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Tag: Tech (1-10 of 10)

New speed reading technology might change reading forever

Spritz.jpg

Imagine if you could read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in a mere 77 minutes. Or latest YA favorite Divergent in just 105 minutes. Or a huge classic novel — like Les Miserables, which has roughly 560,000 words of text — in nine hours.

You can speed read through these books — as well as emails, news articles and blogs — thanks to tech company Spritz, which is promising to change reading forever by altering the way readers view and process text. No more poring over lengthy sentences or losing your place on a page — instead, Spritz  is offering readers the chance to process text at speeds as high as 1,000 words per minute.

Spritz will be releasing its technology on the yet-to-be-released Samsung Galaxy S5 and Samsung Gear 2 watch, the company recently announced at the Mobil World Congress in Barcelona. And with the phone or watch, readers will be able to process text one word at a time at various scrolling speeds. Whether one opts for 250 or 1,000 words per minute, Spritz is counting on making the brain change the way it expects and analyzes texts.

It turns out that Spritz is basing its technology on a well-established speed reading method called Rapid Serial Visual Presentation. Based on the same premise that trained speed readers use, the special display technology saves readers the time of reading a page from left to right by placing text at one spot at a specified speed. Add to that some fancy jargon called “Optimal Recognition Point” — ORP for short — which, according to Spritz’s blog, refers to highlighting certain text red so that your eye never needs to move from a central viewing point, and you’ve got the recipe for tackling the Bible in 13 hours flat.

But what happens when the eye processes words — instead of relying on the brain to analyze context? The Boston-based start up isn’t the first to develop a speed reading app — vapps like Velocity and Speed Reading Trainer for Android  can be downloaded for just a few bucks — but EW has confirmed they are pitchings its technology to global tech giants like Google, Yahoo and Apple.

So will Spritz prove an effective tool at tackling the hundreds of emails that seem to flood the average corporate employee daily? Or will authors find themselves competing for audiences for whom the story, instead of its delivery and prose, matters most? And what happens when the core of what makes great books great — the composed phrases that make us laugh, cry, ache and crave more — gets reduced to mere words? We know that technology  in the form of  e-readers has given a new generation a platform by which to consume books, but will the love and pleasure of reading be changed forever if pleasure can be reduced down to WPM? Are we saying “hello” to a new age of Cliff Notes — or beginning the process or saying “goodbye” to a form of communication that’s been established for centuries?

Chinese writers accuse Apple of online book piracy

A group of prominent Chinese writers have demanded millions of dollars in compensation from technology giant Apple Inc. for allegedly selling unlicensed versions of their books in its online store, a lawyer said Monday.

The case is a departure from the usual pattern of U.S artists or companies going after Chinese copycats. Trade groups say illegal Chinese copying of music, designer clothing and other goods costs legitimate producers billions of dollars a year in lost sales.

Three separate lawsuits have been filed with the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate Court on behalf of 12 writers who allege 59 of their titles were sold unlicensed through Apple’s iTunes online store, said Wang Guohua, a Beijing lawyer representing the writers.

The three suits together demand 23 million (US$3.5 million) in compensation from Apple, Wang said. Well-known novelist and race car driver Han Han is among the writers taking the legal action, he said.

Carolyn Wu, a Beijing-based Apple spokesman, said that the company respects intellectual property and responds to complaints quickly.

“As an IP holder ourselves, we understand the importance of protecting intellectual property and when we receive complaints we respond promptly and appropriately,” she said. She declined to get into the specifics of the Chinese writers’ claims.

Wang said the Chinese writers’ works was made available via the Apple Store without their permission, violating their copyright, and while Apple deleted some books after the suits were filed in January, some works quickly appeared again, apparently uploaded by developers that sell apps through the Apple Store.

“Some developers, with whom Apple has contracts, put them back online again,” said Wang of the United Zhongwen Law Firm. “It is encouragement in disguise, because they did not punish the developers. The developers could have been kicked out. But nothing happened to them.”

Apple has more than 585,000 apps available through its Apple Store, and according to guidelines posted online, requires the developers themselves secure the rights to any trademarked material within those apps.

Wang said 10 other writers have also gotten involved since January but their suits have yet to be filed. In all, 23 writers have registered their complaints with Wang and claim that Apple sold 95 pirated titles.

The official Xinhua News Agency reported late Sunday that the writers were collectively seeking 50 million yuan ($7.7 million) in compensation from Apple but Wang could not confirm that figure.

