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Apple has just received the green light from a court in New York that will finally begin offering iBooks customers refunds from a pool of prospective pool of $400 million dollars. This specific amount is dependent on the court upholding a 2013 verdict where an appeal brought the figure down to a paltry $50 million.

The final number that Apple will have to pay consumers will be established on December 15th 2014. The Justice Department, lawyers, Apple and everyone involved in the court drama are basically tired and want to get this situation resolved ASAP.

Customers can expect refunds from Apple starting early next year for eBooks purchased from the iBookstore from April 1, 2010, and May 21, 2012. The exact figure is yet unknown but settlements from Amazon and Barnes and Noble had customers given a $3.00 credit for any New York Times bestseller and all other books from major publishers $1.00.

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There tends to be some confusion among new e-reader owners on what formats their new device reads. Numerous Kindle owners try to buy eBooks at a good price online, only to  get disgruntled when they aren’t  compatible. In order to solve many of the top customer concerns Kobo now lists the format their eBooks are in and whether or not they have Digital Rights Managment (DRM).

When you are browsing the online Kobo catalog their is a new section at the bottom of the description. It is called Download Options and lists the eBooks are EPUB 2, EPUB 2 (Adobe DRM), PDF, PDF (Adobe DRM).

When you buy an eBook with DRM on it, the title is only compatible with Kobo e-readers and tend not to play nice with any other device.  Things get easier if you manage to find something that does not have any encryption, this means you can basically load in on your smartphone, tablet, e-reader or loan it out to a friend  and not need Adobe Digital Editions to facilitate the transfer.

The new download system is live in most countries. We have confirmed reports that Canada, US, Australia, UK all have it, but sadly not New Zealand.

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Oyster is hoping to appeal to literary buffs that aren’t currently paying for their eBook subscription service. The company has launched a new online book blog that will feature original essays, book reviews and interviews with prestigious authors.

Oyster’s editorial director, Kevin Nguyen described the publication as the company’s “latest discovery project,” explaining that “some readers want algorithmic recommendations, and others want editorial recommendations, or reviews.” He went on to say “We really want to be a part of the publishing community. We want to use the Oyster Review to bring Oyster to a new audience.”

It remains to be seen on what type of traction this book new initiative will get in the greater book community. Many readers are wary of reading this type of content from a company that peddles eBooks. This is the chief reason why many people don’t pay attention to the Amazon book blogs and prefer 3rd parties that are unbiased.

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Boomerang Books and Pages & Pages Booksellers in conjunction with Kobo and HarperCollins Australia have engaged in a new pilot program to bundle print and eBooks.

Starting today until the end of January customers who visit a Boomerang independent bookstore or buy the print titles online from Pages & Pages will get a free copy of an eBook. This is the first time Kobo has played a role in this type of initiative.

There are only a handful of titles that are eligible for the promotion. You can think of it as a pilot project to gauge the viability of rolling out something more substantial.

The books that are apart of the bundling program are; Cleanskin Cowgirls by Rachael Treasure, Ghost House by Alexandra Adornetti, Kerry Stokes: The Boy from Nowhere by Andrew Rule, Last Woman Hanged by Caroline Overington and The Menzies Era by former Australian PM John Howard.

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If you have been regularly attending the largest professional publishing event in North America, Book Expo America, you are likely used to the last day of the event opening up to the general public. It is normally at this time that most of the executives and senior staff flee, leaving the interns and hired help to man the booths, giving away free swag. Starting in 2015, the public will no longer be invited to BEA.

Back in 2013, Book Expo America started a program that opened its door for one day to the general public. In 2014, it renamed and restructured Consumer Day as BookCon, making it a publishing-meets-pop culture event aimed at reaching a broad swath of readers. Authors loved this aspect of the event, because it gave them a chance to meet with their most loyal fans and signed many autographs. But while that consumer-friendly day “exceeded our wildest expectations,” says BEA Event Director Steve Rosato, selling 10,000 tickets before organizers had to draw the line, it mixed with the professional days like oil and water.

Staring in 2015 BEA will be held Wednesday, May 27, through Friday, May 29, while BookCon will be held Saturday and Sunday, May 30 and 31. Many of the top publishers and authors will likely stay the few extra days in New York to meet with the fans and professional companies that exist to market their services to libraries can take the chance to tear down their booths and flee for their lives.

I like the fact that there will be some separation between the best publishing event for professionals and the general public. It remains to be seen if BookCon can launch as a separate event successfully or not. The BookCon site compares their festival with the likes of Celebration X, PAX East and Comic-con. I seriously doubt they will even come remotely close to the cultural impact those other events have.

