Category Archives: Digital Culture

Amazon Cloud Drive & Cloud Player

On March 29th, Amazon launched two major new services, both of which seem to speak directly to my post guessing at an Amazon Tablet…as well as being shots across the bow of both Apple and the music industry. The two services are connected, but distinct in capabilities and effects, so let’s look at them separately:

Amazon Cloud Drive

The first is Amazon Cloud Drive, Amazon’s answer to other consumer-facing cloud storage similar to Dropbox or Windows SkyDrive. Amazon is giving everyone 5GB of space for free, with the ability to purchase additional storage for $1 per Gigabyte in chunks: 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, or 1000 GB levels are all available. While 5GB free is more than Dropbox’s 2GB, and way less than SkyDrive’s 25Gb, for raw storage in the cloud I still think Dropbox has everything else beat in usability. For Cloud Drive, you have to do all file interactions (uploading/downloading) within your browser, which isn’t as convenient on traditional computers as a locally-mounted drive. There’s no reason that Amazon couldn’t move this direction, however, and release a program that would allow more direct access.

The real killer here isn’t Cloud Drive by itself…it’s the associated Cloud Player and the model that Amazon is using for the connection between the two. Cloud Player is a web-based media player that has access to the files uploaded to your Cloud Drive. That is, if you use your Cloud Drive to hold MP3 or AAC encoded music files, those will be automatically available to Cloud Player, and can be streamed to nearly any browser. Cloud Player has the basic controls that you would expect from a music player, allowing you to view your collections by album, artist, or genre. It also allows you to build or import playlists, shuffle, and repeat songs in the same way that pretty much every music player does.

This means that with Cloud Storage + Cloud Player, I can take my own music, upload it to Amazon, and then listen to it anywhere I have a browser…or on the updated Amazon MP3 for Android app on any Android based phone or tablet. In a brilliant marketing move, Amazon is also letting you automatically cross-load any MP3 that you buy from the Amazon MP3 Store directly to your Cloud Drive…and anything that you buy from them doesn’t count against your storage limits. They are also offering a free upgrade to their 20GB storage level if you just buy any MP3 album from Amazon through the end of 2011. So you can purchase any amount of music from Amazon, and it will all be available for streaming to any computer or directly to your phone if you have an Android handset. For free.

Let’s not forget, this sort of service is exactly what got MP3.com in hot water with the music labels a decade ago (with, admittedly, technical differences). Indeed, Sony has commented to Ars Technica that while they were hopeful they could work with Amazon on a licensing deal that they were “keeping their legal options open.” So it’s almost certain that Amazon will see some form of lawsuit about the service…but my money is on Amazon for this one. They have the pockets that MP3.com didn’t, and have a great case for moving the industry forward if they can pull of a court victory.

This is a huge move by Amazon, and will put the pressure on Apple to respond. There have been rumors about a similar digital-locker server from Apple for years now, and their North Carolina Data Center has been rumored to be a part of Apple gearing up for a cloud-based service since it was announced. Google is also rumored to be getting into this market, with their Google Music service that is reported to be in internal testing now. It’s going to be an interesting year for these services, but Amazon has a compelling vision for Cloud Drive + Cloud Player. I’m excited by it, and really want to get my hands on an Android device so that I can play with the mobile access.

Harper Collins and some numbers

Day 364 - kindle!So after the Harper Collins Incident of the last couple of weeks, I thought it would be interesting to see, based on my library, what the numbers looked like for books that have circulated more than 26 times. Here are all the caveats, in hopes of derailing some of the questions that I’m sure this data will raise:

  • This is, roughly, 10 years worth of circulation data. The last major ILS migration happened 10 years or so ago, and the data from the decades prior to that is non-trivial to access or non-existent.
  • UTC has about 10K FTE students
  • Our circulation is, based on peer-institutions, ridiculously low. We are working on fixing part of the problem.

Now, the numbers: removing AV materials (DVD/VHS, audiobooks, CDs), reserve items, and things that don’t circ (journals, etc), we have 409,213 things in our catalog that qualify, mostly, as “books” and that are available circulation. That includes Reference, which only circulate to Faculty, but seemed worth including. Of those 409,213 items, the total number of them that have circulated more than 26 times in 10 years is:

126

Yep, that’s right. 126 books, or just about .03079% of our collection. Looking at the titles, that’s even including multiple copies of the same work (we have three copies of A rhetoric and composition handbook that are all on the list of >26, for example).

