Kobo brings the Forma form factor to a cheaper model

I’ve long had a soft spot for Kobo for a few reasons. First is the simple fact that the company (now part of Rakuten) was one of the last few competing with Amazon in the e-reader market. Second is features like Pocket integration. Third is the device’s openness to file formats like ePub that don’t require the device to be tied to a single store.
Kobo’s also never been afraid to experiment. Last year’s Forma was the perfect example. A direct shot against Kindle’s high-end Oasis, the reader combined a contoured form factor and physical page-turn buttons with an 8-inch screen. That last bit was probably enough to keep the device firmly in the niche category, even without the $280 price tag.
The new Libra H20 is a far more utilitarian product, applying the Libra’s form factor to a 7-inch screen device that retails for a more reasonable $170. It’s still not


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Kobo’s Forma e-reader takes on Kindle Oasis with an asymmetric design and premium price

Kobo’s latest e-reader is a complete about-face from its anonymous, cheap and highly practical Clara HD; the Forma is big, expensive and features a bold — not to say original — design. It’s clearly meant to take on the Kindle Oasis and e-reader fans for whom price is no object.
The $280 Forma joins a number of other e-readers in using a one-handed design, something which is, we might as well admit up front, isn’t for everyone. That said, I’ve found that my reading style on these devices has been able to adapt from one form factor to another — it’s not like they made it head-mountable or something. You still hold it like you would any other small device.
It uses an 8-inch E-Ink Carta display with 300 pixels per inch, which is more than enough for beautiful type. The frontlight — essentially a layer above the display that lights up


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In an age of tablets and e-books, high school testing still relies on the TI-83 graphing calculator

ti-83We live in a world where Amazon is just about to release a $50 tablet which puts all the power of the Internet at anyone’s disposal. (Or all the power, at least as filtered through Amazon’s own native apps.) Many people, including high school students, already have that power at their disposal via smartphones.

But this is also a world where high school math students have to shell out $100 for the same TI-83 graphing calculator that their parents used twenty years ago (or one of its descendants, at least)—instead of using a free app that they could simply download to their phone. Why? Mic reports that the main reason is tradition. Texas Instruments has managed to get its calculators written into the standardized tests used by many schools. And inertia being what it is, it’s really hard to change something like that once it gets set down on paper.

It’s a profitable technological incumbency that is nearly monopolistic. In the 2013-2014 school year, Texas Instruments sold 93% of all graphing calculators in the U.S. The Washington Post estimates that TI is manufacturing the calculators for $15 to $20 and achieving a more than 50% profit margin, making calculators one of the company’s most profitable items.

There actually is an app that could be just as useful, called Desmos, available as a web, Android, or iOS app. The problem is, it has an uphill battle to get approved. Even leaving aside how tradition has enshrined the TI to the point where it’s still considered worthwhile to manufacture and sell an expensive, obsolete bit of technology, you have the problem that kids could get distracted by their devices’ other functions. (Of course, kids are fully capable of programming the TI-83 to play video games, so you could make a case that they’re going to find ways to distract themselves no matter what you give them.)

And, although the Mic article doesn’t bring this up, there’s also the question of kids using their Internet-connected devices to cheat on tests. They’re going to have to figure out some way around that if they want a computerized device to become an acceptable alternative.

(Though if you think kids couldn’t find some way to use a programmable, computerized calculator to cheat on tests, such as by programming their notes into it, perhaps you aren’t acquainted with the ingenuity that even an average high school student can develop when his grade is on the line.)

It remains to be seen if and how long it will take for Desmos or something like it to unseat the physical TI calculators. currently being used in standardized testing. But I think it’s a great illustration of just how much school isn’t like the real world anymore. It used to be that using TI calculators in high school made sense, since those were going to be the tools you had to work with in business and science. But now…who even uses those anymore except for high school classes? Everyone else is using smartphone and tablet apps by now.

(Found via BoingBoing.)


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Seeking Alpha contributor: Barnes & Noble not doomed after all

Barnes-NobleJust how much trouble is Barnes & Noble really in?

