A Digital Book Ecosystem

It looks like the gloves are off! Amazon, Scribd and now Google are going to be the players that will shape the future of e-books and the role publishers will have in this new frontier. It’s like the wild, wild west again when pioneers would pull along their wagon of ideas and boldly venture into new frontiers in hope of building a better tomorrow. This brave new frontier is the digital world of e-books.

Though Amazon was the first to step into the new world of e-books and e-reading, its business model is still from the old world which is reflected in the way it has kept a good part of its revenue from e-books for itself and “cutting authors and digital book publishers out of any substantial returns.”

Scribd, an online document sharing site, has jumped on the band wagon. I’m so impressed that they have the foresight to see that a new world product also requires a new world business model. They have introduced a harvest model of revenue sharing for e-books with authors and publishers which I find incredibly attractive. See post dated — for more on their model.

Now Google has drawn its guns. Like Scribd, they too realize that the success driver is not just about having content and a delivery system for e-reading, but it is about having a digital book ecosystem that is fair to all its stakeholders and rightly recognizing their role and contribution to the ecosystem. These range from the little guys who come up with creative content to publishers who are trying to find their place in this new world.

If Google is true to their motto “Don’t be evil” in how they deal, and more than that, to act honorably and treat each other with respect, then I’ll definitely be very interested in what Google’s business model would look like when they unveil it. This will be reflected in their digital book ecosystem. Let’s see….

The Channel WireJune 01, 2009
Uh Oh, Amazon: Google’s In The E-Book Business

Google has confirmed it will later this year launch a partner program for authors to sell digital versions of their books online — a move that will put Google in direct competition with Amazon, Amazon’s Kindle device, and anyone else with a stake in the exploding market for e-books and e-reading.

Google issued a statement Monday after The New York Times first reported its potential e-book plans Sunday. According to the statement, Google is at work on a “digital book ecosystem” that would allow authors to partner with Google and release and promote their works on a variety of platforms, including any device with Internet access.

“Eventually, we hope to extend this functionality to retailers who embed Google Previews on their Web site,” Google said in the statement.

Amazon’s dominance in the e-reading market took off following the February release of Kindle 2, the second version of its dedicated e-reading device, and last month’s unveiling of Kindle DX, a larger-screen version of the e-reader.

Competitors have since been coming out of the woodwork to challenge Kindle’s dominance, but none, really — whether device or e-reading application — has the weight Google has to throw around. And Google isn’t exactly a stranger to e-reading, either; the company’s ongoing project to digitize public domain books has drawn the ire of the Authors Guild, and also made it a partner of Sony, which in March said it would make all of Google’s public domain e-books available through its Sony eReader.

Google’s plan at first glance, however, seems author-friendly and allows for much variety in how readers access the books — two attributes Amazon doesn’t really share. If you download books from Amazon’s Kindle store, for example, the number of devices on which they can be read is limited to dedicated Kindles and Apple iPhones and iPods running Kindle applications.

We don’t believe that having a silo or proprietary system is the way that e-books will go,” said Tom Turvey, Google’s Strategic Director of Partnerships, at BookExpo over the weekend, according to The New York Times.

Amazon has also been widely criticized for keeping too much revenue from e-books for itself and cutting authors and digital book publishers out of any substantial returns. The online document sharing site Scribd, which recently said it would begin allowing authors a way to charge for their content, is among other e-reading entities seeming to directly target Amazon based on that criticism. Google told the Times over the weekend that it will allow publishers to set consumer prices for e-books sold through Google’s service.

That Amazon has competition isn’t exactly a surprise, but a Google e-book salvo is in a whole other league than, say, new e-reading devices from UK startup Interead.com or Plastic Logic, both of whom showed off their would-be Kindle Killers last week.

“Competitors will attack Amazon’s market position by launching new features, expanding content beyond books, dominating markets outside the U.S., reducing costs, and improving relationships with publishers,” wrote Forrester media and technology analyst Sarah Rotman Epps in a Monday research note. “With retailers, mobile operators, and device manufacturers all vying for a piece of the e-reader action, publishers should proactively shape their own e-reader opportunity — or miss their last best chance to control their own destiny.”

