Tuesday, November 11, 2014

How Readers can Avoid Buying Bad eBooks by Indie Authors


Digital Readers come in all shapes and forms. Some of them are brand new to the process of reading eBooks and just picked up their first Kindle. Others, are a more tech savvy bunch who have been reading on their smartphone, tablet or e-reader for years. We have all been looking for new books to read and stumble across numerous titles that are poorly edited, have abysmal cover art and overall are a wretched read. These certainly do not come from big publishing companies and instead are written by anyone who clicks submit on their Microsoft Word Document. As a reader, how do you avoid falling prey to indie writers and what can you do about it?

Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Kobo all have self-publishing programs where any writer can submit an eBook and have it instantly visible in their stores. There is no editorial curation or anyone vetting out books that have overt sexual themes, bestiality or are rift with spelling mistakes, or poor grammar. Unsuspecting customers are duped into purchasing them because they might have a similar name to a bestselling title, or come up in the “if you liked book X, try book Y and Z.)

Indie titles are stocked side by side alongside books that are submitted by traditional publishers. There is no way to actually vet out “books” written by indie authors and companies like Kobo say that they do not want to implement policies of segregation. Segregation is what we need, but many authors have been crying foul saying that if there is a dedicated indie author section in major online bookstores, no one would browse it. They are right.

So as a reader, how do you insure that you do not fall into the trap of unwittenly purchasing indie eBooks and only buy from reputable publishers? The first, check out who actually published the book. If it has an authors name or says “published by Smashwords, or Published by LULU” avoid it at all costs. Smashwords is notorious for having a laissez faire acceptance policy and distributes thousands of poorly written titles to every major bookstore every month. Things have gotten so out of hand with Smashwords titles, that Apple suspended their relationship with them and abandoned the “Breakout Books” section on the iBookstore.

Why does looking at the publisher matter to the readers? Well, traditionally published authors normally have a team backing them up to insure a respectable level of quality and control. An author certainly does not go it alone, but has an agent in their corner, lending the assist on PR and book tours. Trade authors also have a cadre of editors and cover art designers to insure the book is polished and read for the prime time. When you walk into your local bookstore, you certainly aren’t greeted by a wall of books written by people you never heard of people, why should shopping online be any different?

Another way to vet out indie authors is to see if the book is also available in hardcover or paperback. Normally indie authors are too cheap to use Createspace or Ingram Lightning Source to make physical copies of their books available. If a book is only available as a Kindle Edition, this should raise some serious red flags.

Indie authors traditionally rely on bargain level pricing in order to appeal to readers. The average indie title ranged from .99 to $3.99, whereas the average price of traditionally published material is $9.99 to $18.99. My advice, if you are looking for new books is try and browse from the most expensive books to the least. This might not work in all cases, but should avoid the hundreds of thousands of self-published titles on Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Kobo.

Instead of browsing for books on Amazon or another online bookstore try checking out the publishers websites directly. They often hype up new releases or books coming out in the near future. You can find direct links to the online ecosystem of your choice or buy from them directly.

Finally, there are lots of online bookclubs and author communities out there, such as GoodReads. You can find out a lot about new and upcoming books to see what type of interest there is. A indie title you have never heard about, will likely not be found and the books that matter will be. In a pinch, visit your local bookstore for ideas and recommendations, or talk to a friend.

By 2020, the eBook industry will be valued at over $16 billion dollars and more indie books will be stacked alongside traditionally published editions in every major online bookstore in the world. It is important to learn how to vet books yourself, instead of relying on the search algorithms. Most bookstores don’t offer refunds easily if you buy something you hate. They have certain window periods in which you can get a refund, but the level of customer service in digital bookstores is severely lacking. Hopefully this little guide assisted some of you in avoiding horrendously written indie author books.

How Readers can Avoid Buying Bad eBooks by Indie Authors is a post from: Good e-Reader

Global eBook Market to reach $16.7 billion in 2020


A new report by Strategy Analytics predicts that the global consumer eBook market will more than double from $7 billion in 2013 to $16.7 billion in 2020. eBook subscription websites and emerging markets such as China are the two main facets contributing to the dramatic increase.

Currently less than 10% of the population reads eBooks in 2013, but in 2020 this figure is set to increase to 25%. One of the big reasons is the shift towards reading on smartphones and tablets over dedicated e-readers and desktop computers.

Wei Shi, an analyst at Strategy Analytics' wireless media strategies division, said that a significant development in the eBook market is subscription-based services launched by platforms like Amazon Unlimited, which have a model similar to how Spotify and Pandora work in the music industry. "We expect to see subscription services gaining more momentum in the second half of this decade, and contributing to close to a fifth of the total market by 2020," she said.

