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All stories relating to e-reading

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Kobo lays bets on new features, readers set to debut this fall

Notwithstanding the fact that, in its most recent quarterly report, Indigo Books and Music noted a decline in sales of e-readers year-over-year, Toronto-based tech company (and former Indigo property) Kobo is ready to launch a slew of new products, including a dedicated bookstore aimed at kids.

Publishers Weekly points to a Manhattan event in which Kobo CEO Michael Serbinis announced the Sept. 16 release of a new suite of e-readers ranging in price from U.S. $150 to $400. Serbinis also announced the debut of Kobo Kids, a subsection of the Kobo bookstore that would market directly to children.

From PW:

Kobo is launching Kobo Kids, a new e-bookstore within the [Kobo] store, that will offer more than 100,000 kids e-books, in addition to offering kids’ accounts (tied to their parents and restricted to kids titles in the Kobo store), safe search, “fun” reading statistics and awards for kids and an “allowances” feature that allows parents to set a pre-paid budget for their kids to purchase e-books.

While apparently convinced the children are the future, Kobo also seems to be hedging its bets on aspects of online reading that are, at best, extra-literary.

Serbinis also announced a partnership with a tech company called Pocket, whose software would allow Kobo users the ability to archive articles read online and make them accessible on a Kobo device. Other new features would reformat magazine articles for tablet reading, “reducing ‘the pinching and zooming’ readers have to do to read or see layouts.” And there is Beyond the Book:

a new social reading feature that adds a layer of information (it’s like having Wikipedia inside your book) that offers in-book links to info about characters, plots, the authors and more, available to readers without having to go to the Web. Kobo is also working with a variety of well-known authors (among them Margaret Atwood) and a variety of celebrities to offer Collections, a feature that provides recommendations to books and other content.


Kindle devices now available in Canadian stores


Canadians wanting to get their hands on a Kindle can now look closer to home. Amazon announced today that the latest generation of the popular e-reader is now available for sale on the company’s Canadian website, as well as in more than 1,000 retail stores countrywide, including Staples, the Source, and Shoppers Drug Mart.

“Customers can [now] buy from, of course in Canadian dollars, with faster shipping,” says Peter Larsen, a vice-president at Amazon.

Until now, Canadian customers have had to rely on Amazon’s U.S. website to purchase e-readers. Larsen describes adding the devices to the Canadian website as completing the e-reading experience for customers north of the border.

“We’ve been surprised at how many customers have bought Kindles off [] in Canada,” Larsen says. “We actually have a good customer base here, but we expect it to grow significantly now that we’ve launched our devices.”

The latest generation Kindle will retail at $89, with the Kindle Paperwhite being sold for $139 for the WiFi-enabled version and $199 for the 3G option.

Kindle joins Kobo and Sony in selling its e-readers directly to Canadian consumers, with the latter devices already available in Canadian stores including Best Buy, Future Shop, Toys R Us, and Walmart. Kobo e-readers are also sold by Indigo.

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New Innisfree library serves rural Alberta population of 220

Innisfree, Alberta, has opened its first permanent public library. The 220 residents of the rural village now have access to free DVDs, CDs, e-readers, books (about 2,600 books have been catalogued so far, with another 1,000 on the way, the Vermilion Standard reports), and literacy programs.

The Innisfree Public Library, which occupies 1,400-square feet of the village’s community centre, has been in the works for the past four years, since the village became part of the Northern Lights Library System. In the year preceding its July 4th opening, the library board and volunteers had generated community interest by running the village’s first-ever youth summer reading program, hosting the Alberta Prairie Classroom on Wheels bus, and organizing a book swap and donation drive.

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Book links roundup: Saddam Hussein’s daughter seeks publisher, World e-Reading Congress happenings, and more

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Book links roundup: Canadian publishers discuss the future, Sheila Heti on teen fiction, and more

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Amazon, the iPad, and the culture of reading in an age of distraction

“It’s like trying to cook when there are little children around.” That’s the assessment of one David Myers, a 53-year-old system administrator in Atlanta, regarding the experience of reading a book on the Kindle Fire. Myers is quoted in a New York Times article about the qualitative aspects of reading on multimedia, Internet-enabled devices. The article finds, unsurprisingly, that devices such as the iPad or the Kindle Fire, which are capable of surfing the Internet or streaming video, promote heightened distractibility among readers.

People who read ebooks on tablets like the iPad are realizing that while a book in print or on a black-and-white Kindle is straightforward and immersive, a tablet offers a menu of distractions that can fragment the reading experience, or stop it in its tracks.

Email lurks tantalizingly within reach. Looking up a tricky word or unknown fact in the book is easily accomplished through a quick Google search. And if a book starts to drag, giving up on it to stream a movie over Netflix or scroll through your Twitter feed is only a few taps away.

The argument is not a new one, having been well rehearsed in volumes such as Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows and William Powers’s Hamlet’s Blackberry. Nor is it likely to gain much traction with technophiles who envision a not-so-distant future in which even dedicated e-readers will feature enhanced books that link to external multimedia content.

