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A revolution in writing and publishing conferences will kick off tomorrow in Charleston, South Carolina, one that is working to bridge all aspects of the publishing industries to better enable professionals of every kind. Alongside self-publishing mainstays like Hugh Howey, Nook Press, and Bibliocrunch will be speakers like Stephanie Bowen of Sourcebooks and Tracey Adams of Adams Literary. Algonquin Books Executive Editor Chuck Adams will speak, as well as Penguin Random House’s Executive Editor Tracey Bernstein. Also on hand to present will be Amanda Barbara, founder of Pubslush, a crowdfunding platform for self-published authors.

The fairly evenly split representatives from both aspects of the industry demonstrates one of the factors that makes this conference unique. Unless there will be a stripe painted down the middle of the conference, relegating the traditional industry to one side and the self-publishing industry to the other, the intention of the event is to empower anyone who has any involvement at all in the world of books to better understand the nature of the industry in its current climate.

Tonight, Bibliocrunch‘s weekly Twitter chat, #IndieChat, will feature PubSmartCon speaker and industry expert Porter Anderson, as well as PubSmartcon’s Kathy Meis. The event begins at 9pm ET under the indie chat hashtag.

Good e-Reader will be covering the event, with an eye especially on understanding how events like this are bridging the gap. The traditional industry, while maybe not yet embracing indie publishing, has certainly come a long way from the days in which a vanity press-produced title was the kiss of death for an author’s future publishing career; it’s now becoming more and more common for publishers to seek out authors whose titles that have a proven following thanks to self-publishing. At the same time, the attitudes the once permeated the self-publishing industry, namely complete and unwavering artistic control and a feeling of isolation, are falling away as authors look to the traditional industry professionals for information and guidance.

A complete list of conference speakers and events can be found HERE.

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First there was Paper.li, an app that allows users to create a digital “newspaper” based on the story links their social media connections share. Then came Facebook’s Paper app, which serves as a curated offering of a user’s shares from contacts. But now, The Guardian is rolling out an actual print newspaper that will contain stories curated from share algorithms.

The printed paper, which will only  be available in the UK once a month and mostly to corporate offices, is called #Open001 and will be based on computer searches for most shared content, kind of like heading to Yahoo News or Twitter and clicking on what’s trending.

While it might seem like a good idea to offer a paper that only contains the news that the public finds relevant, there are inherent flaws with a system like this for more widespread distribution. First, are social media contacts really the most trusted source for important information, or are readers really going to be wowed by a print paper that contains an unfathomable amount of news about Miley Cyrus’ latest antics? Does important news like the Arab Spring or the US Congress’ latest attacks on minorities and the poor, for example, really have the power to compete with Justin Bieber’s mug shot?

More important is the very real concern that this is a smoke and mirrors approach to keeping print newspapers alive and well. As more and more long-standing newspaper publishers shutter their doors due to lagging advertising and subscriptions, will sending out a print version of what users can see on Twitter be enough to revive an interest in the medium?

As with all areas of the publishing industry that are struggling to stay afloat, the key to survival rests in offering something different that can’t be had–often for free–from another source. A day-old piece of paper with yesterday’s trending headlines isn’t the way to keep readers’ interests.

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Amazon customers in Sweden will have to wait it out to begin buying their discounted goods and books from Amazon.se. The current owner of the domain, a fifty-seven-year-old small businesswoman, won’t sell it, despite reports of repeated attempts from the retail giant to purchase it.

The domain, purchased in 1997 by a Stockholm-based advertising agency called Amazon AB, doesn’t actually lead to a website, but rather to a landing page that simply states it is under construction. This has caused many critics to accuse the woman of holding the domain hostage, as so-called domain squatters have done in the past; these people–whether thugs who drive up the price or smart business people who capitalize on their foresight by purchasing domains before anyone needs them–typically sell to the business or person who wants that domain for a nice profit.

What many vocal opponents who are crying “selfish” have forgotten is that it’s not uncommon for businesses to buy the various domains associated with their company names in order to protect their brands and prevent confusion for their customers. It’s highly likely that the ad agency’s clients would accidentally find themselves on the local Amazon retail portal instead of the agency should the sale of the domain go through.