Product piracy is a major irritant in China-US relations, but usually involves complaints that Chinese are copying American products.

However, it’s not the first time Chinese have cried foul over copyright infringement by an American company either. In 2009, the government-affiliated China Written Works Copyright Society complained that Google had scanned nearly 20,000 works by 570 Chinese authors without permission as part of its digital library project, drawing an apology from Google.

For Apple, the latest case is just one of several legal battles being fought in China. The company is embroiled in a battle over the iPad trademark with Proview Electronics Co., a Chinese computer monitor and LED light maker that says it registered the trademark more than a decade ago.

Proview wants Apple to stop selling or making the popular tablet computers under that name.

Apple says Proview sold it worldwide rights to the iPad trademark in 2009, though in China the registration was never transferred.

Amazon ships Kindle Fire a day early; read reviews

Kindle-Fire

Amazon announced today that it would be shipping its best-selling new tablet, the Kindle Fire, today, one day earlier than expected. This is great news to consumers eager to get their hands on the iPad challenger.

Retailing for $199, the Kindle Fire is Amazon’s response to pricier tablets, and it’s clear they are hopeful that the mass quantity they anticipate selling will offset costs. Research firm iSuppli estimates that Amazon spends about $210 to make each Kindle Fire that it sells for $199 — a business model that can’t be sustained long-term. The affordability is the Fire’s main selling point. (That, and the Amazon name, which is already synonymous in consumers’ minds as one-stop-shopping for entertainment needs.)

The earlier release date also moves up the all-important reviews. Gizmodo has called the Kindle Fire “puzzlingly simple” and has highlighted the Amazon Prime membership as a selling point. At a time when Netflix is struggling, Prime is picking up the slack, allowing users to instantly stream everything in their Prime catalogue on the Kindle Fire. This kind of ease could spell major trouble for Apple and other tablets.

Engadget is also rather positive in their detailed review, stating that its biggest competition is still to come: The Barnes & Noble-backed Nook tablet, slated to release November 16.

Shelf Life-ers: Excited about these developments? Will you be picking up a Kindle Fire?

Read more:
Amazon unveils gamechanging new products, including Kindle Fire tablet 
Barnes and Noble removes Sandman, Watchmen, and other graphic novels from its shelves
Barnes & Noble NOOK Tablet unveiled — CEO calls Amazon’s Kindle Fire ‘deficient’

Barnes and Noble removes Sandman, Watchmen, and other graphic novels from its shelves

My attention was caught this morning by a tweet from Neil Gaiman: “Really? Barnes and Noble will no longer sell Sandman or Watchmen?” It turns out to be true: The company was angered by DC Comics’ deal  with Amazon to sell 100 graphic novels –including Gaiman’s — exclusively on the Kindle Fire. So it ordered stores to begin stripping the DC books from their shelves. Later today, B&N issued a statement to CNN that said, in part,

“Regardless of the publisher, we will not stock physical books in our stores if we are not offered the available digital format…To sell and promote the physical book in our store showrooms and not have the e-book available for sale would undermine our promise to Barnes & Noble customer to make available any book, anywhere.”

Some Barnes & Noble stores — like the one nearest EW’s office — had completely removed the graphic novels in question by midafternoon. Other branches, like the one not far from my house in upstate New York, appear to not have heard the corporate message.

Has anyone seen this today at a Barnes & Noble? What do you think about it?

Google launches e-books store: Are you ready to get your head in 'the cloud'?

Google’s new e-books store launched today, offering over 3 million titles in a new format that will compete directly with established retailers like Amazon. The store offers everything from the latest bestsellers (mostly in the $9 to $15 range) to public domain classics like Moby Dick (free, unless you think in terms of time=money, in which case it has its usual price of around $800,000).

READ FULL STORY

Publishing news of the day

In the latest round of e-book pricing wars, Amazon announced its new Kindle, priced at $139. That’s a far cry from the first-generation Kindle, which cost $499. In other Amazon news, the company said that Stieg Larsson has become the first author to sell 1 million e-books.

The grand old Italian hotel that was the setting of Thomas Mann’s A Death in Venice has closed.

Just in time for August vacations, NPR has released a steamy summer reading list: One Nighstand, Six Affairs: Novels of Illicit Love.

Amulet books announced that the fifth volume of Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid series, The Ugly Truth – which goes on sale Nov. 9 — will have a first printing of more than 5 million.

Tired of your iPad's innovations? Use it as a typewriter.

