Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Canon's EOS C100: The new entry point into Canon's cinema cameras

IBC is fast approaching, and in anticipation of the show, Canon just announced the EOS C100 Cinema Camera, its new entry-level model. According to Digital Photography Review, the C100 is approximately 15% smaller than the C300, but it has the same basic design. It has a Super 35mm 8.3 Megapixel sensor, and the camera supports any lens with an EF mount, including Canon's Cinema lenses. Unlike the C300 and C500, both of which use Canon's 50Mbps 4:2:2 video codec, the C100 is strictly AVCHD-based, with a 24Mbps 4:2:0 codec. It has two SD card slots and can record to both cards simultaneously for automatic backup, or in relay mode to permit one card to be replaced while the camcorder records on the other card. The C100 records in 1080p at 24/25/30 fps, and 1080i at 50/60 fps. ISO sensitivity is from 300 to 20,000.

With the C100, Canon has included many of the automatic features that were left out of the C300: One-shot auto focus, auto iris and auto white balance. Continuous auto focus and iris adjustment when used with Canon's EF stepper motor lenses (STM) will be added with a firmware update next year. The C100 has built-in ND filters and dual XLR audio inputs. Video output is via a lockable HDMI connector. Expected list price when the C100 ships in November is $7.999 (U.S.).

The camera that the C100 will most likely be compared with is Sony's FS700, which has the same $7,999 list price without lens, and overall, very similar specifications. The FS700 uses AVCHD, but unlike the C100, it offers the 2.0 version that supports 28Mbps recording and 1080p at 50/60 fps. It also has full HD slow motion to 240 fps, and up to 960fps at lower resolution, while Philip Bloom notes that the specifications for the C100 don't say anything about slow motion support. The FS700 also has a 3G HD-SDI output, while the C100 is limited to HDMI out. On the downside, the FS700 uses Sony's E-mount, which has fewer available lenses than Canon's EF mount. In addition, it uses the "Lego bricks" design of the FS100, which seems to be about equally loved and hated by cinematographers.

My suspicion is that this could turn into the video equivalent of Canon vs. Nikon still cameras, with camps of users who simply prefer the video from one manufacturer over the other. In any event, the C100 is likely to be a very popular camera with users and a very important camera for Canon.
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NewTek's new Tricaster 40: Right price point, wrong feature set

Earlier today, NewTek announced a new Tricaster, the 40, that offers HD video switching at a very competitive price. The Tricaster 40 has six live inputs and three internal video sources, including an internal hard drive that can store up to 20 hours of 1080i HD video. It also offers the same 24 virtual sets as NewTek's more expensive Tricasters, making it one of the least expensive ways to use professional virtual sets. The entire package weighs 19 pounds and is about the size of Shuttle's small form factor PCs. The Tricaster 40 lists for $4,995, and its optional dedicated control surface is $1,995.

The biggest problem that I have with the Tricaster 40 is that all of its inputs and outputs are analog, not HDMI or SDI. If you want digital inputs, you have to step up to the Tricaster 455 A La Carte model (without a control surface) for $15,995. Virtually every camera and camcorder that you'd want to use for HD production today has either a HDMI or SDI output, so with the Tricaster 40, you're stuck with a stack of converters and a rat's nest of cables. Blackmagic Design's ATEM 1 M/E, which has four HDMI and four SDI inputs, along with HDMI and SDI outputs, lists for $2,495. It seems to me that the decision by NewTek to leave professional digital video inputs and outputs off the 40 wasn't so much a cost-saving measure as it was a deliberate attempt to keep the 40 from cannibalizing the company's more expensive Tricasters. That might have worked when NewTek was the only game in town, but customers are now very aware that they have other choices.

At this point, the only reason that I'd recommend a Tricaster 40 over the ATEM 1 M/E is for the virtual set capability. If you want to use virtual sets, the Tricaster 40 is a steal. Also, if you want to use a dedicated control surface, you can save some money over an ATEM 1 M/E ($6,990 for the Tricaster 40 and control surface vs. $8,485 for the ATEM 1 M/E with control surface and HyperDeck Studio dual-slot disk recorder.) However, the best solution would be for NewTek to "bite the bullet" and put professional inputs and outputs on a device that's screaming for them.
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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sometimes we need an echo chamber

It's Sunday, time for U.S. networks to broadcast their morning political talk shows, with politicians and pundits talking at, not with, each other. Political discourse in the U.S. has devolved into two "echo chambers"--one for Democrats, the other for Republicans, each one telling its supporters what they want to hear and disregarding any evidence that contradicts their views. It's good for all of us to punch a hole in our echo chambers, so that we can be exposed to ideas that contradict our own--that's where personal growth and respect for other opinions comes from. However, there's another echo chamber that we're building for ourselves, and it has nothing to do with politics--but everything to do with self-preservation.

I'm reading the current issue of Wired Magazine. I've subscribed to Wired for years, but it hit me this morning just how inane so much of the contents are:
  • Jonathan Sherman, in a letter to the editor, complained about an article in last month's edition that mentioned the outcome of one of the characters in "The Sopranos." That's right, he complained about being told about the fate of a character in a television show that ended in 2007. He wrote, "Please, in the future, be more mindful of less up-to-date viewers." For Pete's sake, don't tell Jonathan about Rosebud.
  • There's a discussion of how the use of silane in Loctite Epoxy would cause it to burst into flames upon exposure to oxygen. My epoxy bursts into flames all the time, but then, so does my Silly Putty and Fruit of the Loom underwear.
  • A woman in an ad from plumbing fixture maker Kohler looks like she's going to have sex with a guy because of his...toilet. "My, what a big toilet you've got!" 
  • According to watchmaker TAG Heuer, Leonardo DiCaprio wears his watch on the back of his right hand. That would make it difficult for him to use his big toilet.
  • Chevron says that "Oil companies should think more like technology companies." So why don't they?
  • Would you like to hear from Marriott's "Culturazzi"? I didn't think so.
That's just up to page 47. Much of the garbage in Wired is from advertisers, to be sure, but it's garbage that subscribers pay for. And, Wired is one of the better publications. Web-specific sites are filled with aggregated articles and SEO-tuned garbage from content farms like Demand Media. Bleeding has led on local television news for as long as I can remember. Your local newspaper is probably bloated with trivial feature articles and wire service stories, with a little original local news coverage thrown in for good measure.  Content on broadcast commercial radio has become the stuff between the commercials. Cable news channels take one story and beat it to death, then fill in the gaps with meaningless debates between talking heads.

