"Marley was dead, to begin with." And so begins the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol. Today is the 170th anniversary of the novella that has been read endlessly in front of fire places and with warm cups of hot chocolate every year as we near Christmas Day. The story of bitter old Ebenezer Scrooge, first published by Chapman & Hall in 1843, instills in readers the belief that the spirit of giving can change the lives not only of those who receive but of the giver as well.
Countless versions of this holiday classic have been created throughout the years. It's been on stage, on television and repeatedly on the big screen as well. A favorite version of Team OverDrive features Michael Cane and everyone's favorite amphibian. Perhaps you've heard of it…
I, much like many others, read this story every year when the snow starts to fall and I need a small reminder about what the holiday season is all about. Scrooge, The Cratchit's, Mr. Fezziwig and all the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future teach us that the holidays are best spent surrounded by family and friends as well as giving to those less fortunate.
Charles Dickens was not the first author to celebrate the holiday season in literature but he may just be the most cherished. The next few weeks will surely be hectic as the holidays come and the New Year arrives, but what I am looking forward to the most are those few hours when I'll sit down by our fire, cocoa in tow, and open up this timeless tale on my iPad to usher in another Christmas Day.
Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is available in Marketplace in both eBook and Audiobook versions.
Adam Sockel is a Marketing Communications Specialist with OverDrive.
Monday, December 16, 2013
Here’s a look at some of the most interesting digital comics coming out this week.
Amazing Spider-Man #700.4 and #700.5
Here’s one for traditional Spider-Man fans. Last year Marvel killed off Peter Parker and ended the Amazing Spider-Man series with issue #700; a different Spider-Man (no spoilers here!) lives on in the succeeding series, Superior Spider-Man. But this month they have a little holiday gift for us in the form of five out-of-continuity issues of ASM featuring … Peter Parker. Issues 700.1, 700.2, and 700.3 are available now on comiXology, and the quintet completes next week with 700.4 and 700.5.
Avengers Assemble #22.INH
Marvel’s Inhumanity crossover is just getting under way, and it’s not too late to jump on board. ComiXology has you covered with Inhumanity #1 and Inhumanity: Awakening #1, along with the tie-in comics—just look for the telltale INH in the issue number. Avengers Assemble joins Inhumanity for issues #21-25, and legendary comics writer Warren Ellis teams up with series writer Kelly Sue DeConnick beginning with this month’s issue.
Harley Quinn #1
The zany villainess of the Batman comics gets her own series; last month’s Harley Quinn #0 was the second best selling print comic in comics shops, and with the husband-and-wife team of Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner at the helm, this series shows a lot of promise. Quinn is a former psychiatrist who had the misfortune to fall in love with The Joker and ended up in Arkham Asylum. Now she is back on the outside and settling into a new (to her) apartment on Coney Island. This issue is a good jumping-on point for new readers but will be a satisfying read for longtime Harley fans as well. Conner describes it as “Looney Tunes meets a Quentin Tarantino movie” in this interview with Brian Truitt of USA Today, which also includes a preview of this issue.
A new creative team (writer Tony Bedard and artist Yildiray Cinar) takes over with this issue and they launch a new storyline, making it a great jumping-on point for new readers. Supergirl returns to Earth after her latest adventure and finds herself face to face with a new enemy: LOBO.
This is the final issue of a stand-alone miniseries about a superhero who gets his power from massive quantities of alcohol. It’s a clever premise and writers Mark Reznicek and Donny Cates keep the twists coming so it never becomes predictable. Issues #1 and #2 are marked down to $1.99 each, so catching up won’t break the bank.
A number of companies have experimented with the subscription model for digital reading, but there have been some factors that have stood in the way of launching a viable and productive reality surrounding pay-as-you-go reading. Publishers have expressed serious and very real concerns about ensuring their authors are fairly compensated for content read under subscription, and readers were less than excited about paying a monthly subscription fee to read content one time. There are a number of Netflix for eBook sites that have sprung up this year, such as Oyster, Scribed and now Entitle.
You may not have heard of the name Entitle before, because it never existed before today. eReatah changed their name for their official launch and now offer backlist titles from major publishers. Readers can choose from several levels of payment and then fully own a limited number of new ebooks a month: two books a month for $14.99; three books a month for $21.99; and four books a month for $27.99. This is on the expensive side of things and I am not sure how viable of a business model this is.