Posted by Chad Berndtson at 8:30 AM
Click for full report

For a quick insightful summary of Amazon and Google’s business philosophy and its mindset, I would recommend you check out this article from ireadreview.com

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To break down barriers, build bridges and provide hope

First ever black female rabbi
Alysa Stanton - First ever black female rabbi

The CNN story below about Alysa Stanton documents the first African-American woman to be ordained as a rabbi and to lead a majority white congregation. This is really a “milestone that reflects the diversity of permeates Jewish life” and the richness of its heritage.

Stanton is a woman with gumption and is an overcomer. She has persevered with faith and hope in her journey as only a seeker can but clearly, it is her love for Israel and its people that has carried her through. What the world lacks today is a restoration of vision, hope and love. Stanton reflects the essence of true entrepreneurship, the hallmarks that lifts one from the realm of work to realm of passion.

A black woman’s journey to the rabbinate in North Carolina
By Joe Sterling, CNN May 21, 2009

(CNN) — When Alysa Stanton officially becomes a rabbi next month, she’ll be walking into history. Alysa Stanton, 45, will become the first African-American woman to be ordained as a rabbi next month.

She’ll become the first African-American woman ever to be ordained as a rabbi and the first African-American rabbi to lead a majority white congregation, according to the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

Stanton, 45, will be ordained June 6 in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she received her master’s degree from the HUC-JIR, which is the rabbinical school of the Reform movement. Then in August, she will begin her new job at Congregation Bayt Shalom in Greenville, North Carolina — long a Conservative synagogue and now affiliated with both the Reform and Conservative movements.

She describes her new position with great enthusiasm, saying the congregation — while small — has a lot of children, a sign of a bright future. And she says the congregation is vibrant and the region, where East Carolina University and a major medical center are located, is dynamic as well.

My goals as a rabbi are to break down barriers, build bridges and provide hope,” Stanton told CNN. “I look forward to being the spiritual leader of an inclusive sacred community that welcomes and engages all.” The HUC says the milestone reflects the diversity that permeates Jewish life.

Citing numbers from the Institute for Jewish and Community Research, the HUC-JIR says at least 20 percent of American Jews — about 300,000 to 400,000 people — “are racially and ethnically diverse by birth … conversion and adoption. Approximately 20,000-30,000 marriages between Jews and African-Americans grew out of the civil rights movement. ”

“This diversity, reflecting the variety and richness of Jewish heritage, is embraced by the Reform Movement of Judaism, with its commitment to inclusivity,” the HUC-JIR said.

A Cleveland, Ohio, native from a Pentecostal Christian home who moved to Colorado at the age of 11, Stanton was first exposed to Judaism as a child and converted more than 20 years ago during her college days. She is a single mother of an adopted 14-year-old daughter and a psychotherapist.

How did she come to convert?

“It’s been a journey, and it started when I was very young,” she told CNN. “I was a seeker.” Judaism, she realized, fit her.

“People have asked me, ‘was I born Jewish?’ I said yes, but not to a Jewish womb.”

She said she drove every week between Fort Collins and Denver to study with a Conservative rabbi in an Orthodox synagogue and eventually had a traditional conversion in 1987.

But why did she step from the role of an active congregant to pursue the arduous rabbinical education? The idea percolated in part in Denver, where she was active at Temple Emanuel. Among the factors that led her to rabbinical school, she said, were her appreciation of the role of cantors, the beauty of chanting Torah and learning of a middle-aged man who didn’t let his age get in the way of entering rabbinical school.

As for Bayt Shalom, she said it’s in an interesting part of the South — more transient and more diverse because of the college population. The congregation is small, made up of about 60 families, and the position for now will be part time.

“We’re hoping for growth and outreach,” she said. “There’s a lot of opportunity.”

Before her rabbinical training, she studied social psychology, neuropsychology and interpersonal relationships at Lancaster University in England in 1983-84; received a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology in 1988; earned a Master of Education degree in counseling and multiculturalism in 1992 from Colorado State University; and received a professional counselor license in 1998.

