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Category: Technology

Target will stop selling the Kindle e-reader and other Amazon products

Kindleattarget

Target, which stocks a number of e-readers in its electronics department, has decided to stop selling the Kindle e-reader and its accessories.

"Target continually evaluates its product assortment to deliver the best quality and prices for our guests," company spokeswoman Molly Snyder said in an email Wednesday. "Target is phasing out Amazon- and Kindle-branded products in the spring of 2012."

Target will continue to sell other e-readers, including Apple's iPad and the Barnes & Noble Nook.

The New York Times quotes a more strongly worded letter sent by Target to its vendors: “What we aren’t willing to do is let online-only retailers use our brick-and-mortar stores as a showroom for their products and undercut our prices.”

In December, online retailer Amazon ran a promotion in which it offered discounts of up to $5 to shoppers who went to brick-and-mortar stores, scanned items for sale there, then bought the items from Amazon. While the offer caused a ruckus in the book world, books were not included in the list of items Amazon was offering to discount. Yet many other holiday gift purchases were: electronics, DVDs, music, sporting goods and toys.

With almost 1,800 stores nationwide, Target may be big enough to stand up to Amazon, something some smaller businesses have been reluctant to do. One independent publisher told Salon, anonymously, "You can’t really speak out publicly against them. They’ll hear."

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Amazon Kindles on display at Target in February. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg

Barnes & Noble spins off Nook e-reader with $300M from Microsoft

Nooktablet

Microsoft will provide $300 million to a new Nook-led unit of Barnes & Noble, the companies announced Monday. Microsoft will get a 17.6 share in the new subsidiary, which has the temporary placeholder name of Newco.

Part of the announcement -- spinning the Nook off into a subsidiary -- did not come as a complete surprise. In January, Barnes & Noble Chief Executive William Lynch hinted that it was in the works, saying, "We see substantial value in what we've built with our Nook business in only two years, and we believe it's the right time to investigate our options to unlock that value." 

Microsoft's investment was, at least by most in publishing, unexpected. Last we heard, Microsoft was suing Barnes & Noble over alleged patent infringements related to the Nook, which could have blocked importation to the U.S. after its offshore manufacture. As part of the new Nook deal, Microsoft and Barnes & Noble announced settlement of the patent suit.

Another part of the deal: The new subsidiary will include Barnes & Noble's college textbook business.

Until now, Microsoft has stayed out of the e-reader wars, allowing Amazon and Apple to lead the device evolution. Amazon brought e-readers into the mainstream when it debuted its Kindle in 2007; Apple's iPad changed the landscape when it introduced its tablet in 2010.

For its part, Barnes & Noble's e-reader had a bumpy start: When it launched in late 2009, it didn't reach some customers, as promised, for the holidays. Since then, it's pulled on track and up to speed, launching its own tablet. Its competitively affordable Nook line gets consistently good reviews, and sales during the 2011 holidays were up 70%.

In Monday's announcement, Barnes & Noble's Lynch said, "Microsoft's investment in Newco, and our exciting collaboration to bring world-class digital reading technologies and content to the Windows platform and its hundreds of millions of users, will allow us to significantly expand the business."

Microsoft President Andy Lees agreed. "Our complementary assets will accelerate e-reading innovation across a broad range of Windows devices, enabling people to not just read stories, but to be part of them," he said. "We’re on the cusp of a revolution in reading."

The cusp? That sounds strangely out of date -- aren't we well into a revolution in reading? Or does Microsoft have something entirely new in store for its Newco Nook?

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times

 

Publisher Macmillan says 'We did not collude' over e-books

Photo: A digital book is displayed on an Apple Inc. iPad. Credit: Scott Eells / Bloomberg

This post has been corrected. See note below.

Even before the Department of Justice officially announced its e-book pricing suit against Apple and five publishers, the chief executive of Macmillan, John Sargent, responded to it. "We did not collude," he writes in an open letter posted at Tor.com, one of the publisher's imprints. It begins:

Today the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Macmillan’s U.S. trade publishing operation, charging us with collusion in the implementation of the agency model for e-book pricing. The charge is civil, not criminal. Let me start by saying that Macmillan did not act illegally. Macmillan did not collude.

We have been in discussions with the Department of Justice for months. It is always better if possible to settle these matters before a case is brought. The costs of continuing — in time, distraction, and expense — are truly daunting.

But the terms the DOJ demanded were too onerous. After careful consideration, we came to the conclusion that the terms could have allowed Amazon to recover the monopoly position it had been building before our switch to the agency model. We also felt the settlement the DOJ wanted to impose would have a very negative and long term impact on those who sell books for a living, from the largest chain stores to the smallest independents.