Taking the absurdity of propping up your iPad against your laptop one step further, a man named Jack Zylkin has invented the USBTypewriter. Ingeniously harnessing the iPad’s 21st-century lightness, thinness, and word processing abilities to do some seriously early-20th-century work, the invention allows you to use your $600 Apple device just like you would a half-cent piece of paper. You type on an old-fashioned manual and the device “reads” your keystrokes and renders them via a USB port on your iPad (or other electronic device). And it’ll cost you only $400, iPad not included. After the jump, check out a video of how it works. READ FULL STORY

EA's 'Dante's Inferno' and other classic literature we'd like to see as a video game

Abandon all hope ye who enter the secret code to Level 9. The first part of Dante Alighieri’s pre-Renaissance masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, has been adapted into a video game by Electronic Arts. The game, which hits stores Feb. 9, recasts the moody, reflective poet as a buff, sword-swinging Crusader out to save his beloved’s soul from the fiery clutches of Lucifer. It looks like there will be a lot less introspection and whole lot more decapitation than in the original. Surprisingly, though, Dante’s phantasmal tour guide Virgil hasn’t been changed into a wisecracking talking dog that can give you hints.

This isn’t the first work of literature to be transformed into a game, but up to now it’s usually been via movies. Where the Harry Potter and Beowulf games had just as much to do with the films as the books, Dante’s Inferno skips that step, ready to muck around in public domain without the help of Hollywood. BioShock, which has a sequel releasing the same day, certainly borrowed from Ayn Rand’s philosophy when designing its Art Deco dystopia (it even had a character not-so-subtly named Atlas) but it didn’t purport to be a straight interpretation of her books.

This newfound interest in literary gaming got us thinking: What other classics would we like to see coming to a console near us?

Don Quixote: A lot like the old arcade game Joust, except your enemy is a windmill.

Hamlet: Polonius’ Revenge: This re-imagining is a stealth game in the mode of Metal Gear Solid that has you sneaking throughout Elsinore, hiding behind curtains and listening to other people’s conversations. But don’t get caught, or it’s curtains for you!

Edgar Allen Poe’s RavenHunt: Use the light-gun to shoot at those pesky ravens rapping at your chamber door.

Catch-22: There is no way to beat this game.

The Brothers Karamazov: Power of Three: Dmitri wields the power of ice, Ivan the power of fire, and Alyosha the power of heart. Together they must face down the final boss, an evil, black-robed maniac called the Grand Inquisitor.

Finnegans Wakeboarding: Welcome to the world of Joycean extreme sports!

What do you think? Excited for Dante’s debut on the Xbox 360 and PS3? Any other titles you’d like to see?

Amazon capitulates to Macmillan's e-book pricing demands

As many of you know, the e-book pricing wars came to a head on Friday and Saturday, when Amazon stopped selling Macmillan titles (St. Martin’s, Holt, and Farrar, Straus and Giroux books), though customers could still purchase books on the site from other sellers. Macmillan CEO John Sargent issued an impassioned plea on Saturday night to explain his company’s position, and last night, Amazon gave in, posting a statement to customers on its Kindle page that said, in part, “We want you to know that ultimately, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan’s terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books. Amazon customers will at that point decide for themselves whether they believe it’s reasonable to pay $14.99 for a bestselling e-book. We don’t believe that all of the major publishers will take the same route as Macmillan. And we know for sure that many independent presses and self-published authors will see this as an opportunity to provide attractively priced e-books as an alternative. Kindle is a business for Amazon, and it is also a mission. We never expected it to be easy!”

As someone who has been following this drama, and reading all the comments on this and many other books blogs, I’m alarmed that so many people seem to see Macmillan as the villain here. It’s not that simple. The book business has never had high profit margins (I believe 3 percent is considered fairly healthy, which ought to give you some idea.) It costs an enormous amount of money to produce a book. The author is paid an advance; the book is edited and copy-edited and often put through a legal check; a jacket is designed; the publisher pays for marketing (ads!) and publicity (sending authors on tour, or, if they’re lucky, paying to bring them to New York so that they can appear on a national TV show). The printing, binding, and shipping of a title are not the real expenses involved in publication. The issue that Macmillan had with Amazon is a very real one: Given the punishing terms that Amazon insists upon (most e-book profits are going to Amazon, not to the publisher or author), publishers literally are often losing money on their e-book ventures with the company. What Macmillan wants to do is what it calls “agency pricing,” that is, offer the e-book for more money when it first comes out, and then decrease the price as time passes — much in the way that a book is first available in hardcover and then in paperback.

