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Tagesarchive: April 11, 2013

Have You Ever Forgotten How to Use a Book?

We’ve all seen the videos of kids who try to use a paper magazine like they would an app, but did you know that adults sometimes make that same mistake?

I’ve made that mistake, and I was reminded about yesterday by a funny post over on Gizmodo. The author was reading a hefty book when he forgot he was reading a book:

I was reading Canetti’s Crowds and Power, a solid 400-page book. And then, as my eyes were approaching the end of yet another page, I swiped upwards.

My index finger, quite naturally, swiped upwards on the paper, in an attempt to move the lines I was reading more towards the middle of the page.

That post is getting an unreasonable amount of criticism from commenters, IMO. After I started reading the nasty comments I decided that it would be fun to post my story and invite contributions. I’ve made almost the same mistake as that other blogger, and it is as funny to me then as it is now.

This was back in the dark ages of ebooks (2007, I believe). I was studying at the time and I had my laptop and a few reference and technical books spread out in front of me. These were big books, most the size of textbooks, and they were in between me and my laptop.

To make a long story short, when I needed to turn the page of one of the books I reached out and pressed the page down button on my keyboard.  Obviously it didn’t work, but it took me a few second to realize that.

I’ve never forgotten that story, and I still get a chuckle out of it. Do you have any similar tales? Feel free to leave them in the comments.

LinkedIn Buys Pulse for $90 Million

tumblr_inline_ml3s0b4LBL1qz4rgp[1]The news reader service Pulse has just announced (and LinkedIn has confirmed) that last month’s rumors were true. The world’s largest professional social network has just acquired a news reading service in what appears to be one of the more unlikely business deals of the year.

But is it unlikely?

LinkedIn has been working for some time now to move beyond simply a collection of profiles, user groups, and company pages. I don’t know about you, but I have been seeing more and more emails from LinkedIn in which they’re pitching an article by some key thinker. And even without those emails, I have heard from several users that report that they find LinkedIn to be a good source of industry news.

With that in mind, LinkedIn’s statement about the acquisition begins to make a lot of sense:

We believe LinkedIn can be the definitive professional publishing platform – where all professionals come to consume content and where publishers come to share their content. Millions of professionals are already starting their day on LinkedIn to glean the professional insights and knowledge they need to make them great at their jobs. We believe we can help all professionals make smarter and more informed business decisions leveraging all the great business knowledge flowing through LinkedIn in the form of news, Influencer posts, industry updates, discussions, comments and more.

LinkedIn currently has over 200 million users, and claims 155 million active users each month. Pulse has 30 million users spread across 190 countries that read content from over 750 publishers. The deal is reportedly worth $90 million in stock and cash, and the acquisition is expected to close in the second quarter of 2013.

As of yet there are no definitive plans to for the existing Pulse service and apps, though they will not be going away right this minute.

Digg Will Target Their Google Reader Replacement at Hard-Core Users

tumblr_inline_ml3kqbe4zp1qz4rgp[1]Digg has just released the early results of last week’s survey.

This social reading start-up is working on their own replacement to Google Reader, and one step Digg made in that direction was to ask current Google Reader users what we liked. Over 17 thousand users have already filled out the survey, and Digg has noticed that the average Google Reader user spends a lot of time in the service.

For example, over 60% of users report that they subscribe to 50 or more RSS feeds in Google Reader, with nearly 20% subscribing to more than 250 RSS feeds.  The survey has also shown that 80% of users check Google Reader many times a day, and that we are using it both for work and for personal reading.

Search doesn’t seem to be used all that much, and since it is "a huge investment in terms of development time and infrastructure costs" it’s been moved down the list. Digg has also noted that keyboard shortcuts were used at least sometimes by 67% of respondents. So far none of this surprises me because it matches with how I use Google Reader. And the rest of the survey is not too surprising, either.

Take the word cloud at the top of this post, for example. The final question asked users for suggestions as to what could be removed from Google Reader to improve it. As you can see, the leading answer is "nothing".  Other questions asked which alternative feed readers we used, and there doesn’t seem to be a clear winner among the possible Google Reader replacements.

