By Geoffrey Calvert
Listen to librarians talk about problems with Amazon and book publishers here. The transcript is at the bottom of this page.
William Ottens knows he’ll hear the question at least five times each day while working as a reference librarian at the Lawrence Public Library: Where are the e-books?
The library took that question seriously even before e-books became popular, so Ottens’ answer doesn’t disappoint patrons.
“We want to provide patrons with what they’re looking for, and right now e-books are gaining popularity,” Ottens said. “So we want to remain relevant and provide those services for them.”
The Lawrence Public Library is part of a consortium with the State Library of Kansas to offer e-books to patrons through its 3M cloud library, although it is still in the beta stage. The 3M cloud is compatible with Windows software, so users can read e-books directly on their PCs. 3M is still developing the software for users who want to read e-books on their Macs.
When patrons download an e-book, they can transfer it to a Nook or Sony e-reader, and they can also download e-books directly to an Android tablet, smartphone or an iPod touch, iPad or iPhone if they have the mobile app. However, 3M does not yet have permission from Amazon to make 3M’s e-books compatible with Amazon’s Kindle e-reader.
To get an e-book from the 3M cloud, patrons must have a Kansas library card. They don’t have to go to a physical library but instead can download an e-book from the state library’s cloud once they have installed the software from 3M’s website onto their PC.
Kasey Riley, communications manager for the Johnson County Library, which comprises 13 branches and is in the state consortium, said the 3M beta cloud has glitches, which was expected.
“They’re trying to run this model on 3 different platforms. Each one of these has been somewhat glitchy, and that’s certainly no criticism of 3M,” Riley said.
The Lawrence library offers e-books through 3M, but the Johnson County Library doesn’t yet. They are waiting until 3M solves glitches before offering e-books again, but the library does encourage users to get e-books from Project Gutenberg, an independent company.
“We hoped to be able to launch our 3M e-book model sometime in the month of April. Unfortunately, their testing is not playing out as they had hoped,” Riley said.
Kansas used to offer e-books through a company called Overdrive from 2006 to 2011, but Ottens said OverDrive wanted to raise its fees by 700 percent during the next four years, so the state decided to let its contract expire at the end of 2011.
Riley said that even though the state library cancelled its contract with Overdrive, individual libraries still had the option of negotiating its own contract with them. However, OverDrive had glitches just like 3M’s beta cloud. Lis Ross, a collection development librarian for the Kansas City Public Library in Missouri, which uses OverDrive, said those glitches often take up her time.
“There is some kind of glitch that if a patron tries three times to download and is unsuccessful, then an administrator has to go in and reactivate that link,” Ross said. “Right now I am the administrator so it does take some of my time.”
The 3M cloud is different from Overdrive because 3M doesn’t negotiate with book publishers. Libraries purchase e-books for the cloud, and any library in the consortium has access to the title. Ottens said a benefit of 3M is that publishers can’t revoke e-books that libraries buy, whereas Overdrive gets e-books on loans from the publishers, which can revoke their titles at anytime, so libraries are the mercy of the publisher. Also, libraries have to repurchase titles from OverDrive after every 26 checkouts.
“Publishers, they don’t like the idea of libraries getting one license and then many, many people getting access to that book for the same price,” Ottens said.
OverDrive and 3M do not have the same titles in their libraries, so there was concern that Kansas’ libraries would lose some of its e-books when the transition was made to 3M. Lianne Flax, online services and programming librarian for the state library of Kansas, said the library didn’t lose many e-books during the change.
“This is an ongoing project at 3M,” Flax said in an email. “We had received permission to move many of the e-books we owned on our previous e-book library to the new one at 3M.”
Riley said she is hopeful 3M can release the final version of its cloud by the end of the year, because patron demand for e-books will only increase. If libraries aren’t equipped to easily give patrons e-books, then they are in danger of losing their relevancy.
“The minute that e-book sales started to eclipse physical book sales, of course we get more and more questions about it,” Riley said. “There’s a demand.”