Amazon has already been at work making headway into the region. The retailer recently inked a deal with a Scandinavian book distributor, Bokrondellen, to begin selling Swedish books through its other country-based domains. At this time, Swedish book customers can register through one of the other domains for book purchasing, despite Amazon’s attempts to initiate a Swedish domain.

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It is shockingly easy to enter a book into the Pulitzer Prizes in Letters competition. The author (in most categories) must be an American citizen, the book must be available for sale in print, it must have first been published that year, and the person submitting the book has to send four copies of the book and a fifty dollar entry fee. That’s it.

It’s easier and cheaper to submit a book to the Pulitzer jury than it is to get a driver’s license. So why aren’t more indie authors doing it?

It may possibly be the mindset that the Pulitzer, whose journalism award is equally prestigious and possibly more well-known due to its significance in reporting, is for the elite authors only. But by the entry rules’ own guidelines, there is no requirement–unlike some other well-known and allegedly prestigious awards–that the book be traditionally published, nor that the publisher submit the book for entry. The author herself can enter her work.

Incidentally, the Pulitzers have been awarded for 2013, with Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch taking the prize for fiction. Other category winners include Margaret Fuller: A New American Life by Megan Marshall (biography), Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation by Dan Fagin (non-fiction), and 3 Sections by Vijay Seshadri (poetry).

In wholly related news, the Amazon/CreateSpace Breakthrough Novel Awards released the quarter final list yesterday, narrowing the field even further from its original 10,000 entries in each category. In this stage, editors from Publisher’s Weekly will read and review the remaining titles, providing that valuable feedback to the authors before further eliminations take place. The final round will be determined by reader votes later this spring.

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Kindle Direct Publishing is a self-publishing platform that individuals and small presses use to add their eBooks for sale on the Amazon bookstore. When customers purchase an authors books, normally they did not know about it until 24 hours later. Today in a bold move, Amazon has introduced live sales data that will inform authors in real time when their book is purchased.

Self-published authors can celebrate as Amazon introduced a brand new Sales Dashboard on the KDP Reports page to give you up-to-date reporting of paid, borrowed and free orders as they are placed in Kindle stores worldwide. The new dashboard also helps you track royalties earned as payments are processed for these orders.

You can filter the Sales Dashboard and Sales & Royalty Report by title, marketplace, and timeframe. The information you currently receive in the Prior Six Weeks’ Royalties reports is now available in the new Sales Dashboard and Sales & Royalty Report.

One of the great elements about the new dashboard is the immediate feedback for authors engaged in a marketing campaign. You will be able to track sales for just that book for a set number of days while you’re running the campaign, and decide if it was worth the effort or not.

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Photo courtesy of nbclatino.com

Photo courtesy of nbclatino.com

Renewed concerns about students who use tablets for reading have surfaced as experts now fear the “bells and whistles” approach to enhanced ebooks are actually stunting student comprehension. At last week’s American Educational Research Association in Philadelphia, researchers Heather Ruetschlin Schugar and Jordan T. Schugar presented their findings from a study that pitted middle school students with print and digital books. The results of the subsequent testing showed a higher level of comprehension when the students read print books.

The books, created with iBooks author software, may have contained too many features like hyperlinks, images, and embedded video, leading the students to try to garner enough information about the story from the extras rather than interacting with the actual text. Other features often found in children’s ebooks include games, tactile interactions like the ability to manipulate the background, and even audio sounds that play while the student reads.

Other researchers have already concluded that some students actually comprehend better when multimedia enhancements are offered alongside the text. A study reported on last week from Booktrack demonstrated that adults and older students retain more of what they read when music that fits the story plays in the background. Also, sound effects that coincide with troublesome or unfamiliar vocabulary can help language learners, such as a car horn beeping as the new word “honked” is introduced.

What researchers are now starting to notice is that there is no one-size-fits-all method for reading fluency and comprehension. Students learn in different ways, a fact that has been known among educators for decades. Features that enhance learning for one student can easily hinder it for another, so curricular decisions and opportunities need to be made available in a wide variety of formats.