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Amazon has offered samples of eBooks since they started selling them. It gives readers an idea on what to expect when you buy the retail edition by giving you a chapter or two to read for free. In the first time in years, Amazon has just updated the way it handles Kindle eBook samples.

Samples that you download from the Kindle book store will now be saved in the cloud so that you can access and read them on any supported Amazon device or Kindle reading app.  If you don’t want the sample anymore you can simply delete your samples from the cloud on any supported devices or Kindle reading apps, or from Manage Your Content and Devices.

Not all Amazon devices can handle the new way samples are delivered. The ones that are compatible are Fire HDX, Fire HD, Kindle Fire HDX, Kindle Fire HD (2nd Generation), Kindle Voyage, Kindle Paperwhite (2nd Generation), Kindle (7th Generation), Fire phone, Kindle for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch version 4.5 or greater, and Kindle for Android version 4.7 or greater.

One of the big problems with eBook samples in general, is you don’t really get a feel for what the book is about. After you make it through the table of contents, forward and any obligatory publisher information, you barely get chapter one. I have actually downloaded samples that had the first two pages of chapter one, because there was so much filler at the beginning.

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Penguin Random House UK CEO Tom Weldon has proclaimed that eBook subscription websites such as Amazon Unlimited, Scribd and Oyster are not viable business models. “We have two problems with subscriptions. We are not convinced it is what readers want. ‘Eat everything isn’t a reader’s mindset. In music or film you might want 10,000 songs or films, but I don’t think you want 10,000 books.”

Weldon also said the company did not “understand the business model”, and who made money. But he acknowledged that subscription could work “in certain markets around the world in emerging economies where access to books and bookshops is extremely limited”.

The entire notion of Netflix for eBooks has been the holy grail of the publishing industry. Publishers have only begun to embrace it during the last year, although Penguin and Random House have not really committed themselves yet. The ones who have, such as S&S and HarperCollins mainly do it with their older backlist titles and rarely upload anything new.

Is the eBook subscription concept viable? Entitle, Oyster or Scribd does not divulge specific figures, so it unknown what type of user base they actually have.

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Glose to a new e-reading app that is currently available for iOS, Windows and has an upcoming Android App. The premise is fairly unique, the eBooks become a collective experience where you can read other peoples notes on any given passage or see popular phrases that were highlighted.

You can actually buy eBooks from Glose and you can see how many people are in the process of reading the same book and how many times people have commented within the entire digital edition. There are 300,000 titles from major publishers such as Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette and Macmillan. Basically, there is no shortage of quality content and the prices are on par with Barnes and Noble and Kobo.

I think Glose makes a ton of sense for non-fiction titles. If you want to read a book on the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, you can read the comments from history buffs and decide if its worth reading or not. Many people use fiction as an escape and seldom want to engage on a social level.

Not only can users employ highlights and annotations to get their point accross on how they feel about a specific passage but they can also attach media elements such as photos or even videos. Other people can upvote or downvote your annotations so that the next readers can easily find the best annotations.

I really like the premise of Glose, although to take advantage of their social media elements you have to buy your eBooks through them. You cannot import your own titles into the platform, which makes you reliant on dealing with them exclusively. This might be worth checking out as a novelty, but will not be a substitute for your e-reader or favorite online bookstore.

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A former advertising executive for Kindle is suing Amazon for wrongful dismissal. The saga begins in 2012 with the launch of the Amazon Kindle Fire Tablet. Amazon was seeking launch partners in order to build traction with their Special Offers edition. Credit card company Discover signed on, as they normally participated with pilot projects at Amazon. Then things got interesting.

In a signed affidavit to the Washington Attorney office, former executive Kivin Varghese outlined the following “Shortly after the successful launch of the ad platform in September 2012, we ran into an issue with one of our large launch partners, Discover Card. In addition to paying $1.2 million to be part of the launch, we ran a promotion where they paid an extra $500,000 that was intended to encourage Kindle owners with a Discover card, to switch their default 1-click card to Discover (ahead of the holiday shopping season).

The promotion was structured in a way where anyone with a Kindle, who used their Discover card to buy a digital good (e.g. mp3 or movie), would get a $10 Amazon Gift Card. The reason the good had to be digital is because to buy a digital good you need to use your 1-click default card, and Discover’s primary objective for this promotion was to get users who had a Discover card, to make it their 1-click default so Discover could be the card of choice for holiday shopping over the course of the fourth quarter. That was the only way Discover could justify spending $10 when someone ordered a $1 .mp3 music file.

