitimate news by flagging it as hoax-worthy content, other sources have said it’s about time users had steps to take to help prevent comedic attempts from being misconstrued as factual content.

“One way to fight the virality of falsehood is to take Facebook’s approach and turn the dial down on how often such stories show up for users,” says Marcus Wohlsen in an article for WIRED. “But in doing so, the company calls attention to the fact that the News Feed is not neutral. Facebook has not only an ability but an interest in exerting control over what you see and click. It’s not a conspiracy. But it’s another reminder that if you rely on social media alone for news, you might not be getting the whole story.”

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It didn’t take long after the launch of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited ebook subscription service for the outcry to begin, but unlike other criticisms the retail book giant has weathered, this one came from its most staunch supporters: self-published authors. With the announcement that all KDP Select titles would be included in the all-you-can-eat service, authors were initially excited about the prospect of a new revenue channel from the exclusive program; it didn’t take long, though, before some of the top names in self-publishing noticed a significant drop in their KDP-based income.

Critics were quick to point fingers at Amazon with claims that the empire was turning on its own support base, but that’s turning out not to be the case.

At last week’s Digital Book World event, Amazon’s senior vice president of Kindle Russ Grandinetti spoke candidly about Amazon’s support for unlimited ebook consumption, and explained the clear path that the company will take for the model.

“We can all observe the fact, that in every single digital media category, subscriptions are playing an important role. In music, in movies, in newspapers—you cannot find a digital medium where subscription isn’t a model that succeeds at some level, and I don’t think books will be immune to this. [We] need to think about how subscription could be a great value for the customers.”

While Netflix and Amazon have offered both unlimited movie and television streaming as well as original programming without much backlash from content producers, newspapers through companies like Issuu, Zinio, and Magzter have provided digital newspaper and magazine reading with unlimited consumption pricing plan options.

One of the chief drawbacks to the adoption of subscription reading, Grandinetti believes, is that ebook sales are currently doing really well. On the other hand, ebook subscription platforms like Rooster see unlimited content for one continuous low price as more media than most readers can handle; Rooster offered a cheaper alternative to subscription reading that provided less content for a lower cost, appealing to those readers who were honest enough with themselves to say that they wouldn’t reap enough benefit in terms of amount of content to justify the higher price.

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Jan
19

Amazon Faces Tax Woes in EU

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Book and retail giant Amazon has come under fire over the years for its taxes, or more accurately, its failure to pay taxes that critics felt were long overdue. Whether in the US or abroad, the company has been able to take advantage of current tax law to its own interests, a fact that lawmakers literally around the world have been trying to fight.

In the US, a wave of “Amazon Tax” legislation was proposed in most states in an attempt to overturn a 1992 US Supreme Court decision that determined that (then) mail order companies didn’t face the insurmountable headache of trying to collect and report sales tax in every state, as each state sets its own sales tax percentage. Instead, the ruling stated that companies who conducted business via shipping goods to customers would only be required to collect sales tax in the state where the company was located. That became a sticking point for Amazon when states with distribution centers decided that physical location applied as a “location” for taxation. A number of states sued Amazon for back taxes and proposed legislative changes to combat the issue.

In the EU, Amazon has been criticized for its apparent tax-dodging by setting up operation in Luxembourg, a country known to be a haven for foreign corporations which include Google, Starbucks, and many more. The reason for the Grand Duchy address is to take advantage of the lowest tax rate in the EU, something which has local sellers through the Union upset, with claims that they cannot compete as they don’t have the opportunity to move their headquarters to Luxembourg.

While Amazon has always operated in legal compliance with these tax laws, an EU investigation launched in October 2014 will determine if there was anything amiss in the way that the retailer has setup operations. There have been recent allegations that claim Amazon has worked out a deal to receive what amounts to “state aid” from the government, which the investigation sought to uncover.

According to an article for Scotsman.com, “Crawford Spence, of Warwick Business School, who researches tax avoidance, said he felt Amazon’s tax deal in Luxembourg amounts to state aid.

“Professor Spence said: ‘The issue of whether Amazon’s deal with Luxembourg was a ‘sweetheart’ one constituting state aid seems to deflect attention from the main issue here: namely, that Luxembourg has long operated as a de facto tax haven within the internal market, effectively depriving other EU governments, and the EU in general, of significant tax revenues.

“’There is a simple way to put an end to these sorts of scandals: harmonise tax rules across EU member states.’”

Interestingly, this suggestion is one that Amazon has held up publicly for some time. The company has stated repeatedly that it will comply with any unified changes to tax structures and laws both in the US and abroad, but that it will not engage in single-player politics or measures that require the company to create a different tax structure in every location where it conducts business. So long as the law allows corporations to operate under these strictures, Amazon remains in compliance and will continue its operations as such.

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102847-1280The Pulitzer Prize for journalism has now been extended to print and digital magazines. This category now contains not only magazines, but also feature length and investigative reporting for newspapers too.

In the past, publications that were identified as magazines were ineligible to compete for a Pulitzer in any category. Many Americans in the last few years have gravitated towards digital for their daily news fix. This is chiefly due to everything being tremendously accessible – from dedicated apps on Android and iOS to websites that allow you to read content online to replica editions made available on distribution systems such as PressReader, Zinio and the Apple Newsstand. The decision to broaden the spectrum makes sense.

