Friday, July 16, 2010

3D Coming to Screens Near You?

Sony appear to have all the 3D bases covered. They are filming in it, developing it, providing devices to rum on it and distributing it. 3D is certainly going to change gaming and its going to change sport filming but will it really take over and become the next big digital change? Many like ourselves, were impressed by the cinematography of Advatar and less impressed with Tim Burton’s quick 3D fix on Alice, but 3D is coming and big money is waging on it win.

There are some interesting issues. First, the Eyecare Trust claim some six million people in the UK, or 1 in six, will not be able to view the 3D images properly. The claims relate to people who have poor binocular vision and will have difficulty processing and viewing the 3D effects. They may only see blurred images and could have side effects such as headaches. Glasses may be the cure but the health risks when increase when people are subjected to prolonged and close exposure, such as experienced by gamers. There is no real health warning with 3D and the effects of excessive exposure are not established, nor are they know with respect to age.

The 3D section of the PlayStation 3 terms states, ‘Some people may experience discomfort (such as eye strain, eye fatigue or nausea) while watching 3D video images or playing stereoscopic 3D games on 3D televisions… If you experience such discomfort, you should immediately discontinue use of your television until the discomfort subsides.'

Reggie Fils-Aime, the President and COO of Nintendo of America recomends, "Very young children not look at 3D images…. the muscles for the eyes are not fully formed... This is the same messaging that the industry is putting out with 3D movies, so it is a standard protocol.’

3D is coming and gaming powerhouse, Ubisoft’s UK marketing director, Murray Pannel predicts a 3D TV in every living room within three years and that 3D gaming will be at the forefront.

However we have the cost of production of content. Here we have two different approaches, one which shoots in full 3D and one that merely transforms to 3D. There are basic two technologies. First stereoscopic or full 3D, which is like in Avatar and costs around 70% more than normal and requires you to shoot in 3D from the start. It works by giving depth of field, enabling the viewer to see ‘into’ the image. The other is slightly cheaper, around 50% of mormal and is called dimensionalising. This involves taking a 2D film and in post production making it into 3D. The finished product may not be as good, but is a way to turn a back catalogue into 3D and capitalise on the 4 times greater revenue 3D movies are making over 2D. Tim Burton’s Alice used this post filming technology and is why some of the imagery is not focused. 2D depends on a focus point and is when it it is turned into 3D it can become blurred. There is also a contrast issue where 3D 'dulls' an image and light has to be adjusted to compensative. Images may appear different when the same original film is viewed in 2D and 3D. Finally, shooting has to be on the diagonal not face on and this can make original 2D film look weird.

Sport appears to be where TV production is cutting its 3D teeth and Sony filmed the whole World Cup in 3D.

NTT Docomo have just launched a 3D LCD display that can be viewed with the naked eye without those glasses at Expo Comm Wireless in Japan. It will display 3D images which can be viewed from eight viewpoints, each of which has an angular range of 15°. The display however cannot show 2D images but they claim, ‘We would like to equip mobile phones and smart phones with the display within a few years.’ 3D LCD displays can be viewed with the naked eye using either a lenticular lens or a parallax barrier, which provides a slit to partially block off light.

Facebook Skeletons Keep Coming!

We talk one minute about bad PR and the next about skeletons in cupboards. When we discover one skeleton in a cupboard we deal with it and move on. When another is find another its only natural to raise more than an eyebrow.

Remember the millionaire brothers who rowed in this years Oxford Canbridge University Boat? Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss, together with Divya Narendra where co-founders of ConnectU, and took on their former Harvard classmate Mark Zuckerberg. They claimed that Zuckerberg the CEO of Socail Network Facebook had taken their software code and business plan. In 2008 they settled out of court for some $65 million in Facebook stock and cash. The dispute still rages on over the company valuation and some would suggest that there is there is no smoke without fire.