We automatically filter most of this stuff out because, if we really paid attention to it, we'd go crazy. In turn, the media responds by fragmenting even further--putting more versions in more places. Advertisers run more ads, and make them more outlandish, in the hope of capturing attention--which we can measure, sort of, even if we can't measure how well the ads actually lead to sales.

We create our own echo chamber of media that we turn to, and ignore everything else. It's a logical defense mechanism. Spewing more crap through more outlets isn't going to break through our defenses--it's only going to lead to higher and thicker walls. 
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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Don't you want to find out which half of your advertising is wasted?

Some time in the early 20th Century, John Wanamaker, one of the fathers of the U.S. department store business, said "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half." Kantar Media Intelligence reports that $144 billion dollars was spent on advertising in the U.S. last year. If Wanamaker's Rule is still in effect, that means that $72 billion was wasted.

How much television advertising do you pay attention to? Do you mute your television when the ads come on? Do you prefer to watch television from your DVR and skip over the ads? How about radio--like me, have you given up on commercial broadcast radio because there are simply too many ads? Do you instead listen to satellite radio (which still has ads, but fewer of them), a service like Pandora, or music on your iPod or phone? How many print ads in magazines do you pay attention to? When was the last time that you paid attention to a newspaper ad, or looked through the classified ads? Do you read the flyers and other junk mail you receive, or do you throw them in the recycling bin as soon as they arrive? When you're browsing the web, do you use an ad blocker?

The fact is that, with a few exceptions, we really have no way of directly measuring advertising effectiveness--no way of knowing how much of our advertising is wasted. The only way to scientifically test is to not only compare one ad against another, but to also test against a control of no advertising whatsoever--and no company is going to risk the potential harm of eliminating all advertising in order to test the difference between some form of advertising and none at all. While you're testing, you'd better account for macroeconomic effects as well: A test in 2007 would have had very different results than the same test in 2009.

So, we're at the same place as the ancient Egyptians and Greeks were when they performed highly symbolic, but ultimately ineffective, animal sacrifices. We don't sacrifice animals anymore; instead, we waste tens of billions of dollars that could be used for other, more productive, activities. Could we do without it? If we did, what horrors would the gods rain down upon us?

I'd argue that most large advertisers could cut their advertising expenditures by 50% with little or no effect on sales, and a big positive effect on their bottom lines. And, I believe that we're heading in that direction. Marketers are finding success with approaches that look little or nothing like conventional advertising, such as product placement and social media.

Advertisers who do try to cut their expenditures on conventional media in half are going to face tremendous pushback. Ad agencies and media buyers will tell them that their plan is risky, if not insane. (Ad agencies and media buyers get a large portion of their income from purchase of advertising space.) Media companies will sow fear, uncertainty and doubt within advertisers' management. Even advertisers' managers may fear that cutting the expenditures in half may result in "turning the field over" to their competitors. Making such a decision is going to take enormous courage on the part of executives. However, if it causes earnings before advertising and promotion expenses to fall more than the savings from the decrease in ad expenditures, companies can always ramp advertising back up.

For their part, media companies have to prepare for a future where they get the majority of their revenues from subscriptions and other income instead of advertising. As for media startups, building your business plan solely, or even primarily, on advertising revenues is a fool's game.
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The Apple-Samsung Verdict: Ultimately, it's better for everyone (except, perhaps, developers)

Yesterday's overwhelming court victory by Apple over Samsung in U.S. Federal Court is only one of many such cases being tried around the world, but it may be the most important. The jury's decisions may eventually be revised or overturned on appeal, but the results give a blueprint for how other such trials between Apple and Android licensees are likely to play out.

[Update, August 26, 2012: Groklaw reports that the speed of the jury's decision, given the 109 pages of jury instructions and 700 questions that the jury had to answer, and the speed with which the jury reconciled two obvious inconsistencies in its verdict, suggest that the jury raced through the judgment process without the necessary consideration. That conclusion is supported by a quote (albeit hearsay) in the blog The Verge: "The foreman told a court representative that the jurors had reached a decision without needing the (Judge's) instructions." CNET carried another quote, from a jury member, suggesting that the foreman led the jury to make a speedy but insufficiently considered set of judgments against Samsung. For these and other reasons, Groklaw believes that the jury's ruling won't stand.]

If you think back before Apple released the original iPhone, there was enormous diversity in mobile phone design. Motorola shook things up with its Razr; LG had its Chocolate phones, and Danger designed innovative early smartphones. And, of course, there was RIM with its keyboard-based BlackBerry models. Now, at least when they're turned off, there's very little difference between the smartphones from Apple, Samsung, LG, Motorola, Nokia and many other vendors. They're rectangular, fairly thin phones with touchscreens. Even RIM's new BlackBerry 10-based smartphones are going to be keyboard-free.

The Apple-Samsung ruling means that Android licensees are going to have to carefully scrub their smartphones of user interface features similar to those of Apple. Google is going to have to deliver a base version of Android that does the same thing. In addition, the physical designs of smartphones are going to have to become much more diverse. I see that as an opportunity, not a liability. Cars all have the same basic functional elements, but a Fiat 500 looks dramatically different inside and out than a Mercedes E-Class sedan.

There's a lot of room for creativity in smartphone design, and it's time for Apple's competitors to exercise that creativity. Phones could have displays that are designed to be used in landscape, rather than portrait, mode. They could fold up and have a top and bottom display. They could have displays on the front and back. There's a lot of creativity in Japanese phone designs, and that could become a model for the rest of the world.

The biggest problem facing smartphone designers is maintaining a consistent environment for app developers. Android developers are already confronted with a bewildering combination of screen sizes and versions of the operating system. There are over 1,000 different devices that developers could write for, but the reality is that they target a few popular devices and hope for the best. The problem will only get worse with more screen sizes and Android user interface customizations, and Google and its licensees are going to have to make it easier for developers to accommodate those variations.