Global eBook Market to reach $16.7 billion in 2020 is a post from: Good e-Reader

Amazon Now Selling eBooks and e-Readers in the Netherlands


Amazon will be opening up their online bookstore and selling e-readers in the Netherlands this coming Wednesday. Over 20,000 eBooks will be available in Dutch and 2 million in English, giving readers a ton of content to be able to devour.

In the Netherlands Amazon will be competing primarily against BOL.COM, the largest online bookstore. 60% of all eBooks currently being sold are via this website and they have a larger library, that includes 30,000 titles. The primary advantage BOL has, is that they sell their content with Social DRM and Digital Watermarks, thereby making the EPUB files able to be loaded on any e-reader, tablet or smartphone.

Amazon will be fighting an uphill battle to get market share in the Netherlands and they are hoping cheap e-readers will pave the way. The Kindle Basic will be available for €59, Kindle Paperwhite, €109, and the new Kindle Voyage will cost €189.

Amazon Now Selling eBooks and e-Readers in the Netherlands is a post from: Good e-Reader

BooXtream Talks Digital Watermarks and Social DRM


Digital Watermarks or Social DRM is starting to catch on in Europe in a very big way. This new system of encryption makes loading eBooks on other devices or loaning them how to friends quick and intuitive. There are not special programs or tools needed to do any of this, which makes it quite attractive to publishers and online bookstores looking to sell books and still maintain a degree of security.

BooXtream is one of the largest companies who are involved in watermark technology and CEO Huub van de Pol sat down with Good e-Reader to talk how it all fundamentally works and provides an eye opening introspective into the world of digital watermarks and social DRM.

When did you guys seriously start to focus on digital watermarks as a viable business model?

Since 1993, Icontact develops bespoke software solutions for the book and library industry in The Netherlands and Belgium.

The very first start with digital watermarks was in 2006, when Icontact developed a custom digital distribution and fulfilment platform for audio books to be used by a Dutch audio book web shop and distributor.

The music industry was still using DRM at that time, and we all knew the problems with DRM. So to be customer friendly we decided that the shop needed to deliver MP3 audio files instead of one (or more) platform specific audio formats with DRM. As you know, MP3 cannot be copy protected and doesn’t support DRM. Instead, we developed a simple but effective way to personalize each MP3 file with info about the transaction, the name of the end user and the web shop that sold the audio book. This enabled us to locate the end user when an audio book is found on an illegal site or CD-ROM. The end users knew it worked like this and had no problem with it, so it worked like a reasonable deterrent.

We used all available tricks to add extra data in the mp3 file while keeping it compatible with the standard. Some data was visible (when you checked the file properties), but most were invisible to the end user. All personalisation took place dynamically after a valid order was registered. All mp3 files where then stored in a single ZIP container and a download link to this ZIP was presented to the end user. So essentially, every end user received a unique file with a personalized audio book. We registered the brand name BooXtream for this concept and technology.

After a couple of years, only very few of these audio books were found 'in the wild'. 99.9% of all pirated content was ripped from CD's. We presented this experience on a national eBook conference in 2010. After our keynote "Lessons learned with Social DRM", several publishers not only liked the idea, they also asked us if we could do the same with eBooks instead of audio books.

At that time there were only a few 'serious' eBook shops in The Netherlands, but we saw the potential. We were excited by the possibilities and opportunities of the market. We decided to create an SDK to watermark ePub eBooks, which evolved into the web service as we are now offering. We built BooXtream for eBooks based on the idea (concept) of adding as much 'invisible' data as possible to the files in an ePub, tightly integrated with a digital distribution and fulfillment platform, an easy to integrate web service (RESTful) and an attractive and simple price model (no upfront costs, only pay by use).

BooXtream for eBooks 1.0 was released in fall 2010 and was offered as a web service based standard solution. (FYI: Icontact still develops custom software solutions. The BooXtream brand and product was bootstrapped, like an internally funded start-up.) Our launching customer was a small forward looking publisher in the Netherlands, but eBook watermarking really took off when UK based Pottermore decided to use it for the Harry Potter eBooks in 2012. This really created headlines all over the industry.

How does the essence of your technology work?

The essence is that we add 'hidden' data to all files in an ePub eBook file while keeping the eBook 100% valid, using several different proprietary algorithms. Our technology offers two basic features: adding invisible watermarks and adding visible extra's like a personalized ex libris page, a personalized footer text at the end of every chapter or a personalized chapter at the end of the eBook. The invisible part is essentially a transactional watermark, creating unique files for every eBook and every end user..

Everything is configurable by our customers. BooXtream operates in real time, on transaction level, so our technology has to be integrated at the point of sale (where the actual distribution to the end user takes place).

There is no need to update any 'client software' when we update and improve our algorithms (as with Adobe DRM), which is possible because the eBooks are 100% valid and ePub compliant. In a technical sense, they are DRM free so they can be read by every e-reader and e-reading device out there.