Now Mark Zuckerberg have had another potential skeleton in New York web designer Paul Ceglia. Ceglia has filed suit against Facebook and company CEO, claiming an April 2003 contract which would now entitle him to around 84% ownership stake in Facebook. The case is over a 7 year old contract signed by Zuckerberg and Ceglia, the designer. The contract is claimed to pay Ceglia some $1,000 and a 50% stake in the site. When it was nothing the 50% was worth nothing but today that could be substantial. The lawsuit also claims that Ceglia is entitled to "an additional 1% interest in the business for every day after Jan. 1, 2004, until it was completed." The terms apparently state, "It is agreed that Purchaser [Ceglia] will own a half interest (50%) in the software, programming language, and business interests derived from the expansion of the service to a larger audience."

Ceglia seeks a declaratory judgment and relief in the form of monetary damages and 84% ownership -- worth between $5.6 billion and $9.24 billion, which is based on Facebook's estimated value of between $6.5 billion and $11 billion.

Apple: Is All PR Good?

One day you are a hero the next you are a villain. One day everyone hangs on your every word the next they hang you for every word. We saw what bad PR did to a delayed car recall recently and BP has had a mare of a communications problem since oil stated to impact its main buying community. No one is immure to bad press and not everyone can handle it. Now Appleworld certainly is experiencing a rollercoaster of a month since it launched its iPhone 4.

The iPhone 4 went on sale in late June 24 and Apple claim to have sold more than 1.7 million units in the first three days of the launch.

Should they recall the phones and correct them, simple tell people how to hold them, download a patch, or tough it out? The one thing you don’t do is act arrogant and say that there isn’t a problem when there is. The next thing you don’t do is tell people how to fix your problem and offer them a bumper at a cost of $30. The last thing you don’t do is expect it to go away – ask BP.

The Comsumer Reports statement which it could not recommend the iPhone 4 should have been taken on board. Apple blog TUAW however claimed that the company was deleting threads in its support forum that referenced the Consumer Reports ratings. The chorus of complaints continue to grow and consumer review sites question whether a recall is required.

The company so far has made two official responses to the reception issue, which has been blamed on an external antenna design. One recommended that customers refrain from holding the phone in a way that covered the bottom left corner. Another said it had discovered a software glitch that miscalculated the strength of wireless coverage in a given area.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Smaller iPads Coming?

We have long awaited the emegence of OLED technology into the mass device market and it could be Apple's trump card if rumours in Digitimes are to be believed. They claim a second generation of the iPad, using 5.6" and 7" OLED panels by the end of the year. We will read that as January and at the usual Apple show.

The first quarter date may also tie in with rumoured iPad orders to Taiwan-based component makers for the fourth quarter of 2010 and the first quarter of 2011.

So are Apple targeting the eInk 'Lookie likie' market and aiming to take them out with one swipe? Are they watching the tablet market and trying to spread their attraction to the lower end? The use of OLED is certainly a major shift and one that could give them significant traction if they can get the price right.

Remember Steve Jobs 2008 quote on the Kindle, "It doesn't matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don't read anymore... The whole concept is flawed at the top because people don't read anymore.” Well perhaps everyone makes a mistake.

The $100 eBook Reader is Coming

We have been saying for a long time that the eInk reader price had to drop to a point where it becomes a throw away commodity. We have seen recent skirmish with Nook and Amazon but today we saw the first real push into that price point space.

eBookNewser has reported that Books-A-Million has been selling one version of the Sony eReader which was originally $299 for $99 and $89 to members. Guess what - within hours the members-only special offer had sold out. Ok we offer was limited to just one version, restricted to members and was a time window offer, but it clearly proves that people will buy at the right price and we will continue to suggest that $100 is it.

If a real price war were to start today it will be interesting to watch. With the recent demise of iRex and Cooler readers and many others probably looking shaky it is easy to see the opportunity for many to dump their inventory onto the market and cut their losses. This has to drive down the high end machines and it is a brave man who stick at the old price. The likely winners are those who like Amazon can cross subsidise any loss, those with a sizeable repository on offer and the brave.

We predict that the price of many readers will fall to $100 before the Christmas buying season. However consumers beware that the first to be on offer will be the old models, refurbished ones and generally those that are sitting on shelves waiting to be written off in the ebooks. Also consumers must ensure that the readers, especially the less know ones, are capable of doing what they says on the box.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Is ePub, ePub or ePub?