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It feels like every new step in the right direction also leads to a host of new problems and closures for public libraries where digital lending is concerned. It’s been years since the first debates over protecting the interests of authors and publishers, with solutions–albeit often pathetic ones–proposed so long ago that the system should have sorted itself out by now. With recent pilot programs to test the waters in the UK that still require patrons to physically enter their libraries in order to check out new releases as ebooks, and the reports that ebook prices for libraries are still inflated by hundreds of percents, it’s easy to feel like libraries are coming under attack. This time, though, it’s not apathetic city councils and budget cuts, it’s the publishers themselves.

Bills in Maryland and Connecticut were first proposed last year that would require publishers to charge a commensurate amount for libraries’ ebook editions of their catalogs of titles. As it stands now, pricing is making it almost impossible for libraries to fully support ebook lending. A recent report on pricing from the Douglas County (CO) Library System demonstrated that an ebook that typically costs a consumer just over $10 can cost a library almost $50. Add to that the fact that the library is merely licensing the right to use the digital file and not actually owning the book, the pricing can make libraries hesitate a little.

Unfortunately, those bills have not gone forward, and by some reports, the American Library Association was against the bill in Maryland.

Part of the struggle that libraries face also comes from their patrons. In the digital mindsets of many consumers, waiting to borrow an ebook seems pointless. The same people who happily put their names on the checkout list to borrow a print book grumble at having to wait to download a book to their devices. Fortunately, studies have shown that this benefits publishers, as ebook borrowing (and the ability to borrow ebooks, even without having finished or read them) has led to an increase in click throughs and purchases of other books. Ideally, this is not behind publishers’ decisions to keep the price of ebooks artificially inflated for libraries.

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Verdict: 5 Stars

Seth MacFarlane is a true Renaissance man. As the creator of the animated series Family Guy and co-creator of American Dad, not to mention the voice talent of many of those shows’ characters, he achieved a measure of notoriety for the genre of stupid and mildly offensive humor. But MacFarlane is also a Grammy-nominated singer, director and producer of one of the top-grossing movies of all time for its rating, and of course, bestselling author of a first novel that has already been adapted for the upcoming film of the same name.

A Million Ways to Die in the West is not for everyone. As a very loose rendition of historical fiction, it requires an ability to enjoy the suspension of belief in order to appreciate the humor, as well as an ability to look past the few offensive remarks to that are both poignant stabs at the time period as well as timely interpretations of the fact that prejudice and racism are far from dead.

Albert Stark is a sheep farmer in the town of Old Stump, a miserable place that makes the show Deadwood look like the Vegas strip. The title of the book comes from the very real understanding in Albert’s world that every single day is an exercise in not letting something random kill him. Snake bites, cholera water, gunslingers, wild animal attacks, and all out nastiness are just a handful of the myriad ways that one could end up dead in that time and place; of course, if the actual disease, crime, or accident doesn’t kill you, the doctor’s attempts to save you will certainly finish the job.

Interestingly, MacFarlane’s take on history and humor is actually a beautiful love story, with the lives of several intertwined characters playing out on the page. He gives the same attention to the backstories of side characters that he gives to Stark, all without dragging down the pacing in any way. My favorites must be Edward and Ruth, a mild-mannered cobbler and his fiancee of six years (the town brothel’s employee of the year) who have yet to have relations because it would be ungodly, what with them being Christians and all.

In some ways, the best aspect of the book is the fact that the author’s ingrained sense of humor shines through, but it is ultimately far more intelligent than what plays out each week on his television shows. While somehow meeting at the crossroads of asinine and genius, the book is a fantastic, in-one-sitting delight.

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When ebooks first began their accelerating trend, they were a decidedly English-based reading habit. Other markets began the adoption, but it was largely US and UK readers who became the early adopters. While most publishers weren’t eager to invest in something that had remained so unknown and unproven, they certainly weren’t associating the staggering costs involved in translation and international rights with digital publishing.