It seems to be in a good deal of it. We haven’t covered it that much lately on TeleRead, but Nate mentioned on The Digital Reader in the last couple of weeks that its revenues and losses were down last quarter, and that while it claims it’s still “considering” closing stores, it actually is closing stores.

But not so fast. An article on investor-advice site Seeking Alpha suggests that looks can be deceiving. The author, who goes by the handle “12 Quarters,” states that he is long on Barnes & Noble (that is to say, he invests in favor of B&N gaining rather than losing money), and proceeds to explain why. (The article is behind a free-registration wall, but I’ve found Seeking Alpha to be worth the registration.)

The explanation is a bit overfull of financial jargon, but given that it’s used mainly in supporting his contentions, you can get the gist from context without worrying too much about it. If there’s some term you want to know more about, I suggest checking a financial encyclopedia like Investopedia for definitions.

12 Quarters thinks that the profitability of the B&N stores is still very good. B&N has closed some of its weaker stores, which has served to cut into revenue, but it’s also increased its cash flow, which is what really matters. And 12 Quarters notes that the number of all brick and mortar bookstores has actually increased over the last 5 years, suggesting that people aren’t through with paper books just yet. This bodes well for B&N’s future, as it’s basically the only major nationwide bookstore chain left. Amazon might be king of the hill digitally, but B&N still has the real-world catbird seat.

The weaker part of the B&N business is the Nook division, which has been a money sink over the last few years. But B&N has been acting to rationalize that division—that is, reorganize it to increase efficiency and cut the money loss—with moves such as shifting Nook from a hardware to a software business and outsourcing it to third parties rather than try to make tablets itself. But 12 Quarters’s more interesting contention is still to come.

Secondly, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that there is no reason to be in the e-book business at all.

For example, as mentioned previously, independent bookstores have been growing in recent years, and they don’t have digital platforms. Secondly, consumer research indicates that popularity of e-books peaked several years ago and has been trending down. People are simply over-screened, and they prefer a physical book during their leisure time.

I think Mr. or Ms. Quarters is oversimplifying the point here. It’s not that e-books’ popularity has been “trending down.” It’s that the amount of popularity they’re gaining has slowed. Their popularity isn’t increasing as fast as it was, but it’s still increasing. More people are still adopting e-books every day, it’s just that not as many more of them are doing so as before. Even if some publishers reported a percentage point or two decrease in e-book revenue last year, that doesn’t necessarily bespeak a downward trend. There’s certainly no sign that there’s a mass movement to give e-books up, which is what would be necessary for their popularity to “trend down” even if no new users were picking them up!

But we can let that pass. Whether more or fewer people are adopting e-books is largely beside the point, because if more of them are, most of them are doing it via Amazon, and Barnes & Noble’s best attempts to compete for e-book share with Amazon have obviously not been good enough. (And its weird decisions on matters like changing up its DRM and cutting off downloading and sideloading e-books haven’t helped.) So it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other, and we’ll cede 12 the points that the Nook division’s performance has been rotten so far, and people are still interested enough in paper books to come out to the paper bookstores.

It’s interesting to contrast this with Mike Shatzkin’s recent discussion of the problems with Barnes & Noble and the Nook. Shatzkin thinks the biggest problem is that B&N simply hasn’t been using its dot-com and Nook knowledge to benefit the stores the way it could have. For example, it could use its customer database to look up and email customers who’ve bought books by a given author and let them know the author will be doing a signing in their area, and perhaps get some promotional money from the publisher in return for doing that kind of thing.

12 Quarters thinks that, as an ostensibly “rational actor,” B&N owner Len Riggio will not continue to throw bad money after good, especially after he just bought another million shares in the open market. Therefore, 12 Quarters predicts, the Nook division will either find some way to break even or be eliminated altogether within the next couple of years.

The rest of 12 Quarters’s arguments don’t have as much to do with e-books. He brings up various opportunities members of B&N’s board have had to be influenced by investors who make copious use of stock buybacks, and thinks that such a buyback could be a recipe for recovery for the bookstore side of B&N’s business if it can deal with the Nook money pit. He notes that such buybacks have rescued companies such as Best Buy, GameStop, and Outerwall that were previously thought to be goners but have since doubled in price.