We are only just really starting to get into the interoperable digital world we all seek but already cracks are surfacing and more importantly it is not difficult to envisage some further issues moving forward. Unfortunately we are not all experts in the detail, nor are many experts across the full range of issues and technologies and most importantly the experts often miss the commercial and cultural aspects in their search for technical utopia.

Yesterday I was sitting in our Pune office in India when I received an email which I am not saying is right or wrong only that the author is someone who I respect when it comes to digital file manipulation. His objective was to highlight that ePUB for iPad is different from ePUB for ADE and SonyReader and raise some areas for consideration. The mail was quiet detailed and extensive so I have just listed some of the issues raised.

1. The ePUB for the iPad needs a new-standard CSS for iPad-ePUB which will generically apply colour for Part/Chapter/Sections/Noteboxes/CodeListing and others. Fairly straightforward but not required until colour was delivered.
2. Image/Graphic format: iPad-ePUB supports JPG and PNG formats, but PNG (transparent) is recommended. Transparency of images helps’ if a coloured Notebox has an inline equation then image will not render white-patch of inline equation image.
3.The graphic dimension requirement is different for as images which occupy 25% or 40% of the page need more scaling as compared to Sony/ADE. This applies to cover dimension too.
3. Special Character support is extensive for iPad-ePUB as compared to ADE and SonyReader. This means that the iPad can render more characters as text as opposed to image.
5. iPad-ePUB does not work on XSL-stylesheet as ADE and SonyReader does. iPad-ePUB entirely works on CSS.

Although iPad-ePUB can be viewed on ADE but will not display colour enhancements in SonyReader (because of its grey screen). We can’t assure 100% cross-compatibility of ePUB between iPad and ADE/Sony, as the owner of respective specifications also don’t claim this cross-compatibility.

We already have DRM diversion as Apple, Amazon and Adobe go their separate ways. We still have multiple format s with Amazon, Blio, epub, Apple epub, Adobe ebook and obviously these will develop different versions and be open to different interpretations.

What we need to remember is that its not just the consumer that is faced with the question of interoperability but also the publisher and aggregator who has to hold and maintain them. Someone who invested early in digital files may now have to revisit these in order tomake them comply with the new demands. The recent change from 1.03 to 1.05 version of epub is a classic example of such a change.

The one thing we all want is interoperability.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Android 2.2 Looks Cool

Ars Technica have done a first class review of the new Android operating system 2.2. We may have only just moved to 2.1 but the wealth of features clearly demonstrates both Google’s commitment to push the agenda on Android. With more and more devices coming on stream even the guys at Apple are in for a battle.

We don’t wish to steal Ars thunder so click here to read more on the features and see the screens.

Peer Review about to Change?

Peer review is a critical part of the journal article process involves an editor selecting those who are best qualified to review specific articles.

Now Elsevier are to pilot a new approach which turns the process on its heads and through the use of its PeerChoice software enables the reviewers to select the articles that match their academic competencies and interests. The process still needs to be done within a time period but instead of pushing articles to reviewers the processes effectively allows reviewers to pull them. All the checks and balances of the peer review process remain to ensure the expected high quality of the process. Elsevier is piloting the new programme for three months on its Chemical Physics Letters journal.

The new approach follows a survey by Elsevier which highlighted that many reviewers are sometimes hesitant to review an article because of their lack of expertise in that particular field and that researchers wanted to improve peer review by increasing the relevancy of articles and the turnaround time.

Opening peer review is interesting in that it obviously starts to empower the reviewers but it is also dangerous as it could dilute the quality of the current process and is dependant of there being the right level as well as the right relevance of response and remember reviewers do it for free.

Friday, July 09, 2010

eInk Just Lost its Cool, While eBook Issues Just Got Hotter

Cooler reader looks to be another casualty of the squeeze that is inevitable in the ‘lookie likie’ eink reader market. They follow iRex in what may be a growing queue of dead technology failures. The one consistent thing we have said is that this technology made little sense and had a very limited life and now the writing may be clearly on the wall.We doubt we will see eink readers as we know them today in 2012.

The cooler reader entered the market in a full colour with a spectrum of cases, but forgot to make the screen colour too. They also misjudged their launch with a stand and presentation more geared to a car show than a book show and their one trick pony was just a colour case. According to various sources they are no more.

