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Category: Web/Tech

Even Lady Gaga can't battle the e-reader buzz at CES [Updated]

BookeenCESe-readerEntourage EdgehybridIdeaPadLady GagaLenovonotebookOrizonPlastic LogicQueSkiffslatetablet

Lady Gaga at CES The annual Consumer Electronics Show, which began Thursday in Las Vegas, is, Reuters reports, "awash" in e-readers. Devices are being shown by Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Lenovo, Motorola and a bevvy of smaller-name brands. Called variously a tablet, a slate and an e-reader, what these devices have in common is portability and a large display.

Most have a viewing screen that is larger than a smart phone and may be as large as a laptop's; most have traded a full-sized keyboard for a set of different or on-screen controls; most are wafer-thin; and most are designed primarily for reading.

Standouts include the Skiff e-reader, developed by Hearst, which is big and unbreakable. Plastic Logic's Que has a screen the size of an 8-1/2-by-11-inch piece of paper and integrates with business software, including calendaring and e-mail, in addition to being a wireless reader. The Entourage Edge, targeted at students, opens like a notebook to two screens: e-ink reading and note taking on the left, interactive touch screen on the right. Lenovo's IdeaPad hybrid is a notebook whose screen can be disengaged and used as a tablet. CNet was impressed by the smooth touch-screen functionality of Bookeen's Orizon, a 6-inch, book-focused reader.

Many of these devices aren't yet available, but that's common for CES. The Skiff, for example, has not announced an official release date. In this case, instead of simply showing off advanced e-reader technology, companies seem to be hoping to gain traction before the Apple elephant steps into the sphere. Long rumored to have an e-reader device in the works, the notoriously tight-lipped Apple is expected by many to debut something like a tablet this month.

As much excitement as the plethora of e-readers is generating on the floor, the question remains as to whether there are enough consumers to buy them all. CNet's Ina Fried writes, "There were e-readers aplenty at the Consumer Electronics Show, but there's substantial doubt if there are enough interested buyers to go around." And Publishing Perspectives' Ed Nawotka looks at people who use the e-readers already on the market -- the Kindle, the Nook and his own 2003 Fujitsu Stylistic -- and concludes:

The point of all this is simple: until books somehow morph into something other than “books,” the e-readers we have are already good enough to satisfy the needs of the vast majority of readers.

Those who aren't electrified by the e-reader-tablet-slate choices may instead be entertained by 3-D TV, dashboard Twitter and Lady Gaga, who announced a new partnership with Polaroid on Thursday.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

UPDATE: An earlier version of this post said that the Skiff e-reader is "big and bendy." While it does have a flexible, plastic screen -- as demonstrated in the photograph we link to -- the e-reader itself has a hard, unbending shell.

Photo: Lady Gaga announces a joint project with Polaroid at CES on Thursday. Credit: Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images

Is this the future of magazines?


Mag+ from Bonnier on Vimeo.

Design firm Berg has been working with Bonnier, a multimedia company that owns more than 50 magazines, including Popular Science, Parenting, Saveur, Transworld Skateboarding and Snowboarding and Field & Stream, to develop a next-generation magazine. In the video above, Berg demonstrates its vision, Mag+.

Far more attention is paid to how readers engage with magazines and what they want from them than to the device itself. It's an energizing way to think about how reading is evolving hand in hand with digital media. Rather than get hung up on the hardware, the designers focused on what people enjoy about reading magazines. On its blog, Berg writes:

Magazines have articles you can curl up with and lose yourself in, and luscious photography that draws the eye. And they’re so easy and enjoyable to read. Can we marry what’s best about magazines with the always connected, portable tablet e-readers sure to arrive in 2010?

As it appears, the design allows readers to see images and text together in classic magazine style, while easily shifting attention to one or the other, easily moving deep into articles and even selecting a piece of content (by pressing on the screen) for options like sharing via e-mail or learning more.

The techsperts at Gizmodo see a lot to like: "If this is the future for the magazine industry," Kat Hannaford writes, "suddenly I feel a lot more hopeful."

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Preview the new website of the New York Public Library

New York Public LibraryNYPLwebsite


The New York Public Library has redesigned -- and restructured -- its website. While the existing website is still online, curious visitors can view the upcoming version, which is in beta mode, fully online and functional.

