Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Scribd Starts to Banish Indie Authors from its Catalog


Major online bookstores and e-book subscription sites often have to walk a fine line between a large library and quality content. There is something very alluring about establishing partnerships with self-publishing services such as Draft2digital and Smashwords. They both have over 225,000 titles combined and can instantly make a startup very relevant in terms an overall catalog. Scribd though, is bucking the trend and has just announced plans to cull their catalog of self-published books.

Scribd was one of the early pioneers of the Netflix for e-Books concept and raised millions of dollars to convince publishers that there business model was viable. The company engaged in a partnership with Smashwords in late 2013, which added a few hundred thousand e-books into their library.

e-Book discovery has been the most talked about subject in the last three years. How do you balance a large catalog of content, while showcasing things that are relevant to the reader? Amazon spends untold millions on improving their algorithms with recommendations and social book discovery networks. For everyone else though, its a slippery slope balancing bestsellers from major publishers and hundreds of thousands of self-published titles.

Scribd has announced that they have had enough and are banishing over 200,000 self-published books from their catalog in the coming weeks. They plan on still maintaining a robust catalog of romance books and will manually add and remove books to keep that section fresh. Almost every other genre though will be a victim of the “great self-publishing purge of 2015.”

Smashwords will be hit hard by the news that their e-books will be gone from Scribd. CEO Mark Coker said “We’re a profitable business without any contribution from Scribd. Scribd is our fastest growing retailer over the last 12 months, but they’re still smaller for us than iBooks, B&N, Kobo and the Smashwords store. We have a sizable catalog of free books, and many of them are series starters, so those will ultimately drive readers to our retail partners. I also expect some percentage of Scribd subscribers to cancel their subscriptions and return to single-copy sales at our retail partners.”

I think Mark might be dreaming if he thinks even a single customer will cancel their subscription with Scribd to buy Smashwords titles from other bookstores. The entire reason why e-book subscription sites work is that you get a ton of value for your money. Why buy two e-books a month, when you can read as much as you want for the cost of one?

It is important to note that one of the best advantages Scribd has is their robust audiobook catalog, which is very compelling. The company has been tweeting out that they have the new E.L. James Grey audiobook available for all of their members, which has likely resulted in thousands of new signups.

Scribd CEO Trip Adler posted a state of the union address on his companies blog which sheds light on exactly what is transpiring.

“Today, we've heard several friends in the Scribd community who have voiced concerns about our commitment to the romance genre. Let me state loudly and clearly that we remain committed to our romance audience.”

“Romance has been one of our top genres since day one, and we're so proud that we've attracted such a passionate, voracious audience of readers. We've grown to such a point that we are beginning to adjust the proportion of titles across genres to ensure that we can continue to grow in a sustainable way. We are in the subscription business for the long haul, and while we are facing some growing pains today, we remain fully committed to our readers.”

We're a business in uncharted territory, and as any successful startup business knows, innovation requires iteration, and that's the process we're going through now. We've extensively explored a variety of options, and we feel this solution has the potential to best serve our audience. We believe that the end result is going to be a thriving romance section with a terrific selection that will be sustainable in the long run for readers, publishers, authors, and for Scribd.”

I have to give Scribd a large amount of kudos from recognizing the fact that a very large catalog does not mean success. A smaller store, filled with great titles and a vibrant romance genre is the key to success. If you can offer a compelling value proposition for the average reader and not have the entire site cluttered up with indie author rabble, likely Scribd will be around for a very longtime.

You can Now Listen and Buy Audiobooks with Apple iBooks

Apple iBooks audiobooks

Apple is starting to take audiobooks very seriously. In the past, if you wanted to buy one, you had to find a hidden section in the iTunes store and then open up the music app to listen to them. Things have gotten more intuitive with 8.4 firmware update for the iPhone and iPad.

The iBooks app has received a dramatic upgrade if you are a fan of audiobooks. All of your audiobook purchases are now stored alongside all of your e-books and PDF files. You can sort the audio editions from written content by clicking on the main sorting menu. If you fancy buying or browsing a new title you can click on the store option and there is a brand new audiobook section, within the iBookstore.

I think having everything contained within the iBooks app makes a lot of sense. One of the big problems I had with the old way that Apple did things is that iTunes audiobook purchases never properly synced if you had muiltiple Apple products. I have made 3 purchases on my iPhone and my iPad cannot find the paid content. Now that everything is on iBooks, syncing works great.

In the video below, I document the big changes to the Apple iBooks app and some of the major changes, including a new sleep timer.

Apple Ordered to Pay $450 Million for e-Book Refunds


Apple has been fighting the US courts and Justice department for the last three years trying to convince them that a more competitive landscape for e-book sales is best for business. Sadly, Apple has just lost a landmark case that will see the company process over $450 million in e-book refunds from anyone that purchased something from iBooks from April 1, 2010 to May 21, 2012.

The 2-1 ruling Tuesday by the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan is basically the nail in the coffin for Apple. "We conclude that the district court correctly decided that Apple orchestrated a conspiracy among the publishers to raise e-book prices," wrote Second Circuit JudgeDebra Ann Livingston. The conspiracy "unreasonably restrained trade" in violation of the Sherman Act, the federal antitrust law, the judge wrote.

There are few legal options left for Apple and they will likely have to give customers $3.17 if that book was a New York Times bestseller and a credit of $0.73 if the book was never a NYT bestseller. If you had purchased an e-book from Apple, you likely won’t get a check, but credits in your iBooks account that you can use to buy more books.

Naturebytes wildlife cam kit

Liz: The wildlife cam kit has landed. If you’re a regular reader you’ll know we’ve been following the Naturebytes team’s work with great interest; we think there’s massive potential for bringing nature to life for kids and for adults with a bit of smart computing. Digital making for nature is here.