But the foreign-language category of ebooks is making tremendous headway. Readers have been delighted by both companies that make foreign translations of English language books available, as well as companies like Le French Book that operate in reverse, taking modern-day bestselling French titles and making them available in English to US and UK audiences via ebook.

But recent growth in the foreign language ebook catalogs of many major retailers has demonstrated an increased interest on the part of consumers who want the portability, instant download access, and typically lower cost of digital editions. Where the Amazon Kindle en Espanol catalog launched in 2012 with a minor smattering of titles compared to its offering in English, that number of ebooks has now doubled. Publishers are also coming on board with Spanish ebooks, working to release their backlist titles that never saw translation.

One area that still remains a problem for translated ebooks is indie publishing, encompassing both small press publishers and self-published authors. A translation of a full-length novel can easily run as much as $10,000 or more, per language, and without the backing of a major publishing house to foot the bill, it falls to the indie publisher or the author to find a translator and negotiate the fee. Authors like Judith Glynn who took the risk on an investment of that size are still struggling to put their books in front of Spanish-speaking readers, largely because less than half of the reported Spanish speaking population in the US reads books in Spanish, according to a post by Publisher’s Weekly.

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Photo courtesy of stuff.co.nz

Photo courtesy of stuff.co.nz


A recent program for UK libraries to lend ebooks has been considered not only a success for institutions and patrons, but also for publishers given the number of click through sales that resulted from borrows. The report, given at a panel at the London Book Fair this week, was from the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) president Janene Cox.

The program, launched on March 3rd, 2014, in four areas of the country, gave visitors to the physical libraries access to content that wasn’t available elsewhere, including new releases. While visitors still had to come into their libraries to access the list of titles, they were gaining this access to content that wasn’t readily available for device lending elsewhere.

The results of the pilot have already been enlightening and positive, and interestingly have also been in line with patron behavior in various pilots and studies conducted by different companies in different countries. Sourcebooks and OverDrive teamed up last year to study the effects of unlimited checkouts and free simultaneous access to one title in particular, coupled with publisher branding of the book. Several years ago, Kobo released the results from its online marketplace that looked at user behavior when ebooks were available for free or at nearly no cost, which is the correlating cost for library patrons.

In almost every aspect, these studies have shown that publishers benefit when their books are readily available for borrowing. The click through rate in library lending is fairly high, with many of the patrons purchasing titles before even finishing the book. As in the Sourcebooks experiment, sales of that author’s other titles–not related in a series to the title that was made available–also increased, as did his social media following as readers sought him out online.

eBook lending has been a struggle for the industry, with different publishers experimenting with different lending parameters and limitations in an effort to protect the interests of their companies and their authors. Libraries have now been shown to be a source of revenue for publishers, not a source of contention.

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The Brooklyn Public Library system announced recently a new initiative to digitize backlist newspaper archives in order to make them available to the public via their online portal. This initiative, which will make all copies of the original Brooklyn newspaper, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, available, was supported by both grant funding and the loaning of microfiche from the Library of Congress.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle was a hometown paper in circulation from 1841 through 1955. As part of the BPL’s historic Brooklyn Collection and its digital newspaper portal Brooklyn Newsstand, this collection is made possible with help from Newspapers.com and several other sources.

According to an article for Library Journal by Gary Price, “The Brooklyn Newsstand will now provide the public with free access to the entire collection of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper ranging from the date of its publication in 1841 to its close in 1955. Previously, thanks to a 2001 National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences (IMLS), BPL was able to digitize a microfilmed copy the Eagle from 1841 to 1902 and make those years searchable in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Online database. As with the IMLS project, the second phase of digitization completed by Newspapers.com uses negative microfilm provided by the Library of Congress.”

Without digitization efforts, these newspapers–and thousands of others like it around the country–would sit in obscurity in a microfiche cabinet, possibly in an unused space of the library building. Now, these documents can have a renewed focus and offer new insights to a generation of readers that might not even be aware that the paper existed. More important, they can now be accessed by users around the world who otherwise would have been barred from physical access to the documents.

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It took them long enough, but some of the biggest names in books and porn have finally realized that sex sells. That’s why Cleis Press and Penthouse will begin publishing a new line of digital erotica titles, set to launch this fall.