If you add the total number of times these books circulated, and divide each by 26 to determine how many additional books the library would have had to purchase IF they had all been eBooks under the Harper Collins rules, my library would have had to purchase an additional 148 books in order to meet the demand. That’s under 15 titles a year, on average. I don’t have average costs of Harper Collins ebooks handy, but if they followed the Amazon pricing model for eBooks, they would be between $9.99 and $14.99 each. Let’s split the difference and call the average price $12.99…that means my library would have to find an extra $194.85 a year to keep up.

I understand that eBook have the potential to circulate more often than print…the decrease in access time alone should push them to be more popular choices, if what we’ve seen happen to our print journals is any indication. I also know that one small academic library is the equivalent of anecdata in the grand scheme of libraries. But if we don’t look at numbers, and only look at rhetoric, I think we’re doing ourselves a disservice.

I still disagree with Harper Collins new eBook rules, but for a lot of reasons that don’t necessarily come down to “it’s horrible for my library”. It is, I think, a bad idea to change the rules of the game midstream, at least without a lot of input from all the concerned parties (and no, I don’t actually think that a lot of libraries were consulted about this change). But it’s also a bad idea, as I’ve said a few times now, to just assume that the digital needs to act like the physical. We need to find new ways of dealing with these things, and I hope that situations like #hcod are just growing pains.

Apple intentionally hurting eBook stores

Apple announced the terms of their in-App Subscription Service this morning, and it does indeed look like they are shooting directly at Amazon. What I’m concerned about is the fallout from these new rules on other apps…here’s the paragraph that causes me issue, with the pertinent passage highlighted.

Publishers who use Apple’s subscription service in their app can also leverage other methods for acquiring digital subscribers outside of the app. For example, publishers can sell digital subscriptions on their web sites, or can choose to provide free access to existing subscribers. Since Apple is not involved in these transactions, there is no revenue sharing or exchange of customer information with Apple. Publishers must provide their own authentication process inside the app for subscribers that have signed up outside of the app. However, Apple does require that if a publisher chooses to sell a digital subscription separately outside of the app, that same subscription offer must be made available, at the same price or less, to customers who wish to subscribe from within the app. In addition, publishers may no longer provide links in their apps (to a web site, for example) which allow the customer to purchase content or subscriptions outside of the app.

To summarize: publishers are allowed to sell subscriptions on their own websites, but if they do, they must also allow for in-app purchase of said subscription, and there has to be pricing parity between the two methods. This means that, for instance, a newspaper couldn’t offer a subscription on their site for $5, but make the in-app purchase $8…this prevents publishers from variably pricing things higher in the App in order to pad the price to take into account Apple’s 30% of the sale price. So far, so good…it’s that last sentence that really worries me:

In addition, publishers may no longer provide links in their apps (to a web site, for example) which allow the customer to purchase content or subscriptions outside of the app.

Notice that in that sentence, Apple stopped talking about subscriptions and now include content generally. This single lline is the one that, I think, kills eReader software on iOS devices. This means that Amazon can’t keep the Kindle app the way it currently works, which is to tap a button inside the app that then takes you to the Kindle store in Safari. That’s not allowed given the above. That will apply to Barnes & Noble’s Nook software, as well as any other eReader software that I’m aware of on iOS. eBook providers like Amazon and B&N almost certainly can’t afford to move all their sales to in-app purchases because of the 30% Apple “tax”. This means that either they raise prices and move into Apple’s ecosystem, or they stop allowing purchases of books at all on iOS devices.

The rules appear to allow Amazon to sell Kindle books for iOS on the Amazon website directly (obviously Apple can’t do anything about that) but it seems to break any connection between the app and said site. This intentionally damages the user experience for this and other eBook apps, and is the main reason I can’t believe that Apple is pushing this as hard as they are. This is much different than other limitations that Apple has placed on the development of Apps…this isn’t hardware based limitation (multitasking) or anything like that…this seems to be purely a “show us the money” limitation. I’m really disappointed if this is the way that Apple chooses to enforce this, because while they are guilty of many things, intentionally hurting usability has never been one of them.