When Macmillan changed to the agency model we did so knowing we would make less money on our e book business. We made the change to support an open and competitive market for the future, and it worked. We still believe in that future and we still believe the agency model is the only way to get there.

It is also hard to settle a lawsuit when you know you have done no wrong. The government’s charge is that Macmillan’s CEO colluded with other CEOs in changing to the agency model. I am Macmillan’s CEO and I made the decision to move Macmillan to the agency model. After days of thought and worry, I made the decision on January 22nd, 2010 a little after 4:00 AM, on an exercise bike in my basement. It remains the loneliest decision I have ever made, and I see no reason to go back on it now.

Macmillan, which is the smallest of the five publishers named in the DOJ's suit, has long been on the front lines of e-book pricing. When it was in a disagreement with Amazon, the online retailer pulled the "buy" buttons from Macmillan's books on its site. During the dispute, readers who wanted to purchase Hilary Mantel's bestselling, Booker Prize-winning novel "Wolf Hall" could see the book on Amazon's site, but not buy it, not as an e-book nor in print. The dispute was later resolved and the "buy" buttons were restored.

Interestingly, Sargent continues by saying that other publishers have chosen to settle. Have they? Bloomberg reports that Apple has refused to engage in settlement talks and that Penguin may also be poised to fight in court. Sargent's letter continues after the jump.

Continue reading »

Department of Justice sues Apple and 5 major publishers over e-books

Ipad_ibookstore_apr2012

The Department of Justice has filed suit against Apple and five of the six major publishers over colluding on the price of e-books. The Wall Street Journal, which has obtained copies of the documents filed in federal court in Manhattan, reports that the lawsuit '"alleges Apple and the publishers reached an agreement where retail price competition would cease, retail e-books prices would increase significantly and Apple would be guaranteed a 30% 'commission' on each e-book sold."

Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Hachette, Penguin and Macmillan are the five publishers that teamed up with Apple when it launched the iBookstore with the iPad in 2010. The partnership included a shift in pricing from publishing classic wholesale/retail model to the agency model, which Apple uses in iTunes, its music store.

At the time, Random House, the world's largest publisher, did not participate, and its books were not available in the iBookstore -- it joined a year later. Random House is not expected to be named in the suit.

Atty. Gen. Eric Holder and the head of the Justice Department's antitrust division, Sharis Pozen, are expected at a news conference in Washington for 9 a.m. PDT that will announce "a significant antitrust matter."

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: An iPad displays the Apple iBookstore. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg

Mike Daisey's notoriety not translating to book sales

Mikedaisey
There used to be a saying, "all publicity is good publicity." For monologist Mike Daisey, that doesn't seem to be the case -- at least in terms of book sales.

Daisey is the performer whose work "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" was excerpted on public radio's "This American Life" in February; its harsh critique of Foxxcon, a Chinese factory that makes Apple products, made it the most-downloaded program in "This American Life's" history.

But that was just the beginning; news broke Friday that "Marketplace" reporter Rob Schmitz started looking into Daisey's tale and found it to include portions that were represented as facts that had been embroidered and invented. "This American Life," which had presented it as journalism, ran an hourlong show called "Retraction" this weekend, which included an interview with Schmitz and host Ira Glass confronting Daisey about how he represented the piece to the program's staff, and about the piece itself.

The retraction and re-examination of Daisey's piece have meant that a tremendous amount of attention has been turned his way. For a time, "This American Life's" servers were so swamped the site went down. A search in Google News turns up more than 1,550 articles, all posted in the last 96 hours, with stories from major outlets including the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Associated Press, Forbes, CNN, Slate and the New York Times.

All that coverage -- shouldn't it lead people to buy his books? Daisey published "21 Dog Years: Doing Time @Amazon.com" with the Free Press back in 2002; it came out in paperback in 2003. It's an adaptation of a stage show he was performing in Seattle in 2001, describing three years he spent working at Amazon. Or, as Gawker points out, possibly dramatically enhancing the three years he spent working at Amazon.

Creative license notwithstanding, Daisey is one heck of a storyteller; I heard his original Foxconn piece broadcast on "This American Life" and found it arresting.

Daisey's notoriety, and that promise of a good (if possibly exaggerated) tale, might be enough to lure readers; a decade ago, "21 Dog Years" was successful, published in both hardcover and paperback.

Now, either can be purchased on Amazon for less than $6. It may have moved up in Amazon's sales rankings, but only to position #533,976 in Books -- not very high. No reader has reviewed the book on Amazon since 2009. And secondary vendors at Barnes & Noble online are selling the hardcover for just 99 cents.