It's time for someone to think outside the box and design a smartphone that makes the iPhone look outdated.
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Friday, August 24, 2012

One Apple announcement or two? It doesn't matter

It's Friday in late August and everybody is a little punchy, so now there's a controversy about whether Apple will have one announcement in September for both the new iPhone and smaller iPad, or one in September for the iPhone and a second one in October for the iPad. The "one announcement" theory was dominant until   yesterday, when both John Gruber and Jim Dalrymple wrote in their blogs that two announcements are more likely. Panic ensued. (Why am I writing about this? It's a Friday in late August and I'm punchy.)

The truth is, it doesn't matter. One rumor is that Apple only recently began production of the smaller iPad and won't be able to deliver product until October anyway, so why announce it a month early, build up an order backlog and potentially disappoint people? If Apple only announces an iPhone at the September event, the obvious expectation will be that the small iPad is coming in October--thanks to Gruber and Dalrymple. Of course, if the small iPad doesn't show up in October, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Samsung and who knows who else will breathe a sigh of relief.

So, don't worry about whether it'll be one announcement or two. Take a deep breath and relax. It's Friday in late August and you're punchy. Have a good weekend!
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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Digital Book World's new eBook bestseller list is being compiled by a Big 6 employee

Yesterday, the Digital Book World website owned by F+W Media announced a new bestseller list for eBooks, and claimed that its methodology would make the list more accurate than those published by other sources. In its release of the first edition of the list, Jeremy Greenfield, the site's Editorial Director, wrote that the new list is "a new weekly venture from Digital Book World in partnership with Iobyte Solutions." There's nothing more in the article that describes Iobyte Solutions. A press release announcing the new list has extensive quotes from Greenfield, F+W Media Chairman and CEO David Nussbaum, Iobyte Solutions "managing partner" Dan Lubart, and several others. Other than the quote from Lubart, nothing in the release describes Iobyte Solutions. Finally, Lubart himself wrote a post on Digital Book World, describing the methodology used for compiling the list. Here's how Lubart describes himself in the post:

About Dan Lubart

Dan Lubart is a technology strategist and data junkie who founded Iobyte Solutions in 2000 following a previous decade of solo consulting. Still fairly new to the publishing industry, Dan has been involved with digital disruption in the past, spending a year at Universal Music Group right around the time Napster was rearing its head and now focuses mainly on the familiar challenges and opportunities of the eBook marketplace. With Iobyte, Dan also developed a very cool consumer learning site for Scholastic, and has consulted with major clients in banking, pharmaceuticals, retail and media. Amidst his other current professional endeavors, Dan devotes great chunks of time to enhancing and marketing Iobyte’s eBook MarketView service (retail data and analytics on both physical and eBooks for publishers). Follow him at hiswebsite and on Twitter.
There's just one problem with all of this: Dan Lubart is also the Senior Vice President of Sales Analytics at HarperCollins. That's right--a senior sales executive with one of the Big 6 publishers is responsible for compiling an "unbiased" list of bestselling eBooks. I wouldn't have known anything about this if Mike Shatzkin hadn't mentioned it in passing in his blog. When I first read Shatzkin's blog, I was sure that I was reading it wrong--surely Lubart had worked at HarperCollins before leaving to set up Iobyte Solutions, but a quick check with LinkedIn showed that I read it correctly. Lubart is apparently continuing to run Iobyte Solutions while he also works for HarperCollins.

This opens up an enormous can of worms. Did Greenfield and Nussbaum not know that Lubart had a massive conflict of interest? Mike Shatzkin certainly did, and he's quoted in the press release that announced the new bestseller list. If Greenfield and Nussbaum did know, why didn't they reveal that information? They had plenty of opportunities to do so. Unless Lubart was suffering from a case of selective amnesia, he should have revealed his employment in the post he made describing the list's methodology. He spent an entire paragraph talking about his background, with no mention whatsoever that he's currently employed by HarperCollins.

Any argument that Digital Book World or F+W Media might make about Lubart's ability to somehow keep a "Chinese wall" in his head separating his duties at HarperCollins from his work for Digital Book World is laughable. This is an inherent conflict of interest. It should have been fully disclosed, and even then, it undercuts the impartiality of the list. The best thing that Digital Book World could do is admit what happened and separate itself entirely from Iobyte Solutions and Mr. Lubart. Another option would be if Mr. Lubart ends his employment at HarperCollins, declines to accept any consulting business from the company, and works full time at Iobyte Solutions. Failing that, the Digital Book World list has to be seen as inherently unreliable.

Update, August 21, 2012: Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader picked up on the story, and contacted Digital Book World to ask some questions. As of this writing, DBW hasn't responded to Hoffelder, but after it received Hoffelder's request, it edited Dan Lubart's biography to add a mention of his employment at HarperCollins:

About Dan Lubart

Dan Lubart is a technology strategist and data junkie who founded Iobyte Solutions in 2000 following a previous decade of solo consulting. Dan currently works with HarperCollins as S.V.P. of Pricing and Sales Analytics while concurrently managing Iobyte and the eBook MarketView service providing retail data and analytics on both physical and ebooks. (Emphasis added.) Still fairly new to the publishing industry, Dan has been involved with digital disruption in the past, spending a year at Universal Music Group right around the time Napster was rearing its head and now focuses mainly on the familiar challenges and opportunities of the eBook marketplace. With Iobyte, Dan also developed a very cool consumer learning site for Scholastic, and has consulted with major clients in banking, pharmaceuticals, retail and media. Follow him at hiswebsite and on Twitter.
Note that DBW didn't just add a mention of Lubart's employment at HarperCollins--it also edited other parts of the biography out. They did this without explaining the reason why, and without addressing Lubart's conflict of interest. In addition, note the wording that "Dan currently works with HarperCollins as S.V.P of Pricing and Sales Analytics...", implying that his relationship with HarperCollins is that of a consultant or contractor, when his LinkedIn resume makes it clear that he works FOR HarperCollins as a full-time employee.