The home page, pictured above, is a shift away from the existing version, which has a traditional black-text-on-white-background format. Those big blocks of color aren't the top of the page: They are the page. It's a bold choice, putting fewer things on the landing page of a site that contains so much content. And it forces attention to the nine choices in the gray navigation bar, which are based on surveys of what site visitors need.

Is it an improvement? A brief scratch of the surface shows that is in some clear ways. The existing site has two search boxes on its home page -- confusing! The new site, thankfully, has just one. The old site had a prominent calendar of events happening that day, across its large branch network -- good if you're trying to find a storytime anywhere, but not good when you're looking for something nearby or making advance plans. That event information is now down several layers, accessed after selecting "locations and hours" and choosing the specific library you're interested in. Not only more logical, but also a better use of home page space.

The new site's prominent Connect/Follow section leads users to a page that links off to a number of online meeting places, including the social networking sites Twitter and Facebook, an archive of NYPL photos on Flickr, and NYPL multimedia at YouTube and iTunes (a recent event with members of the band the Velvet Underground, which sold out in less than four minutes, is online in its entirety). This shows that the NYPL is interested in connecting website users where they live -- online -- even if they don't reside in New York City.

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What Goodreads will do with its new millions

GoodreadsOtis Chandleventure capital
Otis Chandler

Last week the books-and-social-networking site Goodreads announced it had received $2 million in venture capital, led by start-up-friendly True Ventures. This seems to position Goodreads as a leader in the field: Another book-sharing site, Shelfari, was acquired by Amazon.com in 2008. A third, LibraryThing, which also remains independent, has just 900,000 members to Goodreads' 2.5 million.

We tracked down Goodreads founder Otis Chandler (who, by the way, is not the former publisher of the L.A. Times; he's his grandson). He answered Carolyn Kellogg's questions about what the new moolah will mean for his company.

Jacket Copy: Goodreads just secured $2 million in venture capital funding. Is this your first big check?

Otis Chandler: The site was founded in December 2006. In December 2007 we raised an angel round, which has lasted us until now. We like December apparently!

JC: What things that are currently on Goodreads that you plan to enhance with the funding?

OC: Our first step was to pull the trigger on new servers to make the site faster and help us scale. We will be growing the team by three, four more people, mostly on the engineering side. In terms of the product, we will be using it to improve and enhance many features, including our brand-new "bookswap," our self-serve advertising product which is designed for authors and publishers to promote their work to Goodreads members. We will also be launching some new features, such as book and author quizzes, better e-book support, and improved cataloging tools.

JC: What cities have the most Goodreads members?

OC: In order: New York, London, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Bekasi [Indonesia], Portland [Ore.], Sydney, Seattle.

JC: Where have the most successful Goodreads offline meet-ups taken place? What do you think made them special?

OC: Our focus has been to facilitate members to interact and meet up on their own. Goodreads features over 20,000 groups and book clubs where members are reading and discussing books together. Many of these groups do meet IRL ("in real life," as some call it), and many are only available virtually. Goodreads has also organized four physical book swaps in Southern California, which have all been very successful. We plan to organize more, but our focus is on improving our online groups, and enabling members to operate book clubs through Goodreads that may or may not meet up in real life.

JC: Facebook has been wrestling with privacy concerns. Do any of those apply to Goodreads and your membership?

OC: Depends which issue you mean. Facebook's latest privacy change has really been a push to make more of their content publicly viewable by default, primarily their status updates. Goodreads has always had reasonable defaults and comprehensive privacy tools for our members to control what the world sees versus what their friends see -- and we have had very few complaints.

JC: Has Goodreads announced its best-of-2009 lists yet?

OC: For 2009 we are thrilled to be hosting the first-ever Goodreads Choice Awards [free membership required]. We looked at the most popular books on Goodreads in 2009 and used our reading statistics to compile lists in several categories, ranging from fiction and nonfiction to young adult series and graphic novels. Voting is open to all Goodreads members until Dec. 31, 2009. Winners will be announced in our January 2010 newsletter.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Otis Chandler at the Santa Monica Public Library in 2007. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

Apple Tablet rumors heat up with predicted spring 2010 arrival


Oppenheimer tech prognosticator Yair Reiner has predicted that Apple's much-anticipated tablet e-reader -- also rumored to be called the iPad -- will arrive in spring 2010. The device, which Apple has not yet announced, is something that tech watchers have been hoping for. Rumors, often based on orders that may have been made with producers in China, have been circulating for much of 2009. Wired's Gadget Lab blog writes:

we shall humor Uncle Yair, and present here his rock-solid inferences, based on the study not of actual tea-leaves, but of his supply-chain contacts.