All that attention, and what does he get? Not book sales, at least, not yet.

Daisey, who is a practictioner of documentary theater that includes broad dramatic license, addresses his audiences on his blog. "It's you that I owe the most to. I want you all to know that I will not go silent—I will be making a full accounting of this work, shining a light through this monologue and telling the story of its origins, construction, and details." Which might well mean a theater production about his recent experiences -- and maybe even a book.

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Photo: Mike Daisey performing at the Speakeasy Cafe in Seattle in 2001. Credit: Associated Press.

When moon rocks were swag

Astronauteugenecernan_moon
From July 1969 to September 1972, American astronauts regularly traveled between the Earth and the moon. In those three years, a dozen men were able to climb out of the lunar module and set foot on the moon. And while it was initially astonishing -- humans had never gotten so far into space before -- something about their presence there became expected, routine. The moon wasn't all that exciting, really. The astronauts scooped up rocks and dirt. Some clowned around to fill the television time: Alan Shepard golfed.

By the time those manned moon missions were complete, the astronauts had gathered 842 pounds of lunar samples. Nearly a half-ton of rocks and dirt. Rocks and dirt from our boring old moon.

And one particular piece of rock, after it had given up all the laboratory secrets we'd hoped it might, was broken up and turned into presidential swag. Hey, we had hundreds of pounds of it -- why not give it away?

In 1973, the bits of moon rock were encased in lucite and distributed to every U.S. state and to the heads of state in each of the world's countries. Then President Nixon, who'd left his name on the moon rock gifts, resigned in shame, and that era of the space age receded.

The lucite relics on wooden plaques almost faded into obscurity, removed from leaders' halls, relegated to museum storerooms, and, as the story of one goes, landed on a literal ash heap.

Almost, but not quite. Thank Joseph Gutheinz, NASA investigator, now retired. His obsession, from earliest little tickle to daily duty, is outlined in latest original from The Atavist, "The Case of the Missing Moon Rocks" by Joe Kloc. Gutheinz started out trying to stop con men from claiming to have moon rocks -- he was very successful -- but that led to another quest, the quest for the rocks themselves.

I'm a sucker for a quest story and, apparently, true stories about astronauts and space. Including this one.

Continue reading »

Amazon targets Apple's iPad in Kindle ad [video]

Amazon has a new advertisement that lauds the e-ink styling of its traditional Kindle e-reader and the low price of its new tablet, the Kindle Fire. What's the target? Apple's iPad, of course, carried along by a dorky dude. The smart Amazon buyer is a bright-eyed bikini-clad mother of two.

Amazon's point: She bought three Kindles for the price of an iPad.

Gizmodo isn't buying the argument. The technology blog says the Kindle Fire is "significantly less capable" than the iPad, adding, "you're basically making fun of a Lexus for not being a Kia."

Meanwhile, those low-cost Kindles actually cost more to manufacture than they do to buy. Both the $79 Kindle e-reader and the Kindle Fire tablet are loss leaders. It costs Amazon $84.25 to make the $79 Kindle, and the $199 Kindle Fire costs Amazon $201.70. The bikini mom's gain is, literally, Amazon's loss.

Exactly how many Kindles Amazon has sold at this losing rate is uncertain. While analysts regularly make predictions and estimates, Amazon has never released specific sales numbers for its line of e-readers.

Amazon ad-watchers may recognize the bikini mom. Just 18 months ago, she was the bikini girl who bragged that her Kindle cost less than her sunglasses, stirring a brief online controversy. Back then, she didn't have any kids; now they look to be about 10. They grow up so fast when you raise them in a surreal beach-side environment, don't they?

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

 

 

 

Wednesday book news: Bezos, the Elsevier boycott and more

  Dickens200_ceremony

What was it like to sit in Westminster Abbey while Prince Charles, Camilla, Ralph Fiennes and 200 descendants feted Charles Dickens on his 200th birthday? Alison Devers teared up, she writes at Slate.

Scientists and academics worldwide have signed a petition boycotting the high pricing of publisher Elsevier's acadmic journals. Professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Oxford, Carnegie Mellon, Cal State L.A., and universities in Australia, India, Italy and France are just a sampling of the more than 4,600 who have signed the online petition, refusing to publish with or act as peer reviewers for articles being published in Elsevier's journals. Other complaints: that the company's policy of offering journals to libraries in bundles means the libraries are forced to take those they don't want, and that Elsevier supported the controversial SOPA and PIPA legislation. For its part, Elsevier says the $10 price per article is "bang on the mean." Leave it to a science publisher to use a term like "mean" to make me realize I don't quite remember the difference between mean, median and, wait, what was the other one?

