Monthly Archives: September 2011

Commodity Hardware, Commodity Culture

Peter Brantley -- September 30th, 2011











This week, Amazon introduced the Kindle Fire, it new tablet device. Fire is an amazing product with a compelling feature set, impressive technology, and the ability to secure access to a wide range of media: books, films, and music.  But I think the most amazing aspect of Amazon’s Kindle refresh was not the Fire: it was the price drop for new E-Ink models of basic Kindles to $79.00.

Commoditzing the hardware necessary to access culture translates into more widespread access to culture that is itself a commodity. Even though tablet computers enable powerfully enhanced and interactive e-books, the appeal of text-based stories is persistent; if, for no other reason, because text is cheaper. Despite my concerns about privacy, market share control of books, and proprietary formats, Amazon has been consistent with their latest product announcement: “There are two types of companies: those that work hard to charge customers more, and those that work hard to charge customers less. Both approaches can work. We are firmly in the second camp.” Continue reading

Flannery O’Connor’s Backward Chicken: 5 Authors Famous for Something Else

Gabe Habash -- September 29th, 2011

The traditional path a writer takes to superstardom usually involves honing sentence mechanics, often as a journalist or screwing around with literary journal submissions, before finally writing That Great Book. The path taken to that point is just as important as the finished work itself, and every writer has a story. It’s just that some are way cooler than others. Here are 5 of our favorite writers whose lives outside of writing were just as interesting as the work they’ve become famous for.

1. Flannery O’Connor Made a Chicken Walk Backward

Check out this great clip from 1932 of “young Mary O’Connor of Savannah, Georgia.” That little girl would grow up to become one of America’s greatest short story writers. When Flannery O’Connor was young, she taught her pet bantam chicken how to walk backward. In her own words:

“When I was six I had a chicken that walked backward and was in the Pathé News. I was in it too with the chicken. I was just there to assist the chicken but it was the high point in my life. Everything since has been anticlimax.”

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Live-Blogging the Amazon Press Event

Craig Morgan Teicher -- September 28th, 2011

10:51: Kindle Fire will cost $199.  Ships November 15.

Bezos keeps stressing the notion of “premium products and non-premium prices.”

10: 44: The browser on Kindle fire will be something new:

Bezos says Amazon asked how it could use its server power to improve the speed of mobile Web browsing.  A new product called Amazon Silk, a split browser that lives half on Amazon’s cloud computing systems, half on Kindle Fire.

10:43: This won’t kill the iPad, but it will be the first device to compete…

10:37: Bezos takes aim at Apple, saying the model of backing up content is “broken” as is the idea of syncing.  All content on Kindle Fire is backed up in the cloud.

Whispersync works with all content on Kindle Fire.  Pause a movie on the device, pick up where you left off at home on another device.

10:34: “Is there some way we can bring all of these things together into a remarkable product offering that customers would love?” -Bezos

“The answer is yes: It’s called Kindle fire.”

7″ IPS display, duel core processor.  14.6 oz, all the content.

10:29: Now Bezos is running down the various facets of Amazon’s media businesses: Amazon Prime, streaming video, MP3 store, cloud player.  Lead-up to a tablet that synthesizes all of these?

10:27: Now Bezos is talking about how Amazon has spent 15 years building its media business.

Customers who don’t want touch can get a $79 Kindle!  This devices ships today.

Pre-order starts today and ships 11/21.  “We’re going to sell many millions of these,” says Bezos.

Also announcing Kindle Touch 3G.  Same but with 3G.  $99 was the wi-fi.  3G is $149.

Kindle touch will cost $99!  The fabled $99 e-reader arrives.

10:18: New feature called “x-ray” that lets you look at “the bones of the book,” by which Bezos means looking up various historical references and real characters mentioned on a particular page.  Amazon has “pre-calculated all of the interesting phrases” in a book, so along with the book comes a “side-file” with all of this information included.

10:14: Unveils Kindle Touch with infra-red touch display.  This is a surprise, sort of…no tablet yet. But this is very cool.  New kind of touch display that, Bezos says, enables readers to switch hands.  With infra-red touch, Amazon has revised the tap zones so it’s easier to turn pages no matter how it’s held.