Amazon in recent weeks has severely discounted frontlist titles that have only been out for a month or two. The company is betting on offering more recent titles than the competition for $1.99 each. This is quintessential Amazon tactics, by outpricing everyone to insure all eyes are on the Kindle editions.
After looking at eReatah’s list of titles of 100,000, I would suggest that you give this one a miss and instead look at Oyster or Scribd. Bear in mind that Oyster currently only works as an iOS app on devices running iOS7, and Scribd is only compatible with iOS or Android phones, tablets, or via the desktop app.
Over the course of the last week a copious amount of new apps have been released from all over the spectrum. We have new games, audio players and a number of apps have added Chromecast functionality. Today, we look at the top new apps from the Good e-Reader Android App Store, to give you a sense on what you need to check out.
Razer Comms – Gaming Messenger – Razer Comms is a free all-in-one communications solution for gamers, offering crystal clear VoIP and versatile instant messaging with group chat capabilities. Built with advanced in-game overlay functionality and cross-game chat support, Razer Comms allows you to get in touch with your friends without compromising your gameplay. This is how gamers were meant to communicate.
Big Win NHL Hockey – Build your fantasy NHL team and create the ultimate line up from the best NHL superstars. Fill your bench with real NHL players from the 2013/14 roster and get in on the action from the opening faceoff to the final buzzer!
Google Santa Tracker – Celebrate the holiday season with the Google Santa Tracker app for Android. Santa's developer elves have created this app to follow Santa on his December 24th journey as he delivers gifts to children all over the world.
Angry Birds Go! – Welcome to downhill racing on Piggy Island! Feel the rush as you fling those freewheeling birds and piggies down the track at breakneck speed – with plenty of twists and turns in a thrilling race to the finish line! But beware! Look out for hazardous roads, mischievous opponents riding your tail and special powers to put the race leader behind the pack. Plus, go from soapbox car to supercar by upgrading your ride! Ready…Set…Angry Birds Go!
Moves - Seeing your everyday exercise can help you think about your life in a new way. Start with small changes that can lead to a fitter lifestyle and healthier habits.
Avia Media Player (Chromecast) – Avia lets you play, manage and share all your personal media. You get seamless access to photos, videos and music from social media sites, your home network, and your device's local storage.
piQ – Ask With Pictures – Wondering what that thing is? ask on piQ. piQ is a question answer app where you can quickly and easily ask questions with pictures.
Santa Rescue Saga – This Christmas, it's Operation Save Santa! Test your skills in the best extreme adventure of 2013! Overcome multiple fun levels in the North Pole as you cure Santa & his helpers! Prepare For The Gift Factory Challenge! An addictive game to see how fast you can wrap presents and win lots of presents & surprises!
Elfyourself by Officemax – The annual holiday tradition allows you to "elf" yourself and become the star of a personalized video featuring your photos on holiday dancing elves. Simply upload up to five photos of you, your friends, family and more from your camera roll or Facebook. Select a dance theme, and the app will generate a custom ElfYourself video that you can share via email or post on Facebook.
Christmas Chic Makeover – Merry Christmas kids! Welcome to the North Pole makeover and fashion capital! 6 fun holiday activities in 1 xmas app: dressup, makeup, relax in our spa, design your own clothes & take photos to nail on the wall! Show off your makeover skills at Santa Claus's workshop & get ready for an awesome Christmas photoshoot!
Apple has had a tendency the last few years to release a new television spot in the weeks leading to Christmas. In 2012, the company focused on the iPad and FaceTime. In 2011, the holiday commercial featured Santa using Siri on an iPhone 4s. The latest spot focuses on how the new iPhone 5S enhances the lives of everyone around the user.
In the latest television spot the song “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” plays in the background as a young lad is glued to the phone at the expense of missing out on family fun. He is getting the “you are spending too much time on your phone looks” from everyone as is putting up the tree, having a snowball fight or making cookies. I want spoil the end of the video, but we have heard reports that it tugs at the heartstrings.
Today Good e-Reader Editor Michael Kozlowski and Digital Book World’s own Jeremey Greenfield spend 40 minutes talking e-readers, eBooks, tablets and digital publishing news!