GEOFFREY CALVERT: This is Geoffrey Calvert, Technology Spectator.
Amazon, whose Kindle e-reader is not compatible with 3M’s e-books, is in a lawsuit against major publishers about what those publishers’ e-books should be priced at. The publishers are accused of colluding to force Amazon to raise its e-book prices.
Libraries are another story. Publishers are reluctant to sell new e-books to companies like OverDrive and 3M for library use at any price. According to Kasey Riley, communications manager for Johnson County Library, publishers view libraries as a threat to their profits because a patron can borrow an e-book for free without even having to go into an actual library.
RILEY: Publishers, if you can imagine, don’t necessarily want to develop an e-book model for libraries when they’re still getting $9.99 or sometimes $12.99 or sometimes $19.99. Until the peak of this is over, they can still reach that end user who’s buying their e-book on Amazon.
CALVERT: Amazon hasn’t given 3M permission to offer Kindle-compatible e-books. According to the State Library of Kansas’ website, Amazon told 3M it won’t discuss Kindle compatibility with them until June at the earliest, leaving libraries at odds with both Amazon and some publishers. William Ottens, reference librarian at the Lawrence Public Library, said part of Amazon’s unwillingness to enter into a contract with 3M is because of the pending lawsuits with publishers.
OTTENS: Amazon has kind of pushed back those conversations, so possibly within six months we might be able to have Kindle compatible titles.
CALVERT: According to Riley, libraries need to confront publishers and tell them that having e-books available in libraries is good for publishers’ business because patrons frequently buy a book they enjoyed from a library.
RILEY: That means that what libraries ought to be doing, what the American Library Association and the Public Library Association ought to be doing, which they’re not, is poking the chest of publishers and saying, ‘Hey, we actually drive sales for you. I know you think that we are only dealing with the lending model, but that’s actually not true.’
CALVERT: For Technology Spectator, I’m Geoffrey Calvert
Samsung just finished its best quarter in history, while smugglers in China are finding creative ways to get iPhones.
- Samsung announced a first quarter profit of $4.45 billion on Monday, a company record. The company’s performance was due in large part to its Android products, according to VentureBeat, and the company should expect a strong second quarter because it will release a new smartphone, the Galaxy S III.
- Chinese border patrol officials found 216 iPhones being smuggled into the country in 76 empty beer bottles. The woman who tried to sneak the iPhones across told officials she did it because a group of smugglers who didn’t want to pay a high import tax promised her 200 Chinese yuan, or about $31, according to Tecca.
- President Barack Obama announced an executive order on Monday that lets the United States sanction foreigners who use technology to commit human rights crimes. Obama announced a visa ban and financial restriction against individuals and agencies in Iran and Syria, according to the Washington Post.
- Information technology company CIBER Inc. will pay a $500 fine for violating Louisiana’s ethics code when it payed travel costs for Baton Rouge’s former technology director Anthony Jones when CIBER had a contract with its city hall, according to WDSU-6.
- A Parks Associates study found that two-thirds of Americans will not pay more than $50 each month on cell phone plans, and that half of smartphone users in the United States do not know how much data they use every month, according to BGR. The report found that 90 percent of smartphone users have downloaded apps since buying their smartphone.
By Geoffrey Calvert
The store’s name is Best Buy, but Vincent Barker frequently hears it called something else.
“There’s a saying among my son’s high school friends. They call Best Buy ‘Best Browse,’” said Barker, a business professor at the University of Kansas. “And what that means is they go to Best Buy and they play with the stuff and look up what they want. And then of course you go and order it online from somebody.”
They aren’t the only ones who do this. Most of Best Buy’s products are also available on Amazon.com, so customers now frequently test items in Best Buy but buy them on Amazon. As an online company, Amazon doesn’t have a sales tax. Best Buy does.