One of the essential characteristics of eBooks with watermarks is that there is no need to remove watermarks to make a backup, read it on multiple devices or share it with someone you trust (casual sharing). This isn’t the case with DRM, which is one of the reasons a lot of people that have no intention to pirate or hack do use DRM removal tools.

Who would you say are your largest clients right now?

Our technology is used worldwide by 2 of the Big 5 publishers, some very large independent D2C publishers, several hundreds of medium sized publishers selling D2C, quite a few independent eBook web shops and also numerous web shops of smaller publishers, self publishing authors and systems integration.

Some publishers like to keep their name under the radar, but to name a few: Verso Books (US, UK), Cappelen Damm (largest publisher in Norway), Elly's Choice (largest eBook subscription service in The Netherlands), Firsty Group (large solutions provider for the publishing industry in the UK), Profile Books (UK); web shops from Finland to Spain and from Peru to Colombia.

I saw you guys are a member of the IDPF, we sponsor many of their events, such as the main conference at Book Expo America.  How has being a  member affected your business?

We are big fan of Bill McCoy. He is doing a marvelous job with IDPF, creating and maintaining the ePub standards, Readium, EduPub and basically uniting the eBook publishing world. I think it was Bill who coined the term 'Social DRM' which we adopted for our original BooXtream tagline. Being a member gives us insight in the working groups and future developments, but it also helps us to be found by potential customers.

What are the main benefits as you see it, between watermarks and ADOBE DRM.

The only benefit of Adobe DRM is that it can be used for library lending purposes. You cannot use watermarking for this, as watermarking is not able to disable an eBook after a certain amount of time. The few libraries that are using watermarking do this as a 'second line of defense in a closed ecosystems with apps.

There are quite a few benefits of watermarking:

With watermarked eBooks there is no need to use a specific (proprietary) e-reading client. Watermarked eBooks can be read on any device, with any software, as long as they are ePub compatible. This is a huge advantage, because it's both user friendly and support desk friendly.

An eBook with watermarks can be read on different devices simultaneously. There is no need to remove DRM to do this. As an aside, there are plenty of DRM removal tools out there, but quite a few are Trojans or might contain a virus. The computer illiterate end user is far better off when he doesn’t need these tools, apart from the question if it's legal or not to use them.

An eBook with watermarks can be backed-up using standard backup software. Again, there is no need to remove DRM to do this. This is very important because eBooks with DRM might get inaccessible when the web shop is getting out of business. This happened more than once.

Our watermarking tools also offers visible personalisation, which creates new business possibilities and makes the eBook really personal. It is being used to personalize review copies, it is used to personalize course guides and business reports (even those that are distributed for free). One of our customers allow their end users to customer the ex libris in their own eBooks, like the personal stamp from earlier times. Others insert personalized messages or dynamically add some banner links in the eBook.

 If people started to pirate books via BooXtream, what do you guys do about it, if anything?

Tracking and tracing illegal uploads is not our primary business. Sometimes pirated eBooks are discovered by our customers (publishers) when they search for their own titles. Part of our standard service is to help them decode the watermarks (if any, because the bulk of all pirated books are titles with DRM removed, not watermarked titles), so they can decide what to do. For larger-scale and automated discovery and enforcement we offer tools to anti-piracy third parties like MarkMonitor and Muso that are specialised in tracing copyright infringements, crawling the web, sending notice-and-take-down letters etc. Our tools enable them to look for the hidden watermarks within eBooks, decode them and take appropriate measures. They can use these tools as part of our and their arrangement with a publisher.

BooXtream Talks Digital Watermarks and Social DRM is a post from: Good e-Reader

Barnes and Noble Unveils Print on Demand for Indie Authors


Barnes and Noble Nook Press is geared towards indie authors and allows them to self-publish their titles and sell them in the Nook online bookstore. The company has developed a new print on demand service that will allow their cadre of authors to print physical books.

Designed to be simple and provide a high level of customization, the NOOK Press print service provides customers with a complete do-it-yourself experience for creating a hardcover or paperback book. The new service offers black and white or color printing, high-quality paper choices, multiple trim sizes and cover treatments. Additionally, with NOOK Press Author Services, authors can now choose from a variety of packages and a la carte services to receive professional assistance making their book.

Authors and aspiring writers can use the new print service to create books for personalized gifting and keepsakes, and self-published authors can create promotional, review and personal resale copies.

"With the introduction of the NOOK Press print service, we're providing authors, creators, crafters and more with a powerful new tool to bring their writing to print," said Theresa Horner, General Manager of NOOK Press & Vice President of Content Acquisition at NOOK Media. "It is very exciting to have the NOOK Press platform supporting authors in multiple formats."