That’s good news for Digg, but it is also good news for the rest of us as well. As the many possible replacements vie for the throne, the competition will force them to improve their service, offer more features, and try to be better.  That means we are going to see more innovation in this niche over then next few months than we have seen in the past 5 years.


Readers Don’t Owe Authors Anything

This is BS

This is BS

As a long time reader I have been more than little dismayed at some of the recent changes to the culture of books.

There seems to be a growing sentiment among some authors and writers that readers "owe" authors something. I don’t just mean the time we spend reading a work, the respectful attention we might give it, or even the money we might spend on an author’s work.

I’m referring to the assumption of a few misguided authors that readers "owe" authors things like: gushing praise on social media, book reviews on ebookstore websites, and other investments of our time and money.

Update: Before you read any further, you might want to read a post I wrote a month later. It offers a much more nuanced view of this topic.

And what’s even worse is that not only do some authors believe this, they’ve taken to making graphics like the one at right. That graphic was made by an author so other authors can use it to berate their readers.

Oh. Hell. No.

I’ve had my own run-ins with pushy authors, so naturally I think the idea expressed in that graphic is complete and utter nonsense. I’m glad to say that I am not alone. Over the past week or so I’ve been sharing a number of links from readers/bloggers who are pushing back against needy and demanding authors.

Today I read a post that finally jelled my position into a single statement:

  1. I won’t ever steal books, digital or otherwise. Not ever.

But I won’t (a) not use the library, (b) not buy used books, (c) not borrow books from friends. If I choose to do any of those things, I don’t (a) owe a tweet, (b) owe a blog review, (c) owe a word of mouth review. I am not betraying bookish culture if I (a) buy from Amazon or Chapters or Barnes and Noble, (b) wait to buy the paperback, (c) don’t buy at all. None of the above things are unethical or amoral or indicative of my deep failings as a reader or blogger or member of the bookish community.

Now, we could get into a debate over who is right and who is wrong, but I would hope that the authors who read this realize something first. The fact that this point has come up at all and the fact I took time to write this post and that readers are taking the time to express their irritation should be a warning sign.

Readers don’t agree with this idea.

Readers are getting pissed off at the suggestion that they "owe" something to authors.

I want you to look past why we are pissed and accept the fact that we are, because my point is pretty simple:

Pissed Off Readers == Marketing Failure

If nothing else, that alone should end the discussion.

I don’t mean to criticize all authors here, but I do want to jump on this misconception with both feet. In this day and age authors are more dependent on readers than ever, and authors are also much more visible and interact directly with readers more than they ever have before.

At the same time authors are also outnumbered by readers as well as other indie authors, so I would think it would make sense for an author to try their best to not drive readers away.

AAP: eBook Sales Up 41% in 2012 as Growth Slows Down

aapThe American Association of Publishers released the year end stats report for the US book market yesterday, and it looks like the US ebook market is not growing nearly as fast as it did in past years.

AAP’s stats for the overall book market showed a 6% growth in 2012 (from $6.7 billion to $7.1 billion), with most segments except hardcover reporting positive growth. Adult and religious hardcover market segments both shrank in 2012 by several percent, a sign that the more expensive editions are a luxury that consumers can do without in this tight economy.

The combined ebook market was up 41% (from $1.1 billion to $1.54 billion), with children’s ebooks showing the best growth (120%). That puts ebooks at about 21.67% of the total US book market, just under the combined paperback market segments (trade, massmarket, etc) which the AAP pegs at $1.66 billion. Though I am not sure that figure is reflective of the real paperback market; it’s not clear where YA paperbacks are factored in.

Update: The AAP is reporting that ebook market share was 22.55% in 2012. The reason my number differs is that their figure is based on stats that were edited slightly so the 22.55% reflected the same data set as collected by the AAP in earlier calendar years.

All in all, the growth rate of the US ebook market does appear to have slowed considerably. The AAP reported in early 2011 that the calendar year 2010 saw a 165% increase in ebook sales, and last year the AAP reported that 2011 ebook sales were up 117% over that of 2010 (I still have the emails).