Billed as the Penthouse Variations On series, this line of titles will eventually be a title of six different anthologies, with the first title to come out being Variations On Oral which the publisher has declared to be “quality erotica” for “discerning” readers.

While Penthouse may best be known in pop culture for its magazine, it is also the owner of Variations magazine, which has a high percentage of female readership. Likewise, the new publishing venture will aim for a female audience. Interestingly, romance and erotica, while traditionally predominantly purchased by female readers, has also been shown to be overwhelmingly authored by women.

Co-founder of Cleis Press Felice Newman stated in a press release, “We are excited by this opportunity to expand the readerships of both Cleis and Penthouse in this fresh cross-pollination of sex positive culture. Together, we plan to develop a unique series that will take the erotica market by storm.”

Cleis publisher Brenda Knight went on to say, “Newman has a keen focus on what appeals to female erotica readers. She knows what works and what doesn’t, and has made a real contribution to a more sex-positive America. We are great admirers of Penthouse and their enormous impact on sex and culture.”

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Rightscorp is well known in the video and music industry with their digital loss prevention technology that tracks copyright infringement and ensures that owners and creators are rightfully paid for their IP. They developed extensive tracking analytics that allows them to see what content is being distributed through bittorrent and file sharing sites and then goes after the people involved. It looks the company is gearing up to take on the publishing industry industry and actively go after eBook pirates.

“We recently announced a deal to represent Mark Sisson, author of the bestselling book The Primal Blueprint. This marks our entrance into the multi-billion dollar book publishing industry, an area where we feel we can add value to our clients and our investors,” said Christopher Sabec, CEO of Rightscorp. “eBooks and eReaders have become very popular since the release of the Kindle in late 2007, but just like any medium, the creation of digital format opens them up to digital theft and copyright infringement. With a $3 billion market and growing, the digital book market is an ideal place to add protection and secure revenues. We are now expanding our focus to include monetization and protection of online books and are already in discussions with other authors and industry trade organizations about how we can help them.”

The entire publishing industry brought in close to 12 billion dollars in 2012. Sales of eBooks reached $3 billion at the end of 2012, up from $68 million in 2008. Industry experts expect that by 2017, digital will be worth $8.2 billion. This market is ripe for the picking for Rightscorp.

Overall, the publishing industry is not really concerned with eBook piracy. Many of the top companies such as HarperCollins, Hachette, S&S and Penguin have told me that piracy is a minor blip on the radar and does not hamper sales. They all admit it is an extreme minority of tech savvy individuals and statistically people who pirate eBooks tend to be the biggest purchasers of digital content. There has even been some notable authors such as Tim Ferris that harnessed the power of Bitorrent to promote his book, the 4 Hour Chef. He recently said “Torrent conversion is NUTS. Of 210,000 downloads earlier this week, more than 85,000 clicked through “Support the Author” to the book’s Amazon page. We all had to triple and quadruple check that to believe it. 

Why isn’t the publishing industry and magazine companies concerned with digital book piracy? You only have to look at the Apple Newsstand and companies like Comixology. All of the magazines and comics are basically are stored in the cloud and delivered in an app container.  Comixology has spent a copious amount of money on their app to give you Guided View technology and Marvel has added the ability for a comic to be narrated with audio.  You now have magazines, books, comics and other rich media delivered in a way where the user will never see the file locally. This takes piracy right out of the equation.

At the moment, book piracy is dwarfed by that of the music, movie, and game industries. But it is gradually growing. Shortly after the launch of the iPad, TorrentFreak took a look at a small group of popular business titles and calculated that unauthorized eBook downloads on BitTorrent grew by 78% on average–and that was when Apple had sold only about 300,000 iPads.

Rightscorp currently represents more than 1,000,000 copyrights with more than 40,000 copyrights in its system. Rightscorp has already received settlements from subscribers of more than 50 ISPs and closed over 60,000 cases of copyright infringement to date. The company is entering the eBook market with some trepidation, but I can see them implementing a scare tactics campaign and releasing daunting reports to put the fear of god into publishers and authors.