On the show today there is discussion about all things Amazon. The company has a new installment plan program, to make purchasing a new tablet easy. There is also new statistics that have been released that inform us on customer spending patterns on the website. Finally, a bestseller list of 2013 has been released, and some of them are self-published.
Finally, tablets for 2014 are going to be on the decline, due to manufacturing news out of Taiwan. We have updates on what eBook subscription service is the best and discuss the content side of things. A great show as always, so check it out.
The past few holiday shopping seasons have seen a good-sized upswing in sales for the book industry, but consumers have had recent out-of-the-park blockbuster titles to purchase for their own holiday downtime or for gift giving. Books like new Stephen King and Neil Gaiman releases, and trilogies like The Hunger Games or Fifty Shades of Grey secured publishers’ and booksellers’ retail seasons. But without a mega-hit this year (coupled with a dramatically shortened holiday shopping season due to where Thanksgiving fell on the calendar), retailers are already feeling the pinch.
According to the Association of American Publishers, ebooks sales have leveled off somewhat compared to print from their earlier heyday. While this doesn’t mean they’re in decline, it does hopefully point to a resurgence in book buying to the point that print books are making a come back.
Additionally, the American Booksellers Association released its findings that bookstore purchases are on the rise, as are memberships in the organization from independent booksellers. Consumers are not only buying books, they’re buying them right in their home towns.
But without a major breakout title to line up for this holiday season, now is the time that indies–both publishers and authors–can catch the eyes of some consumers who are determined to feed their reading habits this month. Even better, holiday gifts can be saved if authors promote their works well enough to a consumer audience that has proven it has a love affair with books.
Just in time for the holidays, workers at several Amazon retail distribution centers situated throughout Germany have staged a series of one-day strikes in an effort to force the retail giant’s hand in terms of labor disputes involving pay rates and working conditions within the factory-like centers.
According to the German-based ver.di union, as many as 1,900 Amazon employees took part in the strikes in three different cities, while Amazon spokespeople place that number much lower.
Part of the argument on both sides involves how the workers are viewed according to industry, which therefore correlates to their pay structure. The workers and union maintain that they are more akin to the transportation industry, as their job involves sending out the items that are ordered via different websites within the EU; Amazon, for its part, holds that the workers are part of the logistics industry. If the Amazon employees were actually transportation workers, they are woefully underpaid, but for logistics industry employees, their pay rate is in accordance with the national average. Another issue seems to stem from Amazon’s use of temporary and seasonal workers.
“The Amazon system is characterized by low wages, permanent performance pressure and short-term contracts,” ver.di board member Stefanie Nutzenberger said in a statement.
While Germany does not currently have a minimum wage, it does govern the agreements made within each industry, therefore making those agreements somewhat binding. When the proposed national minimum wage is introduced in 2015, Amazon Germany’s some 100,000 employees today will be earning a full one Euro above that minimum wage of 8.5 Euros.
While the company and the union can battle over pay scale at length–something that seems likely as Amazon insists it will not be negotiating or backing down–what is not nearly so confusing are the reports that came out earlier this year indicating that the employees worked in sub-human conditions, including such temperature extremes with the distribution centers that some employees had to be given professional medical help.
For now, Amazon is not only not shuttering its German centers, it has announced plans to build further distribution centers in Poland and the Czech republic.
With all of our new device reviews and more to come, it's shaping up to be a very merry digital holiday season! There's still time to curl up with an eBook on a tablet in front of your video fireplace with a robotic dog at your feet. (All right, I still prefer real fireplaces and real dogs, even if both could be more dangerous than their digital doppelgangers. I'm still a fan of quality tablets to use OverDrive Media Console with, however.)
We reviewed the Kindle Fire HD last year. Like 2012's 7-inch model, 2013's offering has the same 1280 x 800 pixel display (with a crisp 216 ppi) and 1 GB RAM, and also comes in 8 GB and 16 GB versions. It's slightly thinner and lighter than the previous Kindle Fire HD, but it also drops the front-facing camera (and $60 off last year's price—it now starts at $139). There are a few other performance differences, but aside from the visibly upgraded operating system on the device, most users won't notice a difference between the two 7-inch devices. (If I hadn't known about the differences in advance, I wouldn't have noticed, either.) Amazon continues to sell last year's Kindle Fire HD 8.9-inch model, but starting at $269.