Cooler will not be the last and there will be a lot more casualties before some sense prevails and we haven’t yet seen the inevitable price drop to minus $100 which will sort out many that are merely hanging around on death row today. As we said earlier this week the ones with strong content revenues and offer are the only ones with a survival chance today.

The Amazon Kindle however continues to push forward and now has a fancy graphite case. Surprisingly they have just discovered that a dark contrast makes a ‘white’ screen look like paper! Hello did they not realise this when Adobe created Digital Editions some four years ago. A graphite case and better eink resolution isn’t going to save what is basically inferior technology. You don’t see people going out to buy black and white TVs today so why expect them to buy black and white readers? The only stay of execution will be a drop to $99 a unit.

However the demise of black and white eInk has another interesting twist as it starts to potentially fracture Adobe’s DRM platform ACS4 which today was more or less the universal DRM across the eink devices. It also starts to highlight the differences between the adoption rules being applied to epub standards and formats in general.
There are a number of interesting issues now emerging on epub, hard DRM, soft DRM (watermarking) and readers. It will be interesting to watch as these unfold and what is certain is that there will not be one universal solution to these issues for some time yet.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Amazon Patent Comes Out of Woodwork

Engadget scored a significant scoop in its exclusive article on Amazon’s patent on e-readers with secondary LCD displays. Apparently the patent was filed some 4 years ago for US only rights and so wasn't required to publish the patent application. The one refernce picked out by engadget refers to a two screen device.

A handheld electronic device comprising: a housing; an electronic paper display disposed in the housing and having a first surface area; and a liquid crystal display (LCD) disposed in the housing proximate the electronic paper display, the LCD having a second surface area that is smaller than the first surface area of the electronic paper display.

Whether Amazon takes legal actions against others is uncertain and the obvious targets are the Nook and the Alex readers from Barnes and Noble and Spring Design. More interesting is that this effectively would kill off any thoughts anyone may have to create a dual screen reader , what its impact is on any clamshell tablets such as the KNO tablet and whether it will impact mobile developments in the future.

It is hard to believe that the Amazon patent can’t be challenged, that it was granted long after these devices can to market, that no challenge was made by Amazon given that they had a patent pending and finally that it only applies to a single region. It would suggest that Amazon’s application was speculative and will simply slip away but we may be wrong.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Chasing Cheap Labour in a Digital World

Chasing cheap labour in a global economy is easy at first, but becomes harder over time. Every supplier of goods and services wants the lowest cost base and the highest margin and cheap labour will always be a major factor. Managing costs has become somewhat of an art form in this connected world and often work simply flows from one low cost center to another in search of cheap labour. Today components may have to be source from one specific place or a limited number of options. All the various components may be sourced from many countries and then merely assembled in another and then transported and sold in the most profitable markets.

So the New York Times today reports on changing situation and aspirations of China and the potential impact on gadgets such as Mobiles and the iPad. China’s labour costs are rising and being fuelled by worker shortages, a booming Chinese currency, worker unrest, inflation is rising so is the cost of housing and consumer affluence. Wages in China since 2005, have risen by over 50% and now are under extreme pressure to rise significantly again. China’s currency has also appreciated against the US dollar since 2005, and is now expected to rise about 3 to 5% a year for the next several years.

You can see the same on many Asian countries and what was cheap a few years ago is no longer the case. China labour will and can be moved from areas such as Shenzhen to cheaper and more rural areas, but the same issue slowly reappears. It’s no different in India where centres such as Bangalore, Pune and Chennai are stating to look unattractive and new cities are opening up and becoming attractive.

As we about to fly out to India again to our digital content factory in Pune and the in Coimbatore we note that the labour rates vary significantly between the two. We will also visit our team in Bangalore which is different again. There are so are many other factors that influence what one do where and the overall mix. Ability to recruit, transport infrastructure, the right raw skill set and much more effect the ability to migrate work between different cost bases. Someone was talking to us only last week about moving to Vietnam and setting up a factory there. Someone else trains their operators in the city then equips them to operate from their villages. The common factor is the cost of people and the fixed cost of doing business in a location. If you want Arabic digital conversion the cheapest place today is probably Cairo, but it is not the best place to do English or European languages as the cost base is geared to deal with other issues such as the lack of effective Arabic OCR software.