And there is something to be said for the devices’ insistence that a book hold a reader’s attention. As Erin Faulk says in the NYT piece: “Recently, I gravitate to books that make me forget I have a world of entertainment at my fingertips. If the book’s not good enough to do that, I guess my time is better spent.”

Still, what Cory Doctorow referred to as an “ecosystem of interruption technologies” embedded in devices such as the iPad may be partly to blame for the reason Carr is able to quote Clay Shirky as writing, “No one reads War and Peace.… It’s too long and not so interesting.” Or maybe the lure of YouTube is just too great.

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Book links roundup: Smashwords in public libraries, poets named Sue, and more


Have “social” updates ruined the Kobo app?

It’s no secret that Kobo, the e-reading company formerly owned by Indigo Books & Music, is betting big on the “social in-book e-reading experience” to set it apart from competitors such as Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iBookstore.

Kobo made this much clear with the September launch of Kobo Pulse, a package of updates that effectively integrated social media within the company’s e-reader. The new features permit users to connect with other readers online, comment on an ebook’s content, view statistics about a title’s popularity, and post reading updates and passages to Facebook, among other functions. The new capabilities are in addition to Kobo’s long-established Reading Life program.

It seems, though, for some Kobo diehards, the updates have gone too far.

Just a year after naming Kobo’s e-reading iPad app the best on the market, digital publishing and tech blogger Chris Walters has come out swinging against it. In a post on his website, Walters says that, while he used to believe the Kobo app “ahead of the curve,” he now avoids using it altogether. Noting that the changes came about in response to restrictions against in-app purchases Apple began implementing last year, Walters says Kobo’s unrelenting attempts to make e-reading fun and connected have missed the mark and made the app unpleasant to use.

Regardless of whether or not users find the social features cumbersome, Walters’ main complaint is levelled against Kobo’s increasingly aggressive sales tactics. Now when the app is launched, it opens to a page of recommended reads that takes up much of the display screen. Moreover, Walters points out that when you do opt to make a purchase, the process has become much more time consuming and involves multiple website redirections.

Walters ends his post by putting these changes in context. From Booksprung:

Part of me wonders if this is the first sign of the New Face of Kobo, now that it’s been bought up by Rakuten. Software updates don’t happen overnight, so this was likely something Kobo had in the works for a while. Rakuten surely had enough time to kill this update but chose to release it anyway, which is a good sign that this is the way things will work with Kobo from now on. Who knows? By the time summer comes around the Kobo iOS app may be nothing but an impenetrable billboard of book samples, Facebook alerts, infographics, help screens, pop-up windows, slide-out sheets, and “share this” badges.

Has Kobo’s e-reading app gone too far, or are we asking too much of retail-based companies? What can Kobo do to win back Walters and other disgruntled readers?


Apple shakes up textbook publishing

Rumours of Apple’s entry into the digital textbook market were confirmed this morning with the announcement of iBooks 2.

The latest version of Apple’s e-reading platform focuses on media-rich, interactive digital textbooks designed for the iPad. Education publishers McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – which comprise approximately 90 per cent of U.S. textbook market sales – have signed on as the first content partners.

But it’s not just international corporations that will have the capability to produce and sell e-textbook content. Apple also announced iBooks Author, a free DIY ebook app that has been compared to GarageBand, Apple’s audio-editing software that has made digital recording and sound engineering accessible to independent musicians and podcast producers.

“Education is deep in our DNA,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice-president of world-wide marketing, at a launch event at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Schiller also noted that education institutions already use “more than 1.5 million iPads and have access to more than 20,000 education apps,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Apple’s move into education isn’t all about the children. If a publisher wants to take advantage of the platform, it has to sign an exclusivity contract with Apple, and keep textbook prices at $14.99 or less (of which Apple takes its customary 30 per cent cut). While the lower price is great for students, there is the upfront cost of purchasing an iPad. And as tech website Engadget points out, with all the interactive graphics and video, the first released e-textbooks take up anywhere from 800MB to 2.77GB of memory, which means it won’t take much to fill a low-end 16GB tablet. Also, what happens when the classroom iPad breaks?

Reaction from Twitter users has been mixed:

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Is Apple studying the e-textbook market?

An Apple event scheduled for Jan. 19 has insiders speculating the technology giant will announce its entrance into the e-textbook market.

In advance of the education-themed event, tech website compiled a list of Apple’s potential U.S. competitors, which includes Amazon’s e-textbook rental program and online distributor CourseSmart.

Condé Nast tech website Ars Technica suggests Apple isn’t interested in becoming a content provider, but will announce production tools that will allow anyone to publish interactive e-books for distribution on Apple devices like the iPhone and iPad.

Last week, eBound Canada, the digital arm of the Association of Canadian Publishers, announced a partnership with Follett Canada that would give elementary and secondary schools greater access to titles by independent Canadian publishers.

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