Book Publishers Latest War On Technology: How Dare You Share Your Kindle Highlights! [Updated]

from the luddites-r-us dept

Update: Though it still seems like a strong possibility that publisher demands are behind this, several commenters and other sources have pointed out that it’s just as likely to have been Amazon’s decision. We mistakenly stated that Amazon implied they were acting at the publishers’ behest, but that was a misreading of the quote from Findings and has been corrected.

It’s really quite amazing how some folks who came up through the old publishing world seem to have a near allergic reaction to new technologies that are somehow “different.” You may recall the previous freakouts over text to speech, library lending of ebooks and efforts to scan physical books into ebooks. The latest horror? Highlighting. Yes, be afraid, you modern techno-wizzes. The publishing gods are afraid of your ultra-hip and modern “highlights” via the Kindle, because (gasp) they might be… (ominous music)… shared! Yes… I said it: shared.

A startup called Findings had been offering a neat little feature via the Kindle, that would allow people to sync and share the text that they highlight on the Kindle. You could see all sorts of ways that this could be interesting, informative and useful. But, all that the traditional book people saw was “ohmygosh! that could be used for piracy!” At least that appears to be what happened, leading Amazon to tell Findings that it was cutting off the service, and making it clear that this was due to publisher complaints.

As that article notes, publishers can (and do!) already limit how much you highlight — can’t have you highlight too much, now — so it’s not like the concern was that you’d just highlight the whole thing and release that on the world. It just seems like a knee jerk reaction to a useful feature that is somehow too different.

Filed Under:
Companies: amazon, findings, publishers

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Comments on “Book Publishers Latest War On Technology: How Dare You Share Your Kindle Highlights! [Updated]”

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John Doe says:

I almost feel bad for the current people in charge

This is a wonderful time in history, we have more information at our fingertips than ever before. Yet some apparently view this as a bleak era that spells the doom of the arts as we know it. I almost feel bad for those people as they must lead miserable lives sitting around worrying what others are doing with their content. I bet Henry Ford never lost a moments sleep over what anyone did with his Model T after it was sold.

bob (profile) says:

Uh, I think Amazon is really behind it

I’m sure the publishers would be happy with snippets circulating. Despite your desperate attempt to malign the few folks that had the guts to stand up to Big Search, they get the web and they get the value of word-of-mouth advertising. They got it long ago when books were printed on paper.

My guess is that Amazon doesn’t want to open up that API in that way and Amazon doesn’t want to have anyone inside their tent. So they blame the publishers. As you point out, it would be easy to limit the highlights to 100 or so characters and no more than 1% of the book. After all, it’s not a highlight if you include 99% of the book.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Uh, I think Amazon is really behind it

You have a point, I referred to a quote from Findings blog:

Amazon has to abide by what publishers demand, and this is sometimes at odds with what users want

But the article on Gigaom poses some doubt. Since you usually live in denial and disconnected from reality I wouldn’t expect a valid point from you 😉

But I’ll tell you one thing, let us watch what happens with the other app:

Finally, Amazon simply may not want third-party apps accessing Kindle highlights. If so, we should expect to see services like Evernote cutting off that functionality soon.

If they cut access to more of those apps then your point will stand. In any case, if I got it right Findings had this social thing added recently so maybe that’s what triggered a possible overreaction from the publishers. Time will tell.

Hats off, I got it wrong this time 😉

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Uh, I think Amazon is really behind it

So your position is that Amazon is just lying because they’re saying something you don’t want to hear. The API being ‘open in that way’ was the situation before this change. If that’s what they were trying to prevent it’s a bit odd for them to code an API that’s strictly for that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Uh, I think Amazon is really behind it

You are correct Bob. It’s another case of opinions and speculation being turned into “nearly facty things”.

So next to “Truthiness” we can add “factiness”.

It’s almost a fact because speculation about speculation about a comment someone failed to make always adds up to a facty thing.

Whitney McNamara (profile) says:

Re: Uh, I think Amazon is really behind it

Having spent a couple of years at a big six publisher I can report firsthand that the big houses are not at all enthusiastic with sharing of quotes or snippets, or “losing control over our content” as it’s usually described in the biz.

You’re probably right that Amazon isn’t entirely unhappy about making the move, but they’re certainly not the driving force behind the decision.

