Dog-Eared and Dispatched
Greetings, literary citizens. The bad, the ugly, and the uncertain comprise this week’s news update, I’m afraid. We begin by investigating Amazon’s budding partnership with the digital comics platform known as ComiXology. Next, we examine how Barnes and Noble is faring after Liberty Media cuts their financial ties to the bookstore. Following this, we preview Penguin Random House’s latest digital venture: My Independent Bookshop. Lastly, we delve into a little cognitive study as scientists explore how digital reading is rewiring our brains.
ComiXology, a cloud-based digital comics platform with a library of more than 75 publishers and independent creators, is in the process of being acquired by Amazon. David Naggar, Amazon’s vice president of content acquisition and independent publishing, declined to elaborate on the exact nature of the collaboration, saying that it is too soon to “preview” how the two platforms will work together. “ComiXology is already a significant concern for comics retailers,” said Lauren Davis of io9. “This purchase means that Amazon has essentially created a digital comics monopoly.” Davis added the caveat that “the field of comics is populated by creators who are incredibly sophisticated when it comes to the digital space,” and that it is their response to this partnership that will set the tone for the future of comic book retailers. ComiXology’s official press release states that the company will continue to operate out of New York as a subsidiary of Amazon, with the deal between the two companies scheduled to reach a close during the second quarter of 2014. Purchases like this are becoming routine for Amazon, with founder Jeff Bezos recently sharing 21 upcoming Amazon initiatives in a letter to the company’s shareholders—one such initiative being to pay Amazon employees to quit (or at least that’s how Amazon is presenting it). [Shelf Awareness, Publishers Weekly, io9, ComiXology, GalleyCat, CBS News, Huffington Post]
It’s been a rough start to the month for Barnes and Noble with Liberty Media’s announcement that it is selling its 17% share of the bookstore. The relationship between the two companies appears to have been rocky from the start, however; back in 2011, Liberty Media Chairman John C. Malone stated that “it would be a bit of a flier for us, on whether or not Barnes & Noble can play competitively with the likes of Apple and Amazon in the digital transformation.” Apparently the question is no longer up for debate, though that’s certainly not the way both Liberty Media and B&N are spinning it: “By reducing our preferred position and eliminating some of our related rights, Barnes & Noble will gain greater flexibility to accomplish their strategic objectives,” Liberty Media’s Chief Executive Gregory B. Maffei remarked during a public statement. According to Melville House, Libery Media is jumping ship—and rightly so. “Liberty invested in B&N when its ebook sales were growing rapidly; now that growth has stalled to the point that no one expects the Nook to recover,” wrote Digital Media Director Alex Shephard. “The Nook, seen as the company’s future just a few years ago, has become a financial albatross that investors are watching closely, but Barnes & Noble remains committed to it—and to hemorrhaging cash on keeping it. It’s hard to see why anyone—even a company that owns one of the most obnoxious franchises in professional sports—would see Barnes & Noble as a good investment right now.” [The New York Times, The Motley Fool, MobyLives!]
On Monday, April 7, Penguin Random House UK announced the launch of My Independent Bookshop, a book-sharing social media platform that—as the name implies—allows users to set up their own virtual bookshop containing their favorite publications (displaying up to 12 titles at once), as well as recommendations and reviews. “People are becoming ever more sophisticated in the way they move between their social, digital and physical worlds,” stated Group Director of Consumer & Digital Development Hannah Telfer. “We want to harness the opportunities this creates to celebrate the power of human recommendation. By giving people the magical experience of curating their own bookshop and sharing this with their communities, we are putting the discovery of great books and authors—no matter who they are published by—directly into the hands of book lovers.” While still in closed beta form, the site has received praise from fantasy author Terry Pratchett, who remarked, “Independent bookshops supported this jobbing genre author long before the geeks were let out of their wardrobes, [and] being able to support these talented retail wizards through My Independent Bookshop is a very, very good thing. The personal aspect of sharing recommendations in your own online shop gives readers the ability to discover surprising new worlds in an interesting way. Go on, have a virtual rummage around–you’ll never know what you might find.” Books are purchasable through the site via Hive, Gardners Books’ e-commerce division, with the wholesaler currently connected to 350 independent bookshops in the UK. According to The Bookseller, “Users can choose their favorite real-world independent bookshop to connect with when they register and bookshops will receive a minimum of 5% commission on book orders and 8% on e-books orders.” Referring to My Independent Bookshop as “three cups of Bookish, one of Goodreads, and a dash of Facebook,” Melville House’s Digital Director Alex Shephard isn’t convinced about the usefulness of PRH’s latest endeavor: “Despite the importance of ‘discoverability’ (and the greater importance of the buzzword ‘discoverability’), there’s no real sense that these engines actually make people discover and purchase books: social networks tend to take off when they meet the demands of users; social networks like Bookish and My Independent Bookshop aspire to meet the goals of publishers first and those of users second—whether they end up meeting anyone’s goals is anyone’s guess.” [booktrade.info, The Bookseller, Mobylives!]
The Internet is changing the way we read. This is old and obvious news, of course, but the manner in which our brains are actually rewiring themselves as a result of expanding digital technologies is not. According to some cognitive scientists currently researching the topic, and as reported by The Washington Post, humans appear to be developing “digital brains with new circuits for skimming through the torrent of information online.” The Post went on to highlight that the average time spent online (on both desktop and mobile devices) for U.S. citizens has been estimated at 5 hours per day as of 2013—a three-hour jump from 2010. The debate about print versus online reading has been occurring ever since the first line of text appeared on screen, and researchers are still investigating how comprehension, retention, and a whole slew of other factors are impacted by these two mediums of reading. While waiting for the final verdict, a number of scientists and literary citizens alike continue to expound the idea of the slow reading movement (which is exactly what it sounds like). “We’re spending so much time touching, pushing, linking, scrolling and jumping through text that when we sit down with a novel, your daily habits of jumping, clicking, linking is just ingrained in you,” said Andrew Dillon, a University of Texas professor of psychology and information. “We’re in this new era of information behavior, and we’re beginning to see the consequences of that.” Marianne Wolf, author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain and a leading expert in the study of reading, is pushing for a bi-literate education: “We can’t turn back. We should be simultaneously reading to children from books, giving them print, helping them learn this slower mode, and at the same time steadily increasing their immersion into the technological, digital age.” Far from a Luddite herself, Wolf admits that the task of teaching yourself to toggle between the two mechanisms is not easy: “I put everything aside. I said to myself, ‘I have to do this,’” she explained, recounting her own struggles to read a Herman Hesse novel following a day immersed in online communications. “It was really hard the second night. It was really hard the third night. It took me two weeks, but by the end of the second week I had pretty much recovered myself so I could enjoy and finish the book. I wanted to enjoy this form of reading again. When I found myself, it was like I recovered. I found my ability again to slow down, savor and think.” [Shelf Awareness, The Washington Post, The Guardian]
1. According to a study by the University of Auckland, Booktrack, the app that syncs music to e-books, may be increasing comprehension and the average amount of time spent reading.
2. Peter McCarthy and Mike Shatzkin team up to form the Logical Marketing Company, a digital marketing services-provider for publishers and authors.
3. TED Conferences and Simon & Schuster have partnered to produce TED Books, a 12-part series with covers to be designed by Chip Kidd.
4. As of April, The Guardian has launched a monthly self-publishing prize aimed at “find[ing] the brightest and the best in this dynamic new sector.”