Bezos is running down all the things Amazon has enabled the Kindle e-reader to do: e-ink, real page numbers, Kindle singles,

10:05: Jeff Bezos takes the stage…

10:03: The event opens with a video of cool professionals touting the virtues of the old-fashioned Kindle.

10:01: Nuthin’ doing yet.  Some speculation: I think we’re likely to see an inexpensive, lightweight tablet that will be, like the Kindle, a pipeline into Amazon’s various content stores and fairly low-powered in terms of other functions. Not expecting, for instance, a fancy Web-browsing experience.  This will be the t

Someone’s coming on stage and taking a cover off of something on the podium…

9:50: Things haven’t started yet, but we’re seated in front of a stage with a big Amazon logo projected on the screen.  The conversation here is all about whether and what kind of a big deal this announcement might be.  Also, lots of complaining about the cold and the heat while waiting to get in.  Things are supposed to start at 10.

9:25: I’m here with a whole lot of other journalists waiting to get in to the Amazon event where we are expecting to see the unveiling of Amazon’s tablet offering, rumored to be called the Kindle Fire.


Lending E-Books is about B-2-C

Peter Brantley -- September 27th, 2011


Last week, Amazon released its widely anticipated Kindle ebook lending program.  The launch catapulted out with such speed that Overdrive scrambled to update FAQs and policy pages relating to Amazon’s offering.  It also created a flurry of attention among librarians, who raced to develop helpful guides for their patrons. Drafts flew across the country from one library to another. Concern arose over the impact on e-book acquisition budgets, as Overdrive suggested that Kindle lending could double e-book borrowing rates, as well as questions about the privacy of e-book lending records, and whether Amazon would come up with new privacy policy guidelines.

Just prior to the Kindle launch, Library Journal reported that the President and the Executive Director of the American Library Association (ALA) met with Tom Allen, president of the American Association of Publishers (AAP), in New York. Undoubtedly this must have been an interesting conversation, and certainly one we hope will be followed by many others. But with two major publishers, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster, not yet making books available for lending, and with HarperCollins resistant to modify their 26-loan limit, it seems that publishers are still having quite a bit of trouble wrapping their heads around e-book lending.  Eric Hellman writes that Macmillan CEO John Sargent has said, “You get the book, read it, return it and get another, all without paying a thing. ‘It’s like Netflix, but you don’t pay for it. How is that a good model for us?’ ”

Evidently that’s not a problem for Amazon. If the largest online retailer in the world has made the determination that library e-book lending is not deleterious to its revenues, why has it been so difficult for large publishers to renew their historically much-older library commitments?

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Amazon: Shoddy-On-Demand

Michael Coffey -- September 26th, 2011

Last week, I finally got around to ordering Nick Catalano’s biography of the great jazz trumpeter, Clifford Brown, which I had been meaning to read for several years. I checked with Amazon to find out its availability. Oxford published the book in hardcover in 2000, but the hardcover was out-of-print. I checked the nearby Strand Bookstore, and they had no copies; I checked at McNally Jackson in Prince Street on a stroll home from work, and they did not have the book either; so I decided to order the trade paperback version, published in 2001, from Amazon. It was still in print, for $16.95. I considered for a moment buying one of the many used copies offered on Amazon—both in hardcover and paper—with some priced as low as $2. But then decided, why not have a new book and support  a university press that had seen fit to keep an important book available.

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How Many Do You Know? 15 More Strange & Awesome Word of the Day Words

Gabe Habash -- September 26th, 2011

Last month, we highlighted 20 great words from’s Word of the Day feature, and, if you ask us, one month is too long for everyone to go without a vocab quiz. Here are 15 more great selections from the Word of the Day. Just highlight the white space below the entry to reveal the definition. And don’t worry, if you don’t score as well as you wanted, you’ll at least have a better vocabulary the next time you attend your next klatsch.