Where the real changes lie are in Amazon's new flagship tablet models, the Kindle Fire HDX 7-inch and 8.9-inch, starting at $229 and $379, respectively. Both screen sizes come in 16, 32, and 64 GB models and have a speedy quad-core 2.2 GHz processor (a step up from the dual-core 1.5GHz processor of the normal Kindle Fire HD models), which makes them perfect for using OverDrive's streaming video service! eBook text looks clear and sharp on both the 7-inch model's 1920 x 1200 (323 ppi) screen, as well as the 8.9-inch model's 2560 x 1600 (339 ppi) screen. The resolution is comparable to both the previously-reviewed Nexus 7 (2013 Edition) and the iPad Mini with Retina display. Both Kindle Fire HDX tablets were extremely light, yet still felt sturdy. The only thing that concerned me was plugging in the micro USB cable to charge them. The cable tilts slightly upward instead of lying parallel to the tablet, making me somewhat worried that if I accidentally dropped something on top of it, the metal part of the cable might break off inside of the device (not that it ever happened to me with a video camera once.…).
Both sizes of the Kindle Fire HDX have a front-facing HD camera and microphone, the latter of which comes in handy for Amazon's latest customer service feature that we were eager to try out: Mayday!
Amazon's brand-new "Mayday" button, designed for instant help on the Kindle Fire HDX from a real human being via video, was extremely impressive. Pressing it indicated that we were in the queue waiting for a technician to become available, but the response time afterward was almost immediate (granted, we tried this before the start of the holiday season).
When the video of the live technician popped up on the lower part of the screen, it was almost shocking. We asked, "Can you see us?" He explained that he could not see us, but he could hear us, and could see and control anything on the screen of the Kindle Fire HDX. We explained that we just wanted to see how it worked, and he kindly provided a demo of swiping through menus, opening an eBook, and circling various items on the screen. We were quite impressed.
The "Mayday" button would be a great tool for library staff members to suggest to patrons who may be having trouble with a Kindle Fire HDX, especially if they are new to the world of tablets. This holiday season, thanks to Amazon's new Kindle Fire devices, the tablet world may get a lot of new users!
Jenny Norton is a Support Services Specialist at OverDrive.
The trusty alarm clock is a great tool for little kids who insist on getting out of bed very, very early and waking Mum and Dad many hours before it’s time to get up. It’s a simple enough trick. Give the child the gift of a proper, grown-up alarm clock; and inform the child that unless the bell has rung, it is still night-time, and that they should stay in bed.
It works like a dream for some families we know, but this method is a bit less effective with some kids. If you can’t tell the time yet, and if you believe you may have slept through the ringing/that it has been turned off by fairies, you may find your tiny self prone to ignoring your proper, grown-up alarm clock, and jumping up and down on Mum and Dad’s soft parts at five in the morning just because you can.
Blogger and parent Tycen has found a solution for his non-time-telling kid. He spotted this object in a shop for $35, and, like many of us do when confronted with that number, decided he should make one with a Raspberry Pi instead of buying it.
The idea here is that the traffic lights can be programmed: when the light is red, it’s time to be in bed, and when it’s green, it’s time to get up. The yellow light just operates as a night light.
The beautiful thing about making your own version of something like this with your kid is that they’ll become much more invested in it than they might if you just hand over something you’ve bought in a shop. Tycen’s version doesn’t have the moulded plastics, and might not be as pretty as the toy-shop version, but it’s something his son has helped to make, so it’s much more meaningful and precious to him as a result.
The setup’s very simple: basically all this box does is to run a cron job. There’s a button to press at bedtime which turns the light red. Tycen says: “Apart from the watch script on the button, everything else just runs out of cron. At 6:30 the red light turns off and the orange light comes on. Then, at 7am the orange light turns off and the green light comes on. The green light will stay on until you press the button at bed time to turn the red light back on. I put in a cron job to turn the red light back on at 10pm just in case we forgot.”