The finance team and the ad execution team (who reported to my manager via a Product Manager) put together a forecast for Discover that showed we expected the $500K to last for the full 60 days of the promotion, and it had a wide ranging buffer, so we would monitor it weekly. I was not allowed to see the data that went into the forecast – only the finance team putting together the forecast was allowed to see that data – I and others were just provided a range.

About 10 days into the promotion, the Ad Execution team found that over $300,000 of the $500,000 allocated for the promotion had been spent. I had our development team look into the data to find out how this could happen – Was it fraud? Was it a bug?

What we found was that there were tens of thousands of Kindle e-ink owners, the vast majority who hadn’t even seen the promotion details (as customers had to click on the ad to see the details), were qualifying for the $10 Gift card because every day, there are thousands of customers who own a Kindle and already have Discover set as their 1-click default card, that buy a digital good on Amazon in the ordinary course of their activity. As soon as we found this out, I sent out a 7-step solution that I recommended we implement to fix the issue, which involved being transparent with Discover about the issue and refunding a significant portion of the promotional funds that went to subsidized behavior. Munira disagreed with my approach, directing me to spin this as ‘good news, that the promotion is tracking ahead of plan’ and urged me to try to get more budget from Discover. Meanwhile the promotion continued to run and within a few more days we had gone over the $500,000 budget.

Our finance and ad execution team had missed the key fact when doing the forecast – the forecast should have shown that there was a 100% certainty that the promotion as structured, would go through the $500,000 budget within a couple of weeks given everyday activity. This was clear, the data was available during the forecast, and it was missed.

So in other words, Discover was essentially paying $10 to tens of thousands of users who had no idea the promotion was going on, and were just subsidizing existing behavior – Discover was paying $10 mostly to consumers that already had Discover set as their 1-click default and were unaware of any Kindle promotion. That was not Discover’s intention, nor was it Amazon’s when we ran the promotion. But it was our mistake to rectify.”

A number of internal emails were sent between project managers of the advertising platform, trying to get Discover to pay more money, without divulging that e-Ink owners were the ones taking advantage of the promotion. According to the emails, Amazon executives directly downplayed the amount spent directly to Discover. Also, according to the legal filing Amazon lied to Discover about specific metrics and page impressions on the custom landing page for the promotion. When Discover pulled out of the promotion, this is when it all hit the fan.

The Ad executive was brought in for his monthly PIP meeting, where they went over milestone goals. He was scolded for not asking Discover for more money, even though he knew all of the funds were spent and Amazon still had not fixed the bug for e-ink Kindles. He was asked to transfer to another department, and upon refusing went to HR and was promptly fired.

The legal brief ended with “To me, it seems like a culture of treating its employees like robots and numbers. And perhaps that is what spawns and encourages the kind of dark behavior I saw at Amazon. Employees aren’t just Bezeos-Bots and numbers. Customers aren’t just a source of free-cash flow at any price.”

You can read the entire legal briefing HERE. It is very long and a compelling read for Amazon intrigue.

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Hachette Book Group and Amazon today announced that the companies have reached a new, multi-year agreement for ebook and print sales in the US.

The new ebook terms will take effect early in 2015. Hachette will have responsibility for setting consumer prices of its ebooks, and will also benefit from better terms when it delivers lower prices for readers. Amazon and Hachette will immediately resume normal trading, and Hachette books will be prominently featured in promotions.

This entire contract situation went on for far too long and I am glad its finally over. It seemed that people used this contract dispute to write millions of news items on the predatory nature of Amazon and Hachette.

Michael Pietsch, Hachette Book Group CEO said, “This is great news for writers. The new agreement will benefit Hachette authors for years to come. It gives Hachette enormous marketing capability with one of our most important bookselling partners.”

“We are pleased with this new agreement as it includes specific financial incentives for Hachette to deliver lower prices, which we believe will be a great win for readers and authors alike,” said David Naggar, Vice President, Kindle.

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Barnes and Noble is experimenting with a new initiative this holiday season called Sync Up. There will be a special curated section of paperback books in each bookstore location and upon purchase you can also elect to buy the Nook eBook edition for up to 70%.

The B&N Sync Up! program will only be in effect until the end of the year at 650 stores nationwide. Here is how the program works, you want to look for the new  B&N Sync Up! display in any store and chose one or more of the select paperbacks. Simply bring it to the register, and the clerk will activate the NOOK Book offer upon checkout and a unique access code will be printed on the customer’s store receipt. For additional convenience, customers can also choose to have the code printed on a gift receipt or emailed to them. To redeem the offer, the customer or the gift recipient can visit www.BN.com/redeem, enter their code and download the digital edition within seconds.