The Jesus-tablet will use an LTPS (Low Temperature Polycrystalline Silicon) LCD like that of the iPhone instead of a pricier OLED display, and if Apple wants to have enough in stock to meet demand (at a projected manufacturing speed of a million units per month) then a launch date in March or April is likely.

Fortune Magazine has posted some specifics from Reiner:

  • Apple has settled on a 10.1-inch multi-touch display using the iPhone's LTPS LCD technology, not the considerably more expensive OLED technology suggested in earlier reports.
  • Apple has been approaching U.S. book publishers with what Reiner describes as "a very attractive proposal" for distributing their content: an App Store-type 30/70 split (30% for Apple) with no exclusivity requirement. [See UPDATE below.]
  • According to Reiner, publishers are disgruntled by Amazon's (AMZN) terms, which force exclusivity, disallow advertising and demand a "wolfish cut" of revenue. The typical Kindle/publisher split, he says, is 50/50, rising to 30/70 if Amazon gets exclusivity.
  • Apple's tablet would make ebooks more attractive for the education market by simplifying functions such as scribbling marginalia.

Although it's standard for us at Jacket Copy to include a picture with every post, we're going to hold off on coming up with an image of the  as-yet-hypothetical Apple tablet e-reader iPad thingamajig.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

'XKCD: Volume 0' is sticking it to traditional publishers

Alexis OhanianRandall MunroewebcomicXKCDXKCD: Volume 0

What's the most stupidly ambitious aspect of "XKCD: Volume 0," the book based on the wildly popular yet still very underground webcomic:

  • Is it the assumption that cartoonist Randall Munroe's uber tech-savvy audience would pay for a hard-copy version of the comic strips it gets for free in a comprehensive online archive?
  • Is it that Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Conde Nast's Reddit, turned his "un-corporation" Breadpig into a publishing company for his friend Munroe's book, while Munroe, 25, declined several offers from established publishers, despite their persistence? "I kind of make it hard to e-mail me," Munroe said on the phone from Somerville, Mass.
  • Or how about the pledge to build a $32,000 school in Laos from a portion of book sales without the luxury of advertising or having copies on major bookstore shelves?

You're right if you guessed all -- or none -- of the above.

"XKCD: Volume 0" is a gamble that's paying off for Munroe, a former NASA contractor who left to pursue stick-figure cartooning full-time.

The first run of 10,000 books is almost sold out. Ohanian's half-baked publishing project has attracted dozens of uninvited proposals from authors. And the school in Laos, whose $32,000 goal was reached shortly after the first two book signings in San Francisco and New York, is almost constructed.
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Trying to find the literary in the first round of SXSWi panels



South by Southwest Interactive, the wired component of the Texas media conference that famously began with music, then added film, has announced its first batch of panels. They're fascinating -- but they're not particularly bookish. The publishing industry may be going through tremendous upheavals involving technology -- ebooks, the Kindle and its competitors, digital distribution, online marketing -- but those changes may not make many ripples in the greater tech landscape.

That said, there are certainly some smart, tempting panels that are connected to books, through the participants, a discussion of web content or of new ideas about narrative. Here's a brief overview:

Why Keep Blogging? Real Answers for Smart Tweeple. Organized by Emily Gordon, who has been blogging about the New Yorker at Emdashes.com for years, this panel is set to include Scott Rosenberg, author of "Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It's Becoming, and Why It Matters" and Ron Hogan, longtime writer at the publishing industry blog Galleycat. 

New Publishing and Web Content. This is organized by Jeffrey Zeldman, web designer and author of "Designing with Web Standards," released in its third edition released today. Zeldman, who began writing his witty, readable design website A List Apart many years ago, is turning his design skills toward words. The panel promises to "explore the creative, strategic and marketing challenges of traditional and new (internet hybrid) book publishing and online magazine publishing."