“After a considered review and discussion, we are adopting these changes in a spirit of experimentation, rooted in a commitment to the enduring values of great journalism.” said Pulitzer Prize administrator Mike Pride said in a statement. “We have chosen to focus our evolution on investigative reporting because of its relevance to public life and feature writing because of its emphasis on literary merit.”

While broadening the competition, the Pulitzer Board stressed that all entered material should originate from the United States and that they are are ”primarily dedicated to original news reporting and coverage of ongoing stories,” and “adhere to the highest journalistic principles.”

It goes without saying that there is going to be an influx of new material that is going to be submitted for award consideration. If this occurs, there will likely be an earlier submission date so that the juries have more time to consider the publication and to cast their votes. Mike Pride said that likely they will bring on more jurors to handle the extra workload.

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Kindle Unlimited is an e-Book subscription platform with around 700,000 titles available. Users pay a monthly fee and can basically read as much as they want, similarly to what Netflix does for video and Crunchyroll for anime. Amazon has been heavily lambasted by authors and publishers because there is no set dollar amount they make on their content that is opted into the problem. Instead, there is a revolving pool of funds that Amazon makes available each month, with varying dollar amounts. For example, during the summoner and winter periods, when more people are reading, there are more funds available because loans are up. Amazon has stated during a recent book trade event that they are firmly behind the success of the platform.

Kindle SVP Russ Grandinetti made a rare public appearance at the Digital Book World event in New York. He stated that Amazon is working to address authors’ concerns that the subscription-based program is diminishing their revenue, asking for patience in the meantime. “It’s only been six months,” Grandinetti adds. On the subscription ebook model overall, Grandinetti says, “More approaches to publishing is pretty healthy” and reminds publishers they weren’t happy at first when bookstores began selling used books. “In every single digital media category, subscriptions are succeeding at some level,” and books won’t be an exception.

Amazon currently does not have the support of major publishers for their Unlimited platform. Instead, they have thrown in with Scribd, Oyster and Entittle, startups that pay publishers when a certain amount of pages in the book are read and have a definitive pricing structure. Publishers dig the fact the terms are transparent and for the most part, their content is secure. All of these companies distribute e-books through their official apps and are stored in the cloud. This prevents unauthorized copies being made and distributed to pirate websites.

Publishers are obviously leery about being too heavily invested in the Amazon ecosystem and most are looking at alternative avenues to generate more revenue with their digital collections. Macmillan CEO John Sargent recently proclaimed that 64% of all e-Book sales are driven by Amazon and this “needs to change.” This prompted his company to enter into agreements with Scribd and Oyster to explore the viability of e-book subscription services with their back catalog and out of print materials. In all, close to 1,000 books have been added to their platforms because of this one deal.

Amazon rarely deals with negative press about their entire e-Book ecosystem, but Unlimited has really raised the dander of the media, authors, publishers and rival companies. Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords concluded that “Kindle Unlimited was a bad deal for authors because it requires exclusivity and gives Amazon free rein to control author compensation.”

Best-selling author H.M.Ward pulled all her books out of KU and called for a rethink to the scheme after seeing her income plunge by 75% over two months despite getting a Kindle Select All Stars cash award for both months. She said that the Kindle Unlimited payout has been sinking steadily and hit a new low of $1.33 per borrow in October, down by nearly 40% from $2.20 in June before KU launched in July.  Writing on the kboards forum, H M Ward says: “I had my serials in Kindle Unlimited for 60 days and lost approx 75% of my income. That’s counting borrows and bonuses. My sales dropped like a stone. The number of borrows was higher than sales. They didn’t complement each other, as expected.”

Author testimonials like this is whats scaring the general publishing and self-publishing industry from throwing down with Amazon. Even the slick PR machine to constantly stay  in the media limelight is unable to maintain full damage control. The companies that do blast Amazon are often excluded from their exclusive launch events where only “select” press are invited to attend.

Despite all of this, the Seattle based e-commerce giant is firmly behind the success of Unlimited, as the overall media industry has gravitated towards subscription services. You don’t have to look much further than Apple, who currently abandoned their Single of the Week promotion and is rumored to be converting iTunes itself into a subscription service for audiobooks, music, video and other media content.

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PressReader has updated their official Android app for support for their brand new hotspot mapping system. It basically allows you to ride a companies wireless internet connection to download free magazines and newspapers.

Pressreader markets their hotspot solution to hotels, cafes, corporations and retail stores. It basically allows anyone with a tablet or smartphone to download a magazines and newspapers from a library of more than 3,500 full-content publications from 100+ countries in 60+ languages.

You need to download the latest version of the PressReader app for Android from Google Play or the Good e-Reader App Store. Once you have reigstered an account just open up your tablet or smartphone in one of their designated WiFi zones called PressReader HotSpots for instant access to any newspaper or magazine. To find one near you, just open up the PressReader HotSpot Map from the app navigation menu.

Why do companies signup to give paid visitors or the general public access to free content? The main reason is because it brings people in the doors. Hotels often add this service has an amenity to the guests, instead of getting whatever local paper left outside your door, you can read anyone you want, including your own paper from whatever city you are originate from. A cafe may use it as a sirens call of allure to the business lunch crowd, that wants to be able to read  on their break.