Through the new program, customers can choose paperbacks from a collection of perennial favorites and bestsellers including Doctor Sleep by Stephen King, Outlander (Outlander Series #1) by Diana Gabaldon, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Life of Pi by Yann Martel, plus many more fantastic reads. More details are available at BN.com/sync-up.

I think this new sync up program is a tremendous idea and something they should have tried a long time ago. Barnes and Noble is in the perfect position to try out pilot projects like this, to distinguish themselves from Amazon and Kobo. Could you imagine a future where this is the norm? Walk into any B&N bookstore, buy any book and get the eBook for a huge discount? I for one, love the sync up idea.


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smartphone-ebook

A new report by Strategy Analytics predicts that the global consumer eBook market will more than double from $7 billion in 2013 to $16.7 billion in 2020. eBook subscription websites and emerging markets such as China are the two main facets contributing to the dramatic increase.

Currently less than 10% of the population reads eBooks in 2013, but in 2020 this figure is set to increase to 25%. One of the big reasons is the shift towards reading on smartphones and tablets over dedicated e-readers and desktop computers.

Wei Shi, an analyst at Strategy Analytics’ wireless media strategies division, said that a significant development in the eBook market is subscription-based services launched by platforms like Amazon Unlimited, which have a model similar to how Spotify and Pandora work in the music industry. “We expect to see subscription services gaining more momentum in the second half of this decade, and contributing to close to a fifth of the total market by 2020,” she said.

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Digital Watermarks or Social DRM is starting to catch on in Europe in a very big way. This new system of encryption makes loading eBooks on other devices or loaning them how to friends quick and intuitive. There are not special programs or tools needed to do any of this, which makes it quite attractive to publishers and online bookstores looking to sell books and still maintain a degree of security.

BooXtream is one of the largest companies who are involved in watermark technology and CEO Huub van de Pol sat down with Good e-Reader to talk how it all fundamentally works and provides an eye opening introspective into the world of digital watermarks and social DRM.

When did you guys seriously start to focus on digital watermarks as a viable business model?

Since 1993, Icontact develops bespoke software solutions for the book and library industry in The Netherlands and Belgium.

The very first start with digital watermarks was in 2006, when Icontact developed a custom digital distribution and fulfilment platform for audio books to be used by a Dutch audio book web shop and distributor.

The music industry was still using DRM at that time, and we all knew the problems with DRM. So to be customer friendly we decided that the shop needed to deliver MP3 audio files instead of one (or more) platform specific audio formats with DRM. As you know, MP3 cannot be copy protected and doesn’t support DRM. Instead, we developed a simple but effective way to personalize each MP3 file with info about the transaction, the name of the end user and the web shop that sold the audio book. This enabled us to locate the end user when an audio book is found on an illegal site or CD-ROM. The end users knew it worked like this and had no problem with it, so it worked like a reasonable deterrent.

We used all available tricks to add extra data in the mp3 file while keeping it compatible with the standard. Some data was visible (when you checked the file properties), but most were invisible to the end user. All personalisation took place dynamically after a valid order was registered. All mp3 files where then stored in a single ZIP container and a download link to this ZIP was presented to the end user. So essentially, every end user received a unique file with a personalized audio book. We registered the brand name BooXtream for this concept and technology.

After a couple of years, only very few of these audio books were found ‘in the wild’. 99.9% of all pirated content was ripped from CD’s. We presented this experience on a national eBook conference in 2010. After our keynote “Lessons learned with Social DRM”, several publishers not only liked the idea, they also asked us if we could do the same with eBooks instead of audio books.

At that time there were only a few ‘serious’ eBook shops in The Netherlands, but we saw the potential. We were excited by the possibilities and opportunities of the market. We decided to create an SDK to watermark ePub eBooks, which evolved into the web service as we are now offering. We built BooXtream for eBooks based on the idea (concept) of adding as much ‘invisible’ data as possible to the files in an ePub, tightly integrated with a digital distribution and fulfillment platform, an easy to integrate web service (RESTful) and an attractive and simple price model (no upfront costs, only pay by use).

BooXtream for eBooks 1.0 was released in fall 2010 and was offered as a web service based standard solution. (FYI: Icontact still develops custom software solutions. The BooXtream brand and product was bootstrapped, like an internally funded start-up.) Our launching customer was a small forward looking publisher in the Netherlands, but eBook watermarking really took off when UK based Pottermore decided to use it for the Harry Potter eBooks in 2012. This really created headlines all over the industry.