Publishers certainly did learn that having people talk about their books is a good thing back in the days when paper reigned, but as with the music industry, they were happy in part because the content being discussed could only be acquired as a physical artifact purchased from the publisher. The content/artifact link is being broken, and that scares the hell out of publishers.

The industry will get there, certainly, but they’re not going to be leading the way.

Tim K (profile) says:

Re: Uh, I think Amazon is really behind it

Leave it to Bob again to throw in ‘Big Search’ at any chance possible. Clearly they don’t want snippets of books out in the world, because that’s exactly what the dreaded ‘Big Search’ does, with it’s scanned books. They may be a little bigger than the Kindle highlights’ but they are just snippets from the books and the publishers hate that

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Uh, I think Amazon is really behind it

My guess is that Amazon doesn’t want to open up that API in that way and Amazon doesn’t want to have anyone inside their tent.

This is a really good point, actually. I’m sure that the publishers really did complain to Amazon, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon was extremely sympathetic.

grayputer says:

Re: Uh, I think Amazon is really behind it

Uh, I think the publishers dislike that they can not control the output. As you stated, they’d be happy with free advertizing. I think they’d be less happy with comments like “this is an example of how badly this author writes, do not buy this book” of “as you can see, any 12 year old can write better than this guy, skip this book”. Given a choice, I assume they’d likely prefer to block all uncontrolled comments then solicit and publish controlled comments themselves.

Josef Anvil (profile) says:

Another WTF moment

I don’t know about the rest of you, but if one of my friends highlights a page or chapter from a book and sends it to me because they think I might like it; then it turns out that I do like it. Well…

First I’m going to look for the ebook (to purchase). If I find that the ebook is priced equal to or less than the paperback then I’ll buy it. If it’s more expensive than the paperback then I’ll pirate it.

Lessons learned?
Highlighting is effective marketing & Don’t try to screw the customer and they won’t screw you.

Anonymous Coward says:

the only way all this sort of crap is gonna end is for the future to be stopped from happening. anyone know how we can stay in the C20th, just to please all the entertainment industries and publishers? be aware though, if anyone does know, you have to get permission from someone, anyone, to use it or you will be subject to copyright infringement claims from everyone!

Anonymous Coward says:

I have a Kindle. Everything on it is pirated. Also, I buy between 1 and 3 books a week. New books. I use the downloads to decide if I like the book/author. If I think the book is worth buying I do.

But in this country -Australia- the paperbacks average between US $18-$30 as there is restrictions on what can be sold here. Basically it is if the UK edition is not offered for sale here no other countries edition is able to be sold. IE if it is not published and exported/printed under authorization here by a UK publisher I cant buy it.

So I don’t buy from a bookshop here. I buy from The Book Depository (owned now by Amazon as of last year) in the UK. I pay between US$6-13 delivered for most novels.

Also, I like to buy hardcovers. An example. Terry Pratchett hardcover books retail here for US$45 plus. I can get them from the UK for less than half that.

The way I see it I support the authors I like, I save money and the bookstores all around me are losing my money.

Now, bookstores. We had a number of Borders stores here and they were closed down. But Borders offered legal US editions of books I wanted and I bought them in preference to the UK editions as they were generally around US$5 cheaper. And the Australian book stores did NOT stock the US editions. Why not? Who knows? And they still wont stock them

Greg G (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Since Borders went out of business, the only big store I know of now is Barnes and Noble. B&N is also overpriced on most everything, so how long they can last against Amazon or other online only sellers, who knows?

I also buy more hardcovers than I used to, but not because I prefer them more. The price of hardcovers has actually come down while paperback’s have gone way up (for new books)

I can still go to Amazon and shop the used books and get most for $.01 (but don’t forget the ridiculously high shipping charge.)

As for the ebooks, I still have not gotten an ebook reader, and I probably won’t. I like holding a real book and not being restricted as to who I can let read it after I’m done. After all, it’s really easy to just hand over a physical book for someone else to read after I’m done with it.