F+W Media's and Digital Book World's logic for how they're handling this revelation isn't clear to me. Surely Lubart isn't the only researcher in the country who could put together this bestseller list. I've done market research and industry analysis for years, and what Lubart says he's doing is nothing that literally thousands of other analysts couldn't do. Instead, DBW's actions are like the New York Times hiring the head researcher for the Obama or Romney campaign to do its election polling, and responding "Yeah? So what?' when the truth is discovered. No organization with any pretensions to journalism would act this way, so the question becomes, what kind of organization is Digital Book World, and why should anyone believe that its eBook bestseller list, or anything else it publishes, is untainted by conflicts of interest?
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Monday, August 20, 2012

Interview with me on the BookGoodies website

An interview that I did with Deborah Carney of BookGoodies about things that publishers and self-publishing authors need to keep in mind when getting into eBooks, especially those for children's books and other graphic- and design-heavy applications, has been posted on their website. It's about a 45-minute interview, and there's lots of useful information. You'll also find a permanent link to the interview in the left-hand column of this blog.
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Friday, August 17, 2012

Who do you trust? It depends on your political party

The Pew Research Center for the People & The Press has released a survey of 1,001 U.S. residents ages 18 or older. Of that group, 239 were Republicans, 286 were Democrats and 384 were independents. Keep those numbers in mind, because they're going to be very important in a minute. The top line of the survey, according to Pew, is "Further Decline in Credibility Ratings for Most News Organizations." And, their findings show that the believability of nine of the 13 news organizations rated fell considerably between the last survey in 2010 and the current survey. The average believability of all the organizations fell 6 points in two years, from 62% positive in 2010 to 56% positive in 2012.

Here's the table of overall ratings for the 13 news organizations:

Overall, the most trusted news sources are local TV news and CBS' "60 Minutes", and the least trusted sources are The New York Times, Fox News and USA Today. Many of the reports on Pew's study stop at that point, but they miss the real story: There are huge differences between how Democrats, Republicans and independents trust news sources:
  • Democrats trust everyone except Fox News. Every news source except Fox gets a positive believability rating.
  • Democrats rate "60 Minutes", ABC News and CBS News (tie), CNN, NBC News and local TV news as most believable.
  • Republicans only trust local TV news, Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, and (just barely) "60 Minutes" and USA Today. They distrust every other news source.
  • Even though Republicans trust Fox News the second-most, its believability rating has fallen 10 points in two years, from 77% in 2010 to 67% now.
  • Republicans and Democrats are closest in their perceptions of local TV news, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal.
  • Independents typically fall between Democrats and Republicans--they're less enthusiastic about news sources in general than Democrats, but less pessimistic than Republicans. "60 Minutes", local TV news, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, ABC News and NPR (tie), the respondents' daily local newspaper they know best and CBS News are the news organizations that rate positively with independents.
Here's the overall table:

This is why the overall ratings that lead the survey, while correct, are very misleading about what the survey actually found. The real takeaways are:
  • Political views make a huge difference as to people's overall perceptions of news believability and media preferences.
  • Republicans, at least in this survey, are too closed to news and opinions that might conflict with their world views.
  • Democrats, again in this survey at least, are too trusting of the news they get from most outlets, and perhaps don't recognize that cuts in newsroom budgets since 2008 have led to a deterioration in the quality of news and opinions from most news organizations.
  • Independents are the most cynical about believability across most news outlets, and probably represent the best balance of belief and skepticism.
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Sony's new NEX-EA50EH: A large-sensor, low-cost ENG camcorder

In the DSLR News Shooter blog, Dan Chung writes about Sony's new NEX-EA50EH, a hybrid of ENG-oriented camcorders and the FS100/FS700 style of interchangeable lens cameras with Super 35 sensors. The EA50 looks like a long, thin ENG camcorder with a FS100-style viewfinder stuck on the handle. It uses the same E-mount as all of Sony's NEX cameras and camcorders, and it accepts E-mount adapters to support Alpha lenses, as well as FD, PL, Canon, Nikon and Leica mounts.

The EA50 comes with a 18-200mm F3.5-6.3 power zoom ENG-style lens with auto focus, continuously variable iris and image stabilization. The camcorder records in 1080 at 60p, 30p, 24p and 60i, and at 50p, 25p and 50i using AVCHD 2.0 (one model handles both 60 and 50 Hz.) It also has stereo XLR inputs, time code and built-in GPS. The EA50 can record to SD cards and Memory Sticks, as well as to an optional docking flash memory unit, but it only outputs to HDMI, not HD-SDI.

Dan Chung notes some negatives for the EA50: It doesn't come with built-in neutral density filters, so the user will have to add them. Its shoulder pad design is similar to Canon's old XL camcorders, so it's likely to be tiring to hold the EA50 for long periods of time. In addition, some sites have written that the EA50 uses the same sensor as the one found in the consumer-oriented NEX-VG20, not the FS100. On the other hand, it has a form factor that doesn't require any additional hardware for field shooting, and the expected price for the EA50, including the lens, will be $4,000 $4,500 U.S. (per B&H). The EA50 is expected to ship in mid-October.

With the EA50, Sony is responding to shooters who like the flexibility and image quality of the FS100 and FS700--or, for that matter, DSLRs--but don't like all the hardware they have to add to the cameras in order to make them usable in "run & gun" situations. It should be possible to take the EA50 out of the box, charge it up and take it into the field immediately, without any additional hardware. Of course, at $4,000 $4,500, there have to be some compromises in the design--the lack of a SDI output is an obvious one, and the quality of the included zoom lens may be another. Nevertheless, even with compromises, the EA50 may be the right camcorder for a good number of users.

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

The $199 Surface for Windows RT tablet--why the rumors might need to be true

There are legions of reports, starting with Engadget, that Microsoft may price its entry-level Surface for Windows RT tablet at $199. The reports tend to fall into three categories:
  1. Microsoft would never do that to its licensees, 
  2. It would be awful for its licensees if Microsoft did it, and
  3. Microsoft can afford to do it.
In a sense, all three are true: Under normal circumstances, the last thing that Microsoft would want to do is to compete with its hardware licensees. If Microsoft did it, its (four, count 'em, four) Windows RT licensees would undoubtedly be hurt--there's no way that Asus, Dell, Lenovo and Samsung could, or would, match that price. And yes, Microsoft can afford it--and it has a history of deficit-spending its way into markets. It's estimated that the company lost several billion dollars on its Xbox game console business before it became profitable, and the company recently took a $6 billion write-off on its acquisition of online advertising company aQuantive. The company has also lost billions of dollars on its online business, although it's still nowhere near profitability after years of investments.