All, manufactures and service providers, chase the elusive cheap ticket but must face the reality of their business needs and stability.

The ultimate challenge is to manage the margin, and whilst companies such as Apple can accommodate rising costs within their ‘fat’ 60% margin, others making personal computers, mobiles and other electronics may not have the same levels of fat. Commodity services such as digital conversion also live on tight margins and have started to change as prices that have flattened or even dropped. There again these may start to come under pressure to rise sharply as digital demand starts to surge and capacity remains constrained.

It was interesting to read in the NYT article about the breakdown of the iPhone 4’s expensive component costs. More than a dozen integrated circuit chips accounting for some 60% of the cost of a single device. It’s claimed that Apple pays, Samsung some $27 for flash memory and $10.75 to make its applications processor; German chip maker Infineon receives $14.05 a phone and the gyroscope, by STMicroelectronics, costs some $2.60. It is claimed that the total bill of materials on a $600 iPhone is $187.51. The assembly in China is the cheap part with workers being paid less than a dollar an hour today to assemble and package the iPhone 4. However rising wage demands directly will continue to impact cost and logistics is only cheap when it is in bulk.

The most interesting point is that counties such as China and India no longer want the low end assembly and service work. “China doesn’t want to be the workshop of the world anymore,” says Pietra Rivoli, a professor of international business at Georgetown University. India is already maturing as a workforce and aspirations and wages are growing fast. The question is will the West pay more or simply flow to the next cheap source of labour?

The Cisco Kid to Deliver a Tablet

With built-in teleconferencing and desktop integration features the tablet Cius from Cisco starts to present a different form of competition to the ipad and could make it appeal to business users. Then there is USB and Ethernet ports, WiFi or 3G connectivity options, a 7” screen, forward facing cameras that can record video at resolutions up to 720p at 30 frames-per-second and a back-facing camera with a 5-megapixel camera for VGA resolutions. The Android tablet will have hardware buttons for navigation and menu access as well as a touchscreen.

This could also give a great opportunity for information companies to develop mobile solutions and apps for the Android platform. The Cius is planned for release in early 2011 and no doubt will arrive before anyone can spot anything from Plastic Logic.

Sony: Anything You Can Do We Can Do Too

We saw Amazon drop their price of the Kindle to align to the Nook and now Sony has dropped the prices on its Pocket Edition from $169 to $149, the Touch Edition from $199 to $169 and the 3G Daily Edition is now $299 from $349.

Our take is that this, is too little too late and they have to break the $99 price point to be attractive. Will anyone be prepared to cut to the bone, or run a loss leader to capture the market? The problem with so many ‘lookie likies’ is that they don’t make money on the sales of books, only on the devices and as the price wars heat up then some will go to the wall. It is hard to see anyone but Kobo, Amazon and B&N surviving these wars if they get as hot as they must do soon. Forget the social networking, forget they fancy add ons and split screens, for eInk readers to make it through winter, they have to make money out of content sales.

How long before one starts to give them away to schools, institutions etc. Remember they also will soon face OLPC tablet offer at the low end and more Android tablets at the top end and after all said and done, they are still one channel black and white TVs, in a multi channel, Technicolor and HD world.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Woot: Amazon to Sell 'Bags of Crap'?

Imagine an online store that only does ‘happy hour’ and focuses on a single item each day and when it’s midnight, its gone. Imagine the same store labelling its products as "bags of crap" and joking that it hopes to be profitable by 2043. is certainly no ordinary online experience but it is one that is gaining significant following and last week was bought by Amazon. Watch the video!!!

Woot has some interesting advice on their site:

If you buy something you don't end up liking or you have what marketing people call "buyer's remorse," sell it on eBay. It's likely you'll make money doing this and save everyone a hassle. If the item doesn't work, find out what you're doing wrong. Yes, we know you think the item is bad, but it's probably your fault. Google your problem, or come back to that product discussion in our community and ask other people if they know. Try to call the manufacturer and ask if they know.