Stanton worked as a student rabbi, served as a chaplain, had clinical pastoral training and promoted interfaith dialogue at Reform communities in the United States. She studied at the HUC-JIR campus in Jerusalem and then at Cincinnati, Ohio.

She said her daughter experienced racial bigotry in Israel, but that reality toughened her and did not deter her from her goals or her love for Israel and its people.

“I learned that my child and I are stronger than ever dreamed possible,” she said of life in Jerusalem. “I learned the tenacity of the human spirit goes a long way. I learned there are some great people in this world.”

Michael Barondes, Bayt Shalom president, said Stanton “was quite impressive” to the rabbinical search committee of the small, Jewishly diverse congregation in a “one-synagogue town” in the Bible Belt founded in 1975.

“Rabbi Stanton energized this community in a way that was really impressive, across all lines. I think that she’s a special person,” Barondes said.

“I think you would have to be a special person to unite a diverse Jewish community,” said Barondes, saying it’s rare to have one congregation affiliated with both the Reform and Conservative movements.

He said Stanton has a special interest in pursuing work in a small community.

“There’s a different flavor of Judaism when you are in a small town. There’s much more volunteerism, much more involvement. There’s something very rewarding in that,” he said.

The congregation at present doesn’t have black members, but Barondes said a previous rabbi had converted several African-Americans. As for the rabbi’s part-time role, Barondes said it’s “more like two-thirds’ time.”

The present rabbi of the congregation, Steven J. Kirschner, said in a note to congregants in the synagogue’s newsletter that “I know that you will welcome Rabbi Stanton with open arms, and I hope that she will be a dynamic force in the growth and spiritual development of the CBS community for many years to come.”

Stanton said she’s excited to be there and “they are excited to have me.”

“I’m glad to be a visual presence of the diversity that is represented in Judaism,” she said.

Liberating the Written Word

AS YOU CAN SEE, I’m becoming a big fan of Scribd. I am totally in support of their vision of liberating the written word. Here’s how a traditional publisher sees the value of Scribd in relation to the printed word.

Word-of-mouth, recommendations and ‘hand-selling’ are tried and true ways to increase sales, and Scribd makes all those things possible in an extremely cost-effective, online environment. Scribd offers publishers an amazing new marketing platform that will surely generate book sales.

This morning whilst browsing through Scribd, I came across a book by Cory Doctorow. I liked his thoughts on the whole issue of e-books, publishing and authors which were beautifully encapsulated in a few brief but succinctly written paragraphs. I couldn’t have expressed them better myself. Below are extracts taken from the book in the spirit of what Cory would have been proud of, and posted here on my blog, of course.

THE COPYRIGHT THING
(My excerpts from page 5 of Little Brother by Cory Doctorow)

I recently saw Neil Gaiman give a talk at which someone asked him how he felt about piracy of his books. He said, “Hands up in the audience if you discovered your favourite writer for free – because someone loaned you a copy, or because someonegave it to you? Now, hands up if you found your favourite writer by walking into a store and plunking down cash.” Overwhelmingly, the audience said that they’d discovered their favourite writers for free, on a loan or as a gift. When it comes to my favourite writers, there’s no boundaries: I’ll buy every book they pub lish, just to own it.

Neil went on to say he was part of the tribe of readers, the tiny minority of people in the world who read for pleasure, buying books because they love them. One thing he knows about everyone who downloads his books on the Internet without permission is that they are readers, they are people who love books. People who study the habits of music-buyers have discovered something curious: the biggest pirates are also the biggest spenders.

Giving away ebooks gives me artistic, moral and commercial satisfaction. For me –for pretty much every writer — the big problem isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity. Of all the people who failed to buy this book today, the majority did so because they never heard of it, not because someone gave them a free copy.

Ebooks are verbs, not nouns. You copy the, it’s in their nature. And many of those copies have a destination, a person they’re intended for, a hand-wrought transfer from one person to another, embodying a personal recommendation between two people who trust each other enough to share bits. That’s the kind of thing that authors (should) dream of, the proverbial sealing of the deal. By making my books available for free pass-along, I make it easy for people who love them to help other people love them.