What I’m really curious about is this: Is Apple going to push these requirements for any App that allows for any purchase…like, for instance, the Amazon app that allows you to shop on Amazon directly. Or Zappos, or Ebay, or any number of other apps that act as a front-end for purchasing goods. If that’s the case, I think that Apple is in for some real trouble and pushback from companies, and possible legal repercussions. Seems like it can’t possibly be legal for the manufacturer of a computer (which is what the iPhone/iPad/iPod touch is, after a recent legal decision) to require that anything purchased on that computer provide them with a cut. I’ll be keeping my eyes on this one.

Once more the Apple apologist

I’m feeling more and more like the library equivalent of John Gruber these days.

UPDATE 2/1/11 1:18pm: website The Loop is reporting that they received a statement on the matter from Apple:

“We have not changed our developer terms or guidelines,” Apple spokesperson, Trudy Muller, told The Loop. “We are now requiring that if an app offers customers the ability to purchase books outside of the app, that the same option is also available to customers from within the app with in-app purchase.”

This is a change from previous Apple requirements, and will require existing apps to make changes to the way they behave. It also puts Amazon, B&N, and other retailers far more under Apple’s thumb in regards to pricing and profitability. More than anything, it puts them in a confrontational position with other retailers, instead of being simply a competitor. It will be very interesting to see how this shakes out.

There has been general alarm this morning on the Twitter and in the blogosphere that Apple is going to start killing off non-iBook eBook stores. Phil Bradley blogged about the New York Times article on the rejection of the Sony eReader app by Apple, saying:

Well, this is an interesting development. Sony have had their iPhone application rejected by Apple. Moreover, they’ve been told that they can no longer sell content, like e-books, within their apps, or let customers have access to purchases they have made outside the App Store.

That is what the NYT article says as well:

The company has told some applications developers, including Sony, that they can no longer sell content, like e-books, within their apps, or let customers have access to purchases they have made outside the App Store.

But if you read the next two lines:

Apple rejected Sony’s iPhone application, which would have let people buy and read e-books bought from the Sony Reader Store.

Apple told Sony that from now on, all in-app purchases would have to go through Apple, said Steve Haber, president of Sony’s digital reading division.

Notice that Steve Haber did NOT say that non-in-app purchases were disallowed. I can’t tell from the sloppy reporting if that second clause actually came from the Sony interview, or from other sources. So here’s the deal: Apple has never allowed in-app purchases that bypassed Apple. It’s the reason that when you are in the Kindle app, and you go to buy a book, it pushes you out of the app and over to Safari and the Amazon website.

There seems to be no indication that the Kindle app is in jeopardy…Phil’s headline notwithstanding. It works exactly the way that Apple has told people it wants apps to work, and if Sony submitted an app that didn’t follow the rules, they knew good and well it would get rejected.

There is another explanation…Apple might be warning app developers behind the scenes that things are going to be changing. Tomorrow marks the announcement of The Daily, Rupert Murdoch’s new experimental tablet-only newspaper. With it is expected to come a new method for in-app subscriptions, which might signal the availability of a new infrastructure for app developers to take advantage of (and for Apple to force the use of).

But for now, this story is nothing but poor reporting on the NYT’s part, combined with a bit of over-excitability on the part of librarians. Amazon’s Kindle app, along with the literally thousands of other apps that rely on web-based purchasing and then web-based updating, isn’t going anywhere. Apple would have many, many, many more problems than Amazon if they just eliminated outside purchases wholesale.

CES and ALA Midwinter 2011

The next week or so for me is completely insane, as I’m attending both CES2011 and ALA Midwinter 2011, even though they actually overlap. I’ll be flying from Nashville to Las Vegas on Tuesday for CES, hopping from Vegas to San Diego on Friday for ALA Midwinter, and then taking the red-eye late on Monday night to get back to Nashville and then home early Tuesday morning.

Then I’m gonna sleep about 20 hours.

There are a lot of things I’m excited about for both trips…CES is a bazaar of tech, and I’m attending a number of exciting Press Conferences from Sony, Lenovo, ASUS, and other major tech companies. I’m going to be doing reporting on the trip over at Perpetual Beta, including (if the wifi holds up) some livestreaming. I will send a tweet out when I start a livestream, so if you are interested, follow me over at twitter and you’ll get the head’s up when I go live with anything.