12 Quarters concludes with several paragraphs of financial jargon to suggest that a buyback would be relatively easy and could drive stock price as high as $30 a share. He sums up:

If that seems aggressive, that is fine. The point here is that the margin of safety is HUGE for patient investors. At this point, an investment in BKS is not an investment in a struggling bookstore chain, but rather an investment in human nature. All that needs to happen is that the owner operator wants to maximize his own wealth through buybacks. That is a bet that I make with a smile.

Now, sometimes these investment sites’ advice articles aren’t worth the electrons they’re printed on. If I had a nickel for every “short Amazon and sooner or later you’ll be right” article I’ve seen on Seeking Alpha, I would be independently wealthy. And I lack the financial expertise necessary to evaluate 12 Quarters’s contentions with the fullness they deserve. Still, the non-jargonistic sides of his arguments make some sense. It’s going to be interesting to see what they do with the Nook division in years to come.


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Sony’s 13” Digital Paper business notepad: Not dead yet, apparently—and here’s how you can buy one

SonyDigitalPaperpSNYNA-DPTS1_alternate4_v500Good E-Reader has a piece announcing the imminent demise of the Sony Digital Paper notepad. The problem is, Sony’s current online store for the U.S. knows of no such plans. We talked to the store. The real news is that the e-commerce site is shutting down August 28—not the discontinuation of the reader.

Sony’s future online operations instead will send people to  authorized retailers, a complete list of which is here. Alas, the list isn’t geographically organized. But you’ll presumably see some familiar names and can find out if Sony Digital Paper notepad will be available. What’s more you might be able to order the reader online through eBay outlets.

The fact that the reader was even for sale was news to me, as I hadn’t been aware that Sony had been selling it. We last mentioned it in 2013 when Sony was developing it, but they actually started selling it in May of 2014—and sold out of their distribution channels so fast they had to start selling it directly in August.

It seems to be a specialty device—a $799 13.3” e-ink notepad (originally $1,100 when they started selling it last year), with an attached stylus pen for writing on documents, that seems to see most of its use by businesses. That makes sense; they’d be most interested in being able to see documents displayed at their original size and make notes on them, and would be able to afford to drop a grand on a device that could do it. Certainly it has never been never connected to Sony’s consumer-facing e-book store that  closed down in February, 2014.

The slate is a boutique gadget and sold without customer service support. Apparently Sony’s telephone hotline to order it is quizzing potential buyers on their level of technical expertise and is refusing to sell it to them if they don’t know enough.

(Revised to reflect an update in The Digital Reader.)

The post Sony’s 13” Digital Paper business notepad: Not dead yet, apparently—and here’s how you can buy one appeared first on TeleRead.


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‘iBooks Author 2.3 adds support for ePub 3, opens up ebook creation to anyone’

ibooks-author-epub-screenshot (1)

So what do the TeleRead community’s Mac owners think of this upbeat review, of iBooks Author 2.3, by iMore‘s Serenity Caldwell? Excerpt:

Apple has essentially created an ePub 3-compliant WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor in iBooks Author. This means that authors can—from start to finish—create gorgeous books with images, captions, video, and custom text, and publish them in the ePub 3 standard, which you can then easily convert to KF8 (the Kindle proprietary format based on ePub 3).

Of course, with the need to own a Mac, this is hardly the WordPress of e-book creation software. Still, it’s definite progress if the hype is justified. Even novices, supposedly, can create polished e-books.

The Caldwell review does mention one other catch:

Unsurprisingly, iBooks Author’s .ibooks-format ebooks still get the majority of the cool gimmickry available in the app; to build an ePub-compatible book, you have to first choose an ePub template.

Keeping with the basic ePub 3 standard, ePub templates remove floating text boxes, charts, shapes, and all widgets beyond the gallery and media boxes. But that’s still an incredibly high bar for a WYSIWYG ebooks program: You can add images and captions; video; custom fonts; custom chapter headers; HTML tables (good glory yes!); and more.

(Thanks also to Paul Chernoff.)

The post ‘iBooks Author 2.3 adds support for ePub 3, opens up ebook creation to anyone’ appeared first on TeleRead: News and views on e-books, libraries, publishing and related topics.


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