Ebooks on computers are more likely to be an enticement to buy the printed book (which is, after all, cheap, easily had, and easy to use) than a substitute for it. You can probably read just enough of the book off the screen to realize you want to be reading it on paper.

So ebooks sell print books. Every writer I’ve heard of who’s giving away ebooks to promote paper books has come back to do it again. That’s the commercial case for doing free ebooks.

My publishers are really important to me. They contribute immeasurably to the book, improving it, introducing it to audience I could never reach, helping me do ore with my work. I have no desire to cut them out of the loop.

There are lots of teachers and librarians who’d love to get hard-copies of books into their kids hands, but don’t have the budget for it. You can sponsor a classroom or adopt a class yourself at http://www.adoptaclassroom.org If you are a teacher or librarian and you want a free copy of Little Brither, email freelittlebrother@gmail.com with your name and address of your school. It’ll be posted to website so that potential donors can see it.

Scribd – A Harvest Model for Digital Publishing

SCRIBD IS INTERESTING because it opens up in a big way the opportunity to get written works out to a world audience. Scribd keeps 20% of the revenue in providing this platform that acts as a bridge between the author and the market. It basically acts as a facilitator and empowerment platform for authors based on a harvest model where the stakeholders of the book enterprise, that is Scribd and the author of the work, will enjoy the fruits of their investment (time, talent and technology) only when a sale occurs through the sharing of the revenue. I love it. My first digital book will defiintely be launched from Scribd!

THE NEW YORK TIMES (Web edition)
By Brad Stone
Published: May 17, 2009
SAN FRANCISCO — Turning itself into a kind of electronic vanity publisher, Scribd, an Internet start-up here, will introduce on Monday a way for anyone to upload a document to the Web and charge for it.

The Scribd Web site is the most popular of several document-sharing sites that take a YouTube-like approach to text, letting people upload sample chapters of books, research reports, homework, recipes and the like. Users can read documents on the site, embed them in other sites and share links over social networks and e-mail.

In the new Scribd store, authors or publishers will be able to set their own price for their work and keep 80 percent of the revenue. They can also decide whether to encode their documents with security software that will prevent their texts from being downloaded or freely copied.

Authors can choose to publish their documents in unprotected PDFs, which would make them readable on the Amazon Kindle and most other mobile devices. Scribd also says it is readying an application for the iPhone from Apple and will introduce it next month.

Scribd hopes its more open and flexible system will give it a leg up on Amazon, which has become the largest player in the burgeoning market for e-books. Amazon sets the retail price for books in its Kindle store and keeps the majority of the revenue on some titles, which has publishers worried that Amazon is amassing too much control over the nascent market. Amazon also allows those books to be read only on its Kindle devices and in Kindle software on the iPhone.

“One reason publishers are excited to work with us is that they worry that publishing channels are contracting as Amazon and Google are gaining control over the e-book space,” said Jared Friedman, chief technology officer and a founder of Scribd.

But Scribd also has some hurdles to overcome itself. Though large publishing firms like Random House have experimented with the site, they also express frustration that copies of some works have been uploaded to Scribd without permission.

Trying to address the piracy problem, Scribd is building a database of copyrighted works and using it to filter its system. If a publisher participates in the Scribd store, its books will be added to that database, the company said.

So far, no major publishing houses have signed on to the store, though the company says it is talking to them. The independent publishers Lonely Planet, O’Reilly Media and Berrett-Koehler will add their entire catalogs.

The Scribd store will also give unpublished authors, or authors who are in a hurry, a well-trafficked Web forum on which to post their books, charge for them and see immediate results.

Kemble Scott, who has released a novel through a conventional publisher, said he would post his topical new political comedy, “The Sower,” to Scribd and charge $2 for it, partly because standard publishing is so slow. “If this is a book that is going to be interesting to people, now is the time that it fits into the national mood,” he said.