How the Other Half Lives: Touring the Digital Divide. Set up by Vermont librarian Jessamyn West who blogs at librarian.net, this panel will address questions of the digital divide from the real-world perspective of librarians who confront it daily.

Design Fiction: Props, Prototypes, Predicaments Communicating New Ideas. This panel takes on the forward-thinking idea that fiction and narrative exist in dialog with physical design and communication.

Indirect Collaboration: Collective Creativity on the Web will focus on collaborative design, rather than the perhaps more intuitive collaborative storytelling, but the ideas may cross over.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image: SXSW

Postponement for the Google books settlement


Today a New York judge postponed a scheduled hearing in the Google books settlement because of pending changes to the agreement. Our tech blog reports:

In response to concerns raised by federal antitrust regulators, the Authors Guild and the Assn. of American Publishers are likely to make "significant changes to the current settlement agreement," wrote Judge Denny Chin. Holding a hearing on the agreement as currently written, he concluded, would make little sense.

Earlier this week, the publisher and author groups requested a delay in the proceedings so they could address copyright and antitrust issues raised by the Department of Justice in a brief filed last week.

The Google books settlement would create a rights registry for books, much like ASCAP for songs. The registry would administer payments for usage -- downloading and printing -- to the authors of books that are out of print. That Google would keep the fees for those books that have no clear owner -- "orphan works" -- is one of the contested issues of the proposed agreement.

There are other, less book-focused concerns. The Justice Department is investigating possible antitrust issues. And industry rivals Yahoo and Microsoft have banded together, organizing some more vested players like the New York Library Assn., to oppose the proposed settlement.

We'll be listening for news on Oct. 7, when the court has said it will discuss how to proceed with the case.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: walknboston via Flickr


What will the Google books settlement mean?

Harvard steps back from Google books settlement

Is giving away a bundle of Kindles brilliant, or a gimmick?

Kindle giveaway

Carolyn Rubenstein, author of the new nonfiction book "Perseverance," is giving away four Kindles this week -- one each day through Friday -- to people who Tweet #perseverance. The hope is to get enough momentum behind the Kindle giveaway to secure it a spot in the top-10 coveted Trending Topics section that is visible on all standard Twitter pages. And for that momentum to transfer to the book.

Is this a brilliant marketing move, or a desperate ploy for attention?

In June and July, web publishing platform Squarespace gave away 30 iPhones in 30 days to people who tweeted #squarespace, and lo and behold, it did become a Trending Topic on Twitter. Technically, Squarespace gave away $199 Apple Gift Certificates; this caused some consternation because the prize didn't cover the cost of the required two-year contract with AT&T. Nevertheless, the promotion maintained a high level of visibility and popularity.

But can marketing magic strike Twitter the same way twice?

The four winners of Rubenstein's contest will get the $299, 6-inch Kindle, costing her about $800. That seems like a high price for a first-time, 24-year-old author to pay. Is it worth it? Is publisher Tor/Forge picking up the tab?

Oh, about the book: "Perseverance" is 20 true-life stories from young cancer survivors. So even if it's a desperate promotional move -- and I'm guilty of succumbing to a gimmick -- well, maybe it is worth it after all.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

Book versus Kindle, on video

San Francisco's Green Apple Books has decided to pit the old-fashioned book against Amazon's Kindle in a series of funny, low-rent ESPN-style video showdowns. By today, the third round of the competition, the book is beating the Kindle, 2-0.

Green Apple sells both new and used books and music -- its first episode showed a customer selling used books back to the store (the Kindle didn't measure up). But if no one wanted to buy vintage paperbacks, comics or hardcovers, then Green Apple wouldn't be interested in purchasing them for resale. In fact, the customer is sent away with many books that the store doesn't want to buy. Would it be possible that electronic books and e-readers might erase the value of books as objects completely? That's not in the video, but it is the bigger question.

Like a boxing match, there will be 10 rounds in the book-versus-Kindle matchup. The team at Green Apple Books says they've collaborated on the project, so nobody takes full credit. Keep up with all their videos on their blog and find out when the next one posts by following them on Twitter.

-- Carolyn Kellogg


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