Quora offering free “Best of Quora 2010-2012″ ebook

Quora, the question and answer site that’s been praised for its engaging writing, just sent its top writers a hardcover collection of 100 or so of the best answers published over the past two years, and it’s released the text to the general public as a free PDF.

I’ve not had a chance to read it myself yet, but George Anders at Forbes likes it:

I spent hours this past weekend flipping through an early copy of “The Best of Quora,” and it’s a fascinating, enchanting, exasperating book. The topics are an eye-catching blend of things we already care about … as well as the outlandish and the unthinkable. The writing is unfailingly lucid and zesty.

Quora has been criticized in recent months for taking a Facebook-style approach to privacy by publicly sharing its users’ reading histories without warning, which makes the PDF even more attractive; now you can enjoy the contributions of some of its best writers without the need to give up control over your privacy.

[via The Next Web]

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Social DRM company BooXtream to offer Mobi version soon

When Pottermore started selling official Harry Potter ebooks earlier this year, the big news (for ebook geeks) was that the site was using social DRM — digital watermarking — instead of the commonly used Adobe DRM. Social DRM is great for readers, because it lets publishers feel they still have control, but also lets readers shift formats or switch devices easily.

But anyone who bought one of the Harry Potter ebooks from the Kindle store discovered that regular DRM was being applied to Amazon’s copies.

The reason: Dutch company BooXtream, which provides the social DRM service for Pottermore, didn’t have a Kindle-friendly version of its service ready yet. But BooXtream’s manager Huub van de Pol told Publishing Perspectives that they’re ready to launch a mobi version “later this month”:

“Since sideloading e-books on a Kindle is very easy, publishers really do not have to publish their title in the Amazon shop. They can sell it from their own website instead. But these .mobi files are unprotected. Having their titles watermarked and personalized will be a big plus for them,” says van de Pol.

This doesn’t necessarily mean Amazon will drop its in-house DRM any time soon, but as van de Pol notes, it will give publishers a way to sell socially DRMed Kindle format ebooks directly to consumers without going through the Kindle store.

At about $0.12/book at bulk sales rates, it could also be a little cheaper — at least for big publishers — than using Apple or Amazon’s built-in DRM or Adobe DRM for Nook and Kobo. Apple and Amazon bundle the DRM fee as part of their 30% cut of each sale, while Adobe DRM costs around $0.22/book plus server and licensing fees.

“BooXtream on ‘Social DRM’ as a Better Option for E-books”

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Jim Thompson’s The Grifters $2 on Amazon

I just noticed pulp crime writer Jim Thompson’s 1963 noir novel The Grifters is only $1.99 over at Amazon. I’m guessing the low price is because Amazon is using it to push the new “buy the audiobook at the same time” offer. (The new Kindle Fires can play the audiobook while highlighting the text in the ebook, provided you buy both from Amazon/Audible.)

You might remember The Grifters for its popular movie adaptation in 1990. I’ve often tried to pay my rent the same way Annette Bening does in the movie — by giggling and rolling around naked on my bed in an attempt to seduce my landlord — but so far it has never worked out for me; twice my rent was actually increased. The movie also taught me that if I need to beat someone for an insurance scam, I should use oranges wrapped in a towel. I’ve learned a lot from The Grifters, I guess.

As of this morning, it looks like Barnes & Noble and Nook aren’t discounting The Grifters yet, but you might want to check back later today or tomorrow as sometimes they take a while to catch up. However, if you want a cheap pulpy read right now then Thompson’s most acclaimed novel, The Killer Inside Me, is just $2.99 at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

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The cheap alternative to Evernote’s new Moleskine notebook

This is a bit outside my usual topic area, but as I’m someone who covers digital publishing tech, and as I sometimes find myself at a conference table or in a convention hall, I know about integrating handwritten notes with Evernote. If all this recent coverage about the new Evernote Smart Notebook from Moleskine is making your eyes water with productivity-lust, you should know there are cheaper solutions that already exist.

To scan your handwritten notes and search them in Evernote

You can already do this! It’s part of the free membership plan.

And just to be clear, Evernote never displays a full OCR version of the entire document, not even with this new Moleskine product. Evernote uses OCR to index all the text it recognizes in any image you send to your account, so you can then search your images using text strings.