A popular Android voice app called Iris (an inversion of Apple's Siri) has turned up some unusual resuts. Ask "Is Noah's Ark real?" and the answer is that it "is biblically believed to be real. It gave forth a new beginning to a underserving earth." Ask if humans come from monkeys, and the answer is "a part of Darwin's Theory of Evolution is that human's over time evolved from apes. Since it is a theory, it can't be proven." Curious about these answers -- and others that are even more extreme -- Gizmodo dug into the companies behind them. They come from a Q&A site called ChaCha, which boasts that one of its "prestigious investors" is Bezos Expeditions, the personal funding arm of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Read the complete report at Gizmodo, which includes many other surprising Iris answers.

Elsewhere in England, the Hatchet Job of the Year was awarded Tuesday. The winner of the first annual award for a deliciously nasty book review went to Adam Mars-Jones for his review of Michael Cunningham's "By Nightfall." The judges wrote:

Every one of his zingers –- “like tin-cans tied to a tricycle”; “it seems to be the prestige of the modernists he admires, rather than their stringency”; “that’s not an epiphany, that’s a postcard” –- is earned by the argument it arises from. By the end of it Cunningham’s reputation is, well, prone.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Ralph Fiennes reads Charles Dickens at Westminster Abbey as Prince Charles and Camilla look on. Credit: Arthur Edwards / WPA Pool / Getty Images

 

 

Former Cosmo editor Helen Gurley Brown donates $30 million

Helengurleybrown_1979
Two years after the death of her husband, David, longtime Cosmopolitan Magazine editor Helen Gurley Brown announced a whopping $30 million donation to fund new media. The funds are being given to both the Columbia Journalism School and the Stanford School of Engineering to establish the David and Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation.

Does 32 years at the helm of a magazine really rake in that kind of money? Could it have been the success of her bestselling how-to book, "Sex and the Single Girl"?

Well, no. David Brown, who attended Stanford and Columbia, was a film producer who had an enormous hit with "Jaws," going on to make "Cocoon," "The Verdict," "Driving Miss Daisy," "Chocolat" and "A Few Good Men."

Commenting on the gift, Helen Gurley Brown said in a statement, "David and I have long supported and encouraged bright young people to follow their passions and to create original content. Great content needs useable technology. Sharing a language is where the magic happens. It’s time for two great American institutions on the East and West Coasts to build a bridge."

The institute will have an East Coast director and a West Coast director, located at Columbia and Stanford, respectively. Each university will receive $12 million to endow the institute, with additional funds going to set up a hi-tech newsroom at Columbia and to provide fellowship grants for new media innovation.

It's interesting that the gift is blurring the line between content and technology, encouraging crossover and collaboration; media have been slower than some other industries to develop the two in tandem.

Helen Gurley Brown, who retired from her editorship at Cosmopolitan in 1997, will celebrate her 90th birthday on Feb. 18.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Helen Gurley Brown with husband David Brown in 1979. Credit: Los Angeles Times.

Will Apple's January event be about e-textbooks?

Appleeducationannounce
Apple plans to make a big announcement Jan. 19 in New York City. It has been rumored that the event will focus on its iBookstore. And when the invitation landed Wednesday, it made clear that the event will be "an education announcement."

Put that together and what do you get? Textbooks. Ebooks. E-textbooks. At least, that's what people are guessing.

"The event will focus on electronic textbooks," writes BusinessWeek. That's exactly what the N.Y. Times asserts with its headline "Apple Aims to Take on the Textbook Market." A more hesitant source told Wired, "Apple may make some changes to iBooks that are directed specifically toward the academic set." Apple had long been a friend to educators, offering discounts to students and teachers and finding ways to get Apple computers -- and iPads -- into classrooms.

 "If Apple does unveil new textbook partnerships," CNET speculates, "it would be a coup for the company. Although none of the major textbook publishers currently have strong ties with Apple or its iBooks platform, they don't have arrangements with the company's competitors, either."

Textbooks have been a robust, if complicated, part of the book business. In his biography "Steve Jobs," Walter Isaacson wrote that Jobs had his sights on textbooks. "If textbooks were given away free on iPads he thought the publishers could get around the state certification of textbooks," the N.Y. Times reported. "Isaacson said Mr. Jobs believed that states would struggle with a weak economy for at least a decade. 'We can give them an opportunity to circumvent that whole process and save money.'"

The Jan. 19 event will be held at the Guggenheim Museum.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image: The invitation to Apple's January announcement in New York. Credit: Apple Inc.

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