The Amazon Kindle, Apple iPad and other e-readers are fast becoming mainstream and their usability has improved tremendously over the past years. However there is one area in which printed books are still much better: the ability to open multiple books at once. This might not matter if you are reading the latest “50 shades” novel and want to be uninterrupted. However, if you are working on a research project and constantly need to switch across multiple books, you will find that current eBook readers are a nightmare. Switching eBooks involves creating bookmarks, returning to a main menu (library page), going to another book and navigating it. This quickly becomes tedious. I cannot understand why tabbed browsing is absent from eBook software since it is rudimentary and exists in practically every web browser.
One solution is to buy multiple eBook readers and open one book per device. This turns out to work quite well. One might argue that the savings from not having to ship printed books will more than cover the cost of additional eBook readers. However it occurred to me recently that another solution exists: simply remove the DRM from your existing books. This is really easy to do. You can then manage your books using software like calibre, which allows multiple eBooks to be opened at the same time. On a fast computer with a large screen, this is a liberating experience! A 27″ or 30″ screen is sufficient to give me as good an experience as with 3-4 printed books. You can even do things that you cannot with regular books (without mutilating them) such as opening multiple instances of the same book for quick cross-referencing across different sections. If you take the extra step and export your library into pdf format, you then have the ability to manage, annotate and search your eBooks using software like Papers 2, treating them just like any other pdf file and merging them with your collection of journal articles.
There are other benefits of unlocking DRM, including the ability to prevent vendor lock-in (e.g., read your Amazon ebooks using Apple iBooks), avoid arbitrary and unfair removal of your books, and to overcome silly device download limits. For some of us, opening multiple books at the same time is another big plus. I suspect that over time, eBook DRM will go away. We are at the stage of the eBook industry that we were at with music 10 years ago, when we had to rip music from our personal CD collections or the proprietary formats on iTunes and convert them into unlocked files that were more flexible. Today music is sold unlocked and I don’t see why it should end up otherwise with eBooks.
(ps: yes I know eBooks are licensed, not sold, but lets save that for another discussion).
Several months ago I wrote about a public forum we organized on the future of book publishing. Our panelists included Piers Pickard (Editorial Director at Lonely Planet), Graeme Connelly (CEO of Melbourne University Bookstore), Nathan Hollier (Manager at Monash University Press), Max Barry (independent author) and Emmett Stinson (Melbourne University lecturer in publishing and communications). Since then, dramatic changes have occurred. Lonely Planet has reorganised while moving aggressively into apps and digital publishing. Amazon has entered the publishing business, bypassing traditional publishers. Books have gotten shorter with efforts like Amazon’s Kindle Singles and TEDBooks being particularly interesting. Closer to home, Melbourne University Bookstore will be privatised soon. So, I decided to spend some time during the weekend editing the video from our public discussion. The podcast is now online. Please follow the link and watch it if you are interested in book publishing.
Bruno Cassiman and Don O’Sullivan presented several months back on R&D strategy and executive compensation, respectively. Bruno’s talk was on how collaboration on research and development (through open innovation and science linkages) can dramatically affect R&D outcomes. Don spoke on how the structure of executive compensation relates to the valuation of intangible assets.
Thanks to each speaker for allowing us to share their presentations online.
Here’s an excellent update on Gene Patents covering the year 2010: http://genepatents.info/2011/02/24/gene-patents-2010-update/. It is written by my student Rachel Goh, a 5th year medical student at the University of Melbourne. She discusses the controversy surrounding the Myriad and Monsanto cases in the US and Europe, as well as legal decisions in Australia surrounding breast cancer tests and the Australian Senate review on gene patents. Of particular interest is her observation that we are moving increasingly towards “multi-genomic” tests, so the patenting of individual genetic sequences will cause greater problems for follow-on and systemic innovation. I see here a parallel to software patents and patent thickets, which have been said to have had similar effects. Rachel also included a thoughtful commentary along with her summary.
Last week MBS hosted a public seminar on “Who Owns the News?” exploring the impact of the internet on the news industry. The event was organized by IPRIA, CMCL and MBS CITE. It serves to clarify the key issues and lays the groundwork for a discussion of these issues. I had fun and hope that the 110+ people who attended it did too.
Sam Ricketson, Professor at Melbourne Law School, chaired the event and did a great job orchestrating the Q&A session. Mark Davison from Monash spoke about changes in copyright law and expressed concerns over the “Hot News” doctrine, an approach currently being proposed by news organizations in the US to prevent others from copying their content. Stephen King outlined the economic issues and has posted his very thoughtful comments at https://economics.com.au/?p=5909.
As the discussant, I described what I had learnt from Mark and Stephen and also tried to consider various options faced by a CEO in this industry. My pdf slides are at http://works.bepress.com/kwanghui/18. While my comments might have been perceived as pessimistic by Stephen and others, I am actually quite optimistic about the future of the industry, but mainly for individuals and firms trying out innovative ways of gathering and delivering the news. I am however pessimistic about existing firms: if history has taught us anything, it is that many of them will struggle to adapt with these drastic changes.