Political Vision and Leadership

“Scientists can now credibly say that the early childhood years-from birth to age five-lay the foundation for later economic productivity, responsible citizenship and a lifetime of sound physical and mental health. Conversely, deep poverty, abuse, neglect and exposure tin early childhood can all lead to toxic stress in children. When it occurs, toxic stress can actually damage the architecture of the developing brain, leading to disrupted circuits and a weakened foundation for future learning and health.

Thanks to a remarkable convergence of new scientific knowledge about the developing brain, the human genome, and the effects of early experiences on later learning, behaviout and health, these are not hypothetical questions. We have the knowledge to secure our future by improving the life prospects of all young children. What is needed now is political vision and leadership.

Neuroscience and the biology of stress help us to begin to understand how poverty and other adversities are literally built into our bodies. We can thus comprehend why children born into such circumstances have more problems in school, are more likely to commit crimes, and are more prone to heart disease, diabetes and a host of other physical and mental illnesses later in life.

Children burdened by significant economic insecurity, discrimination or maltreatment benefit most from effective interventions. In developing countries, shifting the focus of international investments from an exclusive focus on child survival to integrating that with early childhood health and development offers greater promise than addressing either domain alone.

Neuroscience, child development and the economics of human capital formation all point to the same conclusion: Creating the right conditions for early childhood development is far more effective than trying to fix problems later.

Finally, leadership is about more than smart economic decisions. It is also about moral responsibility, wisdom, judgment and courage – and about leveraging knowledge to promote positive social change.

The gap between what we know and what we do is growing and increasingly unconscionable. The time for leadership for vulnerable children is now.

Would [political leaders] have the political courage to act now in the best long term interest of their people? Or would they become mired in ineffective, poorly funded attempts to obtain quick results, and then say it couldn’t be done?”

Excerpted from “Preventing Toxic Stress in Children” The Straits Times Thursday May 7, 2009, PageA24, Review, By Jack Schonkoff. The writer is Professor of Child Health and Development, and Director of the Centre on the developing Child, at Harvard University.

A Journal of Grace

THIS WORLD IS A TOUGH PLACE, so be kind. My grandfather from Sabah left behind a diary, a journal of his thoughts that I hold dear to my heart. It carries the observations of a man who lived ninety full years with his share of sorrows and heartbreak.

Yet the thing that I remember most of him was his gentleness and kindness towards others. When I think of that today, it touches my heart. He would never say a harsh word, and he was always thoughtful of others.

Having gone through a small measure of life myself, I know life is not perfect. Disappointments, failures and heartaches. How was it that my grandfather always held to the end, a compassion and love for people, when at the same time he knew the frailty of men and their weaknesses?

My comfort lies in knowing that my grandfather’s life reflected the nature and character of the God he loved. Such a loving, tender-hearted God who sees our follies and yet, loves us still. Patient, kind and long-suffering.

When in doubt, let’s give the other the benefit of grace.

Let The Rain Come

It’s still the boat
yet different,
a different view
not my boat … His

now it arises
like a little cloud
the size of a man’s fist
rising from the sea

across the pacific
a sinking island
please help us God
they cry

He hears
He knows
He feels
He’s there

two weeks, mid april
will the boat launch?
will love sail?
let it rise from our hearts

A threshold
A waiting
O Lord, let the rain come
let the rain come.

Falling Leaves

falling leaves,
falling pieces,
falling words,
falling…

it’s a journey, they say
we’ve waited,
we’ve waited,
how long more Lord.

nights, days,
counted and countless,
a stream, a river
flowing, endlessly.

it’s the boat, we need it, now
never mind the shaking,
feelings, plans, sinking islands,
the boat i must have …

the picture fades, drifting
a dream once was,
the hope, passion,
I’m tired Lord.

man’s plans, Your plans,
man’s wisdom,
stubborn hearts, pride
when will we ever learn Lord

do we see the people, the cries
the island is sinking,
but we want our dreams,
our dream boat…

now we are drifting, again
one more time,
one more day,
once more….

so it’s a journey they say,
a journey to the promise land,
counted days, countless days,
yet journey on we must…

another day.