At ALA Midwinter, there’s also a lot to be excited about. I have two favors to ask of anyone that happens to read this and will be in San Diego:

The first: if you are a LITA member, consider coming to the Saturday morning LITA Board of Directors meeting at 8:00am in the SDCC Room 11b. It’s early, and I don’t begrudge anyone their sleep, but if you want to see how LITA works, and help to make it better, come hang out with the Board for the morning.

The second is: Come see me stumble over my fanboy self while I interview Dr. Vernor Vinge, on Saturday in the SDCC at 1:30pm in room 29 A-D. Go to that link and leave me a question you’d like to see Dr. Vinge answer, check here and at LITABlog for a live stream of the interview, and help make this an awesome event for librarians everywhere. Dr. Vinge is a 4 time Hugo Award winner, and his writing has within it possible futures for information, libraries, and books that we should really pay attention to.

I hope to see a lot of friends as well…if you see me, please wave me down and say hello.

Google ChromeOS Cr-48 Review

Cr-48

I ended up writing about 2000 words over at Perpetual Beta on my experience with the Google ChromeOS Cr-48 laptop thus far, and see no reason to duplicate all that info here at PatRec. Here’s the review, linked up in 5 parts:

Copyright change in Spain pressured by US

Here’s just one example of why the Wikileak cables are important and deserve to be released, analyzed, and that transparency in government is valuable. From BoingBoing:

Spain’s Congress is about to vote on a new and extremely harsh copyright/Internet law. It’s an open secret that the law was essentially drafted by American industry groups working with the US trade representative.

….

The first 35 of the 115 cables have been released, and they confirm the widespread suspicion: the Spanish government and the opposition party were led around by the nose by the US representatives who are the real legislative authority in Spain.

Here’s a link to an English translation of the El Pais article.

Kindle 2 for $89 on Black Friday

I posted this first over at Perpetual Beta, but I felt the need to repost here.

Amazon announced today via Facebook and Twitter that one of their Black Friday deals was going to be blowing out their inventory of the Kindle 2 (the last generation of Kindle) for $89. These are new units, not refurbs, and include 3G access with the device.

This deal is going to get pounded, and who knows how many they have left in stock. If you want to try and grab one, the deal starts 11/26 at 9 am PST.

While I feel that one-day sale prices don’t quite get me where I thought we’d be when I made my < $100 eReader prediction back at ALA Midwinter 2009 as a part of the LITA Top Tech Trends panel, I’d like to think I could take this as partial validation of the prediction.

Knight News Challenge

David Lee King blogged about this just the other day, but it just came to my attention: the Knight News Challenge. Looks like a really interesting grant possibility. From the website:

The Knight News Challenge is a media innovation contest that aims to advance the future of news by funding new ways to digitally inform communities. Anyone, anywhere in the world can apply. Applicants must only follow three rules: Use digital, open-source technology, distribute news in the public interest, fit into one of four categories. As much as $5 million will be given away this year, apply before midnight EST, December 1st. >>

The idea of using digital, open-source technology to distribute information is right up the alley of librarians…even the four categories (mobile, authenticity, sustainability and community) speak directly to the strengths of libraries and librarians. If you are interested, or know anyone in your community that may be, the deadline for application is December 1, so get going!

Long Bet

One of my favorite sites on the Internet is Long Bet, where people publicly bet on long-term future issues. The third Long Bet has been decided, and it has to do with Video consumption. In 2002, Jim Griffin bet Gordon Bell that:

A profitable video-on-demand service aimed at consumers will offer 10,000 titles to 5 million subscribers by 2010.

If you can remember back to the period when this bet was made, there was no YouTube. Read the comments on the initial bet to see just where people’s minds were in regards to video at the time. The first few comments mention companies like Intel, Sony, Viacom, and Time Warner….and the reasons that Gordon Bell give for the bet not being possible include things that look silly in retrospect: Sufficient bandwidth (at least 1 Mbps), a codec that will deliver TV quality picture, and my personal favorite where Bell says “I don’t think five million people will want to watch movies on their PC screens while checking their email.”

Just goes to show how fast technology changes, and how fast culture and expectations are altered by the technology as it changes.

Anyone want to make a Long Bet regarding libraries? I’m interested. 🙂