To de-skew and otherwise improve your page photos for greater legibility

Your iOS device can already do things like crop an image, rotate it, and “fix” contrast (with limited success) — just tap the Edit button when you’re viewing an image in your Photo roll. For all-purpose image corrections that are a little more sophisticated than what the Photos app offers, use the free Aviary app.

However, if you want more OCR-centric tools, try something like ABBYY’s FineScanner ($3), which lets you de-skew and fix contrast issues before sending them out. Continue reading

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Hugo-nominated sf novel Blindsight available for free

Blindsight by Peter WattsBlindsight by Peter Watts is a hard sci-fi novel about first contact, aliens, autism spectrum disorder, the nature of human consciousness, and a formerly extinct offshoot of Homo sapiens that gave rise to our vampire legends. It’s free on the author’s website in multiple formats.

It was published in 2006, and after disappointing early sales Watts put the full manuscript online for free under a Creative Commons license. This earned him some public, if indirect, disapproval from an outgoing officer of the Science Fiction Writers of America*, but it didn’t seem to harm the book’s prospects; Blindsight went on to earn a Hugo nomination, and his publisher continues to sell it in print and ebook formats (here’s the Tor edition of Blindsight on Amazon.) However, if you enjoy the book and want to pay Watts for it directly, there’s a donation button on his site. Continue reading

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Is Next Issue worth your $15 every month?

Next Issue

I’ve been testing out Next Issue’s all-you-can-read magazine app for a few weeks now, to see whether it’s worth your time and money.

So is it? My short answer: mayyybe, if (a) you absolutely love many of the titles they offer and (b) you want to continue experiencing them with as much fidelity to the print version as you can manage on a tablet — no matter the trade-offs.

And there are some real trade-offs. Such wholesale reproduction of the print experience introduces significant usability problems, and it forces users to abandon more natural consumption patterns on tablets in order to honor an older analog format.

I’m coming up on the end of my free trial, and I’ve decided the cons outweigh the perks. I may miss out on some good articles now and then without a subscription, but ultimately, it’s just not much fun to get magazines this way.

The Netflix of magazines, or the Kabletown?

When I first heard about Next Issue a few months ago, I thought of it as the magazine world’s answer to Netflix. The similarities to Netflix, as well as other content subscription offerings like Hulu Plus, Spotify and Amazon Prime, are easy to identify: you pay a flat fee, and you get wide access to a pool of content that would cost far more if purchased à la carte.

But then you look at Next Issue’s $15 monthly fee, and the comparison fails, and in a big way. Look at what these other services charge: Continue reading

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TED offers iOS customers 15 titles for $1 each

If you’re looking for some light, but still thoughtful, nonfiction to read, TED is temporarily offering its back-catalog — 15 short ebooks — for a flat $15 through its newly launched iOS store (link opens iTunes).

TED is a technology/entertainment/design conference behemoth that over the past two decades has become sort of the Comic-Con of brainy technology types (although one of my favorite TED Talks is actually about puppets). It’s been publishing ebooks for a year and a half now through existing ebook retailers, but the new iOS app, based on the Atavist platform, is its first solo TED-branded ebookstore.

As we’ve come to expect in the ebook marketplace, pricing for TED ebooks is consistent no matter where you shop. Each title in the TED app costs $2.99, the same as the Kindle Single version and the Nook and iBooks versions.

The app brings one big pricing difference, however, via a new exclusive subscription offer. Continue reading

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Kindle 3.1 for iOS is a mess

Dear Kobo, I know I’ve been hard on you recently for some sales-minded interface choices, but I’ll give you this: your updates have, in my experience, always worked. I’ve never updated a Kobo app and watched it fall apart in my hands.

You know, like the Kindle 3.1 update for iOS.

I don’t know what happened at Amazon. Maybe some of the iOS team is on vacation. Maybe this update got outsourced and the quality control dropped. Maybe — to be less sarcastic — Apple has made it too damned hard to thoroughly bug test anything before submission anymore. (Having done QA for a couple of major iOS apps recently, I have strong new opinions on that topic.)

What I do know is that the latest iOS update is not fun.

On my iPad, after the update all of my books disappeared, and I had to reinstall the app before I could access anything again. Just to make it more annoying, I only discovered this later when I launched Kindle while offline, so I couldn’t do anything about it for the day.

But the iPhone is where things really went off the rails. Continue reading

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