The video recordings for “Who Owns the News?” are now available. I have posted them at http://vimeo.com/album/253549. Portions were removed to protect the identity of audience members. We thank the speakers for permission to share their insights online. Enjoy the show 😉
Last year David Weston and I wrote a teaching case on how in 2000, NTP sued Research in Motion (makers of the popular BlackBerry device) for infringing its patents that cover the wireless delivery of email (free download from WIPO). Well, NTP is at it again, and has just sued a number of firms including Apple, Google, LG, Motorola, HTC and Microsoft that make smartphones. The Washington Post has a brief description of the patents. The earlier case ended with a $600+ million settlement, but that large amount was partly the result of (a) RIM was found to have willfully infringed NTP’s patents and attempted to deceive the court when presenting evidence of “prior art” in 2002, and (b) as the case escalated, RIM faced the very real threat of having its US operations closed down in 2005. A number of the original patent claims were subsequently revoked, but I imagine that NTP is hoping that the larger base of email users these days will give it enough licensing revenue from each of the mobile operators. If you haven’t heard of NTP, that is because the company is sometimes thought of as a patent troll and is not well-loved. In my opinion, the lawsuit also highlights a more subtle problem with the patent system. When successful firms like RIM and Nokia choose to settle with companies like NTP, it gives NTP an incentive and the financial resources to then attack a broader group of other firms. A precedence is also set. It would be better if such firms fought back, e.g., by establishing prior art that invalidates such patents or by pushing back on the claims.
Last week, IPRIA organized a public seminar on the banning of tobacco logos. I have just posted videos at http://vimeo.com/album/232376. Drop by for an interesting debate on private versus social costs, Government policy and WIPO/TRIPS. Details of the seminar and Powerpoint slides from each presenter are on the IPRIA website.
The Australian Government recently announced its intention to ban the use of artwork and logos in the branding of tobacco products, effective from 2012. In this seminar, four distinguished speakers, comprising: Professor Mark Davison (Law, Monash University); Professor John Freebairn (Economics, University of Melbourne); Associate Professor Angela Paladino (Marketing, University of Melbourne) and Mr Tim Wilson (Institute for Public Affairs), consider the economic, legal, ethical and marketing implications of this decision.
This week, Australia Radio National ran a Background Briefing on internet piracy. Going beyond just arguing whether “downloading” is good or bad, this podcast discusses changes in copyright law over the centuries, why these tensions came about, and puts copyright infringement in a broader context. I like it that they present a balanced view with both sides represented, that they trace where the myth of the starving artist came from, and that they make a distinction between the debate on illegal downloads and that on remix culture. Relevant sound clips from remix artistes (DJ Danger Mouse, Girl Talk, Steinsky) and various radio/TV programs are included, as well as comments from IPRIA affiliate Kim Weatherall. The program could have been improved with a more in-depth discussion of how internet piracy fits with the future strategies of firms and other economic actors, as well as possible impacts of changes in the Law across various jurisdictions including Australia. But that might have made it less appealing to a general audience. Overall, an excellent podcast. Listen to the audio or read the transcript at http://www.abc.net.au/rn/backgroundbriefing/stories/2009/2726710.htm.
IPRIA & CMCL ran a seminar on the parallel importation of books yesterday. I’ve uploaded the videos to http://vimeo.com/album/127081. We thank the presenters for permission to podcast their views (Q&A with the audience is omitted). Joshua had earlier commented on the topic of parallel imports on this blog. My personal view is that as we move increasingly towards digital books and other online content, publishers and authors should be proactive in adapting. The real strategic challenge is not the parallel importation of books, nor is it the Amazon Kindle which includes export restrictions and can only be sold in the US. When faced with artificially high prices for books (as well as the total unavailability of particular books in the domestic market), customers will simply resort to downloading unlocked pdf versions of those books. It happened with music and movies in the past, and I suspect the same will happen with books as better quality readers emerge for reading digital content. I make no comment on the morality of such downloading, but want to simply point out that publishers should work toward providing affordable, legal alternatives. Authors need to worry less that their cultural impact will be affected. If push comes to shove, they may be better off selling books as iTunes podcasts, or through upcoming digital merchants like safaribooks. Or they could just write blogs instead. Continue reading “The Parallel Importing of Books”
A little while ago, I had reason to learn a little about public broadcast rights in copyright law. This is where copyright owners (say of sound recordings) can grant firms rights to play those recordings to a group. This was the issue at the heart of the ‘nightclubs’ case at the Australian Copyright Tribunal. But there are others too.
In my mind, a public broadcast right license fee should be no higher than the sum of individual license fees. So if you play a recording of a song to a group of 30 people, then it seems reasonable to me that the license fee for that cost no more than 30 x $1.69 (that is, the cost of each buying the song from iTunes). Of course, that is an upper bound. iTunes songs can be played again and again and kept forever and so are more valuable as an individual than a public license but it surely provided some sort of cap on what a public license fee could be.
In explaining this to others (i.e., lawyers), there was confusion as they thought I might literally mean that individuals would come to the event with the song on their iPods and press play simultaneously. I didn’t mean that, it was just a thought experiment but I must admit I thought that such a technology might exist in the near future. Anyhow, it turns out that Improv Everywhere have proved that this could exist right now using iPods in the ‘press play together’ mode. Click here to read an account.