Rebecca Sunshine (user link) says:

old publishers need to see new opportunity

I’m so shocked at how old publishers are viewing new technologies of digital publishing as a plague rather than a lightbulb. Old publishers have so much opportunity in the digital publishing realm. Instead of watching what’s happening around them, I think more and more need to start jumping on the bandwagon.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: old publishers need to see new opportunity

You need to understand: it’s not so easy to let go on the distribution exclusive control. Corporate consolidation into a handful of majors took so much time and money. And now we’re saying the physical distribution is going down. That’s distressing. They need to go through all the stages of mourning before maybe get their act back together into the 21th century. For now they’re still at the stageof denial. it will come. Don’t worry, they will not let themselves die of grief and invent themselves a new purpose in life now that their beloved control is gone.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: old publishers need to see new opportunity

It’s the same story for the music majors. Imagine how long it took to get down to just 3 or 4 after eliminating and buying out all competition. And that control of distribution, their main asset and power is disappearing ? I’d ask for a refund to Oligopolis, the god of commerce who made them false promises of a promised land for the happy few majors if I were them.

Anonymous Coward says:

I propose an improved DRM for publishers of ebooks, a front facing camera that does an iris scan. On purchase, the user sets up the device by acknowledging that they are looking at it. Thereafter the screen is blank unless the users irises are in view.
This DRM is called the publisher killer, as it should hasten the decline of publishers.

relghuar says:

Contagious knee-jerking

Well, here is MY knee-jerk response to publishers and Amazon’s stupidity: THEY WON’T GET MY MONEY.
I won’t buy a Kindle (although I’ve been ogling the new Fire HD hardware for a while…), and I won’t buy any of their books. If they don’t like a potential for piracy that still gets them nice money, I’ll take options that get them NO money at all. See how they like that…

gorehound (profile) says:

Re: Contagious knee-jerking

I do the same thing.MAFIAA Big Content does not get a dime out of me.
As far as Digital Books go I do not own one nor want one.That being said I do own a huge Library of Rare and Obscure Scifi as well as WW2 Books in 1ST Edition Hardcover.
All new stuff I have bought were small press not the large Book Publishers.
Small Press,Local, and Indie Art which is in physical format is all I spend money on.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I don’t know. I don’t find that article terribly persuasive.

That other apps exist that do the same thing says nothing about who it is that wanted this app removed, so the article is largely based on a false premise.

That said, I do think this action has as much to do with what Amazon wants as with what the publishers want.

Nate (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

But the 2 services do much the same thing and use the same APIs. Why would publishers insist one be blocked but not the other? That doesn’t make much sense, not unless Findings actually did something specific.

If this were a generic complaint by a major publisher then wouldn’t it be more likely that all similar services would be blocked?

anon says:


Seeing that the Publishers are losing ground every day in there role as the gateway to the market for Authors I think things like this show that authors are not content to make money from there hobby, they want to stop people from enjoying it in any way they cannot monetise, well I am sorry but if I buy an e-book it is mine, if I want to send some parts to a friend who is reading the book or to someone who might just be interested I will, they will not stop me, and if I have to pirate a copy of the book I will. You cannot stop me using something I have legally purchased and legally own or I will not purchase it I will get it free with no restrictions on what I can do with it. And when those Authors come out and say I am “stealing ” from them I will justify it by the fact that they are using DRM to steal my god given rights. (profile) says:

Is to complicated manage amazons quotes

I love my Kindle…. is great.. but the MyClippings function was complicated. in found a easy way to manage and share your quotes, notes, clips and bookmarks.. just import the clipping file (myClippings.txt) and the aplication import and categorize all content for your use.. and not only the amazon’s boughts books

Nathan Liao (user link) says:

Share Your Kindle Highlights & Notes More Easily

Hi Mike,
I have read your article about the Kindle Highlights. I personally want to thank you for sharing your views with everyone. According to my thinking I want to say that Highlighting of the Kindle is effective marketing though some publishers are worried about it. I think, Publishers need to learn that having people talk about their books is a good thing for marketing about their book. Highlight the whole thing is sometimes better for the readers to buy the book.

Sometime Kindle users are not able to access their highlights and notes. Most recently Amazon has made them available online for all, it is still very complicated to access them.

There’s an iOS app being launched in November of 2013, Snippefy The app lets users read through and share their Kindle highlights and notes with everyone they like to, all in one place.

It’ll change the idea how Kindle users communicate and access their highlights and notes for the better. I just thought of discussing the resource with you and your community. I think they’ll find it very beneficial, and also you I hope.


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