Naturebytes is a tiny organisation, but it’s made up of people whose work you’ll recognise if you follow Raspberry Pi projects closely; they’ve worked with bodies like the Horniman Museum, who have corals to examine; and with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). Pis watching for rhino poachers in Kenya? Pis monitoring penguins in Antarctica? People on the Naturebytes team have worked on those projects, and have a huge amount of experience in wildlife observation with the Pi. They’ve also worked closely with educators and with kids on this Kickstarter offering, making sure that what they’re doing fits perfectly with what nature-lovers want. 

Today’s guest post is from Naturebytes’ Alasdair Davies. Good luck with the Kickstarter, folks: we’re incredibly excited about the potential of what you’re doing, and we think lots of other people will be too.

We made it! (quite literally). Two years after first being supported by the Raspberry Pi Foundation's Education Fund and the awesome folk over at Nesta, we finally pressed the big red button and went into orbit by launching the Naturebytes Wildlife Cam Kit – now available via Kickstarter.
This is the kit that will fuel our digital making for nature vision – a community of Raspberry Pi enthusiasts using the Pi to help monitor, count, and conserve wildlife; and have a hell of a lot of fun learning how to code and hack their cam kits to do so much more – yes, you can even set it up to take chicken selfies.

We've designed it for a wide range of audiences, whether you're a beginner, an educator, or a grandma who just wants to capture photos of the bird species in the garden and share them with her grandchildren – there's something for everyone.


This was the final push for the small team of three over at Naturebytes HQ. A few badgers, 2,323 coffees, 24 foxes,  and a Real Time Clock later, we signed off the prototype cam kit last week, and are proud of what we've achieved thanks to the support of the Raspberry Pi Foundation that assisted us in getting there.

We also get the very privileged opportunity of appearing in this follow-up guest blog, and my, how things have changed since our first appearance back in September 2014. We thought we'd take you on a quick tour to show you what we've changed on the kit since then, and to share the lessons learnt during our R&D, before ending with a look at some of the creative activities people have suggested the kit be used for. Suggest your own in the comments, and please do share our Kickstarter far and wide so we can get the kits into the hands of as many people as possible.

Then and now – the case.

Our earlier prototype was slick and thin, with a perspex back. Once we exposed it to the savages of British weather, we soon had to lock down the hatches and toughen up the hinges to create the version you see today. The bird feeder arm was also reinforced and a clip on mechanism added for easy removal – just one of the lessons learnt when trialing and testing.

The final cam kit case:


The final cam kit features:


Schools and Resources

A great deal of our development time has focused on the creation of a useful website back end and resource packs for teacher and educators. For Naturebytes to be a success we knew from the start that we’d need to support teachers wishing to deliver activities, and it’s paramount to us that we get this right. In doing so, we tagged along with the Foundation’s Picademy to understand the needs of teachers and to create resources that will be both helpful and accessible.

Print your own

We've always wanted to make it as easy as possible for experienced digital makers to join in, so the necessary 3D print files will now be released as open source assets. For those with their own Pi, Pi cam and custom components, we've created a developer’s kit too that contains everything you need to finish a printed version of the cam kit (note – it won’t be waterproof if you 3D print it yourself).

You can get the Developer's Kit on Kickstarter.

The Experience


Help us develop a fantastic experience for Naturebytes users. We hope to make a GUI and customised Raspbian OS to help users get the most from the cam kit.

It’s not much fun if you can’t share your wildlife sightings with others, so we’re looking at how to build an experience on the Pi itself. It will most likely be in the form of a Python GUI that boots at startup with a modified Raspbian OS to theme up the desktop. Our end goal is the creation of what we are calling “Fantastic Fox” – a simple-to-use Raspbian OS with pre-loaded software and activities together with a simple interface to submit your photos etc. This will be a community-driven build, so if you want to help with its, development please contact us and we’ll get you on board.

Creative activities

This is where the community aspect of Naturebytes comes into play. As everyone’s starting with the same wildlife cam kit, whether you get the full complete kit from us or print your own, there are a number of activities to get you started. Here are just a few of the ones we love:

Participate in an official challenge

We'll be hosting challenges for the whole community. Join us on a hedgehog hunt (photo hunt!) together with hundreds of others, and upload your sightings for the entire community to see. There will be hacking challenges to see who can keep their cams powered the longest, and even case modification design competitions too.

Identify another school’s species (from around the globe!)

Hook up a WiFi connection and you’ll be able to share your photos on the internet. This means that a school in Washington DC could pair up with a school in Rochdale and swap their photos once a day. An exciting opportunity to connect to other schools globally, and discover wildlife that you thought you may never encounter by peeking into the garden of school a long way away.

Build a better home (for wildlife)

It’s not just digital making that you can get your hands into. Why not build a garden residence for the species that you most want to attract, and use the camera to monitor if they moved in (or just visited to inspect)? A great family project, fuelled by the excitement of discovering that someone, or something, liked what you build for them.

Stamp the weather on it

There’s an official Raspberry Pi weather station that we love – in fact, we were one of the early beta testers and have always wanted to incorporate it into Naturebytes. A great activity would be connecting to the weather station to receive a snapshot of data and stamping that on to the JPEG of the photo your camera just created. Then you’ll have an accurate weather reading together with your photo!

Time-lapse a pond, tree or wild space

It’s fantastic to look through a year’s worth of photographic data within 60 seconds. Why not take a look at the species visiting your pond, tree or a wild space near you by setting up a time-lapse and comparing it with other Naturebytes users near you?

We’d love to hear your ideas for collaborative projects – please leave a note in the comments if you’ve got something to add!


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