How does the essence of your technology work?

The essence is that we add ‘hidden’ data to all files in an ePub eBook file while keeping the eBook 100% valid, using several different proprietary algorithms. Our technology offers two basic features: adding invisible watermarks and adding visible extra’s like a personalized ex libris page, a personalized footer text at the end of every chapter or a personalized chapter at the end of the eBook. The invisible part is essentially a transactional watermark, creating unique files for every eBook and every end user..

Everything is configurable by our customers. BooXtream operates in real time, on transaction level, so our technology has to be integrated at the point of sale (where the actual distribution to the end user takes place).

There is no need to update any ‘client software’ when we update and improve our algorithms (as with Adobe DRM), which is possible because the eBooks are 100% valid and ePub compliant. In a technical sense, they are DRM free so they can be read by every e-reader and e-reading device out there.

One of the essential characteristics of eBooks with watermarks is that there is no need to remove watermarks to make a backup, read it on multiple devices or share it with someone you trust (casual sharing). This isn’t the case with DRM, which is one of the reasons a lot of people that have no intention to pirate or hack do use DRM removal tools.

Who would you say are your largest clients right now?

Our technology is used worldwide by 2 of the Big 5 publishers, some very large independent D2C publishers, several hundreds of medium sized publishers selling D2C, quite a few independent eBook web shops and also numerous web shops of smaller publishers, self publishing authors and systems integration.

Some publishers like to keep their name under the radar, but to name a few: Verso Books (US, UK), Cappelen Damm (largest publisher in Norway), Elly’s Choice (largest eBook subscription service in The Netherlands), Firsty Group (large solutions provider for the publishing industry in the UK), Profile Books (UK); web shops from Finland to Spain and from Peru to Colombia.

I saw you guys are a member of the IDPF, we sponsor many of their events, such as the main conference at Book Expo America.  How has being a  member affected your business?

We are big fan of Bill McCoy. He is doing a marvelous job with IDPF, creating and maintaining the ePub standards, Readium, EduPub and basically uniting the eBook publishing world. I think it was Bill who coined the term ‘Social DRM’ which we adopted for our original BooXtream tagline. Being a member gives us insight in the working groups and future developments, but it also helps us to be found by potential customers.

What are the main benefits as you see it, between watermarks and ADOBE DRM.

The only benefit of Adobe DRM is that it can be used for library lending purposes. You cannot use watermarking for this, as watermarking is not able to disable an eBook after a certain amount of time. The few libraries that are using watermarking do this as a ‘second line of defense in a closed ecosystems with apps.

There are quite a few benefits of watermarking:

With watermarked eBooks there is no need to use a specific (proprietary) e-reading client. Watermarked eBooks can be read on any device, with any software, as long as they are ePub compatible. This is a huge advantage, because it’s both user friendly and support desk friendly.

An eBook with watermarks can be read on different devices simultaneously. There is no need to remove DRM to do this. As an aside, there are plenty of DRM removal tools out there, but quite a few are Trojans or might contain a virus. The computer illiterate end user is far better off when he doesn’t need these tools, apart from the question if it’s legal or not to use them.

An eBook with watermarks can be backed-up using standard backup software. Again, there is no need to remove DRM to do this. This is very important because eBooks with DRM might get inaccessible when the web shop is getting out of business. This happened more than once.

Our watermarking tools also offers visible personalisation, which creates new business possibilities and makes the eBook really personal. It is being used to personalize review copies, it is used to personalize course guides and business reports (even those that are distributed for free). One of our customers allow their end users to customer the ex libris in their own eBooks, like the personal stamp from earlier times. Others insert personalized messages or dynamically add some banner links in the eBook.

 If people started to pirate books via BooXtream, what do you guys do about it, if anything?

Tracking and tracing illegal uploads is not our primary business. Sometimes pirated eBooks are discovered by our customers (publishers) when they search for their own titles. Part of our standard service is to help them decode the watermarks (if any, because the bulk of all pirated books are titles with DRM removed, not watermarked titles), so they can decide what to do. For larger-scale and automated discovery and enforcement we offer tools to anti-piracy third parties like MarkMonitor and Muso that are specialised in tracing copyright infringements, crawling the web, sending notice-and-take-down letters etc. Our tools enable them to look for the hidden watermarks within eBooks, decode them and take appropriate measures. They can use these tools as part of our and their arrangement with a publisher.