We are busy sourcing new products and shipping orders. You can post a comment to our community board, but we don't guarantee we'll respond.

A new product is released every morning at 12am central time, seven days a week. (If you're not a morning person, this can be described as every night at midnight. Better?) If a product sells out during its run, a new item will not appear until the next release time. You will know if a product is sold out, because the main page says "SOLD OUT" instead of "I want one". (Clever, eh?)

Seriously they can get away with their tongue in cheek approach and what Gerald Ratner couldn’t do because they do it on everything and say it in a way that makes them sort of endearing. However, the question now is how they will fit into the Amazon camp. Will they sell books with some funny commentary, ‘buy now before we pulp it’ or Kindles with colour reading glasses? Their comment on being taken over for a reported $110 million, "More details forthcoming after we pick our eyeballs up off the floor."

Digital Reading Tests Prove Little?

So which would win the ultimate reading test out of the iPad, the Kindle, the PC and the physical book? Take 24 readers give them a short story by Hemingway on each of the four options, time them and then test their comprehension understand .

Jakob Nielson, a leading experts on usability ran such tests and has posted his results his Alert box website.

Based on this data, the study concludes that Books are still better for reading than ebook readers.

However the numbers are very small and the time taken was very similar. Nielson says that based on the tests, reading on the iPad is more difficult then a normal book, as the story took 6.2 percent longer to read, with the Kindle being even slower. Some suggest that the new or unfamiliar interface of the ereaders would easily account for the variance in results and that over time this would be obviated. Some would suggest that the tests ignored the benefits of the technology platforms and merely focused on one aspect reading. Some would also question whether speed actually matters?

So as eInk strives to play catch up to the iPad and the world gets addicted to tablets what can we draw from this small piece of research? Some would say very little, others that the book still wins, others that the tablet with its higher resolution and touchscreen interface wins over keys and poorer resolution. We think its all academic really but if it makes Mr Nielson happy and keeps him off the streets so be it.

There again its getting close to August and news is getting harder to find!

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Adobe PDF and InDesign Face New Competition

Why would anyone want to challenge Adobe and its now open PDF format? Adobe have developed the format without any real challenger and today printers, typesetters, digital companies and virtually every publisher deals with PDF.

Enter Founder Apabi Technology a Chinese e-book player from Beijing who have an established name in the Chinese e-book market and are used by some 500 Chinese publishers, provide digital platforms, libraries and e-book readers. They have developed their CEBX (Common E-document Blending XML) technology which is capable of storing document data and which is fully compatible with PDF. Apabi Reader is their equivalent to Adobe’s Reader enabling documents to be viewed but not edited. Apabi Maker can convert other document formats to CEBX. Apabi Carbon is the full CEBX editing suite. The company also claim that it has applications under development for Windows Mobile, Android, and iOS (iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad).

So is it a replacement technology or a complimentary one? So what is their strength?
Founder Apabi plans to focus in the business-to-business market, with a specific focus on academic and professional content and have announced a strategic agreement with China's Science Press, which will make products in more than 18 different subject categories and plans to launch more than 8,000 e-books in five major disciplines. They claim that the CEBX format has been specifically designed to integrate with all kinds of smartphones, handheld e-book readers, and tablet computers

They believe the adoption by Chinese government departments to meet their document-processing needs and the productitivty they claim CEBX has over PDF on mobiles will be key areas to make CEBX a dominant force and Apabi tools a must have.
So it was also interesting to read about Quarks latest comeback and realise that Adobe may not have a clear run for long. Over a decade ago many book designers used Quark and it was dominant force in the market. However in that same period the likes of Adobe have made great inroads into the market and now their ‘InDesign’ holds the premium spot.

Quark, K-NFB Reading Technology, the creator of the Blio e-reader application, and Baker & Taylor, the US book distributor, have announced a partnership to offer content creators the ‘first complete solution for Digital Publishing 2.0’. The partnership aims to combine their complimentary expertise to help publishers and other content creators capitalize in the emerging digital market. Their joint offer aims to include video, audio, interactive Web pages, social media, note-taking, exporting capabilities, and more. They say it will transform static, black-and-white pages into rich, engaging digital media content.