I fall into a fourth camp: Microsoft has to do it, for the same reason that the company rushed out its Surface tablets with a last-minute, under-rehearsed announcement that didn't include any price or availability details. My premise is that developers simply aren't showing much interest in creating apps for the tablet user interface formerly called Metro. Microsoft knows better than anyone else whether developers are showing interest in Metro--they know how many developers are using Visual Studio to create apps, and at least roughly, how many apps are under development.

Microsoft also knows that the biggest strength of the iOS platform is its enormous collection of apps, and that Android struggled as a tablet platform because of a lack of apps. Without a strong assortment of apps, and with no price advantage over the iPad and Android, Windows RT will be "dead on arrival." Microsoft has probably already resigned itself to having a big "app gap" when Windows RT ships, so it has to come up with another motivation to get consumers to buy Windows RT tablets, and thus build an attractive market for app developers. That motivation is price.

Microsoft's big lesson may be HP's experience with the webOS TouchPad. At $399, TouchPads gathered dust at Best Buy stores around the U.S. However, when HP dropped the price to $99, hundreds of thousands of the tablets flew off the shelves, even though they were discontinued and HP's commitment to further webOS development was in serious doubt. Demand was so great that HP built more of the tablets, and those that are still available sell at prices close to the original retail price.

Microsoft has to get a lot of Windows RT tablets into consumers' hands in order to encourage developers to write for the platform. If the company believed that the tablets under development by its licensees wouldn't be popular enough to make much of a difference, it had to act--first with the Surface pre-announcement, and now, with a $199 price that will be too good for a lot of people to pass up.

I go back to my point above--Microsoft isn't afraid of taking big losses in order to buy its way into a market. It's also not afraid to lose money on hardware--estimates of Microsoft's costs for replacing Xbox 360 game consoles with the "Red Ring of Death" problem range as high as $2.5 billion. So, while selling the Surface for Windows RT below cost would certainly be an act of desperation, it's already in Microsoft's play book.
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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

NBC Olympics' host Bob Costas to go into cryogenic storage for future games

(New York, NY) -- August 15, 2012 --NBCUniversal announced today that Bob Costas, Emmy-winning sportscaster and host of NBC's Olympics coverage, has agreed to be placed in suspended animation between each Olympics. According to Mark Lazarus, Chairman, NBC Sports, "We'll be able to keep Bob fresh for Olympic coverage for decades, or even centuries, to come. Every two years, it'll be like Bob rising from the dead."

According to a company spokesperson, Costas will be stored using technology from NBC minority owner General Electric. Costas will be cryogenically frozen, after being hermetically sealed to prevent "freezer burn." A rotisserie-like device will rotate Costas's body to prevent flat spots.

One concern may be the impact of Costas's departure from NBC's "Sunday Night Football," but he said, "I've never been interested in football. If I can't cover baseball, I'd rather be unconscious and spinning around like a Boston Market chicken between Olympics." The plan is to defrost and awaken Costas two weeks before each Olympics, starting with the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Attendents will brief Costas on trivia and baseball statistics, and then he'll be flown to the Olympics in time for the Opening Ceremony.

Technicians from Syracuse University's Exercise Science Department, who will be maintaining Costas's hibernation unit deep below GE's Crotonville facility, say that they hope that it will eventually be possible to input trivia and baseball statistics directly into his brain during suspended animation. That would enable NBC to ship Costas to the Olympics site in a frozen condition, defrost, dress and seat him on set immediately before the start of the Opening Ceremony.

One side effect of the freeze-thaw cycle may be shrinkage of one-half inch for every Olympics, but technicians believe that they can solve the problem before Costas' height falls below five feet, or the year 2030.

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Friday, August 10, 2012

PressBooks prepares to launch its eBook publishing service

PressBooks, an eBook editing and self-publishing service based on WordPress, has announced its pricing plans and is nearing a formal launch. The service, which has been in beta for some time, enables writers to collaboratively create eBooks, either online or via file uploads. Existing WordPress users can selectively convert their blogs into eBooks using PressBooks. The service outputs EPUBs for Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble's Nook and Kobo, converts EPUBs to Amazon's Kindle formats, creates public or private web versions of eBooks and exports to PDF for print-on-demand. PressBooks offers an assortment of templates that are optimized for different eReading platforms. It can directly post eBooks into Apple's, Barnes & Noble's and Kobo's eBookstores, or self-publishers can download the files and manage their own distribution. (Apparently, self-publishers will have to post titles into Amazon's Kindle Store themselves.)

The new pricing plans, which appear to still be under discussion, are as follows:
  • The first five books are free (beta users who've already created eBooks are exempt from monthly pricing on those titles, and will be entitled to five more free titles.)
  • Up to 20 books: $50/month.
  • Up to 200 books: $200/month.
  • Distribution to the Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kindle eBookstores will cost a one-time fee of $100/book + $25/year/book.

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Sony's rumored A99 to battle Canon and Nikon at the high end?

In an interview with Bloomberg Business, Sony's new CEO Kaz Hirai said that his company has three core businesses: Digital imaging, games and mobile devices. Sony's been investing heavily in its camera business, and it's now the leader in mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras. However, even though the company has launched a number of new Alpha DSLR models, it doesn't have a camera that can compete with the top of either Canon's or Nikon's lines. According to Sony Alpha Rumors, that's about to change.

The blog writes that Sony is working on a new Alpha model, the A99, that should compete on a fairly equal level with Canon's 5D Mark II and 5D Mark III, as well as Nikon's D800. The A99 is rumored to have a 102-point autofocus system--more detailed that that of the D800 (51 points) or the 5D Mark III (61 points). The A99's video capabilities are supposed to be superior to those of any of Sony's previous still cameras. According to Sony Alpha Rumors, a new flash will provide continuous light for video shooting, and the camera will be designed to equally facilitate still photography and video--a challenge given the very different form-factors of still cameras and camcorders.

Sony Alpha Rumors doesn't give any dates for announcement and shipment, and the rumors have been floating around for a while--for example, the one about the 102-point autofocus system dates back to last March. However, it's clear that in order to be fully competitive in cameras, Sony needs a high-end model. Whether it's the A99 or another model, it's likely that Sony's working on a camera that can compete directly with Canon's and Nikon's best.