We love it; the parents at Pi Towers are going to be making their own versions over Christmas. Thanks Tycen! You can find build instructions and code at Tycen’s blog, and a sleepy little boy at Tycen’s house.
A number of articles have been written lately, like this prominent one from the Washington Post (love how the article in a paper owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos actually has the words, “Amazon is king.”), about the slow-but-serious growth of independent bookstores, both in terms of launches and in sales. Data from the American Booksellers Association actually points to both increased membership and increased sales in its member bookshops.
But while everyone focuses on why consumers may be turning to indie bookstores–articles like the Post‘s indicate the awareness and popularity of the “buy local” mindset and the increased behavior of readers who like both print and ebook formats, for example–they’re still missing the mark in what could really save the independent bookstores.
As it currently stands, brick-and-mortar bookstores are among the last great holdouts for independently published authors. The ridiculous hoop jumping that authors have to endure in order to have their books even sold in a “real” bookstore, let alone featured, means that indie physical stores have the power to offer authors something they can’t get otherwise, while at the same time not simply competing as violently with major online retailers. And if there was a way to somehow combine one of the other major holdouts–reviews, signings, and interviews–with bookstore sales, authors would line up to take part.
One thing that the digital-versus-print era has taught us is that there’s no competition between the two, as there are viable reasons for both format. That same attitude can be applied to the indie-versus-giant retail industry. We live in a time when drones can drop unbelievably low-priced items at our homes; obviously a store with prime real estate rent to pay and who does a nearly invisible fraction of the revenue of those giants cannot compete by offering the identical products. Rather than competing, indie bookstores can find and unfilled niche and become that arm of the publishing industry.
At this point in the life cycle of the tablet, we pretty much know what to expect: A small, flat, handheld, rectangular touchscreen that lays flat on another flat surface. It's not a broken design, and let's be honest, it's really hard to innovate by introducing another shape (like a triangle).
Enter Lenovo's Yoga Tablet. This device takes the standard rectangle, and takes away the ability to lie flat by putting a cylindrical battery along the long edge of the device, creating a novel tablet experience in either an 8 inch or 10 inch model. Another new feature is the unique kickstand that allows you to have the tablet sit up like a television screen – upward facing dog in keeping with the yoga theme – or to raise the far edge off of the table (perhaps like the plank pose).
Let me drop the specs in here, before I dive into the device itself. Out of the box, it runs Android 4.2, affectionately known as Jelly Bean. Under the hood, there's a Quad Core 1.2 GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, 16GB or 32GB of onboard storage, expandable storage up to an additional 64GB, Bluetooth 4.0, 5M rear camera and 1.6M HD camera, dual front-facing speakers, HD display (1280×800) with multitouch & 178° wide viewing angle, and a reported 18 hours of battery life.
Eighteen hours. That is 1,080 minutes of battery life. Like, 75% of a day. It's a bold claim. And the tablet is able to deliver on the longer battery life. Though, it looks like the increase in battery life is due to a screen that, while high definition, has a lower pixel density than comparable tablets making the screen look not as good as, say, a Nexus 7. It's not a bad screen, but it could be better.
Other than that, this tablet is a little beast. It's blessed with responsiveness in both the CPU and the screen. Apps load quickly, as do websites. Just for fun, I tested the device using OverDrive Streaming Video and OverDrive Media Console. Streaming various videos worked really well, with no lag. The picture was clear, and the sound was rich thanks to the speakers on the front of the tablet. These speakers are surprisingly good considering their size – I mean, let's be honest, tablet speakers are not the kind that are known for being earth-shattering, but the Yoga Tablet packs a nice sonic punch that is just as satisfying when listening to an audiobook in OverDrive Media Console.
Checking out an eBook was another pleasing experience. The screen, paired with the tablet's design made form factor surprisingly book-like. To hold the device in your hand in portrait mode feels like holding a book by the spine. It seems like a bridge between those who still like the look and feel of a paper book, and those who wholeheartedly embrace digital reading.
All-in-all, the Yoga Tablet is a fine device, designed for providing a solid multimedia experience. Whether you're watching movies, reading books, playing games, listening to music, or surfing the web, it's a versatile device that can handle whatever you throw at it. Add to that the low price tag, and it's a pretty good deal.
Justin Noszek is a Support Services Specialist at OverDrive.