There are obvious questions about the commitment of all three to stick it out and try to change a well defined market, their ability to get wide adoption of the Blio format and whether it can displace the current incumbent InDesign.
What is clear from both the Chinese intiative and the Quark one as well as Steve Job’s Flash denial is that Adobe isn’t going to have it as easy as they did in the last decade.

3 Million European Orphan Works and Counting!

The major digital issue, with the still to be resolved Google Book Settlement, is Orphan Works. These are works that are still in copyright but where the rights owner can’t be traced, or fully determined and many believe is a goldmine of works that can’t be legally digitised today. Different countries have different rules over length of copyright and the criteria under which they get impacted. Some claim the number of titles impacted is relatively small and that there is little value in them, other would suggest the opposite. Now a review involving responses from 22 cultural institutions and published by the European Commission claims, that not only books are affected but that there is a significant high percentage of orphan works among photographs and audiovisual collections and the numbers are high.

Google is not the only one looking at orphans and Europeana, which plays a key role in making Europe’s digital resources available online has called on the European Commission to establish a rights clearance system. Our own view is that it’s somewhat hypocritical for a rights industry that calls foul on infringement not to have even the bacsics of a rights registry today. After all,how can an industry be taken seriously when it doesn’t even cover the basics?

The new report claims on orphan books, a‘conservative estimate’ of 3 million orphan books (13 % of the total number of in-copyright books). The British Library in their report claimed that orphan works represent over 40% of all in-copyright material.

The older the books the higher the percentage of orphan works. ‘Vast numbers of items in the collections of the consulted cultural institutions have uncertain copyright status. Even when institutions are intentionally focusing their digitisation efforts on what they believe is public domain material, a lot of effort to establish the exact copyright status is required. Only material from as far as pre-1870 may relatively safely be assumed to be in the public domain, but it turns out that the oldest book still in copyright in the UK dates back to 1859.’

The issue is not confined to books. Film archives from across Europe categorized after a search for right holders claimed 129 000 film works are orphan and works that can be presumed to be orphan without actually searching for the right holders augments the figure to approximately 225 000. In the UK 95 % of newspapers from before 1912 are orphan and a survey amongst museums in the UK also found that the rights holders of 17 million photographs (that is 90% of the total collections of photographs of the museums) could not be traced.

The Accessible Registries of Rights Information and Orphan Works, ( ARROW project) aims to make the procedure for managing and identifying rights ownership more efficient and has been working to connect the databases of national libraries, publishers and rights organisations across Europe and although there is must noise and initial activity much has to be done for it to even effectively scratch the surface of the issue.

What the European exercise shows us is that the issue is not small, is not going away ,covers different media sectors and that there is no silver digital bullet. Everyone wants these works to be made available within the digital world but it is not a simple case of emulating Google’s attempted land grab of orphans, but about setting up a registrar that is available to all and that the commercial interests of the rights owners are protected from commercial abuse.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Does Anyone Care About The Impact of eBooks For Free?

With the announcement that South Ayrshire libraries are now to offer a free downloadable "ebooks" service to their members 24 x 7 we ask again who is dealing with the question of free versus buy on the High Street? Do the publishers feel that being paid is enough and that its no different to physical books being sold to libraries? Do the bookstore believe that libraries are no threat to their livlyhood? Do authors feel that they will get adequately rewarded by library royalties and a shrinking PLR (public lending right)? Why is this debate being sweept under the carpet?

Memebers of the library can then be read or listened to ebooks a computer, mobile phone, ebook reader, MP3 player or be burned to CD. Up to four titles can be borrowed at once from the libraries' website and although the selection today is relatively small it is being provided by US digital aggregator Overdrive who only this week partnered with Internet Archive in the US. The ebooks on the library shelf cover adult, children, fiction and non-fiction titles and include authors such as Kathy Reichs, Roald Dahl, Sophie Kinsella, and Man Booker Prize winner Hilary Mantel and autobiographies by Barack Obama, Frankie Boyle, Peter Kay, Andy Murray and Sir Chris Hoy.

We believe the questions over the commercial models of digital libraries, inter library lending of digital books and control of US material needs to be fully and frankly aired.