In response to buyers’ decreased willingness to purchase in-store, Best Buy announced March 29 that it is shutting down 50 of its biggest stores and cutting 400 corporate jobs in order to trim $800 million in costs. The company, whose fiscal year ended March 3, suffered a fourth quarter fiscal loss of $1.7 billion. It reported revenue of $16.08 billion, but it needed $17.78 billion in revenue to break even.
“The revenue is the top line figure. That’s the amount of goods and services that customers paid for,” said William Beedles, business professor at KU. “From that you have to subtract out all the expenses including the real estate expenses and personnel and so forth. All of those expenses were $17.7 billion, so a $16 billion top line produced a negative $1.7 (billion) bottom line.”
The Lawrence Best Buy, 2020 W. 31st St., will remain open for now. Lawrence branch manager Todd Brees directed all questions to Best Buy’s corporate office. They are declining specific interview requests but sent a press release that said they notified five stores in the Twin Cities area and one in San Antonio on March 29 that they would be closing sometime in 2012. Those are the only six stores closures announced so far.
Best Buy will open 100 smaller Best Buy Mobile stores in undisclosed locations. Beedles said these smaller stores would help Best Buy because they will have to pay fewer employees and less real estate on the stores. But he also said this won’t necessarily keep customers away from Amazon long term.
“The Best Buy business model might be a dinosaur,” Beedles said.
Barker said the smaller store model might be good, but if Best Buy becomes too specialized, they may be tapping into a market that’s already full. Sprint, Verizon, Apple and other electronics companies have their own physical stores with employees that specialize in that company’s brand. Customers may be more likely to go to those stores for help than Best Buy, where the employees are trained but don’t specialize in a certain brand of products.
A more feasible option for Best Buy may be to go the Circuit City route. Once one of Best Buy’s biggest rivals, Circuit City closed its stores in 2009 and now exists as an online-only company. If Best Buy became only an online retailer, it wouldn’t have to charge the sales tax that is currently driving customers away.
“I think that at some point it may not be the existing Best Buy company,” Barker said. “They may end up going bankrupt and having their name bought by somebody, but you could become an online retailer and therefore have the same access to the sales tax breaks that everybody else has.”
Barker said he doesn’t like that the sales tax subsidy may drive Best Buy out of business because being able to test out products in the store before buying them is important when purchasing expensive gadgets. But unless Best Buy can entice customers to buy gadgets in the store instead of online, Barker’s son may soon call the company something else – Best Bye.
By Geoffrey Calvert
Facebook announced a major acquisition Monday, while Best Buy lost its CEO and the United States Department of Justice sued Apple for conspiracy.
- Facebook announced April 9 it is buying the photo sharing company Instagram for $1 billion. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said the company plans to integrate Instagram into Facebook but also develop Instagram independently. Users will still be able to share Instagram photos on other social media platforms besides Facebook, according to USA Today.
- Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn abruptly resigned Tuesday during an investigation into unspecified alleged misbehavior, according to Reuters. The struggling company, which is closing 50 of its largest stores, announced that board member G. Mike Mikan will serve as interim CEO.
- The United States is suing Apple and book publishing companies Macmillan and Penguin group for conspiring to raise e-book prices. According to the Wall Street Journal, the three companies were unhappy that Amazon was selling some e-books for $9.99 so they united to force Amazon to raise the price to at least $12.99. The U.S. sued three other publishers, but they have already settled.
- In response to the lawsuit, Amazon on Wednesday lowered the price of many of their major titles from $14.99 to $9.99, leading some publishers to fear that Amazon is developing a monopoly over the e-book industry. According to the New York Times, Amazon can take a loss on every book sold but still gain market share, and then it can impose its will on the industry.
- The United States’ Navy is paying Obscure Technologies $150,000 to create hardware and virtual modifications that will allow the Navy to monitor messages being sent by gamers through game consoles. According to Tecca, the Navy is concerned terrorists are using online gaming accounts to communicate with each other. Obscure Technologies got the first bid to develop this product for the Navy.