[Update, August 28, 2012: has published a fairly complete list of specifications for the A99--but remember, these are still rumors (hence the name.) Here are some of the details:

  • 24.3MP full frame CMOS Exmor sensor
  • ISO range: 100-25,600
  • 14 bit RAW output
  • 1/8000 maximum shutter speed
  • 10 fps continuous shooting
  • 2369k OLED viewfinder
  • 3" tiltable 921k LCD display
  • Full HD video recording at 1080/60p
  • Auto HDR capability
  • HDMI output
  • Built-in stereo mic
  • Two memory card slots--one for Secure Digital, and the other for SD or Memory Sticks

According to Photorumors, the A99 will be announced by Sony on September 12th and will be available in stores in October, for a price of around $2,800. I have my doubts about the announcement date, given that Apple's announcement of the new iPhone is widely rumored to be on that same date, and that would bury coverage of any other product announcements on the same day.]
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Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Going back to the old long-post format

Early this year, in order to promote my consulting practice, I launched a weekly newsletter that focused on eBook industry news. It was popular with readers, but I couldn't get the number of readers to a level that justified the work that went into producing it each week. So, I moved the posts into this blog, and did daily updates. That doubled or tripled the average readership of each article--but it left me with an ethical dilemma.

Most of what I've written over the almost seven years of this blog has been original analysis and opinion, but with the change in direction that I took in June, the focus has become aggregation. I've been careful to credit the original source(s) for each article at or near the beginning of my summary, and I've tried to make it worthwhile for readers to click on the link and go back to the original article for more details. Nevertheless, I'm either depending on the original reporting of others, or condensing press releases and adding a bit of context--neither of which are journalism. (I'm not saying that it's my intention to commit journalism, but aggregation isn't journalism under even the most generous definition.)

In addition, I've confused (and probably lost) a lot of the readers who came to this site for information about video and DSLRs. I tried to cover both eBooks and video, but with my focus on eBooks, video took a seat way at the back of the bus. I should have made the change in direction clearer to my readers, and I probably should have split the blog into two, with one section exclusively covering eBooks and the other doing the same for video.

There are many sources that you can use to get daily news about eBooks, so as of today, I'm going to go back to the old format. I've published a list of sources below, and I'll update the blog list in the right-hand column with those sources. If you've started reading The Feldman File because of the stream of aggregated articles, I hope that you'll stay on board for my original articles.

Here's a list of some of the sources that I used to compile my daily posts:

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Will Nikon's Coolpix S800 be the first Android-based camera?

Nikon Rumors reports that Nikon submitted its Coolpix S800 to the Indonesian Communication Agency for approval. According to the blog, the Coolpix S800 is expected to run Android Gingerbread (2.3.X) and will run all Google Play apps that are backward-compatible with Gingerbread. Nikon Rumors writes that the Coolpix S800 could be announced on August 22nd.

The S800 makes no pretense of being a professional camera--it's a point & shoot. Here are a few of the expected specifications:
What makes the S800 interesting is that it's based on Android. What could app developers do with a real camera, instead of having to make do with the limited functionality of the cameras in today's smartphones? Even more interesting is the possibility of a DSLR or mirrorless interchangeable lens camera that runs Android, and whose functionality can be modified with third-party apps.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2012

E Ink's Q2 sales and gross margin decline, net loss increases

The Taipei Times reports that E Ink, the supplier of the electrophoretic displays used in most black & white eReaders, released its second quarter financial results yesterday. Revenues were approximately $149.5 million, down 35.37% from $231.3 million a year earlier. Gross margins were 0.6% vs. 32.5% a year ago. The company posted a net loss of $27.3 million vs. $26.3 million a year ago.

The fact that gross margins have collapsed (they were 1.1% in Q1) suggests that eReader manufacturers are putting tremendous pressure on E Ink to lower the price of its displays, and E Ink can't drive its manufacturing costs down fast enough to compensate. The Taipei Times report doesn't indicate how many eReader displays E Ink shipped, so it's difficult to figure out how to read the decline in revenue--but it's likely a combination of lower sale prices and lower demand.

Surveys in the U.S. suggest that the market for eReaders has peaked, and that color tablets will likely take the majority of the market in units over the next 12 months. (They already represent more revenues than eReaders.) There's still probably several years of life in the worldwide black & white eReader market. However, according to the article, E Ink will focus on other, more profitable applications for its displays, such as shelf price displays for supermarkets and convenience stores.
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Kno moves into K-12 market: Expansion or act of desperation?

AllThingsD reports that Kno, a college eTextbook rental company, has struck a deal with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to distribute its eTextbooks to the K-12 market. The titles will be rented for a one-year period for $9.99 or less, and will work on iPads and the web. Kno plans to release eReaders for Android and Microsoft Windows 7 (and presumably 8) later this year. The company is negotiating with McGraw-Hill and Pearson to distribute their K-12 eTextbooks.

The obvious hole in this strategy is that most K-12 schools directly supply textbooks to students (either at no cost or in exchange for a small activity fee,) so convincing parents to rent eTextbooks, and school districts to switch to renting eTextbooks instead of buying print, is going to take a lot of work. In addition, moving into the K-12 market indicates some desperation on Kno's part. It suggests that Kno isn't meeting its sales objectives, and needs to find new sources of revenue.

Update, August 8, 2012: Kno has launched its K-12 eTextbook rental program on its website. The biggest reason why parents should rent eTextbooks when they get them for free from their school is...wait for it...print textbooks are too heavy! Why, did you know that carrying a 12-pound backpack during a school year puts a cumulative load of over 20,000 pounds on your child's body--the equivalent of six mid-sized cars? And, given the epidemic of obese children and Type 2 diabetes starting in childhood, along with cutbacks in physical education programs, there's absolutely no reason for children to get exercise. Let's protect their delicate backs.

Print textbooks are too heavy? Seriously? 
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In a move that surprises no one, the Book Industry Study Group endorses EPUB 3

In a move that surprised absolutely no one, the Book Industry Study Group has endorsed EPUB 3. The actual endorsement amounts to little more than a solicitation for new members for the BISG and IDPF (International Digital Publishing Fourm, the industry group that created and manages EPUB):
"ISG encourages organizations interested in the advancement of EPUB 3 to become members of both IDPF and BISG in order to work directly with those creating the standard and developing best practices."
The reality is that companies that join the two groups now are going to have virtually no influence over EPUB 3--and the specifications are public, so there's no real benefit to spending thousands, or tens of thousands, of dollars to join. (Yes, I'm suggesting being a "free rider".)