This is a gross oversimplification, but what it comes down to is this: Unless all publishers negotiate better e-book pricing deals with Amazon, the number of books being published will decline. You won’t see a book like The Help. It will never see the light of day, because companies just won’t be able to take a chance on unknown authors. And small literary novels and short-story collections will suffer the most. They are often money-losers anyway, subsidized by companies’ bigger commercial successes. As the percentage of e-book sales rises, publishers simply will not be able to continue putting them out unless Amazon agrees to different terms.

As of 8 a.m. today, the “buy” buttons at Amazon have not been reinstated on any Macmillan titles I checked.

Amazon is no longer selling Macmillan books; Macmillan CEO John Sargent issues statement

Amazon has pulled books from publishing giant Macmillan, according to the New York Times. Authors — and book buyers — began to notice last night that Amazon was no longer selling any of Macmillan’s titles (although they can still be purchased on the site from third-party sellers). The skirmish is most likely the latest chapter in the bitter war that Amazon and publishers are waging over the cost of e-books. Along with other companies, Macmillan has been pressing Amazon to raise the price of e-books, while Amazon is keen to keep prices low to promote its reader, the Kindle. (The $9.99 e-book prices advertised during the holiday season were a special point of contention.) So it is any coincidence that Macmillan is emboldened to make such demands  just days after the unveiling of the iPad from Apple? Probably not. Apple, after all, made it clear it will allow publishers more freedom to set their own prices for e-books. And when Steve Jobs was asked at the iPad press conference why customers would buy an e-book for $15 from Apple if they could get it for $9.99 on Amazon, he replied, “That won’t happen…Publishers are actually going to pull their books from Amazon because they’re not happy.”

Macmillan is, of course, one of the biggest book companies in the world and its imprints include Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Henry Holt and St. Martin’s Press, which publishes Janet Evanovich and Augusten Burroughs, amongst many others.

UPDATE (6:00 p.m.): Amazon did not respond to a request for comment. Macmillan CEO John Sargent issued this statement moments ago, addressed to Macmillan authors, illustrators, and the literary agent community:  “This past Thursday I met with Amazon in Seattle. I gave them our proposal for new terms of sale for e-books under the agency model which will become effective in early March. In addition, I told them they could stay with their old terms of sale, but that this would involve extensive and deep windowing of titles. By the time I arrived back in New York late yesterday afternoon they informed me that they were taking all our books off the Kindle site, and off Amazon. The books will continue to be available on Amazon.com through third parties. I regret that we have reached this impasse. Amazon has been a valuable customer for a long time, and it is my great hope that they will continue to be in the very near future. They have been a great innovator in our industry, and I suspect they will continue to be for decades to come. It is those decades that concern me now, as I am sure they concern you. In the ink-on-paper world we sell books to retailers far and wide on a business model that provides a level playing field, and allows all retailers the possibility of selling books profitably. Looking to the future and to a growing digital business, we need to establish the same sort of business model, one that encourages new devices and new stores. One that encourages healthy competition. One that is stable and rational. It also needs to insure that intellectual property can be widely available digitally at a price that is both fair to the consumer and allows those who create it and publish it to be fairly compensated. Under the agency model, we will sell the digital editions of our books to consumers through our retailers. Our retailers will act as our agents and will take a 30% commission (the standard split today for many digital media businesses). The price will be set for each book individually. Our plan is to price the digital edition of most adult trade books in a price range from $14.99 to $5.99. At first release, concurrent with a hardcover, most titles will be priced between $14.99 and $12.99. E-books will almost always appear day on date with the physical edition. Pricing will be dynamic over time. The agency model would allow Amazon to make more money selling our books, not less. We would make less money in our dealings with Amazon under the new model. Our disagreement is not about short-term profitability but rather about the long-term viability and stability of the digital book market. Amazon and Macmillan both want a healthy and vibrant future for books. We clearly do not agree on how to get there. Meanwhile, the action they chose to take last night clearly defines the importance they attribute to their view. We hold our view equally strongly. I hope you agree with us. You are a vast and wonderful crew. It is impossible to reach you all in the very limited timeframe we are working under, so I have sent this message in unorthodox form. I hope it reaches you all, and quickly. Monday morning I will fully brief all of our editors, and they will be able to answer your questions. I hope to speak to many of you over the coming days. Thanks for all the support you have shown in the last few hours; it is much appreciated. All best, John.”

More on e-books:
Apple’s iPad is officially here
Amazon says e-books outsold physical books on Christmas Day
Kindle’s popularity fires up

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