Best Buy said late last week it is closing some stores and restructuring its business plan to avoid suffering the same fate as Circuit City, which closed in 2009. Also, a teacher was fired not for what she posted, but for not giving her boss her password.
- Best Buy announced March 29 it is shutting down 50 big-box stores throughout the United States and will cut 400 jobs. However, the company will open 100 smaller stores in profitable areas across the country. Best Buy lost $1.7 billion during the fourth quarter, partly because customers are testing products in Best Buy but then buy them at other cheaper locations, according to the Associated Press.
- A grade school teacher’s aide in Michigan was fired for refusing to give her school’s administration her Facebook password after she posted a suggestive photo of a co-worker with her pants around her ankles. A parent who is Facebook friends with the teacher, Kimberly Hester, saw the photo and reported Hester to the administration, who fired her for not surrendering her password, not for posting the photo, according to Yahoo News.
- Kaonetics Technologies announced they have developed technology for the United States’ military that can disarm improvised explosive devices. It can also see through car trunks and railroad cars. The company said the technology has disabled roadside bombs in Iraq during testing, according to CBS Denver.
- The U.S. Postal Service implemented a new direct mail shipping service called Every Door Direct Mail. Instead of requiring a postal permit or a specific mailing list, small businesses can input nearly all the information online, print out the receipt, and bring it to the post office, reducing the postage rate to 14.5 cents, according to Small Business Trends.
Here is a look at data for the most recent completed quarter, which ended Dec. 31, 2011, for Apple, Microsoft, Google and Yahoo.
Apple announced it will release its second quarter earnings in a conference call April 24 at noon Central time. The company’s fiscal year begins Sept. 25 each year, so this is Apple’s second quarter of 2012, even though the quarter began on Jan. 1, 2012. Apple easily surpassed expectations during last quarter, according to Fox Business.
Microsoft’s 2012 fiscal year began July 1, 2011, and the company announced it will release its third quarter earnings April 19 at 4:30 p.m. Central time. Its second quarter was modest, but exceeded most analysts’ expectations.
Yahoo’s fiscal year is the same as the calendar year, and the company will announce its 2012 first quarter earnings April 17 at 4:00 p.m. Central time. The company slightly exceeded predictions during its fourth quarter.
Google’s fiscal year is the same as the calendar year as well. The company will announce its first quarter earnings in a conference call April 12 at 3:30 p.m. Central. It ended the previous year with a disappointing fourth quarter.
Facebook is sticking up for its customers right to privacy, which a high school student in Indiana would probably like Twitter to do as well.
- Facebook’s chief privacy officer warned companies on Friday that they may face legal consequences for invasion of privacy if they demand job applicants’ passwords. The Associated Press recently reported some companies have asked interviewees for their Facebook password so the company could do a more thorough background check, according to Comcast’s Xfinity News.
- A senior at Indiana’s Garrett High School was expelled after posting a tweet containing multiple F-words – at 2:30 a.m. According to Tecca, the school’s computer system monitors its students’ social media use. When the student, Austin Carroll, logged on to Twitter during school hours, the system alerted the school about the tweet.
- Some lawmakers are pushing to revamp the 1988 Video Privacy Protection Act, which bars video tape service providers from releasing its customers personal information and history without his or her consent. Lawmakers want to change the law because it currently blocks Netflix from offering its Facebook app in the United States that is available in 46 other countries, according to CNN Money.
- A Taiwanese women committed suicide by inhaling poisonous fumes while she was chatting with friends on Facebook, but her friends did not contact authorities when she told them she was killing herself. According to Comcast, Claire Lin was unhappy that her boyfriend wasn’t with her on her birthday. When she told her friends on Facebook she was killing herself, they asked her to stop, and tried to find her on their own, but never alerted the police.
- Technology developer Cellcontrol announced Monday new technology aimed at eliminating cell phone use by truckers. According to Transport Topics, the technology uses a truck’s onboard computer to tell when the truck is in motion. If a truck is moving, the driver’s electronic devices are disabled if the trucker’s employer mandates it, but dialing 911 is still allowed.