"NOOK Press is proud to add print books to its portfolio of services. As the world of self-publishing grows, NOOK Press will continue to expand its easy-to-use content creation services in support of all authors, writers and creators," said Doug Carlson, Executive Vice President of Digital Content and Chief Marketing Officer at NOOK Media LLC.  "The NOOK Press team has created another outstanding experience for authors to showcase their content."

It is important to note that the POD service will not get  your book in Barnes and Noble bookstores. Amazon Createspace and Ingram Lightningsource will get your books on the main book lists that stores get and allow them to  order the books to stock on their shelves.

Barnes and Noble also has not fully developed this system in-house and instead is relying on a yet unnamed 3rd party to provide the POD service. There is a rumor going on right now that this company is Author Solutions is providing the POD conversions.

This POD service is horrendously expensive, you are going to be paying $999 minimum and ranges in price to $2,199. You will get the assist though in creating illustrations and cover art though.

Barnes and Noble Unveils Print on Demand for Indie Authors is a post from: Good e-Reader

Kindle Tips and Tricks Advanced User Guide

Today I’m proud to announce the release of my first ebook on the Kindle store. It’s called Kindle Tips and Tricks Advanced User Guide, and as the name suggest it’s a tips guide for Kindle ebook readers. The ebook is designed specifically for the Kindle Voyage, Kindle Paperwhite, and 2014 entry-level Kindle. It contains basic […]

WiFi-controlled pottery kiln

I’ve always fantasised about having a kiln in the garage (Eben wants a pick and place machine; we need another garage). Kilns, though, are expensive. And where do you start if you want to refurbish a broken or old one safely?

James Huang has an answer, and it’s got a Raspberry Pi in it. (Well, not in it, but attached very firmly to it.


James’s girlfriend is an enthusiastic potter, and James is an equally enthusiastic hacker. They came together and made beautiful music a kiln. The project is based around an old electric kiln, which James built holes into to convert it into a propane-fired updraft kiln. A Raspberry Pi is hooked up to a thermocouple and a stepper motor that controls the propane regulator. James 3d-printed gears and a clamp to operate the regulator/motor setup.


Stepper motor and propane regulator

The kiln operates via a PID, which controls the temperature taking closed-loop feedback from the thermocouple to the regulator. Adjustments can be made remotely; the kiln controller system has WiFi. James has a really interesting series of photographs, with explanatory text and some examples of test firings, over at imgur; he also answers questions about the project at Reddit.

Results of two test firings

Results of two test firings – the variously floppy things are pyrometric cones, used to measure temperature in different parts of the kiln.

There are so many reasons I love this project. It’s a wonderful demonstration of what can be done with no specialised experience (James had never worked with kilns before starting this project, and neither he nor his girlfriend had any knowledge about firing pottery). The ingenuity on show is just brilliant (3d-printed gears!), the pottery that comes out of the end is immensely satisfying – and face it; there’s something very thrilling about flames. On top of all this, the whole project came in at less than $200.

All James’s control software, along with a BOM, is open-source, and available on GitHub.

Tolino Vision 2 Now Available – Bertelsmann has the Best Deal


The Tolino Vision 2 was announced at the Frankfurt Book Fair and the e-reader is now available at Worldview, Thalia, Club Bertelsmann and Hugendubel.

The mantra of the Tolino Alliance is to battle Amazon in Germany, and not let a big company dominate the market. The Tolino Vision 2 features the latest in e-Paper innovation, e Ink Carta. This is the exact screen technology found on the Kindle Paperwhite 2 and Kobo Aura H2O. This will not only provide higher contrast, but also eliminate the full page refresh issues that have plagued e-readers since the very beginning. The overall resolution is a very respectable 1024 × 758 pixels and has 212 PPI. It is also being billed as splash proof, so you can dump your coffee on it, and it won’t destroy the device, its not quite waterproof though.

The actual selling of the e-reader is actually quite interesting. Each Tolino partner has the freedom to establish their own pricing.  The Vision 2 is currently retailing for 149€, but Club Bertelsmann is currently offering the best deal in the country, only charging 129€. This holiday season you can expect the price will likely fall between 105€ to 99€.

The Vision 2 has experienced a high level of demand this year, pre-orders had reached over 10,000 units. This has created a supply problem with Thalia and eBook.de who are all estimating two weeks of delivery time. Part of the reason why the supplies are stretched so thin is because the Alliance has expanded the sale of the e-reader to railway station bookstores and independent booksellers via Libri.

I think the Vision 2 is a really good e-reader if you speak German. The online bookstore mainly just stocks titles in that language but it does have an English mode for advanced users that  know how to load in their own books and have no problem using Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

Tolino Vision 2 Now Available – Bertelsmann has the Best Deal is a post from: Good e-Reader