In addition, EPUB 3 is less a standard than a suggestion: The IDPF doesn't require that companies implement the complete specification, nor does it prohibit implementation of proprietary extensions--which is why Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo all have their own proprietary multimedia extensions to EPUB 2.X. Also, Apple hasn't endorsed EPUB 3, and isn't likely to do so.

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Monday, August 06, 2012

comScore surveys tablet buyer demographics and reasons for buying

comScore has released its first comScore TabLens report, a monthly survey covering U.S. tablet ownership and usage. The survey consists of a three-month rolling sample of 6,000 U.S. tablet owners. The first report covers tablet buyer demographics and reasons for purchasing. Here's a summary of the findings:
  • Overall, tablet ownership is split exactly 50% men/50% women, with heaviest ownership in the 25-34 year old age group and with respondents whose household income is $100K/year or more.
  • iPad owners are more heavily male (52.9% male/$47.1% female).
  • Kindle Fire owners are more heavily female (56.6% female/43.4% male).
  • Owners of other Android tablets are slightly more male than female (50.9% male/49.1% female).
  • Owners of all three kinds of tablets have a similar distribution of age groups and household income, except that the iPad has more owners with $100K or greater household income than the other two tablets (46.3% for the iPad, vs. 33.3% for the Kindle Fire and 32.5% for other Android tablets.)
  • The most important factors for buyers of the iPad are 1) Selection of apps, 2) Brand name of the tablet, and 3) The tablet's operating system.
  • For Kindle Fire buyers, the three most popular factors are 1) The price of the tablet, 2) Selection of apps, and 3) Brand name of the tablet, and music and video capabilities (tie).
  • For other Android tablet buyers, the three most popular factors are 1) The price of the tablet, 2) The tablet's operating system, and 3) Selection of apps.
  • The iPad had the highest overall device satisfaction (8.8 out of 10), followed by the Kindle Fire (8.7) and other Android tablets (8.2).

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Which eReaders and tablets support multimedia and CSS3 features?

Vook has put together a list of some of the devices that support multimedia enhancements, along with the maximum eBook size on each device (which turns out to be dramatically affected by both the device and eRetailer), and a list of CSS elements that can be controlled in Vook's editor, with which devices they're supported on. Here's a summary:
  • Only iOS devices running iBooks and the Kindle app, and the Nook Color and Nook tablet, support multimedia enhancements. The only desktop PC eReader that supports the enhancements is Vook's own Reader software. 
  • Here are the maximum file sizes for various devices and eBookstores--conventional publishers (with "Vendor of Record" accounts) get far more file space than do self-publishers, which makes self-published multimedia-enabled eBooks impractical:
    • Apple's iBookstore: 2GB 
    • Barnes & Noble Pubit! (self-publishing): 20MB 
    • Barnes & Noble via Vook distribution relationship: 600MB 
    • Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing: 50MB 
    • Amazon via Vook distribution relationship: 650MB
  • The Vook source link has much more information, but in general: 
    • iOS devices handle all the CSS3 attributes. 
    • Nook devices (both eReaders and tablets) handle all the CSS3 attributes. 
    • Kindle devices handle only a subset of the CSS3 attributes, with the Kindle Fire supporting a few more than Kindle eReaders. 
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Togather lets authors crowdsource book tours

Here's an interesting idea for author promotion--although it's just entering beta testing. Togather is a new website that brings crowdsourcing to book tours. Authors post their profiles and calendars of days available for promotional events. Fans can then propose events, or authors can create their own events. Togather lets authors negotiate terms and conditions for appearances within the service, including pricing (which is going to be moot for most authors, especially new ones.) Once the events are created, people are encouraged to promote them to their friends on social networks. Authors can set criteria for confirming their appearance--number of tickets sold or RSVP, or number of books sold--and when the goal is reached, ticket and book sales are processed by Togather and the event is on.

I can see Togather as being very valuable to established authors as bookstores close and the number of legacy venues for book tours declines--although authors with big social media presences can do much the same thing from their own Facebook pages and websites. I'm not sure how valuable Togather is going to be for new authors, unless it's one component in a much bigger marketing campaign.
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Blackmagic Design adds software audio mixer to its ATEM production switchers

When doing live video production, it's easy to give audio short shrift. If you're traveling light or have limited space, there are many times when you'd prefer not to carry a separate audio mixer, or use an A/V mixer that often compromises both audio and video capabilities. Blackmagic Design announced today that the software audio mixer that it recently added to its ATEM 2 M/E production switcher is now included at no cost with both its ATEM 1 M/E and ATEM Television Studio switchers.

Blackmagic's ATEM Switcher 3.2 Audio Mixer uses the embedded audio from SDI and HDMI cameras attached to the switcher, and from the switchers' built-in audio interfaces (AES/EBU in the Television Studio, and a breakout cable in the 1 M/E and 2 M/E.) It can also accept audio from any audio interface connected to the computer running the audio mixer software, and in the case of the 1 M/E and 2 M/E, from the switcher's internal media players.

The audio mixer software communicates with the production switcher, so that in Audio Follows Video (AFV) mode, audio automatically crossfades when the video input changes. Or, selected audio inputs can be permanently mixed into the program output. The new audio mixer is integrated into Blackmagic's ATEM Control Panel software, which runs on both Windows and OS X, and is accessed through a tab in the Control Panel. ATEM Switcher 3.2 Audio Mixer is available now for free download from Blackmagic Design's website.
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Saturday, August 04, 2012

Friends don't let friends write for free

I got into a tiff earlier this week with the new editor of an industry blog. After the abrupt departure of the previous editor, the new editor was appointed, and the site's senior writer resigned a few days later. So, the newly-appointed editor wrote a post asking for new contributors. One of the site's readers asked if writers would be paid for the posts, and the new editor responded that the only compensation would be "good karma."

That's not how I'd describe it. In my opinion, I'd describe the editor's and publisher's behavior as exploitation. Writers should be fairly compensated for their work, and in this case, "good karma" doesn't count as compensation. Let me give a concrete analogy: If you're a farmer, and you give your tomatoes to a food bank, that's "good karma." If you give them to a supermarket, you're stupid. A supermarket is in the business of selling tomatoes, and you should get paid for supplying them.