By Geoffrey Calvert
New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin is only the second Asian star the National Basketball Association has ever had. The first, Yao Ming, entered the NBA in 2002, but websites like Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist then. Although Ming received extensive media and Internet coverage, it was not like what Lin has received during Linsanity. Professor Max Utsler said new the advent of new technology, along with his location and ESPN’s insistence to publicize his race, helped make Lin a huge star.
“There’s certainly more of it,” Utsler said of technology. “Also, it’s more instantaneous. I think those two things combined, Jeremy Lin became kind of an overnight sensation.”
However, some websites and journalists haven’t been technologically ethical in their coverage of Lin. On Feb. 10, Foxsports.com columnist Jason Whitlock tweeted a sexual joke about Lin that stereotyped Asians. Although he has since apologized, Whitlock’s tweet is an example of the consequences of new technology like Twitter.
“A lot of people tweet but don’t think,” said Barbara Barnett, journalism professor at the University of Kansas who specializes in diversity and the media. “I think a good motto for tweeting is ‘think before you tweet.’”
One appealing aspect of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media websites is that a user can connect with people, such as athletes, that they couldn’t hope to interact with before those websites were invented. However, it also requires users to be sensible with their tweets, because online privacy is eroding.
“With things like tweets, and even putting stuff on the web, we’ve just thrown the editorial process out the window on that,” Utsler said.
Barnett said a drawback of Twitter is that some people who tweet don’t realize, or care, that what they say is available to the public. It isn’t a conversation solely between a user and his or her friend.
“It’s public, and as somebody who’s got a brand, as Whitlock does, and as somebody who is a public figure, you need to realize that whatever you tweet is going to be seen by millions of people.”
Barnett also said people say things online they wouldn’t say face-to-face, and then hide behind those comments.
“With tweeting, you don’t always have an editor. That’s why you have to have common sense,” Barnett said. “Just because I think it doesn’t mean I have to tweet it.”
Whitlock was not the only journalist to make a poor decision online. ESPN.com ran a headline with a racist slur when referring to Linsanity. Although the headline’s writer said he was unaware of the its connotation, Barnett said writers in this era of technology must be aware of language used in previous eras.
I think one thing that happens is language changes,” Barnett. “You’ve got to be smarter than just language today.”
ESPN is known as “The Worldwide Leader in Sports,” and therefore can dictate what is news in the sports world. Ustler said that Twitter has been abuzz for Linsanity because of ESPN, but that Lin’s race is unimportant to most other people. He said ESPN also decided to invest television and Internet coverage to Lin because he plays in the New York market.
“When something happens in New York, it’s more important than what happens in the rest of the country,” Ustler said. “That’s not really true, but that’s how the media covers it.”
Barnett blamed the offensive online coverage of Lin on his novelty.
“I think what you have are these stereotypes that exists in society. It’s really normal, just human nature, to just stereotype people.”
GEOFFREY CALVERT: Jeremy Lin became the New York Knicks starting point guard Fab. 4 and established himself as the NBA’s newest star. But foxsports.com columnist Jason Whitlock focused instead on Lin’s Asian heritage when he tweeted a racist sexual joke about Lin Feb. 10. Professor Max Utsler said said new technology like Twitter makes having self-control an important virtue for Twitter users.
UTSLER: “Certainly with things like tweets, and even putting stuff on the web, we’ve just thrown the editorial process out the window.”
CALVERT: Professor Barbara Barnett, who specializes in diversity and the media, said Whitlock should have realized you can’t hide behind what you tweet.
BARNETT: “I think one of the problems with tweeting is that it’s not like writing in a diary and you’re going to lock up the diary and nobody’s going to see it. It’s public. As somebody who’s got a brand, as Whitlock does, and as somebody who is a public figure, you need to realize that whatever you tweet is going to be seen by millions of people.”