Of course, these figures don’t necessarily reflect the entirety of the US ebook market, just the sales data reported to the AAP. As anyone who follows this topic should know the AAP figures only include data provided by 1,193 AAP members.

It is entirely possible that the growth of indie ebook sales now outpaces the rate reported by the AAP, and there is even some data to support that conclusion. Amazon, for example, reported a much higher growth rate for their ebook sales in 2012 – 70%, in fact.

And as a reader has just reminded me, B&N reported earlier this week that a quarter of sales in the Nook Store are self-published ebooks and thus not reflected in AAP figures. Apply that percent across the market and there could be quite a lot of ebook dollars that aren’t being counted by the AAP.

Everyone Panic: CourseSmart Now Lets Instructors Digitally Stalk Students

This weeks distraction from real news comes to us from the New York Times. This august publication discovered earlier this week that CourseSmart’s new analytics tools were enabling instructors to spy on students' study habits:

Several Texas A&M professors know something that generations of teachers could only hope to guess: whether students are reading their textbooks.

 They know when students are skipping pages, failing to highlight significant passages, not bothering to take notes — or simply not opening the book at all.

It’s Big Brother, sort of, but with a good intent,” said Tracy Hurley, the dean of the school of business.


Adrian Guardia, a Texas A&M instructor in management, took notice the other day of a student who was apparently doing well. His quiz grades were solid, and so was what CourseSmart calls his “engagement index.” But Mr. Guardia also saw something else: that the student had opened his textbook only once.

This comes as no surprise. This is pretty much what I expected to happen when Coursesmart Analytics was announced back in November 2012:

CourseSmart Analytics is still in beta, and according to the press release it uses a proprietary algorithm which integrates usage data such as page views, time spent in a textbook, and notes and highlights taken by a student. All this data is incorporated into an overall assessment of students’ engagement with the material. The school’s faculty will be able to access each student’s data from the school’s LMS (Blackboard, Moodle, etc) and identify which students need to be counseled on their unacademic behavior.

One of the students quoted in the article notes that this isn’t any worse than how Amazon, Google, et al are tracking us when we are online: “Amazon has such a footprint on me,” said Carol Johnson, 51, who works in the tech industry. “It knows more than my mother.”

Whoever thinks that is a valid parallel may have missed the point. Coursesmart is spying on students and then handing the info over to individuals who have power over the students. That makes Coursesmart the equivalent of a college’s spy service.

And no, I am not being ridiculous. Why do you think privacy advocates kick up such a fuss when tech companies hand user info over to governments? It’s because the potential for abuse is both obvious and frightening.

And I am not the only one who sees the problem:

Well, the idea might be that it will help students will low engagement, but you can bet that it won’t stop there. It will also be used to spy on whether students are cheating, as indicated by an implausibly small number of hours spent reading texts; or it might be used to check on whether books are being lent out to friends who aren’t "authorized" to read that copy, as evidenced by unusual reading patterns.

Similarly, it’s easy to imagine colleges starting to put pressure on students to read in certain rigidly-defined ways in order to "maximize" the return on that investment in digital materials — hardly what education and learning to think for yourself are all about. Maximizing return will doubtless also lead to this reporting feature becoming mandatory — at the moment students can opt out if they wish — purely in the name of efficiency, you understand.

Electronic Versions Of Textbooks Spy On Students As They Read Them (Techdirt)


Amazon Drops the Price of the Kindle Fire HD (32GB) to $229

kindle fire hdIt looks like sales of Amazon’s pricier 7″ Android tablet isn’t meeting their expectation. I’ve just been told that they have dropped the price. You can now find the KFHD with 32GB for a mere $229. That’s $20 less than it was yesterday, and only $30 more that the base KFHD model.

This is not good news for Amazon, and it is also bad news for everyone else. Assuming that this price sticks around, Google, B&N, Kobo, Samsung, and most other tablet makers will have to drop their prices as well. The Kobo Arc and Nexus 7, just to name a couple examples, are priced to match the KFHD. Now the 32GB models will have to get cheaper otherwise the KFHD will look like a better deal.

Assuming this price is permanent, this will be Amazon’s second major price cut on their new hardware. The price of the KFHD 8.9 was dropped by $100 just under a month ago.