The blog that this editor works for is owned by a large publishing company. They're not a charity or a non-profit. By his own admission, he and his senior writer both get paid. I recently came across an article on the ProVideo Coalition's website titled "Philosophy: On The Subject of Freebies." The article was written by Art Adams, a Director of Photography, who noted that film and video professionals are often asked to work for free. There are times when it makes sense to do so, but he applies a common-sense rule:
The trick is to make sure that no one is making money on the project. If I’m not making money, no one else should either. If the project is going to be sold down the line then I don’t work for free. I might work deferred, but generally not. As a rookie camera assistant I worked on several deferred projects and I made a total of $75 between all of them. (That’s about $150 more than most people make.)
In the blog's case, the decision is easy to make: It's run as a commercial enterprise, has a paid staff and is owned by a successful publisher. It therefore falls under the "don't work for free" rule.

The reason that I'm so sensitive to this issue is that I was in a very similar situation not long ago. A local website that covers startups in the Chicago area posted a call for contributors, which I responded to. Like the blog in question, it was a for-profit business, but unlike the blog, it was a startup, and the editor/publisher was funding the operation out of his own pocket. So, I agreed to write an initial article for free, which required a great deal of work on my part but turned out to be very popular. The editor/publisher asked me to do a follow-up article, which I agreed to write. The subsequent experience was so frustrating, however, that after the article was published, I told the editor/publisher to keep the small amount of money that he'd agreed to pay me. (By the way, the articles are still two of the most popular posts on their site, almost two years later--and the editor/publisher still asks me to write for him.)

Are there times when it makes sense to write for free? Here are two:
  • When it's a charitable, religious or political organization whose goals you support.
  • When you're directly or indirectly promoting yourself or your business, and that promotion serves as compensation for your writing time and effort.
But, you may ask, what about a site like The Huffington Post that gets much of its content from unpaid contributors? If you like making the very rich people who run AOL even richer, then by all means contribute unpaid writing to The Huffington Post. Otherwise, you might look at a site like, which compensates bloggers on the basis of the traffic that their posts generate.

It's laughable to ask people to work at a company for nothing and call their compensation "good karma." It's actually the company that's creating "bad karma." If you can't afford to pay the people you need to run your business, you shouldn't be in business.

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Friday, August 03, 2012

Simon & Schuster revenues up 3%, but operating income down 47% in Q2

The Wall Street Journal reports that CBS issued its Q2 financial results yesterday, including Simon & Schuster. The publisher's revenues increased by 3% year-over-year to $189 million, with a 44% increase in eBook sales offsetting a decline in print sales. eBooks now represent 21% of Simon & Schuster's revenues, and the company expects eBook sales to increase slightly less than 30% for the full year. Operating income before depreciation and amortization was $9 million vs. $19 million in the previous year, down 47%, for a profit margin of 4.8%. The company says that profits were affected by the proposed settlement of eBook litigation with the Justice Department and states.
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Vook launches HTML5 eReader and new pricing models

Vook just launched a new HTML5 eReader for its eBooks (to try it out, go to; will take you to their sign-up page for writers). The samples I've seen are similar to a conventional EPUB display with flowable, resizable text plus embedded rich media.  It can display one or two pages at a time. It also has three layout options with different typefaces. A nice feature is that Vook has anticipated that the eReader will be used on both PCs and tablets, so it supports a single-page vertical scrolling mode for smaller devices, as well as two-page mode for desktop and notebook PCs.

The company has dropped its monthly fees and now offers two options for self-publishers:
  • Publish the eBook free of charge to Vook's own eBookstore; the author gets 85% of revenues.
  • Create eBooks using Vook's tools and then pay the company $99 for the files, which can be uploaded and sold by the author through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Apple

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Thursday, August 02, 2012

Proof that thinking too much about sex makes you stupid

Michael Cavnar, the CEO of Vook, a self-publishing company, has posted the story of "The Diamond Club," a hoax erotic eBook that made it to #4 on the list of paid books in iTunes after just three days. Brian Brushwood and Justin Young, the hosts of TWiT's NSFW podcast, learned that all ten of the top eBooks on iTunes were erotic fiction, and came up with an idea similar to Mike McGrady's 1969 potboiler hoax "Naked Came the Stranger," which was credited to "Penelope Ashe" but was actually written (as badly as possible) by 24 journalists. Brushwood and Young invited their listeners to submit chapters for the book. The only thing they had to do was feature the main character--the chapters didn't have to connect to each other at all. Even though the eBook does deliver on the sex part, Young said “It’s a hoax in that we are not erotic fiction writers. We don’t genuinely think it’s any good. But I will stand behind our product that it delivers what we believe to be the most important component in this genre: sex.”

I fully expect a Big 6 publisher to offer Brushwood and Young a seven-figure advance and commit to a huge print run. Because it's "pre-sold."
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FlatWorld Knowledge: A bargain, if they have the eTextbook you need

On The Textbook Guru website, Jeff Cohen has posted a review of the FlatWorld Knowledge college eTextbook platform. FlatWorld Knowledge offers basic versions of all its textbooks for free, and gives faculty the right to make their own derivative works from its textbooks, through a Creative Commons license. The advantage is that students don't have to pay for a complete textbook when their professor only covers content from part of the book. FlatWorld Knowledge allows teachers to post versions of textbooks that their students (or anyone) can access.

Cohen likes the ease of the signup process for students, and the pricing model: The eTextbook itself is available for free and is accessed online via a browser-based eReader. The "Study Pass" version (priced at $19.95 in the example given in the article) includes an enhanced online eReader with note taking and highlighting, as well as interactive study aids and a "study view" of the eTextbook that consolidates key information from each chapter. The "All Access Pass" version (priced at $34.95 in the example) includes all the features of the other versions, as well as a downloadable PDF version of the eTextbook, and a version that works on the iPad and on Nook and Kindle eReaders. (There are also black & white and color print versions of the textbook available at higher prices.)

Cohen confined his test to the free version, and he liked the online eReader; most of the things he complained about are features missing from the free version but included in one of the paid versions. However, the biggest problem is the small variety of titles available. The textbooks don't come from major publishers, so FlatWorld Knowledge has to convince educators to write the textbooks in the first place, with no promise of financial compensation. The company has a good selection of business and economics titles (69 eTextbooks), and a fair selection in the humanities and social sciences (32 titles), but its selection in other areas is very light. It currently has only 115 eTextbooks in total.
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