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Corralling Lost Culture: Licensing and Orphan Works in Europe

Peter Brantley -- September 23rd, 2011

On September 20, stakeholders in the European publishing and library sectors released a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to facilitate broader access to books and related materials that are no longer in commercial distribution.  The MoU, suggests Olav Stokkmo, president of IFFRO (the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations) also addresses the availability of orphan works: “The MoU will solve the problem of orphan works,” Stokkmo told IP Watch, “because it will allow such content to be included in collective licenses.”

But despite this optimism, collective licensing cannot adequately moderate access to orphan works, because collective licensing frameworks too easily corral orphan books into the same pen as works that have known and locatable rightsholders, therefore unduly restricting orphan access. In other words, because collective license agreements include works without determinable rightsholders, they incorporate books for which some types of uses should not be governed by licenses at all.

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6 More Hilarious Amazon Customer Reviews!

Gabe Habash -- September 22nd, 2011

It’s time for the latest round of Hilarious Amazon Customer Reviews. We’re sure you know the drill, but in case you need catching up, here’s what we do: we comb Amazon’s vast inventory of books for the funniest and most creative customer reviews around; the more sarcastic, the better. So enjoy, and be sure to check out our previous posts in the series here and here.

Birth Control is Sinful in the Christian Marriages and also Robbing God of Priesthood Children!! by Eliyzabeth Yanne Strong-Anderson

Unnecessary for those who have a face like a dropped meat pie

by Twal:

Despite being written entirely in BLOCK CAPITALS, this self-published work conveys its message elegantly. In fact, you don’t even need to read it to understand the main argument being put forward.

True, by avoiding this book you will miss out on the precise location of the heretical surfboard worshipped by the British royal family and the sinister significance of Abe Lincoln’s unholy quadrille. You will also miss out on the explanation of why the Hairy-Eared Dwarf Lemur is really God’s own tree-dwelling angel-on-earth and on the coded instructions showing how to grow a prize-winning mushroom, which the author cunningly gleaned from a close textural analysis of St. Paul’s third birthday card to the Corinthians.

That aside, my big problem with this book is that the ‘birth control is sinful’ message is difficult for most regular-looking people to put into practice. I wonder if this lack of guidance is down to the author’s own sexual inexperience brought about by her scary fanaticism and a face that would scare a dog out of a butcher’s shop. Continue reading

Stoker’s Blood-Sucking Spider: 5 Strange Things Named After Writers

Gabe Habash -- September 21st, 2011

Last month, we took a tour of the weird, unexpected things people have decided to name after writers. As it turns out, there are a lot of weird things named after writers. So crank up the Belle & Sebastian, and check out the next round of our favorites.

1. 3453 Dostoevsky is a minor planet named after Fyodor Dostoyevsky, discovered in 1981 by Lyudmila Karachkina, a woman who was basically the Duke Ellington of asteroid discoverers. She was so prolific that she discovered 130 of them during the late 70s and early 80s. A look at a list of her asteroids hints at some more of her favorite writers: 3469 Bulgakov, 3508 Pasternak and 5676 Voltaire. She also seems to have an affinity for the music of Édith Piaf and the work of Charlie Chaplin.

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The Orphan Path Not Taken

Peter Brantley -- September 20th, 2011

Ever since the Authors Guild filed suit against HathiTrust, alleging that its orphan works program was a rights grab from authors, there has been renewed interest in both the potential number of orphan works, and the amount of work required to ascertain their status. But instead of arguing over whether or not any given book is an orphan or not, wouldn’t we be better off thinking about how to work together to find a solution to the problem?

Orphan works have been an issue of great frustration for libraries, archives, and organizations seeking to digitize and make available print materials in their collections, because the cost of determining the rights status of any given work is quite high in terms of labor. Looking up individual titles in myriad databases and attempting to trace any leads that might be found can consume a prodigious amount of time. This is why many digitization programs, including Google Book Search, have reached for an “opt-out” policy where rightsholders have to actively claim and remove works from digitization workflows.

An orphan work is a work for which a valid rights holder is untraceable, or cannot be determined. There are several follow-on, or related cases (e.g., when a putatively responsible rightsholder can be located but no contact can be made; or no response is returned to a request for rights clarification or use). These latter instances are not strictly orphan works, but they also frustrate access.

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